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jeff.brines's Product Reviews

Added a product review for GT Sanction Pro Frame 11/18/2014 10:35 AM
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Tested: GT Sanction Pro Frame

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Jeff Brines // Photos by Patrick Nelson and Brandon Turman

I dig any machine that is really good at what it was designed to do. Perhaps my most favorite purpose built machine is the Group B class of rally cars. As opposed to most rally cars, these cars were not tuned-up sedans but purpose-built from the ground up and their performance is still talked about some 29 years after their demise.

When GT introduced the Sanction Pro I drew a parallel to Group B. Many bikes raced in the EWS are long legged trail bikes that are tuned for such application, sort of like an AWD off-the-lot sedan that is modded to compete in rallies. Not the Sanction Pro. Like those Group B monsters, this bike was built from the ground up to crush it at the top level of the sport. It wasn’t meant to noodle around mellow single track. It wasn’t built to be help riders destroy their personal bests on climbs. It certainly wasn’t meant to go get groceries with… it was meant to conquer the top step of the EWS podium. So how does it perform? Read on to find out.

GT Sanction Pro Frame Highlights

  • Frame: COR Enduro Design, 6069-T6 Alloy 650b Frame, 160mm Travel Independent Drivetrain Suspension System w/Forged Linkage, Pivots, 1.5" Head Tube, and 12x142mm Thru Axle Dropouts
  • Rear Shock: FOX Float X CTD Remote Kashima, 8.5"x2.5" Air Shock, w/ Rebound & Remote Lockout
  • 12x142mm Maxle thru-axle included
  • Seat Clamp: All Terra Alloy QR, 34.9mm
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Colors: Matte Black
  • MSRP: $2,170 USD

Initial Impressions and Build

To the untrained eye the Sanction Pro looks to like a scaled down version of GT’s World Cup downhill bike, the Fury. Both bikes share similar shock placement, wheel size, “Independent Drivetrain” (the most recent iteration of I-Drive), a triangulated rear end held together by a 12mm bolt on through axle, and both bikes are long. Don’t be fooled however. Besides aesthetics, the bike has very little in common with the Fury. The pivot placement was optimized for Enduro racing (a bit more sprightly than the Fury) and travel, geometry and weight were altered specifically for this bike’s purpose.

My particular frame came in at just over 7 pounds, which is on par for a frame built for this purpose. Full builds around 30lbs are very reasonable depending on the depth of your pockets and tire choice. Assembling the complete bike (GT offers the bike as frame only in the US) went fairly well, apart from two things. One, be sure your dropper post does not contact the shock. In my case, a Stealth Reverb ended up being slightly too long for the job when considering the attachment that also connects to the bottom of the post. Second, the bike utilizes a 180mm post mount rear brake mount. This is fine, unless you want to run 203 rotors like me! Though there are adaptors available for this purpose, they can be a pain to snag. I ended up using a 160-180 adaptor and shimming the additional 3mms. Cable routing in general was clean and straightforward. No silly internal routing or cables in precarious places, with the exception of the dropper post.

For reference, here are the main parts selected for this build:

  • Fork: Fox 36 RC2 160mm - Fit the bike well though I'd like to see a bump in travel to 170 (or even 180) to keep up with the rear end.
  • Wheels: Light Bicycle wide carbon rims laced to Hope hubs. These are stiff which coupled with the frame stiffness had me wondering just how hard I could smash corners.
  • Drivetrain: SRAM XX1. The only bummer with this drivetrain was a creak from the rear derailleur that drove me absolutely nuts and was anything but easy to isolate (turned out to be the relatively common noisy clutch issue). Otherwise performance was as advertised.
  • Dropper post: KS Lev 150mm. For this frame it may be the best choice, depending on how much seatpost you run "in" the frame some riders may not be able to run a Stealth Reverb for example.
  • Crankset: Race Face Turbine. Dollar for dollar this is still one of the lightest, most durable and best performing cranksets out there. A true Vital 5-star item.

The bike was set up 1x11 driven by a 34 tooth chainring, both for personal preference reasons and also because a 1x transmission is the only solution available for this bike. Also worth noting is that the bike does have ISCG tabs for further chain retention and does not have a water bottle mount, a feature we’d like GT to include in the future.

Since this is a frame review, I immediately pulled the shock and inspected the linkage. Though the oversized main pivot provided smooth, effortless travel there was a bit of stickiness which I attributed attributed to the bushings within the floating bottom bracket dogbone. Although perhaps not noticeable when riding, there was a bit of friction in the system compared to other 100% bearing-driven linkage systems.

GT has been utilizing their I-Drive system in one iteration or another for over 15 years. Though this system is dubbed ‘Independent Drivetrain’ the idea is to utilize a floating bottom bracket that moves back in tandem with the rearward trajectory of the axle to reduce chain growth. When cycling the suspension it is impressive just how little chain growth there is considering the pivot placement is higher than many other bikes out there, allowing this slightly-more rearward trajectory.

Once built the first thing that caught my eye was the bike’s length. At 6’2” I typically go for XL bikes. This was the first time in years I’ve sprung for a Large and guess what? At a wheelbase of 48” it is still the longest bike I’ve ever owned.

On The Trail

Climbing & Pedaling
It’s no secret a number of enduro stages must be ascended the old fashioned way – by human power. When the trail pointed uphill, I often found myself utilizing the factory-included bar mounted Float-X CTD adjust. Though it could have been my shock, the bar mounted lever did not fully lockout the shock but instead firmed up the compression damping considerably. When in the firmest position, the bike ascended reasonably well. It didn’t want to jump up the hill but certainly didn’t have me walking any sections on the ups either. On extended climbs it felt marginally less efficient than other bikes in its class though this could have been my over worked late season legs too. A deal breaker? Not for me, but if pedaling performance is number one on your list you are likely looking at less travel to begin with.

In rougher and more technical sections of a climb, the bike’s rear end tracked well with the only big drawback being the bike’s low bottom bracket that left me crunching pedals more frequently than I otherwise would. The floating BB linkage system did an admirable job of keeping things active while not feeling like the bike was bobbing excessively – even wide open, though in certain gear ratios the bike did feel quite sluggish while sprinting or climbing. The Sanction Pro’s long top tube, slack headtube and long wheelbase were not meant to dominate tight technical climbs. A tradeoff indeed but with adjustments I found myself “dealing” with it just fine. I wasn’t walking more or less than with any other bike I’ve thrown a leg over lately.

Turning to the anti-squat numbers, the story became apparent. When utilizing a 32 tooth chainring, the anti squat properties look okay when geared low (42 or 36 tooth cog on the cassette) with values around 90% which would explain the reasonable pedaling performance (100% is ideal). However, when geared higher with a 36-tooth ring the numbers are less than ideal at around 70%. Obviously a bike’s pedaling performance isn’t just attributable to one thing. Having anti-squat numbers of 100% while descending can be less than ideal too as pedal kickback can be overly noticeable leading to less than desirable performance. We’ll just leave the nerdery there and say: the Sanction pedals okay but not awesome.

At the end of the day, the big question I kept coming back to in my head is “would I take this bike on an all day epic kind of ride?” as most riders who purchase a bike like the Sanction Pro will look for it to do everything. The answer is yes – sorta. If your thing is all day rides and you happen to do one or two enduro races a year there are better, more efficient bikes out there. If however you care most about downhill performance (carrying speed) this bike will more than suffice for those 5+ hour rides, just as long as you manage expectations and have the legs to push it. To add, it’s among the only “trail” style bikes I’d willingly ride full on DH stuff aboard… but more on that below.

Descending
When the trail points down this bike comes alive. Well, almost... If the trail is on the mellow side of things, the Sanction Pro can leave the rider bored. With a higher than average main pivot point, 165mm of very active travel and a long wheelbase the bike wasn’t the most playful on the local XC loop. But this would be like saying that my race car was boring going to get groceries with.

To really get to know the Sanction Pro things need to be a bit more interesting. The Pro is most at home on trails that you feel comfortable riding while donning goggles and a full face. I’ve never been on a 150 to 170mm bike that encourages such stupid decision making.

Frame Stiffness
In rougher high-speed terrain the first thing I noticed about the bike was how stout it is. With a true 12mm pinch bolt-secured through axle and a triangulated swingarm driven by one of the largest main pivots I’ve ever seen on a mountain bike, the Sanction Pro is one of the most flex-free frames I’ve ridden. Combine this with the bike's long wheelbase and low bottom bracket and you have a bike that holds a line, inspires confidence at speed and encourages smashing into corners and seeing what happens.

Rear End Performance
The Sanction Pro’s suspension feels fairly active and plush giving the rider a feeling of being “in” the bike as opposed to “on” the bike. This can cause rider input to be a bit muted or take a bit more effort when manipulating the bike on trail. However, the upside in the case of the Pro is a large sweet spot and lots of ‘room for error’ when doing stuff your mom would not approve of.

Smaller trail chatter such as mild braking bumps were handled on par when compared to other bikes with similar amounts of travel. That said, I feel I may have left something on the table here. The bike feels so incredibly supple when sitting on it I was often baffled why the bike didn’t eat trail chatter a bit better. Perhaps more a different shock tune could yield the results I’m expecting from the Pro.

The bike stayed very composed during medium and larger sized hits, never leaving me feeling as though the bike was quick to find the bottom of its travel or become otherwise difficult to control. Still, if carrying speed is goal one of this rig, I found myself looking for a bit more compression damping as the suspension utilized a bit more of the travel than I’d like (even at 25% sag). Do not misunderstand me, the suspension was never “wallowy”. For a lighter rider it would perhaps be dead on, I just felt if I could keep the tire on top of the holes as opposed to in them I’d be going faster. To test this, I often I just found myself using the bar mounted compression adjust to find the “middle” position where although harsher, the bike was faster.

Cornering
Despite being long this is one of the best cornering bikes I’ve ever been on. It begs to be smashed into corners and holds a line extremely well when tipped over, tracking where the pilot intends. Its ability to hold speed through the twisties is admirable as it is simply planted. This helps make up for the bike’s lack of get up and go that I sometimes felt on the pedals.

Unlike the GT team athletes, I utilized a 60mm stem on the bike. This is 30mm longer than the 35mm stem the team uses. Why did I do this? Well, the fact is, I am not always riding mega steep gnar. And even when I am, its usually surrounded by more modestly pitched terrain. To add, my number one problem as a rider is properly weighting the front tire through corners, hence I’ve always found a 60mm stem really helps me stay on top of the bike through most of the terrain in North America.

I could see going to a shorter stem and a longer frame if I found myself atop EWS stages every other weekend, but I’m not. And again, my number one problem is staying on top of the bike – and this isn’t exactly short at 48” so I’m guessing I could make the large continue to work for me this side of the Kamikaze downhill.

Overall the bike’s geometry was perhaps my favorite part. Though subjective, the bike fit me really well, had a big sweet spot and had me smashing corners I usually just hold on through.

Braking
The Sanction Pro’s suspension remained neutral under braking. A welcome trait when compared to a number of other high pivot bikes. It isn’t perfect as some stiffening could be felt, but it was on par with the most active linkages I’ve ridden and certainly didn’t penalize late braking into a rough corner or similar.

Jumping
This bike is composed and easy going in the air though it wouldn’t be my first choice as a poppy park bike. It was designed to hold speed and often I found the suspension overly compressing on a landing or lip. Again, this could be due to the lighter-than-I’d-like compression tune, but still, this high pivot bike wasn’t meant to be a dirt jumping tool.

Using the bike to air little features on the trail took a bit more input and manipulation to get the desired reaction out of the bike. Though far from boring it was a bit muted in these situations – which as a racer I’m 100% okay with.

Bad Decision Making
When trying silly stuff, like that gap you aren’t quiet sure you’ll make or that legendary awkward rock double you once heard this guy pulled off, the bike will be there for you in a big way. I certainly started looking for new ways to ride old trail, and more often than not getting away with it. The Sanction Pro really asks to be ridden more like a downhill bike, and this was the most fun part about it. To my point I actually hiked the bike up Glory, a popular backcountry ski run in Jackson, Wyoming and rode to the bottom. Never would have I considered such stupidity on any other trail bike. Just make sure your health insurance is paid in full.

Things That Could Be Improved

Most of the changes I’d suggest for the Sanction Pro would come at the expense of making it a less capable bike in crazier terrain, so take them in that context and decide for yourself how relevant they are to your riding style. However, I’d personally like to see a few things changed.

  • The linkage is driven by a combination of bearings and bushings, I’d like to see this 100% bearing driven.
  • The shock’s compression tune left me wishing for slightly more support when banging through stupid stuff. Although it may be fine for lighter riders, I’d like to see a slightly more aggressive tune on the larger bikes.
  • A touch lower pivot placement may make the bike easier to manipulate without giving up much of its bump eating prowess. Though there is much to be said about a rearward axle path, remember, that axle (wheel) also has to come back to the top of its travel. Hence, when multiple bumps are cycling the suspension, the benefits of a rearward path are nill as the wheel can end up hanging up more. This could be felt in certain situations.
  • Slightly more antisquat would help pedaling performance. Again, this will come at the expense of how good the bike is at eating big bumps but a welcome change. Much of the confidence inspiring nature of this bike has to do with the geometry, weight distribution and overall travel. A slightly better pedaling bike would be an improvement not just on the race course but on a “normal” trail ride too, at minimal consequence.
  • At 160mm I found the FOX 36 to be a bit less than ideal for the bike’s plush 165mm rear end. A 170 or even 180mm fork would complement this bike even more.
  • Add a bottle mount! Some of us hate carrying water on our bodies, especially racers.
  • The shock could use some sort of fender to keep mud from spackling it in wet conditions.

Long Term Durability

The Sanction was only tested over a 6-week period but so far the frame has showed no signs of excessive wear nor weakness. The overall frame quality is very good and the Sanction Pro has a very robust feel to it.

Pulling the linkage apart at the end of the test yielded no surprises. Everything seemed to be just as it was when new. Again, the caveat here is that the duration of this test was limited. I'd want to keep an eye on the bushing-driven floating bottom bracket but otherwise the oversized main pivot coupled with a well thought out rear end has me confident this frame would require minimal attention over the long haul. I will be continuing to beat the snot out of the Sanction Pro and will report back if anything out of the ordinary should occur down the trail.

What's The Bottom Line?

Like a Group B Rally Car, the Sanction Pro is an interesting purpose built bike. I applaud GT for building such a specific tool even if it may not be the most marketable bike for a place like North America. Fact of the matter is that a number of enduro races in the US don’t require such a beast, which is perhaps why the company is bringing it into the US as frame only. Still, if you live in a place where you often find yourself pedaling to the top of DH bike worthy trails, see yourself in a place like Whistler on a trail bike, have dreams of competing at the top level of enduro, or simply enjoy pushing the limit in more gnarly terrain on an “ascend-friendly” bike, the Sanction Pro should be near the top of your list. It’s a lightweight downhill bike that can be pedaled uphill.

Visit www.gtbikes.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races Enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Five Ten Maltese Falcon LT Clipless Shoe 7/10/2014 9:51 AM
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Tested: Five Ten Maltese Falcon LT Clipless Shoe

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Jeff Brines // Photos by Ryan Hoff (action) and Jeff Brines (product)

Five Ten has long owned the flat pedal shoe market. The company’s stealth rubber shoes offer platform pedal grip that has proven unrivaled. As a clipless pedal rider, I’ve long wanted a 5-10 stealth rubber shoe that offers SPD compatibility at a reasonable weight and with good sole stiffness. Enter the new Maltese Falcon LT.

Five Ten Maltese Falcon LT Highlights

  • Stealth S1 rubber sole
  • Upper shoe material: synthetic textile, water repellent
  • Closure: laces/velcro
  • Weight – 475 grams each (claimed) 498 each (actual)
  • Price: MSRP $140

Initial Impressions

Perhaps the most important thing about any shoe is fit. To think you’ll garner enough information via the internet to determine if a shoe will really fit, without trying it on, is probably a stretch. Still, I’ll give my $0.02 as to the shoe's fit. First, I have a flat C-width foot. For the skiers out there (I spend my winter reviewing ski boots) I usually fit 98mm last lower-volume boots with minimal work. Point is, despite my flat flippers looking “fat”, my feet are actually average volume. All that said, my foot fit in this shoe with minimal break in and it seems true to size. I did develop some hot spots on extended descents but this is fairly normal for me and is remediable with a few small modifications to the footbed and cleat position. YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Now, I’m not a girl. I do not have a shoe fetish. And I’m partly embarrassed (or not?) to say that almost all of the footwear in my closet serves a specific function (ski boots, road shoes, work boots, driving shoes, golf shoes etc). Point is, I'm no Jimmy Chou - more of a Josh Temple type, truth be told.

WIth that said, I’m always shocked at just how bad cycling shoes can look. Wild colors, strange fabric, goofy shapes, clickity clackity noises. Often I wonder if the shoe designer collective starts the design process by taking a bunch of acid, popping in the movie "Elf" and scribbling on a notepad the inspiration that comes forth... be that as it may, the result is seldom "normal" looking.

Looking to the Maltese Falcon LT, the shoe is far easier on the eyes compared to most other cycling shoes. However, when compared to 5-10's own flat shoe offerings, I believe there is still a bit of room for improvement. The Maltese Falcons have a look that is something between space-age moon shoe and the kicks your grandpa might be wearing at the local nursing home with a bit of skater-ish shape thrown in. As much as I dig the lace covers I wonder if they are really something we need outside the always-muddy UK…and dropping them would reduce weight. In the end, I’d like something styled more closely to a traditional skate-style shoe but in the grand scheme of things, these ain't half bad…

On the Trail

Being that this is an enduro/downhill type shoe, I felt it was best to test it with a platform style clipless pedal - enter the Crank Brothers Mallet DH. From first clip in, it was readily apparent that I was riding a shoe with the ultra grippy Stealth Rubber. The pins of the pedal tenaciously dug into the sole of the shoe, which in a way made the float of the Mallet feel a lot “tighter”. It was much more difficult to rotate or adjust the shoe’s orientation once clipped in.

To help negate this feeling, I dropped the pin height of the pedal a bit. This allowed the shoe to feel a bit more “free” and take advantage of the pedal’s float when clipped in. Still, even with the pins lowered, I found myself feeling more locked in when compared to other trail shoes with less friction in the sole. I actually had a few “oh shit” moments when trying to unclip (yes I tipped over...). Obviously, this could be negated by a less aggressive flat pedal, playing with shims to raise the cleat or even going to a non platform style clipless pedal. However, with a bit of time, I became used to the how the rubber and pedal interacted but it did take a hair more effort to get out of no matter what flat-pedal clipless setup I was utilizing.

To me, the big question with respect to this shoe is how it performs while riding unclipped and standing on the pedal. All clipless riders can relate to those times when you are unable to clip back in prior to a gnarly section of trail. In such situations you have two choices, slow down and clip in or hold your speed, smash your shoe on the pedal in the best position you can and hope for the best - which is akin to playing russian roulette as to whether or not your shoe will stay on the pedal. The Holy Grail of shoe-pedal interface is a system that’ll allow the rider to ride as if he/she is on flats when unclipped. So, how did these perform in such as situation? To test the capabilities of the shoe I went to pretty extreme measures. I actually installed non-Crank Brothers cleats on the Maltese. This way there was a cleat on the bottom of the shoe that I’d be unable to clip into. After a few rides like this, the answer is that the Maltese Falcons performed notably better than most any other non-stealth rubber clipless shoes but still wasn’t “stealth rubber to normal flat pedals” good.

The fact of the matter is that there is a metal cleat on the bottom of the shoe right under the ball of your foot. Chances are, when you are unclipped, you are still close to this “athletic” part of your foot which means there is a high likelihood of the cleat skating around on the top of the pedal. When you have this metal on metal interface, no amount of sticky rubber is going to fix it. Sure, you could raise the pins or lower the cleats but this means you would have to accept that getting out of the pedal would become extremely challenging (when actually clipped in).

Going back to the correct cleat I started to realize that with a little adjustment, you could ride these unclipped more aggressively than normal clipless shoes. Simply stand on a part of the shoe where the cleat is no longer interfacing with the pedal. This puts you in a less than perfect position on the pedal but you know? It works.

For some riders this could translate to seconds on the race course as they could unclip, dab, mash their heel or toe on the pedal, ride a few seconds through something rough without getting kicked off then find a moment to clip back in during a smoother section of the trail. For others, who can’t seem to wrap their head around riding on their heels or toes, the shoe will likely just frustrate you.

Turning to efficiency (no pun intended) the shoe pedaled well and never felt all that heavy. Sure, this isn't an XC race shoe but it isn’t billed as such either. Weight and stiffness felt on par with, or perhaps a bit better than, other shoes in this category. Living in Jackson, it never gets all that hot around here but the shoe seemed to breathe well and kept my feet happy while riding. Again, the shoe isn't XC stiff but I seldom found myself thinking "man I wish this was a bunch stiffer". Overall it had an acceptable balance of “feel” and “stiffness”.

Finally, I did ride in the rain and I found the Maltese Falcons certainly repelled water better than most. And since they don't soak up much water they also dry out quickly after the more H2O-rich sessions. Overall they performed very well in the wet.

Long Term Durability

The shoe’s durability has been excellent so far. No stitching has gone AWOL, no tears are apparent anywhere, and the sole is wearing well. Great marks here all around.

Things That Could Be Improved

Honestly, the only way to make this shoe work better for its intended purpose, would be to engineer the shoe’s rubber to be sticky in certain places and non sticky in others.Obviously, at ~500 grams or so some weight could be dropped and perhaps a touch more stiffness added. But hey, everything could *always* be lighter and stiffer right?

Beyond these improvements, the only way to accomplish the aforementioned "holy grail" clipless shoe would be to engineer an entirely new pedal/shoe system. Perhaps an electro-magnet system? Somebody has to day dream right?

What's The Bottom Line?

This shoe is an awesome trail or (dare I say) enduro shoe. It's relatively light, stiff by “skate shoe” standards and holds up well. The shoe’s stealth rubber sole brings an interesting component to an already solid shoe. For the clipless riders out there who love the locked in feel of stealth rubber on flats and want a bit more grip when unclipped, this is your true calling. For those looking for the easiest setup to clip in and out of, keep looking. To me personally, the Maltese Falcon is one of the best choices out there, at an attractive price to boot...

For more information, head on over to www.fiveten.com.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Race Face Turbine Cranks 6/23/2014 2:39 PM
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Tested: Race Face Turbine Crankset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Jeff Brines

The Race Face Turbine crankset may be one of the most iconic mountain bike components since its inception some 15 years ago. For 2015 the crankset receives a complete redesign, incorporating many features seen in the carbon Next SL offering. How does the new Turbine fair when compared to other mid- to high-end cranksets? We spent the better part of a month trying to bend, break and generally abuse them.

Turbine Crank Highlights

  • Intended for XC/Trail/All-Mountain/Enduro use
  • Completely redesigned for 2015 to incorporate the Cinch system
  • Crank arms are deep pocket forged and CNC machined to optimize stiffness
  • 170, 175, 180mm crank arm lengths
  • Black, Blue and Red crank color options
  • Protective ‘crank boots’ available
  • Removable spider offers the ability to convert between 1, 2, and 3X chainring standards
  • 1X Narrow/Wide options: 26, 28, 30, 32, 34 and 36T
  • 2X 64/104 BCD options: 22/36, 24/36, 24/38T
  • 2X 80/120 BCD options: 26/38, 28/40T
  • 3X options: 22/32/42, 24/32/42T
  • Industry standard 30mm spline interface CNC machined from 7050 alloy
  • BB92, 68/73 BSA, 100mm BSA, and PF30 bottom bracket options
  • MSRP $199.99 to $299.99, depending on chainring configuration

Installation & Initial Impressions

Comparing the premium Next SL cranks to the new Turbines side by side, it seemed clear the Turbine was more or less an aluminum version of the carbon Next SL. They share the same splined spindle, same Cinch chainring system, same crank extraction system, and same locknut. A few differences were obvious too - metal vs alloy, 184 grams, and about 50% in cost.

Setup was easy and exactly as described in our Next SL review. Any slop in the system is taken out using the threaded preload collar on the spindle that you then lock in place with a 2mm allen. No micro shims, no wavy washers, and no headaches with this system. Just a simple solid setup.

My only gripe is that it required a new Race Face specific bottom bracket tool (for those using non press-fit options). That said, don’t throw away your old school internally splined ISIS bottom bracket tool as it is required to fasten the chainring to the crank arm. Overall it’s an extremely easy system to setup properly - something both home mechanics and shop rats will rejoice over.

The crankset features Race Face’s proprietary Cinch chainring/spider system. This system is essentially a splined interface on the driveside crank arm that allows the rider a huge number of driveline setups. From the ego-deflating 26-tooth single ring option to a traditional 3X spider system and basically everything in between, the Cinch System is clean, easy to use, and versatile without adding additional expense. All things that make us tip our cap of engineer ingenuity.

Our scales clocked the crankset at 632 grams with a 34-tooth narrow/wide ring, which is slightly less than most of the competition within the $199.99-299.99 price point. The most popular model, which we tested, is the Direct Mount option at $269.99.

On The Trail

Cranksets are sort of like referees. You only notice them if they are screwing up or making unnecessary noises. After about a month of use, the crankset is actually unnoticeable, which is to say it has done its job extremely well. The system delivers power without undue flex, remains quiet and the bottom bracket bearings are still smooth.

The Turbine crankset has endured a few hard rock/pedal strikes, as one would expect when a sub 13.5-inch bottom bracket is paired with a “I want to pedal through everything” rider. To date they are straight and true. Aesthetically they are holding up, however, the black anodization on both arms is wearing off from shoe rub, something that has occurred on every single crankset I’ve ever owned and hardly a point of concern.

Overall, on trail performance has been superb. I pedal and my bike goes forward. No creaks, no weird noises, and no notable flex… they just work and work well. The Narrow/Wide chainring has performed very well, too, with no chain drops or premature wear.

Long Term Durability

There was a time not too long ago that’d I’d go through a crankset every few months. Those days are now far in the rearview mirror thanks to cranksets like the Turbines, which I expect to last for seasons. Thus far, they show no signs of premature wear or concern.

Things That Could Be Improved

At the $199.99-299.99 price point, depending on configuration, it's hard to fault this crankset. The only two quibbles I have include necessitating the home mechanics among us to purchase yet another proprietary bottom bracket tool, as well as having the crank arm auto-extractor cap unthread itself once on the trail. Both of these are pretty minor at the end of the day with the latter easily being fixed with a bit of locktite. Overall, it is hard to improve a product that performed so well.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Dollar for dollar, this is one of the best cranksets you can buy. With the popularity of 1X setups and evolution of larger wheeled trail bikes, it's nice to have a set of cranks that allows the rider to quickly adjust their setup to match the environment they are faced with. In the Italian Alps? No problem, run that 28-tooth single ring. Heading to a bike park? Cool, throw on a 36-tooth. Doing a 100 mile race? That 2X or 3X setup isn’t hard to add either. This variability combined with flawless performance and very respectable weight makes for a winner.

It's seems Race Face just broke the old adage: priced well, lightweight and strong… well done.

Visit www.raceface.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Cole Wheels IBEX 29 1/9/2014 11:43 AM
C138_dsc_6788

Tested: Cole IBEX 29 Carbon Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Jeff Brines

Lesser known Cole threw their hat into the carbon wheel ring last season with the introduction of their IBEX line. I’ve had my hands on a set for the better part of four months in a 29er application. How did the wheels fair? Take a look…

IBEX Wheelset Highlights

  • High-compression carbon rim material
  • 27.5mm external, 20.5mm internal (measured) rim profile
  • 24 straight pull, double butted 2.0/1.8/2.0mm spokes per wheel
  • EZ-Snap tool-free end cap replacement - 15mm front, 135 QR or 142x12mm rear included with wheelset
  • Traditional 36 tooth, 3 pawl system with 10-degree engagement
  • Hard anodized alloy freehub
  • Dynamic Spoke Alignment System (DSA2s)
  • Available in 26 (1,430 grams), 27.5 (1,680 grams), and 29-inch sizes (1,650 grams)
  • MSRP $1,905 to $1,987

Setup & Initial Impressions

The wheels were hung onto the likes of a custom made 29er hardtail. Yes, this particular hardtail is my XC race bike but also has more in common with a slalom bike geometry wise. Confused? So are most people when they look at it. Point is, although XC in function the bike is often ridden with a downhiller's mentality. The bike is smashed into corners, thrown sideways whenever possible and pumped hard through whatever transition can be found on the trail. Put another way, it's ridden like a proper mountain bike, not a road bike with knobby tires.

To start with, let's look at the on-paper specs of the Cole Ibex 29er wheels. This carbon-hooped, XC race-oriented wheelset comes in at 1,650 grams (1,658 on my scale) - not the lightest XC carbon wheelset on the market but far from heavy. The price follows suit, coming in at $1,940 for the set, which is in the mid to high range for carbon wheelsets these days. Comparable wheelsets from Cole's top competitors range from $1,229 to upwards of $2,500, with the more expensive options offering better hub performance and less weight.

When unpacking the wheels I was happy with the attention to detail and overall finish. Although they are not tubeless ready out of the box, the wheels were properly tensioned, trued and even came with a wheel bag and various end cap adapters. I’m not a spandex clad XC guy (most of the time anyway), so I ended up using the wheelbag to deliver all the pizzas I was going to need to sling to pay for the wheels.

Rim width was on the narrower end; coming in at 27.5mm outer and ~20.5mm internal as measured by a set of calipers (vs 21mm claimed). This is fine for tires about 2-inches in true width, but I wouldn’t suggest going much larger than 2.3-inches because they'll get too rounded off. When compared to much of the competition, this seems to be a trend and although I’d personally like to see a slightly wider rim, the profile of the IBEX is in line with its intended use and other market offerings.

On The Trail

I’ve been on multiple sets of carbon wheels over the past year. This particular set came to me late into the summer and served me well in a few XC races and a for whole bunch of trail riding as well.

Most would agree I’m an idiot when I ride my bike. I never lost that “I think I can do that” part of my brain that most move past when they hit 22-years-old (also known as the “hold my beer and watch this…” part of your brain). All that to say, these wheels weren't babied. My 200-pounds of want-to-be-fast slow-pro put them through the proverbial wringer.

On the trail the IBEX wheels were noticeably lighter and stiffer than the $500 budget aluminum wheels they replaced, this should come as no surprise. The question is, were they $1,495 lighter and stiffer? I ran them with tubes throughout the test as I wanted to test them in the “stock” configuration. Even with tubes (and dumping my tubeless tires) I saved about a ¼ pound per wheel compared to my prior setup. Not a ton, but enough to notice on an extended climb or accelerating out of a corner. If you are racing, ¼ pound of rotational weight per wheel is a big deal. If you aren't racing, you’ll likely need to be very into your setup to really notice this difference in weight.

Stiffness too was improved. Again, it wasn’t mind boggling but there was noticeably less flex than in my previous wheelset. It's no secret wagon-wheeled bikes can suffer more from flex due to the tall wheels and the increased leverage they exert. Going to a carbon wheelset certainly can negate this to some extent. The IBEX, although not the stiffest on the market, helped the bike hold a line better and rail a corner with a bit more authority. The insides of my seatstays are a lot happier as a result, too.

At 10-degrees per click, hub engagement was just okay. It wasn’t awful, but it's certainly a far cry from the high-end, fast engaging offerings much of the competition puts forth. I wouldn’t say it's a deal breaker, but it's certainly an area Cole could improve on in the future.

Long Term Durability

I’m not sure if there is a hell but I’m pretty sure being reborn as the rear wheel on a hardtail piloted by me is probably pretty close to the fiery inferno. Well, despite my best efforts, I broke zero spokes and the wheels are still running dead true. That’s a pretty amazing statistic for me and one I can largely attribute to the company’s DSA2s system. In laymen’s terms, this system uses some ball-shaped washers between the hub and spoke with the intent of keeping spoke load as consistent as possible, thus resulting in less snapped spokes and better performance. It is also noteworthy that Cole has achieved this with non-properietary straight-pull spokes. In my experience, it simply worked. In a carbon wheel application, spoke breakage can be a problem as the rim is so stiff that it puts additional stress on the spokes, often leading to more breakage, especially at higher tension. My current 26-inch carbon wheelset has succumbed to this problem, snapping no less than 12 spokes over the course of a season. To be fair, the Cole wheelset didn’t see the same amount of trail time as my 26-inch bike, so I’ll be sure to update this if undue breakage becomes a problem over time.

Turning to the bearings (pun intended), the wheelset is still running well despite being exposed to plenty of wet fall riding conditions. This is of course nothing exceptional, as a top end wheelset should easily withstand the number of miles I put on it before showing any signs of bearing wear.

Finally, rim durability has been awesome, with no visible cracks, delamination, or grossly out of true sections. That said, tire pressures were on the higher side due to the fact I was stuck running tubes throughout the test.

Things That Could Be Improved

Cole brings forth a viable competitor to the carbon wheel market, but there are still a few areas where the wheelset could be improved. As mentioned previously, we’d like to see tubeless compatibility off the shelf. Yes, it's true, much of the competition doesn’t supply this either and it's likely a piece of Gorilla Tape per rim could prove to be a perfect solution to this problem. Even so, there are some that do and any wheelset over $1,000 should be tubeless ready with parts supplied in the box.

Also, although 1,650-ish grams is competitive among 29er carbon-hooped offerings near this price point, there are aluminum wheels for half the price that are tubeless ready and hundreds of grams lighter. I’d like to see 100-150 grams lopped off the wheelset to really make it worth my while, and to further justify to mid to high price point. The dollar-per-gram weight/performance gains could be improved.

What's The Bottom Line?

Overall, Cole has a viable contender in the carbon wheelset marketplace with their IBEX wheels. Although not the lightest nor the cheapest wheels, the product’s silver lining comes by way of durability. The combination of the carbon rim and the unique Dynamic Spoke Alignment system creates a wheelset that can withstand a lot of abuse.

Those with ~$2,000 to spend on wheels have several options at their discretion, however, and the IBEX wheels don't provide the same level of stiffness, weight reduction, or hub performance as all of their competition. In a way, these wheels are like some of the sports cars out there, and what it comes down to for some people is having a product nobody else has that still performs reasonably well. This product does just that.

For more details, visit www.colewheels.com.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Niner WFO 9 11/20/2013 4:05 PM
C138_niner_wfo_9_2014

Tested: 2014 Niner WFO 9 - Cake Gnomin Good

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Jeff Brines // Photos by Patrick Nelson

It took me an inordinate amount of time to understand the meaning of the phrase “have your cake and eat it too”. I just didn’t understand who these people were who were so obsessed with cake. Don’t get me wrong, I like cake as much as the next guy but don’t I always have cake while I’m eating it? I guess you could say I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer as a youngster. But I digress.

The Niner WFO 9 seems to play off this old adage of having the best of both worlds. What rider doesn’t want a bike that monster-trucks through the chunkiest of terrain, holds an immense amount of speed in a straight line, offers gobs of traction yet remains playful and rider-friendly in the corners? How could you not want this Holy Grail of trail bikes?

At first glance, the recipe that is the new WFO seems an attempt at just this. Take the best parts of a 29er, tweak the geometry to bring forth more playfulness and cornering prowess then add 150mm of ass-saving travel. Mix thoroughly. Bake. See if the rider could indeed have his cake and eat it too…

Niner WFO 9 Highlights

  • 150mm of rear wheel travel driven by the company’s CVA suspension platform
  • Compatible with 150-170mm forks
  • 67 degree headtube angle
  • 1.1-inch (23mm) BB drop (with 150mm fork)
  • 17.4-inch (442mm) chainstays
  • Airformed aluminum alloy construction
  • Single ring only - ISCG 05 tabs and offset linkage design for chainguide compatibility
  • Forged CVA suspension linkage
  • 142mm x 12mm rear spacing
  • Sizes small through XL (XL tested)
  • Frame + shock only: $2,099; Build as tested ~$5,295

For 2014, Niner went back to the drawing board with the WFO. Compared to the previous version, the new frame is 0.7-pounds lighter thanks to an airformed tubing process, sports an additional 10mm of rear wheel travel, has a slacker front end, shorter chainstays, and a lower bottom bracket. Niner also steepened the seat angle 1-degree to 75-degrees and shortened the head tubes across the entire size range to allow for lower cockpit heights. Comparing a 2013 size Medium to a 2014 Medium, standover height has also been improved by over an inch, but more on that later.

Initial Impressions And Observations

Before we begin, a few formalities we need to get out of the way:

First, the frame Niner sent us was pre-production and featured far less mud clearance than the WFOs you’ll find in your bike shop showroom. In addition, Niner was nice enough to include a dropper post and the exact rubber I prefer on my personal steed (Maxxis Minion DHF EXO and High Roller 2 EXO) as opposed to a fixed post and the Schwalbe stuff usually included with the complete build. Note that while the pre-production frame we tested did not have stealth seatpost routing, production frames do.

Second, I’m not small at 6-feet 2-inches and 200-pounds, this is worth mentioning whenever big-wheeled bikes are being discussed. Relatively speaking, a 29 inch wheel isn’t as big to me as it would be to a smaller rider.

Third, all testing took place in Jackson WY. Although Jackson may not be riddled with Moab-esque square-edged ledges and massive holes, there is still plenty of rough terrain worthy of testing such a steed. To add, I have more time on the Jackson trails than any trails in the world. This means I’m able to really dissect how the bike is behaving as opposed to wondering what the trail is doing. Trails ridden ranged from smooth single track to downhill bike-worthy 3,000 vertical foot descents off Teton Pass.

On The Trail

As a rider who has spent over a decade of his life obsessed with mountain bikes, I have a fairly good idea what I’m looking for when it comes to bike fit and geometry. At 6-feet 2-inches I’m often between a large and an extra-large frame. In an effort to better center the rider between the two wheels, Niner took 20mm off the bike’s top tube length in all sizes. Although I appreciate a company tweaking geometry to offer better balance, I find myself wondering if Niner was in fact doing this for better balance or more attractive wheelbase numbers (for those who only ride on the internet). In any event, as a result of the shorter than normal top tube length, I ended up springing for the longer XL size sporting a 24.6-inch top tube.

Throwing a leg over the bike I felt oddly right at home. The bike fits me very similarly to my XL Mojo HD right down to the 780mm bar, 50mm stem, and handlebar height that was within half an inch of my 26-inch Mojo HD (editor’s note: Jeff doesn’t run his Mojo cockpit setup slammed). Although cockpit bits are more reflective of rider taste than “right” or “wrong”, we applaud Niner for including a handlebar/stem setup that the bike’s target audience will likely be happy to leave alone. After all, you can always make a handlebar shorter.

On trail the bike surprised me. In fact, the internet bike riding world as we know it might fall apart as a result of what I’m about to say next… when pointed downhill, the WFO didn’t feel much different than my 26-inch bike (gasp!). In a way, it left me going “huh?” I didn’t unnecessarily crash or toss the bike into the woods out of frustration when navigating tight corners. The bike didn’t autopilot me into the ground when I put it in the air and I wasn’t pulled over by the internet police after manualing the bike through a section of trail with ease. In addition, going through chundery terrain didn’t leave me feeling like “Thundering” Big-Ring-Matt Thompson and hole-laden straightaways didn’t give me a “I must be levitating” feeling. It simply felt like a well thought-out mountain bike and I was having gobs of fun. No surprises in any one department. I almost wondered what all the fuss was about, then I switched back to my 26-inch bike.

For testing purposes, it’s worth mentioning my 26-inch bike utilizes the same rubber, similar cockpit and suspension, and features the damn near same geometry as the WFO. I rode my bike on the same trails in the same conditions as well. I mention this only to show it’s a viable “apples to apples” comparison. It seems as much as I tried not to make this test a 26-inch vs 29-inch debate it's somewhat unavoidable.

Only when I switched back to the smaller-wheeled bike did the WFO’s strengths and weaknesses became more apparent. The majority of the trails I tested this bike on reward holding speed through less-than-steep terrain. In these situations, I felt I was in slow motion on my 26-inch bike. Simply, the WFO carried more speed with less effort than my 26-inch bike as proved by the always-objective stopwatch. On trails that reward holding speed through a series of tight corners I wasn’t as willing to tip the big bike over as the larger wheels require more commitment into a corner than I am used to. Perhaps this has more to do with what was between the ears (confidence) than with the bike’s potential. However, no two ways about it, I was pushing a little less through the corners and a little more through rougher sections.

Be it due to an increase in speed through certain sections of the trail or the more cumbersome wheel size, I did notice my riding lacked a bit of precision on the larger bike. I was less likely to change direction quickly and snap the bike across trail to find a smoother section, often opting for the lazier “point and go” method instead.

The WFO never proved difficult to put in the air. Not once did I back down from putting the bigger bike in the air saying “I could jump that on my smaller bike.” Sure, it was harder to get sideways, it flattened lips and I’m certain it would be the last choice for a slopestyle competition but it never proved all that problematic to a larger rider like myself with a racer background (I was “trained” to keep my bike low).

The WFO utilizes Niner's own in-house developed CVA suspension linkage. To a non-engineer such as myself it takes on similar appearance to a number of other axle-path manipulated designs. Niner claims the patented linkage driven design is the only one to take advantage of the increased bottom bracket drop of 29ers. On the trail, suspension performance was good but certainly rewarded more aggressive riding. While it isn’t the most plush or trail-flattening suspension I’ve ever ridden, it remains neutral and quiet putting the riding in the rider’s hands while responding favorably to rider input. As a guy trying to go as fast as I can down the trail, I appreciated how the suspension performed even if it did leave a bit to be desired when it came to small bump performance.

When the trail points uphill, the bike climbs admirably. The Monarch Plus equipped suspension stays quiet and although the bike won’t win any weight-weeny competitions, at around 30lbs out of the box (with real tires and a dropper) it stealthily and silently attacks any ascent with as much ease as such a bike could offer. Not once did I reach down to play with the Monarch’s compression damping positions nor did I monkey with the fork.

To some, 150mm on a 29er (up from 140mm on the previous WFO) may seem excessive as you could certainly get away with less travel without giving up much in the way of how capable the bike is. However, with the bike being aimed at the Enduro/all-mountain rider the additional bit of “forgiveness” is a welcome attribute when you get off line or make a mistake, both of which are bound to happen over the course of a race or long day in the bike park.

With all the attention carbon is getting these days, it’s a bit of a bummer people may turn a blind eye to the WFO's airformed tubing and overall aesthetics. The WFO may not be the lightest frame weighing in at around 7.4-pounds (XL with shock), but it's still light enough to remain competitive. It's also a good deal lighter than the previous WFO - several big welds were eliminated thanks to airforming's ability to mold some tricky shapes. Stiffness was on par with any modern trail bike holding a line well or responding to pilot input when tipped over. All in all, a formidable trail weapon, even though it's still impossible as ever to drop the dog.

Build Kit

Niner offers the WFO as a complete bike in one trim package at ~$5000. Although $5K is far from inexpensive, the build kit is well thought out leaving little to be desired.

Worth mentioning, the bike is not compatible with a front derailleur which means it requires a 1x10 or 1x11 configuration. Complete, the bike comes with SRAM’s stellar XX1 drive train which allocates more than enough gearing for the types of ascents this bike will likely see. To add, the absence of a chainguide kept the bike drag free and very quiet. However, being there was no guide, I did find myself knocking the chain off a total of 3 times. All three situations where in statistical “outlier” situations be it extreme mud or a near-crash-experience. For non-race situations I’d consider this acceptable however, those looking to put this bike between the tape may want to take advantage of the ISCG tabs.

Suspension is taken care of by Rockshox on both ends utilizing the travel-adjust Pike up front and the Monarch Plus in the rear. The Pike is one of the strongest-performing forks in the trail market. However, the travel-adjust version didn’t quite exhibit the same butter-smooth performance as the non travel-adjust Pike does especially over the long haul. Near the end of the test the fork was topping out and required frequent oil bath service to stay smooth. The shock on the other hand was a set-it-and-forget-it type of platform that just plain worked. It didn’t require a ton of attention at any point during the test be it for service or tuning.

The ninja-quiet American Classic wheels performed flawlessly throughout the test without one hiccup. They came from Niner mounted tubeless and I never once had an issue that required either truing, tensioning or burping.

Although I haven’t had the most positive experience with Avid brakes over the past few years, the Elixer 9 trail brakes that came on the WFO provide adequate power and haven’t yet required a bleed. Although not the strongest brake available, the 4-piston stopper offers great modulation and enough stopping power for most riding situations.

Things That Could Be Improved

Despite how good the bike's geometry may have been for me, I’d like to see the company lower the standover height and reduce the seat tube length. Of course, I was on an XL but there are plenty of riders who will be between sizes and choose to size up due to the decreased front end length, and many will find trouble due to the tall seat tube. Chopping 1.5-inches off the seat tube height really wouldn't be alienating anyone this side of Lebron James.

Turning to suspension performance, although many will appreciate the travel adjust feature of the fork, I’d like to see Niner offer the bike in a non-travel adjust configuration for those who are after pure suspension performance. As I noted, the bike climbs acceptably without lowering the front end, and considering the bike’s intended use, I’d take better suspension performance over travel adjust any day.

Finally, since we’ve already handily passed the $5,000 price point, why not increase the price a tiny bit more and offer a dropper post to go with it? We’ve all acquired enough “breaker bars” in the way of old seatposts at this point anyway.

Long Term Durability

Aside from the fork needing some love, the bike has shown no signs of durability problems over the past few months.

To my point, friends of mine have mentioned in the past that I exhibit certain OCD tendencies when it comes to creaking. I simply can’t stand a bike that makes noise. There is nothing sexier than the sound of rubber, dirt and the woosh of suspension (Jeff does need to get out more). I’ve been known to spend my nights unnecessarily tearing down an entire bike to find the source of a creak. I’m happy to report the WFO remained creak free and completely silent for majority of the test period. This includes riding in the rain, dust, sleet, snow and everything in between.

Turning to the finer points, in the event service was required, the bike’s oversized angular contact Enduro Max Magnetite Black Coat bearings in the pivots and hardware are well engineered and easily serviceable. Overall, no durability issues presented themselves with respect to the frame throughout the test.

What's The Bottom Line?

Does the WFO allow a rider to have his/her cake and eat it too? Almost. In the end, no 29er is going to give the rider the exact same playful feeling that a smaller bike can. Big-wheeled bikes need a bit more room to manipulate properly and will always require more work through corners. It’s a give and take but it's far more subtle than the Internet Riders Of The World™ may have lead us to believe. Sure, those interested in the absolute best cornering performance with little worry when it comes to holding speed in rough terrain may want to look elsewhere. However, those looking for a top-performing all mountain 29er that that keeps the fun in mountain biking should take a long hard look at the WFO. Now lighter, slacker, lower, and sporting more travel than ever before, it packs a solid punch. As Jared Graves said, “A good rider will be able to ride any wheel size fast. At the end of the day it comes down to what you enjoy, and that’s all there is to it.”

For more details, visit www.ninerbikes.com.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races Enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for RockShox Vivid Air R2C Rear Shock 10/17/2013 4:05 PM
C138_rs_vivdair_r2c_l_222x70_8.75x2.75.a26w

Tested: RockShox Vivid Air R2C Rear Shock

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Jeff Brines

Earlier this year, an air shock equipped Commencal took the win at what some are calling the gnarliest track on the UCI World Cup circuit. Suffice it to say, downhill specific air shocks are here to stay. Additionally, Enduro racing is placing even more emphasis on shocks that strike a balance between light weight and descending prowess. With this in mind, we took a look at the new and improved 2014 RockShox Vivid Air R2C to see how it stacks up.

RockShox Vivid Air R2C Highlights

  • WEIGHT: 530g (for a 216x63mm without hardware)
  • DAMPING: External beginning stroke rebound, ending stroke rebound, low speed compression
  • CONFIGURATIONS: 200mm x 57mm, 216mm x 63mm, 222mm x 70mm, 240mm x 76mm
  • SPRING: Twin Tube Solo Air
  • SPRING ADJUST: Air pressure via single Schrader valve
  • SHAFT MATERIAL: 7075 Aluminum
  • BODY MATERIAL: Aluminum
  • BODY FINISH: Hard Anodized
  • OPTIONS: Optional Decal Colors: White, Black
  • MSRP:USD $674

Initial Impressions and Observations

For 2014 the Vivid Air features much of the same technology found on previous Vivid Air shocks, including dual adjust beginning and end stroke rebound, low speed compression adjust, and spring rate curve adjustment via volume spacers. New for 2014 is a lighter end stroke rebound tune (dubbed “Rapid Recovery”), and a new negative air spring called “Counter Measure” which brings the shock's breakaway force to virtually zero. The objective of these technologies is to keep the shock from packing up through successive hits, maximizing available wheel travel and promoting better ground tracking in addition to a more supple and stiction free shock break-away.

The Vivid was installed on an Ibis Cycles Mojo HD built for Enduro use. Although not a full downhill steed, the shock was put to the test over a multitude of sustained 3,000+ vertical foot downhill laps, Enduro races, general trail riding and just about everything in between. Most of the riding was done in the Jackson, Wyoming area.

A few words on the frame before we get into the review. The HD’s leverage ratio curve was designed around that of an air spring. In general, most air springs become increasingly progressive through the stroke whereas their coilover counterparts remain linear. This provides superb bottom out resistance but often causes certain more progressive frame designs to be unable to take advantage of the entire shock stroke as the spring rate simply ramps up too much at the end.

The HD was tuned with this air-sprung progressiveness in mind and actually relies on the shock to keep the suspension from bottoming out excessively. As a result, we felt the HD would be a great test pony for this shock.

As a constant tinkerer, I’ve always looked for ways to eek as much performance out of the frame as possible. This has lead me to trying nearly every 8.5x2.5 stroke shock on the market on this particular frame, including a previous generation Vivid Air. I find this worth mentioning for three reasons. First, I know this frame, and I know how it should feel and perform. Second, after testing a multitude of shocks, I’m well aware of how this frame can feel depending on setup, damper quality, overall tune, etc. Third, I’ve had a previous generation Vivid Air on this exact frame which enables me to comment on how noticeable the changes made to the new shock really are.

When it comes to setup, the Vivid Air is one of the easiest on the market. Setting the correct air pressure is a cinch thanks to the sag gradients on the shock's piggyback. Damping tuning is also extremely easy since Rockshox offers the shock in 3 different baseline compression and rebound tunes from the factory. This makes for a shock that is much closer to being setup for your specific frame and riding style right out of the box leaving the adjustment knobs to deal with more subtle fine tuning.

On The Trail

Hitting the trail, the first thing that was notable was just how supple the shock really is. The new negative air spring works well and has the shock as “stiction free” as I’ve ever felt an air shock. It was a notable improvement when compared to the previous generation Vivid Air. I actually stopped to see if I was losing tire pressure on more than one occasion through smaller trail chatter, while on larger hits the bike felt like it had more travel available.

As speeds pick up the damper offers good mid-stroke support without feeling harsh or overdamped. Controlled but supple. As a side note, this shock was tested in the medium compression and rebound tune. Setup as such on the 2.52:1 leverage ratio DW Link Mojo HD the damper feels oriented toward the racers or more aggressive riders out there. Smaller riders, or those who don't like as much compression damping, may find a lighter tune would better fit their style. Put another way, the shock was tuned to reward fast and aggressive riding, which isn't always the same as being Cadillac-like plush (usually the opposite!).

As a result of the lighter high-speed rebound tune I found certain hits to cause my rear end to kick slightly more wildly than I would like, pitching the bike forward. Although a bit scary early in the test, one extra click each of end- and beginning-stroke rebound damping seemed to negate this uncontrolled feeling. At that point, the fast rebound made the shock seem very active and easy to load and unload without feeling out of control. Lively some might say.

The spring rate curve is perhaps the most important part of determining if the Vivid Air is for you. Although the Vivid Air is more linear than most air shocks on the market, it still retains a bit of the air shock bottom out resistance. Just look through the pits at Red Bull Rampage and this big-hit progressiveness should be obvious. Mounted on the HD's regressive frame, the shock makes excellent use of available wheel travel without excessive bottoming out or wallowing. I’m a racer at heart and the more the bike can use its travel effectively the happier I’m going to be. In this specific application, the shock worked beautifully. Dare I say it's the best shock I've had on the bike, and I've tested six different offerings.

When descents turned to north of the seven minute mark, a bit of fade could be detected. But here is the thing, I can detect fade in any shock once things heat up to this point. It’s a matter of how much the damping characteristics fade. In the case of this shock, it was minimal and very manageable. RockShox says damping performance changes by just 6% during a sustained descent, which is on par with the best coil-overs out there, let alone air shocks. This could be a result of the leverage ratio of the HD being in the mid to lower range, or it could be that the shock manages heat well. In any case, I wouldn’t hesitate to put this shock on any bike no matter what the length of the descent is.

Finally, the DW-link driven HD pedals extremely well no matter what shock is on the bike. On such efficient frames, any sort of pedaling platform or compression adjustment seem redundant at best. Being this shock is oriented toward the DH side of things, I applaud Rockshox for keeping descending prowess in the crosshairs and leaving pedaling platforms or similar to the Monarch side.

Perhaps the worst part about this boinger is it often left the front of my bike feeling overwhelmed as there aren’t many trail forks out there that can match the performance of this damper.

Things That Could Be Improved

Despite the shock's solid performance there are a few improvements that would be welcome. Because it's an air shock, air spring/seal service should be performed 1-2 times a year to keep the Vivid Air as smooth as possible, depending on your usage. Unfortunately this process is a bit more of a labor intensive job than on most air shocks in the market and requires proprietary tools. It would be great if this shock was easier to pull apart. At the same time, we commend RockShox for offering all tools and fluids to the consumer for basic rebuild-ability in your own garage, although it’s a fairly comprehensive undertaking!

Second, despite how stiction-free the Vivid may be, especially when compared to other air shocks on the market, there remain a few coil-over offerings that still offer superior small bump performance and overall sensitivity. The shock has no "trail" features and is fully marketed to the DH segment, so a comparison to the status quo is warranted. Further improving the sensitivity could elevate it to a true coil-like feel with weight savings to boot.

Thirdly, offering a wider tuning range would be an advantage. Although the shock offers a fairly comprehensive amount of tuning adjustment, it is just that - tuning. Changing the baseline tune requires tearing the shock apart, while certain competing offerings offer a wider range of tuning capabilities right out of the box. The lack of high-speed compression tuning isn't that big of a deal, but it's certainly something we'd like to see added.

Long Term Durability

The Vivid Air proved to be a reliable performer. The shock endured 300k+ feet of vertical without any issues.

What's The Bottom Line?

The new and improved RockShox Vivid Air performs exactly as advertised: DH level damping performance in a lighter weight air sprung package. However, we would advise those considering the damper to make the choice over the coil-sprung counterpart based on frame design and intended use, not just weight. Put another way, if you are looking for a bit more progressiveness and/or find yourself excessively bottoming out - be it from hucking or frame design - the Vivid Air may be just the ticket.

For more details, visit www.rockshox.com.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races Enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k feet of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for RockShox Pike RCT3 Fork 8/27/2013 3:15 PM
C138_fs_pike_2715_blk_tpr_a17l

Tested: RockShox Pike RCT3 Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Jeff Brines // Photos by Patrick Nelson

RockShox has reintroduced the Pike for the 2013 season, and they've aimed it squarely at the Enduro and trail market. Like the kinda-sorta-cute girl who moved away in the 6th grade, she’s back for senior year, fully grown up and turning every head in class. The fork appears to offer an unprecedented blend of feather-like weight, stiffness and trail eating performance. But how did it stack up in real world testing? After several months of riding, here are the results...

Pike RCT3 Highlights

  • Travel options: 26 or 27.5-inch 150mm or 160mm // 29-inch 140mm or 150mm
  • Weight: 26-inch - 1835g // 27.5-inch - 1861g // 29-inch - 1876g
  • Dual Position Air and Solo Air Spring Options
  • External Rebound, Low-Speed Compression, and Three Position Compression (Open/Pedal/Lock) Adjustments
  • Low Friction Single Seal
  • Slotted Upper Bushings
  • Asymmetrical, Magnesium, Disc Only Lower Legs
  • Tapered Steerer Only
  • Forged, Hollow 7075 Aluminum Crown
  • New Maxle Lite 15mm Axle
  • Black or White Colors
  • MSRP $980-1085

Some Vital readers may remember the original RockShox Pike. It was one of the first single crown forks that really struck a balance between lightweight, long(er) travel and descending prowess. No, it wasn’t aimed at those riders looking to send every retaining wall and loading dock in sight (you know who you were) but then again it wasn't geared towards your spandex-clad XC crowd either. It was a fork built for bike riding before buzzwords such as "Enduro" or "aggressive all-mountain" even existed. It would seem the only carryover from the Pike of yesteryear to the current model is that it remains targeted at mountain bikers - the kind of rider who pedals to the top of a mountain and looks to have as much fun as possible on the way down.

Turning to the technological nuances for a second, the fork marks one of the more major evolutionary steps for RockShox over the past few years, including a new damper, revised seal system, updated air spring and re-engineered chassis.

The fork is controlled by a new emulsion-free closed damper dubbed the "Charger." Borrowing technology long seen in motocross and in certain competitors' products, the air-free bladder-based damper holds promise of better small bump performance, as well as more consistent and refined damping performance at lighter weight. Additionally, RockShox tuned the damper to feature a lighter ending-stroke rebound setting which they have named "Rapid Recovery." The objective here is to allow the fork to more quickly return to the top of its travel through larger successive hits and keep the fork from packing down. This provides the rider more usable travel, allows the wheel to more precisely track the ground in turns, ultimately giving the rider more control. Turning to the adjustments (pun intended), the fork features external rebound, low-speed compression and a three position compression lever that allows quick access to open, pedal, and lock settings.

The black-stanchioned, asymmetrical, 35mm chassis features a new 15mm Maxle light and has been re-engineered to be as light as possible without sacrificing durability or stiffness. RockShox shaved material where it is not needed and added material to higher stress areas, such as the disc brake side of the lowers. The end result is one of the lightest 35mm chassis on the market at 1835g for the 26-inch model.

In addition, the Pike features a new reduced-friction seal system that combines the oil seal and dust seal into one single-lip package. Less rubber rubbing up against the stanchion makes for smoother, more friction-free performance. Finally, the air spring has been revamped and can now be tuned to ramp up more quickly towards the end of the stroke when utilizing RockShox's "bottomless token" spacers that reduce the overall volume of the air spring. This can be useful for riders who are looking for more progressiveness from their fork.

Setup

The Pike was tested on a 26-inch Ibis Mojo HD. This is a bike I’ve gotten to know intimately over the past few seasons. Truth is, if we’re testing a fork, we might as well do the best we can to isolate that one single variable.

Setup was a cinch thanks to the air spring chart on the fork and its printed sag gradients. At 200-pounds body weight, I settled at ~105psi, four clicks of low-speed compression, and rebound damping that felt "right," somewhere in the middle of the range. Time to hit the trail...

On The Trail

The Pike was tested on nearly every trail in the Jackson, Wyoming area. From fast and flowy singletrack to steep and loamy root/rock strewn DH and jump-riddled flow trails, the Pike encountered a diverse range of trail conditions that were (almost) all accessed via human-powered ascending.

Early in the test two things were apparent. First, the fork is light - nearly 1/2 to 3/4-pounds lighter than most other forks in its class. Second, the fork is smooth. To date, it's the smoothest fork in the 140-170mm range I’ve ever tested. The lack of stiction can likely be attributed to the revamped air spring and revamped seal system. Worth noting, the fork has remained extremely smooth over the test period with only one lubrication oil change. I’m personally very averse to fork stickiness which leads to me changing the lubrication oil in my fork more than most might consider healthy; it's usually once every two weeks during the heart of riding season. I haven’t felt the need to do so nearly as often with the Pike.

On trail, the damper has a distinctly different feel when compared to other RockShox products. The stroke is more refined and controlled. The fork felt more active and livelier than expected. While this lead to the fork being extremely easy to preload and jump, it was initially a bit too skittish through chundry terrain with the fork wanting to kick back to the top of its travel a bit too aggressively for my liking. Adding two additional clicks of rebound damping fixed the problem and from there on the fork felt extremely balanced, yet remained active and very responsive to rider input.

Small bump performance was impressive and the fork kept its wits about it through medium and large hits as well. The fork did an extremely good job utilizing the available travel without unnecessarily blowing through it or feeling unsupportive. I’m not a World Cup downhill racer, and if I have 160mm of travel, I want to use 160mm of travel - but I want it used effectively and appropriately. The Pike did a splendid job here and often felt as if it had more than the specified 160mm of travel on tap. A well-tuned air spring and a very efficient damper working in tandem are likely the reason. Although the fork comes with air spring tuning capabilities, I generally like my spring curve on the linear end of things. Adding the "bottomless tokens" (volume spacers) did not at any point seem necessary for my riding style. Maybe if I go back to my loading dock-hucking days I’ll start using them...

In addition to a low-speed compression adjuster, the Pike features a three-setting dial that the rider can use to drastically change the amount of compression damping - from fully open to almost fully locked-out in three steps. I seldom found myself using this feature. If I was hammering out of the saddle on an extended climb or on the road, I’d go to the middle "Pedal" mode. On extremely smooth singletrack, such as the type I found during the only XC race I entered on this bike (still not sure why I did that), I was often in Pedal mode to keep as much out-of-saddle energy going to propelling the bike forward. Otherwise, during 95% of my riding I found myself leaving the fork wide open.

When things got hairy and the terrain became better suited for a proper DH bike, a bit of harshness and front wheel deflection was detected through the handlebars. It was as if the fork’s damping was overwhelmed and started spiking, or the lubrication system had completely dried up. I tried playing with both the air pressure and the low-speed compression. Nothing seemed to help. This was most noticeable under extreme braking or cornering loads and resulted in far more arm fatigue than one would expect from such a smooth and refined fork in those situations.

After a few weeks of this surprise "spiking", I decided to investigate a bit more thoroughly. Thinking it had something to do with bushing bind, I placed the front wheel of my bike against my truck tire, put a bit of lateral load on my handlebar and pressed through the travel. Sure enough, the fork was very difficult to cycle. Subsequent tests on a 29-inch Pike yielded the same notchy and sticky feel when the fork is loaded in this manner. In all fairness, many bushing-based forks are likely going to suffer the same fate. However, when compared to other single crown forks in its class, the Pike seemed particularly bad in this area. This may not be something you notice unless you push the fork into "extreme" terrain and/or are a heavy dude like myself. In more moderate trail riding environments, the fork did not often showcase this behavior. But still, the fork is billed as one of the top Enduro forks, which means it will also be pushed through more burly terrain from time to time. We recognize that, like anything, suspension performance is a constant give and take battle. A four pound fork isn’t to be expected to perform at near Boxxer-like benchmarks. However, in the context of this review, this is a point worth mentioning.

Despite what potential bushing bind issues may imply, the fork steers precisely, even though it features a 15mm thru axle. Although I’d prefer to see a 20mm thru axle, the fork felt only slightly less precise than other 35mm RockShox single crowns that do have a 20mm thru axle. It was so minimal, even under my heft, that I certainly wouldn’t call it a deal breaker. As a disclaimer, it is worth mentioning that the test bike was set up with carbon wheels, adding to the front end’s precision and possibly minimizing any torsional stiffness loss the 15mm axle may cause. Put another way, blindfolded, I’d be hard pressed to tell if I was on a 20mm or 15mm thru axle equipped fork. The perceptible difference is very negligible.

Long Term Durability

So far the fork has held up great. Yes, it's been through a few crashes and has encountered a fair bit of water, mud, dust, and loam. No, it was not babied. Although three months is hardly enough time to give much durability feedback, it appears, to this point, to be fairly robust.

It is worth repeating just how supple and smooth the fork is, even after months of riding with only one service to the lubrication system. Not needing to constantly rebuild the semi-bath component of the fork is a welcome change and keeps me riding more and wrenching less. RockShox also claims the Charger damper itself rarely requires service when compared to their other dampers. We expect it to provide seasons of performance without much of a hiccup.

The only point of contention from a durability standpoint is a bit of mild creaking coming from the crown/steerer assembly. In all fairness to RockShox, I am yet to own a 150mm+ single crown fork that doesn’t creak after months of use. It isn’t deafening and a few drops of lube to the uppers seem to quiet things down for a few rides. Rockshox chimed in and let us know this was only a problem on an early batch of product. As denoted above, I had the chance to get on a 29-inch version of the fork for the period of one month. I did my best to get the thing to creak but so far, so good. Absolutely silent. Thus, initial testing hints at Rockshox indeed having remedied this problem by now.

Things That Could Be Improved

Being that the creaking issue appears fixed, the Pike could be even better if two things were addressed: bushing bind and offering the fork in a 20mm configuration.

Although these two fixes may come at a slight weight penalty, I’m all for it. A bit of weight in the name of performance and durability isn’t a bad thing when it comes to real world riding. I’d be interested to see just how good this fork could perform if the engineers were allotted another 1/4 to a 1/2-pound.

What's The Bottom Line?

I’m a fairly critical reviewer. I don’t use the words "best in class" very often, but they certainly seem to apply here. At four pounds, it's the lightest of the bunch, and the new damping system, air spring and seals all work in harmony to give the rider a symphony of performance. In this reviewer’s eyes, it edges out everything else in the 160mm class thus far.

Although the fork could be improved in a few areas, it is still very, very good. If RockShox can improve the bushing bind issues, include a 20mm through axle option and keep the fork from creaking, I’d consider calling it perfect. Nonetheless, if you are a trail rider looking for top notch performance or an enduro racer trying to eek seconds off your lap times, take a hard look at this product. Indeed, it would appear the kinda-cute girl is all grown up, and she’s hotter than ever...

For more details about the Pike, cruise over to www.rockshox.com.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races Enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.

This product has 3 reviews.

Added a product review for Specialized Roval Traverse SL Complete Wheel 8/26/2013 10:18 AM
C138_kola_specialized_roval_traverse_sl_142_2013

Tested: Specialized Roval Traverse SL Wheels

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Jeff Brines

When considering top shelf wheels, Specialized may not be the first company that comes to mind. However, it appears the Big S is trying to change that with the introduction of their all mountain oriented carbon-hooped Roval SL wheelset. With over 150K of descending (and ascending) under our belt on the 26-inch version, it’s time for an in depth look at how these (more) wallet friendly carbon wheels have fared so far.

Specialized Roval Traverse SL Highlights

  • Carbon rim
  • Internal Rim Width: 22mm, External 29mm
  • Tubeless Ready out of the box
  • Radial/3-cross front spoke pattern, 3-cross (1:1) rear
  • Spoke count: 27 Front, 32 Rear
  • Spoke Type: DT Super Comp
  • Nipple Type: DT Pro Lock Hexagonal
  • Front Hub: Alloy Body, 15/20mm thru axle and 24/28mm QR end cap options included
  • Rear Hub: CNC machined alloy body, high quality DT 240 internals and ratchet system cassette, 135/142 end cap options, XX1 compatible, sealed cartridge bearings
  • Total weight: 1500 grams (26-inch)
  • MSRP $1650

If you are unfamiliar with the technology and design goals of the wheelset, take a minute to watch our First Look feature:

During this test, the wheels were hung under the likes of an Ibis Cycles Mojo HD and run with tires from Schwalbe, Maxxis and Specialized. All setup tubeless with sealant.

On The Trail

We’ve been on these wheels for the better part of 14 weeks. From early season riding on the front range of Denver to summer trails within the Tetons, these wheels have seen everything including a real DH track. The product wasn’t babied and wasn’t treated as a “race-only” wheelset. Gaps were shorted, rocks were run into, mistakes were made. Even a sneaky (worn) chain found its way into an inappropriate place (followed by other parts of the drivetrain). In short, these hoops were used day in, day out as we did our best to find the advantages and disadvantages of running a 1500-gram wheelset in a real world trail riding environment (under a 200-pound rider).

I ran these wheels tubeless from the get go as the wheels came with valve stems and taped right out of the box. Of all the rims I’ve run over the past 10+ years, these were by far the tightest when it came to mounting tires (remember the old Intense DH tires anyone?). I found a few tire levers a must when mounting any brand of tires onto these rims. Although a bit laborious, this tighter-than-normal rim interface gave me more confidence when it came to running the wheels tubeless. At 200 pounds, I have experienced problems rolling tires off the rim under extreme cornering load. So much so, I usually opt for tubes in my wheels. I’m thankful to report that I haven’t rolled one tire nor have felt a single burp out of any of the tires I’ve run on these wheels. For those wondering, I run “trail” casing tires -- 850-1000 grams.

To add, a floor pump was all that was needed for seating every tire mounted thus far. A welcome change to the usual compressor faff. Once mounted, the various 2.25-2.5 inch tires took shape well to the 22-mm internal rim width. Not too blocky nor too rounded. Just as one would hope for on a wheelset aimed at the trail crowd.

At pressures between 29-35 psi I have not rolled one tire off the rim nor burped a tire (to my knowledge), leading to the most positive tubeless experience thus far in my riding “career”.

Not surprisingly, the first and most noticeable aspect about getting the Roval SL wheelset on trail is the weight. By comparison, my “budget” aluminum wheelset weighed closer to 1800-grams. The ~300 gram reduction of rotating weight was very noticable (similar weight savings could of course be achieved by running lighter, single-ply tires - but they would not stand up to the descents, at least not under this tester).

Although the weight advantage while climbing was a nice benefit, I’m not an XC racer (at least not usually). But the weight advantage is really valuable on the descent too. Getting the bike up to speed in rolling terrain was just plain easier. If I made a mistake; be it getting off my line and needing to brake more or blowing a corner, it was easier to get back to speed. Accelerating out of a corner or a slower speed technical section felt like I had just eaten the magic star power up icon in Super Mario Kart. On the flip side, super steep, technical and rocky terrain where it's more about battling to stay off the brakes rather than seeking acceleration, the weight advantage wasn’t all that discernible.

As noted above, these wheels were mounted to a carbon Mojo HD with a 12x142-mm rear end and a 15-mm or 20-mm front end (tested with two forks). I mention this as the Mojo is a mostly flex free platform especially when mated to a 35mm stanctioned through-axle fork. Prior to going to carbon wheels, I could feel wheels flex while tipping my bike over through certain off camber sections or really getting all over it through flat corners. My rear swingarm has the tire marks to prove it. Moving to this wheelset certainly aided in precision and eliminated any sort of rubbing I experienced with my prior aluminium wheelset. That said, I do not believe the Roval’s are the stiffest wheels on the market, which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. Remember a certain 10x world champ (hint: his nickname name rhymes with “Chico”) who used to run his spoke tension as low as possible in a race? He found he was faster with a less-than-stiff wheel.

Overall, going to these wheels will likely offer a stiffer platform than most other 1500 gram wheelsets in the 26-inch variety. But again, not the stiffest out there. Enough to warrant the purchase on stiffness alone? That all depends on what you are looking for and what size hoop you are going with (larger diameter wheels experience more leverage than smaller diameter wheels).

Freehub performance on the trail was admirable. Although it's not as instantaneous as the fastest-engaging hubs out there, the DT-Swiss made internals never caused a problem while ratcheting through a technical section of trail or engaging out of a corner.

Long Term Durability

I’m 200 pounds and want to be fast. This is very different from being 150 pounds and smooth. To this point, I’m a fairly good “wheel tester” as I usually go through a couple rims a year JRAing. With that disclaimer in place, I feel its safe to say the wheels have held up fairly well (by my standards). The rims, specifically, have been brilliant thus far. I have clanked them off a few rocks with no damage and even put them through one big crash that I felt would have severely bent an aluminum rim - instead resulting in a broken Maxle. This is not a scientific test by any means, but any crash that leaves the wheel straight and breaks the axle is worth noting.

I’ve also ripped a derailleur off pushing it into the spokes. Although this event lead to me formulating one of the most beautifully strung together combinations of expletives in my life, I was bummed (to put it lightly). I was sure I trashed my swanky wheels - but not so. It was a welcome surprise to be able to replace the damaged spokes with any straight pull variety that is of the appropriate length. I was back on the trail the next day, wheels straight and true. No waiting for custom “system” style spokes.

In the latter part of this test, I have broken three spokes in separate incidents on the rear wheel (all non drive side). This could be a result of a few things. One, the number of loose rocks on the trail has increased substantially increasing the likelihood of spoke damage. Two, I’ve found a bit more confidence in my cornering as of late. Again, I’m 200-pounds, and fairly hard on wheels, often loading them laterally even in rough terrain. My guess is the stiffer rim puts slightly more stress on the spokes under extreme cornering load as the rim doesn’t yield as much on its own. Or it could have just been a result of improper tension. Either way, to those reading this, realize this is something that commonly happens under my weight/riding style although this does seem a hair premature.

Turning attention to the bearings, it’s worth noting I wash my bikes with water, live in an area full of fine moon-like dust and have taken these wheels on close to 100 rides. Just as this review was about to be published, the bearings have started to show the first signs of wear. To the discerning user, a slight amount of roughness can be detected when spinning the wheel while grabbing the axle with one’s hands. This has developed over the last 7 days leading up to this review and by no means is bad enough to warrant bearing replacements. Fact is, most every bearing wears out. Some faster than others and by no means would I say these wear “fast” - but they aren’t the most long lasting variety either. This could be a byproduct of conditions, how I wash my bike or just an odd one-off case. Thankfully, the bearings appear to be more or less easy to replace.

The internals of the hub are the exact same that are found in a DT Swiss 240. Considering the track record of this system, I feel its safe to say it’ll provide years of problem free performance.

Specialized chose to go with an aluminium freehub body. Problem with this is unless one is utilizing an XX1 style cassette (i.e. one with a carrier aka "spider") you are likely to put tiny gouges in the aluminium. Although not “ride ending” by any means, this can make for one huge pain in the ass when it comes to replacing your cassette.

Things That Could Be Improved

Despite a few problems, these wheels are very (very) good. They are light, perform well, have held up pretty good (for me) and are priced below the competition, making it clear that Specialized took care of the big things. However, this is a review so I’ll nit pick for a second.

Three things I’d like to see Specialized change include slightly more robust bearings, spokes that are more resistant to snapping and a freehub body that doesn’t gouge as easily. But here is the problem with my suggestions, they will either increase the price point of the wheel or the weight of the wheel. Two things the market might react poorly to. Especially considering I’m likely to not be part of the “majority” of riders (heavier than most, harder on product than most, ride more than most...it adds up).

Finally, we dig the limited lifetime warranty but feel at over $1K a no-questions asked rim replacement should come standard for the first 2 years of use.

What's The Bottom Line?

Specialized has built a top shelf carbon wheelset for hundreds less than the competition. If you are looking for a robust wheelset at XC weight and have the budget for carbon, this deserves your attention. As an Enduro racer, this should be on a short list of products that can take seconds off your lap times. Carbon is all over the podium these days. One spin on these and it's not hard to see why...

For more details, visit www.specialized.com.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races Enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.

This product has 1 review.