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Added a product review for Novatec Dirtride Wheelset 11/12/2014 2:05 PM
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Tested: Novatec Dirtride Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen

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

Dirtride Wheelset Highlights

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

Initial Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Jumps & In The Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.novatecusa.net for more details.


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

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

Tested: 2015 BOS Dizzy Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen

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

BOS Dizzy Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setup & Initial Impressions

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

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

Recommended pressure settings are as follows:

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.bosmtb.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

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

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Brandon Turman

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

Maha Apogee MTB Pump Highlights

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

In The Shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

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

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.birzman.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

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

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Dave Trumpore

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

S-Works Demo Carbon 650b Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

Visit www.specialized.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a fun trail in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

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

First Ride: 2015 DVO Diamond Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Dave Trumpore

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

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

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

The 2015 DVO Diamond mounted up and ready to roll.

DVO Diamond Fork Highlights

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

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

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

Dual Cartridge System

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

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

Compression Bladder

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

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

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

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

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

Air Spring and OTT Adjustment

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

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

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

Tapered lowers help strengthen the fork chassis.

Chassis Design

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

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

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

Initial Impressions

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

Turman getting up to speed on the Diamond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

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

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

What’s The Bottom Line?

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

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

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


Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the DVO Diamond up close and in action


About The Reviewer

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

This product has 1 review.

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

Tested: Birzman Studio Tool Kit

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Brandon Turman

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

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

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

Studio Tool Kit Contents

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

In The Shop

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

Things that stand out include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.birzman.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

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

This product has 1 review.

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

First Look, First Ride: 2015 Giant Reign 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Sterling Lorence

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

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

Reign 27.5 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geometry

Initial Impressions

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

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

Waka waka waka, we rode up in this choppa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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


2015 Reign Models and Pricing

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

Bonus Gallery: 43 photos of the 2015 Giant Reign 27.5 up close and in action


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

This product has 1 review.

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

2014 Test Sessions: Commencal Meta Hip Hop 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

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

Meta Hip Hop Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

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

2014 Test Sessions: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.trekbikes.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

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

2014 Test Sessions: Lapierre Zesty AM 527

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Zesty AM 527 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

Visit www.lapierrebicycles.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT Fork 5/27/2014 7:35 AM
C138_fox_36_rc2_angle

Tested: 2015 FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Colin Meagher

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

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

FOX 36 FLOAT RC2 FIT Highlights

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

Weight Savings

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

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

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

Friction Reduction

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

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

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

Improved Air Spring System

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

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

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

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

Improved RC2 Damper

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

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

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

Internally Adjustable Travel

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

Convertible 15/20mm Thru-Axle

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

All Wheel Sizes

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

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

36 axle-to-crown lengths:

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

36 fork rake dimensions:

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

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

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

Setup

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things That Could Be Improved

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

What’s The Bottom Line?

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

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

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

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


About The Reviewer

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

This product has 1 review.

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

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

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

Trailfox TF01 29 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Cane Creek DBinline Air Shock 5/18/2014 11:30 PM
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First Ride: Cane Creek DBinline Air Shock

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Brandon Turman // Photos by Derek DiLuzio and Brandon Turman // Video by ZfH Productions

When Cane Creek first launched the Double Barrel coil shock in 2009, it was the first of its kind to offer a twin-tube design with four-way independent damping adjustment. They created the shock under the belief that “suspension is personal,” meaning one person’s perfect tune is not the same as others. In 2011, the DBair was released, bringing the same level of tunability to an air shock. The DBair would later see the addition of the well-regarded “Climb Switch” in 2013.

Today Cane Creek is proud to introduce the DBinline - the first Double Barrel twin-tube shock designed specifically for bikes in the 120-150mm travel range. The new inline design has no external reservoir, but thanks to some clever engineering it offers the same capabilities in a smaller, lighter package that will fit more frames. We traveled to Cane Creek’s headquarters near Asheville, North Carolina to see and ride the new creation.

DBinline Highlights

  • Inline air shock design
  • Intended for aggressive Trail, All-Mountain, and Enduro bikes with 120-150mm of travel
  • Twin-tube damping in two high-speed and four low-speed circuits
  • External compression adjustments: High-speed (4-turns) // Low-speed (12-clicks)
  • External rebound adjustments:High-speed (4-turns) // Low-speed (18-clicks)
  • Climb Switch adjustment (on/off)
  • Tunable air spring with volume spacers
  • Anodized and laser-etched finish
  • Lengths: 165 x 38mm // 184 x 44mm // 190 x 50mm // 200 x 50mm // 200 x 57mm // 216 x 63mm
  • Standard air can size on all lengths
  • Low friction bushings with 1/2” universal axle
  • Hand-built in Henderson County, North Carolina, USA
  • Weight: 295 grams (165 x 38mm without hardware)
  • MSRP: $495
  • Available: June 16, 2014

“I like to say we hit the DBair CS with a shrink ray. We set out to bring Double Barrel performance with CS-optimized climbing damping into a smaller, lighter shock. Riders of shorter travel bikes now have access to the adjustability and control that characterizes Cane Creek suspension without paying a weight penalty.” - Josh Coaplen, Cane Creek Vice President of Engineering

Four-Way Adjustability: The DBinline offers more external adjustability than any other inline air shock we’ve tried to date. Want more high-speed rebound or compression damping? It’s as simple as inserting a 3mm allen key and turning the knob. The same goes for both low-speed adjustments. Each adjuster independently controls each phase of damping without crossover effects. While these types of damping may be adjustable on other shocks, you often have to remove the shock from the bike, open it up and have a lot of knowledge about what you’re doing.

Twin-Tube Technology: Twin-tube technology also sets DBinline apart from other inline designs. Rather than simply pumping oil back and forth across an internal damping piston, the oil circulates continuously through the externally adjustable shock valves. Twin-tube shocks have two main chambers, a compression chamber and a rebound chamber, separated by the adjustable valves. The main damping piston forces damping oil between the compression and rebound chambers via the externally adjustable damping valves. On the trail, the twin-tube style routing of oil is said to translate into less fade and more control. Pressure acts on both sides of the damper to reduce the risk of cavitation.

Climb Switch: Cane Creek’s proprietary Climb Switch (CS) technology increases low-speed compression and low-speed rebound damping via a set of internal “climbing circuits,” unlike other climbing platforms that change only low-speed compression. By changing both, the shock improves pedal efficiency while also decreasing chassis motion by essentially over-damping the shock in both directions. The impact CS has on the shock is tuned based on each frame’s needs.

Membrane: Inline style shocks typically use an internal floating piston (IFP), whereas DBinline utilizes a flexible rubber membrane (similar to a bladder) to separate the damper oil from the nitrogen-charged gas chamber. This design is usually only offered in piggyback style shocks. Use of the high nitrile content, low gas permeability membrane is said to reduce stiction and has been tested to one million bottom-out cycles without fail. Due to space restrictions Cane Creek hollowed out the end of the eyelet to act as the gas chamber.

Volume Spacers: Aside from damping and pressure adjustments, additional tuning can be performed by inserting or removing air volume spacers. This process has been drastically simplified on the DBinline, and now takes less than a minute to perform. Just pop off a snap ring using your fingers, slide the outer air can sleeve up and insert a rubber spacer. Doing so adds bottom out resistance, impacting the last 50% of stroke. If the bike is kinematically progressive (built into the linkage design), often times no spacers are needed. If it’s less progressive or regressive, add some spacers. Cane Creek introduced a new trimmable 5cc spacer design that will replace the current spacers on DBair shocks as well, offering even more fine adjustment.

Fade Resistance: High heat is a shock’s worst enemy as it can alter the viscosity of the oil making it thinner. The thinner the oil, the smaller the resistance and hence a lowering of the damping rate - known as shock fade. Sometimes at the end of a long run bikes will feel loose in the suspension and tend to bounce around much more, with higher chances of bottoming out. The DBinline shock uses 37-48% more oil compared to most “fair competitor” inline shocks, which is said to further improve consistency and fade resistance. All that oil comes at a ~100 gram weight gain over a comparably sized traditional inline design, so Cane Creek says it’s made for the type of rider who prefers good tires and suspension performance over saving a few grams. On the other hand, it’s also a 200-250 grams less than a DBair CS, so you could look at it as though you’re saving weight while maintaining a high level of adjustability. Cane Creek says they also designed the shapes of the damping adjusters to release heat more effectively than a traditional design.

Seal Updates: The main piston seal and seal head use new self-lubricating graphite-impregnated L-shaped backup rings, intended to prevent internal metal on metal contact under side loads.

Initial Impressions and Setup

While this may all seem a bit complicated, and it is, Cane Creek works with bike manufacturers to determine the best overall settings for each frame based on the frame’s design and field testing. These “Base Tunes” are specific to that bike. While other shocks may come custom-tuned for a frame, the DBinline’s settings comes via knobs versus shim stack changes, which can be easily changed. Your preferred settings are likely to be just a click or two off of the base settings.

We rode the Specialized Enduro 29, a 155mm travel rig with a penchant for high speeds. We’ve ridden this bike before with a DBair CS, so while it may be just outside of Cane Creek’s suggested travel range, it served as a good platform to try out the new shock. It also dropped the bike’s weight by ~200 grams.

The base tune for the Enduro 29 is as follows. It uses a little over one 5cc volume spacer in the air can.

After setting the shock up with 15mm of sag and cycling it a few times, we immediately noticed an improvement to the DBinline’s beginning stroke compared to the DBair or DBair CS. Refinements to the main seal and negative spring give the DBinline less of a “dead” feel off the top, and the point when the main seal passes the negative fill dimple is less noticeable.

The inline design improved water bottle access on the Enduro 29, and made it possible to run on bottle at all on other frames at the product launch, including the new Intense Tracer 275 Carbon.

On The Trail

Cane Creek’s headquarters in Fletcher, North Carolina is close to hundreds of miles of great trails. We spent one day riding in the highly praised Pisgah National Forest, one day at the DuPont Corn Mill Shoals area, and one at Bent Creek in Asheville. The rides included heavily rooted singletrack and gravel road climbs capped off by sometimes steep, rocky, and rooted descents with several hucks to flat. Trail conditions varied from dry to very wet throughout the three days of testing.

Setting off for our first ride, it was immediately clear that the shock is very supple off the top with little to no stiction. This was appreciated when staying light over the first root and rock-strewn section of trail. Coupled with the Enduro 29’s relatively high initial leverage ratio, the bike tracked the ground well with good initial sensitivity and no noticeable kicks or harsh feedback in the pedals.

Pressing further into the stroke, the feel remained predictable and controlled with a smooth progression. Running the stock base tune, the DBinline seemed to make the Enduro 29 sit higher up than the DBair CS, providing a bit more of a lively ride that is typical of inline shocks. At the same time, the control offered by the shock surpassed what we’ve come to expect of inline shocks, especially over bigger hits, verging on piggyback shock territory.

The base tune made for a ride that was very rarely harsh. After descending through a rough off-camber section at speed and feeling as though the rear end was stepping out and occasionally some strong feedback in continuous chunder, we lowered the high-speed compression half a turn. This solved the issue, while the air spring and volume spacer still provided enough ramp to keep the bike from bottoming over bigger hits.

Despite doing our best to bottom the shock out on a number of hucks to flat, we only reached the absolute bottom one time, but were able to consistently use close to full travel when it was needed. The shock bottomed very smoothly, lacking any loud sounds or an overly harsh feeling.

We experienced no consistency issues on the descents, though the longest run was just four minutes long at a quick pace. We want to test it on a 15+ minute descent at race pace in the future.

Pointed uphill, we turned the Climb Switch on, activating the secondary low-speed compression and rebound circuits. We found it to be very effective at quieting the sometimes bouncy nature of the Enduro 29, especially on the long rooted climbs typical of North Carolina. We preferred the Climb Switch at 1/2 to 3/4 actuation for less of a dead feel. On higher speed climbs with lots of continuous rough patches it sometimes packs up otherwise.

At the end of three days, our preferred settings weren’t far off of the base tune set by both Specialized and Cane Creek, which speaks well of their ability to find a good starting point. The real beauty of the shock is that we were able to make those adjustments while on the trail. Cane Creek includes a very useful Tuning Field Guide that will help any rider determine how to tweak the settings, regardless of experience.

Things That Could Be Improved

This shock was made to fit a wider variety of frames, which it does, but it still may not fit every frame due to space restrictions. Those with limited room around the shock mounts will want to check Cane Creek’s Fit Finder or with their frame company before ordering. To maximize fitment options and accessibility, it’s possible to rotate the air valve 360-degrees and flip it to change its fore/aft position. They can also rotate the 4-way adjuster assembly at the factory.

It may also be hard to reach the Climb Switch on some frames. To address this, and to improve on-the-fly accessibility for all, Cane Creek will offer a bar-mounted CS remote later this year. It will come as a retrofittable kit for the DBinline, and will not fit DBair CS shocks “yet.” As it stands the Climb Switch is most suited to prolonged climbs, not quickly changing terrain.

Finally, some riders may want tool-free adjustments. Cane Creek says they’ve discussed this several times internally, and the decision to require a tool for everything but the Climb Switch was intentional. They feel that using a tool makes you consciously think about the adjustments you’re making. In addition, they’re less likely to be mistakenly turned in the current configuration.

Long Term Durability

Three rides is hardly enough to evaluate long term durability, but our initial impressions are positive. We saw no leaky shocks and had no failures across 10+ test bikes during the product launch. The design seems well-thought-out, requiring just a standard bottom bracket tool for air can service. The air spring can be serviced without opening damper and looks to be a straightforward process. We’ll be evaluating the shock over a longer test period and will update you if any issues arise.

What's The Bottom Line?

We often comment about suspension performance on trail bikes, sometimes wishing for a different shock tune to improve the ride over certain types of terrain. The Cane Creek DBinline shock allows you to easily make and test those adjustments on the trail, something never before seen in an inline shock. We were impressed by the shock’s ability to calm the rocky, rooty terrain in North Carolina on the way down AND up the hills. As we’ve written before, the unique Climb Switch works like a charm, drastically improving traction and control while ascending. This shock packs a lot into a small package, and could be the ticket for shorter travel bikes in need of a performance boost.

Visit www.canecreek.com/thedisruptor for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 33 photos from inside Cane Creek headquarters and the DBinline product launch


About The Reviewer

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Kona Process 153 DL 5/3/2014 2:03 AM
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2014 Test Sessions: Kona Process 153 DL

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

We’ve seen a number of the greats on Kona bikes over the years. Clear back in 1994 Steve Peat was rallying a Hei Hei Ti frame down local downhill tracks, then Greg Minnaar, Tracy Moseley, and Fabien Barel joined the crew, earning back to back World Championship titles along the way. They’ve also been ridden by several freeride idols, like Dave Watson as he famously gapped over the Tour de France. Now the brand is making a concentrated effort on the rising Enduro scene with their updated Process, a bike that has evolved just as quickly as the discipline itself.

Even after receiving positive reviews of the 2013 model, Kona wanted more and wanted better. So they redesigned the Process from the ground up with input from Matt Slaven, eventually ending up with a race-ready line that includes the Process 153 and 134 (two 27.5-inch bikes), and the 111 (a 29er). Like you've probably already figured out, the numbers correlate to the amount of rear wheel travel on each bike.

We spent some time on the burliest of the bunch during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona.

Process 153 DL Highlights

  • 6061 aluminum butted frame
  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 6.0-inches (153mm) of rear wheel travel
  • Rocker Independent Suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • 66.5-degree head angle
  • 74-degree seat tube angle
  • 0.4-inch (10mm) bottom bracket drop
  • 16.7-inch (425mm) chainstays
  • Press fit bottom bracket with ISCG tabs
  • 142x12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31 pounds, 15 ounces (14.5kg)
  • $4,999 MSRP

Kona made some major cosmetic and performance changes to the Process for 2014. The first big change that you will notice is the absence of the classic Walking Beam 4-bar linkage, and a new horizontal shock arrangement with a U-shaped yoke that wraps around the seat tube. Known as “Rocker Independent Suspension,” the new system is a single pivot design with a linkage actuated shock and consistent, slightly progressive leverage curve. Unlike some similar yoke designs, the shock uses standard mounts and dimensions.

The linkage is complemented by all things large in the name of durability and stiffness - large industrial-sized bearings, large pivot thru-axles with wide spacing, and even large threads on the axles to avoid stripping. By machining the outer race bearing seat, Kona made it easier to remove bearings without special tools.

One of the biggest benefits to the new suspension design is massively improved standover, allowing Kona to really exaggerate more modern geometry and boost rider confidence when things get wild. Even the XL frame has the same super low standover as the Small. Of the 25 bikes we tested in Sedona, the Process 153 had the longest reach measurement of all the size Large bikes and nearly the longest top tube. Kona compliments the long front end with a short stem and wide handlebars. The chainstays are also very compact at just 16.7-inches (425mm).

Some subtle details include internal cable routing for the derailleur cables, standard and stealth dropper post cable routing, ISCG05 tabs, a direct front derailleur mount, tapered head tube with zero stack headset, and 142x12mm rear thru-axle. Thankfully they didn’t forget the water bottle cage mounts on the bottom of the downtube. While not ideal for on the fly water access or keeping your bottle clean, they’re a must for riders who prefer to ride without a pack. Mud clearance at the rear wheel is decent with a minimum of 1cm of room with 2.3-inch Maxxis tires.

The 153 is available with two build kits - the standard 153 at $3,399 and the 153 DL at $4,999. Both builds come with a RockShox Pike (different models mind you), Maxxis High Roller II tires, short/wide cockpit, clutched derailleur, dropper post and reliable Shimano brakes. We spent our time on the 153 DL.

On The Trail

For our test of the Process we rode several loops with technical climbs with some good grunts and a mix of steep, tight, fast, rocky, and flowy descents. Trails included Ridge, Brewer, Slim Shady, Hogs, Pig Tail, Broken Arrow, Little Horse, and Llama.

As we prepped the bike for our first ride, it was immediately apparent that Kona hit the cockpit geometry nail on the head. At 6-feet tall we were right at home with the size Large frame’s spacious 24.8-inch (629mm) top tube and 18.1-inch (460mm) reach combined with Kona’s 40mm stem and properly wide 30.5-inch (780mm) RaceFace Atlas FR bar. Rider position was well balanced, not too far back or forward, and we weren't cramped or stretched out.

The rest of the geometry is everything you would expect and want in a long-travel trail/all-mountain bike. The short stays provide better cornering characteristics but are kept in check with the long front end on high speed sections. By matching the stays with a 12x142mm rear axle, the Process has a stout chassis that is nimble enough to navigate the most technical terrain. It also has a 66.5-degree headtube angle that keeps that front wheel tracking well while still absorbing square-edge hits efficiently while descending. The geometry provided loads of confidence, which is something we appreciate.

The bike shined when the trail got faster and steeper. It changed directions on a dime while its mass helped picked up momentum and hold a straight line through the chatter and chunder. In a bike park/resort setting, we’d rate this rig among the best in its class based on its downhill capabilities, stable nature, and ability to remain composed through the rough stuff.

The RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 shock had a noticeable knock near the beginning of the travel during our initial parking lot spins, but that didn’t adversely performance on trail. At around 35% sag it was nice and supple off the top and had a smooth ramp that progressed throughout the stroke. Even with the knock it was predictable through the travel, delivering a bottom-less feel that was always ready for trouble. Traction was available at all times thanks in part to the suspension and in part to the tires.

One of the big contributors to the bike’s success in the downward direction is the RockShox Pike fork. We were able to confidently place the front end wherever we needed with no negative feedback in any situation. It had solid compression support throughout the entire stroke and a smooth air spring curve that gave just the right amount of progression to keep the fork from riding too deep in its travel. Thanks to the Bottomless Token system it can be easily tuned for more aggressive riders and trails.

While we’ve gushed about the bike’s downhill performance up until this point, we’ve got to keep sight of its overall performance. Considering that in most cases you’ll have to pedal it up the hill, the fact that this was very close to the heaviest bike in our test is a bit of a downer. The nearly 32-pound (14.5kg) Process 153 DL comes in a pound or more heavier than most at a similar price point. While it isn’t out to win any awards on the ups, perceived and actual weight were on the heavier side, that’s for sure.

The moment you throw a leg over this machine you feel like you are on an extremely capable bike, but rolling speed and its climbing abilities are not its strong points. Give us lift access and the Process 153 and you will see a smile on our faces, but tell us to ride it on an all day epic and you will see a look of concern. Fit riders looking for a bike that can handle the most technical of trails will appreciate the 153, but riders lacking great fitness will likely struggle to muscle it up steeper, more technical climbs.

The 74-degree seat tube angle helped when pointed back up the hill, as did the Monarch’s on-the-fly compression adjust lever over the quickly changing Sedona terrain. It added much needed efficiency to the bike with little effort. The bike has very low anti-squat numbers when pedaling in the bigger chainring, but they improve in the granny gear - something to consider if you’re thinking about a swap to a 1X drivetrain.

Sprinting, the short rear end matched with the progressive feel of the Monarch Plus RC3 made for an extremely snappy feel out of corners and a bike that wants to get right back to business. On uphill and flat sprints the bike’s mass will hold you back some, as will the lack of an immediate response at the pedals.

Build Kit

The 153 DL is highlighted by components from RockShox, RaceFace, FSA, Shimano, SRAM, WTB, Maxxis, KS and even a few from Kona.

Our biggest gripe with the build was the incredibly poor compatibility of the SRAM shifters, Shimano brake levers, and the KS LEV dropper cable. They simply didn’t align well, and we were unable to dial in all the lever angles and positions to our personal preferences.

Front and rear 2.3-inch Maxxis Highroller II EXO 3C tires hooked up great on the descents, but our ideal setup would include something a bit faster rolling in the rear to help the bike out a tad on the way up. If you’re in the same boat, consider replacing the rear and hanging onto the Highroller II as a spare for the front.

The WTB Frequency Team i25 TCS rims laced to Shimano XT hubs with straight 14 gauge spokes were tubeless compatible, felt stiff enough in all situations, and held their tension evenly throughout the test.

As usual, Shimano's XT brakes worked flawlessly, providing plenty of power in all situations and the steepest, loosest terrain.

Beyond not being able to line up the levers perfectly, the mishmashed 2x10 SRAM X7/X9/X0 drivetrain gave us quite a few headaches and was a struggle to keep working properly. The rear derailleur cable was constantly coming out of tension and we seemed to struggle to find the perfect gear over the constantly varied hills. Ghost shifts, dropped chains, chain slap, and drag were the name of the game, which was a real downer.

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

Long Term Durability

Looking over the bike, only two things stuck us by surprise. First, the derailleur hanger is miniature, which could speak poorly of durability. Second, the front shock mount looks very skimpy, but we’ll trust that Kona did their engineering homework and fatigue tests to ensure it’ll hold up to big hits and harsh bottom-outs. There's always a lifetime warranty to fall back on if something happens to go awry.

What's The Bottom Line?

Like we said of the last version of the Process, the new Kona Process 153 DL is ideal for claiming bragging rights at the end of the descent as opposed to the top of the climb. It’s a durable ride that you can rally down just about anything with confidence, casually race select Enduro events with, and even shred in the park. We have to tip our hat to Kona for offering such a capable descender for under $5,000, but the competition in this category is fierce and we think there’s some room for improvement to the spec, weight, and pedaling performance. Those searching for a light and efficient ride may want to look elsewhere. Regardless, thanks to good geometry and suspension, everyone will be able to destroy some turns, boost lips, and punish rocks aboard this model.

Visit www.konaworld.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 27 photos of the 2014 Kona Process 153 DL up close and in action


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Felt Virtue Nine 20 4/3/2014 8:33 PM
C138_virtue_nine_20_5

2014 Test Sessions: Felt Virtue Nine 20

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

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

Virtue Nine 20 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

Visit www.feltbicycles.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Orbea Rallon X-LTD 3/31/2014 4:42 PM
C138_orbea_rallon_x_ltd

2014 Test Sessions: Orbea Rallon X-LTD

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

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

Orbea Rallon X-LTD Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

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

Visit www.orbea.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Diamondback Mason FS Pro 29 3/25/2014 8:09 PM
C138_2014_diamondback_mason_fs_pro_29_bike

2014 Test Sessions: Diamondback Mason FS Pro

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Mason FS Pro Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

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

Visit www.diamondback.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

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

2014 Test Sessions: BH Lynx 6

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Lynx 6 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

Visit www.bhbikes.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

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

2014 Test Sessions: Cannondale Trigger 29 Carbon 1

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

Trigger 29 Carbon 1 Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

Visit www.cannondale.com for more details.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

This product has 1 review.

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

2014 Test Sessions: Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

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

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

5010 Carbon Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Build Kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Term Durability

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

What's The Bottom Line?

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

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

For more details visit www.santacruzbicycles.com.

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


About The Reviewers

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

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

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

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