Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas
Commencal’s Meta series has existed in one form or another for quite some time, and is built on a philosophy of “pleasure, performance, and aesthetics”. After a successful press launch , we were keen to spend more time riding what we felt was a better bike than the V3. The latest Meta AM is longer and lower than the previous generation, with an updated suspension design and shorter chainstays. After our honeymoon in France, we wanted to find out whether the marriage would last after a few months.
Meta AM V4 Highlights
- AL 6066 triple butted T4/T6 frame
- 650B wheel size
- Contact System featuring 6-inches (150-mm) of travel
- Tapered head tube
- BB92 pressfit bottom bracket
- ISCG 05 mount
- Maxle rear axle 12x142
- High direct front derailleur mount
- Post mount rear brake
- Internal cable and dropper post routing
- Specific double density injected chainstay protector with integrated derailleur housing
- Water bottle mount
- 4 sizes available: S, M, L & XL
- Estimated frame weight: 3.0 kg without shock (complete builds between 28 to 30-lbs)
- MSRP: $2,499-$5,499 USD
Meta AM V4 Geometry
The overall appearance of the Meta AM V4 is striking. Most folks will be immediately drawn to the bold looks. The broad top tube, high-end components, aggressive geometry, bright colors, and large welds serve notice of the bike’s aggressive intentions.
The Contact System is a linkage driven single pivot design. The most notable feature is the use of a clevis mounted on the seat tube. Commencal engineers chose this design as it allowed them to achieve their ideal suspension leverage ratio without interfering with the seat tube. Their intention was to improve sensitivity early in the bike’s travel, increase pedalling efficiency while sagged, and to preserve progressivity near the end of the stroke. Taking a look at the leverage ratio chart it becomes obvious that they succeeded, at least on paper.
Upon closer inspection of the frame, the shock tunnel in the top tube is another uncommon feature that had us curious. Rather than welding the shock mount to the top tube, the two are integrated which allowed Commencal to lower the standover height as well as place the shock in a position where it is easy to reach for on-the-fly adjustments. It also resulted in a lighter frame, and one which better distributes suspension forces.
Setup was straightforward. Easy internal cable routing, user-friendly BOS suspension, and components that appeared to be very well chosen. We were ready to hit the trails!
On The Trail
Fall in the Pacific Northwest started off atypically dry and warm, and has since been setting records for rainfall. Squamish, BC was our home base during the test, and we also logged a number of rides in the surrounding areas, including the Whistler Bike Park. We managed to ride the bike more than enough to identify where the bike excelled and where there was still room for improvement.
At 5’11” (~1m80), size large seemed appropriate. The roomy 448-mm reach, combined with a 60-mm stem and a 750-mm bar places riders in a balanced position. The most recent Meta has a centered “in the bike” feeling while standing, and the 74-degree seat angle felt comfortable while seated.
The Meta AM was predictable and confident while descending. Square edge hits were not completely erased, but they were reduced to the point where they could be disregarded. Compared to the Meta V3, both pedal kickback and brake squat have been reduced, yet they remain relatively high. The rear end was forgiving enough in the early stages of the travel that it tracks well, yet firm in the mid-stroke so it could still be playful. When we dropped our heels and pointed it, the firmer ride (relative to the V3) ensured that we weren’t blowing through travel unnecessarily. We did find the bottom of the suspension, but it wasn’t harsh nor unexpected given what we were riding.
Commencal designed the V4’s rear end to flex slightly more than the previous generation, as the engineers believe that a certain amount of flex helps with cornering traction and grip on rough trails. We never felt too much flex. In fact, the slight reduction in stiffness wasn’t even noticeable on the trail (for this 185-lbs test rider). Regardless, the rear end held lines very well and encouraged us to push it.
The BOS Deville fork was smooth and consistent throughout the entire travel. The fork's damping makes it supportive and resistant to diving. We did bottom the fork quite hard on one occasion. The result was an audible click in the initial stroke, which was eliminated once we removed all of the air and re-pressurized the fork. In the rear, our test bike featured the BOS Kirk shock. It had a similar feel and damping characteristics to the fork, which made for a very well balanced, predictable ride. The consistent suspension and centered riding position added to the bike’s equilibrium between straight-line speed and playful agility.
Pedalling efficiency has improved significantly with the new design. Lengthy road climbs are tolerable, and technical climbs are aided by the active suspension. When sprinting, the bike was supportive enough that it didn’t sap energy, yet forgiving enough to allow us to charge through rough sections.
In summary, the V4 performs best when being ridden hard. The improved mid-stroke support enhances cornering confidence and the ability to swap lines. Forceful rider input was rewarded with snappy response and acceleration. It caters to a rider that remains centered. Those with a rearward bias, or who consistently plow, are less likely to reap the benefits of the updated design. A marginal loss of mid-stroke forgiveness is worth it for significantly improved pedalling, momentum preservation, and responsiveness, and makes for a fun and rewarding overall riding experience.
Competition is fierce in the $5K range, so we would expect that companies would be diligent in their component selection to ensure that buyers’ needs are met without any part swaps. Our test bike differed from the stock Meta AM V4 Race build kit on Commencal's site, but the exact build we rode is available to order through Commencal’s custom “A La Carte” program.
The highlight of the V4 Race is the use of the BOS suspension. Some buyers might be apprehensive about moving away from the big brands, but our recent experience with smaller suspension companies is that the majority of them are on the right track, including BOS.
Our test bike came equipped with a Race Face Next bar and Atlas stem, rather than Commencal’s in house Alpha brand as featured on the off-the-shelf Race build, but the 60-mm stem and 750-mm bar remain consistent between the two and felt perfect. Commencal’s own lock-on grips were comfortable and only have an internal lock ring, which this tester prefers due to a hand position overlapping the edge of the grip.
The SRAM Guide RS brakes, X01 drivetrain, and Rockshox Reverb each did their job effectively. SRAM’s latest brake offering has improved power and retains the much-acclaimed modulation of previous generations. We experienced no loss of power or other inconsistency with the brakes even on fall-line descents lasting several minutes. The light-yet-burly Next SL cranks from Race Face impressed the Vital test team before, and they performed to those high standards here as well. Direct mount, spider-less chainring saves a few more grams and looks great.
Commencal’s Alpha Enduro wheelset remained stiff and true. Tubeless ready tires from Maxxis and Schwalbe were easily mounted with the use of a compressor. Tire pressure ranged from the mid to high 20’s and we experienced no burping even though the rim met the ground on a few occasions. The freewheel body features 6 pawls and engages quickly. The rear hub is audible, without being distractingly loud. The wheels tip the scale at 1852-grams for the pair, but despite being strong enough for trips to the bike parkwe never found them sluggish.
We feel that Commencal have nailed the build with this bike. Not a single component is a liability and they all suit the bike’s intended purpose. Riders with a limitless budget may choose to save weight with a lighter wheelset, but we wouldn’t bother. Also note that the less expensive builds all feature sensible parts at very good value - a result of Commencal's new consumer direct sales model (available as such in the US too since October 2014).
Things That Could Be Improved
The seat tube and bottom bracket junction is open to allow for easier cable routing. While we appreciated this when setting things up, we found that debris collected in this area. A quick post-ride rinse would clear the vast majority of it, but for Pacific Northwest slop, we felt the need to run a tube over this area.
We enjoyed the BOS suspension front and rear on our test bike and there weren't any major issues to speak of. It is possible that parts and technicians might be scarce depending on location, as BOS is still relatively uncommon in North America. Not a disadvantage if you live close to a qualified service center, but worth pointing out.
The rear end of the bike is wide, a result of thick tubing and the decision to position the rear brake caliper inside the stays for protection. We managed to scuff the chainstays and seatstays, in addition to putting some wear on our shoes. It wasn’t a distraction while riding, but we don’t generally find ourselves rubbing stays.
At over $5,000 USD (list price) the V4 Race equipped with BOS suspension isn’t overpriced by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still a pretty penny. The Race upgrade may be more expensive than some riders are willing to pay and might thus deter prospective buyers. It is therefore worth pointing out that the Rockshox equipped version is rad, saves over $1,000 over the Race, and offers outstanding value for money.
Long Term Durability
The foul conditions throughout the majority of this test were about as nasty as it gets. The stout frame and solid components have us confident that this bike can handle long-term abuse no matter what you throw at it.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Meta AM V4 is without a doubt an improvement over the previous generation. It pumps through trails smoothly, holds lines precisely, and can sprint through just about anything. Pedaling efficiency has been drastically improved and reduced mass adds to the Meta's cross country prowess - an achilles heel of the previous generations. Modern trail bike geometry increases confidence while descending as well as all day comfort. The Meta AM V4 is sure to meet most riders’ needs and the new North American direct distribution model (serviced in country!) makes them much more accessible and affordable in that market than before. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more Commencal bikes at your local trail network, beer league races, or on the chairlift.
For more information visit: http://www.commencalusa.com/.
About The Reviewer
Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.