Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Joe Schneider, and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
Every once in a while we test a bike that requires a completely different mentality than we are used to. Such is the case with the all-new 2013 Airborne HobGoblin. Usually we're handed bikes with top-of-the-line components, carbon this, fancy button that. Then along came the HobGoblin. No, not a hairy little man doing household chores in mythical stories, but rather a very practical, very affordable cross-country 29er with 100mm of travel. At just $1,750 complete, we suppose there is something mythical about it though. There isn't much else like it, at least at that price.
And so… we readjusted, recalibrated, forgot the super fancy tricked-out bikes we had just ridden beforehand, and you know what? We had a blast.
- 7005 aluminum alloy frame
- 29-inch wheels
- 100mm (3.9-inches) of travel
- Tapered headtube
- 71-degree head angle
- 74-degree seat tube angle
- 17.7-inch chainstays
- PressFitGXP bottom bracket
- 135mm rear spacing with quick release
- Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 30 pounds, 14 ounces (14kg)
- $1,750 MSRP
The HobGoblin's 100mm of rear suspension travel is delivered via a modified twin-link suspension design. Oversized sealed bearings in most of the pivots are said to help ensure long life and durability. An easy to reach RockShox Monarch RL air shock takes care of bump duties with easy to use sag gradients and a readily accessible lockout lever that actually works. The external rebound adjustment works in conjunction with RockShox's DualFlow technology, incorporating independent rebound damping circuits. You're able to control the beginning-stroke (small-hit) rebound, and a factory-set ending-stroke (big-hit) rebound ensures you're in the right ballpark every time.
Up front, the RockShox Reba RL lockout fork provides external rebound, air pressure, and low speed compression to lockout adjustments. This fork is known for being easy to service, which will make your shop or at-home tinkerers happy. Quick-release axles at both the front and rear hold the wheels on, but lack the stiffness of more modern thru-axles.
Considering the suspension and parts spec in relation to the bike's MSRP, we were impressed by the frame features. The hydroformed and double-butted aluminum frame has a tapered headtube, direct-mount front derailleur, and internal shifter cable routing. While not the prettiest, the internal routing does do a decent job of cleaning things up. Routing overall is average, with no bad kinks or any glaring rub issues.
On The Trail
Now then, how does the HobGoblin ride? To find out, Steve took it for a loop around the Slickrock-esque Guacamole playground, Joe rallied it on the rough and challenging Zen Trail, and just for good measure Brandon popped off a few decent sized jumps while hauling down Barrel Ride.
Since we're the wide bar, short stem, gravity-loving type, grabbing ahold of the stock 680mm bars and 90mm stem was a bit of a shock to our systems at first. The cockpit felt a bit on the long side, but not uncomfortable. It's roomy with a definite XC feel. With this setup, body position is little far forward, but with a shorter stem it's possible to get a little more rearward weight bias. Steve stuck with the stock setup, while both Joe and Brandon opted to play around with a 60mm stem and 740mm bars. This change gave the bike a much more stable feel, but the cockpit shortened considerably, which made it almost too short when combined with the rather steep 74-degree seat tube angle. If you're looking to go with a shorter stem, we might suggest bumping up a size. This will give you the comfortable reach you need for long days while at the same time giving even more stability.
Geometry wise, there were no big surprises. The bike felt like a cross-country bike, and we think that's a good thing. At 71-degrees, it felt steep in the head angle, but when climbing up steep grades it was great. The bike was still able to be maneuvered and did not feel sluggish. Considering the overall geometry, it felt remarkably stable, in part due to the 29-inch wheels.
Steve getting rad on Guacamole. Later in the day at the bottom of the Grafton Mesa trail, Steve ponied up and sent the Airborne flying over one of the more technical drops of the trip like it was no big deal, just for good fun. Visit the Bonus Gallery to see him in action.
Where the HobGoblin really shined was in the suspension performance category, which was surprisingly good. With just 3.9-inches of travel front and rear, we didn't have much to work with, but what we did have was very smooth and well balanced. Setting the bike up at 20-25% sag with slower rebound yields a stiff, precise cross-country feel that was better than we expected, offering good support for most of the travel. The suspension did pretty well over small bumps, chatter, and square-edge hits. It did not do well with drops and g-outs, however, and seemed to fall off at the end of its stroke, bottoming easily once there. In general, the bike is tuned for pedaling performance over the descents.
Pointed downhill, we took comfort in the larger wheels and relatively predictable suspension characteristics. What we found is that this bike is best at casual speeds. At high speeds things get a little sketchy, so it's not something we'd want to routinely bomb down hills or hit jumps on (we had to at least try, right?). However, some technical here and there and mellow grades could be handled all day on the Goblin. The bike is responsive to inputs and changes lines pretty well, provided the tires can find traction. The 17.7-inch seat stays make the bike hard to pull up, making last second maneuvers a little more difficult. If you want to start pushing your speeds in the downhill and technical arena, we'd look elsewhere (if you can even find anything else in the price range, that is).
Perceived weight was moderate - neither heavy not light. It's not snappy, and compressing the bike to hop into a different lines requires slightly exaggerated movements. The real gem that this bike has to offer is the rolling speed. It's incredibly fast when you let it be, letting us pick up speed very quickly on terrain that we could pump instead of pedal.
Out of the saddle sprints and climbing revealed that there isn't much suspension bob. While not overly quick, the HobGoblin gets up hills pretty dang well and motors on up. Some flex in the back end of the bike could be felt on rocky climbs where traction was plentiful, and some energy is lost due to sideways motion on the frame. Surprisingly, there seemed to be less pedal induced feedback than most bikes, perhaps because of the firm setup.
How Airborne managed to spec the HobGoblin the way they did, for the price they did, is well worth noting. With a SRAM X7 2x10 drivetrain, Avid Elixir 3 disk brakes, WTB SpeedDisc wheelset, and a Selle San Marco Ponza saddle, it's a very good value for the price.
Avid's Elixir 3 brakes performed quite well. They were consistent, bedded in after an acceptable amount of time, and provided plenty of power for moderate speeds. There isn't an engagement point adjustment, but the lever reach is adjustable so there's something to play with if needed.
The SRAM X7 2x10 drivetrain didn't surprise us in any way, and that's a good thing. There were a few skips in the shifting under hard outputs, possibly due to frame flex, but we had no dropped chains, even over some rough terrain.
WTB's SpeedDisc wheels took a beating under our testers, and after just three rides they loosened considerably. Granted, we were doing our best to see what level of abuse the bike could take. Riding them at moderate speeds will likely ensure they hold up much longer.
If you're on a budget or new to the sport, consider the following upgrades over time. We've ordered them in terms of priority, but realize that your needs may differ based on your trails or riding style:
- A quick-release seat clamp is a must to be able to descend with more confidence. It'll cost you about $10.
- Wider bars (720-750mm) and a shorter stem (60 to 70mm) are highly recommended. These will give you more confidence on the downhills.
- Tire performance was a mixed bag with the Geax AKA tires. They roll very quickly and are ideally suited to Slickrock type trails, commuting, or tacky hard pack. For anything else, you'll be wishing you had something with real knobs. The tires were drifty on some open sections of trail, and they did not inspire confidence. The thin casings don't work well in compressed in g-outs due to the dreaded spring back effect.
- A chainstay protector will help silence the bike considerably. For a cheap alternative, save your first punctured tube and wrap it around the chainstay with some electrical tape.
- Once you flat the tires (which will happen in time due to the thin sidewalls) put some lighter weight 29er tubes in to save a bit of rotational weight. The stock tubes are quite thick for a bike of this nature.
Long Term Durability
By the end our Test Sessions, the HobGoblin had developed a light creak in the lower suspension pivot area. Closer investigation revealed that the this was the main source of rear end flex, and that the pivot had loosened slightly. While a little unnerving, nothing broke and it was acceptable. We'll will put a disclaimer on that, though. We were riding this bike in ways very few people would - smashing down rocky bits, jumping 14-18 foot doubles, and even dropping some sizable hits, all in the name of science. Taking that into consideration, your mileage may vary. So long as the pivots stay tight, we don't think there should be problems with the bike and Airborne backs it with a five year warranty.
What's The Bottom Line?
The bottom line on the Airbone HobGoblin, more than just about any other, comes down to price. For $1,750, it is one of the best bikes we've ridden in a while. It's a capable climber, rolls incredibly fast, goes down the trail just fine, is quite fun to ride after a few minor component changes, and can even get airborne from time to time with some extra effort. To put things into perspective, comparable offerings from major competitors are all upwards of $2,250.
The ideal rider is someone new to the sport or starting out in the full suspension market. It's best suited to fast, flowy, smooth, hardpack with the occasional rock pile thrown in. With a little maintenance and a conscious rider, we think it would be good for years of riding.
Visit www.airbornebicycles.com for full specs and an overview of their other value-minded rides.
Bonus Gallery: Check out 27 photos of the HobGoblin
About The Reviewers
Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).
Joe Schneider - During the day, Joe's busy solving complex mechanical engineering problems. When he's free, he's out crushing miles on his bikes and moto. He raced cross-country for several years, made an appearance on the Collegiate National Champs Omnium, turned Pro, and more recently shifted his focus to enduro.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.