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2015 Banshee Phantom Race (discontinued)

Vital Rating: (Excellent)
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2015 Banshee Bikes Phantom Race
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Tested: 2015 Banshee Phantom

Rating: Vital Review

Review by Brandon Turman // Action Photos by Courtney Steen

The Banshee Phantom is a 105mm travel 29er. We wouldn't blame you for immediately thinking "cross-country" when you first hear those kinds of numbers. We did. But no, the new Phantom is decidedly not an XC bike, but instead a special blend of XC/trail/all-mountain/enduro magic. It brings together the efficiency and precision of a short travel ride, the capability of a slack head angle, big wheels to get your roll on, and well-chosen components that let you get away with murder. We spent a few months getting acquainted with the new bike (and new concept) in the mountains of British Columbia and Arizona.

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Highlights

  • Hydroformed 7005 aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 105mm (4.1-inches) of rear wheel travel // 120mm (4.7-inches) front travel recommended
  • Tapered headtube
  • 67.5 / 68 / 68.5-degree head angle
  • 74 / 74.5 / 75-degree effective seat tube angle
  • 335 / 342 / 348mm (13.2 / 13.45 / 13.7-inch) bottom bracket height
  • 445 / 442 / 440mm (17.5 / 17.4 / 17.3-inch) chainstays
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle (convertible to 135x10mm and 150x12mm)
  • Measured complete weight (size Medium, no pedals): 29.6-pounds (13.4kg)
  • MSRP $4,930

At the heart of the full aluminum frame is the KS-Link suspension system, which is also used on the Banshee Prime, Rune, Spitfire, and Darkside. The Virtual Pivot suspension platform uses two one-piece forged linkages and a one-piece rear triangle for a stiff, light, and compact package. Banshee uses unique internally ribbed stays to further increase rear end stiffness. Oversized and fully sealed bearings throughout help ensure durability and decrease maintenance. The shock is actuated by the seat stays, which is said to yield a more plush and active ride due to minimal DU bushing rotation. A 120mm travel fork comes stock with the ability to bump up to a max of 140mm.

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Interchangeable dropouts allow the use of just about any rear axle standard you can imagine, though it comes equipped with the most common 12x142mm option. Three geometry adjustments are available by flipping or swapping out the oval shaped "flip chips" contained within the dropouts.

Additional features include a tapered head tube with zero stack headset, 2.4-inches of rear tire clearance, a threaded bottom bracket, ISCG 2005 tabs, and a direct front derailleur mount. Cable routing is almost entirely external, save the option to run a stealth-style dropper post. Although not ideal, we're pleased to see a bottle mount on the underside of the downtube.

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The Phantom is available with three build kits or as a frame/shock package only. We tested the Race build which retails for $4,930 US. Frames run $1,800 with a Monarch RT3 shock or $2,050 with the new Cane Creek DBinline. Medium, Large, and XL sizes are available. There's no size Small unfortunately, likely due to lower demand.

On The Trail

Our time on the Phantom included several rides in the rocky, rooty mountains surrounding the Whistler Valley, as well as hundreds of miles in Arizona, including the high speed fun in Flagstaff, swoopy turns and flowing hills of Prescott, and unique ledgy terrain of Sedona. It even saw a few laps down Whistler Bike Park just for good measure.

Banshee's choice in cockpit components is spot on for the bike's intended user. It comes with a reliable 50mm Race Face Turbine stem, wide 785mm Race Face Atlas bars, and comfortable Half Nelson lock-on grips. The size Medium frame with a healthy 420mm reach measurement hit the mark for our 5'10" test rider. There's a big jump up to the size Large frame at 450mm, so consider your size choice carefully. The 585mm effective top tube length provided a roomy, comfortable ride while seated.

After a bit of time using the long/low geometry setting and smashing far too many roots and rocks in Whistler, we decided it best to switch to the middle setting. This provided an extra quarter inch of bottom bracket height at 13.45-inches, and steepened the seat and head angles half a degree to 74.5 and 68-degrees, respectively - striking a good compromise for BC and Sedona style terrain. Because the bike is so adjustable and can be run with up to a 140mm fork, an alternative setup to gain some cranks clearance while still retaining all the fun would be to drop it to the low/slack mode and install a bigger 130/140mm fork, picking up the bottom bracket slightly and landing you in the 67-degree head angle territory. We didn't test this option, but it's worth considering.

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So, how does it ride? What surprised us from the get-go was that even though you only have 105mm of rear travel, it's pretty impressive what you can get away with on this thing. This is in large part due to carefully chosen geometry, big wheels, and rally-ready components.

Pointed downhill the Phantom is an absolute blast when ridden attentively. It's very precise, and as a result requires a more demanding riding style. Perhaps the biggest benefit of less travel is a much faster ride when you really start to push into and work with the trail rather than just smashing everything in sight like many of us have grown accustomed to. Riding with this mentality and technique makes the bike a joy to ride. Have some fun with it. Hit those lines well, pump the terrain, pick up over the nasty stuff, and (surprise!) you'll likely be railing along faster than your friends on their super squishy rides. The rider that enjoys knowing where their wheels are, placing their bike in nooks and crannies, finding sneaky new options on trails, and jumping through the rocks will love this bike the most. It really excels in tight, jumpy, slightly bumpy trails where you truly don't need a lot of travel. Guess what? That includes far more trails than you'd think.

Sure, should you misplace the wheels there's a chance you'll get a little buck wild, but know that the bike won't dump you on your ass even in this case. The only time it gets hung up is when the rear wheel encounters a truly large square edge. In general it's quite stable due to the well-tuned suspension, good geometry, large wheel size, and reliable tires. While the damping characteristics of the DBinline shock shine, what can introduce some instability is how little travel is in the rear. It's pretty easy to reach the bottom of the rear shock on consistently rocky or ledgy terrain with repetitive big hits, and that's when the rear end can start to feel a little overwhelmed. Meanwhile the 120mm RockShox Pike RCT3 fork goes relatively unfazed and keeps things in check and pointed straight when you really need it. The bike is not as confidence inspiring as the recent surge of long travel 150-160mm 29ers, but the fact that you have a solid fork up front paired with great tires adds a lot to the bike's willingness to try just about anything.

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As is the case with most 29ers, it naturally excelled at average size square edge hits and maintaining speed over most terrain. G-outs and drops rely more on the rider to absorb the blow, but we feel as though this only adds to the bike's ride qualities, helping you to accelerate where bigger bikes tend to bog down. Just get the fork, shock, and tire pressures dialed in and you're good to go.

We tested this bike with both a Cane Creek DBinline and a RockShox Monarch RT3 shock. Both were initially set to the suggested 25% (11mm) sag. With the Monarch it felt harsh off the top and the bike had a bit of an uncontrolled pogo stick feel, lacking any real sense of control. Switching to the DBinline was an eye-opener. With one large volume spacer installed and the high/low-speed compression dials set to the suggested base tune, small bump performance was noticeably better and the bike began to track much better. In short, the DBinline is the shock you want on this bike, so opt for the $250 upgrade as it's well worth it. We experimented with various settings, ultimately settling on 35% (15.5mm) sag with a touch less high/low-speed compression than suggested. We preferred the feel of more sag, resulting in better small bump performance and control in most situations. It's very easy to add more volume spacers to the DBinline for bottom out support, though the stock setup with one spacer worked pretty well. The bike's leverage ratio is just slightly progressive overall, so some ramp from the air spring near bottom out helps.

Here's the base shock tune, for reference:

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Would our ideal ride have a few more millimeters of travel? Possibly, but at what point do you cut yourself off as a bike designer? It's the short travel advantage that makes the Phantom so good during 98% of the typical trail ride, and adding more travel would only dilute its best trait in order to boost performance during the other 2%.

One of our favorite things about the Phantom is how well it corners. Many 29ers feel tall and awkward in all but high-speed, sweeping corners, but this just isn't the case with the Banshee. That low 13-inch range bottom bracket height, relatively snug chainstays compared to most 29ers, stiff rear end, and good tires add up to a ride that is noticeably better in tight turns. This makes changing lines at a moment's notice easier to do, as well as picking your way through tight terrain. Wheelies are relatively easy, as is getting the front end over technical features, but when it comes to manualing it does require a pretty firm yank at the bars.

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At 29.6-pounds the bike is a bit heavy on the scale, but it feels lighter on the trail. Though it lacks a super firm platform feel at 35% sag when laying down the power - a result of less anti-squat as you get further into the travel - sprinting is still quite good. When you only have a little travel any bike is bound to get up and go quickly. Sedona's terrain really highlighted this, with its never-ending quick ups/downs/tight turns that require you to be on the gas hard and often to maintain speed. The slight heft is in the right places and actually adds to the stability of the bike in rough situations outside of sprints, helping to prevent the dreaded skittery feel that lighter bikes often have. The only area we could see Banshee saving some substantial weight without compromising the ride is moving to a fixed dropout design, but that would come at the expense of losing the adjustable geometry feature.

With the Cane Creek DBinline, you gain their "Climb Switch" technology. The Climb Switch is unique in that it adds both low-speed compression and low-speed rebound damping by switching on one easy to use lever. This slows all chassis motion down and prevents any sense of bucking while ascending technical/bumpy terrain, in addition to keeping the rear tire on the ground longer. With this feature activated we were able to conquer many tricky uphill sections we've struggled with previously. The bike's 29-inch wheels, meaty tires, precise feeling at the bars, and quick pedal response also add to the climbing experience, and seated climbs presented no issue with body position.

Build Kit

As we've mentioned many times throughout this review, the components really help this bike excel in (or survive) many situations. Banshee's Race build places priority on all out performance where it counts while maintaining a reasonable price point. The RockShox Pike RCT3 fork, Cane Creek DBinline shock, and Maxxis High Roller II tires are examples of this, with some savings in the wheel, brake, and drivetrain departments.

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While the 2.35-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires do come at a slight rolling speed penalty, we're partial to their inclusion front and rear thanks to the excellent braking and traction they provide in most conditions. As we've seen on other long term test bikes, unfortunately these tires often succumb to cracking/tearing around the base of each side knob. The knobs really started to cut in after a half dozen rides or so. Once this happens, the side knobs bend over very easily while turning hard or riding off-camber terrain with good traction, and the squirmy effect this has can be quite noticeable at times.

The Phantom comes with Kore Durox rims laced to Novatec hubs. We found the combo to be plenty stiff with a good internal rim width and decent engagement. We did put a handful of dents in the rear wheel, however. On the plus side, we didn't experience a single flat tire, even while running tubes. Both wheels continue to run true with good tension. We'd love to see these come pre-taped for tubeless use.

SRAM's new Guide R brakes complement the package well. We had plenty of power, good modulation, and the brakes have a better lever feel than the previous Avid option. The only issue we ran into was rotor size. Given the speeds you can reach and terrain the bike is willing to carry you down, it simply needs a larger rotor than the stock 160mm in the rear. Matching it to the 180mm that's up front would be great.

The Phantom uses a smart combination of Race Face Evolve cranks, a 30-tooth Race Face Narrow/Wide chainring, and SRAM's X1 rear derailleur and cassette. This saves on dollars while providing comparable performance and possibly better durability. We love the X1 system for its simplicity, the clutch mechanism that quiets the bike, and overall smooth operation. Some minor shifting issues took a little time to work out, but never really had an impact on how the bike rode. We experienced two dropped chains, and would recommend an upper guide for better chain security for those concerned about it. The 30-tooth ring works well with the anti-squat characteristics of the suspension design, and provides a wide range of gears when combined with the 10-42 tooth cassette, but does top out pretty quickly.

Finally, you'll want to add a dropper post as the Race build does not include one. A 125mm RockShox Reverb Stealth worked well for us, and really enables you to use the bike to its full potential.

Long Term Durability

After a few months of use we've seen no potential concerns, and we anticipate the Phantom lasting for a long time. Gone are the days of worn bushings and creaky linkages. Just be sure to follow the suggested service schedule, and consider adding padding to the chain/seat stays to prevent chainslap. You'll also likely need to clean the dropout interface a few times a year to prevent creaking. Banshee backs the frame with a two year warranty and lifetime crash replacement assistance.

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What's The Bottom Line?

The 2015 Banshee Phantom is made for the rider who favors precision over monster trucking. This bike has an interesting blend of short travel, capable geometry, and robust components that give it some character and allow it to tackle terrain that would typically be above a 105mm travel 29er's head. It's a winning combination for the rider that likes to get rowdy on the descents while still enjoying a sense of efficiency everywhere else. Ultimately it made us re-think our desire for increasingly bigger and burlier bikes. A skilled rider can get away with less travel, have just as good a time on the descents, and be faster on all the sections in-between while aboard the Phantom.

Visit www.bansheebikes.com for more details.

Bonus Gallery: 21 photos of the Banshee Phantom up close and in action


About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman 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 to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.

Specifications

Product Banshee Phantom Race
Model Year 2015
Riding Type Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
M, L, XL View Geometry
Size M L XL
Top Tube Length 585mm (23.0") 615mm (24.2") 645mm (25.4")
Head Tube Angle 67.5°, 68°, 68.5° 67.5°, 68°, 68.5° 67.5°, 68°, 68.5°
Head Tube Length 115mm (4.5") 115mm (4.5") 125mm (4.9")
Seat Tube Angle 74.0° / 74.5° / 75.0° 74.0° / 74.5° / 75.0° 74.0° / 74.5° / 75.0°
Seat Tube Length 445mm (17.5") 483mm (19") 533mm (21")
Bottom Bracket Height 13.2" / 13.45" / 13.7" 13.2" / 13.45" / 13.7" 13.2" / 13.45" / 13.7"
Chainstay Length 17.5" / 17.4" / 17.3" 17.5" / 17.4" / 17.3" 17.5" / 17.4" / 17.3"
Wheelbase 1138mm (44.8") 1168mm (46.0") 1200mm (47.2")
Standover 718mm 745mm 780mm
Reach 420mm 450mm 478mm
Stack 616mm 616mm 625mm
Wheel Size 29"
Frame Material Aluminum
Frame Material Details Hydroformed 7005 AL with Internal Dropper Routing
Rear Travel 105mm
Rear Shock Cane Creek DB Inline or RockShox Monarch RT3
Fork RockShox Pike RCT3
Fork Travel 120mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered 44mm / 56mm (1.125" Zero Stack Top, 1.5" Zero Stack Bottom)
Headset Banshee Munro Taper
Handlebar Race Face Altas, 785mm Width, 1/2" Rise
Stem Race Face Turbine, 50mm
Grips Race Face Half Nelson
Brakes SRAM Guide R, 180mm Front / 160mm Rear Rotors
Brake Levers SRAM
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM X1, 11-Speed Trigger
Front Derailleur N/A (Uses SRAM S3 Low Direct Mount System)
Rear Derailleur SRAM X1, 11-Speed
ISCG Tabs ISCG 05
Chainguide N/A
Cranks Race Face Evolve, 175mm
Chainrings 30 Tooth Narrow Wide
Bottom Bracket 73mm - ISIS 118mm
Pedals N/A
Chain Yaban SLA-H11, 11-Speed
Cassette SRAM X1, 11-Speed, 10-42 Tooth
Rims Kore Durox
Hubs Novatech D881SB-15 (Includes Both 15mm and 20mm Adaptors) Front // Novatech D882SB-AA, XD Driver Rear
Spokes 32 Per Wheel
Tires Maxxis High Roller II, 29" x 2.3", 3C
Saddle Kore Fazer
Seatpost Banshee
Seatpost Diameter 30.9mm
Seatpost Clamp Standard
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 135mm x 10mm, 142mm x 12mm, or 150mm x 12mm
Max. Tire Size 29" x 2.4"
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Mint, Raw, or Stealth
Warranty 2 Years
Weight 29 lb 8.7 oz (13,400 g)
Miscellaneous Adjustable Geometry via an Interchangeable Dropout Chips System // Max 140mm Fork Recomended
Price $4,930
More Info

Banshee Bikes Website

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