2016 Transition Smuggler 1

Vital Rating: (Excellent)
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2016 Transition Smuggler 1
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2016 Test Sessions: Transition Smuggler 1

Rating: Vital Review

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

It’s no surprise the good times that can be had on a short travel 29er, especially when it has capable geometry. The combination of big wheels to plough over stuff, short travel for efficiency and precision, a solid parts kit, and aggressive long/low/slack geometry has the potential to create something awesome. Transition’s Smuggler fits perfectly into this party life 29er club, with 115mm of travel out back and a slightly longer 130mm travel fork. Forget your old impressions of 29ers - this is no XC whippet, and is made for riders looking to maximize fun on the trail, especially when pointed downhill. We threw a leg over the Smuggler for the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Phoenix, Arizona.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame

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

It’s no surprise the good times that can be had on a short travel 29er, especially when it has capable geometry. The combination of big wheels to plough over stuff, short travel for efficiency and precision, a solid parts kit, and aggressive long/low/slack geometry has the potential to create something awesome. Transition’s Smuggler fits perfectly into this party life 29er club, with 115mm of travel out back and a slightly longer 130mm travel fork. Forget your old impressions of 29ers - this is no XC whippet, and is made for riders looking to maximize fun on the trail, especially when pointed downhill. We threw a leg over the Smuggler for the 2016 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Phoenix, Arizona.

Highlights

  • Aluminum frame
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 115mm (4.5-inches) of rear wheel travel // 130mm (5.1-inches) fork travel
  • GiddyUp Link suspension
  • Collet style main pivot hardware
  • Tapered headtube
  • Internal cable routing with Stealth dropper post routing
  • 160mm post mount rear brake tabs
  • Full size water bottle fits inside front triangle
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG05 mounts
  • 142mm rear spacing with Syntace X12 through axle
  • Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 28.2-pounds (12.8kg)
  • MSRP $5,999 USD

The Smuggler is the wagon-wheeled soldier the relatively new "GiddyUp" suspended lineup. Using the classic Horst Link pivot design, Transition tuned the ride characteristics to make it suit what the brand is all about - good times. Think about their marketing and amusing slogans: this is the company to a 'T' and their bikes are built to fully harness the fun-loving attitude. The new design has improved anti-squat over their old bikes, significantly less brake squat, and a gently progressive leverage curve on this model. Shock access is quick and convenient should you feel the need to flip any levers. You'll find reasonably large 17mm diameter axles at the main pivot and rocker pivot to help increase rear end stiffness, and a tooled 12x142mm rear axle that's very clean.

The new generation of Transition bikes look great too, but not at the expense of functionality. It’s great to be able to fit a full size water bottle inside the front triangle, something an increasing number of riders are adding as a prerequisite to their next trail bike purchase.

Another thing we’re stoked on is the traditional threaded bottom bracket. Simple operation, easy to maintain, and no issues with creaking.

The Smuggler is 1X drivetrain specific with no front derailleur mount in order to keep the chainstays snug, so if you're looking to run a 2X system you’re going to have to look elsewhere. It's optimized around a 30-tooth chainring, which provides a pretty huge range in combination with the large 10-42-tooth SRAM cassette. That short rear end means mud clearance is also a tad tighter than average with just over 7mm of room for build up at the upper seatstay bridge with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis tire.

Cable routing is internal with all cables running through the downtube and coming out near the bottom bracket. The internally routed seat post cable does what many are doing now, popping quickly of the downtube then back into the seat tube. This helps make maintenance a little easier should you ever need to pull the post out. The rear derailleur and brake cables each dump out on the underside of the downtube and run along the chainstay to their final destination with no kinks or odd rubbing issues along the way.

Transition offers the Smuggler in four build kits ranging from $2,999 to $5,999 USD. All builds come with a dropper post and quality Maxxis EXO casing tires - two items crucial to a good ride. You can also go custom with a frame/shock combo for $1,799. We tested the high-end Smuggler 1.

Geometry

Transition keeps things simple and solid by doing without any flip-chip style adjustable geometry options. The numbers are highlighted by class-leading standover clearance, very healthy reach measurements, a relatively slack 67.5-degree head angle, snug 436mm (17.2-inch) chainstays, and a super low 333mm (13.1-inch) bottom bracket height. Seat tubes are short enough across the range that there's plenty of room for a 150mm travel dropper post. We found Transition's sizing recommendations to be right on the money.

On The Trail

We initially set the bike to Transition’s suggested 33% sag (17mm), and despite being a pretty large percentage we didn’t feel much of a need to shy too far away from this. The standard size 190x51mm RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock comes stock with two volume reducer bands pre-installed (up from one in 2015 models), improving bottom out support and giving the bike even more pop as you pump along the trail. The shock was well chosen given the bike's very low 2.25:1 average leverage ratio, which requires something that's sensitive off the top and ramps up through the stroke.

We did find one quirk with the shock tune, however. Our “big boy" 240-pound tester wound up maxing the rebound damping adjustment yet still desired a slightly slower setting, especially after it warmed up. A re-tune of the shock may be in order to provide a more usable range for riders over about 190-pounds.

The bike's short 115mm of travel is deceptive, as the capable geometry and 29-inch wheels turn it into far more of a beast than one might think. It practically lets you get away with murder when pointed downhill. The slightly progressive leverage curve and a boost from the air shock results in a ride that is not only capable of smashing through rocky terrain at high speeds, but one that's also quite responsive on mellower trails. Lilly-padding through rocky sections on flatter, high-speed trails is really enjoyable, and the bike reacted quickly to rider input. We did find that with the shock in the firmer compression mode these flatter grade trails were even more enjoyable, while the bike was still able to hold traction well.

With the shock wide open, bombing down very rocky runs like Geronimo on Phoenix’s South Mountain was a blast. We were able to easily lift the bike and place it where we needed it to be, and the larger diameter wheels took away a large degree of the harshness from the boulders strewn across the trail. It was as if we were riding a 140-150mm travel 650b wheeled sled, and the comfortable geometry kept us at ease when poor line choice would otherwise get us into trouble. The bike's ability to get our testers out of these moments unscathed was inspiring. Sitting a little deeper into the shock than normal gives the bike plenty of control and small to medium bump compliance, and only through the rowdiest chunk, big hucks, and large compressions are you really reminded that you're on a "little" bike. We'd rate the big-hit-ability of the Smuggler squarely in between Banshee's Phantom (a little less forgiving) and Evil's The Following (do whatever you want).

Thanks to the Horst Link design, braking is well done with minimal squat, and pedal kickback never felt like an issue.

GiddyUp! Here's the Smuggler's suspension in action.

Even with relatively slack geometry and large diameter wheels, we had little issue in the tighter, awkwardly stepped corners of lower Geronimo Trail - a testament to the Smuggler's short chainstays and playful attitude. The bike takes full advantages of the upsides of the big wheel, yet somehow minimizes undesirable traits typical of 29-inch designs from just a few years ago.

The Smuggler’s climbing abilities are average. Put the power down and it picks up speed relatively well, but it's no jackrabbit like the Pivot Mach 429 Trail or Trek Fuel EX 29. The suspension is a great balance of supple traction and support that remains relatively quiet when climbing, and it monster trucks over smaller obstacles without a hiccup. The steep 74.5-degree effective seat tube angle does a great job of putting the rider up over the front of the bike. This angle is a little steeper on the smaller sized bikes which improves things even further.

We found the bike a little more difficult to get up climbs consisting of repetitive steps or ledges requiring a lot of body english. Flipping the rear shock to the middle compression setting helped, though we would prefer not to have to do so when climbing this type of terrain. We don't think it's a major concern given the bike's party attitude. It climbs well enough to get to the top with relative ease, but it's unlikely to win XC races if that’s your thing.

Additionally, we had issues with pedal strikes at inopportune times during climbs on rough terrain. Initially we thought that perhaps a set of 170mm cranks would help alleviate the problem, only to discover that we were already riding a set - something Transition updated for 2016. Turns out they raised the bottom bracket height by 5mm over the original design as well, though the deeper sag point still leaves you pretty low to the ground so time those pedal strokes well.

The Smuggler is deceptively light, coming it at 28.2-pounds for a size Large, but we didn’t feel that it rode especially light through the rough. Instead it feels very planted thanks to the suspension, low bottom bracket height, and component choices. If you're looking for it to ride a bit more sporty on climbs and flatter grade descents, it would no doubt be helpful to swap for a set of lighter weight tires. Then again, tires play a crucial role in handling on a bike like this, so we'd opt to leave things as they are.

Finally, we have to bicker about the internal cable routing, which is something you'll want to address before heading out on your first ride. Without a few custom tweaks the cables rattle incessantly inside the frame. We recommend adding some mastic tape under the cables at the entrance/exit ports to give them some grip when you cinch them down with a zip-tie. Some tape around the cables themselves can help keep them taught inside the frame, too. For a stock bike that is otherwise pretty dialed from the showroom floor, noisy internal cables are unfortunate and can detract from the ride if left unchecked. While you're at it, adding a little bit of protection to the inside of the seatstay can quiet things further.

Build Kit

The Smuggler 1 build was one of the highest end specs at this year’s Test Sessions, but does come in a range of flavors for considerably less if this it out of your budget. Adorned with a drivetrain consisting of a SRAM XX1 / X01 blend plus a set of Race Face Carbon Next SL Cinch cranks, there is no shortage of top shelf components taking care of man-power duties. Add on a carbon Race Face Next 35 handlebar, a 150mm travel KS Lev Integra dropper, and a set of SRAM’s top-tier Guide Ultimate brakes with dual 180mm rotors and the main controls scream serious business and weight savings.

We found the combination of Easton’s new tubeless ready ARC rim with 27mm of internal width and Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II EXO 3C tires to be fantastic. While they did slow down response time a little, this pairing provides excellent control, gives the bike a little extra leeway to let it fly, and boosts its inspiring stability in rough terrain. Following several rides on trails normally reserved for long travel bikes the wheels showed few signs of abuse and needed just a minor truing. The rims are mated with DT Swiss 350 Classic IS hubs which we've found to be very reliable and easily upgradable should you wish for faster engagement.

The RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock seemed a little stressed after our first ride, with a unsettling pool of oil resting in the lower shock mount after the bike had sat for a few hours. Thinking it was blown we ran a number of tests, but everything seemed to be good, leading us to believe it was simply an excessive amount of assembly fluid. There were no issues during subsequent rides.

Up front we found the new 130mm travel FOX Factory 34 Float FIT4 fork worked flawlessly, utilizing its travel well at all times, offering great support when really pushing and braking hard, and keeping the front wheel glued to the ground. At the suggested 26mm of sag we found it firm enough not to require much low-speed compression damping, though increasing the sag slightly, increasing compression, and adding a volume spacer may be preferred for some riders for a more supple off the top feel.

All in all the Smuggler 1 is a dialed build as should be expected at this price point. The only changes we'd make are to swap the stock 760mm wide bars for something a bit wider and to add a top chain guide if you're planning to ride a lot of really rough terrain. Those looking for comparable performance at a lower cost should check out the Smuggler 2, which drops $1,200 off the tab.

Long Term Durability

We had no real issues with during our time on South Mountain’s rugged trails, and the same is true for a Smuggler that's been in Vital's personal collection for several months. The spec’d components are all good quality and we've seen them stand the test of time well before. The use of things like a threaded bottom bracket should see the frame remain creak free as well. Torque specs and an exploded pivot assembly diagram can be found here. Transition backs the frame with a two year warranty and a lifetime crash replacement program.

What's The Bottom Line?

Transition’s Smuggler is a super fun and versatile ride that capitalizes on the advantages of a big wheel thanks to new school geometry and well chosen components. Compared to the recent crop of similar short travel, slacked-out 29ers, the Smuggler lands at the more capable end of the spectrum thanks to its suspension design. While it won’t blow your socks off on the climb up, point it downhill and the stable feel will leave you thinking you’re aboard something with far more travel, yet you'll still be able to throw it around with ease. Sending it off anything large with a flat landing will remind riders that it's still a short travel whip, but it loves to party and takes these moments in stride.

Visit www.transitionbikes.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

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

Bonus Gallery: 19 photos of the 2016 Transition Smuggler 1 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. AJ is 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 Transition Smuggler 1
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 564mm 590mm 619mm 647mm
Head Tube Angle 67.5° 67.5° 67.5° 67.5°
Head Tube Length 100mm 100mm 110mm 120mm
Seat Tube Angle 76° 75.4° 74.9° 74.5°
Seat Tube Length 393mm 419mm 457mm 495mm
Bottom Bracket Height 335mm 335mm 335mm 335mm
Chainstay Length 436mm 436mm 436mm 436mm
Wheelbase 1134mm 1160mm 1189mm 1218mm
Standover 677mm 686mm 696mm 709mm
Reach 406mm 432mm 457mm 483mm
Stack 610mm 610mm 620mm 629mm
Wheel Size 29"
Frame Material Aluminum
Frame Material Details Internal Cable Routing with Stealth Dropper Post Routing
Rear Travel 115mm
Rear Shock RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair
Fork FOX Factory 34 Float FIT4, 15QR
Fork Travel 130mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered
Headset Cane Creek 40 Series
Handlebar Race Face Next 35, 760mm x 20mm
Stem Race Face Turbine 35, 50mm
Grips ANVL Rasp
Brakes SRAM Guide Ultimate with SRAM Centerline 180mm Rotors
Brake Levers SRAM
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM X01
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur SRAM XX1, Type 2.1
ISCG Tabs ISCG 05 (2.5mm Offset)
Chainguide N/A
Cranks Race Face Next SL Cinch, 170mm
Chainrings DM 30 Tooth
Bottom Bracket 73mm BSA Threaded
Pedals N/A
Chain SRAM XX1
Cassette SRAM XG1195, 10-42 Tooth
Rims Easton ARC, 27mm, 29", 32 Hole
Hubs DT Swiss 350 Classic IS
Spokes
Tires Maxxis Minion DHF 29" x 2.3" EXO 3C Front
Maxxis Minion DHR II 29" x 2.3" EXO 3C Rear
Saddle ANVL Forge Ti
Seatpost KS Lev Integra with Southpaw Remote (150mm or 125mm)
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp 34.9mm Quick Release
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 12mm x 142mm, Syntace X12
Max. Tire Size 29" x 2.3"
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Safety Orange Gloss or Stealth Black Matte
Warranty 2-Year Frame
Weight 28 lb 3 oz (12,786 g)
Miscellaneous
Price $5,999
More Info

​Transition Website

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