Tested: Reid Solo360 27.5″

Subtle, killer value and as we were to find out, quite a lot of fun to ride, too!
Ripping smooth singletrack is what the Solo360 is best at.

What is it?

We looked closer at the Solo360’s spec and value in our first impressions piece, have a read of that one here – Flow’s First Bite, Reid Solo360.

Reid Bikes are all about bang for buck, and their direct sales model is helping them deliver some impressive bikes at attractive prices. We reviewed Reid’s aggressively priced Solo360 last year. Quite simply, it’s the sum of its parts, which happen to be very bloody good for the money.

A FOX fork with the Grip damper on a $1799 bike is seriously appealing.

The Solo360 is a subtly presented and well-finished, 27.5″ wheel size aluminium hardtail with a Shimano 11-speed XT drivetrain and brakes, FOX fork. At a quick glance, you could be fooled thinking the frame is made from carbon as the welding around the joints has been finished off with a smooth appearance, and the graphics are gloss black which almost disappears on the matte black frame.

The rear wheel uses a quick release thru-axle for added security.
The black-on-black graphics only appear from certain angles, a nice feature if you don’t want a bike that screams for attention.

What’s new from the previous version?

In our review last year of the same bike, we found a few minor elements that weren’t exactly to our liking that detracted from our experience, so to see many of those addressed, we’re more than impressed. The latest model scores upgrades to the tune of a wider handlebar, through axle on the rear wheel, wider and tubeless compatible rims, dual water bottle mounts and a single-ring 11-speed drivetrain.


How did it go on the trails?

The Solo360 is a lively little thing, perhaps because we’re used to riding larger diameter 29″ wheels on hardtails like this, the Solo360 just wanted to sprint everywhere and pull wheelie out of every corner! A hard crank on the pedals is rewarded with a strong jump in acceleration; there is very little loss of energy going on. Winding through singletrack the steering felt very predictable and calm, though when you got it up to speed you really needed to hold on tight.

Woohoo, so much acceleration speed!

Once we got a feel for it, we began to enjoy how engaging and fun it was to ride, pumping through undulations the trails to milk more speed and dropping the seat post down to get a bit more aggressive through the corners.

With the wider bars and wider rims it feels more confident than the previous version we tested, that’s for sure.


Does it fit well?

Sort of, the frame is very low at the front end and seat tube, we had the seat post out at near maximum extension and the stem as high as they would go on the headset spacer stack. Make sure you check the sizing chart to be sure the bike won’t feel too small or low for you.

Up to speed, the frame isn’t particularly forgiving, so hold on tight!

What trails is it best suited?

Smooth ones, that’s for certain! The small wheels and aluminium frame don’t give you much in the way of compliance, and in comparison to a hardtail with 29″ wheels, the Solo360 would be more at home on tighter singletrack with less rock to stop the wheels rolling. You can’t have everything, and we often see the high-end brands doing amazing things with compliance in carbon frames to provide a bike that is fast and also smooth to ride, but we’re talking well over double the price for that type of benefit.

We could only imagine what this bike would be like built around 29″ wheels, while it might lose some of its snappy handling and fast acceleration, it’d roll through rougher terrain easier and give you a smoother ride overall.

But if the trails you ride are rocky, loose and technical, we’d suggest considering a bike with bigger rubber. Reid does an excellent ‘plus size’ bike, using 27.5″ wheels with big tyres and a dropper post, called the Vice, we rated it for trails that are more demanding. Check out our review of the Vice here – Tested: Reid Vice 3.0.

Good times on the fast and fun Solo360.

Favourite bits.

The Shimano 11-speed drivetrain is a favourite of ours – read our long term review here – for being a consistent performer all the time, and it brings tremendous performance to a bike of this price point. The bike shifted gears perfectly, was quiet in operation and we already know it’s very durable.

Shimano XT all round, too good. The single-ring is very clean and neat, too!

The XT brakes are excellent too; one finger has all the power you’ll need for a confident ride.

Top shelf brakes.

Up front, the FOX fork felt very sophisticated, smooth and the Gripdamper is easily adjusted on the fly via the big blue dial. Another part that gave this bike serious credit far beyond its price.


Best value upgrade areas?

If you’re keen to throw some dollars at the Solo360 down the track, we’d start by matching the tyres to your terrain and make sure they’re tubeless compatible, the rims are good to go, just choose tubeless tyres, add sealant and the bike will ride much smoother with lower tyre pressures, there’s less risk of pinch flats too. The Continental X-King tyres (not the tubeless compatible versions, too) are fast rolling and fine for softer surfaces, but on hard packed or dry trails they are a little nervous, we’re all about matching tyres to the terrain you ride most.

A dropper post would be a good upgrade if you’re one to jump and throw the bike around on the trails, the best invention since tubeless tyres can be found for around $350 these days, try the PRO Koryak or Bontrager Line for a significant upgrade. And perhaps a higher ride handle bar would help raise confidence on steeper trails, and not a big cost item either.

An even cheaper upgrade would be to drop the forks out and stuff some foam into the down tube to silence that internal cable rattling around inside.


Yay, or nay?

We’d just make sure your trails aren’t too rough for the solid frame and 27.5″ wheels, or we’d be inclined to seek out a 29″ hardtail, or considering the Reid Vice plus bike with more traction. But if you’re keen to dabble in a bit of cross country racing or only tend to race about on smooth trails, this is a great option for the dollars.

Double check the fit and match the tyres to your terrain, and it is good to go.

For more on the range of mountain bikes from Reid and details on their direct-to-consumer sales model, click through here.

First Impressions: Reid Solo 360 27.5 2017

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

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

It doesn’t add up…

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

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

What’s changed from last year?

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

Where will you test it?

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

 

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.

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Suntour fork with rebound and lockout.
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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.

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Taking its name from the sweet mountain bike park in Canberra, Stromlo Forest Park.
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Shimano brakes and a SRAM drivetrain.
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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.

How Will You Feel Riding a 27.5+ Bike?

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

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

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

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

Trek Go Mid-Fat, With New Stache 29+

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Ripping Old Man’s Valley with Cell Bikes

A couple of months ago we tested the Awaba 2.0 from Cell Bikes. Now we’ll be the first to admit that in the past, Cell haven’t exactly been near the top of the game in mountain biking, but the Awaba 2.0 really impressed us. The reason for the brand’s turnaround really comes down to one man, Dave Musgrove, and when you watch this vid of Dave shredding it up at Sydney’s Old Man’s Valley you can see why he knows all about creating a great handling bike.

Awaba Screenshot 4

Awaba Screenshot 1 Awaba Screenshot 2

 

Tested: Pivot LES 29

You can almost envision the meeting at Pivot HQ, amongst the rocky mesas of Arizona:

“Guys, I really think we should make a hardtail.”

“Whaddaya mean a hardtail? We’re called Pivot – can you tell me where the pivot is on a hardtail? And what the hell would we call it anyhow, this pivot-less Pivot of yours? Hey…. wait a minute.” And so the Pivot Les was born. Well, at least that’s how we like to imagine it.

Tested Pivot LES 3

The crew at Flow have long been fans of Pivot Cycles, and over the years we’ve had plenty of their superbly engineered bikes either in our own personal quiver or on test. Mr Pivot, Chris Cocalis, possesses one of the finest design brains in mountain bikes, and his expertise resonates through the brand and all the way to the trail.

But one of the aspects that generally makes Pivot bikes so appealing is their rear suspension performance. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Les ain’t got no rear suspension. We’ve seen many a brand come up short when they try to step outside their area of expertise; would the Les live up to our usual lofty Pivot expectations?

[tabgroup][tab title=”Rider details” ]Chris Southwood, 62kg, 172cm[/tab][tab title=”Changes made for testing” ]Fitted Maxxis Ardent Race tyres (tubeless), fitted 730mm Thomson bar, 80mm stem[/tab][/tabgroup]

Tested Pivot LES 9
Note the slight bend in the seat tube.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Hardtails aren’t our bread and butter at Flow. The trails around our HQ are rocky and rough, and riding them on a hardtail is kind of like watching subtitled television – less fun and requiring too much concentration. But the perfect opportunity to give the Pivot a real test was on the horizon, with the four-day Port to Port MTB stage race coming up. Having already checked out much of the course, we knew that it was well suited to a hardtail, and within moments of clapping eyes on the Pivot it got the nod for the job.

Pivot Les Test-17
The Swinger system allows single speed dropouts to be bolted on in seconds.

The Pivot has a look about it that we loved from the very outset; it’s a carbon hardtail without fear, with pin-striping that wouldn’t be out of place on a souped-up Valiant. The front/centre measurement is long, the rear end is very short, the head angle a little slacker than most cross country hardtails, and it’s equipped with wheels that can take a beating. It’s a bike that eases the hardtail learning curve and doesn’t punish you too much when you forget you don’t have five-inches of travel. In sum, the Les is exactly the kind of hardtail you want if you usually ride a dual-suspension!

Power transfer and direct, confident handling are two hallmarks of Pivot bikes, and the Les frame reflects this: the head tube area is whopping, and it’s mirrored by a tremendously stiff 92mm press-fit bottom bracket junction. In comparison, the more flattened profiles of the top tube and seat stays look rather svelte, but it’s all about factoring a little bit of compliance into the ride.

Tested Pivot LES 1
The LES 29 in stock format.

While we weren’t masochistic enough to do so, the Les can be easily converted into a single speed too. The Swinger dropouts have  a unique, indexed chain-tension adjustment system, allowing for single speed use without the need for a chain tensioner. Out of the box though, the frame is set up for geared use, and the single speed dropouts are available separately. One the topic of dropouts, the Les comes with a lovely DT-made 142x12mm rear axle, which is a nice touch.

Pivot Les Test-5
Neat front derailleur mount cap.

Keeping the rear end short is absolutely key to good 29er handling, and at 434mm the Les is fairly compact in the chain stay department. Widely bowed seat stays and a slight curve to the seat tube (and the added fact that our bike had no front derailleur) ensure that there’s still plenty of tyre clearance, which would certainly become a boon during the incredible mud we encountered on Day 2 of the Port to Port MTB stage race.

Internal gear cable routing is kept hassle free with a large access port under the bottom bracket shell, while the rear brake is kept external for simplicity and ease-of-maintenance.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Pivot Les Test-2
The LES, as we raced it at Port to Port.

With a $7000+ price tag, it’s no surprise that the Les has components that leave very little room for upgrading. SRAM’s formidable XX1 groupset is a highlight, as are the Stan’s Arch EX wheels and FOX Float Factory fork. Still, we did make a few changes to the bike before race day – in a stage race environment, the reliability of your bike is so important and the last thing you want is to be carrying out undue maintenance each night when you’re shagged. Some of the tweaks we made were about confidence, some were about comfort.

Tested Pivot LES 15

The Magura MT-8 brakes were removed in favour of a well-loved set of Avid XO Trail brakes. While this change added weight to the bike, we didn’t have any spare parts for the Maguras available, and previous experience with some temperamental Magura stoppers left us wary. The tyres also had to go. While the Stan’s wheels are tubeless-ready, the Kenda tyres seal up about as well as flyscreen! We opted for the new Maxxis Ardent Race in a 2.2″, and they ended up being the perfect tyre for the job, with a robust casing and fantastic grip.

We also swapped out the cockpit. The Les has a long top tube and with the stock 100mm stem and 740mm bar, it was too much of a stretch for our test rider. It’s unlike us to go narrower on a handlebar, but in the end we settled on a 730mm Thomson bar combined with an 80mm stem. With the stem flipped and lowered as far as it would go, the riding position was perfect! With all these changes made, the Les weighed in at just over 10.3kg,

A 30-tooth chain ring sounds small, but we were the envy of other riders on the climbs!
A 30-tooth chain ring sounds small, but we were the envy of other riders on the climbs!

Back on the subject of the drivetrain, the Les came equipped with a 30-tooth chain ring. Our initial thought was to change it for something a little bigger, but we ultimately left it in place and we’re incredibly happy we did! We lost count of how many times riders asked if they could borrow the Pivot’s tiny chain ring as we spun by on the climbs – gear your bike for the climbs, not the descents, especially when there’s four days of racing to be done.

Pivot Les Test-24

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Looking back, we really cannot fault the Pivot’s performance during Port to Port. Aside from about 15 minutes during the lumpy third stage when our back lamented not having a full suspension bike, the Les truly was the ultimate tool for the job. Nothing reinforces this fact more than the complete lack of thought we gave to the bike during the actual racing – not a niggle, not a squeak, not one moment of uncertainty.

Tested Pivot LES 2 6
Grubby.

This is what a great bike achieves, it allows you to worry about your own performance, not the bike’s. But a truly excellent bike goes one step further, compensating for you when your brain and body is too rooted to ride properly. There were plenty of instances when the Pivot carried us through situations that could have ended up very badly on a more nervous bike; the insanely fast and muddy descent from the Pokolbin State Forest on stage 2, or blindly bombing into rocky Glenrock singletrack on stage 4 for instance. But in each case, the stability of the Pivot carried us through.

Tested Pivot LES 2 22
Three days in to the race and the pilot’s still smiling. Must be a nice bike then.

For a bike that still weighs so little and climbs so well, the Pivot’s frame stiffness and refusal to get thrown off line is pretty impressive. The wide Stans rims give plenty of stability to the tyres, but it’s the feeling of connectedness between the front wheel, your hands, your feet and the rear wheel that really makes this bike shine.

Tested Pivot LES 23

The XX1 drivetrain never missed a shift, even when the derailleur was literally a solid block of mud. At one stage during the race, the sheer amount of mud on the chain ring meant the chain just wouldn’t stay on, forcing an impromptu bike wash in the nearest puddle. The super-fine chain ring/chain tolerances just couldn’t cope with that much mud, but we’re talking about so much crud that the wheels wouldn’t even turn, so we’re not going to hold this against the Pivot!

Tested Pivot LES 2 5
When conditions are filthy like this, a bike that you don’t have to even think about makes all the difference.

The FOX Float 32 Factory fork was stellar. It exemplifies set-and-forget performance – we left the fork in the intermediate Trail mode for the entire four days of racing, from the roughest descents to the smoothest tarmac sections. Despite absolutely zero maintenance being administered, the fork’s performance didn’t deteriorate at all, and we couldn’t have asked for a better balance of sensitivity and support.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Tested Pivot LES 2 21

Pivot have nailed it. With their first carbon hardtail, they’ve managed to capture all the important aspects that have traditionally made Pivot bikes so great, just minus the rear suspension. The added versatility of simple single speed conversion will appeal to some, but for us it’s the way this bike blends the best of a high-performance race hardtail with the confidence of a much burlier bike that has won us over.

Tested Pivot LES 24

 

 

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: Norco Revolver 7.1

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

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

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

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

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

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 6

 

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

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

Fresh Product: Cell Awaba 2.0 29er

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Sydney-based manufacturer Cell Bikes have been undergoing something of a reformation of late. The brand made a name for itself with budget-priced urban bikes, but they’re now releasing some surprisingly refined mountain bikes too.  Captaining the ship as they sail into these dirtier oceans is Dave Musgrove, Cell’s new head of bike design.

We’ve just taken delivery of the brand new Awaba 2.0 29er hardtail to review and the initially unassuming appearance belies the bike’s attention to detail. It’s clear that every aspect has been considered, to a level not usually seen on a bike of this price point. We were sufficiently impressed to get Dave Musgrove on the blower to ask him a few questions about the bike.

You’ve named this bike the Awaba – does that name choice reflect anything significant in the bike’s design for intentions?

Awaba MTB Park is one of my favourite XC tracks to ride; the climbs aren’t huge, the trails are primarily single track and it’s tight and twisty with lots of fun descents. The smooth flowing nature of Awaba is always a pleasant change from my regular rough riding on Sydney’s rocky Northern Beaches. So, Awaba was the first trail that came to mind when I started playing with geometry and tube shapes for our new high-end 29er hardtails. Throughout the development process I was adamant that these bikes would be suited to technical XC trails like Awaba, so I wanted to provide all the benefits of 29er wheels without the cumbersome handling characteristics that are prevalent on many 29ers I’ve ridden. By using a longer offset fork (many brands use 46mm, we’ve used 51mm) combined with a slightly slacker head angle, we can have a relatively short “trail” measurement, which means the bike has great manoeuvrability at low speed in tight corners but maintains stability at high speed. Short chain stays are also key for swinging around corners, hopping over obstacles and manualling off drops. We opened a new mould to make a slight bend in the seat tube which allowed the chain stays to be shortened without creating mud clearance issues. We call this geometry Pro Geo.

Cell have not necessarily been known as a producer of ‘serious’ (for lack of a better word) mountain bikes in the past. Do you see this as a barrier for this bike’s success?

I hope not! Cell Bikes are well known as offering great value bikes, though admittedly a couple of older models perhaps should not have seen the light of day, let alone a mountain bike trail. The value is remaining the same, due to our factory direct sales model, however the performance of our bikes has been taken to a whole new level. We now go through a far more thorough design, testing and quality control process which is evident through performance of our entire new range of bikes. Our bikes now have the same level of quality as the big brands and we back up this claim by providing a lifetime frame warranty on all of our bikes. I hope that our current focus of offering well priced high quality bikes will have a greater influence on customers’ opinions than some of our cheap and cheerful attempts at mountain bikes from a few years ago. Perhaps customers will also appreciate that we’re a small Aussie bike company that is growing up and offering them a locally designed competitive option, rather than having to settle for a bike from a big international marketing machine with little connection to their local scene.

Who is the targeted rider for this bike, and what aspects of the design reflect this?

It’s targeted at a range of riders, from the first time mountain bike buyer who wants to shred with their buddies without splashing out on a dually, to serious XC racers who are looking for a reliable yet lightweight race bike. To cover this range of needs we focused on making the Awaba light weight with superior handling and longterm reliability. The spec is reasonably light, however it is the frame where we shaved all unnecessary weight. It has triple butted tubing throughout, including stays, seat tube and main tubes. Positioning the rear brake calliper on the chain stay allows the seat stays to be lighter weight and designed to absorb impacts more effectively. The press-fit bottom bracket and fully integrated tapered headset (without cups) save further weight and reduce potential creaking. The Pro Geo is key to the good handling in technical terrain however lateral stiffness is also important, but often lacking in many 29ers in the market. I wanted riders to be able to thrash the Awaba down rough descents and rail it around corners without the wheels, fork and frame flexing everywhere. We achieved high lateral stiffness by using a tapered steerer fork with 15mm Maxle matched with a 142x12mm Maxle to bolt the rear hub in place. Thru-axles add a huge amount of stiffness compared to traditional QR skewers, which is especially noticeable with the added leverage of 29″ wheels. Using strong eyeletted 32 spoke rims allows for high spoke tension which further improves handling and reliability.

Pick a design element of this bike that is the highlight for you (perhaps something people might not notice, but which makes a real difference).

Rack mounts! Haha. No, something that is not the biggest highlight but does make a real difference yet is often over looked – cable routing. We use full length housing for both derailleurs to keep as much dirt and water out as possible. The cables follow a smooth and direct route for a clean appearance and reliable function, and assuming the rear brake is run Australian style (left hand lever), there shouldn’t be any cable rub on the frame. Perfecting the small details is important for the long term function of a mountain bike.

 

Tested: Storck Rebel Seven

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Babies are delivered by storks. It’s a well known fact. Storcks, on the other hand, are delivered by couriers, in a box, or in this case two boxes.

The Storck Rebel Seven came to Flow HQ as a bare frame and build kit. This is a rarity; most bikes leave a factory in Taiwan 90% assembled with only some tweaking, tightening and lubing left to be done by the shop mechanic. While building the Storck from scratch took a while, it also gave us a chance to really appreciate the fine workmanship of the German-made frame. It also gave the whole assembly process a sense of ceremony, or anticipation, kinda like a gestation period.

Yep, it uses dem size wheels. We didn't expect to see so many brands producing 650B hardtails this year, but when they're winning World Cups it's tough to argue.
Yep, it uses dem size wheels. We didn’t expect to see so many brands producing 650B hardtails this year, but when they’re winning World Cups it’s tough to argue.

The Rebel 7 is a single-minded machine; a 27.5”-wheeled carbon cross country race hardtail. We’ll be honest, it’s the first of its ilk we’ve tested here at Flow, so it’s a challenge not to draw comparisons with a 29er hardtail, given that 29ers have been so dominant in the hardtail ranks over the past few years.

The Build:

Marcus Storck looks like a genius, and he is widely viewed as such by many in the bike industry. Behind that mighty forehead lurks a powerful design brain and the Rebel Seven is a very fine piece of work.

The rear end is super neat. We love the brake mount and the simplicity of the axle system (though it does require an Allen key to remove the axle).
The rear end is super neat. We love the brake mount and the simplicity of the axle system (though it does require an Allen key to remove the axle).

At 1.1kg, there are lighter frames, but it has a great finish – both aesthetic and construction-wise – with a reassuringly solid feel, especially through the chain stays and dropout area. It’s clearly a frame built with great power transfer in mind. Tube profiles are broad, especially the top tube, and the ‘super size chainstays’ are deep to resist flex.

The rear is built for stiffness and power transfer, rather than compliance. There's good clearance too for muddy conditions.
The rear is built for stiffness and power transfer, rather than compliance. There’s good clearance too for muddy conditions.

A host of practical features won us over. Smart cable guides with full-length gear housings make for simple setup and minimal maintenance. Sure, internal cables are nice… until they rattle or need replacing. A direct mount front derailleur makes for powerful, crisp shifts, and the use of a pressfit bottom bracket gives plenty of meat to this critical area.

A direct mount front derailleur with full length housing makes for easy setup and maintenance.
A direct mount front derailleur with full length housing makes for easy setup and maintenance.

The chain stay mounted rear brake looks good, especially with the adjustable banjo on the XT brakes allowing a very clean brake line routing to the caliper. Brake calipers with less angle adjustability for the brake line mightn’t look so neat. Given the bike’s purpose, it’s surprising that the 142x12mm rear axle requires tools for removal – in a race situation, most riders would prefer not to carry an 8mm Allen key. That said, the system is low profile and will never give you any dramas.

The bottom bracket area is seriously robust, as is the seat tube / top tube junction.
The bottom bracket area is seriously robust, as is the seat tube / top tube junction.

The geometry features what we’d call traditionally European cross country angles. It’s not common to see a 70-degree head angle on many newer bikes – such quick steering angles are the domain of serious cross-country racers. The wheelbase is compact too, with 425mm stays and 100mm stem on our medium sized bike to provide a decent reach.

Would you like to Super Size that for only an extra 50c?
Would you like to Super Size that for only an extra 50c?

The Parts:

If you’re stacking the Storck up alongside offerings from some of the bigger market players, the value for money won’t blow you away. But keeping in mind the boutique, German, handmade pedigree here, we feel that the build kit is pretty decent…. Except for the grips, which we found too fat and which aren’t lock-ons. An easy swap.

These can go. Thankfully a new set of grips is the only change we'd recommend out of the box.
These can go. Thankfully a new set of grips is the only change we’d recommend out of the box.

We’d have expected to see a Rockshox SID on the Rebel Seven, but while the Rockshox Revelation has a small weight penalty, its performance is very hard to fault. It’s a stiff steering option, and in conjunction with the Crank Bros cockpit it makes for a front end that goes exactly where you point it.

A 100mm-travel Revelation handles things up front. It's a real set and forget fork - there is a compression adjustment / lock out, but we never felt compelled to use it
A 100mm-travel Revelation handles things up front. It’s a real set and forget fork – there is a compression adjustment / lock out, but we never felt compelled to use it

Shimano provide the deceleration with immensely powerful XT brakes. We’d ideally drop down a rotor size up front to a 160mm (rather than the 180mm fitted) as the bigger rotor sometimes had too much bite for the bike, overpowering the tyres. Still, that’s a much better problem to have than the opposite!

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DT M1700 wheels set off the frame finish nicely and while they’re not the lightest wheelset, they’re stiff and reliable. They’re ordinarily a tubeless ready wheel, as are the tyres, though unfortunately ours didn’t come with the tubeless rims strip in the box. As we’ve stressed below, adding some more compliance to the ride is something we’d look to do, and going tubeless is the best solution.

Schwalbe's Racing Ralphs are a safe bet for just about all conditions.
Schwalbe’s Racing Ralphs are a safe bet for just about all conditions.

A matching Prologo saddle is a classy touch, and the Shimano 2×10 drivetrain is a wise choice, giving riders enough gears to get this light machine up just about anything.

We don't see that many Prologo saddles, but we think they're great.
We don’t see that many Prologo saddles, but we think they’re great.

Ride:

It had been a while since we last rode a bike as single-mindedly cross-country focused as the Rebel Seven, let alone one with little wheels (ok, mid-sized wheels technically… but 26” is so 2012). While we’re still dubious about all the claims that a 650B wheel offers ‘the best of both worlds’, there’s no denying how quickly these wheels get moving. This bike gets up and going faster than a dobberman chasing a commuter cyclist. The short chain stays, stiff wheels, crisp shifting and direct power transfer tell you to get up out of the saddle and click up a few gears out of every corner.

The frame is quite low and the wheelbase on the short side, so it's an easy bike to throw about.
The frame is quite low and the wheelbase on the short side, so it’s an easy bike to throw about.

At less than 10.5kg, the Rebel 7 is incredibly easy to move around. There’s no lethargy to the steering, it can be lifted and popped over every undulation in the trail. Thankfully it still doesn’t feel overly twitch, the wide (well wide given the style of bike) bar gives everything a touch of stability, as do the grippy tyres.

There’s definitely a knack to riding this style of bike, and coming off bigger wheels and longer travel it takes a little bit of smoothing out your riding style before you find some flow. The Rebel 7 isn’t happy if you plough and the chainslap against the carbon stays lets you know loudly if you’re riding roughshod, rather than floating. Sit-down riders (or regular dual suspension riders, like us) will soon be beaten out of their lazy ways.

The Crank Bros cockpit is stout and stiff. We approve of four-bolt stem and decent width bar.
The Crank Bros cockpit is stout and stiff. We approve of four-bolt stem and decent width bar.

While decent rubber and 100mm-travel fork provide a little more forgiveness than some other cross country hardtails, there’s still nothing particularly soft about the Storck. The large diameter 31.6mm aluminium seat post is at odds with the trend towards narrow, 27.2mm carbon posts – there is not a lot of give under your butt. As we’ve noted above, we didn’t have a tubeless conversion kit handy, but setting the Storck up tubeless is a wise move, so you can drop the pressures lower than we dared without fear of pinch flats.

It's a fun looking bike, and it's playful on the trail too. But it will punish you if you're sloppy!
It’s a fun looking bike, and it’s playful on the trail too. But it will punish you if you’re sloppy!

As you’d hope, the Storck is a fantastic climber, particularly in situations where sharp accelerations are needed, like getting up ledges or steep pinches. Get your timing wrong though and the rear wheel will kick back and skip, get it right and it shoots up any incline like a lizard up a tree. On the flipside, high speed descending requires a good nerve; the sharp head angle needs a firm hard on the tiller to avoid the front wheel tucking. We had a couple of hairy moments hitting sand at pace before we got back in the swing of things. Getting the bike off the ground and floating over the worst of it is the way to go, and the Storck is happy to oblige, its short wheelbase a pleasure to bunny hop.

Overall:

While the window of appeal for the Storck Rebel 7 is narrow, it hits the mark for those who know what they want from a cross-country race bike. Its construction is a true highlight, and when it comes to that critical aspect of acceleration, the Rebel 7 feels like it has an afterburner. We’d love to try the Rebel 9 (the 29er brother of the Rebel 7) by way of comparison to get a better feel of the trade off between weight, acceleration and abilities in technical terrain afforded by the two wheel sizes.

Flow’s First Bite: Storck Rebel Seven Update

Well we’ve finally got the Storck Rebel Seven build completed! We previewed this bike as a frame only a few weeks ago, but put it on the back burner while we headed to New Zealand to shoot the Ride Rotorua Top Ten Trails series.

What a sleek, smart brake mount! We also like the low-profile 142x12mm rear axle.
What a sleek, smart brake mount! We also like the low-profile 142x12mm rear axle.

Looking at this beast now, we don’t know why we waited so long! It looks gorgeous and even simply throwing a leg over it in the office, you just know it’s going to be a real pocket rocket. The frame is just wonderfully finished, and it has that compact, flickable look to it.

The Revelation is a great fork, and we're also very pleased to see some appropriate tyres on the Rebel Seven. Great spec!
The Revelation is a great fork, and we’re also very pleased to see some appropriate tyres on the Rebel Seven. Great spec!

We love the graphics, the matte finish, the sleek rear brake mount and the spec too. It would’ve been very easy to give this bike a euro-style spec, with skinny bars and pizza-cutter tyres, but the Rebel Seven is dressed for Australian conditions. The Rockshox Revelation, Shimano XT brakes and drivetrain and confident cockpit and tyres should give it some real go in the singletrack.

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We look forward to hitting the trails on board this little German this weekend!

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: Storck Rebel Seven

Markus Storck – a man with a very good brain but a very bad haircut – is well regarded as one of the greatest design minds of the cycling industry. Interestingly, he’s also one of the founding fathers of Eurobike.

Storck Rebel Seven -7

His namesake company makes superb carbon and high-end aluminium bikes out of their facility in Germany. While the brand’s reputation is strongest on the road, they’re developing a healthy following in mountain biking too.

We’ve recently taken hold of the new Rebel Seven, Storck’s premium 27.5″-wheel cross country hardtail. It came to us as a bare frame, and we thought it look so good we’d shoot it naked, rather than dress it up with its build kit.

Storck Rebel Seven -8

The frame weight is a little under 1100g with a beautiful finish. All the features you’d expect at this level are present: press-fit bottom bracket, tapered head tube, 12mm rear dropouts, well presented cable guides.

Storck Rebel Seven -3

We’ll be building it up and hitting the trails soon. It’ll be our first experience on our home trails riding a 27.5″-wheeled hardtail (we’re usually on 29er if we’re riding a hardtail) so we’re intrigued about the performance the mid-sized wheel will offer.

Storck Rebel Seven -11

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.

 

Got Soul?

Check out the latest version of the Cotic Soul trail hardtail.

The Cotic Soul trail hardtail

A trail riding machine in the truest sense, the Soul has amazing adaptability and all round performance. Light, zippy, fun, interactive, durable, comfortable. It’s happy ripping up the singletrack at your local woods or trail centre, crossing maps on your bivvy adventures, or tearing down mountains on your summer holidays.

– Legendary Cotic hardtail handling
– Reynolds 853
– 100-140mm travel fork compatibility
– Tapered head tube for taper or 1 1/8″ forks
– 31.6mm seatpost size and hose clips for dropper seatposts
– Bomber strong, trail light

For more details go to Cotic Australia