Tested: Reid Vice 3.0

What is a 27.5+ (plus) hardtail?

The Vice is Reid’s new plus bike, using 27.5″ diameter wheels and huge 2.8″ tyres. Riding the wave of the fast-growing category of plus bikes, Reid could well be on to a winner with this thing, big tyres with loads of grip and cushion really makes sense for bikes in this price point.

Wanna ride trails for the fun of it?
Wanna ride trails for the fun of it?
Reid Vice -4719
27.5″ diameter wheels in 2.8″ width, mounted to 40mm wide rims, there is a lot of air to sit on!

Who for?

This bike is for anyone wanting to ride proper off road trails for the fun of it, or if the trails are tricky and challenging the big tyres will open up possibilities. The Vice is a very capable bike for the dollars.

Taking a $1399 bike where we'd not normally go.
Taking a $1399 bike where we’d not normally go.

Is it suitable for newbies?

Newcomers to the mountain biking are likely to gain the most from a bike with loads of confidence inspiring control, but we also think that if a beginner can benefit, an experienced rider should also.

What about the model below, or above?

The Vice is available in three levels that share the same frame, the 1.0 for $699, 2.0 for $999 and 3.0 for $1399. The 3.0 is the only one with a suspension fork, two models below are rigid. The 2.0 is very similar in the components to the 3.0 with Shimano hydraulic brakes and the same wheels, while the 1.0 drops down to cable actuated disc brakes and a lower component spec across the board.

Good hardworking components, nothing flash, nothing missing either.
Good hardworking components, nothing flash, nothing missing either.

Could I buy the model below and upgrade it a little?

For a $400 saving for the model below we’d certainly lament the lack of a suspension fork, the 3.0 is worth the stretch if it’s possible.

How well is it built?

The aluminium frame is made tough to suit the inherent rugged nature of a plus bike, with chunky welds and loads of clearance for the big tyres. The bold orange colour and minimal graphics create a clean and simple appearance but in comparison to many of the larger brands it’s certainly no style king.

While we’re not adverse to rack mounts as it could make for a good bike packing rig over challenging terrain, they aren’t exactly the finest looking part of the frame, looking like an afterthought welded on at the last minute.

Rack mounts are handy, but these are a bit of an eyesore.
Rack mounts are handy, but these are a bit of an eyesore.

It uses boost spacing at the rear hub with a solid quick release thru-axle clamping everything nice and tight. There’s removable cable guides for an externally routed dropper post, and the rear derailleur cable runs inside the frame for a clean appearance.

The frame geometry?

We found the Vice to have really great geometry, and once you get it up to speed it is confident and begs for more. Where a traditional cross country hardtail would normally feel twitchy, sharp and nervous when the terrain gets rowdy, the Vice is slack and laid back in its geometry.

How is it specced?

This is a large part of what makes the Reid so appealing, the parts are really great for the money. The brakes, and drivetrain are excellent and suit the bike’s intended use. The FSA single chainring cranks give the bike a clean and quiet ride, and the use of a SunRace 11-40 tooth cassette out the back gives the Vice a wider gear range than a standard Shimano drivetrain, a nice touch.

The tyres are tubeless compatible, the expensive part of going tubeless, another great spec choice! While the bike doesn’t come with tubeless rim tape or valves, it’s worth buying some tubeless tape for the rims and a pair of valves to set the bike up tubeless. It’ll take it to the next level.

The Suntour suspension fork

While it’s no FOX or RockShox the Suntour Raidon is still a very capable fork. The thing with plus bikes, is that a basic fork’s shortcomings in sensitivity and plushness are hidden by the huge volume of air in the tyres. The fork has lockout, air spring adjustability and the chassis is stiff enough when you need it to be.

Suntour Raidon fork held its own during the review.
Suntour Raidon fork held its own during the review.

What would we change?

Just converting the tyres to tubeless tyres at first, and definitely a future dropper post upgrade would let you hang it out even more on the descents.

Let’s ride!

We love plus hardtails, they are just a tonne of fun, they promote you to get wild and launch yourself off anything in sight. While the lack of rear suspension is certainly noticed on hard landings the 2.8” WTB tyres make up for it by delivering immense traction and smoothening out the terrain nicely.

Reid Vice -4652
Yeeehaaa, no brakes no worries!

The Vice is all for popping wheelies, hitting jumps, skidding through corners and generally having a good time out there.

Would we recommend it?

Too often we see riders entering the sport on a cross country style hardtail, with long stems, narrow tyres, sharp handling and one million gears. If you’re not out to set lap times around a race track or dabble on the road too, a plus bikes makes so much sense. There’s no doubt that a plus bike like the Vice has more ability to ride more trails per dollar spent.

Tested: Pivot Switchblade

The Switchblade is Pivot’s first frame compatible with both 29″ and 27.5+ wheels, the two wheel sizes have inherently very different ride attributes, so effectively two different bikes can be built from one frame. Two wheel sizes in one model of bike is not a new concept (like the Trek Fuel, Specialzed Stumpjumper, Scott Genius and more) but two wheel sizes with one frame is. What’s most interesting is how two Switchblades can built with the different wheels resulting in nearly identical geometry, leaving the different ride characterise to be determined by the wheels only.

The two wheel sizes have inherently very different ride attributes, so effectively two different bikes can be built from one frame.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5149
Not ridden a plus bike yet? Oh that’s a real shame…
27.5 x 2.8″ on the left and 29 x 2.35″ on the right.

For an in-depth discussion of where we see the wheel size trend possibly going, read our opinion piece ‘The Middle Power’ here.

For our review of the Switchblade we were fortunate to secure two bikes with the same build to ride at the same time, a rare opportunity to garner a crystal clear impression of the two bikes’ different attitudes.

The frame

There’s no hiding we are big fans of Pivot’s superbly built frames, over the years we’ve witnessed this relatively young brand go from strength to strength. From their unique approach to geometry and suspension, to the pioneering and immediate adoption of the latest technological trends and standards, Pivot are up there with the best of them. But it’s the suspension performance that receives most adoration from us, the way the DW Link suspension is executed into the frame is brilliant. The distinguished DW Link suspension is instantly noticeable on the trail with ultra-smooth and supple action matched with stable pedalling, any bike using DW Link suspension deserves instant credit. For an explanation of the whole DW Link biz, click here.

There’s 150mm of travel up front and 135mm out the back of this thing, quite a variance in travel amounts but not uncommon amongst modern long travel 29ers and plus bikes where a bigger wheel/tyre seems to make up for less rear wheel travel on the trail.

Pivot Switchblade FLOW3914
Attractive from a distance, and curious upon closer inspection, there is a lot to know about the Switchblade.

The Switchblade is a damn fine piece of expensive stuff, the type of bike that you can stare at for some time, we sure did. The carbon shapes are robust and the compact and stout aluminium linkage is shaped much like the Phoenix downhill bike and Pivot’s enduro racer, the Mach 6. Cables are all housed internally, with very effective cable ports that clamp in place as well as holding the cables tightly to reduce creeping or rattling inside the frame.

Nicest looking Pivot yet?
Nicest looking Pivot yet?
Pivot Switchblade_LOW5186
Clamped internal cable ports are a very nice touch.

Shimano Di2 integration: Pivot have always been pretty tight with Shimano, Pivot Cycles founder, Chris Cocalis worked at Shimano for many years. So you’ll certainly notice the way a few of their systems neatly integrate into the frame like the side swing front derailleur (co-developed with Shimano and Pivot) and ultimate integration of Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting components with a specific set of port fittings for wires and a specific cradle for the Di2 battery in the down tube.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5170

Thinking of Di2 in a Pivot? Check out our Shimano XTR Di2 build of a Pivot Mach 4 we did recently: Pivot and Shimano Di2 integration. And our review of the fantastic Mach 4 here: Pivot Mach 4 Carbon review.

Front derailleur compatible: There is provisions for a front derailleur (new side swing style), which in our opinion is both a blessing and a curse. Fans of the Shimano double chainring gear range will be happy with the option, but we also can’t help but wonder how the frame would look and hot it could benefit without the restrictions of the space required for a front mech in the region around the main linkage. Either way, more options is a good thing and the frame certainly doesn’t lack in lateral rigidity or strength at all, so we’ll live with it for now.

The 17mm stack headset cup: The only difference between the two frames is in the headset, included with every frameset is two lower cups; a zero stack and a 17mm stack. The 27.5+ wheels with the supplied Maxxis Recon 2.8″ tyres have a slightly smaller diameter than the 29er wheels with Maxxis High Roller 2.35″  which will give the 27.5+ bike a lower bottom bracket height. Fitting the 17mm headset cup lifts the 27.5+ bike in the bottom bracket and also corrects the head angle at the same time.Pivot Switchblade_LOW5184

Pivot are quite open to the fact that the 17mm cup is not mandatory, if you prefer a lower bottom bracket height just run the zero stack cup in either wheel size.

Super Boost 157mm rear hub: None of what the Switchblade achieves in regards to geometry would have been possible without pushing a few things outwards, starting with the rear hub and the chain line associated with it. As Pivot put it; “Super Boost Plus 157 uses the existing chain line developed for DH bikes but uses standard trail bike BB widths and crank combinations to take 29” and plus bike performance to the next level.”

While we’re still getting our heads around the new-ish Boost 148mm rear hub spacing which pushes chain lines outboard by 3mm, this Super Boost takes it further with a 157mm spacing that pushes out chain line 6mm. That extra chain line width has allowed the Switchblade to go shorter in the chain stays (428mm), provide generous tyre clearance, front derailleur compatibility, and still maintain a stiff and strong wheel and frame. The wider hub flanges reduce the dish on the rear wheel, which is a bonus for wheel strength too.

Super Boost 157mm rear hub spacing, not necessarily a new standard (used in DH bikes) but Pivot and DT have brought it to 29er and 27.5+ use.
Regular 142, Boost 148 and Super Boost 157.
Regular 142, Boost 148 and Super Boost 157.


Water Bottle ready: Two water bottle mounts are at the ready, the usual place inside the main triangle and the second mount underneath the down tube. We found clearance pretty tight with our setup, so a smaller size water bottle was the best fit. The shock can also be rotated to move the adjustment dials on top to allow more room for a larger bottle.

The parts

Pivot bikes are available as a frame only or frame and build kit, with the same frame available in a variation of configurations dressed in hand-picked components by Pivot themselves. Their build kits have a unique flavour, a real mixture of brands. Take a look at the build kits on offer here: Switchblade build kits. The frame alone will set you back $4609.95 and build kits range from $4824.95 to $10689.95 for the ultimate Shimano XTR Di2 build.

Shimano: The two bikes we have on review use the base model (yeah, hardly entry level we know) spec with a 1×11 Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain, RaceFace cranks and Shimano XT brakes. The cassette is modified with a One Up 45 tooth sprocket upgrade for a 12.5% larger gear range, a small but impressive detail as standard.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5190
Hey, that’s not a Shimano sprocket! Pivot spec One Up’s 45T sprocket on the Shimano XT cassette.

Wheels and tyres: DT Swiss make the custom hub for the 157mm spacing, and also supply the rims. The plus set uses 40mm internal width rims, and the 29er uses 25mm rims. We’re seeing a lot more Maxxis plus size tyres creeping into the market now, the early adopters of plus tyres like Specialized, Schwalbe and WTB are now joined by the big players in tyres, Maxxis and we’re glad for it. Of all the plus tyres we’ve ridden so far these would have to be our pick of the bunch, the tyre profile and tread shape strikes a nice balance of rolling speed and bite in a reasonable weight of 780 grams. While we did slice one small hole in the rear tyre (launching off massive granite boulders in Beechworth) it sealed up with Stan’s No Tubes sealant and didn’t interrupt our day.

Suspension: Like there is a lot of Shimano in the range from Pivot, the same goes for FOX, with the forks and rear shocks all coming from the high-end brand. Interesting to note though, is that in all the build kits the fork and shock remains the same, with the FOX 36 Factory 150 Kashima Boost 110QR fork, and out the back is the superb FOX Float Factory DPS EVOL Kashima. Both fork and shock have all the adjustments you could wish for, including the incredibly effective low speed compression adjustment which we use a lot.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5171
135mm of absolute gold.
Pivot Switchblade FLOW3920
FOX 36 Factory 150mm forks up front, seriously good stuff.
FOX Float DPS EVOL rear shock with the classic Pivot sag meter zip tied on for simple sag setup.

Riding both Switchblades

Setup: Setting up the suspension on two identical Pivots in two wheel sizes was quite a unique experience especially when it came to tuning rebound speed and compression adjustment, on the plus bike particularly. With such a large volume of air in your tyres it can act like an undamped spring at times, we found running slightly lower rebound speed in the fork and shock would help the bike from bouncing or oscillating on the undulating surfaces of the trail.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5068
The plus bike requires a very different suspension and tyre pressure setup than the 29er, take the time to get it sorted or the benefits will go to waste.
Pivot Switchblade_LOW5201
Big air volume requires a slightly different approach to suspension setup.

Tyre pressure: The key to making the most of the plus tyres is to nail the right tyre pressure, too much and the tyre won’t conform to the terrain like it should, wasting the benefits of the plus size, and too little and the tyre will squirm around and bottom out on the rim and you’ll risk a deflating pinch. We ran between 13-16 PSI in the front tyre, and 15-18 PSI out the back, we’d suggest experimenting to find the right pressure to suit your riding weight, and make sure the pressure gauge is accurate.

29 x 2.3" tyres on 25mm wide rims are more familiar to setup than the 2.8" plus tyres.
29 x 2.3″ tyres on 25mm wide rims are more familiar to setup than the 2.8″ plus tyres.

Cockpit: The cockpit took some getting used to, our first impressions were that it felt quite high up the front on our medium size test bike, the 29er especially. Flipping the stem did help provide a lower position when climbing out of the saddle and helped us weight the front tyre through the corners.

Pivot Switchblade FLOW3958
High up front, the Switchblade with 29″ wheels feels high with the tall wheels and 150mm travel fork.

DW Link: The DW Link suspension is known for its smooth and active action and when you’re mashing down on the cranks, the stability of the system is great. The Switchblade is one of the rare types of bike that you can run the FOX ProPedal lever all the way open, even during the climbs where you really benefit from the insane grip this bike has on the dirt.

Riding both Switchblades

Riding both bikes back to back it was clear to feel the differences, the general consensus going around the mountain bike community is that a regular 27.5″ bike will feel agile and fun, a plus bike will have loads of confidence and control and the big wheels of a 29er will be fast. That’s certainly the case here, the plus bike was eager to clamber up and down anything and take creative lines through tricky corners, while the 29er would get up to speed and want to stay there with fantastic rolling momentum and corner speed.

Climbing: Both bikes are fantastically grippy climbers, though the front end feels quite tall and the bottom bracket very low, there is gobs of traction letting you care less about finding the best line up the trail, leaving you to focus on putting good pedal strokes down. The Plus bike is especially unstoppable on technical climbs, once you get comfortable on the thing you begin seeing the trail differently, impossible climbs become a reality.

The Switchblade is seriously low in the bottom bracket, noticeable most when you’re climbing. We bashed the pedals into the ground quite often prompting us to experiment with increasing the rear shock pressure, in the hope it might ride a little higher when spinning up a climb. Some testers found it off-putting that the pedals would constantly bash the rocks, but of course the tradeoff is that a low bottom bracket is a good thing when you want to lean the bike over into a turn. Of course with the low bottom bracket, it was in the corners that the bike (especially the Plus version) scores top marks for, railing turns aggressively and confidently.

Unstoppable traction, the Switchblade in plus mode climbs anything.
Unstoppable traction, the Switchblade in plus mode climbs anything.

Descending: The powerful Shimano XT brakes, grippy rubber, burly 36mm leg forks and great suspension had us quite excited at the top of each descent. There were moments where the trail would get so nasty we’d expect to bottom out and feel the shockwaves through our body but instead the Switchblade remained composed and maintained speed very well.

We may have not gotten 100% comfortable at race pace like we would on a 160mm travel enduro bike but at slower speed and on technical trails the agility of the Switchblade out-shone the bigger and longer race bikes.

The confident ride will bring out the hooligan within you.
The confident ride will bring out the hooligan within you.

Like we mentioned before we found the front end quite tall in comparison to many 150mm travel bikes we’ve ridden recently, which made for a less aggressive cornering bike. We’d love to try out the new Pivot Mach 6 to see how they handle fast descents, but we do get the feeling the Switchblade is more suited to riding everything capably and confidently than setting personal best times on your enduro trail descents.

The 27.5+ Switchblade is almost un-crashable in a corner, seriously.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5026
Throwing the 27.5+ configured Switchblade into a corner, so much fun!

Cornering: Definitely a strong point, on loose and sketchy turns the Switchblade holds on tight, tyres aside the supple suspension, low bottom bracket and sturdy frame instills the confidence you need when tipping the bike into a loose turn. The 27.5+ Switchblade is almost un-crashable in a corner, seriously.

It doesn’t feel like a big bike at all when you’re flicking your way through the singletrack, while the 29er will naturally feel a little taller than the plus version, this is one very agile bike considering all the others in the category. Tight turns don’t feel awkward, and in fast turns you feel confidently glued to the dirt, a real winner here.

We rode the Pivots on a wide variety of trails and it always seemed to get along with the trail surface, it’s the type of bike that would be happy travelling and exploring new and unfamiliar trails confidently and safely.

Itching to get rowdy.
Itching to get rowdy.
Technical trails, no worries.
Technical trails, no worries.


The Switchblade’s one frame two wheel size concept is an interesting one, we’re still not 100% sure if there will be people out there who would buy this bike and swap the between 29″ and 27.5″ wheels (and lower headset cup) to suit the trail or task, but if you were keen you’d have two bikes with enough distinction that it’d be worth it. Either way Pivot have produced one impressive bike than can be configured in two very different ways rather than making two bikes – sounds like a sensible way to do things to us!

While the price may seem a real turnoff it does compare to the likes of other American fancy brans like Yeti, Intense and Santa Cruz. Yes, we know, big dollars indeed!

Who’s it for then? Well, we are admittedly getting pretty tired about talking about wheel size so often, but here goes a bit more for you. The Switchblade configured to 29″ wheels would make a great all-mountain bike for powering through trails at speed, while the 27.5+ configuration makes for a seriously grippy and confident bike that will make light work of the slipperiest surfaces.

Sell your car, choose your poison.

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Genius 710 Plus


 Read our interview with Scott’s International Sales Manager, here, for a full discussion of Scott’s decision to embrace 27.5+

Is it wise to have invested so much, so early? Or is 27.5+ going to float on by? We think the success of 27.5+ is going to depend on one thing: getting people to try this format. One ride, and you can feel and see what the fuss is all about! Our prediction is that many brands will be following Scott and Specialized’s lead in 2017.


The Genius Plus 710 is described by Scott as a ‘fun hog’. Don’t confuse the implication – it’s not a pig/hog of a bike (it weighs only just over 13kg), but it does looks like it might take more than its fair share of good times on the trail! With 130/140mm travel and 2.8″ tyres mounted to 40mm rims, the Genius 710 Plus is a beast.

Like the regular Genius, the 710 Plus is equipped with Scott TwinLoc suspension system, so you can drop the rear travel from 130mm to just 90mm, or lock the whole bike out completely, with the push of a button. We imagine this feature will be even more beneficial than usual with this bike, not because it’ll need any more climbing assistance, but because the larger tyre volume should mean that just 90mm travel is a viable option for more situations.

It’s nice to see a 1×11 drivetrain on this bike. With the TwinLoc system, the bars are already pretty busy, so we can do without the faff of a front derailleur too.

Like we’ve said above, the entire bike weighs just over 13kg once you’ve converted it to tubeless, and if you remove the wheels from the bike you’ll be pleasantly surprised how light they actually are. The 2.8″ Schwalbe rubber sealed up tubeless just as easily as a regular tyre, and on the wide 40mm they look to be very nicely supported. If we take the front tyre, a Nobby Nic, as an example, compared to the equivalent tyre in a 2.35″ size, the weight penalty for the much bigger rubber is only 140g! For our first ride, we ran about 17psi out back and 15psi up front.

40mm Syncros rims.
Even on the big rims, the 2.8″ tyres keep a good profile.

Geometry-wise, the Genius Plus’s chain stay measurement immediately jumps out at us – at 445mm, they’re long indeed. A small flip-chip gives you some geometry adjustment, and we’ll be leaving it in the lower, slacker position for a 67.5 degree head angle.


Hold on tight for our full review soon, we think this bike is going to be fast and very fun!

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Scale 720 Plus

2.8″ is a whole lot of rubber, in a really good way.

On review we have the $2299 Scott Scale 720 Plus, the only plus hardtail from Scott coming Down Under, let’s take a look at it before we get rowdy.

She’s a real looker, with brilliant colours and finishing we’ve grown to love from Scott.

What’s Plus?

What is a ‘plus bike’ you’re asking? In a nutshell it’s just a 27.5″ wheel bike with bigger tyres, like this one with a voluminous 2.8″. No it’s not a fat bike, they ride more like regular bikes in our experience, and the best plus bikes are a result of finding the sweet spot between all the wheel size factors like diameter, width, volume and tread.

Scott are well and truly at the forefront of the new plus thing, we’ve learnt that one already.

The outer diameter of the wheel is close to that of a 29er, but the actual wheel is a regular 27.5″. So the rolling benefits of the large diameter is there, but you still get a lively and agile feeling bike. They aren’t here to win races, they are just a seriously good option for anyone who wants to enjoy riding trails, especially if they are loose and rocky.

The tyres are run at low pressure, with a good tubeless setup we were running around 13-15 psi in the tyres, that may sound low but with the super-wide rims the tyre doesn’t squirm around like you’d expect with low pressure, the support is ace.

Our experiences with Plus bikes. 

Plus bikes are not new to us at Flow, we reviewed the Scott Genius Plus and bigger travel Genius LT Plus and the Scale 710 Plus hardtail (not an Australian model) last year. We LOVED them, why? Read this – Scott Genius and Scale Plus review.

We’ve tested a couple Specialized 6 Fattie bikes too, the Fuse hardtail is a comparable option to this Scale, an extra $700 but we loved riding it. Specialized Fuse Expert 6 Fattie review.

And the Stumpjumper 6 Fattie was one of the most fun tests we’ve ever done. Review here: Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 6 Fattie review.

Imagine what you could do with tread like this!?
40mm wide rims, a key factor in supporting the low pressure tyres.

The frame.

This Swiss brand’s aluminium frames often look better than many brand’s expensive carbon ones, and this Scale 720 is no exception, it’s a real beauty.

Bold green and blue graphics drip all over the smooth matte black finish, with internally routed cables, smooth welds and a neat set of dropouts with the Shimano direct mounting for the rear derailleur.

There’s provisions for a dropper post (phew) and you can see how the engineers have been able to manage a short rear end despite having to fit such a big rear tyre in the frame, the chainstays and seat tube are very different in shape to any of the regular Scale frames.

Stumpy little headtube, handy if you want to dump the stem down low.
Internal cabling done nicely.

The parts.

The Scale 720 is the entry level Plus bike from Scott and the most affordable Plus bike we’ve ridden, at this price point the challenge is set to keep the bike’s weight down whilst still speccing it with the parts that will let it realise it potential on the trail.

Not here to win cross country races, the Plus bike just wants to have a good time, so the fork is 120mm, bars are wide and the stem is short, and of course the tyres are meaty. But there is no dropper post or tubeless ready rims or tyres.


A Suntour fork Raidon fork is fitted up front with 32mm diameter legs, 120mm of travel and a remote handlebar lockout. We’ve not ridden any recent forks from Suntour, but from where we sit there seems to be plenty of development and high end riders on Suntour suspension, so we are very curious as to how they feel.

The Raidon is an air and coil sprung fork with adjustable rebound and their unique Q LOC quick release axle. We’ve seen RockShox and FOX master their take on the QR axle, but Manitou’s dismal attempt on the Specialized Fuse 6 Fattie drove us mad, so let’s hope this one goes ok.

Shimano brakes and shifters.
Shimano throughout.
Shimano XT rear derailleur, but the older version without the clutch. Bugger.

Shimano take care of the brakes and drivetrain, with a mix of Deore and XT but there’s a distinct absence of a clutch mechanism on the rear derailleur. The clutch cuts down the noise and chain slap via a clever tension resistance switch on the derailleur cage. It’s not the biggest issue, but it’ll surely make the bike feel a little outdated in terms of noise and chain security.

The double chainring setup will ensure you’ll be able to climb anything and never run out of gears, and the gear cables are sealed and out of way from the elements so it’ll be a great all-weather bike for sure.

Double chainring for maximum range!
Testing the Scale 710 in Dear Valley last year at the 2016 launch.
Testing the Scale 710 in Dear Valley last year at the 2016 launch. Now it’s time to test the Scale on home soil.


Righto, let’s ride!

Stay tuned for our full review.

Video: Chris Akrigg- A WINTERS HARD TAIL

Winter time in Yorkshire can be a pretty rough place to ride, but if you attack it with the right attitude and plenty of clobber on, for me its some of the best fun you can have on a bike.

So this is me laiking (playing) about in the cold and wet aboard the Mongoose Ruddy 27.5 + hardtail..


Tested: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp 6Fattie

Ok, you’re out having a great mountain bike ride, the feeling of going really fast is fantastic. Then you get a little bit carried away. All of a sudden the trail turns slippery and you’re going way too quick, but don’t worry you’re going to make it through: you’ve got 3” tyres.

Riding a bike with huge 3″ tyres is obviously going to be amazing, the large amount of traction on hand will let you do things you never thought could be possible.

It’s a new standard, everyone is doing it, we love it, it’s a tonne of fun to ride. But who will these bikes suit the most? And where do they work the best?

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  117
Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  40
Specialized’s entry level 6Fattie dually.

For 2016 Specialized are going pretty deep with this new category of bikes. Coming to Australia is the Stumpjumper FSR like we have here, a women’s version called the Rhyme, as well as the hardtail Fuse with its women’s version, the Ruse. Jump on the Specialized site for all the models.

It’s all about the pros and cons with any bike or product. And in the case of this new standard of semi-fat tyres on mountain bikes, it’s more about balancing up the pros and cons for you than ever before.

This bike has capabilities far greater than a regular tyred one, but like anything it does come with drawbacks. Our best advice would be to weigh up the pros and cons before you rule them out.

[divider]What is it?[/divider]

New standard: The Stumpjumper 6Fattie boldly presents itself from an emerging new category of bikes using big tyres and wide rims. The 3″ wide tyres can be run at super-low pressures, and the wide rims help support the tyre from squirming around underneath you. In the case of this bike it uses an aluminium Specialized Stumpjumper 29er main frame, with a new dedicated rear end. With a 27.5″ wheel wrapped in big tyres, the outside diameter is really quite close to a 29er, perhaps only a centimetre’s difference in diameter. We took out the ‘callipers of truth’ recently, here’s what we found.

Because the tyres are so fat clearance issues arise trying to fit it all in the frame without the bike blowing out to unrideable lengths and widths. Hence the need for the new, wider ‘Boost’ standard components: the hubs are 110mm wide up front and 148mm wide out the back (regular hub widths on a comparable bike would be 100mm front and 142mm rear). The chain line is also shifted outboard with the new wider SRAM cranks putting the chainring only an extra 3mm further out to accommodate for a wider rear end.

Confused? All that doesn’t really matter to a degree, but it does mean that older parts won’t be compatible with a new generation plus sized bike like this one.

For more on the 6Fattie Stumpy, check out our initial impressions on them here: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie.

Our first experiences with these new breed of bikes was with the 6Fattie hardtail, the Fuse. Full review of that trail ripper here.

[divider]The Frame.[/divider]

There’s a lot to like about this frame. The construction, geometry, finishing detail and suspension design give us even more reason to respect the fine work that Specialized do. While is may only be the entry level Stumpjumper 6Fattie, its aluminium frame looks like it’s taken from the top of the catalogue. The welds are perfectly neat and the paint is lovely.

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Very neat welding joints.
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The compact and stout FSR linkage.

Essentially the 6Fattie uses the front end from a 29er Stumpjumper with a dedicated rear end to make space for the bigger tyres. The designers have worked hard to give the big tyres clearance while simultaneously avoiding the stays getting so wide that you rub your shoes or calves when pedalling, the result is a real mix bag of shapes and lines, no straight tubes to be seen.

The FSR suspension design is used across the whole range of bikes from Specialized, and is often regarded as the benchmark in pedalling efficiency and feel. Cables are a mixture of internal and externally routed, a good balance between quick and easy maintenance whilst still looking tidy.

Designing a bridge-less seat stay has allowed the length of the rear end to be shorter for snappy handling.
Designing a bridge-less seat stay has allowed the length of the rear end to be shorter for snappy handling.

In trademark fashion the Stumpjumper 6Fattie is very low to the ground and short in the rear end, which we found was to be awesome in most instances, but also at times not so much of a good thing. More on that later.

[divider]The Parts.[/divider]

$4499 gets you a very well thought out mixture of the best from both worlds of Shimano and SRAM while Specialized and FOX handle the rest. Over the years we’ve grown to not expect any crazy value from Specialized, especially with the Australian dollar not at its best. Given this bike uses a whole host of new technologies and is clearly not slapped together and rushed out the door we think the pricing is fair but not amazing.

They certainly have covered all the bases well though, nothing jumps out at you needing to be upgraded straight away. From the quality Specialized Command Post IRcc to the comfortable cockpit and saddle, this bike is pretty dialled and ready to shred.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  20

The drivetrain and brakes are amazing, for what is meant to be entry level stuff the performance is more akin to top shelf parts. The Shimano Deore brake levers feel light under the finger and offer very consistent power during testing, and the new SRAM GX drivetrain may be heavier than their other 11-speed offerings but it works so damn well we were quite blown away with the similarities with the expensive stuff.

A tiny 28 tooth chainring might seem a little absurd at first, whether such a low range of gears is needed everywhere is up to the user, but we loved using all the gears available.

Combining such a low gear range with the massive traction allows you to ride in a way that is simply not possible, even riding directly up a flight of stairs is a snack as we were to find out.

Wheels: These new plus sized bikes use wide rims to help support the big tyres at low pressure, but in fact Specialized have been using wide rims on their bigger travel bikes for a couple years already with their Roval Traverse Fattie wheels. We’ve ridden them on the Enduro, check it out here. Top end Fattie bikes will come specced with the carbon Roval wheels which measure 30mm in width, this bike uses the aluminium version at 29mm. An even wider 38mm Roval wheelset is soon to be available aftermarket.

While we’re on the wheels, our test bike needed a bit of spoke love, a few spokes were loosening off making a bit of noise. We doubt that it’ll happen on all bikes, but if you do hear something pinging away, that could be the issue.

Tyres: The Ground Control 6Fattie tyres are big and very rounded in shape and the tread is shallow in depth. At first we thought we’d never lean the bike over far enough to actually use the side knobs but you certainly do. Our test bike came from a batch of early release models with two Ground Control tyres, but we’re told 2016 stock will be specced with a more aggressive Purgatory up the front.

Suspension: The 6Fattie is another bike that has a little more travel up front than out back, something we’re seeing increasingly often. The rear end has 135mm travel, with 150mm up front. The FOX suspension feels very smooth to ride, and the wider fork crowns are quite a sight to behold when you first jump on. We did find the compression tune on the rear shock quite light, so we spent most of the time in the middle setting to keep it from wallowing into its travel when pedalling and pumping through the trails.

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The FOX 34 Float 150 forks at 110mm wide look HUGE!
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FOX Float out the back with Specialized’s nifty Autosag, a feature that takes the guesswork out of suspension sag setup.

[divider]The Ride.[/divider]

Ok, on to the most important bit.

The 6Fattie rides like mad, it’s capable of taking your mountain biking to an unprecedented level, you’ll corner much harder, launch down descents with reckless abandon and climb up things you never thought possible. It’s a blast.

This is only the second dual suspension 27.5+ bike we’ve ridden, the Scott Genius Plus being the first. Because these bikes are so new it reminds us of when we first started testing 29ers, where we would be comparing them to 26″ bikes in performance. In this case we find ourselves comparing it to non-plus bikes rather than other plus bikes.

Setup: After plenty of experimenting, we set the tubeless tyres up with 14 and 15 psi in front and rear, slowed the suspension rebound speeds and kept the sag as we’d normally do for a regular bike.

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Climbing: So much traction changes everything. Climbing takes focus and technique to maintain traction, if you don’t get the balance right you will expel too much energy and go nowhere. When we were testing the 6Fattie we picked fights with the ugliest of climbs and won, and found ourselves climbing out of the saddle more when we needed more power, with less care about weighting the rear wheel to help it find traction.

With a fairly sharp seating angle and a short reach the Stumpy was also quite comfortable to drop into a low gear and spin the legs up a climb.

The low bottom bracket height might be great for keeping your centre of gravity low for a great cornering position, but there was a frustrating amount of pedal striking going on around our regular testing trails. We be bashed our pedals on the ground more than any bike we have ever tested. Whilst it didn’t cause any crash it certainly would give you a little fright and interrupt your pedalling rhythm, but that’s the trade-off for great cornering performance.

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Put down enough power, and you’ll get up the ugliest of loose climbs. Don’t worry too much about good technique.

Cornering: If there was one element that the 6Fattie shines the brightest, it’s the corners.

Adding to the nearly infinite amount of traction is the Stumpjumper’s nimble and fun-loving frame geometry.

When ripping around a tight corner we found ourselves not worrying about washing out and crashing, instead we put all our effort into picking the faster line, braking less and getting back on the pedals sooner. After a few corners doing that, we really got the hang of it, then the speeds lifted whilst the energy output didn’t.

With such a wide and round tyre with low profile tread the 6Fattie does has a certain vague feeling to it, where on regular bikes you know when the side knobs are biting into the dirt through a corner. We’d love to have tried the Specialized Purgatory up the front, we’re sure that will add a certain degree of precision to the ride.

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Descending: It’s the added confidence of the big tyres that makes you feel safer when gravity is behind you giving you a push.

Our first ride was a clear indication that going downhill on this bike is a whole lot of fun, we yelled and laughed a lot.

It’s like riding a burly downhill bike at times, but where downhill bikes get their confidence from – being long, slack and with loads of suspension travel – it’s the huge tyres of this Stumpy that give you a new-found courage and confidence.

It will take a little getting used to the extra width tyres, they tend to tag more trail features off the side of your riding line. You’ll know about it too, the noise when the side of the tyre snags and pings off root or rock is pretty loud.

Flat tyres become less of a risk with such a large volume of air to cushion the rim from hard objects, but at the same time you tend to ride into more stuff harder than normal. While we didn’t flat during testing, these bikes won’t be immune to flats – it just takes more to create a pinch flat, but when you’re riding that much harder it is still possible.

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[divider]Where does it shine? [/divider]

– Loose surfaces are where we were most blown away by how much these tyres hang on.

– We cleaned tricky climbs and set faster times on descents.

– While there is extra weight on the wheels, it’s far less fatiguing to ride on rough terrain so the overall energy expenditure is low.

[divider]Where does it flounder? [/divider]

– The mushy low pressure tyre is certainly noticeable on the smoother trails, and on tarmac. If you don’t want to trade mad dirt performance for a little bit of drag at the wheels on the way to the trails, you may need to reconsider.

– The 3″ Ground Control tyres have a very round shape to them, we tested 2.8″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on the Scott Genius and we appreciated the way they felt more like a normal tyre with side knobs and a less balloon shape.

– No matter how wide the rims, when we would push it hard into a banked berm or the face of a big jump there was often an uncertain feeling that the tyres were squirming beneath us. So it’s not one for the bike park riders with crazy g-forces, stick to the trails.

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[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

Whether the pros ride them or not, we’re not too fussed, we’re not as fast as them and our priorities are different. Buy this bike if you want to have more fun on the trail than you’ve ever have had before.

It makes mountain biking more manageable whilst also making it faster. Especially if you ride trails that are loose, rocky, ledgy and steep.

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We have no doubts that the 27.5+ bike will become more common over time, the more people that can try one out the better. Expect to see the vast majority of brands offering options for 2016, and component manufactures too.

Nerd Alert: Wheel Size by the Numbers

As circumstance would have it, this morning at Flow HQ we happened to have a wide spectrum of wheel configurations in the office, all equipped with similar(ish) tyres. So, armed with a pair vernier callipers, a tape measure and a camera, we sat down to have a real look at what the physical, measured differences are between the variety of wheel sizes on offer now. Turns out, for all the discussion, there’s not as much in it as you might expect!

Please note, we don’t pretend for a second this is a perfect comparison – these just happened to be what we had on hand and/or have been riding lately. 

Read more of our reviews here: Ibis 741 Wheels, Specialized Fuse 6FAttie (27.5+ hard tail), Scott Genius Plus and Scale Plus reviewed.

Wheel Sizes 20

In this wrap up we’ve got:

1) A standard 27.5 tyre mounted to a regular width rimBontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on a DT E1900 rim  (internal rim width of 25mm).

2) A standard 27.5 tyre mounted to a super wide rimBontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on an Ibis 741 rim (internal rim width of 35mm).

3) A 27.5+ (or 6Fattie) tyre mounted to a mid-width rim – Specialized Ground Control 650b x 3.00 on a Specialized Traverse rim (internal rim width of 29mm).

4) A standard 29er tyre mounted to a regular width rim – Bontrager XR3 29 x 2.35 on a Bontrager Rhythm Elite rim (internal rim width of 21mm).

Wheel Sizes 18

1) Standard 27.5 tyre / regular width rim – Bontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on a DT E1900 rim  (internal rim width of 25mm).

Tyre diameter: 705mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 57.5mm

This set up is what we’d call a conventional 27.5″ wheel/tyre combo. Bontrager’s XR4 2.35″ tyre has a fairly aggressive tread pattern, with big side knobs and a relatively square profile, but it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a trail / all-mountain tyre.

The DT rim it’s mounted to has an internal width of 25mm, which again is in line with what you’d expect on a 140-160mm travel all-mountain bike. In this case, the wheel is off a Trek Remedy 9.8 2016 model.

This combo produces a tyre with a nicely rounded tread profile. The rim-to-tyre width relationship looks pretty conventional.

Wheel Sizes 19

2)  Standard 27.5 tyre / super wide rim – Bontrager XR4 650b x 2.35 on an Ibis 741 rim (internal rim width of 35mm).

Tyre diameter: 705mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 60mm

This tyre/rim combo is what we’ve been running on one of our long-term test bikes for the past few months and absolutely loving it. Compared to conventional set up (as described above) we’ve been able to run much lower pressures and enjoy a lot more traction as a result.

We’ve included this set up here because we wanted to see how closely it approximates the measurements of a 27.5+ rim/tyre.

While the tyre is a standard width (2.35″), the rim is super wide – it has a 41mm external / 35mm internal width. Basically, it’s as wide a rim as you’re likely to see before you venture into realms of ‘plus-sized’ tyres or Fat Bikes.

In our minds, the performance of this combo has been superb. We’ve actually been running tyre pressures quite similar to that we’d use with a 27.5+ setup (approx 15psi), though obviously the width and overall volume of the tyre is a lot less so the ride feel is different. For many riders who aren’t interested in the plus-sized format, we think this set up is a very good compromise.

What is also notable about this combo is just how stout and square the tyre shape is, the wide rim giving a lot of support to the tyre. Of course the square shape won’t work well with every tyre.

Wheel Sizes 16

3) 27.5+ (or 6Fattie) tyre / mid-width rim – Specialized Ground Control 650b x 3.00 on a Specialized Traverse SL rim (internal rim width of 29mm).

Tyre diameter: 730mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 74.5mm

This tyre and rim combo is off a Specialized Stumpjumer 6Fattie that we’ve been testing lately. It uses Specialized’s 3.0″-wide Ground Control tyre mounted to a Roval Traverse rim with a 29mm internal width.

While the rim diameter is identical to a regular 27.5 wheel, the diameter of the tyre significantly more. In this instance, the diameter is 730mm – 25mm more than a regular 27.5″ tyre, and only 10mm less than a 29er with a 2.35″ tyre. So while a 27.5+ doesn’t quite match the diameter of a 29er, it’s far closer to a 29er than 27.5 in that regard.

The width of the tyre is the other big, big difference. At its widest point, the tyre is 74.5mm across. However, this measurement is a little deceptive, because with the relatively narrow rims (at least in comparison to the huge tyre) it’s almost impossible to use the full tread surface of the tyre. If you’re on the very side knobs, you’re crashing! Other 27.5+ bikes that’ve tested have used much wider rims (in most cases with a 40mm internal width) which seem much better suited to supporting the massive tyre.

Tyre volume is the real drawcard here. With such a large volume of air and such a tall tyre shape, you can run very low pressures, allowing the tyre to conform to the terrain exceptionally well and provide massive amounts of traction.

Just briefly touching back on the matter of rim vs tyre width, the combo found on Scott’s new plus-sized bikes gets a big tick of approval from us. The 2.8″ tyre on a 40mm rim seems spot on, offering more sidewall support than a 3.0″ on a narrower rim, but without losing too much volume overall.

Wheel Sizes 17

4) Standard 29er tyre / regular width rim – Bontrager XR3 29 x 2.3 on a Bontrager Rhythm Elite rim (internal rim width of 21mm).

Tyre diameter: 740mm
Tyre width (across widest point of tread): 56.5mm

This is your regular kind of 29er trail bike combo, with a 2.3″ tyre on a fairly standard trail/XC rim. It comes off a Trek Fuel EX 29er which we’ve been riding for the past year.

What’s immediately apparent is just how skinny and slight the whole wheel looks in comparison to the others here – the ratio of tyre volume to wheel size just looks out of whack in this company! The tyre is just a millimetre narrower than the 27.5 tyres here, but the rim is only 21mm-wide internally, which reduces the ‘bag’ of the tyre and gives it a more slender appearance.

With the narrower rim and smaller volume to the tyre, it’s clear to see you need to adopt an entirely different approach to tyre pressure, grip and riding style with this wheel than with either the 27.5/35mm rim combo or on the 27.5+ wheel.

Compared to the 27.5+, the 29er wheel is just 10mm bigger in diameter, which really isn’t a lot!  For interest’s sake, we compared the weights of the 27.5+ and 29er wheels too. The 29er came in at about 200g lighter, but keep in mind it does come off a much more expensive bike than the 27.5+ wheel.

Wheel Sizes 12
27.5+ vs regular 27.5

Above you can see a direct comparison between a standard 27.5 wheel/tyre combo, and a 27.5+ (with a 3.0″ inch Specialized tyre). The plus-sized tyre gives the wheel an extra 25mm diameter, but it’s the sheer volume of the tyre which is the obvious difference.

Wheel Sizes 2
27.5+ v 27.5 ultra wide 40mm rim.

And here’s the same 27.5+ s wheel alongside a regular 27.5″ tyre mounted to a super wide rim. Still the same 25mm diameter difference of course, and the 3.0″ tyre still has a huge volume advantage. Where the configuration on the right has an obvious advantage though is in the stability of the tyre – the ratio of tyre/rim width gives the tyre a super stable sidewall profile.

27.5+ vs 29er
27.5+ vs 29er

Finally here’s the 27.5+ wheel versus a standard 29er setup. The 29er wheel is a slightly larger diameter overall, by just about 10mm, but the volume of the tyre is clearly hugely different. Horses for courses?

As we’ve said above, we don’t present this as a true comparison, and we’re definitely not trying to say that each of these setups doesn’t have a place in mountain biking. But we do think it’s interesting to take a look at what each of these configurations actually looks like head to head. We hope we haven’t overloaded you with geekery. Now quickly put all this out of your mind and go ride your bloody bike!

Faster, not Dumber

These are refrains we read often, usually in the shoot-from-the-hip forum of our Facebook page. In the past these comments generally accompanied discussion of 29ers (remember when those were contentious?), but now it’s something we’re more likely to read if we post a piece about the new generation of ‘semi-fat’ 27.5+ bikes.

Faster not Dumber 6

It seems, that in many people’s minds, fat rubber is cheating. Or if not outright cheating, not playing fair, as if ‘buying’ more grip is some loophole in mountain biking legislation.

We get it, we understand where this vibe comes from. There are lots of riders out there who learnt their craft on laughably bad equipment; grip-phobic tyres seemingly made from solid plastic, rims that bent like they were coat hanger wire, brakes that needed all four fingers. Advances in bikes have obviously made it much easier to ride many trail features that in the past would have caused all but the best riders to baulk. Riders who mightn’t have so much skill or ability can, to a degree, make up for it through more forgiving equipment.

And if you’re a salty old bastard, it’s tempting to be disparaging of riders who, often with confidence borne of excellent equipment, can ride the trails at the same speed as you, despite having waltzed into the sport only in the last few years.

Faster not Dumber 2

Having now spent a fair bit of time on 27.5+ bikes, with their massive tyres, we can promise you that in a lot of situations they are the ultimate ‘cheat’ bike. This much traction is a huge advantage in many of those areas that would have once sorted the men from the boys, so to speak. Loose climbs, rubble-filled corners, rough descents – they all become easier with grip. The transformation is instant, like jumping on the mushroom in Super Mario, things you couldn’t do before, you now can.

Of course, whether or not these bikes are faster overall is another matter entirely, as they are pretty ploddy on tame trails.

But when it comes to those features of your trails that would normally serve as a benchmark of skill – rolling that steep chute, getting up that scrappy climb – then plus-sized bikes do put you ahead of the curve.

Faster not Dumber 3

But here’s the crux of it all. If you’re a rider who has the full bag of tricks, rather than resenting the fact that plus-sized riders will likely close the gap on you, why not embrace the benefits yourself? If the advantages provided by plus-sized rubber can lift a mediocre rider’s abilities, imagine what they can do in the hands of someone who’s already pushing the limits of their equipment.

Suddenly those limits are set, like your tyres, much, much wider.

Faster not Dumber 4

What the implications will be for trail building, we’ll have to wait and see, because we can promise you that things that were borderline reckless or un-doable, can suddenly seem pretty sedate.

So perhaps, rather than dumbing down the sport, these bikes are actually opening up a whole new frontier of progression for trail riders, where suddenly we’re building and riding trails at a level that only the ultra-ninja mountain biker could have conceived in the past.

Maybe mountain biking isn’t going to get dumber, but faster, wilder and even more demanding.

We find ourselves saying all this with an element of genuine surprise. A few months ago, when we first learnt of the influx of 27.5+ bikes, we drafted an opinion piece that absolutely ripped the concept to shreds. We ranted against it as a sideways step, a distraction from real advancements, driven solely by companies not riders. In short, we had the exact same response as many people in our audience! But before we published that rant, we decided to wait a few weeks and actually give one a go.

Faster not Dumber 1

We’re glad we held off publishing, because having now ridden a good half dozen or so 27.5+ bikes we understand their potential. They’re not for every rider or trail, but for us they’ve got the ability to make riding faster, wilder and generally more of what we like – that is, faster not dumber.

Tested: Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie

3″ tyres on mountain bikes. Yes, ‘semi fat’ is now officially a thing. Get used to it, we’ll be seeing ‘semi fat’ bikes popping up a lot as we roll toward 2016. The new standard will surely provoke heated discussions and much throwing of hands in the air. But for now we’ll cast all opinions aside, and get to the bottom of it all the only way we know how. Let’s ride.

Specialized made their semi-fat intentions pretty clear, getting behind the 27.5+ new wheel standard earlier than most of the big guns, by announcing that both a men’s and women’s range of dual suspension and hardtail 6Fatties will be available soon.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 14
When you have this much traction, nothing holds you back.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 11
Doesn’t look too odd from afar, but riding one is certainly a different story.

[divider]What is 6Fattie?[/divider]

Put simply, a 6Fattie bike uses whopping 3″ tyres on 650b diameter wheels with extra wide rims.

Some current 29″ bikes with enough tyre clearance may be able to accept 6Fattie wheels, but a bike built specifically around the massive tyres will work best. Because of the chunky rubber, there are many other width related constraints that bike designers need to get around – things like wider fork crowns and chain line clearance. What comes with all this width is the need for a wider hub spacing; on the Fuse the front hub width goes from the usual 100 to 110mm and the rear hub from 142 to 148mm. Part of the industry calls it ‘Boost’ hub spacing (originally introduced by Trek to stiffen up 29″ rear wheels) and will be widely adopted by these new semi fat and 29″ bikes in 2016 and major component manufactures too.

Such big tyres give you a larger contact patch with the ground, and the massive volume lets you run lower tyre pressures. All this does is lift the traction to unheard of levels.

Keep the pressures low to make the most of the mighty tyre volume.
Keep the pressures low to make the most of the mighty tyre volume.

[divider]Who is this bike for? [/divider]

If we forget all the tech mumbo jumbo and controversy, 6Fattie is just a new twist on the mountain bike, not designed to make it race faster or longer, but to make it more fun. And take a look at this thing – it does look fun; massive rubber, a relatively long-travel fork (120mm, big for a hardtail), wide bars, tiny 45mm stem and a dropper post. It’s pretty clear that this bike is not designed to climb anything in a hurry, but is all about grip, control, and confidence when most hardtails would be ejecting you out the front door.

At just under $3000, it’s not an entry-level price point, and you could of course buy a dual suspension bike for the same kind of money. Who then is the bike designed for? Someone who isn’t interested in racing (except maybe in the desert), someone who doesn’t want the complications of a dual suspension bike, and someone who is looking for something a little bit different. It would make the perfect second bike to accompany either an XC race machine or long-travel all-mountain bike, as it’s a far cry from either of these categories.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 2
The new Diamond Stay Design.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 22
Wheel removal is by Allen key only, but it is very tidy back there.
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[divider]The frame[/divider]

This aluminium frame, covered in glossy bright paint, is a sleek and clean number with a few key features to accommodate 6Fattie wheels, with the most obvious being the chainstay. To give adequate tyre and chainring clearance, without resorting to an overly long chain stay, the drive side chain stay splits into two. It’s dubbed the ‘Diamond Stay Design’ and with it. Specialized are able to bring the rear end to a tight and zippy 430mm.

One of the nicest butts in the business, the Fuse borrows its mighty fine dropouts from the Stumpjumper hardtail line, with no quick release skewer in favour of a flush Allen key-only axle. The rear brake is also tucked away cleanly, mounting on the inside of the rear triangle.

[divider]Spec highlights[/divider]

The Fuse Expert 6Fattie uses a bit of an odd mix of components in its burly build kit. We actually struggled to decide whether or not it represents good value; some of the components do seem a bit basic, but we guess they’re kind of offset by the wheels/tyres which are still super rare. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts.

Drivetrain: The drivetrain is funky mix, with Specialized Stout cranks with a 30-tooth narrow-wide chain ring matched to a Sun Race 11-40 10-speed cassette. It’s all hooked up to a new SRAM GX derailleur and X9 shifter. The gear range is fine, even if the jumps between gears are fairly large. We didn’t drop the chain, but it did make a lot of noise as the chain runs super close to the chain stay.

Rolling gear: WTB’s Scraper i45 rims are tubeless ready, and their massive 45mm wide rims gave the 3″ tyres the support they needed to be ridden hard at low pressure. The tyres themselves are lighter than you’d expect, at just under a kilogram each – a lot lighter than 3″ tyres of yesteryear! The wheels are responsible for a lot of this bike’s weight, so we’d naturally suggest they would be worth upgrading in the future to drop grams, but obviously that’s an expensive proposition and not an easy one as this kind of gear is still very unique.

SRAM Guide R brakes: For a base model brake, the SRAM Guide R stoppers felt like we’d just taken them off a high end bike. They’re powerful and smooth under the finger, good work SRAM.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 44

Manitou Magnum fork: The Manitou Magnum Comp fork was just ok.  Whilst not really holding the bike back too much, its somewhat clunky feel was fortunately hidden by the low pressure/big tyre volume nature of the wheels which smooth out the smaller bumps the fork missed. But to get your front wheel on and off, you’ll need to have a lot of patience – this fork axle is the dumbest system we’ve ever encountered, more intelligence test than bike feature!

The Manitou fork’s quick release axle however was remarkably frustrating, we challenge anyone to figure it out, without swearing.

[divider]Ride impressions[/divider]

This was our very first ride on a 27.5+ bike, and it sure did feel different to anything we’ve had on test before. The closest we can relate this to would be the 29+ Surly Krampus with 29×3″ tyres. But the Surly was a bit of a boat on the trails, and quite hefty, whereas the Fuse is a fair bit more lively.

Singletrack manners: With so much rubber on the ground we expected a fairly sedate ride in the singletrack, but the experience was less of a drag than we expected (Get it? Drag?). Besides the obvious effort required to accelerate the wheels and the occasional rotational effects on the steering, the weight of the wheels wasn’t too much of a handful.

One of the reasons the bike feels surprisingly quick is because you don’t have to actually slow down too often – there’s so much cornering grip that you can carry great speed in the turns. Aiding this is the low bottom bracket (very low, crank bashingly low), which helps with cornering even more. Imagine sprinting at a loose corner, staying off the brakes and making the turn with your feet up – it’s a possibility with such a massive contact patch, the grip is inconceivable. Cornering on grass was like nothing else, you could almost scrub your bars when tearing around on a football field!

Tyre pressure choice is vital and running around 15 psi in the tyres (perhaps a little less in the front, and firmer out the back) we found that sweet spot for our 70kg rider weight. We tried to roll the tyres around on the rim by deliberately pushing it hard sideways, but there was no squirming or burping whatsoever. Our rear wheel was a little out of dish though, and rubbed on the drive side chainstay when cranking hard on the pedals, though a few minutes with a spoke key could pull it over to the other side a few millimeters and stop the buzzing.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 15
SO MUCH GRIP! What do do with it all?

We expected it to have shit loads of grip, and it sure did. With so much traction, we could go anywhere we wanted to!

Descending and bombing about: The Fuse is built only for fun, and it makes no secret that is why it exists. Why else would you have a hardtail with a 120mm fork, dropper post and a short stem? It’s aimed to rip, not to race.

It loves to wheelie, manual and bomb through rough trails with a certain amount of exuberance and courage, really helped by the short 430mm rear end. And being a hard tail, the lack of rear suspension adds to the excitement and engages you with the trail, but the massive tubeless tyres let you do so without the risk of a flat tyre or unpredicted wash out.

With the seatpost dropped you can really let it hang out on the descents. We bombed our way down some lines that we’ve looked at twice on 150mm-travel duallies! It lands hard from big drops like any rigid rear ended bike would, but the big tyre takes the sting out of impacts and you land with more of a manageable thud.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 8Climbing: The Fuse is obviously not built for long, draggy climbs, but on technical or loose pinches it’s pretty inspiring! Rough and loose lines became achievable, and without any rear suspension to squat and rob you of pedal power, it would lurch forward and claw its way up rocky ledges like no other bike out there. A lighter version of this bike would kick some butt on those loose, scrappy climbs.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 19
Bombing rocky trails on the Fuse was great. All the excitement of a hardtail, but with less crashing!

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

During our time aboard the Fuse, we had a ball. It’s not a light bike, and keeping on top of the gears spinning along the trails requires more effort than your typical bike so there’s no way we’d want to ever ride one very far or for too long. It’s evident when riding with others on traditional bikes, they’ll pull away from you when there’s a lot of pedalling going on, the resistance is quite obvious.

But we loved it!

Who would want one? We would. It’s nice to get back to riding a hardtail and blasting about the place, solely in the name of fun, but without so many of the drawbacks we’ve come to traditionally associate with a hardtail (like flat tyres, sore ankles and shitloads of crashing). We would have hoped it’d be a bit cheaper considering the entry level drivetrain and basic Manitou fork, but there would have been some costs tied up in developing a whole new bike and tyres.

Loads of rubber.
Loads of rubber.

We’re not afraid to admit that we were highly sceptical about this new wheel size, predominantly from an industry standpoint, and the questions of whether we really needed it. But after time on the trail that question couldn’t have been further from our mind. Of course we don’t need it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a cool alternative. We can honestly say we enjoyed our time on the Fuse, bombing through rough stuff and roosting turns like we used to, but keeping more skin on our bodies.