2016 Commencal Meta Trail 650b

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2016 Test Sessions: Commencal Meta Trail 650b

Rating: Vital Review

Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Fred Robinson // Photos by Lear Miller

Driven by the desire for a more accessible shock position, better standover, and improved kinematics, Commencal recently updated their frame design and aesthetic starting with the Meta AM V4 enduro bike. They’ve since moved the updated design to the shorter travel Meta Trail we tested during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 120mm (4.7-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • V4 Contact System suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Post mount rear brake
  • Internal cable and dropper post routing
  • Double density injected chainstay protector with integrated derailleur housing
  • Water bottle mount
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket
  • ISCG 05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through

Reviewed by AJ Barlas and Fred Robinson // Photos by Lear Miller

Driven by the desire for a more accessible shock position, better standover, and improved kinematics, Commencal recently updated their frame design and aesthetic starting with the Meta AM V4 enduro bike. They’ve since moved the updated design to the shorter travel Meta Trail we tested during the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 27.5 (650b) wheels
  • 120mm (4.7-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • V4 Contact System suspension
  • Tapered headtube
  • Post mount rear brake
  • Internal cable and dropper post routing
  • Double density injected chainstay protector with integrated derailleur housing
  • Water bottle mount
  • BB92 press fit bottom bracket
  • ISCG 05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31.1-pounds (14.1kg)
  • MSRP $2,999 USD

The Meta Trail uses the Andorran brand’s updated take on a linkage driven single pivot suspension design known as the "Contact System." It features a clevis at the rear shock mount, plus a very compact linkage at the seat tube that helps achieve the desired leverage curve while keeping weight down and minimizing pivot rotation. Commencal says the system was tuned to increase responsiveness and traction while reducing pedal kickback and brake squat compared to the previous floating shock system (they're still relatively high). The progressive then regressive design activates a 190x51mm Rockshox Monarch RT3 shock with a standard can, pushing out 120mm (4.7-inches) of travel.

There's also an interesting three-piece top tube surrounding the front shock mount, which partially hides the shock. This is formed separately to the rest of the front triangle and was done to keep standover heights down and make it easier to access shock controls on-the-fly. They also found it to be stronger than mounting the shock to an extra piece of material welded to the underside of the top tube. The distinctive top tube will accommodate many shocks on the market, but not all. This design creates loads of space for a water bottle, tools, and/or a spare tube within the front triangle, if that’s your style.

Frames are made in Taiwan from 6066 T4+T6 aluminum with triple butted hydroformed tubes. All pivots are machined after welding to achieve tight tolerances and ensure alignment of moving parts. Cables enter at the headtube and run through the frame, with just a slight rattle that is dampened by rubber frame inserts. The frame is protected by large double density injected chainstay/seatstay guards, and Commencal includes a fender for poor weather. Out back you'll find a very generous 50mm (2-inches) of mud clearance.

Commencal sells two versions of the Meta Trail 650b, priced very reasonably at $1,799 and $2,999 USD (tested). Frames start at just $799 without a shock. There's also an "A la Carte" program which allows you to configure your own parts spec. Pricing is good even for partial builds.

Geometry

The bike is offered in four sizes and is highlighted by very long reach measurements, a steep 74-degree seat angle, moderately slack 67.5-degree head angle, reasonably short 437mm (17.2-inch) chainstays, and a very low 325mm (12.8-inch) measured bottom bracket height.

On The Trail

We climbed our way up South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona on multiple occasions via Mormon and National trails. On smooth, consistent, mellow grade sections the Meta Trail moved along with relative ease. While our test bike came in heavier than claimed, it had a playful, lighter-than-the-scale-would-suggest feel that results in a spritely climber given the right trail conditions.

Despite the bike's zippy attitude on flatter portions of trail, rough climbs with repetitive square edges and features revealed stiff off the top suspension that struggled to hold traction, requiring more effort from the rider. The bike felt too firm at a generous 30% sag value (already 5% past the suggested 25% sag), and often seemed as though it was working against the rider rather than tracking the ground and helping us get up loose and steppy sections. Backing off the shock pressure to allow for 35% sag was a good improvement in overall trail feel with a slightly more supple beginning stroke without losing much in the way of support. The suspension remained very quiet to rider movements and tracked better over small bumps while climbing, but still didn’t match the technical climbing abilities of its competitors due to excess harshness off the top.

We found the bottom bracket height to be a little on the low side, with a higher number of pedal strikes while climbing than others in the test, even when at the firmer 30% sag setting.

The size Large cockpit felt rather stretched out, even for our 6'3" (1.91m) tall rider, which is a general observation of the bike as well: it’s quite long with a 460mm (18.1-inch) reach, relatively slack for a short travel bike, and low. It rode quite centered however, and if we were to spend more time on it we would be interested to see how it feels with an even shorter stem.

Pointed downhill, riding smoother sections of twisty trail was a blast. It was a little firm with the initial 30% sag, easily losing traction in the loose-over-hard kitty litter typical of Phoenix trails, but made for a playful ride when pushing the bike into corners expecting to slide. Any chatter, medium hits, and rocks experienced at this setting were a little on the harsh side with the bike having a tendency to get hung up rather than skipping across the top. After dropping to 35% sag the bike was still incredibly playful, but better through flat, loose corners and over bumps. The smoother ride gave us more confidence to push the bike though it didn’t inspire loads of it.

Commencal's V4 Contact System in action. Note: There may have been a little bit of air left in the shock making it a touch harder to compress from behind the bike.

Midway through our rides we'd rally upper Holbert trail, which contains a near perfect downhill grade for a play trail requiring just a couple of pedal strokes at the start. Braking is minimal thanks to the grade, and it’s a roller coaster of twists and turns, bumps and jumps. That’s not it though, as anything in this part of the world is never straight-forward. The trail contained a number of quick, consecutive square-edge rocks protruding out of the ground. Mistiming the pre-hop over these rocks would result in a flat tire, destroyed wheel, or a rider down in the surrounding cactus. The trail makes for an incredibly active ride as you hop over rocks only to touch down for a fraction of a second before having to lift off again. This is where the Meta Trail showed us what it's best for, and it had us smiling from ear to ear at the bottom. The lively attitude of the bike made it incredibly fun through quick consecutive airs and allowed us to throw it wherever we wanted. It was easy to gently lean it over into drifts through chicanes and responded well to rider input. It wanted to be ridden with speed and in smoother terrain remained very stable thanks to the geometry.

It did remarkably well on rougher trails, but once you found its limit, which was often in high speed, rough sections of trail, the geometry did little to help. On slower, techy trails the geometry did a great job of making it feel capable, but because of the slower speeds not playing to the suspension's advantage it created a rough, difficult ride.

Holbert and Geronimo trails feature what can be described as "stupid rowdy" sections that would be a challenge on a downhill bike, let alone a 120/130mm trail bike. The Meta Trail handled this extreme end of the riding scale decently, but not without considerable rider input and a lot of sketchy moments. There is little room for error, as the bike's less-than-planted demeanor requires the rider to be very active in order to stay upright and have a good time. It’s a sporty ride.

We also found the combination of the suspension layout and relatively pinner Maxxis Ardent rear tire would occasionally get unstable under hard braking as the rear end danced around, not slowing as quickly as we would have liked.

Finally, our feet would regularly brush the chainstays and seatstays. We also found that the lip of the chainstay guard - which works great to dampen any chainslap noise - would worsen things as it would catch our feet as the suspension moved through its travel. This would occasionally happen at some really poor times as we were taking off of a lip or deep in rock garden mayhem - something that we really couldn’t afford to be dealing with when the bike was already in over its head and requiring extra effort.

Build Kit

The Meta Trail comes spec'd with a pretty impressive list of components given its $2,999 USD price point, and there's little we'd look to upgrade right off the bat. Even essentials like a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper are included. The build uses a mix of good value parts from RockShox, SRAM, Maxxis, e*thirteen, and Commencal's house brand Ride Alpha.

RockShox's 130mm (5.1-inch) travel Pike RC fork helped hold great traction in smoother, high speed, loose over hard conditions. When it came to rougher sections and big hits the fork continued to do a great job, and it was more the bike's overall lack of travel and firm setup that became the limiting factor.

The Meta Trail could really benefit from a shock with a larger negative air can versus the standard Monarch RT3. The RockShox Debonair can be added as an aftermarket item, and would allow the bike to have better small bump response and gain more traction, something we feel would improve the ride in a big way.

SRAM's Guide R brakes provided plenty of power with their dual 180mm rotors, and the Matchmaker system ensures a clutter-free cockpit.

The 1x11 SRAM GX drivetrain paired with e*thirteen's TRS single crankset make for a stiff and reliable combination with all the functional benefits of a more expensive setup.

Ride Alpha components are used throughout the bike, including a 780mm (30.7-inch) bar, 50mm stem, 32 hole wheelset, and saddle. They presented no issues and look the part, too. The rear hub actually had some of the best engagement of all the bikes in our test, which was welcomed on the technical trails of South Mountain. The wheels come with tubes installed, but are tubeless ready when you're ready to make the switch. They were still true as can be after descending some of the rowdiest trails in Phoenix multiple times.

As mentioned earlier, the 2.25-inch single ply Maxxis Ardent rear tire is another area for improvement. Though it keeps things light and fast, traction and flat protection are more important factors in our terrain. The 2.3-inch Minion DHR II with EXO did well up front. Consider something similar as a replacement to the Ardent.

Long Term Durability

Based on our test experience with the Meta Trail and several months on other Commencal bikes, we don’t see any major potential issues. Expect some early paint wear on the stays as a result of your feet brushing by. We experienced no creaking from the pivots or press fit bottom bracket. Commencal backs the bike with a five year warranty with a two year restriction on chainstays and seatstays.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Commencal Meta Trail 650b's overbuilt appearance and capable geometry numbers can easily mislead you into believing it can be ridden in the same terrain as longer travel trail and enduro bikes, though firm suspension makes it require a lot of rider input in order to keep going and prevent it from getting hung up. If rough and rowdy is what you're after, consider stepping up to the Meta AM V4.

Where the Meta Trail excels is on twisty, smooth trails as it carries speed well, zips along, and begs to be picked up and thrown into the air - though it's not very forgiving when the rider slips up or trail conditions get burlier. There are lighter, less overbuilt bikes with more forgiving suspension available, so be sure you are prepared to take control and ride it hard if this bike is high on your list of choices. Ridden in this manner and on the right trails it's a super rewarding and fun ride.

Visit www.commencal.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 3 stars - Good
  • Descending: 2.5 stars - Okay
  • Fun Factor: 3.5 stars - Very Good
  • Value: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Overall Impression: 3 stars - Good

Bonus Gallery: 25 photos of the 2016 Commencal Meta Trail 650b up close and in action


About The Reviewers

Fred Robinson - Age: 31 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 240-pounds (108.9kg)

"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two years old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.

AJ Barlas - Age: 35 // Years Riding MTB: 15+ // Height: 6'3" (1.91m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

"Smooth and fluid." Hailing from Squamish, BC, AJ's preferred terrain is chunky, twisty trail with natural features. He's picky with equipment and has built a strong understanding of what works well and why by riding a large number of different parts and bikes. Observant, mechanically inclined, and always looking to learn more through new experiences and products.

Which reviewer resembles you the most? Don't miss our Q&A with the testers for more insight about their styles and preferences.

About Test Sessions

Four years ago Vital MTB set out to bring you the most honest, unbiased reviews you'll find anywhere. That tradition continues today as we ride 2016's most exciting trail, all-mountain, and enduro bikes in Phoenix, Arizona. Reviews can be accessed 24/7 in our Product Guide. Test Sessions was made possible with the help of Rage Cycles. Tester gear provided by Troy Lee Designs, Royal Racing, Smith, Fox Racing, Race Face, Easton, and Source.

Specifications

Product Commencal Meta Trail 650b
Model Year 2016
Riding Type Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
S, M, L, XL View Geometry
Size S M L XL
Top Tube Length 580mm 600mm 625mm 650mm
Head Tube Angle 67.5° 67.5° 67.5° 67.5°
Head Tube Length 110mm 115mm 120mm 125mm
Seat Tube Angle 74° 74° 74° 72°
Seat Tube Length 400mm 440mm 490mm 520mm
Bottom Bracket Height -25mm Drop -25mm Drop -25mm Drop -25mm Drop
Chainstay Length 437mm 437mm 437mm 437mm
Wheelbase 1133mm 1154mm 1179mm 1204mm
Standover 680mm 690mm 700mm 735mm
Reach 417mm 436mm 460mm 483mm
Stack 581mm 586mm 590mm 595mm
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Frame Material Aluminum
Frame Material Details NEC + ULTRA SL Aluminium 6066 Triple Butted Hydroformed with Top Tube Channel and Integrated Housing
Rear Travel 120mm
Rear Shock RockShox Monarch RT3, 190x51mm, 3 Positions: Lock/Platform/Open
Fork RockShox Pike RC, 27.5’’, Solo Air, 15mm, Tapered
Fork Travel 130mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered
Headset Semi Integrated, Tapered ZS44/56, 1.5 Crown Race, Sealed Bearing, Alloy Cups
Handlebar Ride Alpha, Alloy 7075, Double Butted, 30mm Rise, 780mm, 31.8mm
Stem Ride Alpha, Alloy 2014 Forged, 50mm, 0° Rise, 31.8mm
Grips Commencal Lock-On, 32mm, Soft Compound
Brakes SRAM Guide R, 180mm/180mm, with Matchmaker
Brake Levers SRAM
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM GX, 1x11-Speed
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur SRAM GX, 11-Speed
ISCG Tabs ISCG 05
Chainguide N/A
Cranks e*thirteen TRS Single, ExaLite Alu with APS - Black, P3 Connect
Chainrings 32 Tooth Direct Guidering M N/W
Bottom Bracket e*thirteen TRS BB92 Double Sealed Bearings
Pedals N/A
Chain KMC X11L, 11-Speed
Cassette SRAM PG1150, 10-42 Tooth
Rims Ride Alpha 650b 32 Hole Double Wall, Light Tubeless Ready
Hubs Ride Alpha 32 Hole, Sealed Bearing Light Version
Spokes Stainless Steel 1.8mm Black, Thread Lock System, Brass Nipple, 12mm Black
Tires Maxxis Minion DHR II 27.5" x 2.3" Front and Ardent 27.5" x 2.25" Rear, 60 TPI, Tubeless Ready
Saddle Ride Alpha Super Light Foam, CrMo Rails, Neon Red
Seatpost Reverb Stealth, 125mm
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp 34.9mm Standard
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 142mm x 12mm
Max. Tire Size 57mm
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Red
Warranty 5 Years
Weight 28 lb 15.9 oz (13,150 g)
Miscellaneous Accessories: Chainstay Protector, Mud Guard
Price $2,999
More Info

​Commencal Website

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