2023 Transition Smuggler Carbon GX Bike

Vital Rating:
Where To Buy
Free shipping on orders over $50 (continental U.S. only).
International shipping available. Some exclusions apply.
Free shipping on orders over $50 (continental U.S. only).
International shipping available. Some exclusions apply.
The Mountain Biker's Mountain Bike: 2023 Transition Smuggler Review
Great fun despite a somewhat underwhelming build.
Vital Review

The Smuggler has been a staple of Transition’s line up for a while, but the very latest generation had us waiting for it as Transition took their time giving it the same refresh as the rest of the range. When the Smuggler finally returned for 2023 it featured the new design language also found on most of the other Transition bikes, along with the mandatory longer and slacker treatment. Sporting travel numbers that puts it squarely in the “trail bike” category, we were excited to make it our daily driver to figure out what it’s made of. Keep reading to find out, or watch the review in video form just below:




  • Perfect mix of pedaling response and plushiness
  • Dialed geo
  • Poppy, playful, yet confidence-inspiring
  • Tidy cable routing
  • Long steerer with several stem spacers to play with
  • Long dropper posts on all sizes
  • GX build package disappointing for the price
  • Frame collects water and dirt in the shock mount area

    2023 Transition Smuggler Carbon Highlights

    • Dual 29" Wheels - clearance to run up to 2.5" tires
    • 140mm front and 130mm rear travel
    • “Speed Balanced Geometry” (slacker head angle with short offset fork)
    • Size-specific chainstays
    • Drop in headset bearings
    • 73mm BSA threaded BB
    • ISCG 05 tabs (offset by 3mm to accommodate Boost chainlines from 52 to 55 mm)
    • New cable routing - guide tubes inside the frame for easy setup
    • 27% Progression
    • Water bottle and gear accessory mounts
    • SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger (UDH) – T-Type Transmission compatible
    • 5 sizes
    • Lifetime warranty
    • MSRP: $5999 USD as tested (Carbon GX complete bike)

    Initial Impressions

    Aesthetically, Transition has moved their entire line-up away from the swoopy curves of the previous generation to the more blocky, angular shapes seen on all their new releases. Rolling on 29-inch wheels, the new Smuggler fits right into the range between the Spur and the Sentinel (and adjacent to the 27.5-inch Scout), with an easily recognizable silhouette shared with all its brethren nowadays.


    The lines are all harmonious and give the Smuggler a purposeful stance. But the make-over is far from just aesthetic, as Transition took the opportunity to improve many aspects of frame design with an eye towards serviceability. The headset is now of the drop-in kind, negating the need for any headset cups to be pressed in, and the fully guided cable routing runs the entire length of the mainframe plus the stays. There is an extra accessory mount in addition to the regular water bottle mount, and the frame is compatible with SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger (UDH). The BB is threaded which will certainly please those who have become disenchanted with the pressfit variety. 180 mm postmount in the rear is a great move, as a 180 mm rotor is probably what most riders will want to run in the rear on a bike of this type.

    Smuggler-4.jpg?VersionId=pTHG1s k6C6NlX

    For the suspension linkage, Transition went with their classic “GiddyUp” horst link layout. They settled on 27% progressivity in order to provide ample bottom out support, as well as the ability to run a coil shock if you so wish (although note that not all coil shocks will physically fit in the frame as there is not a lot of space around the lower shock mount). The bike ships with 130 mm of travel in the rear but you can bump that up to 140 by removing a travel spacer in the shock. You can also play with volume tokens to increase or decrease the overall progressivity. The bike has enough anti-squat to pedal well, but not so much as to interfere with the suspension when under power.



    Transition introduced their long and slack “Speed Balanced Geometry” quite a few years ago now, so their bikes already sported fairly modern geo numbers, but the latest generation Smuggler still got a little bump in the dimensions here and there. The reach has grown by 10 mms and now sits at 485 mm for a size L, and the seat tube is now a fair bit steeper than on the previous generation as well. The chain stays have gotten longer, and they are now also size-specific – on our size L they come in at 440 mms, up from 430 on the previous generation. Add in a slack, 65-degree headangle and you’re looking at a wheelbase that has also grown a decent amount, although the use of a short offset fork helps keep it in check.


    The head tube length clocks in between 100 to 140 mms across the 5 frame sizes available, which is fairly standard. Transition cuts the steerer tube reasonably long though, which gives you the opportunity to play with the stem spacers to find your perfect set-up. The seat tube is short, which leaves room for longer droppers to be specced across the range – our size L was delivered with a whopping 210 mms of dropper travel! The travel of the OneUp dropper can also be reduced via a simple spacer system if you can’t quite fit the 210, which makes this a really good spec choice in our opinion.

    On The Trail

    We took delivery of the GX build of the carbon Smuggler, which features Fox Performance suspension, a SRAM GX derailleur and Code R brakes, with rims supplied by WTB. For $6000 US dollars this spec is a little underwhelming, but we’ll come back to that point on later. On the trail, the Smuggler had us feeling right at home from the get go. The bike picks up speed with ease, and rolls along the trail at whatever pace you chose. It’s not amazingly lively at the pedals, but it’s certainly no slouch – longer XC-type rides are absolutely in the cards for the Smuggler, which is as it should be with a bike in this category and travel bracket. The bike is also suited to technical climbing, with the big wheels rolling easy and the moderate anti-squat keeping the suspension active under power. The steep seat tube angle is a blessing, any bike manufacturer out there that still hasn’t embraced this concept is blowing it.

    desert riding.jpg?VersionId=cNzlkip9AtaspT2rX3yDRZ

    As you pick up speed, the Smuggler shows its true nature. Stable yet energetic, the bike provides a ton of confidence thanks to a centered and relaxed riding position. The 65-degree head angle helps keep the bike pointed wherever you wish to point it, and the slightly longer chain stays do their part to keep the calm. It’s easy to push the bike in turns, without feeling like either of the wheels want to wash out.

    Smuggler Riding-3

    In rougher terrain, the suspension provides enough comfort to allow you to pretty much pick your speed. Of course, we’re talking about 130 mm of rear travel, so it’s never going to behave like a full-grown enduro bike, but thanks to the progressive leverage curve it never feels overwhelmed as you run out of travel. With 140 mms of fork travel, the overall suspension package strikes a good balance between plush and playful - the bike likes to pop over stuff and horse around on the smaller features on the trail as much as it is at home holding a straight line through some chunder.

    Smuggler Riding-2

    So who is the new Smuggler for? If you’re one of those riders just looking for a mountain bike in the very classic sense of the term, you’ve come to the right place! The Smuggler is an efficient climber, whether you’re spinning up a fire road or picking your way up a technical climbing trail. It is perfectly happy to spend long days out racking up the miles, and it will put a big smile on your face on pretty much any downhill section you want to shred down too. It likes to pump and can make speed on any trail, but without that nervous and unsettled feeling that you can sometimes get from a shorter travel bike. If you regularly ride very steep technical terrain or you need your one bike to be able to hang it out in the bike park every now and again, the Smuggler isn’t for you, but at that point we’re talking about a whole other travel bracket and type of bike anyway. A mountain bikers mountain bike? Yep, that’s the new Smuggler!

    Smuggler Riding

    Build Kit

    The only negative talking point we have with the new Smuggler is the price and build. We’re well aware that mountain bikes have gotten exponentially more expensive over the past couple of years, but the carbon GX build provided by Transition here falls short of what a $6000 dollar bike should be, in our opinion.


    A “GX” build would traditionally come with Fox Performance Elite suspension, but here it has been downgraded to just Performance. The current generation of the Fox 34 is a great fork, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Performance version, but the damper lacks the sophistication and the adjustability that would let you really dial in the front of the bike. The simplified compression damping adjustment doesn’t offer enough granularity as it goes from not enough support to too much support in just a couple of clicks, rendering the rest of the adjustment range pretty useless. The shock works better, so if there is any real urgency here it would be to upgrade the fork.



    Transition calls this the “GX” build but there’s an NX shifter and a Stylo crank on it. Again, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with those parts, it just feels like a bit of corner cutting on a $6K build.



    SRAM Code R brakes get the job done, and we do applaud Transition for picking heavy-duty brakes even for this short-travel bike – it’s a very capable ride, so you’ll need proper stopping power. Are we disappointed that they didn’t go with the RSC version? Yes.



    This is another area where we weren’t too stoked on what came out of the box. WTB’s I30 ST rims are about as budget as they come, and the spoke tension was a bit all over the place when we got our bike. We trued them up to start with but we’ve had to keep an eye on them ever since, with several more trips to the trueing stand as testing went on. The rear hub’s engagement is pretty mediocre as well, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this isn’t what we expect to find on a $6K build. You do get tubeless valves and sealant included, so that’s a bonus.



    Tires make a big difference, and thankfully Transition went with a tried and true Assegai/Dissector combo on the Smuggler. Updated EXO+ casing is tougher than the previous generation, and we’ve not had to reach for the tubeless plugs so far. Predictable grip and good rolling speed, and we salute Transition for giving us proper tires instead of falling for the temptation of trying to save weight in this area.


    Finishing Kit

    The Race Face Aeffect/Chester cockpit does the job, but we will once again point out that these components are pretty much the cheapest options available in the Race Face catalog. On the other hand, we were well pleased to find a OneUp dropper on the bike, especially one with so much travel. 210 mm out of the box on our size L is cool, and it can be reduced down by 20 mms in 10 mm increments thanks to a simple travel spacer system. Bonus points for this one.


    Things That Could Be Improved

    If you read the Build Kit section just now, you know that our main gripe with this carbon GX build is the parts selection. Although the bike works well, we feel like there are many options out there that provide better spec for the same money, and $6K ain’t chump change. Most other GX-level bikes in Transition’s own range do feature higher-level forks, wheels, and finishing parts, so perhaps this is more of an anomaly than anything else. If you can swing the budget, the carbon GX AXS build offers a lot more bang for the buck which the frame is definitely worthy of!

    As for the bike itself, we don’t have many complaints at all. We’ll point out that the lower shock mount collects water and debris, but it’s not really a big deal to turn your bike on the side to empty it out. The shock mount is also a bit on the tight side, we were not able to fit an EXT coil shock in there for example (there are coil shocks that fit, though).


    Long Term Durability

    So far, so good! We’ve been using this bike as our daily driver for about four months now, and we have nothing out of the ordinary to report. The bike is still mostly silent, and there is no excessive wear and tear anywhere. You may need to keep an eye on the linkage bolts as we’ve had one of them work itself loose a couple of times, but other than that, it’s been plain sailing as far as the frame goes. The wheels are not quite up to the task though, we’ve got a wobble in the rear that won’t be trued, and the spoke tension has not been holding, so probably add a decent wheelset to your budget for the long haul for this one.

    What’s The Bottom Line?

    A mountain bike is supposed to be fun, and that is just what the new Transition Smuggler is. It provides a ride that is equal parts snappy and confidence-inspiring, and it loves nothing more than going as fast as YOU can down a trail. With 130 mm of travel it is of course not a plow bike, but the geometry is so well balanced that the bike doesn’t mind getting thrown in at the deep end either. Full-on XC ride one day, rowdy hometrails the next? Not a problem! The carbon GX build we tested here doesn’t provide the best value for money in the category, but in terms of smiles per dollar, the overall package still delivers.

    More information at: www.transitionbikes.com.

    Vital MTB Star Rating

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

    About The Reviewer

    Johan Hjord - Age: 50 // Years Riding MTB: 18 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

    Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

    Photos by Johan Hjord and Nils Hjord


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    Transition Smuggler Carbon GX Bike
    Model Year
    Riding Type
    Sizes and Geometry
    Wheel Size
    Frame Material
    Carbon Fiber
    Frame Material Details
    Carbon front and rear triangles, molded chainstay and down tube protection
    Rear Travel
    Rear Shock
    FOX FLOAT X Performance, 2-position compression lever, 210mm length x 50mm stroke
    FOX FLOAT 34 Performance, GRIP damper, 44mm offset
    Fork Travel
    Head Tube Diameter
    Tapered, 1.125" top, 1.5" bottom
    FSA No.42/48/ACB, IS42 upper, IS52 lower
    Race Face Chester, 800mm width, 35mm clamp diameter
    Rise: 20mm (SM), 35mm (MD-XXL)
    Race Face Aeffect R, 40mm length, 35mm bar clamp
    ODI Elite Flow
    SRAM Code R, 4-piston, SRAM CenterLine rotors (200mm front, 180mm rear)
    Brake Levers
    SRAM Code R
    SRAM NX Eagle, 12-speed, MMX mounting bracket
    Front Derailleur
    Rear Derailleur
    SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed
    ISCG Tabs
    Truvativ Stylo Eagle 6K DUB, 170mm length
    Truvativ Stylo Eagle, 32 tooth
    Bottom Bracket
    SRAM DUB, 73mm English/BSA threaded
    SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed
    SRAM GX Eagle XG-1275, 12-speed, 10-52 tooth
    WTB ST i30
    Novatec, D791SB 15mm x 110mm (Boost) front, D902SB 12mm x 148mm (Boost) rear with XD driver
    Pillar, double-butted
    Front: Maxxis Assegai, 3C compound, EXO+ casing, 29" x 2.5"
    Rear: Maxxis Dissector, 3C compound, EXO+ casing, 29" x 2.4"
    SDG Bel-Air V3
    OneUp V2 Dropper
    Drop: 150mm (SM), 180mm (MD), 210mm (LG-XXL)
    Seatpost Diameter
    Seatpost Clamp
    Single bolt, 37.0mm
    Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions
    12mm x 148mm (Boost)
    Max. Tire Size
    29" x 2.5"
    Bottle Cage Mounts
    One inside front triangle plus accessory mounts under top tube
    Orchid, Espresso
    Lifetime frame
    31 lb 1 oz (14,090 g)
    • GiddyUp four-bar Horst-Link rear suspension design
    • Internal cable routing with guide tubes inside frame
    • Rear travel can be increased to 140mm with longer-stroke (55mm) shock
    • SRAM UDH (Universal Derailleur Hanger)
    • Includes tubeless valves and sealant
    • Frame weight:6.6 lbs (3.00 kg), size MD with shock
    • Canadian price: 8999 CAD
    What do you think?
    Where To Buy
    Free shipping on orders over $50 (continental U.S. only).
    International shipping available. Some exclusions apply.
    Free shipping on orders over $50 (continental U.S. only).
    International shipping available. Some exclusions apply.

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