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2020 Airborne Plague 27.5

Vital Rating: (Excellent)
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2020 Airborne Plague 27.5
2020 Airborne Plague 27.5 2020 Airborne Plague 27.5
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Need more info? View our Enduro / All-Mountain Mountain Bikes buyer's guide.

At $2,699, Is the Airborne Plague Really *Sick*?

Can a sub-$3,000 long-travel enduro bike with 27.5-inch wheels match the performance of bikes two or three times its price? We jumped on the $2,699 Airborne Plague to find out just how *sick* this direct-to-consumer machine is on the trails.

Rating: Vital Review
At $2,699, Is the Airborne Plague Really *Sick*?

Airborne Bicycles, the direct-to-consumer bike brand out of Ohio, has been in the game for over twenty years and for 2020, they have a new, 27.5-inch-wheeled enduro bike dubbed the Plague. Airborne has always focused on affordable two-wheelers and considering the $2,699 price tag of the Plague, they've kept their eye on the budget-minded prize. We wanted to see what a bike that looked fun on paper, with minimal impact to our stack of paper, could do.

Airborne Plague Highlights

  • 160mm rear travel with RockShox Monarch RT Debonair
  • 170mm front travel with RockShox Lyrik Select Charger RC Ultimate Debonair
  • SRAM NX Eagle 1x12 drivetrain
  • SRAM Level T hydraulic disc brakes 200mm front rotor, 180mm rear rotor
  • RaceFace Aeffect R Stem, 40mm length
  • RaceFace Aeffect R Handlebar, 20mm rise, 35mm clamping area, 780mm width
  • Sizes S, M (tested), L
  • $2,699 at airbornebicycles.com

Airborne Plague Strengths

Airborne Plague Weaknesses

  • Suspension components and FSR style linkage work well
  • Eagle gear range
  • Sensible cockpit components
  • Classic geometry is balanced
  • Great value
  • Rear hub engagement is lacking
  • Hefty overall feel
  • Tires
  • Lack of set up material / tuning / assembly instruction

Initial Impressions

Pulling the Plague out of the box, it’s clear that this direct-to-consumer bike didn’t see much human attention since leaving the factory overseas. Where other direct-to-consumer (DTC brands) put some initial work into the bike to make the build easier, that’s not as evident here, presumably to keep costs down. Also not present are cardboard kickstands or nifty, slogan-filled packaging. This is bare bones. Past the packaging, however, is a hell of a bike for not a lot of scratch. There are SRAM NX Eagle parts, RockShox suspension, wide wheels, big bars, and a dropper post for well under three grand. All the inspirational packaging just ends up in the recycling bin after the first hour anyways, right?

Build Kit

A lot of budget-oriented bikes do their best to lure us in with flashy stuff like a nice fork or matching anodized parts, and then flail on the details. But that’s not the case with this sensibly spec’d Airborne. Sure eyes get snagged by the Lyrik Select and Super Deluxe shock, but closer inspection reveals a dropper post with decent travel, wide, modern rims, a short stem with wide bars, and a comfy saddle - which is great because you’ll have your ass planted it for a long time climbing the Plague. There are budget SRAM Level T brakes that felt solid out of the box. Tubeless valve stems are also included for nuking the tubes after nuking the included Kenda tires, but more on that later. The only thing missing from making the bike rideable is a set of pedals. Add those and go ride.

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Geometry & Sizing

The bike’s geometry is what we’ll call “classic” for this type of bike. It’s not a new, extra-long, extra-slack machine, but the 65-degree head angle feels slack enough to safely get after it, and the seat tube angle creates a comfy enough spot for methodical, paced climbs. Seat tube length on our medium is on the long end at 430mm, but the seat tube is not interrupted by a pivot or bend which means dropper insertion is sufficient.

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On The Trail

When getting after it on the trails, the first thing noticed about the Plague is that we're not going uphill in any kind of hurry. The overall weight of the bike is not unreasonable for a 160-170mm enduro bike, but it’s certainly not winning any hill climb events. The pedal platform switch on the shock is easily reached from the saddle and will do wonders to quiet down suspension bob for sitting back and spinning the top few cogs of the Eagle cassette toward the top of the hill. Once at the peak, we were rewarded with a bike that punches well above its economic class on the descents. The Lyrik Select keeps things stiff and tracking right. The budget damper of today was the wiz-bang wonder damper of just a couple years ago, and while this fork might not have the external adjustability of some higher end offerings, the tuning simplicity is frankly better for most consumers - set spring, set rebound and go ride. Same goes for the rear shock (which came out of the box with the rebound in the wildly wrong place, one click from wide open- boing!).

Once spring was set and rebound was reigned in, the shock did 95% of what we hoped for just by flipping the pedal switch to the appropriate spot. The SRAM Level T brakes were stand-out performers for the test. A quick bed in period lead to solid, stiff feeling brakes that did an admirable job of slowing down our self-proclaimed chunky rider and the husky bike. The X-Fusion dropper post has a funky trigger that does offer some position adjustability, but getting it there took a bit of tinkering. Also of note, the dropper post did not come connected to the lever. While not necessarily a difficult process to connect, it may be one that the average consumer at this budget level has never performed. Including some basic instructions would save time hunting them down online.

The Plague felt so immediately comfortable that our descent times for the local trails were within a few seconds of those average times set on much more expensive and much more familiar personal bikes.

The bike feels balanced and behaved well on fast, smooth trail and was ready to eat choppy hits when things tightened up and got rougher. The sluggish acceleration was felt most at the exit of corners that weren't railed just right. But once up to speed, the Airborne did an admirable job of combining playful with plow-ful. The Plague felt so immediately comfortable that our descent times for the local trails were within a few seconds of those average times set on much more expensive and much more familiar personal bikes.

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Things That Could Be Improved

You could drop a bunch of money into upgrading various parts of the Plague and probably see very little return on those investments. However, new tires will absolutely be money well spent. The Kenda Hellkat tires are good for skidding your way through a turn upright and pinch flatting the included tubes, but they sure didn’t encourage finding the limits of the Plague. Swapping to some old, spare e*thirteen tires resulted in a much more playful ride feel where not only was perceived rotational weight lower, but rolling resistance was decreased, and traction and predictability were improved. Tires are an easy fix though. The room for improvement that has much less tangible results for added costs can be found in finish details like the lack of chainstay and seatstay guards. The cost of not having the dropper post installed and set up out of the box was another corner cut short. To be fair, the internally routed cable housing was in place, making the chore much less trouble. The lack of bike setup guide material issomething we’d like to see improved.

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This entry-level price point means the Plague could be a new rider’s first full-suspension bike – or at least the first one in a decade – and the thrifty Airborne customer probably isn’t working with a local bike shop to build and prep their new bike properly. In the direct-to-consumer business model, that bike-building support system is reduced to the contents of the box or manuals on a website, which were absent. Graphic designers, copywriters, photographers, and printing aren’t free and hitting this price value is tough on margins. The less-than-handy Plague buyer may want to hire some experienced bike-building friends for the price of post-ride burritos to help them get the Plague rolling properly. If friends and burritos aren't an option, sock away a few bucks so a local bike shop can help with bike prep and maintenance, if turn wrenches and checking pressures sounds intimidating.

What's the Bottom Line

Anyone with a fat credit card can go buy one of dozens of amazing, ten-thousand-dollar bikes these days and still not know what they are doing with it, only to get out on the same trails they rode last season, riding as slow as ever. We’re often told that only the latest and greatest will suffice. But we never failed to have fun while riding the less-expensive, non-carbon Airborne Plague. The bottom of the hill was always found with an ear-to-ear smile and an eager excitement to get back to the top and do again. It was refreshing to see that after over 20 years of riding bikes, often at the high end of the market, we were never held back from the goal of enjoying a ride. And for people just entering the sport, or maybe a few years in, the fact that you can get a bike that has, say, 90% of the capability of a high-end bike for 30% of the cost is simply amazing. We’d argue that the extra money would be better spent on a weekend of coaching lessons to make your shredding both faster and safer. Take what’s left of the difference, and spend that on a riding destination vacation. What are you going to look back on more fondly- all those carbon parts or the landscapes and ledge hucks of that Moab adventure? The trickle-down of technology and progress is making our sport more accessible to more people, and that’s what makes a bike like The Plague absolutely thrilling.

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Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3 stars
  • Descending: 4 stars
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars
  • Value: 4.5 stars
  • Overall Impression: 4 stars

About the Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu - Age: 34 // Years Riding MTB: 22 // Height: 5'7" (1.70m) // Weight: 170-pounds (77.1kg)

During the two decades Kevin has been riding mountain bikes he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a Junior National Championship title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by Euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

Specifications

Product Airborne Plague 27.5
Model Year 2020
Riding Type Enduro / All-Mountain
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
Small, Medium, Large View Geometry
Size Small Medium Large
Top Tube Length 542.5mm 575.4mm 603mm
Head Tube Angle 65° 65° 65°
Head Tube Length 100mm 110mm 120mm
Seat Tube Angle 70.3º 70.3º 70.3º
Seat Tube Length 410mm 430mm 450mm
Bottom Bracket Height
Chainstay Length 432mm 432mm 432mm
Wheelbase 1156.6mm 1190.5mm 1291.3mm
Standover
Reach 411.9mm 441.5mm 466.2mm
Stack 587.5mm 594.8mm 603.8mm
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Frame Material Aluminum
Frame Material Details Full suspension aluminum with internal brake, shifter, and dropper post cable routing
Rear Travel 160mm
Rear Shock RockShox Monarch RT Debonair 216x63, 160mm-travel, 2 spacers, ML Tune
Fork RockShox Lyrik Charger RC Ultimate Debonair, 170mm-travel
Fork Travel 170mm
Head Tube Diameter 1-1/8” to 1.5” tapered
Headset Sealed cartridge bearing, 1-1/8” to 1.5” tapered
Handlebar RaceFace Aeffect R, 20mm rise, 35mm clamping area, 780mm width
Stem RaceFace Aeffect R, 0º rise, 40mm length
Grips Velo 135mm lock-on
Brakes SRAM Level T hydraulic disc
Brake Levers SRAM Level T
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM NX Eagle 1x12 trigger shift
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur SRAM NX Eagle 1x12
ISCG Tabs No
Chainguide No
Cranks TruVativ Descendant 6K DUB Boost 148 Eagle
Chainrings 32t X-Sync 2 chainring
Bottom Bracket SRAM DUB BSA
Pedals 9/16” pedals sold separately
Chain SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed
Cassette SRAM XG-1275 11-50t, 12-speed
Rims Airborne tubeless ready, 25mm inner width, 28-hole (tubeless valve stems included)
Hubs Airborne Boost sealed cartridge bearing with 15x110 Maxle Stealth thru-axle front hub, Airborne Boost sealed cartridge bearing sealed with 12x148 thru-axle rear hub
Spokes Stainless steel with brass nipples
Tires Kenda Hellkat, 27.5 x 2.6”
Saddle Airborne railed
Seatpost X-Fusion Manic cable actuated dropper, 150mm-travel, 31.6mm diameter
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp Alloy
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions Boost 12x148
Max. Tire Size 2.8”
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Silver
Warranty Yes
Weight 33 lb 4 oz (15,082 g)
Miscellaneous Free USA ground shipping!
Price $2,699.99
More Info

​Learn more at https://airbornebicycles.com/products/plague

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