The Good: Perfect for race and aggressive downhill applications Lives in the stable of long low slack downhill geometry bikes MSRP of $3199 is ballpark and competitive for a high end race bike with Double Barrel shock, axle, rear fender, and seatpost clamp Natural well balanced ride No significant suspension dysfunction or weird feedback such as brake jack or squat Excels and thrives at high speed in rough terrain Requires an aggressive riding position Very efficient machine Very stiff frame with excellent traction Build quality is excellent Subtle understated design
The Bad: Double Barrel can be difficult to tune requiring patience, time and effort, but it gets the best from the low leverage suspension design Price, if you're on a budget
I'm an intermediate-aggressive DH rider coming into my fifth full season. The Makulu has been tested for flavour on 60,000 vertical feet of fast flowy and technical downhill riding in Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon, British Columbia over 11 days. That amount of riding has been done in a very short space of time, allowing me little opportunity for suspension testing and tuning. That process will be the next step of my life with the Makulu.
Fit for Purpose
The Makulu is a downhill race bike. If you're looking for a cushy DH sled, this isn't it. It will work for more aggressive intermediate riders, but if you're looking for something to soak up the rough gnar to make your furrow smoother and more comfortable, I would suggest this isn't the bike for that purpose. It needs to be fed speed, challenging terrain, and vertical to make the most of all that gravity offers us. As for any full DH race bike, if you don't have the trails to provide a feed of gravity and technical challenge, you won't be able to make use of what the Makulu has to offer.
The Makulu is in the new breed of DH bike category, leaning towards a longer wheelbase, solid platform, and very low centre of gravity with a very flat and long "squished" feel to it, long, low and slack. I found the sizing to be perfect for a 6' rider on a medium frame. An aggressive body position gets the best out of the Makulu.
The Ride Experience
The bike is very stiff, as any full race bike should be. You can feel the stiffness in the back end the first time it gets opened up on a rough fast technical line. It does a couple of remarkable things. Firstly it remains stiff when needed, for example when getting a bit wild and needing a little extra edge to keep you on track to hold a line. Yet when the suspension needs to be more forgiving and veer towards a natural plusher feel, it seems to deliver that too. I can only describe the feel as "naturally reactive" in terms of the suspension adjusting to the speed and terrain and the amount you are pushing towards the limits of the rider. I found that I could either pick a line and hold it confidently with a fair amount of rider input, or stay loose and let the bike choose the path through rougher lines. Either approach works, but the latter technique seems to require less rider input and effort and gets the best from the bike.
The Makulu tracks terrain tremendously well. I've tried a couple of suspension setups so far. Initially running quite a lot of low speed compression and low speed rebound. I found that this tracked very well in terms of jabbing and kicking at anything in the path of the rear of the bike, reacting really quickly to every single change in terrain. Running less low speed, I wasn't getting quite the response I wanted, and I think this would be a better initial base setup for a race speed rider on a full world cup level DH track.
Going back to my initial settings (more high speed compression and rebound) I was able to keep traction even when coming into two big clusters of baby head rocks at 45 degrees. The back end kicked and jabbed and fought with the rocks but retained traction even though I was deliberately trying to push it too far. On square edge dragon head rock clusters, I found that the back end skips around and works hard to find whatever traction it can, it feels "busy" but once I let my mind stop worrying about what was happening at the back of the bike, it gave me a better more relaxed attitude on the bike. At one point I got a bit too rowdy on a fast rough line and thought I was going in a different direction to the bike into the rhubarb. Instead, the back end just snapped back into line and I carried on without much loss of speed. It feels very natural and confidence inspiring.
Initially I felt that the bike rode quite heavy, which was odd given the build weight was 37lbs 12oz, but this was put to sleep after a few days on the bike. The "heavy" feel was actually caused by the bike tracking the changes in terrain so well. Once I started to play around with unweighting and manualling over roots and rocks I quickly found a whole new dimension to the bike. I was easily able to move over objects without losing speed. That's a new edge to my riding that will help me ride at a faster smoother more effortless overall pace. I had heard that the Makulu doesn't pop very well, so maybe the 2011 revision with more progression has fixed that, but I found no problem with the bike responding well to my unweighting when required. Also worth mentioning is that the remarkable combination of being able to track the terrain so well yet able to manual and air over small to medium obstacles is a big strength of the Makulu. We installed a Cane Creek 40 headset and the front end was extremely light, smooth, and responsive, not at all like a DH plow bike and initially it was quite easy to overcompensate on the steering input. The steering only got klunky at very low speeds, and that's not really a situation you want the Makulu to be in. This is built for pure speed.
Initially, I was phased by the cornering on loose, flat or off camber corners. Thinking it was due to a combination of the (new to me) longer front end and slacker geometry which typically reduces cornering capability in longer slacker DH bikes, I was put into a weird place experiencing some front end wash out. I needn't have worried. Mountain biking 101 would have told me to push down through the axle into the corner from the bars, also forcing a bit more of my weight to the front. This technique worked really well and allowed me to corner much more confidently. Though it does reinforce another point - rider position has to be aggressive on this bike to get the most of it. You can't sit back and relax otherwise you'll get a surprise. Similarly with smaller drops and stepdowns, I had mixed success unless I remembered to balance the rear with an "ass back" riding position to balance the bike. One mental note to myself is to always ride aggressively. I'm not much of a freerider, but the bike is so natural and well-balanced front to rear, I've found myself hitting new features just for the fun of it.
Unlike a lot of full DH bikes, I found the BB height to be excellent in terms of helping me to avoid hitting rocks and roots, and another distraction removed from the rider, allowing them to focus on nothing but going faster. We measured the height at 14.5" static, which is impressive given how long and low the frame is. Actual ride height will be lower as the suspension runs 40% sag, so even more of an impressive detail of the Makulu.
The bike rides very quietly, with less distraction to the rider. I was getting noise from the coil rubbing the plastic protective sleeve on the Double Barrel, but that will be resolved by removing the sleeve.
The Makulu pedals very efficiently, in fact it is overall, a very efficient race machine that doesn't require much rider input to maintain speed, allowing the rider to use their overall strength and upper body input to actually go faster. It's a cliche to say the bike pedals like an 8" hardtail, so all I will say is it's a very efficient machine and I found it easy to lay down power quickly when needed or when pedaling flat sections between trails. With the low centre of gravity, it corners like crazy, a simple lean in and drop of the shoulders or elbow provides an instant reaction which is extremely responsive and confidence inspiring. I found the acceleration to be very impressive, especially through rougher techy rocky rooty lines. The Makulu seems to actually accelerate through rough terrain, with no fear of getting slowed down, in fact for less aggressive riders this could be somewhat disconcerting at first and could get cautious defensive riders into trouble. I'd advise anyone moving to a Makulu or similar DH race frame with serious intent of progressing from a bike that isn't a flat out DH race bike, or something more freeride orientated, to spend plenty of time getting a feel for just how much faster this bike can make you. The sense of accelerating through terrain that by rights, should be slowing you down takes a little getting used to at first but is an exhilarating feature of the Makulu and another way of effortlessly maintaining speed. Since getting on the Makulu my speed has increased, effortlessly. What it's revealed to be is a new requirement for an extra level of faster reaction in rapid response to new situations I wouldn't have got into before, and that's a great challenge to have for someone who just wants to get faster and smoother, and it's the Makulu, not me as a rider, that is getting me into that new zone. It might be a cliche to say that like all DH race bikes the Makulu comes alive at speed, and rides better faster, but frankly it does, and to experience this is exhilarating.
The build quality of the Makulu is excellent. The translucent red is a very subtle colour. It's not the type of bike that people ogle at. It's not the supermodel that would be a big disappointment if you got your paws on her after the bar closes. Rather, it's the simmering girl next door that's actually smoking hot but you never smelled the coffee and she married that boring accountant guy from down the road. The frame comes with a Morewood seatpost clamp that is another well designed and solidly engineered feature, nothing blingy but it works really well in a functional, understated manner with excellent clamping ability. The subtle graphics under clearcoat look really nice and the pivots, linkage and mudguard all have excellent design and production quality. As mentioned everything bolts together very solidly and stiff in nature. Following a buddy into a rough section, he dislodged a 12" boulder, which I managed to jam into the bottom of the downtube. Expecting a big dent at very least, all I suffered was a small gouge, testament to the strength of the bike. This isn't a tin-can boutique disposable race frame. That huge downtube is built like a steel girder able to absorb some serious high-speed abuse. The rear fender was tested in near-swamp like conditions, and it functions very well and keeps the majority of mud, loam, and crud out of the linkage and shock.
In terms of what I was looking for, my expectations were matched 100% to everything Makulu owners said about ride feel and performance and I think all the comments taken from my significant amount of research stands up to scrutiny. Nobody had to exaggerate and all the comments from Makulu riders were spot on.
I think the main reason for the really good vibe and feel about the bike is that it's just a hell of a lot of fun on the Makulu and I'm stoked every time I get a ride on her. Overall I'm convinced the bike has added about 15% to my overall speed almost immediately, just through the nature of the bike and it's design and geometry, and I can already feel the tangible significant progression. After just a few days, I'm hitting things harder, picking faster lines, boosting and popping over rough terrain without losing speed, hitting new features that I never bothered with before.
As with my previous bike from the stable of pure DH race breeds, all summer and into the fall I'll be seeking out steep rough fast trails to test the Makulu on to see how much further I can push myself, and to see how the Makulu stands up to 500,000' of downhill riding.
· Perfect for race and aggressive downhill applications
· Lives in the stable of long low slack downhill geometry bikes
· MSRP of $3199 is ballpark and competitive for a high end race bike with Double Barrel shock, axle, rear fender, and seatpost clamp
· Natural well balanced ride
· No significant suspension dysfunction or weird feedback such as brake jack or squat
· Excels and thrives at high speed in rough terrain
· Requires an aggressive riding position
· Very efficient machine
· Very stiff frame with excellent traction
· Build quality is excellent
· Subtle understated design
· Double Barrel can be difficult to tune requiring patience, time and effort, but it gets the best from the low leverage suspension design