Reviewed by Evan Turpen // Photos by Brandon Turman
For the longest time Banshee Bikes were well off my radar. In 2007 I was a professional downhill racer and at the time their products represented heavy, overbuilt, and technologically lacking machines built for the “huckers” amongst us.
That all changed in 2008, though, when they introduced the Legend MK1 downhill race bike and their unique approach to new product development. They released 50 frames to a select group of riders, racers, and engineers who all provided feedback that eventually went into the production frames. Banshee then went on to release many other beautiful and well crafted bikes such as the Rune and Spitfire. These bikes spoke to the high performance crowd. Fairly light frames, stiff back ends, good suspension performance, clean lines, and geometry numbers that aggressive riders could really appreciate. During that period, at least.
Fast forward to 2013 and Banshee has released a new version of their Spitfire, once again taking big steps in the right direction.
Everything about the Spitfire V2 is different while still maintaining the “downhiller’s XC bike” soul of the original Spitfire. The rear shock is larger, the travel has been increased from 5-inches to 5.5-inches (140mm), the reach has been lengthened, the geometry now has three adjustable positions at the dropouts instead of two at the shock, it now utilizes the ultra-supple KS-link suspension instead of the previous VF4B design (hello bearings, good riddance bushings!), and you now have the option of running 26-inch or 27.5-inch wheels with their interchangeable dropouts.
My Spitfire V2 test bike came with 26-inch wheels since that was what I was used to and requested. When selecting the frame size, at 5-foot 10-inches tall I was torn between the Medium and the Large. The Medium had a reach of 427mm and the large jumped up 25mm in length to 452mm. My current ride’s reach was near the middle of these two at 442mm. Since I didn’t want to go shorter, I went longer and choose the large black anodized frame combined with a short 35mm stem.
Spitfire V2 Frame Highlights
- Hydroformed 7005 T6 aluminum frame
- 26-inch or 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
- 140mm (5.5-inches) travel
- 7.875x2.25-inch rear shock
- Tapered Headtube (44/56mm)
- Adjustable 66 to 67-degree head angle
- Adjustable 73.5 to 74.5-degree seat tube angle
- Adjustable 13 to 13.5-inch bottom bracket height
- Adjustable 17 to 16.8-inch chainstays
- 73x118mm ISIS bottom bracket withISCG05 chainguide mounts
- 142x12mm (26-inch and 27.5-inch), 135mm QR (26-inch), or 150x12mm (26-inch) dropouts
- Full length seat tube
- Plenty of tire clearance for a 26x2.5-inch rear tire
- Adjustable seatpost cable guides along top tube and 30.9mm size allows for all known models
- Low direct-mount front derailleur capable of running multiple setups from a chainguide to a dual ring with bash guard
- Ina bearing pivots for strength and long service life
- 2 year warranty and lifetime crash replacement
- Weight: 7.5-pounds (Medium frame with Fox Float CTD)
- MSRP $1,999 with Fox Float CTD shock
On The Trail
After setting up the suspension to my taste (roughly 25% rear sag versus the 28% recommended) and getting out onto the trails, the first thing I noticed is that the Spitfire is a very efficient pedaler that never required the use of the FOX Float CTD lever. I simply left it in the softest “Descend” setting and never had the urge to touch it again. My bike came equipped with a 2x10 crankset with a 26/38 gearing. In the big ring the bike pedaled with minimal suspension movement under power yet still absorbed bumps well. On super steep climbs when shifted into the 26 tooth granny ring the bike pedaled even more firmly and seemed to stand up in its travel slightly due to the increased anti-squat as a result of the suspension design. This helped the rear tire bite into the ground and find traction, as well as maintain a more forward weight bias up steep climbs. The harder the effort, the better the bike pedaled.
Once you get the Spitfire pointed downhill you really begin to see what this bike was designed for. The Banshee loves to go fast! In the lowest geometry setting, with a bottom bracket height of just 13-inches, a slack 66 degree head angle, and a longer than normal wheelbase, this bike begs you to open it up. The KS-Link suspension really is one of the smoothest feeling back-ends of any bike. It's also very stiff laterally, especially when compared to the previous design. The suspension works incredibly well on small to medium sized hits, carrying speed with the best of the best 26-inch wheeled bikes.
Braking characteristics are very neutral in that the rider’s position does not need to be changed drastically while braking. This leads to a very nice predictable transition from braking to cornering since you can remain neutral or even more toward the front than normal on the bike.
Cornering on this bike requires an aggressive, more forwards riding style with the slack angles and low bottom bracket. Once you learn this, the Spitfire drifts predictably and seems to corner best once the trails get fast. Tight switchbacks are not its strong suit, but a welcome compromise once you experience its high-speed prowess.
The Spitfire also inspires the confidence of a bike with at least 10mm more travel. So much so that you might find yourself regularly pinning it into sections best ridden on a 160mm+ travel machine. The 140mm of rear wheel travel can get slightly overwhelmed when encountering super rough sections, but you’ll make it through unscathed most every time thanks to the aggressive geometry and excellent handling. The suspension's progressive leverage curve helps as well.
Finally, when the Banshee takes to the air, it does so predictably. Big jumps and landings are no problem on the Spitfire. Actually…the bigger the better! It’s the small hops and jumps that require a little more effort compared to some of the other bikes in this travel range. This is most likely caused by the Spitfire’s glued to the ground suspension feel.
Things That Could Be Improved
Throughout my test only a few negatives popped up. The lack of a water bottle cage mount was one. The under the downtube cable routing for the front derailleur was another. All the other cables were routed beautifully out of harms way except for this one.
Also, the 13-inch bottom bracket height was a bit low for my tastes in the lowest of settings. The longer I rode the bike the more I noticed how conscious I needed to be of my pedal timing to avoid pedal strikes. Before you scold me and say to just raise the bottom bracket via the geometry adjustment, I want to remind you that it also affects the head angle. I like the head angle of the low setting, but prefer the middle to high bottom bracket height. After reviewing the geometry charts, the 650b wheels would accomplish just this and could potentially satisfy my geometry craving, but with a change to wheel size. The addition of an adjustable headset cup could also allow for the change. Either way, I spent the last half of the review riding the Spitfire in the middle geometry setting to accomplish a slightly higher (13.2-inch) bottom bracket with still a fairly slack 66.5-degree head angle. The bike still rode great.
Lastly, the increased anti-squat when pedaling in the small 26-tooth ring created a noticeable amount of pedal feedback when the suspension encountered a sizable bump. I also noticed that if the climb began to mellow out and you remained in the small ring, there could (at times) be a very strange feeling at the pedals. This was most likely caused by the suspension extending and compressing with each pedal stroke instead of remaining loaded like it did on a steep climb. In my eyes, all of this can be avoided though by selecting a 32 to 36 tooth 1x10 or 1x11 setup. If you choose this route the Banshee comes with ISCG05 chain guide mounts making it easy to bolt up your favorite chain guide.
What's The Bottom Line?
Overall the Banshee Spitfire V2 is an excellent 140mm travel trail bike well suited to aggressive riders. It’s not that a casual rider couldn’t appreciate this bike, it’s just that to really appreciate this bike you have to be someone who loves to push the limits. The faster you ride this bike, the better it rides.
With all the adjustable geometry and wheel sizes available, the Spitfire is a perfect bike for those wanting to dial-in and find their setup without jumping from bike to bike. The flexibility is nice to see and the frame’s construction and design show no signs of premature wear. The V2 evolution is an improvement in every way to the original Spitfire design, and I can see this being an excellent trail bike for many years to come.
For more info on the Banshee lineup, visit www.bansheebikes.com.
About The Reviewer
Evan Turpen has been racing mountain bikes for over 12 years. He raced downhill 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. His first ever enduro event being the 2012 Trans-Provence 7-day adventure race through France. He is an aggressive yet smooth rider who loves to flick the bike around to put it on the fastest line or to smooth out the rough sections. Fast flowy trails and long technical descents (Garbanzo style) are his favorite. Whistler and Santa Cruz are his two most favorite places to ride, but he can have fun wherever he goes. With an extensive knowledge of the mountain bike industry and its technologies, Evan is able to take all things in to perspective during a review. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most. When he's not out ripping around on a bike he helps run the recently introduced California Enduro Series and is also in charge of the bike park at China Peak Mountain Resort.