2018 Zerode Taniwha Signature Cane Creek Edition

Vital Rating: (Very Good)
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The Greatest Hope for Gearboxes - Zerode Taniwha Reviewed

With promises of improved suspension performance, greater durability, massive gear range, optimized pedaling, quiet function, and much more, it's high time Vital MTB straddled a proper gearbox bike.

Rating: Vital Review

Zerode's 160mm travel Taniwha enduro/all-mountain bike represents one of the best mountain bike frame production efforts built around a gearbox drivetrain system. Is it all it's cracked up to be? Where does it excel and where does it struggle? Does it live up the Māori monster inspired New Zealand name? After more than three months of use in dozens of locations, it's time to fill you in on the all the juicy details.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • Single-pivot suspension with 216x63mm shock
  • Collet-style pivot hardwear
  • Pinion C1.12 gearbox with grip-shift style remote
  • Internal cable routing for dropper post
  • Tapered headtube
  • 160mm IS brake mount
  • 12x142mm single-speed rear hub
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals, burly dual

Zerode's 160mm travel Taniwha enduro/all-mountain bike represents one of the best mountain bike frame production efforts built around a gearbox drivetrain system. Is it all it's cracked up to be? Where does it excel and where does it struggle? Does it live up the Māori monster inspired New Zealand name? After more than three months of use in dozens of locations, it's time to fill you in on the all the juicy details.

Highlights

  • Carbon frame
  • 27.5-inch (650b) wheels
  • 160mm (6.3-inches) of front and rear wheel travel
  • Single-pivot suspension with 216x63mm shock
  • Collet-style pivot hardwear
  • Pinion C1.12 gearbox with grip-shift style remote
  • Internal cable routing for dropper post
  • Tapered headtube
  • 160mm IS brake mount
  • 12x142mm single-speed rear hub
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals, burly dual coil build): 35.3-pounds (16.0kg)
  • Builds in the 30-32 pound (13.6-14.5kg) range possible
  • MSRP $10,000 USD as tested
  • Three-year warranty

Inside the Pinion C.Line Gearbox

At the heart of the Taniwha is a Pinion C1.12 gearbox with a magnesium alloy body – a newer, lighter version introduced not long ago. It provides a whopping 600% gear range distributed at even 17.7% steps across the 12-speeds. This Pinion video demonstrates how it works internally:

Maintenance wise, the gearbox is touted as being ready for 6,000 miles (10,000km) of use without needing service. When the time does come, changing the gearbox oil is a relatively simple process and requires an affordable oil change kit.

You can customize the direction of the shift by switching the cables on the Pinion's grip-shift style shifter. Given our time a dirt bike, where you twist the throttle to go faster, we opted for the rotate backwards to shift into a harder gear orientation.

Geometry

On The Trail

The many varied trails of Hood River, Black Rock, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Phoenix, and Sedona played host to our rides.

One of the the big drivers behind Zerode's decision to use a gearbox is that it removes a lot of unsprung weight from the bike, which has the potential to improve suspension performance. Zerode's layout replaces a derailleur, longer chain, and cassette with a single chainring and much shorter chain. Plus, because there is just one cog in the back, a rear hub with wider flanges is used to create a stronger rear wheel with symmetric spoke angles.

Set to 30% sag, these suspension performance gains proved to be real and were immediately apparent during our first few descents. The rear wheel has that glued-to-the-ground feel over bumpy terrain because there is less weight getting tossed up and down for the shock to keep in check. This creates more traction, and, in turn, more control. Indeed, this performance trait is where the Taniwha truly shines. Traction is so good that you can get away with a faster-rolling, less knobby tire out back without issue. We were amazed time and time again at the lines we were able to hold through off-camber and wet sections of trail.

The rear wheel has that glued-to-the-ground feel over bumpy terrain because there is less weight getting tossed up and down for the shock to keep in check. This creates more traction, and, in turn, more control. Indeed, this performance trait is where the Taniwha truly shines.

Through really high-speed rough sections, the bike does a phenomenal job of keeping quiet underfoot, remaining balanced, and allowing you to comfortably and naturally look further ahead. Encouraged by this stability and the Taniwha's smooth and controlled landings, we constantly found ourselves considering and going for bigger gaps down the trail. On a few notable occasions we noted (and thanked the heavens for) the rear wheel's ability to get up and out of the way when slightly casing a gap or clipping a rock or root without pitching us forward. It's these types of instances where the suspension improvements are most noticeable.

What many will find with a coil shock installed, though, is that the Taniwha lacks pop. Various damping changes can assist some, but come at a compromise in other situations. Those searching for a "fun/playful" feel will appreciate an air shock more, which Zerode and its distributors offer. With an air shock the bike doubles down on progression, making it come alive on jump lips and providing a bit of a boost and less of a singular smooth-out-all-the-things feel.

At 5'10" tall, our tester found the 445mm reach on the size large to suit his needs well – not overly long or short. Combined with the slacked out 65-degree front end and well-chosen components, the bike is ready to tackle the steep and deep without issue. 431mm chainstays ensure it stays spirited in the turns, and the ultra-stiff rear end is quite obvious the first time you smash a corner. The bike carried speed well through all types of turns, from big sweepers to tight slappers.

Pedaling uphill for the first handful of rides took some readjusting due to the way you shift the Pinion gearbox. To shift, you have to stop pedaling slightly, essentially removing the load from the drivetrain. You're then able to twist the grip-shift style shifter, grab as many gears as you like, then continue pedaling.

Due to the requirements to make a shift, steep, unrelenting climbs can sometimes leave you searching for an easier gear at inopportune moments.

It is possible to shift while still pedaling but only under a very light load. As time goes on the Pinion gearbox does break in a bit, and shifting while lightly spinning becomes easier. At the end of our test period shifting to harder gears was quite easy to do, but shifting to an easier gear still required very little load on the system. Unless we were trying to make a slight cadence adjustment, we were typically jumping two or more gears at a time in anticipation of the next shift, uphill or otherwise.

Due to the requirements to make a shift, steep, unrelenting climbs can sometimes leave you searching for an easier gear at inopportune moments. As a result, we found it best to come into these types of climbs with a little bit of speed, coasting or gently pedaling in while shifting into a gear that will likely suit the entire climb. Once on a steep climb it can be difficult to stop pedaling momentarily without losing balance or momentum. We found steep, technical climbs on the Taniwha to be more difficult than traditional bikes mainly for this reason. We also found ourselves apologizing for holding up our riding buddies with odd speed changes on more than one occasion.

Given enough time, becoming one with this machine is entirely possible, and that's when the real magic can happen.

Yes, shifting a gearbox is something that takes some time to get used to. As we rode it week after week we began to ask ourselves, "When does this thing become second nature?" At Vital we often write about how easy it is to hop on a bike and feel at ease going our own top speed with minimal regard for safety. Given enough time, becoming one with this machine is entirely possible, and that's when the real magic can happen. It's not going to happen overnight, but eventually you will overcome having to constantly think ahead.

The gearbox system does have some moments of brilliance, like how technical climbs that aren't overly steep can actually become easier. In Moab or Phoenix, for example, the many ledges provide great opportunities for quick gear adjustments that wouldn't be as readily possible on a bike with a derailleur. The easiest gear is very, very easy, and the hardest gear is quite hard, so there's more than enough range on tap for just about any speed, pitch, or maneuver.

Other helpful shifting abilities including being able to grab a handful of gears and make an immediate shift in preparation for whatever might be ahead of you – whether that's dropping into a descent or going up an unexpected climb. This is a notable advantage over bikes with traditional drivetrains when starting from a stop or coming down a hill into a steep up.

Being able to bomb between a rock and hard place without having to worry about your drivetrain getting knocked out of alignment is pretty rad.

We often thought about how being able to shift while coasting could be used to improve our descent times. You find yourself pumping the terrain more often, which adds to the perceived fun. Shifting while coasting into turns was also a perk, allowing us to come out of turns in the correct gear, ready to put the hammer down without having to clunk through a cassette.

The Taniwha will also allow you to ride more lines. Thanks to the small 30-tooth front chainring (with bash), the lack of a rear derailleur, and narrow-for-today 142mm rear end, you've got a narrower rig to pilot with plenty of clearance. We giggled while going through a few particularly skinny gaps on the trail knowing we would have ended the ride on other bikes. Then again, we can't remember the last time we knocked a derailleur clean off. Truth is, hangers have gotten much stronger since the days when a spare was a requirement in your pack. Still, being able to bomb between a rock and hard place without having to worry about your drivetrain getting knocked out of alignment is pretty rad.

When it comes to nasty, muddy conditions, the sealed gearbox system excels. On a handful of grimy days that would have no doubt challenged traditional drivetrains, the system never skipped a beat. Combined with ample mud clearance we were able to forge ahead regardless of trail conditions.

Ride after ride our legs felt spent, and in terrain like the constant up/down of Sedona things just didn't mesh. With the whir of the internal gears in the background you feel like you're always grinding as you propel 35-pounds of mythical monster forward.

That said, having provided ourselves with plenty of saddle time and hundreds of miles to get familiar with things, altogether we don't rate it well in the climbing or general pedaling departments. Ride after ride our legs felt spent, and in terrain like the constant up/down of Sedona things just didn't mesh. With the whir of the internal gears in the background you feel like you're always grinding as you propel 35-pounds of mythical monster forward. Moving to less spring force on the chain tensioner helped reduce drag, but we began dropping chains more often. Engagement within the Pinion gearbox is also quite slow, which can be an issue once in a while.

We felt as though the Cane Creek shock's climb switch was a worthwhile thing to activate on longer climbs and appreciated how calm it made all pedaling. The bike firms up underneath you while also increasing low-speed rebound damping which adds to the bike's ground stickiness.

Build Kit

In the US, Zerode's distributor offers five complete builds priced from $6,600 to $10,000 USD, a frame + drivetrain package for $5,000, and a frame + drivetrain + fork package for $6,000. Zerode offers international buyers one complete option spec'd with FOX suspension at 10800 NZD.

Decked out in some coil sprung fun front and rear, the $10,000 Signature Cane Creek Edition US build was up to bat for this review. Looking the components over, there's no denying that the bike we rode was built for abuse over efficiency. Those interested in a better pedaling bike should check out other builds or the newTaniwha Trail, a more spritely 140mm travel version.

WTB's massive 2.5-inch Convict tire graced the front with a 2.4-inch Trail Boss out back, both in the Tough casing. They provided ample traction in all conditions and great sidewall support, but also a bit of a dead response, slow rolling speeds, and lots of added rotational weight. A variety of faster-rolling tires were also mounted to help speed things up a bit, which they did.

Though they have since moved to Industry Nine Pillar Carbon wheels, our bike featured very wide Derby AM/DH 35i rims laced to the ultra-fast engaging Project 321 hubs. The stout wheels had zero issues and looked no worse for wear following our test period. We do feel they were too wide for the bike, however, limiting tire choice within the enduro realm.

Cane Creek's HELM Coil fork is a good effort for their first go. Though a bit less polished than competitor forks, it paired well with the damping traits of the rear end.

Even though the rear brake was often inconsistent and needed a bleed after a short time, the outright stopping power and modulation provided by the Magura MT Trail Carbon brakes was very impressive. We had great front end trust and control in all situations.

9Point8's Fall Line dropper post was another notably great component with very smooth action.

The quick addition of 3M mastic tape on inside of the seat stay can go a long way toward keeping things super quiet.

What's The Bottom Line?

Is this the end the derailleur as we know it? Very unlikely. Modern mountain bike drivetrains are increasingly reliable, the ability to smoothly shift under load fits mountain biking well, and with the creation of clutched derailleurs and narrow/wide chainrings dropped chains are pretty much a thing of the past.

Instead, we choose to view Zerode's Taniwha as another way of getting the job done – one with both tangible benefits and compromises. There's a lot to love about the design and function, especially in the suspension realm, you just need the lungs to propel it and resolve to master it.

Visit www.zerodebikes.com and www.cyclemonkey.com in the USA for for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 2.5 stars - Okay
  • Descending: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
  • Fun Factor: 3 stars - Good
  • Value: 3 stars - Good
  • Overall Impression: 3.5 stars - Very Good

About The Reviewer

Brandon Turman - Age: 31 // Years Riding: 16 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.4kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a mechanical engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every new innovation in our sport from the past several years and a really good feel for what’s what.

Specifications

Product Zerode Taniwha Signature Cane Creek Edition
Model Year 2018
Riding Type Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
M, L, XL View Geometry
Size M L XL
Top Tube Length 575mm 604mm 637mm
Head Tube Angle 65° 65° 65°
Head Tube Length 110mm 120mm 130mm
Seat Tube Angle 74.5° 74.5° 74.5°
Seat Tube Length 420mm 460mm 500mm
Bottom Bracket Height 352mm 352mm 352mm
Chainstay Length 431mm 431mm 431mm
Wheelbase 1170mm 1202mm 1236mm
Standover
Reach 420mm 445mm 475mm
Stack 588mm 596mm 605mm
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Frame Material Carbon Fiber
Frame Material Details Carbon Fiber
Rear Travel 160mm
Rear Shock Cane Creek DB Coil IL, climb switch, 216mm eye to eye, 63mm stroke
Fork Cane Creek Helm Coil, high/low compression and low rebound damping adjustments
Fork Travel 160mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered, zero-stack, 44mm top, 56mm bottom
Headset Cane Creek 40 ZS 44/56
Handlebar Syntace Vector Carbon
Stem Syntace Mega Force
Grips Zerode, lock-on
Brakes Magura MT Trail Carbon, Magura Storm 203mm front / 180mm rear rotors
Brake Levers Magura MT Trail Carbon
Drivetrain Other (Pinion C.Line gearbox with chain tensioner)
Shifters Pinion C.Line gearbox, grip shift, 12-speed
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur N/A
ISCG Tabs N/A
Chainguide N/A
Cranks Pinion, forged
Chainrings Pinion 30 tooth, direct mount
Bottom Bracket N/A
Pedals N/A
Chain Wipperman 808
Cassette Zerode 30 tooth, singlespeed
Rims Industry Nine Pillar Carbon
Hubs Industry Nine Torch, 15mm x 110mm front / 12mm x 142mm rear spacing
Spokes Industry Nine Aluminum
Tires WTB Convict 2.5" TCS Light, High Grip front / WTB Trail Boss 2.4" TCS Tough, Fast Rolling rear
Saddle SQ Lab 611 Active Ergowave
Seatpost 9Point8 Fall Line, 150mm travel
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp Standard, single bolt, 34.9mm
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 12mm x 142mm
Max. Tire Size
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes
Colors Matte Black, Sky Blue or Graphite
Warranty 3 year warranty against manufacturing defects
Weight 35 lb 4.4 oz (16,000 g)
Miscellaneous Internal seatpost cable routing
Chainstay and downtube protection
Gearbox provides 600% gear range
Fixed chainline optimizes pedaling characteristics throughout gear range
Price $10,000
More Info

www.zerodebikes.com // www.cyclemonkey.com/bikes

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