First Look: 6D ATB-1T EVO Helmet

So what’s the deal?

Fundamentally, open-face helmets haven’t changed much since the introduction of EPS (expanded polystyrene) as the material of choice, so the 6D ATB-1T helmet is a very progressive piece of kit. This is the first open-face mountain bike helmet to use 6D’s Omni Directional Suspension (ODS) technology. Cutting past the fluff, the aim of the game here is to create a helmet that transfers less energy to your noggin in the event of a crash than any other open-face on the market, which means less risk of brain injury.

The most brain friendly open-face yet?

How is that done?

What we have here with the 6D is kind of a helmet within a helmet – look closely and you’ll see there are two separate EPS shells, the outer one is firmer, the inner one is a little softer. But it’s what goes on between the two shells that really gives the 6D its brain saving edge, namely the ODS system.

Kind of like the turducken of the helmet world. Layers within layers.

ODS is a series of small flexible dampers – they look like little rubber hour-glasses or buttons – mounted to two plastic carriers that are joined to the EPS shells (take a look at the pic below for more clarity). The whole system ‘suspends’ the shells, allowing them to have degree of movement independent of each other.

Why go to all this trouble?

We don’t profess to be physiologists, neurologists or even very intelligent, but here’s what we understand. We’re still learning a lot about brain injuries, in all kinds of sports, but one of the most interesting things to emerge recently is data about the energy transfer in oblique impacts (e.g. the kinds where your head hits the ground at an angle, and slides or skims, rather than smacking straight down). What has been found, is that the angular acceleration passed to your head from an oblique impact is exactly the same whether the rider is wearing a conventional (read, traditional EPS) helmet or not. And given that angular acceleration is the primary cause of concussion, it makes sense to try and mitigate this.

6D claim that their ODS system achieves this and “dramatically reduces the transfer of angular acceleration to the head forms and the brain.”

The little red dampers, sandwiched between the two shells.

In terms of protecting you from other impacts – for instance toppling over backwards and hitting your head, or running front on into a tree – 6D claim they outperform all comers in those instances too. They say that other helmets, in order to pass high-velocity impact tests, are made too stiff and hard and therefore sacrifice absorption against low-velocity impacts. The 6D, by virtue of its dual density EPS shells and ODS, is able to offer more cushion against these low-velocity impacts, while the firmer outer shell doesn’t sacrifice protection in high-velocity impacts either. Look, we’re going to have to take their word for it here, but it makes sense to us.

The heart of the ODS system. The carriers, separated by low friction discs and with their movement controlled by the dampers, allow the two shells a degree of independence from each other.

How does this system differ to MIPS?

You’re probably familiar with the MIPS system, or you’ll have at least likely seen the little yellow label on many modern helmets. The ODS system is different to MIPS in a number of ways, but in essence, MIPS is a helmet liner that is designed to introduce a slip plane between your helmet and head, to reduce rotational forces upon impact. The 6D approach achieves the same outcomes (by virtue of the two shells being able to ‘slip’ relative to each other) as well as offering more compliance and energy absorption than a helmet without ODS.

The 6D vs the popular Giro Montaro. The extra size of the 6D is clear.

Is it bigger than a regular helmet?

All that technology has to fit somewhere, so yes, the 6D ATB is probably larger and heavier than your current helmet. Our size M/L weighs 524g. By way of comparison, a Giro Montaro with MIPS is 390g in size medium.

Size-wise, it is a big helmet. But really, when you compare it to many other three-quarter coverage trail helmets (particularly thenew Fox Meta helmet, or even the Bell Super) it’s not over-the-top big.

Does it look good?

From a styling sense, yes, we think it’s a cool looking helmet. The graphics are sharp, there’s a tonne of colour options, plenty of visor adjustability, and the retention system is easy to use. Still, it is big, and the overall size of the 6D is definitely going to turn off some riders who fear looking a bit like a mushroom, but surely your safety is more important than that. And we think you’d quickly get used to it too.

There are six colour options to choose from.

The 6D will set you back $289, which is certainly on the upper end of the helmet spectrum, but we actually think it’s a pretty sharp price given the innovation and R&D that has clearly been invested here. We’re going to ride this thing over the coming weeks, and while we can’t promise that we’re going to crash on to our heads in the name of testing, we’ll be back with a full report on the comfort, fit and ride performance soon.

Flow’s First Bite: Pivot Mach 429 Trail

Like a Russian gymnast from the 1980s, Pivot Cycles seems to be growing bigger and stronger and at rate that beggars belief. In the last few months this Arizonan company has released an all-new Mach 4 (which we’ve had on long-term test), the lightweight Mach 429SL and now a gorgeous do-it-all 29er with the 429 Trail. That’s a lot of new platforms for a small operator.


From the moment we caught wind of this bike, we made it our mission to secure some saddle time with extreme urgency, and we grabbed this early release air-freighted demo bike practically straight out of the Fedex cargo hold so we could get it onto the trails ASAP.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 31

The 429 Trail is not just 429SL with a longer fork bolted on (it’s designed around 130mm up front), but is a very different machine entirely. Geometry-wise, Pivot have added a bit of tiger to the tank, by slackening the head angle to 67.5 degrees and shortening the stays to 437mm. Rear wheel travel goes up a bit too, to a very precise 116mm.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 19

It’s the first 29er we’ve ridden that employs the full suite of new Boost hub spacings, with a 148x12mm rear axle and an 110x15mm front. It’s all in the name of increasing stiffness and clearance, two issues that still plague 29ers in the trail/all-mountain category where hard riding and big tyres often don’t play nicely.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 5
Wider hub spacing allows for a wider hub flanges, for stiffer wheels, and a wider chainline, which increases clearance and allows shorter stays. The rear axle is a bolt-up affair – we like its clean simplicity.

While the 429 Trail isn’t a grand departure in design style for Pivot, it takes things in a slightly new direction. We have to admit, as much as we admire these bikes, Pivots have traditionally ranked pretty highly on the ugly’o’meter. Function over form, perhaps? Whatever the case, the 429 Trail is the best-looking dual suspension bike in Pivot’s range. The lines are clean, and the simple under the down tube cable routing is much neater than in years past, and keeping it external also saves construction costs, which makes this bike more attainable than Pivots have traditionally been.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 6
A mid-travel specific DW link arrangement.

The linkage arrangement is new too. It takes inspiration from the Phoenix Carbon downhill bike, and in conjunction with the wide hub spacing we can tell you the rear end of this bike is stiffer than an old dog in winter.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 15
The cable routing is mainly external, with plenty of cable guides to allow you to run the cables pretty much however you like.

There are a swathe of build kit options for the 429 Trail, and ours uses a mix of XT/XTR in a 1×11 setup. Most Pivot builds will be coming with an XT 2×11 drivetrain, which we think is sensible – converting to a 1×11 setup is simply a matter of installing a chain ring with the new Shimano 11-speed stuff, so it’s an easy modification should you not want to run a front mech.

On obvious blight on the otherwise excellent build kit is the absence of a dropper post! Our carbon post is already a scuffed up mess from raising/lowering it during a couple of wet rides – hopefully future bikes will be shipped with a dropper.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 13
The Answer carbon bar is 750mm wide, the stem is 60mm. Perfect!

Tragically (and that’s not overstating it – it’s a goddamn tragedy), we need to return this bike shortly so it can do the rounds of local dealers, but we’ll be bringing you a full review of this machine as soon as a new shipment lands. We won’t divulge too much about the ride just yet, we’ll save that for the main review, but our time on this bike so far has left us feeling like this.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 32

Yeti SB5 Carbon First Impressions

Over the last few years, Yeti Cycles have been kicking goals with both feet. First the SB66 and SB95 pushed all our feel good buttons, and then came a new version of the legendary 575 which nailed the balance of nostalgia and progression perfectly.

The SB75 was good too, if not quite to the same standard as the 66 or 95.

We’ve since published our final review of this bike here – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-yeti-sb5c/

yeti sb5 4
Gorgeous. We have a dropper post coming to complete the picture soon. And some less blurry suspension.

And now it looks like Yeti’s their form is holding, with the new SB5 Carbon. Jared Graves and Richie Rude have already demonstrated in no uncertain fashion what this bike is capable of in the right hands, so let’s see how it goes in the wrong hands then.


Read our other recent Yeti reviews:

Yeti SB95 http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/yeti-sb95/

Yeti SB66 Carbon http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/long-term-test-and-video-yeti-sb66-carbon/

Yeti 575 http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-yeti-575-27-5/

Yeti SB75 http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-yeti-sb75/


At the heart of the SB5 Carbon lies the new Switch Infinity suspension system, which was developed in conjunction with FOX. It’s unlike any other suspension design on the market – a kind of mash-up of the original Switch design and the rail system which has been a feature of Yeti’s downhill bikes in recent times.

Describing its operation in words is like trying to explain iMessage to your elderly mother, so take a look at Yeti’s excellent video below to get a feel for the system’s mojo.

The frameset is filthy light, coming in at 2.3kg including shock, which helps keep our test bike to just 11.46kg. (That figure will increase by a couple of hundred grams once we add a dropper post, but it’s still very impressive).

yeti sb5

On of the talking points of the SB5 is the adaptability of frame to take on a wide range of riding styles and an equally wide range of fork travels. Our bike is set up with a 140mm fork (compared to 127mm out back), but Yeti are planning on speccing this bike with a 150mm fork. Jared Graves has been racing his SB5 with a 160mm-travel FOX 36 up front too, which seems like a fair travel disparity, but it clearly works!

You may have noticed that we’ve given the fork and shock the ol’ swirly treatment in the pics above too. There’s a good reason for that – all will be revealed soon. To the trails!

 

XC on ‘Roids: Giant Anthem Advanced SX First Impressions

‘Souping up’ a cross country bike to make it a little more capable in tricky terrain is usually an undertaking that requires significant investment and post-purchase twiddling, but Giant have done the hard work for you with the new Anthem Advanced SX.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 1

Giant have taken the same frame as the regular Anthem Advanced 27.5 then dressed it with all the parts to make it go faster when the trails get rougher. A 120mm-travel Rockshox Revelation (instead of the usual 100mm) slackens things up, and a shorter stem and wider bar puts you in a more aggressive position. The tyres are a little meatier too, with an Ardent up front and an Ardent Race out back.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 11
A wide bar and relatively short stem give the ideal ergonomics to push harder than you’d normally do on a cross country bike.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX 12
The addition of a 120mm fork slackens the head angle and gives you a little more encouragement to cut loose.

Seeing SRAM’s X01 drivetrain on this bike gives us a smile even wider than the gearing range, and the absence of a left-hand shifter frees us space for the clean integration of a dropper post, which is the icing on the cake. In short, Giant have made all the changes that we would make if an Anthem were our personal bike.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 3
A dropper post on a bike with this much travel makes a world of sense, freeing up your body position to let the bike move beneath you.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX 13
With only a single ring, the cockpit isn’t cluttered, and the tiny lever of the Contact Switch’r dropper post fits in nicely.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX 15
SRAM’s X01 drivetrain with carbon crank arms.

We’re big advocates for this style of bike; the improvements in suspension and tyres, and the proliferation of dropper posts, now allow you to ride a relatively short-travel bike very aggressively. As soon as we’ve converted the wheels to tubeless we’ll be hitting the trails and exploring where this machine’s boundaries lie.

 

The Slasher! First Impressions of the Trek Slash 9.8

Later this week, Flow’s boarding the big white budgie and heading to Queenstown, New Zealand, for a few days of exploring the trails of that famed adventure wonderland. Queenstown offers up a whopping mixed bag of trails, but the gravity riding is the real highlight, with gondola-accessed downhill tracks and mammoth heli-biking back-country epics.

IMG_2355

For this mission,we knew we wanted to take a bike that wouldn’t wring its hands when presented with some pretty full-on terrain. Our usual Flow Nation bikes, while superb trail bikes, just don’t have the travel for downhill work, so we had a look at some other options. This bike grabbed us by the lapels and screamed in our face: “PICK ME!”

Trek Slash first bite 3
The frame is carbon throughout, with the exception of the chain stays. Flipping the Mino Link at the top of the seat stay will switch the head angle between 65 and 65.5 degrees.

The Slash is Trek’s most aggressive platform before you leap into the full-on downhill realm with the Session. It’s a real gravity enduro machine – we’d shirk to call it an all-mountain bike, because its performance heavily skewed towards descending. Heavily skewed, but not heavy: this 160mm-travel beast weighs in at 12.7kg. Its angles are all about stability when it’s fast and steep, with a head angle that’s adjustable between 65.5 and a 65-degrees.

Trek Slash first bite 7
Fork travel is adjustable from 160-130mm on the fly.

Piloting a 65-degree head angle uphill is sometimes a bit like pushing a wheel barrow with a flat tyre full of water; it’s a pain in the arse to keep on track. So to sharpen climbing performance up, the Slash has a travel-adjustable Pike that lowers the bars and sharpens the steering a bit.

Trek Slash first bite 5
The Slash 9.8 runs a SRAM X1 11-speed, single-ring drivetrain, so the front derailleur mount gets this neat cover.

We’ve fallen in love with the performance of Bontrager’s XR4 tyres. These things hang on like a cat over water, especially when they’re mounted to a wide rim, like the Bontrager Maverick. We’re predicting a lot of grip!

A RockShox Monarch Plus in place of the usual Trek/FOX DRCV shock.
A RockShox Monarch Plus in place of the usual Trek/FOX DRCV shock.

It’s almost odd seeing a Trek dual suspension bike that’s not equipped with the FOX DRCV shock we’ve come to know so well. While we like the DRCV shock, we do think that the Rockshox Monarch Plus is a better option for this bike; it has a bigger air and oil volume, and more progressive spring rate than the proprietary FOX dual-chamber shock, so it’s better suited to hard, rough long runs.

With four days of EnZed’s finest coming our way, we think we should be able to give the Slash a pretty good shake down and get our head around its strengths and weaknesses. A review will be coming your way, maybe even before Santa arrives.

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: Breezer Repack Team

Hands up if you know who Joe Breeze is? No, he’s not a cartoon figure promoting a ceiling fan company. Mr Joe Breeze is in fact a mountain bike guru, a hall-of-famer, and one of the fellas who built the scene and made it all happen way back in the day. He’s been designing, building and racing mountain bikes since Adam was a glimmer in a grasshopper’s eye.

Test_BreezerRepack009
There’s only a few degrees of movement from the chain stay pivot as the suspension compresses.

Joe Breeze is back in the mountain bike game in a big way with some very unique looking bikes, including the one we’re currently reviewing, the 160mm-travel, 27.5″-wheeled, all-mountain Repack Team.

It only takes a quick glance to see that the Breezer Repack has a distinctive rear suspension system. It’s called the M-Link, and the unusual mid-chain stay pivot is said to offer the benefits of a four-bar system, without some of the shortcomings Breeze perceives in more traditional ‘short link’ four-bar designs (such as stiffness). While the system does look a bit funky at first, it’s no more convoluted than any other four-bar system; it’s essentially like a Horst link, just with the chain stay pivot moved 150mm forward.

Test_BreezerRepack014
Big, burly pivots!

Leaving the suspension aside for now, let’s take a moment to consider the price. At under $4000 there is a lot of value in this bike (assuming it rides well too), with a complete Shimano XT groupset, FOX Factory series CTD 34mm fork and quality Ritchey componentry. The only item clearly missing is a dropper post, but to hit such a competitive price there have to be some concessions.

Test_BreezerRepack018
Shimano XT all over! Tres impressife!

Keeping the weight down has taken a back seat to some degree, in the name of building a reliable and robust frame. The pivot hardware is rock solid and the rear end stiffness is tremendous. Geometry wise, the Breezer is hair steeper than we’re used to seeing amongst all-mountain bikes, with a 68 degree head angle. Breeze’s theory is that with a bigger wheel (27.5″) the head angle can be little steeper than an equivalent 26″ bike, preserving slow speed handling.

We’re intrigued. It’s going to be great to get this bike out onto our local loops and see how all that design experience of a mind like Breeze’s translates to the trail.

TestBreezerRepack 10
Keep those tyres clean, Chris.

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Glory 1

Find our full review here.

The Giant Glory was once all over the downhill scene, like sesame seeds on a Big Mac. In the past few years, the value proposition of some of the Glory’s competitors has improved – bikes like the Specialized Demo, Norco Aurum, Trek Session have risen to challenge Giant’s dominance.

Tests_GiantGlory0580
The Glory retains the Maestro linkage which has underpinned Giant’s dual suspension range for many years now.

At the same time, the Glory was perhaps 12 months behind in terms of geometry development too. It was a little steep and short when compared to some of the opposition, and in the trend-driven world of downhill, this was enough to dampen the enthusiasm for the Glory a bit as well.

But Giant have fought back, not only improving the value of the Glory once again, but  completely revising the geometry too, slackening the bike out to 63-degrees up front and lengthening the front-centre measurement markedly.

Tests_GiantGlory0571
Cranks, brakes and shifting are all Shimano Zee.

At $4299 off the rack, the Glory 1 is kitted out with a full Shimano Zee groupset. This will be our first experience riding Zee, but early impressions are that it’s incredibly Saint-like (the rear derailleur is noticeably cheaper looking, but everything else is very similar). You’re also treated to FOX front and rear, with an Performance series 40R fork and RC2 shock. These items don’t offer the same adjustability as the more expensive Factory series fork and or RC4 shock, but that’s a tradeoff we’re certain many will be willing to make.

Tests_GiantGlory0570
The rear shock is FOX RC2, offering low-speed compression and rebound adjustability. The FOX 40 fork is similarly simple to adjust, with preload and rebound.

Alongside the Scott Gambler we’ve also got on test, there’s plenty of downhill riding to be done!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Gambler 20

With a head angle slacker than a yokel’s jaw, the Gambler 20 is a serious gravity beast.

Scott Gambler 20-14

This is the first time we’ve been up close and personal with the new Gambler and it’s a pretty heavy duty piece of machinery. The Floating Link suspension system dominates the frame; the whopping 3.5″-stroke shock is housed centrally, in an arrangement that compresses the shock very directly, with a minimum of rotation at the DU bush that should increase durability and small bump compliance.

Scott Gambler 20-1

Adjustability was always a hallmark of the old Gambler platform and that trait continues with the new version too. Chain stay length, bottom bracket height and head angle are all independently adjustable – you can drop the head angle to an absurdly slack 60-degrees should you want to ride down a cliff.

gambler frames

The $4499 price tag nets you a very decent build kit, including FOX 40s and Van RC rear shock (dishing up 210mm travel), a Shimano Zee drivetrain and Shimano brakes. The Gambler 20 weighs in at 17.8kg, which is admittedly a smidge heavier than some of its competitors, but this is a bike designed to have plenty of gravity on its side.

We’ll be logging some summer shuttle runs on the Gambler soon.

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Remedy 9 27.5

It was a few months ago now that we first swung a leg over the new Trek Remedy 9 27.5, down at Mt Stromlo during Trek World 2014. But it has taken till now for us to secure a full review on this highly sought after beast. It arrived at Flow HQ just after Halloween, and it looks like a pumpkin Jack-O’-Lantern, but with shockies.

Trek Remedy-8
The DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) shock is unique to Trek and helps improve the big hit performance of the Remedy, while preserving stable pedalling characteristics.

The Remedy 27.5 is one of two ‘streams’ of the Remedy series available for 2014. Along with the 27.5″ wheeled bikes, you can also purchase Trek’s renowned all-mountain machine in a 29er format with the same travel (140mm front and rear) should you like your wheels with extra girth. We won’t go into the range specifics, but you can read all about it in our 2014 Trek range wrap up right here.

Trek Remedy-1
It’ll run both 650B and 27.5″ wheels. We’re joking, but the industry must be very eager to see the cycling world decide on a single name for this wheel size!

In Trek’s typical style, the Remedy has more frame features than a Dalmatian has spots, with a list of associated acronyms that’d put the Australia Defence Force to shame, including ABP, E2, Full Floater, EVO and Mino (one of Santa’s reindeers, we think). The last term referring to Trek’s super simple adjustable geometry system, which gives you 8mm of bottom bracket height and 0.8-degrees of head angle adjustment.

Trek Remedy-7
The Remedy scores the gorgeous FOX 34 Float CTD with Trail Adjust. Trek did utilise DRCV technology on their forks for a couple years too, but that has since been abandoned.

The Bontrager, Shimano and FOX build kit with a Rockshox Reverb post is one of the most sound we’ve seen. However, the 690mm-wide handlebar is about as sensible as Teflon chopsticks – it’d make a great stick for swatting flies but it’s not gonna be steering this bike when we review it. We’ll be getting the Remedy dirty on home turf this week, and we cannot wait!

Trek Remedy
If orange is the new black, what does that make an orange and black bike? 140mm of travel, just over 13kg with every box ticked. Let’s roll!

Flow’s First Bite: Yeti SB75

You’ve got to hand it to Yeti. For a relatively small, and certainly boutique, brand they never rest on their laurels. They’re constantly refining and innovating, looking for ways to be more relevant and desirable.

Yeti SB75 -5

The SB75 is no surprise, rather it’s a perfect evolution. The Switch Technology debuted a couple of years ago with the SB66 finds a new home, nesting happily with a set of 27.5″ wheels, all wrapped up in that progressive geometry that Yeti is renowned for.

Yeti SB75 -22

With 125mm travel, the SB75 is a direct replacement for the ASR 5, a bike of fierce repute and a favourite of ours. The ‘5’ as it was affectionately known, brought all-mountain geometry and cross-country weight together, making it the trail bike of choice for many aggressive riders.

Yeti SB75 -28

The 75 picks up this vibe and runs with it, maintaining the slack angles, long top tube and low bottom bracket height that made the 5 so much fun. The addition of 27.5″ wheels and the extremely good Switch suspension system should mean more efficiency and better roll-over too.

Yeti SB75 -19

As we’ve noted before, the Switch system responds best to hard riding, so it’s fitting that the SB75 comes well equipped up front. Stock SRAM builds will come with a 140mm Rockshox Revelation, while this bike pack with a Shimano kit runs a 140mm-travel Fox 34 fork. Even with 140mm up front, Yeti importer Paul Rowney points out that there’s still a good leap between the SB75 and the SB66 – the 66’s length and geometry is decidedly more downhill focused.

Yeti SB75 -6

In this XT guise the 75 is a smidge over 13kg, so by the time you’ve got tubeless and then added a dropper post (a must) it’ll balance out around 13.3kg. We expect there’ll be a carbon version of the 75 in the wings too.

The SB75 will be winging its way back to us next month for a proper review.

Flow’s First Bite: Juliana Joplin Primeiro

The Juliana Joplin Primeiro is the latest in a growing collection of women’s bikes that we’re taking to the trails. This one pairs a high-performing parts list with the light and compliant ride feel of a quality carbon frame.

29" wheels, carbon frame, VPP suspension and a premium level build kit - oh yeah!
29″ wheels, carbon frame, VPP suspension and a premium level build kit – oh yeah!

Juliana is Santa Cruz’s female specific line of bikes. The range is named after 1990’s US mountain biking pioneer, Juliana Furtado, the John Tomac of her time, or a Gunn-Rita DahleFlesjå in today’s terms. We are excited to clip our feet into the latest 29” trail bike offering from the company, the Juliana Joplin Primeiro.

WEB_Test_SantaCruzJuliana_0197

The Joplin part is a throw back to the rock legend of the same name (it’s ‘the Queen of rocks and roll’). Primeiro is Santa Cruz for ‘highest spec in a specific range,’ in this case kashima coated Fox front and rear suspension (120mm on the front and 100mm on the rear) and a Shimano XT build.

Shimano triple ring crankset, gives a massive range of gears.
Shimano triple ring crankset, gives a massive range of gears.

Despite the high-performing build and shiny marketing of the Joplin Primeiro, we were a little disappointed to discover that the frame shares the same geometry as the Santa Cruz Tall Boy. The women’s features extend to the contact points, the powdery blue finish and a 3×10 drive train with a roomy 11-36 cassette on the rear.

One question we have for the review period is whether these changes are enough to satisfy a growing number of savvy female consumers. The small size Joplin was in fact released ahead the small Tall Boy, which had male riders thinking about buying a women’s bike rather than the other way around for a change. The frame design of the Tall Boy also incorporates female friendly features like a low standover and short head tube length

Santa Cruz's well-loved VPP suspension design makes for efficiency to the maximum.
Santa Cruz’s well-loved VPP suspension design makes for efficiency to the maximum.

Marketing questions aside, the performance of the bike is something best answered out on the trails. Hitting the dirt, the Joplin immediately showed us why the Santa Cruz and Juliana brands have such a proud and loyal following.

The Joplin climbs more efficiently than we were expecting, mowed over short technical ‘ups,’ and descended at warp speed. It feels fast, stable, very capable and has a beautifully smooth ‘ride feel’; a winning combo for all-day outings on an extensive variety of trails.

Note the step down in the handlebar's diameter under the grips, for smaller hands.
Note the step down in the handlebar’s diameter under the grips, for smaller hands.

We’re looking forward to getting more attuned to the Joplin over the test period to discover more about the experiences it opens up and the subtleties of how it performs. Keep an eye on Flow for a full review soon.

Flow’s First Bite: Merida One Forty B

Merida make lots of bikes, for lots of companies. It’s no secret. But despite making some frames for some of the ‘coolest’ brands in the world, the company has not developed much of a ‘cool’ image for itself. Unless you’re a serious cross country racer (an area in which the brand has had loads of success), Merida has traditionally been a bit bland. But that could be about to change.

Merida One Forty B-17
Nice lines, baby. The One Forty B isn’t as beefy looking (especially in the rear end) as some all-mountain bikes, but it’s a stiff frame all the same.

Say g’day to the new Merida One Forty B, which coincidentally (uh huh) has 140mm of travel with 650B (27.5″) wheels. In case you didn’t discern what this bike is designed for, Merida wrote in on the satin black top tube in bright yellow letter: All Mountain.

It’s easy to miss at first glance, but the One Forty B runs a new suspension system for Merida, using a dual-link design, rather than their usual single-pivot arrangement. The new VPK system looks very similar in configuration to Giant’s Maestro linkage.

Merida One Forty B-8
Something a little different for Merida! The VPK system looks quite similar to the Giant Maestro linkage, which can’t be a bad thing.

A price tag of $4299 sees the bike kitted out with a fine build kit indeed, including a FOX TALAS fork, Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes, plus stiff and burly Sun Charger wheels shod in fat-as-butter Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.4″ tyres (with Snake Skin sidewalls). There’s a Reverb Stealth post too, nice touch.

Great brakes, crisp shifting and a Reverb Stealth post.
Great brakes, crisp shifting and a Reverb Stealth post.

Things are looking very good so far, so let’s hope the Merida can walk the walk too.

 

Flow’s First Bite: FOX Float X CTD Shock

To address the fast developing world of long travel trail bikes, all-mountain bikes and enduro racing bikes, FOX have released an air shock that combines the qualities of their lightest air shock, the FOX Float CTD, and the impact gobbling downhill shock – the FOX DHX.

We’ve mounted it in our Yeti SB66 Carbon test mule, replacing a Float CTD w/Trail adjust. So far the wide range of compression adjustability, and coil spring-like feel that it exhibits has made the bike feel even more like a plush downhiller. The lockout is nice and firm for tame uphills, and road sections, and the three micro adjusted ‘trail’ settings are clearly defined and super effective. Even descending in each mode still reveals the right amount of sensitivity to keep traction, without unwanted compression.

FOX Float X shock-3
Filling the gap between FOX’s lightweight shock, and their coil-sprung downhill shock, this Float X will boost performance of bikes with 140-180mm of travel.

The rebound dial is tucked away out of finger’s reach and will require a small allen key or even a stick on the trail to adjust. That may irk some people, but at least rebound adjustment isn’t really needed to be adjusted during the ride. Plus we find that on some Float shocks with light resistance on the rebound adjuster, the little red dial can creep open and unwind at times, speeding the rebound up without us realising. This won’t happen with this shock.

FOX Float X shock-5
The CTD adjustments sit off to one side, and are so very easy to access. Plus with such a wide range, each of the five settings can be used effectively to tailor the bikes pedalling efficiency to suit the terrain ahead.

From the outside it appears that FOX have taken the large volume DHX Air, with its piggyback chamber, and added the very user friendly on-the-fly compression adjustments found on current FLOAT shocks. The large blue lever is off to the side of the piggyback chamber, making for very quick and effective adjustments. But there is more going on than that inside this advanced piece of equipment, as we plan to figure out as our testing continues. We just need to find some mega long downhills to push its limits.

Our shock exhibits a little squeak on hard compressions, as the oil flow moves through the damping unit, which we’re sure will vary from shock to shock. Of the Float X shocks we have ridden so far, this is the first with a squeak.

FOX Float X shock-7
The Float X also has a larger volume of oil than the normal Float shock, for more consistent performance during long descents.

So stay tuned for more, but for now our first impressions are very positive and we just love the way suspension companies are pushing the development of this relatively new area of the market. It will let us ride lighter bikes harder, further and safer!

Flow’s First Bite: Polygon Collosus DHX

With Mick and Tracy Hannah on board, it’s little wonder that people have begun paying a lot attention to Polygon in the last few months. Indeed the pair both won the National Champs earlier this year on this exact frame.

WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0081
17.26kg is pretty impressive out of the box. A quick look over the geometry chart reveals solid and sensible numbers too.

This Indonesian based manufacturer produces bikes that are pretty absurd value for money – the bang for the buck of the Collosus is unquestionable, with a full Saint groupset, Mavic Dee Max and top-shelf FOX suspension for under $5K. But component spec is only one part of the equation. It’s geometry, suspension performance and ride quality that actually win races.

We’ll be giving the Collosus a solid run over the coming weeks to see if it’s just as impressive on the trail as it is in the catalogue. In the meantime here’s a run down of some of the key features and components.

WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0104
Holy metal, Batman! There’s a fair old bit going on down there in the FS2 linkage, but the weight is low and central.
WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0100
Here you can see how the lower link pivots around the bottom bracket. We haven’t headed to the hills yet, but the suspension is super sensitive, breathe on it and it moves.
WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0085
Shimano’s Saint groupset adorns the Polygon; 10-speed, solid as hell and with brakes that can turn you inside out. The I-Spec shifter and brake lever is tidy too.
WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0101
Wheelbase adjustability is part of the package too, allowing some customisation for different conditions.
WEB_Firstbite_Polygon DHX_0080
Mavic Deemax wheels are the most desirable out there. The Polygon comes set up tubeless too! Kore provide the bar and integrated stem, plus a T-Rail saddle/post combo.

Flow’s First Bite: BH Lynx 4.8 29

It’s nice to have your expectations exceeded once in a while; isn’t that why people always say, ‘under promise, over deliver’? That’s not to make out that the new BH Lynx 4.8 29 didn’t look promising, just that it sure as hell over delivers.

IMG_4140
She’s a funky looking thing, and that is a big part of its charm.

We’ve only spent one day riding the latest from BH, but even those few short hours gave us enough time to form a very, very positive impression of this bike. At the same time, those few short hours weren’t nearly enough to let us explore the full capabilities of this stunning new 29er.

It wasn’t long ago that we tested the BH Lynx 6. It was a good bike – spot-on geometry, excellent suspension – but it was only 90% of the way there. This beast, however, is a great bike, it’s the full monty and then some.

IMG_4146

It has the same superb Dave Weagle-designed Split Pivot suspension as the Lynx 6, but travel is kept to an efficient 120mm, the shock housed deep within the belly of the gorgeously curvaceous carbon frame. The lines are unconventional to say the least, but wouldn’t dare call it ugly, and the cables run largely internally to let the frame shapes shine.

IMG_4151
Carbon to the max, only the upper link is aluminium. Up close the frame is pretty, and beautifully finished.

Casting an eye over the geometry chart got us excited. The head angle resides at a casual 68-degrees, which when combined with a big wheel should equate to plenty of confidence. The bottom bracket is slung low as well, another good sign for stability. But it was the tight rear end measurements – with the chain stays only 430mm long – that really got us  going. Long stays are fun killers, and so often a drawback on 29ers. At a smidgen over 17-inches long, the rear-centre measurement of the BH is as short as we’ve ever seen on dual suspension 29er.

IMG_4167

To cram the rear wheel in, the seat tube is crazy slack, but once we had the seat post adjusted up to our regular riding height the reach from saddle to bars felt perfect. It must be noted that we did change the cockpit out before our test ride. The original 90mm stem and seriously out of place 670mm handlebar looked determined to sap all the fun from the bike, so off they went and in their place we fitted a 70mm stem and a 730mm bar. This was PERFECT. The only other tweak we’d make would be a dropper post (there’s cable routing provisions) and maybe some different rubber.

4
BH utilize DW’s Split Pivot design, with a concentric pivot around the rear hub axle. This is all in aid of decreasing the stiffening effect that the rear brake can have on the rear suspension.
2
Where is the shock? Tucked into a nice carbon rabbit hole, that’s where.

The entire bike tipped the scales at 11.95kg, which is simply brilliant given that the Shimano XT running gear and brakes are a tad weighty. Smart tweaks or deep pockets could get this puppy down to the low 11kg range – it’s a thought that tempts us to try….

1
Sleek lines and internal routing options for an adjustable seatpost.

We’re not going to give you too much of a run down on the way it rides just yet; we’ll save that for the full test once we’ve had more time to get acquainted. But we’re not afraid to tell you that we’re a little smitten. Hold tight for more soon.

3
The FOX remote shock lever is one hundred times neater than the previous one, but the way the cable moves back and forth against the carbon frame as the rear shock compresses raised some concern with us. But, time will tell.

Flow's First Bite: Stan's Arch EX wheelset

Arch EX is lighter, wider and tougher than the original Arch rim! Once again, Bead Socket Technology construction provides superior tubeless compatibility. The internal arch design provides durability and stiffness, two assets especially important for heavier riders. Although lightweight, the Arch EX can handle aggresive trail riding. Quite possibly the best rim for any situation. Inspire confidence in your ride with the ZTR Arch EX. The rear hub can be converted to 12×142 with ZH0077.

Includes: 15mm end caps

ZTR Arch EX 26 Black
Total Weight 1615 grams
Max recommended rider weight 230lbs
Rims Arch EX Disc
Rim Material 6061 Alloy
Rim Depth 16.9mm
Rim Width External 24.6mm
Rim Width Internal 21.0mm
Front Hub 3.30 6-Bolt Disc Front
Rear Hub 3.30 6-Bolt Disc Rear
Hub Bearings Cartridge
Spokes 2.0/1.7 Black Stainless
Spoke Nipples Silver Alloy
Front Spoke Lacing 32H, 3 Cross
Rear Spoke Lacing 32H, 3 Cross
Spoke Length Front (L/R) 260mm/264mm
Spoke Length Rear (L/R) 262mm/260mm

 

Flow’s First Bite: Stan’s Arch EX wheelset

Arch EX is lighter, wider and tougher than the original Arch rim! Once again, Bead Socket Technology construction provides superior tubeless compatibility. The internal arch design provides durability and stiffness, two assets especially important for heavier riders. Although lightweight, the Arch EX can handle aggresive trail riding. Quite possibly the best rim for any situation. Inspire confidence in your ride with the ZTR Arch EX. The rear hub can be converted to 12×142 with ZH0077.

Includes: 15mm end caps

ZTR Arch EX 26 Black
Total Weight 1615 grams
Max recommended rider weight 230lbs
Rims Arch EX Disc
Rim Material 6061 Alloy
Rim Depth 16.9mm
Rim Width External 24.6mm
Rim Width Internal 21.0mm
Front Hub 3.30 6-Bolt Disc Front
Rear Hub 3.30 6-Bolt Disc Rear
Hub Bearings Cartridge
Spokes 2.0/1.7 Black Stainless
Spoke Nipples Silver Alloy
Front Spoke Lacing 32H, 3 Cross
Rear Spoke Lacing 32H, 3 Cross
Spoke Length Front (L/R) 260mm/264mm
Spoke Length Rear (L/R) 262mm/260mm

 

Flow’s First Bite: GT Sensor 27.5 – First Ride

GT have just completed the launch of the 2014 GT Sensor and Force 27.5 bikes at Deer Valley, USA. Flow was there to see them unwrapped to the world media, but more importantly, we were there to ride them. After a solid day on the trails these are our first thoughts.

Our test rig, the Sensor Carbon Pro.

They say first impressions count and the GT Sensor scored high points straight up. When it was wheeled out from behind the big black curtains at the Deer Valley launch, we immediately fell in love with how good the bike looked. The paint, the shape, the angles, and the design all married to make a damn good looking bike. We were also super stoked to see a new bike, not just a re-paint of the previous year’s model.

The 130mm 27.5 (650B) Sensor is, to use GTs words, “designed for the aggressive trail rider, who is out ripping single-track and occasionally testing their racing skills while drinking their way through an 24 hour race. You don’t want to compromise on climbing or descending ability, and want a crisp, efficient pedaling platform.” That is a whole lot of marketing food to consume, but basically we feel it’s a perfect bike for most people’s riding.

GT have gone to great lengths to completely redesign the Sensor for the new wheel size, and compared to the old it’s worlds apart. In fact, the Sensor (and the Force) have been over two years in the making with several iterations of tests bikes being built, ridden, and sent back for re-design. The biggest differences we first noticed are the angles, lengths, and suspension design. The new breed of GTs, including the Sensor, are now lower and slacker (see illustration below). They have also been lengthened in the top tube and come standard with shorter stems (80mm on the sensor). The theory behind both the angles and cockpit changes it to make a more aggressive bike that allows you to sit “within” the bike.

Comparison with the old Sensor. (The 2014 is in yellow.)  You can easily see how different the old and new frames with the bottom bracket drop is substantial.
2014 GT Sensor geometry (click on me to make me bigger).

The suspension has also gone through a very substantial change and is now termed Angle Optimised Suspension. The AOS utilises a high single pivot combined with the new GT Path Link. The function of the Path Link in a nutshell: to allow for the use of a high single pivot to achieve a rearward arcing wheelpath, provide the same pedaling performance as the traditional I-Drive, control chain growth, and minimise pedal feedback. We will explain this in more detail when we do a full review, but basically the Path Link moves the bottom bracket in the same rearward direction as the wheel arc, reducing chain growth and feedback normally associated with high pivots.

The new AOS with the Path Link.

After being impressed with the physical and technical aspects of the bike, would we be impressed with how it rode? Yes, we were impressed. The first thing we noticed was how stiff the rear of the bike was and how playful it felt. If we were blindfolded we wouldn’t have been able to tell the bike was a 27.5″ as it manualed, cornered, and felt very much like a 26″. Also, we noticed only very minimal pedal feedback and a very active suspension feel.

With most of the bike’s mass very low the Sensor was able to transition between left and right turns very quickly with no feeling of delay in that transition. The FOX front and rear shocks worked well and we liked how the rear ramped up and eliminated hard bottoming out. The Sensor felt quick out of corners and accelerated easily. A good bike for a trail with many, many corners.

Were there any negatives? As we were riding on unfamiliar terrain and had no reference it was too hard to tell if the Sensor’s bigger wheel size made any difference rolling over rocks and roots. The theory does indicate that it should, but only testing on our local trails will answer that question. Also, as the rear of the bike was so stiff, it kind of felt funny to have a 32mm fork matched with the the rear feeling stiffer than the front.

As soon as we get our hands on one in Australia we will give the bike a full test. So far we love it and testing on our local trails will add more to the story.

The highlights of our test bike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flow's First Bite: GT Sensor 27.5 – First Ride

GT have just completed the launch of the 2014 GT Sensor and Force 27.5 bikes at Deer Valley, USA. Flow was there to see them unwrapped to the world media, but more importantly, we were there to ride them. After a solid day on the trails these are our first thoughts.

Our test rig, the Sensor Carbon Pro.

They say first impressions count and the GT Sensor scored high points straight up. When it was wheeled out from behind the big black curtains at the Deer Valley launch, we immediately fell in love with how good the bike looked. The paint, the shape, the angles, and the design all married to make a damn good looking bike. We were also super stoked to see a new bike, not just a re-paint of the previous year’s model.

The 130mm 27.5 (650B) Sensor is, to use GTs words, “designed for the aggressive trail rider, who is out ripping single-track and occasionally testing their racing skills while drinking their way through an 24 hour race. You don’t want to compromise on climbing or descending ability, and want a crisp, efficient pedaling platform.” That is a whole lot of marketing food to consume, but basically we feel it’s a perfect bike for most people’s riding.

GT have gone to great lengths to completely redesign the Sensor for the new wheel size, and compared to the old it’s worlds apart. In fact, the Sensor (and the Force) have been over two years in the making with several iterations of tests bikes being built, ridden, and sent back for re-design. The biggest differences we first noticed are the angles, lengths, and suspension design. The new breed of GTs, including the Sensor, are now lower and slacker (see illustration below). They have also been lengthened in the top tube and come standard with shorter stems (80mm on the sensor). The theory behind both the angles and cockpit changes it to make a more aggressive bike that allows you to sit “within” the bike.

Comparison with the old Sensor. (The 2014 is in yellow.)  You can easily see how different the old and new frames with the bottom bracket drop is substantial.
2014 GT Sensor geometry (click on me to make me bigger).

The suspension has also gone through a very substantial change and is now termed Angle Optimised Suspension. The AOS utilises a high single pivot combined with the new GT Path Link. The function of the Path Link in a nutshell: to allow for the use of a high single pivot to achieve a rearward arcing wheelpath, provide the same pedaling performance as the traditional I-Drive, control chain growth, and minimise pedal feedback. We will explain this in more detail when we do a full review, but basically the Path Link moves the bottom bracket in the same rearward direction as the wheel arc, reducing chain growth and feedback normally associated with high pivots.

The new AOS with the Path Link.

After being impressed with the physical and technical aspects of the bike, would we be impressed with how it rode? Yes, we were impressed. The first thing we noticed was how stiff the rear of the bike was and how playful it felt. If we were blindfolded we wouldn’t have been able to tell the bike was a 27.5″ as it manualed, cornered, and felt very much like a 26″. Also, we noticed only very minimal pedal feedback and a very active suspension feel.

With most of the bike’s mass very low the Sensor was able to transition between left and right turns very quickly with no feeling of delay in that transition. The FOX front and rear shocks worked well and we liked how the rear ramped up and eliminated hard bottoming out. The Sensor felt quick out of corners and accelerated easily. A good bike for a trail with many, many corners.

Were there any negatives? As we were riding on unfamiliar terrain and had no reference it was too hard to tell if the Sensor’s bigger wheel size made any difference rolling over rocks and roots. The theory does indicate that it should, but only testing on our local trails will answer that question. Also, as the rear of the bike was so stiff, it kind of felt funny to have a 32mm fork matched with the the rear feeling stiffer than the front.

As soon as we get our hands on one in Australia we will give the bike a full test. So far we love it and testing on our local trails will add more to the story.

The highlights of our test bike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29er – First Ride

It was only a couple of weeks ago that Trek announced the release of the new Fuel EX 29 series – a 29″-wheeled version of their immensely popular 26″ trail bike. The global press launch of this bike is going on right now over in the USA, but we’ve been lucky enough to score a full-blown test right here, on Australian soil. Here are our first impressions after ride number one.

The dull light at Stromlo this afternoon doesn’t do this bike’s finish any justice – it almost looks like polished dark mahogany in the light!

We’ve just come back in from a couple of hours on the trails around Stromlo Forest Park, getting ourselves acquainted with the Fuel EX 9.8 29, the second from top in the new EX 29er range. Tomorrow we’ll be taking the EX to some rougher, super technical Canberra trails before bringing it back to Flow’s own neighbourhood for some longer term testing.

Trek’s James Collins preps our test bike, prior to its maiden voyage.

This is the bike that people have been crying out for from Trek – a lightweight 29er trail bike, taking advantage of all their technologies that they’ve spent the last half dozen years refining. Until now, other 29er offerings from Trek haven’t utilised the same Full-Floater/ABP suspension system that has won Trek accolades world wide. The new 29er Fuel takes these suspension technologies and couples them with the excellent G2 geometry concept that found on the other ‘Gary Fisher Collection’ 29ers in Trek’s range (the Superfly and Rumblefish).

The Fuel EX 29er is the first 29er from Trek to make full use of the brand’s awesome Full Floater/ABP suspension platform. The one-piece EVO Link ties to all together stiffly, allowing the DRCV shock to do get to work without having to contend with any flex.

From our first ride we can tell you this bike is a winner. It retains the same taut, responsive and efficient feel of the 26″ Fuel EX but is just plain faster, especially on the climbs. Lumpy, ugly slow speed climbs are a delight on this bike; it’s pretty inspiring really!

A full XT drivetrain and brakes means worry-free performance. We appreciate the choice of a twin-ring crankset, rather than a triple.

The overall bike dimensions have grown when compared to the 26er, but the Fuel still feels playful. A super low stand-over height and low head tube height gives it a compact feel, encouraging you to chuck it about. The exceptional frame stiffness hasn’t been diluted at all with the longer stays either, and the Bontrager Rhythm wheels exhibit no flex.

We’d have to say the build kit is close to perfect as well. Amazing braking and shifting, and the Rockshox Reverb Stealth is the icing on the cake. We wouldn’t change a thing.

Arguably the best dropper post on the market is part of the deal.

This particular model, equipped with a Rockshox Reverb Stealth post, full XT drivetrain and constructed from Trek’s OCLV Mountain Carbon throughout, retails for $5500 and weighs in a bit over 12kg. But there are some very sweet price point bikes, including the EX9 which has largely the same build kit (with an alloy bar and a couple of other tiny changes) but runs an alloy frame – it retails at $3999, making it a really hot ticket item. You can also pick up the EX 9.7 for the same price. It runs a carbon mainframe and a slightly lower specced component package, making it a prime bike to buy now and upgrade along the way.

For the 26″ fans, don’t stress! 26″ Fuel EX bikes will still be available…for now.

We’ll have a full review up soon, as well as featuring the bike in issue #4 of Flow mag too (on sale 3 July). You can view our full video review of the 2013 26″ Fuel EX 9.8 here to whet your appetite.

 

Flow's First Bite: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29er – First Ride

It was only a couple of weeks ago that Trek announced the release of the new Fuel EX 29 series – a 29″-wheeled version of their immensely popular 26″ trail bike. The global press launch of this bike is going on right now over in the USA, but we’ve been lucky enough to score a full-blown test right here, on Australian soil. Here are our first impressions after ride number one.

The dull light at Stromlo this afternoon doesn’t do this bike’s finish any justice – it almost looks like polished dark mahogany in the light!

We’ve just come back in from a couple of hours on the trails around Stromlo Forest Park, getting ourselves acquainted with the Fuel EX 9.8 29, the second from top in the new EX 29er range. Tomorrow we’ll be taking the EX to some rougher, super technical Canberra trails before bringing it back to Flow’s own neighbourhood for some longer term testing.

Trek’s James Collins preps our test bike, prior to its maiden voyage.

This is the bike that people have been crying out for from Trek – a lightweight 29er trail bike, taking advantage of all their technologies that they’ve spent the last half dozen years refining. Until now, other 29er offerings from Trek haven’t utilised the same Full-Floater/ABP suspension system that has won Trek accolades world wide. The new 29er Fuel takes these suspension technologies and couples them with the excellent G2 geometry concept that found on the other ‘Gary Fisher Collection’ 29ers in Trek’s range (the Superfly and Rumblefish).

The Fuel EX 29er is the first 29er from Trek to make full use of the brand’s awesome Full Floater/ABP suspension platform. The one-piece EVO Link ties to all together stiffly, allowing the DRCV shock to do get to work without having to contend with any flex.

From our first ride we can tell you this bike is a winner. It retains the same taut, responsive and efficient feel of the 26″ Fuel EX but is just plain faster, especially on the climbs. Lumpy, ugly slow speed climbs are a delight on this bike; it’s pretty inspiring really!

A full XT drivetrain and brakes means worry-free performance. We appreciate the choice of a twin-ring crankset, rather than a triple.

The overall bike dimensions have grown when compared to the 26er, but the Fuel still feels playful. A super low stand-over height and low head tube height gives it a compact feel, encouraging you to chuck it about. The exceptional frame stiffness hasn’t been diluted at all with the longer stays either, and the Bontrager Rhythm wheels exhibit no flex.

We’d have to say the build kit is close to perfect as well. Amazing braking and shifting, and the Rockshox Reverb Stealth is the icing on the cake. We wouldn’t change a thing.

Arguably the best dropper post on the market is part of the deal.

This particular model, equipped with a Rockshox Reverb Stealth post, full XT drivetrain and constructed from Trek’s OCLV Mountain Carbon throughout, retails for $5500 and weighs in a bit over 12kg. But there are some very sweet price point bikes, including the EX9 which has largely the same build kit (with an alloy bar and a couple of other tiny changes) but runs an alloy frame – it retails at $3999, making it a really hot ticket item. You can also pick up the EX 9.7 for the same price. It runs a carbon mainframe and a slightly lower specced component package, making it a prime bike to buy now and upgrade along the way.

For the 26″ fans, don’t stress! 26″ Fuel EX bikes will still be available…for now.

We’ll have a full review up soon, as well as featuring the bike in issue #4 of Flow mag too (on sale 3 July). You can view our full video review of the 2013 26″ Fuel EX 9.8 here to whet your appetite.