Reviewed by Evan Turpen and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller
In a time when nearly every company is jumping on the 27.5-inch/650B wheel bandwagon, BMC jumped straight to 29, eliminating their previous 26-inch model in the process. It wasn't without a lot of testing, though. BMC fabricated dozens of test mules, including several 27.5 models. Having tested multiple wheel sizes and geometry configurations against the clock, the company landed on a 5.9-inch (150mm) travel 29er with relaxed angles and a surprisingly short rear end. The bike is aimed squarely at the heart of the Enduro race scene, and is ridden by the BMC Trailcrew at the Enduro World Series.
Curious to see if what the bike was capable of, we raced it at the Whistler Enduro World Series event and then took it to Sedona, Arizona for the annual Vital MTB Test Sessions.
Trailfox TF01 29 Highlights
- Full carbon frame
- 29-inch wheels
- 5.9-inches (150mm) of rear wheel travel
- Advanced Pivot System (APS) suspension design
- Tapered headtube
- 67-degree head angle
- 74-degree seat tube angle
- 1.2-inch (30mm) bottom bracket drop
- 17.1-inch (435mm) chainstays
- BB90 with ISCG05 tabs
- 142x12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size Medium, no pedals): 27-pounds, 8-ounces (12.47kg)
- $8,999 MSRP
The TF01 is one of a few long-travel 29er bikes on the market, and the specs make it look very competitive in the niche. The APS suspension system is a Virtual Pivot design with strong anti-squat characteristics. The dual-link design yields a system that’s progressive through the first 2/3 of travel and slightly regressive near the end of the shock’s stroke, which is complimented well by FOX's Float X shock. As with all BMC bikes, there's a convenient sag indicator to get you on the trail quickly.
It has short chainstays, a relatively slack 67-degree head angle, and a low bottom bracket. BMC resolved the long 29er chainstay dilemma by slackening the seat tube angle and moving it forward, but the effective seat angle remains comfortably pedal-able. In combination with a unique front derailleur mount on the rear triangle, the result is a 17.1-inch (435mm) chainstay length. That's at least 5mm shorter than the vast majority of comparable rides, and just 5mm longer than the often praised Specialized Enduro 29.
With 45mm more standover than the old Trailfox, the looks and maneuverability of the new bike have been improved as well. The standover and seat tube length are now low enough to use a 6-inch (150mm) dropper post, and there's still enough room for a water bottle. The headtube height has been greatly reduced too, which was key to achieving a balanced ride with the long-travel 29-inch platform. The 2014 model has been lengthened substantially, bringing it up to speed with modern geometries.
Additional details include a 12x142mm rear axle to keep things stiff out back, Post Mount disc brake tabs with replaceable threaded inserts, and an optional integrated chain management system that gives an extra sense of security. The BB90 press fit bottom bracket shell has an ISCG mount that allows a standard chain guide to be easily mounted. Internal cable routing enters through custom ports and follows the downtube, and the stealth dropper post routing is a highlight many will appreciate. Injection molded chainstay and downtube guards help protect the frame in key areas. Mud clearance is decent, with a minimum of ~1cm of clearance with the stock 2.4-inch Continental tire.
The Trailfox line includes the full carbon TF01, as well as the carbon front/aluminum rear TF02 and full aluminum TF03. Complete prices range from $11,999 for the decked out TF01 XTR build at the high end to $3,999 for the more affordable TF03. Our test build was the TF01 XX1 Trailcrew edition, retailing for $8,999.
The full carbon TF01 frame weighs 2,490 grams. Complete weights range from 26.9 to 31.3-pounds (12.2 to 14.2kg) across the model range.
On The Trail
Our time on the TF01 began when the bike was launched during the Whistler stop of the Enduro World Series. The multi-stage event encompassed everything from rooted, loamy backcountry trails to long brake bump filled bike park runs. We also rallied some seriously steep trails on the nearby Blackcomb Mountain just for grins. Following the launch, we had the opportunity to put some more miles on the bike in the rocky hills of Sedona. Sedona trails included Girdner, Last Frontier, Brewer, Ridge, Slim Shady, HiLine, and Teacup - a proper mix of technical, rough, and fast terrain.
The stock 55mm stem and a fairly wide 750mm flat carbon bar are comfortable, and we applaud BMC for getting these important cockpit details right. One thing that struck us as odd was the use of a very tall top headset spacer, which defeats the point of having a compact headtube. Those wanting a lower stack height to counter the already tall 150mm 29er fork will need to find a replacement for this part, though most riders of average height won't find it to be an issue. Once on the trail the bike feels decently roomy, although not as large as the posted top tube and reach dimensions would have you believe. The weight bias is fairly neutral and centered between the wheels.
The short chainstays, slack head angle, and low bottom bracket are definite positives. Pointed downhill, the bike had a glued-to-the-ground kind of ride that was best when pushed hard. Surprisingly the bike didn’t inspire confidence in the way we expected given the available travel and aggressive geometry. It felt unstable and a little sketchy at times, and for this reason it took us a little longer than normal to get used to. Even though it has super short stays, we also found it less playful than expected. It changed lines easily at speed and the frame itself was plenty stiff laterally, however. Our experiences on bikes with comparable geometry lead us to believe that the instability came from the suspension and tires.
The bike seemed best suited to rallying down steep, fast, loamy trails, but when large bumps were introduced into the equation it was less inspiring than its direct competitors. Small bumps and trail chatter were absorbed well, but it struggled to have good control on g-outs, jumps, drops, and repetitive big hits. Even with proper sag settings the bike felt best when adding extra compression utilizing the “Trail” setting on the shock, though this took away from small bump performance. Square edge performance was decent, although nothing to write home about. Despite trying several shock pressure adjustments we found the bike difficult to balance front to back. The rear suspension was very soft off the top and seemed to spend most of its time deep in the stroke, which made the bike feel as though it had less than the 150mm of travel advertised. It had a mushy feeling in comparison to the FOX 34 Float CTD fork, but both reached the end of the travel around the same time.
From a rolling speed standpoint, the bike carried speed well and felt every bit as light as the scale indicated. The suspension took away from some of this feeling by muting rider inputs, however.
During seated climbs the bike felt a bit too active in the shock’s “Descend” mode, and climbed better in “Trail” by staying a little higher in its travel over bumps. As long as we maintained momentum the bike climbed well. If we got bogged down it sometimes hung up a bit on technical climbs and could be difficult to maintain balance. Body position is good for climbing, though, with no crank spiking issues or much front end wandering.
When really punching it out of the saddle the bike responded decently quickly with no detrimental bob or loss of power. It stands up in the travel and stays there under hard high-cadence efforts due to the high anti-squat designed into the suspension.
Given our experience with the bike’s suspension, we reached out to BMC for their input:
"After hearing about the issues that the testers at Vital were experiencing in their review of the Trailfox, we conducted an internal review and also communicated with the team at FOX. We discovered that the shock on the early-release sample bikes provided to media outlets mistakenly featured a lighter compression tune. The correct shock, which is currently available at retail and the one that our athletes have been training and racing on, features a firmer compression tune and a higher air spring compression ratio. If the review bike had featured the correct rear shock we feel certain that the result would've been a significantly improved ride experience."
At this point we have not re-tested the bike with the updated shock tune, but we believe this suspension tweak would help.
The $8,999 TF01 Trailcrew features a built kit highlighted by components from RockShox, Fizik, Continental, DT Swiss, Avid, SRAM, Easton, and FOX.
RockShox’s 6-inch (150mm) drop Reverb Stealth dropper post provides a huge range of on the fly saddle height adjustment. Some may find it to be excessive, while others will appreciate the added clearance on rough and steep terrain. Very few companies currently spec a dropper with this much adjustment. The white Fizik saddle attached to the post is decently comfortable, though it may stain quickly.
The Continental Mountain King/X King 2.4-inch tires left a lot to be desired. Braking traction was good and rolling resistance was decent, but they lacked the traction we are used to in a meaty 29er tire and had a vague feel in many situations. The profile is very round, requiring you to lean excessively before the cornering knobs come into contact with the ground, and by that time we were often already drifting out of control. They also contributed to the sometimes bouncy and unstable feel of the bike.
Most bikes in the $9,000 range come stock with a carbon wheelset, but BMC believes the 1,650 gram DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline One wheels can compete well while offering superior durability. They were plenty stiff, strong, light, and easy to set up tubeless. We never flatted or burped a tire with them. DT Swiss's upgraded ratchet system provided great engagement.
Once bedded in, Avid’s X0 Trail brakes worked surprisingly well with plenty of power. Modulation was better than most, but ramped up fairly quickly from light force to full lock. We never experienced any fade and the lever feel is some of the best in class.
The SRAM XX1 drivetrain performed flawlessly throughout the test. It shifted well with no skipping or dropped chains, even though there was not a chainguide on the front single ring. The drivetrain was extremely smooth and quiet with little to no drag. Occasionally we’d hear and feel a slight pop in the extreme high/low gears, likely due to SRAM’s XX1 chainring tooth profile. The bike comes stock with a small 28-tooth ring, which may be too small for high-speed Enduro race use. Those climbing steep hills will appreciate it though.
Long Term Durability
Having looked the bike over from top to bottom we have no durability concerns. It’s a surprisingly stout package given its weight and appears to be designed well. BMC backs the frame with up to a five year warranty, provided you register the bike at the time of purchase.
What's The Bottom Line?
On paper the BMC Trailfox TF01 29 looks like an enduro race weapon with top notch geometry, an advanced suspension design, fast rolling big wheels, and a very light frame. On the trail we found it to be less inspiring than the specs made us hope for, and we were never able to let it rip free of our inhibitions. It’s possible that a tire swap and the updated shock tune could improve things greatly, bringing it up into the four-star range. The component spec includes many top performers, but some may find the high price point tough to swallow.
Visit www.bmc-racing.com for more details.
About The Reviewers
Evan Turpen - Evan has been racing mountain bikes as a Pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.