Tested: Merida One Twenty 8000

The front end offers plenty of room to, with a roomy feel and good standover height.

Under-rated steeds.

Merida bikes have never quite nailed the sex appeal thing. Maybe it’s a deliberate strategy, but with model names that read more like a barcode number and straight-down-the-line infographics aplenty, Merida is a brand that seems to appeal to the analytical rather than passionate customer. Maybe their recent fun video to launch the new eOne Sixty is a new direction for them? Speaking of which, check out our first impressions of that bike here.

But in fact, there is a lot to get excited about when it comes to their bikes. Not only are they making some of the best eMTBs on the planet, but they have a tonne of seriously dialled and engaging conventional mountain bikes too. The Merida One Forty we tested a while ago is still a standout for us, for example.

Carbon from front to back. Cheaper models get an alloy frame but share the same geometry.

What have we got here, then?

Mid travel and 29er wheels for the win. The 120/130mm 29er segment is a big portion of the mountain bike market, and Merida have catered for a massive range of potential buyers with the new OneTwenty; they got three different alloy-framed models under the $3000 price point, while the carbon 8000 model we’re testing is the top offering in Australia at $6999.

The epitome of the modern short-travel trail bike.

Merida has straight up nailed it here. Much like the Giant Trance 29er we’ve got on long-term test, the new One Twenty has the nous to handle a huge range of potential riding situations. Efficient and light enough to enjoy smooth XC race courses, but with geometry and components that hint at its capabilities in big hills at high speeds. A lot of Merida’s market is in Europe, and you get the feeling this bike is really pitched at riders who want to ride to the top of a Very Big Mountain and then bomb back down on the unpredictable goat tracks that are some common over there.

Sturdy tyres play a significant role in this bike’s handling.

Try a new line.

There’s a feeling that we get when a bike is just right for us – an itch to try new lines on trails that we’ve ridden dozens of times before. The Cannondale Habit brought out the same feeling, as did the Norco Range 29er. The Merida gave us that urge, big time. A combination of lightweight precision, coupled with excellent tyres and a riding position that felt instantly confident and natural had us looking at pieces of familiar trail in a new way – “I wonder if I could jump from there to there and still make the next corner….?”

The trunnion mount shock runs on bearings, which is nice for longevity and suspension responsiveness. We didn’t find the lockout lever was really necessary, but it’s nice to have.

So what’s the recipe?

Great geometry is the main factor here. Luckily for those who can’t afford the asking price of this particular model, the geometry is identical on all models in the range. The One Twenty packs a winning combo, with a roomy front end, reasonably slack head angle and short 435mm stays. The other key attributes are excellent rubber on wide rims, and a suspension feel that is supportive and encouraging of putting the bike into some nasty places.

The Float Link suspension is very effective and seems to resist bottoming out harshly. We’ve been impressed by this system consistently.

Firm but not harsh.

With the Merida One Forty we tested a while back, we remarked how the Float Link suspension felt bottomless. While the One Twenty gets the same suspension system layout with a floating lower shock mount, it’s a much firmer riding bike overall (though it does still have that same resistance to bottoming we enjoyed on the One Forty). Overall the suspension feel is very supportive, giving the bike great kick when you stab at the pedals out of a corner or need to quickly hop from one side of the trail to the other. There are certainly more silky smooth bikes out there, but we wouldn’t want to change the Merida’s feel at all, it’s all part of the bike’s hard-charging character.

35mm wide and 30mm deep, the FSA Gradient rims are chunky and stiff, but light and fast accelerating too.

Great wheels and rubber.

FSA provides the 1700g-ish Gradient carbon-rimmed wheelset, and it was the first time we’ve ridden these hoops. The deep profiled rims look imposing and purposeful, and while our test bike came to us with plenty of miles on the clock, the wheels were true and tight. Despite having just 24 spokes at both ends, they’re certainly a stiff set of wheels and the 29mm inner width gave an ideal profile to the 2.4″ Maxxis DHR front tyre. While the DHR is really intended as a rear tyre, its blocky tread works well up front too, especially in terms of straight line braking. Out back, a 2.35″ Maxxis Forekaster is specced to keep things rolling quickly. It’s a great dry conditions tyre, but softer soils might call for something with more bite.

10-50 out back. Note the neat cable routing.

Hard to go wrong with a Pike and Eagle.

SRAM gets the nod for most of the components, and the flawless X0 Eagle drivetrain clips through the gears beautifully like we’ve come to expect. While the Pike RTC3 on our test bike was probably due for a service and felt a little dry, getting the fork setup was zero-fuss, with the recommended pressures netting the feel we wanted. Interestingly, the fork gets the Maxle Stealth axle which requires a 6mm Allen key, while the rear axle has a big lever sticking out of it. We’re never sure why brands do this… why not go for a proper bolt-up front and rear? 148mm rear hubs mean bikes are wide enough out back already without a lever poking out to catch on rocks. Rant over.

The beefy four-piston SRAM Code caliper nestled behind the seat stay.

Big brakes are never a negative.

Downhill brakes on a lightweight trail bike? Sure the SRAM Code RSC brakes might be overkill for most riding, but when it comes to stopping power, you really can’t have too much. And if you do take the bike to some big Alpine riding, the power and heat dissipation of these brakes will be a huge plus.

We could just squeeze a 710ml bottle into the size medium frame.

And it climbs too.

With light wheels and an overall weight not much over 12.5kg, you’d expect the Merida to scamper up hills, and it does. Climbing out of the saddle was a highlight, the bike relishes a technical ascent where you can haul on the bars and use lots of body language to tackle tricky ledges. While the RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock has both a lockout and pedal-platform setting, we weren’t interested in using either of these modes finding the One Twenty to be stable and efficient enough with the shock in its open mode.

As with other bikes that have a slack seat tube angle, you need to make sure you don’t end up too far behind the bottom bracket when the post is at full extension, so pay attention to your saddle position.

Merida’s cable port/clamps are a tad over-engineered, but at least the cables don’t slide. We had some issues with cable noise inside the frame till we crammed some foam in there.

A bit rattly to begin with.

Our test bike has some nasty cable rattle to begin with. The internal gear, brake and dropper lines are routed straight through the down tube without any sleeves or foam to contain them which leaves them prone to clacking away inside the frame. We remedied it by pulling out the fork and sliding some lightweight foam into the down tube. Hey, presto! The bike was silenced.

While SRAM provides most of the gear, KS supply the 150mm dropper. Given that we’ve had frequent issues with the RockShox Reverb, we’re happy with this choice.

Right on the money.

We’d be happy to have this bike as our go-to machine – it’d be happy tackling 90% of the riding we do. At $6999, this particular model will be a stretch for most folk, but there are plenty of other options. The $3899 One Twenty 800 looks like it’d be a real winner in particular; the alloy frame shares the same geometry and suspension platform as our test bike, and other vital items (like wide rims, good tyres and a confident cockpit) are all in attendance too, along with the decent RockShox Revelation fork as well.

This hard-riding short-travel segment is the sweet spot for so many people, and Merida has done a superb job with this bike. Nice one, Merida, now go get some branding tips from Yeti or Specialized so more people are excited by your excellent bikes!

Go get it.

Tested: Avanti Hammer S2

A 130mm-travel 29er is the bread and butter trail bike for Australian riding.

The perfect style of bike for Australian conditions.

If you’re looking for one bike that’ll happily tackle the vast majority of Australian riding, then you’d be foolish to go past a mid-travel 29er. Big hoops, with suspension in the 130-150mm range, will see you through just about any trail around. And on paper, the Avanti Hammer S2 fills this brief perfectly – a simple aluminium frame, 130mm travel, plus sensible components free from proprietary faff.

The frame shape is familiar – Avanti have stuck to a well proven suspension system here, for some very practical reasons.

With a user-friendly suspension system that is easy to understand, a mix of decent big-brand components, and a paint job that oozes inoffensiveness, the shop floor appeal of this bike is going to be solid. The price tag, at $3499, is right in that sweet spot for riders looking for a fuss-free workhorse and it’ll certainly present as a competitive choice amongst those folk who tend to shop based on component spec.

Room for a full-size bottle is a big positive.

Nicely featured, if not ground breaking.

The frame at the heart of the Hammer is robust and nicely finished, though far from boundary pushing. The straight lines of the front triangle leave plenty of room for a water bottle, and the internal cabling is neat and rattle free, so pluses all round. Out back, the tucked away rear brake mount is a touch of class, while the suspension configuration is a run-of-the-mill ‘faux bar’. We like the use of large Allen key bolt heads throughout the whole linkage, and the stout rocker link does a good job of bringing it the back end together in a stiff manner even thought the stays themselves aren’t that chunky.

Hooray for properly sized linkage bolts!
The Guide T four-piston brake is tucked away neatly at the dropout.

There’s ample tyre clearance for up to 29×2.6″ rubber, or you can run 27.5+ wheels. The bike comes supplied with a taller lower headset cup to correct the geometry if you go down the Plus-tyre route. There’s also a flip-chip lower shock mount too, if you want to steepen up the geometry a little. In our opinion, just like going to Plus-sized wheels on this bike, we don’t see the point; the geometry is pretty conservative even in the slacker setting.

We’re confused by the presence of a front derailleur mount and cable port – all of the Hammer series (even the base model) come with SRAM single-ring drivetrains, and we can’t imagine anyone retrofitting a front mech – it dates the frame badly, in our mind.

Provisions for a front mech seem out of step with where the market is heading.

What about the accoutrements?

Avanti have made sure the component spec on this bike represents good value, and it’s hard to find issue with any item. No doubt the quality of the components it delivers for $3499 is a big part of why this particular model is almost sold out across Australia. There are two models in the Hammer range beneath the S2, and they’re all similarly competitive, starting at $2499 (with a free dropper post upgrade at the time of publishing this review).

The Maxxis Forekaster tyres are a good all-rounder for most trails. You can squeeze in a up to a 2.6″ tyre out back on the Avanti we’d guess.
SRAM’s Eagle GX drivetrain is so good. No dropped chains, no mis-shifts and huge range.

Lots of people looking for a bike in this price range are going to be after good value, first and foremost – what components do I get for the cash? In this regard, the Avanti does very well indeed, serving up a level of components that are well above most of the competition.

Items like SRAM GX drivetrain and Revelation RC fork are standouts and to find both these items on a bike that’s sold through traditional bricks and mortar retail at just $3499 is a surprise!  The Syncros dropper post is smooth and doesn’t have any wobble at full extension like many posts, it’s a quality item. Four piston brakes are great to see, and the SRAM Guide T brakes have good power for trail riding, even if the lever feel is a bit wooden.

The lack of tubeless valves with the bike is a bummer, but at least the Syncros rims are taped and ready for tubeless conversion. For our trails the Maxxis Forekaster tyres were a bit nervous-  in their bigger 2.6″ format they’re a good all-rounder but these narrower 2.35″ versions are less confident on the rocks. For looser soils or in the sand they work really well, and we know lots of people do like them.

Now that the Revelation comes with RockShox’s Charger damper, it’s an excellent performer.

Soooo…. you like it then?

Yes, mostly. The value is great, we just weren’t that excited by it.

Some bikes are more than a sum of their parts; average on paper, but they sing on the trail (the Norco Fluid FS1 we tested recently is a perfect example). The Avanti, however, kind of feels… well, functional. Like it’s all been put together to do exactly what it says on the box. Don’t get us wrong , we drive a Toyota Corolla for exactly those reasons! It’s a reliable car, but we don’t feel a buzz when we drive it. Likewise the Avanti. All the parts are excellent, reliable, it’s a solid, decent bike, but it’s not doing anything unique.

Bigger hits were well handled. It’s the smaller impacts where we found the Avanti lacking.

We expected a smoother ride. 

The real drawback for us with this bike was the suspension performance. The rear end felt choppy for a 130mm bike, with poor small bump sensitivity. Reducing the shock pressure to run more sag (we ended up running 35% or more) helped smooth things out somewhat, but it also meant the rear suspension became less supportive once you were out of the saddle pumping the bike through the terrain.

When we removed the shock, we found the alignment of the shock mounts to be slightly out.

What was the cause?

We pulled the shock out of the bike to see if there was any binding or friction in the linkage, but all was fine in that area. However, when we went to reinstall the shock, we found that the upper and lower mounts were slightly out of alignment. It was only 3mm or so, but perhaps this misalignment was causing friction? Otherwise, we’re blaming a mismatch in shock tune and suspension kinematics.

Either way, when the trails were smooth and flowing, the Avanti felt efficient and fast. Once it got rough, we found it a bit laborious to keep speed. If your trails are smooth, and you’re more interested in pedalling efficiency than supple suspension, then this bike will suit you.

Good singletrack handling is this bike’s ride highlight.

Does it spark joy?

Leaving the suspension aside, the geometry strikes a good balance that will suit most, it feels most at home weaving through the smooth singletrack, and the robust build and quality parts should tolerate years of weekend warrior neglect.

As we’ve stated before, the spec of this bike is hard to beat, and you’ve got to praise Avanti for delivering a bike that competes with all the direct-to-consumer brands in that regard. But the best bikes are more than just a bunch of good parts, it’s the frame that makes the difference. And is this case, there’s room for improvement in our opinion.

For us, there’s a lot to like, but not a lot to love, with the Avanti S2

TESTED: Norco Fluid FS1 2019


The new Fluid is a massive leap forward for this range.

So what am I looking at here?

This is the $3199 Norco Fluid FS1. The Fluid series received some love for 2019, and the build quality of this full aluminium bike is very neat indeed. In fact, with its clean, straight lines we think it’s now the best looking frame out of all the aluminium Norco duallies.

It’s a 29er (though you can get it with 27.5 wheels in X-small, small and medium frames), with a familiar combo of 120mm of rear travel, and 130mm up front. A skim of the geometry charts reveals some surprisingly aggressive numbers, which are pretty similar to those of the hard-charging Norco Sight. Compare this bike to the old Fluid and the difference is stark – the old bike comes across very, very wimpy!

It’s all there – decent fork and shock, a single ring drivetrain, dropper post, good rubber. We didn’t feel compelled to change a single thing.

What does my money get me?

As the pinnacle of the Fluid range, you’re getting a largely foolproof component selection for $3199. None of the kit is flashy (or light, which puts the bike around 15kg) but it nails all the key items: wide-range 1×12 drivetrain, quality RockShox suspension, a precise steering fork, a decent dropper post, wide rims with good tyres, and a confident cockpit setup. What would we change? Not a thing. We haven’t had a single issue with any of the kit.

The four-bar suspension delivers plenty of grip, but not a lot of zippiness when you put the power down.

Let’s look at the suspension.

Norco utilise the same four-bar suspension configuration across nearly all their dual suspension bikes, just tweaked to deliver different performance for each application. In the Fluid’s case, the ride it delivers is more focused on traction under power and smoothness, and less on rapid pedalling performance. In short, more control, less zippiness.

Norco resisted easy cost saving of a crappy fork and shock, opting for decent RockShox equipment. The latest iteration of the Revelation fork gets the much lauded Charger damper, and it’s the highlight here – some of the cheaper Fluid bikes get skinnier legged forks, but this one is the real deal. The rear shock doesn’t offer any kind of compression adjustment, which doesn’t do much for the bike’s acceleration, but it does feel good.

With its DebonAir spring and Charger damnper, the Revelation fork gives this bike an extra layer of capability.

Happiest when you’re off the brakes and descending.

Like most Norcos, the Fluid is built with descending performance as a priority, and it’s when happiest heading downhill or taking on tricky, rocky lines. The suspension feels great when you’re letting it flow, pumping and working the terrain, not jamming on the brakes or sprinting out of every corner.

Slow speed technical trails are confidently handled too, with tonnes of control and poise. The angles are sufficiently slack up front, that even less experienced riders will find themselves taking on steeper and steeper roll-ins and drops.

Without a lockout or compression adjuster on the shock, the best approach to climbing is to relax and don’t try to set any records.

How does it climb?

It ain’t no whippet. Plenty of rotating weight, a hefty 15kg overall, and the absence of any lockout out back means riders in a rush will feel frustrated. Forget about setting any records, keep a smooth pedal stroke and see your mate on the 12kg hardtail at the top of the climb.

Whopping tyres! We don’t see any real downsides to the 2.6″ Maxxis tyres. The small amount of extra weight pales next to the massive grip benefits.

The big rubber seems excessive.

Yes, there’s a lot of rubber, but the upsides of copious grip and floatation over loose surfaces easily outweigh the extra grams. Overseas the bike comes with WTB rubber, but here in Australia we get the Maxxis Forekaster. We’ve previously ridden this tyre in a skinnier format and found them a bit nervy, but in this wide 2.6″ version the performance is steadfast and sensational.

A sturdy cockpit, including 35mm diameter bars.

Did you have any issues?

Norco: It’s borderline lazy to sell a mountain bike that’s not tubeless ready. Before we could ditch the tubes, we had to fit tubeless rim tape and valves, and the WTB rims were a little leaky. True tubeless-ready components (including supplying valves) should be the standard on all mountain bikes. It’s not like cheaper cars come with tubes, is it?

Once we’d added tubeless tape and valves, there was nothing holding this bike back.

Final thoughts?

Super happy with this one! We often have some pretty glamorous bikes hanging in the shed, we get a bit spoiled really. So it says a lot about the Norco’s performance that not once did we wish for a different bike to take to the trails. The Norco pushes into a realm of performance where the bike is definitely not going to be holding you back, making it an excellent choice for a rider looking to invest in their first ‘serious’ mountain bike. Your only issue is going to be finding of these things, apparently they’ve been very popular on the shop floor.

TESTED: Canyon Strive 2019

At a casual glance, the 2019 Strive almost appears unchanged – they’ve retained the overall shape, rather than pursuing a horizontal shock position like the new Spectral or Neuron. But the wheels are bigger now, and the bike’s unique suspension is much improved.

So, you’ve changed? 

While the profile of the new 2019 Canyon Strive is familiar, there have been two fundamental changes; firstly, the bike is now 29er only (and carbon only too), and secondly the ShapeShifter system is greatly improved.

More subtle tweaks include some very neat cable routing, a new tool-free axle system, bolt-on frame protection, double sealed bearings and space for a full-sized water bottle. Canyon have invested in two different carbon layups as well, offering a CFR (R for Race) version of the frame in the two top models that’ll save 300g.

The ShapeShifter now uses a twin button setup, which sits beneath the bar, integrating with the dropper post lever.

Still got the ShapeShifter?

The ShapeShifter system was always a key drawcard for the Strive, allowing riders to change travel and geometry on the fly for climbing/descending. But it was not without its operational issues – reliability on the early releases was dubious, and it required riders to use a lot of body language and precise timing to toggle between modes.

The new version is much, much better. Canyon called in FOX to help with the project in a wise collaboration.  There’s a new ‘Click Clack’ lever system that now sits below the bar, in a neat cluster with the dropper lever and the whole thing is simpler and more durable.

Our test bike, pictured here, is running a RockShox Reverb, but Canyon have developed their own dropper lever which will come fitted to all models of Strive running cable-actuated posts.

Your left thumb will be busy, but the way this system works now is ten-fold better than its predecessor.

Check out our review content of this bike’s predecessor, which we had on long-term test:

The 2016 Strive 9.0 Race was a good buddy for a couple of years.

Tested: Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race

Long-Term Test: One Year Of Shredding, The Canyon Strive CF Race


Can it still use a normal shock?

Yep. Unlike some other on-the-fly travel/geometry adjustable systems (like Scott’s TwinLoc), the Strive can take a regular shock so you’ve got the option to customise your setup with a different shock or source an easy spare if need be.

The Shapeshifter apparatus is hidden away, giving the bike a very clean, clutter free appearance.

How does it work?

The ShapeShifter makes some pretty big changes to the bike; toggling from DH mode to XC changes the rear travel from 150mm to 135mm, steepens the geometry by 1.5 degrees and completely changes the suspension kinematics to provide 20% more anti-squat. The whole system only adds around 200g too.

But the key motivation for Canyon was making the system easier to use. On the previous model, you had to transfer your body weight whilst holding down the ShapeShifter lever. With the new system, you just push the button and forget about it.

With the linkage removed, you can see how the ShapeShifter works – here the system is in XC mode, with 135mm travel, and increased anti-squat.
In DH mode, the ShapeShifter is compressed, completely changing the leverage of the upper shock link upon the shock, giving you more travel (150mm) and slacker geometry.

The new user interface has two under-bar levers, which is totally compatible with SRAM’s Matchmaker lever and dropper system. The larger ‘Click’ lever is compressed for XC mode, while the ‘Clack’ lever releases the cable for DH mode. If you’re toggling from DH to XC mode, just hit the button, and as soon as the bike has a moment of being un-weighted (for instance, you get out of the saddle) the ShapeShifter will engage the XC setting. If you’re toggling from XC to DH, just hit the button, and as soon as the bike encounters a compression DH mode is engaged, giving you more travel, slacker geometry and more active suspension.

We love the way the entire system takes up so little space on the handlebar now.
Fabien Barel has been deeply involved in the development of the Strive. The man has one of the most analytical minds in mountain biking, he’s constantly looking for a performance edge.

Why the move to 29”?

The current wave of long-travel 29ers are more than just a trend, and Canyon insist that they did extensive experimentation and testing with 27.5”, 29” and even a hybrid of both before making the call to go the big wheels.

The 29er became a natural choice for the Strive as it’s bred to be a race bike with no compromise, and that meant going for the faster rolling wheels. Love it, or lump it. While other brands seem to have embraced the idea of giving riders a choice in wheel sizes for each model, Canyon insists that choosing the faster-rolling wagon wheels exclusively is better for the consumer. If you want the small wheels, you can always look at the Spectral.

Is it affordable?

While the CFR 9.0 Team we got the chance to test is a blisteringly light and bright build at $7999, there will be six different build options available via Canyon’s website, starting at $4349 for the race-ready CF 5.0, all the way up to the CFR 9.0 Ltd for $10,199. You can also grab a CFR frame and shock only for $4349.

At this stage, there are no plans for an aluminium version. Given that pricing starts from less than $4500, we don’t think this is an issue.

The Strive CF5.0 This is what $4349 will get you. A full carbon frame, GX Eagle, FOX at both ends. Impressive for the entry-level bike!
Or if your pockets are (much) deeper, a little over $10,000 will land you the practically un-upgradeable CFR9.0 LTD build.

To the hills! 

Canyon had us out to give the new Strive CF 9.0 Team a thrashing in the rocky Malaga hills. As the second-to-top spec offering, the 9.0 Team ticks every high-performance box without moving into stupid pricing territory. A high-end SRAM build and Mavic wheels saw this bike weigh in at 14.05kg, which is very light. On hand to ensure our bikes were setup perfectly were Canyon’s engineers and mountain bike legend Fabien Barel.

With the move to larger wheels, Canyon were committed to a geometry of long front centre and short rear end, to ensure the bike didn’t lose its playfulness. The rear centre is 435mm long, which is impressively compact given there’s ample room around the 2.5″ rubber.

The loose, rubble-strewn trails of Malaga are a popular off-season testing ground for a number of brands. The Strive felt calm as can be in the chunder.

Having spent a lot of time on the previous Strive, the most immediate changes we noticed were a big increase in straight line speed, more grip and pace in flat corners and far superior momentum over technical sections. Thanks to a relatively short stack height up front, the position felt very natural to us, not at all tall like some big-travel 29ers, and soon we’d forgotten entirely that we were riding a 29er.

Ooo, nice light.

There have been big changes to the suspension feel too. Our bike was equipped with a RockShox Super Deluxe, a shock we’ve ridden a lot, but never have we had a bike extract so much performance from it. The more progressive mid stroke allowed the shock to be more effective at absorbing faster impacts, while still maintaining a solid platform to push and pump through holes and corners. It loves big hits too, and even when we ran out of talent, slamming into the backside of a lander and slamming to a stop, we didn’t bottom out the shock (even with 30% sag).

While much of Europe is a frosty mess, this pocket of Spain delivered ideal riding conditions.
Short stays and a low weight meant it was never a stress getting the bike lofted.

When we finally hit the bottom of the shuttle road every time, we found the ShapeShifter felt pretty natural to use and made a welcome difference. Switch it to XC mode and you’ll feel the effects immediately – pedal bob was reduced, and you’re raised into a more comfortable climbing position. The system is so effective, that we didn’t even bother using the shock’s compression adjuster – the increase in anti-squat in XC mode is more than enough to keep the bike stable under climbing without reaching for the lockout.

Super lines! This bike is a stunner.

Winner or Gimmick?

In our eyes, the functionality of the ShapeShifter system is a winner. However, there are going to be some detractors – it does add an extra lever and cable to your cockpit, and an extra layer of setup. If you are willing to accept the added complexity, you are sure to be rewarded with noticeable gains on those pinch climbs deep in a race stage, where there’s nothing worse than bobbing up and down on an open rear shock and watching seconds slip away.

If you’re the kind of rider who looks for the best ways to get an edge in competition, or can’t get enough of innovative creations that push the limits of mountain biking, then take a closer look at the Strive.

Flow’s First Bite: 2019 Giant Trance 29er 1

With the recent news Giant were bringing back 29″ wheels to their popular trail bike platform – the Trance – the internet went into overdrive, with warriors hammering out their disdain that Giant would backflip on their hard-nosed approach to wheel size. But seriously, what would you do if you were Giant?

Short travel 29er are the new enduro… Maybe.

The last Trance that Giant made with 29″ wheels is an abomination by today’s standards but doesn’t everything age? Either way, we don’t care about that, because we’ve ridden this new one and it brought us immense joy. The new bike is a total singletrack weapon!


Watch our reaction to the 2019 Trance 29er here.


We have just taken delivery of the 2019 Trance 29er 1, and are already huge fans of its singletrack manners, after only two rides we know we’re going to get along. There’s something pretty special about this thing; its fast handling, lightweight steering and agility through tight trails is super exciting. We’ve been spending a lot of time on our Norco Sight and Yeti SB100 lately, the Giant gives them a run for their money! Especially considering the frame-only price of the Yeti SB100 is not too far off the complete Trance off the shop floor.

Top FOX minus the fancy Kashima coating, this FOX 34 fork is a real winner.

With a taught 115mm of travel out the back and 130mm travel forks, its a lot shorter than the 140/150mm Trance with smaller 27.5″ wheels. Traditionally going up in wheel diameter lets you drop in suspension travel slightly without sacrificing too much stability over rough terrain. More on that point in more detail coming in our review.

115mm of travel was a surprise to many, but as suspension designs develop, does this mean we don’t need volume but quality for a good ride?

We see a bit of a shift of late, shorter travel 29ers with more aggressive spec – chunkier tyres, wider rims, beefier chassis forks etc, and with a trend shifting towards shorter offset crown forks and slacker head angles. Some are simply 100mm travel bikes with a 120mm fork option, like the Santa Cruz Blur and Specialized Epic EVO, while bikes like the Intense Sniper or Yeti SB100 have come about at the right time with a dedicated, aggressive XC build.

Nice bits, Trance.

The Trance 1 is the top-level aluminium offering with their new carbon wheels, a SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Guide R brakes, a new Giant dropper (feels slick!), saddle and cockpit.

It’s all glorious kit, though we tend to prefer the feel of Shimano’s brakes at this price point, the SRAM Guide R brakes feel a little dead at the lever, but have plenty of power for the cause. SRAM GX Eagle is marvellous stuff, operating like its higher-end siblings, X0 and XX1 without the cost.

Ride time!

Already we know that we’re going to like this bike a lot, more than we expected. It’s a pleasant surprise, lets ride!

 

Giant’s 2019 Trance 29er Revealed

At Giant’s 2019 launch just a couple of weeks ago (watch our video from the 2019 launch here), we were forbidden from entering a small screened off area. No media, dealers only. And while everyone was tight lipped, it wasn’t hard to guess what was hidden away – it HAD to be a 29er version of the Trance, right?

Correct! And now we’ve finally been given details on the new bike. It’s a shorter travel machine than we’d expected, though we’re not going to judge this book by its cover. Watch our video to learn more.



The range topping Trance 29 Advanced 0, $8999.
We’ll be reviewing this weapon shortly, the $5499 Trance 29 1.
Giant’s partnership with DVO is an interesting one. This suspension brand gets a lot of praise, and we’re looking forward to trying it out on the new Trance or Reign.

Reviewed: Ibis RipMo

In a category that’s breeding like rabbits, the Ibis casually struts into the room with a strong offering and a unique approach to the 160mm travel 29er game.


Watch our discussion about the new RipMo from the trails below.


A RipMo in a nutshell.

29″ wheels, 160mm up front, 145 out the back. The FOX fork uses a 44mm offset crown and paired with a fairly sensible head angle of 65.9 degrees and 435mm chainstays. So we have big travel with geometry that on paper lends itself to more toward the lighter end of the spectrum.

The frame is all carbon, using a DW Link to drive the FOX DPX rear shock. The frame is super low to allow the use of a long dropper post or open up the options to upsize the frame without it growing too much height.

44mm fork offset, so what?

The RipMo uses a reduced offset fork, 44mm instead of the traditional 51mm. Something we’ve seen becoming more popular from many brands; the Specialized Epic, Yeti SB100 for instance. The idea behind is simple, yet hard to explain. A longer front-end of the bike adds stability, but a shorter stem is required to keep your body in a comfortable position. Then the shorter offset will give the bike a greater amount of ‘trail’, for more stability in the steering.

So what all that means is there’s a focus on stability at speed or jumping.

And you know what? The RipMo does feel light to steer, yet not twitchy in the slightest, and letting the brakes off is not a scary thing.

Who’s the RipMo for?

Compared to other long travel 29ers we’ve ridden recently, the RipMo feels a lot more spritely and agile on trails that require you to work hard in the turns or pumping the terrain to maintain speed. We’d put that down to the low weight, sensible angles and supportive suspension.

Ibis makes beautiful bikes, we think the new RipMo will be very popular indeed.

Watch our video above for our discussion from the trails!

Devinci Django Carbon 29 Review

The Devinci Django Carbon 29 is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s pantaloons. 120mm of rear travel and steepish angles would have you thinking it’s more of a cross-country bike, but this machine is in its element when the trails are technical.

Don’t buy this bike if you’re looking for a fast, zippy trail bike for covering long distances. Do buy it if you value a sturdy build and confidence.

Devinci Django Carbon 29 – First Impressions

Two things you need to know about the Devinci Django Carbon. One, the D is silent. Two, it’s a robust, mid-travel trail bike, with geometry that places it in the all-rounder camp. There are 29er or 27.5 versions of the bike, but we’ve gone the big wheels – in this 120-140mm travel category, we think a 29″ wheels are the better option generally.

Devinci Django
You can clearly see how the Django’s big brother, the Spartan, has infused the robust construction of this bike.

What’s the travel?

The Devinci Django serves up 120mm rear, 140mm front, both sprung by top-shelf FOX Factory suspension. Having a 20mm travel difference between front and rear isn’t that common in off-the-shelf bikes (Yeti and Transition being notable exceptions). That said, increasing fork travel is a common upgrade amongst aggressive riders, so maybe Devinci are just one step ahead of the game here. Will the 120/140mm feel balanced?

Devinci Django

Devinci Django
Plenty of stiffness here. Tyre clearance is good too. Devinci say a 2.4″ will fit, but there looks to be space for a bigger rubber than that.

Looks sturdy.

It is! The Devinci Django is really well built, with frame stiffness and confidence the priority, and that gets a big tick from us.  At 13.22kg, it’s not a super light trail bike, but there’s plenty of beefiness in all the right places – look at that seat stay assembly, it’s a monster. Ordinarily this bike would come with Maxxis Ardents front and rear, but we’ve opted to test this bike with bigger tyres (a Maxxis Minion WT up front and an Aggressor out back) which are heavier but are better suited to our rough test trails.

The BB/shock mount area is huge too. Cables are cleanly handled.

What about the geometry?

There’s a small amount of geometry adjustment via a flip-chip on the seat stay, but even in the slacker setting, the Django’s geometry is what we’d call neutral. With a 68-degree head angle, it’s certainly not trying to be the slackest, longest bike out there, shooting instead for geometry that’s well balanced between climbing and descending. The 440mm reach is paired with 50mm stem and wide 780mm bar.

This offset chip allows a small amount of geometry adjustment.
Split Pivot suspension. Our test bike is equipped with the commendable Eagle GX drivetrain.

Devinci Django

Split Pivot suspension.

Dave Weagle, one of the industry’s best brains, is behind the Django’s Split Pivot suspension system which sees a concentric pivot around the rear axle (Trek also use a variation on this theme). It’s a setup that’s know to be exceptionally active and supple, and our initial rides on the Django have definitely had that hovercraft kind of feeling. More to come soon, so stay tuned as we put this Canadian all-rounder to the test.

Devinci Django

First Impressions: Vittoria Morsa 29×2.3″ Tyres

First impressions?

This tread definitely looks promising. The siped side knobs are reminiscent of a Maxxis Minion DHF, and the lower profile centre tread that reminds us of a Specialized Purgatory, both of which are which are great tyres, so that’s a good starting point.

The tyre is tubeless ready of course. The sidewall recommends a minimum tubeless pressure of 29psi, which is much higher than we’d usually run, so we’ll see how that plays out.


What’s special about it?

The big selling point with this tyre lies in the compounding. There are four different rubber compounds used in the tread layup,  to provide the right blend of support, protection and compliance, as well as the magic ingredient of graphene. Don’t worry, we had to Google it too. Most of what we read went over our heads, but the key point is that it’s super strong (200 time stronger than steel apparently) but also perfectly flexible.

So, nutshell here, the use of graphene apparently allows Vittoria to make a tyre that is durable and fast rolling but without resorting to using hard, inflexible rubber compounds to achieve that longevity. It’ll definitely be a good trick if it works as promised on the can! The compound certainly feels nice and malleable – let’s see how it likes a bit of punishment from Sydney sandstone.

Size options? 

We’re running the 29 x 2.3″, but there are options for 27.5 wheels as well, with a 2.3″ or whopping 2.8″ widths. Our tyres tip the scales at a reasonably heavy 935g, but they do have a pretty robust looking sidewall which bodes well for resistance to damage. Expect a full write up soon once we’ve logged some miles,

Tested: Polygon Siskiu T8

Watch the full video review! 


It’s a sharp looking whip!

What am I looking at here?

This is a thoroughly modern trail bike, made affordable. You can grab the Siskiu with either 29″ or 27.5″ wheels, with 140mm or 150mm respectively, though depending on your frame size you might only have one option. In a size small, it’s 27.5” only, sorry shorties. In a size medium you can get either wheel option, while in a size large or XL, it’s 29er only. We’ve been riding a size medium in 29er.

Modern geometry, internal cabling, Boost hub spacing… what’s the catch?

Where can I see one?

This is where it’s a bit tricky. Polygon are sold online, direct to consumer here in Australia, so waltzing down to your local shop for a carpark bounce won’t happen. The bike is shipped to you 99% assembled, requiring just a few things to be done before you head to the trails. For some people, this will be a deal breaker, but it’s the price you pay for not paying much of a price, if you get our drift. The bike does come with a money back 14-day test ride period.

This is a thoroughly modern trail bike, made affordable.

The 1×11 drivetrain has an 11-46 tooth Sunrace cassette, paired with Shimano XT/SLX shifting.
A short 50mm stem and 760mm bar, both are from Polygon’s in-house brand Entity.

All the fundamentals are there.

On paper, Polygon have nailed it. Modern geometry? Tick, it’s got the geometry numbers that stack up nicely with the competition, and the dropouts have Boost spacing too. A confidence inspiring front end? Yep, there’s a 35mm-legged fork, and a wide bar and short stem. Dropper post? Yes, a 150mm dropped is ready for the steep stuff. Good rims and rubber? Indeed, 29mm internal rims give a Schwalbe tyres good stability. A single-ring drivetrain? Yes, once again the Polygon is up to speed, with a 1×11 drivetrain using a wide range cassette.

Tranz X provide the 150mm-travel dropper post.

A few compromises.

To hit such a sharp price point and still deliver those items above, Polygon have saved a few bucks in some other areas – the crankset is from Prowheel for instance. The Tranz X dropper post isn’t one we’ve ridden before, and while it works nicely, the lever feels a bit flimsy.

The shifting performance of the XT rear mech is perfect, and we didn’t drop the chain either despite not having a chain guide.

It took us a couple of rides to find our groove with the Siskiu. Long story short, it’s a bike that has a sweet spot.

Shimano brakes, hassle-free and with a light, consistent lever feel.

It’s not overly refined either; the cables rattle inside the frame quite a lot (you can fix this by placing some foam rubber inside the frame), and the welds are a bit chunky. But, of course, none of these issues have a big impact on the way the bike rides.


That is the story on paper. But what about on the trail?

It took us a couple of rides to find our groove with the Siskiu. Long story short, it’s a bike that has a sweet spot. We found that suspension setup and tyre pressures made a big difference on this bike and until we got this right, it all felt a little chattery and tiring in the rough.

The Schwalbe Nobby Nics are a good tyre, but this hard compound version works much better once set up tubeless.

Tubeless first.

First up, we converted the Siskius wheels for tubeless use. You’ll need to add tubeless tape to the rims first as they’re not set up for tubeless use out of the box. This is a must-do. The Schwalbe tyres are a hard compound, so you really need to ditch the tubes and drop the pressures or they tend to skate around on hardback trails. A set of stickier tyres would be a great upgrade for this bike, helping glue it to the trails more firmly.

We ran the rear end with 30% sag, and took one Bottomless Token out of the fork (leaving one in place).

Get that suspension working for you.

In order to help get the bike feeling as smooth and composed as possible, we spent more time than usual making fine adjustments to the suspension. Ultimately, a softer suspension setup and a moderately fast rebound speed was the best approach for this bike. Set up like this, the suspension stays nice and active which helps the bike hold speed better in the rough and gave us a lot more grip in the corners. With the fork, we actually removed one Bottomless Token from the air spring and followed the recommended pressure guide on the fork leg. Again, this is a softer setup than we’d usually run, but it worked best for this bike.

Set up like this, the suspension stays nice and active which helps the bike hold speed better in the rough and gave us a lot more grip in the corners.

The seat angle is slack, so expect to push the seat forward a little to maintain a nice and central pedalling position.

Strong position.

Once we had all that sorted, the bike became a lot easier to get along with and suddenly we found our groove with the Siskiu and we began taking it to all our usual haunts, banging through the rocks around Flow HQ. The riding position is great; the wide cockpit and stout fork put you in a strong and commanding position, encouraging you to take control, and 140mm travel will get you out of trouble most times. It’s exactly the kind of feeling you want if you’re an intermediate rider losing to push your skills to the next level.

The recently updated Revelation from RockShox is inspired by the Pike – the 35mm legs and stiff chassis are a huge leap ahead from the older version.

Impressive efficiency.

Given the price, the sub-14kg weight is pretty damn good. Pedalling performance was a surprise standout element for us too – it’s a really stable pedalling bike. The shock has a three compression settings (open, firm and locked) but we rarely flicked it out of the open position. It’s certainly happy to trundle through a few hours on the trail without draining you too much – it’s way more efficient in this regard than we expected.

The Entity saddle is called the Assault. Interesting name. But it’s comfy.

Pedalling performance was a surprise standout element for us too – it’s a really stable pedalling bike.

Niggles?

There’s a fair bit of cable rattle going on, and there aren’t any water bottle mounts. The seat angle is slack too, and we needed to push the saddle forward in the seat clamp to feel like we were in a good position over the cranks. Tall riders with a lot of seat post out might find themselves pushed out over the rear wheel quite a long way.

13.78kg is pretty good for an alloy framed trail bike with good-sized tyres and 29″ wheels!

Hard to top for this money.

This is exactly the kind of bike that’s going to make mountain biking (real mountain biking, not just cruising in the bush) accessible to a much bigger audience. Three grand is eminently more achievable than five or six grand, and the compromises this bike makes to hit such a good price point really are quite minimal.

This is exactly the kind of bike that’s going to make mountain biking accessible to a much bigger audience.

Once you’ve invested the time to get the suspension set up perfectly (and maybe added some stickier rubber once the stock tyres are worn out) you’ve got a bike that comes very close to matching the performance of bikes with much higher ticket prices.


Looking for other Polygon reviews?

Tested: Polygon XQUARONE EX9

Tested: Polygon Collosus N9 2016

Tested: Polygon Collosus DH9 2016

Tested: Polygon Siskiu D8

All-Mountain Assassin: The Polygon Collosus N9

Tested: Polygon Recon 4

First Impressions: Polygon Siskiu T8

Angular, sharp, smart lines and bold highlight colours make a strong first impression.

What’s the scoop?

You’re looking at a 140mm-travel 29er trail bike, alloy-framed, and decked out with components that would normally be found on a bike with a higher price tag. At first glance, it would seem that Polygon have covered every base: a no-fuss suspension system, good-quality units from RockShox at both ends (the new Revelation up front, and a Deluxe RT3 shock), a 1×11 XT/SLX Shimano drivetrain, decent dropper post, good quality tubeless-ready tyres… we’re struggling to find any gaps here for three grand. The geometry looks to be on target too, with good all-round trail bike figures.

The frame is alloy through out. Large and X-large bikes are 29er only. In a size medium you get the option of 29er or 27.5″, while small bikes are 27.5″ only.
The RockShox Deluxe RT3 has three compression positions; open, firm and locked.

You’ve ridden the Siskiu before, correct? 

Yes, we’ve reviewed previous iterations of the Siskiu, but this version is a pretty different kind of bike. Longer travel, with a much more tougher fork, cockpit and tyre setup, it’s got more aggressive riding in mind than earlier models of the Siskiu.

The new 2018 RockShox Revelation is seriously upgraded from previous years, with 35mm legs.
A Sunrace 11-46 cassette is paired to an XT rear mech.

Is it 29er only?

Polygon have gone down the route of proscribing certain wheel sizes for the different frame sizes. In a size medium, like the bike we’ve got here, you can choose between 29″ or 27.5″ wheels, while the size small is 27.5″ only and larger frames come with 29″ wheels solely. If you ride a size large or bigger but want little wheels, you’re out of luck. The 27.5″ versions have a little more travel, 150mm vs 140mm on the 29ers.

The rims are tubeless compatible, but you’ll need to add tape and valves. Schwalbe Nobby Nics in a 2.35″ width provide the traction.
Some dollars have been saved with a ProWheel crankset, rather than better known item.

What can you tell me about Polygon?

With a direct sales model here in Australia, Polygon don’t have the same presence that the big brands get via a network of dealers, but that’s not a reason to be sceptical about the bikes. After all, Mick and Tracey Hannah both rode Polygons to the podium at the 2017 World Champs, a Polygon just won Red Bull Rampage (again), and the new Polygon XQUARONE EX9 blew our minds when we reviewed it recently. We also visited the Polygon factory in early 2016, where we saw Siskius rolling off the production line, and it’s an incredible place.

The suspension system is a simple single-pivot-with-linkage setup. Note the chain slap protection too.

The bikes are also backed by a 14-day test ride policy, that allows you to return a bike even if it has been ridden, no questions asked, within the first two weeks.

We’re going to whack some tubeless valves in now (which really should come with the bike, Polygon!) and hit the trails. Full review to come soon.

Off we go!

Flow’s First Bite: Performance 29er

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As cheap as they come, but in this case it’s actually a legitimate bike to ride off road.

No matter how you look at it, this is a great bike for the money. $350 is not a price you’d typically be able to find a bike with this amount of quality components and frame construction.

This bike is purchased in a box, from Aldi. Click here for more: Purchasing the Performance 29er.


Yes, we said ALDI, that eclectic marketplace where you find drop saws and vacuum cleaners alongside chickpeas and gingerbread. They could hardly begrudge us for saying they’re not renowned as a proprietor of fine cycles. We deliberately used the phrase mountain bike, not just ‘bike’. Because this hardtail, unlike the buttery soft boat anchors with fold-o-matic wheels that are usually sold at department stores, is a true entry-level mountain bike.

For our in-depth discussion about what a $350 bike in a box means for mountain biking click here – $350 bike in a box.


What is it?

The un-branded bike is an aluminium frame 29″ wheeled mountain bike with Tektro mechanical disc brakes, 9-speed Shimano drivetrain and a Suntour suspension fork. The 29″ wheels are aluminium with double wall rims and quick release skewers. On the cardboard box it comes in there is branding from Crane, an established brand name bike that caters for the entry level market.

No branding, just a small 29er graphic on the top tube.
No branding, just a small 29er graphic on the top tube.

The frame is manufactured and assembled in the same factory as Polygon bikes, so you can bet that it’s one of the cheapest bikes that the excellent brand produces, a far better arrangement than if it were a top-end product from a less-experienced factory.

The frame is built from aluminium with surprisingly good looking welding, upon close inspection we found the the paint to be very smooth and well-finished.

A nice touch is the way the brake and gear cables travel internally through the frame, something many high end bikes are still implementing today.

The Performance 29er is sold for $349 and available from Aldi stores around Australia. Available in red or grey colour options, and in medium or large frame sizes.

Are the parts any good?

You’ll always get what you pay for with any product, in this case the spec is very reasonable for $350. Highlights are the Shimano 9-speed drivetrain on a cassette style rear hub, Shimano cranks and the Tektro mechanical disc brakes. The bars are a decent width and the stem a length that will provide good handling when ridden.

Shimano Acera 9-speed Shadow rear derailleur.
Shimano Acera 9-speed Shadow rear derailleur.

How about the wheels?

The wheels tick the boxes for riding off road, double wall aluminium with stainless steel spokes and Joytech hubs. You’d easily find wheels of this level on bikes twice the price. The dual-duty style tyres are not going to be too grippy on technical trails with loose surfaces, but feel fast and smooth to roll around on the tarmac.

How does it ride?

While we didn’t go hammering down our favourite technical descents, we did hit the singletrack to see how it went. The large 29″ wheels and tall front end give the bike plenty of confidence to steer it down the trail. The disc brakes also instill a degree of security, knowing that the brakes will work consistently in the dry or wet trails.

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Tall and confident, with plenty of bike between you and the ground it is a confident, relaxed and easy bike to ride.

Can the parts handle actual off road riding?

In all our years of working in retail and then going on to test bikes and product we learnt that there was always a starting price point that went along with a level of components that was essential to actually riding a bike off road. You absolutely needed double wall aluminium wheels or they’d go out of true in an instant, the bars couldn’t be steel as they would bend too easily, and the rear hub had to be a cassette style and not a screw-on freehub one or you’d break the axle whenever you did any form of jump. A suspension fork would be a no-brainer for increasing comfort and control, and disc brakes were a luxury that boosted braking power on long descents and on muddy trails.

So when we look at this bike that has all of these absolute necessary components mentioned above, we’re confident that it’ll do the trick.

Four-bolt stem, wide bars and aluminium construction.
Four-bolt stem, wide bars and aluminium construction.
Basic Suntour XCM fork with 63mm of travel works, but feels very softly sprung.
Basic Suntour XCM fork with 63mm of travel works well, but feels very softly sprung.
Cable actuated disc brakes from Tektro, powerful braking in the dry or wet.
Cable actuated disc brakes from Tektro, more consistent braking in the dry or wet than rim brakes.

Can I upgrade components in the future?

Sure you can, there’s nothing that will prevent you from upgrading parts as your riding progresses, perhaps the fork’s straight steer tube (standard for anything decent uses a tapered steer tube with a larger diameter lower headset bearing) will limit fork upgrade options but the rest of the bike uses very easily sourced standard parts. We’d look first to the tyres for an upgrade.

How is it delivered?

Here comes the touchy bit, this bike is sold in a box off the shelf at an Aldi supermarket. No sales staff will help you assemble it, set it up, point you in the direction of trails or provide local advice. That’s part of the reason this bike costs as little as it does, it’s up to you to see the value here.aldi-mountain-bike-8447

Would we recommend it?

If you have only this amount of money to spend, or you’re simply dipping a toe in the water ahead of this summer for some gentle off road riding this is a very fair option.

Provided only you’re mechanically proficient in unpacking the bike, installing the bars, pedals and pumping up the tyres. We’ve had a very close look at this bike and there’s nothing that will stop you from having a good time outdoors.

If you’re looking to get started in the world of mountain biking, then you can’t go wrong with this bike – it’s an awesome deal.

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.
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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.

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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.

Tested: Orbea Occam TR M30

FLOW2833Given the huge global presence of Orbea, it might surprise you to learn that the bikes are still made in Spain. This is a brand with real heritage and which takes pride in its roots in the mountains of the Basque region.


Check out our review of the Orbea Rallon, the Occam’s big brother, right here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/attainable-all-mountain-orbea-rallon-x30-review/


The Occam now comes in two flavours; the long-travel/little-wheels Occam AM, and the 120mm-travel 29er Occam TR which we’re reviewing. This 29er trail bike category has some real momentum at the moment. It’s an ideal platform for for riders who might’ve traditionally gravitated towards a strictly cross-country machine, but who now want something to broaden their horizons without going all long-travel and #endurbro.

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Lovely lines. We really like the aesthetic of this frame.

Frame and Construction

This is a great looking bike, and the quality of the frame is the real stand out, giving you a magnificent base from which to build your dream machine. Orbea make it easy to go down this custom route too, using their My Orbea custom bike program, which lets you change certain components from the stock build to create a one-off bike to suit your style. To see what the options are, head to the Orbea website – on the spec listing for each bike, there are certain items you can change which are marked with a little dropdown menu, and the prices to make these modifications are clearly listed.

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Massive chain stays ensure a precise, direct rear end.

The frame definitely gives off an air of trail bike toughness, even if some of the components don’t quite match this posturing. Previous generations of Orbeas have tended to twist like a yoga instructor, and they’ve gone out of their way to lose that reputation with the Occam. The chain stays are deep and stiff, with Boost rear hub spacing adding to the rigidity too. The front end is equally imposing, especially across the top tube, which is very broad to accommodate the shock nestled up inside it. All the linkage hardware is fat and solid – frame flex won’t hold this bike back.

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No pivots out here! The flex-stay suspension system is light, stiff and reduces complexity.

Occam’s Razor, from which the bike derives its name, is a philosophy for problem solving. Broadly stated Occam’s theory tells us that the simplest approach is best. The original Orbea Occam had a basic single-pivot suspension, which would have made old man Ockham smile, but somewhere along the line, Orbea have decided it’s ok to add a bit of complexity for the sake of suspension performance!

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Orbea calls their flex stay system UFO. Unidentified flexing object? We’re not sure!

The latest Occam uses a very clean looking flex-stay suspension arrangement to deliver 120mm of travel. This approach is more commonly seen in pure cross country bikes where weight reduction is paramount, but it’s not unheard of in this mid-travel segment either (the Cannondale Habit SE we tested recently is another 120mm bike with a flex stay). Getting rid of pivot point like this has a number of advantages; fewer bearing means lower weights, less maintenance and potentially stiffer frame construction. The shock is a user-friendly, no-nonsense FOX DPS number, tucked neatly up inside the top tube where it’s easy to access on the fly and allowing for plenty of room in the frame for a full-sized water bottle.

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If you’re running a front mech, it has gotta be neat, and the integration and cable routing for the Shimano side-swing front derailleur is perfect.

The Occam’s fantastic cable routing demonstrates just how neatly the new Shimano Side-Swing front derailleurs can be incorporated into frame design. Sadly, the bike’s provisions for an internally-routed dropper post are un-utilised, which is at odds with the Occam’s billing as a trail bike.

Geometry-wise, Orbea have followed the trends towards longer front ends, paired with shorter stems. It’s all about confidence and changing the distribution of the wheel base, so that when you’re pointed into nasty terrain, you’ve got more bike up front. There are only three frame sizes for the Occam – they don’t offer this bike in a small – so if you’re a shorty you’ll be on 27.5″ wheels.

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The rear mech is a direct mount number, for a stiffer, solid connection.

There is sensational attention to detail to be found across the frame, with nice touches like a direct mount rear derailleur, effective down tube protection and neat chain slap guards all reinforcing the notion that it’s the frame where the quality counts.

Components

When it comes to the way the Occam has been specced, the components are a super reliable blend of proven FOX, Shimano and Raceface kit. Solid choices, if not flashy. Still, we do have a few quibbles from a value and intended use perspective.

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Dropper post cable routing. Sadly unused on this model of Occam.

As with other boutique brands, you pay a premium for the frame, and so the Orbea’s components seem a little uninspiring if you’re compare them pound for pound with some of the other large brands. The SLX/XT 10-speed drivetrain is a bit ho-hum – the SLX shifters feel like they belong at lower price point, and being 10-speed your options are limited if you do want to convert this bike to a single ring setup too.

Our bigger gripe is the absence of a dropper post. We understand that this bike does still sit on the cusp of the cross-country category, but it’s mandatory in our mind to have a dropper post at this travel and this price.

You can add a dropper to the bike (a Rockshox Reverb) using the My Orbea custom options, which adds another $428 to the price. Admittedly, we were surprised at how well this bike handled without a dropper, but it’s a pity to have to fork out a few hundred dollars extra to bring this bike up to speed with other trail bikes.

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32mm forks are better reserved for cross-country bikes we feel – a 34mm fork would have been a great addition to this bike.

The FOX 32 Float is typically smooth, easy to setup and maintain, but overall we’d have preferred to see a FOX 34, which would have been more in keeping with the stiffness of the bike. In the world of 29ers, larger diameter stanchions make a big difference, especially for bigger riders.

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The 35mm Raceface Aeffect bar and stem is a reassuring cockpit.

More positively, the wheelset is excellent. The DT rims shod in proper tubeless Maxxis rubber feel alive and responsive. The Ardent / Ardent Race tyre combo is fun, the rear wheel breaks traction first and predictably, setting up some awesome drifts in tighter turns. However, if your trails are loose, it’s worth considering upgrading the rear tyre too – you can do so for just another $13 using the My Orbea custom options.

The new 35mm diameter Raceface bar and stem feel great. You might think a 50mm stem is an odd choice on a trail bike, but it balances out the long reach perfectly.


Ride

The Occam kind of straddles the divide between cross country and trail bike performance; you could dress it up to serve either role, or maybe the blend it offers will suit you perfectly from the get-go.

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A little bit XC, a little bit trail bike.

Descending: We hate stopping to adjust the height of our seat post (too many years of droppers have spoiled us!) so we rode the Orbea with the seat at full height and we came away pleasantly surprised. Even with the seat up, it’s a pretty good descender – the short stem places your weight in a stable centred position that makes for confident handling on the downhills.

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The Orbea’s linkage is stout and uses a direct ‘block’ style mount to drive the shock, rather than a bushing.

The suspension is geared around moderately rough terrain, with a suspension rate that uses all its travel quite frequently. This is ideal from a comfort and fatigue perspective, keeping the wheels on the ground and isolating you nicely from the terrain. However, if you’re looking to push a little harder, you’ll want to add some volume spacers to both the fork and shock in order to gain a little more progression. Again, this is an option with the My Orbea custom spec program, and you can add volume spacers to the shock for less than $50.

 The laterally stiff rear end, light wheels and fast rear tyre all help ensure it gets up and going quickly out of a turn.

Singletrack manners: With the rear suspension set in the middle compression position, the Occam is a pleasure in the singletrack, efficient and composed. The laterally stiff rear end, light wheels and fast rear tyre all help ensure it gets up and going quickly out of a turn. Popping the shock into the open compression setting yielded a noticeably smoother ride, but at the expense of some pedalling efficiency, so we spent most of our time in the middle setting.

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The voluminous Ardent in a 2.4″ is an under-rated tyre in our opinion.

On flat, twisty trails, it threaded through the corners really nicely. There’s good bite from the Ardent in its large 2.4″ size up front and in the dry test conditions we rode in we really like the way this bike cornered, with the rear wheel breaking traction first. When a bike has a tendency to let go at the rear wheel first, you’ve got more confidence to weight the front end and attack flat turns.

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The Ardent Race is one of our favourite cross-country tyres and on the Orbea it delivered excellent climbing grip. For some trail riders, more grip will be in order.

Climbing: On the whole, the Orbea is a good climber. The suspension strikes a nice balance between firmness and grip, helping keep the relatively low-profile knobs of the Ardent Race rear tyre hooking in. The climbing position is comfortable, and quite upright thanks to the stubby stem, encouraging you to look ahead and pick your line. We made up plenty of climbs on the Orbea that have seen us walking on other bikes – it does a great job of delivering power to the ground when it’s loose.

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The Shimano cranks have a 36/22 chain ring combo, which is a 29er specific crank. We found the 14-tooth jump between rings too big.

We found the gearing a little awkward on terrain that included a lot of steep pinches. Our inclination is to stay in the big ring where possible, but on the instances when we had to drop to the small ring the big jump in ring size (22 vs 36) this tended to leave us spinning wildly, so it became important to look ahead and downshift early.

The frameset is amongst the nicest we’ve seen, we love its simplicity, its clean looks and the stiffness it possesses.

Overall

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The Occam TR M30 is a bit of a fence sitter, and this might make it perfect for you. If you’re a cross country rider looking for a glamorous steed to push a little harder, then this bike will really nail it for you; it’s efficient, very comfortable for big days in the saddle and packs some really confident geometry. If you’re looking for an aggressive trail bike, then we think there’s an absolute beast of a bike lurking here. The frameset is amongst the nicest we’ve seen, we love its simplicity, its clean looks and the stiffness it possesses. The Occam certainly has the bones, but you’ll need to flesh them out with a dropper post, possibly a stiffer fork and maybe a more aggressive rear tyre too, to take it to the next level.

If you’re a cross country rider looking for a glamorous steed to push a little harder, then this bike will really nail it for you

If you’re in the market for an Occam, we’d encourage you to either seriously look at the model up (the M10) which comes with a dropper and 11-speed XT drivetrain, or check out the options on the My Orbea custom program to tweak this bike to get the most out of its brilliant frameset.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Orbea Occam TR M30

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In the case of Orbea, we’re sure they regret some of their early attempts at dual suspension mountain bikes. Their hardtails have always been tidy, but their past holds some rather nervous, floppy duallies, clearly built with a roadie at the design helm.

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The rear end uses a flex stay, with really deep chain stays too, for a stiffer build.

But full credit to this Basque brand, they’ve completely flipped that situation, and their recent dual suspension bikes have been solid, winning a lot of acclaim. They’ve also launched the innovate My Orbea program, which allows buyers to customise the spec of their bikes. Needless to say, our attitude towards Orbea is now sunny as a Spanish spring.

Tucking the shock up inside the top tube makes room for a full-sized water bottle.
Tucking the shock up inside the top tube makes room for a full-sized water bottle.

The latest Orbea to roll into our lives is the Occam TR M30, a progressive looking, carbon, trail-oriented 29er. The Occam range is now split into two families; there’s the AM series with 140mm of travel and 27.5″ wheels, or the 120mm travel 29er TR (trail) series. The M30 is one of five bikes in the Occam TR series (three with carbon frames, two in alloy), and it’ll set you back 5599 pesos.

The fork uses 32mm legs, while 34mm is now the standard on this style of bike.
The fork uses 32mm legs, while 34mm is now the standard on this style of bike.

Immediately we’re drawn to the robust rear end of this bike. The dropout spacing is Boost 148mm, and it uses a flex stay arrangement, rather than dropout pivot, which saves weight and removes a point of potential flex. Couple all this with some of the deepest chain stays we’ve seen in a while, and it’s a very robust looking setup. For an interesting comparison of how far Orbea’s design philosophies have progressed, quick Google Orbea Oiz 2012…

Clean cabling! With the side swing front derailleur, the cable routing is very smooth indeed.
Clean cabling! With the side swing front derailleur, the cable routing is very smooth indeed.

Up front the frame is equally inspired, with the shock mounted into the wide top tube, a massive down tube and modern geometry numbers, a long reach paired to a chunky 50mm stem and wide bar. That ethos of stiffness and solidity hasn’t been extended to the fork, which looks comparatively underdone with its 32mm legs. The lack of a dropper post is another cause for pause. We’ll likely fit a dropper post for the test period, as it’s hard to really ride and test a bike in challenging terrain without doing so.

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We’re yet to hit the dirt in anger on this bike, but it’s clear to see there’s a very capable platform here. It looks and feels like a fiery, exciting bike to ride – this mid-travel 29er segment is very appropriate for most trail riders, so it’ll be great to try something new is this category. Let’s get to it!

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Flow’s First Bite: Cell Stromlo 2.1

It’s easy to forget what it was like to ride your first mountain bike, we’re talking about bone-jarring rigid forks, tiny little 26″ wheels (gasp, the horror!) lacklustre rim brakes and seriously awkward geometry. We all started somewhere, but right now stepping into this somewhat daunting sport is a whole lot easier than it used to be, thanks to bikes like these.

$1000 can get you a whole lot of bike, and not just in terms of spec, but how it all ties together as a package. Cell Bikes are designed in Australia by real riders, and we’re sure they won’t mind us saying that they have come a very long way since we first rode their earlier mountain bikes.

Cell Bikes are sold online direct to consumer, alongside brands like YT, Polygon and Canyon they aim to keep costs down by cutting out the middle man and shipping bikes to your door. Whether or not this is the future, and will suit everyone it’s worth a look. All Cell bikes can be seen in the flesh at one of their two stores in Sydney or Melbourne (free first service included if picked up from one of the two Cell stores) or shipped Australia wide at no extra charge.

It’s worth noting that each and every Cell is unpacked in the Sydney headquarters by a mechanic, tuned and tested before re-packing and couriered to the consumer. Minimal assembly is required, just the front wheel, handlebar, pedals and seatpost need installing.

We have the $999 Cell Stromlo 2.1 on test, the aluminium frame 29er hardtail with a bit of an all-rounder look to it. While not billing itself as a hardcore mountain bike, the Stromlo should be just enough to get you started and enjoying the trails. We reviewed the higher end $1599 Cell Awaba 2.0 29er hardtail recently, check out our review of that one here: Cell Awaba review

Cell Stromlo 2.0-25
Big 29″ wheels for speed and maximum confidence.

No the name isn’t a coincidence, the Stromlo takes its name from the immensely popular mountain bike park in Canberra – Stromlo Forest Park. See, told you they were designed in Australia.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes the bike tick.

The Stromlo rolls on larger diameter standard 29″ wheels, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and a SRAM X5 30 speed (triple ring) drivetrain, and up front a simple Suntour XCR suspension fork takes the sting out the trail. Alex rims with eyeleted spoke holes are a nice touch, the eyelets will help the spokes retain good tension and make servicing much easier than non-eyeleted rims.

Cell Stromlo 2.0-13
Designed in Australia, and it shows.

The fork has hydraulic lockout for commuting on tarmac and hydraulic rebound control to keep the coil spring under control when the trails are rough.

The SRAM X5 drivetrain is a good sight, especially for the money. Speccing the bike with such a wide range of gears will broaden the Stromlo’s usage, you won’t be running out of gears on the fastest roads or steepest off road climbs with 30 (so many gears these days!) gears to click through. The gear cables are concealed in full length outer casing too, keeping the mud out of the lines for longer lasting gear adjustment.

Cell Stromlo 2.0-10
Suntour fork with rebound and lockout.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-26
Nice and low cockpit for better handing off road.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-5
Three chainrings up front, ten out the back. A huge range of gears on offer.

Our experience with any of the entry level Shimano disc brakes has always been excellent, and even before hitting the dirt the brakes feel solid and powerful, the larger 180mm diameter disc rotor up the front should help keep things in check when the descents are long or steep.

The low profile tread on the tyres will most certainly not be too great at gripping into loose dirt, but the rubber compound feels quite tacky so they should at least be fine on drier and harder surface trails. Perhaps they are an area for upgrading later on, it really depends on what it’s intended for.

The low and flat bars give the Stromlo a real mountain bike feel. Where you’d typically see bikes around this price point with a tall front end for ‘comfort’ this sacrifices cornering ability, the flat double butted aluminium bar will keep your upper body in a good position for negotiating the fun stuff on the trail.

Cell Stromlo 2.0-33
Taking its name from the sweet mountain bike park in Canberra, Stromlo Forest Park.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-17
Shimano brakes and a SRAM drivetrain.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-27
SRAM X5 derailleurs.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-3
Time to get it dirty.

So that’s it for now, we’ll be back shortly for our review of this entry level hardtail.

Stay tuned.

Tested: Trek Fuel EX 8 29 2016

Everybody has a word which they chronically mis-type. For this reviewer, it’s the word ‘fuel’… about 30% of the time, my fingers will key in the spelling ‘feul’, pushed into another typo by some inexplicably entrenched neurological pathway. While we battle with typing the word, we sure as hell didn’t battle with this bike: the 2016 Trek Fuel (yay, got it first time!) EX8 29 is a solid trail companion, and showcases some excellent improvements from the previous iteration of this bike.

We’re well placed now to comment on this bike’s performance too, having spent a year on both a 2015 Fuel 29er, and 2015 and 2016 versions of the Fuel EX 9.8 27.5.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-2
At first we weren’t sure about the silver seat stays (they reminded us of a warranty replacement!) but the look grew on us.

[divider]What is it and who’s it for?[/divider]

While some brands are going all-in with 27.5, others like Trek still feel that 29″ hoops are going to remain popular and desirable beyond the realms of the XC race category. The confidence, traction and generally sure-footedness of a 29er with trail bike geometry does still make it the ideal platform for a lot of riders. Trek have reinforced this viewpoint by investing in reworking the 29er version of the Fuel frame.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-20
The satin finish is classy.

Coming in at under three and a half grand, the EX8 29 sits at a price point that makes it the first ‘serious’ mountain bike for a lot of riders, and as such it needs to be able to handle the demands of a rider who suddenly has equipment that will let them push their limits a lot further. We think it nails it, delivering with a mix of proven Trek tech (the ABP/Full Floater suspension for instance) and new innovations (like the Boost hub spacing) which have facilitated some welcomed improvements to this bike’s geometry and handling that make it even more confidence inspiring.

Aluminium trail bikes mightn’t be a sexy category, but they are the bread and butter of the mountain bike industry. And bread and butter is still freakin’ delicious, especially as a pudding.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-26

[divider]The frame: Big chop, less flop, more BB drop.[/divider]

Until you inspect closely or get out the tape measure (everybody does that, right?) you could easily overlook the changes that Trek have made to the Fuel 29er frame. First up, it gets Boost rear dropout spacing, with the rear hub a whopping 148mm wide. The extra width not only allows the rear wheel to be made stiffer, but because the chainline is shifted outward slightly too, it helps solve some of the tyre clearance issues that plague 29ers.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-6 Trek Fuel EX 8 29-5

Long, tech-nerd story cut short, Boost spacing has allowed Trek to chop a massive 18mm off the length of the Fuel 29er’s chain stays.

At the same time, the rear end is stiffer too, alleviating two of our main gripes with the previous Fuel 29er; we never really got comfy with the super long rear end on earlier versions of this bike, and the rear end ‘twang’ robbed it of confidence. In comparison, this bike is crazy solid out back, and feels a lot better balanced too, with more wheelbase out in front, and less trailing you.

The Fuel 29er gets some geometry adjustment too for 2016, via Trek’s simple Mino-Link system. In the slacker setting, the head angle is a stable 68.8-degrees, compared to 69.5 on the 2015 bike. The bottom bracket is 4mm lower too. Put all these ingredients – stiffer, slacker, lower, shorter stays – into the melting pot and you get tasty blend that gives riders more confidence. And as we stressed before, in this category and price point, that should be the performance priority.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-29
Cable routing is semi-internal. Not a lot of room for a bottle – a 500ml is a tight fit.

The only serious gripe we have with this frame (and we mention it in every Trek review) is the ABP skewer. It hangs out the back of the bike like some kind of anchor, smashing into rocks willy nilly. Please hire some smart engineer to fix this! Water bottle clearance is also super tight, and a 500ml bottle is a real squeeze.

[divider]All the right bits for a good time[/divider]

It’s not just the frame which contributes to the Fuel’s increased confidence, but a whole bunch of smart spec choices too. A 750mm-bar and 70mm stem combo is a real winner, giving you a strong position over the front end, and the Bontrager XR3 tyres are a proper 2.3″ width as well.

A great cockpit makes a big difference.
A great cockpit makes a big difference – 750mm bar, 70mm stem.

Of course a dropper post is a must on this kind of bike now, and the KS LEV on the Fuel works well. Being cable operated, it’s easy enough to maintain too.

Even though the Shimano 10-speed SLX shifters feel a little clunky (especially in comparison to the new 11-speed XT gear), the 2×10 drivetrain will suit most. In an ideal world, we’d go a single chain ring, and fit something like a Praxis 11-40 cassette, to simplify and lighten the bike a bit.

Shimano’s affordable Deore brakes feel a million bucks! They don’t have a huge amount of bite or raw power, but they’re super consistent and have a light, precise lever feel that’s easy to modulate.

Great tyres! Going tubeless is easy too.
Great tyres! Going tubeless is easy too.

[divider]Skinny legs[/divider]

Just like the rear end, the fork also gets Boost hub spacing, with 110mm-wide dropouts. The stance of the fork is noticeably wider, like it’s been riding a horse, but the legs are still only 32mm. With all the other tweaks that have been made to improve the bike’s stiffness and confidence, we’d have loved to see a 34mm-legged fork on this bike.

The Boost fork has a wider stance, but still only uses 32mm legs.
The Boost fork has a wider stance, but still only uses 32mm legs.

[divider]Instant gratification[/divider]

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-5

One hallmark of a quality bike is the length of time it takes to get comfortable and feel like you’ve got the setup dialled. With the Fuel EX8 29, it was seconds, not minutes or hours. Something about the Full Floater suspension system makes it incredibly easy to get right, or very close to it. While other bikes will punish you with a harsh or soggy ride if your suspension pressures are a little off, Trek’s system seems to handle a much bigger margin of error without issue. A quick check of the suspension sag and you’re 95% of the way there, with only fine tuning to do down the track. The same with the fork too, which might lack the more supportive damping of more expensive FOX offerings, but is very easy to get balanced with the rear end.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-24
The magnesium EVO link is super stout, contributing to the bike’s rock solid rear end.

The handling is similarly simple to live with, and a marked improvement over previous Fuel 29ers. We always found the long rear end of the older Fuel 29ers made the bike feel like it needed to be steered through corners, and leaning it over wasn’t so easy. The 2016 bike doesn’t have any of those negative traits.

Whether it be getting onto the tyre side knobs, jumping or manualling, the new geometry makes things much more fun.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-2

[divider]Buttery and gentle[/divider]

“Gentle” was a word that another rider used to describe the Fuel’s suspension, and it’s a pretty apt term for it. Both fork and shock are very smooth in the early stages of their travel, and  have a pretty linear feeling. More aggressive riders, or those who like really supportive suspension to work the terrain, might find things a bit too ‘plush’ or isolating, but we don’t really think that’s this bike’s intended rider. Most folk buying this bike will be blown away by how well this bike smoothes out the trail, and that’s what it’s suspension is optimised to do.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-1

[divider]Chuggy on the climbs[/divider]

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-3

Because it’s not a light bike, climbing isn’t the Fuel’s forte, and you’ll want to use the shock lockout lever too. We didn’t find time to convert the wheels over to tubeless, but it’s easily done using Bontrager’s rim strips (the tyres are tubeless ready) and that would have saved some rotating weight and likely improved climbing performance too. At least with the 2×10 gearing you have a good low-range gear should you need it.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We realise we’ve spent a lot of this review comparing this bike with its predecessor, but that’s only because we’re really impressed with how Trek have made what was already a good bike even better. Great handling, comfort and control galore, excellent suspension and a price point that won’t see you eating sardines and rice for a year either.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-1

Flow’s First Bite – Trek Fuel EX 8 29

Trek’s incredibly popular Fuel EX range comes in both 29″ and 27.5″ flavours, and for 2016 the 29er goes under the knife to receive a very trendy facelift, scoring the updates we hoped and wished for. Tighter, zipper and adjustable whilst retaining that super-supple suspension we have grown to expect, the new Fuel EX 29 looks dialled.

Seven versions of the Fuel EX are on offer from Trek Australia, the large range priced between $3099 and $5999. A real testament to how well this type of bike caters to just about any type of mountain biker, the amount of travel, relaxed character and reliable components make it a real winner.

We snagged a Fuel EX 29 8 for a full review, until then here are our first impressions of this entry-level aluminium dually from the big T.

Trek Fuel EX 8 33

[divider]The Frame[/divider]

Dual suspension 29ers have come a long way, and are now better than ever across the board. We’re even at the point where we’re seeing die hard ‘small wheel’ riders finally appreciate the benefits of the larger wheels but without moaning that that can’t ride the bike exactly how they would like to.

29″ wheels are always going to be better at handling certain elements of off road riding than smaller 26″ and 27.5″ wheels, the rule that bigger is better just can’t be argued with in terms of rolling momentum or stability. Though there is a reason the Fuel EX is also available in 27.5″ wheels, it comes down to how you want to ride, where you ride and your personal preferences.

Trek Fuel EX 8 27

We’ve currently got two 27.5″ Treks on long term test – the Fuel EX 9.8 275 and the Remedy 9.8 27.5. Click the links to read our thoughts on those two sweet rides.

In the case of this bike the design team at Trek have been able to take advantage of the new Boost hub width standards to free up space and in return bring the rear end closer to the bikes centre, shortening the chainstays from 452mm to a snappy 437mm. We’ll get into more on how and why Boost is a good thing in our review. Yes it’s another standard that was pioneered by Trek, but there’s more to it than just more standards.

Trek Fuel EX 8 30

With 120mm of travel front and back, the Fuel EX is a semi-short travel dually that sits in between the bigger Remedy 29 and the amazing new cross country weapon, the Top Fuel. See more of the Top Fuel here.

When we reviewed the 2014 and 2015 Trek Fuel EX 29 the main gripe for us was the length, it got in the way of being the ideal go-anywhere bike, holding us back when corners got tight. We often wished for different geometry when we wanted to throw it around and play. So naturally we’re pumped to see that on paper it looks like that’s sorted for 2016, we can’t wait to see how it goes on the trails. To read our earlier reviews of the Fuel, read here: 2014 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29 and 2015 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29.

Trek Fuel EX 8 21
Boost 148 – a new hub and drivetrain standard that allows frame designs greater freedom to achieve better everything.
Trek Fuel EX 8 22
That bolt on the EVO Link and chain stay junction is the Mino Link. Swap the chips around for geometry adjustment.

[divider]The Parts[/divider]

With a good dose of Bontrager, FOX and Shimano the Fuel is well dressed for the dollars. In our experience the parts fitted to this bike will be up to the task, but we’ll deliver our verdict in the review.

Trek are all about a good range of gears, most of their Shimano drivetrain bikes are specced with a double chainring. With a 2×10 drivetrain, the low range is especially very useable and you won’t be running out of gears at either end.

Trek Fuel EX 8 9

FOX take care of the suspension with a Float 32 fork up front using the new FIT 4 damper that has brought FOX back into the game in a big way. Plus the addition of the EVOL large air volume air can this is surely going to be most excellent! The Fuel range was already a supple and smooth ride, with the new FOX parts it’s going to be off the charts! 

The rear shock uses Trek’s proprietary suspension damping system called the Re:aktiv damper designed in conjunction with FOX. 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. Read more about that here: RE:aktiv Shock Technology.

A RE:aktiv rear shock.
A RE:aktiv rear shock.

Bontrager handle the rest of the parts, which is good news to us. While the wheels may be a little weighty, we already love the tyres, saddle and cockpit.

The Fuel EX 8 29 looks pretty good to us! With a tubeless conversion it’d be perfect on our rocky trails, so we’ll be taping up the rims and sourcing some tubeless valves to make that happen, then we’ll be good to go. Let the testing begin, stay tuned for the full review soon.

Flow’s First Bite: Norco Revolver 9.2 FS

Created for the sole purpose of racing, the new Norco Revolver FS is the lightest dual suspension frame the Canadian mob has ever produced.  After three years or development and testing the outcome is a no holds barred all-out cross country racer with sharp geometry, 29″ wheels and a beautifully crafted full carbon frame.

It certainly appears good on paper, and after a quick spin on the trails we do rate it’s performance, but holy s*#t this has to be the BEST looking Norco we’ve ever seen, fact.

Take a look at the rest of the sweet range of bikes for 2016 from Norco here: Fresh 2016 Norco froth.

Norco Revolver FS 29
The Revolver 9.2 FS. What’s going on over there at Norco, all the 2016 bikes are looking so damn fresh!
Norco Revolver FS Action 2
Pat the Porpoise gives the Revolver FS 9.2 a quick razz on the trails at Gap Creek, Brisbane.

We’ll see two versions of the Revolver FS for 2016, the 9.2 FS (purple one pictured here) for $5499 with a Shimano XT build and the 9.1 FS for $6999 (below in orange) with a SRAM X01 build kit. The 9.1 FS weighs 9.5kg.

Built in two wheel sizes (29″ and 27.5″) the Revolver FS will only come to Australia in the 29er version, playing to the strengths of the faster and bigger diameter wheels that really suits this bike.

With 100mm of suspension up front and out back, the Revolver FS is a lean as they come. You won’t find a dropper post as standard spec (although the provisions are there for mounting one if you wish) and all the parts are specced for maximum efficiency and lowest weight possible. There’s narrow 2.25″ Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres, a slim SDG saddle, a long and low cockpit and lockout front and rear suspension.

Four sizes will be available, S, M, L and XL.

Norco Revolver FS 10
No front derailleur mounting here, looks neat though, doesn’t it?
Norco Revolver FS 22
Space for a full sized water bottle, and a second one underneath the down tube, too.

You won’t find a front derailleur either, it’s a single ring only affair. The absence of any provisions for a front derailleur won’t bother the racer with good legs, or just about any keen rider especially now with Shimano finally joining SRAM in offering excellent single ring versions of the Shimano XT and XTR drivetrains.

Plus we are seriously spoilt for choices when it comes to aftermarket options (like RaceFace that we see here) with huge gear range solutions, and swapping chainrings to suit the terrain is a snack. So nowadays a single ring only frame is not at all a limiting feature.

The Revolver 9.2 FS uses a Shimano XT 11-speed drivetrain with a RaceFace crank and chainring.

Norco Revolver FS 23

The frame gets a lot of its slick and smooth appearance by housing all the cables internally with their new tight fitting Gizmo cable system, with rubber ports that seal the frame from water and mud whilst keeping the cables secure and rattle free. Four ports are found on either side of the head tube area, fill all four with a rear shock remote cable, dropper post, rear brake and rear derailleur, or cover the holes with the neat little plugs.

Having four entry ports for cables is handy for us down under, where we typically have our brakes run the opposing way around to the USA/Canadian guys, you’ll be able to swap it around so the rear brake can neatly be routed from the left hand side and around the head tube to enter on the opposite side, that way the cable won’t touch the frame of fork crowns at all. Clever, and neat indeed.

Using Norco’s A.R.T. four-bar rear suspension design, with a pivot below and forward from the rear axle on the chain stay.

The Revolver’s rear shock is mounted underneath the underside of the top tube, with a swing link driving the shock in a horizontal plane, this is said to be the lightest shock configuration that Norco could come up with, and rear shock remote cables will plug in the front of the rear shock body easily.

Norco Revolver FS 8

Norco Revolver FS 7

Note the chainstay measurement in the chart below, it grows in length as the frame size increases. Like all Norco duallies, their Gravity Tune system is also found on the Revolver FS. The theory goes in saying that the whole bike grows with the bigger size, not only just the length and hight of the front end.

Norco Revolver 29 FS geometry chart:

Size S M L XL
Top tube horiz. 574 mm 601 mm 628 mm 655 mm
Chainstays 437 mm 439 mm 442 mm 444 mm
Steering angle 70,25° 70,5° 70,75° 71°
Seating angle 74,75° 74,5° 74,25° 74°
BB drop 38 mm 38 mm 38 mm 38 mm
Seattube 410mm 445mm 485mm 530mm
Reach 415 mm 435 mm 455 mm 475 mm
Stack 604 mm 622 mm 636 mm 650 mm

 

[divider]Riding the Revolver[/divider]

With a quick lap of the Gap Creek trails in Brisbane on the Revolver 9.2 FS, Flow’s resident tester Pat the Porpoise was able to get a pretty good feel for what the Revolver is all about.

Norco Revolver FS Action 1
Nothing beats the speed of a short travel 29er dually on fast trails.

For a 100mm travel race bike that makes no mistake about wanting to be raced it felt quite confident and stable when ridden casually, giving the rider more room to move about and play around on than we had expected. With a nod to what makes the bigger travel Norco Sight and Range so popular amongst aggressive riders, the angles might be sharp but still manageable for serious riders just out of the circle of top elite racers.

The DT Swiss X1900 wheels felt very light underneath us, but perhaps could be a good area for upgrading to give the bike a stiffness boost, as they did feel a little soft under the hard sideways loads of pedalling and cornering.

We appreciated the generous width 740mm bars, and paired with a short 70mm stem, the cockpit felt relaxed and lively for a cross country race oriented bike.

Under hard accelerating efforts, the 100mm of rear travel remained stable, resisting bobbing nicely. The bike really pedalled well, and having a lockout lever on the rear shock will give riders that extra bit of control depending on how smooth or bumpy the trail surface is.

Upgrades to the aluminium bar, stem and post to something carbon would surely help further drop weight from the bike, at least we would have liked to see a carbon bar at this price point.

The top-tier Norco Revolver 9.1 FS shares the same frame but upgrades its parts to SRAM X01 for $6999. 

We’ll be getting our hands on one soon for a longer test, so keep your channels locked for more. The Revolver will be a fantastic option for the marathon racer or endurance racer that will still like to take it trail riding without feeling too nervous. Oh, and did we mention that we like the new look? It’s a real stunner.

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!

Fresh Product: Pivot Mach 429 Trail

Pivot have taken their 29er dually and given it a touch of new-school trail radness, and it looks pretty damn fine. It boasts a whole new frame, and could unite big wheel fans and fun-loving trail shredders.

The greatest trail bikes do everything well, no matter what or where you ride, and Pivot’s new Mach 429 Trail raises the bar for amazing bikes even higher. Our goal when designing the Mach 429 Trail was to create a new category of trail bike – one that takes advantage of the best features of 29 and yet maintains the performance characteristics that make you forget about wheel size and, instead, translate to the “best-ride-ever,” every time you ride. – Pivot.

Pivot 429 Trail a 2Pivot 429 Trail a

The 429 Trail uses a 116mm travel DW-Link suspension design, and is aimed to accompany a 130mm fork. A whole new mid-travel linkage design has been developed for this bike. 

The 429 Trail marks the introduction of Pivot’s new mid-travel trail linkage design, specifically for trail bikes. With major influences from the clevis design of the Phoenix DH Carbon and Mach 6 Carbon, the 429 Trail utilises an entirely new upper linkage to provide the same ultra-precise control and bottomless feel of our longer travel dw-link™ designs in a more compact, lighter package for trail applications. – Pivot

We’re over the moon to see an updated cable routing system. The external rear brake and gear cables now travel down the underside of the downtube for cost saving and ease of access, not past the rear shock as seen on current Pivots (tricky to prevent nasty cable rub). A new front derailleur mounting system that if removed is hardly visible at all, very tidy!

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The new wider Boost hubs front and back gave the designers to bring the rear end length to a tight 440mm, retain good tyre clearance, and add stiffness to the 29″ wheels.

Additionally, we’ve designed this full carbon frame with value in mind – building on our years of composite layup and construction experience – we’ve maintained the highest levels of stiffness and strength to weight, while making focused changes to keep the costs down and the technical advantages high, such as strategic, easy-to-service external routing combined with key features of the Pivot Cable Port System – including ports for use with an internal dropper post and clean cable/housing routing through the chainstays. – Pivot

Pivot 429 Trail a 3

The xc race focussed Pivot 429 SL remains (100mm travel rear, 100/120 fork) as their leanest and sharpest dually, but the 429 Trail takes a small but considered step in the direction of the trail rider that appreciates the speed and confidence of a 29″ wheel, but still likes to chuck it about all in the name of a good time.

Frame prices will start at around $3599, and complete bikes from $5500.

We’ll be on the case to score a test ride as soon as possible, sit tight.

Visit www.jetblackproducts.com for how you can get your hands on one.


Shred-ette: Specialized Rumor Expert Evo 29 Reviewed

The empowerment theme is a big one in women’s cycling at the moment. Done well, the range of women’s riding desires and experiences gain visibility, traction and respect. Done badly, conversations descend into debates about product names, colour choices and whether ‘women’s specific’ products are really necessary.

In comparison to some products that boast divisive graphics or product names, the Rumor Evo simply oozes respect.
In comparison to some products that boast divisive graphics or product names, the Rumor Evo simply oozes respect.

The Specialized Rumor Evo 29 rises above debates about what women’s riding should or shouldn’t be and lets ladies’ actions do the talking instead. Besides, anyone shelling out nearly $6K for a bike is likely to be more interested in how it rides than how it looks. If you were to rank the Rumor’s success on an empowerment scale of 1-10, it sends the measuring system through the roof and into outer space.

For starters, the mysterious black finish prompts conversations that put its owner on the front foot regarding her choices in bikes, equipment and experiences. The ensuing discussions demonstrate she clearly knows a thing or two about bikes, and takes riding just as seriously as anyone else. In the absence of said conversation, the shred-ready spec gives her away otherwise.

Bicknell-Rumor Evo-16

First impressions are important. The Rumor Expert Evo 29 sends a trail loving, singletrack shredding, confident performing message that is loud and clear. Given our experiences on the Rumor Comp, and the parts drizzled all over its big sister, we were always going to be impressed.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The Rumor Evo 29 is a beefed up, higher end model of the Rumor Comp we tested last year. Wheel size is one thing, but frame innovations accommodating this is are where the design gets more exciting.

The standover is low through the range. 707mm in the small size, 711mm in the large.
The standover is low through the range. 707mm in the small size, 711mm in the large.

A combination of aluminium forging techniques allow for the low top tube height. This not only reduces frame weight, it provides an opportunity for shorter riders to experience the ride benefits of 29” wheels. Some riders, who have never had an issue with a standard size bike fitting pretty well, tend to comment negatively on the appearance of this frame. Jump over to our previous review for more detail on why we find it such a winner.  A full size biddon still fits neatly in the cage. We preferred biddons with a shorter, flatter top, as longer designs meant we sometimes knocked the CTD lever on the shock.

While the geometry has been carefully researched to provide an exceptionally balanced ride feel for women, its low fuss appearance also means the bike shells any negative connotations associated with overly ‘girly’ aesthetics that makes some riders groan about women’s specific marketing. In fact, Specialized’s women’s mountain bikes also provide a solid option for smaller framed men.

The new Myth saddle reduces soft tissue pressure by placing this critical depression further forward.
The new Myth saddle reduces soft tissue pressure by placing this critical depression further forward.

The Rumor Expert Evo comes in a higher spec than the rest of the Rumor range, a spec so good it feels like we hand picked it ourselves. Shimano XT brakes offer a crisp and reliable ride feel and, in our opinion are the best performing brakes on the market for the price. SRAM X01 is quiet and classy, with a well-chosen 30T chain ring on the front. A Specialized Command dropper post says, ‘Shit yes, let’s shred!’ The dropper lever replaces the absent left hand shifter making it the easiest to operate of any dropper we’ve used previously. The new Myth saddle fills a gap in the Specialized range for women’s mountain biking too.

 

My what big wheels you have.
My what big wheels you have.

Specialized’s Evo line uses a modified linkage to bump the rear travel up 10mm, without having to produce a separate range of bikes. In this case, the Evo treatment means 120mm Custom Fox Float CTD shock out the back. A 120mm RockShox Pike, a front-runner in this year’s competition for the most lusted over fork, slackens the angles a bit for more stability on the descents.

This grip-brake combo works great with small hands.
This grip-brake combo works great with small hands.
Pike perfection.
Pike perfection.

The componentry was not only well chosen, but we couldn’t fault its performance throughout the test period, something we don’t get to say often. In terms of upgrades, a light carbon wheelset is the most obvious investment. It would add some extra compliance to the alloy frame and help push the bike below the 12kg mark.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We spent a solid month on the Rumor Evo, and were even more impressed by its versatility after that time than on the day we first laid eyes on it.

Reilly Hurst-RideCairns-Rumor Evo-2
First stop for the Rumor was a round of the Australian Gravity Enduro series in Cairns. Straight into the deep end for this bike!

We didn’t so much as even test ride it before throwing it in a bike bag and taking it to the gnarly jungle trails of Smithfield, Cairns for the final round of the Australian Gravity Enduro Series. Feeling a little apprehensive about riding sections of the World Cup downhill track on an unfamiliar bike, we took things fairly easily. Yet, every time we pushed this rig into a new obstacle or a long technical section, the feedback through the bike kept seeming to say, ‘Is that all you’ve got?’

The stock Butcher/Ground Control tyre combo offered great grip in loam and mud, but still rolled well on the hard stuff.
The stock Butcher/Ground Control tyre combo offered great grip in loam and mud, but still rolled well on the hard stuff.
Bicknell-Rumor Evo-22
A big 2.3″ front tyre added even more forgiveness, making it feel as if the Rumor had more than its 120mm up front.

The combination of big wheels, a long wheelbase, high performing suspension and the 2.3” Butcher front tyre make this bike feel like it has a lot more than 120mm of travel. We were immediately struck by how plush the suspension felt on big drops, a sign of custom tuning making a noticeable difference for light weight riders; riders who often wait until the first service to get full awesomination from their suspension.

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-13

The dialled geometry really came into play on steep, loose, rooty descents as well. Our position felt instinctual, rather than forced. We buzzed our bum on the rear tyre once, rather than several times. We took bad lines, thought we were going to hit the ground hard, and yet the bike took care of us again and again. The longer we rode, the more jumps we tried, the more speed we applied, the more we felt like twice the rider we are on a bike that never fits or feels quite right.

 

This is almost as low as we could get the 100m travel Command Post. The small frame is specced with a 75mm post instead. Some riders might want to swap out the stock post for a different length option at the time of purchase.
This is almost as low as we could get the 100m travel Command Post. The small frame is specced with a 75mm post instead. Some riders might want to swap out the stock post for a different length option at the time of purchase.
The Rumor got to see a good chunk of Queensland trails, including Atherton, pictured here.
The Rumor got to see a good chunk of Queensland trails, including Atherton, pictured here.

Then there were the climbs. Most riders in Cairns describe every climb as something you have to walk up. That’s a fair call if you’re more downhill oriented, so we forgave them as we continually cleared sections of trail so steep we weren’t sure how people’s shoes were gripping the ground as they walked.

No flowers or ‘girly’ colours here.
No flowers or ‘girly’ colours here.

A week later riding a 96km stage of the Crocodile Trophy, we were surprised to see a whole lot of cross-country and marathon riders walking their XC bikes up hills as well. The stable handling and excellent suspension of the Rumor meant the steeper and looser the terrain got uphill, the more this rig held traction when other bikes fired their distress beacon. A trail bike wouldn’t normally be our pick for a marathon, but the Rumor Evo’s ‘can do’ attitude saw us make huge gains on the longer, looser climbs and the fast, never-seen-before descents.

The Evo linkage and the red Autosag valve: it's Specialized's way of encouraging riders to get more out of their rear suspension.
The Evo linkage and the red Autosag valve: it’s Specialized’s way of encouraging riders to get more out of their rear suspension.

Our next stop was Rotorua. Once again we found the instinctual handling let us push our skills over the steepest and most playful trails we could find, even in slippery, tree rooty mud. The bike’s all day riding ability made day-long group rides exploring old growth forests equally pleasurable allowing us to tick off a full hit list of mountain bike tourism experiences.

The XO1 drivetrain never missed a beat, whatever the weather.
The XO1 drivetrain never missed a beat, whatever the weather.

In short, you’d be hard pressed to find another bike that is as at home on a downhill track as it is on an all-day mission. If your budget is after one bike for a diverse number of riding experiences, this is a bike that is hard to pass up.

A small Allen Key set is tucked away under the biddon cage. Even the small size frame fits a full size bottle.
A small Allen Key set is tucked away under the biddon cage. Even the small size frame fits a full size bottle.
A spare link is hidden away under the headset cap.
A spare link is hidden away under the headset cap.
Valves, sealant and air: all that was needed to tubleless the Roval Control 29 wheelset.
Valves, sealant and air: all that was needed to tubleless the Roval Control 29 wheelset.

The sticking point for most riders wanting to push the Rumor ride experience to the next level is that a carbon model doesn’t exist yet. While we loved the robust properties of the aluminium when riding really technical terrain, on longer rides we missed the extra softness that a carbon frame provides. In fact, we ended up leaving the rear shock in descend mode in these situations as it softened out bumpy trails more, and was more comfortable for our lower back.

Jumping on the Specialized Camber Expert Carbon Evo, a bike with a near identical spec, but a carbon frame and a geometry more suited to men, the extra lightness and flickability that comes with carbon was apparent. To our surprise though, the biggest difference between to two bikes is best summed up by the inner monologue we experienced on board.

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-11

When riding the Camber, even with chick mods such as narrower bars and a women’s seat, we’re constantly reminding ourselves about body position in order to feel in control at speed: “Elbows out and over the bars,” said the voice. “Steer with your hips,” “Look around the corner.” The Camber feels like a lot of bike and if we got complacent we quickly felt like a passenger on board.

 

Where to next? The Rumor Evo is a great ride-all-day machine.
Where to next? The Rumor Evo is a great ride-all-day machine, happy on just about any trails,

This voice went quiet on the Rumor Evo. Slight differences in the angles, tube lengths and the lower standover meant we felt centred, ambitious, ready to respond. The inner monologue became focused on things other than body position. We’d notice different lines more, attempt bigger jumps, hold more speed in and out of corners.

Reilly Hurst-RideCairns-Rumor Evo-4
Instant confidence, on the ups and the downs.

Some riders might gravitate toward a bike at a lower price point to save more cash for holidays and other experiences. Or some might prefer a rig with 650B wheels to trade supreme stability for a little more playfulness or sprightliness. But if it’s the ability to take on several trail types, sight unseen, with gusto, the Rumor Expert Evo is hard to beat. It’s incredibly hard to make this bike feel like it’s losing control. Given it rolls over just about anything, you can ride just about anything on board.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Rumor Expert Evo is one of most capable, versatile women’s bikes we’ve had the pleasure of riding. This is in part due to the spec, but also the dialled geometry and fit, which doesn’t need hundreds of dollars of customisation before leaving the shop. Given the experiences we had on board, we’re biting our nails as we wait to see how long it takes for a carbon edition, or a longer travel women’s trail bike, to complement Specialized’s fast growing range.

Specialized’s systematic research into bikes for women makes the empowering experiences that come with them feel genuine rather than forced. As a result, the Rumor Expert Evo will make you feel controlled, confident and keen to take on a variety of new things. This will come through time and time again in the way you share the experience of riding with others, too. This made us enjoy our time on the Rumor even more as a result.

Fresh Bikes: Pivot Unveil a Lighter Di2 Compatible Mach 429 SL

Racing is a new game and the half pound lighter Pivot Mach 429 SL Carbon is the bike riders need when the course tests both engine size and handling skills.

Pivot has dropped over 226g via the use of leading-edge carbon fiber and their proprietary hollow-core, internal-molding process with optimized composite materials and lay-up structure – making this the lightest, stiffest 29er with the best power transfer available.

The Pivot Mach 429SL Carbon is only the second fully Di2 integrated mountain bike (the first is Pivot’s Mach 4 Carbon). Featuring our innovative Pivot Cable Port System, internal routing is easy to install and maintain with large, easy to access ports and interchangeable covers for the cleanest installation of wires, batteries and cables.

Pivot_-5314

Riders benefit from the latest in dw-link® suspension design with a Fox Float Kashima Factory shock, performance-tuned specifically for the Mach 429SL Carbon. World Cup level efficiency is provided by dw-link®’s anti-squat characteristics, instant acceleration and unparalleled climbing traction. Downhill, the 100mm of dw-link® suspension performs like a longer travel bike, for an incredibly capable ride in technical terrain and ready for record-setting descents.

_MG_2524A

Pivot_-5586

226g weight savings: Frame weight from 2.4kg

100mm of dw-link® suspension

Full carbon frame featuring proprietary hollow core internal molding technology

29 inch wheels for the fastest laps and best rollover

Full length internal cable routing and Shimano Di2 integration via Pivot’s exclusive, easy-to-maintain Cable Port System

Internal dropper post compatible

Cold forged alloy linkages with Enduro Max Cartridge Bearings

Fox Float Kashima Factory shock, performance tuned for the Mach 429SL

Highly durable rubberized leather downtube and swingarm protection

The Mach 429SL Carbon frame will retail for AUD $3999 with approximate complete bike kit pricing as follows:

SRAM X1 – $6,999
Shimano XT – $6,999
Shimano Xt/XTR Pro SRAM 1X – $8,299
SRAM XO1 – $8,299
http://www.pivotcycles.com

Tested: Trek Remedy 9 29

We’ve developed a real fondness for the Trek Remedy series of bikes over the past half dozen years. Like watching a teenage boy growing into a man, we’ve seen them change, get stronger, find their way in the world, make some bad decisions (like the DRCV fork) and learn from them.

But now the Remedy is all grown up. So grown up in fact that it’s sprung some 29″ wheels. Say hello to the Trek Remedy in its burly 29er format!

Trek Remedy 9 29-12

Of course this isn’t the only shape you can get your Trek Remedy in nowadays. For 2014, Trek offered two wheel size variants of the Remedy. The wagon-wheeler you see here, and a 650B version which we actually reviewed only a few months ago. While that experience was still fresh-ish in our minds, we thought we’d give the 29er a run too, and see which bike sizzled our steak more.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Trek Remedy 9 29-21
The Full Floater has been integral to the Remedy’s performance for years now.

At the heart of the bike you’ll find the well regarded Full Floater / ABP suspension system, which looks like a four-bar but places a pivot directly around the rear axle. This Active Braking Pivot retains suspension activity under braking, while the Full Floater aspect refers to the fact the shock is not mounted to the mainframe at all, but ‘floats’ between the upper link and a shock mount on the chain stays. It’s all about controlling the shock rate. The third card in the deck of the Remedy’s suspension is the DRCV Fox shock.

This system, like a good lover, knows when to give a little and when to give a lot.

The Dual Rate Control Valve shock has two air chambers, relying on the the smaller one to keep a firm feel for the initial travel and activating a second larger chamber to provide a more linear feel deeper in the suspension stroke. This system, like a good lover, knows when to give a little and when to give a lot.

Trek Remedy 9 29-28
The DRCV shock has evolved into a fantastic performer. Supportive when you need it, plush when you want it.

Geometry is adjustable, from a 68-67.5 degree head angle, via the simple Mino Link on the seat stays. We left it in the slacker setting but if you’re after a sharper ride it’s nice to have that option. Other noteworthy features include room for a full-size water bottle, an internally-routed ‘stealth’ style dropper post, and ISCG tabs. We’re not sure about the mix of internal and external cable routing – it all looks a bit messy, especially with both a front derailleur and a dropper post.

Trek Remedy 9 29-23
Choose your angles.
Down tube protection is a nice touch!
Down tube protection is a nice touch!
Trek Remedy 9 29-14
Room for a water bottle. Win.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Just like its 650B-wheeled brother, the Remedy 9 29er has a component spec that’s so reliable you’d swear it was Swiss made. The only blemish is the narrow handle bar, but that’s an easy swap, so swap it we did for a 730mm Thompson bar. Otherwise you’d be foolish to make any changes to this bike – the blend of Shimano XT and excellent Bontrager components is hard to top.

Trek Remedy 9 29-27
Converting the Bontrager Rhythm Elite wheels to tubeless is easy with Bonty’s own rim strips.

The gearing range provided by the 2×10 XT drivetrain is spot on, and the brakes have more power than a dinosaur’s fart. It’s a bit of pity that Trek didn’t use Shimano’s I-Spec shifter/brake lever mounting system, as the bars are a mess with so many separate clamps.

After almost finding ourselves stranded in the middle of the jungle after one too many flat tyres, we made the switch to tubeless. We used Bontrager’s own tubeless rim strips for the job. These strips simply snap into place, and we think they’re the neatest tubeless conversion system available, so good that we regularly use them on other types of rims, not just Bontys.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We were lucky enough to take the Remedy to a wide range of trails during our testing, from the groomed singletrack of Smithfield in Cairns, to muddy rainforest in the Cassowary Coast and then back to the rough sandstone of Flow’s home trails in Sydney. The Remedy took it all in its stride; if you’re looking for a versatile bike to tackle just about anything that comes your way, then this fella is worth consideration.

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-73

Before we actually rode this bike, we’d kind of mentally pigeon holed it. We’d made the assumption it was going to be monster truck, the kind of bike that just ran shit over but which handled singletrack like a barge. We were wrong.

The Remedy remains responsive and lively, which is always a challenge to achieve with 29″ wheels and this much travel.

Yes, the Remedy is jogs rather than sprints about, but this bike also climbs well and flicks through the trails far better than we’d ever envisaged. A lot of this can be attributed to the Remedy’s suspension and the way the DRCV shock offers a plenty of support in the early stages of the suspension travel. This firm feel in the initial stages of the travel ensures the Remedy remains responsive and lively, which is always a challenge to achieve with 29″ wheels and this much travel.

Trek Remedy 9 29-4
We think Bontrager’s XR3 tyres are some of the finest all-round treads out there.

With a 140mm travel fork, we felt compelled to get the bars down low, to keep weight on the front wheel and prevent too much lifting on the climbs. Trek have played it smart, using a tiny 100mm head tube, that ensures it’s possible to keep the cockpit to reasonable height. With the stem slammed, the Remedy did a great job of carving up singletrack turns. The Bontrager XR3 tyres are still one of our favourites, and for fast-rolling rubber they hook in beautifully on just about all trail surfaces giving the Remedy real consistency in the corners.

Trek Remedy 9 29-16
Stiff front end = goes where you tell it.

Like a number of Fox forks we’ve tested lately, we found the fork took a while to reach the smoothness we’d hoped for. It did improve with riding, and lubing the stanchions with some Finish Line Max Suspension Spray before each ride definitely helped. The rear suspension had no such issues; it seamlessly blends a supportive feel in the early stages of the travel with a bottomless and controlled feel on the bigger hits.

Does not come with rayon Hawaiian shirt.
Does not come with rayon Hawaiian shirt.

In terms of sheer smashability, the Remedy was happy to hammer, but still wasn’t quite the bump-eater we’d expected. Strangely, we feel that some of this actually comes down to frame sizing.  Because the Remedy has quite long chain stays ( 445mm ), in the smaller frame sizes (like the 17.5″ we tested) there is proportionally a lot of the bike behind the rider, rather than in front of them. This makes it harder to get your weight over the rear axle or to keep the front end up over holes. We think that the longer front-centre measurement found on the 19″ frame size and up would feel more balanced. Perhaps the Remedy is one bike that adds credence to the idea that shorter riders should consider a 27.5″ wheel, rather than a 29″.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way the Remedy disguises its travel on the climbs.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way the Remedy disguises its travel on the climbs.  While it’s not the lightest rig out there, the way it grapples up long climbs is excellent. In the small chain ring, you do notice a bit of pedal feedback, but not enough to disturb your rhythm. When the climbs become super steep or technical, you’ll want to shuffle right forward to stop the front end from popping up, but even when your weight is moved onto the nose of the saddle there never seems to be a loss of traction out back.

Trek Remedy 9 29-19

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We said at the outset that we wanted to pick a favourite; did we prefer the 27.5 or 29er Remedy? For us, the 27.5″ is the one. But that’s just us and our preference – the 29er certainly has advantages in many areas, particularly when it comes to climbing traction or rolling out long kays. We’re confident that many taller riders will gravitate towards the 29er too, as in the larger frame sizes we think this bike would mow down all comers. Whatever your choice – 27.5 or 29 – the Remedy has evolved in a seriously sophisticated and capable all-rounder, and if we had to pick a bike that we’d like on hand to tackle whatever came our way, then the Trek Remedy 9 would definitely be one of our top picks.

Trek Remedy 9 29-25

Tested by: Chris Southwood

Rider height: 172cm

Rider weight: 62kg

Tested at: Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Cassowary Coast, Red Hill (Sydney) and other sneaky trails.

Changes made: Wider bar (730mm) and converted to tubeless.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cell Awaba 2.0

The Cell Awaba 2.0 29er hardtail, which we first previewed around a month ago, is all set for its first outing! But before we begin skidding up those nice fresh tyres, here our our first impressions of this bargain-priced and well-considered cross country machine.

Cell Awaba logo

For what is essentially a meat-and-potatoes kind of bike, there’s a surprising amount to talk about here; the Awaba is bristling with features that could easily be overlooked but which we came to appreciate during the build.

We’re big fans of anything that cuts down on maintenance, and the runs full-length gear cable housing for the front and rear derailleurs. Similarly, the brake and gear line are routed to keep any chance of cable rub around the head tube area to a minimum.

Stiffness is boosted with a 142x12mm Maxle rear axle and wide press fit bottom bracket, while a skinny carbon seat post and lightweight triple-butted seat tube should help take some of the sting out of the trail.

The tyre combo is cool too; a fast-rolling Conti Race King out back, with a big-bagged X-King up front in a 2.4″ size. While these tyres aren’t technical a tubeless tyre, Cell supplies the Awaba with tubeless rim tape and valves, so we decided to go down the tubeless route. We’re happy to report that it all sealed up nicely! We did use a compressor rather than a track pump, as the tyres didn’t have a super tight fit on the rims and so the extra oomph of the compressor was handy.

The brake caliper is mounted on the chain stay, allowing for a light, more compliant chain stay.
The brake caliper is mounted on the chain stay, allowing for a light, more compliant seat stay.

For a mid-range bike, it’s nice to see that a low and racy riding position can be easily achieved. The head tube is short with a low-stack headset which, combined with a negative rise stem,  allows you to keep the front end height down for an efficient and aggressive position if you desire.

The spec is extremely good for the money too, with supremely reliable Shimano XT and SLX taking care of the drivetrain and braking business. At 11.7kg, the whole package is nice and light too, with the further possibilities for some easy, inexpensive weight savings (such as the cassette).

We’l be heading out for some long fire road rides and smooth singletrack sessions on the Awaba this weekend, so hold tight for a full review in the coming weeks.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Remedy 9 29

Check out our full review here.

It’s nice to be able to get away with mistakes. You know, maybe give someone’s car a nudge on a tricky reverse park, but they don’t see and there’s no damage. Or looping out during a wheelie but getting your feet unclipped just in time to save your coccyx.

Test_TrekRemedy020
Impressive.

The Remedy 9 29 is a bike that let’s you get away with a lot mistakes. It’s big on bigness – big wheels, big travel (140mm at both ends), big tyres – and it uses all this traction and travel to full effect out on the trails.

For us, this is a very interesting bike to test. It wasn’t long ago that we reviewed the Remedy 9 27.5, which is nearly identical with the exception of having smaller wheels. You can read all our thoughts about the 27.5″ version here. We don’t want to spoil the party already, but there’s a lot more uniting these bikes than dividing them, so all our thoughts regarding frame construction and spec on the Remedy 27.5 can pretty much be extrapolated to the 29er. Same same, but different.

Test_TrekRemedy027
Looks like fun, especially when you’re on a bike with this much traction.

So far we’ve spent four days on the Remedy 9 29, riding in and around the Cairns region. After putting on a wider bar, it took us approximately seven seconds to feel comfortable on the Remedy. Partly this is due to our familiarity with the bike’s suspension design and components, but it’s also because you know that few trail obstacles are going to be a problem on board this beast – “Big rock up ahead. I’ll just run that over then, I guess.”

Test_TrekRemedy034
Yes. This bike was tested in paradise.

Now we’re back on home turf, we’re going to ditch the tubes and spend some more time getting the fork dialled as it’s riding a little harsh up front. We plan on taking this bike to the same trails where we did most of our riding on the Remedy 27.5, to really get a feel for how the two bikes compare.

Test_TrekRemedy030
High up on a soon-to-be-opened trail in Atherton Mountain Bike Park, Qld.

 

 

 

Tested: Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-34

FACT: There are almost as many bikes in the Avanti range as there are sheep in New Zealand. This well-regarded Kiwi brand has options from some of the sweetest beach cruisers going, through to triathlon, road and of course mountain biking. They’re very much the big little brand.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-2

The Ridgeline Carbon 2 is Avanti’s peak cross-country dual suspension offering; a taut and efficient 100mm-travel carbon main-framed machine. With a few long days on the trails planned scouting out the Port to Port MTB course, we thought the Ridgeline would be just the ticket.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-16

Build:

Magic plastic out front, metal out back. The carbon/alloy construction combo of the Ridgeline is a sensible choice, making for a light yet robust frame. That’s really the gist of the entire frame build – light enough, but built for the real world, where crashes and cack-handed riding happens.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-4
Alloy out back, carbon out front, and a FOX shock in between.

From the stout head tube, to the oversized PF30 bottom bracket shell and compact dimensions of the front triangle, this is a frame that is built to resist twist. The rear end keeps that theme running, with what Avanti call their Integrated Rocker, which is really just a massive welded rocker link. This link drives a FOX CTD Evolve shock, for 100mm of suspension travel.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-8
The beefy, welded rocker link is a the heart of the rear end stiffness. Note the cable routing for the rear shock remote lockout.

There are no undersized pivots, just large diameter bearings, all culminating in a Syntace X12 rear axle which ties the whole rear end together ferociously. Wibble wobble like jelly on a plate, she does not.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-6
Both gear cables are internally routed, while the brake and shock remote run underneath the down tube.

Lockout cables have the potential to ruin a bike’s clean lines like bird crap on a freshly polished Benz, but Avanti have done a decent job of preserving the bike’s aesthetics, with the shock lockout looping up to launch a surprise attack from behind the seat tube. The gear lines are internal through the front triangle too.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-18
With a short seat post and seat tube, we were forced to run the seat post just beyond the minimum insertion mark. Not advisable.

One element of the compact front triangle is the short seat tube, which is bizarrely paired with an overly short seat post. Our medium sized test bike was so low slung in this area that we had to run the seat post just beyond the minimum insertion point (DON’T DO THIS) in order to get the right seat height. As as many will attest, our test rider for this review is quite a stunted fellow. Taller riders will need to buy a longer post or opt for the more stretched-out ride and taller seat tube of a size large.

Spec:

Shimano XT is a truly ace groupset. When you say ‘shift’, its only answer is ‘how fast, sir?’ The brakes still have the best lever feel of any offering on the market (in this reviewer’s opinion anyhow) and while 2×10 drivetrains aren’t as hip and happening as the latest 1×11 setups, the gear range is much appreciated.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-24
Shimano XT all over.

Wheels are one of the most important items on a 29er, and they can really make or break the way a bike rides, so it’s fortunate the Avanti have gone high-end with the rolling gear. The DT X1600 wheels are light and the hubs have the hassle free performance you want, especially if you plan on tackling longer events or stage races on this beast.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-28
A good set of wheels is critical to keep a 29er feeling lively. The DT 1600s are up to the task.

Unfortunately the Kenda Slant Six tyres are an overall poor choice. Too narrow, too heavy for their meagre tread, and frustratingly stubborn in their refusal to be converted to tubeless. We wasted a lot of sealant trying to get these buggers to seal up before reinstalling the tubes.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-14
We don’t mind the tread pattern of the Kenda Slant Six tyres, but they’re very narrow and can’t be run tubeless, which lets the bike down.

Some will love the dual remote lockout, made by Shimano for Fox. It allows you to simultaneously toggle the fork and shock between the three compression settings: Climb, Trail or Descend. On the whole, we think it’s a great system, though occasionally we did wish we could just adjust the rear shock to Trail or Climb mode while leaving the fork in Descend. It’s the kind of feature that racers will undoubtedly love.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-27
This neat junction box allows both fork and shock lockouts to be actuated with a single lever.

For the price tag, we do think it’s a little disappointing that the Ridgeline misses out on a carbon bar or seat post. It’s still a good value bike, but some carbon in the cockpit would’ve been a nice touch.

Ride:

This bike oozes reliability on the trail. Despite some horrendously dusty riding, the Avanti never so much as murmured during our testing, remaining tight, true and quiet. That’s the exact traits you want if you’re planning on racing this bike, so you can just concentrate on the pain you’re in, rather than worrying about the bike!

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-1

With 100mm travel, you shouldn’t expect a plush ride, and the Avanti is certainly on the firmer side when it comes to suspension feel. Even though we had no troubles extracting full travel when needed, that upper half of the suspension stroke is fairly stiff. It kind of suits the bike’s style though, and we embraced the notion of switching the fork and shock into Trail mode and getting out of the saddle to attack climbs. With the firm suspension and stiff frame, it really responds well to hard efforts. We think that changing the tyres to a tubeless setup with slightly more volume would make a lot of difference to this bike’s compliance over the small bumps. We also diligently cleaned and sprayed fork legs with Finish Line Max Suspension spray before every ride, as we did find the fork had a tendency to get a little sticky in dry, dusty conditions.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-10
In dusty conditions, we found it important to keep the fork legs and seals clean and lightly lubricated.

Speaking of compliance, the saddle on this bike treated our undercarriage like we had just insulted its family. Damaging stuff. But anatomy is personal, so maybe it will suit you better!

Feature_PortToPortMTB0084

In terms of handling, Avanti have the numbers spot on for cross country riding. The 70-degree head angle is stable enough for all but the roughest, fastest riding and still sharp enough to slot into a single track corner nicely. With 447mm chain stays, it’s not overly ‘flickable’ but it settles into long turns well, and the climbing position is nice and neutral as well, so there’s not a lot of weight shifting needed to maintain traction. With some tyres that deliver a bit more bite, we’d like the Avanti’s handling even more.

Overall:

This is a very solid offering from Avanti, both figuratively and literally. As a cross country machine, it feels a damn sight more reassuring beneath you than many others, but without becoming too hefty. It’s a great overall package, and one we’d happily put in the same league as bikes like the Giant Anthem or Trek Superfly as a ready-to-roll marathon, cross-country or all-day machine. With a new set of tubeless rubber, and perhaps a carbon bar or post, the Avanti would reach another level too, so keep some change aside for these little upgrades down the line.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-33

Long term test: BH Lynx 4.8 29

Back in September we took delivery of the BH Lynx 4.8 29 as a bare frameset. Nude. Curvy. We built it up with a stack of high end parts for a long-term test, and now over four months later it’s time to deliver the report card.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-9

The BH might strike you as an obscure choice – why not opt for a frame from some of the better known manufacturers? While the brand is still on the rise in the mountain bike world, after testing the complete bike in mid 2013 we were quickly convinced that this machine had the cred to hang with the big boys. The bike has simply wonderful geometry and impressive attention to detail that is not normally found in the first generation of a bike.

The combination of very low weight, 120mm of very supple travel, a slack head angle and the shortest chain stays we’ve found on dual suspension 29er make for an amazingly fun ride. It climbs with the best of them but simply floats in the rough incredibly well.

We’re not going to dwell on the ride of the bike too much here – as it’s normally available as a complete bike only – but we’ll focus more on what it’s like living with the BH long term and any quirks or real highlights we uncovered.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-28
The headset bearings sit directly in the frame – Lighty Mclight.

Our frame was supplied without a shock and we opted to run a Rockshox Monarch RT3, rather than a FOX CTD that comes standard on the complete bikes. With shock, hanger, rear axle and seat post collar fitted, the frame weighed in at 2.35kg. If you’re not the kind who keeps a track of comparative frame weights, this is a seriously impressive figure, only a couple of hundred grams more than the industry leaders.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-29
The only significant bits of metal in the whole frame are the aluminium rocker links.

The only frame element that is not made from carbon is the upper suspension links (and pivot hardware, obviously). Even the headset bearings sit directly on carbon and the bottom bracket is a press-fit too, so there’s no need for a threaded alloy insert, saving weight.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-23
Let’s Torx about it. The pivot hardware is all alloy with Torx fittings, excluding the upper shock bolt which is steel.

All the pivots and shock bolts use Torx head fittings in a variety of sizes which required the purchase of a few extra Torx bits of for our ratchet set! A tender hand is needed as much of the pivot hardware is alloy – don’t over-tighten it.

It’s interesting to note the offset of the rear end. In order to squeeze in the front derailleur with short stays, the rear shock has asymmetrical mounting hardware. Crafty. We never fitted a front mech, running SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain instead.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-12
The shock is rather exposed to debris, sitting in close to the rear wheel. As you can see, it’s not actually mounted to the mainframe, ‘floating’ between the chain stay and the upper link.

The shock is situated very close to the rear wheel and this does raise concerns about durability and potential damage to the shock shaft from rocks or lumps of wet clay etc. We toyed with the idea of fashioning some kind of guard to protect it, but it proved too tricky. So far our fears have been unfounded, but we’d recommend giving this area around the shock shaft a regular clean to prevent build up of mud. The shock itself is only a little fella too, with a 1.75-inch stroke (44mm) to help fit everything into the constricted space.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-32
There are external cables mounts for the rear brake and the shock lockout, while the gear cables are all internal.

All the cabling, save for the rear brake, is internal routed with guides inside the frame so threading the housings is easy. There are also external cable stops for a remote shock lockout if that’s your bag. We like the fact the cables and brake lines are routed right over the main pivot, minimising the amount of bending the lines undergo during suspension compression.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-25
Internal cable routing for the dropper post exits the underside of the top tube, making for quite a tight bend.

Like other interrupted seat tube frame designs, the BH is not compatible with ‘stealth’ style internally routed dropper posts. Instead, the dropper post cable ducks in on the left side of the head tube and pops out about three quarters of the way along the top tube. This works ok, but it does force the cable into a pretty tight bend which adds friction at the lever. Keep the cable well lubed for slick running, or run a hydraulic post instead.

One area where the frame is underdone is protection. There is no chain slap protector included and the fat down tube is awfully exposed to rock strikes – fit a Frame Skin kit at a minimum to give the bike some protection.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-21
The rear shock pierces the seat tube. This arrangement allows for a compact overall bike, while still providing room for a water bottle.

To get the most out of the BH on the trail, set up is important. With the relatively slack head angle (for a 120mm 29er) a short stem is best to keep the handling nice and responsive. We went for 70mm stem. The slack seat angle can potentially cause problems too if you need to run a lot of seat post extension, pushing you back behind the bottom bracket. Look for a post without any offset, so you’re not too far off the back, or you’ll be running the saddle rails right forward in the post.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-24
Dave Weagle is the man behind the Split Pivot suspension design. It uses a pivot around the rear axle, identical to Trek’s ABP system.

Our frame was a pre-production model and we did notice the rear end had loosened up a little after a few months, with some flex evident at the Split Pivot assembly. There have been revisions to the carbon layup on production bikes with a little more beef added here (and in the seat tube / top tube junction). Because of the rear end’s feather light construction, this will never be the stiffest frame out back and heavy riders will want to keep an eye on the Split Pivot hardware which is secured with a 12mm Allen key – solid stuff!

BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-19
Keep the Split Pivot hardware tight! We found this to be the only real area of significant flex in the bike.
BH Lynx 4.8 29 frame-27
Swoopy, like a porpoise.

After four months of riding, we’re still as impressed by the BH 4.8 29 as we were on that very first outing. Living with the bike day in, day out we’ve found precious few niggles with the bike that could dampen our enthusiasm for the way it rides. With the weight of a cross country race bike, the geometry of an all-mountain beast and a level of attention to detail that isn’t often seen, it’s a real standout.

Tested: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29

This bike was never intended to be a review item for us here at Flow, but after a three-day love-in with the Camber Evo whilst filming for our next Flow Nation video in Mt Buller, we had to let you in on this bike’s dirty little secrets. A gentleman always tells.

When planning our trip to Mt Buller, the conversation soon turned to selecting the best tool for the job. A bike worthy of tackling Buller’s rocky, steep and fast trails, something that wouldn’t flinch at three back-to-back eight-hour days in the saddle. Given that Specialized have close ties to Mt Buller, a bike from the big S made sense. But which one?

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO35

If you’d asked us the same question three months ago, we probably would have opted for a Stumpjumper FSR 29er. But having recently spent some time on the Camber series, we weren’t so sure. The Camber truly exceeded our expectations as an all-rounder. In the end, we decided on a middle ground and chose to ride the 2014 Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29.

Build:

We won’t dwell on the build too much, as this bike shares many of the same construction features we noted in our review of the S-Works Camber here. It’s a truly awesome piece of work. What makes this bike different from the regular Camber line up is the Evo tag.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO19
The Evo framset uses a different rear shock mount/link to the regular Camber frame, which slackens the frame by a degree and delivers 10mm more travel.

Essentially the Evo label means that Specialized have given the bike some muscle, some grunt. The geometry is a degree slacker than the regular Camber, with 10mm more travel (120mm front and rear), there’s a beefier fork, and the bars are and tyres are wider too. In other words, it reflects the kind of tweaks that an advanced rider might make to the bike in order to boost its performance in technical terrain. And with Buller’s mix of tough climbs and ludicrously fast descents (think the Delatite River Trail… 60km/h easy), this bike really ticks the boxes.

Spec:

When a bike leads with the Rockshox Pike, it’s starting on the right foot. Chopped down to stocky 120mm, this is a seriously stout fork and we can’t think of a better option up front at the moment. It’s even relatively light in spite of its 35mm legs. Rear bounce in handled by a lustrous FOX Float CTD Factory shock that is further enhanced with the foolproof Auto Sag system.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO24
The best suspension product of the last 12 months? Yes.

The SRAM theme continues with a XO1 drivetrain, the 11-speed 10-42 tooth cassette paired with a 32 tooth ring. This gear range was enough to get us up the steepest Buller climbs while carrying heavy packs and gave enough top-end speed for the fastest fire road descents too. We didn’t drop the chain once or miss a single shift.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO12
An X01 drivetrain running with custom SRAM carbon cranks,

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo rolls on a set of hoops that even Serena Williams would be envious of. Wide Roval Traverse rims are fat enough to keep the whopping 2.3 Butcher and Ground Control tyres stable in the corners and the bike comes ready for tubeless conversion – just add sealant and atmosphere.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO20
Formula’s T1 brakes are light and stayed quiet in the dusty conditions.

Formula’s T1S brakes wouldn’t be our first choice, but they wouldn’t be our last either. Their feel takes a bit of getting used to, as the engagement is more vague than a Shimano or Avid brake, and they do seem to heat up a bit. That said, they look fantastic and are very light, and the effortless lever action is really nice.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO01
Clockwise from top left: The XO1 mech is big, but we’ve never damaged one. A Formula made clamp combines the shifter and brake lever neatly. Specialized’s own Command Post has a very effective little lever that actually forms the clamp for the lock on grip. You have control over both lever reach and brake engagement point with the Formula T1S levers.

Ride:

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo hunts out grip like a boozer searches for a kebab. In the dust of Buller it was pretty inspiring really; just lean it on in and the Camber would worry about all that pesky traction stuff. A combination of excellent big-volume tubeless tyres and near frictionless suspension gives the Camber the kind of stickiness that you expected from bikes with more travel.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO28
The IR (internal routing) version of the Command Post is significantly lighter to operate than the previous version of Command Post.

After a few hours on the trail we noticed that we hadn’t yet used full travel on either the fork or shock. This came as surprise as the bike certainly didn’t feel too stiff. We dropped the fork pressure 15psi and reset the rear shock’s Auto Sag a couple of times and the transformation was immediate. Suddenly the Camber went from ‘very smooth’ to ‘buttered Teflon’. Both the fork and shock have a progressive spring rate that lets you really use every millimetre of the bike’s travel without smacking the bottom-out bumpers. Charge hard and the Camber won’t make excuses.

We’ve mentioned the bike’s great cornering abilities above, but we do think a small setup change could make it even better.  With its large amount of back-sweep, we found the Camber’s handlebar a bit too lethargic for such a confident bike. We’d have preferred a bar that pulled us over the front a bit more to really drive that Butcher tyre into the ground even harder.

Test__SpecializedCamberEVO29
The stem feels perfect at 65mm, but for our tastes the back-sweep on the 750mm bar is too extreme.

When compared to the non-Evo Camber, the climbing position is a smidge more relaxed and upright. You tend to go at the climbs one gear lower, with confidence that the huge amounts of traction, as opposed to sheer momentum, will get you up the steepest and loosest pinches. On tight switch backs, the slacker head angle and rather long chain stays (451mm) ask that you take a wide entry or you risk the front wheel pushing or lifting. Of course the upside of the overall bike length is stability when you’re bombing the descents.

Overall:

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo was a perfect choice for Mt Buller’s trails. This bike makes line selection and cornering technique an afterthought, without punishing your legs the way a longer-travel bike would. For long days or rides into the unknown, the Camber Evo’s ability to fill in that gap where the unexpected happens or the talent evaporates makes it a fine steed indeed. Grippingly good stuff.

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Test rider: Chris Southwood

Height: 172cm

Weight: 63kg

Tested at: Mt Buller, Victoria

Setup changes made: None, completely stock bike. 

Tested: Whyte T129 S

So why are you reading this review? You’re either bored, or you are actually thinking, “is this bike for me?” If you’re of the latter then that’s always a tough question to answer.  Whether a bike is for you is determined by many factors including riding style, riding preferences, and the terrain in which you will most commonly ride. If you are more playful, like aggressive angles, and ride a more mixed trail type then the Whyte T129 S may be for you.

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As English as a warm pint of beer, the Whyte is proud of its roots.

As a snapshot we think the Whyte T129 S is a silent achiever that really makes a bold statement in 29er design.  It’s not beating its marketing chest to yell that fact at you, but  after a month or riding this rig we’ve found it to be one of the most playful and fun trail bikes we’ve ridden. It’s not a XC racing machine, and it can’t take the huge hits, but if you like to ride somewhere in the middle of those extremes then this bike is a winner.

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Build

The T129 S is a recent move into the 29er market for Whyte and as a company with a history of some very aggressive and worthy 26” bikes the move to big wheels called for some wholesale changes.  In order for Whyte to produce a 29” bike with their trademark aggressive style a new suspension platform was needed. Enter the Quad 4; similar to the 4 Bar Specialized FSR design, Whyte have produced a package that meets their design specifications of being compact, stiff and weather proof (something of a trademark feature for Whyte).

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The top link of the Quad 4.
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Those aren’t actually the pivot bolts, they are just the dust caps. There’s no way you’re going to get dust or mud in there. The pivots also have a lifetime warranty so you’re even more assured of continued performance.
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The Quad 4 has a long stroke shock and we found we had to run it a little softer than normal to get full travel.

The entire frame is made from 6061 T6 aluminium with a tapered head tube and 142mm dropouts. The top tube looks a little thinner than most big-tubed modern bikes but the big welds and solid feel of the frame certainty discounted any concern about frame strength we had. If anything, the frame may be a little over engineered but gram counting wasn’t a goal of the T129 S.

The whole bike weighs 13.4 kg (sans pedals) and whilst that’s not a featherweight, for a 120mm bike it’s still very respectable. As always you have to consider price and purpose when thinking of the grams and the T129 S satisfies the balance of those two elements well.

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This could be your view.

The geometry is a real showpiece of the bike. At only 120mm of travel you would think it’s more designed for and XC/Endurance type rider but with a slack head angle (68 degrees), short chainstays and mid range bottom bracket height (343mm) it’s more suited as a more aggressive trail riding machine.  The only angle on the spec sheet that was against this is the seat tube, which at 73 degress pitches you more forward for increased pedalling efficiency so you don’t feel like you’re ploughing a field when riding.

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It’s all in the angles and Whyte seem to have it right on the 129S.

We recall fondly how the interwebs went crazy when the Specialized Enduro 29er hit the market, with class changing geometry and a chest beating chainstay length of 430mm. The T129 S too should be shouting loud and hard as it comes in just 1mm longer at 431mm.  This short chainstay was immediately noticeable as manualing and tight cornering were very much not 29er-like. The downside to a short chainstay can be less stability at high speeds and matched with the slightly floppy wheels we did notice a little of this.

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The frame has two internal ports for cables. The first (on the top tube) is for the front derailleur.
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The second port for internal cable routing is for the dropper post. The cable routes mostly externally (under the downtube) and only enters the frame for a short journey up to the dropper post.
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The house branded stem was a perfect length for the bike (70mm) and we flipped it to help keep the front end down. Whyte actually offer different size stems depending on the frame size and we think that’s a nice touch to help deliver a similar ride for all people.
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Routing the cables down the donwtube is a nice way to hide the mess and Whyte have done it well. The cable clamps are easy to work with and held everything well.
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The tubing on the 129S is interesting – it’s rare to see traditional round tube shapes these days.
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Bottle mounts. A must for some and increasingly disappearing from many modern frames.
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Sometimes it’s the little things that matter. How’s this for a nice patriotic touch?

Overall the frame build and design is top quality and much thought has been placed into making the bike durable.  The colours on also stood out from the crowd and the turquoise splashes are a nice touch to give it that bling look.

Spec

Choosing spec on a bike has to be one of the harder jobs in the cycling industry. Not only do you have to think about form and function but you also have to think about price point.  No bike in this price range is going to be perfect, and nor should it, and the Whyte team has done a pretty good job on spec to meet their design brief.

The T129 S is mid-level in the range and the spec highlighted the design intentions of the bike. Wide bars, dropper post, clutch deraillier, all matched with the geo that shouts “trail”. For the price we think the Whyte is a good purchase. Standard is a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper, X9 clutch derailleur, 120mm RockShox Reba fork (with 15mm axle), 750mm wide bars, and a great mix of strong parts.

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The drivetrain is all SRAM. An X9 clutch derailleur kept the chain on all test, and the 2x set-up up front with X7 front mech gave a huge spread to cover all type of mountains. This bike would be perfect for a 1x set-up too.
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A 12mm x 142mm rear and 15mm front clearly shows where the bike is targeted. Matched with some colour coded house brand hubs the whole setup looked nice and stiff.
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The Whyte seat was comfortable, the wide bars were perfect, and overall the cockpit had a great feel.
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The Reba took a little while to loosen up in terms of small bump compliance but once over that initial period it held up superbly to everything put in its path.

The wheels were probably the only let down exhibiting too much flex. The axle and hubs were nice and big, and well matched with the WTB rims and double-butted spokes, so we expected them to be a little better. It’s not that they aren’t a decent set of hoops, but when considering the type of aggressive riding the bike is designed for, they didn’t match the strength and abilities of the rest of the bike. That being said, they’d probably last a good year of flogging and then you will have saved enough for a wheel upgrade.

The tyres were also not that well matched to the bike.  At 2.2″ (front and rear) we thought they were a little too narrow. We swapped the front for something a little wider and also converted to the rims to tubeless. The WTB Nano 2.2 that we left on the rear held up well despite out reservations. Still, maybe a 2.3″ would be a little better.

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We can’t ride a bike without it being tubeless so you can imagine the joy at reading the sticker on the rims that read, “tubeless compatible”. We later learnt that just because the rim states it’s tubeless compatible it doesn’t quite mean it’s actually tubeless ready. Unlike a true tubeless rim, that has the spoke holes covered in the manufacturing process, these needed a rim strip.
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Avid Elixir 5 stoppers were more than adequate for the job. 180mm front, and 160mm rear. They worked straight out of the box, had generous reach adjustment, and never gave us an issue.

The Ride

To use one word – great.  As expected the bike was playful and easy as (cold pork) pie to manual and pump through the terrain.  It climbed well, but on the steepest of steeps it was a little hard to keep the front end down and some extreme body language was needed.  That’s common trait of a 29er but the shorter chainstays does add to it.

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This section of trail is super, super steep and like most 29ers you have to really get over the front to stop the front from popping.

It did take a little while to get the suspension right and we ended up running a little less pressure than normal.  The forks were initially a little firm but did soften up after a while and quite possibly a quick disassemble and lube would have made them more buttery. The rear end took us by surprise and we ended up running about 35% sag to get better small bump compliance. Initially we thought that would be too soft and make the bike bobble and bottom out but none of that was noticeable.

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Playful is such an overused word in mountain biking so we’re going to invent a new word. Funful – the T129 S was funful to ride.

The downhill and jumping performance was excellent, when the super short chainstays and slack head angle come into play. On the rhythm sections and berms of Stromlo Forest Park the bike was quick to respond to body language changes and the dropper post added to the ability to keep low on the frame.

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The geometry was great. You could point the bike down and over anything and it could handle it with glee.

The only real let down was the wheels (yes, we know we have mentioned it before). The frame and pivots are all super stiff and feel strong, however that strength then exaggerated the lack of stiffness in the wheel set.  When we pushed it hard through a corner or picked a rough line through a rock garden we did notice some wobble in the wheels.

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The 129S did like to be pushed hard in corners but maybe that invitation was just a little too much for the wheels to handle; the old spoke key got a bit of work.

Overall

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A Whyte with a view.

Overall this bike was great to ride, strong, and of course, funful.

What makes it better than others or makes it the bike for you? (That’s probably the question that got you all the way to the bottom of the page.)  It has to be the geometry.  The Whyte delivers the confidence of a longer travel bike with the agility of a 120mm frame; it’s the kind of bike that backs up the notion that good angles are better than longer travel. If you’re a rider who likes to jump around a little, corner hard and be more playful then this bike is for you.

Also, if you’re still on the fence as a 26″ rider this is probably one of the better bikes to make the leap over to the dark side.

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Another look at the bike as the golden sun sets.

 

The Test

Rider Weight: 72 Kgs
Proving Grounds: Stromlo Forest Park, Bruce Ridge
Adjustments: Tubeless, new front tyre, stem flipped.

Tested: Specialized S-Works Camber 29

It wasn’t too long ago that we declared our desire to “marry” a Specialized test bike (the Stumpjumper Expert Carbon), so deep was our love. But now, it seems that we’re lusting after another… we’ve had an affair with the lady in red, and it felt good. Ladies and gents, our new love, the Specialized S-Works Camber 29.

The Camber confused us for quite a while. There aren’t many bikes in that 110mm-travel category; in Australia we’re used to seeing 100mm-travel cross-country bikes or 140mm+ trail bikes. With so little apparently separating the Camber from the Epic, we didn’t really understand its place in the world.

But after a few days together on the trails of Atherton in Tropical North Queensland, we’ve definitely got a handle on what this very glamorous bike is all about. We know it’s easy to be wooed by the superb components, immaculate finish and low weight of the S-Works version of the Camber, but the fundamentals that make this bike so great are echoed throughout the Camber range.

Watch the video and learn why the Camber might just be the one you’ve been looking for too.

We tested the Camber up in Atherton, in Tropical North Queensland, where we stayed at a fifth generation farm.
We tested the Camber up in Atherton, in Tropical North Queensland, where we stayed at a fifth generation farm.
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The greasy berms and jumps of the Ricochet track proved just how relaxed the Camber is even when the tyres are sliding about and the landings are harsh.

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Looks nice from this angle too.
Looks nice from this angle too.
The Formula brakes are lovely to look at. Specialized specced a 160mm rear rotor and a 180mm up front.
The Formula brakes are lovely to look at but we feel their performance is not in line with the rest of the componentry. Specialized specced a 160mm rear rotor and a 180mm up front.
Brakes, suspension and drivetrain aside, everything else on the bike is made by Specialized, including the Henge seat and Command IR dropper post.
Brakes, suspension and drivetrain aside, everything else on the bike is made by Specialized, including the Henge seat and Command IR dropper post.
The Camber uses a 15mm axled fork - it's another small difference that gives this bike a very different ride to the Epic, despite the two bikes being quite close in travel and geometry terms.
The Camber uses a 15mm axled fork – it’s another small difference that gives this bike a very different ride to the Epic, despite the two bikes being quite close in travel and geometry terms.
The cockpit setup is key to the Camber's confident and playful ride. The stem is 70mm, the bar 720mm - ideal in our minds. We spent a bit of time adjusting the bar position - it has a lot of backsweep, and so rolling the bars back or forwards it in the stem has a big effect on the ride feel.
The cockpit setup is key to the Camber’s confident and playful ride. The stem is 70mm, the bar 720mm – ideal in our minds. We spent a bit of time adjusting the bar position – it has a lot of backsweep, and so rolling the bars back or forwards it in the stem has a big effect on the ride feel.
The Camber gets Specialized's new SWAT system, which stands for Spares, Water, Air, Tools. Basically it's all about carrying these items on the bike, rather than on your body. There is a multitool mounted to the bottom of the bottle cage. We initially thought it was a bit of a silly idea, but sure enough it came in handy on a few occasions!
The Camber gets Specialized’s new SWAT system, which stands for Storage, Water, Air, Tools. Basically it’s all about carrying these items on the bike, rather than on your body. There is a multitool mounted to the bottom of the bottle cage. We initially thought it was a bit of a silly idea, but sure enough it came in handy on a few occasions!
Unlike the Epic or Stumpjumper, the Camber doesn't use a Brain shock. Instead, it's equipped with a standard FOX CTD Kashima shock. We have to say, as good as the brain is, we prefer this setup.
Unlike the Epic or Stumpjumper, the Camber doesn’t use a Brain shock. Instead, it’s equipped with a standard FOX CTD Kashima shock. We have to say, as good as the brain is, we prefer this setup.
Another element of the SWAT system is a chain breaker, mounted underneath headset cap.
Another element of the SWAT system is a chain breaker, mounted underneath headset cap.
The Control SL carbon wheels are spoked with a radial pattern on the non-disc side up front. They're plenty stiff, and have a lively feel and sound on the trail.
The Control SL carbon wheels are spoked with a radial pattern on the non-disc side up front. They’re plenty stiff, and have a lively feel and sound on the trail.
Wow, that is a truly striking bike.
Wow, that is a truly striking bike.
The DT-made rear axle is as neat as it gets, cinching up the 142x12mm dropouts without tools or fuss.
The DT-made rear axle is as neat as it gets, cinching up the 142x12mm dropouts without tools or fuss.
With a 2.3" up front and a 2.1" out back, the Ground Control tyres are ideal for this bike. We didn't suffer any cuts or tears in the rocky testing terrain (this can't be said for other bikes we were testing on the same trails).
With a 2.3″ up front and a 2.1″ out back, the Ground Control tyres are ideal for this bike. We didn’t suffer any cuts or tears in the rocky testing terrain (this can’t be said for other bikes we were testing on the same trails).
There are Formula brakes on a large swathe of the Specialized range this year. The T1 Racing brakes took quite a long time to bed in - a trait that seems to be common across all Formula brakes. The master cylinder piston works on 'pull', rather than 'push' mechanism. Once they'd bedded in, the power was decent, but not incredible.
There are Formula brakes on a large swathe of the Specialized range this year. The T1 Racing brakes took quite a long time to bed in – a trait that seems to be common across all Formula brakes. The master cylinder piston works on ‘pull’, rather than ‘push’ mechanism. Once they’d bedded in, the power was decent, but not incredible.
Some riders might be concerned that the Camber uses a 32mm fork, not a 34mm-legged fork, but we disagree. The 32mm fork is light, and because the travel is only 110mm, there's less flex than with a longer travel fork.
Some riders might be concerned that the Camber uses a 32mm fork, not a 34mm-legged fork, but we disagree. The 32mm fork is light, and because the travel is only 110mm, there’s less flex than with a longer travel fork.
The cabling is all internal, and we had no problems keeping it all clear of the frame for zero cable rub.
The cabling is all internal, and we had no problems keeping it all clear of the frame for zero cable rub.

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Specialized's Auto-Sag suspension is brilliant! Inflate the shock to 250psi or more, hop on the bike in your riding gear, depress the valve under the red cap. That's it! Perfect suspension sag in seconds.
Specialized’s Auto-Sag suspension is brilliant! Inflate the shock to 250psi or more, hop on the bike in your riding gear, depress the valve under the red cap. That’s it! Perfect suspension sag in seconds.
We were truly impressed by how easily the wheels and tyres sealed up for tubeless use - getting the tyres to bead was simple, even with a standard track pump.
We were truly impressed by how easily the wheels and tyres sealed up for tubeless use – getting the tyres to bead was simple, even with a standard track pump.
Specialized have gone to the trouble of colour matching the gloss black finish of the frame and fork. The shiny black looks fantastic against the gold Kashima fork legs.
Specialized have gone to the trouble of colour matching the gloss black finish of the frame and fork. The shiny black looks fantastic against the gold Kashima fork legs.
The Camber is equipped with the new internal routed Command IR dropper post, with 125mm of adjustment. The small remote lever is integrated oh-so neatly into the grip lock-ring. Compared to the standard Command Blacklite post, the new IR version is far superior.
The Camber is equipped with the new internal routed Command IR dropper post, with 125mm of adjustment. The small remote lever is integrated oh-so neatly into the grip lock-ring. Compared to the standard Command Blacklite post, the new IR version is far superior.
Carbon hoops! The bike comes tubeless ready - just install the supplied valves, add goo and go.
Carbon hoops! The bike comes tubeless ready – just install the supplied valves, add goo and go.
Bike schmike, give me some shit to roll in.
Bike schmike, give me some shit to roll in.

Tested: Juliana Joplin Primeiro

As a general rule, women mountain bikers hate sissy looking bikes. We like to ride hard and we want a bike that looks like it’s up to the job. Nothing insults us more than being directed to the latest in a women’s range of bikes and seeing that it’s about as pimped out as a garden variety Toyota Camry.

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Big wheels, carbon frame, high-performance build, women’s specificity – the Juliana Joplin Primeiro is no Camry. She’s way more bad-ass. The Joplin takes on our rockiest local trails like the Batmobile takes to Gotham City.

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The Build

Juliana was originally a women’s line of bikes within the Santa Cruz range. They’ve long been one of very few bikes that are confidently recommended to women below 5’3” who are looking for a mountain bike that fits and performs. As more women are riding, and the Juliana range has extended to encompass as wider range of bikes, it has since become a brand in it’s own right.

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We were consequently surprised to learn that the Joplin shares the same frame geometry as the Santa Cruz Tall Boy. Guys talk about the Tall Boy sizing as being on the small side, meaning it does boast features that certainly justify extending the frame to the women’s market.

The original Tall Boy was only available in sizes down to medium, but a fine-tuned rear suspension design has freed up space where it matters allowing for a small size to be fit in the range without compromising anything major. The head tube is short (at 90mm in the small size) as is the top tube length. The stand over height is reasonably low too, both feet can touch the ground when off the front of the saddle, a tell tale Santa Cruz look.

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In comparison to the medium sized Specialized Rumor Comp we tested recently, the top tube length is 17mm longer, and the seat angle is 2.4 degrees more relaxed. This puts the saddle further back over the bottom bracket making for a roomier ride. Good for riders at the taller end of a specific size, less good for riders who prefer their weight more aggressively toward the front of the bike.

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The Santa Cruz VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension has long been a favourite of many riders due to the nice balance of pedal efficiency and sensitive suspension. The updated design on the Joplin/Tall Boy has been achieved by changing the location of the pivot points, with fine refinements to suit the style of the bike. This makes for an improved pedalling action with less bobbing and a more linear, plush feeling cushion throughout the 100mm of travel.

We’ve become so used to 2x10 and 1x11 set ups lately, which made it look a little doudy and seem a bit like riding with a piano accordion out on the trails.
We’ve become so used to 2×10 and 1×11 set ups lately, which made it look a little doudy and seem a bit like riding with a piano accordion out on the trails.

Paired up with no-nonsense, kashima coated Fox Float CTD front and rear shocks, the VVP rear end provides a ride feel so buttery smooth that inexperienced riders will miss how exceptional this suspension is. We left the rear shock in descend mode (less Propedal or lockout) most of the time for a plush and comfortable ride without noticeable pedal bob, which we don’t often get to do with many bikes. Trail riding bliss.

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The decorative elements, to their credit, caused a number of riders to stop and chat to us about the Joplin who had read our First Bite or seen images on our Facebook page. She certainly is a head-turner.
The decorative elements, to their credit, caused a number of riders to stop and chat to us about the Joplin who had read our First Bite or seen images on our Facebook page. She certainly is a head-turner.

The carbon main frame is one carefully moulded piece of the carbon stuff. You don’t even need to take this bike to the trails to know that it’s going to be stiff and stick to its line with no shuddering flex while providing a very absorbent and compliant ride feel as a result. The care that has gone into the design of the Joplin takes the ride benefits of a carbon frame to another level.

The Parts

Adding to the allure of the frame is the fact that the Primeiro is the highest specced of the three Joplin models available. It’s not so blinged out you’d be afraid to ride it in the mud, but it’s built with performance, class and many hours of happy and versatile riding in mind.

A Shimano XT group covers this rig from front to rear. This is particularly nice to see given how many brands are speccing brakes that have neither the reputation of Shimano stoppers nor the service support in Australia. The XT brakes have a crisp and reliable ride feel and are easy to look after. The reach can be adjusted without fiddling with tools so you can set them up quickly for small hands.

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We swapped the (surprisingly long) 90mm stem with a 70mm substitute for better control on the trails.

A triple chain ring on the front is matched to a 10 speed 11-36 cassette on the rear. Paired up with 29” hoops, the 42 tooth big ring made the bike feel over-geared for trail riding in typical Australian conditions, especially for women. We only reached for it very occasionally on road commutes to the dirt.

On more technical trails we tended to look down and find the chain frequently in the granny ring. Aside from the bad chain line in this gear, it also accentuates the subtle ‘pull’ of the VPP suspension on the chain (it lengthens the chain as it pulls back at the beginning of its travel).

Class all ‘round. There are no down-specced parts hidden anywhere on this bike.
Class all ‘round. There are no down-specced parts hidden anywhere on this bike.

Maybe we’re just being snobby, but we feel a 2×10 set up would make this bike a lot sexier, quieter and be the final touch of awesome that is missing from a build that means business.

In terms of women’s additions to the Joplin, these extend to the bars, the saddle and the crank length. The 690mm wide, Juliana branded bars are thinner under your hands than regular bars at the grips. In theory this reduces arm pump and increases control. They felt weird at first, but they fit nicely in the palm and, like the saddle, quickly became an unconscious contact point when riding. We’d recommend these as an aftermarket purchase to ladies with smaller hands riding with other bikes too.

 The thinner grips fitted to special thin bars (note the decrease in diameter between the brake lever mount and grip) were nice to ride with, but they’re not enough to sell us on the women’s specificity of the Joplin. Lucky the rest of the bike rides so well!

The thinner grips fitted to special thin bars (note the decrease in diameter between the brake lever mount and grip) were nice to ride with, but they’re not enough to sell us on the women’s specificity of the Joplin. Lucky the rest of the bike rides so well!
As a light weight rider, it’s so nice to get full travel out of your suspension, and not something that always works as well as it should. The 120mm Fox 32 Float fork and 100mm Fox Float rear shock used every mm to make our ride even sweeter.
As a light weight rider, it’s so nice to get full travel out of your suspension, and not something that always works as well as it should. The 120mm Fox 32 Float fork and 100mm Fox Float rear shock used every mm to make our ride even sweeter.

The rest of this shining blue performer is adorned in classy parts you’d expect given the price point that also comes attached. Juliana branded WTB Frequency Team i19 rims are laced to DT Swiss 350 hubs for a light wheelset that you wouldn’t want to swap out after taking the bike home.

We found the saddle quite comfortable for all-day rides, although it’s better suited to a more upright riding position.
We found the saddle quite comfortable for all-day rides, although it’s better suited to a more upright riding position.

The frame includes routing for a dropper post, but a Thomson seat post with a quick release collar adds a style of its own to Joplin as well. The external cable routing is nice, neat and points toward the easy serviceability of the Joplin, although we’re not sold on the tight line of the cables around the biddon cage area.

We tore a sidewall on the Maxxis Tubeless Ready Ikons on the very first ride on a debris filled, unused trail. It sealed up quickly and we thanked the sealant gods for being so amenable.
We tore a sidewall on the Maxxis Tubeless Ready Ikons on the very first ride on a debris filled, unused trail. It sealed up quickly and we thanked the sealant gods for being so amenable.

The Ride

As boasted by the marketing for the Joplin, she really is the queen of rocks and roll. The big wheels and buttery smooth suspension meant we pointed her at the steepest, most technical, rocky, straight-line descents we could find. She tackled them so capably we stopped checking for lines before dropping in.

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The same can be said for rocky climbs. The big wheels allow for extra momentum on rocky ups and the suspension soaks up the rough terrain nicely so you don’t get spat around or thrown off line. This not only saves energy but does wonders for confidence in the face of technically challenging trails

Long, open, flowing descents with big wide berms were another type of trail where the Joplin really excelled. Get this bike up to speed and it’s only your eyes that will confirm the speed of the trail passing underneath you, such is the stable and compliant trail feel of this bike.

The massive gear range also points firmly to the versatility of the Joplin. With big wheels, and plush, efficient travel, the Joplin is a handy ‘do everything’ bike. Throw on some bigger rubber and shred the more technical trails, or stay with the racey Maxxis Ikons and take confidence in how capable this machine would be in a 100km marathon.

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At 164cm tall, two centimetres above average for an Australian female, our tester was boarderline between the small and medium sized frames. The slacker seat angle and the longer-than-preferred 175mm cranks on our medium test rig kept us positioned too far back from the front of the bike. This impacted our ability to really muscle the bike around on technical trails and keep things balanced and in control when chasing a rider in front at speed.

This served as a timely education in how fatiguing it can be for women riding bikes that are on the big side. Always check your size when in the market for a new bike and take a few for a test ride if you’re not sure how the numbers translate.

175mm length crank arms were specced on the medium frame, but we found this to be too big for ladies at the lower end of the size chart for this rig.
175mm length crank arms were specced on the medium frame, but we found this to be too big for ladies at the lower end of the size chart for this rig.

The small sized frame is designed to be suitable to riders down to 5’1” tall. Riders needing an extra-small frame size will need to stay with 26” wheels in the Juliana line up for now – which is not necessarily a bad thing. A good fitting frame gives you a hundredfold more advantages to your confidence and riding ability than the size of the wheels underneath it, beautiful as a bike like this one may be.

Overall

At 11.7kgs the rock-dominating Joplin is a tidy and high-performing all rounder for the type of riding the majority of women are doing on Australian trails. As a carbon-framed, immaculately finished dual suspension 29er, it’s great to see the choices it opens up for women who want more than middle of the range running gear or an alloy or flowery looking frame.

This rock-dominating weapon of a ride holds its speed, feels incredibly stable and rewards you for every obstacle you hop, pump or lean into.
This rock-dominating weapon of a ride holds its speed, feels incredibly stable and rewards you for every obstacle you hop, pump or lean into.

While it’s still a rarity to find a women’s bike designed from the ground up, a little more care in the spec for the Joplin could make it hit the mark even better in this way. That said, if you don’t like the cranks or the stem length, it’s nice to know there might be other options specced with the Tall Boy if you want to swap out the seat rather than the extra gears.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 5

At $6,780, the Joplin Primeiro is not on the cheap side, but the unique and boutique finish, is certainly part of this bike’s appeal. We can only think that the reason for the different paint and its own marketing campaign is to reach a group of women who may not otherwise consider what is an excellent and versatile bike.

The symbols mean ‘Powerful, Beautiful, Natural.’ Now go dance your way through that mean looking rock garden.
The symbols mean ‘Powerful, Beautiful, Natural.’ Now go dance your way through that mean looking rock garden.

Tested: Four great trail bike treads

Looking for some rubber with bite? Feast your eyes on these four tyres – treads that roll fast but fill you with confidence in corners and when it gets rough.

Maxxis Ardent

Sizes available: 26, 27.5 and 29″ diameters in 2.25 and 2.4″ widths.

Ardent Masthead

The Ardent has been part of the Maxxis lineup for years. It’s a trail tyre, through and through, sitting somewhere between the Crossmark and legendary Minion in terms of rolling speed/grip stakes. As an all-weather, all-rounder, we rate the Ardents very highly.

In a 2.25″ size, the Ardent has a good, tall bag to it, offering plenty of cushion and encouraging lower pressures. It’s also available in a 2.4″ which we’d consider as a great front tyre option for looser or sandier conditions; 2.25″ out back, 2.4″ up front = aggressive trail riding perfection.

Ramped centre tread for speed. The intermediate 'shoulder' area is very open meaning it's quite a transition from centre tread to the side knobs.

The tread pattern is pretty unique. It’s a fast rolling pattern, thanks to the sloped centre tread, and the side knobs offer good support whilst still retaining enough sensitivity for grip on wet roots thanks to extensive siping. The intermediate zone, between upright and full leant over, is a little vague – the knobs in this space are sparse and fairly flexible. We noticed this most on hardpack or sand, while in loose conditions it didn’t seem to affect the tyre greatly. In a nut shell, this tyre works best if you’re fully committed to a corner and tip it in!

Strengths: Fastest rolling of this bunch. Lightweight. Durable compounds. Good range of sizes.

Weaknesses: A bit vague in intermediate corners.


Bontrager XR4

Sizes available: 26×2.2″, 26×2.35 and 29×2.3″

Web Test Bontrager XR4

Bontrager have really hit the mark with the XR4 tyres for all round aggressive trail use. The XR4s are quite voluminous for a 2.35″ tyre and exhibit a wide footprint. That, in combination with a round profile, make for a lot of traction and predictable cornering behaviour.

The blocky tread is somewhat of a wonderment, being very grippy on the loose stuff as well as equally adherent on bare rock – something we weren’t expecting. This property in a tyre can often result from a softer, faster wearing compound – not so with the XR4s. The XR4s actually surprised us with their durability and resilience considering the irreverent treatment we gave them.

The aggressive XR4 in 2.35" size

We only had one small gripe with the tyre in that we had to use a bit more sealant than we were used to prevent them losing air during the ride. Otherwised they ticked all the boxes. Overall a well mannered tyre and a better choice for those whose trail choice is more rocky road than caramel slice.

Strengths: Meaty, moto-style tread digs into loose surfaces. Great under brakes.

Weaknesses: Not the best for tubeless use.


Continental Trail King

Sizes Available: 26×2.2″

Continental Trail King

The most aggressive trail tyre in the Continental line-up is the Trail King (previously known, rather kinkily, as the Rubber Queen). It’s a blocky tread that reminds us vaguely of the pattern found on Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf – that can’t be a bad thing – and was developed with input from freeride guru Richie Schley.

There are UST or ‘Revo’ Tubeless Ready versions of this tyre – unless you’re very hard on tyres, we’d suggest the Revo version is fine. With the Protection reinforced sidewalls the casing is very tough and while the lovely  logos of our test tyres are pretty scuffed up, we haven’t experienced any sidewall cuts or tears.

Continental Trail King Protection

Conti’s Black Chili compound seems to improve with use. The grip afforded by the Trail Kings got better with a bit of trail time, the tyres losing their coating and the knobs becoming more pliable (but still supportive). Given their robust almost ‘paddle-style’ centre tread blocks, the Trail Kings aren’t sluggish at all, something we can only attribute to the Black Chili compound. Compared to some of the other tyres here, the Trail Kings are a little lean on air volume. They are available in a 2.4″ as well, but not in Australia at present.

Strengths: Resilient sidewall. Black Chili compound wears well.

Weaknesses: Not available in 27.5 or 29″ in Australia yet. Skatey at first.


Schwalbe Hans Dampf

Sizes available: 26×2.35″, 27.5×2.35″, 27.5×2.25″, 29×2.35″

Schwalbe Hans Dampf

Like crack cocaine, the Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres are expensive and addictive. Billed as a Jack of all trades tread, we’d have to agree that this is some of the best all rounder rubber available and we’ve used these tyres on multiple bikes now.

The sheer size of these tyres comes as bit of a shock. Marked as a 2.35″, they dwarf just about all other non-downhill specific tyres out there. But despite this, their weight is  reasonable and their rolling speed remarkable too.

At low pressures, the Hans Dampf has a large footprint that floats beautifully over sand and delivers mountains of climbing traction. All round grip is superb; from hardpack to rubble to mud, the Hans Dampf is versatile like few other treads we’ve ever used. They’re very tough too, particularly in the Snake Skin sidewall option.

Hans DampfThe harder-wearing PaceStar compound is recommended for the rear or you’ll be shelling out for new rubber very quickly. On the front, we’ve found the durability fantastic, even with the softer TrailStar compound. The tyres in the shot above were installed at the same time, and you can see how pronounced the rear wear is.

Strengths: Huge volume at a reasonable weight. Grippy compound. Stable sidewalls.

Weaknesses: Big dollars.

Tested: Surly Krampus

It’s not a fat bike ok, it is a just a rigid 29er with huge tyres – not that unusual, right?

Actually, we won’t hide it, this bike is very unusual, but it’s a Surly and there is nothing you could call ‘usual’ in their entire catalogue. It actually looks like they know how to have more fun than any of us, with a bike that could cater for any tiny niche in the colourful world of cycling. Surly are also responsible for what we know as the original ‘mainstream’ fat bike – The Pugsley. But no, we’re not testing a Pugsley, don’t fret – we like to enjoy trails at speed and we aren’t that weird!

Test__SurlyKrampus0013

We’d have to admit, when we opened the box and out came this heavy, fat tyred bike we felt conned. In the photos on the Surly website, it looked more like a normal rigid hardtail 29er bike than it did in the flesh as we glared at it on our office floor with a look of disgust. There was a lot of, “you’re testing this one”, and a few “no, I’m not, you are” calls thrown around, but please don’t hate us for actually having a pretty bloody good – albeit short – time on this odd bike.

The Krampus has a pretty narrow window of intended use, it’s not going to do more than a few things really well, obviously. But we gave it a go, with curiosity, and found ourselves behaving very differently in the woods when the big tyres began to roll.

The Build

Fat bikes are 26″ wheeled creatures with mega wide rims and 4″ tyres. Just to settle the score here, the Krampus uses 29″ wheels, 50mm wide rims and 3″ tyres. Surly call it a 29er+. It’s built with less sand or snow grovelling or riding up stairs in mind, rather singletrack ripping with a twist of fun and a lot more bounce than your average rigid 29er.

Steel is real, and really adds to this bike’s burly and unstoppable character. The solid nature and thin tubing of the old-school frame material goes hand in hand with rigid bikes, the steel factor helps take the sting out of the trail vibrations. It’s not light though, at 14.52kg. Built from 4130 chromoly, with a classic style green, glittery paint it’s got a real retro look about it.

Test__SurlyKrampus0034

The Parts

It’s a renovators dream, a real blank canvas you could say. Ok without sugar coating it, the parts are pretty basic but that’s not really what this is all about. What really matters in this situation are the tyres, rims and the things you hold on to, and in this case there is nothing better.

Test__SurlyKrampus0023

Salsa Whammy bars are super wide, flat and help give the Krampus a more normal feeling cockpit.

The brakes are mechanical from Avid, but at least they are the best mechanical ones out there. After they finally started to bed in, the power and modulation was ample to control the mega rotating mass.

Test__SurlyKrampus0016

Shimano SLX shifter and Shadow + derailleur get the job done, but the gear range is still fairly limited with the 1×10 speed drivetrain with the 34 tooth chainring up front. Perhaps a SRAM 11 speed setup could help widen the bike’s usability with a wider gear range.

Shimano Zee cranks is an odd spec choice, they are super tough and aimed at the budget conscious gravity rider, or a cheaper alternative to the downhill racing group set – Shimano Saint. At least you won’t be able to break them, but they sure would be contributing to the bike’s beef. A simple MRP chain guide keeps the chain on the ring safely, and it worked ok for us. Just a couple times the chain would jump off the bottom of the ring, but the guide held it on top so when the pedalling began, it would correct itself and all would be fine again.

Test__SurlyKrampus0006

Test__SurlyKrampus0021

The Ride

We wanted to take the Krampus somewhere that the mega tyres would actually be a benefit, we needed deep gravel, steep rocks, sand and some fast fire roads. We had to think hard. The moon would have been a good place, but that wasn’t an option on a Tuesday morning.

Big arse tyres.
Big arse tyres.

The big rubber takes a lot more effort to get rolling, but with the large rotating mass, speed was maintained in a weird way. The long feeling wheelbase makes for some seriously stable riding, and the bigger rotating mass makes the bike feel heavy to turn, but after a little while we began to get into it. Throwing our weight around on the bike and using a healthy dose of body language we found ourselves hooting along and using way less brakes through corners than we usually would. The lack of braking through corners became one of the funnest elements of this unique ride, we found the commitment of our new steel beast a real hoot.

You do bounce around a lot, like an old Toyota van with blown shocks. If you hit one depression or rise in the trail surface, you often begin to oscillate a bit, you just need to keep it all under check or you’ll go bounding off into the shrubs. This feeling is a lot more apparent with the 26″ fat bikes out there, but aboard the Krampus we found ourselves a passenger at times but it wasn’t such an issue and unless the trail turned into a drop or jump we could bounce our way to safety.

Test__SurlyKrampus0001

A pea gravel climb which usually takes great focus and careful line choice became a laughable affair, as we would just hop out of the saddle and spin our way up the loose surface with the big arse tyres conforming and sticking to the loose surfaces like magic.

Don't you be afraid of pea gravel surfaces, the Krampus isn't.
Don’t you be afraid of pea gravel surfaces, the Krampus isn’t.

Rougher and faster singletrack was not a real highlight, to be expected. Just imagine that time when you first rode a 29er, the old ones that were cumbersome but super stable. It’s like that, but with no suspension, just cushioning bounce that takes a bit of a knack to keep under control.

1

Despite its girth, the Krampus holds speed over rough surfaces really well, as the tyres don’t deflect from small rocks or roots like we’re used to on regular bikes. It’s also quite smooth rolling along, that is until you hit something bigger than a shoe, then you’d better be paying attention.

We climbed this crappy old road, and laughed at it from the top, no worries.
We climbed this crappy old road, and laughed at it from the top, no worries.
Wide and low.
Wide and low.
Super low tyre pressures and a special rim help the tyre to conform to a wide variety of surfaces to give a super smooooooth ride.
Super low tyre pressures and a special rim help the tyre to conform to a wide variety of surfaces to give a super smooooooth ride.
Three inches of bounce.
Three inches of bounce.
Steel baby, steel is real.
Steel baby, steel is real.

Verdict

The Krampus blurs the line between fat biking and 29er riding, it’s quite trail friendly and surprisingly agile in the right environment, you just need to find that happy place for the Krampus. It’ll tame those trails where traction problems would usually stop you in your tracks, and seems to remove that competitive ‘must go fast always, all the time’ attitude from our minds. It’s just good fun, and a real change.

We liked it more than we expected, mainly because we wanted to see the best in it, but at the end of the day, we’re lucky there are other bikes to ride, conventional ones, with suspension and frames of carbon.

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Tested: Specialized Purgatory 29 x 2.3 Tyre

Specialized have really done an amazing job with their tyre range. On any Specialized bike we’ve ridden, reviewed, or tested over the past few years, we’ve always been completely happy with the rubber, and we’re normally fussy buggers.

No matter what style of mountain biking you like or what type of terrain you ride, it’s pretty likely Specialized have a tyre to suit. The new Purgatory sits towards the trail/all-mountain end of the spectrum, and we’ve been testing the 29×2.3″ size in the Control guise.

Good braking stability, plenty of room to bite in on looser surfaces, rolls when and supportive in the corners - it's all there!
Good braking stability, plenty of room to bite in on looser surfaces, rolls when and supportive in the corners – it’s all there!

The Control designation simply means it’s a little heavier, but also tougher, than the more expensive S-Works version. It uses the same compounds, tread pattern and is ‘2-Bliss’ tubeless ready as well.

We would easily rate the Purgatory as one of the best all-round trail tyres on the market.

It’s not the lightest tyre, but this far it has proven tough and it holds air very well when set up tubeless. There’s clearly a bit of weight in the tread blocks themselves, as they’re well supported and hardwearing. In rubble or sand, the Purgatory strikes a great balance of floating when you want it to (thanks to a decent footprint) but biting in too.

The Control version is heavier, but cheaper and tougher than the S-Works Purgatory. We're running ours tubeless and the sidewalls haven't leaked or suffered any damage to date.
The Control version is heavier, but cheaper and tougher than the S-Works Purgatory. We’re running ours tubeless and the sidewalls haven’t leaked or suffered any damage to date.

The unique tread pattern rolls well. With a harder compound of rubber (60a) through the centre tread, it’s nice and fast. The side knobs have a durometer of 50a, but they don’t feel as gummy as many similarly rated treads. Still, they hang on tight, even in situations where we’d normally have favoured a softer compound tyre. While we’ve been using this tread on the front, we’ll be looking for another to pair up on the rear.

There are size options for 26 and 29″ riders, but being a Specialized product, 27.5″ riders won’t be catered for. Sorry!

Fresh Product: Niner ROS 9 – It's a 29er, Jim, But Not As We Know It

WHAT MAKES THE ROS 9 TICK?

Keep It Steel, Stud. The 4130 Cro-Mo tube set of the ROS 9 is the trusted standard for durability and ride quality. Following the lines and design language of the SIR 9, these tubes have been beefed up to handle the abuse the ROS 9 is designed to shrug off. The super-short chainstays provide a lofty front end feel while the slack HT angle keeps the front end composed at Mach Loony speeds. A neutral BB height can be made low or high to slay YOUR trails by positioning the BioCentric 2 where it will do the most good. Construction details abound – We borrowed the unique dropout design we developed for the SIR 9 to allow 142×12 Maxle use and house the stout alloy derailleur hanger. The dropout designs allow the chain stays and seat stays to be welded at any angle and provide far more surface area for a full weld around the tube’s end. The front derailleur hanger is removable with an alloy cover. Internal dropper post routing is optional, another alloy cover closes the port if you choose not to use it. Externally routed dropper posts utilize mounts under the top tube. Tabs under the bottom bracket shell accept a proprietary MRP XCG bash guard for optional extra protection. Full-housing cable routing for front and rear derailleurs using Niner’s bolt-on double housing clamps along top and down tubes complete the versatility. If you don’t need the guides, take them off and enjoy the clean look of the frame in singlespeed mode.

OVERSIZED HEADTUBE
The oversized headtube of the ROS 9 allows the use of tapered fork steerer tubes that measurably reduce fork deflection, which means your Niner tracks straight and true. The full spectrum of riders from xc racers to all mountain shredders benefit from these features which is why we incorporate the technology in all our new frames. The ROS 9 Lets you take full advantage of increased steering precision as you get yourself into trouble. The hardtail for riders that don’t like hardtails. No twitchy high-posting around features you would hit on your “real” bike. No need to back off because your XC racing head angle prevents solid roosting. The ROS 9 won’t judge your lines – it lets you write checks your skills might not be able to cash, and what is more exhilarating than that? Short chainstays, slack head angle, and oversized headtube nourish these Roots of Steel – all with the ability to tweak the geometry via the BioCentric II. Run this rig singlespeed, 1x or fully geared with a front derailleur if you roll that way. Remove the cable guides and front derailleur mount if you don’t. Stealth routing for the dropper post keeps the ROS 9 fresh and clean. Sorry, the ROS 9 is not compatible with heartrate monitors or training plans but it will certainly earn you some PRs when you do your part keeping the rubber side down. Ride Over S*!t – The new ROS 9 injects hardtails with a huge-ass dose of fun.

BIO-CENTRIC II BOTTOM BRACKET SYSTEM
The Niner BioCentric II makes adjustments easy across a wide range of gears and eliminates the need for adjustable dropouts, giving the cleanest possible solution for singlespeed use. No bolt on hubs, no chain tensioners cluttering your ride, no brake adjustments with gear changes. Additionally, BB positioning allows finetuning of geometry. Want shorter chainstays? A lower BB? Steeper or slacker seat angle? It’s all achievable with the BioCentric II. Greater Range – The BioCentric II offsets the bottom bracket spindle 8.5mm from center, offering greater range of adjustment compared to a traditional EBB setup. More offset is a boon when changing gears without having to change chain length and it allows riders to make more noticeable changes to frame geometry. Reliable Function – Traditional EBB units are held in place with set screws that can become difficult to finely adjust over time, or expansion wedges that can deform the bottom bracket shell of the frame. Split bottom bracket shells that clamp an EBB can stretch or ovalize. The Bio-Centric II avoids these troubles by using two bolts to apply a clamping force on the outside edges of the BB shell, eliminating the possibility of ovalizing or indexing the shell itself.

Fresh Product: Niner ROS 9 – It’s a 29er, Jim, But Not As We Know It

WHAT MAKES THE ROS 9 TICK?

Keep It Steel, Stud. The 4130 Cro-Mo tube set of the ROS 9 is the trusted standard for durability and ride quality. Following the lines and design language of the SIR 9, these tubes have been beefed up to handle the abuse the ROS 9 is designed to shrug off. The super-short chainstays provide a lofty front end feel while the slack HT angle keeps the front end composed at Mach Loony speeds. A neutral BB height can be made low or high to slay YOUR trails by positioning the BioCentric 2 where it will do the most good. Construction details abound – We borrowed the unique dropout design we developed for the SIR 9 to allow 142×12 Maxle use and house the stout alloy derailleur hanger. The dropout designs allow the chain stays and seat stays to be welded at any angle and provide far more surface area for a full weld around the tube’s end. The front derailleur hanger is removable with an alloy cover. Internal dropper post routing is optional, another alloy cover closes the port if you choose not to use it. Externally routed dropper posts utilize mounts under the top tube. Tabs under the bottom bracket shell accept a proprietary MRP XCG bash guard for optional extra protection. Full-housing cable routing for front and rear derailleurs using Niner’s bolt-on double housing clamps along top and down tubes complete the versatility. If you don’t need the guides, take them off and enjoy the clean look of the frame in singlespeed mode.

OVERSIZED HEADTUBE
The oversized headtube of the ROS 9 allows the use of tapered fork steerer tubes that measurably reduce fork deflection, which means your Niner tracks straight and true. The full spectrum of riders from xc racers to all mountain shredders benefit from these features which is why we incorporate the technology in all our new frames. The ROS 9 Lets you take full advantage of increased steering precision as you get yourself into trouble. The hardtail for riders that don’t like hardtails. No twitchy high-posting around features you would hit on your “real” bike. No need to back off because your XC racing head angle prevents solid roosting. The ROS 9 won’t judge your lines – it lets you write checks your skills might not be able to cash, and what is more exhilarating than that? Short chainstays, slack head angle, and oversized headtube nourish these Roots of Steel – all with the ability to tweak the geometry via the BioCentric II. Run this rig singlespeed, 1x or fully geared with a front derailleur if you roll that way. Remove the cable guides and front derailleur mount if you don’t. Stealth routing for the dropper post keeps the ROS 9 fresh and clean. Sorry, the ROS 9 is not compatible with heartrate monitors or training plans but it will certainly earn you some PRs when you do your part keeping the rubber side down. Ride Over S*!t – The new ROS 9 injects hardtails with a huge-ass dose of fun.

BIO-CENTRIC II BOTTOM BRACKET SYSTEM
The Niner BioCentric II makes adjustments easy across a wide range of gears and eliminates the need for adjustable dropouts, giving the cleanest possible solution for singlespeed use. No bolt on hubs, no chain tensioners cluttering your ride, no brake adjustments with gear changes. Additionally, BB positioning allows finetuning of geometry. Want shorter chainstays? A lower BB? Steeper or slacker seat angle? It’s all achievable with the BioCentric II. Greater Range – The BioCentric II offsets the bottom bracket spindle 8.5mm from center, offering greater range of adjustment compared to a traditional EBB setup. More offset is a boon when changing gears without having to change chain length and it allows riders to make more noticeable changes to frame geometry. Reliable Function – Traditional EBB units are held in place with set screws that can become difficult to finely adjust over time, or expansion wedges that can deform the bottom bracket shell of the frame. Split bottom bracket shells that clamp an EBB can stretch or ovalize. The Bio-Centric II avoids these troubles by using two bolts to apply a clamping force on the outside edges of the BB shell, eliminating the possibility of ovalizing or indexing the shell itself.

Flow’s First Bite: Whyte T129 S

The Whyte T129 line up has plenty of accolades to its name already, but that’s not why we’re looking forward to riding this bike.

Whyte T129s full bike

Nope, it’s the geometry that’s got us excited. With chain stays just 431mm long and a head angle of 68-degrees, the geometry of this bike is not like most 29er trail bikes. Whyte bikes are always angry little buggers, with geometry that rewards aggressive riding, and we’re very happy they’ve managed to lever those same signature geometry traits into a 29er package.

We’ll be onboard the T129 express a lot these coming weeks. Full report to follow soon.

Fresh Product: Niner RIP 9 RDO

  • Carbon full suspension from the only 29er only mountain bike company
  • 125mm of patented CVA suspension is efficient in every chainring
  • Compatible with 120-140mm forks
  • Tuned for CVA – Fox Float CTD shock with Kashima coat
  • Removable ISCG 05 tabs and offset linkage design for chainguide compatibility
  • Carbon suspension linkage and unique Niner alloy hardware
  • 142mm x 12mm rear spacing
  • Available in:
    Black Licorice
    Rally Blue

TRAIL BIKE
“Quiver Killer” meets carbon. 2 years in development, Niner’s highly anticipated and requested carbon trail bike finally makes an appearance. The RIP 9 RDO incorporates global rider feedback as well as Niner’s rigorous carbon design, engineering and testing standards. Our alloy RIP 9 has over 30 glowing media reviews for ride quality and handling – the RIP 9 RDO takes these characteristics and ups the ante with carbon frame, linkages, ISCG compatibility and additional travel.

CVA™ SUSPENSION
The R.I.P. 9 RDO features Niner’s patented CVA suspension (U.S. Patent No. 7,934,739) and delivers 125mm of fully active travel with superb compliance and damping via a tuned for CVA Fox Float CTD Factory Shock with Trail Adjust and Kashima Coat. For those seeking the technical advantages of 29” wheels combined with pedaling efficiency across all chainring combinations (not just the middle ring), CVA™ is the front-runner. The result? A faster, smoother ride up and down the trail.

VERSATILE GEOMETRY
To progress as a rider you need predictability, balance and nimble handling and Niner is the company that first made fun trail bike 29ers a reality. Climbing or descending, the geometry of the R.I.P. 9 RDO is tuned to keep you in control and ready to conquer new terrain at every turn. The R.I.P. 9 RDO is intended for 120 to 140mm forks, allowing riders to further fine tune the ride.

C5 WARRANTY
Our robust R&D program – computer modeling, physical prototype testing (both in-house and at independent testing facilities), and hours of riding by skilled and abusive individuals make us confident that the RIP 9 RDO will exceed your expectations. We maintain that our carbon fiber development rivals the best in the bike industry and to back it up we offer our C5 warranty (five year) and a standard-setting commitment to customer service.

TAPERED HEADTUBE
The increased surface area of a tapered headtube allows for a larger downtube, increasing strength and rigidity at this critical intersection. Tapered fork steerer tubes measurably reduce fork deflection, which means your Niner tracks straight and true. The full spectrum of riders from XC racers to All Mountain shredders benefit from these features which is why we incorporate the technology in all our new frames. The R.I.P. 9 RDO lets you take full advantage of increased steering precision as you negotiate your daily dose of singletrack.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL
When you are in the backcountry, the details are what take your ride into the sublime. The trim and sexy carbon links rotate on oversized Angular Contact Bearings for awesome lateral rigidity and immediate power transfer, dropper post routing and ISCG 05 chainguide compatibility mean you can build this bike to fit your ride style and an integrated replaceable skid plate lets you try that optional line with confidence. The RIP 9 RDO features more tire clearance, full housing internal cable routing for a clean look and precision-machined alloy interfaces for the bottom bracket, direct-mount front derailleur and brake caliper post mounts.

Flow’s First Bite: Surly Krampus ‘Not Quite a Fat Bike’

Hrrrm, we’re scratching our heads a little. We’re not sure if we’ve been tricked, or if this could actually be quite cool…

You see, we’ve been a bit ‘unsure’ about the whole Fat Bike thing, to put it delicately. Unless you live on a beach, a desert or in the snow, we’re dubious about their place in the world. But the Surly Krampus isn’t really a Fat Bike, not in the true sense of the word.

See, from this angle it looks almost normal... Ah, god, listen to us, justifying it to ourselves...
See, from this angle it looks almost normal… Ah, god, listen to us, justifying it to ourselves…

You see, a ‘real’ Fat Bike runs 26″ wheels with 4.5″+ tyres, often on 100mm-wide rims. The Krampus is what Surly have sneakily called a 29+, meaning it runs 29er wheels but with big-ass tyres and comparatively narrow 50mm rims. It’s kind of like a gateway drug to Fat Biking.

When compared to your regular Fat Bike, the Krampus is also much more singletrack friendly, with geometry that’s much closer to a normal mountain bike than your standard plods-in-straight-line Fatty.

But up close, it's definitely fat.
But up close, it’s definitely fat.

Rigid bikes with big rubber aren’t new to us – one of the Flow team regularly rides a rigid 29er with 2.3″ tyres – so perhaps this isn’t as big a jump towards weirdness as it first appears. At present, we’re a little bit scared that we might like the experience. And then what’s next? Unicycling?

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Ground Control and Purgatory Tyres

Specialized bikes are a little different in that they often come off the showroom floor with different tyres front and rear; a meaty tread up front with slightly faster-rolling rubber out back.

This mixing of tyres is seen more commonly on the bikes of  experienced riders who know exactly what they want out of their rubber, so it’s pretty cool to see Specialized offering this setup from stock. One of the common pairings on their trail bikes is a Purgatory up front and Ground Control out back, so we thought we’d give this selection a try too.

The Purgatory 29x2.3. Big, openly spaced tread blocks give the tyre the ability to bite into loose surfaces.
The Purgatory 29×2.3. Big, openly spaced tread blocks give the tyre the ability to bite into loose surfaces.

We’ve opted for the ‘Control’ version of both treads, rather than the lightweight S-Works version, as we’ve found the S-Works options a little fragile in the past. The Control versions are said to offer 15% more cut resistance, however the hell you measure this!

Both tyres are 2-Bliss Ready (butyl wrapped tyre bead) and sealed up tubeless very easily on SRAM Roam 50 rims. For a 2.3″ tread, the volume of both tyres seems smaller than we’d anticipated, but that’s probably because the Schwalbe rubber we’ve been using is notoriously oversized. Weights are 793g for the Purgatory in a 29×2.3 and 723g for the Ground Control in the same size.

Specialized Purgatory Ground Control-1

Both the Purgatory and Ground Control are 2-Bliss Ready.
Both the Purgatory and Ground Control are 2-Bliss Ready.

We’ve done around 15 hours on the treads to date and we’re completely sold on the Purgatory in particular thus far. We’ve been running pressures in the mid 20s (far lower than the stupidly high 35psi recommended on the sidewall) and while we’ve burped the front tyre once, the grip is excellent. Testing conditions so far have included lots of rock and sand, but also a smattering of dark root trails. The Purgatory has proved both supportive and tacky enough to hold an edge on the rocks, but also sensitive enough to find grip on the roots.

The Ground Control features lower-profile centre tread blocks and runs a faster-rolling and more durable 60a compound across the entire tyre.
The Ground Control features lower-profile centre tread blocks and runs a faster-rolling and more durable 60a compound across the entire tyre.

The Ground Control feels great too, rolling nice and fast with a 60a compound. We’ve pinged the rear rim a few times so far without any damage to the tyre, so that’s a good sign in terms of durability.

We’ll continue to run these treads for the next couple of months to get a better idea of their performance once some wear sets in.

While you’re here, check out some of the other tyres we’ve reviewed recently!

Bontrager XR4
Rubena Scylla
Maxxis Ardent
Bontrager XR2

Fresh Product: SRAM Roam 50 29er Wheelset

ROAM Farther.
Fast climbs and fast descents—from sun up till sundown. Truly made for the modern mountain biker, ROAM wheels use a special balance of low-inertia design, weight and strength to excel on a wide variety of terrain. They’re durable enough for hours in the saddle, yet light enough for race day.

It’s everything the modern mountain biker could ask for. One of the lightest alloy trail wheels in the market, ROAM 50 delivers a smart balance of weight, inertia and stiffness—making for a very responsive and predictable wheel. Thanks to our WIDE ANGLE rim, its tire profile delivers superior traction.

• Intended use: XC/TR
• Available in all 3 wheel sizes: 26, 27.5 and 29in
• Lightweight aluminum rim with asymmetrical TAPER CORE profile
• WIDE ANGLE profile: 21mm inside, 25mm outside rim width
• UST compatible
• Available with 11-speed XD™ Driver Body, 10- or 9-speed driver body
• Aluminum nipples with nylon lock ring
• SOLO SPOKE design with double butted, lightweight steel spokes
• Durable hub internals with Star Ratchet system
• SIDE SWAP easy conversion to all axle types
• DOUBLE-DECKER hub shell design
• Weight: 1475g (26in), 1530g (27.5in), 1610g (29in). Wheel pair in lightest configuration

Tested: Pivot Mach 429 Carbon

Wrongness is easy to define – it’s just not right. But rightness is something a little harder to pin down. What we can attest to is that the Pivot Mach 429 Carbon has maximum rightness, precious little wrongness, and deserves its status as one of the dreamiest bikes on the market. Let’s take a look at the ledger.

 

Pivot Mach 429 carbon15

The rightness:

 

It’s one bad-arse machine

From the moment we slung a leg over the deep curve of the broad carbon top tube, the 429 Carbon spoke to us. It said ‘I’m not afraid.’

‘But you’re just a cross country bike,’ we told it.

‘That’s just a front,’ the Pivot conspired. ‘I’m actually a bad-arse trail shredding machine. Here, let me show you.’ And it did.

The 429 is a deceptive beast. With 100mm of travel front and back, 29″ wheels and typically cross country-oriented angles, you’d be correct in assuming the Pivot’s aim in life is to whip across smooth trails at speed. It does this ridiculously well, just devouring the miles. It would be the perfect machine for a marathon.

But to limit the 429 to mellow, undulating marathon terrain would be a travesty. When the going gets rough, the Pivot is all too happy to roll up its sleeves and go nose to nose with the bigger bikes. A combination of superb suspension and unflappable frame stiffness lets you plough through lines that would cast other bikes aside. Wide bars and a low bottom-bracket height keep you feeling grounded, like you’re in the bike rather than perched on top of it. It encourages you to get off the brakes and off the ground.

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Behold, the DW link rear suspension system.

DW-link suspension

Few suspension systems can hold a candle to the DW-link. Under pedalling forces, the performance of the Dave Weagle designed suspension is second to none, making it a real drawcard for this bike.

Other dual-link suspension designs may look similar, but Dave Weagle vehemently guards the patents surrounding the exact suspension configuration of the DW-link. We can see why; it’s a magic combination. The 429 Carbon pedals without any perceptible suspension-bobbing, yet the rear wheel stayed firmly glued to terra firma, even when we pedalled it through the rough. It simply motors up loose climbs. From the smallest trail ripples to walloping big hits, the Pivot’s rear end is ready.

Stiffer than a frozen carrot

In the bike industry’s war on weight, frame stiffness is often the first soldier to take a hit. But a floppy frame is the enemy of confidence – when you command a bike to go somewhere, you want it to respond like a well-trained German pointer. We were delighted to discover that, in this arena (frame stiffness, not dog training), the 429 Carbon is a category leader.

Just have a look at this thing. The head tube, the down tube and the chain stays are simply enormous. The rear end is tied to the mainframe with stout links and capped off with a 142x12mm axle. Does it flex? No sir, it does not.

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Look at those chain stays. They’re almost as thick as Chris Froome’s arms! This is a very stiff rear end.

Until you ride a bike with this amount of frame stiffness it’s hard to appreciate just how much it adds to the bike’s performance. The Mach 429 Carbon settles into a corner and rails hard, and when it does drift, it’s even and balanced from front to rear. Stomp the pedals and yank on the bars and the whole bike reacts as one, launching forward – there’s no disconnect between your hands, the pedals and the rear wheel. When you land a nasty drop or come down from the stratosphere a bit crooked, the bike doesn’t squirm or twist, so its suspension is free to work to full effect. Time and again, the feeling of indestructibility really brought a smile to our faces.

Sensibly pimped

It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, and the Pivot is unlikely to be caught looking shabby with this build kit. Top-of-the-line Fox suspension graces the 429, and we highly recommend you take the option of a 120mm-travel fork, rather than a 100mm-travel version we had on our test bike. With a longer travel fork, the bike would blitz the descents even faster.

Pivot Mach 429 carbon29
The Pivot is well dressed: XT, Stans wheels and cockpit that’s gives the bike more stability than Mugabe’s government.

Pivot has used components that enhance this bike’s abilities in the rough. A 740mm-wide bar and an 80mm stem mightn’t be the usual fare on a 100mm-travel carbon 29er, but they just bring the Pivot’s descending abilities to the fore. Big-bagged Kenda rubber helps too, though we can’t say we agree whole-heartedly with this tyre choice. Not being tubeless ready, the Slant Sixes caused more than a few headaches and sessions with the track pump.

Wrongness:

 

Spaghetti

The clump of messy cables clustered above the shock is a persistent frustration for us with Pivot bikes. A blight on the Pivot Mach’s otherwise clean lines, these cables bend and flex and rub against the shock body, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. We’d love to see Pivot run its cables internally through the down tube and along the chain stays, cloistered away from muck.

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Clean lines, only tainted by the cabling above the shock. We’d prefer the gear and brakes lines were routed through the down tube.

Tight squeeze

If you’re a thirsty fella, you’ll be frustrated by the tight fit for a water bottle. Trying to extricate a full-sized 750ml bottle from the compact mainframe while riding is akin to wrestling a Frisbee back from a determined Staffy. On a medium-sized frame, even a 500ml biddon tends to catch on the shock’s ProPedal lever. Install a side-loading bottle cage to make the process a bit easier.

In the balance

 

A tornado of awesomeness, the 429 Carbon blew us away. The more time we spent on this bike, and the more we ogled it, the greater our appreciation for its abilities and its attention to detail. The 429 Carbon fills you with confidence, it transcends the boundaries of what a cross-country bike should be capable of and is guaranteed to make you faster. It’s all kinds of rightness.

Tested: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29

I was listening to the nightly quiz on an AM radio station recently – AM radio is my secret vice – and the topic of discussion that night was movie remakes. Specifically, was the original movie always the best, or could a remake surpass the original. There were plenty of examples – The Blues Brothers, Batman, King Kong and loads more – with the general consensus that the original was still the favourite. I couldn’t help wondering if people are biased by nostalgia, and if that blinds us to the improvements made in a remake. Or could something truly be lost in that mad rush to ‘update’ a classic?

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 2919
Insert wolf whistle here.

A few days later I headed to Canberra to pick up a new test bike, the eagerly awaited Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29er. The 26-inch version of this bike is celebrated as one of the greatest trail bikes on the market, but Trek believed it could create a better bike by adding larger wheels. Would this remake prove to be a genuine improvement? Or would it be the mountain bike equivalent of watching a classic movie in 3D – a cool effect, but not actually better?

TREK FUEL EX 9.jpg.8001.
The bike that stole our hearts; the Fuel EX 9.8 26er leaves big shoes for the Fuel 29er series to fill.

I was bringing my own nostalgic baggage to this review. I absolutely loved my time on board the 26″ Fuel EX when I reviewed it last year, so much so that I hung onto it for weeks after the test period had finished. As dispassionately as I tried to approach my time on board the new EX 29er, this wheel-diameter-enhanced remake was always going to have to live up to the glorious memories of my time on board the earlier rendition of the Fuel EX, the 26-inch version.

The Fuel is an interesting bike in terms of the evolution of the Trek brand. Up until a few years ago Trek and Gary Fisher Bicycles co-existed but had separate identities: Trek manufactured the ‘core’ mountain bikes, while Fisher produced the 29ers and had a more quirky approach. As the 29er market grew, this two-pronged approach no longer made sense, so Trek absorbed Gary Fisher Bicycles, creating the Gary Fisher Collection of 29ers under the Trek banner. In the meantime, Trek had been beavering away on a massive program of redevelopment for their mountain bikes. Let’s be honest: up until half a dozen years ago, Trek full-suspension bikes were absolute dogs. Acknowledging this (though perhaps not so bluntly), Trek began investing heavily in its mountain bike program, bringing in some of the industry’s best minds and starting with a clean slate. The results are clear to see; the Trek line-up is consistently excellent, and the Full Floater and ABP suspension system Trek uses across its entire full-suspension range is one of the best. And the Fuel EX 29 marks the completion of the Trek and Fisher merger – the Fuel EX 29 is Trek’s first 29er to employ the complete host of technologies developed by Trek for its full-suspension range.

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Nice lines! The Fuel EX 29 is low and compact.

On a bleak Canberra morning, I got acquainted with the Fuel. You only get one first impression, and the Fuel EX 9.8 29er made it count, with an incredible smoky-red carbon finish that glistened in the light like heavily lacquered timber. All of the same sensible and practical details that had left me enamoured with the 26″ Fuel were on display; clean cable routing, a Rockshox Reverb Stealth post, Trek’s trademark Full Floater and ABP suspension system… But more importantly, the bike still looked fun and sleek. Somehow Trek had grafted bigger wheels onto the Fuel EX platform without making the bike look like it had run into the back of a car.

Fuel EX 9.8 2914
With a short head tube, it’s easy to keep the bars at a height that’s gives you a great climbing position.

The EX 29er’s OCLV carbon frame has compact proportions and gorgeous lines, all packaged into a wheelbase that’s less than three centimetres longer than its 26-inch predecessor. The EX 29 doesn’t present as a ‘big’ bike, unlike many 120mm-travel 29ers. Twenty-niners with an excessively tall front end and a head tube length of just 10.5cm is one of my pet hates. But even the bar height on the Fuel EX 29 reminded me of the 26-inch bike I loved so much. Before I’d even turned a pedal, I was enjoying this remake.

Stromlo was the first testing ground. Funnily enough, this was also the first place we rode the 26″ Fuel last year. The maiden ride began with a long climb, right to the top of the mountain, and instantly revealed the new Fuel 29er to be a superb ascender. The more technical the terrain became, the greater the bike’s climbing performance. The rear suspension tune demonstrated the perfect balance of sensitivity and efficiency. In its trail setting, the EX’s CTD shock kept the rear wheel on to the ground but used only as much travel as was necessary. It may be that Trek has improved the suspension tune, or it could be simply the result of the bigger wheels, but the EX lapped up Stromlo’s rocky pinches where keeping climbing momentum is key. With an 80mm-stem, the climbing position was ideal, keeping the steering responsive, without making the front end light or prone to lifting.

Fuel EX 9.8 2915
We found the Fuel’s suspension to be superb. Whether it’s just a product of the bigger wheels or a revised shock tune, the Fuel to be very smooth over the chatter even with the shock in Trail mode. We’re very impressed performance on the big hits too – the Full Floater linkage and DRCV shock handles harsh impacts like a champ.

The top of Western Wedgetail, with its incredible views from the top of Stromlo, is a good place to ponder a bike’s performance. Hands down, the Fuel 29er has the edge over the 26-inch one when it comes to climbing. I’d barely had to leave the 38-tooth big chain ring the whole way up, and the bike had made it round even the tightest of Stromlo’s switchbacks without feeling like too much of a squeeze.

Trek has given the Fuel 29 the G2 treatment – that’s a geometry concept that was developed by Gary Fisher as a way of increasing the slow-speed responsiveness of 29ers without sacrificing high-speed stability. Essentially, it uses a custom offset fork crown to reduce the trail measurement of the bike, allowing the use of relatively slack head angles but simultaneously reducing the tendency for the steering to wander or flop about at slow speed. The results speak for themselves: I was consistently surprised by the way the Fuel nipped around tight slow-speed turns.

Fuel EX 9.8 297
The chain stays and EVO link are alloy, the rest of the frame is carbon. The Fuel’s chain stays measure up at 450mm, on the longer side.

Compared to the 26″ bike, the 29er Fuel loses 10mm of suspension travel, front and rear, but overall the 29er’s sheer bump-eating performance far exceeds that of the 26-inch-wheeled version. Back on home turf in Sydney, I took the new Fuel to the same trails I’d ridden on the Fuel 26″. These are rocky, rough tracks, and they require a mix of high-speed blasting and slow-speed technical moves. When it comes to carrying speed through the rough, the 29er was far superior, its wheels sailing over obstacles that would’ve tugged at the 26-inch bike. The abilities of Trek’s suspension to deal with the big hits is inspiring; the DRCV rear shock feels bottomless, and we felt happy taking the Fuel into trails that would ordinarily be more suited to a 150mm-travel bike.

Fuel EX 9.8 2917
Bontrager XR3 rubber is a favourite, but make sure you go tubeless!

When I pushed hard, I found myself wishing for a wider bar, but this would be the only tweak I’d make if this bike were my own. Oh, and I’d go tubeless too, of course – having to fix four flat tyres in as many rides may be good for the biceps, but it’s a pain in arse. Otherwise, Trek has done a splendid job with the build kit, selecting only the most reliable components for this trail bike.

Fuel EX 9.8 2910
Shimano XT brakes and running gear, plus a Rockshox Reverb Stealth is a winning combo. Without the use of Shimano’s I-Spec mounting system, the bar is a little cluttered.

When remaking a classic, preserving the character of the original is one of the biggest challenges. For the most part Trek has succeeded, surpassing the ride quality of the original Fuel EX. But fitting in the bigger hoops has reduced the playfulness of the bike. Amongst my favourite elements of the 26-inch wheeled Fuel’s ride performance was how easily it took to the air and how it could be chucked into corners like a go-kart. These attributes don’t carry over to the 29er. The chain stays on the Fuel EX 9.8 29 are 450mm (as compared to 425mm on the 26″ bike), definitely on the long side for a modern 29er and contrary to the design trends of other brands. It takes more muscle to get the 29er airborne or to pop the front wheel up for slow-speed drops, and you just can’t flick the back-end into a corner with quite the same pizzazz as on the 26-inch bike.

Of course, these attributes won’t be particularly important to every rider. In the more primary areas of speed, confidence, comfort and efficiency, the new Fuel EX 29er is superior to the original. And these traits bring their own flavour of fun – you will blast your local trails faster on this bike. For the time being, Trek will have 26- and 29-inch versions of the Fuel available, so there are options to suit your riding style.

Fuel EX 9.8 2912
Thumbs up!

And me? Do I prefer the original version or the remake? It’s a very tough call and I’d be happy with either bike, if I could switch between them for different circumstances. On the balance of things, however, to put it back in movie terms, while the original version will always have a place in my heart, I’m picking it’ll be the 29er that gets the popular vote and claims the Oscar.

Tested: Specialized Rumor Comp

When Specialized’s new women’s 29er trail bike arrived at the Flow office, we were so excited we ate lunch sitting on the floor next to it. You can’t ride on an empty stomach and we didn’t want to waste any time getting to know this new machine.

IMG_0387
A Specialized Camber with just the right amount of a female twist – the Rumor.

As we rolled the mid-range Rumor Comp out the door we already had two questions begging to be answered: How would a women’s specific design, in both frame and component choices, add to our trail riding experiences? And in what ways does the design reflect the relationship between research into high level women’s racing equipment and bikes at the entry to mid-level of the market like this one?

Finding out was both a pleasure and a privilege. The size of a set of wheels is one thing, but it’s new technology and manufacturing practices that continually redefine the ride experiences they offer. Lucky our lunch was a big one.

The Design

Specialized found that a lot of their female consumers were gravitating toward their Camber model, so they set about making a women’s specific version of this popular 110mm travel trail bike.

The biggest difference is the standover height and a women’s specific part selection. The geometry and handling characteristics of the rear end are very similar. This what we found when we recently reviewed the S-Works Fate Carbon 29 – a female version of the Stumpjumper 29” hardtail.

Low enough standover height for a bike with 29" wheels is a tall challenge.
Low enough standover height for a bike with 29″ wheels is a tall challenge that Specialized has stepped up to.

The V-shaped top tube, which utilises a combination of aluminium forging techniques, is key in allowing shorter female riders to pilot a 29” dual suspension trail bike. This means the frame can do away with all the extra material we see around the same area of the Camber, saving a good amount of weight.  It also stops the top tube from collapsing like a beer can under your shoe at a party.

Subtle graphics with real style.
The standover is not only low, but low where it counts – where you will be positioned if you have one or both feet on the ground. In fact, the stand over is so low, it only grows a small 3.7mm between all frame sizes (from 707.3mm in the small frame to 711mm in the large).

The technology isn’t available yet to achieve this using carbon fibre, but you can bet people are working on it. In addition to the ride experiences this design affords shorter riders, it’s a powerful example of how women’s frame designs are not just adapting existing technology, but really driving it.

Another area where we can see small frames driving new technology is at the head tube, which is a short 90mm in the small sized frame. In order to fit front suspension with a tapered steerer to a bike with a shorter head tube, Specialized have asked RockShox and Fox to redevelop this part of their forks (it helps to have massive buying power). The end result for users is improved frame geometry, snappy steering and reduced need for stems so bent you can’t read your Garmin.

Aside from a low top tube, a short head tube is imperative for good standover height.
Aside from a low top tube, a short head tube is imperative for good standover height.

Because of the smart engineering discussed above, the bike as a whole fits 29” wheels and 110mm of front and rear suspension without looking compromised or squished. Long chain stays (449mm) and a low bottom bracket height add stability. The minimal looking FSR suspension design and internal cable routing provide a sleek, uncluttered finish.

The Gear

Another area where this bike is exciting in terms of innovation and usability is due to the addition of ‘Autosag’ to Specialized rear suspension for 2014. We talked a little bit about this in our recent review of the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon. The Rumor also shares the use of a block mount, which integrates the shock to the frame with a simple elegance.

The biggest benefit of Autosag is that it takes the confusion out of suspension set up for riders who haven’t gone to tech school. You can set and forget, and get stuck into the trails. Some riders may want to tweak this based on personal preference, but it isn’t necessary for a great ride feel.

We found the Autosag valve on our RockShox Monarch RL air shock tended to rattle loose while riding, and would dump all the air from the rear shock if we bumped it. Keep an eye out for this on the first few rides and do it up nice and tight.

Specialized proprietary technology here, the Autosag. This make setting up the bike for your weight so very easy.
Autosag (grey coloured valve) is basically a very clever hole. Pump the rear shock up to 275psi (for the Rumor), sit on it in all your riding gear, and depress the Autosag valve. This sets the sag and air pressures for an optimal ride experience based on your weight. The shock simply depresses until it covers this hole. It’s delightfully simple.

The Rumor Comp boasts a incredibly well thought-out part selection for female riders; Women’s Enduro lock-on grips that suit smaller hands, custom tuned RockShox front and rear suspension, a Specialized Body Geometry Jett saddle, narrower bar width and appropriate length cranks and stem. Refer back to our review on the Fate for the impact this has on ride experiences and budget.

The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch RL rear shock was nicely paired with a RockShox Reba RL up front to provide a consistently smooth ride feel. We also appreciated being able to comfortably move through all the travel without having to send them off for post-purchase tweaking.
The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch RL rear shock was nicely paired with a RockShox Reba RL up front to provide a consistently smooth ride feel. We also appreciated being able to comfortably move through all the travel without having to send them off for post-purchase tweaking.

We are also impressed with the high performance of the moving parts given the sub $3000 price point of the Comp. A 2×10 drive chain is specced to provide ample gearing across all terrain types. A SRAM X9 Type 2 rear derailleur keeps the chain silent throughout the ride and provides smooth, snappy shifting. A X7 front derailleur was ample on the front. We never dropped a chain during the test period.

The Avid Elixir 5 SL brakes provide strong stopping power. The reach is easy to adjust to fit any hand shape on the fly allowing quick and simple set up. Paired up with 680mm bars and a stable, manoeuvrable frame geometry, we found the Rumor enabled exceptional error correction skills if we took a bad line or went into a corner a little too fast.

The very popular Jett saddle is standard.
The very popular Specialized Jett saddle is standard, winner!
IMG_0400
We can’t overstate how highly we rate a user-friendly spec for female riders of all types.

The Roval 29 wheelset matched to Specialized Hi Lo hubs is also well-specced for the intended use of our test rig. We found they tended to drift a little wide entering corners but we quickly got used to this after a couple of rides and it was no longer a problem.

This may discourage some women upon test riding the Comp, but our advice would be to stick with it for a few rides, then upgrade to a lighter wheelset if it still doesn’t feel how you want it to. It’s not a reflection of the bike, it’s just a weight thing, or a 29” wheel thing.

A winning combination of playfulness and confidence-inspiring stability allowed us to milk our favourite trail networks as the playgrounds they are.
A winning combination of playfulness and confidence-inspiring stability allowed us to milk our favourite trail networks as the playgrounds they are.

With the addition of a dropper post and a lighter, higher spec all ‘round, the $4199 Rumor Expert is worth the extra cash if these are upgrades you’re considering from the outset.

A small rubber stop under the down tube prevents the forks bumping the frame under load, or the bars twisting and scratching the top tube in a crash. And even the smallest size frame fits a full size drink bottle. Usability is important, and key to this bike’s appeal.
A small rubber stop under the down tube prevents the forks bumping the frame under load, or the bars twisting and scratching the top tube in a crash. And even the smallest size frame fits a full size drink bottle. Usability is important, and key to this bike’s appeal.

On the Trail

Web_Test_Specialized_Rumor-5

Hitting up some familiar trails, the Rumor felt comfortable and instinctual. The low standover and balanced design of the bike meant we assumed a natural riding position without even thinking about it. We didn’t have to force ourselves to keep our weight where it mattered for maximum traction or stability. It rolls so quickly over moderately rough stuff we were off the brakes a lot more often as well.

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For us, the only drawback to the stable, confidence inspiring build was the Specialized Ground Control 2Bliss Tyres. They’re great on loamy trails and we like that the bike is specced with a fatter 2.3” tyre on the front and a 2.1” on the rear. We found them a little skatey on grainy over hardpack surfaces like Stromlo and Bruce Ridge in the ACT. They also didn’t offer much traction on uphill sandstone obstacles around Sydney.

While playful descents were a highlight of our rides on the Rumor, we were impressed with its climbing characteristics as well. Not only does this mean more confident descending, but you don’t get any sensations of lost energy while climbing.

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At 12.9kgs (with pedals), the Comp is reasonably light for a bike of this spec, but it is always going to be slower up the hill than something more whippety. But it never ‘felt’ slow. The weight was only noticeable on more technical climbs making us more deliberate in the way we muscled the bike around.

As for smaller obstacles like logs and small rocky ‘ups’, the large wheel size of the Rumor rolled over these easily with a bit of leg strength alone. We constantly meet women in skills clinics whose main aim is to clear this type of obstacle on the trails. Not because they want to cameo in the next Danny MacAskill video, but because it’s preventing them from holding on to a group on social rides.

The great thing about the Rumor is it allows these women to enjoy a wider variety of trails with increased enjoyment from the outset. This would be our main reason for encouraging this type of rider to consider the Rumor over a bike with 26” wheels or the mid-size 27.5”.

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Overall

The Rumor puts women on a level playing field with guys who are able to jump on a trail bike and confidently ride it from the shop door to exciting trails without having to tweak a thing.

The stability of this 29” trail bike, combined with the thoughtful, robust spec make it a great value option for new riders. It gives a real boost to the variety of trails these ladies can enjoy, providing a great platform for discovering how much fun mountain biking can be. A base model Rumor has just been realised for $1999 as well.

The other rider type that will enjoy the Rumor are women who just want to cut loose and play. The low standover means you can really throw the bike around and the long wheelbase, wide bars and powerful brakes help to keep you out of trouble if you botch a landing or mis-judge a corner. This bike begs you to have fun whatever ability level you bring to it and is guaranteed to help you lift your skills to the next level as a result.

It’s exciting to think that more girls will discover mountain biking through a rig that caters for them as well as this one does. The mind boggles at the ways future bike designs may also be impacted by this rapidly expanding section of the market as a result.

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THE TEST:
Test rider: Kath Bicknell, our test rider for this review, is 56kg and 164cm tall.
Suspension: 20% rear sag and around 15% up front.
Tyre pressure: 22psi rear, 20psi front.
Test conducted: Locations included Stromlo Forest Park and Bruce Ridge, ACT, Manly Dam and a few secret trails in and around Sydney.
Other notes: Autosag doesn’t set rebound for you. Take your time to wind the rebound dial to each extreme, ride a rocky section of trail to learn what it does, then find a middle ground that suits the ride feel you enjoy.

Tested: KTM Myroon 29 Cross

Motorbike riders across Australia will wet themselves over this orange and black machine, and KTM Bikes Australia can probably expect to sell a mountain of them on that fact alone! The KTM brand has such a fine reputation in the world of motocross, enduro moto and on-road motorcycling – it’s a brand that attracts fanatical loyalty. One look at the KTM softgoods catalogue will show you what we’re on about: if you wanted to, there are enough KTM accessories and clothes that you could make your entire life black and orange.

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KTM Myroon 29 Cross.

However, KTM moto and KTM bike are actually completely separate entities, and their bikes are not just some cheap-o rebadge frame or hair-brained design wet dream like we’ve seen from other automotive companies in the past (eg Porsche and Ferrari!). No, KTM Bicycles have been making bikes solely for over 40 years and the brand has multiple Austrian and European titles to its name. But enough about the brand, more about the bike.

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You just can’t go past those traditional KTM colours.

Design and construction:

The Myroon 29 Cross is a sub-$4000 race-ready machine. On spec alone, it’s a competitive little beast, ticking all the boxes: carbon frame, FOX fork, DT wheels and full Shimano XT running gear. If you were so inclined, you could build it on a Friday, race on the Saturday and know you’d be worry free.

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We loved the set-and-forget nature of the FOX CTD fork – we just left in ‘Trail’ mode the entire test and found it supple yet supportive and efficient.

Taking a closer look at the frame reveals some really nice, well-thought out design and aesthetic features. The line of the top tube melds nicely into the seat stays that culminate in some sweet 142x12mm dropouts. Tucked neatly away between the seat stay and chain stay, the rear brake caliper position just enhances the smooth lines, as too do the internally-routed cables. A press-fit bottom bracket and requisite tapered head tube ensures stiffness where it matters while the elegant gentle curve of the seat stays should allow some vertical compliance. The seat tube isn’t curved like on some 29ers, but actually joins the down tube in front of the bottom bracket, allowing the rear wheel to be tucked in nice and close. It’s all very neat!

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Tucked neatly away between the seat stay and chain stay, the rear brake caliper position just enhances the smooth lines.
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Note where the seat tube has joined the frame – just in front of the bottom bracket. This allows more room to move the rear wheel forward.
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The frame reveals some really nice, well-thought out design and aesthetic features.

The Gear:

We cannot fault the spec at all, aside from the foam grips, which have a large bulge directly under the palm that we found uncomfortable. When you’re racing, the very last thing you want to consider is a mechanical fault or a miss-shift mess with your rhythm, and the Myroon looks after you in this regard. Front shifting in particular was excellent with the direct-mount XT front mech banging out crisp changes on the twin-ring crankset. While we didn’t go tubeless, the wheels are tubeless ready, so just whack in some valves and sealant to make the bike lighter, smoother and even more reliable for racing. We loved the set-and-forget nature of the FOX CTD fork – we just left in ‘Trail’ mode the entire test and found it supple yet supportive and efficient.

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Lucky it’s a cheap easy fix if you don’t like grips.
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Ritchey bars and stem combo rounds out some very good spec on the Myroon.
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Shimano XT gear works flawlessly and the brakes are perfect.

On the Trails:

When we hit the trails, a few sizing quirks became apparent. Once again, we cannot stress how important it is to get a test ride on a bike before you lay down your hard-earned cash! Our test bike was a 17” (the size we’d ordinarily run) but we really needed a 19” in this instance.

To get the right seat height we had the post on maximum extension, and the 584mm top tube felt cramped. By way of comparison, a Trek Superfly in the same size is almost 20mm longer in the top tube, so we’d say that KTM should consider lengthening their frame. The steep 70-degree head angle enhanced this feeling, meaning the front wheel was right underneath us and it was actually possible to brush the front tyre against our shoe. (We do run our cleats quite a rearward, so this may not be an issue for every rider). Going a bigger size would’ve given us more breathing space and made for a more confident ride.

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Putting aside the sizing dramas, the Myroon delivered everything we expected.

While most of the frame proportions are tight, at the same time, we found the head tube too tall. The 120mm-long headtube is almost 20mm longer than most of the competition, and with the large cone-shaped spacer of the Ritchey headset we just couldn’t get the bar position as low as we wanted it. The only fix here is a stem with more drop (negative rise) or changing the headset upper assembly.

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A great climber and good XC racer.

Putting aside the sizing dramas, the Myroon delivered everything we expected. The light DT X1600 wheels and speedy Continental tyres (the stock spec is actually with Schwalbe Racing Ralph rubber) picked up speed like a scared rabbit, and the steep geometry gives the kind of instant responsiveness that cross country riders crave. It’s doesn’t give you the descending confidence of some bikes with more ‘new-school’ 29er geometry (ie longer top tubes, shorter stem with a slacker head angle), but for its cross country racing purpose, it’s ideal, climbing with great precision.

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The DT X1600 wheels come matched with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres (our test bike had Continental).

In Conclusion:

Our sizing gripes with this bike can be avoided by carefully selecting the correct frame for your height and riding style. If we’d been on a 19” frame we’ve got no doubt our confidence and comfort would’ve been greatly increased (though the problem of high bar height would’ve remained). Overall – especially at this price -we’re sure we’ll be seeing many more of these striking machines at cross country and marathon races across Australia in the coming months.

The Test:
Test Rider: We had two test riders for this review, Pat Campbell and Chris Southwood. Pat is 172cm tall and 75kg, Chris is 172cm tall and 64kg.
Test track: We conducted this test at Manly Dam and some other secret trails around Sydney.
Suspension setup: 15% sag.
Tyre pressure: 30psi front and rear (a little high to avoid pinching).
Other notes: We ran the bike completely stock, but consumers’ bikes should come with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres, not Continental Race Kings as on our bike.

Video: Curtis Keene Shreds Some of BC's Best MTB Trails

Mountain bike racer Curtis Keene hits British Columbia to bomb some trails on his 29er.

On a break between Enduro World Series races, Santa Monica-based Curtis Keene took a trip up to western Canada with his Enduro 29 for a sampling of the area’s well-known trails. Watch him rip down some of BC’s mountainous landscape in the video above.

Keene explored the local scenes in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, while traveling along the “Sea to Sky Corridor” following highway 99.

Video: Curtis Keene Shreds Some of BC’s Best MTB Trails

Mountain bike racer Curtis Keene hits British Columbia to bomb some trails on his 29er.

On a break between Enduro World Series races, Santa Monica-based Curtis Keene took a trip up to western Canada with his Enduro 29 for a sampling of the area’s well-known trails. Watch him rip down some of BC’s mountainous landscape in the video above.

Keene explored the local scenes in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, while traveling along the “Sea to Sky Corridor” following highway 99.

Tested: Specialized Women’s S-Works Fate Carbon 29

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Specialized S-Works Fate Carbon 29

As a female rider, the most frustrating part of the 26” vs 29” debate has nothing to do with the pros and cons of wheel size. It’s the part where people rave about the benefits of 29ers, then conclude with some kind of comment about how they’re not suited to smaller riders. Or women. Then tell you to wait another year or two so you can reap the benefits of the 27.5”/650B wheel instead.

When a bike does hit the market with a female friendly geometry, the spec is all too often mid-range or man-shaped. Tweaking the bike with high performance in mind blows the budget or means compromises are made in areas of weight, fit, performance and sex-appeal. It does feel a little unfair.

Specialized, however, have been ahead of the market in women’s design innovations for a long time. The S-Works Fate 29 we reviewed demonstrates the exceptional ride experiences that are possible when you build a race-ready hardtail around women’s needs at the top of the game. We were curious to learn more about the choices that had been made in femme-ing up the Fate and how these translated to the trails.

The Design and Construction

The key design difference between the Fate and the men’s equivalent – the Stumpjumper – is standover height. Aesthetically we see this with the big dip in the top tube, and the extra triangle near the seat post. This allows for production of the Fate in a size suited to female riders of below average height. The 15” model has a stand over height of 715mm and top tube length of 545mm, which will be music to the ears of riders who find a standard 16” frame devastatingly big.

The big dip in the top tube allows for better standover height.
The big dip in the top tube allows for better standover height.

In most other areas, the geometry of the Fate and the Stumpjumper are not that different. In several places where female riders benefit from a smaller, tighter design to boost bike handling and performance, Specialized see the advantages of this in unisex designs aimed at the cross-county and marathon racing market, too.

Basically, the lower standover has been achieved without compromising the fit and performance of the bike everywhere else. We like that. It keeps the Fate racy and familiar, not relaxed and upright, as is often the trend in recreational women’s rigs.

A low bottom bracket height keeps the centre of gravity low and adds to rider stability on the bike. The chain stays and wheelbase are shorter than average, which adds flickability and snappy handling.

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A low bottom bracket and short chain stays gave the Fate a more playful ride.

The head tube is quite short and coupled with an 80mm-travel RockShox SID World Cup 29 Brain fork to keep the bars nice and low. The fork is an interesting number; it uses Specialized’s Brain damping (developed in conjunction with FOX) bundled into the chassis of a RockShox SID World Cup fork. The shorter fork reduces the need for awkward looking negative rise stems – or increases their impact for riders who want the handlebars closer to the ground.

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The RockShox SID World Cup with BRAINs.
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The short headtube helped get the correct fit without the need for a big negative rise stem.

When we jumped on the Fate it felt instantly ‘right.’ The frame design, as a whole, felt balanced and responsive, and meant we could really throw the bike around the trails as a result. This is not just due to the geometry, but the smart choices made in the build.

The Gear

At a quick scan, the Fate glitters with top of the line bling. It runs a Shimano XTR group with custom SRAM XX chain rings attached to Specialized S-Works OS cranks. This is matched to Roval Control SL 29” Carbon hoops; a higher-end model of the Roval Control 29’s we reviewed recently. We expected to see through-axle skewers here for extra stiffness and were surprised to see Titanium quick releases instead. That said, the Roval hubs use oversized axle end-caps that Specialized claim make the fork just as stiff as a bolt-through setup.

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Straight off the shop floor the S-Works Fate comes with all the bling you’d ever need.
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Roval Control SL 29” Carbon hoops.

Looking closer, everything we’d normally change to adapt a high-end unisex XC rig for female use had been done for us: A light weight women’s Jett Expert Gel saddle (with Ti rails), a slightly shorter Syntace stem (75mm on the Medium frame), and 660mm S-Works Carbon XC flat handlebars that are two centimetres narrower than those specced on the Stumpjumper.

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Syntace 75mm stem and light weight saddle (with Ti rails) are just some of the features that make the S-Works Fate a top-of-the-line model.

The Fate runs slightly easier front gearing than the Stumpy (36/22 compared to 38/24). And we really liked that the crank length changes with each frame size and seem rider appropriate.

We felt very cared for by this build. It does the thinking for riders who don’t know which changes will increase comfort and performance, and, more subtle adjustments aside, takes the pain out of additional ordering for women who do.

On the Trail

You know that feeling when Christmas arrives and Santa has delivered twice as many gifts as you hoped for? That’s what riding the Fate feels like. It’s snappy, playful, lightening fast in response to each pedal stroke and blew our best times up climbs out of the water. We missed rear suspension on some particularly rocky tracks, but it responded so well as we pumped, leant and pushed it through a variety of terrain that it made us fall in love with riding all over again.

Our first adventure was the three-day, 265km Sani2c stage race in South Africa, an event that was sure to put the bike’s racy aspirations to the test: Fast fire roads, buff, twisty, singletrack, floating bridges, long mud bogs, long gentle climbs, steep technical ones, a long run of river stones and fast, furious descents.

The Fate sunning itself in the afternoon glow of South Africa.
The Fate sunning itself in the afternoon glow of South Africa.

The compliant carbon weave, along with thin tubing for the seat stays and directly below the seat post, absorbed the varied terrain exceptionally well. The stiffness-to-weight ratio of the frame, and the fast-rolling, carbon wheelset meant every pedal stroke was rewarded with motivating forward momentum. When competitors booked massages for sore legs and backs between stages, we lubed the chain, checked the tyre pressures and hung out in the food hall.

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Some thinner tubing in the right spots gave the bike a more comfortable compliant feel.

Curious to push the Fate through more technical terrain, our next stop was some popular race loops back in Oz. Instead of really working the bike through corners like we’re accustomed to, this one held its speed effortlessly, exiting familiar corners far quicker than we expected given that this is an area where some 29ers are prone to struggling. In tight, twisty sections of the track, the dialled geometry of the bike really stood out, out-performing the high-end 26” duallie we’ve used on these trails most recently.

The wheelbase on the Fate is in fact shorter than that of the 26” bike we’ve been riding recently, which goes a long way to explaining why we didn’t have to consciously adjust line choices or cornering technique. We found ourselves eagerly looking up the calendar just to see what this bike could do in race conditions and what we could do on it, as a result.

The light weight and soft compound of the S-Works Fast Trak 2Bliss ready rubber made for excellent, grippy traction, and was particularly noticeable as we mowed down technical sandstone climbs. These treads are well suited to typical Australian loose-over-hardpack conditions, although thin sidewalls make them best reserved for special occasions.

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Good rubber makes a big difference to your ride and the Fast Trak’s were spot on for traction and control (just be careful on rides with sharp rocks).

Given that after bike fit, getting suspension dialled is the next difficult issue for female riders, we had high expectations of forks. The 80mm of travel worked well for the Fate’s intended use and we never found ourselves wishing for any more. Unfortunately, our 55kg tester was unable to set it up to provide for a plusher, more responsive ride feel as we’d hoped. They performed well in smooth terrain but were harsher than expected along smaller bumps and braking ruts. This poor small-bump compliance meant we never really engaged the Brain damping, running the fork in its ‘full open’ setting the whole time during our test. If this were our own bike, we’d be investigating some ways to get some internal tweaking done to make the fork more reactive on small bumps.

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If you’re a light person we recommend you spend time with your local bike shop to get the forks dialled perfectly.

The only other negative we experienced was that the enamel was prone to chipping, something that appears to be an anomaly of our test rig. This was aggravated by changing the seat height during transport and by using tape or stickers to attach spare inner tubes or course profiles to the frame. While these reservations are important to mention, neither would be deal breakers if we were looking to buy the Fate.

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We noted some enamel chipping – maybe caused by us, but something to keep your eye on.

Overall

Instead of burning energy constantly playing catch up, the Fate allows its pilot to pick and choose where and when to play her cards. Energy expenditure is rewarded rather than wasted, allowing for smart, strategic racing, better recovery, and the confidence that comes with both.

The biggest market for the Fate is obviously the women’s XC and Marathon racing scene. It is equally suited to riders who enjoy the feel and manoeuvrability that comes with using technology and design innovations that are at the top of the game. If you rely heavily on suspension for confidence on technical trails, it is probably not for you.

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Due to the absolute lack of competition for a women’s specific, race-ready build straight off the shelf, we see the Fate as a being a bike that disrupts brand and shop loyalties as well.

In terms of price, $7999 is what we’d expect for a bike at this level. It’s almost justified by the motivation the Fate adds to your hunger for riding and the hundreds of dollars saved by not having to radically alter the cockpit and contact points. ‘Expert Carbon’ ($3,999) and ‘Comp Carbon’ ($2,999) models are available for women wanting to reap the Fate’s rewards for a more modest spend.

THE TEST:
Test rider: Kath Bicknell, our test rider for this review, is 55kg and 164cm tall.
Suspension: 75psi front
Tyre pressure: 22psi rear, 21psi front.
Test conducted: Locations included Stromlo Forest Park and Bruce Ridge, ACT, Yellowmundee NSW and through the rocky, sandy, thorny and varied terrain of South Africa.
Other notes: The fact that the Fate climbs so blindingly fast and accelerates without hesitation meant we often wished for slightly harder gearing on fire roads and descents. Whether this is a product of years of riding harder gears stocked on unisex bikes is hard to tell.

 

Tested: Cube LTD Race 29

Cube is a 20-year-old German Bike Company that only recently made a name for itself on Australian shores. Cube has quickly gained local acceptance with a large range of performance mountain and road bikes at very competitive prices. One of Australia’s better known and more successful XC racing teams; Team TORQ is sponsored by Cube and so the 29” Cube’s are often seen at the pointy end of the field. We took the new Cube Ltd Race 29 out to see if this budget racer could keep up within a highly competitive and popular segment.

The Cube LTD Race 29.

First pulling this bike out of the box, we were pleasantly surprised. The LTD Race 29 looks twice its price and the colour-matched scheme of charcoal grey and green is difficult to dislike. Looking over the frame, it’s obvious that Cube has put a lot of thought into creating a short and snappy rear end; what Cube calls ‘Agile Ride Geometry’ or ‘ARG’. ARG is what Cube claims to make their 29” bikes handle closer to a 26”. Tucking the rear wheel tight to the seattube is no easy task and Cube employs the use of a direct mount front derailleur to aid in additional clearance. While clearance increases, the direct mount front derailleur is stiffer and easier to setup compared to conventional band clamp style derailleurs.

The use of a direct mount front derailleur has helped with frame design and keeping the rear-end short. Look how close that tyre is the the seattube.

Further clearance is achieved with the lack of a chainstay bridge near the bottom bracket. With a double-butted aluminum construction and mostly round tubes, the frame relieves weight out of the center of the tube while keeping the thickness at the ends where it is needed most for weld strength. Other areas of the frame aren’t as innovative and Cube makes use of a standard 1 1/8” straight head tube, threaded bottom bracket and IS type brake mounts; all features that work perfectly but are becoming a rare sight amongst the latest offerings.

It could almost be considered ‘retro’ to have a standard 1 1/8″ head tube these days.

On the trail, the LTD Race was no different to many other alloy hard tail frames and didn’t offer much compliance or comfort. On longer rides, we found our bodies more fatigued compared to higher end, smoother riding options. The upside to this is the immediate reward of power transfer with little hint of frame flex under power.

Geometry wise and thanks to ‘ARG’, the Cube features a competitively short rear end which made the bike feel more sprightly and flickable in tighter trails and on steeper climbs. At front, the head angle is a fairly slack (By 29” XC standards) 70 degrees and due to this, we experienced the front end drifting and washing out by surprise in a few turns. Lowering the handlebars would counter this handling quirk and Cube has gone to great lengths to make the head tube amazingly short, sadly this is then undone with the fitting of a 20mm tall headset top cap. This kept us from reaching our ideal bar height, although most riders will be happy with the available bar heights and shallower top caps can be bought cheaply if a lower bar height is desired. It’s worth noting that the issue of bar height is not specific to the Cube and is a common trait of many 29ers and there are now many aftermarket offerings in handlebars and stems to help achieve a lower bar height.

A short head tube will enable you to make bar height adjustments. You will just have to purchase a new headset top cap to replace the big 20mm one the bike comes with.

The LTD Race 29 features a few componentry surprises for the price and the 100mm RockShox Reba RL air fork with remote lockout is one of them. This fork was a pleasure to setup and will please newcomers with just air preload and rebound to adjust before hitting the trail. Even with the lack of a thru-axle and tapered head tube, the short travel Reba handled technical terrain with confidence and the lack of easily detectable flex is much in part due to the stiff and solid wheelset.

The RockShox Reba SL is an excellent fork for such a well priced bike.

The wheelset uses Shimano XT hubs that were a true delight for the price point. Using quality double-butted spokes with good even tension to the Alex 24 rims, these wheels were a fantastic mix of stiffness and durability, however they won’t be winning any weight weenie awards.

Wrapped around the rims were the brand new Schwalbe Rapid Rob tyres in a cool matching grey charcoal. Sharing the pattern of the much loved previous generation Racing Ralph, these feature close packed knobs for fast rolling and more than adequate traction on all but the loosest dry and soggy terrains. With a roomy 2.25″ width, the Rapid Rob’s certainly helped take the harsh sting away from the rock solid frame.

Schwable Rapid Rob, in grey.

A combination of a Shimano XT and SLX drivetrain offered dependable shift performance and didn’t miss a beat all test, and while the cheaper non-series level crankset worked a treat, it adds weight to the overall package. The Magura MT2 brakes didn’t offer a firm lever feel that many newer riders prefer, however they proved to be reliable stoppers with easily controlled bite. These brakes lack the all out power of higher end brakes, though the larger rotor on the front made up for this shortcoming.

The Magura MT2’s did the job but you have to remember this bike is at the bottom end of the market and they’re not going to be the best avaliable.

The wide 720mm handlebar had a comfortable bend and rock solid feel, however many riders upgrading from older bikes or coming across from the road will want to trim the width of these bars down to a more manageable 660-680mm width. Cube’s own grip was overly firm and didn’t help with fatigue, this is the first upgrade we’d suggest and luckily it’s a cheap one.

Bar width is a very personal thing and with 720mm as a standard with there is plenty of room to play with for adjusting.

There are many great offerings for sub 2 grand 29er hardtails and the Cube LTD Race 29 can be added to that list. Cube has managed a smart balance of a quality frame and components where it really matters while still not skimping in other areas. Even without the latest tapered steerer tube, thru-axles and weight saving frame features, the Cube’s great fork and durable build will serve for many years to come.

Twenty-niners Can Jump

Chris Doney shows us just what is possible on board his Charge Cooker 29er Single Speed.

The bike he is riding in the video is a stock single speed 29er Charge Cooker frame in size small with some specially shortened (60mm travel) Rockshox Reba forks. This is one of a fleet of bikes that were made last year for the Red Bull / Charge Bikes Weavers slalom event. After the event we handed a few of these custom bikes out to a select few of the talented riders that attended… Chris was one of them!

Tested: Commencal Meta AM 2 29er

Without a doubt aesthetics has a lot to do with a consumer’s bike choice. You could have the world’s best performing mountain bike but if it’s ugly then you’ll be hard pressed moving it off the shelves. The same can be said for the opposite.  Make it sexy, but if it has little substance, then the novelty will soon wear off and the people will shy away.

This is where the Commencal Meta AM 2 29er shines, it looks damn good and works well to match. The bright colour, big tubes, the low and positive stance, and the neat internal cable routing all make for a clean and strong looking mountain bike. There weren’t many times when people didn’t stop us to check out the bike, and conversely, there weren’t may times when we were asking for more performance out on the roughest and toughest of trails.

We took the Commencal out for a test recently and here’s what we thought.

The Design

We think the bike looks very sexy. Just look at the cables disappear into the frame.

The 130mm travel Meta AM 29er is designed for all-mountain riding and is built for a more aggressive rider who loves to hit the trails hard. Made from triple butted aluminium the AM 29er is big and strong. Every tube is oversized and some of the pivot bolts require allen keys sizes which you probably won’t have in your toolset. The frame looks a little over-engineered and maybe some weight could have been shaved off, however the strength and durability of the AM should be something you have little to worry about.

Everything is big. Most people would not have a 10mm allen key, let alone a torque wrench that goes up to 35NM. The bottom pivot did come loose once and lucky for us we had both tools. It never came loose again.

The head angle is a relatively slack 68 degrees, bottom bracket drop -33mm, and chainstay length 458mm – all elements designed to make the bike more stable at speed. The top tube is very sloped and gives the bike excellent standover height and cockpit room, both of which are very important on bigger wheeled bikes.

The rear suspension is based around the Contact System Evo design initially launched on the Commencal downhill bikes. Simplistically, it has been downsized from the downhill design and is basically a linkage driven single-pivot rear-end with the shock neatly tucked away low in the frame. The shock position is great for lowering the centre of gravity but the position does have an unintended consequence, which we will go into later.

The Contact System EVO, based on the successful downhill suspension platform, and scaled down for the smaller bikes.

The rest of the design continues the theme of big, strong and aggressive. The 142×12 rear was notably stiff, the tapered headtube keeps the front pointed, and the massive pivots reduced flex.

One standout design feature we loved was the internal cable routing. Yes, the bane of bike mechanics world wide, but we loved how neat and functional Commencal had made all the routing. Every cable disappears seamlessly into the frame and only re-appears at the last possible moment – making for a very clean looking frame. No additional noise was noted from the routing either.

One of the best displays of internal cable routing we have seen on a mountain bike.

There where two notable negatives from a design perspective and those were the lack of water bottle mount and the rear shock position – nice and low and tucked away. The first is pretty explanatory and you better invest in a good hydration pack, however the latter needs a little explanation. We have raved and raved about how good FOX CTD is and how much we love to be able to adjust our bikes while riding. However, the rather “tucked away” shock position did make it harder for shorter riders, or those built like a T-Rex, to reach down and find the CTD adjusting lever.

For those who like the data and stats here’s the important numbers.

The Build

The Meta AM is built with middle level spec – but is priced there too. All parts are strong and durable but do add to the overall weight. That can be a good thing as it enables you to throw your leg over an excellent frame for a good price, and then later update the parts to continually improve your ride.

The FOX suspension was excellent with CTD (Climb, Trail, Descend) on both ends. Having on-bike adjustability is a key for all-mountain bike riding.
The bars, stem and grips are all Commencal in-house brands. The grips were comfortable and the 730mm bars felt the right width. We did flip the stem to get a little lower on the front but that was definitely a personal preference rather than to compensate for any design deficiency.
The drive train was a mix of SRAM products. X5 cranks (38/24), X7 front and rear derailleur, X5 shifters, and SRAM PG-1030 11-35 rear cluster. Nothing you would Instagram about but all worked well together. We do love the new clutch/type 2 derailleurs and thought that was the only missing part.

As with many a bike in this class we would have liked to see a single right setup with chain guide. The frame has ISCG mounts so of you do choose to do go down that path you can easily.

The wheels are 15mm up front and 142×12 rear. We did notice some steering flex from the front end of the bike and felt the wheels could have been a little stiffer to reduce this. That being said, they remained straight and true with no issues.  The rims are not UST compatible however we did convert them to tubeless without any hassles (using a good rim strip). It’s almost blasphemy to not run tubeless in this day-and-age.

The Formula RX 12 brakes worked very well with no noise or issues noted. We have been impressed by Formula as of late and matched with 180mm rotors, both front and rear, we had no hassles pulling up when needed.
The Kenda Nevagal tyres are a good choice for more aggressive riding, however, we noted that the European spec for the same bike supplied a Kenda Small Block 8 for the rear. We did have some issues with rear tyre rub on the front derailleur cable and a single instance of the rear tyre hitting the seat tube on extreme bottom-out, so we recommend you change the rear tyre to something smaller.

The Ride

The AM gave us the confidence to attempt the toughest lines.

The Meta AM was a great bike to ride on the rougher, steeper trails. Once pointed downhill the bike would be able to maintain any line you asked …or didn’t ask. Great at masking poor line choices, the strong frame and larger wheels were able to keep us surprisingly upright even when we had our eyes shut in preparation for something worse. We found this to be the real strength of the bike – its ability to mask mistakes and maintain momentum at the worst of times. We could pick any rock garden and ride down it with little regard to line, or self.

Of course, a bike being this heavy was a little sluggish uphill. We’d be lying of we said anything else. But that’s not why you would buy this bike. As long as you begin your journey with that in mind you will recognise that the energy you can save by going a little slower on the climbs is better expended on the fun stuff when pointed down anyway. We were still able to climb the steepest trails no problems, just a little slower, or a little more exhausted if we tried to smash it.

The Commencal loved going fast and the more momentum you gained the more it kept.

We did find the rear suspension to be a little linear and finding that perfect balance between blowing through the travel and small bump performance a hard balancing act. We found we would blow through the travel with little “ramping up” at the end of the stroke and thus had to keep adding air to the rear shock to avoid harsh hits on the really large knocks. However, once we added too much air the small bump performance was compromised. We did end up getting the balance correct and had to run the shock with a little less sag than normal and set the CTD on Trail mode for climbing and left in the the Descend mode for pretty much everything else.

The larger tubing and wide setting of the rear end did mean some shoe rubbing on the frame but that’s less of an issue for clipped in riders than those on flats. It was never noticed on the trails and only post bike-wash was it revealed.

Overall we loved the ride of the AM 29er and found joy in hitting rock gardens with more confidence. The bike wasn’t nimble on the tighter stuff but once allowed to wind up, it was hard to stop. We, in fact, were able to ride sections of trails faster than we ever had and joyed at sessioning difficult sections of trail.

The Conclusion

The Commencal Meta AM 2 29er is a great if you prefer riding more down than up. It’s more than confident holding a line and the faster you go the more stable the bike feels.  Without a doubt, it will instil confidence in your descending and technical riding. It is a big bike, a little the heavy side, so you will just have to make sure you take your time enjoying the sights as you slowly climb.

If this bike was a little lighter it would be in our shed.

Fresh: Specialized Unveils Full Suspension Women's 29er

Specialized Bicycle Components unveils the much-anticipated Rumor ‐ their first full‐suspension women’s 29er.

Built with Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry, the Rumor is created from the ground up to be one of the lightest weight and best fitting full-­‐suspension 29ers for women.

“We built a full-­‐suspension 29’er because we have seen how much fit and 29’’ wheels enhance confidence and stability for women out on the trails,” said Women’s Product Manager Erin Sprague. “Our product testers are around five feet tall and their trail experiences have improved dramatically on this platform. We believe that this bike is a game changer, and women’s mountain biking is the next big thing,” she added.

The Rumor is available in three model levels and offers the latest available technology for women’s 29er riders. The all-­‐new Women’s M5 Alloy frame features Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry and tube sets, 110mm front and rear travel, a tapered head tube for precision handling, internal cable routing, ultra-­‐low stand over height and unlike its competitors, water bottle clearance on all sizes.

Specialized was able to achieve this by designing the bike from the ground up, with a two‐piece top and shock carriage. This enabled the team to create in­‐line suspension and reach all 29er design targets in terms of stand over, ride quality and bottle clearance. The Rumor offers custom tuned suspension, appropriate for female riders. Extensive field‐testing and research on women’s center of gravity and weight distribution helped to determine the optimal spring rate for female riders. By designing the bike and suspension in tandem, Specialized has been able to achieve completely balanced performance that is appropriate to the female rider.

Specialized Autosag suspension tuning is available on the comp and expert level models. Autosag automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock, providing a quick and simple adjustment for optimal suspension performance.

To use Autosag, a rider sits in the saddle and pushes a specially designed transfer port on the shock to release air pressure until a set level, which is based on the rider’s weight. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves ‘perfect sag’. Perfect sag allows for any rider, regardless of mechanical experience, to properly set up the rear suspension of their bike to ensure a comfortable trail experience.

Women’s Body Geometry data was used throughout the development of the Rumor. The Jett saddle, Women’s Enduro grips and size specific components ensure that female riders get the best fit at every contact point. Everything from small diameter grips to size-­‐specific crank lengths are optimized for female riders.

Please visit specialized.com to learn more and experience the Rumor, the most stable and confidence‐inspiring women’s full‐suspension 29er on the trail.

Fresh: Specialized Unveils Full Suspension Women’s 29er

Specialized Bicycle Components unveils the much-anticipated Rumor ‐ their first full‐suspension women’s 29er.

Built with Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry, the Rumor is created from the ground up to be one of the lightest weight and best fitting full-­‐suspension 29ers for women.

“We built a full-­‐suspension 29’er because we have seen how much fit and 29’’ wheels enhance confidence and stability for women out on the trails,” said Women’s Product Manager Erin Sprague. “Our product testers are around five feet tall and their trail experiences have improved dramatically on this platform. We believe that this bike is a game changer, and women’s mountain biking is the next big thing,” she added.

The Rumor is available in three model levels and offers the latest available technology for women’s 29er riders. The all-­‐new Women’s M5 Alloy frame features Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry and tube sets, 110mm front and rear travel, a tapered head tube for precision handling, internal cable routing, ultra-­‐low stand over height and unlike its competitors, water bottle clearance on all sizes.

Specialized was able to achieve this by designing the bike from the ground up, with a two‐piece top and shock carriage. This enabled the team to create in­‐line suspension and reach all 29er design targets in terms of stand over, ride quality and bottle clearance. The Rumor offers custom tuned suspension, appropriate for female riders. Extensive field‐testing and research on women’s center of gravity and weight distribution helped to determine the optimal spring rate for female riders. By designing the bike and suspension in tandem, Specialized has been able to achieve completely balanced performance that is appropriate to the female rider.

Specialized Autosag suspension tuning is available on the comp and expert level models. Autosag automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock, providing a quick and simple adjustment for optimal suspension performance.

To use Autosag, a rider sits in the saddle and pushes a specially designed transfer port on the shock to release air pressure until a set level, which is based on the rider’s weight. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves ‘perfect sag’. Perfect sag allows for any rider, regardless of mechanical experience, to properly set up the rear suspension of their bike to ensure a comfortable trail experience.

Women’s Body Geometry data was used throughout the development of the Rumor. The Jett saddle, Women’s Enduro grips and size specific components ensure that female riders get the best fit at every contact point. Everything from small diameter grips to size-­‐specific crank lengths are optimized for female riders.

Please visit specialized.com to learn more and experience the Rumor, the most stable and confidence‐inspiring women’s full‐suspension 29er on the trail.

Cannondale Trigger 29er 1

Fresh from the folk who approach things a little differently comes the Cannondale Trigger, a peculiar looking beast packing enough tech features to make a vegetarian single speeder throw their hands in the air.

The Cannondale Trigger 29er 1

With 130mm of adjustable travel, aggressive tyres fitted to 29” wheels, wide bars and a dropper post this guy is pretty new school and attracts a lot of confused looks. For starters, it uses Cannondale’s radical one sided Lefty suspension ‘fork’ (can we call it a fork?) that still puzzles people, and out the back, resembling something you would use for underwater exploration, the FOX DYAD shock. It’s all about adjustability and adaptability for this bike.

Let’s begin with the front suspension. This Lefty is a fatty, with a far bigger girth than any Lefty we’ve seen; hence the steering precision is simply outstanding. To allow you to run a short stem (normally impossible with a Lefty, due to the top of the leg interfering with the handlebars), this new Lefty Max uses a 60mm offset axle allowing Cannondale to run a stumpy 50mm stem for rapid steering.

The ability to run the shorter stem was a great addition to the Trigger. It matched the type of riding the bike was designed for. The stack height is adjustable also via the five spacers.

Without going into too much detail about the fork’s workings and internals, what is does well is go exactly where you point it. With a firm grip on the bars you can steer it through all sorts of surfaces without that uncertainty that twisting fork legs can give you when pushed hard. It was a real highlight in fact, and we found ourselves using the bike’s solid steering to its fullest. Line choices were less crucial, as the notion of simply ploughing through whatever was in your path became a very good option.

This Lefty is fatter than most and we loved the steering precision. The only downside we noticed was its competence with high speed bump performance.

It was however not all rosy and sweet. We found the Lefty’s suspension action to be very harsh on our hands when the speeds increased, as if the fork just wasn’t reacting fast enough for repetitive hits, even with the rebound adjuster wound as fast as it would go. We raced this bike in the Flow Rollercoaster Gravity Enduro down Thredbo’s new Kosciusko Flow Trail, where you go flying full speed into repetitive braking ruts for over ten minutes. After back-to-back comparisons between a 26” bike with a FOX fork, the Lefty just felt wooden and harsh on the hands. We tried various air pressure settings, but that didn’t have much of an impact.

At slow speed however, the front and rear suspension felt plush, smooth, sensitive and balanced. It left us wondering if the fork could be tuned internally (or wishing for more external adjustments) so we could dial it in for faster terrain.

The unusual looking FOX DYAD uses two air chambers.

The rear suspension on the other hand pleased us and does what it sets out to do perfectly. Via the remote lever on the handlebar, you are able to toggle between two travel modes (130mm and 80mm), noting that this also has an effect on the bike’s riding position. Hitting the ergonomic lever is very easy; pushing it lessens the rear travel and stiffens the suspension, plus it lifts the back of the bike up slightly, putting you in a better climbing position (similar to dropping a travel-adjustable fork down in its travel).

The DYAD remote leaver enables you to change the travel from 130mm to 80mm and is easy to use at any time.

We used the lever regularly when we riding undulating singletrack, partially because in full travel mode the bike did wallow slightly under big bursts of pedal power, but also because it helped the bike jump up and get the uphills over and done with super fast. Setting the rear suspension air pressures is a little bit more involved than usual (as you’ve got two air chambers to deal with), but Cannondale have a handy little app that does the calculations off your body weight for you, taking out the guesswork. FOX also has this helpful page to help you set-up yours.

The performance of the rear suspension pleased us and via Cannondale’s setup guide app, it’s not too hard to set up either.

The way the Trigger rides is what we’d like to call new school. Our test bike came in size small, but still the generous length in the front end coupled with a short stem and wide 730mm bars put you in a position ready for trail negotiation, rather than racing efficiency. Take the Trigger to a technical trail and it will eat it up. The traction from the 29” wheels and the mighty Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres is more generous than we could hope for, and breaking traction through a corner or up a steep climb became a novelty if it ever happened. We absolutely love these tyres, even though they may be a little slower to get rolling, the added traction outweighs that when you need far less braking to get through the turns without slipping.

Wide handlebars and a short stem matched with aggressive tyres gave the Trigger a great level of traction and control.

It seems like when a 29er with more than 120mm of travel is released, all attention goes to the length of the chain stays and how short they can be (shorter means snappier handling). At 448mm it is a couple millimetres shorter than the comparable Specialized Stumpjumper FSR we reviewed recently, and on the trail the Trigger rips through turns as fast as we could ever hope for. 13.6kg is a fair weight too, considering its burly nature.

If you take a close look at the frame, the fine construction and neat finishing will be easy to see. Large axles in the suspension pivots and wildly shaped tubing make the Trigger look even burlier than it rides, and give the bike its laterally stiff character. The rear dropout is a classy feature, using one 5mm allen key in the Syntace X-12 rear axle system, no quick release skewer to bash on rocks, but requires a key for wheel removal like the front does.

The frame is built large and strong and looks even burlier than it rides.
The details are not just aesthetically pleasing, they too are built for strength and purpose.

Cannondale have dressed the Trigger for success, with all the components performing well during our testing session. Even the basic X-Fusion adjustable post – although pretty squeaky when compressed – was always there for us. The brakes were super, and a Shadow Plus rear derailleur kept the drivetrain from losing composure in the rough. In one muddy ride the rear tyre, being tucked in so close, did deposit a lot of trail gloop right into the front derailleur mechanism and the front shifting started to go bad – just one more reason to fit a single chain ring setup we say! The only real mechanical issues was having to spend 15 minutes with a spoke key on the front wheel, after it lost a lot of spoke tension after only a few rides.

Oh yes we did like the Trigger, if it wasn’t for our aching hands at Thredbo we would have never given it back. It’s a real ‘one bike for all rides’ type of bike, and enjoyed what we were able to conquer on the trails aboard such a grippy and agile riding bike.

 

Syntace supplies the rear axle. The X12 system is neat and simple, using only one 5mm allen key to remove the wheel.
X-Fusion’s adjustable post lacked a smooth action, but never failed to work fine during testing.
Hit the blue lever and the fork nearly locks out, and to unlock simply push on the red section to engage.
Many of the suspension pivots use an axle and clamp system.
Note the fork axle offset.
Shimano XT brakes are simply amazing, all the time.
For a bike with a remote lever for the seatpost and rear shock, the cabling is still very neat.
Looks funky, doesn’t it? It rides great too.

 

 

Introducing the Specialized Enduro 29

You may have seen some exciting things around the internet and heard whispers among riders that something big was happening with the Specialized Enduro. We are officially launching the all-new Enduro 29 today and we want to share the information with you.

There are two main reasons we created the Enduro 29.

1. The Enduro scene is growing with many riders wanting the best bike that gives them confidence in the challenging terrain of this All-Mountain experience. Whether this means racing on the emerging Enduro World Series or seeking adventure in the mountains, the Enduro 29 is up to the task.

2. The Specialized way of making a 29er is unrivaled. We make the best 29ers because of our attention to detail & we bring riders what they want. A 29er in the
All-Mountain category was thought to be impossible because of the challenges with fit, geometry, & weight. But we have figured it out and it further propels our 29er story.

Look closely at the Enduro 29. We’ve engineered a production 29er with 155mm of rear wheel travel (and 150mm up front); while also specifically tuning our AUTOSAG-equipped FSR suspension to soak up big hits at speed, yet provide trail bike-like pedaling performance. The “X-Wing” frame features dialed All-Mountain 29 Geometry, chainguide mounts, and internal Command Post cable routing.

Enduro-style racing has grown in popularity across North America and Europe, and for good reason—the events are awesome! To conquer these physically demanding courses a rider needs an agile, mid-travel full-suspension machine that pedals efficiently for out-of-the-saddle sprints and uphill sections of trail, but has spot-on geometry for aggressive descending. Our all-new Enduros are designed to give these riders the ideal machine for these events, while taking the bike-choice guessing game out of the equation. The choice is Enduro—with a wheel size for every riding style.

This is very exciting for all of us at Specialized. We are dedicated to making the best bikes and equipment for riders while continuing to innovate to make that happen. The Enduro 29 embodies these ideas. The notion of a 29er like this was thought impossible but we knew this would benefit the riders and worked to bring this bike to reality.

The all-new Enduro 29 “X-Wing”-frame with dialed All-Mountain Geo, dynamic in-line suspension, internal Command Post routing, tapered head tube, tight wheelbase (only 6mm longer than the 26-inch Enduro), carbon PF30 bottom bracket, and 142+ dropouts.
FSR is the most successful high-performance suspension system, continually refined since 1993. Now
with AUTOSAG, a revolutionary SBC technology that automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock.  155mm travel at the rear and 150mm on the front.
Remote-activated, three-position mechanical 100mm or 125mm-drop seatpost with new internal cable routing and external air pressure valve.
All-new, hand-crafted Traverse SL 29 carbon wheelset with Zero Bead Hook technology and 142+ compatible rear hub spacing.