First Impressions: Reid Solo 360 27.5 2017

Reid Bikes are all about bang for buck, and their direct sales model is helping them deliver some impressive bikes at very good prices. We reviewed Reid’s aggressively priced Solo 360 last year. Quite simply, it’s the sum of its parts, which happen to be very bloody good for the money.

The Solo 360 now runs a 1×11 XT drivetrain.

It doesn’t add up…

The Reid Solo is an alloy-framed, 27.5″-wheeled hardtail, and it’ll set you back just $1799. That’s not a lot of money when you start to do the maths on this bike – in fact, from a purely component perspective, this is the best priced hardtail we’ve encountered. The reliable Shimano XT groupset gets the nod for all aspects except the hubs, but it’s the choice of a FOX Performance fork that’s really impressive. Most bikes at this price point will be equipped with a far less capable fork than this.

Scoring a FOX fork at this price point is a big plus.
Internally routed cables and smooth finished welds are unexpected in this price bracket.

What’s changed from last year?

Reid have taken on board some of our feedback from last year’s review too – the new version of the Solo comes with a 1×11 drivetrain, and the bars are wider now, both of which are sensible improvements. It’s also now running through-axles front and rear. ‘

Where will you test it?

It’s definitely true that a 27.5″ hardtail is best suited to smoother, faster trails, and so we’ll be testing this one out on the fast singletrack of Glenrock MTB Park. We’ll let you know how it stacks up soon.

 

Tested: Avanti Competitor S Plus 2

A dependable option that gives you what you expect most the time, the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a trail bike that does the job but doesn’t set the world alight doing it. Is that a bad thing? Let’s discuss how the bike performed in the sort of situations you’ll come across on a trail ride first, and then ponder whether the Competitor S Plus 2’s lack of flair is a positive or a negative.

Plus bikes are ideal for tricky terrain, and a safe bet for beginners, also.

In terms of the bike’s spec, you can check out a comprehensive run through of what comes on the Competitor S Plus 2 in our First Bite, so let’s jump into what happened when we hit the dirt!


How does the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 ride in the singletrack? 

With 140mm of front suspension paired with 130mm in the rear, the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a bike we would define as a long travel trail bike, and the key to any good trail bike is the performance in the singletrack, so let’s start by discussing that.

The Competitor S Plus 2 provides a stable, balanced ride when the trail gets twisty and narrow. Its middle of the road geometry numbers paired with a long 450mm chainstays means that the Competitor clings to lines well, and is very predictable and planted through corners when you setup well and trust the traction of the big tyres.

This much grip changes everything.

When cornering aboard the Competitor S Plus 2, we found it far more critical than on other bikes to use the traditional outside to inside cornering method.

Compared with a bike like the Cannondale Habit, for example, the Competitor S Plus 2 doesn’t like being thrown in on the inside with a foot out and the rear wheel drifting, it prefers to use its stable geometry and predictable traction to cut a smooth arc when the going gets twisty. The exception to this is when you’re faced with repeated tight turns, where we found the best option was to  lift the rear wheel rather than drift it, as once you lose traction with the plus tyres it’s hard to regain it, whereas lifting the rear in tight, repetitive turns still gives you the traction of all your weight over the front tyre.


What about when you’ve got to go uphill as well?

In undulating singletrack, the Competitor is a comfortable bike to swap between seated and out of the saddle positions. This is a good thing, because you’ll find yourself cycling through these positions more than you would on a 130mm 29” trail bike, as the tradeoff for the Competitor S Plus 2’s confidence inspiring plus tyres and long-legged suspension is a weight of more than 15 kilograms once you’ve slapped on a set of pedals.

The Competitor S 2 Plus’s weight also becomes apparent on longer singletrack climbs, as well as punchy technical efforts. One saving grace for the bike’s weightiness though is the traction provided by the plus tyres, and the very active rear suspension, which mean unless the terrain is very soft or slippery you’ll almost always have traction.

Not having to worry about traction means you can focus on putting the power down to get the Competitor moving, rather than taking the line that you would have to take on a bike with regular tyres or less travel.


The Competitor has 140mm of travel up front, how does it go on rowdier trails? 

The Competitor is a surprisingly capable performer when the going gets rough, or steep. As we noted in our First Bite, for a trail bike in this relatively budget price point, Avanti has done a great job in speccing the bike with adjustable and reliable suspension front and rear. Once we’d set up the Yari fork and Monarch RT shock to our liking, we took the Competitor out on a couple of the more technical trails near Flow HQ.

140mm of travel, add the cushion of the plus tyres and you’ve got quite a lot of bounce to enjoy.

In the steep stuff, the Competitor holds a straight line impressively, and performs well under braking with its bulky rubber and planted rear end. The biggest limiter in throwing the Competitor into steeper sections is the Shimano M365 brakes, which lack the power of more premium Shimano offerings and require some serious forethought about your braking points when riding steep and technical terrain. In rough and choppy sections of trail, we were also impressed by this sub 4k bike’s ability to soak up the chunder.

The limiter on the Competitor S Plus 2’s performance in rocky or rooty terrain is preserving the tyres because we found running them at mid-teen pressures gave the best performance characteristics, but we flatted the rear twice pushing through technical rocky sections. These flats were a combination of the relatively thin WTB Ranger tyres and soft Alexrims rims, which were about as robust through rocky sections as an iPhone screen going on a date with the pavement.

Plus tyres are not immune to punctures, finding the right tyre pressure to suit the terrain is paramount.

We were riding the Competitor S 2 Plus in places that perhaps we shouldn’t on the occasions when we got flats, but we wouldn’t want to run higher pressures in the tyres, as running high pressures gives the bike no traction and makes it very bouncy, which are sketchy sensations we like to keep to a minimum!

If your riding involves lots of super rocky stuff, the Competitor can handle it, but we would recommend you swap out to a beefier tyre and wheel set combo.


I might still want to ride the odd fire trail, how does the Competitor S Plus 2 go on more sedate trails? 

Whilst we’re sticking to our guns in classifying the Competitor S Plus 2 as a trail bike, albeit one on the longer travel side for the category, it’s not the sort of bike that you’ll be wanting to take on sedate fire trail rides, or longer, smoother rides in general if possible.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, as we’ve mentioned a couple of times now, the Competitor S Plus 2 isn’t light. We can’t complain about this too much considering this bike is pitched as a budget oriented, confidence inspiring trail machine, but it does make the Competitor S Plus 2 a laborious ride on smooth, non-technical trails.

During our testing of the Competitor S Plus 2, we rode a few sections of fire trail linking up more interesting trails with riding buddies who we’d normally plod along just fine with, but aboard the Competitor S Plus 2 we finished these same rides feeling pretty hammered due to the Competitor’s portly figure and ground hugging tyres.

Despite our reservations about taking the Competitor S Plus 2 out on the fire trails or longer rides, having a lockout on both the front and rear suspension is a bloody brilliant addition if getting to the good stuff involves a road commute, as it does for us most of the time.


So, if the Competitor isn’t a ‘do it all’ style trail bike, who is it the right bike for? 

We’ve spent longer than we normally would in this review talking about what the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 isn’t, which has affirmed what this bike is perfect for. If you’re the type of rider who’s on a budget, but wants a bike that gives you grins in flowy singletrack, or when the going gets just a touch gnarlier without getting to the stage where you’re thinking about putting on body armour, then the Competitor S Plus 2 could be the ticket.

Choose wisely, the Competitor ain’t for smooth trails.

If you’re the type of rider who’s willing to have a bike that requires a bit more grunt on the up and the flats as a tradeoff for traction, stability and confidence on the way down, than the Competitor S Plus 2 is worth a look.

All in all, the Competitor S Plus 2 is just like a soft serve from McDonald’s, you know exactly what you’re getting every time.


How did the parts go, is the bike good value for money? 

As we mentioned in our First Bite, and also our Avanti Range Highlights piece, the Competitor S Plus 2 is a bike that represents pretty good value for money at under $3500 bucks, and Avanti specced this bike very wisely, for the most part, spending their dollars where they really count.

Of course, the heart of any bike is its frame, and the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is an all-aluminium affair with pronounced welds and solid feeling construction. The bike’s suspension platform is a four-bar linkage that Avanti call Tru4, it delivers stability and grip through a fairly linear stroke, which promotes keeping the tyres glued to the trail rather than floating or popping over it.

Avanti’s long-serving four-bar linkage provides smooth and supportive suspension.

The suspension is handled by RockShox, with their budget oriented Yari fork and Monarch RT shock. The fact that these are closer to the entry level of RockShox’s line and they delivered outstanding performance is a testament to how good the suspension of today is, and with rebound and air volume spacer adjustments available, as well as compression adjustment on the fork, there were more than enough knobs to satisfy our inquisitive tweaking.

The drivetrain was Shimano’s SLX 1×11, and as we said in our comprehensive test of the groupset, it’s bloody awesome! We set the gears up on the stand for 10 minutes when building the bike, and a half turn of the barrel adjuster a couple of times throughout testing kept the shifts going smoother than Chris Froome’s legs.

The smooth and crisp SLX drivetrain was a real highlight for us.

The brakes were handled by Shimano, and whilst their M365 brakes aren’t top of the line items, they do the job most of the time. On typical singletrack rides and undulating trails their power and modulation is fine, although their initial bite is on the weak side, so think about your braking points in advance.

The M365’s budget price point becomes more obvious when the going gets steeper, but if you’re getting into longer, steeper riding than upgrading to something like an SLX brake set isn’t a hugely costly upgrade.

The brakes felt nice under the finger, but aren’t particularly powerful.

Wheels and tyres play an important role on plus bikes, the tyres need tough casings but can risk being too heavy, the rims need to be wide and should withstand dings, too. The wheelset on the Competitor S Plus 2 uses Shimano Deore hubs laced to Alex rims MD35 rims, the 35mm width is necessary to support the tyre. During testing, we noticed the rear wheel needing a little TLC with a spoke key to return it to true.

The wide rims give the tyres tremendous support at low pressure, but did feel a little soft when ridden hard on harsh rocky trails.

With the mid-teen pressures that the WTB Ranger tyres need to be run at to give the best compromise between grip, damping and avoiding tyre roll, the rims ding and dent remarkably easy. They’re also not the lightest wheelset out there, perhaps a wheel upgrade down the track to something lighter and stronger would take all the great handling traits of the Competitor S Plus 2 and amplify them with better performance on the climbs, flatter trails and inspiring confidence to give it a bit more of a nudge when the going gets rough.

The KS Eten dropper post, despite having the external routeing performed well, and allowed us to get the best out of the Competitor not just on the descents, but getting low and tipped in (at least in our heads) through the corners.


Any final thoughts?

The Competitor S Plus 2 might not be the most radical bike out there in terms of geometry, suspension design or spec, but its overall abilities offer consistency, and you’re not going to experience too many surprises out on the trail. Despite a few niggling issues with the Competitor, it remains a bike that is excellent value for money and sits right in the sweet spot for the sort of bike most riders should be riding, especially on loose and challenging conditions.

If you’re someone who takes predictably solid performance over potentially outstanding performance, and you don’t want to re-mortgage your house to buy your next bike, then the Competitor S Plus 2 is worth a look!

Tested: Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned

We reviewed the Genius Plus 710 model earlier this year, using the same frame as this model with a lower level parts spec for $5999. We went deep into our thoughts behind the plus bike concept and how they ride on the trails, head to that review here – Tested: Scott Genius Plus 710.

On review this time around, we have the top-end ‘Tuned’ model, which translates directly to ‘holy crap this bike is dialled!’ with its premium parts kit and absolutely gorgeous finish and impressive 12.1kg weight. Everywhere you look on this bike you are greeted with pure class, from the parts to the paint the Tuned level option is very tidy.

We love the colour scheme; it’s a kick arse looking rig.

27.5″, Plus, or 29er? Our two cents on plus bikes.

Arrgh, it’s still convoluted to explain after a couple of years coming to terms with the middle wheel size; 27.5″ plus. So, you’re a mountain biker in the market for a new bike, what wheel size do you choose? Let’s simplify it here; 27.5″ for agility, 27.5+ for traction and control, and 29er for speed and confidence. The Plus tyres are typically between 2.8″ and 3.0″ in width, they have a huge volume of air and mount to wide 35-40mm rims. This all lets you drop the tyre pressures right down low, that’s where the grip comes from.

The Plus format is an excellent option; though it’s not going to be ideal for every rider, or every trail. That said, in the world of hardtails, we do think it has the potential to take over. It makes perfect sense: Unless you’re looking for a full-blown cross-country racing machine, you’re better off on a hardtail with 27.5+ wheels/tyres. You’ll crash less, get fewer flats, have more fun. When it comes to dual suspension bikes, then the matter is a bit murkier, and it becomes more of a horses for courses kind of issue.

Plus bikes, are they your thing?

Despite the marketing teams from the big brands telling us so, we’ve still not seen a plus bike raced at the top level at an Enduro World Series race; we’d have to agree though, for race speed we’d opt for a 29er with chunky rubber on wide rims over a plus bike. It’s the way that the tyres can still bounce and squirm when pushed at race pace. That said, we are about as close to that pace as we are to winning anything, so we’ll back away from that debate and get back to bashing around the trails for the fun of it.

This Scott Genius Plus uses 2.8″ Maxxis tyres on 35mm internal width Syncros rims, which traditionally is on the smaller end of the scale to what we’ve used previously on plus bikes. The Maxxis tyres also have a more regular shape to them, the Maxxis Minion tyre on the front is particularly incredible.

Why not just big tyres on wide rims? Well, that’s a good question, thanks for bringing it up. While we’re not able to see into the future, we can bet on a few things now and then that the industry is up to, and where things are going. After the release of the new Pivot Mach 5.5 with its 2.6″ Maxxis tyres on 35mm wide DT Swiss rims and the 2017 Specialized Enduro 650B with 2.6″ tyres, we’re expecting that platform to put a dent in the popularity of the big 3″ tyre plus bikes next season. Or we could be very wrong, let’s see.


The traction. 

There is so much traction, the dilemma we had testing this thing was what to do with it all? Jumping onto the Genius after riding various long travel 29ers we found ourselves doing some pretty cool things when we began to get comfortable. Like pedalling anywhere and all the time, keeping our feet up through sketchy corners, blasting long jumps over obstacles with a complete lack of regard of line choice. It was damn good fun!

Imagine a 2.8″ Maxxis Minion… Yeah, exactly.

There are always sections of trail that challenge the traction of a mountain bike tyre when we dropped the tyres down to around the 20 psi mark and even lower, we were able to claw our way up steep and loose sections of the track so, so, so much easier.

When compared to the Schwalbe or Specialized 3″ tyres we’ve tried, the Maxxis tyres have more bite and cornering feel than the larger balloon shaped tyres, it helps the bike find good precision on the trails, a criticism we had with the Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie and the original Schwalbe Rocket Ron 3″ tyres on the earlier Scott Genius Plus models.


The high-end bits.

The Tuned model is the top offering from Scott in the plus bike range, the FOX suspension is the best you can get with all the adjustments and slick Kashima coated bits, the SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain is a big winner in our hearts, and the finishing touches from Syncros like the carbon bar, stem and saddle finish it perfectly. All the small bolts like the seatpost clamp, bar/stem, and grips are all torx keys, too.

Big wheels need good brakes and the SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes are well and truly up to the task, it’s also nice to see the aluminium carrier rotors as standard too, very fancy.

Even the unstoppable FOX Transfer post is the flashy Kashima one, there’s really nothing to dislike about this parts spec at all.

Top FOX kit, front and back. The suspension is superb.
That’s what we call high end, a FOX Transfer dropper post, Kashima too!
The Syncros cockpit is carbon, no corners cut here at all.
Adjustable frame geometry via a little reversible chip at the rear shock.

When compared around with other big-name brands, the Scott stacks up very well indeed, have a look for yourself. Where top-end carbon bikes tend to hover around the $9-$11K mark, it makes this one an attractive option if you’re interested.


Twinloc.

Scott’s dual suspension bikes are built around their Twinloc suspension adjustment system, it works perfectly and gives Scott a point of difference from the masses. The nicely ergonomic Twinloc lever sits closely to your left thumb to toggle the rear shock between 130mm, 90mm and locked out. It simultaneously adjusts the fork too, to match the rear end. Yes it does add extra cables that might put off the fussiest riders, though with some time with a pair of cable cutters and some trial and error you’ll be able to tidy it up just fine.

The Twinloc lever on the left side of the bar.
The remote cable to the rear shock is hidden from view, nice touch.

In Open mode, the suspension feel is super buttery, with a really lively feel, that ramps up nicely. Like we mentioned in the review of the Genius 710 Plus, the single-pivot suspension design coupled with the Twinloc is a great pairing. There’s no pedalling platform, and with very little anti-squat in the suspension configuration, it’s very responsive. Hit the lever and engage Climb mode, and the feeling is very different – the bike sits up higher in its travel, raising the bottom bracket, and the suspension becomes much firmer. As we’ve noted above, the Plus tyres still take the edge off, so the ride is surprisingly smooth even with only 90mm of travel.

The full lock-out is really useful on the road, but where we would normally let rear suspension help find traction on loose fire road climbs we would still be able to lock it out and rely on the big tyre and low pressure to bite in hard.


Want more on how it rides?

Click through to our video review of the Scott Genius 710 Plus to see it in action and hear more of our thoughts on the bike’s construction and ride character. 


Cut to it.

The Genius Plus is an all-terrain monster; it’s a big bike with massive ability. Take it to a trail that you’ve found challenging, and your worries will fade away as the traction machine gets going. Don’t look for the Genius Plus for a bike park or race track, give it a challenge, not a clock, and it’ll sure be a great companion on many trails to come.

Max traction, maximum fun.

The stunning finish, incredible parts, adjustable frame geometry, adjustable suspension and grippy Maxxis 2.8″ tyres are a real standout. And on the trail, it’s super confident, lovely and smooth and dead quiet.

Tested: Giant Trance Advanced 1 2017

Watch our full video review below


The characteristic shape of the Trance is similar to previous years, but the new carbon link makes it all appear a lot more solid.

The changes for 2017 – including slacker geometry, Boost hub spacing and a longer travel fork (now 150mm) – align the Trance as a more capable beast when it gets technical. The introduction of carbon upper linkage adds stiffness and drops weight, while the use of trunnion mount shock sees a reduction in shock pressures which has an associated benefit of more supple suspension response.

Going to a trunnion mount rear shock means Giant can fit a longer shock into the same space, which means a greater air volume and consequently lower shock pressures. Outcome? Better suspension performance, although the improvement is pretty incremental really.

At $5799 this bike is at the upper range of the spectrum, but we’d argue it represents excellent value for money. When you stack it up against similar offerings from all the other major brands, and even the direct-to-consumer competition like YT and Canyon, this bike is very well equipped for the cash, with carbon wheels, full Shimano XT and FOX Factory suspension on a (mostly) carbon frame.

Shimano XT sets the standard for reliable, sensible performance. An 11-46 cassette leaves no hill unclimbed.
Giant’s own carbon wheels are sturdy and suitably wide for this style of bike. These are an impressive inclusion at this price point.

As an all-rounder, we feel this bike is the pick of Giant’s range. A lively technical descender and climber, its sheer smoothness will win a lot of riders over, and the new geometry encourages a more reckless approach to the trail. For 90% of the situations we encountered, the Trance had it all wrapped up. It’s not the most efficient bike out there, but the butteriness of the ride makes it a lot of fun when things are rough or slippery.

FOX Factory suspension. This fork and shock are the top shelf items for trail riding from FOX. The higher priced Trance Advanced 0 comes with RockShox, but we think the FOX items here are easily on par with the fork/shock found on the Advanced 0.

The only component we felt restricted by during our time on the Trance was the rear tyre. The Schwalbe Nobby Nic is excellent in softer soils, but it couldn’t handle rough riding in rocky conditions and we ended up with numerous cuts in the tyre. We’d encourage you to look for a tougher tread if rocky trails are the bread and butter of your riding.

Neat cable routing. You might notice the stem – we actually ran a 50mm stem, rather than the stock 60mm, for much of the test, purely out of personal preference.

We’ve been riding a lot of 29er trail bikes lately, and while we would love to see a big-wheeled version of this bike one day, the Trance also reminded us why 27.5″ wheels are so infectiously fun. Giant have defended their turf well with the 2017 Trance Advanced 1, it keeps apace with all the trends towards more aggressive trail bikes, delivering a ride and an overall package that is very hard to top for the cash.

Giant’s best bike for 2017?

Flow’s First Bite: Avanti Competitor S Plus 2

The Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 has one of the loudest paint schemes out there.
The Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 has one of the loudest paint schemes out there.

Upon closer inspection, though, the 1×11 SLX drivetrain and Zero finishing kit reveal that this chunky trail bike is more on the budget end of the price spectrum, despite its lavish paint scheme.


What is the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2?

The Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a 27.5+ trail bike, offering 130mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 140mm fork up front.

The Competitor S Plus 2 pairs 140mm of travel up front with 130mm in the rear.
The Competitor S Plus 2 pairs 140mm of travel up front with 130mm in the rear.

The vibrant red frame is very sturdily built, with solid welds and chunky pivots that stick out upon closer inspection. Avanti integrates the main pivot with the bottom bracket on the Competitor S Plus series with a system they call ‘Trucore’, which they say creates more rear end stiffness and strength.

The Bottom Bracket and Main Pivot aboard the Competitor S Plus 2 are integrated.
The Competitor S Plus 2’s Bottom Bracket and Main Pivot are integrated.

Despite the sturdy design of the Competitor S Plus 2, one aspect of the frame that was overlooked was proper chainstay protection, as in only a couple of short rides aboard the bike thus far, the slim, clear chainstay cover has copped a beating and woken up local residents on early morning rides.

If we were to purchase this bike, we’d be popping on a proper chainstay protector before rolling out of the shop.

No chainstay protector makes for a loud ride.
No chainstay protector makes for a loud ride.

What can you expect from the Competitor’s rear suspension?

The 130mm of rear suspension is delivered via a pretty simple four bar linkage arrangement, and the resulting suspension feel is supple throughout the stroke, but a bit linear feeling. Luckily the shock features a wide range of adjustments to dial in the ride qualities, which we’ll discuss in more detail later.

Avanti's suspension system, called TRU4 is a fairly simple four bar linkage.
Avanti’s suspension system, called TRU4 is a fairly simple four bar linkage.

Is that external cable routing?

Moving on from the chunky hardware and bulging welds, the cables on the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 are all routed externally, and the downtube mounted rear brake and derailleur cables are neatly executed.

One blemish to the otherwise well thought out routing is the externally routed dropper post. As the last mount for the cable outer on the frame is on the top tube, the line runs loosely and almost entirely exposed from the end of the top tube to the tip of the saddle, the exception of the KS provided a mount that attaches to the seatpost itself.

A welcome sight for anyone working on their own bike.
A welcome sight for anyone working on their own bike.
There's not really a way around this, but it still looks ugly.
There’s not really a way around this, but it still looks ugly.

What bouncy bits does it come with?

The suspension at both ends is handled by RockShox. The Yari fork has a similar chassis to the venerable Pike RC, with 35mm stanchions, the ability to install bottomless tokens, as well as rebound and compression adjustments. The difference between the two forks is that the Yari uses the ‘Motion Control IS Damper’ instead of the Charger Damper found on Pike models.

The different damper is noticeable if you’ve ridden a Pike in the past, but the Yari still offers excellent performance, especially at this price point. With the range of user-friendly adjustments available, you’ll be able to get the front-end setup in no time.

The RockShox Yari is a solid performer.
The RockShox Yari is a solid performer.

The shock is a Monarch RT, which offers fully open and locked out compression settings as well as rebound adjustment. We like the decision to pair the Yari and the Monarch RT, especially at this price point, as with their simple adjustments they increase the ability of the rider to fine tune their ride, and the ability to lockout both ends increases efficiency on smoother trails or when riding on the road.

The rear suspension is handled by a RockShox Monarch RT.
The rear suspension is handled by a RockShox Monarch RT.
The suspension choices for the Competitor S Plus 2 are sensible, and offer a variety of adjustments for different conditions.
The suspension choices for the Competitor S Plus 2 are sensible and offer a variety of adjustments for different conditions.

Considering the Competitor S Plus 2’s portly figure and wide rubber, locking out your suspension on smoother terrain will make a big difference, especially on longer rides.

There's lots of rubber on the ground at all times aboard the Competitor S Plus 2 with the 2.8" WTB Ranger tyres.
There’s lots of rubber on the ground at all times aboard the Competitor S Plus 2 with the 2.8″ WTB Ranger tyres.

What have Avanti specced in the shifting department?

The drivetrain is also a real winner. We can’t believe just how well 1×11 SLX just plain works, and minus the loss of the double downshift option XT/XTR shifters have, so far our shifting has been hammering home perfectly every time.

Our only complaint with the drivetrain is that with pedals, the Competitor S Plus 2 weighs in on the wrong side of 15 kilograms, so we wouldn’t mind seeing a bigger lowest gear than the 30-42 that comes as standard. We feel that a 28-tooth ring on the front, or speccing the 11-46 XT cassette would give riders a better range of gears for a bike as weighty as the Competitor S Plus 2.

Shimano's 1x11 SLX groupset offers outstanding performance at this price point.
Shimano’s 1×11 SLX groupset offers outstanding performance at this price point.
With pedals, the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 weighs in at over fifteen kilograms.
With pedals, the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 weighs in at over fifteen kilograms.

What’s the finishing kit like?

The Zero (Avanti’s in-house component manufacturer) components such as the saddle, stem and handlebar look and feel up to the job, but we didn’t understand why the bike came with very thick push on grips. Not only were they squirmy, but they were unusually thick, which didn’t feel all that comfortable underhand. We’ve changed these out for a set of lock on grips for the review.

The stock Zero grips are about as comfortable as an economy flight from Sydney to London.
The stock Zero grips are about as comfortable as an economy flight from Sydney to London.

The 27.5+ wheelset uses Alexrims rims laced to Shimano Deore hubs and is shod with 2.8” WTB Ranger tyres that converted easily to tubeless. Run at mid-teen pressures, the tyres deliver the oodles of traction we’ve come to love from plus bikes.

The braking is handled by Shimano with their M365 hydraulic disc brakes. Whilst they certainly aren’t at the high end of the Shimano range, hooked up to 180/160mm rotors front and rear they do the job, and are a testament to how well modern componentry works, even at the lower end.

Shimano's M365 brakes offer consistent performance, but a bit less power than more premium offerings.
Shimano’s M365 brakes offer consistent performance, but a bit less power than more premium offerings.

Their overall feel is excellent, but one indicator that they’re a lower spec model is the lack of initial power in comparison to an SLX, XT or XTR brake where you can feel the power of the initial bite. The more gradual power the M365 brake provides requires you to think about your braking points a bit further in advance out on the trail.


What’s the geometry like?

A look at the geometry reveals the bike isn’t overly slack, low or long for a bike with this amount of travel, where we’re starting to see some manufacturers go quite aggressive with their geometries, however at this price point Avanti are clearly aiming for a bike that provides stability and confidence on the trail, rather than a bike that is super flick able, and demands the rider makes bold decisions and throws the bike around.

On paper, the Competitor S Plus 2 looks like it would suit the beginner or less aggressive rider.
On paper, the Competitor S Plus 2 looks like it would suit a beginner or less aggressive rider.

The 450mm chainstays in every size are a standout measurement that shows the intended audience of this bike. Whilst lots of experienced riders appreciate the flickability a shorter rear end provides, the slightly longer chainstays give the Competitor S Plus 2 a bit more stability, perfect for a newer or less flamboyant rider.

The 68.5 degree head angle isn’t overly slack either, but is a good choice from Avanti to get more weight over the front wheel, as the plus tyres and 140mm fork can feel vague through weaving singletrack if there’s not enough weight over the front.

Plenty of stack and a reversable stem allows for a range of cockpit adjustments.
Plenty of stack and a reversible stem allows for a range of cockpit adjustments.

How are we poised heading into the full review?

So, despite a couple of niggles, which are somewhat understandable at this price point, the Competitor S Plus 2 looks like a very solid trail bike at a great price that’ll allow both beginners and riders looking for a simple trail bike to have a blast out on the trails.

We're interested to see where the Competitor S Plus 2 shines out on the trails!
We’re interested to see where the Competitor S Plus 2 shines out on the trails!

On our first ride, we were committed to attending a ride with a mate on some more technical trails than we would normally take a bike like this out on, but it performed surprisingly well, so we’re excited to see the bike’s capabilities throughout the remainder of the test.

Flow’s First Bite: Zelvy Funn PDL Wheelset

We’ve got a set of Zelvy’s Funn PDL wheels for testing, to see if they’re worth stretching the budget for.

The carbon weave on these wheels is gorgeous.
The carbon weave on these wheels is gorgeous.

Who is Zelvy?

Based out of Toowoomba, Zelvy is an Australian brand with a growing reputation for carbon wheelsets, particularly in the all-mountain/enduro category.


What wheels are we testing?

We’ll be fitting the Funn PDL wheelset to our Canyon Strive long-term test bike, which has previously with SRAM and WheelWorks Flite wheels for testing.

Zelvy has sent a wheelset that incorporates two different rims. The front rim’s internal width measures 36mm and rear is slightly thinner internally at 30mm wide. Zelvy told us that the different internal rim widths allow for better tyre profiles (a wider, more aggressive tyre at the front paired with something slightly thinner and faster rolling on the rear).

zelvy-wheels-4483
The rim profile is hookless, and tubeless setup was a breeze.

What do you get for your money?

The wheelset we’re testing features Zelvy’s PDL rim, which is their most commonly used rim. The rims are laced onto Funn Fantom hubs.

We're hoping to have lots of fun with these hubs.
We’re hoping to have lots of fun with these hubs.

Funn Fantom Hubs?

We don’t see many Funn products here at Flow, but the Fantom hubs look to be great value for money. They incorporate a 6-pawl design that engages every 3.5 degrees, which feels very snappy in the work stand. High quality sealed bearings should make for many smooth miles.

When purchasing your Zelvy wheels, you can choose either a regular freehub or a Sram XO driver at no added cost.
When purchasing your Zelvy wheels, you can choose either a regular freehub or a SRAM XD driver at no added cost.

What sort of tyres suit these wheels?

Due to the wide internal rim widths of these wheels, we’re running the new ‘wide trail’ tyres from Maxxis, which are specifically designed for wider internal rim widths. The 2.4 Maxxis Minion DHF up front has an extremely beefy profile, whilst the Minion DHR II on the rear is also chunky, but the slightly thinner internal rim width noticeably reduces the tyre profile.


What about the warranty?

This is probably the number one question we hear about carbon wheelsets, and Zelvy gets the tick of approval by offering a five-year warranty on all their wheelsets. Zelvy sell rims separately, which also have a warranty of five years providing the wheel was assembled professionally.


What happens if I crash?

Accidents suck even more than usual when you’ve got a nice set of wheels strapped to your bike. For this reason, Zelvy offers a lifetime fifty percent discount off the retail price for either a complete wheelset or damaged rim due to a crash. 

We'd like to see more brands adopt crash replacement schemes like Zelvy.
We’d like to see more brands adopt crash replacement schemes like Zelvy.

Will these wheels match my bike?

Zelvy offer fifteen (yes you read that correctly) custom sticker sets on every wheel purchase. White and silver are the standard colours, but for twenty dollars extra you can purchase any of the other thirteen options, which should cater for most riders. We couldn’t believe how well our wheelset matched our Canyon Strive, but unfortunately, the stickers are showing signs of a little peeling on the sharp edges and corners of the logo. When we contacted Zelvy about this issue, however, we were told that they had already identified the problem and new wheels would ship with stickers that no longer have this issue.

Now THAT is colour coordination!
Now THAT is colour coordination!

We enjoy testing new wheels; they have such a significant role to play in how a bike rides, and are an area always worth upgrading, especially with wider rims becoming more available.

So we will be giving these wheels a thrashing to see if they’re good enough for your steed, so stay tuned!

For purchasing options, pricing and more click here to the Zelvy online store.

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…
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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.

Verdict

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.

Intense’s New 27.5+ Trail Bike, the ACV

Intense Cycles have a new toy coming our way soon. The ACV (Air Cushioned Vehicle) is the first Plus-format bike from the Californian crew, combining big rubber and trail bike numbers.

Claire Butchar and Chris Kovarik riding the Templeton Trail in Sedona, AZ.
Chris Kovarik putting the ACV’s big rubber to good use.

We’ve got high expectations for this bike; we were blown away by the Spider 275C (read our full review here) and we’ve more generally been stoked on the new Plus format too. So we’ve got a feeling that bringing the Spider’s smooth confidence together with 2.8″ rubber is going to be a winning mix.

ACV-FND-BRN
The Foundation build kit gets SRAM’s NX/GX drivetrain.
ACV-PRO-BRN
Move up to the Pro kit and you’ll score Raceface NEXT cranks, DT wheels and an X01 drivetrain, plus Guide RS brakes.

Intense: “The new ACV ( Air Cushioned Vehicle ) is Intense’s adventure trail bike.  In the US Military, the ACV is a tactical transport vehicle or hovercraft that transitions through various terrain seamlessly. This is where 275+ trail bikes exceed.  The larger volume tires allow the bike to transition from hard pack to loose, rocky, rooty terrain at a much more comfortable pace.”

It seems that the ACV shares a lot of construction similarities with the Spider, including a monocoque carbon frame, Boost rear hub spacing, and adjustable travel (115-130mm). It’s also appears to be single-ring only, which should allow Intense to widen the pivots and make it all very stiff. The ACV will be available in two build kits options, both with a 150mm Pike; a Pro kit for $9499 and a Foundation kit for $6699. Full geometry is below.

2017PRODUCTPRESENTATION-min 23

We’ll be trying to get one of these guys in our hands once they hit our shores.

Shannigans on and off trail

Flow’s First Bite: Pivot Switchblade

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A tale of two Switchblades.
In the black corner we have the Switchblade configured with 29″ wheels.
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Chubby vs tall.

Having two wheel size options for the one model of bike is nothing new (just take a look that Scott Spark, Specialized Camber, Trek Fuel or many others), but an interesting recent development is the appearance of frames which can accept multiple wheel formats without compromise. For an in-depth discussion of where we see this trend going, read our opinion piece ‘The Middle Power’ here.

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Pivot has developed an even wider hub than regular Boost. Introducing the Super Boost spacing.
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The superbly manufactured and incredibly smooth suspension we love from Pivot.
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DW Link suspension delivering buttery smooth 135mm of travel.

The Pivot Switchblade is one such bike. Thanks to a unique rear hub and drivetrain configuration, the Switchblade can happily take either 29er or 27.5+ wheels and massive tyres (up to 3.25″) all while maintaining some of the shortest chain stays on the market, at just 428mm. We’ll look at the rear hub more in our full review, but in a nutshell it uses very wide 157mm hub spacing, Pivot call it Super Boost Plus 157, to enable the rear wheel to be tucked in very close to the frame. Yes, it’s another new hub ‘standard’, but let’s not dwell on that now – there’s been plenty of internet hand wringing about it before, and this is how bike development progresses, get used to it!

So what type of bike is it? Regardless of which wheel format you opt for, the Switchblade falls into the trail/all-mountain category. Rear travel is 135mm, designed to be paired with a longer 150mm fork up front (this longer travel up front trend is something Pivot do a lot). The geometry falls mid-way between the Enduro-ready Mach 6 and the Mach 4 Carbon. Pivot have equipped the Switchblade with a FOX 36, so you know this bike means business!

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150mm FOX 36 forks up front, 135mm travel out the back.
_LOW4458
Frame finish and attention to detail is premium quality.

Pivot’s bikes are always superbly built, and their DW Link suspension is legendary for its amazing pedalling performance and grip. We’re looking forward to seeing what the combination of DW suspension and Plus sized rubber can deliver in loose corners and scrappy climbs!

The Switchblade frame blends elements from the full spectrum of Pivot’s range; the robust linkage is clearly inspired by the Phoenix downhill bike, while the lines of the front end reflect the Mach 4 Carbon. We like where Pivot is going with their bikes – they’re seriously sophisticated frames, nothing is ‘just good enough’.

If you’re looking at this bike and toying with the notion of having two wheel sets to change between (one in 29er for lighter XC duties, one in 27.5+ for burly trail work) then you might be disappointed. Because 27.5+ wheels are a little smaller in diameter than 29″ wheels, Pivot install a taller lower headset cup on the 27.5+ version of this bike to give the correct geometry, so you can’t just chuck in different wheels for different trails.

_LOW4478
The 27.5+ configuration requires a taller lower headset cup to retain the desired head angle with a 150mm travel fork.

We’ve been lucky enough to get both a 29er and Plus version of the Switchblade to review. They are identical, with the exception of the wheelset, so making a comparison is going to be easy as wheel size is the sole differentiation. We can tell you right now that neither bike is ‘better’ – our first short ride confirmed that – but they are certainly different in the way they address the trail.

The Switchblade can be purchased from Pivot Cycles retailers as a frame plus a build kit, the frame kit alone will set you back $4609.95 and build kits range from $4824.95 to $10689.95 for the ultimate Shimano XTR Di2 build.

On review we have the Switchblade 27.5+ XTR/XT PRO 1X build kit, which totals to a complete bike of $9433. Certainly not a cheap bike by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll have more to comment on the value and pricing in our final review.

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A pivot is about as good as it gets, their suspension frames are absolutely top notch.

Stay tuned for our full review soon, it’s time to put them both to the test.

The Middle Power: Could 27.5+ Kill 650b?

We’ve ridden a good handful of 27.5+ bikes now, certainly enough of them to give us a decent picture of their merits. We’re firm fans. In the sandy, rubble-filled, rocky and generally slower-speed trails near Flow HQ, the Plus format is ideal. The bikes float over sand, find braking and climbing traction where we’ve never had it before, and corner on the slippery turns like crazy.

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Hardtails are prime for a Plus invasion.

For us, the Plus format is really just an evolution of how we’ve been setting up our personal bikes too; we, like many people, have been running ‘Plus-ish’ configurations, with wide rims and big rubber, for a couple of years.

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We’ve long been semi-mid-fatting our bikes with mods like 40mm rims.

We’re well aware that the style of trails we often ride aren’t what everyone else encounters. On the hardpacked trails of Canberra or Adelaide, or the red dirt and clay of Cairns for instance, a Plus bike mightn’t be the right tool for the job.

On the fast, handpicked trails of Canberra for example, perhaps 27.5+ would be out of place.
On the fast, hardpacked trails of Canberra for example, perhaps 27.5+ would be out of place.

We’ve had numerous chats with designers about their frustration with having to add another wheel format to their range.

Either way, in many instances, Plus bikes do have some pretty clear advantages over a regular 27.5 bike, certainly enough to justify their existence. This doesn’t make everyone in the industry happy, and we’ve had numerous chats with designers about their frustration with having to add another wheel format to their range. One engineer, who we won’t name, summed it up when we asked him if 27.5+ would survive: “There’s something to it (27.5+). Which is frustrating in a way, because they’re not beneficial enough to take over, but the format has enough advantages in some situations that it’s not just going to disappear either.”

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The Norco Optic in a 29er has virtually identical dimensions and handling to the 27.5 version.

It wasn’t long ago we assumed we’d all be on 26″ wheels forever, so the possible demise of the 27.5 wheel isn’t so silly really.

So it that it? End of story? Are we going to have three common wheel formats – 27.5, 27.5+ and 29er –  from now on? Maybe.

And we say maybe, because what if we’re looking at this the wrong way. What if we shouldn’t be debating the survival of 27.5+, but should be asking if this is actually the beginning of the end for regular 27.5″ wheels? Hear us out here. It wasn’t long ago we assumed we’d all be on 26″ wheels forever, so the possible demise of the 27.5 wheel isn’t so silly really.

There’s plenty of evidence to support this notion. We see three main points. 1) Improvements to 29ers 2) The potential benefits for manufacturers 3) The sequence of development.

First point:

29ers don’t suck now. In fact, they kick arse. Without a doubt, 27.5 emerged at least partly in response to 29ers initially handling like a Winnebago, and that just isn’t the case any longer.

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Boost rear hub spacing has allowed 29ers to be more fun and agile than in the past.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening with frame design and geometry for 29er bikes. With the emergence of Boost hub standards, single-ring drivetrains, new fork offsets and other design improvements, we’re beginning to see the convergence of 29er and 27.5″ frame geometries. 29ers aren’t big boats any more, in fact, it’s totally possible to put together a 29er which echoes the dimensions of a 27.5″ bike now, and which handles, in many peoples’ opinions, just as well as a smaller wheeled bike.

We’re beginning to see the convergence of 29er and 27.5″ frame geometries

The new Norco Optic is a case in point; one of the overarching goals of that bike’s design was to make the 29er and 27.5″ versions handle as close to identically as possible. And the bike’s designer Owen Pemberton freely admitted to us that if they had their time again they might not have developed the 27.5″ version at all, so good is the 29er.

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Pivot’s Mach 429 Trail is another example of how 29ers emphatically don’t suck.

We can point to stacks of examples that show just how far 29er geometry and frame design has evolved, and how many of the handling traits we previously associated only with 27.5 (or 26″) can now be found in some 29ers.

Second point:

There are big benefits to bike manufacturers if 27.5″ goes the way of the dodo.

Consider this: unlike 29ers and 27.5″, 29ers and 27.5+ bikes can share the exact same frame. 

We’re already starting to see manufactures cotton onto this and develop bikes that can happily run 27.5+ or 29er wheels. Take the new Pivot Switchblade for example, or the Santa Cruz Hightower, both of which will run either 29 or 27.5+.

 It’s like a half and half pizza – same pizza, two very different flavours, everyone is a winner.

Bikes like the Pivot Switchblade allow you to run either 29" or 27.5+ wheels in the same frame.
Bikes like the Pivot Switchblade allow you to run either 29″ or 27.5+ wheels in the same frame.

Sure, you might have to make some small tweaks (like using slightly longer travel fork for the marginally smaller 27.5+ wheels), but essentially with one frame you can offer up two very different bikes, for two very different rider or trail types.  It’s like a half and half pizza – same pizza, two very different flavours, everyone is a winner.

At this stage, most people are inclined to view these bikes as a manufacturer hedging their bets, but maybe they’re actually just ahead of the curve.

Last point:

Please allow us to indulge in quick bit of ‘what if’ thinking here for a second, and let’s pretend the sequence of development was reshuffled.

Imagine for a moment that the 27.5+ format was developed before 27.5″.  If that were the case, do you really think ‘regular’ 27.5 would exist? We doubt it. Every aspect of bike development has been moving towards increasing grip, larger tyre volumes, wider rims – if 27.5+ had been developed first, it’s fair to assume that ‘regular’ 27.5″ would be seen as a backwards step.

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If 27.5+ had arrived first, would we have ever developed ‘regular’ 27.5?

In this alternative reality, there’d have been 29″ wheels for the people who wanted lighter, faster-rolling wheels with a more precise feel, then there’d be 27.5+ for everyone else. (Ok, maybe downhill bikes would still have 27.5 wheels, but you get the drift).

Instead, just because 27.5 got here first, it’s now 27.5+ which has to prove its worth. It could have just as easily been the other way around.


This is all pure crystal ball gazing, of course, but with the mad pace of bike evolution now, who’s to say where we could end up. 27.5+ may well end up just being a diversion in the course of bike development. More likely, it may end up sticking around as a third option. Or maybe, it might end up on equal footing with 29er and we’ll see classifieds full of 27.5” bikes soon! What do you think?

Tested: Norco Torrent 7.1

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We aren’t joking, this hardtail is a serious trail bike. Why? Huge amounts of grip, slack and incredibly comfortable geometry and a spot-on stock build. This is a bike every mountain biker will enjoy and appreciate.

Originally a staple in the Hardtail Category of your local DH races, the early versions of the Norco Torrent were a do-it-all bike, built to survive everything you could throw at it. For 2016, Norco have reinvigorated this legacy in the best way possible, utilising the new 27.5+ format running whopping 3.0″ tyres to create a hardtail that’ll baulk at nothing.

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Get ready to do things a hard tail shouldn’t be willing to try!

With a hydroformed aluminium frame, Norco have been able to create funky lines and shapes that are not winning awards for aesthetics, but are guaranteed to survive forever. With an internally-mounted rear brake, quick-release 12x142mm rear axle, external cabling and routing for stealth dropper posts, the Torrent truly is the best combination of functionality and durability.

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The alloy frame won’t win any design awards, but it’s sturdy as an ox.

From a geometry standpoint, this frame is exceptional. Built around 130mm of travel, the 67-degree head angle is a great medium between a full-blown enduro rig, and a light trail bike. The reach for each size is also nice and comparable to a well-sized full suspension bike, giving a comfortable and relatable fit for any rider. One of the standout elements are the super short chain stays. Even with the huge tyres, Norco have been able to keep the rear end to just 422.5mm on a size medium (5mm longer on a size x-large). No wonder this thing is playful!

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A combination of Boost hub spacing and asymmetric stays has allowed Norco to open up enough space to chop the chain stays to just 422mm.

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Check out our recent reviews of some other 27.5+ hardtails

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie

Scott Scale 720 Plus


Component Check

The Torrent is kitted out with an almost bulletproof list of reliable components while still maintaining a pretty great value for money. With the rise of semi-fat wheels, more and more brands are embracing the new format which has made them both reliable and affordable.

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Whopping rims for monster rubber. We beefed up the tubeless tape, as we were initially experiencing some air loss.

The Wheels

It’s hard to not talk about the wheels first, shod with their big rubber. The wide tyres give far greater confidence and control to the rider, through a more stable feeling over rough, off camber or rocky terrain. We highly recommend having a test ride and seeing the magic for yourself; the Plus format will have you cornering harder than you ever thought you could.

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Nobby Nics in a 3.0″ size front and rear. More friction than a velcro covered turd.

While nowhere near as light as your current 29er race wheels with 2.0 tyres, the WTB Scraper 27.5+ wheelset paired with the new Schwalbe Nobby Nic TrailStar 27.5 x 3.0″ tyres are strong and reliable setup. The Scraper rims’ 45mm width give a great tire profile and keeps them stiff. The Nobby Nics are a great performer in all situations where grip is needed and don’t roll around too badly under cornering.

However, don’t plan on changing your tires too often – they are a more challenging set of tyres to get on and off. We recommend taking the time to set them up tubeless too with better rim tape than what is provided, as this will keep the weight down and almost completely eliminate the chance of flats.

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Ping! We did put a couple of dents in the rear rim, a casualty of low pressures and geometry that says ‘GO FOR IT!’

Our wheels copped a beating throwing the bike down some rough rock drops – the kind that usually bottom out full suspension bikes – and they stayed straight and true. However, we did manage to dint them in testing but never lost any pressure in the tubeless setup.

The Groupset

The Torrent is fitted with a mix of SRAM GX and RaceFace components, both of which are a solid choice for this kind of do-it all budget trail bike.

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SRAM’s GX drivetrain is magnificent.

We noticed little to no loss in performance compared to X01 or even XX1 with this entry-level 1×11 drivetrain, with SRAM’s tried-and-true capable feel. The shifting is quick and precise, with absolutely no play in the shift lever, it’s quality kit.

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The GX shifter feels solid given its relatively affordable price point. The grips, however, are a squirmy pain – we’d recommend swapping them out.

Norco has also continued their insightful component spec with a RaceFace bottom bracket and Aeffect crankset with the Cinch System chainring setup. An extremely good looking and functional system, the Cinch System works similar to Shimano Centrelock Discs, which allows for a fully flexible mounting system to allow for any sized chainring, as well as adaptability for any chainring standards you may want to use. We never dropped a chain or had any annoying creaks, even under large stresses.

Cockpit

Some bikes take a little while to get used to, and some just need a whole new stem and bar just to get going. Not the Torrent. Despite being a Norco-branded stem and handlebar, you will feel right at home straight away. With a great width and rise, these bars will surely be a favourite for most average sized people. At 780mm wide, there’s plenty of room to cut down to a size of personal preference, or just run as is.

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The Norco’s cockpit was perfect! The bike runs a KS dropper post – a neat potential upgrade would be the addition of the slick KS Southpaw dropper lever.

They aren’t flexy either, utilizing the newer 35mm standard bar diameter to give increased stiffness. We loved this cockpit, as the numbers almost exactly matched our usual go-to bar-and-stem combos.

Suspension

Norco have definitely gotten their choice of fork right. The new RockShox Yari is an awesome mid travel fork using the chassis of the Lyrik with a Motion Control damper (not the Charger damper in the Lyrik), perfect for the bike’s style of riding. These are the new Boost standard width to accommodate the extra rubber, expanding the hub spacing an extra 10mm. This doesn’t seem to take away any lateral or torsional stiffness, instead just looking and feeling like a beefy pair of Pikes. The Yari runs a simple Solo Air spring, making it super easy to set up. It’s everything you need to thoroughly enjoy the bike without ever feeling like there is too much flex, or ever bottoming out.

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The 130mm-travel Yari looks and feels just like a Lyrik, which is a good thing.
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Boost hub spacing gives the fork a super wide, tough stance.

The Ride:

From the get go, we had the Torrent doing wheelies down the street, despite a bit of extra drag from the oversized tyres. On the trails, this thing punched far above what ‘old’ hardtails could do.

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The fit and sizing of the Torrent is quite similar to any other Norco mountain bike, with a good length in the front and just enough seat tube to get you up in a comfortable riding position for climbing. Our test bike was a medium, which is a good fit for anyone up to about 185cm tall. Hardtail suspension setup is simple and super straight forward – put in your desired PSI, set your usual rebound click, and you are away. We had ours set to 60 PSI and a very central rebound.

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The climbing ability of this new wheel standard is unrivalled, with a great mix of agility, grip and stability. The Torrent will always have your back – up slippery gravel, wet rock, awkward turns and bumpy chutes. The 28 tooth chainring gives a really great range for all terrain, giving you a really nice low range for steep stuff while never spinning out on normal descents. With the addition of nice wide bars, the control you have at your disposal on the ups is just fantastic.

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The extra fat width and tyre volume keeps a huge contact patch on the ground, giving you around double the surface area than a high pressure cross country tire. This also helps keeps you really rolling over tough and challenging sections of trail; they are far less prone to being shaken about by roots and rocks, keeping you upright and giving you the confidence to go even faster.

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Forget what you previously thought hardtails could descend, because the Torrent can handle much more. It tears through any kind of corner far harder than you will be prepared to at first riding it, letting you reduce the braking and barrel into everything. We found the fat tyres to be incredibly reliable in off-camber corners and sections, where you can just lean in and grip without feeling like skating out. The extra weight in the wheels is really not even noticed once you are having a ball of a time, throwing the cushiony rubber into anything you want.

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Running low, grippy pressures is obviously a great time, but if you go too low you’ll find they tyres really swab out through banked, tight corners and they’re far more prone to rim dents. This is what got us; just a touch too much confidence in sending the Torrent into a few awkward rocks left the rear wheel with a few dings – however no flats in sight!

The RockShox Yari performed superbly, like an out-and-out enduro fork. They are up to absolutely anything you can throw their way – paired with the Torrent frame you have an unstoppable and unbreakable tool of trail destruction.

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What we would change:

Despite an almost-bulletproof components list, we wouldn’t hesitate to swap the grips for something more substantial. We found the single-sided lock-on grips too flimsy and they squrimed on the bar. We would recommend trading them out for grips of your preference.

Who wouldn’t want it?

There is no denying the fact that these tyres are BIG. Hence an inherent hindrance to rolling speed, which is more noticeable on hard pack trail or tarmac. The tyres also do feel as they roll and squirm through hardpack berms at low pressures more so than your standard tyre, which may put off those that regularly push hard through smooth, machined trails. It’s not going to be the best tool for flatter cross country applications either, but will make them a lot more fun.

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The wide bars, large forks and 1×11 drivetrain will also not be everyone’s favourite, as they are far more suited to having a great time on the descents instead of climbing or high speeds.

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Verdict

Where would we all be without our first hardtail? The one you rode till it broke, fixed it, then snapped in two? The Torrent is a higher-end reincarnation of that trusty old do-it-all hardtail, just with better geometry, more reliable componentry and modern standards that can take your riding the next step further. The Torrent is a great application of the new 27.5+ wheel size; this a new standard is breathing fresh life into longer travel hardtails. If you still haven’t tried it out, we definitely recommend having some fun on some.

If you like challenging yourself with technical features, want to get the most out of a trail and enjoy the simplicity of the lack of rear suspension, the Torrent may just fill that little hole in your heart that wants to send skinny wood features and rock roll downs. This is by no measure an ‘entry level hardtail’ but is a far cheaper option than its full-suspension cousins with comparable componentry, and you’ll be surprised how close it comes to the performance of a duallie in the rough too.

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Tested: Scott Genius 710 Plus

Like any gate crasher, some just wanted it to go away. But then others were happy to have this rowdy new character join the crowd, with its unconventional approach. A year on from its arrival, the mountain bike party is still divided about the intrusion of Plus (or 6Fattie, Mid Fat, or 27+, or whatever the hell you’d like to call it), with ongoing murmuring about whether it can stay, or if everyone should chuck it back out into the cold night.

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As far as we’re concerned, we’d like it to stay. And our time on board the new Scott Genius 710 Plus just reinforced that feeling for us once again.

The Plus format is an option. No one is forcing you to ride it.

Before we get into the guts of the review, let’s touch quickly on what should be an obvious point. The Plus format is an option. No one is forcing you to ride it. It’s clearly not going to be ideal for every rider, or every trail. That said, in the world of hardtails, we do think it has the potential to really take over. It makes perfect sense: Unless you’re looking for a full-blown cross-country racing machine, you’re better off on a hardtail with 27.5+ wheels/tyres. You’ll crash less, get fewer flats, have more fun. When it comes to dual suspension bikes, then the matter is a bit murkier and it becomes more of a horses for courses kind of issue.

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The success (or failure) of the Plus sized format is going to depend entirely on two things: working out which markets (right down to a regional level) are best suited to this format, and then getting people to try the damn things. Test fleets are going to be essential, because there are a lot of incorrect assumptions about this format that can only be corrected with a test ride. But let’s leave that all to one side for now, and take a look at this bike.


Frame and Build

Robust pivot hardware. The rear shock mount incorporated a small amount of geometry adjustment.
Robust pivot hardware. The rear shock mount incorporated a small amount of geometry adjustment.

As a fellow rider said to us when we had this bike out for a test ride, “Scott do know how to make them look good.” This carbon stealth blade is so sharp, we felt compelled to have a haircut and shave before we took it out. Given the extra cabling faff associated with Twinloc, Scott have managed to make this whole bike look surprisingly clean, and the fluro and black finish is like lightning for your eyeballs.

Given the number of cables up front, it's all neatly managed.
Given the number of cables up front, it’s all neatly managed.

The Genius platform is now available in three wheel sizes – 27.5, 29 and 27.5+.

The Genius platform is now available in three wheel sizes – 27.5, 29 and 27.5+. If you can’t find a version to suit you, you’re a very unique individual indeed. Visually, the three frames are similar, but there are travel and geometry differences obviously. The 710 Plus shares the same travel as the 29er version, with 140mm up front and an adjustable 130/90mm out back, but the geometry is quite different. The 710 Plus is significantly slacker, a 67.5 degree head angle versus 68.9 degrees on the 29er, and the stays are a tad shorter. That said, the rear-centre is still a bit of a handful, at 445mm, which is close to 10mm longer than most of the competition.

Wide, curvy stays make room for big rubber.
Wide, curvy stays make room for big rubber.

The dramatic curving of the seat stays opens up huge amounts of tyre clearance, so there’s masses of space to spare, even with 2.8″ rubber. Heel clearance wasn’t an issue for us either.

Good looker!
Good looker!
Can you see the Twinloc cabling? Just barely, it's very neatly done.
Can you see the Twinloc cabling? Just barely, it’s very neatly done.

The extra compliance of the big volume rubber makes the shorter travel mode more usable in rough terrain

As with all Scott duallies, the suspension system is built around Twinloc, Scott’s unique on-the-fly travel adjustment system. The bar-mounted lever lets you select either 140mm or 90mm travel modes, or you can lock the rear end out completely. The fork’s compression is activated in tandem – open, firm or locked – completely changing the character of the bike at the push of a button. Really the Twinloc system and Plus tyres are a perfect match – the extra compliance of the big volume rubber makes the shorter travel mode more usable in rough terrain.

The rear brake caliper is tucked away, making adjustment a bit fiddly.
The rear brake caliper is tucked away, making adjustment a bit fiddly.

There’s loads of room for a water bottle, thanks in part to the slick integration of the Twinloc cable routing, and we welcome the mechanic friendly external gear and brake lines. Both gear and brake lines do hang low beneath the bottom bracket though, which could be a clearance/damage issue on scrappy trails. The placement of the rear brake calliper tucked in close between the stays is fiddly to adjust, but looks neat.

Believe us, stiffness is important on this bike, as you can put plenty of force through the rear end with so much grip on hand!

Scott give you the option to tweak the geometry, with a flip chip style adjustment at the rear shock mount. We left it in the slacker position, as we’re sure most people will. The rest of the suspension construction is neatly done, with large pivot axles that keep the rear end nice and rigid. And believe us, stiffness is important on this bike, as you can put plenty of force through the rear end with so much grip on hand!

The Suspension

The neat Twinloc lever puts the bike's personality at your finger tips.
The neat Twinloc lever puts the bike’s personality at your finger tips.

The single pivot with a linkage driven shock is the Toyota Camry of suspension layouts, but it’s given an new layer of interest by the Twinloc system. In Open mode, the suspension feel is super buttery, with a really lively feel, that ramps up nicely. There’s no pedalling platform, and with very little anti-squat in the suspension configuration, it’s very responsive.

The FOX 34 just works like a charm, hence the fact we've neglected to talk about it in this review. It just plain works!
The FOX 34 just works like a charm, hence the fact we’ve neglected to talk about it in this review. It just plain works!

Hit the lever and engage Climb mode, and the feeling is very different – the bike sits up higher in its travel, raising the bottom bracket, and the suspension becomes much firmer. As we’ve noted above, the Plus tyres still take the edge off, so the ride is surpisingly smooth even with only 90mm of travel. The full lock-out is really only useful on the road, so we rarely utilised it.
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Setup

Tyre pressure is critical with this much air volume at play. Too high, and you’re not going to get any advantages from the big tyres, just a bouncy, jumping castle kind of ride. Too low and you risk a vague, slow feel. For us, the sweet spot was about 14/15psi, or even a smidgen lower. A digital pressure gauge is essential, don’t trust your track pump. Of course, you’ll want to go tubeless too, and this process is no different to with a regular tyre.

With such high volume tyres, getting the air pressure right is more critical than ever.
With such high volume tyres, getting the air pressure right is more critical than ever.

We’re still getting our heads around how Plus sized tyres affect suspension setup, or whether it really does at all. There’s definitely a bit more bounciness to the bike, with all that extra undamped suspension from the bigger tyres, so we added an extra click more of rebound damping than usual.


The Bits and Pieces

It’s still early days for Plus tyres, so there’s no real consensus yet on what is the optimum rim/tyre width ratio. The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie we tested not long ago had 29mm rims, with 3″ tyres. In comparison, the Genius Plus has 40mm rims and 2.8″ tyres. As a result, both have quite different tyre profiles, the Specialized being more rounded, with the Genius’s tyres having a more square shape. The super wide Syncros X-40 rims give the tyre a huge amount of support, which is reassuring when you start dropping the pressures to the low teens.

The low-profile Rocket Ron scoots along very quickly. Increased drag is such a minor issue that we'd happily overlook it.
The low-profile Rocket Ron scoots along very quickly. Increased drag is such a minor issue that we’d happily overlook it.

The tyre combo of a Rocket Ron and Nobby Nic works amazingly well. The beauty of such a big contact patch is that you can run a firmer compound without losing much in the way of grip, so both tyres are the quick-rolling Pace Star compound.

A 30-tooth ring and chain guide is ideal. Low gears for the climbs, some security when things get rowdy.
A 30-tooth ring and chain guide is ideal. Low gears for the climbs, some security when things get rowdy.

SRAM’s GX drivetrain is a giant slayer. Honestly, there’s so little performance difference between GX and the more expensive SRAM 1×11 groupsets, we’re sure SRAM are kicking themselves! The 30-tooth chain ring is a good idea; the grip on this bike is like a trials moto, so it makes sense to give it the gearing to climb up a wall.

Our bike's post was very slow to return.
Our bike’s post was very slow to return.
Shimano's SLX brakes have a light, accurate lever feel.
Shimano’s SLX brakes have a light, accurate lever feel.

Shimano’s SLX brakes aren’t glamorous, but they never miss a beat and work brilliantly. Less awesome was the Rockshox Reverb, which seemed like it was damped with golden syrup and returned back to full extension with all the enthusiasm of a teenager on a Saturday morning.


The Ride

Surely we’re grappling with a boat here, a real pig of a bike, right? Incorrect. The Genius Plus is fun, fast and will change the way you look at the trail. Confidence is the key attribute, the feeling is akin to the first time we rode a dual suspension bike, there’s an air of invincibility. Less regard needs to be given, to anything.

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We’re lucky in that many of our regular test trails are ideally suited to the Genius Plus, littered with rubble and loose sandy surfaces. It’s here that the Genius shines, it floats over sand, it refuses to get skittish when the trails turn to loose rock.

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We struggled to get our head around the cornering abilities of this bike. Even with its long rear end, the way it flings into a corner is ridiculous. On trails that we’ve ridden a hundred times, we needed to unlearn our usual braking points, and on corners where we’d usually unclip our inside foot, we could ride with both feet up. You just carry more speed through turns, and that makes for a faster ride overall.

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We did clip a lot of pedals on the Genius, but that’s because we were pedalling more – the extra compliance and grip means you can continue to lay down the power where it just wouldn’t have been viable before.

Rubble, no trouble.
Rubble, no trouble.

Climbing on the Genius is not about how fast you get up, but what you can get up. If you enjoy a technical climbing challenge, then the Genius is almost cheating. With the Climb mode engaged, it doesn’t get bogged down, and there’s unreal amounts of traction, so you can just keep churning away at the pedals.

Instant confidence.
Instant confidence.

So what about downsides? Certainly, there are some. On smooth, flatter trails, there’s a small increase in rolling resistance, but it’s hardly perceptible. There’s also a little more weight to cart about, but again not a lot. When you compare the Genius 710 Plus to its 29er equivalent, there’s about 600-700g in it. But it’s not weight for weight’s sake, it comes with huge benefits in terms of traction. We know what we’d choose when it comes to trade off between weight or grip.

A rather long rear-centre measurement doesn't dampen the Genius's enthusiasm for cornering.
A rather long rear-centre measurement doesn’t dampen the Genius’s enthusiasm for cornering.

Perhaps the most noticeable drawback is the occasional feeling of increased ‘bounciness’. At high speeds, or upon a really heavy landing or compression, or a fork bottom out, you can feel the tyres ‘ping’ back, with an extra fast rebound that can be hard to tame. It caught us unawares more than once. We’re also not sure how this format would perform in the mud, but we so rarely get to experience those conditions on our trails, that we’re not willing to really comment on this.


Overall

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We’ve talked a lot about this bike’s performance in terms of how the tyres impact it, rather than the bike as a whole, so we apologise. But the reality is, the Plus wheels/tyres just dominate this bike’s behaviour on the trail – if it had regular rubber, it would be a completely different experience. The Genius 710 Plus is supremely good fun, it’ll make you laugh out loud as you blast through corners that once felt awkward or sketchy, and as you hammer into rocky chutes with all the confidence of being on a downhill bike.

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This isn’t a bike for every trail surface or every rider, but if you’d dismissed this bike out of hand because of its wheel size, then pull your head out of the sand and line up a test ride. It might suit you, it might not, but you’d be silly not to give it a try.

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Genius 710 Plus

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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40mm Syncros rims.
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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Imagine what you could do with tread like this!?
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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.

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Stumpy little headtube, handy if you want to dump the stem down low.
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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.

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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.

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Shimano brakes and shifters.
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Shimano throughout.
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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.

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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.

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Righto, let’s ride!

Stay tuned for our full review.

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?

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Yeeehaaa!
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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.

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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.

Tested: Pivot Mach 4 Carbon

If you’re going to hang a Picasso, you don’t do it in a chicken shed. You pick somewhere grand, with security guards and marble floors. And when you’ve got a new Shimano XTR Di2 groupset to play with you, you don’t fit it to any old shitter. You pick something sensational, something that will perform at the same level as the grouppo.

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When Shimano gave us a new XTR Di2 groupset to review, our very first inclination was to secure the new Pivot Mach 4 Carbon as the test sled. This bike has the kind of performance pedigree that Bart Cummings (rest in peace) would appreciate, and also had the benefit of being one of the very first Di2 optimised bikes on the market.

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We built our Mach 4 Carbon from scratch. The frame weight is a little over 2.5kg.




 

You can read more about why we picked the Mach 4 here, and the build process of installing Di2 onto this remarkably sexy frame. We’ve now had a number of months on this bike; we’ve raced it, razzed it and experimented with a number of different setups, so we feel like we’ve got a great handle on what it’s all about.


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The standover height of this frame is remarkable.

[divider]A classy evolution[/divider]

We’ve ridden (and owned) earlier versions of the Mach 4, back when it was an alloy, 26-inch wheeled bike, and we’ve also spent a lot of time on board the 29er version, the Mach 429. While our time on both those bikes is remembered with fondness, a brief look is all it takes to realise the Mach 4 Carbon sits at a completely different level of refinement. This is one sophisticated lady.

But let’s not confuse sophistication with beauty. We’re clearing the air here: we dig this bike, but it has looks that only mother could love. Of course, every swoopy, bulgey bit has a purpose – Pivot’s head honch Chris Cocalis is not the kind of man who will ever sacrifice performance for appearance sakes. Pivot build their bikes to uncompromising standards.

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Cleaner than bleach.

The Mach 4 Carbon is really a cross-country machine, but not in your traditional lycra and calf definition kinda way. The geometry is definitely cross-country oriented, but it has a little more travel, and while the XC sector is still largely dominated by 29ers, it runs 27.5″ wheels.

Because of these traits, it has a pretty broad scope of use.

A light build with a 100mm fork could make it a razor sharp race bike for technical conditions, but you could also build it with the ability to act tough (we’ve seen some riders put a 140mm fork up front, with a 60mm stem).

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In our mind, the bike’s sweet spot is somewhere in in the middle, equally happy on a buff racetrack or scampering through rocky descents. Our build played to the bike’s strengths, running the recommended 120mm fork, an 80mm stem and, of course, the delectable XTR Di2 grouppo. Basically, we built it up as the nicest bike on the planet.

[divider]The frame[/divider]

We received our Mach 4 as a bare frame set, which gave us a chance to really appreciate its construction. It’s a super compact frameset, with one of the lowest standover heights we’ve ever seen. The shock is slotted up close to the top tube, leaving just enough room for a bottle.

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The DW Link. Stiff as! Note the little port for the Di2 wiring.
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A bottle will fit, but not without the bottle lid rubbing a mark on the frame. You can experiment with different shaped bottles, or reverse the orientation of the shock too, to make more room.

Reducing unwanted frame flex is a guiding principle for Chris Cocalis, and the Mach 4 is stiffer out back than your legs that time you woke up sleeping in a hotel shower. But let’s not go there.

The links are chunky little hunks machined alloy, and the stays are stoutly bound together with a DT 142mm axle. The wide, press-fit bottom bracket laughs in the face of your attempts to induce flex.

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For us, part of the Pivot’s appeal was its Di2-ready construction. The frame comes supplied with rubber grommets to house and guide the wiring, and there’s a battery compartment in the down tube too, stashing it away from harm. It’s neater than a military haircut. Building the bike took us a while because it was our first experience with building a Di2 bike from scratch, but at least that gave us plenty of time to enjoy the process!

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The Di2 wiring runs inside the Pro Tharsis bars.

If you’re building up a Mach 4 with cables and not electric wires, you’ll be happy to hear that the cable routing is 1000% better than on the older generations of Pivots. The bike is supplied with a variety of plugs and port covers, so you can run all kinds of permutations of cabling and keep it tidy and rub free.

Protecting your investment from chain slap and rocks are pleather down tube and chain stay protectors, but keep the high pressure hoses away from their adhesive undersides if you want to keep them.

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Chain slap protection aplenty makes it a quiet ride, even with a front derailleur.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

Suspension performance is at the heart of every Pivot’s design, and Dave Weagle (holy grand Sharman of mountain bike suspension, hallowed be his name) works closely with Pivot’s engineers on the development of each new frame.

The Mach 4 gets 115mm of travel, which seems like an unusual number, like inviting people for dinner a 7:19pm…. Whatever, the DW-Link system is at the top of the pyramid of suspension systems. You need to be quite precise with the sag setup to extract the most out of this bike – if you’re of the XC mindset of just pumping the hell out of your shock to firm it up, then you’re absolutely wasting your time and this bike’s abilities here.

When set up with the correct sag, it’s one of the most stable pedalling bikes out there, with nary a murmur of unwanted suspension bobbing.

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115mm of travel, optimised for your pleasure. The bike comes with a neat sag guide to get the suspension setup nailed.

Controlling the motion of the ocean is the superlative FOX CTD Factory shock, tuned specifically for the Pivot with very low compression damping settings. 

[divider]Build highlights[/divider]

As we’ve said above, our Pivot was dressed to impress with a full Shimano XTR Di2 groupset. Pivot offer the Mach 4 in more build kit options than Mormons have kids, including two XTR variants, but ours was a custom build using Shimano all over. Over the course of our testing, we ran the Pivot in both a 2×11 and 1×11 drivetrain configuration. We also ran it with/without a dropper post, and mucked about with tyre size too.

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For a 120mm bike, the FOX 32 is up to the task. It did a worthy job of matching the rear end’s performance.

Our favourite setup was a 2×11 drivetrain, but using Shimano’s amazing single-shifter Synchro Shift mode. Synchro Shift operates both front and rear derailleurs with just a single right-hand shifter, freeing up your left hand for a dropper post remote. You can read more about Syncro Shift in our full XTR Di2 review here.

[divider]Setup[/divider]

As we’ve stressed above, you need to get the rear suspension sag right. At 30%, some people may well feel it’s a little soggy when they first swing a leg over, but from the first pedal stroke you’ll know it’s perfect, the suggested setup guide speaks truth.

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Good rubber on stiff wheels. The Specialized Purgatory is a really good all-rounder and we use it a lot on test bikes.

While it might be tempting to run skinny little cross country tyres on the Mach 4, we’d suggest going something with a bit more volume to it, in order to totally maximise the climbing traction available from the super active rear suspension. We ran a Specialized Ground Control / Purgatory combo in a 2.3″ in the end, after initially using a set of Schwalbe Rocket Rons which didn’t have enough bite on the front end for our liking.

The Pivot is pretty low up front (good if you do want to get in a racy position), but on steep descents it’s quite front heavy. With the flat bar and negative rise stem we were using, we ended up running about 15mm of spacers underneath the stem so we weren’t too low when things got rough. A shorter head tube is a good thing overall, we feel, as you can run a taller fork without jacking up the bars too high, or get lower than shortie if you’re a hammerhead racer.

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A short head tube and flat bar meant we opted to use a 10mm spacer under the stem. Time to charge the battery too!

Because we were using PRO’s Di2 compatible Tharsis cockpit (with internal wiring for the shifters) we were a bit limited in terms of the stem/bar options. Our 80mm stem / 720mm bar cockpit was pretty much spot on. We wouldn’t want to go any longer on the stem, as it’s a fairly rangy top tube already, but going a smidge wider on the bar would be a good idea, just to help muscle the bike out of situations when you push its limited travel to the limit.

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A dropper post is a must on this bike, we feel. Embrace the freedom!

We took advantage of the Pivot’s internal dropper post routing and ran Specialized dropper. We’d encourage you to do the same, even if you’re only interested in strictly cross country riding – it just frees this bike up so much! You’re in a pretty front heavy position on the Pivot, so being able to lower your centre of gravity is a blessing.

To all the cross-country crew: don’t be a luddite, don’t let #xcpride get in the way of fun, use a dropper post!

[divider] Singletrack manners[/divider]

Like a Depression-era grandma, nothing goes to waste with this bike – you pedal, it responds. The chassis is twist-free and the suspension stability doesn’t get upset by the kind of floppy, random pedalling that generally accompanies cresting a massive climb. Being such a roomy bike, thanks to the super low top tube, you can really sprint it about, chucking the bike from side-to-side freely and even then it stays calm and won’t wallow.

Pivot Mach 4 16

The Mach 4 gets up to speed fast, whether you’re seated or out of the saddle. Sure, it doesn’t match obscenely snappy acceleration of a hardtail or something like the Specialized Epic, but unlike either a hardtail or an Epic, the suspension works all the time. You’re not constantly flipping shock levers, or worrying about what mode you’re in, and there aren’t the usual compromises between pedalling and bump-eating performance.

On paper, the Mach 4’s bottom bracket height is pretty low, but we didn’t find ourselves smashing up the lovely finish of the XTR cranks as often as we feared. We did however appreciate the low bottom bracket height in the corners; combined with the low front end, your centre of gravity is low, right in the bike so you can tip in nicely.

[divider]Going up![/divider]

Long, steady, steep, loose – these are the climbs the Pivot loves. Anywhere you can get into a rhythm and tap out a tempo is where you’ll fly past your mates (or competitors). For a smaller wheeled bike it motors up the ascents beautifully, where a 29er would ordinarily have the advantage. The very low weight of our test bike helped too, of course, but the fact the Mach 4 finds traction where others skip out and yet doesn’t get stuck in a quagmire of syrupy travel is where the real gains are.

Pivot Mach 4 20

As we’ve noted before, using a dropper post has its advantages on a climb too. With a regular post, it’s common to run the saddle a tiny bit lower than is ideal, so you can get a bit more clearance on the descents, but with a dropper you can get the correct extension on the climbs while slaughtering the descents too.

[divider]Get excited, but not too excited[/divider]

When things get rapid and downhill, the Mach 4 has the edge over other bikes of its ilk. When compared to something like the Scott Spark – a highly comparable 120mm 27.5″ bike – the remarkably stiff frame and buttery suspension of the Pivot are leagues ahead when you’re looking to hold a rough line.

Pivot Mach 4 17

But push too far, and you do get reminded that the Mach 4 is still a cross country bike, and therefore requires a steadier hand and a bit more attentiveness than a slacker, longer bike would allow. The wheelbase is pretty compact and the suspension is tuned for traction rather than swallowing up your mistakes, so you find the bottom of 115mm relatively fast when you start trying.

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 10
Veteran racer Mick Ross piloted the Mach 4 Carbon at the Convict 100.

[divider]Other options[/divider]

If you’re considering a Mach 4 Carbon, you’re obviously a bit of an afficiando as it sits pretty high in the pricing stakes. The Scott Spark in a 27.5″ is a very racy alternative; light as hell, savagely efficient, but not nearly so smooth as the Pivot. You could also look at Treks Fuel EX series, which are more of a trail bike than a race bike, but in the higher end models are pretty damn light. The GT Helion we tested a while bike is a funky alternative too, with its unique spec.

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

This is a really, really nice bike. While the price is fairly stratospheric, you can actually see the value here in the superb finish and zero-compromise performance. It’s lightweight yet anything but flimsy, efficient but magnificently smooth, precise without being unmanagably sharp, and it defies being pigeon holed on the trail.Pivot Mach 4 Convict 17

While you don’t have to build a Mach 4 Carbon with an XTR Di2 groupset to enjoy it, it has been an amazing experience having this bike in the fleet for the past few months. This bike doesn’t just continue Pivot’s legacy, it pushes the brand even further ahead of most of the pack.

There are few bikes that can match this one in our opinion.

Long Term Test Update: 35mm Wide Ibis 741 Wheels

We knew wide rims were going to catch on, since we reviewed these wheels almost 12 months ago the mountain biking fraternity has seen the rise and reality of more than just wide rims, we now have 27.5+ bikes. All this time we’ve been rolling around on what was pretty much a plus bike, it just wasn’t called one as such.

The 27.5″ Ibis 741 wheels are 35mm wide (internal width), we fitted them to our Trek Fuel EX with 2.4″ Bontrager XR4 tyres. These are not ‘plus’ size wheels, they use standard width hubs, on 27.5″ diameter rims. So if you’re interested in the benefits that a plus bike has, but already have a nice bike a set of these wheels would bring it pretty close in performance to the new breed of ‘semi fat’ plus bikes.

The Ibis wheels on the right, next to a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie with 3" tyres.
The Ibis wheels on the right, next to a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie with 3″ tyres.

More on plus bikes here: Tested – Specialized Fuse 6Fattie and Tested – Scott Genius Plus and Scale Plus.

It was riding these wheels which has started our affinity for bigger bagged rubber on trail bikes, the way they transformed our bike into a traction machine was unmistakable. But as you would read in the review below, the set of wheels we were using developed cracks around a few of the spoke nipple holes. The wheels were swiftly replaced, and we sent them back to Ibis HQ in Santa Cruz, CA for inspection. Here was the official word from Ibis:

Regarding the spoke hole problem, that’s unusual (1 time) and would have been covered under our warranty.

The carbon is reinforced at each spoke hole so that the rim pull through strength is more than 2x the strength of the spoke. So the spoke will normally break long before the rim will crack. It looks like the spoke hole reinforcement material was not lined up with the spoke hole drilling, or did not mould correctly. Currently there are specific places for the reinforcements in the tooling to keep everything lined up, so this should not be a reoccurring problem.

So that was that, the replacement set of wheels are still fitted to the Trek Fuel to this day, and we still love them to bits.

The Ibis wheels took a break from the Fuel EX, and came over to Queenstown, NZ with us fitted to a Trek Remedy for some big mountain shredding. And we mean SHREDDING! There has been not one sign of any repeat issue in the carbon.

IBIS

Going forward, they will now come with a DT 350 rear hub.

Read below for our initial review on the wheels.


Wider rims on bikes are inevitable, there is no doubt it’s going to be the next big thing. We’re so confident that the trend of wide rims will spread into all genres of mountain bikes, that we’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long?

Ibis are best known for making curvy and fluid carbon bikes like the Mojo or Tranny, but a few sets of wide rimmed wheel sets have appeared in their catalogue recently. These new Ibis 741 wheels are carbon, subtle in appearance and have an internal width of 35mm, now that is really bloody wide. Using pretty standard looking hubs with Enduro sealed bearings (new wheels will now ship with a DT Swiss 350 rear hub) these wheels don’t cry out ‘look at me!’ like many carbon hoops around, they almost make it look like you’re riding a fat bike, but what they do to your ability on the trails is astounding.

Many of you may remember riding rims with such width in the early days of mountain biking, most likely steel or heavy aluminium. Now it appears history is repeating itself now that carbon technology has advanced so far. These wheels are available in a 650B/27.5″ size, and the Ibis 941 set for 29ers.

Test Ibis 741 Wheels 13
The 741’s made our Bontrager XR4 tyres look far bigger than when fitted to the original wheels.

It’s all about traction, and it’s that connection with the dirt that us mountain bikers seek. When there is no traction we hit the deck and that hurts, so imagine if you could add traction to your bike without adding weight to a place on your bike like your wheels? Well, you can.

Wider rim gives your existing tyre a greater contact surface with the ground. Taking the exact same tyre and fitting it to a wheel with a wider rim clearly shows the tyre looking visibly bigger and having more volume. The tyre also has a stronger stance, and withstands rolling around on the rim. With a 35mm internal width, these are a whole lot wider than your average mountain bike rim. Most traditional all-mountain rims are around 21-23mm, but we’ve seen brands like Specialized and ENVE pushing for a wider width. Specialized’s Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels are also a beefy 30mm wide.

Ibis-741-wheels-4
The 741 wheels use tape to seal up for a tubeless set up. Simple, easy and perfect during testing.

It took us about three minutes on the trail to make up our minds, and another three to completely confirm that wide rims are the way forward. You know that feeling when you get a flat tyre, but before it loses all the air you have that fleeting moment of magic traction? Well imagine that all the time, but without the tyre squirming, or dragging along or stopping to fix it.

We used the Ibis 741 wheels on two bikes, a Giant Trance Advanced SX and a Trek Fuel EX 9.8. Switching between the standard wheels and the Ibis felt like you suddenly had the bike handling skills of Sam Hill. We were literally throwing our bikes into the turns, harder than usual, and with new-found confidence. Rolling resistance on the trail is reduced too, with lower tyre pressures, the bike rumbles over the rougher surface with less resistance, and without pinging back off rocks or roots.

Test Ibis 741 Wheels 4
No flashy decals at this stage, just stealth black.

We didn’t drop the pressures enough on the first ride, and we kept going lower and lower until our tyres were running less that 20 psi. Dropping the pressures down unlocked the full potential of the wide rims, aiding the traction in corners, climbs and slippery roots like mad. With such low pressure, we never rolled a tyre off the rim or burped air from the tubeless system. 

The Ibis wheels made our 120mm travel Trek Fuel feel like it had 130mm, that may sound silly, but that is exactly how it felt. Rocky terrain seemed less intimidating, and climbing up the steepest single tracks all of a sudden became a reality. We walked less climbs, hit corners harder and rode our bikes looser and more relaxed than before. Terrain was opened up to us, we felt like cheats. The trade off is increased drag on the ground, you can hear and feel your tyre’s knobs rumbling over the trail surface. But we were so happy with these wheels where it mattered the most, that we found the trade off to be perfectly acceptable.

They are really going to suit the trail bike rider with an all mountain attitude, they are light enough to drop weight out of stock bikes, and stiff enough to not feel like you’re riding a traditional lightweight set of wheels.

After a few good months of testing, the wheels stayed true and the hubs spinning fast and smooth, but we did notice a slight amount of carbon cracking around one of the nipples on the rear wheel, and two more showing a signs of stress. We immediately let the Ibis folks in Australia know, and their response was – “We haven’t seen or heard of this happening since the release of the wheels, and are confident that it was an anomaly. Ibis will be giving comment upon inspection of the fault by their engineers at Ibis HQ”. Ibis are going to take a look at our set of wheels, and also send out another set for a longer term test, so stay tuned.

In the end, we’re happy to be continuing a test on the 741s. They allow you to ride harder and in more control as if you are magically riding on ‘hero dirt’ all the time, and that is a very good thing.

So, this set is going back to Ibis, and we’ll keep on flogging the replacement set all summer long.

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: Scott Genius Plus & Scott Scale Plus

Scott make no mistakes when it comes to picking trends, the industry giant has put their weight behind emerging wheel sizes in the past and haven’t looked back. The same thing couldn’t be said for many other big players.

27.5+ is the next big thing in the development of mountain bikes, and we can guarantee that over the next short while we’ll see just about every bike brand, tyre and wheel manufacturer getting behind it too.

We weren’t without frustration when the news of a new standard broke, and are happy to admit that initially we didn’t give a toss for all this fuss. But looking back we can safely put all that behind us now. It’s a hard story to tell in words, you need to ride one to make it crystal.

Scott Plus 2

Genius Plus
Mick taking on ‘The Spine’, a remarkably intimidating line of pure jagged rock.

We spent a few days in Deer Valley, Utah on new bikes from the 2016 Plus bikes – Genius and Scale – we wanted to know exactly where these ‘diet fat’ bikes fit in and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. For more on 2016 Scotts, take a peek at our quick look at the range here – Scott 2016 bikes.


What’s it all about, what the hell is a ‘Plus bike’?

It’s all about really big tyres. To benefit the experience of mountain biking by enhancing the control of the rider through increased traction and stability, Plus bikes use 27.5″ diameter wheels with wider rims and bigger tyres.

– The Scott Plus bikes are from the new category of 27.5+ bikes.

– 27.5+ will use a 40mm wide (internal width) rim and a specifically developed Schwalbe 2.8″ width tyre. Typically the average trail bike uses a rim between 21-27mm wide and a tyre between 2.0″ and 2.4″.

– Scott and Schwalbe worked to develop the best tyre size for the job, initially beginning testing with a 3″ width prototype, then down to a 2.8″ and ultimately residing with a 2.8″ with lower profile tread. The third generation tyre wasn’t ready for our media launch, all the bikes we rode and are pictured here with the second version with taller tread.

– Scott will have the 2.8″ Schwalbe Plus tyres to themselves for one year before other brands can spec them.

– The tyres will weigh around 800-850 grams.

– Genius Plus is 250g heavier than a comparable spec Genius 29er.

– All the main tyre manufacturers will have 27.5 Plus tyres soon.

– Genius Plus uses the new standard Boost 148mm wide rear hubs and 110mm front hubs.

– The Scott Genius Plus uses a 29er front triangle, with a new aluminium rear end to compensate for extra tyre clearance.

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40mm wide rims on the Plus bike.
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It must be like having really big feet, harder to fall over right?

– The bigger tyre gives you a larger contact patch on the ground, for a huge increase in traction.

– The rider can run low tyre pressure without the tyre rolling around on the rim.

– With such a large air volume, the risk of flat tyres is significantly reduced.

– Scott’s Plus bike range will consist of three bikes for 2016 in various models. The Genius with 140mm travel, it’s bigger brother the 160mm travel Genius LT (unfortunately not a model distributed into Australia for 2016) and the Scale Plus hardtail. More details on the range here – Scott 2016 bikes.


How does it ride?

Our first impressions were not clear, nor was our mind after a numbing flight to Utah from Sydney. In all honesty we were a little unsure whether we liked it or not, the Genius Plus felt so different to anything we’ve ever ridden here at Flow. The closest we’d ridden was testing the Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie hardtail, but this was our first time on a dually.

The sheer amount of traction on offer really does take some getting used to. But in this case it wasn’t just the foreign bike that threw us into a spin, being at altitude in Deer Valley the trail conditions were a world apart from a cold and wet Sydney, the bike park trails were open, super-fast, loose, rough and bone dry. We found the tyres to sit on top of the trail surfaces, rather than biting into it and on loose gravel the big bag would swim across the surface somewhat, we can only imagine that this is how it would feel in deep mud.

It was at that point after a couple laps of the trails that we couldn’t help but suspect this could have been an over-hyped and unnecessary new fad, but we were wrong.

To paint a clearer picture in our minds, we swapped back to the standard 27.5″ wheel Genius with 2.35″ width tyres for a few laps. After a whole day riding the chunky Plus bike switching back gave us the feeling like we’d just thrown a leg over a skinny cyclocross bike! The ‘tiny’ 2.35″ tyres were certainly very zippy and quick, but felt too sketchy and nervous on the trails we were only just getting the feel for. We’d grown used to the feeling of the Plus bike without really knowing it. So it was time to jump back onto the big 2.8er, really give it some and open the throttle wide open. Our ambitious riding went to another level and we loved every minute of it!

When pushed harder and harder, the big tyres held on to the ground like nothing we’ve ever ridden. We braked later coming into turns, and generally braked less across the board, holding more speed and blasting around the trails with a brave sense of renewed ambition.

We’ve spent plenty of time on downhill bikes over the years, but to find the limits of traction on big DH bikes you need to be going really, really fast. The Genius Plus was so much more agile than that, and twice as playful.

You do notice the bigger tyres when making quick direction changes, the added weight on the outer of the wheels creates a gyroscopic effect, and it’s hard to ignore. Throwing the bike around the bike felt slightly slower to react, like you were riding a 29er with heavy wheels. Dropping the bike down onto the side knobs of the tyres into a corner, or quickly smashing a berm required a bit more body language. We did get used to it, and intuitively adapted our riding style.

We found ourselves taking wider lines into turns and staying off the brakes, putting unprecedented faith in the traction of the big tyres. Grabbing a handful of brakes would almost send you over the bars as the bike would bite down into the dirt rather than skimming across the top. And the noise the tyres make is pretty crazy, so much rubber amplifies the sound of the tread grabbing the trail, in a group of riders on Plus bikes it sounds like a traction party at happy hour!

For the fun of it you could also ignore the best line through a berm and go right through the inside, with a confident trust in the big treads. With 445mm chain stays the bike does feel quite long, making super tight corners and popping a manual a bit harder than we’d like, but at speed the stability from the length is well and truly worth a little compromise.

Climbing loose trails is another area that the Plus shines, with more grip under your rear wheel you don’t need to hunt for the best line nearly as much. You’re able to really put more effort into the pedals, rather than dividing your attention between finding traction and laying down strong pedal strokes.

At slow speed the big tyres really conform to the terrain underneath you resisting slipping around, we could ride the steepest sections of trail, controlling your speed easily with one finger on the brakes.

Scott Plus 14
Don’t be scared, stay off the brakes and the massive quantity of traction will reward you, and double your skills.
Scott Plus 15
It’s fun, so let it hang out and enjoy the fun feeling without crashing on your face for a change.

Setup.

With such a massive volume of air in the tyres, setting your tyre pressure becomes more important than ever. Too high and you won’t benefit from the potential traction, and too low and it’ll feel like pedalling through wet sand. After much experimenting with tyre pressure by going too high, then too low and resting at the sweet spot of 13 and 15 psi for the front and rear tyre. Mick weighs 70kg plus gear and would increase pressure when carrying more gear and water etc.

Scott Plus 8
Tyre pressure setup is critical, it’s all about low pressure, but not too low. Experiment and you’ll find the right number.
Scott Plus 6
Wind out the compression dials and slow down the rebound of your suspension.

Next up was suspension, we chatted to Rene Krattinger the head of mountain bike engineering at Scott about how suggested we go about it. With a lighter compression setting and slower rebound the tyre won’t squash underneath your weight as much, and/or bounce and oscillate from repeated impacts like braking bumps or hardpacked ruts.


Genius Plus.

The Genius has been a Flow favourite forever. Lightweight frames, stable geometry and a category leading suspension efficiency via their long serving TwinLoc system. 

TwinLoc is a thumb actuated remote lever that allows you to toggle between three modes offering simultaneous control of rear shock travel and fork lockout. 

There’s less travel than the regular Genius line, with a 14omm travel FOX Float fork, and 130mm of travel out back via Scott’s proprietary FOX Nude shock. The open position allows full travel, front and rear. One click switches the rear shock to Traction mode, while the fork receives a light compression setting. One more click and rear shock and fork lock at the same time.

Scott Scale Plus 1 (1)
The new FOX Nude shock with the EVOL air can, next level suppleness.

For 2016 the Scott Genius will benefit from the FOX EVOL air can, with the extra air volume the suppleness in the suspension is magnificent. With what is effectively a single pivot suspension design, the Genius isn’t known for being the most supple and grounded bike, yet it has always been very efficient under pedalling action. With the EVOL rear shock the new bikes feel significantly more supple and plush.

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The Genius Plus uses a Genius 29er front end, and is also compatible with 29″ wheels using Boost hubs (148mm rear and 110mm front). The Plus uses a 445mm long chain stay and a 67.5 degree head angle. For 2016 Australian consumers will have the choice of two Genius Plus bikes. The Genius 710 Plus for $5999 and the Genius 720 Plus for $4599.

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The Scott Genius 710 Plus.

Scott Plus 17


 Scale Plus.

Scott Scale Plus
Putting the fun back into hardtails, the Scale Plus is our type of thing.

If in the worst case scenario and none of this Plus takes off with dual suspension bikes, you can bet it will with a hardtail. It makes absolute sense, if you’re a hardtail fan or don’t have at least $4k to spend, a Scale Plus would be a seriously good prospect for real mountain biking.

We cut some hard and fast laps on the Scale 710 Plus and had a really good time. Where having no rear suspension would usually make the bike skip around harshly, the low pressure tyres did more than just take the sting out the trail, it really felt like we were riding a short travel dually at times.

The first thing we’d do it it were ours would be to fit a dropper post.

The Scale 720 Plus is coming to Australia and will retail for $2299.

Scott Plus 18
Traction, control, fun!

Verdict.

We weren’t into it at first, we really thought that with a standard 27.5″ bike and big tyres we’d be able to have just as much fun without the distraction and introduction of a new wheel standard, but the Scott Plus bikes are a whole lot more than we’d anticipated.

With all the stability and traction you could ever wish for in a package that ride and handles a lot more like a regular bike it’ll let both newcomers and more experienced riders do more. You can go faster and in more control, climb steeper sections, and negotiate steeper descents.

There is less risk of pesky flat tyres, and that’s always a good thing.

Is this progression? Will it replace whole categories of mountain bikes or remain a niche? Time will tell, but our bet is that it will catch on, and if a beginner can benefit from increased control so can a pro.

Scott Plus 7

Evolving Fatness: Why Scott Bikes went with 27.5+

Sheppards 2016 30

Name please! And where you’re from.

Nat Campbell, I’m the export sales manager for Scott Sports. I’m based in Switzerland, but I’m from the inner mountain region of the US – Colorado, Idaho, moved around the Rockies a bunch.

What do you miss most about that place?

Wide open trails with nobody on them! And I miss Mexican food. Though I look after the Latin-American market as well, so I get a chance to get my hit sometimes.

Do you like that raclette thing the Swiss do? 

Oh man, fondue? You’d starve in Switzerland if you weren’t into cheese. If you’re not used to it it’ll crush you. Blockagé fromage we call it.

Sheppards 2016 38
The Genius Plus is one of two plus-sized lines in the Scott range for 2016.

Now, tell us a little bit about the advent of 27.5+, from your perspective. 

Sure. A lot of people are calling it a new standard, but I see it as an evolution and an adaptation of the frames that we had yesterday for the direction that everyone was going. Everybody I ride with has been going wider with their tyres, wider with their rims for years, going as wide as the frame would accept. And now with Boost and everything else, we can continue that evolution, and allow the use of a 2.8 or 3.0 inch tyre. We can really maximise those traction benefits people have been looking for.

But in terms of all the elements coming together that were needed for us to really test the concept, that all happened quite quickly and not that long ago, back at the end of last year, when forks finally became available.

From a consumer perspective, and a media perspective too, 27.5+ seemed to come about very quickly. When did it become a serious consideration for you?

Yeah, well it takes a lot things to come together to make it work. Before you can really put the concept to the test you need the forks, the tyres, the rims. I mean there was a bit of a buzz around plus-sized bikes last year at Interbike, but they were mainly rigid bikes and obviously that’s not what where the market is. But in terms of all the elements coming together that were needed for us to really test the concept, that all happened quite quickly and not that long ago, back at the end of last year, when forks finally became available. We got a fork from FOX and then it was like, ‘now here we go!’ and we could really test the concept out and make a call.

Plus-sized forks were the final piece in the puzzle that enabled Scott to test 27.5+ and make the call to give it a run.
Plus-sized forks were the final piece in the puzzle that enabled Scott to test 27.5+ and make the call to give it a run.

In terms of your first experiences, did you come to concept with much scepticism? How did it go for you? 

I was really intrigued by the whole concept. I was thinking about it from the consumer standpoint too – would this allow a person to have a one-bike quiver? Could you run it with 27.5+ wheels for general trail riding, then have a set of lighter 29er wheels too? But then my first ride on it had a 30-minute climb in it, and what I found was that there really isn’t any extra rolling resistance compared to my usual bike, so the idea of having a second set of wheels blew out the window pretty quick. It’s just not necessary – there’s an imperceptible difference in rolling resistance. But then when you go downhill, there is just bowls of traction, huge amounts, lots of confidence.

 Stock to stock though, the Genius Plus is a few hundred grams heavier than an equivalent Genius 29, so there’s not much in it.

On my personal bike, I would normally run a heavier casing tyre, so the Genius Plus actually saved weight for me overall. If you’re someone who usually runs heavier tyres for flat prevention, you’re going to save weight and get better flat prevention with a Plus sized tyre. Stock to stock though, with the standard tyres, the Genius Plus is a few hundred grams heavier than an equivalent Genius 29, so there’s not much in it.

In terms of adapting, it took a few rides to really get the tyre pressure right too, and I think that’s something that people are going to have to get their heads around. Too much pressure and you don’t get all the benefits.

Sheppards 2016 29

And you have the additional bounciness of a big un-damped air spring! 

Yeah, that’s right. For me, went down as low as 1 BAR in my testing, that’s like 14psi, but ended up at around 19-20psi.

My wife was sold on the concept pretty quickly though too, which was interesting. On her first ride she was riding lines she’d never done before, just crushing it. She’d taken down a beast.

There’s definitely traction benefits, but then how light can you make the casing and still get away with it in downhill racing?There’s a lot of testing to go there.

Scott have two quite different 27.5+ bikes, with the Scale Plus hardtail and the Genius Plus. Do you see 27.5+ being adopted across the whole spectrum of bike categories, or just some areas?

On paper the Scale and Genius Plus are very different bikes, a hardtail and a 140mm trail bike. But the Scale Plus is definitely designed as a trail bike, even though it is a hardtail, it’s got a 120mm fork, it’s designed to be ridden aggressively. The way I see it, every bike, every tyre choice, every suspension choice – they all come with certain benefits and compromises. It’s about matching the options to your riding and your trails.

Can you see Plus-sized format going to downhill? 

I mean it’s definitely being talked about by a few people, though perhaps not broadly yet. There’s a lot to be explored; what are the limits of the tyre? There’s definitely traction benefits, but then how light can you make the casing and still get away with it in downhill racing? What will the tyre weights be if there is a need to go to heavier casings? There’s a lot of testing to go there.

We hear a lot of people telling us that we don’t need this in mountain biking. Obviously we hear this a lot – anything new, we don’t need it – but particularly with 27.5+ because it seems to have come about in a real hurry, suddenly it’s everywhere. What would you say to people who say ‘we don’t need this’?

Maybe they don’t! But I would encourage them to try it. I haven’t talked to anyone who has ridden it who really knew what it’d be like when they first got on. Maybe they’ll love it, maybe they’ll want to stay with where they’re at, but you should try it first.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Fresh Product: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie, a 27.5+ Trail Bike

6Fattie is here. Specialized embrace the cush new era of semi-fat trail bikes with a dedicated Stumpjumper rolling on 6Fattie (27.5+) wheels. Hold on tight, they look like fun!

Click here for our final review of the Stumpjumper FSR 6fattie Comp.

The Stumpjumer 6Fattie rolls on 650b tyres that boast a whopping 3″ width. While not as obese as a full-blow Fat Bike, the tyres/wheels certainly look big – almost comical. Fitting such big rubber definitely requires some pretty careful frame construction, let alone the challenge of making it all still ride well and retaining the fun, lively ride that most mountain bikers demand.

At the recent 2016 Specialized launch in Rotorua, we were lucky to get a very advanced preview of these new bikes. Unfortunately it was still too early in the piece for these bike to be ridden. Here is what we saw. A proper test ride is coming soon! Specialized claims that the 6Fattie tyres have a contact patch that’s 69% bigger and that tyre volumes are 56% larger (though we’re not sure what these comparisons are being made to). Either way, there should be shedloads of grip.

6Fattie details 2016 14
With such a massive tyre, the traction will be off the charts!
6Fattie details 2016 10
3″ tyres. We weighed one at 970g, which is not that much more than say a 2.3″ trail tyre. For instance, a Specialized Butcher in a 650 x 2.3 weighs 755g.
6Fattie details 2016 8
An aluminium rear end with no seat stay bridge helps the rear end remain short enough for good on-trail handling.
6Fattie details 2016 7
Clearance is tight between the chain and rear tyre, so the adoption of the wider spaced 148 Boost hub standard helps line things up nicely.

Our take on 27.5+

Without doubt these new bikes are going to be fun to ride, and that’s the main goal, right? We’ve not yet ridden one, but seeing these bikes in the flesh gives us confidence that they will work, Specialized have obviously spent some serious development time on these.

But at the same time, we can’t help but expect that 27.5+ (or 6Fattie) will attract some ardent critics, and we can see 27.5+ is going to divide opinion much like emergence of the 29″ wheel once did.

And like 29ers, these 27.5+ bikes will certainly have some benefits on the trail, the control and traction on hand will be on another level, but they most certainly will not be ideal on every trail type out there.

From our perspective, the arrival of 27.5+ is bitter-sweet. We love options, we love innovation, we love bikes that have more control and grip. But on the other hand, it finally felt like the mountain bike community had gotten over the 26 vs 27.5 vs 29 debate – we’d accepted two wheel sizes on the whole. 27.5+ is a step away from this consolidation, and we can’t help but think it’ll confuse much of the mountain biking public who just want to go ride, and don’t necessarily want/need/have an opinion on the ‘best’ wheel size.

Our sport is already very confusing – imagine being a punter looking to buy their first serious mountain bike; trying to get your head around the benefits of different wheel sizes, suspension travel amounts, or decipher the different categories -and 27.5+ definitely adds another elements of complexity.

But, we need to ride one of these things before we go getting ahead of ourselves. Luckily, a 6Fattie bike is winging its way to Flow HQ at the moment. Are we afraid that we’ll love it?

6Fattie Stumjumpers will be available from July/August, at price points from $4499 for the alloy base model, up to $11999 for the S-Works version. Yikes!

6Fattie details 2016 13
Local fellas were just as perplexed about the tyres as we were!

How Will You Feel Riding a 27.5+ Bike?

Here’s the new Charge Cooker 27+ being put through its
paces by Charge ambassador and all round action man Rob Jarman.

Follow Rob
as he shows us what a well ridden bike can do, taking on everything from
forests to farmyards. Beware, at times it gets pretty hairy.

The new Charge Cooker 27+. Available from September 2015.

Thanks go to;
Film + Edit – Alex Rankin
Co Directed – Rob Jarman/Alex Rankin
Music – Wolf – Shy FX
Bike – Ted James Design Handbuilt Titanium Cooker Midi

Trek Go Mid-Fat, With New Stache 29+

Trek announced today the release of the all-new Stache, the completely redesigned mid-fat trail hardtail that offers riders the capability of a full suspension trail bike and the efficiency and simplicity of a hardtail.

Stache delivers more on-trail confidence than ever before with massive 3” tires mounted to 50mm rims for better traction cornering, climbing, and negotiating rough or loose terrain.

2019000_2016_A_1_Stache_5

2024000_2016_A_1_Stache_9

Stache’s mid-fat tires and wide rims are paired with some of the shortest chainstays Trek has ever engineered, making it the most capable and agile hardtail on the trail. The incredibly short chainstays are achieved through Stache’s all-new frame design, which features an elevated drive-side midstay that keeps the chainstay out of the way of the crank and rear tire.

The bike that redefines expectations and brings the trail hardtail category back into relevance features Trek’s proprietary Stranglehold Dropout for the ultimate in wheel-size versatility. Stache can be optimised with 29+, 27.5+ or standard 29er wheels depending on ride style and terrain and can also be set up as a singlespeed.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 9.50.22 am

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 9.51.16 am

Stache is the first bike to feature the all-new Boost 148/110 front and rear hub spacing for stiffness, precision handling, and predictability on even the roughest trails. The new Stache lineup will include 3 alloy models and a frame set.

SLorence_tucsonstache_409

For more details – http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/mountain/trail/stache/

Specialized’s new 6Fattie hardtails and Rumour 650B

Righto! We knew it was coming, and now here it is, knocking down the door if we’re ready or not; Specialized are the first brand to unveil a bike using the new 27.5+ standard, only they’re not big fans of the 27.5 name, and so they’ve termed it 6fattie (geddit? 6fifty/fattie?).

Naming semantics aside, and before we all go into an internet meltdown as to whether or not we want/like/care about the arrival of another wheel standard, let us take a look at these new bikes, because they’re actually potentially very cool.

Fuse and Ruze 6fattie hardtails:

So what are these slightly chubby (but not technically ‘FAT’) bikes? The Fuse (men’s) and Ruze (women’s) hardtails take a conventional 650B wheel and shod it in some very big rubber – 3.0″ to be exact. The trend towards big tyres on wide rims is nothing new, but this is definitely a huge jump.

FUSERUSE-2846_social

The idea, says Specialized, is to make a hardtail that’s fun to ride, by virtue of the fact it now has an absolute shedload of grip and floatation. According to Specialized, the 6fattie setup with its 3.0″ rubber gives a 69% larger contact patch and 56% more tyre volume, though we’re not sure what size tyre this is in comparison to.

FUSERUSE-2283_social

Fitting in such big tyres is obviously a massive engineering challenge, and so the Fuse and Ruze make full use of the new Boost standards with a 148mm rear hub spacing to make room for it all. What’s really impressive is that Specialized have managed to keep the chain stays to just 430mm with their new Diamond Stay design. While we haven’t ridden these bikes yet, we’d imagine that Specialized are well aware that keeping the handling as snappy and playful as possible is pretty important when you’re also dealing with the inertia of bigger rubber.

FUSERUSE-2323_social

Both the Fuse and Ruze are going to be available at three spec levels – Comp, Expert and Pro – with pricing info yet to be confirmed. We’ll update this post as soon as it comes to hand.

Whether you instinctively love it or loathe it, we’re going to wait until we actually ride one of these bikes before we form our opinions. The other obvious question this all raises is, will there be a full suspension 6fattie bike too?

Rumor 650B:

Specialized’s other big news is the highly anticipated release of a 650B version of the excellent women’s Rumor platform. We tested this bike in its 29er format last year, and we think a 650B version will have a lot of appeal for both smaller riders and those looking for a more lively ride.

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The 29er format isn’t being replaced – it’ll continue to exist alongside the new 650B version. Wheel size aside, the 650B gets slightly longer travel, with 130mm front and 125mm rear, versus the 120/110mm found on the 29er. Choice is always a good thing, especially when it comes to women’s bikes, where the variety of options is often really lacking.

A super-low top tube is a hallmark of the Rumor design.
A super-low top tube is a hallmark of the Rumor design.

The Rumor 650B is also available in three spec levels. There’s the plain old Rumor, which runs a mix of X-Fusion and basic RockShox suspension, with a Deore drivetrain and Tektro brakes. Then there’s the Comp, with a FOX/RockShox Revelation combo and SRAM 2×10 drivetrain. Top billing goes to the Rumor Expert which is a truly primo offering, with FOX out back, a Pike up front, SRAM X01 and Shimano XT stoppers. Nice!

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Rumor
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Rumor Comp
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Rumor Expert

Introducing The Hot New Intense Spider 275

Introducing the Spider 275, the newest addition to the Intense line.

This is a do-it all trail bike. Engineered with modern trail geometry, it features a slack head angle, a long front-center, super short chain stays and adjustable rear travel (115mm – 130mm). If there is just one bike in your quiver this is it.  Available in Flat Flo Red and Silver Flake. With three different build options, the new Spider can fit any budget.

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  • 115 – 130mm travel trail bike
  • 67 deg head angle
  • 13.25” bottom bracket height
  • 16.5” chain stays
  • 23.5” top tube length (med)
  • 2 colours – Matte Flo Red, Gloss silver
  • 4 sizes, S,M,L,XL
  • Alloy – Made in the Intense facility at Temecula, CA, USA.
  • Availability Early March 2015

Frame with Cane Creek Inline shock – AUD $3199

Foundation build kit – AUD $4699 RRP

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Click to enlarge spec options.

 

Five Unique 650B All-Mountain Bikes Tested

There are many ways to skin a cat! Over the past few months we’ve had the pleasure of riding some great new-season all-mountain bikes. While these bikes share a few commonalities – 140-160mm travel and 27.5″ wheels for instance – they demonstrate that there’s more than one way to build a great bike. Alloy, carbon, steep, slack, single-pivot, four-bar, firm, soft…. take a closer look at this eclectic bunch.

BH-Lynx-Carbon-627-9 BH Lynx 6 27.5 Carbon 

 When you really slam it, you’ll find plenty of support to the ride, so it’s still responsive when other bikes would be feeling bogged down by the rough riding. Basically, go ahead and treat the bike like it insulted your sister, it’ll take it.

Read the full review here.


Polygon-Collosus-N9-9 Polygon Collosus N9

For the kind of steep, techy descending that most riders will be doing, the N9 is brilliant. It’s a fun bike in corners too, making easy work of tighter trails that would bog a lot of other bikes in this category down.

Read the full review here.


Pyga-140650-selection-26 Pyga OneForty 650

With its robust build, perfect all-mountain geometry and suspension that just gets better the harder you ride, it’s a bike for those who prioritise confidence and downhill performance over low weight and glitz.

Read the full review here.


Scott-Genius-710-1 Scott Genius 710

The Scott Genius is one of the few bikes that for many years has successfully blurred the lines of the genres that define bike styles. Its versatility bends the rules, and manages to do what a true all mountain bike should – open up possibilities and options to the rider, begging for adventure.

Read the full review here.


Yeti-575-27-20 Yeti 575

The overall fit and feel of the 575 hasn’t changed one bit – think your favourite track suit pants; instantly comfortable. It has a relaxed, slightly upright position that is best suited to big days in the saddle and which takes absolutely no effort to get used to.

Read the full review here.

Fresh Product: New 2015 Bikes From Cannondale

Cannondale are one of those brands that carry an air of prestige both in and out of the cycling world, you can bet that your mate at work who doesn’t ride will know of Cannondale as a premium brand. With a hole-proof line up of top end mountain and road bikes, these guys have a rich heritage in the race scene with their supremely lightweight frames.

With their proprietary suspension ‘fork’ the Lefty, and wild FOX rear shocks Cannondale don’t blend in with the rest, and aren’t afraid to show off their engineering talents. Cannondale may have been a bit quiet in terms of visibility in Australia, but with a recent move to the massive bicycle and motorcycle distributer, Monza, we’ll surely see more of these sweet bikes on shop floors and out on the trails in Oz.

We stuck our head into the Cannondale marquee at their recent 2015 range launch, and these are a few the bikes that caught our eye.

*click on the smaller thumbnail images to expand and more info.

[divider]Cannondale Jekyll 27.5[/divider]

The Jekyll has been around for a very long time, but the name is the only common component, it’s been reinventing itself over and over into a real all-mountain bike, with a whopping 160mm of travel front and back dressed in a parts kit that is clearly ready for some seriously hard riding. The top shelf Jekyll Carbon Team was the first bike that caught our eye in the whole room, it’s a mighty head turner and wherever you look there is impressive technology features and immaculate finished detail all over the frame.

Now only in 27.5″ wheels, the Jekyll is the biggest suspension bike in the Cannondale catalogue, and in Australia two carbon models and one alloy version is available starting at $4999.

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The Jekyll Team Carbon joins the elite sub 12kg 160mm travel bike club, but you need to spend $8999 to get it.

There are so many unique features to the Jekyll, but it’s the fork and shock in particular that really make up this unique ride. The new Lefty Max is a whopping big fork, with 36mm lowers that slide on a combination of concealed bushings and roller bearings inside its huge carbon chassis. The Lefty will always freak people out with its appearance, but they do ride great with category leading low weight and massive steering stiffness. We often wonder if Cannondale should spec more FOX or RockShox forks to simplify things for the new consumer, but with Cannondale being all about the system integration, maybe they just wouldn’t have that solid and light feel on the trails?

The Jekyll starts at $4999 in an aluminium frame, and up to the Team one we have here for $8999.

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The carbon Cannondale bikes are all about big, wide axles with minimal material. A huge 15mm axle on the upper linkage is super wide to keep the crazy light frame laterally rigid.

The FOX DYAD RT2 shock is also a pretty wild concept. Rather than compressing like we are used to, it pulls apart, and is actually two separate shocks in one unit. Using the remote lever on the bars, you can switch between ‘Flow’ (what a great name…) and ‘Elevate’ mode, this – to over simplify things – converts the bike into a descending and climbing mode with short (95mm) and long travel (160mm) modes. The adjustment subsequently has an impact on the bike’s geometry. We’ve seen Cannondale and Scott use this style of suspension to great effect, there is nothing like hitting that lever when the trails turn up, sharpening the angles and reducing the travel without locking it out for climbing efficiency and traction.

[divider]Cannondale Trigger[/divider]

The Trigger is Cannondale’s all round trail bike, two wheel size options 29″ (130mm travel) and 27.5″ (140mm) and geometry that aims to do-it-all in a lightweight frame. Looking a lot like a scaled down Jekyll, the Trigger also uses a FOX DYAD RT2  using the two shocks to give the rider choice of travel amounts to suit the terrain.

The Trigger starts at $3599 for the Trigger 29 Alloy 4, and goes right up to the Trigger 27.5″ Black Inc for a staggering $11999.

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The Trigger is available in the $11999 Black Inc model, which basically means that Cannondale have spared nothing in speccing the highest quality parts available on one bike… Whew.

We currently have the Trigger 27.5″ Carbon 2 on a long term test, so keep an eye out for our thoughts. Our first impressions of the red rocket are here:  http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-cannondale-trigger-carbon-2/

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Our long term test bike, the Trigger 27.5″ Carbon 2.

[divider]Cannondale F-Si[/divider]

The bike that Kiwi power house, Anton Cooper rode to Commonwealth Gold in Glasgow is now available to the public. The F-Si is their new 29er carbon hardtail with a funky offset rear end to allow a short chain stay for snappy handling but still have the ability to use a double chainring for a big range. Carbon engineering guru Peter Denk is also behind the design of the F-Si, and with a focus on integrating their Lefty fork, a new SAVE seat post and the Cannondale Si cranks to complete the package of a very clean and minimal bike.

Boasting to have the shortest chain stays in its category at 429mm, the F-Si uses new-school geometry and their lightest hardtail frame yet. 

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You can snag an entry level F-Si for $3999, with four models topping out at the Black Inc F-Si at $12999 with Shimano XTR Di2 electronic shifting.

[divider]Cannondale Scalpel[/divider]

Their sharpest dual suspension bike in the range, the Scalpel is a real marathon racer’s delight. 100mm of fine suspension in on hand to take the sting out of the rougher or longer cross country race tracks, and all the numbers point to a very quick handling bike for the experienced rider seeking ultimate efficiency.

No changes to the Scalpel for 2015. This featherlight carbon frame does away with a pivot on the rear end of the frame in favour of a slight amount of flex engineered into the tubing, one less pivot can keep weight down even further. This is about as close to a hardtail as you get.

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The second top end Scalpel, for a cool $9999.

We’ll be testing as many of the new Cannondale’s as possible, first up is the Trigger and then we plan to line up a Jekyll and F-Si for review, so keep an eye out for more from Cannondale on Flow.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Trigger Carbon 2

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 12

Holy smokes that’s a good looking bike! The all-new 27.5″-wheeled, 140mm Trigger is drop dead gorgeous in the flesh. It’s hard to get past the finish and focus on some of the bike’s more unique aspects,  like the chunky new Lefty Supermax fork and the suspension-disguised-as-a-rocket-pack DYAD RT2 pull-shock.

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Glossy!

We reviewed the 2014 Trigger 29 last year and we came away impressed with the precise steering, traction and the bike’s playfulness despite the larger wheel size. This year the trigger is available in both 27.5 and 29er versions, and as much as we liked the Trigger 29er, we think the snappier, smaller wheel size will be just the ticker and we’re frothing to determine the capabilities of this bike!

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Even with the whopping shock, there’s a lot of room in the mainframe for a bottle. The nude carbon / gloss red finish is luscious.

One complaint we did have about the Trigger 29 1 was that the Lefty felt harsh through fast and repetitive impacts, so we’re looking forward to see how this year’s iteration of the Supermax feels by comparison; it comes equipped with “trail” tune, a damper that is somewhere between cross-country efficiency and all-mountain suppleness.

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Continuing the theme of unique suspension, the Trigger retains the DYAD pull-shock. This multi chambered shock can be remotely switched between an 85mm-travel Elevate mode for climbing and the aptly named 140mm Flow mode for descents.

 

The multi-chambered shock has independent rebound speeds for the Elevate and Flow settings.
The multi-chambered shock has independent rebound speeds for the Elevate and Flow settings.
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Mavic tyres? Yes sir. We have a feeling that Michelin may have a hand in the construction of these tyres. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform!

Another element worth a mention is the combination of Mavic tyres and wheels. On first examination, the compound of the tyres feels rather firm. As out first ride is going to be on some rooty, slippery singletrail, we’ll soon know if we have to switch these out for something with a softer compound. We’re looking forward to the ride, but we’ll be sad to get this glossy, classy finish all covered in mud!

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Yep, there are a lot of cables going on, but they’re all routed neatly underneath the down tube.
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With no quick-release axle front or rear (both axles use a 5mm Allen key) the bike’s profile at the dropouts is super slim. While some will lament the absence of quick release mechanisms, we appreciate the extra clearance.

 

Flow’s First Bite: 2015 Giant Reign Advanced 0

Giant has just re-birthed their much loved Reign and it’s a meaner beast than ever, a genetically enhanced freak of all-mountain awesomeness; 160mm-travel, 27.5″ wheels and carbon construction. It also looks good, with maybe the best graphics of any Giant mountain bike to date.

But what does it ride like? That’s the big question. As an executive summary – it’s really good.

At the recent 2015 launch of the Reign (and Glory) Flow got to spend a couple of days on the trails of Pemberton, Canada. It proved a great testing ground to develop some initial thoughts on the performance of the bike. Riding for two days isn’t long enough to a really get a good feel, but it is just long enough to get a taste of wanting more. And more we want.

[divider]The Bike[/divider]

Giant Reign in Pemberton, BC, July 2014

With the rise and rise of Enduro racing, long travel, slack angles, and aggressive geometry are the flavour of the year; with angles more akin to downhill rigs of yesteryear, you could easily excuse yourself for thinking that everything old is indeed new again. However what this new breed of aggressive bikes have when compared to their downhill ancestors is ride-ability, and more importantly, usability.

The Giant is no exception to that rule. With a 65 degree head angle and 160mm of travel it could be considered more suited to downhill shuttles than trail riding however we found the bike handled lengthy rides and all-mountain adventures with ease. We got to prove that very fact with one epic heli-drop adventure up, down and around the massive peaks of Pemberton.

At the core of the new Reign is an all-new frame and highly revised geometry. Longer, lower, slacker and shorter in the rear end is a quick summary of the new bike and the numbers add up to something that really is designed to go downhill. Even though the Reign now comes with larger wheels it’s shorter in the chainstays the the previous 26″ version, which makes it easier to move around corners and lift the now longer front end. That roomier cockpit and longer front-end can make any bike a slug to handle on flatter corners and Giant has attempted to alleviate this with a custom 46mm offset Pike. We actually found less “push” on the flatter turns than we expected.

The suspension design is the ever effective Maestro set up and Giant don’t look to be changing that platform any time soon. Adding to the performance of the system is the incorporation of a bearing on the upper shock mount which Giant says benefits small bump performance.

A big change, and it’s across the whole range, is the loss of Overdrive 2. Once marketed to us as the best-thing-since-sliced-bread to increase front end stiffness, it’s now gone.  Maybe it was true and the benefits where real, but the industry didn’t follow and Giant was left without a lot of choice given the absence of after market stems to suit the size.

The last point we’d like to mention is the aesthetics. The bike looks REALLY good. It has large, bold tubes and graphics, and really neat and functional internal cable routing. We just wish the prettiness of the cable routing was backed up by an absence of cable rattle, but unfortunately this isn’t the case (nothing that a piece of foam won’t fix thought!)

 

[divider]The Build[/divider]

Of course we were thrown the top of the range model! At such a high price point you’d expect some quality spec, and the Reign Advanced 0 Team won’t let you down. Suspension is taken care of by Rock Shox (no FOX out back, which is a surprise) with a custom 46mmm offset 160mm Pike handing the front end, and a Monarch Plus out back. Both performed really well during our riding and only after a 10km rocky and rough downhill on a hot day did we notice the rear shock starting to heat up and speed up a fraction.

The 50mm stem and 780mm bar combo was great and even though that bar length is a little wider than we normal run it was easy to get used to.  It is great to see a bike pretty much set-up how we’d run it, right out of the box. The only thing we didn’t like about the cockpit was the grips. We’ve never liked them, but that’s personal preference.

SRAM goodness takes care of all the shifting and we’ve written at length about how well the XX1 set-up works. No issues and great performance were experienced from the XX1 gear, but you wouldn’t expect any after only two days. The Reign does have a direct mount port for a front derailleur if you’re so inclined, but we’d love to have seen Giant ditch it as an option all together for supremely clean lines.

Our test bike had two differences from the OEM spec: the tyres and the brakes. The Giant Advanced 0 Team will come with the Schwable combo of Hans Dampf out back and Magic Mary front and from our experience they will be great. Our bikes also had Avid Codes but the final spec will be the new Guide brakes which we’re yet to experience and so can’t comment on their performance.

 

[divider]The Ride[/divider]

Giant in Pemberton, British Columbia, July 2014

Over two days we rode the bike on a mix of trails; from scree slopes straight out of any freeride film, to dry and loose soil, to baby head fields of doom – we rode it all. Our first impressions? It is a downhill beast. It sucks up the worst of it and gives confidence to let off the brakes a little more. We actually were able to ride the Reign side-by-side with the new Glory, and while it’s not quite up to the 200mm-travel performance of its bigger sibling it was just speed that was lost, not ability to navigate the terrain comfortably. We can easily say that this bike would be able to handle 99% of trails in Australia.

But all that downhill ability must come at a cost right? Well, we didn’t notice any.  Sure, it’s not World Cup XCO machine on the climbs but riding the Reign up hills never felt difficult and with the suspension adjustments front and back the geometry was easily changed to something a little more climb friendly. Just drop the Dual Position fork a little lower, and flick the easy-to-reach shock lever.

Cornering was great with a sub-340mm bottom bracket height really helped to keep traction through the turns. A few times we smashed our pedals,  but that was only when pushed through all the travel on trails littered with baby-heads. Any bike with a low bottom bracket will need more attention in that department.

Overall the ride was great, and the super descending abilities were’t to the detriment of an excellent all-mountain ride.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Giant in Pemberton, British Columbia, July 2014
The Reign Advanced 0 Team was a great bike and rode over and across anything. We can’t wait to see how it goes downunder.

We really need to spend more time on the Reign, and we expect that we will. So far it’s proved to be an amazing re-birth of an old workhorse and a bike that really starts to blur the lines between downhill and all-mountain when it comes to descending, but which somehow retains genuine all-round usability. Only a few negatives for us: for the price we’d love to have seen some carbon wheels on the Reign 0, we still don’t like Giant grip or the rattly cables, but that’s it. The price tag of the Reign Advanced 0 Team will keep it in the realms of impossibility for many, however the exact same platform extends down to lower spec and price levels. If you’re after a longer travel bike for all-mountain riding, Enduro racing or even as lightweight downhiller you can still take out all day, the Reign has to be on your shortlist. We’re adding it to ours.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Traverse SL Fattie Wheels

Specialized are the latest entrant into the growing market of wide-bodied carbon wheels, rolling a set of the new Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels Flow’s way last week. These extra fat hoops are available in 29 and 27.5″ – we’ve got the smaller size on hard for review.

Specialized Traverse Fattie 2

When it comes to ‘in-house’ wheels, Specialized’s Roval wheel line up is really leading the way (along with Bontrager, who also have a seriously impressive range of in-house wheels for Trek), especially with regard to carbon mountain bike wheels. We’ve had very pleasant experiences with Roval wheels in the past, including the Roval Control 29 Carbon wheels. These new Fatties are the A380 of the Roval range – the biggest, baddest and widest hoops in the line-up, with an internal width of 30mm.

Why so wide? The concept of a wide rim has been growing in popularity steadily over the past few years (in mountain biking and road riding too). A wider rim offers more support to the tyre, allowing lower pressure and consequently more traction, with less of the negative effects of tyre roll that you’d encounter with a narrower rim. Here at Flow we’re also currently testing the Ibis 741 rims, which take this concept even further than the Rovals, with an internal width of 35mm.

Specialized Traverse Fattie 8

It goes without saying that the Traverse SL Fattie wheels are meant for aggressive riding and big rubber – they’re standard fare on Specialized’s S-Works Enduro models for 2015. Even still, the weight of these things is incredibly impressive. Our set, configured with a Shimano freehub body, valve stems and rim tape, weighs in at just 1571g!

Specialized Traverse Fattie 10

Taking a quick look at the other stand out features, the Fatties use a hookless bead construction (the rim does not have a traditional bead hook) which makes for a more impact resistant profile and also gives the tyre more volume. The freehub mechanism uses DT’s Star Ratchet system, while the front hub can be configured for 15mm or 20mm axles. Colour matchers out there will rejoice that the rims are supplied with three different sets of decals, so you can pimp your ride. Of course these wheels are also ready for tubeless use, fitted with a simple tape system to seal up the rim bed. Specialized Traverse Fattie 11

 

As well as coming a 29″ variant, the Fatties are also available in an lower-priced alloy version too which come in at around 160g heavier for the set. We’ll be fitting these rims to a variety of bikes in the coming weeks. We’ve also got a set of the new 27.5″ Specialized Purgatory tyres for review too, so we’ll be wrapping these hoops in Specialized rubber as well.

2015 Giant Reign and Glory Unveiled

Giant have just released two long travel gravity inspired 27.5″ machines for MY2015; the re-born 27.5″ 160mm Reign, and the updated 200mm 27.5″ Glory. These new eye-popping machines put a final nail in Giant’s 26″ MTB coffin and enforces Giant’s total commitment to the midsize wheel being their bike of the future.

Set in the magical backdrop of the Pemberton valley in Canada, Flow was invited to two days of information and bike riding on the new gravity machines. We got to both see and ride both bikes and put them through a brief test on the rough, dry and dusty trails. Flow spent more time on the Reign than the Glory and look for our First Bite on the Reign to appear real soon.

[divider] Here Comes the Reign Again [/divider]

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The 2015 Giant Reign Advanced 0 Team

Missing from Giant’s lineup in 2014 the Reign has returned, and better than ever. Striking in looks and aggressive in design, the Reign pushes the boundaries of all-mountain capabilities. Maybe even blurring the lines of what we think a downhill bike is. To add weight to that statement Flow caught up with Giant Enduro World Series racers Josh Carlson and Yoann Barelli just a few days prior to the official lunch in Pemberton, Canada and got their honest opinions of the new bike.

“It’s a downhill weapon”, stated Yohun. “You can really just point it and the bike will take care of the rest.”

Both Josh and Yoann were equally amazed at the Reign and its descending abilities and they also make mention of it’s all-day riding capabilities, as it’s something they generally have to do in their race environment.

Our test and show bikes were the top of the line Reign Advanced 0 with a carbon front triangle and aluminium rear end. We think the bike looked good with a bold new colour and decal scheme and clean lines enhanced with internal cable routing. Other features include the removal (or some may say reversal) of the OD2 steerer standard, 142mm rear end, 1x set-up, 50mm stem and 780mm bars. Aesthetically the bike looks a million dollars and at $7599 it should do too.

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The steep mountains of Pemberton were perfect for riding the Reign.

The 2015 Reign has been in development for years and is more than a re-hash of the previous models. Giant admitted that it took some time to get the geometry right and went to pains to ensure it actually rode well. It’s lower, slacker, and has a shorter rear end than its 26″ predecessor and the Reign comes with a custom 46mm offset fork (versus 42mm) to ensure that better ride. It’s with noting that this offset is custom to Giant at the moment.

For those who like the numbers here are a few (size M):

Head Angle: 65 degrees
Seat Angle: 73 degrees
Chainstay: 434 mm
Wheelbase: 1191 mm
Stack: 577 mm
Reach: 444 mm

We got to spend a couple of days on the Reign and we’ll soon have our first impressions posted in more detail however as a summary the new 2015 Reign is a really great bike, it’s that simple. It is an aggressive all-mountain machine, it munches up rocks and obstacles, descends very well, and actually wasn’t bad to climb (we even had climbing challenges on our rides).  Yeah, we know, that’s what they say about every bike, but it’s true, we found that the Reign really can be ridden everywhere and felt surprisingly light. Did we notice the new wheel size? No, not really. We have been riding the tween wheels for a long time now and it’s not going to be noticeable. Also, of we’re going to be picky we’d fix the cable rattle noise that can be noticed (only occasionally) . We know it’s not a big issue but for $7500 we really would be looking for perfection.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the bike will fit into the Australian terrain but it’s definitely going to make you think about your next bike choice if you’re gravity oriented. It you’re an Enduro racer then this is a perfect bike, and if you’re sitting on fence of DH vs all-mountain/Enduro then we too think this is perfect.

Available in Australia will be 4 models of the Reign, ranging from $3299 for the aluminium Reign 27.5 2, up to the top of the range Reign Advanced 0 team at $7499. Also, note that the brakes on out test bike are Code’s however they will come spec’d with new SRAM Guide.

 

[divider]Glory, Glory Hallelujah[/divider]

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2015 Giant Glory 0

The new 2015 Glory has grown bigger wheels however it’s also grown a longer shock (240×76), has a longer front/centre, but shrunk at the rear end and has a lower bottom bracket than its 26″ predecessor. It also has has some other changes to include revised cable routing, an integrated fork bumper, bearings on the upper shock pivot – amongst others.

The 27.5″ Glory has been in development for a few years however it was only after the World Cup in Leogang last year where the final touches to the geometry were completed for production. Constant feedback from the Giant team riders pushed the development to that last point as the new wheel size meant some difficult adjustments. In early blind testing the 27.5″ Glory was immediately quicker than the 26″ however the rider feedback was less convincing. So, Giant took the time to ensure that not only was the bike quicker on the clocks, but comfortable for the riders.

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Apparently the mountain in the backdrop is the steepest in Canada. It seemed a fitting setting for the Glory.

The magic number for the Glory (M) are:

Head angle: 63 degrees
Seat angle: 63.6 degrees
Toptube length: 584mm
Chainstay length: 439mm
Wheelbase: 1219mm
Stack: 594mm
Reach: 426mm

We got to throw our legs over the new Glory only briefly on a few lifted runs on the rocky trails of Pemberton and early impression are too juvenile to warrant lengthy comment. Yep, the bike was fast and fun, it took big hits, but more time on the bike will yield better information.

The Glory will only be available in aluminium and a carbon version is something we would have liked to have seen. Giant do counter this by saying that their Glory is actually lighter then other carbon downhill offerings but carbon is just sexy and who wouldn’t want a sexy DH bike?

The Glory will come in 3 models for Australia and be priced from $2899 – $5999.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Genius 710

When the Scott Genius was launched, it really was a pioneering machine. Exceptionally lightweight, long travel, with a propriety rear shock that looked like a jetpack and which gave riders the ability to adjust the amount of rear wheel travel on-the-fly. Since then, this market segment has grown tremendously, but the Genius has remained an exceptionally popular bike. Taking a look at our latest test bike, the Genius 710, it’s easy to see why this bike still sits on top of the pile.

Scott Genius 710-2

There are now two variants of the Genius, with 29″ and 27.5″ wheels. We opted for the 27.5er, which has proven to be the more popular option in the Australian market. It has slightly more travel that the 29er version (150mm vs 130mm), and we’ve become big fans of the mid-size wheel in the past few months so we wanted to keep the 27.5 vibe running.

Scott Genius 710-11
The FOX made shock can be adjust on-the-fly to serve up 150 or 100mm of travel.

The whole suspension configuration has been changed since the original Genius. Gone is the funky DT-made pull-shock, with far more conventional single-pivot/swing-link system now used. The shock is manufactured by FOX, but it retains the on-the-fly travel adjustment that gives this bike its brainy versatility. Hitting the Twin-Loc lever on the bars engages Traction mode: the rear travel is reduced from 150mm to 100mm, stiffening the suspension rate and therefore the amount of suspension sag, to aid climbing. Push the lever to its second stop and the rear suspension is locked out entirely, along with the fork, making for a rock solid pedalling machine.

Scott Genius 710-5
The gloss on matte black finish is superb.

A by-product of the Twin-Loc system (along with a dropper post and the fact this bike has a left-hand shifter) is that the handlebars do look like a bowl of udon noodles – there are cables galore. Whether or not this will bug us in the long run remains to be seen, but we’re sure some will find it off-putting.

Scott Genius 710-17
The geometry is adjustable simply by reversing a chip on the rear shock mount.

While the Genius does feature adjustable geometry, even in its slackest setting the bike is definitely a lot sharper handling than most of the current crop of 150mm-travel machines, with the head angle at 67.9-degrees. In this respect, the Genius is more of a trail bike than an all-mountain / enduro machine, and this reflects the bike’s original intentions. It was always designed as the bike that could bring longer travel into a the realms of super low weights and meld this with geometry that was conducive to climbing performance. A lot of the spec choices also reinforce this aim – for example, the use of 32mm fork rather than a 34/35mm. Of course the question remains whether the Genius can really achieve this balancing act of cross-country-esque efficiency, weight and climbing performance without sacrificing too much on the descending front. There’s only one way to find out!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Ibis 741 super-wide carbon wheels

Holy obesity epidemic, what have we got here?! Mountain bike rims have been trending wider and wider in recent years, but the new 650B Ibis 741 (and their 29er version, the 941) take things to a new level of phatness. Ibis aren’t known for their wheels, but we are super excited about testing these.

Ibis 741 wheels-2
Wide, deep and with under-the-radar graphics.

The width of these rims is not a gimmick or simple point of difference – there’s a perfectly sound basis for making mountain bike rims far wider than they have traditionally been. Ibis does a good job of explaining the theory in the video below, but in a nutshell, a wider rim should allow you to run a tyre at lower pressure, with greater stability and less tyre roll and, hence, less chance of burping air from a tubeless setup).

Of course, lower pressure equate to more grip and reduced rolling resistance on rough terrain, but dropping the pressures too far has traditionally meant a squirmy ride and a serious risk of a flat tyre or damaged rim – Ibis say their mega wide rims go a long way towards alleviating both of these problems.

Ibis 741 wheels-7
Very wide. Ibis includes a set of tubeless valves. Because the rim is so huge, the valves are a little longer than standard – worth noting if you’re packing a spare tube on a ride!

So just how wide are they? The 741s have an external with of 41mm and 35mm internal – that’s between 10-15mm wider than your standard cross-country or trail rim in both internal and external measurements. And believe it or not, the weight of these wheels actually puts them head-to-head with some seriously well regarded XC and trail wheelsets – the pair come in at just 1660g including tubeless valves.

Ibis 741 wheels-4
If you look closely, you can see that there’s no bead hook to secure the tyre. We were unsure of the concept when we first rode hookless rims a year ago, but we’ve since clocked up hundreds of kilometres on them without a single issue.

Other noteworthy elements? The rims use ‘hookless’ bead construction (similar to the Specialized Control wheels we tested last year) which gives the rim far greater impact strength and the tyre more volume. They’re also spoked in a very conventional manner, with 32 spokes front and rear in a two-cross pattern which will appeal to the mechanics out there.

Ibis 741 wheels-6
Available with Shimano or SRAM XD driver bodies. The conventional spokes and external nipples should make any maintenance much easier than some.

We’ll be fitting these wheels to a variety of bikes over the coming weeks and months. With the swathe of carbon wheels we’ve been riding lately (ENVE, Specialized and Bontrager amongst them) it will be very interesting to see how these unique offerings compare.

Long-term Test: Giant Trance Advanced SX

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 15

The Holy Grail of mountain bike ownership is finding the ‘one bike’. We all like to dream that it’s out there – a garage-decluttering, wallet-saving, partner-soothing super bike that can spin out a 50km cross country ride with the same ease as it will demolish your local downhill track.

Dream crushing time: it doesn’t exist yet. So what is most important is picking the bike that suits 90% of your riding, and in our case this SX most certainly achieves this – for how we ride, the Giant Trance Advanced SX comes very close to fulfilling the prophecy of ‘Uno Bicicletta’.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 9
Carbon out front, alloy out back. We like this, as it tends to be the rear end of the bike that slaps the ground hardest when you crash. That said, we’ve crashed this bike and gouged up the carbon but it just left superficial damage.

When we went looking for a long-term test bike, we made sure we didn’t lose sight of our backyard. The trails around Flow are rocky, technical, and our favourite descents aren’t too far shy of downhill bike territory. Local climbs tend to be done on fireroads, but they can still be long and steep, so an efficient and light bike is a must too. The Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5 just ticked too many of the boxes to look past, and so we welcomed it into the fold.

Over the course of the last five months, we’ve taken the SX all over the place; it’s been ridden in Rotorua, Mt Buller, Orange and countless places in between, racking up more trail time and road-trip miles than just about any test bike we’ve ever had. That fact alone tells you a lot about this bike – it’s ready for almost any situation or trail you stick in front of it.

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We tested the ‘regular’ Trance 1 27.5 in Rotorua late in 2013.

One of the influencing factors when choosing the SX as a long term test bike was our experience on board the regular (ie. aluminium and non-SX) Trance 27.5. We rode this bike for four days in New Zealand last year and we were extremely impressed. The SX shares the same bones as the regular Trance – the rear travel and frame geometry are identical ( 140mm out back ) – but gets souped up in all manner of ways, with better suspension, bigger rubber and more powerful brakes.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 5
Note the way the cables are all routed cleanly away from the head tube and fork crown.

Carbon out zee front, alloy out zee back and doused all over with a paint job that Batman would love, the SX is just a bad mother of a bike. Take a look at this thing; in side-profile it looks like a downhill bike from half a dozen years ago. You don’t need a protractor to work out that this bike is built to excel on the descents: The angles are raked out, the bottom bracket is lower than Eddie Obeid’s morals and there’s wheelbase aplenty out front. With the FOX TALAS 34 fork in its 160mm setting, the bike has a 66-degree head angle. Dropping the fork to 140mm sharpens the angles by half a degree or so.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 17
Even with the fork in its 140mm setting, the angles are very relaxed. We pushed the seat rails right forward in the post clamp to improve climbing performance on tight switchbacks.

But when you hoik it onto the scales, they tell a very different story to the picture painted by the bike’s downhill dress sense. Out of the box and set up tubeless, the Trance Advanced SX is just over 12kg, which is exceptional considering there are no corners cut with unsuitably light parts.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 14
The Maestro suspension system is bombproof and feels perfect too in terms of spring rate.

Giant have continued to utilise the Maestro II suspension system, and it delivers 140mm of outrageously smooth and reliable travel; over the course of the five months we’ve been testing this bike, we have not had to so much as tighten a pivot bolt. Finer details aren’t overlooked either, with zero cable rub, and thanks to full length internal cabling we haven’t even had to replace or lube the gear or seat post cable either. Down tube protection keeps your frame safe from rock strikes, and a chunky chain stay guard keeps the already quiet drivetrain hushed.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 11
The Overdrive 2 system uses a non-standard taper for the fork steerer. Yes, it’s very stiff, but it does cause hassles if you want to swap the fork or stem.

One of the more controversial elements of the Trance’s build is Giant’s Overdrive II steerer system. Rather than the industry standard tapered steerer, Giant employ an unusually large-diameter upper bearing (1.25″). It’s stupidly stiff, but it will cause a headache if you want to change your fork (you’ll need a new upper headset assembly and stem) and your stem choice is constrained significantly. At one stage during our review we fitted a different fork, so we got to experience these quirks first hand.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 22
Wow, this shock! The Float X turns rocks into toasted marshmallows.

The SX’s build kit is a gravity-enduro dream; 1×11 drivetrain, killer suspension, four-piston brakes, dropper post, Schwalbe tyres… once again the performance of just about all the components over the last five months has been nearly flawless. The only changes we made to the bike prior to testing were to swap the handlebar and grips. We wanted a slightly wider cockpit than the 730mm supplied, so we whacked on a 750mm-wide Truvativ Jerome Clementz bar, and we fitted some ODI grips – both of these changes are purely personal preference.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 23
We changed the bar and grips to suit our personal preferences.

We have dropped the chain on the SRAM X01 drivetrain a few times (three to be exact), but this is a minor irritation in the context of the overall performance. We did consider fitting a chain guide, but we opted not to ultimately, preferring the drag-free performance without a guide. In every other regard, the X01 was perfect, never missing a shift. The 32-tooth chain ring is ideal as well, offering the right spread of gears. Even in Mt Buller, with its grinding climbs and crazily fast descents, we never needed more gear range.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 4
Avid’s four-piston Elixir Trail 9 brakes. We’ve found them reliable, quiet and consistent, even if the lever feel is a bit so-so.

We were admittedly a little uncertain about how the Avid Trail 9 brakes would perform, given the inconsistencies of some Avids in recent times. Overall we’re very happy, and while the lever feel isn’t exactly snappy, the brakes haven’t needed a spot of maintenance and are still on their original pads as well. Power-wise, we’re more than satisfied too, with the funky 180/170mm rotor combo staying nice and cool.

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The Giant P-TRX1 wheels come supplied with tape to seal them up for tubeless use.

Giant have expanded their range on in-house components hugely, and the SX gets Giant’s own wheels and dropper post too. At around 1650g, the P-TRX1 wheelset is nice and light, and once you fit the supplied tubeless tape, these hoops make for a fine set of wheels indeed. The rear hub internals use DT’s Star Ratchet system as well, which is just about the industry standard in terms of reliability.

Perhaps because they are so light, these aren’t the stiffest wheels we’ve used, and as the frame (especially the front end) is so rock solid, we did feel the wheels twisting a little. This would probably be the only area you could conceivably wish to upgrade this bike! We tested the SX with a couple of sets of chunky carbon rims as well (such as the Bontrager Rhythm Pros), and with super stiff wheels this bike is even better.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 21
The Fiziki Gobi will win fans, as will the consistent and smooth performance of the Contact Switch-R dropper post.

The Giant made Switch-R dropper post has 100mm of adjustment with internal cable activation and very neat remote lever. While the post has a slight rattly when you’re out of the saddle, the actual operation and reliability has been great to date. Unlike many dropper posts, this one has proven a real set and forget item.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 10
In terms of suspension setup, we spent 90% of our ride time with the fork at 140mm travel and in the Descend damper setting, with the rear shock primarily left in Trail mode.

Finally, Giant have flung some of the best suspension items in the business at this bike. The FOX Float X rear shock turns rock gardens into feather beds – the level of performance here is staggeringly high, and the rear suspension feel is more akin to a downhill bike than a trail bike. Up front, FOX provide the 34 TALAS CTD fork, which can be switched between 140mm and 160mm travel on the fly. We actually had some problems with the fork on this bike initially, with an occasional loss of rebound damping, and so we sent the fork back to FOX for some love under warranty. When it returned, the fork had a new TALAS cartridge and the performance was ludicrously smooth. Apparently FOX reassembled the fork using their new super-duper green oil, which is the slipperiest stuff going. Whatever they did, the fork has been incredible for the past three months.

 

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 1
The Trance SX on one of Flow’s home trails.

From the berms of Rotorua, to the insane speeds of Buller, to the rough and rocky trails here in Sydney, the SX has conquered the lot. As we said above, there’s no perfect ‘one bike’, but the Trance makes very few compromises!

For a bike that is so obviously at home on the descents, the SX’s ability to ride all day and climb efficiently is outstanding. Sure, it’s not the weapon of choice for a 100km race, but we rode this bike on some long days ( 7 hrs or more ) and never regretted it. The weight of the bike plays a large part in this, but the geometry with its roomy top tube is conducive to long rides too, and with the shock set to Trail mode (where we left it 90% of the time) the suspension is supportive and efficient.

Test Giant Trance SX 2
We took the Trance SX with us to explore the trails of Orange, NSW.

Tight, uphill switchbacks were just about the only area where we battled with the SX a little, with the front wheel wanting to lift. In the end, we pushed the seat rails quite a long way forward in the post clamp, putting more weight over the middle of the bike and this made all the difference.

As well as leaving the shock in trail mode, we also left the fork at 140mm for the vast majority of our riding, which was pretty surprising. When we first started riding the SX, we really thought we’d use the fork’s travel adjustment a lot and run it at 160mm for most descents, but this wasn’t the case. For most riding, we found the head angle too slack in the 160mm setting, and we only used this longer travel setting on the steepest of downhills. When the trails were flatter, the 140mm setting was far better, offering more front end grip and making the bike feel more balanced overall. If this were our own bike, we’d even consider changing the fork to something with the travel fixed at 150mm of travel, which would simplify and lighten the bike even more.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 3
The incredible suspension encourages you to just huck into the rocks and let the bike sort out those small issues like line choice.

On the subject of the suspension, the Trance’s ability to hug the ground is a real highlight. There’s something about the way this bike follows the terrain and keeps your tyres gripping that just blows us away. There’s zero hesitation, the bump response is seamless, and the fork and shock are perfectly balanced with just the right amount of progressiveness to the suspension stroke. For a bike with 140mm of travel, the Trance rolls through rocks like it as much longer legs. Perhaps it’s a product of the 27.5″ wheels, or maybe it’s that the long front-centre gives you confidence, but the Trance SX is happier running over the rough stuff than any other 140mm bike we’ve ridden.

Giant Trance Advanced Long Terms Update-5

Getting the most out of the Trance in the corners isn’t difficult, as it grips like crazy, but once you get the hang of turning hard off the rear wheel it really comes alive. Load the bike up into a berm, yank the front around and drive your heels down through the pedals and the bike rips around off the rear tyre. Railing a rut with your foot out like a moto feels particularly good on this bike too!

[divider]Overall[/divider]

From the moment we first saw this bike last year, we labelled it as the most desirable bike in the Giant range. It hasn’t disappointed, quite the opposite. The Trance Advanced SX is at the forefront of that quest to create the perfect ‘one-bike’. At $6000 it is beyond what most people will be willing to spend, but we’d argue it’s worth stretching the budget for. The weight, the ride quality and the versatility are such that this one bike could happily take the place of your downhill bike and your cross country bike in the garage, and two-for-one is a pretty good deal.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 25

Fresh Product: Pivot Cycles Release New Carbon Cross Country and Downhill Bike

The Pivot Mach 4 is the bike that started it all. From the racetrack to the trail, there has never been anything that has performed like the new Mach 4 Carbon. Now in its 4th generation, the Mach 4 Carbon rolls on 27.5” wheels, features 115mm of travel, and introduces the next generation of race/trail geometry—all paired with the lightest full-suspension frame we have ever made.

Pivot Mach 4C

Pivot 2015 15

Whether you are a pure XC racer looking for something nimble, with the acceleration of 26” wheels and the rolling speed of a 29er, or a trail rider that wants something fast and responsive yet stable, the Mach 4 has you covered. The dw-link suspension has been tuned to provide instant acceleration with hardtail efficiency, while delivering the incredible climbing traction that all our dw-link equipped bikes are famous for. The short chainstays, spacious top tubes, and the incredibly stiff carbon chassis all enable you to achieve your fastest time on the climbs. On the descents, the Mach 4 comes alive.

Pivot 2015

 

With ultra-stable front end geometry, a low BB height, and 115mm of travel, you can tackle some of the roughest trails with ease; cornering like the bike is on rails and slicing through turns like a Ginsu knife! But we didn’t stop there. The Mach 4 Carbon is the first Shimano Di2 compatible frame ever developed, featuring an internal battery mount in the down tube and all the required ports for clean internal routing.

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Pivot 2015 2 2

 

If you are not running Di2 and prefer a more conventional set up, the Mach 4 has the cleanest cable routing in the sport, with ports for full internal routing (including dropper post), full length housing and options for 1X, 2X and Shimano’s new M9000 Side Swing front derailleur.

Pivot 2015 14

• 115mm dw-link suspension with race and trail tuning

• Full carbon frame featuring Pivot exclusive hollow box internal molding technology

• 27.5” wheels

• XS, S, M, & L sizing, with our X-small featuring the lowest stand-over clearance of any 27.5” suspension bike made

• Full length internal cable routing, and Shimano Di2 compatible with Pivot’s exclusive cable port system

• Dropper post compatible with internal routing

• Enduro Max cartridge bearings

• Custom tuned Fox Float CTD Kashima rear shock

• Frame weight from 5.1lbs /2.3kg

• Complete bike weights from 22lbs/10kg

• 2 sets of bottle cage mounts

• Rubberized leather downtube and swing arm protection

2014 Pivot Mach 4C from eXposureTheory on Vimeo.

We set out to build the lightest, fastest, most capable World Cup DH bike the world has ever seen. The end result: The new Phoenix DH carbon. The Phoenix features 27.5” wheels, an ultra-lightweight chassis, dw-link suspension, and the most forward-thinking features to ever grace a mountain bike.

2015 Pivot Phoenix Carbon

Pivot 2015 12

We have employed Pivot’s exclusive Hollow Core Internal Molding process, along with technology developed from our award-winning Mach 6, to develop a 7.1lb/3.2kg frame. This makes a true, 31lb/14kg, raceable DH bike possible. The combination of 27.5” wheels and dw-link design has allowed us to go longer, lower and slacker than ever before, resulting in a chassis that instills high speed confidence and control on the steepest descents, all while out-pedaling any other DH bike on the course. It is a truly lethal combination for the competition with proven success on the World Cup circuit.

Pivot 2015 10

 

Pivot DH factory team riders Bernard Kerr, Eliot Jackson and Micayla Gatto have achieved their best World Cup career finishes aboard the new Phoenix.

Pivot 2015 18

Pivot 2015 19

• 204mm dw-link suspension

• Full carbon frame featuring Pivot exclusive hollow box internal molding technology

• 27.5” wheels

• S, M, L, & XL sizing

• Adjustable +/- .75 degree headset option

• Full length internal cable routing with Pivot’s exclusive cable port system

• Dropper post compatible with internal routing

• Enduro Max cartridge bearings used throughout

• Fox DHX RC4 Coil-Over rear shock

• Frame weight from 7.1/3.2kg lbs (small w/air shock) or 8.1lbs/3.6kg (small w/coil shock)

• Complete Shimano Saint equipped w/Fox 40 fork, Maxxis DH tires, and pedals from 33.5 lbs

• Rubberized integrated downtube and swingarm protection.

• Carbon ISCG-05 tabs

• 157mm X 12mm rear end

• 107mm full carbon BB shell

• 180mm rear carbon post mounts

Pivot Phoenix Carbon from eXposureTheory on Vimeo.

Trek’s new Fuel 27.5 with Re:aktiv shock technology

YES! This is the bike we’d be hoping that Trek would release and right on time they’ve answered our prayers. Yesterday, Trek revealed that they would be adding another suite of 27.5-wheeled bikes to their range, with the trail-ripping Fuel series now available in mid-sized hoops. Flow followers may remember that we reviewed the Fuel EX 29 about 12 months ago; it was a weapon of a bike, but big wheels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and we’re happy to see a more playful version of this bike back in the stable.

You can read and watch our full reviews of the Trek Fuel EX 26 and Fuel EX 29 here

The 120mm-travel Fuel 27.5 continues to be constructed around the same frame architecture as we’ve seen over the past few years from Trek, and they’ve gone all-in with a complete line of bikes, including three aluminium framed bikes and two carbon models. The range-topping 9.9 is not shown here, but will feature a Shimano XTR 1×11 drivetrain.

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Fuel EX 27.5 7 – $2799
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Fuel EX 27.5 8 – $3199
Fuel_EX_9_27_5
Fuel EX 27.5 9 – $4499
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The Fuel EX 27.5 9.8 #want – pricing TBC

 

Frame geometry for all models is listed below:

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But it’s not just the introduction of a new wheel size for the Fuel – Trek, already a leading innovator when it comes to mountain bike shock and suspension technologies, have partnered up with high-end automotive suspension company Penske Racing Shocks and FOX, to develop an all new damper. Called the Re:aktiv damper, it’s all about delivering better pedalling/climbing efficiency with a more seamless transition to bump absorption than other systems have been able to achieve.

In Trek’s own words: “Regressive damping had been utilized in Formula One racing and then moved over to Indy Car and NASCAR with much success. It provides a much firmer hold in straights and corners for incredible support, but when it hits a sudden obstacle, like the square angles encountered on technical trails, the shock’s hold instantly gives way to a plush, controlled progression. In short, the shock was smart enough to get out of its own way… fast. The result of the mountain bike application of this concept is RE:aktiv, which delivers on the unrealized potential of an inertia valve. And to date, regressive damping had never been used in mountain biking.”

“The unique thing about Penske and Trek is that we’ve really only scratched the surface,” said Penske Racing Shocks Director of Research and Development Bill Gartner. “Regressive technology helped with one compromise that was there in mountain biking but there’s a whole other world of technologies that may apply. Not only from Formula One but all the markets we work with.”

We’re very excited about this bike’s imminent arrival. As soon as they land in the country, you can bet a kidney on the fact we’ll have one in our grubby mitts to review!

 

Lapierre’s all-new 27.5″ downhill bike is here

It’s no secret that Lapierre have been working on a 27.5-wheeled downhill bike for some time now – even last season, Sam Blenkinsop and Loic Bruni were spotted racing on the bigger wheels at the Pietermaritzburg World Cup. So while we have been anticipating the release of a 650B downhill rig, we did not expect it to be an entirely new machine. But when Lapierre lifted the wraps on the new steed to be raced by the Gravity Republic team at Fort William this weekend, they revealed a completely different beast with an all-new suspension system. Let’s take a closer look!

Lapierre DH 2015-8

The new design, built solely for 27.5″ wheels, moves well away from the ‘what-the-hell’ Pendbox design of previous years, opting for a single-pivot arrangement, with a linkage driving the shock – Lapierre call the system Supra Link Technology (SLT) and say it is directly inspired by motocross suspension designs. Travel is 210mm, and Lapierre say the kinematics are all about suppleness off the top and an aggressive ramp-up at the end stroke.

Lapierre DH 2015-3

As is characteristic of Lapierre, the attention to detail appears to be excellent, with fork bumps, internal cable routing, rubberised chain slap protection and an integrated mudguard (not fitted in these pics) to protect the shock from crud.

Lapierre DH 2015-1

In terms of geometry, the frame has +/- one degree of head angle adjustability from the standard 63.7-degree stock setting. It’s interesting to note that this isn’t as slack as some designs we’ve seen in recent years; theoretically, with the higher axle heights of a 27.5″ wheel, a steeper head angle is possible without compromising confidence. Will this be a trend we see increasingly on bigger-wheeled downhill bikes?

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There will be two versions of the new bike available to spend your hard-earned on; the Team version (with a BoXXer WC and the new SRAM X0 DH 7-speed drivetrain) or the 727 (BoXXer Coil / FOX Van shock). Both frames are aluminium at this stage, though we’ll eat our hat if the Gravity Republic aren’t on a carbon version of this bike at the World Champs.

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Flow’s heading over to Lapierre HQ in France next month too, so we look forward to bringing you more info about this bike’s development (and a whole raft of other French goodness) very soon!

Cairns 2014 DH Pit Tech -13
The previous Pendbox design, seen here at Cairns covered in telemetry/data-acquisition equipment. The new SLT system seems to be a lot simpler.

Tested: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels

Stiffer than your legs after a 100km race and packing a freehub that engages faster than Christian high school sweethearts, the new Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels are amongst the finest trail / all-mountain hoops we’ve seen.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -3

We’ve been running these glamorous wheels on our Giant Trance SX long-term test bike since March, and while the Giant’s stock wheelset is certainly not to be sneered at, the Bontrager Rhythm Pros are a very desirable upgrade.

Carbon wheels are admittedly still expensive, but they’re no longer a pro-only item as once was the case. When they’re built right, carbon wheels can really change a bike’s performance. And Trek, Bontrager’s parent company, have long been a leader the carbon game; their OCLV carbon road frames redefined performance and that experience has all been brought to bear in the mountain bike world now too.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -5
We feel that Bonty missed an opportunity to do something really wild with the graphics on these wheels. They’re special wheels – draw attention to it!

The Rhythm Pro TLR wheels use Trek’s OCLV (optimum compaction, low void) carbon to form the very stiff rims which are at the core of this wheelset’s performance. Trek haven’t gone down the super-wide route that we’re starting to see from a number of specialist carbon rim manufacturers – the Rhythm rims measure up at an external width of 29mm and just shy of 23mm internally. While wider rims do have some benefits, we think that the Rhythm Pro hoops strike a pretty good balance between width and weight, tipping the scales at 1620g.

We have been running 2.35″ and 2.4″ rubber at very low pressure on these rims and enjoying mountains of grip. Even with the tyres in the low 20 psi range, burping or tyre roll hasn’t been an issue. Such low pressures aren’t going to be suitable for all riders (our test rider is not a large unit), but we felt happy running the Bontrager XR4 rubber in this pressure range.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -11
The rim profile is offset in order to provide more consistent spoke length and tension across drive/non-drive side spokes.

Our confidence to hammer these wheels at low pressures stems from a couple of areas. Firstly, the Bontrager tubeless rim strips hold onto the tyre bead tenaciously, so it’s very hard to roll the tyre off the rim or burp any air. The flip side is that changing tyres requires hands like a Bulgarian coal miner. Secondly, the rims seem to be completely bombproof – even when we’ve felt the rim smack into a rock, the sound is more of a muted thud than a ‘ping’ like you get with an alloy rim, and when we’ve inspected the rim for wobbles or signs of the impact, there’s never been a mark. We’ve done some serious damage to alloy rims (including Bontragers) before with this kind of treatment, but we can’t draw a whimper from these guys.

With 54 engagement points, the take up under power is rapid and positive. Every quick stab at the pedals, be it mid-way up a techy climb or getting a half pedal stroke in between corners, results in forward drive. Shimano and XD freehub bodies are available, and pulling the freehub off for a quick clean or preventative lubing is easy – just give it a tug. For what it’s worth, these wheels do sound good too – like someone is chasing you down the trail ripping up a bed sheet!

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -12
The freehub can simply be slid off the axle. Good from an ease of maintenance perspective. Less good from a sealing perspective.

We’re incredibly impressed with the stiffness of these wheels too. This perhaps the area where we noticed the biggest and most immediate difference when compared to the stock wheelset on our Giant. The offset spoke design means there’s more consistent tension across both sides of the wheel, and the spoke tension is very high out of the box. Couple this with the robust rims themselves you’ve got a wheel that goes exactly where you tell it and which allows your suspension and tyres to work their magic effectively.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -16

On the durability front, we’d recommend regular cleaning and lubing of the freehub pawls and drive ring. The freehub mechanism isn’t as well sealed as some, so after really wet rides, a 30-second wipe out and re-lube wouldn’t hurt. In terms of rim/spoke/truing maintenance, we’ve not needed to so much as look at a spoke key yet. These wheels are straighter than an accountancy convention and still packing more tension than a hostage negotiation.

With an ever increasing number of options for riders looking for carbon trail/all-mountain wheels, we feel that the Bontrager Rhythm Pro rims are much more than just ‘me t00’ wheelset. Whether or not these wheels can steal some glory from the likes of Enve will have to be seen over the longer term, but our initial three months would suggest these hoops could be a serious contender. We’ll endeavour to keep these wheels in the family for another six months or so and report back again.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -1

 

Flow’s First Bite: Morewood Zula 27.5

Rightly or wrongly, South Africans do have a reputation for getting straight to the point. So we will too: This bike looks like more fun than nude sky-diving and we simply cannot wait to razz the bejeezus out of it.

Morewood Zula -18

Morewood bikes hail from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Greg Minnaar’s home town. The founder of Morewood Bikes is a fella named Patrick Morewood, a former South African National DH Champ, and while Patrick is no longer involved in the brand, his legacy of building fun, simple, fast and great-descending bikes lives on.

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Morewood Bikes were constructed around the ethos that Less is More(wood) – the idea that a light, simple, single-pivot design with good geometry could out perform a complicated machine. The new Zula 27.5 typifies this belief.It’s a refreshingly simple design, executed well.

The 100mm-travel frame is constructed from aluminium, and is designed for use with a 120mm fork. It’s not a cross country race bike, but it just has a look about it that lets you know it wants to savage some twisty singletrack. The bottom bracket is low, the stays are short, and our test bike is set up with a cockpit that gives you confidence.

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Nowadays, single pivot bikes like this are few and far between. The question will be whether such a simple design can hang with the modern crop of four-bar linkage bikes. We get the feeling that whatever this bike might lack in suspension suppleness, it will make up for in can-do attitude.

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The build on our test bike has a swathe of parts from Morewood’s importer Pushie Enterprises, including Loaded wheels (which we’ve converted to tubeless with Bontrager rim strips), a KS Lev dropper post and a cSixx chain guide with a 1×10 drivetrain. We’ve taken this opportunity to also test out a 42-tooth Giant Cog from Wolf Tooth Components, which adds dramatically to the gear range of the 10-speed single-ring setup.

 

Tested: Breezer Repack Team

Here in Australia, the name ‘Breezer’ is most commonly associated with an alcoholic beverage favoured by 17 year old girls. There’s nothing fizzy about this Breezer, though just like the alco-pop, it is pretty sweet.

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Joe Breeze is the man behind Breezer bikes. Widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, with a place in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame to match, Breeze has a lot to say about bike design. While he’s been pretty quiet on the mountain bike front for a while, recently Breeze teamed up with the Sotto Group (the design team behind some of the industry’s best loved suspension designs) to launch two new bikes. There’s the 120mm-travel Supercell 29er and the bike we’ve been testing, the 160mm-travel 27.5″ wheeled Repack.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The Repack draws its name from the famous Repack downhill, a dirt road descent in Marin County, California that was the site of some the sport’s first legendary downhill races. The bikes’ coaster brake hubs would get so hot racing this famous descent, that they’d need to be ‘repacked’ with whale fat and moss to keep them from catching fire. Or something like that. Needless to say, the Repack Team has a penchant for the downward sloping stuff.

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The full aluminium frame is a tough number and it comes fully featured with all the bells and whistles you’d expect, except for internal cable routing for a dropper post – there’s a press fit bottom bracket, 142x12mm rear dropouts (using a superb Shimano-made axle), low-stack internal headset. The cabling is all external for easy maintenance, running neatly tucked under the down tube. There are no water bottle mounts to be seen, so it’s pack-only.

There’s next to no flex detectable through the rear end, thanks to oversize axles and the whopping swing link securing the seat stay, and this robust construction is one of the real highlights. A waggly rear end is fine on a dog or a snake, not a trail bike.

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Rear wheel travel is 160mm, and the system that controls all the motion in the ocean is called the M-Link. It’s a very unique suspension arrangement – it’s a four bar system using a pivot midway along the chain stay, in contrast to a ‘short link’ system (such as Giant Maestro or Santa Cruz VPP) or a Horst link (for example, a Norco or Specialized).

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The geometry is quite unique too with a 68-degree head angle. That’s a full degree and a half steeper than is common on most bikes of this travel, but Breezer feel there’s a sound rationale behind this decision (see the graphic from the Breezer site below). The aspect that Breezer don’t mention in their explanation above is that a steeper head angle does tend to reduce stability at high speeds and confidence on steep descents. Can the Breezer hit the right balance?

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Our test bike was a size 17″, which Breezer classifies as a size small. We’d normally run a medium but this was the only test bike available, plus the top tube measurement is rather generous – looking at the sizing chart, it seems like the Repack runs on the long side across the entire size range. One immediate hitch we encountered was that the seat post was too short (understandable as it IS a size small), and getting the right seat height required some reckless disregard for the post’s minimum insertion mark. We ended up fitting a longer post, but because of the curve in the seat tube, there was only a small amount of adjustability available to lower the seat on descents. The easy answer would be to fit a dropper post straight away. Obviously this adds a few hundred gram, but it’s worth it.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Absence of a dropper seat post aside, the Repack is an incredibly well specced bike for its sub-$4000 price tag. The fork is a stunner, with a range-topping 160mm FOX 34 Factory CTD w/ Trail Adjust up front. Once we’d converted the WTB rims for tubeless (using Bontrager rim strips and sealant) the bike was pretty much perfectly equipped for its intended life on rough trails. On the subject of tubeless, this is an absolute MUST for this bike, as you’ll read more about in our Ride section below.

The Shimano XT drivetrain, brakes and hubs are just flawless workhorse items. While the Ritchey stem is infuriating to actually do up the bolts on, the bar/stem combo is stiff and perfect for the job. We didn’t feel compelled to make any other changes to get the most of the bike. As a lot of our testing occurred in damp conditions, the Nobby Nic tyres worked well. If the terrain had been drier, a tyre with a softer compound would’ve been fitted.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Breezer is definitely more of a long-travel trail bike, than a balls-to-the-wall hard descending all-mountain bike. This is not a criticism at all – rather this bike has a versatility that most 160mm bikes lack, especially when it’s time to get back up the hill.

 

We’re truly impressed by the climbing abilities of the Repack it doesn’t feel like you’re pushing so much travel uphill. The slightly steeper head angle plays a part here, preventing the steering from flopping around as it does on most long-travel bikes, even without a travel adjustable fork.

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But the seated pedalling efficiency of this bike is the real drawcard when climbing – the suspension system has just the right amount of anti-squat, and it feels very supportive and resists bobbing. In the big ring or small ring, the Repack will tractor up the climbs without wallowing or wandering. We never felt the need to touch the shock’s CTD lever, not once. It’s fortunate that the Repack climbs so efficiently, as it’s not a particularly light bike. A dropper post will add more weight, and there aren’t many obvious areas for weight saving unfortunately. Most of that mass resides in the frame.

There's plenty of metal here, hence the Breezer's heft. But it does all feel incredibly solid and stiff on the trail.
There’s plenty of metal here, hence the Breezer’s heft. But it does all feel incredibly solid and stiff on the trail.

As well as being supportive on the climbs, the Repack is buttery on the descents. The FOX fork was typically sticky for the first couple of hours on the trail, and initially couldn’t match the smoothness of the rear end – the bed-in time on new FOX forks seems to be longer than in the past.

As mentioned above, the Repack doesn’t have the same predilection for reckless riding as some other all-mountain bikes, and this is partly due to the suspension action of the M-Link design. The spring curve is very linear, meaning the bike tends to use the last two-thirds of its suspension travel readily. There’s no real progressiveness to the suspension, and we found ourselves using the bike’s full travel very frequently.We didn’t notice any violent bottom-outs, but when we checked the shock after each moderately rough section of trail, we’d regularly note the o-ring had been pushed right off the end of the shock shaft.

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The advantage of this very flat suspension curve is that the get the full advantages of having 160mm of travel, even if you’re not really hammering the downhills. This means loads of traction, and a real feeling of ironing out the terrain. The tendency to run deep in the rear travel also helps slacken the bike out on the steeper stuff, which does offset the potential for ejecting out the front door. Disadvantages? The rear wheel takes a pounding! Our first ride end with a long walk after three flat tyres in a couple of hours. Technique may have played a role, but so to did the bike’s suspension curve. This is why we feel tubeless is an absolute MUST with this bike. Fortunately the tyres are tubeless ready, so simply fit your preferred rim strip and forget out pinch flats.

The WTB rims claim to be tubeless ready, but you'll still need to fit a rim strip before you go tubeless.
The WTB rims claim to be tubeless ready, but you’ll still need to fit a rim strip before you go tubeless.

After flicking the Repack through some fast, flat singletrack, we could appreciate Joe Breeze’s opinions about geometry. The Breezer doesn’t push the front wheel at slower speeds like a lot of long-travel bikes. But then again, it doesn’t encourage you to point-and-shoot either. It’s horses for courses, so think about what matters most to you.

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[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Breezer Repack was a really great bike to review, if only for the fact that it has its own identity, its own take on all-mountain geometry and a whole new approach to the four-bar suspension system. It does a great job of making longer-travel bikes relevant to riders who aren’t interested in piloting a boat around the trails, and it will certainly appeal to those who prioritise control, traction and comfort over flat-out descending. Set the wheels up tubeless and get yourself a dropper post – at this price you’ll likely have the cash left to spend – then hit the trails.

 

Testing notes:

Test rider: Chris Southwood

Weight: 62kg

Height: 172cm

Tested at: Sydney’s Red Hill, Manly Dam and various other sneaky trails.

Changes made: Longer seatpost. Converted wheels to tubeless with Bontrager rim strips.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: ENVE M60 Forty Wheels

We know, we know, at times working at Flow really sucks. When a courier stands at your door holding a big black cardboard box with ENVE written on it, you just want to throw the towel in and go home and sulk.

But there are times when we force ourselves to look at the positives, and accept the reality that fitting these wheels to our test bike will make it look totally sizzling hot, to the envy of our mates, but most importantly the riding performance of the bike they adorn will shoot through the roof.

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Oh dear, they do look good.

ENVE wheels are the cream of the crop, and also freaking expensive. The set we’ve got here are worth $3499, about as pricey as wheels come. BUT, we’ve had many stellar experiences with these carbon wheels and as we all know, wheels are one area of the bike that is always worth upgrading. So much of the bikes riding performance lies in its wheels.

ENVE60Forty 4

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Note the square profile of the inner walls? No more bead hook for the tyre to sit into. New technology for ENVE but we’ve seen it on wheels before, and it makes a lot of sense. It further increases the internal volume, plus it is a lighter and stronger section, all good things.

Recently ENVE expanded and remodelled their entire mountain bike lineup. Now you can spend mega bucks on four wheel types, in various diameters to suit four levels of riding. 50 Fifty for cross country, 60 Forty for trail, 70 Thirty for more gravity oriented trail riding, and the downhill specific 90 Ten wheel set.

Tape and valves, is all you need for the perfect tubeless conversion. Simple, and proven.
Tape and valves, is all you need for the perfect tubeless conversion. Simple, and proven.

We’ve just fitted the 60 Forty set in 27.5″ (650B) to our Lapierre Zesty long term test bike. We weighed our pair at 1540g with the tubeless strips and valves fitted, which is pretty damn amazing for a rim with 23mm internal width. The 1650g Easton Haven wheels (no valves) they replace had an internal width of 21mm, that may not sound like much, but the whole internal section of the big carbon rims is also larger in the ENVE wheels allowing for a greater air volume. A greater air volume maximises the benefit of the tyre, effectively giving the bike more cushion and dampening without adding the weight a larger tyre would. The tyres also look bigger.

Carbon wheels also aren’t just about weight though. These guys are known for taking a beating for far longer than a comparable weight set of aluminium wheels, and have a very direct and fast feel on the trail.

DT Swiss 240 hubs, top shelf stuff.
DT Swiss 240 hubs, top shelf stuff.

So, they are fitted to our already incredible bike, and we’ll be giving them hell, so stay tuned for more.

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So dreamy…

 

Flow’s First Bite: Norco Revolver 7.1

The new Norco Revolver series caught our eye at the 2014 Norco launch and since then we’ve been regularly dropping an email to Norco Australia to find out when they would have a model in Australia. So we were frothing when got word that a Revolver 7.1 had arrived, even more froth was produced when we were offered a chance to review it.

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Norco are embracing the matte carbon finish on their bikes for 2014 and we are big fans, the Revolver with its dark grey frame, black decals and black componentry just looks bad ass, the sort of bike that would give other bikes the nerves at the starting grid.

The Revolver hasn’t missed a beat with the inclusion of a 142×12 rear axle, forward mounted rear brake calliper and Press Fit BB30 cranks.

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We are big fans of the 1×11 technology from SRAM and it’s great to see the XO1 variant on a race bike, providing riders access to this hot technology at a decent price point.

Just from a quick glance at the tech data for this bike and seeing it in the flesh you can tell that the geometry has one purpose in mind, cross country racing or riding cross country trails like you are racing. Thin is an efficient race rig, but a few spec choices and geometry numbers are telling use that it is also won’t be too scared of letting its hair down on the trails and having a good time.

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With a 70 degree head angle we were certain that this bike would provide a  format to play on the trails with, and so far we haven’t been proven wrong. There is something magical about cross country race bikes born in Canada that makes them ride like no other race bike.

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NorcoRevolverFirstBite 8

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Our first impressions are rosy and sweet so far, now let’s get it dirty and deliver a proper review soon. Stay tuned.

Tested: Avanti Torrent 2

The Avanti Torrent 2 is an excellent all-mountain machine. It’s stiff, strong, has good angles, and rides aggressively and with just a few little touches it can become even better.

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The Avanti Torrent 2 in all its glory.

This 140mm 27.5″ all-mountain machine is a breath of fresh air from a local manufacturer (well, NZ anyway) and really sets the scene for Avanti to increase its trail presence. You can really trust this bike to hold up to the serious trail shredding.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The NZ bike manufacturer has a long history in our region (Nathan Rennie was with them back in his beginnings) but up until recently their bikes lacked that competitive look, performance, and design to match it with the big players in the market. All that has changed now and the Torrent is a worthy looking and performing competitor. To quote a fellow rider, “That’s an Avanti? I though they were average. That looks the goods.”

The Torrent looks and feels strong with large aluminium tubing, a tapered head tube and full cartridge bearings throughout the rear end. Its hydroformed sloping and squarish shaped tubes are reminiscent of a Giant Trance however its very different rear end sets it apart.

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Even if the head tube decals are something from the Transformers we still think the bike looks good from all angles.

The suspension platform is a 4-bar system and taking the words from Avanti: “The Tru4 4-bar mechanism positions the rear axle on the isolated seat stay. This optimises the “virtual pivot point” so the suspension system operates efficiently and independently of rider effects.” We found the performance of the suspension pretty good overall however you will see in our “Ride” notes that we did have few little set-up issues.

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The Avanti has another variants of a 4-bar linkage, with a Horst Link system.
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Just like the rest of the bike, the rear end and suspension is all strong and well made.

The geometry of the Torrent is great (if you like your bikes slack), and even greater that you can adjust it (if you like them less slack). The Torrrent ranges from a 67-65.5 degree head angle and up to a 5mm drop in the bottom bracket height. The chainstays are in the mid range however the bike was easy to manoeuvre and lifting the front wheel a breeze. We preferred the slacker setting, so that’s how we left it for the majority of our testing on the faster trails of Stromlo Forest Park.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

At a smidge over $3500 the Torrent 2 is very well priced, though there are some spec sacrifices to meet that mark. We’re not saying it has a bad spec, it’s just that it’s spec weaknesses are for a reason – to keep costs down.

Suspension is handled by FOX. Up front is a 32mm, 140mm-travel Float CTD fork and out back the 140mm travel is handled by an Float Evolution Series CTD shock. Both performed well for their lower end of the suspension chart and having the CTD is always a nice addition for on-trail adjustability. We did have some issues setting up the rear though and you will read later in this review.

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Simple, yet effective. Like a number of FOX forks we’ve tested lately, we felt these forks could have used a strip and re-lube.
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This is what makes the magic happen and if it’s not right you’re in for a bad ride. We found it hard to get the right balance between too soft (sucks for climbs) and too hard (sucks for the downhills) and ended up on the soft side. A little sacrifice on the climbs for a bit more fun.

The 2×10 drivetrain is taken care of with a mix of SRAM X9 and X7 components. The X9 Type 2 (clutch) rear derailuer is a must on trail bikes and matched with the e*thirteen TRS dual chain device was relatively quiet and secure. The e*thirteen crankest was an interesting (but great) OEM spec and the big burly cranks add to the feel of strength in the bike.

We did get some bottom bracket creaking pretty quickly but as with many a bike it probably came out of the factory with a little less grease than needed.

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Big strong cranks and 2x chain device worked well. We still prefer a single on the front and with ISCG tabs that’s an easy upgrade to the Torrent.

The stopping is taken care of by Shimano and even though Deore is a lower spec, the 180mm rotors on the front and 160mm on the rear did a great job of stopping us. They worked well and are easily adjustable, what more could you want?

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As always Shimano offers great stopping power.

The wheels were a nice touch and Mavic have always been favourites of ours. The wheels are strong and the 142mm rear axle made the bike that much stiffer. Our only gripe with the wheels is lack of tubeless compatibility however we converted them using some tape and they held air without a problem. We noted no issues with the true of the wheels during our testing.

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A view of the Mavic hubs. We have always like Mavic and these hoops didn’t let us down. No quick release either – perfect.

The Kenda Honey Badger tyres are a good fast rolling opten however we changed them to something more aggressive from Maxxis as they were better suited to the type of riding the Torrent 2 was designed for (we also needed some tubeless tyres for the conversion).

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The Kenda Honey Badger is probably better suited to a XC machine.

We would have just loved to see a dropper seat post squeezed into the spec of this bike – getting off a bike to adjust the seat post quick release is so 2010. The bike has cable routing for a dropper so we recommend you go an add one ASAP.

 

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Torrent preferred being pointed down. We ran the Torrent 2 in the slackest setting for the whole test period as we found it suited the strengths of the frame design better and more matched the target market. We did play on the steeper setting for a little but but quickly went back to slack.

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A shorter stem and wide bars gave us a more upright riding position – ready for more aggressive riding. This is a bike that wanted us to play a little more; 27.5″ is the new 26! The Torrent did take a little more work than expected to get off the ground, but that’s more a product of weight than it being an energy sapping design.

In a famous story, Goldilocks found one bed too soft, one bed too hard, and one bed just right and that’s how we felt about the suspension on the Torrent. We found it a little harder to get that “just right” feel and after some playing we actually ended up running the bike a little softer than recommended, which improved the handling on descents, however did add an extra log to drag up the hills. Not a worry though – we just used the CTD lever a little more to stop the bike sagging too much on the climbs.

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The stiff frame and rear end made the Torrent a cornering machine and when pushed hard in the bends the bike help up well. This is one reason why we changed the tyres. The Honey Badgers, while being great at straight line speed, just couldn’t hold the corners the bike wanted to. Once some more aggressive rubber was added the bike was able to corner superbly.

Big hits were comfortable on the Torrent and even though we were running the bike on the soft side bottoming out was never a harsh experience. We did tend to keep the bike in the “descend” mode most of the time when the trail was pointed down as the “trail” mode felt a little too harsh.

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Overall the spec of the Torrent worked well and we had no issues with anything other than previously mentioned. The brakes worked well and the larger 180mm rotor on the front was a great help. The e*thirteen device did its job however our test rider would prefer a 1 x setup. As mentioned previously our only testing issue was some noise from the bottom bracket under load and that would be just a simple re-greese to fix.

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[divider]Overall[/divider]

Overall the Torrent 2 is a great all-mountain trail bike. It rides well, has great geometry, handles well in corners, and takes the bit hits. It did lack a little on the climbs though and we think the bike is best suited to the person who prefers the descents (isn’t that all of us?). We also found it a little harder to set-up with the suspension and feel that you should ensure your local bike shop helps you out in the department. Also, we’d love to see a dropper post and a 1x set-up however you can always add them easily as there routing for there cables and ISCG mounts.

At $3649 it’s a great mid-level trail bike with an excellent frame that is worth of component upgrades down the line.

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Even from far away the bike looks slack – that’s a good thing for the aggressive rider.

 

[divider]Test[/divider]

Test rider: Damian Breach

Rider weight: 72kg

Rider height: 172cm

Size tested: Medium

Changes made prior to testing: Grips, Tyres, Tubeless

Test location: Stromlo Forest Park

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Avanti Torrent 2

Despite being somewhat a local brand (New Zealand) you don’t see too many Avanti bikes on the local trails. We think the 140mm Torrent may change that.

 

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The Torrent 2 is a good looking, stiff, and very capable 27.5″ all-mountain machine. The 140mm travel market is pretty well saturated and you have to be a good bike to stand out in that crowd and on paper the new Torrent 2 really does stand out as a viable option against some of the bigger brands.

The all aluminium bike has striking looks and a good relaxed stance. Not that you’ll see it advertised anywhere but the geometry of the bike is adjustable via a little chip at the bottom of the shock. We love this little tune-ability and the aggressive angles of the Torrrent range from a 67-65.5 degree head angle and up to a 5mm drop in the bottom bracket height.

The standout features of the Torrent 2 are a Fox CTD fork and shock, Mavic Crossride wheels, e*thirteen cranks, and a mix of SRAM X7 and X9 components.  There’s even porting for an internally routed adjustable seat post should you want an upgrade.

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e*thirteen crankset matched with a 2x chain device makes for a pretty strong and secure drivetrain.
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“The Tru4 4-bar mechanism positions the rear axle on the isolated seat stay. This optimises the “virtual pivot point” so the suspension system operates efficiently and independently of rider effects.” – Avanti
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Mavic wheels are nice touch and something you see less of as original stock items these days. We’ve always had good experiences with Mavic and we’re hoping the same.  Not tubeless out of the box though so that’s a downer.
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FOX CTD front and rear gives some excellent on-trail tunability. We’ll see how much we need it, especially for climbing.
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The rear end of the bike is really stiff and our initial testing (one ride) showed it to work very well on the bigger hits and held well in corners.

So far we’re loving the whole package and with a few minor changes (the grips suck and we’ll be going tubeless) this bike is ready to be ridden hard.

We’ll be blasting the Torrent 2 up an down our local trails over the next few weeks and give you a full run down soon. On our first rides we found the Torrent pretty lively so we’re looking forward to see how much fun we can have with it.

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Flow’s First Bite: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR 27.5 carbon wheels

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One of two all-new carbon mountain bike wheels in the Bontrager line-up, the Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels have just found their way into the dropouts of our long-term test Giant Trance Advanced SX all-mountain machine. And all of a sudden our bike just got a whole lot sexier.

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Built from Trek’s OCLV carbon, these are a tasty set of hoops. While the 1670g weight for the pair won’t necessarily sizzle your sausage, these wheels are built for bombing, not mincing around the trails, so weight alone isn’t the driving design consideration. Our initial impressions of these wheels’ stiffness after just the one ride is very positive; they come out the box with a whopping amount of spoke tension which, when combined with the stiffness of the carbon rim, makes for a rock-solid set of rolling gear.

The rim is offset, to reduce wheel dish and allow more consistent spoke tension.
The rim is offset, to reduce wheel dish and allow more consistent spoke tension.
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Unlike increasing numbers of wheels which use a tape to seal up the rim bed, the Bonty wheels use these plastic rim strips.

As with other Bontrager rims, converting to tubeless is incredibly clean and simple; Bontrager rim strips snap into place, providing a rock solid seal that won’t lose air over time like some tubeless tapes can. With an internal width of 22.9mm, they’re wide enough to offer good support for 2.3″+ tyres (though not as wide as some other similar offerings, such as Enve’s AM or Specialized’s Traverse rims). To complete the Bontrager setup, we’ve fitted a set of chunky XR4 tyres in a 2.35″ width and we think they’ll totally dominate in loose conditions.

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Snap the rim strip in place, fit the valves and you’ve got one seriously bombproof tubeless setup.

With the tight tubeless seal and obviously robust nature of the rim construction, we’ve already begun playing with lower tyre pressures than usual, dropping down to around 22psi in the rear and even lower up front. Unlike alloy wheels, you don’t feel compelled to wince every time the rim bottoms out against the tyre – they just feel tough!

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One of the other highlights of these wheels is the new Rapid Drive freebub, which has exceptionally quick pick-up, thanks to 54 engagement points. Of course, they sound bloody great too. We’ll be running these wheels for the next few months and we’re looking forward to seeing just how hard they can go.

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Meaty. Will the XR4s prove a worthy replacement for the Schwalbe Hans Dampfs we like so much?

Tested: Giant Trance Advanced SX long-term test update

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We’re a little over a month into our long term test of the 2014 Giant Trance Advanced SX now and things are going swimmingly, literally in the last couple of weeks as the trails have been a bit swampy.

Straight up, this bike is a riot. A blacked-out package of confidence and playfulness, a 12kg piece of weaponry that turns every rock into a kicker or a landing ramp. It’s everything we’d hoped. We’ll get into the way the bike rides a little more in later updates, but for now here’s a few observations about the suspension and drivetrain.

Slyly edging her way out the office door, to sneak off to the trails.
Slyly edging her way out the office door, trying to sneak off to the trails.

Suspension: Man, the rear end of this thing is smooth. FOX have really done their best work with the new Float X. It’s like butter, poured over Teflon. It’s a true pain in the arse to adjust the rebound speed, as the dial is really hidden very deep underneath the shock eyelet, but that’s the only gripe.

More control than NASA.
More control than NASA.
Can you spot the rebound adjuster in there? Adjusting the rebound speed out on the trail is thankfully a rare occurrence as you need an Allen key, small stick or the tiniest fingers in the universe.
Can you spot the rebound adjuster in there? Adjusting the rebound speed out on the trail is thankfully a rare occurrence as you need an Allen key, small stick or the tiniest fingers in the universe.

The 34 TALAS fork has spent most of its time in the 140mm setting so far, only being bumped out to its full 160mm travel for the descents. Unfortunately our fork had a damper problem (sporadic topping out, seemingly at random) and so it went back to FOX. They had it back in less than a week, with a brand new damper installed. While in the workshop, they popped in some new seals and the fork is near frictionless now.

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Less than 1750g is pretty amazing for a 160mm fork. Let’s hope there’s more to this fork’s performance than just low weight. We’ll find out soon!

While our fork was back with FOX, a new test fork arrived from Formula – the Formula 35 with 160mm travel. Because the Trance uses Giant’s proprietary Overdrive 2 headset standard (with a 1.25″ upper bearing, instead of the standard 1.125″ bearing) we needed to order a new upper headset assembly to suit. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as just swapping out the upper headset bearing, you need a new headset cup as well. FSA make the whole assembly. You’ll also need a different stem too, which we thankfully had on hand.

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Knock out the old upper headset assembly and pop in the new (left).

With the Formula fork fitted, the entire bike has dropped a bit of weight too, now clocking in at a seriously impressive 11.85kg (without pedals fitted)!

Drivetrain: Any fears we had about the 32-tooth chainring being too small have gone out the window. Even with 27.5″ wheels, we rarely find ourselves in the highest gear. This bike has once again reinforced the idea that it’s important to gear your bike around the climbs, more so than the descents.

We're happy with a 32-tooth chain ring so far and while we've dropped the chain the once, we're not going to fit a chain guide just yet.
We’re happy with a 32-tooth chain ring so far and while we’ve dropped the chain the once, we’re not going to fit a chain guide just yet.

The X01 drivetrain is quiet and stable as a sedated Buddhist, though we have thrown the chain once when pedalling out of a very rough, drifty sandstone corner. If it was ever going to happen, this is exactly where you’d expect the chain to drop. We’re not going to fit a chain guide at this stage as we don’t think chain drop will be a regular occurrence.

Flow’s First Bite: Polygon Recon 4.0

Click here to check out our final thoughts.

We do test a lot of pretty high-end bikes here at Flow. We admit it – we’re nasty little gear-whores. But what if you can’t afford a $5000 carbon bike? What if your budget is less than a third of that?

Turns out that you can still get quite a lot of machine for under $1400. The new Polygon Recon 4.0 is a 27.5″-wheeled, 120mm-travel cross country bike with some really impressive features for such a relatively meagre price tag.
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Popping the Recon onto the scales was a real surprise, weighing in at just 13.6kg (or around $1 for every 10g of bike). That’s a LOT lighter than we expected.

The frame won’t win any beauty contests, but it looks perfect sound from a practicality, reliability and construction standpoint, and obviously the frame weight isn’t excessive. With Shimano from head to toe we’ve got no issue with the component selection. Sure, the Octalink cranks are a little outdated, but we used this system for many years without worry.

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With Shimano brakes and shifting expect consistent performance.

 

Top marks to Polygon for including the Rockshox Recon TK Gold fork, which is considerably lighter and smoother than the Recon TK Silver fork (which uses steel legs). We’ll put a question mark alongside the Suntour Epicon rear shock for now. Hopefully it can handle the jandle out on the trails.

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The Suntour shock feels firm bouncing around the workshop, but it may bed-in out on the trails.

It sounds strange to say, but we’re actually really looking forward to putting the glitzy bikes aside for a while and testing this bike. We think it’ll be pleasantly refreshing to remind ourselves that you can still have a hell of a lot of fun on a bike that’s doesn’t have a dollar value higher than Craig Thomson’s credit card bill.

Tested: Focus SAM 1.0

A 160mm travel bike with 650B wheels is nudging the upper ceiling of what we’ve come to expect from an all-mountain bike. Would the Focus SAM be too much to lump around the trails while out searching for that ultimate totally gnarly descent?

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SAM in the spirit of all-mountain.
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Clean lines, subtly arranged graphics, a stealth black paint job and parts kit make SAM a hot date for the steamy trails.

Build:

The SAM is a brand new model from the German folks at Focus in 2014, one of two suspension bikes in their fairly tight mountain bike range. Their Super Bud 29er – with it’s equally kitsch name – will cater for the rider seeking a leaner, racier and sharper ride. The SAM, however, is certainly keen and ready for more partying than racing.

Our new great mate, SAM (Super All Mountain) has impressed us with its refreshingly humble approach to hard all-mountain riding. An aluminium frame, simple suspension and a fairly classic frame finish and colour. The linkage driven shock and its single pivot design claims no crazy axle paths, or acronym riddled chain feedback reducing promises, it is about as old school as it comes.

And tipping the scales at under 13kg is a big bonus, that sub 13kg mark is hard to reach when bikes have more than 150mm travel. Sure it is specced well, but this low figure is also testament to the frame weight, long live quality aluminium!

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A single pivot actuated linkage design, with a pivot above the axle like this, is not going to claim to do any fandangled axle path things or change your life, it just works fine.

It may be basic, but in our opinion the perfect execution of this simple design is its strength. The rear end’s lean looking pivot points are secured using a mixture of axles with pinch clamps and the more common threaded variety. And all these fixtures use torx key fittings too. The pivots may be small but the frame receives a nod of approval from us in terms of lateral rigidity and durability.

It really does tick all the construction department boxes, with really big ticks. The internal routing of all three cables; the rear derailleur, rear brake and adjustable seat post disappears into the head tube, as neatly as it gets creating a very clean, clutter-free and smart appearance. A front derailleur mount is present, as are ISCG tabs to keep front shifting options open. The 12mm x 142mm rear axle by Shimano is quick release and one of our favourite methods of keeping the rear wheel secure at all times.

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ISCG mounts are there if you’re bang up for a proper chain guide.
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Neat inputs for your cables. Plus one hole spare for a front derailleur.

It’s also the frame’s stealth finish that turns heads, matte black with subtly located graphics that don’t scream at you. And those classic big welds on the joints will satisfy the aluminium fans out there, no doubt.

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There is no geometry adjustability on the SAM, at least the forks drop down in travel via a switch to sharpen the shape for climbs.

Spec:

Nothing says all mountain like a phat set of rubber, tall and beefy forks and a super-wide handlebar. We could have loved the bike enough without riding it at all, because it had some of our most favourite standout parts fitted to it, like the superb Rockshox Pike, Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres and Avid Trail brakes to name just a few.

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We clicked with these wheels, a real spec highlight that aids not only just weight but compliance and positive direction.
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Our most favourite product at the moment, the ground breaking Rockshox Pike. Haven’t tried one yet? That’s a shame…
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Avid XO Trail brakes on a whopping downhill bike worthy front 200mm rotor, now that is stopping power!
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Needing no introduction is the super superb SRAM XX1.
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We’d love to test these hoops out for a longer time, they were sweet. And on a bike for $6K? Crazy…

Flawless SRAM XX1, Rockshox Stealth post, and carbon – yes 1620g CARBON – wheels from Reynolds with a generous 23mm internal width were an absolute delight to use. How could we argue with such great kit? But the best thing is that for the dollars, this bike is a really outstanding value. For $6k, it’s a real winner in the parts department.

The little 32 tooth XX1 front chainring was unreal, the lower the better for a bike like this. If you’re concerned about spinning out of gears, keep an eye out for cars, or weirdos on cyclocross bikes as you’re probably on a road or fast fire trail. Save the low range for the real technical climbs that such a grippy bike will allow you to tractor up. We didn’t ever drop a chain either, love this stuff.

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Show us your CEX stem… Awkward name for a stem?

Ride:

One of our first rides on the SAM was three days on a big mountain named Thredbo, beginning with a big backcountry mission on fire roads with climbs that burned like a dragon with hiccups. We felt very comfortable climbing though, the short headtube, flat handlebar and travel adjustability on the forks enabled us to sit or stand comfortably without that awkward tall or too-slack shape that bikes with over 150mm forks can have.

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Let her rrrrrip!

With many bikes actually seeing a reduction in travel with the advent of 27.5″ wheels (for example, the Trek Remedy), it’s great to see Focus catering for the rider who needs more cushy to go harder. And it sure does go hard. The SAM can attack a turn with real confidence, and promotes you to stay off the brakes with its stable position (bolstered by the mega 777mm bars), amazing traction and aggressive geometry. It’s a real slacker, too – with a claimed 65 degree head angle (!!) the forks are raked out way in front of you.  With the Pike delivering such a supple and incredibly controlled action, when we pushed the SAM into big holes and deep rocky sections we received no argument, just speed and sure-footed confidence.

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The Rockshox Monarch Plus bettered our expectations – this isn’t a shock that normally  get us too excited. Many say that the shock is only as good as the frame it sits in, and perhaps this case it applies, the rear end’s action was supple enough to maintain comfort and traction, but also managed the deep impacts with no worries. Switching the three simple modes of compression adjustment is a snack, and we found ourselves riding all but only the tarmac climbs and roughest descents in the middle setting. Just imagine if it was all black, like the Pike, you’d lose this bike in the dark.

Verdict:

Mr. SAM will appeal to more than just bargain hunting aluminium fans, it’s also a bike for the rider who simply can’t get into 29ers but want something that can run the worst terrain down. The sweet balance of low weight and high volume of travel and traction will also make the SAM a killer option for a spot of gravity enduro racing, or all day riding on sections of trail that a downhill bike would normally be required for.

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German made and designed.

It’s a real tenacious ride, finds traction where most can’t and survives the roughest of corners by holding onto the craziest lines you can throw at it. We lerrrrve this bike.

Rider: Mick Ross
Height: 180cm
Weight: 70kg
Tested at: Thredbo, Manly Dam, Oxford Falls, Red Hill NSW
Mick and SAM. No trail, or destination is too challenging for SAM, rest assured that it is a true all-mountain ride.
Mick and SAM. No trail, or destination is too challenging for SAM, rest assured that it is a true all-mountain ride.

Tested: Six 2014 model 27.5″ bikes

Still wondering if this whole 650B/27.5/fence-sitter hoohah is worth a look? We’ve tested a whole bunch of 27.5-wheeled bikes of late. Maybe these reviews will help you make up your mind!

Giant Trance 1 27.5 

Click here for the full review.

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Giant’s overhaul of the Trance range this year went the whole nine yards. This was no quick botox and collagen, oh no, Giant booked the Trance in for the works: nip and tuck, implants, hair extensions and more. Diana Ross would be in awe.

Yeti SB75

Click here for the full review.

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Many people have been hanging out expectantly, waiting to see what Yeti would do with 27.5″ wheels after this core Colorado-based brand arguably came to the mid-wheel market a year late. Some were betting on 27.5″ version of the SB66, but instead Yeti unveiled two new 27.5″ machines. One was a remake of the classic 575 (which we hope to test soon), the other is the gorgeous yellow machine you see here; the SB75.

Pivot Mach 6 Carbon

Click here for the full review.

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All carbon and all glorious, the Mach 6 is only a small step up in the travel stakes from the legendary Mach 5.7, but it’s quite a different beast. First of all, the wheels are a little bigger – it’s one of three new 27.5″ bikes in the Pivot lineup. Secondly, it shuffles towards the descending end of the spectrum a bit, with slacker angles, a lower bottom bracket and FOX’s premium Float X shock. Pivot built this bike with Gravity Enduro racing in mind, you know.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5

Click here for the full review.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-2

The Remedy has been Trek’s all-mountain / trail bike for a number of years now, and it’s always been an impressive machine, well noted for its excellent suspension and spritely feel. For 2014, Trek have made two big changes to the Remedy. There’s the wheel size, obviously, with the Remedy now packing 27.5″ hoops, but they’ve also reduced the travel, back to 140mm from 150mm in previous generations.

Merida One Forty B

Click here for the full review. 

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When we ripped open the box containing the new Merida One Forty B, we immediately knew that this was a big step in our preferred direction. Fortunately for us, we had a five-hour ride planned the next day on the exact style of trails this bike’s designed for. Let’s get acquainted!

GT Sensor Carbon Team

Click here for the full review.

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What GT has aimed to do is build upon their Independent Drive system which we’ve known for many years, and improve on it. And with the new bigger (but not that much bigger) 650B wheels and a wild looking carbon frame thrown in the mix, the 2014 Sensor gives you a real sense that GT have stepped it up, reaffirming their heritage rich reputation, big time.

Tested: Trek Remedy 9 27.5

About a year ago, we put the question to some Trek staff: “What are you guys doing with 27.5?” Their response? “Why would we do 27.5 when we’ve got the best 29ers on the market?” Very cagey! Six months later, and out come two new lines of 27.5″ bikes from Trek, including the one you see here, the Remedy 9 27.5. By the way, it’s very orange. Had you noticed?

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-1

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-31

Build:

The Remedy has been Trek’s all-mountain / trail bike for a number of years now, and it’s always been an impressive machine, well noted for its excellent suspension and spritely feel. For 2014, Trek have made two big changes to the Remedy. There’s the wheel size, obviously, with the Remedy now packing 27.5″ hoops, but they’ve also reduced the travel, back to 140mm from 150mm in previous generations.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-9
Well finished. Small things, like the way the fork crown sits so perfectly flush with the head tube, are very appealing.

It’s extremely rare to see a bike’s travel reduced from year to year. Ordinarily, advances in suspension technologies and efficiencies result in travel increases, so to see a reduction was a surprise.

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The Full Floater suspension system. The rear shock is not mounted to the mainframe, but floats between the upper link and a lower mount on the chain stay. Keeping it independent of the front triangle removes stress from the main frame and allows complete control over the shock rate.

There are two main reasons for the move, as we see it. The first is to create a logical progression in the Trek range. There’s the 120mm-travel Fuel EX, the 160mm-travel Slash enduro bike, and now the Remedy slots neatly in the middle at 140mm. The second reason relates to wheel size. With a larger diameter wheel, you can get away with a little bit less travel somewhat, especially in terms of sheer ability to roll over obstacles.

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The Active Braking Pivot system uses a concentric pivot around the rear axle which keeps the suspension largely unencumbered by braking forces. It also make chaining the derailleur hanger a pain in the butt.

In other respects, the Remedy is largely unchanged from previous years. It still uses Trek’s lively, active and smooth ABP / Full Floater suspension system and large-volume, twin-chambered DRCV shock. The frame is constructed Trek’s Alpha aluminium, with plenty of nice touches, including integrated down tube and chain slap protection, and internal cabling for the front and rear derailleurs. In spite of the internal shift cabling, somehow the cables do look cluttered and a bit messy overall, especially when compared to other bikes like the Focus SAM or Giant Trance which we’ve been riding lately.

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Down tube armouring and chain slap protection help keep the ride quiet and protect the bike in the long run too.
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Looks much neater than an old tube, huh? We like this kind of attention to detail!

The Remedy continues to run the Mino Link geometry adjustment system. Flipping the small chip/insert located the junction of the seat stay and EVO Link gives you a little over half a degree of head angle adjustment and lowers or raises the bottom bracket by 8mm. Given that the Remedy’s angles are already quite sharp by today’s standards, we left the bike in the slacker setting, for a 67.5-degree head angle. It’s really interesting to note that the Remedy’s head angle is actually steeper for 2014 than it was for 2013 (67.5 vs 67 degrees).

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Swapping this chip around will move the head angle from 67.5 to 68.2 degrees.

Spec:

We’ll say it now and get it off our chest. The Remedy’s handlebar is too narrow – it constricts this bike, and feels about five years out of date. In Trek’s defence, the only reason they supply the bike with this bar is because of some outdated Australian standards that stipulate a bike can’t have a bar over 700mm wide! So actually, every other brand is technically in the wrong from a legality perspective. Whatever the case, we fitted a 745mm bar to the very neat 70mm Bontrager Rhythm stem and felt much better.

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The Bontrager Rhythm stem is gorgeous. The bar should be swapped for something wider. Keep the original under your bed to ward off home invasions.

Trek kicked their product development team into overdrive and managed to develop new Bontrager 27.5″ wheels and tyres for the Remedy, and both items are really top notch. The Bontrager Rhythm wheelset and XR3 tyre combo is great. The tyres a massive for a claimed 2.35″ width and we rate their consistently grippy and fast-rolling tread pattern as one of our favourites. Our test bike was set up tubeless with Bontrager’s own plastic rim strips installed. These don’t come with the bike ordinarily, but Trek dealers can supply them. Other standout Bontrager items are the Evoke saddle (this tester’s favourite) and Rhythm grips.

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‘AWESOME,’ say our arses. The Bontrager Evoke saddle is tops.
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Bontrager’s tyre program keeps on kicking goals. Read more about the development of these tyres here in our interview with tyre designer Frank Stacy.

Shimano’s XT drivetrain and brakes are the pick for the Remedy 9. The 2×10 drivetrain and clutch derailleur is precise, quiet and gave us mercifully low gears when climbing big hills with a heavy pack in the Snowy Mountains. Of course, there are ISCG mounts if you’d rather a single ring.

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The 2×10 drivetrain uses a direct mount front mech. With an XT Shadow Plus clutch rear derailleur, we didn’t drop a chain once during testing.

We had a weird recurring issue with the brakes on our test bike; the pads would appear contaminated (lacking power and making lots of noise) when we first hopped on the bike after not riding it for a week or so. After a couple of minutes of riding, they had come good again and the power was back to normal… Strange! We can only assume it was either some minor oil seepage, salt air or ghosts. Probably the latter. Regardless, Trek and Shimano assure us they’ve not had it happen on any other 2014 model bikes and the XT brakes are generally amongst the best out there.

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One, two, three clamps on the left hand side of the bar. Compared to the elegant solution of SRAM’s Match Maker all-in-one mount (with combines shifter, brake and seat post remote levers) this setup is messy.

 Rounding out the package is a RockShox Reverb Stealth post with 125mm of adjustability. The handlebar is rather cluttered – it would’ve been nice touch if Trek had opted to utilise Shimano’s I-Spec combined shifter/brake mounts to tidy up the cockpit.

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The Reverb Stealth post has been getting huge amounts of OEM spec this year, and we’re happy about that. It delivers 125mm of adjustability smoothy and with little lateral play that can affect some adjustable posts.

Ride:

The Remedy is engaging, fun and lively ride. That’s a feeling that we’ve always found with Trek’s Remedy range, and we’re glad the addition of slightly bigger wheels haven’t dumbed down this playfulness at all. In fact, the bigger wheel size really slipped out of view on the trail. This isn’t to say that there aren’t benefits to be found with the slightly larger 27.5″ wheel when compared to a 26er, just that there aren’t any obvious negative traits to leave us wishing for a smaller wheel once again.

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Trek’s ABP / Full Floater suspension is one of the best. It’s a superbly responsive system, it just ripples over the terrain, soaking up the little bumps like they’re not even there. Factor in the large volume tyres and you’ve got one very smooth ride indeed. The FOX 34 fork is a worth accompaniment as well, though we did find the rear suspension outshone the front in terms of sheer sensitivity. In the dusty test conditions, we liked to apply a small amount of suspension Teflon spray to the fork legs before each ride to help keep the fork slick and smooth like the rear end.

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The DRCV shock is made by FOX purely for Trek bikes. It features two air chambers, the second of which is only opened once the shock moves deeper into its travel. The idea is to provide support in the initial stroke, while delivering a more linear spring curve later in the travel for better big hit performance.

There’s very little anti-squat built into the Trek’s suspension curve, which does mean it’s prone to suspension bobbing if you mash the pedals and it can wallow a little on steeper, technical climbs. The upside to this is that the Trek has negligible pedal feedback when pedalling over rough terrain, making it easy to stay on the gas, and there is mountain of rear wheel grip because the chain isn’t causing the suspension to stiffen. Of course, there’s always the shock’s CTD adjustment if you want to firm things up for more efficiency, and running the FOX shock in its middle Trail setting goes a long way to removing all pedal induced bob at the slight expense of some of that silky small bump compliance.

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What you looking at, Chris? On long climbs, we used to shock Trail setting to firm up the rear end and pedal bob.

One of the clear areas that demonstrates Trek have listened to the public and the media’s feedback is the fork choice on the new Remedy. In 2013, the Remedy had a FOX 32 fork which lacked the stiffness to really make the most of the bike’s descending potential. For 2014, Trek have gone for FOX 34 it makes a world of difference. What is pretty amazing, is that even though the 2014 Remedy has both steeper geometry and less travel than it did in 2013, it descends even better. The fork stiffness, along with the bigger wheels, surely play a part in the this. We particularly appreciated the beefier fork on the really big hits; the stiffer chassis helps avoid any binding or spiking and allows the fork to keep up with the bottomless rear suspension feel delivered by the DRCV rear shock.

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There’s nothing wrong with fat legs. The FOX 34 adds welcomed precision and directness to the Remedy’s handling.

We felt really comfortable descending on the Remedy from the very outset. One of our favourite test trails features some steep, swooping chutes/gullies, the bottom of which is littered with loose, sliding pieces of rock. We have a standout memory of just how composed the Remedy felt tackling this bit of trail; even when hard on the brakes, with both wheels sliding around, the Remedy left us feeling like we were in total control, with time up our sleeve to negotiate the next drop or corner.

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Watch that sucker on rocks! The ABP skewer sticks out a mighty long way.

On less extreme terrain, the Remedy doesn’t feel like overkill. In fact, we were distinctly reminded of our time on board the Fuel EX 9.8 26er (still one of our favourite all-time bikes). It feels flickable and fun, pouncing on the next bit of trail rather than flopping from corner to corner, and the low slung top tube encourages you to move the bike about.

Overall:Trek Remedy 9 27.5-30Trek’s new Remedy 9 is a worthy successor in this prestigious line of bikes. While the reduced travel and steeper geometry had the potential to take a bit of the fire out of this bike, we don’t feel like it really has, and the bike’s abilities as a do-it-all machine are as strong as ever. As a package, this is definitely one of the most appealing trail machines on the market and you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to drop your four and half(ish) gees if technical trail riding is your kettle of fish.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-2

Rider: Chris Southwood
Height: 174cm
Weight: 63kg
Tested at: Thredbo, Glenrock and Red Hill NSW

Tested: SRAM ROAM 60 Carbon Wheels

We’re not into blowing smoke up people’s arses. But if these rims were a person we’d be lighting fires with old truck tyres and getting a jumbo jet to blow the plumes right up there. The ROAM 60 simply is one of the best wheelsets we have ridden.

We honestly cannot fault them and after a month of solid abuse they’re still kicking like the day they came out of the box. Straight as an arrow and solid as a rock.

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If you have a red, white and black bike, these will match.
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Straight pull spokes, high flanges and a deeper dish helps keep the spoke length shorter and the whole package stronger.

The ROAM 60 are a 2nd generation carbon wheel (rim is carbon, hub is alloy) from SRAM and are designed for more aggressive trail and all-mountain riding.  At 28mm wide they’re not the widest on the market but they’re still pretty beefy and their strength is second-to-none. They’re also not the lightest either (still pretty damn good at 1570g for our test 27.5″ offerings) but they’re made for aggressive riding so weight weenies need to think beyond the tale of the scales.

Inside the ROAM 60 box there’s all manner of spacers and adaptors to fit the wheels to any mountain bike you can imagine. Standard QR, 15mm, 20mm – they will fit them all. Speaking of which, the hubs are large with high flanges, strange pull spokes and the rear hub comes spec’d with a SRAM XD driver body for 11 speed. The rear freehub isn’t so loud as to stop conversations but it makes enough noise to keep you smiling.

And (hallelujah) they now come 100% tubeless ready. We slapped some Maxxis tyres on ours, threw in some Stan’s sealant, and they sealed up with a track pump.

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We liked how the wheels made life a little easier in the rough stuff.

In terms of improving performance, a set of great wheels is probably one of the best upgrades you can give your ride. Whether it’s to save weight, add strength, or both, you will always feel the benefits of better wheels and the SRAM ROAM 60 ticks both of those boxes. All up we saved around 200-300g (give or take a few millilitres of Stans) on our Giant Trance SX test bike, and whilst that’s nothing to scribe onto the walls of your local public toilet, it’s a pretty big improvement on what were pretty light OEM wheels.

The improvements in acceleration and braking that come from saving rotating mass are obvious, but it was the way these wheels improved our ability to hold a line that really grabbed us. The SRAM ROAM 60s just loved the really tough rock gardens or rough corners. Rather than being deflected from our chosen path, we immediately felt an increased ability to hold some pretty tight lines. Just point and go. We can hear the sceptics out there, but we’re 100% serious, the difference is marked.

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Point and shoot. Rock gardens are one area where these wheels show their colours.

We tested these wheels on the rocky loamy trails of Mt Buller and the loose dry soils of Stromlo Forest Park. If you’ve ridden at Mt Buller you will know that rocks seem to appear from nowhere and ping your wheels unexpectedly. We heard that harsh ping though the spokes as the rim squarely hit a rock or two but post ride inspections yielded not a single bend or dent in the rims. On a deliberate test at Stromlo we let our tyres down to around 20 psi and went and hit a few rock gardens. There was a bit of noise from the spokes as the tyres squashed against the rims but not a single problem was noted. They are still straight.

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Even when the rims did hit the rocks it didn’t matter.

Pedal engagement was positive and the wheels accelerated with ease. We didn’t witness any burping or loss of sealant from the Maxxis tyres but the rear tyre did frequently loose some pressure during our testing. We’re unsure if it was the tyre or the rim that was loosing the air however and as the front was holding pressure we’re pretty sure it was the fault of the tyre.

If you’re looking for an upgrade then you should consider adding these carbon hoops to your dream machine. Sure $2500 isn’t cheap, but you’d pay that for a big screen TV and the TV isn’t going to make you anything other than fat and lazy. These wheels will make you faster and happier…and that’s priceless.

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Jumping for joy on the SRAM ROAM 60.

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Fresh Product: Schwalbe Rock Razor

The fastest gravity tire. For the first time, we brought a “real” semi-slick to the Gravity and Enduro scenes. It’s a very interesting option especially on the rear wheel and for very fast, dry trails. These is no better tire for low rolling resistance than Rock Razor.

Technologies:

TRIPLE STAR COMPOUND MTB
Our best and most sophisticated compound. Triple compound. Perfectly adapted to the specific purpose.

PaceStar – Extremely fast XC compound

Easy rolling base layer (base)
Fast center (medium)
Grippy shoulders (medium soft)

TrailStar.
Enduro & Freeride Compound

Easy rolling base layer (base)
Grippy center (medium soft)
Extra-grippy shoulders (soft)

EVOLUTION LINE
The Evo tires offer the unique combination of low weight, excellent performance and optimum puncture protection. These are ensured by the high tech materials such as the Triple Star Compound, the HD Speed Guard against punctures, or the allround Double Defense protection with SnakeSkin side wall.

SUPER GRAVITY
Super Gravity has a new carcass construction at its core. The principle is a familiar one in motorbike tires. We have taken the best features and developed them further for the MTB. For SUPER GRAVITY the sidewalls are made up of four layers of carcass material, but there are only two layers underneath the cap*.

SNAKESKIN
One of our most effective inventions for Mountainbikes. SnakeSkin fabric adds only ca. 40-50 g per tire. This makes it the most practical protection against sharp rocks that can easily cut the side wall of light racing tires. SnakeSkin – in rocky terrain it is a great call!

TUBELESS READY
No tubes. Schwalbe Tubeless Ready tires make it possible. With three advantages – weight, puncture protection and low rolling resistance.

SUPER GRAVITY
Super Gravity has a new carcass construction at its core. The principle is a familiar one in motorbike tires. We have taken the best features and developed them further for the MTB. For SUPER GRAVITY the sidewalls are made up of four layers of carcass material, but there are only two layers underneath the cap*.

Fresh Product: Kingdom Hex AM275

The Hex AM275 utilises a short link four bar platform to deliver 140mm of efficient travel, similar to the DW link and KS link systems without all the patent infringement. This allows for exceptional pedalling efficiency while still keeping the suspension active. Its 436mm chainstays along with its 66.5 degree head angle make for a very balanced ride.

The frame is constructed completely of aerospace grade Ti3Al2.5V with a tapered head tube, full titanium pivot hardware and 6061 auminium links, with a carbon optional upgrade. In addition to this it also uses 142×12 dropouts, ISCG05 guide mount and external dropper post routing.

It comes in two build kits, All-M and Enduro. Both versions come stock with X-Fusion products, including the 160mm Sweep RL fork and the O2 RCX shock, while an optional Cane Creek Double Barrel Air with Air Switch is also available.

The All-M comes spec’d with a full X0 10 speed drivetrain, while the Enduro sports a full XX1 drivetrain. If a custom build is more your style a frame only option is also available.

  • – Handmade from certified aerospace grade Ti3AL2.5V
  • – Frame: 3.15kgs – Complete bike: 12.9kgs
  • – Forks: 130-160mm
  • – Shock: X-Fusion – O2 RCX 200mm x 57mm
  • – Rear travel 140mm
  • – Alloy pivot links
  • – Titanium pivot and shock bolts
  • – 31.6 Seatpost
  • – Tapered semi integrated head tube 1.1/8″ – 1.5
  • – Bottom bracket: 73mm
  • – ISCG05 chainguide
  • – Cable guides for dropper seat post
  • – Designed for XX1 or 1×10 gearing (non front mech compatible)
  • – Kingdom replaceable 142 x 12 dropouts
  • – 2 year defect warranty/Lifetime crash/repair warranty

For more info, visit www.kingdombike.co.uk/en/

Flow’s First Bite: Merida Big Seven 5000

We were lucky enough to have a quick ride on the Merida Big-Seven at the 2014 Merida launch in September and left mightily impressed with ride quality of this bike. We quickly set about lining up one for a longer test and here it is.

Biiiiig chain stays.

This bike challenges the inner lycra racer in you, tempting you to go harder with promises of record breaking hill climbs and a collection of Strava trophies (all KOMs of course). The burly bottom bracket, huge boxed chainstays and 12mm rear axle translates into instant power.

Merida have not forgotten about compliance in their ride and the tapering of the top tube and thinner seat stays show that some thought have been put into ensuring that the ride is not like being beaten with a broom handle.

Merida Big Seven-1

With a full XTR groupset, FSA carbon bar, stem and seatpost topped with the Prologo Zero saddle things are definitely heading in the right direction.

We can’t wait to hit more of the local trails on this rocket ship. We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this is going to be a consistent theme in 2014 cross country offerings; ridiculously stiff frames that lead to mind bogglingly quick acceleration.

Merida Big Seven-5

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Remedy 9 27.5

It was a few months ago now that we first swung a leg over the new Trek Remedy 9 27.5, down at Mt Stromlo during Trek World 2014. But it has taken till now for us to secure a full review on this highly sought after beast. It arrived at Flow HQ just after Halloween, and it looks like a pumpkin Jack-O’-Lantern, but with shockies.

Trek Remedy-8
The DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) shock is unique to Trek and helps improve the big hit performance of the Remedy, while preserving stable pedalling characteristics.

The Remedy 27.5 is one of two ‘streams’ of the Remedy series available for 2014. Along with the 27.5″ wheeled bikes, you can also purchase Trek’s renowned all-mountain machine in a 29er format with the same travel (140mm front and rear) should you like your wheels with extra girth. We won’t go into the range specifics, but you can read all about it in our 2014 Trek range wrap up right here.

Trek Remedy-1
It’ll run both 650B and 27.5″ wheels. We’re joking, but the industry must be very eager to see the cycling world decide on a single name for this wheel size!

In Trek’s typical style, the Remedy has more frame features than a Dalmatian has spots, with a list of associated acronyms that’d put the Australia Defence Force to shame, including ABP, E2, Full Floater, EVO and Mino (one of Santa’s reindeers, we think). The last term referring to Trek’s super simple adjustable geometry system, which gives you 8mm of bottom bracket height and 0.8-degrees of head angle adjustment.

Trek Remedy-7
The Remedy scores the gorgeous FOX 34 Float CTD with Trail Adjust. Trek did utilise DRCV technology on their forks for a couple years too, but that has since been abandoned.

The Bontrager, Shimano and FOX build kit with a Rockshox Reverb post is one of the most sound we’ve seen. However, the 690mm-wide handlebar is about as sensible as Teflon chopsticks – it’d make a great stick for swatting flies but it’s not gonna be steering this bike when we review it. We’ll be getting the Remedy dirty on home turf this week, and we cannot wait!

Trek Remedy
If orange is the new black, what does that make an orange and black bike? 140mm of travel, just over 13kg with every box ticked. Let’s roll!

Fresh Product: Transition 27.5" TransAM, Bandit & Covert

TransAM 27.5

DSC_2527_TBC_2014_TransAM275_Build1

DSC_2526_TBC_2014_TransAM275_Build3

The new TransAM 27.5 brings the steel hardtail into a new era.: Longer, lower and a whole degree slacker @ 67.5 than the previous 26 version. The TransAM 27.5 is the ultimate “go anywhere” hardtail.

All the features of a custom frame at a more attainable price. Built around 140mm travel tapered forks, featuring internal rust proof coating and singlespeed drop outs ( available separately), in a size range from S up to XL.

The TransAM 27.5 will be offered with 3 different build options to meet anyones price point.

Finished off with retro graphics and period correct colours to pay homage to the original TransAM muscle car.

Bandit 27.5

DSC_2522_TBC_2014_Bandit275_XO1

DSC_2519_TBC_2014_Bandit275_Build3

DSC_2521_TBC_2014_Bandit275_Build2

Catering to the rider looking for a true all purpose trail bike, the new Bandit 27.5 has been lengthened by 20mm ( compared to the previous 26 model) to keep in line with current rider preferences for a long front centre and short stem. Seat tube lengths have also been shortened compared to the previous models. The 68 degree head angle and 430mm chainstays keep the bike angled and balanced.

A shimano E-Thru 12mm x 142mm QR axel is standard equipment and internal dropper post cable routing has been added. 140mm of rear wheel travel is controlled by a Fox CTD Adjust Kashima rear shock ( upgradable to the Float X on order) with 140mm or 150mm travel forks available to dial in your perfect ride. The bike will be available with 4 different build options including the Sram XO1 setup, with sizing from S up to XL.

Covert 27.5

DSC_2537_TBC_2014_Covert275_Build2

DSC_2533_TBC_2014_Covert275_BuildXO1

The new Covert 27.5 features a slacker 66 degree head angle with the same short 430mm chainstays as the 26 version.

The updated geo is low, slack and stable but still playful and fun to ride. The seat tube lengths have been shortened by 25mm of each size to give more clearance for long travel dropper posts and give riders more opportunity to “size up” without having seat tube length issues. A new XL size has also been added. The Covert 27.5 has a race tuned Fox Float X rear shock for 160mm of rear wheel travel and is available with Fox or RockShox 160mm fork options. A shimano E-Thru 12mm x 142mm QR axel is now standard and internal dropper post cable routing has been added.

The Covert 27.5 will be available in 4 different build options including Sram XO1

Fresh Product: Transition 27.5″ TransAM, Bandit & Covert

TransAM 27.5

DSC_2527_TBC_2014_TransAM275_Build1

DSC_2526_TBC_2014_TransAM275_Build3

The new TransAM 27.5 brings the steel hardtail into a new era.: Longer, lower and a whole degree slacker @ 67.5 than the previous 26 version. The TransAM 27.5 is the ultimate “go anywhere” hardtail.

All the features of a custom frame at a more attainable price. Built around 140mm travel tapered forks, featuring internal rust proof coating and singlespeed drop outs ( available separately), in a size range from S up to XL.

The TransAM 27.5 will be offered with 3 different build options to meet anyones price point.

Finished off with retro graphics and period correct colours to pay homage to the original TransAM muscle car.

Bandit 27.5

DSC_2522_TBC_2014_Bandit275_XO1

DSC_2519_TBC_2014_Bandit275_Build3

DSC_2521_TBC_2014_Bandit275_Build2

Catering to the rider looking for a true all purpose trail bike, the new Bandit 27.5 has been lengthened by 20mm ( compared to the previous 26 model) to keep in line with current rider preferences for a long front centre and short stem. Seat tube lengths have also been shortened compared to the previous models. The 68 degree head angle and 430mm chainstays keep the bike angled and balanced.

A shimano E-Thru 12mm x 142mm QR axel is standard equipment and internal dropper post cable routing has been added. 140mm of rear wheel travel is controlled by a Fox CTD Adjust Kashima rear shock ( upgradable to the Float X on order) with 140mm or 150mm travel forks available to dial in your perfect ride. The bike will be available with 4 different build options including the Sram XO1 setup, with sizing from S up to XL.

Covert 27.5

DSC_2537_TBC_2014_Covert275_Build2

DSC_2533_TBC_2014_Covert275_BuildXO1

The new Covert 27.5 features a slacker 66 degree head angle with the same short 430mm chainstays as the 26 version.

The updated geo is low, slack and stable but still playful and fun to ride. The seat tube lengths have been shortened by 25mm of each size to give more clearance for long travel dropper posts and give riders more opportunity to “size up” without having seat tube length issues. A new XL size has also been added. The Covert 27.5 has a race tuned Fox Float X rear shock for 160mm of rear wheel travel and is available with Fox or RockShox 160mm fork options. A shimano E-Thru 12mm x 142mm QR axel is now standard and internal dropper post cable routing has been added.

The Covert 27.5 will be available in 4 different build options including Sram XO1