bturman's Product Reviews

Added a product review for Cane Creek Double Barrel C-Quent Rear Shock 6/11/2016 5:15 PM
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First Look: Cane Creek Double Barrel C-Quent Rear Shock

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Cane Creek's rear shocks have long lead the charge when it comes to adjustability, offering a wider range of control and knobs to tinker with than just about any other brand. Some riders love this feature, though the majority of riders have a "set it and forget it" mentality when it comes to suspension. In an effort to make things simpler, Cane Creek is introducing the new C-Quent rear shock. The shock is visually similar to the DBinline, but comes with a preset internal base tune to suit the kinematics of your frame, and a tool-free low-speed rebound adjuster and Climb Switch beyond that. The shock will only be offered as an OEM model at this time. Read on for more details in the press release, below.

C-Quent Shock Highlights

  • Damping: Twin-tube compression and rebound in two high-speed and four low-speed damping circuits
  • Adjustments: Preset internal base tune // Low-speed rebound // Climb Switch On/Off
  • Finish: Anodized and laser-etched
  • Lengths: 165x38mm (6.5x1.5”), 184x44mm (7.25x1.73”), 190x50mm (7.48x1.96”), 200x50mm (7.87x1.96”), 200x57mm (7.87x2.24”), 216x63mm (8.5x2.48”)
  • Can Sizes: Standard (all lengths)
  • Mounting Interface: High performance low friction bushing 1/2” universal axle
  • Manufacturing: Hand-built in North Carolina, USA
  • Weight: 295 grams (165x38mm shock without hardware)

Press Release

Cane Creek Cycling Components is proud to announce they are now offering a new rear shock to meet the demand for simplicity coupled with Double Barrel performance. Currently available only through bike manufacturers, the C-Quent is Cane Creek’s first Double Barrel shock built for the rider who prefers fewer tuning options and a tool-free interface. Cane Creek works closely with their OEM partners to determine a custom build that will provide optimum suspension performance. C-Quent has all of the capability that award-winning DB shocks are known for and comes pre-set with a custom tune. For minor adjustments, the C-Quent has a Low Speed Rebound (LSR) adjuster and a Climb Switch.

The primary goal of the C-Quent is user-friendliness. Each shock has an internal base tune which Cane Creek engineers have developed with each bike manufacturer through extensive ride testing and ten well-defined clicks of LSR to provide meaningful adjustment without risk of going too far. Cane Creek’s uber-adjustable Double Barrel shock line was first introduced in 2005. To make it easy for riders to have the perfect starting point, Cane Creek engineers began developing Base Tunes with their OEM partners. Over the years, Cane Creek has learned that many riders don’t change their Base Tune because they find it so well defined out of the box.

“Twin-tube technology in the DB damper affords the sophisticated tuner a broad spectrum of adjustment to ensure that any rider, on any terrain, can wring every last bit of performance from their suspension,” says Director of Engineering, Jim Morrison. “But for the many riders who don’t live and breathe force vs. velocity curves, the Base-Tune settings their shock arrives with feel really good and the adjusters may go un-turned.”

The damping mechanism on the C-Quent is a hybrid between twin-tube technology and a mono-tube design that retains the key benefits of twin-tube, less cavitation, more control, and damping consistency. Like all Double Barrel shocks, the C-Quent houses all of its low-speed damping circuitry in the valve body, allowing for the revolutionary Climb Switch to address both compression and rebound when engaged. Unlike other Cane Creek shocks; however, C-Quent controls the high-speed damping circuits via shim-stacks on the main piston. The extreme tune-ability of the DB is retained at the factory, giving rise to a lighter-weight, high-value Double Barrel with ultra consistent damping levels.

C-Quent was designed to serve those customers who want the performance of a Climb Switch equipped, twin-tube damper, but without the added weight and complexity of adjusters they’re not interested in using. Starting with a fully adjustable DB shock that has nearly limitless tune-ability, the development team analyzes frame kinematics and utilizes field-testing to produce precise settings that meet the performance goals and desired feel for the bike. Rear-suspension performance is all about how well the kinematics of the frame work with the damping and spring characteristics of the shock.

Double Barrel shocks have a wide-range of adjustment because they are intended for not just a wide range of riders, but also a wide range of range with different suspension kinematics and design philosophies. Once this base tune is determined, the C-Quent is assembled with High Speed Compression, High Speed Rebound, and Low Speed Compression fixed at the factory. Since the C-Quent is assembled specifically for each frame, the range and number of adjustments required for most riders is much smaller.

C-Quent is currently only available through Cane Creek suspension partners on their bike models that come specified with this shock. For a list of these bike models, please contact Cane Creek.

Visit www.canecreek.com for more details.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2017 Pivot Switchblade Team 29/27.5+ XTR 1X 5/28/2016 8:20 AM
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First Look, First Ride: 2017 Pivot Switchblade 29/27.5+

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Feature by Brandon Turman // Photos by Lear Miller and Brandon Turman

Chris Cocalis, the President and CEO of Pivot Cycles, was once described to us as having the ability to see the matrix before his eyes while looking at any new bike. From his humble roots as a college kid making hodgepodge frames with a wobbly drill press to the creation of his first bike company, Titus, the man has decades of experience in a constantly evolving industry. His creations and ideas make him one of the most respected names in the bike world, and his detail-oriented approach is paying off.

Today, despite Pivot's impressive growth since the company's launch in 2007, Cocalis is still involved in nearly every aspect of day-to-day operations, including frame design. The bikes the company makes are driven by a combination of what Cocalis wants to do, consumer feedback, and where the company sees things going. Cocalis and Pivot aren't afraid to experiment or try new things, and they test dozens of different concepts and prototypes every year.

"You don't know where to land if you don't go too far," he told Vital, and it's this way of thinking that lead Pivot to create their newest bike - the Switchblade.

Pivot Switchblade Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • Compatible with both 29 and 27.5+ wheel sizes
  • Fits 27.5+ tires up to 3.25-inches wide
  • Fits 29er tires up to 2.5-inches wide
  • 135mm (5.3-inches) dw-link rear suspension with upper clevis and linkage and double wishbone rear triangle
  • Designed for a 150mm (5.9-inch) travel fork, fits forks up to 160mm (6.3-inches)
  • New long and low geometry
  • Short 428mm (16.85-inch) chainstays
  • Front derailleur compatible with stealth E-Type mounting system
  • Cable port system for easy internal routing of shifters, brakes and droppers and full Di2 Integration - can tension cables to prevent rattling
  • New ultra-quiet low durometer rubberized frame protection in all key areas
  • Two bottle mounts, with clearance for a large bottle in the frame with an easy flip of the shock
  • 27.5+ spec: 40mm inner width DT alloy or Reynolds carbon wheels and Maxxis Rekon+ 2.8-inch tires
  • 29-inch spec: 25mm inner width DT alloy or 28mm Reynolds Enduro carbon wheels and Maxxis High Roller II 2.3-inch tires
  • Frame weight: 6.4-pounds (2.90kg, size medium with rear shock)
  • Complete 27.5+ weight: 27.71-pounds (12.57kg, size medium)
  • Complete 29er weight: 27.67-pounds (12.55kg, size medium)

From Prototype To Production In Five Years

If you envision a model year 2010 29er, what do you think of? Big wheel bikes at the time were a far cry from the quick handling, capable, and rally-worthy steeds on the market today. As a result, many aggressive trail and downhill riders wouldn't even give them a second glance. Around this time Pivot began prototyping a long travel 29er frame they hoped would drastically improve the ride.

"There's a fine line between being cutting edge and being a freak show. I always try to be leading edge, but not over the edge," remarked Cocalis as we walked through the frame's history. "You have to go through things in steps in terms of what the market can accept."

The prototype frame they crafted in their in-house machine shop was to be the Mach 529, though the bike was never released to the public. Pivot's goal with the first 529 prototype (above) was to address problems that plagued 29ers up until that point. These included frame flex, long chainstays, truck-like handling, and more. Actually solving those problems would take several years due to a variety of roadblocks they ran into along the way. Prototype number one used an interesting eccentric pivot concept in the upper suspension link, but was shelved due to bind under loading in fast corners.

Pivot began playing with new stiffness solutions on the second prototype, and developed the basic design of the clevis that would eventually be used on the Mach 6 in the process. This allowed them to get the leverage curve they needed without messing up standover height or moving the shock to the middle of the downtube. The bike worked decently well, addressing some issues on the previous prototype, and a small group of Pivot employees and dealers lobbied to push the bike to production. The whole package wasn't ready yet, said Cocalis:

"Part of me from the business side should have probably launched the 529 during that period. It would have grown our company a lot and we would have had success, but deep down inside I was like, 'I don't want to ride this bike. It's in a category that I love to ride, and I will always pick another bike.' I was upfront with dealers, and I said that with the technology that we have today I don't think this is worthy of what we put out. It's either great or it's not great."

Right around this time 27.5 (650b) wheels began to pop up, and the 529 project was put on hold. Concepts they learned from the 529 prototype process would eventually work their way into the Mach 6 - Pivot's first 27.5 bike.

Fast forward a few years and carbon was now a reality for the brand, axle standards were widening, and good 29er wheels were finally available, so they took the project up again. They added key features they learned from creating the Phoenix DH bike, including the design of the upper linkage. Pivot worked with Shimano to create the side-swing E-Type front derailleur, and in combination with a widened rear axle they found enough room to create a rear triangle with a double upright. The lower link was widened as well, and the combination drastically improved rear end stiffness. The bike's geometry wasn't final, though, and they still had some shock rate stuff to work out. Plus-size tires were also beginning to emerge, calling for attention and trail time.

After years of prototyping and testing, they arrived at a long travel 29er that's torsionally 30-40% stiffer, rivaling even the second version of the Mach 6 Carbon. Combined with incredibly short 428mm (16.85-inch) chainstays, Pivot solved the issues they set out to address years ago. The final test mules were crafted in both carbon and aluminum, as carbon allowed them to push several design concepts even further.

On trail testing along the way included hundreds of rides in Arizona, Utah, and Pennsylvania under everyone from Pivot engineers to Pro riders.

Pivot's Whole System Approach

When we do long term reviews of bikes here at Vital, we always consider the impact the components have on the overall ride. A shoddy set of tires or poor suspension can have a drastic impact on how much we enjoy a bike, for example, and Cocalis realizes this. He's a firm believer in thinking about bikes as systems. "It's not just about the frame," he seemed to add repeatedly. Pivot's willingness to work with other companies to improve the system is apparent in many bicycle components. Side-swing front derailleurs, zero-stack headsets, and press-fit bottom brackets are among many they've been heavily involved with, each allowing designers to create better frames (and systems) in one way or another.

Another instance is the WTB Hightail saddle, which Pivot originally co-developed for use on their Phoenix DH bike. Thanks to a clever cutout in the back and wider rails, it gives a full inch more tire clearance when the suspension is bottomed out. The new Switchblade will make use of the saddle on size XS bikes with some additional padding, allowing the bike to fit more riders.

When you look at the full range of Switchblade bike builds, you'll note that they all use custom grips, nicely padded saddles, OneUp 1X expander cogs for added cassette range, and good tires regardless of the price point. These are all items Cocalis feels improves the overall ride.

Pivot works closely with Maxxis on their tire designs, providing a good deal of feedback that often makes its way to production. This is especially apparent with plus-size tires, which up until this point have been pretty poor. Many plus-size bikes currently fail in this category as they attempt to keep overall weight down without regard to sidewall stability or durability. You'll find Maxxis Rekon+ tires on all plus-size Switchblades, and we'll continue to see improvements here thanks in part to Pivot's testing efforts. They've also done a lot of testing to determine that 40mm internal width rims are the ticket.

While it may seem like Pivot is a leader at times, when it comes to new standards they aren't always the first to adopt them. Consumer demands often win out as time goes on, however. "Some things get hot so quick that the market isn't ready for them. The component manufacturers can't keep up, the factories can't do it right... rear post mount disc brakes are a perfect example of that," remarked Cocalis. Pivot also held back on thru-axles for a little while as they didn't present a major benefit given their one-piece rear triangle design.

When it came to the new Switchblade, though, Cocalis recognized that they'd have to go above and beyond existing norms to improve the whole system. "We're kind of at a point where some things have to change to move bikes to the next level," he said. The solution for Pivot this time is what they refer to internally as "Super Boost Plus."

The Key: Super Boost Plus

If we asked you to name a stiff frame that's both 29-inch and 27.5+ compatible, has sub 430mm chainstays, ample mud clearance, good heel clearance, and can be used with a front derailleur, 36-tooth 1X chainring, and chainguide, could you do it? Getting all of these puzzle pieces to fit into place on the new Switchblade left Pivot searching for a solution, which presented itself in the form of the existing 12x157mm rear axle spacing standard with a few tweaks and carefully selected cranks/chainrings.

Why the need for front derailleur compatibility? Pivot says a surprising 40% of their complete bike sales have 2X drivetrains. Don't care for it? That's fine. The mount is easily removable leaving the frame super clean.

Back when the Boost 12x148mm rear axle standard was introduced, Pivot immediately jumped onboard and integrated it into several of their trail and enduro bikes, but they couldn't help but think, "3mm on each side, that's it?"

"We couldn't build [the Switchblade]," Cocalis said, "and we were pushing for something wider. Boost just wasn't really enough. We instantly used up those 3mm." "A lot of product managers think that somehow or another Boost was created for Plus," he continued. "The Plus thing has created a slew of other problems. We had too tight of space with a regular tire, and now we've got 6mm of extra clearance and we throw a 15mm wider tire in, so what are you going to do?"

You might be wondering how a wider axle improves tire clearance, allows designers to shorten stays, fit front derailleurs, and the like. The key is in the wider chainline provided by the wider hub. With the chainring moved over an additional 7mm versus the 12x142mm axle standard or 4mm versus Boost 148, there's more room to fit everything. With tires, stays, linkages, ISCG mounts, a front derailleur, the chainring(s), and more all battling for space, even a few millimeters can make a huge difference.

"Super Boost Plus," as Pivot calls it, uses the existing 56-57mm chainline developed for downhill bikes, but it doesn't use the 83mm threaded or press-fit 107 bottom brackets that are also used on downhill bikes. Instead, Pivot determined that a standard press-fit 92 or 73mm threaded bottom bracket could do the trick, so long as you're able to move the chainring toward the crank arm somehow. Pivot achieves this by flipping the chainring on some Race Face cranks, FSA now makes one that's modular, and we were told e*thirteen, SRAM, and Shimano versions are in the works.

It's also possible to use a downhill crankset with spacers on the non-driveside (due to the bottom bracket width), though you run a higher q-factor which reduces pedal clearance in tight notches and when leaning the bike over.

What's the downside? Well, aside from not being able to fit your existing spare trail bike wheels, the bike cannot use a 200mm rear brake rotor as the stays cut in too tightly for it to clear. Pivot wanted to ensure the bike still had great heel clearance so this feature had to go.

While any 12x157mm hub will fit the new Switchblade, another upside of moving to 12x157mm is the potential to create a stiffer wheel. "One idea behind Boost was to widen the flanges so a stiffer 29er wheel could be created," said Cocalis. "The front Boost, which widened 10mm, actually makes a very substantial difference on the wheel stiffness."

Wheel stiffness is a result of a careful balance of side-to-side spoke tension and flange width. Most existing 12x157mm hubs have evenly spaced flanges, resulting in a perfect 50/50 tension balance. As wheel sizes have increased from 26-inches, however, the importance of flange width has increased to the point that the flanges can now be widened to create a stiffer wheel despite a slight 60/40 imbalance.

Pivot is working with DT Swiss and Reynolds to make special 12x157mm hubs with new flange spacing that work well with the Switchblade's larger wheels. Interestingly, SRAM is producing their new X0DH hubs with wider spaced flanges as well, and came up with the idea independently of Pivot. Pivot will soon share details with several more hub makers.

Hubs from left to right: 12x142mm, 12x157mm, and Super Boost Plus 12x157mm

"When you talk about a Boost wheel stiffness gain, most of those numbers are based on the front wheel which is a 10mm spread. So spreading 10-14mm on the rear builds a stronger, stiffer wheel," said Cocalis. "The DT guys in all their testing just went gaga over what this did to wheel stiffness increase."

"On a front hub, with a 10mm increase, multiple wheel manufacturers - both Sun Ringle and DT - claim that a 29-inch wheel with the same aluminum rim will be the same stiffness as what they had with a standard 100mm hub and a 26-inch rim. On a rear we're dealing with two things: we're playing with the flange spread and tension from side-to-side. We're going to see equal to slightly better stiffness than 26-inch rims with 142. We're just trying to get back to zero in a lot of ways."

Cocalis went on to state that his goal with this is simply to make bikes better: "We're saving it for the plus side of things, but if it proliferates it could go into other longer travel trail bikes and have some benefits there. It definitely has the capability of creating better plus bikes. We're not holding this hostage or anything. It's free to make better bikes for everyone. We won't be the only 157 trail bike coming."

He also said, "We're not trying to replace Boost. I don't feel this is a good XC or short travel trail bike standard, but for plus style bikes, longer travel 29ers, and the future of downhill this has sweeping applications. As I see the crystal ball we would wind up with 148 and 157 as the two common standards."

Geometry

The new Switchblade also marks a turning point for Pivot in the geometry realm. They used to design with a heavy emphasis on virtual top tube lengths, but are now focused on reach measurements which are a more modern way of sizing a bike.

Sizes XS through XL are available with a huge reach spread across the range, making it applicable to everyone from very short to very tall riders. Cocalis was previously quite outspoken about short riders not being a good fit for 29-inch bikes due to geometry issues, but all the things he enjoys about 27.5+ can certainly apply to shorter and female riders. Thanks to extended reach measurements it's now possible to get the necessary toe clearance, and standover clearance is great on all sizes.

The size XS bike (above) features a different front shock mount location on the downtube, as well as a dished-out top tube to clear the shock can (it can also fit many piggyback style shocks). You do lose one of the two water bottle mounts, however. The headtube is as short as they can make it without running into the taper on the steerer tube to help keep things compact.

When you switch between wheels it's recommended to install (27.5+) or remove (29) a headset spacer in order to keep the bottom bracket height consistent. Whereas some other 29/27.5+ bikes make the change in the linkage, Pivot says they would rather make the geometry change on the front end than potentially alter the suspension characteristics. Those wanting a slacker 29er setup can extend the fork to 160mm of travel or install the included headset spacer.

DW-Link Suspension

The bike's 135mm (5.3-inches) of rear travel is delivered by a variant of the dw-link. Pivot has a close relationship with Dave Weagle, who helps with the suspension kinematic/design. The FOX Float EVOL shock tunes are the same between all sizes, and are valved so the lightest riders will typically run the "Open 1" compression setting while heavier riders will likely prefer the "Open 3" or "Medium" settings.

On The Trail - 27.5+

We had the opportunity to get a total of five rides on the Switchblade with a $8,399 Shimano XTR Team 1X build. Two were on Pivot's home trail network in Phoenix, Arizona, and three were in Moab, Utah. Two were on plus-size wheels and three were with 29-inch hoops. Our plus-size rides included Mormon and National in Phoenix, and Mag 7, Gold Bar Rim, Blue Dot, and Portal trails in Moab. The bike was setup at Pivot's suggested sag setting.

As we began to climb, the incredible amount of in traction provided by the tires and suspension became immediately apparent. If you can keep the bike pointed uphill, time your pedals well, and keep those cranks spinning, chances are good that you're going to make it up. It's able to claw up some wild stuff at a slow and low pace. In sections that we would previously slip a tire on regular wheeled bikes, lose momentum, and waste a bit of energy, all of a sudden we had traction all the time and hard climbs seemed easier.

As we got comfortable with the feel of the bike and settled into a slightly slower pace that suited the bike well, we began impromptu climbing challenges, smashing into and over rock piles and tech sections with no abandon. We loved the bike's ability to hit the endless number of small ledges in both Phoenix and Moab at odd angles without worry of the wheels slipping out sideways, allowing you to tackle most climbs head on rather than weaving about.

With the headset spacer installed, the bottom bracket is at a reasonable height, though conscious pedal placement is still needed. We also noted that when you do inevitably have an awkward climbing moment, they tend to be a bit more awkward on plus-size tires. The bouncy larger volume rubber is really all that's supporting you at slow speeds, and if you're using your bike to support you when you're about to tip over you'll likely bounce too.

On smooth transfer sections we were able to maintain a good deal of momentum regardless of the terrain. Little bumps? No problem. Sand? Loose rocks? It's all good. The plus-size tires glide over stuff without squirming where a standard 29er will get bogged down and struggle to stay on line.

The speeds we were able to obtain on descents were pretty amazing. The sense of stability and confidence the wheel/tire/bike combo provides is a wild sensation. You're able to mob through sections that would normally slow the bike, make it chatter, or hang up ever so slightly. At no point did we feel the bike was going to do us wrong. There's a bit of bounciness, however, which requires you to relearn how the bike and tires will react to certain types of trail features. This bouncy feel can occur at inopportune times.

With tire pressures close to 16psi front and 19-20.5psi rear, cornering became a rather mundane activity without worry of losing traction. Once this clicked in our minds, we found ourselves seeing just how fast we could exit turns. Breaking loose in turns is surprisingly hard to do, and you have to really lean into it or lighten the weight on the tires. The 40mm inner width rim and 2.8-inch tire combination works quite well, and we only experienced a bit of tire squirm in corners with large compressions mid turn. Unfortunately Phoenix and Moab are pretty much void of good bermed turns, so we can't comment on sidewall support in those situations.

Getting airborne feels like you're bringing a 747 in for a landing versus doing a stunt show in a fighter jet. All the movements are just a bit more muted and require more effort. The larger tires also seem to make the bike a bit harder to manual, requiring more effort at the bars to pull back. On a long and technical 25+ mile ride in Moab this resulted in one of the best upper body workouts we've had in a while. When you're fatigued it's easiest to just let the front end smash into stuff.

While fun, after each plus-size ride we couldn't help but think that most of what we felt was a result of the wheels and tires, leaving us longing for the sense of precision and trail feel that comes with a normal wheel and tire. Is the lack of precision a bad thing though? It all depends on what you're wanting from a ride experience and what your trails are like.

On The Trail - 29er

Mormon, National, and Ridgeline trails played host to our 29er adventures in Phoenix, as well as Kokopelli, Porcupine Rim, Dave's, Hymasa, and Captain Ahab in Moab.

Going back and forth between wheelsets/tires exposed the relative merits and downsides of each in a hurry. The switch back to 29-inch hoops takes a moment to readjust to, and visually it can look as though you're riding narrow XC tires despite the otherwise generous 2.3-inch width of the Maxxis High Roller II tires. With the "skinny" tires in place you get a much better sense of what it is that you're riding - how the suspension performs, how it pedals, etc.

Pointed uphill, the higher sagged bottom bracket height and larger overall diameter of the wheels results in better rollover than the plus-size alternative on large ledges. The bike has more of a snappy pedal response on the 29er, which is really noticeable when you're almost up a technical move and go to put in a quarter-crank to crest over the top. On 29-inch wheels this effort is worthwhile, while with 27.5+ it's best to try to maintain a steady pace. We still made many of the more challenging climbs on the 29er, though it felt like we had to exert more energy and had to be more aware of our lines.

Both Phoenix and Moab are very rocky, ledgy riding areas, where you're constantly getting up/over one move and another immediately starts. If you're getting hung up you're in for a long ride. The Switchblade does a great job of allowing the front end to pop up, and the rear is quick to follow without pulling you back. You can tell the bike was tested and tuned in locations like these as it handles square edge hits quite well. It has an incredible ability to maintain speed when you're smashing through rocky ledges, getting up and over techy sections, or on flat, pedally, chunky terrain.

The plus-size configuration has a great ability to hold a straight line through rough bits better, and with 29-inch tires it occasionally kicked the back end out to the side a little when we came in hot and smashed into rock piles, requiring us to stay on our toes at times.

The suspension strikes a nice balance of both a supportive and deep/plush feel. It makes great use of the travel on flat-ish chunky terrain. It feels a lot like a longer travel bike in many instances, but when you're able to get in a few pedal strokes it accelerates very well regardless of the gear combo.

At a rider weight of 175-pounds (79.4kg) we settled into the rear shock's "Open 3" compression setting, which provided plenty of support without getting bogged down in g-outs and compressions. Wide open it felt a bit uncontrolled and mushy at times.

Those riding in areas with several g-outs, fast bermed turns, and large compressions may want to add a small volume spacer to aid with bottom-out support. Up front the FOX 36 fork balanced with the rear very well, providing an excellent damping feel and smooth action off the top. We added a volume spacer to the fork for the same reasons as the rear.

Perhaps the most noticeable change when swapping wheels is that you once again have to be conscious of cornering grip. The 29-inch wheels break loose more often, especially while leaning into flat turns or over soft patches of soil/rock. Many experienced riders find that breaking loose sensation fun, however, and it becomes a game of seeing just how far you can push the bike before a minor and correctable slip-up.

When pumping smooth terrain, the resulting speed seems to be greater on 29-inch wheels. This was especially noticeable when landing jumps and pressing into the backside. With 29-inch wheels the bike has a very reassuring feel in the air, and is incredibly fun to manual over rough sections.

Overall we left impressed with how the bike performed with both wheel options, and surprised by the ride differences offered by the relatively simple switch. We think the 29-inch version is for us, as we love breaking loose and getting a little wild, and with plus-size you kind of lose some of that fun in exchange for a more comfortable, cushioned ride. Riders who have spent years developing their riding style and technique to know where that defined edge is, to know how to work the terrain, and to do most of this from muscle memory may find the larger tires a bit of a bore at times. That said, the bike certainly has some nice appeal with the big rubber for certain riders, and can be a blast when you take the time to learn how it will react to extreme situations.

Build Kits, Pricing & Availability

Twelve builds will initially be offered based around Shimano components, with several more from SRAM on the way when the new Eagle 1x12 drivetrain becomes available. Builds come in both 29 and 27.5+ varieties, and extra wheels can be purchased through Reynolds.

As previously mentioned, the bikes are highlighted by quality components in places that count. A stout 150mm travel FOX 36 can be found up front on all builds, as well as quality wheels and tires. "In a nutshell, we don't spec shit," joked Cocalis. "There's not a build that I wouldn't feel comfortable riding as my personal bike."

View XTR/XT Pro Builds // View XTR Team Builds // View XTR Di2 Team Builds

Pricing starts at $6,299 USD and includes a dropper seatpost. Pivot plans to bring make an additional Shimano build in late July using XT/SLX components at a lower price point, and is also working on an aluminum frame.

The Switchblade can be found at select Pivot dealers as of June, 2016.

What's The Bottom Line?

At the end of the day, does all of the above make a better bike? A better system? You bet it does. We had an incredible time aboard the new Pivot Switchblade in the 29er configuration, and the plus-size option will be great for many entry to advanced-intermediate level riders depending on preferences and terrain. The bike provides that 100% reassuring and invincible feel that many longer travel 27.5 steeds posses, but still rolls fast and pedals like a champ, keeping your overall trail speed significantly higher. This is an excellent execution of a big wheel bike thanks a clever combination of components and ideas that could only be achieved by a true master of the matrix.

Visit www.pivotcycles.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 38 photos of the Pivot Switchblade up close and in action


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 6-7 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

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Added a product review for 2016 Pivot Mach 429 Trail XT/XTR Pro 1x 5/10/2016 12:10 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Pivot Mach 429 Trail XT/XTR Pro 1x

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Overall:

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

What would happen if you took a successful 29er cross-country bike and mixed in a little inspiration from a long-travel 27.5 cousin? That's exactly what Pivot did with the Mach 429 Trail, which takes their well regarded Mach 429 SL cross-country rig and mixes it with some capability from the Mach 6 enduro bike, ultimately ending up with a very efficient ride that's better suited to getting rowdy on the trails. Updates include a small bump up in rear travel, a new linkage, components worthy of rougher terrain, Boost axles front and rear, a nearly two-degree slacker headtube angle, and quarter-inch shorter chainstays. We put the special blend through the wringer at the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions to find out how well it captures the best of both worlds.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 116mm (4.6-inches) rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • dw-link suspension with mid-travel linkage design
  • Cold forged alloy links with Enduro Max cartridge bearings
  • Tapered 44/56mm zero stack headtube
  • Mix of external and internal cable routing
  • Rubberized leather downtube and swingarm protection
  • Post mount rear disc brake
  • Removable mount compatible with E-type Shimano side-swing 2X front derailleur
  • Press fit 92 bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • Boost front and rear axle spacing
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 27.7-pounds (12.6kg)
  • MSRP $5,629 USD

Comparing the Mach 429 Trail to the Mach 429 SL, you'll notice the upper linkage looks quite a bit different. Pivot is now using what they call the mid-travel trail linkage to deliver the bike's 116mm (4.6-inches) of rear wheel travel. It uses the same lower dw-link as the Mach 6 combined with a compact new upper linkage that provides more progression and improved small bump sensitivity over the Mach 429 SL - two key attributes for a trail bike claimed to be able to do it all.

The FOX Float DPS (Dual Piston System) Factory shock is pretty easily accessible, however rebound and open mode compression adjustments can be pretty difficult in the orientation shown above. We suggest flipping the shock over so the adjustments are on the underside, which should improve access to both. Just check your water bottle for clearance.

Like all of Pivot's carbon models, the frame is made with their proprietary hollow core internal molding technology, and has some large cross sections in key areas to improve stiffness. A size medium frameset weighs in at 5.9-pounds (2.7kg). Closely looking the frame over it's hard not to appreciate some of the finer carbon details and smooth overall appearance.

Cable routing is mostly external save the internal dropper post routing, which enters the seat tube near the bottom bracket, as well as a short segment of internally routed rear derailleur housing. We like the derailleur like this as it helps prevent premature housing wear. By moving to mostly external routing Pivot is able to reduce costs a bit and make service/installation of various components easier, though the decision to route hydraulic lines under the downtube raises a few concerns. The potential for rock strikes is very real, which could put a quick end to a ride. Pivot's go-to dropper post is mechanically actuated, so there's less of a concern there than for the rear brake.

Updating the bike to Boost axle spacing front and rear gives it better tire clearance, improves wheel stiffness by widening the hub flange width, and provides designers a few extra millimeters to play with in the crowded bottom bracket area that ultimately allows them to reduce the chainstay length. Pivot uses a one-piece rear triangle and short suspension links, which is a great combination when it comes to rear end stiffness. Tire and mud clearance is ample, with plenty of room for most 2.4-inch wide 29er tires or up to 2.8-inch 27.5+ tires if you'd like to experiment with something different.

Other details include a very clean removable front derailleur mount, PF92 bottom bracket, ISCG05 tabs if you'd like to mount a chainguide, mounts for two water bottles (great news for those that want to ditch the pack), a post mount rear brake (180mm rotor max), and rubberized leather guards on the downtube, chainstay, and inside of the seatstay.

Pivot has a whopping eight build kits to choose ranging from Shimano SLX to XTR and SRAM X1 to XX1. All bikes are equipped with FOX suspension, and both 1X and 2X drivetrains are available to suit your preference. Prices go from $3,999 to $7,699 US, or you can go the route with a $2,400 carbon frame + shock package. The bike tested here was the mid-range XT/XTR Pro 1X option priced at $5,299, plus an additional $330 for the KS LEV Integra dropper post.

Geometry

The 429 Trail dishes up a pretty unique combination in the numbers department. The bike doesn't feature any geometry adjustments, though Pivot does say you can play with fork travel ranging from 120-140mm (4.7-5.5 inches) to suit your style. With a 130mm (5.1-inch) fork installed it has a 67.5-degree head angle and 335mm (13.2-inch) bottom bracket height, both of which are right on par with similar bikes from other brands.

When choosing which size to ride we were concerned with short reach measurements across the size range, so we opted for a size large to bump that number up a bit. Even then the size large bike has a reach measurement of 423mm (16.7-inches), which is shorter than many size medium bikes on the market today. Due to the slack actual seat tube angle the bike also has a very long effective top tube at 629mm (24.8-inches) relative to its reach. Because we like to size our bikes for the descent (where reach really comes into play), this meant sizing up and moving the seat pretty far forward to compensate for the slack seat tube angle and long top tube. Tall riders might have a sizing issue considering the XL bike has a reach of just 435mm (17.1-inches).

Finally, Pivot claims the 443mm (17.4-inch) chainstays are "short." Compared to some of their other rides this is true, but compared to the market they're still ~7mm (~0.3-inches) longer than average for this style of bike. Numbers aren't everything, though, so we withheld our thoughts until after we saw how things played out in the dirt.

On The Trail

We were able to send Pivot a list of rider specs and preferences prior to receiving the bike, and, aside from sliding the saddle forward and a few small suspension adjustments, the bike showed up pretty much ready to roll.

Pivot includes a handy sag indicator and suspension guide which makes setup of the rear shock pretty simple. The indicator on the Mach 429 Trail has "Race" and "Trail" sag markings which can be referenced to customize the feel of the bike. Per the recommendation of Pivot's owner/founder, Chris Cocalis, we ran the bike at the firmer Race setting which equates to 30% sag.

Our time on the Mach 429 Trail was once again spent tackling Phoenix's incredibly rocky South Mountain trail system, which is actually just minutes from Pivot's headquarters. Our rides included Javelina, Mormon, National, Geronimo, and Holbert trails. Holbert, in its entirety, is perhaps one of the rowdiest trails on the mountain with a fast and flowy start before dipping into some incredibly technical, demanding, boulder-filled terrain that would have even the best riders reconsidering line choices on the fly.

From the onset the Pivot feels decidedly more efficient than your typical trail or enduro bike, including all of the other short-travel, slacked-out 29ers we've ridden to date. This gives it a very spritely, lightweight feel that is a huge advantage on uphills and flatter portions of trail, as well as fast and flowy terrain. Coupled with superb rolling speed and a low actual weight, the bike really rockets along. You sprint, it sprints. You pump, it takes off.

Its ability to carry momentum up and over technical trail features is remarkable, making it far easier to climb than you'd expect. Combined with the large 29-inch wheels, we were getting up and over many sections that previously seemed difficult. Handling feels snappy, and thanks to a very quick pedaling response and no issues with the bottom bracket height we never had to dab on some pretty wild climbs. The compression support from the rear shock comes into play here too, aiding with chassis stability while hopping up ledges and helping you get moving again immediately. It's rare that you'll hear us exclaiming anything along the lines of "THIS IS AWESOME!" while climbing, but we were singing the praises of the Mach 429 Trail as we conquered tricky climb after tricky climb.

If we're honest, as riders with a strong appreciation for longer-travel bikes, it's possible we've never really felt efficiency, but this bike delivers it - or at least redefines what we think of as efficient. Getting up to speed was so easy to do we found ourselves spinning out often and searching for that next gear. We experienced no odd pedal or suspension feedback while mashing over a variety of terrain regardless of the gear combination or our effort level. With the saddle shifted forwards we also had no issues keeping the front end down on steep climbs.

We experimented with switching the rear shock between the medium compression setting and the open "2" position while climbing. The open setting gave better small bump compliance and a hair more traction, but did introduce a slight amount of bob. The decision comes down to whether you'd prefer to have a little more traction and suppleness, or a very spritely/pedal efficient ride. Then again, that's why they made a quick-adjust lever.

Another thing we really enjoyed is that it's very ridable at a casual pace. Not feeling super uppity one day or just want to go for a relaxed ride? It's all good. When you're ready to mash on the pedals and get after it the bike gains speed with the best of them, but its lightweight feel and great pedaling performance make just moseying along a fun experience as well.

After making it to the top of several hills in what felt like record time with energy to spare, it was time to really open the bike up and see what its capable of when pointed downhill. Is this just an XC bike in disguise, we wondered? Or could it be some kind of mythical creation with a superb level of performance on the way up andgreat descending capabilities like the Transition Smuggler or Evil Following?

On fast, smoother descents the bike continued to impress as we sliced and diced our way through most turns, over rollers, and off of small jumps. The Mach 429 Trail does incredibly well on this type of terrain and is quick to pick up speed when you're able to pump and get in a few pedal strokes.

Preloading the suspension feels very natural, and any rear shock compression setting from open "2" to medium offers loads of support to really push into corners or jumps with a poppy feel on the way out. When dropped down to full open the bike tends to squat a bit more, though it hardly feels sluggish compared to bikes with more travel. We settled on the open "2" setting in search of a more supple feel off the top.

Those chainstays didn't feel quite as long as one might expect, and it cornered through tight turns decently well. We found it requires a little effort to tip the bike over for two or more tight turns in succession, however. Large bunnyhop maneuvers also demand a strong tug at the bars, as do manuals that you want to hold for more than a few feet. We found it easiest to get the front end up under power.

It maintains composure in successive small to medium hits and chatter quite well, which is an area where the larger wheels give you the feeling of having slightly more travel than the numbers indicate. Given this sense of composure and its ability to gain speed quickly on smoother sections, the bike gives a great sense of confidence coming into really rocky and rough sections. There were several times we felt as though we were biting off a little more than it could handle, however. We noted quite a bit of chassis feedback and a less planted ride than ideal as it danced around through big rock piles, pinging side-to-side slightly along the way. Pivot claims this bike outperforms the others in rough terrain, but we didn't find that to be the case. It handles nicely under heavy braking, however, which allows for last-second line changes or speed adjustments if you find yourself coming in too hot.

Though the linkage delivers a pretty dang progressive leverage curve for a 116mm travel rig, we bottomed out quite often which may account for some of that instability in the roughest bits at speed. When coming in for a landing we'd often feel the initial impact, then also feel the bottom-out a fraction of a second later. Combined with less than stellar small bump performance it seems a good solution would be an EVOL air can with a higher negative air spring volume, plus a volume spacer for the FOX Float rear shock. Unfortunately FOX doesn't make an EVOL can for the small 184x44mm (7.25x1.75-inch) shock, and we're unsure it would fit inside the linkage if they did. The EVOL can might also take away from the bike's snappy feel at the pedals, which is one of its raddest ride characteristics.

We found that large g-outs also highlighted the bike's lack of rear travel more than other short-travel 29ers on test, and we'd come out of them a little sideways and imbalanced at times.

What about heel clearance on that Boost rear end? It's not too bad, actually. Checking the stays after our rides revealed only one scuff mark from our shoes.

Build Kit

The XTR/XT Pro 1X build features a mix of components from Shimano, FOX, Race Face, WTB, Maxxis, DT Swiss, and several parts designed under the Pivot brand name. The combination yields a bike that's both capable and quick with a slight skew toward the XC realm.

The bike's ~1cm taller than average headtube put the Pivot Phoenix carbon bars in a relatively high position, though we tend to like a tall front end anyway. If you're a fan of a really low front end this may be a slight issue for you, though flat bars are of course an option. As it was, the low-rise bars and stem provided a bar height roughly equivalent to running a few spacers or high-rise bars on bikes with a shorter headtube. Our test bike came equipped with 780mm (30.7-inch) wide bars and a 50mm stem, which suited us quite well and could be trimmed if desired. Pivot's site lists a 740mm (29.1-inch) wide bar as the official spec, however, which may a bit skinny for many riders.

FOX's 34 Float Factory FIT4 fork performed very well with a nice smooth stroke and supple feel. For the type of terrain we were riding, we'd recommend slightly less air pressure than FOX does. Even with a fair amount of compression it didn't feel harsh or like it was losing traction, and balanced well with the support provided by the rear end. The 1cm wider Boost fork lowers did raise a few concerns as we dipped into deep rocky channels fearing the worst, but the fears were for naught as the fork survived unscathed. The back of the bike, however, did get a few dingers on the Boost axle which protrudes about 1/2-inch further than the chainstays. Axles are a lot cheaper to replace than a frame, so we'd rather it take the damage anyway.

Aiding with traction needs is some always reliable Maxxis rubber. While Pivot's spec sheet lists dual 2.25-inch Ardent EXO tires, our bike came ready for action with a meatier 2.3-inch High Roller II EXO 3C tire up front. The tubeless combination worked well in loose-over-hard conditions, providing good front end traction and great rolling speed thanks to the low-profile rear tire. Should your ride show up with two Ardents, we suggest a new front tire and keeping the extra Ardent as a backup for the rear, or ditching them entirely for something with a slightly higher volume to add some extra stability and cornering grip.

The DT Swiss Spline-Two M1700 wheels held up well to plenty of rock smashing, ultimately ending up just 1-2mm out of true at the conclusion of our test. Rear wheel stiffness wasn't everything we'd hoped for out of a Boost wheel, which was accentuated by Pivot's otherwise stout frame during big compressions. The 22.5mm internal width works well with current tire profiles, though some nice stability gains could again be achieved with something a tad wider. As is the wheels add to the spritely feel of the Mach 429 Trail. They use DT's Ratchet System inside the rear hub with 36 points of engagement, and can be easily upgraded to something a bit faster if you feel the need for even snappier pedaling performance.

The KS Lev Integra dropper post showed up too low on air spring pressure to function properly, but after a relatively quick fix it worked quite well with an easy to reach lever and smooth action. Pivot doesn't include a dropper on their stock builds, but the optional $330 add-on is something we highly recommend.

We like the decision to go with Shimano's XT brake versus XTR as we've found them superior on the trail. The brakes offer plenty of modulation, great bite, solid reliability, and a good lever feel. The bike uses a 180mm rotor up front and a 160mm out back, but given the speeds you're able to obtain and the large wheels we'd really like to see the rear bumped up to 180mm.

Shimano's 1x11 XT/XTR drivetrain felt as though it offered a more precise shift than its SRAM counterpart, and did really well when mashing on the shift lever for unexpected climbs. The XT M8000 11-42 tooth cassette offers a little less overall range than the SRAM-equipped build kits, but should be sufficient for many provided your trails aren't overly fast. The Race Face Aeffect SL crankset presented no issues, and was paired with a 30-tooth narrow/wide chainring that held onto the chain well. The addition of an upper guide is recommended if you're riding fast and chunky trails often, especially as things begin to wear.

As a whole the bike is very quiet with no odd noises coming from the frame or components. Pivot includes chain and seatstay protection to help tame chain strikes, and the clutched XTR rear derailleur helps too.

Long Term Durability

Our only concern in the durability department again comes down to cable routing. Giving the chunky nature of South Mountain's terrain, we heard large rocks flying up and hitting the downtube two to three times during our first ride alone. While there is a sizable downtube guard on the frame, the shifter/dropper cables and rear brake line may serve as the first line of protection, which isn't an ideal scenario. Then again, cables are cheaper to replace than a frame, so...

The suspension linkage features long-lasting Enduro Max cartridge bearings, and includes all relevant torque specs clearly printed on each pivot. There's also a handy exploded assembly diagram that shows what lubes and Loctite to use where.

Pivot stands behind the frame with a three year warranty and a one year limit on the paint/finish.

What's The Bottom Line?

Pivot set out to combine the best of their Mach 429 SL cross-country bike and Mach 6 enduro bike in the new Mach 429 Trail. While we think the end result is much more Mach 429 SL than Mach 6, you can certainly rally the new rig harder than any other cross-country bike we've ever ridden, though there is definitely a limit. We also rate it as one of the best climbers (if not the best) in the relatively new short-travel, slacked-out 29er category. It's a lightweight, nimble bike that excels at covering a lot of ground quickly, and would be an excellent choice for all day adventures or those wanting a fun trail bike coming off a true cross-country rig. We think it's best on high-speed trails with small to medium hits that benefit from a highly pumpable ride.

Those with experience on long-travel bikes who are looking to blast rough descents but still have a sense of efficiency on the climbs will likely find more comfort in short-travel 29ers from other brands due to the component selection, suspension tuning, and relatively short reach measurements on the Pivot.

Visit www.pivotcycles.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 5 stars - Spectacular
  • Descending: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Value: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars - Excellent

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the 2016 Pivot Mach 429 Trail XT/XTR Pro 1x up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

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

About Test Sessions

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

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Added a product review for 2016 Devinci Troy Carbon RR 4/28/2016 4:35 PM
C138_2016_devinci_troy_carbon_rr_bike

2016 Test Sessions: Devinci Troy Carbon RR

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Devinci went back to the drawing board with an all-new 2016 Troy frame design inspired by the look and feel of the longer travel Spartan. The bike previously had a very slender appearance and held a lot of promise, but a few details needed work for aggressive riders. It comes back for the new year ready to charge the rowdiest bits of trail with a beefed up carbon frame, 10mm more travel up front, and build kits much more in line the rider you'd expect to own a Troy. Sporting 140mm of rear wheel travel and 150mm in the front, the bike bridges the gap between lightweight trail machine and heavy duty enduro shredder. We put it to the test during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon DMC-G frame with aluminum chainstay
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 150mm (5.9-inches) fork travel
  • Split Pivot suspension
  • Sealed Enduro bearings
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • Two-position adjustable geometry
  • Post mount rear disc brake
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket shell with ISCG05 mounts
  • Boost 148mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 27.7-pounds (12.6kg)
  • MSRP $6,599 USD

Devinci's boxy-looking monocoque carbon frame uses EPS molding with T700 carbon fiber for the front triangle and seatstays, while the rocker and chainstays remain aluminum. The oversized bottom bracket area serves to improve overall stiffness and rigidity of the frame, as do the asymmetric chainstays, rocker, and seat tube. We dig the frame's almost continuous line from the rear axle to the headtube.

Dave Weagle's Split Pivot suspension system is a big highlight with a concentric rear axle pivot, which, according to Devinci, helps separate acceleration forces from braking forces. The fifth generation design is substantially more progressive than the previous Troy, adding lots of bottom-out support. The shock itself is pretty accessible which is great for on-the-fly adjustments, and its low and rearward position leaves plenty of room for a water bottle inside the main triangle. Devinci uses sealed Enduro bearings at all the pivot points.

The Troy now has the new Boost 148 rear axle standard, which allowed engineers to drop a few millimeters of chainstay length and stiffen the rear end. Mud clearance is still quite good with ~19mm (0.75-inches) of room for build up, even with short 424/426mm (16.7/16.8-inch) chainstays and a large 2.35-inch Schwalbe Hans Dampf tire. A DT Swiss RWS thru-axle makes wheel removal very convenient, although it sticks way out there.

Molded guards on the chainstay and inside of the seatstay protect from chainslap, and guards on the outside of both chainstays help keep things from getting too banged up in rough terrain. The small size of the downtube guard may be a concern for some.

Cable routing is super clean, remaining entirely internal on the main triangle with no external provisions. The rear derailleur cable is also routed through the chainstay for improved durability. New entry and exit ports similar to those used on the Spartan keep cable rattle to a minimum, though a bit of rattling can still be heard on very rough sections of trail as it lacks internal hose guides.

Devinci really stepped things up with their build kits for 2016, which include much more capable tires, wheels, suspension, and cockpit components. The bike is offered in four carbon ($3,639 to $6,599) and four aluminum models ($2,599 to $6,099), as well as both carbon and aluminum frame + shock kits for custom builds ($1,599 and $2,099). Our test was conducted on the top-of-the-line Troy Carbon RR, which slotted in as the most expensive bike of the Test Sessions lineup at $6,599, and also one of the lightest at just 27.7-pounds (12.6kg).

Differences between the carbon and aluminum frames are minimal. They include a 1.7-pound weight gain on the aluminum frame, plus the ability to use a direct mount front derailleur. Carbon models are 1X specific which allows the back end to stay snug and further cleans up the overall appearance.

Geometry

Comparing old vs new, the Troy now features 21+ millimeter (0.8-inch) longer reach values across the size range, 4mm (0.2-inch) shorter chainstays, improved standover heights, a 2-degree steeper seat angle, and slightly shorter seat tubes. A flip-flop pivot mechanism at the top of the seatstay allows you to switch the bike’s geometry between high and low settings, changing the head angle from 67.4 to 67-degrees, and bottom bracket height from 343 to 338mm (13.5 to 13.3-inches). Our size medium test bike featured a 440mm (17.3-inch) reach measurement, which was the longest of all medium test bikes at Test Sessions.

On The Trail

To really put the Troy to the test, we opted to repeat a pretty grueling loop on Phoenix's South Mountain several times, pedaling up the steep and occasionally very technical Javelina, Mormon, and National trails, followed by a high-speed descent down upper Holbert, before pedaling back up and rallying down Geronimo, an ultra rocky trail normally reserved for downhill bikes.

Setup on the Troy was as you'd expect. We began at 30% rear sag per Devinci's recommendation with the fork close to RockShox's suggested settings. The RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair was equipped with four Bottomless Bands, and the Pike RCT3 Dual Position Air fork had two Bottomless Tokens pre-installed by Devinci. We rode the bike in the lowest, slackest geometry setting.

The bike certainly does feel as though it's longer than most when you stand up, which contributes to a more stable ride in really rough and fast terrain. Riders around 5'10" to 5'11" (1.78 to 1.80m) tall that typically find themselves between sizes will likely be very content with the medium frame. However, our shorter 5'8" (1.73m) tall tester remarked that to get centered on the bike he felt as though his weight was actually in front of his feet, which can lead to some odd seesaw-like handling traits if left unchecked without a shorter stem to counteract the longer reach. The steeper 74.5-degree seat tube angle actually reduced the Troy's effective top tube measurement to 602mm (23.7-inches), putting both riders in a good seated pedaling position.

At the suggested 30% sag with four bands in the rear shock, we found it difficult to use all the travel consistently. This is a combination of a progressive suspension design and less air volume in the positive air spring chamber, which makes it ramp a lot. This gives the bike more of a precise poppy feel, especially deeper in the stroke. We found it best when run at 35% sag, which allows you to use a little more travel, gain more small bump compliance and traction, and sit just a hare deeper into the suspension. Another alternative would be to drop to three bands. It turns out the Troy is among the most progressive 140mm bikes on the market, which equates to a bike that is best ridden at full tilt.

Once we found our suspension sweet spot, the Troy's most outstanding characteristic was its stability and balance front to back, which allows you to really get after it. Coupled with the progressive nature of the suspension and additional help from the Bottomless Tokens and Bands, the bike feels as though it has more travel than it does, with a nice plush feel up top and enough bottom-out support to handle just about every hit you can imagine. It's surprisingly capable for a 140/150mm bike, providing a remarkably smooth, quiet ride that's able to plow through the chunder. It's far more forgiving than you'd expect, getting through sections with the same composure as many 160mm models.

Watch the bike in action as we charge down Geronimo. It's out in front.

Due to the progressive design, you're able to really push into the bike and get a pretty quick burst of speed as a result of your pumping efforts. While we wouldn't call it the most playful bike, the suspension and short 426mm (16.8-inch) chainstays help it strike a nice balance of play and plow. Getting the front end up at a moment's notice was never really an issue - whether for bunny hop, manualing something, or popping into a wheelie.

We faulted the previous Troy with harsh square-edge feedback and less than ideal traction, and this new bike addresses those issues pretty well, especially in the traction department. The addition of the Debonair can to the rear shock (and far better tires) helps maintain an incredible amount of grip, aiding with small bump compliance and a smoother off-the-top feel.

The Troy can require a bit more energy to ride fast in rough terrain due to the feedback it gives to the rider, which we again attribute to how it handles repeat square-edge hits. On a few instances while jumping into rocky sections we noted a slight tugging sensation and the bike seemed to get hung up a bit, though the feedback is smoother and less common than on the old bike.

Overall we were very impressed with the improvements to the Troy's descending capabilities, and we felt as though the bike would never get us into trouble. You're able to point it where you want it to go and it'll go there, which translated to a lot of fun in otherwise hard to ride, chunky terrain. It feels very composed at all times, even under heavy braking, which allows you to hold a line well and encourages you to go a bit faster.

140mm of DW Split Pivot suspension doing its thing.

While the previous Troy really excelled uphill and during sprints, changes to the build kit slow the new model down a hair. It retains a very similar pedaling feel with nearly identical anti-squat values, but the added suppleness of the rear shock and higher rotational weight of the meatier wheels and tires detract from its previous spritely feel. Switching to the RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair's pedal compression mode quieted the chassis motion just a bit while still maintaining most of the bike's small bump compliance. If you like a more surefooted feel during your pedals, this is probably the mode for you.

Climbing technical terrain was vastly improved, however, as we were no longer battling to find traction. The rear now follows the contour of the ground perfectly, providing a very secure, assured feel while pedaling up the steeps. It does require that you get your weight over the front a little more than usual, sliding forward on the saddle to prevent the front end from popping up.

The 338mm (13.3-inch) bottom bracket height never presented much of an issue in Phoenix's rocky terrain, and we only had one or two crank spikes while climbing in the shock's open compression mode.

Build Kit

Looking the components over, it's clear the Troy Carbon RR is a pretty high end bike. The build includes several top tier components from SRAM, RockShox, Chromag, DT Swiss and more, without sacrificing durability in search of the lightest overall weight.

The front end is highlighted by a 35mm diameter Chromag BZA handlebar and 50mm length stem, providing more width at 800mm (31.5-inches) than most riders need, but allowing you to customize the feel by chopping the bars down to your preferred width. The bar has a very low rise, however, which means you'll likely need a few spacers under the stem. Luckily Devinci leaves a healthy amount of steerer tube to do just that.

Thanks to the use of SRAM's MatchMaker system, the brakes, rear shifter, and 125mm travel RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost maintain a clean and uncluttered appearance in the cockpit. We appreciate that Devinci mounted the Reverb lever under the handlebar - a small but important detail many companies gloss over.

SRAM's 1x11 X01 drivetrain and carbon cranks once again proved to be almost entirely trouble free, providing quick and reliable shifting plus enough range for our needs. The X-SYNC chainring does a very good job of holding on to the chain, but we'd recommend an ISCG05 upper chainguide to ensure the best chain retention. Our only drivetrain issues included the rear derailleur mounting bolt loosening over time, and some noise due to chainslap.

The new Guide RSC brakes from SRAM did a fine job of slowing us down with a 180mm rotor up front and 160mm out back. We did have an issue with the rear rotor repeatedly loosening, however, which comes down to the use of a 6-bolt IS to Centerlock adapter necessary to mount them to the new DT Swiss M1700 Spline 2 wheels. On three different occasions the rear rotor developed a large amount of play, requiring us to remove the wheel and tighten the rotor. Despite torquing it tighter and tighter, the issue persisted. We reached out to DT Swiss for comment:

"While we have not had the chance to inspect or test the exact components used by Vital MTB in this test, we can say with confidence that occurrences of issues like this are extremely rare. That said, in the interest of getting to the root cause, DT has undergone significant lab and field testing in the attempt to replicate the issues found by Vital MTB on their test bike. After many hours of testing, we have not able to replicate the problem, though our testing is still ongoing. It is our feeling that the initial install of the parts was not done properly, and that this improper initial assembly led to the further issues Vital MTB found."

In the same correspondence DT Swiss also stated that loosening can occur when the bike is rocked back and forth. Despite this, the tubeless ready wheels proved to be very durable and were just slightly out of true at the conclusion of our test. The engagement provided by the Ratchet System is also very reliable and can be easily upgraded if you'd like a near instant response.

Schwalbe's 2.35-inch Hans Dampf Trailstar Snakeskin tires provided good sidewall support and we experienced no flats, though they lack the excellent hard cornering grip provided by some of their competitors, including the Maxxis High Roller II spec'd on other models of the Troy.

While the ProLogo Nago EVO X15 saddle turned out to be pretty comfortable, it has a long, narrow profile that clashes with the rest of the bike and may not suit all personal tastes.

So would we opt for this high end build, or could you save a few thousand dollars and get something that performs nearly as well? Devinci uses the same carbon frame throughout the lineup, after all. Thanks to good tires and the same rear shock across the range, most of the Troy bikes will ride in a very similar manner. We actually prefer the looks of the more affordable Carbon XT and SX models, which ditch the trivial Dual Position feature on the Pike fork and gain better all-around tires.

Long Term Durability

Rotor issue aside, the Troy appears to be in it for the long haul. The linkage and pivot points are easy to maintain thanks to great accessibility, and the use of Enduro brand bearings means things are likely to remain in good shape for a while. Devinci provides users with a detailed maintenance guide that includes torque specs, exploded assembly diagrams, and tips to resolve any creaking issues that may arise. The frame is backed by a generous "Ride in Peace" lifetime warranty with a one year limit on the pivots.

What's The Bottom Line?

Where the previous Devinci Troy fell short in rough terrain, the new bike excels. It's an incredibly well balanced, short travel trail bike that outclasses many longer travel rides. New school geometry, more appropriate build kits, and balanced suspension with a deep, plush, bottomless feel make it surprisingly capable, yet the short travel nature of the bike makes it pretty efficient and ready for an all-day romp through the forest. It likely won't be the first one to get up the hill, but its new approach helps it keep trucking along consistently 'til you're ready to rally. Those who favor the descents, like a longer reach and knowing where their wheels are, and appreciate a very progressive suspension feel will be at home on this ride.

Visit www.devinci.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Descending: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Value: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars - Excellent

Bonus Gallery: 32 photos of the 2016 Devinci Troy Carbon RR up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Juliana Roubion C S 4/5/2016 6:55 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Juliana Roubion C S

Rating:

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

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

One very well-known bike in this class is the Juliana Roubion. The Roubion was already hugely popular as the first carbon enduro race bike branded for women, but for 2016 it gets a bit of a facelift. Can geometry and suspension tweaks make this an even more dominant ride for the lady who wants to rip up her local trails or crush it in an enduro race?

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • VPP suspension
  • Women’s specific contact points
  • Tapered headtube
  • Fully guided internal dropper post and derailleur cable routing
  • Optional side-swing direct mount front derailleur
  • IS rear brake tabs
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • Boost 148mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size small, no pedals): 28.9-pounds (13.1kg)
  • MSRP $4,699 USD

So what exactly is new? The first big thing is the suspension, which has a revised linkage layout to help improve how the bike absorbs small bumps and to give it some more progressive support when you're riding in rough terrain. This update also helps stiffen the frame up a bit, keeps the bottom link a little more out of harm's way, and makes it possible to lower the top tube for more clearance.

Out back the bike gets the new Boost rear axle, and you'll notice some nice rubber guards that help protect the frame from damage. We're pleased to see it can still fit a water bottle in the main triangle. We also really like the clean internal cable routing that doesn't rattle at all.

The new Roubion also sees some geometry updates to improve handling in rough terrain and efficiency in the saddle. Juliana brings it into 2016 by lengthening the reach by 20-25mm (up to 1-inch) to accommodate the increasingly popular 50mm and shorter stems. The head angle has also been slackened a degree to bring it to a more aggressive 66-degrees. It was given a 0.8-degree steeper seat tube and 6mm (0.24-inch) shorter chainstays for climbing and cornering performance. One big update for the ladies are lower standover heights across the size range, providing added clearance for those of us with shorter legs. Lastly the seat tubes were shortened to allow for longer travel dropper posts.

Juliana offers the bike in two carbon varieties. From the outside the "C" models look identical to the fancy "CC" frames, but due to differences in the carbon type the CC frames benefit from a 0.6-pound (280g) lighter weight. Frame stiffness, durability, and strength are the same between the two types.

The Roubion comes in several complete models, from the entry level $3,599 C R to the high end and flashy CC XX1 build at $7,899, and you can put a perfectly matched set of ENVE wheels on some of them for an extra $2,000. There's also a CC frame + shock combo available for $2,999. Expect an aluminum version to drop sometime soon. We tested the $4,699 C S, which features the best build kit you can get on the more affordable frame.

Our mission (which we choose to accept) was to assess whether Juliana’s updates and claims did in fact add up to one badass trail machine. We had our test track mapped out and were raring to go!

On The Trail

We were lucky enough to take a break from the cold and snow hitting most of the country to check out the nice and warm trails in Phoenix. Our test track was on South Mountain, and included sections of Javelina, Mormon, National, Holbert, and Geronimo trails. If we had to pick one word to describe them it'd be "rough," and our second choice would be "rocky." So long as we avoided the cactus they were certainly a great place to put a bike through its paces. Steep and techy climbs coupled with fast and technical descents gave us a clear picture of how the bike handled in all sorts of terrain.

Juliana really impressed us with their stock cockpit, and we left the bars, stem, grips, and Juliana Segundo saddle as they were and found them quite comfy. The 760mm (29.9-inch) Race Face Ride bars might be a bit wide for some ladies, however we appreciate that they allow us to customize width without having to purchase a new pair. We were surprised and pleased with the inclusion of a 50mm stem. Lastly, the Juliana grips match the color of the frame, really pull together the whole look, and are lock-ons which makes it easy should you want to make a switch. This bike comes stock with a tubeless tire setup which usually allows you to run slightly lower tire pressure than with tubes, though our rocky terrain required them to be a bit stiffer than normal. We had between 25-28psi in the front and 30-32psi in the rear depending on the tester, which seemed to be right on the money as this was one of the few bikes that didn’t experience a flat.

The last bit to set up before getting on the trail was the suspension. For this we deferred to the experts and started with the recommended pressures for both the fork and shock. The RockShox Pike has a handy chart right on the fork that tells you approximately how much pressure to run based on your weight. The FOX Float Performance rear shock setup chart on the Juliana website recommends 15-17mm of sag and gives some pressure ranges to start with. Easy peasy. Compression was set at full open on both the fork and shock to start as suggested by Juliana. We started with rebound set very neutral but ended up slowing it down a few clicks throughout our test to settle the bike down a bit.

With setup complete it's time to get back to our mission. Do the 2016 updates create a ripping ladies enduro bike? Let’s start up our first climb and work this out.

Right away we noticed that the revised Roubion allows for better force transfer to the pedals with its steeper seat tube angle, and the bike is able to power up steep pitches in control. We found that this bike felt relatively light on the climbs for its travel, and was able to get up and go efficiently in any gear both in and out of the saddle. We really appreciated this as we eyed up some of the bigger climbs.

On the multitude of technical climbing sections we found the small bump compliance of the suspension was decent and helped us maintain traction and balance. On larger ledges we sometimes felt a bit bounced around, however, as the bike seemed to get hung up and slightly resist rolling over rocks. Shifting weight forward and back is relatively easy on this bike, though, which helps you keep moving along. Knowing we had a low standover encouraged us to try tricky climbing sections we weren’t 100% sure we would make. While the rock tended to be surprisingly grippy, it was helped by the quality rubber of the Maxxis Minion DHR II tires. We only found ourselves losing traction on very steep and loose sections which were areas all bikes struggled.

With the techy climbs behind us it was time to let the bike open up and show its true colors. Within seconds it was obvious that it wanted to haul over any and all rocks in its way and we were more than willing to let it try. We found the Roubion to be incredibly forgiving through the many medium size successive hits we subjected it to, and the new slacker head angle and lower bottom bracket made it feel really stable. It also feels really balanced when it's time for a bit of air.

When we previously rode the Roubion in Downieville, California, our experience was similar as Courtney recounts:

"I don't think I've ever gone so fast on a bike and nearly as fearlessly. The Roubion didn't require more than 50 feet of trail before I felt perfectly comfortable. It loved carving corners and popping off any bumps at all reminiscent of a jump lip. After getting in some flow, the trail produced some rocky sections to really challenge the Roubion and validate those geometry changes. On the first lap some of these rocky bits were a bit of a trip up, but come round two I think we all felt proud of how we made our way through them atop the purple bike. Powering through some of these tirelessly rough sections, the Roubion kept rolling, didn't get bogged down, and didn't pinball off of the rocks."

In the arguably rougher terrain on South Mountain we did find an odd trait, however. While it wants to run, it isn’t exactly precise. We didn’t feel the bike was reactive enough to handle super quick line changes at speed in the rough, which we were able to do on other bikes in the Test Sessions lineup. According to Juliana, the suspension is now more progressive, but there was still some of that sluggish response time which was a complaint of the previous model. This slow response was felt in both the Open and Trail modes on the rear shock, although slightly less so in Trail. Reducing sag from 17mm to 15mm was nice on climbs, but did little to help this feeling and yielded less control over the back end while descending. We also adjusted the rebound quite a bit to see if we could improve things, but we struggled to find a great sense of control. Overall it just seemed to require more effort to maneuver in super rocky terrain than comparable women's models.

s

Watch the 150mm of bump gobbling VPP suspension in action.

As previously mentioned, it's suggested to ride the Pike and FOX Float with full open compression. While we found that this was a great starting point, Amanda’s preference was to have it in Trail mode for both climbing and descending. It made the bike slightly more responsive downhill and saved some much needed energy on the uphill. Courtney found that at the recommended settings the fork was diving, but adding more pressure gave a harsh feel. This could have been helped by adding a Bottomless Token, returning the pressure back to the recommended setting and then dialing it in with some added compression.

Build Kit

All of the components on the Roubion C S build add up to a bike that weighs a respectable 28.9-pounds (13.1kg) without pedals. It was light and snappy on the uphills but felt surprisingly solid and planted on the downhill. We felt this gave the Roubion all the right stuff in all the right places, and it was easy to lift into the back of a truck. Bonus!

The RockShox Pike RC Solo Air fork provides a really plush ride. It proved to be great over small bumps and kept us supported through the bigger hits as well, though some may want to add a Bottomless Token inside. The fork can be easily adjusted to changing trail conditions with the compression knob on top.

Paired with the Pike RC is the FOX Float Performance rear shock. The "CTD" shock has three compression modes (climb, trail, and descend) plus a rebound adjustment. Having to flip switches every time the trail changes isn’t our idea of a good time, and this shock did its job with minimal adjustments. That said, consider the optional upgrade to the Float X shock for the best performance.

The 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHR II tires maintain control up front with a softer rubber compound, and the longer lasting and harder compound in the back kept rolling speed pretty good. We like to see that companies aren’t short changing the ladies and choosing a tire that can stand up to a lot of abuse. While the rest of the crew experienced flats, we burped this tire once but the tubeless setup had our back.

Paired with the Minion tires are Easton AR 24 rims laced to SRAM MTH hubs, which are a little lighter than the rims used on the men's Santa Cruz Bronson equivalent. Being lighter riders we didn’t think we would notice much in the wheel department, but we did manage to dent the rims by our sixth ride, which had us a bit concerned. We found that the SRAM MTH hubs, while we did have to tighten the rear one, had decent engagement to get us up and over the many piles of rocks on our test trails.

Given the fact that the Roubion is a bike made to rip, it's nice that they chose brakes and rotors to reflect that. The Shimano SLX M675 brakes are helped along by the stock 180mm rotors front and rear. Having larger rotors with Shimano's Ice Technology increases overall stopping power and dissipates heat, keeping the brakes grippy all the way down the hill. Plus the SLX brakes have a knob for reach adjustments on the fly and we found the levers quite comfy.

Our size small test bike came with a generous 125mm (4.9-inch) travel RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper seatpost, and larger sizes come with even longer 150mm (5.9-inch) posts. This gave us plenty of room to maneuver around the bike when pointed downhill. The lever spacing is pretty poor and sometimes hard to reach for those with small hands, though, because the Reverb lever and Shimano brakes don't play well together.

We have said it before and we will say it again, we love 1x drivetrains. They are simple, quiet, and keep the cockpit (and our brains) clutter free. The SRAM GX 1x11 drivetrain and shifters worked together to make shifting easy. We didn’t experience any dropped chains, and even through constant rock bashing the drivetrain stayed well adjusted. We did have to tighten the bolt on the derailleur during our testing, however. This is something to remember to check occasionally. The stock 32-tooth front chainring worked well for the test terrain. If your home trails are a bit steeper there is always the option to go to a 30 or 28-tooth to make it a little easier on the low end.

Unlike most 1x bikes we've tried, we did notice quite a bit of chain slap and it seemed to get louder under braking. The chainstay comes with a nice looking custom molded guard to keep noise and frame damage to a minimum, but some additional protection on the seat stay may help.

Overall this build at $4,699 is solid. Based on the value of the components we feel it is worth going with this model over the lower priced option at $3,599. At the lower price point many women would want to upgrade several parts after just a season or two. The two more expensive models priced at $6,599 and $8,099 are built around the CC frame with an option for custom color ENVE rims. If you have some financial flexibility, then sure, go with the slightly lighter models, but for those of you looking to get the most bang for your buck we feel the Roubion C S is money well spent.

Long Term Durability

So will this bike last over the long haul? For the most part we think so. During our testing we did experience a loose rear derailleur and hub, but we feel this falls under routine maintenance and might be something to check a bit more frequently. Because we were able to dent the Easton AR24 rims during our test this is our only real concern with long term durability when it comes to the components.

Maintenance wise, the Roubion has some cool grease fittings on the linkage to keep things running smooth, sealed angular contact bearings, and locking collet axle pivots to keep everything tight. We did notice some of the cables rubbing on the seat tube, so consider putting some tape or vinyl on the frame as a layer of paint protection.

Juliana has a lifetime frame and bearing warranty you can count on, and a no-fault, minimal charge replacement program in the event of a crash or other non-warranty mishap.

What's The Bottom Line?

Is the new Juliana Roubion one BA lady's enduro machine? We think it could be for the right rider. It's certainly an able climber that can tackle gnarly descents with an inspiring amount of stability. At the recommended settings we found it was great at holding a line through really challenging sections, although it sometimes required extra effort to change lines when the trail called for it. As such, we think the Roubion will shine brightest for women with great bike handling skills on trails worthy of a bigger bike, so it's fitting that it will be the war horse for Enduro World Series racers Anka Martin, Sarah Leishman, and Kelli Emmett.

Value wise, the stock parts spec and carbon frame won’t leave you feeling the need to upgrade for a while. We would absolutely recommend this bike to any of our go-getter friends who want to rip up the trails. Now excuse us while we sneak in another lap!

Visit www.julianabicycles.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Descending: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Fun Factor: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Value: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars - Excellent

Bonus Gallery: 31 photos of the 2016 Juliana Roubion C S up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for FOX 32 SC Factory FIT4 Fork 4/5/2016 10:08 AM
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First Look: FOX 32 Step-Cast (SC) Fork

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With the 2016 Olympics in Rio quickly approaching, the timing makes sense for FOX to update their cross country race fork. What you see here is the new FOX 32 Step-Cast (SC) fork, which uses a wild-looking chassis design that results in incredibly light weights across the 27.5 and 29-inch range. All told they've dropped an impressive 225g (0.5-pounds) off the 27.5-inch 2016 32 model thanks to the new narrower chassis design. Travel is limited to just 100mm (3.9-inches), and it can accommodate a wide range of tires.

The fork also marks the introduction of FOX's new FIT GRIP damper, which falls between their top of the line FIT4 damper and their most affordable models. The FIT GRIP damper could work its way into other models as well.

Complete details are available in the press release, below.


Press Release

What's Inside

Pricing and Availability

FOX 32 SC forks will be available starting May, 2016. Visit www.ridefox.com for more details.

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Evil The Following X1 3/30/2016 1:55 AM
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2016 Test Sessions: Evil The Following X1

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

The Following is an aggressive 29er created to push the boundaries of the big wheel. But with just 120mm of rear travel there's not a whole lot to work with, right? Turns out the carefully considered combination of big wheels, good components, dialed suspension, and progressive geometry allow you to do things typically reserved for a longer travel bike. The full carbon rig builds off the success of Evil's previous models while seeing a number of key updates that will continue to influence future designs. We straddled the head-turner with high hopes during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 120mm (4.7-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • Delta System suspension
  • Adjustable geometry via flip chips
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • Water bottle mount in main triangle
  • Rubber chainstay, seat stay, and downtube guards
  • Dual row angular contact bearings
  • Post mount rear disc brake (max 185mm rotor)
  • Front derailleur direct mount
  • Press fit 92 bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 28.8-pounds (13.1kg)
  • MSRP $4,999 USD

At the heart of The Following is Dave Weagle's wild-looking Delta System suspension, short for Dave's Extra Legitimate Travel Apparatus. The linkage driven single-pivot design uses very compact links to create a dual progressive leverage rate curve designed to "achieve a high degree of suppleness early in the travel, a very predictable high traction stage through the middle, and a bottomless ramp at the end of the travel." Part of the linkage can be flipped around for a geometry adjustment without altering the leverage or wheel rate.

Compared to prior Evil models, The Following brings improved lateral stiffness and new links with forged bosses to simplify shock installation and geometry adjustments. The swingarm is attached through the seat tube using a 15mm pivot axle, and dual row angular contact bearings keep things in check. Access to shock damping adjustments is pretty good, though you're limited to just a few shock options due to the snug mounting area. The Following is shipped with a custom-tuned 184x44mm (7.25x1.75-inch) RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock with a high volume eyelet.

Evil's carbon construction is one area you might wonder about based on a somewhat muddy past. With a number of cracked downhill bikes and ridiculously long replacement times haunting their history, we're pleased to report that those days are rapidly disappearing from the rearview mirror. The Following uses uni-directional carbon with a one-piece molded construction "from one of the best factories in the business" (not the one that gave them so much trouble).

A wide, boxy headtube and downtube help stiffen the front end, and the top tube narrows as it approaches the seat tube for a clean look. Peering inside the rear triangle reveals unique triangular profile chainstays which we assume were cleverly designed to add rigidity to the back end.

The frame is protected by integrated rubber guards on the chainstay, seat stay, and downtube. Evil also put a metal plate inside the chainstay area to prevent further damage from the chain.

We always found it a little odd that a company based in the seemingly-always-wet Pacific North West ever produced frames with mud clearance issues, but that's all gone on The Following. The stock 2.3-inch Maxxis tires mounted to 30mm wide rims have about 7mm (0.3-inches) of room for the muck, which is pretty generous for a 29er with very short 432mm (17.0-inch) chainstays. Evil was able to pull off the snug rear end despite lacking the new Boost 148mm rear axle standard. The 12x142mm rear axle requires an allen key for removal and installation, keeping the rear width pretty minimal for tight squeezes through rocks and vegetation.

Cable routing is very clean with no kinks, odd bends, or rattle on the trail. It's simple and straightforward. The rear brake remains entirely external for easy maintenance, while the dropper post, rear derailleur, and optional front derailleur go internal for at least part of their path.

The Following comes in X01 and X1 build kits priced at $6,599 and $4,999 US, respectively. You can also go custom with a $2,599 frame and shock combo. We tested the X1 build.

Geometry

We received the bike in the stock "high" geometry setting, and given the extremely rocky terrain we were riding decided it best to switch to the "low" setting to see what the bike was really capable of. Though it seems simple in concept, the process involves removing several bolts while fumbling with flips chips and doing your best not to drop anything. While still a hassle, this is actually an improvement over previous models. The hardware is now captured, the dog bone links insert nicely into the bearings, etc, so Evil is making improvements. We suggest making the adjustment with the bike in a stand and rear wheel removed to make it a little easier. Supporting the rear triangle during the process is also a big help.

In the low setting with a 130mm fork, our size medium test bike featured a 419mm (16.5-inch) reach, measured 335mm (13.2-inch) bottom bracket height, and 67.2-degree head angle. With exception to the slightly short reach measurement, all of these numbers fall close to those used by several brands chasing the aggressive short travel 29er segment, but a tad slacker. We chose to use Evil's suggested sizing for our 5'8" and 5'10" (1.73 and 1.78m) tall testers.

While the bike is designed around a 120 or 130mm (4.7 or 5.1-inch) travel fork, Evil doesn't hesitate when saying that you're welcome to bump up to 140mm (5.5-inches). The longer fork will slacken the head angle out to 66.4-degrees in the low setting and raise the bottom bracket slightly. Those wanting to go this route may want to opt for a larger frame than recommended on Evil's website due to reach measurement reduction as the front end rises.

On The Trail

Now for the fun part - putting this thing to the test. The trails on Phoenix's South Mountain are not meant for the faint of heart, and they dish up a dose of rowdiness and exposure that make even Pros think twice. Curious to see if The Following could tackle the same terrain as something with more travel and smaller wheels, we gave it the opportunity to strut its stuff on National, Geronimo, and 32nd Street trails. From high speed rock blasting to tight techy maneuvers and loose shale fall line riding, The Following saw it all. We also took it to some sweet jumps for good measure.

Considering the shock is so buried inside the frame, it's pretty difficult to see the markings on the RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair, making it difficult to setup the traditional way with an o-ring. To make things a little easier, Evil provides a sag indicator that allows you to find the suggested 30% sag point relatively easily. Simply unweight the bike, rotate the indicator forward, sit on the saddle, dismount, then check to see if the indicator has moved just enough to read the 30% marking. Adjust air pressure and repeat as needed. If available, a high pressure shock pump is nice to have as the bike's high leverage rate combined with a Debonair can means you'll likely need many, many psis.

With the introduction of several bikes like The Following, the days of 29ers feeling like unstable, weebly wobbly circus acts seem as though they're pretty much over. This new breed of bike blurs a sense of short travel efficiency with the ability to take on rough terrain relatively unfazed. Despite similar angles and specifications, it's still surprising how different each of these new bikes can ride, however. For example, we found the Pivot Mach 429 Trail and Trek Fuel EX 29 lean toward the pedal-friendly side, while the Transition Smuggler and Banshee Phantom seem more able to tackle rougher trails. As one of our testers put it after ploughing through a section of rocks, Evil's take lands at the "It's not a 29er for efficiency, it's a 29er for mowing over shit" end of the spectrum.

The bike's ability to monster truck and maintain momentum is one of its biggest strong suits, handling incredibly well in terrain normally reserved for longer travel bikes. If someone had told us that we were on a 150mm (5.9-inch) travel bike as we mashed though South Mountain's relentless rock fields we'd almost believe them. It's surprising how capable it truly is, and you get the sense that this ride isn't ever going to do you wrong. It's balanced front to back, the large wheels help you skip across the rough bits unscathed, you've got good, supportive tires with ample traction, and the slack geometry is there to help you out as well. At no point did we ever feel as though we were getting hung up on the front end.

GERONIMO! Here's a taste of the trails we rode on The Following.

Rough landings feel very planted, and it's here that one can really appreciate how the suspension ramps up. There's a soft, supple initial feel that transitions into a firm, yet smooth, deep, supportive end stroke. We were never worried about coming up short as the bike just took it in stride and never bucked. On most of these new school 29ers you know where the bottom is, but on the Evil you lose that sensation. It's one of the most progressive bikes like this on the market and it shows, even without volume spacers in the shock.

We applaud The Following for getting us out of would-be-wild situations that we find "fun" - like airing into piles of rocks, trying stupid lines, drifting through loose shale, or entering a turn at an angle the textbooks say shouldn't be possible. The only instance we felt out of our comfort zone was when we were exhausted while nearing the end of a continuous descent attempt on Geronimo, a trail most riders typically tackle with a full-fledged downhill bike. On this occasion several large successive hits exposed the limits of the short travel design. Big, hard landings (aka hucks to flat) can be a bit taxing. In these situations you need to be more on it than on a longer travel bike, as the feedback coming through the bars and pedals is more defined, but still manageable.

Dave's Extra Legitimate Travel Apparatus in action.

With all this talk of "rough this" and "rowdy that," what about the fast flowy stuff? Turns out The Following has a fondness for high speeds in jumpy, pumpy, fun terrain as well, and can feel like a short travel slalom bike at times. While many smaller bikes are "playful" with a boingy attitude, this one strikes a bit more of a balance - playful when it needs to be, but stabile, quiet, and calm when the occasion calls for it. That's the beauty of 29-inch wheels, proper geometry, and a progressive suspension design. It doesn't have an overly snappy feel, but those short chainstays really make it easy to get the front end up at a moment's notice which helps in this regard. They also help the bike gain a bit of mobility and nimbleness that 29ers don't always have. That said, you do have to be deliberate about leaning the bike over in turns. It will just keep mowing over stuff unless you forcibly tip it over.

The second you stand up and start to pump the terrain it redefines your appreciation of speed, gaining a lot of it with each big input. This quality is one of the raddest things about The Following, and it's something the vast majority of longer travel 27.5 bikes fail to provide. You pump, it pumps. You hop, it hops. You don't just sit down in that travel, and it's surprisingly quick to get after it. You can remain very active in the driver's seat without it holding you down or muting your movements, and when you push into it you always get your desired outcome.

After piloting The Following into a particularly rough landing followed by a tight turn with a jump to another berm, we noted the suspension's great ability to quickly recover from just about everything - the hard initial impact, several square-edged bumps on the landing, braking and chatter entering the corner, and then the compression in the turn before pulling back for the jump. On many other bikes this move was more difficult due to the suspension packing up. Jumping is extremely predictable and enjoyable, even if the big wheels do act like sails in the wind.

Looking the bike's specs over you might question the absence of the newer Boost axle standard. In our experience the bike felt plenty stout without it. In fact it was the stiffest feeling of all 29ers we rode (even some Boost models), and the stays are already insanely short for a 29er. If anything, Boost might bring some additional mud clearance which could be rad.

Pointed uphill the bike has an efficient feel in every gear combo, although with this build kit it's more akin to a diesel truck than a dragster coming off the start line. There's no sense of bobbing or wasted energy, and when you sprint it gets up and goes, but it takes moment to do so and doesn't feel super springy at the pedals. Compared to the Pivot Mach 429 Trail and Trek Fuel EX 29 we rode in the days prior, the Evil needs a little more effort and pre-planning on climbs. Big bunny-hop style moves require that you push into the suspension for the desired response, but upon landing it feels very stable and small pedal inputs translate into forward momentum quickly enough to keep you cruising. Pedaling over techy terrain is a treat as it never really tugs at your feet, nor does the suspension extend drastically as you power over the top of short bursty climbs. We left the shock's compression damping open all the time, preferring to let the suspension do its job as we scaled ledgy climb after ledgy climb.

While Evil lists the seat angle at 74.3-degrees, realize that this is the effective (and somewhat subjective) seat tube angle. Riders with long legs may notice that the actual seat tube angle puts them over the back wheel, which certainly eases getting the front end up, but can make keeping the front end down on steep uphill grunts a chore. Even so, we experienced no issues with the front end pushing in the low setting with a 130mm fork installed. The bike's bottom bracket height seems perfectly reasonable, and pedal strikes were never an issue.

Build Kit

Evil's X1 build kit does an excellent job of mixing top performers with high value workhorses. The $4,999 price point seems very reasonable given the components and carbon frame. Everything seems to be of high quality, and there are no parts we feel the need to swap asap. Note that The Following ships as a frame with a parts kit, meaning it requires more assembly than most bikes.

One notable component that immediately makes the bike stand out is the 40mm (1.6-inch) high rise handlebar. At the same time the bike has a very short headtube. This helps put you in the proper position with fewer spacers, though adjustability is a bit limited if you prefer a low front end. You're looking at a decently wide 750mm (29.5-inch) Easton Haven bar coupled with a 40mm stem, both in the larger 35mm diameter size. While shorter stems have become increasingly popular, it's still rare that bikes come with something shorter than 50mm - a nod to the benefits of a long reach and short stem combo pioneered by Mondraker. This bar and stem is perfectly aligned with the bike's rowdy disposition in mind, though some may find a slightly longer stem can improve handling in some instances. That, or opt for a larger frame and keep the little guy in place, especially if you're between sizes.

While some company logos make for great grips, Evil's logo isn't one of them. We dug the flange, though, as it's low profile enough to not interfere with controls while adding to the secure feel of cockpit.

As we've come to expect, the RockShox Pike RCT3 fork was a solid performer. We had one issue early on where one of the pre-installed Bottomless Token volume spacers came loose, creating a hideous rattle inside the fork. This was easily remedied back at the trailhead, however. The fork includes three Tokens stock, and was aired up about 5psi higher than recommended to achieve good bottom-out resistance. An alternative would be to add another Token and remove a small amount of pressure to help the bike gain better small bump compliance. The included fork is at 130mm of travel, but could be extended to 140mm to make the bike more capable with some internal part swaps.

Our test bike came equipped with dual 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHF 3C EXO tires, which have long been regarded as some of the most predictable performers by the big bike crowd. We noted plenty of cornering bite with no odd transition zone, though braking performance could be better. Evil lists the rear tire as a 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO on their website which would help in this regard. Evil's bike photos show a Maxxis Ardent though, so who knows what you'll actually receive...

The tires were paired with Easton Heist 30 (Arc) rims laced to Easton X5 straight pull hubs using straight gauge spokes and long brass nipples, which will likely withstand tunes for years to come. Spoke tension was excellent even after lots of hard riding, though the rear wheel was slightly out of true. The 30mm internal width rims give the Maxxis tires a more stable feel through rough terrain, which allows you to open it up a bit more. We could also reduce our typical pressures by a few psi which helped with small bump performance. The wider rims do remove a bit of the fun, springy feel that Maxxis EXO tires often exhibit, however, which can be a blast for experienced riders and add to a bike's playful feel. Swapping from tubes to tubeless on the Heist 30 wheelset was a painless switch as the rims come pre-taped and ready to roll.

We should note that Evil's website lists Race Face Aeffect wheels on this build, which have a narrower rim (23mm vs 30mm), require an extra kit for tubeless conversion, and are heavier than the Heists (1,900g vs 1,790g). Engagement is tied between both options at 21 points, which is an area for improvement, especially on technical terrain. Given a choice, we'd opt for the Heist 30 wheels as they add a lot to the capability and smash-over-anything feel of the bike like we described above.

SRAM's Guide R brakes with dual 180mm rotors provided plenty of stopping power for the large wheels, though considering the speeds and diameter of the wheels it wouldn't be out of the question to slap a 200mm up front (you're limited to 185mm in the rear). Modulation was good, there was no howling, lever feel was excellent, we experienced no fade, and there's always more power waiting if you squeeze harder. We really enjoy the clean look of the cockpit thanks to the 1X drivetrain and SRAM's Matchmaker mounts.

The mix of 11-speed SRAM X1 parts, Race Face Turbine crankset, and a 30-tooth narrow/wide chainring yielded a drivetrain that was smooth and quiet. The range provided by the 10-42 tooth cassette was sufficient for our time at South Mountain. We'd suggest the addition of a top guide for those riding consistently rough terrain.

Given the slack actual seat tube angle, the 125mm (4.9-inch) travel RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost could be felt occasionally binding on the way down. We'd also love to see the dropper lever mounted under the bar instead of over it.

Long Term Durability

After washing the bike we noted that water can easily enter the frame through the internal routing hole for the optional front derailleur, so consider covering it up if it's a concern. The PF92 bottom bracket never creaked during our test, but it certainly doesn't need encouragement from water.

Looking the frame over, the number of moving parts on the Delta System may prompt some concern as well. We suggest lightly greasing the links and bolts when changing the geometry setting, and again after sustained periods of rain or dust. Evil prints torque specs on the bolts for your convenience, and everything is accessible with the cranks installed. Just two bearing sizes are used throughout the bike to make maintenance easier.

Finally, inspired by the bike's pure huckability, one of our testers managed to send it hard enough that the rear tire buzzed the seat tube at bottom out, which indicates a potential clearance issue with larger tires. As far as we can tell this only occurred one time.

Evil backs the frame with a three year limited warranty and lifetime crash replacement program.

What's The Bottom Line?

We weren't joking when we said Evil's The Following isn't a 29er for efficiency, it's a 29er for mowing over shit. This distinction sets it apart from other bikes with similar amounts of travel and geometry numbers. Skilled riders willing to give up a little control to the bike will be surprised with its consistency, momentum, and ability to recover from typically wild on-trail scenarios. Evil's progressive Delta System suspension works wonders in this application, providing a bottomless feel that allows you to let loose on more sections. While not our first choice for all day outings, this is a bike you can throw around and have fun on, and that's what we live for. Embrace it. Ride it hard. Let it drift a bit. Drop a foot in the turns. Jump stuff and pull up at every chance...

The Following is very exciting to ride, an excellent execution of the new school 29er concept, and a worthy winner of Vital MTB's Bike of the Year Shreddy Award.

Visit www.evil-bikes.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the 2016 Evil The Following X1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

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

About Test Sessions

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

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Added a product review for 2016 Felt Decree 3 3/10/2016 10:46 AM
C138_2016_felt_decree_3

2016 Test Sessions: Felt Decree 3

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

While Felt might be best known for their road bikes, over the past few years they’ve been hard at work further developing their mountain line. Featuring an all carbon frame with Felt Active Stay Technology (FAST) suspension, the 140mm (5.5-inch) travel Decree uses flexible seatstays in order to mimic the performance characteristics of a four-bar system, yet eliminates the need for a pivot near the rear dropout. This simplifies and reduces the overall weight of the rear triangle, yielding an ultralight frame that's still surprisingly sturdy. We were excited to throw a leg over the bike and see how it performs during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 150mm (5.9-inches) fork travel
  • Felt Active Stay Technology (FAST) suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • Adjustable geometry via flip chip
  • Removable direct front derailleur mount
  • 160mm post disc brake mount
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size 20, no pedals): 27.7-pounds (12.6kg)
  • MSRP $4,499 USD

What's all this talk about flex? Isn't that a bad thing? Not necessarily. While the word may have scary connotations, the end result can actually yield a very stiff frame because flexible stay designs allow you to eliminate a pivot point. As the Decree's suspension is compressed, the FAST system works by letting the seatstays flex upwards. The flex is needed because without it (or a pivot) the system would bind and you wouldn't be able to compress the shock.

While many companies have used flexible stays on suspension bikes before, including Felt with their Virtue starting clear back in 2007, Felt's approach remains pretty unique. In contrast to many modified single pivot flexible stay designs, they chose to make it so the stays are not flexing (neutralized) at the rear suspension's sag point rather than full extension. They achieve this by molding the carbon rear triangle slightly larger than it would otherwise need to be. With the bike unweighted and shock fully extended the rear triangle is compressed, at 30% sag it's neutral, and as you continue into the travel the triangle is spread apart/extended by the rocker as shown in this diagram:

Felt says that making the neutral flex point occur at sag helps "combat unwanted suspension activity." During both shock extension and compression from the sag point, the flexible stays create forces that counteract the movement, helping the bike return to the 30% sag point and creating a more stable platform for pedaling. Felt claims it's "just enough resistance... but not so much that bump compliance is compromised."

There's more to it than just pedaling, though, as the marketing materials are quick to point out. Under big impacts the stays help resist bottoming, and at top out the stays help compress the shock and soften the initial part of travel.

Looking the full carbon rig over you'll notice a massive bottom bracket area and wide top tube, both of which add substantial stiffness to the frame. The bike comes in a few carbon varieties depending on the model, with the highest end Decree FRD sporting Felt's "UHC Ultimate + TeXtreme" carbon fiber layup with a checkerboard weave that allows them to use less resin for an even lower frame weight. The Decree 1 and 3 feature slightly heavier frames due to the use of "UHC Advanced + TeXtreme" and "UHC Performance" carbon, respectively.

Felt's interesting looking internal cable "hub" on front of the head tube is actually pretty handy, as it allows you to run the cables however you choose. This is especially nice for those running their brakes moto-style. Any unused housing ports are covered by rubber plugs, and the ports that are occupied hold the housing secure via rubber fittings in an effort to minimize cable rattle while riding. The system works well and cable slap wasn't an issue on the trail. Near the bottom bracket you'll find an exit port that doubles as a Shimano Di2 battery holder should you wish to upgrade the drivetrain in the future. The rear derailleur and rear brake route internally through the chainstays, and there are options for Stealth or top tube dropper post routing.

Other details include a locking collet axle on the main pivot, room for a water bottle in the main triangle, a standard 73mm threaded bottom bracket, ISCG tabs, and the cleanest removable front derailleur mount we've ever seen. There's about 13mm (0.5-inches) of mud clearance with the stock 2.25-inch Schwalbe rear tire. The frame is protected by a rubber chainstay guard, though the downtube and inner seatstay are left unprotected.

Felt offers four Decree models: the Decree FRD at $9,999 USD, Decree 1 at $6,499, Decree 3 at $4,499, and Decree 30 at $3,499. The Decree 30 uses an aluminum front triangle with the same carbon rear triangle as the other models. You can also pick up a frame and shock for $2,999 or $3,999, depending on the carbon type you'd like. We tested the most affordable carbon Decree 3 model.

Geometry

The Decree features adjustable geometry by means of flip chips located at the top of the seatstays. Numbers listed above are for the low and slack setting, but by flipping the chips you can bring the bottom bracket up 10mm (0.4-inches) and steepen the head angle to 67.3-degrees. We chose to ride it in the low and slack mode for maximum funsies.

Following several years of steep and short bikes, we're pleased to see Felt continuing to move toward more modern geometry, and the Decree has their best numbers yet. The 66.5-degree head tube angle is very capable for a 140mm bike (especially with a 150mm fork out front), and there's a good amount of reach available across the size range. 430mm (16.9-inch) chainstays keep things snug out back. We measured the bottom bracket height at 335mm (13.2-inches), which also falls in line with many of today's best trail bikes.

Felt uses a somewhat misleading sizing scheme of 16, 18, 20, and 22, which roughly corresponds to the seat tube lengths in inches on some sizes but not others, so be sure to double check the numbers before purchasing. Though they've made an effort to reduce them, the seat tube lengths are still relatively long compared to much of the market.

On The Trail

We initially set the bike up using Felt's recommended 30% rear sag and left the 200x57mm (7.875x2.25-inch) RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock in the open compression setting. After swapping out the bars and stem for our preferred short and wide setup, it was time to get the bike dirty.

Right away we noticed the Decree climbed extremely well. The bike's firm feel at the pedals - even with the shock left in the open setting - got us up the long opening climb of the South Mountain trail network better than majority of the 17 bikes in our Test Sessions lineup. Being able to leave the shock completely open made techy climbs less painful to our rear end and added traction, but it never felt as though it was robbing us of power thanks to a nicely optimized anti-squat profile. When we first laid eyes on the Degree, we admit it looked like a much bigger bike than it actually felt like while pedaling. Agile and nimble are a few common words that come to mind often while dicing your way up climbs.

In terms of steering, tight switchbacks and steeper grades were no problem for the bike, but at times we did have to scoot over the front of the bike a bit more than normal to keep the front wheel from wandering. This is likely due to Felt's somewhat slack actual seat tube angle, which will be more of an issue with taller riders as the increased seatpost height will put you further over the rear wheel while seated. Fancier models come with a Dual Position Air travel adjust RockShox Pike fork to help with steep climbs, though we prefer the feel of the SoloAir version included on the Decree 3 when pointed downhill.

Another contributing factor to the Decree's overall great climbing abilities is the bike's impressive weight. The Decree 3, Felt's most affordably spec'd carbon framed build, weighs in at just 27.7-pounds (12.6kg) and was among the lightest bikes we tested this year. For its weight the Decree feels very stiff, which adds to its precise and snappy demeanor.

On mellow, swooping sections of trail, the short chainstays and healthy reach left us with a roomy bike that feels just as home in the twisty stuff as it does when you open it up on faster sections.

Pointed downhill, the bike excels at fast, flowy, rolling, pumpable terrain with an almost slalom-like feel to it. The leverage ratio is quite progressive for a 140mm travel bike, and it benefits the ride greatly in these scenarios while adding good bottom-out support. It’s responsive when you push into it, easy to change lines, and loves to flow dynamically down these types of trails. You can really feel the side-to-side stiffness of the rear end when bashing through successive turns.

In contrast to our launch feature, bringing the Decree to a really rough riding area like Phoenix's South Mountain trail network exposed some less than favorable traits. In fast, chattery corners, traction was hard to come by and the rear end wanted to skip out, giving the bike a skittish feeling and really limiting us in terms of how hard we were willing to push the bike. In flatter corners we also noticed the front end tending to push, which after adjusting our riding to a more forward position did improve. As the trails got really demanding we found ourselves being bounced around and struggling to stay on line through high speed chunk with successive medium to big hits.

While the flex stay design does do the things Felt describes - like adding bottom out resistance, improving off the top compliance, and creating a more stable pedaling zone - it also has some negative effects. The stays are always fighting to return the shock to the 30% sag point, which creates some odd and fast rebound quirks deep in the shock's stroke, makes it a little harder to soak up bumps in that mid travel range, and makes it ride higher in its travel than normal. The resistance of the stays is equivalent to about 10psi of air pressure in the shock, according to Felt. You can watch the rear end in action here:

When we cycled the rear end without the shock present we noted less resistance from the flex than many similar designs, though the traits are still present on trail and could be even more apparent to lighter weight riders. Slowing the rebound made the bike feel a bit dead, so we kept that pretty constant as we prefer a lively ride.

In search of a bit more downhill compliance we opted to increase the sag to 40%, which helped the bike track far better for obvious reasons. Despite running quite a bit deeper into the bike's travel, it maintained its positive pedaling characteristics pretty well. The only significant tradeoff was the occasional harsh bottom-out, which only happened a few times during our test and could be remedied by the addition of a volume spacer or two in the rear shock. We encourage those riding in rough terrain to experiment with a little more sag than recommended.

Build Kit

The Decree 3 represents a pretty good value when you consider it has a full carbon frame and comes complete with items like a KS dropper post, RockShox Pike RC SoloAir fork, Monarch RT3 Debonair shock, and Shimano XT 1X drivetrain. There are some lower price point components in a few key areas, however, so a few part swaps may be needed depending on your riding style and terrain.

While an improvement over previous years, we’re still seeing a number of bikes with relatively long stems. Felt was one of them with a house brand 70mm stem and 760mm (29.9-inch) flat bar. They're finally pushing more aggressive geometry, so why the compromise in the controls department? We recommend a shorter stem and higher rise bars to better access this bike's potential.

As we've come to expect, RockShox's Pike RC Solo Air fork performed well. Consider adding a Bottomless Token or two to help the front end balance with the progressive nature of the rear.

It's possible that the RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair that comes stock on both the more expensive Decree 1 and Decree FRD would help the bike out significantly thanks to added damping control. Felt likely spec'd the in-line Monarch in an effort to keep the overall cost down on this particular kit.

While relatively narrow at 21mm wide internally, the pinned Alexrims MD21 hoops still offered a stiff and snappy feel. They held up well, only requiring some minor truing despite the extremely rough Arizona trails. They're tubeless ready if you'd like to make the switch, which we recommend.

Shimano's 11-speed XT drivetrain with Race Face Ride cranks was a notable highlight of the build, pairing an 11-42 tooth cassette with a 32-tooth narrow/wide chainring. The system shifted extremely well, was easy to dial-in, and remained very quiet on the trail. Riders with very fast trails may want to opt for a slightly larger chainring, however.

Unfortunately we faced another KS dropper post issue on the Decree 3. Out of the box the 125mm (4.9-inch) travel LEV DX dropper sagged down a full inch while seated. In addition to the post not staying at full extension, we also had to run a zip-tie around the box that houses the cable-stop in order to keep the cable from popping out while riding. This certainly wasn't an ideal scenario and would require service early on. Also, know that the size 16 and 18 (small/medium) frames come with 100mm (3.9-inch) travel dropper posts, likely due to potential clearance issues created by the bend in the seat tube.

The Schwalbe Nobby Nic Evo tires offered okay traction, but were overwhelmed when it came to the rough desert trails where we tested the bike. For smoother or loamy trails they might be a decent choice, but for rockier trails we'd recommend something a bit more robust with a softer compound for improved traction. While they roll quickly, the lightweight casing adds a skittery sensation when smashing through rough or rocky sections. An upgrade here will make a big difference to the bike's overall handling.

Shimano's Deore M615 brakes aren't likely to light up your fancy component stoke meter, but the brakes do work very well and we feel saving a few dollars here is an okay thing. We would opt for a larger rear rotor, however, as the stock 180/160mm combo could use just a bit more power when things get steep or fast.

Long Term Durability

Save the tires, our experience on the Decree 3 yielded no major long term durability concerns in the build kit department. The wheels did require some truing, likely due to several pinch flats and them being brand new. That said, the narrow folding bead tires aren't up to the task of aggressive riding in rough terrain.

In regards to the frame’s durability, we noticed a creak developing near the lower pivot/bottom bracket area after only a few rides, but we were never able to isolate it. The issue would likely be resolved with some grease and a torque wrench.

By eliminating a pivot and instead asking the frame to flex there are definitely some unique stresses being applied to the swingarm. It's engineered flex, though, and we trust Felt has done their homework and extensive lab testing.

Felt backs the frame with a lifetime warranty, but be aware that the exclusions include use in competitions and "stunt riding," so go easy on those sweet parking lot tricks.

What's The Bottom Line?

Felt's new Decree 3 features great geometry, lots of rad little details, and an extremely light and stiff frame with excellent climbing capabilities. The bike has a very agile feel that is complemented by its low overall weight, which is quite impressive given the attainable price point.

The company's recent push towards longer, lower, and slacker geometry paired with a 150mm travel fork let you ride into some hairy terrain, and it's here that the bike falls a little short in terms of suspension performance. We feel the Decree's light and snappy ride traits are best suited to flowy, less demanding trails that reward an easily pumpable bike with lots of forward gusto. When pushing hard on steep or rough terrain we were sometimes forced to back off as the bike was difficult to keep on track, leaving us wondering if the upgraded shock on higher end models would be a solution.

Visit www.feltbicycles.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Descending: 2.5 stars - Okay
  • Fun Factor: 3 stars - Good
  • Value: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Overall Impression: 3 stars - Good

Bonus Gallery: 20 photos of the 2016 Felt Decree 3 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Scott Genius LT 710 3/7/2016 1:14 PM
C138_2016_scott_genius_lt_710_bike

2016 Test Sessions: Scott Genius LT 710

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Scott's Genius LT received a major overhaul in 2014, and while the 2016 model doesn't look all that different from recent years, the company's continued focus on refinement could help improve the overall ride. Previous Genius LT bikes have had their pros and cons, with suspension that didn't quite agree with us and some questionable component choices. The latest version makes use of FOX's most up to date rear shock technology and custom tuned 36 fork, which much more closely align with how a 170mm (6.7-inch) travel bike can be ridden. Will a slight evolution of the older design make this ride shine? We put the Genius LT 710 to the test on Phoenix's tough trails during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame with aluminum chainstays and seatstays
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 170mm (6.7-inches) of rear wheel travel with 110mm (4.3-inch) pedal mode // 170mm (6.7-inches) fork travel
  • Three position TwinLoc suspension remote
  • Custom FOX Nude DPS EVOL shock
  • Adjustable geometry via flip chip
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • 180mm post mount rear brake
  • Optional direct front derailleur mount
  • Press fit 92 bottom bracket with provisions for ISCG05 mount
  • Interchangeable dropouts with 12x142mm rear axle
  • Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 29.3-pounds (13.3kg)
  • MSRP $5,300 USD

The most unique aspect of Scott's Genius LT is the adjustable suspension system. With a flick of the TwinLoc lever the bike can go from a wide open 170mm of travel to a more climb friendly 110mm (4.3-inches) in the rear. The 170mm FOX 36 Float Performance FIT4 fork remains fully active in both of these modes to aid in traction and bump absorption. Another flick of the lever locks out both the front and rear suspension, allowing the rider to have zero influence on the suspension for extended road climbs. Quickly tap the reset lever and you're back in the longest travel setting and ready to rally descents.

In a world where most bike manufacturers are focusing on compression adjustments, Scott's focus on travel and the resulting geometry changes may make a lot of sense. After all, uphill riding is best suited to different geometry than downhill riding. The Genius LT's different travel numbers result in different sag points on the proprietary 215x63mm (8.5x2.5-inch) FOX Nude DPS EVOL air shock, making the middle 110mm "Traction" mode better for climbing by raising the bottom bracket height a hair while steepening the head tube and seat tube angles.

Scott custom tunes the positive air volume on each rear shock depending on the size of the bike, and the two useable travel modes have different damper settings. The shock is tucked up against the top tube, leaving ample room for a water bottle in the main frame. There are six sealed bearings and two IGUS bushings used in the pivots.

Looking at the Genius LT 710 from the side, it's hard not to like the new graphics, and the lines flow well from front to back. Get on the bike, however, and it looks like a bit more of a jumbled mess. There are four cables coming from the left side of the bar and two from the right. That's a few more cables than we'd usually like, and their neon orange color might play a role in the extra cables being slightly obscene. Luckily things clean up a bit as the cables going to the shock, rear derailleur, seatpost, and rear brake dive into the headtube. The use of a few clamps hold the cables securely inside the frame, keeping the cables rattle free on trail.

The rear end features 12x142mm axle spacing, but can be changed to 12x135mm or 135mm QR spacing with the interchangeable IDS-SL dropout system. When this feature was first introduced a few years ago it made sense, but going into 2016 we're seeing more and more bikes with the new Boost 148mm standard, leaving the Genius LT a little behind the times.

Additional features include a press fit bottom bracket, optional direct front derailleur mount, optional dangler-style lower chainguide on the chainstay, and a chain blocker to prevent frame damage should the chain fall off the inside. The bike requires the use of a custom adapter if you'd like to mount a guide using the ISCG05 standard, but it can be done. There's about 13mm (0.5-inches) of room for mud clearance with the stock 2.35-inch Schwalbe rear tire. Scott protects the front triangle with a downtube guard, though chainstay and seatstay guards are nowhere to be found.(UPDATE: We received word that the Scott Genius LT line does include chainstay protection, but was missing from our test sample.)

There are three Genius LT models available in the US: the 700 Tuned (full carbon), 710 (half carbon, half aluminum), and 720 (aluminum). The bike also comes in three plus size versions, which you can learn about in our Genius LT Plus launch feature. We tested the $5,300 USD Genius LT 710.

Geometry

The bike's geometry is a fairly standard play on the modern all-mountain bike with a 66.3-degree head tube angle. It's adjustable to 66.8-degrees, but with such a small adjustment range we don't feel many people will be swapping back and forth. Set and forget is a good thing in our minds, and Scott's flip chip allows for that small personal preference adjustment. We measured the bottom bracket height at 337mm (13.3-inches) in the low setting (a good deal lower than claimed), and it too can be raised by 7mm (0.28-inches) with the flip chip. Scott's house component brand, Syncros, makes headset cups that can be used to slack the bike out more if you prefer.

Other notable numbers include just above average length 440mm (17.3-inch) chainstays and reasonable reach measurements across the size range. The reach maxes out at 446mm (17.6-inches) on the large, which may leave riders over about 6'2" (1.88m) searching for a bigger ride.

On The Trail

We have been big fans of Scott's fit in the past few years. They provide short stems, wide bars that can be cut to a rider's preference, and components that generally work well together. This year's Genius LT 710 is no different. The Syncros stem's 50mm length and bar's 760mm (29.9-inch) width suited us just fine on our size medium bike, though larger sizes (and their riders) might be best suited with something in the 800mm (31.5-inch) realm. At first pedal, the fit felt roomy for a medium frame coupled with a short stem. Unfortunately the single 5mm spacer under the stem doesn't give much adjustment if a rider wants to play with bar height. For a 170mm travel bike with a low 10mm rise bar, we'd definitely prefer to be able to raise the bar some if we headed to a bike park or really steep terrain. It has the travel and the geometry, but lacks a long enough steerer tube for added adjustability.(UPDATE: Our test sample had the steerer tube cut short for display purposes, while what you can buy at dealers has more adjustability.)

We set the bike to Scott's recommended 30% sag point (~18mm) in the rear, set the fork to FOX's air pressure recommendation for our weight, and the resulting balanced feeling "parking lot" setup was ready to go with little tweaking required.

With many unanswered questions waiting for us, we hopped on South Mountain's National, Mormon, Holbert, Geronimo and other trails to get a real sense of what the latest Genius LT is made of. The trails had a mix of gentle grades, aggressively steep climbs, and really rough descents. We felt like it was a perfect mix for the Genius LT with its dual Jekyll and Hyde personality. When pointed downhill the 170mm of travel screams "go for it," so we did just that over chunder, drops, and lines that we looked back on and felt like we got away with something.

The Genius LT would motor up most sections of trail regardless of grade, though much of the bike's uphill proficiency is attributed to the adjustable travel. While climbing we would more often than not turn to the middle 110mm traction control setting, as it's just an okay pedaler in the longer travel mode. With only a small amount of sag in the rear, and standard sag on the front, climbing a relatively long travel bike became as fun as it could. It effectively picks you up by providing a steeper set angle, higher sagged bottom bracket height, and firmer suspension feel. As with many single pivot bikes, there is a little bob. The feeling is more pronounced in easier gears, but it's never bad. Aside from sprinting, when going up consistent grades the Genius LT seems to fight above its weight class, motoring over rocks and obstacles with ease thanks to a tall feeling and a bottom bracket that stays high off the ground.

We found ourselves quickly swapping to descent mode when the trail would point downhill, even momentarily, as the same good feeling of the middle traction control setting while going uphill would translate to feeling really front heavy while going downhill. With other suspension systems a 'mid' or 'trail' setting would simply increase compression damping, but on the Scott the change in travel resulted in a front end that would feel like it was diving, even if it wasn't using full travel. We would quickly put the bike back to 'descend' mode and let the rear end sag the proper amount, which gave us a better sense of balance.

While cruising, whether on smooth trails or on some rougher terrain, the Genius LT was a fun bike to ride. It felt lively but planted. It was an odd combination that we can only attribute to multiple inches of sag and the ability to have the right geometry at the right time. While the linkage creates a regressive-linear leverage curve, when you add in the custom tuned rear shock with a large volume spacer, the bike's suspension felt as though it had decent support in most situations. This was a welcome change to the feeling of really wallowing through the travel on previous model years, though the issue is now somewhat masked by a better rear shock and tune.

Our biggest surprise and disappointment came when we really started to push the Genius LT to its limit. When going fast and hitting numerous rough sections we couldn't help but feel like the bike was tough to control. Was this the geometry? Was it the suspension? It was both, and it's the achilles heel of Scott's design. Because of the adjustable suspension travel, the geometry can be great for climbing. But because of the adjustable suspension travel, you lose the ability to easily tune the rear shock for speed; there's no rear compression adjustment.

Numerous times we felt the front end diving into its travel and pulling the bars away from us. However, after every ride we would check the o-ring travel usage indicator and find that we hadn't used full travel. There is a low-speed compression adjuster for the fork, but with this tuned in for a firmer ride we felt off the back when the rear end would go through travel easier than the front. This made it really tough to achieve a sense of balance at speed.

Coupled with a tall ride height, we had a little bit of trouble on corners due to a disconnected feel. If you really push, there's a lack of consistency in the rear suspension that prevents you from always knowing what's coming next. There's a similar feel while pressing into big jump lips. In search of balance we resorted to less compression on the front and a slightly springier ride that rewarded an off the back riding style as we'd monster truck over the trail. That technique worked really well, though it can make for some tough line changes.

It has been a few years since we tried a Genius LT, and while we don't think it's perfect, we can't help but commend Scott for some massive improvements. On previous generations small bump sensitivity was severely lacking, and the new fork and rear shock allow the Genius LT to hold onto choppy, off camber terrain that would send many other bikes skidding to the sidelines. It's this type of terrain where the bike shines. Some of that is the sheer travel and how quickly it uses it, and some of that is the vastly improved suppleness of the initial stroke thanks to the EVOL air can. That supple rear suspension also aided in the bike's braking, keeping the rear end in contact with the ground very well. Watch the suspension in action in this video:

Frame stiffness was good, too. We love how solid it is, and how that translates into forward momentum when we really get on the gas. How many bikes have this much travel AND feel snappy? Not many. The Genius LT feels lighter than you'd expect, it has good rolling speed, and can now pump decently well considering its extensive travel.

Build Kit

The Scott Genius LT 710 comes with a variety of capable parts that help further the bike's capabilities, and out of the box it truly is ready to go thanks to items like a nicely sized cockpit, 150mm RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper, Schwalbe rubber, Shimano disc brakes, and a SRAM 1X drivetrain. The kicker here is the price, as many full carbon frames can be built up as a complete bikes for $5,300 USD, which really opens the door to competition. The parts - a mix of Shimano SLX, SRAM GX1, and house brand Syncros components - represent some of the lowest end spec among comparably priced bikes in our 17 bike Test Sessions fleet. That said, everything worked well aside from a front brake that never seemed to bed in properly.

In addition to larger stanchions, the FOX 36 Float Performance Elite FIT4 fork featured a welcomed low-speed compression adjustment that the bike lacked a couple of years ago. Even without Kashima coating, the 36 was smooth, ramped up well, and had good stiffness to match the rear of the frame. We also can't overlook how much the FOX rear shock has improved, and the increased small bump sensitivity does wonders for this bike. The suspension seemed to stick the tires to the driest of terrain without a problem.

Speaking of the tires, Schwalbe's Nobby Nic EVO tires in the 2.35-inch width were a good choice for the Genius LT. They rolled fairly fast for a big, full tread tire, and remained consistent for the duration or our rides. Faced with the opportunity to motor up steep sections we never failed due to a lack of traction. The Nobby Nic's tread design did seem to start to slide earlier than most tires, but the tradeoff was lots of control and ease of recovery. With the long legs and springy suspension feel of the Genius LT, we were happy to have predictable tires that aided our confidence. Scott specs a longer wearing PaceStar compound tire out back for improved durability.

The 32-hole Syncros X-23 hoops never stood out to us as an awesome component, but they also never let us down. The butted DT Swiss Competition spokes remained snug, engagement of the Syncros hubs was decent, and they held up really well to our punishment. They did not come tubeless, but do have good rim strips which allowed us to easily swap over to tubeless after the first few rides. Inner rim width was average in the mid 20mm range, but we liked the way the rim held the tire and gave it a rounded profile.

We've grown to really trust Shimano disk brakes over the years, but we can't help but think we got the short end of the stick with our set. The SLX M675 brakes on our bike had good feel, but the front never seemed to fully bed in to the rotor. Through multiple descents, parking lot start/stops, and numerous adjustments, we just couldn't get the front to bite into the 203mm rotor enough. This is of course a small issue, and a fluke in our mind, but regardless we couldn't come into sections as fast as we wanted to because we could never get full stopping power out of the front.

SRAM's GX1 component group performed its drivetrain duties flawlessly. Weight is slightly more than the higher end groups, but we are still impressed by GX1's ability to hold a chain, bang out shifts in tough situations, and keep things quiet. Well, almost quiet. The lack of chainstay or seatstay protection made the bike sound like a bucket of bolts on rougher parts of the trail. That one distraction aside, we never dropped a chain, we had no mechanicals and we don't blame the noise on any parts other than a chainstay guard oversight.(UPDATE: We received word that the Scott Genius LT line does include chainstay protection, but was missing from our test sample.)

Long Term Durability

The wheels are robust, the fork is tried and true, and the drivetrain was perfect. Aside from the lack of bite from the front brake, most other parts of the bike are up to personal preference. We see no reason to worry about long term durability because of the parts spec. The only cause for concern is the adjustable travel system. If the suspension needs work, it's possible that the Genius LT will require more than the local shop for service. Sending in proprietary suspension parts for service is never fun, so we would see this as the only long term downside.

There is an extensive user manual available detailing service procedures for all the key components, and torque specs are printed on the pivot hardware for easy reference. Be sure to keep an eye on the two IGUS bushings for signs of wear.

Scott backs the bike with a five year warranty for the frame and swingarm, but owners must have yearly service performed by an authorized Scott dealer or risk getting their warranty reduced to three years.

What's The Bottom Line?

With the introduction of some new products from FOX, Scott has made a big jump up in performance compared to the Genius LT from previous years. Off the top traction is vastly improved, most of the wallow is gone, the front end pairs well in the stiffness category, and you can now adjust the fork's compression damping. Combined with a stiff and light frame the bike is capable of taming quite a bit of terrain, and the TwinLoc travel adjustment system helps it tackle steep climbs far better than a long travel bike should.

However, while the bike has indeed improved thanks to the use of better suspension components, nearly every other bike on the market has as well, and we feel as though it still doesn't descend with the surefooted confidence you'd expect from a ride with 170mm of travel. The suspension is still a bit finicky due to frame kinematics, and for $5,300 there are much better spec'd bikes with arguably better designs. As tested, the person who will enjoy the Genius LT 710 the most is someone who prioritizes the climbs and still wants to have some mid-paced fun on the descents.

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

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Descending: 2.5 stars - OK
  • Fun Factor: 3 stars - Good
  • Value: 2 stars - Mediocre
  • Overall Impression: 3 stars - Good

Bonus Gallery: 17 photos of the 2016 Scott Genius LT 710 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Santa Cruz Bronson C S 3/2/2016 5:43 PM
C138_2016_santa_cruz_bronson_c_s

2016 Test Sessions: Santa Cruz Bronson C S

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

New for 2016, Santa Cruz revamped their ever popular Bronson, the company's 150mm travel all-around trail smasher. While the updates may seem minor on paper, they’re just the right amount to take it from being a pretty "standard" trail bike by today’s standards to something with more potential to get wild and ridden with aggression. You're looking at a revised Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension system, fresh rear shock tune, Boost axle spacing, slacker and longer geometry, lower standover heights, and more. The Bronson faced off with the rowdy, rocky terrain of Phoenix, Arizona during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • VPP suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Fully guided internal dropper post and derailleur cable routing
  • Optional side-swing direct mount front derailleur
  • IS rear brake tabs
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • Boost 148mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 29.6-pounds (13.5kg)
  • MSRP $4,699 USD

Looking the bike over, the first thing you'll likely notice is the Bronson's visual similarity to the latest Nomad and its third generation VPP suspension system. Like the Nomad, Santa Cruz moved the lower suspension link into the seat tube just above the bottom bracket, allowing for shorter chainstays, keeping the lower link a little more out of harm's way, and creating a more polished looking frame.

The upper link has also taken on the same changes as the Nomad and is now mounted to the top tube, resulting in a stronger, stiffer mount, plus better standover heights across the size range. Don’t expect the updated Bronson to suddenly ride just like its bigger brother, because it doesn’t. This is a another beast entirely, created for a different application, but the Bronson can still get down and party like a champ. The linkage and shock changes were done to help create a slightly more progressive, consistent feel with less wallow. All Bronson models come with FOX’s updated EVOL air can, which makes for a more supple beginning stroke thanks to a larger negative air spring volume.

It still features things you've come to expect from Santa Cruz bikes, like a one-piece rear triangle, lower link grease zerks for easy maintenance, sealed angular contact bearings, and locking collet axle pivots. Unlike the Nomad, the Bronson can run a front derailleur if you'd like, and the base model of both the C and CC frames come with a 22/32-tooth chainring setup out front.

What's this talk of "C" and "CC" models? Santa Cruz offers the bike in two carbon varieties. We tested the Bronson C S - the upper level complete which utilizes a more affordable carbon frame. From the outside the C looks identical to the upperclass CC frame, but due to differences in the carbon type the CC models benefit from a 0.6-pound (280g) lighter frame weight. Even so, we were impressed with the feel of our fully built size large bike, which came in at a reasonable 29.6-pounds (13.5kg). Santa Cruz says the stiffness, durability, and strength are identical between the two types.

Like the previous model, the 2016 incarnation comes dressed with 650b wheels, but this time with wider 148mm Boost rear axle spacing which helped to further stiffen and shorten the rear end. Slightly indented seat stays make room for up to a 2.4-inch rear tire, and with the stock 2.3-inch tires there's about 8 or 9mm (0.33-inches) of space for mud near the tightest spot by the lower link. Our test bike sported a regular 15x100mm axle equipped RockShox Pike up front, though once availability of the wider Boost 110mm forks picks up, we’re told the Bronson will have Boost spacing front and rear.

The updated Bronson still has a threaded bottom bracket, internally routed dropper post and rear derailleur, and the rear brake line runs along the outside of the downtube. This is a great compromise for cable routing, and while some may not be fond of having one cable run outside the frame, it makes for far easier brake service or installation. They also continue to use carbon tubes within the frame, guiding the cables to make routing easy and guaranteeing that the bike will remain quiet on the trail.

A significantly lower bottle mount means you can run the Bronson with a piggy-back shock and still manage to get a water bottle in there, though clearance at the bottom of the mount can be tight on some bottle cages.

Finally, like all Santa Cruz bikes, the frame has some awesome molded rubber chainstay, seatstay, and downtube guards. There's also a metal plate near the chainring for extra protection.

Santa Cruz offers the Bronson in several complete models from the entry level but thrashable $3,599 C R to the high end and flashy CC XTR build at $8,699, and you can slap a set of ENVE wheels on some models for an extra $2,000. There's also a CC frame + shock combo available for $2,999. Expect an aluminum version to drop sometime soon. We tested the $4,699 C S, which features the best build kit you can get on the more affordable frame.

Geometry

The 2016 Bronson sees several key geometry updates with a one-degree slacker head tube angle, 20-25mm (up to 1-inch) longer reach measurements, 6mm (0.24-inch) shorter chainstays, slightly lower bottom bracket, shorter seat tube lengths for better sizing flexibility, and a 0.8-degree steeper seat tube angle. Our size large test bike sported a generous 445mm (17.5-inch) reach, relatively snug 432mm (17.0-inch) chainstays, 338mm (13.3-inch) measured bottom bracket height, and a slack 66-degree head angle.

On The Trail

VPP designs often need to be set up close to the recommended sag numbers in order to get the most out of the bike. This equates to 15-17mm (0.6-0.7 inches) of sag on the 200x57mm (7.875 x 2.25-inch) FOX Float Performance EVOL shock while seated. Once aired up we headed to the hills.

After spending a few years aboard Santa Cruz bikes for his personal rides, one of our testers was pleasantly surprised at just how quiet the updated Bronson was under pedaling efforts. Like the old version, the new Bronson has excellent anti-squat properties with a 1X drivetrain and 32-tooth chainring, regardless of the rear gear, and it has a spritely attitude when mashing the pedals.

A slightly steeper seat tube angle allows the rider to get up over the front of the bike when pushing up technical and steep climbs. The lower bottom bracket height didn't seem to be a concern on rocky climbs, most likely thanks to VPP’s ability to stand the bike up a little when on the gas.

Riding back to back days on the same test loop during our Test Sessions provided us the opportunity to test bikes with as many constants as possible, which really exposed relative pros and cons of each design. On the Bronson, it pretty quickly became apparent that square-edge bump compliance was still a hiccup, despite the use of FOX's new EVOL air can. This was most noticeable while climbing over ledges in technical terrain, even at the generous side of the sag recommendations. The sometimes harsh hang up feel and feedback in the pedals made climbing challenging features a little more difficult as we'd occasionally break traction, bounce about on the seat, or lose footing. Those looking for the best bump absorption should strongly consider upgrading to the Kashima coated FOX Factory Float X EVOL shock at the time of purchase. In smoother terrain, however, the Bronson provides great traction and a nice pedal platform as spec'd.

While very roomy for our 5'10" (1.78m) tester, the size large frame was a little cramped in certain climbing situations for our taller 6'3" (1.91m) tester. This was typically during successive steps that required extra effort and body language, often resulting in the bars being a little too close to the body. This seemed almost worth dealing with as the slightly small frame was an absolute blast when riding down, making for one heck of a party bike. When speeds and terrain got a little more burly, a longer wheelbase and more room in the reach would have been beneficial. This is no dig at Santa Cruz, as their own size chart recommends that riders over 6'1" (1.85m) opt for a size XL bike, but it’s worth mentioning for those considering sizing options with the updated geometry.

Now for the fun part - going down. This is where most of you are no doubt focusing on having the most fun, and fun is what the Bronson is all about. We found the bike's geometry and suspension really encouraged us to get active and play around. Wheelies out of corners, manuals along naturally undulating sections, and hucking off every mound we could find were the norm. In the air it was stable enough and we never experienced the suspension doing anything strange as we took off.

Being slightly slacker and lower made it more stable than its predecessor at speed and through successive hits. This predictable trait allowed us to ride into rough sections without concern, and we'd often pull back into a manual on the way into and through the rough knowing the bike wouldn't do us wrong. The rear end remained quiet over the chunder, allowing us to pick and choose when to lift up and when to let the bike track, and it allowed us to precisely place the front end down when the trail allowed. The Bronson will charge like it's possessed when ridden aggressively, staying agile and on top of the chatter.

While it may be ever so slightly more progressive overall than the previous version, the linkage still provides a pretty flat/linear leverage curve. The bike really relies on the progression inherent in an air shock (plus a large added volume spacer) to provide bottom-out support. Even so, there certainly seems to be more available for the big stuff than the previous version.

One major area of improvement often cited on the old Bronson was an unsupportive mid-stroke. This new bike improves in that regard, providing a better ride while pushing into turns, and it's more apt to gain speed when you put some pump into it. Any amount of backside is rewarded with a little push which is an excellent quality to have, especially considering how well it tracks through chatter. The 2016 Bronson strikes a great balance between plow and nimble, being very easy to maneuver and begging to be played with while holding lines well when the going gets rough.

During big compressions or though harsh g-outs littered with square-edge bumps, the bike would sometimes get a little hung up at the deepest point of its travel. It wasn’t terrible, but required a more demanding body position in order to keep the bike moving at speed.

Watch the bike's third generation VPP suspension in motion.

Regarding the carbon layup, we found the C model had all of the same on trail benefits that the company's pricier carbon models exhibit. Truthfully, aside from the slightly lighter weight and higher price of the more expensive CC frames, there is no discernible difference with the C. This begs the question: is it worth it for the more expensive CC frame? Unless you're very weight conscious, the money saved on a C model is hard to pass.

Build Kit

The Santa Cruz Bronson C “S” build kit comes in at a great price point, and offers a good selection of no-nonsense mid-level components that get the job done well.

SRAM's GX drivetrain shifted fantastically, and we challenge anyone to notice a major difference between it and the higher end SRAM 1X groups. We preferred the feel of the slightly squarer thumb paddle on the GX lever, though the levers throw can’t be adjusted which is a feature we often use on other shifters. Aside from that, it's a reliable 1X drivetrain with good chain retention thanks to the cleanly mounted 32-tooth narrow/wide ring on the Raceface Aeffect SL cranks. Take advantage of those ISCG05 tabs by mounting an upper guide if you ride really rough terrain often.

The bike comes equipped with a set of Easton’s new AR 27 rims (a more affordable 32-hole sleeved version of the ARC 27), offering a pretty substantial 27mm internal width. This gives the 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO tires a nice profile without going too far. Unfortunately we didn't find them to be very durable, and the rear wheel was 4mm out of true with a big ol' flat spot at the conclusion of our test.

The AR 27 rims are built onto a set of SRAM hubs that rolled smooth with relatively standard engagement, but were solid nonetheless. The rear of this bike includes the Boost 148 standard, and while the bike was stiff, the wide Easton rims and simple fact that Santa Cruz is already known for stout frames made it difficult for us to discern whether the slightly wider standard was actually an improvement. We certainly never found it to hinder the ride, though, and (fingers crossed) the bike is ready for the next few years of wheel releases.

The Maxxis Minion DHR II tires provide a consistent, confident amount of traction with a predictable drift when you really lean the bike over. Other than a flat, we experienced no surprises from these bad boys while braking, cornering, or climbing up loose features. We were pleased to see the softer 3C compound up front and a more durable rubber type out back for durability.

The Bronson came with Shimano SLX M675 brakes and dual 180mm rotors. While they braked flawlessly, the noise made by the pads rattling around in the calipers was disconcerting, until we realized what it was, then just straight annoying from then on. This noise was made even more apparent by how quiet the bike was otherwise.

RockShox’s trusty Pike was on front of the bike in the base model 150mm RC Solo Air flavor. This means no quick adjust three-position damping changes, though it does have the ability to adjust low-speed compression through a series of eight clicks. We chose to set the compression close to the middle of the road to give us a little extra support. You may want to add a Bottomless Token or two to give the fork a little more ramp near the end of the stroke.

The cockpit comes well equipped with a 785mm (30.9-inch) wide Race Face Chester bar and 50mm Raceface Turbine stem, which will work well for many riders and can be cut down if you prefer. Our taller tester had to position the stem at its max height and would have still liked another 5mm or so in the front end, which can be achieved with a larger frame or higher rise bars.

If you're looking for some high-end parts, like the RockShox Pike RCT3 fork, stepping up to SRAM’s lighter X01 drivetrain, or the clean integration of SRAM Guide brakes rather than Shimano SLX, then you’ll need to consider a more expensive CC model. We think the value is far greater with the Bronson C “S” as opposed to the roughly $2,000 price difference for the features mentioned above, but at the end of the day that decision is up to you. As is, the bike rides fantastically and costs a good deal less. Just be sure to consider the $200 rear shock upgrade as previously mentioned.

Long Term Durability

Santa Cruz does a great job in the durability department, and they will readily provide every part needed to completely refresh the bike when the time comes, including tools to do the job. Issues seen in previous VPP bikes are not as big of a concern with the modern day design incorporated by Santa Cruz’s engineering department. However, be sure to keep the bearings well greased, especially if riding in wet or very dry conditions. We recommend checking the pivot axles once every few months of use in nasty climates as one of our testers still experiences occasional premature wear at about the six month mark.

An additional minor concern has to do with cables rubbing on the seat tube, which can lead to excess wear. We’ve had wear issues here when riding in muddy areas, even with adhesive frame protection in place. We suggest adding a thick strip of vinyl to both sides of the seat tube and replacing them semi-regularly to prevent any surprises. You may also find that you need to secure the rear derailleur cable near the seat tube to prevent it front getting in the way of your pedal strokes.

Santa Cruz has a lifetime frame and bearing warranty, and a no-fault, minimal charge replacement program in the event of a crash or other non-warranty mishap.

What's The Bottom Line?

Carefully considered geometry and suspension updates to the Santa Cruz Bronson make the bike more enjoyable than its predecessor. The new version has a decidedly more supportive, responsive, and playful feel while doing an incredible job of holding traction through chatter and medium hits. It does have a tendency to get hung up on square edges, but we had a blast regardless.

The Bronson C S model is a great value, especially for the quality and care put into a Santa Cruz, and anyone looking for a do-it-all trail destroyer would be wise to take a test ride. It truly #lovesbackwheel, if you’re into that sort of thing, and will more than suffice for those simply looking for a solid, enjoyable ride to get them up the hill with relative ease and excel on the way down. At the end of the day, the new Bronson is a hoot to ride.

Visit www.santacruzbicycles.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

Bonus Gallery: 20 photos of the 2016 Santa Cruz Bronson C S up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Jamis Defcon 1 2/23/2016 8:58 PM
C138_2016_jamis_defcon_1_bike

2016 Test Sessions: Jamis Defcon 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Jamis has a long history of making decent trail bikes at good prices, and they're taking aim at the popular "do-it-all" enduro/all-mountain category with the new 160mm travel Defcon series. This is the first long travel ride they've offered in years, and of course it's accompanied by 27.5 (650b) wheels - something Jamis has been using since 2010, well ahead of most others. Visually speaking the Defcon 1 holds true to its name and looks like it could stop a nuclear threat with its robust tubing, big tires, and some of the burliest suspension available. Add in some Shimano Saint brakes typically reserved for downhill bikes and you've got a ride that stands out from the crowd, urging you to pilot it down the rowdiest trails you can find. We did exactly that during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Phoenix, Arizona.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • MP4 suspension with one-piece bell crank
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal derailleur cable and dropper routing (non-stealth)
  • Post mount rear brake
  • Enduro Max sealed bearing pivots
  • Threaded bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size 19, no pedals): 31.5-pounds (14.3kg)
  • MSRP $4,899 USD

Close inspection of the Defcon reveals some interesting tube shapes. Check out the top tube for an obvious example. These shapes are made possible by the use of SPF air forming, a high temperature process that allows for more work to be done to the 6061 aluminum tubes than traditional hydroforming. Jamis claims this process allows for optimized shapes and less weight.

Suspension duties are handled by a linkage drive single pivot "MP4" design with a robust bell crank to actuate the 216x63mm (8.5x2.5-inch) shock and control the leverage curve. The bike is on the more progressive side of the all-mountain spectrum with a reasonably low 2.54:1 average leverage ratio.

The absence of a bridge on the seatstays may throw up a red flag for some, though Jamis claims the design of the new one-piece bell crank raises frame stiffness to levels high enough to eliminate the bridge, creating great mud clearance and the ability to shrink the chainstays. They've also utilized oversized 10mm shock hardware, asymmetric chainstays, and sealed Enduro Max bearings at the major pivot points to improve lateral and torsional stiffness.

Cable routing is a mixture of internal and external options, with the rear brake remaining outside the frame for easier maintenance. The rear derailleur cable enters at the side of the headtube before popping out below the bottom bracket, and can be a bit noisy as it's loose inside the frame. Dropper post routing runs along the inside of the top tube, and those wanting to run a stealth style dropper can use the optional front derailleur routing. Shimano's new 1x11 drivetrain allows Jamis to ditch the front derailleur, but the frame is direct mount compatible if you prefer that setup.

Additional details include room for a water bottle inside the front triangle, a threaded bottom bracket (hooray!), ISCG 05 tabs, a post mount rear brake, and some basic rubber frame protection on the chainstay.

The Defcon comes in three versions priced at $2,799, $3,799, and $4,899. Curious about the unique spec we opted for the highest end Defcon 1, which sees upgrades to FOX Factory level suspension, Shimano XT drivetrain, Saint brakes, and a KS Lev DX dropper post over the mid level Defcon 2.

Geometry

What you see is what you get when it comes to the bike's geometry, as there are no high/low settings or head angle adjustments. You're looking at a ride with a capable 66.5-degree head angle, pretty average length 435mm (17.1-inch) chainstays, and a slightly higher than normal 340mm (13.4-inch) measured bottom bracket height. Relatively short reach measurements resulted in our 5'8" and 5'10" (1.73 and 1.78m) tall testers opting for a size 19 test bike, so be sure to reference the numbers carefully when choosing a size. The seat tube height may be an issue for some riders who prefer a longer front center.

On The Trail

From fast XC loops to downhill bike worthy descents and climbs that require trials skills, Phoenix, Arizona's South Mountain trail system offers everything required to throughly test a bike claimed to do it all. We rode Javelina, Mormon, National, Holbert, and Geronimo a number of times. The FOX Float X Factory Series EVOL shock was set to the recommended 30% (19mm) sag value before heading out the door.

Pointed uphill it quickly became clear that the Defcon certainly won't be the first one to the top. The rig is heavy, lacks a snappy pedal response with a 1X drivetrain, and is difficult to keep the front end down on steep climbs even with the seat slammed forward in the rails. While the geometry chart lists a reasonably steep 73.5-degree effective seat tube angle, the much slacker actual seat tube angle creates lots of rearward weight bias and a long effective top tube length. Riding the Defcon uphill while seated felt like we were pedaling in a lounge chair: it was soft, comfortable, stretched out, and not all that fast.

Standing up only accentuates the bike's mushy feel. Hopping up a technical trail features that require an immediate pedal afterward, you often get the sense that there's nothing there when putting that first pedal down to maintain your speed and balance. While equipped with the stock 32-tooth chainring, very low anti-squat values make it require the use of the shock's firmest compression setting to add any sense of pedaling efficiency.

The bike climbs best when you're able to maintain momentum, and rewards a charge in fast and keep the RPM up approach. Should you lose that momentum, however, it can be difficult to get back up to speed as it's quick to rob your power. This realization lead to us sprinting into many climbs, which made for one hell of a workout and a big challenge. It also left us literally gasping for air at times, as it requires far more energy than the competitors even with the shock in the firmest setting. The feeling is a bit like riding your downhill bike uphill with the compression knob cranked all the way in, and it has a similar bouncy attitude as you gently bob your way through technical features.

What surprised us was how the bike's ultra plush feel could actually benefit us on the climbs. Given enough leg strength it felt as though we could motor up anything. While it took an extreme amount of will power, there were a couple particularly tough climbing sections on National trail that we successfully navigated aboard the Defcon 1, like this:

To make this happen, we chose the open compression setting to allow for maximum traction at the wheels. It certainly wasn't efficient, but it can be done.

The slightly high feeling bottom bracket allowed us to keep the cranks turning over more rocks and undulations than we expected, though under really hard efforts the bike's tendency to blow through the travel - in combination with long 175mm cranks - lead to us smashing more rocks than any other of the 17 bikes in Test Sessions. The bike would be far better off going uphill in the little ring of a 2X drivetrain which would result in higher anti-squat values, though if you make the switch you'll want to keep the big ring as small as possible to maintain some level of sprinting performance when it's time to put the hammer down on the descents.

Once we got to the top of the trail, wiped the sweat from our eyes, and recovered from the endeavor, we were excited to see if the all-out spec and aggressive looking numbers added up to a good descender. That hope quickly faded, however, as the first few downhill sections immediately revealed a less than capable feel.

Confidence in the frame's length, 66.5-degree head angle, stout FOX 36 Float fork, and a reasonably short/wide cockpit got us to consider lines we'd normally save for our downhill sleds, but upon landing the flexy rear end, Vittoria tires that folded easily, and surprisingly unsupportive suspension lead to several sketchy situations and nearly kept us from really uncorking it. While smashing turns or navigating tight switchbacks and powering out, we could hear and feel the back end creaking and flexing, and the tire would occasionally rub on the inside of the seatstay. The rider that's brave enough to let it go in truly heinous terrain had better hang on tight, as this buckin' bronc is difficult to keep under you at speed. We were foolish enough to give it a try, and we haven't been that scared on a bike in a long time.

While the bike is indeed progressive, it feels like it is barely so. The plush suspension gobbled up medium sized consecutive hits like few trail bikes can, though a distinct lack of support in turns, g-outs, and off jumps creates a ride that feels best at speed with the rear shock in the firmer compression settings. Even in the firmest setting the bike doesn't provide the support it needs as it uses too much travel too quickly, which is indicative of a possible need for a firmer tune. A volume spacer will also help in this regard - there wasn't one in the shock when we looked - and Jamis is considering this in the future as a change to the OEM tune. Simply upping the air pressure did not resolve the issue.

Here's the rear end in action:

Almost out of necessity, after a few rides we decided to stop trying to push the bike into extreme situations and instead just ride casually and have fun. The Defcon 1 was great for that. The bike sagged enough to help create that feeling of being 'in' the bike, which allows you to set it into corners and not feel too far off the front or the back. At slower speeds the front and rear suspension feels balanced and smooth, it tracks well over undulating terrain, and handles chatter particularly well. The addition of compression damping at slower speeds can make it a bit harsh over small and medium sized bumps, however, and it felt like there was just enough hesitation to fold over the tires a bit, allow for some deflection, and transmit a bit too much of the trail back to the rider. While it's unfortunate that this isn't a true do-it-all bike in the traditional sense, it is possible to just run the Defcon in the open setting, be chill, and have some mid-paced fun with it for best results.

Build Kit

The Defcon 1 build serves up several high end components that have proven themselves individually and in the right application. How a bike rides is a function of the parts as a whole, however, and in this instance a few of the less common choices let the bike down in a big way.

At first glance the Vittoria tires are meaty, and even sized well with a 2.4-inch Goma front matching to a 2.3-inch Morsa rear. Unfortunately this pair left much to be desired, as cornering traction on the loose over hard conditions was very poor front and rear, especially when we'd push into the bike through a turn. We also spun out pretty often while climbing. The large volume and light casing adds to the instability of the bike, and we found they require a minimum of 32psi due to poor sidewall support when mounted to the chosen rims. Braking traction was good, however. In our followup with Jamis we learned that the rear tire may have been a pre-production model with an overly soft compound, though Jamis was unable to verify.

Some of that performance is the wheel and tire combo though. We applaud Jamis for going out on a limb to spec unique and eye catching Loaded Precision parts around the Defcon 1, but we'd be happier with a more stout wheelset for this application and possibly some money saved in the end. The tubeless X-Lite X30 wheels retail for around $600, and for that price there are lots of better options. It isn't a bad wheelset, but quad-butted spokes and super lightweight rims don't really have their place on this rig. After our test the rear wheel needed a good truing, and was in close to the worst condition of all the wheels we rode in Phoenix.

We feel the bike could be vastly improved with a better wheel/tire combo, adding stability where it really counts. Even narrower tires with a slightly stronger casing could improve the overall descending capability. There was one instance in particular where we came off of a small drop and burped the rear tire nearly off the rim. The bead leaked for a few seconds, but then the area was moist with sealant and quickly repaired itself. It wasn't the small leak that was the problem, that was just another instance where the Defcon 1 would be otherwise stable save for the fact that the tires would fold over and throw our weight sideways. All of that could have been avoided with a more fitting wheel/tire combo.

Attached to the rather confused wheelset are Shimano's top of the line stoppers in terms of power, the Saint M820 hydraulic disc brakes. Combined with Ice-Tech pads and 180mm rotors they slow the heft of the Defcon 1 down without any issues. In a sustained bike park setting they'd do really well, too.

Shimano's 11-speed XT drivetrain shifted nicely under some high torque applications. While less than SRAM's 1X cassette, the range on the 11-42 tooth cassette was acceptable on a bike where top speeds were limited for other reasons. The 32-tooth front ring provided enough of an easy gear to truck up and over most ascents. We did lose the chain twice, however, which means you'll want to invest in an upper chainguide. We were expecting more noise as the built-in chainstay guard isn't the most robust, but the clutch mechanism kept things pretty quiet. If it were our bike, we'd add a bit of 3M Mastic tape to the exposed areas.

The suspension components are very good, and we've enjoyed our time on the latest generation FOX 36 Float fork and Float X EVOL rear shock. The Kashima coated suspension requires very little breakaway force and both items are very adjustable. As mentioned before, the rear shock will require additional tuning for most riders.

Rounding out the build is a roomy cockpit complete with bright blue 760mm (29.9-inch) wide Loaded Precision AMX riser bars and a 45mm AMX Trail stem.

Long Term Durability

While the burly looking frame appears as though it's built to withstand some abuse and features Enduro Max bearings for strength and long life, the creaking noises we heard and felt in the rear end are a bit concerning. Torque specs are located on each pivot point for easy service.

Given our experience with the wheels they seem to be under-gunned for the intended purpose of the bike and would likely see a premature demise. Our test bike was also covered in paint chips after a relatively short amount of use, though Jamis indicated the powder clear coat process may have been skipped on the "pre-production demo." Jamis backs the frame with a two year warranty and 25% off crash replacement program.

What's The Bottom Line?

2006 called. They want their bike back.

The Jamis Defcon 1 slots into the mid to upper end of a market filled with lots of good competition, and for just under $5,000 buyers shouldn't have to put up with an overly heavy build, outdated suspension design, poor pedaling performance, a shock that needs additional tuning, flexy rear end, and some oddly chosen parts that really hamper the ride. In this configuration it's also difficult to identify who this bike would be safe best for, because as speeds increase the bike shows some very odd and unstable handling traits.

That said, the geometry is decent, the travel is right, and the thing can make it to the top given an extreme amount of volition. If someone is just getting into the market for a bike that can do most descents, be taken to a bike park here and there, and do some shuttle assisted XC, the Jamis Defcon 3 at $2,799 could be worth a look. For that price, you still get long travel, a dropper post, two chainrings to make climbs less painful, and a chassis worthy of a few upgrades to fit your exact style. Just be sure to swap out those tires...

Visit www.jamisbikes.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 1.5 stars - Poor
  • Descending: 2 stars - Mediocre
  • Fun Factor: 2.5 stars - Okay
  • Value: 2.5 stars - Okay
  • Overall Impression: 2 stars - Mediocre

Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the 2016 Jamis Defcon 1 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX 2/19/2016 2:38 PM
C138_2016_canyon_spectral_cf_9.0_ex_bike

2016 Test Sessions: Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

In the last few years, Germany-based Canyon has jumped from relative obscurity to one of the foremost players in direct sales of high-end bicycles. Mountain, road, kids, city... They've got it all, and while not available in the USA just yet, they're on the way soon. The Spectral CF 9.0 EX stands out as one of the biggest bang for the buck specs you can find anywhere. At just €4199, the bike has a smattering of most rider's dream parts, all put onto a 140mm travel carbon frame with angles tailor-made for charging. We put it to the test during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Phoenix, Arizona.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 140mm (5.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 150mm (5.9-inches) fork travel
  • Four-bar suspension design with Horst-link
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • Press fit bottom bracket
  • 180mm post mount rear brake
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 27.4-pounds (12.4kg)
  • Price: €4199

At the heart of the murdered-out Spectral is a very clean looking four-bar suspension design with a Horst-link pivot near the rear axle. It pushes the highly adjustable Cane Creek DBinline shock, which is easy to access on the fly in the frame's main triangle.

The 650b wheeled Spectral doesn't have adjustable travel or geometry like its longer travel sibling, the Canyon Strive, which has the company's very unique Shapeshifter technology to turn a descending beast into a relatively capable climber. Simply because it's missing this feature doesn't mean the Spectral is lacking in features, however. The carbon fiber beauty sports 180mm post mount rear brake tabs, frame guards in all the right places, an interesting headset bumper to prevent the fork from spinning around and kinking cables, and room for a water bottle inside the front triangle. There's also internal cable routing to help clean things up. Mud clearance with the stock 2.3-inch rear Mavic tire is relatively snug at ~10mm (3/8-inch).

There are options for 1 or 2X drivetrain models, with 1X versions sporting an upper chainguide attached to the direct front derailleur mount (it's missing ISCG tabs). We don't see top guides on some bikes these days, and the fact that the Spectral comes with one on a shorter travel bike hinted at potential to come.

With an impressive thirteen models to choose from there's likely a Spectral suited to everyone's preferences. You can pick from four carbon models, nine alloy models (three of which are women's specific), or build up a carbon or alloy frame from scratch. Note that models with "EX" come stock with a slightly longer travel fork (150 vs 140mm), making them more apt for rowdy days. We tested the €4199 Spectral CF 9.0 EX. For all you USA readers, we'd estimate pricing to be in the $3,950-$4,400 range when Canyon launches in the States.

Geometry

Looking at the numbers, the Spectral CF has very generous reach measurements across the board, which makes it a good option for tall riders. The 67-degree head tube angle is on par with others in this category, though the EX model is actually a little slacker (in the range of 66.5-degrees) thanks to a 10mm longer travel fork. We measured the bottom bracket height at a pretty average 339mm (13.3-inches). The bike comes in an extended size range in aluminum models with an XS option for short riders, and standover is decently low on all sizes for added maneuverability.

On The Trail

When we first hopped on the Canyon we felt like little kids again. The slightly short top tube measurement combined with a higher front end made for a fun, casual feel. We appreciated the adjustment left in the steerer tube for bar height modifications, something that is curiously missing from many bikes these days. The reach measurement comes in at the higher end of average for size medium bikes, which allowed us to feel over the pedals instead of behind them on steeper grades. Proper angles won't do much without the right suspension under them, however, so we next set out to dial in the suspension.

Adjusting a Cane Creek shock will never be the quickest operation, but Cane Creek's suggestions and recommended initial settings shown above worked really well. We ended up on the softer side of low-speed compression, middle of the road for high-speed compression, the slower end of low-speed rebound, and slightly faster than middle of the road settings for high-speed rebound. The last thing we fiddled with was the shock sag, which Canyon recommends at 15mm (0.6-inches) on the 51mm (2-inch) stroke shock, equating to 29% sag. We welcomed the fact that the Spectral had a relatively simple fork on it, put our normal 75psi in the Pike, and noted the addition of one Bottomless Token inside for a little bit of ramp at the end of the stroke.

We rode the Canyon on some of Phoenix's best trails, starting out with mellow climbs on Javelina and Mormon trail, then progressing more and more intense as we continued to get used to the Spectral's climbing legs. Geronimo is one of the rougher trails most riders will encounter, and we were able to have lots of time there to fine tune how the super adjustable suspension would smooth out the nastiest sections we could find.

It was nice getting to know the Canyon Spectral on the way up. We liked the fact that the climbing position was comfortable, and after double checking, we saw the truth in the numbers. The seat tube angle is a very steep 74.5-degrees, putting the rider very upright. This was further aided by the bar height, and made us feel on top of the bike while climbing as opposed to behind the cranks. Coupled with 425mm (16.7-inch) chainstays that are on the shorter end of normal, it was easy to pivot around and change up lines. We thought for sure we'd be skimming the cranks off some of Phoenix's finest rock gardens given the bottom bracket height, but at the recommended sag setting we cleaned lots of climbing sections that we previously had trouble with on other bikes.

With a 1X drivetrain and 32-tooth front chainring, pedaling on the Spectral doesn't feel overly snappy, nor does it feel like you're wasting energy. It has a very smooth power delivery, which is helped by Cane Creek's DBinline shock. While the bike doesn't have ideal antisquat numbers in the 1X configuration (2X is better in this regard), the system felt firm off the top, and the DBinline's unique Climb Switch does a good job of settling down unnecessary chassis movement. The DBinline's ability to slow the low-speed rebound circuit and harden low-speed compression with the Climb Switch engaged doesn't allow for the bike to return quickly, and as a result it prevents bob and improves climbing manners. The feeling of a tall ride height coupled with a shock that sits at sag and doesn't move too much works really well, and we can't say we'd change it for the better with a different system. The last big benefit we felt with Cane Creek's Climb Switch was the consistent feeling of the compression circuits. If we were to do some power moves or lunge up rocks, the bike always felt composed and ready to react in a consistent way, be it in open or climb mode. Some other designs have platforms or blow offs which can lead to inconsistent feelings depending on how much rider input is applied. Bravo to Canyon and Cane Creek for making this system work together so well.

Further aiding the climbing ability of the Canyon was the weight, or lack of it. At a very svelte 27.4-pounds (12.4kg) without pedals, it accelerated with ease. The head angle never made the front end feel like it was wandering or searching for traction either.

Coming into flatter areas of trail, the firm suspension, snappy chainstays, and head angle made this one of the more fun bikes we've been on in a while. We could jump it easily, and it really made the trail into our playground. All is not uphill or flat though, and we soon pointed it downhill to really put it to the test. We couldn't help but make some Fabien Barel inspired comments here and there on our rides, as he was one of the chief test pilots for Canyon over the last few years. Would descending on such a nimble bike require the finesse of the famous French pilot, or can the Spectral hold its own on climbs and descents? We're please to say that it can descend with the best of them, but just like the French, it has its quirks.

When we first piloted the Spectral down our favorite Phoenix descents, the first things that came to mind was how fast we were able to go. The bike wasn't overly smooth, but it also wasn't harsh. It was both playful and planted in a way only a few bikes can achieve. It did the job well and felt very trustworthy. While the head angle is slightly steeper than most 650b bikes we throw a leg over nowadays, it works in this package. The wheelbase is long enough to give some stability, as is the front center. Make no mistake, the Spectral is not a "hold on and hope for the best" bike as it does require attention, but we feel it punches above its weight class for a 140mm travel rig. This is aided by a deep suspension feel that doesn't bottom harshly with two small pre-installed volume spacers.

The biggest gripe we consistently had was the initial sensitivity of the Cane Creek rear shock. Although the shock has great control over the suspension, we've grown accustomed to the traction and feel provided by shocks with better top end suppleness. We could feel when the back wheel started every impact ever so slightly, which was surprising given a relatively high initial leverage rate. It didn't knock us off line, it just let us know what our wheels were up to. Would the Canyon be better with a RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair to match the feel of the Pike out front? Would a FOX Float or Float X with an EVOL can work well? We couldn't help but think the bike was ever so slightly mismatched front to back because of initial sensitivity differences. The Cane Creek's initial guidelines were really close to spot on for everything else, though we did have to change the initial/low-speed compression. Even with it full open, the sensitivity of the rear never quite matched the front.

Landing in rocks we could feel a slight hang up, though we've come to expect a similar feel from other progressive designs with firm damping. This doesn't seem to slow the bike at all, but the sensation can take a little readjusting to prevent your weight from getting pushed over the front.

When you consider the rough, dry, dusty trails we were riding, the Spectral faced some of the toughest challenges a 140mm bike will ever see during our test. If it had better small bump performance there would have been more traction in the 95% loose over hardpack terrain, but kudos to the bike for making us feel confident despite this big downfall. On the limited smooth-ish terrain and jump oriented areas we could find, the Canyon felt immediately at home and nimble once again, suggesting that it's best suited to this type of terrain with the Cane Creek shock installed.

Watch the bike's suspension in action.

Where the Spectral really shined was in medium to larger hits, which it took extremely well. Front to back balance was extremely good, and we never felt too far over the front or the back of the bike in these instances. If we wanted to manual through sections we could. If we wanted the back end to slide it would at a moment's notice. Frame stiffness is also quite decent, aiding the sure footed nature of it. Considering the lightweight nature of the bike this is surprising, and the nimble yet stiff feel aided when descending and pumping through corners. The Spectral never did us wrong, and we dare say it could be one of the best race bikes you could have for timed downhill stages that you have to pedal up to.

Since it was so surprisingly capable and stable we kept wanting to try the bike on different terrain to see where else it might shine. Unfortunately our test was cut slightly short because we blew the rebound circuit on the Cane Creek rear shock. We've experienced this a few times on the DBinline, and it further reinforces our desire for something different which could unleash even more of the bike's potential, though it may detract from climbing performance.

Build Kit

Aside from the rear shock, there isn't much to upgrade on the Spectral CF 9.0 EX. It's already light, has good stiffness qualities, and other than personal preference items we see a great frame with top of the line parts.

Leading the list of gucci parts is the incredibly stiff Mavic Crossmax Enduro LTD wheelset. We had zero issues with the wheels, and we had a good experience with the freewheel's action. Even the color of the wheels added a little bit of flair to an otherwise stealthy build. Mavic didn't provide just the wheels though, as the Spectral was shod with Mavic's new Crossmax Charge and Quest tires. They worked well at 2.4 and 2.3-inches wide, respectively, and provided good flat resistance with their dual lightweight plies. The rims didn't seem that wide, but they held the tires well regardless, which we chalk up to good system design.

The rolling speed of the tires and the lightweight wheels made the bike feel fast while cruising or accelerating. When we would crest over rocky rises it wasn't painful to accelerate back up to speed. Likewise, gaining speed before jumps and rocky ledges was easy and second nature. On a few occasions though, the lightweight wheels did get held up where we've been able to carry speed with other systems. This potential downside reinforces our view that the bike is for the intermediate to advanced rider. Small mistakes or missteps can be a bit punishing on this bike, and the Spectral lets you know when something was done wrong.

One item that helped in the forgiveness category was the RockShox Pike RCT3 SoloAir fork. It seemed more up to the task than the rear suspension, though it could be a matter of the travel rather than being inherently better. We usually love bikes that have slightly more travel in the front than the back, and the Spectral's 140mm rear and 150mm front certainly fits that bill. We tuned the Pike to actually be a bit firmer off the top than usual, going just two clicks out from full firm on the low-speed compression and a click slower on the rebound than usual to make it mimic the rear suspension more. This created a ride that really liked to skim over obstacles instead of absorbing all of them. It was slightly taxing, but that effort was turned into forward motion, not up and down movement.

The tried and true SRAM X01 drivetrain features a carbon crankset, wide range 10-42 tooth cassette, and 32-tooth X-Sync chainring that all worked well together. Add in the e*thirteen top guide and you've got a very secure system.

SRAM's Guide RSC brakes felt like a luxury item, as most bikes in this price range range don't have both contact and reach adjustments. The power was great as well with a 200mm rotor up front and 180mm out back. These are head and shoulders above previous Avid designs and a welcome addition to the Spectral. With lots of different seatpost, brake, and component options available, seeing SRAM's full setup on the bar was nice as the Matchmaker clamping system could be fully utilized, making for clean lines and simple adjustments.

You'll find Canyon's own 760mm (29.9-inch) wide carbon handlebar and a 50mm stem in the cockpit, which will work well for most riders.

One issue we had wasn't so much the fault of the drivetrain, but rather an oversight on Canyon's part. The stock chainstay guard is rather slim and hard, and didn't provide enough protection from the chain's normal movement. Worse than the noise, one of our testers rides with his driveside foot in the back position, and while descending steep pitches his shoe would snag on the chain guard every so often. We advise riders to remove the stock guard and replace it with some simple 3M Mastic Tape or a similar solution.

Some additional noise came from loose cables inside the frame. A few zip ties and proper tension can fix this problem in other designs, and we see no reason why that couldn't fix the same issue here.

Long Term Durability

Canyon's carbon Spectral frame felt stout and kept tight during our test. Before riding it we had to snug up a few pivots, however. Whether this was something that came loose or should have been up to spec from the factory is beyond us, but we'd keep an eye on it if it were our bike. The blown Cane Creek rear shock we experienced is obviously another area for concern, though they've been working hard to improve reliability and have a quick turnaround time on warranty replacements. If the DBinline is going to blow, it typically does so within the first few rides, but after that they've otherwise been reliable.

The last thing we'd consider is what you would have to do if you actually had a fluke issue with something we haven't mentioned in this review. Canyon provides a two year complete bike warranty, six year frame warranty (excluding bearings and suspension), and has a three year crash replacement program should things go really wrong. That said, a warranty is only as good as your support system, so consider all options if you want to go the direct sales route. One item we found particularly odd is this statement from Canyon's website: "The guarantee also does not cover damage from jumps or overuse of other kinds." They also state that the Spectral's scope "includes occasional jumps up to a maximum height of 60cm." So if it breaks on a super massive 61cm (2-foot) huck are you out of luck? The bike is capable of far more...

What's The Bottom Line?

We really enjoyed our time on the Canyon Spectral. If you want to go fast and have the ability to be a focused pilot and not hold on and hope for the best, the Spectral CF 9.0 EX could be the perfect weapon of choice. It's fun yet precise nature makes your favorite trails even more enjoyable, and the bike seems to excel when every second counts. Thanks to a consumer direct sales model it comes spec'd incredibly well at an equally incredible price. We'd absolutely buy one, and with a few changes we think it could be one of our favorite 140mm trail bikes to date.

Visit www.canyon.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

Bonus Gallery: 24 photos of the 2016 Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 20 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 180-pounds (81.6kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 13+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

Brandon Turman - Age: 29 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a Mechanical Engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past 5-6 years and a really good feel for what’s what.

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Trek Fuel EX 9 29 2/17/2016 10:04 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Trek Fuel EX 9 29

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Trek's Fuel EX range of bikes are aimed at the honest trail rider - those looking for a quality, fun bike that can handle a good variety of trails, but not necessarily something for super rowdy terrain. We previously tested the Fuel EX 27.5, so it was fun to jump aboard the bigger wheeled brother and see how it compared.

For 2016, the Fuel EX 29 sees several changes for the better - it's slacker, offers adjustable geometry, has shorter chainstays thanks to the new Boost rear axle standard, and the rear shock has been updated to no longer feature Trek's DRCV. This was one of the only bikes in the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions with Boost spacing front and rear, but does it make a difference? Did the new RE:aktiv damper improve performance over a regular shock? Read on to find out.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 120mm (4.7-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • Full Floater suspension with Active Braking Pivot (ABP)
  • RE:aktiv shock damping technology
  • Tapered headtube
  • External brake routing, internal cable routing, internal seatpost routing
  • Adjustable geometry via Mino Link flip chips
  • PF92 bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • Boost 110mm fork axle spacing
  • Boost 148mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size 19.5, no pedals): 28.6-pounds (13.0kg)
  • MSRP $4,000 USD

The Fuel EX 9 29 comes with a handful of unique features, and is highlighted by the RE:aktiv damper technology. Trek worked with motorsports specialists Penske Racing Shocks and FOX to create a shock with regressive damping. In a race car application, regressive damping is designed to be firm when cornering but supple for sudden impacts. When applied to mountain bikes the goal is similar - to provide support when pedaling or pumping but open up when needed.

Most rider inputs create low shaft speeds, while bumps create higher shaft speeds. Inside the shock, the main piston is equipped with a special spring loaded valve. The faster the shaft speed, the more the valve opens up and the more oil is allowed to flow through. Trek says the valve is capable of delivering lots of low-speed compression damping, fluid high-speed compression damping, and an instant, seamless transition between the two. Because of this Trek says RE:aktiv achieves what inertia valves have been unsuccessfully attempting for years by balancing pedaling performance with big-hit absorption without feeling harsh. The way it’s able to react so rapidly is by changing the surface area that the oil is pushing against.

The shock's abilities are most apparent in the "Climb" or "Trail" compression settings as the bike remains quiet during pedaling, but still allows the suspension to move due to ground impacts. This translates to the rear wheel moving out of the way while the rider continues to put power down. How it functions is really quite amazing, but it has its limitations and we’ve found that there is a time and a place for its use, much like any of the regular pedal platform adjustments on all rear shocks.

The spring curve of FOX’s relatively new Float EVOL (extra volume) shock closely matches the linear curve Trek previously relied on DRCV to provide, so DRCV gets the boot this time around. The shock is still proprietary due to its odd 184x48mm (7.25x1.875-inch) dimensions and RE:aktiv damper, however. To get that 120mm of travel, Trek's Full Floater suspension design actuates the shock from both ends with a one piece magnesium EVO Link on top and a concentric pivot at the rear axle known as ABP.

Boost is the other unique-ish technology that higher end Fuel EX 29 models include. We say unique-ish only because it's not commonplace yet. Boost was originally aimed to create stiffer 29-inch wheels without having to throw down the extra coin for carbon hoops. This was achieved by moving both rear hub flanges 3mm out from the center, resulting in a new 148mm axle width. Wider spacing gives the spokes a greater bracing angle, which in turn generates a stiffer wheel. This slight change also provided better tire clearance, which means that they can run slightly shorter chainstays. The front wheel also includes Boost, which takes the hub width from 100mm up to 110mm for similar results.

Additional features include room for a water bottle inside the front triangle, a PF92 bottom bracket, ISCG05 tabs, close to 19mm (0.75-inches) of mud clearance with the stock tires, optional direct front derailleur mount, and a fork with a custom 51mm offset. Aside from the stealth dropper post and rear derailleur cable (which is held taught in the frame), routing is external on the Fuel EX 9 29, which makes for easy service with no rattle. You'll find a large downtube guard for stray rock protection, but consider adding some extra protection to the stays for chainslap.

Trek offers the Fuel EX 29 in four aluminum complete builds ranging from $1,990 to $4,000 USD, two carbon builds at $5,300 and $8,400, and as a carbon frame for $3,300. There's also the option to build a fully custom bike through Trek's Project One program. Fuel EX 8 29 and above benefit from Boost, while the Fuel EX 7 and 5 29 retain 2015’s frame with standard hub spacing. We tested the $4,000 aluminum Fuel EX 9 29, which has an extra 10mm of fork travel (130 vs 120mm) over the other models.

Geometry

2016 brings Trek's adjustable geometry feature to the Fuel EX 29 lineup via the Mino Link flip chips near the top of the seatstays. The geometry chart above shows numbers in the "low" setting with the option to steepen the head angle to 69.4-degrees and raise the bottom bracket by 8mm (0.3-inches). We measured our test bike bottom bracket height at 340mm (13.4-inches) in the low setting, so it's possible that the listed geometry is with a shorter travel 120mm travel fork. While slacker than the previous Fuel EX 29, at ~68.8-degrees this bike is a degree or so steeper than many other recent short travel 29ers. Thanks to Boost, Trek was able to drastically shorten the chainstays from 452mm to a much more nimble 436mm (17.2-inches), which is par for the course among comparable bikes. As you can see, it comes in several sizes to suit just about any rider.

On The Trail

Setup was a breeze thanks to Trek's suspension calculator, which provides a great starting point for air pressure and rebound. In the open "Descend" compression setting, we found the rear end to be more active during seated and standing pedaling efforts than similar bikes ridden during Test Sessions. Smooth climbs consisting of mellow to considerable grades with the occasional small rock feature saw the bike exhibit a good, nimble, and lively attitude. The bike is more enjoyable ascending than the Transition Smuggler thanks to a more energetic, positive demeanor. It’s more sporty than the static weight would suggest, and there were minimal issues with pedal strikes. Once the compression dial was set to the medium "Trail" setting, however, the beauty of the RE:aktiv damper really showed through.

In the medium compression setting the suspension was remarkably quiet as the RE:aktiv damper stepped in to allow for more power to the floor during climbs, but still provided plenty of traction on the dry, abrasive conditions of South Mountain's trails in Phoenix, Arizona. In this setting the bike required less energy to move up the hill. Climbing up rocky, stepped technical sections the bike had a great balance of control, moving through its travel smoothly while offering support, and notably missing harsh feedback that would result in it getting hung up on square edge features. It also helped with the bike's geometry, sitting a little higher in its travel, effectively resulting in a steeper dynamic seat tube angle.

Going to the firmest "Climb" mode was too much of an extreme when climbing rough sections, however, as it lost a lot of traction on relatively average grades with rough-ish patches. On smoother road climbs it was great to have it locked out, though, with minimal suspension movement while practicing good pedal technique.

Overall, we found the Trek Fuel EX 29 to be an above average climber. It's not a snappy XC style ascender, but is spirited enough and assists the rider rather than feeling like a dead sail. It is by no means a race bike out of corners or up moderate pitches, but does climb reasonably well with the stock 32-tooth chainring. If you're inclined, the bike will provide better antisquat traits with a smaller chainring.

Even with a swapped out 50mm stem, we felt as though the cockpit on the size 19.5 bike we tested was a little long while seated. The reach, on the other hand, was a little short - this is predominantly due to a slack 67-degree actual seat tube angle. On moderate to steep punches we found it a bit difficult to get up over the front end while in the saddle, and would wind up riding way up the nose of the seat in order to compensate. Moving the seat forward on the rails helped with this as well.

The 50mm replacement stem took place of the stock 70mm Bontrager Rhythm Comp. We should also mention that the Bontrager Race Lite 750mm (29.5-inch) wide bars were swapped out for something a tad wider. These changes created a more comfortable setup for how we prefer to ride. Even so, a steeper seat tube would result in it climbing more favorably, especially on steep technical grinds.

While descending smoother, lower grades with the compression lever set to Trail, the bike responded well to rider input and zipped along at a solid pace when exiting corners or putting a few pedal strokes in to get back up to pace. In this setting it tracked reasonably well in loose over hard conditions, though it was easier to break loose under aggressive cornering. High speed descents and g-outs often overwhelmed Trail mode during descents, however, so flipping dials is a must do to get the most out of the bike.

On the same type of trails with the compression wide open the bike was much more willing to being pushed hard into corners, garnering increased traction but losing some of the sporty attitude exhibited in the medium compression mode. This resulted in more required rider input and planning in order to pick up over obstacles and square edges.

Getting up to speed in rough terrain we noticed the suspension tracks well through all types of smaller hits. The bike comes out of deep compressions well and has a nice bottomless feel without feeling harsh. We never really felt the end of the travel despite using the full amount many times, even though there are no volume spacers in the shock from the factory.

During successive high speed hits it never packed up or felt like it was hanging up. However, the Fuel EX didn't exhibit the same level of confidence inspiring stability that we found with the Transition Smuggler or Evil Following, with the Fuel EX requiring an extra level of rider guidance in order to keep the bike on line. In fact, due to its tendency to wander we had a couple of "moments" in parts of the trail where the Transition and Evil would just motor along comfortably. In rough conditions the bike feels deceptively tall despite running some similar numbers to its competitors. The suspension didn’t give what we would describe as a planted ride, and due to its softer, more active, and lively nature it preferred to be ridden with more of a playful attitude. One potential way to boost the bike's overall stability in the rough would be to run a little more sag and add a volume spacer for a more progressive but deeper feel.

Here's the suspension in action:

Regarding the Boost wheels, after a few days of good hacking the rear wheel eventually lost some spoke tension, and any half decent hit or hard corner would result in horrible noises coming from the rear wheel flexing. As such, we were unable to truly discern any benefits to the wider system at that time. It should be noted though, that it's is fairly typical of a new wheelset to require some attention after initial break-in. Our second tester got to ride the bike after we had adjusted the spoke tension and felt the wheels went unnoticed, essentially performing as they should and feeling similar to that of a well trued, solid 650b wheelset. The frame was stout, too. In short, Boost works, but only when the wheels are properly tensioned.

Build Kit

Trek’s $4,000 Fuel EX 9 29 model is pretty competitively priced, though four grand can go a long ways with other "consumer direct" brands, especially when you consider the components. Even so, this bike comes ready to rally with solid FOX suspension front and rear, a SRAM Roam 30 wheelset, trustworthy Shimano XT brakes with dual 180mm rotors, a RockShox Reverb Stealth 125mm dropper, and a reliable SRAM X1 1x11 drivetrain.

The 130mm travel FOX Performance 34 Float fork provided a stable ride with minimal adjustments, and the suspension giant seems to have moved away from the issues that plagued them a couple seasons ago. The fork used its travel well while offering a good amount of support. It never felt overly active and was generally quieter than the rear of the bike.

For the terrain we were riding, we would swap out the stock 2.3-inch tubeless Bontrager XR3 Expert tires for something with a bit more meat. While the XR3 tires were okay, they didn’t inspire a great amount of confidence in loose over hard corners and their lightweight sidewalls added to the bike's instability in high speed chunder. That said, these were one of the only thinner sidewalled tires to not experience a puncture during Test Sessions, so that's a plus.

Aside from the rear wheel not having proper spoke tension when we first hopped on the bike, the SRAM Roam wheels were solid. After tightening up the spokes our second tester was able to get on without any of the annoying, sketchy sounding flex observed during the first tester's rides, and went on to note that the wheels felt inline with a sturdy set of 650b wheels as claimed. At the end of our test the rear wheel was only slightly out of true.

As mentioned above, we swapped out the somewhat narrow low-rise bars and longish stem for something that better suited the descents, but realize that these cockpit choices are a personal preference. The supplied grips were not the most comfortable either, with a very thin, hard rubber that felt pretty harsh on rough trails.

Long Term Durability

Outside of regular maintenance like tires, brake pads, and checking the spoke tension of the wheels, the Trek Fuel EX 9 29 appears ready to go the extra mile. Thanks to some clever cable routing we don’t foresee any issues from excessive rub, and given the rest of the decent quality components and good construction there is no reason to be concerned with the long term durability of the bike.

Towards the end of our last ride we did notice a creak developing in the pivot located just above the bottom bracket. Simply snugging up the hardware resolved the issue.

Trek backs the frame with a lifetime warranty, though there is a five year condition on the swing arm and one year on paint and decals.

What's The Bottom Line?

Trek’s Fuel EX 9 29 is a good value with some serious suspension technology that only adds to the fun times provided by a short travel 29er. You've got to be willing to flip some levers mid-ride to really see what it's capable of, so "set it and forget it" riders may not appreciate all the bike has to offer. The ride's conservative geometry works well on a range of terrain and features, and though the bike doesn’t really nail either the climbs or the descents, it’s a solid all-around steed. While very lively and active, it lacks a super confidence inspiring ride when things get truly wild. Some minor suspension tweaks and a burlier set of rubber could make it a more stable descender.

Visit www.trekbikes.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

Bonus Gallery: 23 photos of the 2016 Trek Fuel EX 9 29 up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Pivot Phoenix DH Carbon 2/16/2016 2:58 AM
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First Look: 2016 Pivot Phoenix DH Carbon

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

With just months before the start of the 2016 World Cup race season, Pivot's downhill machine gets an overhaul and comes out looking better than ever. It's lighter, spec'd a little differently, and has several new frame features that help dial things in even more.

Phoenix DH Carbon Features

  • Full carbon frame
  • Pivot’s proprietary hollow core internal molding technology
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 204mm dw-link suspension Fox Float X2 shock with Evol
  • 157x12mm rear end
  • Designed to work with forks from 200mm in travel
  • Full length internal cable routing with Pivot’s exclusive cable port system
  • Adjustable +/- 0.75-degree headset option
  • Internal dropper post compatible
  • Cold forged alloy linkages with Enduro Max Cartridge Bearings
  • Rubberized molded downtube and swingarm protection
  • 180mm rear carbon post mounts disc brake mounts
  • Carbon ISCG-05 tabs
  • 107mm press fit bottom bracket
  • Available in sizes S, M, L, XL for riders between 5'4" and 6'7"
  • Available in Team Blue or Stealth Black

Aside from the flashy paint job, what exactly is new for 2016? For starters, Pivot figured out a way to pull 0.66-pounds (300g) out of the already light frame, and they did it in a way that actually upped the bike's stiffness in strength in some areas:

"With our own hollow core, internal, high compression carbon molding process we can deliver on the performance requests of our top athletes by finding the perfect combination of composite materials and shapes for the best possible ride qualities. For us, it means that we put months of engineering and testing into the update, for you (and Bernard Kerr), it means a sub 31-pound downhill bike that can land a 30-foot gap into a nose wheelie with confidence."

Next up is the move to a 9.5"x3.0" FOX Float X2 air shock:

"For 2016, and as a direct result of feedback from our athletes, the Phoenix Carbon comes with the Fox Float X2. While still coil compatible for riders who prefer that set up, our racers have found that the Fox Float X2 air shock offers better control and a plusher feel allowing them to go faster with greater confidence. The X2 shock features include independent high and low speed compression and rebound adjustments, an EVOL air sleeve for better sensitivity through the reduction in the amount of force it takes to initiate travel, exclusive Kashima coat for durability and friction reduction, and the new RVS (Rod Valve System) for a seamless transition between the response to small and large impacts. With the air spring and volume adjust spacers, the Fox Float X2 is far more tunable for rider weight and course conditions than is a coil shock with a selection of springs."

Riders who find themselves in poor weather often will be pleased to hear that the bike now has significantly better tire clearance, a direct result of requests from their racers.

Additional updates include added frame protection and integrated fork bumpers:

"For this new Phoenix frame, we carefully studied wear patterns on frames ridden everywhere from the World Cup to the backcountry of Colombia, and added updated rubberized frame protection. Now in addition to the molded rubber downtube protector, the seatstay protector on the drive side has doubled in length and we’ve incorporated new protection on the front upright of the rear triangle – all while still dropping an incredible amount of weight."

"The Phoenix Carbon also features integrated rubber fork stops at the headtube for even more protection. These same stops do double duty as a part of the Pivot Cable Port System for internal routing."

Geometry

The Phoenix is available in four sizes. With a massive spread of reach measurements, rider heights can range from 5'4" to 6'7", and you've got the option to choose something a little longer or shorter based on your style:

"Every size frame has the same headtube length and seat tube lengths. Riders who want a shorter top tube can go down a size for a playful bike that handles the park with style – perfect for the next Whip-Off World Championships. Riders who want a missile on the racecourse may select a larger size with a longer toptube. For sharper handling with a longer frame, the angled headset offers a plus minus ¾ degree adjustment, especially with the Phoenix 30mm stem option."

World Cup Input

The Pivot Factory Racing team was a huge part of the bike's development and testing process. Listen and watch in awe as Bernard Kerr, Eliot Jackson and Emilie Siegenthaler share their unique experiences on the Phoenix while Bernard shreds Queenstown, New Zealand to bits:


Build Kits, Pricing and Availability

The Phoenix Carbon is available as a complete bike with a Saint build kit for $7,599 US, Zee build kit for $5,499, or as a frameset for $3,299. If you'd like to upgrade the Saint build to include the same wheels the Pivot World Cup team uses, you can do so for an additional $900. All build options are in stock and ready to ship now, as are sizes Small, Medium and Large. Size XL begins shipping in March.

How Light?! Pivot's One-Off Light Bike Project

Pivot decided to see just how low they could go on a complete bike given the new frame design. The result is the custom 30.9-pound (14.0kg) creation you see below. Note that they didn't try to go too crazy on the build (no Ti bolts or ultra sneaky gram cutting measures) in an effort to keep it realistic and truly ridable. There are plenty of places where more weight could be saved. If it were your's, what would you change?

Need proof? Here it is on the scale. Build specs on this incredibly lightweight and flickable rig include:

  • Reynolds Black Label wheels with I-9 hubs
  • Maxxis Griffin tires
  • SRAM X0DH 7-speed rear derailleur, chain, cassette and shifter
  • SRAM Guide RSC brakes - 180mm rear / 203mm front
  • Phoenix Team Carbon bars - 800mm
  • Phoenix Team Carbon tuned flex seatpost
  • Pivot/WTB Team Hightail saddle with carbon rails
  • E13 LG1 chainguide
  • ESI grips
  • Pivot Phoenix DH headset
  • Fox Float X2 Factory Series rear shock

In Action

Rider: Eliot Jackson // Photos: Colin Meagher

Visit www.pivotcycles.com for more details.

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Added a product review for 2016 Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp 650b 2/11/2016 7:35 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp 650b

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

At the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions, we ladies got the chance to sample a few of the latest trail/all-mountain bikes to see how they perform for women. With a smorgasbord of bikes ranging from 120 to 160mm travel, women-specific to unisex, and a price range from about $3,000 to over $9,000, how is one to choose?! This year we tested three bikes in the 150 to 160mm travel range that may be options to consider. We put them (and ourselves) to the test on South Mountain's trails in Phoenix, Arizona - a moonscape of rowdy rock sections, decomposed granite, and sharp cactus around every bend. One of the three is Specialized's recently redesigned 2016 Rhyme FSR Comp 650b.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 150mm (5.9-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • FSR suspension
  • Sealed cartridge bearing pivots
  • Rx women's shock tune
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing
  • Women's specific contact points
  • 2X compatible with the Taco Blade
  • PF30 bottom bracket with ISCG mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 29.7-pounds (13.5kg)
  • MSRP $2,900 USD

What does a woman need in a trail bike? That's the question Specialized set out to answer with the all-new Rhyme by considering geometry, key touch points, and suspension with the input from thousands of women.

The Rhyme is a first for Specialized in that it shares the same geometry with a men’s model, the Stumpjumper FSR 650b. Turns out that when asked what they want, women aren’t that different from men in terms of geometry. We too want good handling, good suspension, and innovations to support the ride. Oh, and we want it to be pretty and we want it to shred. The shared geometry features slacker 66.5-degree (XS) and 67-degree (S-M) headtube angles for the new year, a super snappy rear end with 420mm (16.5-inch) chainstays, and a very low 335mm (13.2-inch) bottom bracket height. Add in Specialized’s low standover heights and short seat tubes and you've got bikes that work well for the ladies also. The Rhyme accommodates riders from 4'10" to 5'10" (1.5 to 1.8m) tall in sizes extra-small through medium.

While the geometry may be shared, some key important component differences, custom suspension, and consideration for our body types make the Rhyme work better for women. Specialized includes a slimmer 720mm (28.3-inch) bar, size specific cranks, and a slightly shorter 100 or 75mm dropper post to ensure you can achieve the right saddle height.

The shock on the Rhyme is specially tuned for lighter riders. For our height, we weigh on average less than men of the same height. We also tend to have a lower center of gravity since most of our muscle mass is in our legs, whereas men tend to have more in their upper bodies (no complaints there!). In their research, Specialized discovered that women weren’t commonly using all of their suspension, so they developed the Rx (Recommended Experience) Women's shock tune that gives us lighter riders a more responsive feel and the ability to use more of the suspension stroke. The compression ratios are tailored to complement us smaller-yet-just-as-mighty riders, giving a plush, efficient ride quality that utilizes every millimeter of luxurious travel. When we opened the shock to peek inside, we found no volume spacers, which is different to the shock on the Stumpjumper.

Some additional details that stood out are the ability to mount a water bottle inside the front triangle, internal cable routing (which rattles just a tiny bit), great mud clearance for gross weather days, and a rubber chainstay guard to help keep it somewhat quiet. There's also a funky rubber block under the downtube that prevents the fork from spinning too far and causing damage to the lower than normal frame.

We tested a size medium Rhyme FSR Comp 650b bike based on our reach measurement preferences. It's the only alloy model offered and costs $2,900, making it the most affordable model in the 17 bike Test Sessions lineup. The Rhyme is also available in the $5,900 Expert Carbon and $3,800 Comp Carbon models which feature some pretty nifty integrated SWAT storage technology not found in the aluminum version.

Geometry

On The Trail

Setting up the bike was pretty easy, thanks in part to the AutoSag feature on the FOX Float Evolution rear shock. We just had to pump up the pressure really high, sit on it, and have a buddy press the air release for us. It took a couple times of releasing air, cycling the shock a bit, and then releasing some more until it had no more air to release to reach the appropriate sag. This worked out to about 13-15mm of sag. Setting the fork was also a snap. We just used the guide on the fork leg to get a good starting point for the air pressure. In the cockpit, we did choose to swap out the 720mm bars and 70mm stem based on our personal preferences for 750mm bars and a 50mm stem. Then after setting the brake lever and shifter positions, airing up the tires, setting saddle height and angle, and checking the suspension rebound speeds, we were ready to hit the trails.

South Mountain's rugged trails are challenging, even for the best bike handlers. We climbed up a combination of the Javelina Canyon, Mormon, and National trails. After four lung-busting grunts and hundreds of opportunities to challenge our technical climbing skills over about six miles, we rose over a thousand feet above the sprawling Phoenix metro area.

The Rhyme did very well pointed uphill. Its geometry was comfortable for pedaling in and out of the saddle. Thanks to a steep seat angle we didn’t feel like we were way off the back, and it wasn’t hard to keep the front down on steep grunts. When getting out of the saddle, maintaining traction wasn’t a challenge either. We did struggle a bit with striking pedals and cranks due to the lower bottom bracket height, however. The rider of this pony had better know how to flawlessly time their strokes with such little wiggle room.

We are happy to report that the bike climbed well with the shock in both the wide open and medium compression modes. At 29.7-pounds, it's a respectable weight and gets along very well with good pedaling efficiency and no notable sluggishness or pedal bob.

Thanks to the fabulously low standover, we never high centered when we had to bail during a technical climb attempts. When we had to make a move to get up and over a tricky obstacle, the rear end felt supportive, not like it was sucking all the energy out of the move. The short seat tube on our size medium also had some room to spare with the 100mm travel dropper post, which means a rider about an inch shorter than us (5'6" and 5'7") could likely hop on the size medium without issue. Alternatively, taller ladies could get away with a longer dropper for more clearance.

At the top of the mountain we had a number of options available to us for our descents. Our favorite was to add an extra little loop on Holbert at the top of the hill. Holbert had a fast descent that was mostly smooth with some big rock water bars that required hopping, plus a handful of loose corners with cacti kindly waiting to catch us if we slipped. Here we found that rider position felt plenty balanced and the bike was responsive to rider input. The suspension felt plush and never bucky over any of the smaller bumps or jumps. Geometry wise it felt comfortable, and that lower bottom bracket height played well through corners, as did the short chainstays. The bike also made it around the tighter switchbacks we faced without issue.

After a lap or two for funsies, we climbed back up to the top of Geronimo trail. This downhill bike worthy trail down to the valley floor is nonstop rock smashing fun if you're brave enough for it, and it was here that we found the bike's limits. We didn’t feel like the suspension was all that great when faced with bigger bumps or drops. On these types of impacts, and especially quick successive ones, it felt like the bike was overwhelmed and we'd often need a moment to slow down and reset. While the RockShox Revelation RC3 fork performs very well on your average twisty, jumpy, pumpy trail, it seemed like it was holding the bike back from excelling in rough, technical descents as it got balled up on slower big hits. Combined with rear suspension that was perhaps a tad too linear, after any sort of drop it felt like a challenge to recover for the next feature. We were indeed using all the travel, and it wasn’t harsh when it bottomed out, however. We only descended with the suspension compression setting wide open.

Watch the Rhyme's 150mm of FSR suspension in action.

Build Kit

At $2,900, the Comp model provides a great value when you look at the components. It's impressive to see things like a reliable dropper post, wide rims, and good tires at this price point.

When we needed to stop or slow down, the Shimano Deore brakes with a 160mm rear and 180mm front rotor did the trick. There were no blown corners or persons run over in the testing of this bike. The levers were nice and short with an ergonomic shape and plenty of adjustment range.

Also useful for keeping it rubber side down were nice tires. The front 2.3-inch Specialized Butcher Control and rear Purgatory Control tires held fast on the decomposed granite and rock as we made our way up and down the mountain. There wasn’t much rolling resistance to fight. They also did well holding up to the abuse of many square rocks, though in a place where there were plenty of opportunities to flat, and others did, we experienced one burp and one sliced sidewall.

Specialized specs Roval Traverse rims with a wide 29mm inner width that really helps add some support to the tires when smashing into turns or running lower pressures. They were still true at the end of our test.

While the climbs were easier thanks to the secondary 22-tooth front chainring, at the end of the day we are big 1x drivetrain fans. It cleans up the cockpit, simplifies the ride, reduces technical difficulties, and is much quieter. This SRAM X9/X7 2x10 drivetrain didn’t change our mind. It seemed like when it came time for a quick shift we couldn’t get it into the right gear, nor was it a smooth feeling shift. We also repeatedly dropped chains. Add in chainslap noise that was deafeningly awful even over slightly bumpy climbs in the small ring and yeah, not fans. Unfortunately 1x drivetrains tend to be more expensive, but we're hoping for more affordable options in the future.

Specialized's women's Myth Comp saddle is one we both thought was comfortable. Perhaps a little on the firm side for one of us, but it fit the sit bones well. It's rare to find a stock saddle that actually works for us gals.

After being spoiled with them, we don’t think we could ride a bike without a dropper ever again, so the inclusion of the Command Post IRcc dropper on such an affordable bike is a good score. The updated post does still pop up with zeal, but it’s certainly less terrifying than the previous version. Added stops throughout its travel are also nice for finding the right seat height on the fly. There are many times, especially on technical climbs, that a slightly lowered saddle height is very helpful and necessary. We found the remote easy to reach and press. Specialized sends the size XS and small Rhymes with 75mm travel posts.

Finally, as mentioned before, we found it necessary to swap the 720mm alloy handlebar and 70mm XC stem for something a bit more capable on the descents. This really comes down to personal preference.

Long Term Durability

Save a sliced tire, we experienced no major issues during our test, and looking the bike over it seems like it will last for a while. There is a protective sticker on the inside of the seatstay that the chain did quite a bit of work on, so consider upgrading to something thicker for both the sake of your ears and the frame. Further down the road when the pivots need service, the torque specs are clearly labeled, everything is easy to access, and the process looks fairly painless.

Specialized offers a generous lifetime limited frame warranty with five years on suspension equipment coverage, plus a two year limited complete bike warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp 650b comes at a good value, is a great climber, and can be a very fun ride on relatively smooth trails. The geometry has plenty of clearance in all the important areas, the components work together to make it comfortable, and the details are all well thought out.

Based on our previous experience on the higher end Expert Carbon model, we feel the Comp has potential to be a better bike on very rough trails with a few component swaps. From the bike shop, this model is beginner to intermediate friendly, but hard charging gals will likely find its limits.

Visit www.specialized.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Descending: 3 stars - Good
  • Fun Factor: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Value: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Overall Impression: 3.5 stars - Very Good

Bonus Gallery: 17 photos of the 2016 Specialized Rhyme FSR Comp 650b up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

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Added a product review for 2016 Turner RFX v4.0 GX 2/9/2016 3:18 PM
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2016 Test Sessions: Turner RFX v4.0 GX

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

Turner fans, rejoice! The often coveted Turner RFX is finally back, this time in a 27.5 carbon-framed package. The bike features DW-link suspension with 160mm of travel, more aggressive geometry, and several little touches that add up to a much improved ride. Given the long wait and the amount of R&D that went into it, we were excited to see how the RFX would stack up at the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • DW-link suspension
  • EnduroMax bearings
  • Tapered headtube
  • External cable routing with Stealth dropper
  • Removable direct mount front derailleur adapter
  • Post mount rear brake
  • Press fit 30 bottom bracket
  • ISCG 05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size XL, no pedals): 29.1-pounds (13.2kg)
  • MSRP $4,951 USD

Following in the footsteps of the Czar, Turner's first carbon model, the 2016 RFX reappears for the fourth time since 1999, but now in a carbon version that helps bring it up to speed with the latest in bike technology. Turner molds the bike using a blend of Toray high-modulus uni-directional carbon sourced from Japan.

Out back you'll find 160mm of travel ready to eat up the rough stuff via Dave Weagle's DW-link suspension. Turner says it's "the only design on the market that is able to control unwanted bob and still remain active in more gear combinations than any other design." When mounted, the 200x57mm (7.875 x 2.25-inch) shock is offset to the non-driveside. Sealed EnduroMax bearings at every pivot point improve small bump compliance over their old bushing system.

The frame features external cable routing for easy maintenance, with exception to the Stealth-style dropper post which exits the frame at the bottom of the seat tube. All cables are held in place by machined alloy cable clamps that screw into the frame. Turner placed the clamps in strategic locations to prevent unwanted cable noise and frame rub while eliminating the need for any zip-ties. Some of the mounts on the top side of the downtube double as water bottle mounts, though the included hardware on our test bike wasn't long enough to mount both the bottle cage and cable guides at the same time. Whether or not this was an oversight by Turner, we're not sure, but removing one cable guide to mount the cage was a non-issue.

Additional details include a post mount rear brake with replaceable threaded inserts, space for a meaty 2.4-inch tire with close to half an inch to spare for mud clearance, a 73mm PF30 bottom bracket, and ISCG 05 mounts. Should you want to run a 2X drivetrain, the frame is front derailleur compatible thanks to a removable direct mount adapter. Integrated frame guards on both the chainstay and the lower portion of the downtube help prevent damage to the frame from chainslap and rock strikes.

The RFX can be had starting at $2,995 for a frame/shock only option, and is also available with five build kits and a myriad of wheelset and shock options. Builds range from the $4,951 SRAM GX/DT Swiss/RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair option to $9,672 for an ultra-baller Shimano XTR/ENVE/Push ElevenSix combo. There are even options for wheel graphics if you'd like to get super fancy. We tested the most affordable GX build. For the Turner faithful out there, know that a trade-in program exists which provides you with $600 off in exchange for your old Turner frame.

Geometry

The RFX sees a number of updates for 2016 in the geometry department, and while it's highlighted by a slacker-than-most 66-degree head angle, the numbers are not as aggressive across the board as some might hope for. These days, riders under 6'1" (1.85 meters) tall typically find themselves best situated on a size large frame, but due to short reach measurements our testers opted for the XL. Those near the cusp of the recommended sizing might want to consider sizing up depending on your personal preferences and riding style.

Other key numbers include slightly longer than average 438mm (17.24-inch) chainstays, a 73.5-degree seat tube angle, and a 345mm (13.6-inch) measured bottom bracket height (slightly higher than the 340mm claimed). Should you want to, the use of a 49/62mm tapered headtube allows the frame to be adjustable between 65-degrees and 67-degrees in half degree increments via FSA headset hardware available from Turner.

On The Trail

We tested the RFX on South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona, which features rough, rocky, loose, and generally wild trails. With extended technical climbs paired with rugged downhills like Geronimo and Holbert trails, the area served as an ideal testing ground for the RFX which claims to be a downhill crusher capable of efficiently making its way to the top.

We began our test with the RockShox Monarch Plus DebonAir shock set within Turner’s recommended 30-35% sag range, opting for 33% while seated. Before shipping each bike, Turner opens every shock and pre-installs volume spacers based on the size of the bike and your riding style. Our XL came equipped with three bands.

One side effect of having to size up is how tall the front end is, which is something we noticed right away. It's way up there with a 632mm (24.9-inch) stack measurement for our XL frame. When we checked the numbers, even the size large frame's stack height is higher by a half-inch or more when compared to your average 160mm travel bike. The bike just feels tall, even with the low-rise bars set as low as possible. Coupled with the somewhat short reach, this can make for an awkward ride at first and we had to adjust our riding style a bit to get comfortable.

When pointed up, the DW-link equipped RFX climbs well for a 160mm bike. With the shock fully open and a 32-tooth chainring, both seated and out-of-saddle climbing resulted in very little bob, though hard-mashing pedalers will find the shock's middle compression setting useful. In our experience the bike pedals exceptionally well. Should you decide to use the firm compression setting, the rear wheel still reacts to trail inconsistencies, never feeling overly harsh or locked-out. Turner chose not to spec the RFX with a travel adjust fork, and in our experience the tall front end tended to wander quite a bit on the steeper climbs, forcing us to ride as far forward on the saddle and with as much weight on the bars as possible. This made rear-end traction sometimes hard to come by, due to having to be so far over the front end, and the longer than average stays contributed to this loss of traction as well. In regards to pedal-strikes, the large amount of sag drops the bottom bracket quite a bit and makes line choice and pedal timing important. The geometry works well when it comes to overall stability while descending and cornering, however.

While the geometry and suspension makes for a decent climber, we all know this bike was built for getting the most out of your descents (while still earning them), and that's where the bike really came alive. At 33% sag it provides an incredibly supple ride well into the mid-stroke. While one of our testers found Turner’s choice of running three volume reducers in the shock ample to resist bottoming out, our other tester wanted more progression out of the system and chose to add two more, for a total of five. While he preferred five reducers over three during deep consecutive hits, it was a bit much. For more aggressive riders we think running four reducers is the ticket. When we checked the numbers we found the suspension design starts progressive, but becomes linear as the rear wheel approaches the end of its travel. Overall it's a more progressive and supportive feeling ride than the Pivot Mach 6 and Ibis Mojo HD3, two other bikes with similar DW-link suspension designs. Those wanting a more nimble ride will want to set the bike up with slightly less sag and possibly fewer spacers, while those preferring a stable ride will want to drop it close to 35% with more spacers.

In both volume spacer configurations the mid-stroke offered plenty of support, keeping our focus on the trail and not worried about what the bike was doing. While the RFX did take the sting off medium to large square edge hits, we felt it hang up a bit on a few occasions during large successive square edges. Even so, overall the bike descended exceptionally well with a balanced feel, stable chassis, centered stance, and the confidence to carry us through whatever line we picked.

The RFX's DW-link design in motion.

In corners, the bike tracked the ground well giving us plenty of traction, even over the choppy and dry Arizona terrain. Pushing into turns, the bike kept up in its travel and never wallowed or felt unbalanced. Due to the RFX's excellent pedaling characteristics, it was incredibly responsive while sprinting out of corners or in the flats, rewarding us with extra speed for our efforts. Thanks to the DW-link design, outright pedaling performance is barely affected by the amount of travel being used or sag height.

Build Kit

We chose to test Turner's least expensive GX build, which features SRAM's more affordable 1x11 GX drivetrain, a RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork, SRAM Guide R brakes, DT Swiss E-1900 wheels, and a Race Face Evolve stem and bar. With literally hundreds of build kit/wheelset/shock/head angle combos available, this ride has the potential to suit many riders' needs.

For some reason our GX build didn't come with the listed Evolve cockpit, but a wide 800mm (31.5-inch) Race Face Respond bar and 50mm stem were in their place. Whether or not Turner didn't have their OEM shipment of bars/stems in yet, or there's an unpublished variation for the XL RFX we're not sure, but it was a welcomed surprise over the stock 750mm (29.5-inch) setup. Spec'ing a 780-800mm bar would be ideal as those who find it too wide can cut it down, as opposed to wide bar lovers having to purchase a new bar right off the bat.

Turner missed a few easy opportunities in the tire and rotor department in our opinion, spec'ing the burly RFX with a small 160mm rear rotor which we quickly roached, and some thin 2.35-inch Schwalbe Knobby Nic tires. We would have liked to see a more robust tire setup and larger diameter rotors to better match the bike's intended purpose and capabilities. The tires limited us when things started picking up speed, and despite being tubeless we suffered a few flats in the rocky terrain. Replacing those two components has the potential to improve the overall feel of the bike in a pretty big way. Oh, and you'll likely want some lock-on grips while you're at it.

Turner spec'd the bike with a 125mm (4.9-inch) travel KS Integra dropper post, which we've found to have reliability issues in the past due to very precise cable tension requirements. Of three KS Integra posts in our 17 bike lineup not one remained problem free. After a single day of riding the dropper would sink an inch into its travel when weighted without activating the lever.

The RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork gave us no issues and was a solid performer through and through, handling the rough and rocky terrain well and keeping its composure even in the chunkiest of sections. The RFX is a burly bike, however, and as such some riders may wish for the Lyrik alternative considering the bike's downhill capabilities. Based on preference, we added two Bottomless Tokens to the Pike to provide a more progressive spring curve.

The DT-Swiss E-1900 wheels held up very well and were reasonably stiff, which kept us pointed in the right direction with no sudden deflections to throw us off line.

SRAM's GX drivetrain impressed us once again with reliable performance at a fraction of the cost. Consider adding a top guide for extra chain security.

Long Term Durability

The RFX looks to be an overbuilt and sturdy frame with plenty of integrated frame protection. Rubber molded chainstay and downtube guards protect against chain slap and rock strikes, while thin metal plates add additional coverage from chainslap and rotor damage. There are some gaps on the chainstay and inner seatstay which could become problematic in the long term, so some key applications of mastic tape is advised for complete coverage. Unfortunately the rear derailleur cable routes along the top of the chainstay, which makes for a slightly noisier ride.

We appreciate that they’ve equipped the RFX with replaceable post mount threaded inserts should you ever cross-thread your brake bolts. Large torx bolts are used throughout the linkage for improved durability during maintenance, so make sure you have the appropriate sizes in your toolbox (and possibly in your pack). Torque specs are available here, and all pivot bearings are easily replaceable when the time comes. Turner backs the bike with a seven day 100% satisfaction purchase guarantee allowing you to swap sizes or return the bike should things be awry early on, followed by a two year frame warranty.

What's The Bottom Line?

If you're an aggressive rider who only climbs to earn your descents, Turner's RFX v4.0 might be the beast you're looking for. While not the most agile bike with the GX build kit, excellent pedaling characteristics still make it capable of extended climbs. Once pointed down, it opens up like a mini-downhill bike, offering a supple, balanced ride with geometry that rewards an off-the-back riding style. Despite a couple of hang ups when things got really rowdy, the overall impression we got is a bike that likes it rough. Out of the box the GX kit is close to being a great "budget" build, and with the few parts swaps would be an all out trail slayer.

Visit www.turnerbikes.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

Bonus Gallery: 26 photos of the 2016 Turner RFX v4.0 GX up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Orbea Occam AM M30 2/4/2016 2:50 PM
C138_2016_orbea_occam_am_m30

2016 Test Sessions: Orbea Occam AM M30

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geometry

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

Vital MTB Rating

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

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1 2/3/2016 12:47 PM
C138_2016_pivot_mach_6_aluminum

2016 Test Sessions: Pivot Mach 6 Aluminum X1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geometry

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.pivotcycles.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

This product has no reviews yet.

Added a product review for 2016 Santa Cruz Hightower CC X01 29 2/1/2016 11:59 PM
C138_s1600_santacruz_hightower_29_black_profile

First Look, First Ride: 2016 Santa Cruz Hightower 29 and 27.5+

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

2016 Santa Cruz Hightower Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geometry

Interview With Santa Cruz

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

On The Trail - 29" Mode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail - 27.5+ Mode

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

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

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Build Kits, Pricing and Availability

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

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

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


About The Reviewer

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

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

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Added a product review for 2016 Commencal Meta Trail 650b 1/29/2016 3:25 AM
C138_2016_commencal_meta_trail_650b

2016 Test Sessions: Commencal Meta Trail 650b

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

Geometry

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

Visit www.commencal.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

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

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

About Test Sessions

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

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