With sag gradients on the fork and shock, getting your baseline sag set is fuss free, but we’re still making refinements to the setup. After a bit of internet trawling, we initially set the rear end up with about 25% sag (some reviewers out there felt the Meta rode best with less sag than would be common for this style of bike). We’ve subsequently dropped the shock pressure to give about 30% sag, and things feel a lot more settled now in our opinion.
We’re loving the performance of the Lyrik once again. This fork dominates, it looks bad-ass with its super wide stance thanks to the Boost hub spacing and it just chomps up the ugliest terrain. As we’ve noted below, the long 170mm-travel fork is tall, so we were planning on running it at 25% sag and adding some Bottomless Tokens to the keep the stroke supportive (the Meta comes with just one Bottomless Token fitted).
Instead, we picked up a neat suspension mod from SD Components, the Dynamic Volume Chamber. This cool little unit allows you to independently adjust the main air spring and the end-stroke, so you can get a buttery soft initial spring curve, and still have good support in the mid/end-stroke. We’ve only just fitted it, so we can’t comment on performance yet, but it adds a bit of ‘factory’ cool we think!
The rear shock doesn’t offer a lot of adjustability, just air pressure and rebound. With the remote lockout, you lose any kind of independent low-speed compression adjustment in favour of the convenience of being able to lock things out on-the-fly. We’re still on the fence about this… We’ve found the lockout useful, as the bike isn’t the most willing climber, but you do sacrifice quite a lot of rear wheel grip as soon as you hit that lockout lever. It’s best used on smooth fire roads or on the tarmac.
High rise, maybe a bit tall for shorties:
With its 30mm rise bar, the Meta is pretty tall up front, especially for a shorter rider like our tester. When the trails point down steeply, it makes for a very confident position, at the expense of being a little ungainly on technical climbs. You’ve got to really consciously keep the weight over the front end to stop it lifting and wandering when negotiating steep pinches. We’ll be experimenting with the fork setup, running slightly more sag (and a more aggressive ramp-up) to see if this improves things. We might look for a bar with less rise too, 15-20mm would be ideal.
You’ll never hear us complain about the performance of Maxxis Minions. The stock tyres on the Meta are some of the grippiest and most predictable going, but we’ve just received some new 2.6″ Maxxis Forekasters to try, so on they go! The Forekasters are a little lighter than the Minions (785g vs 960g) and we’ll welcome the reduced rotating weight, but we hope they can match the Minions in terms of reliability, durability and traction.
We also took the opportunity of swapping out the tyres to try and fit the new Cushcore system. Note we said ‘try’…. While the in-tyre damping/rim protection system sounds very promising, fitting it proved too time consuming and we gave up after an hour of fighting it. We did try to follow the instructions, but perhaps we missed a step? We’ll return with a cold drink, plenty of spare time, and a better frame of mind and try to install it!
It’s big, it’s burly, and it’s oh so shiny. Welcome to Flow, you gorgeous thing.
The new Commencal Meta AM 4.2 has just joined our ranks of long-term test bikes. We’ll be riding this one for the next 12 months, using it is a the test sled for all manner of Enduro and trail-oriented products. That’s a prospect that brings a big smile – our last experience on a Commencal was almost ten years ago, and we can still remember the buttery smooth performance of that bike, the way it seemed to float. It’s great to be throwing a leg over one of these Andorran machines once again.
Don’t know much about the brand?
That’s not surprising, they’ve had a bit of a hiatus from the Australian scene. During that time, the brand has really consolidated what it is they’re about. There’s a unique ‘fun comes first’ attitude with Commencal that we appreciate. Max Commencal, the brand’s founder, has been a behind the scenes figure for many of the sports’ greatest riders, and he gave us a fantastic interview recently where he stressed his belief that mountain biking should not be about suffering. In his opinion, mountain biking must be all about enjoyment – it needs to stand apart from the world of road riding. Even traditional cross-country riding isn’t really on the Commencal agenda, their range is dominated by aggressive trail bikes and enduro bikes.
There’s a unique ‘fun comes first’ attitude with Commencal that we appreciate.
Where do I buy one?
The return of Commencal to Australian shores is timely. Like other European brands such as Canyon or YT, the brand operates via a direct sales model – you purchase them online, and they arrive boxed with a small amount of assembly required. It’s a concept the Australian market now understands and embraces, and it allows Commencal to nail some impressive price points too.
And yes, the frame is alloy too, which we know will draw applause from the many carbon sceptics out there.
So what is this model?
The Meta AM is Commencal’s line up of enduro rigs. 160mm/170mm travel, with frame construction that is clearly built to go the distance. There’s nothing under-gunned about the assembly, with reassuring 8mm and 10mm Allen-key fittings for all the pivot hardware.
And yes, the frame is alloy too, which we know will draw applause from the many carbon sceptics out there. In fact, you won’t find a single carbon bike in the Commencal range – it’s another point of difference and a topic that Max Commencal is very passionate about.
Our test model is the ‘Race’ version, $5299, running full SRAM spec with E13 wheels and Maxxis rubber. There’s nothing about this bike we’d rush out to change, but that’s not going to stop us from making plenty of tweaks of course!
It does look bloody good too, doesn’t it?
Oh yes, it sure does. The brushed alloy finish is wicked, and the angry looking graphics set it off perfectly. The lines are great too, especially with the Trunnion mounted shock tucked right up into the top tube. This bike has some serious racing pedigree as well, with Cecile Ravanel absolutely dominating the women’s EWS series on board her Meta, winning just about every stage of every round.
What was the build like?
Assembly was straight forward, the only elements that might irk some purchasers being the need to trim the dropper post line (it was very long) and the fact the bike didn’t come supplied with tubeless valves, which is annoying. Otherwise it was all smooth sailing – the gears and brakes didn’t need adjusting, and the wheels were true and tight out of the box too.
We’ve got a bunch of product already lined up for this bike; we’ll be using it as the vehicle for a head to head FOX and RockShox test, plus we’ve got new rubber from Maxxis and much more on the way too. But for now, it’s time to get acquainted with our new Andorran buddy!
29er trail bikes of this kind of travel seem to often have the misconception hanging over them, that somehow the addition of big wheels morphs them into quasi-Enduro bikes. It ain’t the case – this bike is very capable all-rounder, a true trail bike, albeit with a lot of enthusiasm for the descents.
We’d have to rate the Jeffsy as one of the most engaging trail bikes we’ve ridden. A floater, not a flogger – it skims along, doesn’t get stuck down in its travel. It combines that supportive feel with a stiff frame too, so there’s never any vagueness about what the bike is up to. With 140mm front and rear, the bike was easy to balance, and we enjoyed the damping symmetry of the RockShox combo of a Pike up front and Monarch out the back.
We’d have to rate the Jeffsy as one of the most engaging trail bikes we’ve ridden.
The reach and overall length measurements of the Jeffsy are comparative moderate, it’s not a big boat to pilot, it’s sizing and geometry are such that it doesn’t require steep descents to come alive. In fact at the opposite end of the spectrum, on steep climbs, we were impressed too by both the climbing efficiency and the grip on offer.
We’re yet to get a creak or loose pivot bolt, despite nearly five months of regular use.
Its versatility was proven to us when we took the Jeffsy road tripping, hitting seven different destination across the Victorian High Country. On everything from flowing singletrack in Beechworth, to big climbs in Mt Buller, and some hefty jumps in Bright, the Jeffsy didn’t put a foot wrong. Nor has it required any maintenance, we’re yet to get a creak or loose pivot bolt, despite nearly five months of regular use. The assembly quality would appear to be top notch, and we like the mechanic friendly brake/dropper housing routing too.
What did we change?
This particular model of Jeffsy is the only bike in the range that comes with a 2×11 drivetrain. We didn’t waste any time swapping it out for a 1×11 setup, as we’re sure many riders will.
Over the five months of testing, we’ve fitted a number of other test parts too. This is not because the stock items on the Jeffsy needed changing, but purely because it’s nice to test parts on a bike that you’re familiar with. We’re currently reviewing the PRO dropper post and cockpit, and DT XM1501 wheels on the Jeffsy, along with the Industry Nine MatchStix fork axle/multi tool.
External cable routing for the dropper and rear brake line (and a continuous, sleeved route for the rear gear cable too) makes the Jeffsy one of the most mechanic-friendly bikes we’ve tested in a while.
Well, the fact you can fit a water bottle into this bike really appealed to us, as we like the freedom of riding without a pack. There’s a catch, however. The only bottle you can actually fit is YT’s own ThirstMaster, which at just 480ml capacity, can’t bust master of a thirst. YT also supply the bottle cage and it doesn’t have a firm enough grip, launching bottles into oblivion. We gave up on the YT bottle setup after a few rides and reverted to backpack.
This bike begs for some broader rims to give more support to the large 2.4″ tyres
The Jeffsy’s narrow rims aren’t optimum either. This bike begs for some broader rims to give more support to the large 2.4″ tyres, as the stock setup restricts you from dropping the tyre pressures. As part of our long-term test, we fitted a set of 30mm wide DT XM1501 wheels to the Jeffsy and the transformation was instant. We could lower the tyre pressures by 5psi for more traction, but without any tyre roll. Wider rims really are the ultimate upgrade for this bike.
The wrap up
It’s hard to deny that a direct-to-consumer model like YT has some real appeal in terms of delivering a lot of bike for a reasonable price; the $5499 price tag nets you a full carbon bike of superb quality, top-shelf suspension and performance that puts the Jeffsy amongst our favourite trail bikes we’ve ridden.
Of course, for some riders, having the ability to communicate face-to-face with a salesperson and build a relationship with a local shop is paramount, and you just don’t get that with an online purchase like buying from YT. But if you’re happy with the sales approach, and you want a bullet-proof carbon 29er trail bike, then you’d be mad not to peruse the Jeffsy range from YT.
Simple setup: As we recently remarked in our review of the new Fuel EX 29er (check out the full write up on the Fuel EX 8 29 here), the Full Floater suspension system found on the Fuel series is easier to setup than a Tinder date. After only two rides we settled on a suspension setting that worked for us, and it’s testimony to this bike’s abilities in a huge variety of situations that we haven’t found need to make so much as a single adjustment since, nor have we felt the need to do any suspension maintenance.
We tend to spend the bulk of our riding time in the Trail setting of the FOX DPS CTD shock. The RE:Aktiv damper technology which Trek introduced in late 2014 does a good job of moving smoothly into the travel, as well as giving you quite a firm pedalling platform. Putting the shock lever into the firmest Climb setting is rarely needed.
Teflon ain’t this smooth: It’s not until we hop on another 120mm-travel bike that we appreciate how superb the Fuel’s suspension performance really is. We can’t think of another 120mm-travel bike that we’ve ridden which matches this bike’s abilities to suck up the ugliest landings or feel so calm floating over big, chunky rocks. The fork and shock are really nice balanced too, with similarly progressive spring curves and a rebound range that’s precise enough to get them working nicely together.
The Fuel’s soundtrack on the trail is little more than the buzz of the freehub and the runch of tyres on the dirt
Silent Assassin: Part and parcel of the Fuel’s buttery suspension performance is that it’s nice and quiet. In a single-ring configuration, without the rattle of a front derailleur, the Fuel’s soundtrack on the trail is little more than the buzz of the freehub and the runch of tyres on the dirt.
Giving the Fuel more teeth: We couldn’t help but feel that the stock bar and stem put a bit of a leash on the Fuel. If you’re keen, it will happily push very hard! To help put us in a stronger position on the bike, we swapped the 80mm stem for a very chunky 70mm Pro Tharsis item and went wider on the bar, installing a Bontrager Rhythm Pro bar at about 765mm wide. The changed cockpit mightn’t be too dramatically different on paper, but the increased confidence was like down a couple of wines before hitting a wedding dance floor. One option worth considering, if you’re a more aggressive kind of rider, is going up a frame size then running a shorter stem. This is something we’d definitely think about if we were starting again with this bike.
Bontrager rubber is a treat: We’ve commented on it often, but the performance of Bontrager tyres is really pretty exceptional. We did admittedly cut the sidewall on the rear tyre on one of our first rides, but we’ll cop that one on the chin as we clearly weren’t running enough pressure and it was a particularly cal-handed piece of riding to. We’ve had no issues since, and we reckon the grip and rolling-speed balance of the XR3 as an all-rounder tyre is very hard to look past.
Shimano XT back on top: Shimano’s XT groupset is really helping the big S build a strong position in their battle with SRAM, who undoubtedly won a lot of market share in this sector with their X1 1×11 groupset. We decided to run a single chain ring instead of the stock double ring, and we haven’t regretted it. We’ve had one (maybe two?) instances of dropping the chain, but this is a minor consideration when you look at the performance of this drivetrain overall. We’ve just recently installed an oval-shaped chain ring from Absolute Black too, which should be an interesting experiment. Ovalised rings are becoming very popular overseas, so we’re really intrigued to see if the claimed benefits ring true to us on on the trails.
The XT brakes are likewise perfect, and are real contenders for the finest stoppers available right now.
We’ve got a lot more riding planned for this bike in the next few months, and a suite of new product to fit to it for testing, including some new wheels from Zelvy, which we’re excited about. You’ll be seeing lots more of this baby blue beast on Flow, and if you look closely I’m sure you’ll see a big grin on the face of the rider too.
Our love affair over the years with Trek’s Fuel series has been a passionate, torrid and deep. We know the Fuel series like the back of our hand, having spent the past 12 months on board both the 29″ and 27.5″ versions of this bike as the steeds of choice for all our Flow Nation road trips.
For the new season, we’re incredibly happy to welcome the 2016 version of the Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 into the Flow stable. While the 29er version of the Fuel has been reworked in a big way, the 27.5 is not a radically different machine to last year’s bike. The frame remains the same as 2015, but there have been some excellent spec changes to add some junk to its trunk. Notably too, the rear shock no longer has the bulbous ‘knob’ of the DRCV chamber – more on that later.
Stiffer: Finally the Fuel comes with a fork which can match the bike’s abilities. The new FOX 34 series is a much sturdier number than the 32mm fork which came on the 2015 model. Combined with a wider bar (still only 720mm unfortunately, but that’s better than last year’s skinny 690mm bar) this should give the bike a much more direct feel up front.
DT wheels: Given how good Trek’s own in-house Bontrager wheels are, we’re surprised to see DT hoops on the Fuel 9.8 for 2016. They’re shod with the versatile Bontrager XR3 rubber, which sealed up tubeless perfectly. They should be a good set of wheels, though we may opt to run a more aggressive XR4 up front (our favourite rubber from Bonty).
Goodbye DRCV: The Trek/FOX DRCV shock, which used a twin chamber design, has been a consistent feature of the Fuel and Remedy series for the past few years, but for 2016 Trek have decided to move away from this proprietary shock design. Instead, they’re running the new large-volume FOX EVOL shock. Apparently Trek were able to obtain the same ride characteristics with the EVOL shock as they’d been seeking with the DRCV design, namely a more linear spring rate. To be honest, we’re happy to see DRCV phased out. We’ve always liked the ultra smooth performance of DRCV, but it did have a tendency to bottom out pretty hard when really pushed to the limit, and the easy serviceability of a ‘standard’ shock is a real plus.
The rear shock also has the RE:aktiv damping that was debuted last year. This ‘regressive’ damping system is designed to offer a firmer platform when the shock’s ProPedal is engaged, but with a faster, smoother transition into the shock stroke. While the system wasn’t without its bugs last year (a batch of shocks had a nasty ‘clunk’) it is a very effective damper, allowing you to run bike in a firmer compression setting without sacrificing sensitivity too much.
No Mino Link: While the new Fuel EX 29er is graced with Trek’s Mino Link geometry adjustment system, unfortunately this neat feature hasn’t been carried over to the 27.5″ bikes… yet. Hopefully it does get introduced down the track, as we’d love to have the option of slackening the Fuel’s head angle by half a degree.
XT all over: Shimano’s exceptional new XT 11-speed drivetrain and brakes get the nod. Read more about our experiences with XT’s newest incarnation here. It’s superb kit. We’ll likely be converting this bike to run a single ring, which is as simple as swapping out the chain ring.
This bike will be with us for the long haul now. Tomorrow we’ll take it for its maiden voyage on our home trails – we cannot wait!
The notion of picking a 160mm bike as a suitable long-term test sled for riding on our home trails would’ve seemed fanciful up until the last couple of years. Travel in these meaty portions traditionally has brought with it too many compromises – floppy singletrack handling, ploddy climbing, sogginess like a tomato sandwich.
But lighter frames, 27.5” wheels, more balanced geometries and better suspension have all come together to deliver a delicious cocktail of all-round abilities that have made 160mm+ bikes a viable do-it-all machine. And the latest incarnations of the Norco Range exemplifies this.
The Black Beauty caught our eye almost 12 months ago at the Australian Norco launch. Like a schoolboy too shy to ask for a dance, we didn’t give the Range c7.2 a whirl immediately, but admired it from afar. And so arrangements were made for an extended test ride. We’ve now had a little over eights months of fun on this beast. – here’s what we’ve learnt.
Norco have sky-rocketed in our esteem these past few years; they now produce some of the best looking, best featured carbon bikes on the market. Take a squiz at the Range; full carbon (excluding the chain stay), internally cabled, new-school single-ring-only construction, size-specific geometry, gorgeous gloss-on-matte graphics.
Finer details just emphasise the refinement; the flush Syntace rear axle won’t snag on rocks and roots, the internal cables don’t rub or rattle, and they’ve even managed to make room for both a piggy-back shock and a full-size water bottle.
On the point of the cables, we are a little circumspect about the need for an internal rear brake line. We damaged the line on the SRAM Guide RS rear brake early in the piece and the internal-only routing definitely makes this kind of repair work a little more arduous. But, it does look great. One improvement could be the addition of internal guide tubes too, to make threading the brake line and rear housing a simpler task.
The neglect test is a good way of establishing how well a bike has been assembled, and so we didn’t check the suspension pivots for the use of Loctite or even check the bolt tensions when assembling the Range. They came loose eventually, but it took a lot of riding. The main rocker pivot was the first to wiggle loose, followed by the dropout pivot. Since tightening them both back up, there haven’t been any repeat issues, so that’s a big tick in our books.
Norco have a unique take on bike sizing; the different sizes aren’t just longer in the seat tube / top tube, but the rear end correspondingly is longer or shorter too. In a size medium, the chain stays are just 428mm long. Ditching the front derailleur certainly helps free up some space, and there’s plenty of tyre clearance. During our testing we’ve run up to 2.4” rubber and clearance has never been a concern.
One point of note is that while the Range does come with a bash guard, your choice of chain guides is a little bit limited unless you fit a larger chain ring. The Range comes stock with a 30-tooth ring, which we really like, but you can’t run a D-mount style chain guide (no front derailleur tab) and there aren’t many ISCG-mounted guides that’ll accommodate a small ring like this. This is especially relevant to racers, and given that we’ve dropped the chain a handful of times, it something worth considering.
The Range’s build kit is sensible, robust and very, very black. This is not the kind of bike you want to leave outside your tent at night – it’s invisible. During our testing, we did change a few components on the Range, including the wheels and fork. Both of these changes were in the name of product testing, though the wheels are one item we would consider upgrading on this bike.
SRAM’s super popular Pike and X1 drivetrain need no introduction, but the Guide RS brakes with 180mm rotors weren’t a known quantity when began riding this bike. It didn’t take us long to appreciate that they’re a much better brake than the Elixirs and a huge leap forward for SRAM on this front, which a snappy, positive lever feel and shit tonnes of power. We’ve had zero issues with these stoppers, other than some wet weather howling.
The fork and shock have likewise been great, though it must be said the Pike has been sharing the workload with a FOX 36, which we also tested on the Range. We didn’t feel the need to add any volume reducers to the Pike to get the spring rate right for our lightweight test rider (63kg) though some heavier riders might opt to run a spacer or two. As we’ve noted before, it’s an easy fork to get along with, with buttery performance from the get go.
We experimented a little with the rear shock pressures, before settling on more sag, rather than less. With 30% sag, we were able to get full travel on the trails where we’d like to, and then we judiciously used the shock’s compression lever to tackle the climbs. Norco have got it right with the Range’s rear suspension feel too – it’s nicely and lively, and it always seems to be shooting you forward.
We didn’t run the Norco’s stock wheelset for very long. After busting a spoke on an early ride, we took the opportunity to pop on some other wheels we were reviewing. While the Range’s stock Sun/DT wheelset is solid, it does have a fair bit of heft to it, especially compared to some of the wider, carbon-rimmed wheels that are becoming more popular and cheaper by the minute. During our testing we’ve run SRAM Roam 60 wheels (too narrow by current standards, and which have since cracked) and more recently Mavic’s Crossmax SX wheels, which are fantastic. Dropping weight out of the wheels brought even more liveliness to the bike, and really improved the climbing performance too. We know wheels aren’t a cheap upgrade, but it’s really the only obvious avenue to extract any more meaningful performance out of this bike.
The reliability of the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post has been pleasing too. We’ve had some issues over the years with the Reverb’s reliability, but this particular one was put together right and hasn’t missed a beat. We also really like the way Norco have used Match Maker clamps on the brakes/shifter/dropper – it makes for a super clean handlebar.
In the current #soenduro market, there has been a real push towards some pretty downhill geometries – bikes have been getting pretty darn slack and low in this 160mm segment. The Norco doesn’t dive into the trend quite as eagerly as some, and that’s real part of the appeal for us. It’s a long-travel bike that doesn’t feel like a pig if you’re riding it on less than long-travel trails.
The Norco’s head angle is 66 degrees. Compare this to some of its direct competitors; YT Capra – 65.2; Specialized Enduro – 65.5; Trek Slash; 65.0; Giant Reign – 65.0 degrees. The difference isn’t huge on paper, but it is enough to be noticeable on the trail, keeping the front end on track when the trails are flatter or pointing up. The relatively slim and fast-rolling tyres that come on the Range (Maxxis High Rollers in a 2.35”) help too.
Norco have their own take on the four-bar FSR suspension configuration, using a longer Horst link than some other brands that run the same system (for instance, Specialized). This gives the Range a notably rearward axle path early in the travel, resulting in more chain growth, which is designed to make for more efficient pedalling. And it is efficient, especially if you’re spinning that little 30-tooth chain ring up a climb. The responsiveness of the Range to quick stabs at the pedals is a highlight too; with the short chain stays and sensible use of chain tension, you can easily pop up the front wheel. You do notice a bit of chain tug back through the pedals when sprinting, especially over rougher terrain, but the power definitely gets to the ground in a nice and direct fashion.
On the other side of the equation, those times when you’re pointing straight down the hill and pedalling is far from your mind, the Range is a balanced, precise and fast machine. Getting the front and rear suspension working in harmony is simple with the matched RockShox fork/shock, and we actually found the Norco’s overall balance was better when we had the Pike up front, rather than the FOX 36. We do think the FOX is better fork on the whole, but it didn’t mesh quite so nicely with the Monarch Plus shock.
For a bike with 160mm travel, the Range possesses a serious ability to change lines or take to the air. It doesn’t hug the ground quite like some other bikes in this segment, but rewards riders who like to find ways over, rather than through, the nastiest bits of trail. That said, when you do need to muscle the Range, it’s not lacking; there’s a ton of steering precision and confidence with the massive 35mm diameter Raceface bar and stem.
[divider] Other options[/divider]
With the rise in popularity of Enduro racing, plus the huge improvements in weight and efficiency we discussed earlier, the Australian market is now full of great 160mm-travel bike options that weren’t available in previous years. In the last few months alone, we’ve tested a whole swathe of them.
There’s the unique Breezer Repack Team, which is really more of a long-travel trail bike than a radical all-mountain bike. Trek’s Slash 9.8 is a superb offering, and offers very similar value to the Norco Range. We especially like the wheels on the Slash, plus the fact that Trek opted not to use their DRCV shock. Giant’s Reign 1 will appeal to those who like an alloy bike, rather than carbon. This mango coloured beast is pretty much a mini downhill bike in terms of the way it rides. The Specialized Enduro is a superb platform, and even though we were underwhelmed by the rear shock on the S-Works model we reviewed, we rate the Enduro from the big S very highly. Finally, we’re in the midst of reviewing the YT Capra, which seems to be extremely good value and a potential firestarter in the market.
The Range has been a brilliant addition to the Flow stables over the past eight months. Swapping out the wheels for lighter, more responsive hoops is a nice way to compliment the Range’s abilities as an all-rounder, and would be the only upgrade that we could recommend.
We do have plenty of rough riding on our local loops, but we were nonetheless a bit concerned that the Range was going to be overkill for most situations, and we worried that perhaps the shorter travel Sight would have been a better choice. This wasn’t the case, and we’ve found ourselves reaching for this bike far more often than anticipated. The Range may be big on travel, but its efficient riding position and suspension, and sensible geometry mean it refuses to be pigeon holed.
After an agonisingly long wait, we’re finally embarking on our long-term test of Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed groupset! Over the coming months, we’ll be putting the most high-tech mountain bike groupset on the market to the test. Hold onto your butts.
But what we’re interested to learn now in our long-term review, is what it’s like to actually live with this groupset: what the installation process is like; what it all weighs; how hard is it to setup and maintain; how does it perform in different conditions; how useful are all the programmable shifting modes; is a double or single-ring our preference; is the twin-ring / single-shifter option any good; how useful is the Syncro Shift mode….?
These questions, and many more, are what we hope to answer. But for now, let’s look at our bike of choice for the build, and what the installation process was like for a Di2 newbie.
For this long-term test, we chose the 2015 Pivot Mach 4 Carbon as the frame for our XTR build. Why? Well, it’s freaking gorgeous. We have a real fondness for Pivot bikes, and we’d have to rank them as one of the best engineered bikes on the market. They’re amazing performers.
The new Mach 4 Carbon hits the sweet spot in terms of usage too; with 115mm of DW Link rear travel and geometry designed around a 120mm fork, it’s just a banging trail bike, and ideal for the bulk of trails we ride around home and on our travels.
But there’s another reason we picked this bike too, and that’s because it’s the first Di2 optimised frame on the market. The frame features a battery port, and the cable port covers are interchangeable to accept either regular gear cables/housings or Di2 electric wires. Pivot are leading the way for Di2 compatibility.
Getting started with a Di2 installation requires more forethought than your standard build. You can’t just install all the components and then bung the housing/cables in at the end – you need to be a little more strategic than that. Our XTR Di2 system included two shifters (you can run just one, even if you’re using multiple chain rings), front and rear derailleurs, a display, two junction boxes, battery and a bunch of wires in varied lengths (1 x 250mm, 2 x 300mm, 2 x 500mm, 1 x 750mm and 1 x 1000mm) – now we just had to connect the whole web.
Before we delve into the detail, it’s worth mentioning a few things. Firstly, we’re only going to be focusing on the Di2-specific elements of this bike build now – the other elements (brakes, cranks etc) we’ll touch on in later pieces.
Secondly, there are no concrete rules around how you have to wire up a Di2 bike – we could have done things in a variety of ways – the parts don’t have to be wired up in some precise sequence. All that matters is that all the elements of the system are connected in some fashion. As long as they’re joined up, it’ll all talk to each other and work fine.
The third point worth mentioning is that it’d be bloody handy to have a proper internal cabling kit/tool before tackling a Di2 installation. Compared to regular internal cables, the flexible wires of a Di2 system can be a menace to manipulate through the labyrinth of a carbon dual suspension frame – we used every trick in the book, especially when installing the wiring for the rear derailleur. Get the right tools and you’ll swear a lot less than us.
The shifters and handlebar were the first port of call. For the same reasons that we chose the Pivot frame, we opted to run the new Tharsis XC bar and stem from PRO. This equipment is Di2 optimised, with provisions for running all the wiring largely internally, making for an exceptionally neat build.
The PRO Tharsis XC bar has three small holes in it – one in the rear-centre and towards each end of the bar – so you can run the Di2 wires from the shifters through the bar and back into the stem. Threading them through was initially a nightmare, until we realised we’d accidentally chucked out the special tool to aid this process. After digging it out of the bin and watching this incredibly helpful video, things became much easier.
The shifters themselves are one of the neatest elements in the whole groupset. They have sturdy highly-textured paddles, which have a really positive mechanical click to them (unlike road bike Di2 shifting, that kind of feels like pushing a Nintendo controller). For now, we’re running both left and right shifters, though later we’ll experiment with running just the one using the Syncro Shift mode.
The final element of the cockpit area is the display unit which mounts alongside the stem. We’ve heard plenty of mutterings from people saying it’s one element of the system they could do without, but it’s very unobtrusive in fact, and carries all kinds of good info about battery life, shift mode as well as facilitating adjustment of the derailleurs.
We used the two 500m wires to run from each of the shifters and back out the port in the centre of the bars, and into a junction box. The junction box would then be housed inside the body of the stem. Our experience is that the 500mm wires are only just long enough for the job – in this configuration they’re pulled quite tight. Ideally, we’d have gone with slightly longer wires to make threading them easier. As it stands, if we ever wanted to swap the current 720mm bar for the 740mm version, then we’ll need to install some longer wires to make it work.
Next up we installed the fork and stem. The stem is a little different – it uses a threaded collar/insert to preload the headset, which removes the need to run a star nut. Without a star nut, you’re able to install the Di2 battery into the fork steerer, a feature that we didn’t take advantage of as the Pivot already has its neat battery port. If you did want to go down the route of a steerer-mounted battery, it’s worth noting that the PRO Tharsis stem is not available in lengths shorter than 80mm.
From the junction box we ran two wires – a 250mm wire to the display unit, and the 1000mm wire to the battery – with both wires exiting from inside the stem on the lower edge of the face plate. Although super neat, mounting the junction box inside the stem was a super tight fit – the cables had to be bent pretty severely to get it all in. If you were hoping to run a shorter stem, you’ll need to find a different location for the junction box – either inside the handlebar (yes, that’s an option), or externally somewhere.
The longer 1000mm wire was then routed inside the down tube to another junction box, which we were able to easily install via the battery port. Into this second junction box, we also plugged the wires for the front derailleur (300mm wire), rear derailleur (750mm wire) and battery pack (300mm wire).
It was here that the Pivot’s Di2 port system came into its own. While threading the cables through the swingarm for the rear derailleur was enough to make us weep (read our point above about using a proper internal cabling tool/kit), the end result is exceptionally clean. The battery port tucks the whole hoohah up inside the seat tube perfectly too, and because all the battery charging is done via the display unit, there’s no need to ever actually take it out of the frame again.
Installing the derailleurs is a damn sight easier with Di2 than with non-electric shifting. There’s no trimming cable housings, fitting cable crimps or fiddling with barrel adjusters. You just bolt the derailleurs on in the regular fashion and plug in the wires and they come alive like magic.
Setting the derailleurs up is a largely a plug and play affair too. You simply set the limits up limit for the for rear derailleur, shift to the gear number five, then change the computer to ‘adjustment mode’ which allows you to make tiny tweaks to the derailleur position using the shift paddles to get it perfectly aligned. You then set the lower limit and b-tension and you’re done. The front mech is even easier, as the lower limit is all you need to worry about.
The final step is to charge the battery, which is done via a port on the side of the display unit. A full charge takes about an hour and a half. Shimano are reluctant to put a figure on how many shifts a fully charged battery will give you, but if it’s anything like their road Di2 shifting, a few weeks of regular riding wouldn’t be out of the question.
Overall, the installation process did take us longer than what we’d usually expect with mechanical drivetrain, but we put that down to inexperience – this was our very first Di2 build, while we’ve been building bikes with cables for decades. And having said that, some recent bike builds we’ve had to contend with, in this era of internally cabled everything, have been equally as tricky.
Knowing what we do know about how it all goes together and what length cables should be used where, we’d love to have another go at building a Di2 bike from scratch, as we think the whole process would be quite fast and smooth. The actual adjustment element once all the components and wiring were in place was far easier than with mechanical shifting, and hopefully it’ll require a lot less maintenance in the long term too.
Feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section below too, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
If you’re looking for a travelling mate, you want someone dependable. You want someone open to new experiences. Someone who can cope with situations that might be out of their comfort zone… like getting robbed by prostitutes while sleeping in car park.
The top-shelf Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29er is sure doing a lot of travel with us: this is one of the bikes we’ve picked to take along on our Flow Nation trips across Australia and New Zealand. In just the past three months, we’ve taken this bike to Alice Springs, Tasmania, the Victorian High Country, as well as spending plenty of time on our local trails too. So how’s it going as a travelling buddy?
Watch the Fuel EX 9.9 29 in action, in Alice Springs, Hobart and Falls Creek, below:
The Fuel EX 9.9 29 is the top-shelf 29er trail bike in the Trek range, a flashy 120mm-travel steed that’s aimed at the rider who wants a no-compromise cross-country/trail bike. With a full carbon frame, XTR sprayed all over it, and plenty of Bontrager’s lightest components, it weighs three-tenths of bugger all. But while the feathery weight will rival most cross-country race bikes, it’s also decked out with the all the necessities for technical trail riding, like wide tyres and bars, and a dropper post. Hands down, this is one of the fastest and lightest trail bikes going. We’re going to get into the particulars of this bike’s handling down the track with another update, so for now we’ll stick to the changes we’ve made, and why, and how it’s all holding together.
We were also eager to further reduce the bike’s weight and cable clutter, so fitting a single front chain ring was the call. We went for the Australian-made Noble Entities CB-1 ring/guide, with 32 teeth. While the XTR setup with a single ring doesn’t offer the same gear range as a SRAM 1×11 system, for a bike this light, pushing the 32:36 low gear isn’t a hard ask. Without a front derailleur, the bike just looks great too – it’s so clean!
The Noble Entities chain ring/guide has been flawless. We haven’t dropped a chain yet, and the extra protection of the integrated bash guard adds a little reassurance too when riding rocky terrain. It is a bit noisier than a narrow/wide ring (because the chain flicks against the bash guard), but it seems more secure overall.
For us, riding without a dropper post is like eating a pizza without the cheese. The Fuel is equipped with a Rockshox Reverb Stealth, a very fine post indeed, but not when it doesn’t work. (Those with keen eyes may have noticed this bike was running a different post when we took it to Tasmania). Our post had to go back to SRAM, which was doubly a pain in the butt thanks to the Trek’s internal cable routing. Re-installing the post meant both removing the bottom bracket and the main suspension pivot axle in order to re-thread the hose. It’s now working perfectly, as we’d expect.
In terms of ongoing maintenance, we’ve had to give a little bit of love to the rear wheel. An occasional loose spoke has been bit of a surprise, but the wheels have still stayed nearly dead straight in spite of the hammering. The performance of the XR3 tyres has been top notch – no flats, no cuts, plenty of grip. We remember a time when Bontrager tyres would make us wince in anticipation of crashing, but now they’re some of the best on the market.
We’ve just received a set of Zelvy Carbon wheels to review, so we’ll be popping them onto the bike very soon. It’ll be interesting to see how the wider rim of the Zelvys (35mm) changes the bike’s performance.
The XTR brakes have also surprisingly needed some attention, with the pads seemingly to mysteriously become slightly contaminated if the bike goes unridden for a while. We’ve had this problem with XT brakes on previous test bikes, but never with XTR, and we imagine this is a pretty unusual occurrence. Giving the pads a quick once over with sand paper and regular riding seems to keep the problem at bay, and thankfully we haven’t heard other XTR users complain of the same issue.
We’ve run a couple of different forks on this bike over its short lifetime already; the stock FOX 32 Factory, and the super trick new RockShox RS-1. (Read our full review of the RockShox RS-1 here) We’re hard pressed to say which one we prefer…. The weight, looks and quiet operation of the RS-1 are magic, but the FOX is less cluttered (no remote lock out) and, we feel, a fraction stiffer. It’s also a lot cheaper! If money was no object, we’d run the RS-1.
On the topic of suspension, the Fuel comes equipped with the new Re:aktiv DRCV shock, developed in conjunction with automotive suspension company Penske. This ‘regressive damping’ system was released to much fanfare earlier this year. Does it work? Yes, it does. It won’t blow your mind, but the Re:aktiv valving does offer more pedalling support and a smoother transition into the shock’s stroke than a standard FOX CTD shock. As a result, we’ve been running the rear shock in the Trail setting pretty much the exclusively.
We’ll bring you a final wrap up of this bike in a couple of months time, when we’ll focus more on the construction and handling aspects, and you can watch the bike in action over in the ‘Must-Rides’ section of the site for now
As we said in our First Bite, this is one good looking bike, but looks aren’t everything. So to make sure the good looks are backed up by good manners, what better bike to lock in as one of our long term test fleet? The Trigger 2 has winged its way north from Flow HQ, to the dusty trails of Brisbane, where it’ll spend the next six or so months under Flow’s test pilot Pat Campbell.
The 140mm-travel Trigger sits comfortably in the all-mountain category, or as Cannondale like to call it ‘Overmountain’. In an era where all-mountain bikes are increasingly starting to have similar basic suspension architecture, the Trigger standouts out. With its chunky Lefty Max strut and customer FOX-made DYAD RT2 pull-shock, it’s something a little different. The bike’s cool on-the-fly rear travel adjust system is a bit of a standout too – it has two modes (Elevate and Flow) with 85 and 140mm of travel respectively.
We’re happy to report that none of the capabilities that we loved about 2014 Trigger 29er have not been lost in the with the 27.5″ wheel size. Overall, it’s a compact feeling bike, but it still provides ample space in the cockpit with no sense of being squished into the bike.
The Trigger is still settling into its new home on the dusty trails of Brissy, and we had some initial teething problems with the KS dropper post not returning smoothly. It turns out the problem had a very simple solution; the seat post clamp was just a smidgen tight. After backing off the torque by .2Nm all is good!
We have made one key change to the bike. Our uncertainty about the Mavic tyres proved to be quite justified – they proved difficult to seal up for tubeless, and the hard compound was too unpredictable for our liking. We’ve switched the rubber for some Bontrager XR3s in a 2.2, and we may even opt for something a bit bigger up front to get more bite again in the loose conditions.
Also in the pipeline is a conversion to a 1×10 drivetrain. We’ll be using the neat CB1 guide/ring from Aussie brand Noble Entities for this. Not only will this reduce complication and weight, but it’ll allow us to run the remote shock lever in a more accessible position which should encourage us to toggle between the ‘Elevate’ and ‘Flow’ modes more.
Getting the suspension dialled has been more involved than usual, but we’ll delve into that a little more next time!
While Sydney has been doing its finest Scottish Highlands impression this past month, with more rain than The Weather Girls, we couldn’t ignore the urge to get to know our Norco Range 7.2 a little better. As you can see, we’ve even found time to make a couple of tweaks to this glorious machine. Read on for the first instalment of our long term test.
As we commented in our First Bite initial impressions piece, it’s uncommon to find a bike this battle-ready off the shelf. Normally we find at least a couple of items to fiddle with before hitting the trails (for example, stem length, tyres or chain ring size), but this was not the case with the Range. Converting the wheels for tubeless is the only must-do before rolling out the door. The Alex rims do say they’re tubeless ready, but this is pretty misleading, as all the label really means is that they can be run tubeless if you fit an appropriate kit. While the bike regrettably isn’t supplied with a tubeless kit, we were able to successfully seal it all up with Stan’s No Tubes tape/valves/sealant. The Maxxis High Roller II tyres are tubeless ready, so it all snapped into place and held air perfectly.
Getting the suspension dialled was step number two, which is made easy thanks to a pressure guide on the Pike RC fork and sag indicators on the Monarch Plus shock.
We’ve been running 65psi in the fork, which is right on the recommended pressure. We’ve had great experience in the past with the Pike’s Bottomless Token system, which alters the progressiveness of the fork, so we’ll be trying out lower pressures and adding a Token or two to see how this changes the ride. In the meantime, we’ve also just received the new FOX 36 to test, so we’ve duly fitted it up and we’ll be taking it out for it its maiden voyage next week. The 36 is 170g heavier than the Pike, but it looks sweeter than an Iced Vovo and we’re dying to ride it. You can read all about our first impressions here.
At present we’re running around 167psi in the Monarch Plus rear shock, for just over 25% sag. We’ll experiment with slightly lower pressures too, as we’re yet to hit full travel with the current settings. We had initially thought that the Monarch could be a weak point in the bike’s performance, but that idea soon went out the window. The 2015 Monarch Plus is far and away the smoothest, most responsive rear air shock we’ve experienced from Rockshox – finally they have an trail/all-mountain shock that can match the performance on the Pike. We just hope it stays this good in the long-term.
Unfortunately our first outing resulted in not one, but two mechanicals, the blame for which lies squarely at our feet. First, we collected a stick that had the audacity to be tougher than it looked, and we snapped out a spoke in the rear wheel. On the same outing, we also damaged the rear brake line. In our build process, we didn’t leave enough slack in the rear brake line to account for large degree of rotation at the bike’s dropout pivot. As such, on a large impact, the line has been pulled too tight and developed a small rupture right at the point where the line enters the caliper banjo fitting. Arguably, the line shouldn’t have suffered this damage, but it was yet another reminder for us to always check a bike’s brake/cable lines through the full range of suspension movement. Lucky for us, we’ve just recently received a set of SRAM Guide RSC brakes to review, so we’ve fitted them for the interim until we get a chance to put a new line on the original brake. Because the Range uses an internally routed rear brake line, fitting a new brake was a little more involved, but at least the ports for routing the line are of a decent size so threading the line isn’t as hard as some.
While the original rear wheel is out of action, we’ve fitted the bike with a set of beautiful carbon SRAM Roam 60 wheels which we have previously reviewed. They’re far lighter than the original wheels (by some 400g!) and they’re stiff as a frozen fish finger. With the weight saved on the wheels, and the weight added with the FOX fork, the Range now weighs in at 13.4kg including a set of Time ATAC MX4 pedals.
We’ll report back next month with a bit more information about how the Range rides, once we’ve had a chance to get it onto a wider variety of trails.
After countless trail hours, car miles, domestic flights and mountain bike events, it has come time to begrudgingly hand back our beloved Lapierre Zesty AM long term test bike.
We’ve made no mystery of the fact that we love Lapierre bikes here at Flow, they tear through singletrack like a pro and their e:i Shock gizmo takes efficiency to an unprecedented level. This one in particular – the Zesty AM729- with its top-tier spec and fancy electronics, attracted its fair share of attention on the trails. And in the end of our time aboard the Zesty we review our relationship as having been bitter-sweet, equal parts joy and frustration.
[divider]A bit of background on the e:i Shock[/divider]
All the big bike brands are frantically duking it against each other out for rear suspension supremacy by using tricky rear axle paths, proprietary shock valving, remote lockouts or, in Lapierre’s case, an automatically-adjusting and electronically-controlled rear suspension system. It’s a confusing time for the consumer, and even for us. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and the weaknesses in particular keep shrinking each year as the technologies develop. What the heck is going to be next? The future of mountain bike suspension is an unknown to us, where can it all go from here, will it plateau and calm down? Do we really need all this?
Lapierre’s unique electronic intelligent suspension system is not an easy concept to explain – it all makes a lot more sense when you actually ride a bike equipped with this system. Fortunately here at Flow we’ve had plenty of trail time on a wide range of e:i equipped bikes, take a look at our first review of the 2013 Zesty 314. Lapierre use the e:i on three models of suspension bikes, the XR, Zesty and Spicy.
Lapierre have clearly realised that explaining the e:i system in mere words is a bit of a task, and so they’ve just released this great vid that does a really good job of explaining what it’s all about and how it works.
In the end, we most certainly appreciate what the e:i Shock does, whole heartedly. The best thing about it? You’re always in the best suspension setting for whatever riding you are doing. You don’t have to reach for a lever on a shock, or a switch on the handlebar, it’s all 100% automatic. You are always in the optimum shock setting, and you can’t fool it, trick it or be caught out.
Our test bike here is a 2014 model, but for 2015, Lapierre have greatly simplified the operation of the e:i system, ridding it of the unnecessary display unit and bar-mounted mode adjuster. We recently spent time on the new e:i system, and met the engineers behind the incredibly clever and effective system, whilst previewing the 2015 Lapierre range. We’re also currently testing the new 2015 Zesty TR 829, so come back soon!
[divider]Our Long Term Test[/divider]
The 2014 Zesty AM 927 is a gorgeous bike, immaculately finished, and specced with the finest parts possible for almost $10k. From the forests of Cairns, to the big mountains of Mount Buller, to the flowing trails of Orange and all over the trails of Sydney, the Zesty was that perfect ‘one bike’ that was up for anything. Exploring unknown trails is always a tricky one; what bike to take? Our Zesty always seemed to be the right choice, and we reached for it all the time. We raced it at Bike Buller, the multi-stage event in the big Victorian Alps, with its hour-long climbs and insanely fast descents, tight switchback corners and wide open fire roads. The Zesty was never too much, or not enough bike. We raced it at Enduro events, and wouldn’t hesitate to roll around a multi-lap endurance race either.
Sure, its high end parts make this bike very appealing, keeping the weight low and therefore requiring less effort to pedal around the trails, but the geometry and handing characteristic really lend itself to taking on a wide variety of trails too. 150mm of travel is a fair bit of bounce, but the electronic motors continually zapped away, making sure that you were always in the right setting for climbing, springing or descending. You never get that soggy, energy sapping feeling as your pedal power is absorbed into the the bike as the rear shock compresses, it is firm when you want it, but stop pedalling or hit a bump and it instantly becomes plush and active.
One thing we kept on wishing for, was a FOX shock in place of the RockShox Monarch. It’s no secret that a FOX rear shock in most cases feels smoother, more sensitive and reacts faster than a RockShox. This 2014 model Monarch is better than last year’s one, but still at high speeds and when the trails became choppy, those fast and repetitive impacts seem to choke up the shock. For 2015 however, the new Monarch’s have improved out of sight again, new model bikes we’ve ridden with 2015 Monarch shocks are far smoother and sensitive.
We chatted to Lapierre’s suspension engineer about the working relationship with RockShox, and why FOX was never used with the e:i Shock. It turns out that FOX simply weren’t that interested in working with the e:i Shock folks, and the current Shimano/FOX electronic systems were simply not fast enough to work with the e:i system. RockShox shocks may not be the smoothest, but their damping internals are able to be changed at 0.01 seconds, that’s the key to the operation.
But, for all our praises of this bike comes some disappointing negatives. At the risk of sounding a bit brutal we were not 100% stoked on the 2014 e:i Shock’s hardware durability or visual appearance. Due to a few niggling electronic component issue – all of which were swiftly rectified under warranty – our Zesty has spent a portion of its life in varying states of operation. At times these niggles dominated our thoughts when riding, and left us wondering if the bike would be better without the electronics.
The issues we had lay in the connectivity of the electronic points, both at the head unit and at the main internal junction, suffering from the elements most likely. Inside the frame, above the bottom bracket is a little junction of wires, soldered together and waterproofed with heat shrink. Ours had issues, and the junction wires were replaced by our local Lapierre dealer. We also had problems with the display unit going blank intermittently, but Lapierre have just released an updated head unit has a more positive connection between the computer display and the housing. We know this technology is young, and these kind of early generation issues are inevitable, but it is frustrating nonetheless.
On a more positive note, the upcoming 2015 version of this bike with its refined and simpler e:i Shock ‘Auto’ system will blow the 2014 model out of the water. We’ve ridden the 2015 system extensively, and look forward to more users having a better experience with e:i on the new system. Improvements to the 2015 system include the connections between the wires inside the frame. Gone are the soldered and heat shrink-wrapped junctions of wires, in place are new durable and weatherproof plugs, like you would find inside the frame of a Shimano Di2 bike. The display head unit is gone entirely too, as is the remote buttons near the shifter. This is all good news as far as we’re concerned – the system is much simpler visually and in its user interface.
We couldn’t help ourselves, a RockShox Pike had to happen. The 150mm travel 32mm FOX TALAS fork that came stock on the bike didn’t match the whole bike’s ready-for-action attitude. We opted for a 160mm Pike, which no only beefed up the front end with bigger diameter 35mm legs (in place of the FOX 32mm legs) but also lifted and slackened the front end. With a 160mm fork, the Zesty was beginning to look more like the Lapierre Spicy (which shares the exact same frame) which comes stock with a 160mm fork and a few more burly parts. Maybe we wanted really just wanted a Spicy all along?
The Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, like the skinny FOX fork are nice and light, but were holding back the Zesty’s true capabilities of going really, really fast. We’ve also not really been big fans of the Nobby Nic unless the soils are really soft; we find they ping and slide around on hard packed surfaces, which is quite scary at times.
A pair of gummy Maxxis 2.35 TLR 3C (tubeless ready, triple compound) were a good swap; the Minion front and High Roller II added weight and a bit of drag, but the traction trade-off was well and truly worth it. No flats, burping or cuts occurred, but the eye-poppingly good braking control from the High Roller on the rear was short lived as the tall and aggressive centre knobs shredded fairly quickly.
Everyone has a favourite seat, and the Bontrager Evoke is one of ours. In favour of the the Fizik Tundra, the Bontrager would save our buns on the longer rides.
We would typically muck around with the cockpit of a long term test bike, but in this case it remained unchanged. The length of the stem, ride and width of the bars was perfect. Even the grips stayed on the whole time.
Aside from the fork, the biggest change made to the Zesty was the ENVE M60 wheels. These lustrous hoops don’t need much of an introduction to road or mountain bike riders, they are the cream of the crop of carbon wheels. There is no better place on your bike to throw money at, the performance boost is huge. An excellent suspension fork is better than just a good one, but the differences with a top-notch set of wheels is night and day over a stock set.
What the ENVE wheels did to the bike was three-fold. Weight dropped significantly, the tyres were given a wider profile, and the bike’s direct and fast handling was lifted to the next level. The M60 rim is a fair bit wider than the stock Easton Havens, and in our opinion the wider the better. The tyres can be run at lower pressure to add major amounts of traction without experiencing a squirming or spongy ride. The contact patch of the tread was increased too as the casing of the tyre is set wider. But the best bit (not just the looks) is how they ride. The ENVE wheels know where you’re going, they feel stiff and strong without feeling harsh, and really encourage harder riding. Our ability to hold a rough line was noticeably more confident, and the rolling speed was wild, so damn fast.
Zestys love speed, cornering and making light work out of the trickiest trails. They are a true all-mountain bike. They have a knack for hauling around a flat corner, and ripping through the tight and twisty sections. A short rear end is to thank for its nimble handling in tight terrain, and we love the way the Zesty pulls a manual or flicks around a switchback. Up front, a roomy top-tube gives the bike a nice dose of length. Pair that to a short stem, and you have a nice balance of room for stability, but also fast and responsive handling. Pretty much ideal for a lightweight 150mm bike.
The overall low weight was instantly evident on the first ride, not just getting up climbs with less effort, we found ourselves able to pop over sections of the trail, searching for smoother and faster lines like we had loads of energy. Lifting the bike and placing it down where you want it is super easy. And there is no doubt about it, the e:i Shock component (when it’s working) is superb. If you can put up with the noisy motor zapping away, you will quickly forget about the fact you’re carrying a battery, accelerometers, computers and cadence sensors on board and you’ll just leave the computer in auto mode, and just ride. It is perfect efficiency, and it’s completely automatic and intuitive and instant.
In comparison to a regular bike test, a long term test lets us delve deeper into how a bike performs over time, allowing elements like durability and different setup results factor in to the test. In this case, we did have durability issues with the electronics, but that was it. We made a couple spec changes, but aside from the tyres, nothing actually needed replacing.
We often hear people saying that they think mountain bikes ‘don’t need’ electronic suspension. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a positive development, and in reality it’s simply an evolution of what are already very advanced machines. Take a look at a high-end modern bike; carbon framed, carbon wheeled, hydraulically damped, amazing strength to weight ratios – these bikes are not simple any more. We’ve accepted electronics into just about every other aspect of out lives, from our timepieces to our toothbrushes to our cars, why not our bikes too?
If it wasn’t for the hardware issues we had with the electronics, we would have been 100% happy with this bike. We know there are countless Lapierre owners out there who have never had any troubles, so maybe we just had bad luck. We really enjoyed this bike, and we think that Lapierre is onto a great thing with e:i. Now we’re looking forward to the 2015 range resolving the niggling issues we had and reinstating the public’s belief in what we think is one of the leading suspension designs ever made.
We’re a little over a month into our long term test of the 2014 Giant Trance Advanced SX now and things are going swimmingly, literally in the last couple of weeks as the trails have been a bit swampy.
Straight up, this bike is a riot. A blacked-out package of confidence and playfulness, a 12kg piece of weaponry that turns every rock into a kicker or a landing ramp. It’s everything we’d hoped. We’ll get into the way the bike rides a little more in later updates, but for now here’s a few observations about the suspension and drivetrain.
Suspension: Man, the rear end of this thing is smooth. FOX have really done their best work with the new Float X. It’s like butter, poured over Teflon. It’s a true pain in the arse to adjust the rebound speed, as the dial is really hidden very deep underneath the shock eyelet, but that’s the only gripe.
The 34 TALAS fork has spent most of its time in the 140mm setting so far, only being bumped out to its full 160mm travel for the descents. Unfortunately our fork had a damper problem (sporadic topping out, seemingly at random) and so it went back to FOX. They had it back in less than a week, with a brand new damper installed. While in the workshop, they popped in some new seals and the fork is near frictionless now.
While our fork was back with FOX, a new test fork arrived from Formula – the Formula 35 with 160mm travel. Because the Trance uses Giant’s proprietary Overdrive 2 headset standard (with a 1.25″ upper bearing, instead of the standard 1.125″ bearing) we needed to order a new upper headset assembly to suit. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as just swapping out the upper headset bearing, you need a new headset cup as well. FSA make the whole assembly. You’ll also need a different stem too, which we thankfully had on hand.
With the Formula fork fitted, the entire bike has dropped a bit of weight too, now clocking in at a seriously impressive 11.85kg (without pedals fitted)!
Drivetrain: Any fears we had about the 32-tooth chainring being too small have gone out the window. Even with 27.5″ wheels, we rarely find ourselves in the highest gear. This bike has once again reinforced the idea that it’s important to gear your bike around the climbs, more so than the descents.
The X01 drivetrain is quiet and stable as a sedated Buddhist, though we have thrown the chain once when pedalling out of a very rough, drifty sandstone corner. If it was ever going to happen, this is exactly where you’d expect the chain to drop. We’re not going to fit a chain guide at this stage as we don’t think chain drop will be a regular occurrence.
Back in September we took delivery of the BH Lynx 4.8 29 as a bare frameset. Nude. Curvy. We built it up with a stack of high end parts for a long-term test, and now over four months later it’s time to deliver the report card.
The BH might strike you as an obscure choice – why not opt for a frame from some of the better known manufacturers? While the brand is still on the rise in the mountain bike world, after testing the complete bike in mid 2013 we were quickly convinced that this machine had the cred to hang with the big boys. The bike has simply wonderful geometry and impressive attention to detail that is not normally found in the first generation of a bike.
The combination of very low weight, 120mm of very supple travel, a slack head angle and the shortest chain stays we’ve found on dual suspension 29er make for an amazingly fun ride. It climbs with the best of them but simply floats in the rough incredibly well.
We’re not going to dwell on the ride of the bike too much here – as it’s normally available as a complete bike only – but we’ll focus more on what it’s like living with the BH long term and any quirks or real highlights we uncovered.
Our frame was supplied without a shock and we opted to run a Rockshox Monarch RT3, rather than a FOX CTD that comes standard on the complete bikes. With shock, hanger, rear axle and seat post collar fitted, the frame weighed in at 2.35kg. If you’re not the kind who keeps a track of comparative frame weights, this is a seriously impressive figure, only a couple of hundred grams more than the industry leaders.
The only frame element that is not made from carbon is the upper suspension links (and pivot hardware, obviously). Even the headset bearings sit directly on carbon and the bottom bracket is a press-fit too, so there’s no need for a threaded alloy insert, saving weight.
All the pivots and shock bolts use Torx head fittings in a variety of sizes which required the purchase of a few extra Torx bits of for our ratchet set! A tender hand is needed as much of the pivot hardware is alloy – don’t over-tighten it.
It’s interesting to note the offset of the rear end. In order to squeeze in the front derailleur with short stays, the rear shock has asymmetrical mounting hardware. Crafty. We never fitted a front mech, running SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain instead.
The shock is situated very close to the rear wheel and this does raise concerns about durability and potential damage to the shock shaft from rocks or lumps of wet clay etc. We toyed with the idea of fashioning some kind of guard to protect it, but it proved too tricky. So far our fears have been unfounded, but we’d recommend giving this area around the shock shaft a regular clean to prevent build up of mud. The shock itself is only a little fella too, with a 1.75-inch stroke (44mm) to help fit everything into the constricted space.
All the cabling, save for the rear brake, is internal routed with guides inside the frame so threading the housings is easy. There are also external cable stops for a remote shock lockout if that’s your bag. We like the fact the cables and brake lines are routed right over the main pivot, minimising the amount of bending the lines undergo during suspension compression.
Like other interrupted seat tube frame designs, the BH is not compatible with ‘stealth’ style internally routed dropper posts. Instead, the dropper post cable ducks in on the left side of the head tube and pops out about three quarters of the way along the top tube. This works ok, but it does force the cable into a pretty tight bend which adds friction at the lever. Keep the cable well lubed for slick running, or run a hydraulic post instead.
One area where the frame is underdone is protection. There is no chain slap protector included and the fat down tube is awfully exposed to rock strikes – fit a Frame Skin kit at a minimum to give the bike some protection.
To get the most out of the BH on the trail, set up is important. With the relatively slack head angle (for a 120mm 29er) a short stem is best to keep the handling nice and responsive. We went for 70mm stem. The slack seat angle can potentially cause problems too if you need to run a lot of seat post extension, pushing you back behind the bottom bracket. Look for a post without any offset, so you’re not too far off the back, or you’ll be running the saddle rails right forward in the post.
Our frame was a pre-production model and we did notice the rear end had loosened up a little after a few months, with some flex evident at the Split Pivot assembly. There have been revisions to the carbon layup on production bikes with a little more beef added here (and in the seat tube / top tube junction). Because of the rear end’s feather light construction, this will never be the stiffest frame out back and heavy riders will want to keep an eye on the Split Pivot hardware which is secured with a 12mm Allen key – solid stuff!
After four months of riding, we’re still as impressed by the BH 4.8 29 as we were on that very first outing. Living with the bike day in, day out we’ve found precious few niggles with the bike that could dampen our enthusiasm for the way it rides. With the weight of a cross country race bike, the geometry of an all-mountain beast and a level of attention to detail that isn’t often seen, it’s a real standout.