Merida One-Forty 800 First Impressions

Merida One-Forty: the right tool.

When you want to carve up a turkey, you don’t use a spoon. And when you want to rip a trail, you don’t want some flim-flammy noodle cycle. You want a bike with purpose and guts. Maybe it’s just the colour which gives it the appearance of a piece of mining equipment, but the new Merida One-Forty 800 screams ‘tough as nails’ – it looks like the right tool for the job.

Unashamedly yellow-bellied. We like the purposeful feel of this bike.

The One-Forty 800 applies the successful Float Link suspension design and frame layout found on the One-Sixty platform (which we reviewed here) in a slightly shorter travel package. It’s a no fuss machine – 100% alloy, with the cash spent wisely to deliver excellent components for the $3999 price tag.

There’s something very reassuring about the way this bike is assembled. It feels stout and strong, but throw it on the scales and the weight isn’t over the top, 13.59kg. There’s sure to be a carbon version of this bike on the way.

The lower shock mount isn’t fixed to the mainframe, but ‘floats’.

Smart, tough components.

We like the way Merida have approached the rolling gear  – 29mm-wide rims, shod in 2.6″ Maxxis rubber (though it’s lamentable that the rims don’t come taped and sealed for tubeless use!). 2.6″ rubber is becoming the norm for aggressive trail bikes, and this Maxxis combo looks very good indeed.

2.6″ Maxxis tyres front and rear. The use of a Minion DHR up front is an interesting choice.

Up front, the new RockShox Revelation is inspired by the Pike, with 35mm legs. It’s a huge improvement over previous versions of this fork. And of course, the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain is a real highlight.

Finally, the Revelation is a serious trail bike fork, with 35mm stanchions.

For some reason, this bike has us really excited. And not just us – a lot of people have commented on it already, in the short period of time we’ve had our hands on it. Can it deliver where it counts?

First Impressions: 2018 Canyon Torque

Bikes like the Commencal Supreme SX and the Polygon Square One are carving out a new future for the 180mm bike with the help of lighter frames and componentry, combined with today’s wide range gearing.

Now there’s a new kid joining the 180mm club, the reinvented Canyon Torque.

The Torque is a lean looking 180mm bike.


What’s New?

The Canyon Torque forms part of Canyon’s new ‘family’ of bikes consisting of the Spectral, Torque and Sender. All of these bikes share the same ‘three-stage’ suspension design and philosophy (and we expect the 160mm Strive will receive an update at some point in 2018) that we covered in depth in our first impressions piece on the all-new Spectral.

The Canyon Torque forms part of Canyon’s new ‘family’ of bikes consisting of the Spectral, Torque and Sender.

Fabien Barel floating through the Madeira singletrack aboard the new Torque.

The Torque fits in between the enduro race focused Strive and the Sender downhill bike, pairing 175mm of rear travel to a 180mm fork. With these numbers, there’s no doubt the Torque is aimed squarely at riders who live for the descent and be it by choice or necessity they pedal their way to the top.

Long descents are very much what the Torque is about.

So, how does the bike ride?

The new Canyon Torque does what it says on the box, which is a very good thing.

Our first day on the Torque was a complete washout (literally) with regards to testing the bike, as we slid our way down (sometimes on the bike, sometimes not) Madeira’s most technical trails in absolutely torrential rain.

While we battled our way through the day, Joe Barnes didn’t seem to have any issues.

On the second day, however, we got to open the throttle up a bit more, and the bike came into its element. The rear suspension is incredibly supple off the top, providing traction and support, but the mid stroke provides just enough pop for the bike to ride more playfully than its 175mm of travel might suggest.

The stable mid-stroke means the bike doesn’t wallow in its 175mm of travel.

As we discussed in our first impressions piece on the Spectral, the progressiveness of the ‘three-stage’ suspension is truly exceptional, and we couldn’t bottom the Torque out running 30 percent sag, even on some big, nasty and flat landings on the most hectic of trails.

The Torque really shone riding wide open, technical trails, where its active suspension and forgiving geometry allowed you to make a mistake after mistake and still ride out.

Where the bike struggled a touch was in super tight terrain and European style switchbacks, where its slack geometry and long legs could feel a bit vague if you were trying to snap the bike through tight corners quickly, or pivot on the front end to get around a tight switchback.

The Torque requires a fair bit of body language to manoeuvre in tight terrain.

While the Torque is impressively playful for a 180mm bike, it does lack some of the poppy character of its shorter travel Spectral sibling, and riding the two bikes back to back affirmed that you need some demanding trails or an ultra-aggressive riding style to get the most out of this bike.

The Torque really shone riding wide open, technical trails, where its active suspension and forgiving geometry allowed you to make a mistake after mistake and still ride out.


Is the Torque a total pig uphill?

Surprisingly not. While you won’t be taking the victory in your local XC series aboard the Torque, the bike climbs very well considering its long legs.

The Torque’s geometry is aggressive, but not totally out there.

For all but the most technical of climbs we would engage the shock’s lockout, as well as firming up the forks, and we wouldn’t mind if the seat tube was a touch steeper, however we were climbing up roads with a locked-out fork, and climbing off road with the fork open would put you more over the front when the fork sags.

All in all though, with the compression levers engaged there’s only a hint more bob than you might find on a 150mm bike.


What models are available?

There are seven Torque models available in total, with four aluminium models and three models featuring a carbon front end mated to an aluminium rear.

The Torque CF 9.0 Pro

We rode an aluminium frame adorned with top of the line components for the majority of the launch. However the cheaper models come with 11 speed drivetrains and 32 tooth chainrings.

The Torque AL5 is the cheapest model in the range.

We think that perhaps this gearing might be a touch steep if you’ll be riding up steep access roads as the weight will creep up on the lower end models, but swapping out to a 30 or 28 tooth chainring isn’t too much of an issue.

All models feature a threaded bottom bracket.

We rode both an aluminium Torque as well as the CF frameset, and for us, there was only the slightest discernible amount of increased frame rigidity in the CF model. We later asked Fabien Barel about this, and he said there are stiffness gains there, as well as the obvious weight savings, but the large majority of riders wouldn’t be able to perceive the difference in feeling between the two front triangles.

We’re excited to see the Canyon Torque land in Australia. It’s the kind of bike we’re itching to rail down those tough descents that can only be accessed by leg power.

First Impressions: Polygon Siskiu T8

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

What’s the scoop?

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

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

You’ve ridden the Siskiu before, correct? 

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

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

Is it 29er only?

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

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

What can you tell me about Polygon?

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

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

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

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

Off we go!

Tested: Polygon XQUARONE EX9

Watch our full video review below: 


Jeez it’s ugly.

No, it’s not really, we promise. Pictures just don’t do this bike any favours. It’s unconventional, for sure, but when you see it in the flesh it’s far more impressive than offensive. In an era where bikes seem to settling into a couple of broader frame layouts/configurations, the shape and design of this bike was always going to be divisive, but we like it.


Where the magic happens.

What the hell is going on with that rear suspension?

The Nailed R3act 2Play suspension system is like nothing else on the market, and in many ways it’s the key to the Polygon’s abilities. This bike is really a partnership between Polygon and Darrell Voss, the designer of the R3act suspension system. And don’t be surprised if you see this system appearing under license with a variety of other brands very soon (Marin are also using this system already).

We’re still not 100% certain how the system does what it does so well.

We recently interviewed the system’s design, Darrell Voss (we’ll be publishing it in full soon), and to be honest we’re still not 100% certain how the system does what it does so well.

No lockouts, and very little damping. So how does it work so well?

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the system is hugely decreased reliance on damping when compared to other bikes. The FOX X2 shock is has been de-tuned, with roughly half the damping applied to the oil flow compared to a regular version of this shock. In fact, twiddling the adjusters had no perceptible impact on the bike’s performance. This makes setting up the bike’s suspension a very fast process. Set your sag at about 25%, then go ride, no dial twiddling required.

You’re left with a bike that simply grips the terrain like crazy.

The conventional wisdom is that damping is essential to control the suspension’s motion, and with so little damping you’d expect the ride to be like an uncontrolled pogo stick, and indeed when you bounce around in the carpark, that’s what it feels like. But the moment you get onto the trail, this sensation disappears entirely, and you’re left with a bike that simply grips the terrain like crazy.

When you start to really admire the shapes of the frame, the price doesn’t seem so unrealistic.

We’re paraphrasing Darrell Voss’s explanation here, but in a nutshell, when you apply damping to the rear wheel’s motion, you lose energy, and you impede its ability to grip. By reducing damping, you free up the rear wheel to follow the terrain, and allow it to get out of the way of impacts.


But surely with so little rebound damping, you’re going to be thrown over the bars?

That’s what we thought too, and so it was with a bit of trepidation that we approached hitting jumps initially. But strangely enough, the anticipated ejection out the front door never happened. Again, we can’t really explain it, but at no stage did we have even an inkling of getting bucked. The bike just sucked up the hits and stayed calm.

The Polygon simply carries more speed through rough terrain than any other bike we’ve ridden.

What does this all mean for the descents?

Put it this way: on trails we’ve ridden dozens of times, we found ourselves having to relearn our braking points. The Polygon simply carries more speed through rough terrain than any other bike we’ve ridden – it is faaaaaast. It gobbles up repeated hits and chunder, accelerating down the hill, getting speed out of every backside. You don’t have that feeling of getting bogged down and having to work to maintain momentum.

It swallows up big hits too, and while the shock’s o-ring told us we’d used all the travel, we never felt it bottom out.

You carry so much speed on the Polygon, it’s easy to leave your braking too late as it all comes up so fast.

TEST LOCATION: TRAILSHARE CABINS

As part of our review of the Polygon XQAURONE, we spent a weekend up at the new Trailshare Cabins, Kulnura, just over an hour out of Sydney. This place is remarkable: over 20km of private trails, in beautiful blackbutt and turpentine forest, rider-friendly sustainable accommodation. It really is a little piece of paradise, and we’re certain we’ll be using it as a base for a lot more bike testing in the future.

There’s accommodation for up to six people, with a communal kitchen, relaxed outdoor dining with a firepit and as you can see below, the trails literally start from the edge of the verandah. Peace and quiet, trails all to yourself, it’s the ideal place for a chilled out weekend away. Take a look for yourself right here, or book via Air BnB.

The trails at Trailshare start right from the accommodation.

So would you call it an Enduro bike?

When you look at this bike’s figures on paper, particularly the huge 180mm of travel, it’s easy to assume it’s built with descending in mind. But this is the magic of the XQUARONE – it completely defies the standard categorisation we’ve come to use to pigeonhole bikes. In a nutshell, it does what other bikes say they’re going to do, but usually don’t.

It completely defies the standard categorisation we’ve come to use to pigeonhole bikes

We’d have no qualms using this one as our day-to-day trail bike, it’s mind blowingly capable as an all-rounder, which seems insane for such a big bike. This thing climbs very, very well. And we don’t put the caveat “for a bike with 180mm travel” on that statement either. The way this bike scoots up a hill puts many 100mm travel bikes to shame, and it does so without relying on any lockouts or travel adjustment, which simplifies the whole riding experience.

If you switch off that bit of your brain that tells you a climb is impossible, you’ll be surprised what this bike will get up.

Plus it has the added benefit of crazy levels of traction, thanks to the big tyres and the remarkable sensitivity of the suspension. In fact, we made it up climbs on this bike which we’ve fallen short of cresting on every other attempt. If you switch off that bit of your brain that tells you a climb is impossible, you’ll be surprised what this bike will get up.

It cuts a mean profile!

Because the bike climbs so efficiently and accelerates so well, Polygon have been able to run some seriously meaty tyres without making the bike feel like a sloth. It’s a neat trick.

The geometry plays to the bike’s strengths too. It’s a little taller in the bottom bracket than other long-travel bikes, and not as slack up front either. This all conspires to help give the Polygon all-rounder appeal that you’d never expect.


The elevated swing arm has loads of clearance for big tyres.

Surely that big swingarm is flexy?

No, it’s very stiff actually. There’s a lot of carbon in there, and the slider hidden away inside the swingarm also serves to keep it tracking in a straight line. We didn’t notice any wiggle at all, and when you couple that chassis stiffness with the exceptionally stout FOX 36 up front, well you’ve got a bike that goes where you point it.


The Polygon sticks to the ground, so if a playful ride is your priority, then this isn’t the bike for you.

It doesn’t bunny hop around the trail like some other bikes, but then again, you can probably just hammer over that terrain which other bikes are forced to jump.

I’ve heard this bike isn’t playful. True?

Hmmmm, kinda. Yes, you will find that this bike is not as ‘poppy’ as others, that’s part of its design intentions, to follow the terrain. But does that mean it’s not playful?

We think this bike’s playfulness takes a different shape, in that it encourages you to ride lines that weren’t on the radar before. We can attest to this – we tried and succeed in riding lines on this bike that we’ve never even spotted previously. So sure, it doesn’t bunny hop around the trail like some other bikes, but then again, you can probably just hammer over that terrain which other bikes are forced to jump.


But it’s a Polygon.

And this is going to be the sticking point for a lot of potential customers. The market just isn’t accustomed to seeing a bike of this price point or this performance level from Polygon, a brand that’s traditionally been known for delivering value first. If this bike had a different name on it – Intense or Yeti perhaps – then we doubt there’d be any hesitation and the orders would be flowing in.

Contemplating awesomeness.

But put the name aside, and let’s be rational. Yes, at $10,499 the price point is very high, but there are absolutely no corners cut here – XX1 Eagle, e13 carbon wheels, RaceFace NEXT… it’s dripping with good stuff. There’s also a cheaper option in the EX8, which is $8499. Admittedly still a lot of coin, but when you stack the componentry alone up against other high-end offerings from Trek, Specialized, Santa Cruz and so on, it comes up looking like pretty good value. And that’s even before you even take the way the bike actually rides into account.

Ultimately, this bike represents a fundamental repositioning of Polygon in the market, both in terms of price and performance. How mountain bikers react is yet to be seen.


You sound very excited about this one.

Really? Yes, we’re unashamedly pumped on this bike. It’s come from nowhere, and it’s blown our minds. As we’ve said above, the way this bike works is incredibly hard to describe, both technically and experientially, so we’d 100% encourage you to try and get a ride on one to see what we’re on about.

Tested: DT Swiss SPLINE ONE XM1501 29 30mm Wheelset

But things got off to a soft start, with DT’s first few models of rims proving about a resilient as a fairy floss raincoat. A few hard rides could leave them dented like my blind Nanna’s Corolla. We think it’s fair to say it took DT a few years of refinement to get their rim offerings up to scratch. Times have certainly changed, and the new XM1501 wheelset delivers the complete package, and a level of performance you’d expect from DT.

28 straight-pull spokes, front and rear.

Wider, finally.

Like many of the larger rim manufacturers, DT took a little while to get on board with the wide rim program to support the larger tyres that have become the norm for trail riding. But they’ve recently turned the ship around with a whole swathe of wider rims, under the banner of SPLINE ONE, which itself is divided into XR, XM and EX categories, designed for cross-country, all-mountain and Enduro use respectively.

Printed graphics, not fragile stickers.

The range includes these guys, the XM1501 30mm wheelset which runs 30mm-wide rims. We think 30mm is the sweetspot for most trail riding, but DT have five width options in this XM series from 22.5-40mm width, so you’ve got just about every base covered there!

Fitting the DT XM1501 30mm wheelset to our Jeffsy gave it a huge performance boost.

What bike did you run these on?

Our YT Jeffsy long-term test bike was crying out for a wider set of rims to allow it to reach its full potential. At around the same time, DT had just landed these new generation wheelset in Australia, featuring wider rims. We removed the under-gunned DT M1900 wheels from the YT, and on went the XM1501s. The transformation was instant and dramatic, traction was through the roof, as we could run almost 30% less tyre pressure, which combined with the stiffer rims made for more precise handling. Over the course of the review, we’ve run these wheels with Onza Ibex rubber in a 2.4″, and a Specialized Butcher/Slaughter combo in a 2.3″.

A 30mm width is right on the sweet spot for most riding, and works well with tyres in the 2.3-2.5″ range.

What do you like about them?

We’re big fans of high quality alloy wheels such as these, which are stiff, light (sub 1800g) and won’t break the bank. While a carbon wheelset has many benefits, the price of most carbon options is a big barrier (excluding some notable exceptions, such as these from Bontrager) and the durability of an alloy rim to keep rolling even when damaged is appealing too.

The hubs at the heart of this wheelset are brilliant – lightweight, reliable, and easy to service. The Star Ratchet freehub system has few moving parts, and so keeping it running smoothly is within reach of any mechanic. You don’t need any special tools to disassemble it, to give it all a clean or lube.

The Star Ratchet system is simple, with just the two springs and two ratchet rings to worry about. It’s easy to service and lasts a long time.

That same serviceability extends to the spokes and rim. There are 28 straight pull spokes, with external nipples for easy truing. That said, we’ve not needed to take a spoke key to these wheels. The nipples are injected with DT’s Prolock thread sealant, which helps prevent them working loose, and in our case they’ve stayed true and tight.

It might sound like a small thing, but the use of printed graphics as opposed to stickers is a nice touch. It sucks to pay top dollar for a set of wheels only to have the stickers peel or get rubbed off quickly.

Any downsides?

We only suffered one puncture with these rims, but it did result in a cut through the tyre, right on the bead. Upon closer comparison, we’ve noticed that the shape of the bead hook is noticeably sharper than many other alloy rims. While we can’t say for sure that this contributed to the tyre damage, it was interesting to note.

The rims are taped for tubeless with valves supplied. We did notice the bead hook is quite narrow, which may have contributed to us slicing a rear tyre along the tyre bead.

For me? 

The wheel market is a crowded space at the moment, with custom and off-the-shelf options in carbon and alloy galore. You only need to scroll back through the past 12 months of reviews here and see how many wheelsets we’ve tested to get an idea of all the options out there now.

At almost $1500, these wheels sit right at the upper end of the range for alloy rims. As such, they’re really aimed at the rider who wants a high performance set of wheels but who either doesn’t trust carbon (and plenty don’t) or who won’t stretch the budget another few hundred to get into the carbon realm. If that sounds like you, then put these wheels on the shortlist.

 

 

Tested: Pivot Mach 4 Carbon

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

Pivot Mach 4 17

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

Pivot-Di2-build-1-1
We built our Mach 4 Carbon from scratch. The frame weight is a little over 2.5kg.




 

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


Pivot Mach 4 6
The standover height of this frame is remarkable.

[divider]A classy evolution[/divider]

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 3
Cleaner than bleach.

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

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 14

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

[divider]The frame[/divider]

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

Pivot-Di2-build-2
The DW Link. Stiff as! Note the little port for the Di2 wiring.
Pivot Mach 4 Convict 42
A bottle will fit, but not without the bottle lid rubbing a mark on the frame. You can experiment with different shaped bottles, or reverse the orientation of the shock too, to make more room.

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 9

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

Pivot Mach 4 8
The Di2 wiring runs inside the Pro Tharsis bars.

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 26
Chain slap protection aplenty makes it a quiet ride, even with a front derailleur.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

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

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 7
115mm of travel, optimised for your pleasure. The bike comes with a neat sag guide to get the suspension setup nailed.

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

[divider]Build highlights[/divider]

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

Pivot Mach 4 1
For a 120mm bike, the FOX 32 is up to the task. It did a worthy job of matching the rear end’s performance.

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

[divider]Setup[/divider]

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

Pivot Mach 4 4
Good rubber on stiff wheels. The Specialized Purgatory is a really good all-rounder and we use it a lot on test bikes.

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 36
A short head tube and flat bar meant we opted to use a 10mm spacer under the stem. Time to charge the battery too!

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

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 35
A dropper post is a must on this bike, we feel. Embrace the freedom!

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

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

[divider] Singletrack manners[/divider]

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

Pivot Mach 4 16

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

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

[divider]Going up![/divider]

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

Pivot Mach 4 20

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

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

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

Pivot Mach 4 17

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

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

[divider]Other options[/divider]

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

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

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

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

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

Enduro Bike Comparison: Norco Range vs Trek Slash vs YT Capra vs Giant Reign

Enduro, all-mountain, aggressive trail… call it what you will (our new personal favourite is ‘down-country’). Bikes with long legs for soaking up gnarly terrain, and then striding back up the climbs again.

Over the last 12 months we’ve been fortunate enough to sling a knee-padded leg over a lot of these kinda bikes. Looking back, four of these bikes share a lot of similarities in terms of pricing and component spec, so we’ve decided to compile a comparative overview of them here.

There’s the Giant Reign 1, YT Capra CF Comp 1, Norco Range C7.2 and Trek Slash 9.8. All four have an Australian retail price between $5599 and $6299, all have largely equivalent component spec, and all four have very similar amounts of travel.

[divider]Pricing[/divider]

All four of the bikes here are close enough in price that, assuming they’re not on sale at a reduced amount, the price is not likely to be the sole determining factor in choosing which bike is for you. The Trek is the most expensive, at $6299 (previously $5999 before the dollar tanked). The Norco sneaks in at $5999. The Giant comes in a bit cheaper at $5699 – given it uses an alloy frame, rather than carbon, we had thought it might be a little less expensive. The YT, with its direct to consumer sales model, has the lowest price tag of $5599, BUT you do need to add $200 in shipping to this price if you’re in Australia, so its real price tag is $5799 . Not such a huge price advantage then at all.

[divider]Construction[/divider]

Of the four bikes, three are predominantly carbon, while the Giant is alloy throughout (there is a carbon version of the Reign available, but it’s a big price jump up to $7699). The Norco, YT and Trek all run an entirely carbon front end, with an aluminium chain stay assembly. Internal cabling is standard on all the bikes, though the Slash has an external rear brake line, which can be an advantage from a maintenance standpoint, even if it’s not so nice to look at. All bikes use an internally routed RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post too.


 

Highlights:

Trek: A flawless paint job, down tube protection and neatly integrated chain slap protection are all nice touches on the Trek. The removable front derailleur mount lets you keep the look super clean too. It’s also the only bike to incorporate geometry adjustability. Water bottle friendly as well.

Norco: The Norco has great standover height, while still keeping room for a water bottle. The use of a Syntace rear axle makes for a super clean drop out area, and the inclusion of a spare derailleur hanger bolt is a neat addition. The Norco is the only bike that has no provision for a front derailleur and we admire its commitment to the single-ring setup.

Giant: We particularly like the Giant’s use of a bearing at the shock mount, to provide a more supple bump response and reduced wear and tear on the shock bushing. As is usual with Giant, the pivot hardware is rock solid, and the frame stiffness is sensational.

YT: The frame shapes of the YT are super trick – it has a very different vibe to the swoopy lines of the other bikes here. We like the neat, narrow assembly of its linkage too, which keeps the bike’s front-on profile very slim.

Lowlights:

Trek: The Trek’s ABP rear axle is super ugly and clunky – it protrudes a long way from the bike, snagging and scrapping on things a lot.

Norco: Tyre clearance isn’t as good as the competition. We think the dropout pivot is a little undercooked too – it could definitely be beefed up a little.

Giant: We experienced some cable rattling from the Reverb Stealth post cable inside the frame.

YT: The lack of a water bottle mount is a downer. If you’re pedalling any real distance, you’ll need to run a pack.

 

[divider]Geometry[/divider]

While all four of these bikes have similar geometry on paper, there a plenty of subtle differences that have a pronounced effect on the trail. All measurements are a for a size medium. Click to view the full geometry table.

Trek: The Trek is the only bike here with adjustable geometry. Its slacker setting has more in common with the other bikes here. The head angle is pretty laid back, but its balanced out by reasonably long stays. The top tube is on the shorter side, but a 60mm stem keeps things roomy enough.

Head angle: 65 degrees
Effective top tube: 587mm
Wheelbase: 1179mm
Chain stay: 435mm

Norco: The Norco runs the sharpest geometry on test, which translates into its more lively ride on flatter trails. Short chain stays add to this whippy feel.

Head angle: 66 degrees
Effective top tube: 598mm
Wheelbase: 1153mm
Chain stay: 426mm

Giant: Slack, long and low. The Reign’s geometry numbers are very downhill oriented. It has the longest top tube by a good 20mm, and the longest wheelbase too for excellent stability.

Head angle: 65 degrees
Effective top tube: 620mm
Wheelbase: 1191mm
Chain stay: 434mm

YT: The Capra’s geometry is on the short side in the top tube, but with a slack head angle to balance it out. With a short stem, it definitely feels quite small in terms of reach, and we can envisage some riders will want to size up.

Head angle: 65.2 degrees
Effective top tube: 582mm
Wheelbase: 1169mm
Chain stay: 430mm

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

All four of these bikes use RockShox front and rear – all have a Monarch Plus rear shock, paired with some variant of the Pike up front. At first glance the Norco, Giant and Trek are visually similar, but each bike has its own take on how to deliver 160mm of travel. The Capra uses a different arrangement, and has 5mm more travel, at 165mm rear.

Trek: Trek’s ABP (Active Braking Pivot) and Full Floater suspension system is a big favourite of ours. It delivers a very neutral, calm suspension feel. It’s unusual to see a Trek without the brand’s proprietary DRCV shock, and with a conventional shock like the Monarch. The system does best when you use the shock’s compression lever on climbs as it doesn’t have a lot of inherent anti-squat.

The Trek’s Pike fork is travel adjustable, from 160-130mm, which is a feature we used a lot. It’s not the bells-and-whistles version, but the more basic RC.

Norco: The Norco runs a four-bar / Horst link setup. The system has great anti-squat properties and pedals very well, but there is noticeable pedal feedback when stomping over rough terrain. It performs well under braking, maintaining responsiveness when you’re on the anchors.

The fork is the simple Pike RC. We recommend experimenting with the Bottomless Token system to tune the spring rate – we’ve had great success adding tokens and lowering the air pressure.

Giant: The Giant’s Maestro II rear suspension system is a dual-link arrangement and delivers a very smooth 160mm travel. It’s a very plush system, a real ground-hugger, and it ramps up nicely on big hits. It’s sheer smoothness means you’ll be using the compression lever on climbs.

Like the Trek, the Giant scores a travel adjustable fork, which we used to great effect on climbs and flatter trails. It also runs the more sophisticated RCT3 damper, with independent high and low speed compression adjustment.

YT: The Capra’s VL4 suspension system is another four-bar system, but the shock is driven by the seat stay, rather than the link. Given the bike’s travel, it’s a fantastically efficient climber – the Norco offers similar efficiency, but the Capra has less pedal feedback. The shock has markedly progressive in the latter portions of the bike’s travel, for excellent resistance to bottoming out.

The fork gets the premium RCT3 damper, but is not travel adjustable, which saves a little weight.

[divider]Weight[/divider]

There’s barely a fart between the weights of the Norco, YT and Giant (which is impressive from the Reign, considering its alloy frame), but the Slash is a significantly lighter bike overall, by more than 700g. A light frame and carbon bar help keep its weight low. Note – all weights are without pedals and converted to tubeless.

Trek: 12.70kg
Giant: 13.46kg
Norco: 13.40kg
YT: 13.52kg

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Beyond the similarities in suspension items noted above, these four bikes share nearly identical drivetrains and a smattering of other components too. The dominance on SRAMs X1 drivetrain in this segment is well deserved, though we may see that challenged now that Shimano have released XT 1×11 with a 42-tooth cassette.

Spec Highlights:

Trek: The wide-bodied Maverick wheelset on the Slash is a very big plus. We’re seeing more and more riders upgrading to wider hoops, so to get them stock is a real bonus. Bontrager’s XR4 tyres are sensational too. We’re also firm fans of the Shimano XT brakes, and the Bontrager Rhythm carbon bar.

Trek-Slash-13
The 35mm Maverick rims offer excellent tyre stability.

Norco: A 30-tooth chain ring may sound small, but it’s an intelligent choice on this bike – the Norco has the gear range to climb just about anything. The massively stiff Raceface Atlas bar/stem combo is a winner too. We also like the addition of the bash guard to protect the chain ring.

Norco-Range-15
With a 30-tooth ring, you can climb anything.

Giant: Giant have specced the Reign with both an upper chain guide and a bash guard, for great security. The Pike RCT3 dual-position fork is a highlight too, a true performer both climbing and descending.

Giant-Reign-14
An upper guide provides welcome security for when it gets rowdy.

YT: A 150mm-travel dropper post lets you get the saddle right the hell out of the way on the Capra. The E13 wheels are both a highlight and a potential low light – they’re light and stiff, but quite narrow. A small item maybe, but we really like the Sensus grips, and the E13 upper chain guide.

YT-Ind-Capra-CF-Comp-24
A 150mm-travel dropper post on the YT.

Spec Lowlights:

Trek: While we like the XT brakes, they mesh poorly with the SRAM shifter and Reverb dropper lever.

Norco: The Norco’s wheels are its weakest area – especially the cheap front hub. There’s lots of weight to be saved here, without sacrificing durability.

Giant: You’ll want to lop a bit off the Giant’s 800mm bar!

YT: The E13 wheels are narrow by today’s and the hub is super, super loud. 

Flow-Mountain-Bike-Queenstown-and-Wanaka-63

[divider]Ride[/divider]

First up, all of these bikes are superb to ride. They all fulfil the Enduro mandate of grinding out the climbs with minimal fuss then hammering the descents. That said, their abilities aren’t equally weighted, and some bikes really standout in some areas.

Ride Highlights:

Trek: The Trek is the probably the best all-rounder in this company. With its low weight and travel adjustable fork, it manages to do a good job in a huge range of situations. We often rode this bike with the fork dropped down and the rear compression in its firmest setting and it performed pretty damn well on flatter, smoother trails. On the descents it was a bomber too – a 65 degree head angle keeps it all very stable and the tyres/wheels make the most of the grip on offer with the supple suspension.

The Slash in Queenstown.
The Slash in Queenstown.

Norco: A lively, fun and inspiring ride. The Norco requires no suspension fiddling to rule the singletrack, it accelerates nicely and can ascend without a lot of lever flipping.  It’s very responsive for a bike with this much travel and it lends itself to a rider who likes to pick lines and play with the trail.

Norco-Range-3
Playing around on the Norco on local trails.

 

Giant: A supremely planted, stable and confident ride, the Reign will give a lot of downhill bikes a serious run for their money in many situations. The long wheelbase and buttery rear suspension keep the tyres on the ground. It straight up charges.

Giant-Reign-2
The Reign rumbling on over it all.

YT: A good blend of the downhill smasher and efficient climber. The YT has the angles and travel that encourage you to wallop it into some rough situations, especially as it’s so hard to upset the rear suspension. On the pedal back up, it’s very resistant and bobbing, even if the climbing position is a bit cramped.

YT-Capra-CF-Comp-16
The Capra getting into it.

Ride Lowlights:

Trek: The Trek’s rear suspension isn’t an inherently efficient design, so it’ll always be a tradeoff between suppleness and pedalling performance as you need to use the shock’s compression lever a lot.

Norco: With its short stays the Norco requires a bit more rider input at high speed to keep the wheels down. We also threw the chain on the Norco a handful of times, which wasn’t an issue on any other bike.

Giant: The Giant typifies the tradeoff between climbing and descending performance. With the fork dropped and the shock in its firmest compression setting, it’s a decent trail bike, but it still feels big in tighter situations.

YT: The YT’s short top tube demands a very upright climbing position. This bike really needs you to get right over the front wheel too, to keep it biting in flatter trails, especially when compared to the Norco or the Trek with its fork dropped down.

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[divider]Full reviews[/divider]

For a more in-depth look at each of these bikes, make sure check out the full reviews here on Flow.

Trek Slash 9.8: Click here. 

Norco Range C7.2: Click here.

Giant Reign 1: Click here. 

YT Capra CF Comp 1: Click here. 

Tested: Bell Super 2R Helmet

The Bell Super 2R is the Enduro inspired cousin of the hugely popular Bell Super trail helmet.

The simple design, with a removable chin guard that attaches via three hinged clasps, has been embraced by Enduro racers and trail riders alike, giving riders two helmets in one.

Bell Super 2R 1

You’ve got the option either running it as an open-face, as a full-face, or carrying the chin guard with you in your pack so you can change it up mid-ride.

Without the chin guard, the Super 2R works like a normal Super.

The fit offers lots of protection down the back of your head, where traditional cross-country style helmets leave you more exposed.

With 23 vents plus four brow ports and a reasonable weight of 360g, it’s a comfy helmet on warmer days too.

Bell Super 2R 2

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Bell Super 2R 14

The chin guard has adjustable cheek pad thickness (via simple removable inserts) and we found it pretty comfortable overall. That being said, the chinguard does sit a little closer to your mouth than with either a traditional full-face or the MET Parachute that we tested recently. But unlike a traditional full-face, of course, you can whip the chin guard off for the climbs and restore all the breathing space you need. Even with the chin guard fitted, the helmet still weighs under 700g in a size medium, making it even lighter than the MET Parachute.

In terms of certifications, the Super 2R doesn’t attain the same levels of certification as Bell’s dedicated full-faces (or the MET Parachute). However, under MTBA rules it is certified for downhill competition use in MTBA sanctioned events in Australia under standard EN1078 / AU2063. That said, if we were racing downhill solely, we’d probably still opt for a meatier helmet. It’s worth noting too, that there is a MIPS version of this helmet available, for just a little more cash.

Removing the chinguard:

Attaching and removing the chin guard is completely tool-free, with three hinged clasps, that lock it into place. We’ve seen some riders attach their Super 2R guards in a couple of seconds, and while we’re not that speedy, the process is simple enough to do with your gloves on and without removing the helmet.

A few practice sessions on the couch and you’ll have it down! It doesn’t feel gimmicky or flimsy at all – the chin guard feels nice and robust, and the attachment is solid. It’s also light and small enough that carrying it around on a ride is actually viable.

Bell Super 2R Black 5

Bell Super 2R 15

When climbing, or not using the chinguard, the chinguard can be tightened down nicely onto the back of a hydration pack through its ventilation holes. Compared to a half-face or full-face lid strapped onto your back, there’s a lot less bulk, reducing the chance of something getting snagged out on the trail.

The top end Super 2R also features high grade safety features like MIPS and ICEdot.

Bell Super 2R Black 4

Bell Super 2R Black 1

Overall, the Bell Super 2R is a worthy of consideration for a variety of riders, regardless of whether you’re a keen Enduro racer looking for that extra security on the descents, or just someone looking for more protection to ride more technical trails.

We wouldn’t go as far as to throw away our full-faces yet, but if you don’t do downhill runs or need/want that much protection, the Super 2R is sensational both in terms of performance and value for money.

Tested: Exposure Diablo Mk6 Light

When we were getting into mountain biking, back in the nineties, we used to do the occasional night ride with a guy who would literally carry a torch in his mouth. We are not making this shit up.

To the best of our knowledge he dodged a bullet, and the Darwin Award-worthy disaster that would’ve followed a faceplant never eventuated. We only mention this story because the mouth-mounted torch system, like the Diablo Mk6 we’re testing here, was totally self-contained without an external battery. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end.


Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 7

[divider]What’s it all about?[/divider]

As the name suggests, this is the sixth iteration of the Diablo, and it’s a highly evolved piece of kit now. Weighing just 140g, and around the same size as your average Toad Fish (uninflated), the Diablo is remarkable small given it contains all the battery power and circuitry need to pump out 1300 lumens for an hour and the impressive number of features it boasts.

Cord-free design… no cords to snag on low-flying fruit bats, no saggy pockets, and no need for a pack.

The unit comes with both bar and helmet mounts; it’s a super popular light with roadies as a bar-mount, using a simple o-ring and bracket to affix it,  but for us the real appeal of this light is whacking it on your melon. On of the accepted annoyances of night riding is that a helmet mounted light will leave you with a cord dangling down your back, and that you have to cart the battery around in either a jersey pocket (often leading to Saggy Pocket Syndrome) or in a hydration pack. The Diablo, with its Cord Free design, rids you of these issues; no cords to snag on low-flying fruit bats, no saggy pockets, and no need for a pack.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 6
The helmet mount slots into a vent, with two halves secured by a plastic bolt. Care needs to be taken not to over tighten it.

The helmet mount is neat, with a ball joint offering stacks of adjustment to get the beam angle right. The mount is formed from two halves, which slot into a helmet vent. A plastic bolt secures the two halves, and you need to be careful not to over-tighten it as the thread can be easily damaged. While a plastic thread is a bit poxy,  we understand why it’s used – you wouldn’t want a steel bolt pointing directly at your skull in the event of a crash. Helmets which have vents running down the centre work best, otherwise you’ll need to mount the light off centre, which is less than ideal.

[divider]I’d TAP that[/divider]

Simply tap the light anywhere and a bunch of accelerometers and magic voodoo changes the mode.

Exposure have used the Diablo to debut their new TAP system (Tap Activated Power). Essentially, you don’t need to find the button to toggle between output modes, you simply tap the light anywhere and a bunch of accelerometers and magic voodoo changes the mode. On our first ride, the system drove us crazy. We didn’t read the instructions (especially the bit about TAP mode not being suitable for bar-mounted use) and so every time we hit a bump the light output changed! We subsequently read up and realised that TAP mode is meant for you helmet (fewer violent bumps) and that you can adjust the sensitivity so that a more forceful tap is required to trigger a change in mode. You can also turn the TAP system off entirely.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 1
Small, and highly programmable. The list of program options is displayed on the light body.

[divider]Many (maybe too many) modes[/divider]

Choosing our preferred program proved involved more button clicking, flashing lights and confusion than we’d have liked.

Speaking of modes, the light offers considerable customisation; in its stock form you have three output settings which will give you one, three and six hours of burn time respectively. But all up there are eight separate programs to choose from each offering you different combos of output/burn times, which is more than most people will ever need, but will be appreciated by those who need longer burn times, such as at a 24hr race. In general, we like to keep things simple, and our night rides rarely last for more than an hour and a half. With that in mind, we decided we want to use program number four, which has just two modes, offering one and three hours of burn time.

It may just be that we lack patience, but choosing our preferred program proved involved more button clicking, flashing lights and confusion than we’d have liked. The same goes for setting up the TAP sensitivities – there’s a fair bit of button pressing, holding and flash counting involved. We needed to run through the programming process a number of times too for some reason.

Options for customisation are a positive, but make sure you’re not distracted or in a hurry when you sit down to get your light set up to your preferences. Thankfully there are good video tutorials on the Exposure site and we think most people will never even bother to play with all the program options, or they’ll just set and forget.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 2
The bar mount is a simple bracket secured with an o-ring. We think this light’s wasted on a bar, and prefer it on our heads.

[divider]Convenience vs burn times[/divider]

We don’t want to bang on about the light’s size too much (though it really is a highlight) but we love the fact this light is small enough to stick in your pocket as a just-in-case light. In the shorter winter months, it’s easy to find yourself inadvertently finishing a ride in the dark, and with the light barely bigger than a 32g CO2 canister you can throw it in a jersey pocket as a precaution.

The ultimate setup, we think, would be two Diablos – bugger all weight, no cords and 2600 lumens of juice.

With the light’s size there are some understandable compromises with burn time and output. At full juice (1300 lumens) you’ll get an hour of run time. As such, you need to get into the habit of toggling down the power when it’s not needed. Thankfully you can keep an eye on the remaining power – the function/mode button glows green/orange/red to let you know how much is left in the tank. In terms of the output, perhaps we’ve just become accustomed to the plethora of bazillion-lumen bike-mounted suns that are on the market now, because even at full power we still preferred to pair the Diablo with a second, bar-mounted for riding technical trails fast. The ultimate setup, we think, would be two Diablos – bugger all weight, no cords and 2600 lumens of juice.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 5
The function button also serves as a battery life indicator.

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

If you’re happy with trading burn-time and sheer power for convenience, size and super lightweight night riding, then the Diablo really is the cat’s pyjamas. As we’ve stated, it’s probably over featured for most people, but the technology involved in fitting such impressive performance into this little fellas is astounding. And the pricing is pretty damn keen too. For riders like us, who tend to ride for shorter periods at night and who love being free of pack, the Diablo is a dream.

 

Tested: Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie

3″ tyres on mountain bikes. Yes, ‘semi fat’ is now officially a thing. Get used to it, we’ll be seeing ‘semi fat’ bikes popping up a lot as we roll toward 2016. The new standard will surely provoke heated discussions and much throwing of hands in the air. But for now we’ll cast all opinions aside, and get to the bottom of it all the only way we know how. Let’s ride.

Specialized made their semi-fat intentions pretty clear, getting behind the 27.5+ new wheel standard earlier than most of the big guns, by announcing that both a men’s and women’s range of dual suspension and hardtail 6Fatties will be available soon.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 14
When you have this much traction, nothing holds you back.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 11
Doesn’t look too odd from afar, but riding one is certainly a different story.

[divider]What is 6Fattie?[/divider]

Put simply, a 6Fattie bike uses whopping 3″ tyres on 650b diameter wheels with extra wide rims.

Some current 29″ bikes with enough tyre clearance may be able to accept 6Fattie wheels, but a bike built specifically around the massive tyres will work best. Because of the chunky rubber, there are many other width related constraints that bike designers need to get around – things like wider fork crowns and chain line clearance. What comes with all this width is the need for a wider hub spacing; on the Fuse the front hub width goes from the usual 100 to 110mm and the rear hub from 142 to 148mm. Part of the industry calls it ‘Boost’ hub spacing (originally introduced by Trek to stiffen up 29″ rear wheels) and will be widely adopted by these new semi fat and 29″ bikes in 2016 and major component manufactures too.

Such big tyres give you a larger contact patch with the ground, and the massive volume lets you run lower tyre pressures. All this does is lift the traction to unheard of levels.

Keep the pressures low to make the most of the mighty tyre volume.
Keep the pressures low to make the most of the mighty tyre volume.

[divider]Who is this bike for? [/divider]

If we forget all the tech mumbo jumbo and controversy, 6Fattie is just a new twist on the mountain bike, not designed to make it race faster or longer, but to make it more fun. And take a look at this thing – it does look fun; massive rubber, a relatively long-travel fork (120mm, big for a hardtail), wide bars, tiny 45mm stem and a dropper post. It’s pretty clear that this bike is not designed to climb anything in a hurry, but is all about grip, control, and confidence when most hardtails would be ejecting you out the front door.

At just under $3000, it’s not an entry-level price point, and you could of course buy a dual suspension bike for the same kind of money. Who then is the bike designed for? Someone who isn’t interested in racing (except maybe in the desert), someone who doesn’t want the complications of a dual suspension bike, and someone who is looking for something a little bit different. It would make the perfect second bike to accompany either an XC race machine or long-travel all-mountain bike, as it’s a far cry from either of these categories.

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The new Diamond Stay Design.
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Wheel removal is by Allen key only, but it is very tidy back there.
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[divider]The frame[/divider]

This aluminium frame, covered in glossy bright paint, is a sleek and clean number with a few key features to accommodate 6Fattie wheels, with the most obvious being the chainstay. To give adequate tyre and chainring clearance, without resorting to an overly long chain stay, the drive side chain stay splits into two. It’s dubbed the ‘Diamond Stay Design’ and with it. Specialized are able to bring the rear end to a tight and zippy 430mm.

One of the nicest butts in the business, the Fuse borrows its mighty fine dropouts from the Stumpjumper hardtail line, with no quick release skewer in favour of a flush Allen key-only axle. The rear brake is also tucked away cleanly, mounting on the inside of the rear triangle.

[divider]Spec highlights[/divider]

The Fuse Expert 6Fattie uses a bit of an odd mix of components in its burly build kit. We actually struggled to decide whether or not it represents good value; some of the components do seem a bit basic, but we guess they’re kind of offset by the wheels/tyres which are still super rare. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts.

Drivetrain: The drivetrain is funky mix, with Specialized Stout cranks with a 30-tooth narrow-wide chain ring matched to a Sun Race 11-40 10-speed cassette. It’s all hooked up to a new SRAM GX derailleur and X9 shifter. The gear range is fine, even if the jumps between gears are fairly large. We didn’t drop the chain, but it did make a lot of noise as the chain runs super close to the chain stay.

Rolling gear: WTB’s Scraper i45 rims are tubeless ready, and their massive 45mm wide rims gave the 3″ tyres the support they needed to be ridden hard at low pressure. The tyres themselves are lighter than you’d expect, at just under a kilogram each – a lot lighter than 3″ tyres of yesteryear! The wheels are responsible for a lot of this bike’s weight, so we’d naturally suggest they would be worth upgrading in the future to drop grams, but obviously that’s an expensive proposition and not an easy one as this kind of gear is still very unique.

SRAM Guide R brakes: For a base model brake, the SRAM Guide R stoppers felt like we’d just taken them off a high end bike. They’re powerful and smooth under the finger, good work SRAM.
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Manitou Magnum fork: The Manitou Magnum Comp fork was just ok.  Whilst not really holding the bike back too much, its somewhat clunky feel was fortunately hidden by the low pressure/big tyre volume nature of the wheels which smooth out the smaller bumps the fork missed. But to get your front wheel on and off, you’ll need to have a lot of patience – this fork axle is the dumbest system we’ve ever encountered, more intelligence test than bike feature!

The Manitou fork’s quick release axle however was remarkably frustrating, we challenge anyone to figure it out, without swearing.

[divider]Ride impressions[/divider]

This was our very first ride on a 27.5+ bike, and it sure did feel different to anything we’ve had on test before. The closest we can relate this to would be the 29+ Surly Krampus with 29×3″ tyres. But the Surly was a bit of a boat on the trails, and quite hefty, whereas the Fuse is a fair bit more lively.

Singletrack manners: With so much rubber on the ground we expected a fairly sedate ride in the singletrack, but the experience was less of a drag than we expected (Get it? Drag?). Besides the obvious effort required to accelerate the wheels and the occasional rotational effects on the steering, the weight of the wheels wasn’t too much of a handful.

One of the reasons the bike feels surprisingly quick is because you don’t have to actually slow down too often – there’s so much cornering grip that you can carry great speed in the turns. Aiding this is the low bottom bracket (very low, crank bashingly low), which helps with cornering even more. Imagine sprinting at a loose corner, staying off the brakes and making the turn with your feet up – it’s a possibility with such a massive contact patch, the grip is inconceivable. Cornering on grass was like nothing else, you could almost scrub your bars when tearing around on a football field!

Tyre pressure choice is vital and running around 15 psi in the tyres (perhaps a little less in the front, and firmer out the back) we found that sweet spot for our 70kg rider weight. We tried to roll the tyres around on the rim by deliberately pushing it hard sideways, but there was no squirming or burping whatsoever. Our rear wheel was a little out of dish though, and rubbed on the drive side chainstay when cranking hard on the pedals, though a few minutes with a spoke key could pull it over to the other side a few millimeters and stop the buzzing.

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SO MUCH GRIP! What do do with it all?

We expected it to have shit loads of grip, and it sure did. With so much traction, we could go anywhere we wanted to!

Descending and bombing about: The Fuse is built only for fun, and it makes no secret that is why it exists. Why else would you have a hardtail with a 120mm fork, dropper post and a short stem? It’s aimed to rip, not to race.

It loves to wheelie, manual and bomb through rough trails with a certain amount of exuberance and courage, really helped by the short 430mm rear end. And being a hard tail, the lack of rear suspension adds to the excitement and engages you with the trail, but the massive tubeless tyres let you do so without the risk of a flat tyre or unpredicted wash out.

With the seatpost dropped you can really let it hang out on the descents. We bombed our way down some lines that we’ve looked at twice on 150mm-travel duallies! It lands hard from big drops like any rigid rear ended bike would, but the big tyre takes the sting out of impacts and you land with more of a manageable thud.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 8Climbing: The Fuse is obviously not built for long, draggy climbs, but on technical or loose pinches it’s pretty inspiring! Rough and loose lines became achievable, and without any rear suspension to squat and rob you of pedal power, it would lurch forward and claw its way up rocky ledges like no other bike out there. A lighter version of this bike would kick some butt on those loose, scrappy climbs.

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Bombing rocky trails on the Fuse was great. All the excitement of a hardtail, but with less crashing!

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

During our time aboard the Fuse, we had a ball. It’s not a light bike, and keeping on top of the gears spinning along the trails requires more effort than your typical bike so there’s no way we’d want to ever ride one very far or for too long. It’s evident when riding with others on traditional bikes, they’ll pull away from you when there’s a lot of pedalling going on, the resistance is quite obvious.

But we loved it!

Who would want one? We would. It’s nice to get back to riding a hardtail and blasting about the place, solely in the name of fun, but without so many of the drawbacks we’ve come to traditionally associate with a hardtail (like flat tyres, sore ankles and shitloads of crashing). We would have hoped it’d be a bit cheaper considering the entry level drivetrain and basic Manitou fork, but there would have been some costs tied up in developing a whole new bike and tyres.

Loads of rubber.
Loads of rubber.

We’re not afraid to admit that we were highly sceptical about this new wheel size, predominantly from an industry standpoint, and the questions of whether we really needed it. But after time on the trail that question couldn’t have been further from our mind. Of course we don’t need it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a cool alternative. We can honestly say we enjoyed our time on the Fuse, bombing through rough stuff and roosting turns like we used to, but keeping more skin on our bodies.

Tested: KS LEV Ti Dropper Post

The KS LEV is is a cable-actuated dropper post available with either external or internal ‘stealth’ cable routings. While we love the clean looks of an internally routed post, many older (and some newer) frames aren’t compatible with internally routed posts. And, even if your frame is compatible, sometimes the hassle of threading bits of housing through your frame packs all the enjoyment of stubbing your toe on the way to taking a piss at 2:00am. For this reason, when we wanted to fit a dropper post to our Yeti SB5 test bike, the external version of the LEV got the nod. Just for kicks, we also went for the Ti version of the post, which has a carbon lower seat clamp and titanium hardware and saves a few grams.

A tidy solution; no other cable actuated post uses this clever system.
A tidy solution; no other cable actuated post uses this clever system.

The usual issue with an externally routed post is that the cable is normally affixed to the top of the post. This means, when you drop the seat, you end up with a dirty big loop of cable dangling about your rear wheel, buzzing your tyre and generally being a pest. The LEV avoids this problem with its unique actuation system. The post’s mechanics are all located mid-way down the post, closer to your frame’s seat collar, on the non-moving portion of the post. No Flapping Cable Syndrome.

Measure up before ordering your post to determine which length/travel will fit your seat height and desired degree of radness.
Measure up before ordering your post to determine which length/travel will fit your seat height and desired degree of radness.

The post’s minimum insertion mark doesn’t leave you with a lot of room to manoeuvre, so it’s handy to know your seat-to-bottom bracket measurement before you order. We went for the 125mm travel version, but there’s a 100mm version, or a 150mm drop for people who really want their seat out of the gouchal vicinity.

The standard KS LEV kit comes with a small, unobtrusive lever that can be mounted in place of one of the lockrings of an ODI lock-on grip. But with our test bike running a 1×11 drivetrain, we opted to use KS’s Southpaw lever instead. The Southpaw lever might be a tiny bit heavier than the usual lever, but it sits where your left shifter would have traditionally been located, which is the best location for a dropper post lever as you barely need to move your thumb to activate it.

KS LEV post 6
The Southpaw puts your dropper lever right where you want it. You’ve also got control over the lever rotation/angle too, so even the most pedantic thumbs will be satisfied.
If you're using a single-ring drivetrain, the Southpaw is a sensible idea.
If you’re using a single-ring drivetrain, the Southpaw is a sensible idea.

Installation is reasonably straightforward. The only real complexity comes when you’re trimming the cable – it needs to chopped very precisely. If you chop the cable too short, the post’s locking mechanism won’t properly engage meaning the seatpost height won’t stay put. Too long as it either won’t fit into the little cable compartment, or you’ll need to wind on a ton of barrel adjustment to take up the slack. The classic twin-bolt seatpost head is zero fuss, unlike so many of the completely useless single-bolt post heads out there.

The only fiddly aspect of the LEV's setup involves trimming the cable to just the right length - there's not a lot of margin for error in this tight little compartment.
The only fiddly aspect of the LEV’s setup involves trimming the cable to just the right length – there’s not a lot of margin for error in this tight little compartment – and getting the cable tension right.

After only a few rides, we’re overwhelmingly happy with this post. It’s an infinitely adjustable system – there are no preset steps in the drop (unlike the FOX DOSS air Specialized Command Post), and we prefer this. Sometimes it’s nice to run the saddle just a centimetre lower, and posts with preset levels of drop don’t allow this. The lever is super light to operate and has superb ergonomics, especially compared to the relatively heavy push needed for a RockShox Reverb post. And because it’s so little effort to quickly bump the post down or up, you use it more than you otherwise would with a less user-friendly post. The rebound speed can be adjusted via the schrader valve under the seat post head, but out of the box the rebound is at a sensible rate which won’t inadvertently neuter you, unlike Specialized’s Command post.

KS LEV post 4
The Ti version of the post which we reviewed comes with titanium seat clamp hardware and a carbon lower clamp.

Our only criticism is we found the post is very sensitive to having the cable tension correct. There’s a fine line between having the Southpaw lever feel floppy and vague, or having too much tension and the post therefore not locking into place when you release the lever. We can see this being a potential concern, as a gummed up cable/housing could hinder the precise nature of the operation. Still without many months of riding this product under out belt, it’s impossible to comment. We’d love to secure a longer-term review on this post to see how it performs after a winter of neglect.

KS LEV post 2

All up, we think this post will answer the prayers of plenty of riders. Admittedly, it does also come at a price that will make you pray a bit too. If your frame doesn’t have the provisions for an internally actuated post, or if you simply can’t stomach the arse ache of internal cables, then the KS LEV is the best option on the market, hands down. It gives you all the pluses of an externally cabled post, but without the flappy cable downsides, and works effortlessly too.

Read some other dropper seat post reviews while you’re here!

FOX DOSS vs Crank Bros Kronolog vs RockShox Reverb – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/adjustable-seatposts-three-way-test-crankbrothers-kronolog-fox-d-o-s-s-rockshox-reverb/

Specialized Command Post – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-command-post-blacklite-adjustable-seat-post/

 

Fresh Product: Miles Racing Scented Brake Pads

German manufacturer Miles Racing has finally launched their range of top-end aftermarket brake pads into the Australian market. The highly-acclaimed pads, which have already won a number of European shootouts, will be available in semi-metallic, sintered metal and new scented compounds, for all popular models of brakes and many more obscure makes too.

miles scented pads
Miles Racing pads are available in semi-metallic compounds too, not just the more durable sintered and scented versions.

While semi-metallic and sintered pads are nothing new, it’s the scented compound that really sets the brand apart, along with the colour, which happens to match our Yeti test bike just perfectly. We’d read about rumours from the recent Taipei Cycle show (see our articles here and here) of the development of scented brake pads , but Miles are the first brand we’ve encountered that have successfully brought this innovation to the mass market.

We think the Sausage Sizzle scent will be the most popular option for the Australian market.
We think the Sausage Sizzle scent will be the most popular option for the Australian market.

The fragrance, which is only released in the presence of heat, should last the life of the pad, and regular cross-country riding is apparently enough to get a whiff of them. The thinking behind the pads is (Google Translated from the all-German language Miles Racing website)  “for the creation of pleasant cycling environments making extra motivation on ascents with thankings to the smelling rewards and hair coats.” There are eight different scents available worldwide, though not all will be coming to Australia:

  • Frangipani Sunset
  • Baking Bread
  • Blue Cheese and Moose
  • Asparagus Morning
  • Durian Delight
  • Sausage Sizzle
  • Sardine Shart
  • Kimchi Disaster
We were offered a review on the Sardine Shart scented pads, but politely declined. Apparently these ones are selling like crazy in Finland.
We were offered a review on the Sardine Shart scented pads, but politely declined. Apparently these ones are selling like crazy in Finland.

We’ve recently secured two sets to review – we’re hoping to conjure up memories of Bunnings carpark BBQs with our Sausage Sizzle and Baking Breads scents – should be just the ticket for getting us through really long rides. Though perhaps the Kimchi Disaster option would be better for those who are trying to use their brakes less…

Miles Racing pads are available from $24.99 through http://miles-racing.squarespace.com

Tested: New SRAM Guide Ultimate Brakes

When it comes to the business of slowing you down, it has been a great year for SRAM and their new Guide series of brakes.

They’ve shrugged off the horrendous 1980s-Alfa Romeo-style consistency issues of the Elixir and delivered a brake with power, feel, great adjustability and, very importantly, reliability. You can read our full review of the SRAM Guide RSC brake here. 

But the wheel of progress must roll on, and SRAM have added another layer of glitz to the Guide lineup, brining back the ‘Ultimate’ moniker.

The new Guide Ultimate is more than just a lighter, shinier version of the Guide RSC brake, it boasts a bunch of all new innovations, predominantly at the caliper end.

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New caliper. Lighter, cooler, smoother and easier to bleed.
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An ultimate bike for the new Ultimate brake.

As Nelly once said, “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” While the new Guide Ultimate doesn’t encourage nudity, heat management is a real focus in the brake’s development. This is interesting, as heat is usually the battleground on which Shimano brakes have lead the way (with their Ice-Tech pads and rotors), but in this instance SRAM are going all out in the quest to keep things cool.

New Caliper

While the Ultimate uses the same brake pad as the other Guide brakes, and is still a four-piston design, the new S4 caliper features a longer, wider pad ‘pocket’ which exposes more of the pad to the passing air. The aluminium pistons are new too, with a layer of insulating material at the pad end of the piston, to reduce heat transfer into the fluid/caliper.

SRAM Guide Ultimate 5
The new pistons are aluminium for a more consistent contact with the new moulded rubber seals. But with a composite core, for greater cooling properties.
SRAM Guide Ultimate 6
Four pistons, for modulation and power.

There’s also a new Heat Shield, which is a novel approach to preventing heat transfer; it’s literally an aluminium chip, which lives between the pad and caliper body. SRAM claim it reduces fluid temperatures by up to 20 degrees celsius.

SRAM Guide Ultimate 3
The new heat shield in position.
SRAM Guide Ultimate 4
Simple, but should be effective in shielding the brake fluid from the heat off the pads.
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The new S4 caliper is visibly different, with less material and a larger pad pocket.
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The more air that can flow around the brake pads, the cooler your brakes will operate. Heat is your enemy.

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New Bleed process

Bleeding an Avid brake was usually enough to make you want to squirt the whole syringe of brake fluid into your eyes, so the new bleeding system will bring a smile to mechanics’ faces. The Bleeding Edge (very clever, SRAM marketing people) system ditches the fiddly screw-in fittings that have been part of the Avid/SRAM bleed system for years. Instead, the bleed fittings now push/clip into place, for far cleaner connection which should reduce the instance of fluid loss or air creeping in. The bleed path for fluid within the caliper has been changed too, to make it easier to flush out any pesky air bubbles.

SRAM Guide Ultimate 2
The bleed hose clicks into the port with one clean action, rather than removing a little screw and threading it in like the current brakes.
SRAM Guide Ultimate 1
No loss of fluid no chance of letting air in or fluid out. Simple, and so clever!

SRAM haven’t made any drastic changes to the lever, aside from adding a fancy carbon lever blade which was only available on some high end bikes, so you still get reach and pad contact adjustment. The rotors, however, are different to a standard Guide – the Centreline X rotors are a two-piece design, with the stainless steel braking track riveted to an aluminium carrier. This saves a few grams, and looks bad ass.

MY16_SR_Rotor_CLX_180

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Contact Point adjustment is easy, and effective in setting up the brake levers just right, to your taste.
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Reach adjustment remain, for custom setup.

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Finally, titanium hardware is employed throughout, to help keep the weights down and give you bragging rights. Complete weights are impressively low, at just 360g for a front brake with a 160mm rotor, including all hardware.


It was on the dreamy trails of Rotorua when we first squeezed our fingers around these new brakes, fitted to a brand new Santa Cruz Nomad, we set out to garner an impression on the trail.

The first thing we all noticed was the silky smooth lever feel, it’s not day and night between the current Guide range, but it sure does feel that little bit nicer in the hands. Most of the new performance features of the S4 caliper are in aid of durability, and cooling so time will tell.

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Testing the air brake, on Corridor Trail, Rotorua.

Braking power also felt much the same, we didn’t really get the chance to ride the Ultimates in conditions which will really put their cool-as-a-cucumber technologies to the test yet (and our home trails certainly lack the vertical to do s0), but perhaps we’ll have to take them to somewhere like Mt Buller, where we can really cook them!

There was zero drag, and the pistons retreated back into the caliper with a snappy action.

We look forward to giving them a bleed, that may sound stupid but the new ‘loss-less’ style of bleed port will make the process super quick, and very tidy.

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One of Rotorua’s finest new trails, K2.
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Hard on the brakes on K2.

That’s all for now, we can expect these hot stoppers to be in stock around July/August, but for now keep squeezing your current brakes until the SRAM Ultimates arrive.

TESTED: 2016 FOX 34 fork and Float DPS shock

The hot new concept in the mountain biking for 2016 is…. trail riding! Yes, the kind of mountain biking that most of us do every day is exactly where we’re seeing the development focus across the industry, and this can only be a good thing.

FOX have aimed their heavy development artillery at two of the most important trail riding products in their line up; the 34 fork and the Float rear shock. We’ve been riding production versions of FOX’s 2016 34 and Float DPS shock for a few weeks now, and it feels good to be able to come clean with the details.

FOX 2016 22
34mm stanchions are just about all this fork has in common with its predecessor.
FOX 2016 14
The chubby waist immediately tell you that the new Float DPS / EVOL shock is a different beast to the previous Float CTD shock.

Putting it simply, these new products are shit hot. Ride transformingly good. Like you’ve taken the trail to a dry cleaner and asked ‘excuse me, but can you kindly press the living hell out of this, so the bumps disappear?’ But let’s take a look at what makes them work.


A couple of weeks ago FOX released their first tidbit of 2016 product info, with their new 27.5+ specific 34 fork. Hidden in amongst all the blabbing about new axle widths and the rise of fattish tyres (oh gawd) were a handful of references to new technologies that underpin the completely updated 34 fork.

When we say completely updated, we mean it. Barely a scrap of this fork is the same as its predecessor. Chassis, damper, air spring – all new. FOX have also done away with long-travel versions of the 32 fork. The 32 now tops out at 120mm-travel, with the 34 covering 120-160mm, and the 36 taking care of the 160-180mm segment. Clean, easy, makes sense.

FOX 2016 2

The new 34 is filthy light. A 150mm-travel version of the new 34 is lighter than an equivalent 32 series fork. Notably, it’s also a fair chunk lighter than a Rockshox Pike too. The biggest weight saving has been made in the air spring, with 90g shaved, by using an air negative spring, rather than the steel coil found on earlier versions – a change we saw pioneered on the 36 RC2 fork last year (read our full review here). The air spring is also more tuneable too, with volume spacers that can be fitted under the top cap to provide a more progressive or linear stroke. We’ve seen this concept on both the 36 and the RockShox Pike too, and it’s a useful feature for the more involved suspension tweakers.

FOX 2016 19
Hey there, Goldielegs.

The only downside to the new air spring is that the travel of the fork can’t be so easily adjusted. Previous versions could simply be spaced down, but the new 34 requires a different air spring assembly to change the travel.

34 air spring
The negative coil-spring assembly has been ditched for a lighter air assembly.
FOX 2016 6
In addition to three compressions modes (open, medium, firm) you can also adjust the low-speed compression setting in the open mode. Kinda like the RLC dampers from years ago! What do they say about fashion? It all comes back around.

Over on the damper side, the big news is that the CTD system has been axed in favour of the FIT4 damper. We could delve into a deep and brow-furrowing discussion of oil paths and damper shaft diameters here, but there are two main changes from a usability standpoint. The first is the new adjuster configuration; there are three main compression settings (much like CTD, with open, medium and firm), but there’s also a completely independent low-speed compression adjustment. The central black dial has 22 points of adjustment, giving you a much broader and precise range of control over low speed compression, similar to the 36’s RC2 damper.

FOX 2016 18
CTD is out, FIT4 is in.

The second big damper change that users will notice is an all new rebound assembly, which is designed keep the fork riding higher in its travel, particularly after big impacts. Beginning stroke rebound (i.e. for smaller impacts) can be set quite slow, for a more stable and planted ride feel. But on bigger impacts the fork will rebound more quickly to recover from heavy compressions, helping avoid getting bogged down deep in its travel.

FOX 2016 10

Finally, FOX have made some huge leaps in terms of service requirements for their forks. Through better sealing and more advanced lubricants (especially the new Gold Oil), service intervals are now 120 hours of riding, which is far cry more manageable than the 30-hour intervals of yesteryear!

FOX 2016 9
The extra volume of the negative air spring has a stack of benefits. We’re happy to hear the EVOL air sleeve can be retrofitted to older Float shocks too.

But it’s not just the front end that gets the love this year, and FOX have also made some big changes to the Float and Float X rear shocks too. Most obvious change is the new EVOL (extra volume) air sleeve, which will be retrofittable to older FOX shocks too. This is more than just an extra volume air can, as we’ve seen in the past. The EVOL air sleeve is all about increasing the volume of the shock’s negative air spring. This has a number of positive effects.

FOX 2016 16

Firstly, there’s improved bump sensitivity in the initial parts of the stroke. Secondly, the EVOL air sleeve provides an overall flatter spring curve, with more support in the mid-stroke (helping alleviate that wallowing feeling that can afflict some longer-travel air sprung bikes). Finally, the EVOL air sleeve helps slow down the shock’s rebound as it nears full extension, which should reduce the likelihood of getting ‘bucked’ over the bars after heavy compressions, particularly off the lip of a jump.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 12.51.58 pm
See, this graph proves it! The EVOL can flattens the spring curve, with a more supple beginning stroke, and more support in the mid-stroke.

 

There has also been a huge re-think of the shock’s damping, which has led to the new Dual Piston System design and the ditching of the Boost Valve system. Again, we’ll avoid teching you out too much here, and stick to what’s actually noticeable for the user.

While the external damping adjustments are the same (CTD lever, with three position Trail Adjust), the firmness of the lockout (or Climb mode) has been increased significantly. At the same time as making this setting firmer, the level of damping control provided once your blow through the lockout has also been improved. On Boost Valve shocks, there was often inadequate compression control once you’d pushed past the initial lockout platform, but this has been rectified. If, like many cross country racers, you like to run your shock in Climb mode a lot, this change will definitely be appreciated.

FOX 2016 7
There are still three main compression modes, with the middle setting have three levels of fine adjustment.

Ride time! Our 34 fork and DFP shock were fitted to a Yeti SB5. We selected this bike as our test beast, not just because it has been on our must-ride list for a while, but because its Switch Infinity suspension system was designed in conjunction with FOX. With 127mm rear travel, the SB5 can be run with a 130-160mm travel fork. Given the choice, we opted for a 140mm, to keep the bike more in the realm of a trail bike, and not push it into Enduro territory (Jared Graves has been racing an SB5 with a 160mm fork).

Following FOX’s setup guide, we ran 63psi in the fork, and set the rebound 9 clicks from fully closed. Ultimately we slowed the fork down even more, running it 7 clicks from full slow. We dialled in a few token clicks of low-speed compression too, though we’re not certain we really needed it. The shock was set up with just shy of 30% sag.

FOX 2016 12
A low-profile crown lets you get away with more travel up front (as is the trend nowadays), without jacking the bar height up too much.

Any brand new fork and shock will always feel good, but the way the wheels of our Yeti tracked the terrain from the very first ride was pretty insane. Both fork and shock are as close to frictionless as we’ve ever experienced – constantly in motion.

Interestingly, this responsiveness was probably appreciated even more in the shock than it was in the fork. On rolling and moderately rough terrain, the shock offered no discernible transition from compression to rebound either – it sounds ridiculous, but the sensation was hover-esque.

FOX 2016 8
The three position compression lever is as simple to use as ever.

We rarely find ourselves utilising the Climb mode on FOX rear shocks around our home trails, as they’re generally pretty rough. But what little experimentation we did certainly revealed a very firm level of lockout, so that should satisfy the hammerheads out there.

For suspension testing, the most challenging trail in our region is one that we affectionately call the ‘Milkshake’. It’s noted for having long, fast straights of rough sandstone, filled with holes that are just perfectly distanced to bottom out both fork and shock simultaneously. The kind of trail where you do a fair bit of teeth clenching and praying.

FOX 2016 1
Our favourite rocky testing ground.

It was here that the new 34 and DFP shock really shone, delivering the kind of stability you don’t normally expect for a bike with just 127mm of rear travel. We’re accustomed to that awful bucking feeling of running out of front travel right at the exact moment your rear shock starts to reach full extension, but our SB5 kept things bizarrely composed.

Yes, it’s a kick arse bike, but we feel a lot of credit must go the rebound control of both fork and shock. The way the fork quickly digs itself back out of trouble after a solid wallop, combined with the rear shock’s more gradual rebound as it nears full extension, gave us more confidence to wallop square edged hits. And the sheer smoothness and responsiveness of both fork and shock is pretty amazeballs too.

We can see a lot of riders opting to fit the EVOL can to their existing Float shocks, and the 34 fork is a huge improvement over the CTD equipped forks of the past couple of years. Obviously long-term testing will reveal more, but at this early stage FOX appear to have hit the trail-riding nail on the head with a freaking big hammer.

So Enduro: Trek Slash 9.8 Review

Changing the recipe can be a disaster for an established brand – remember what happened to VB when they dropped the alcohol volume, and seriously, why did Vegemite ever make Cheeseymite anyway? Trek knows this well. After countless design variants in the early 2000s, half a dozen years ago they hit a winning formula with their full suspension bike design. And they’ve stuck with it, because the flavour is just right.

Trek Slash 9


[divider]Build[/divider]

The Slash doesn’t buck the Trek system, it’s not a wild new look or layout for the trendy enduro mob, but it is a slick application of their proven design to the all-mountain category.

Trek Slash 20
Trek’s ABP system does a good job of keeping things smooth when under brakes. We just wish that rear skewer wasn’t such a blight on this good looking bike.

The demands of this discipline are pretty much a bike designer’s worst nightmare; create a bike that allows for reckless, downhill bike speeds on the descents, but make it light and efficient enough to clamber to the summit again. The Slash takes its best shot at this task with 160mm of travel, a lightweight, predominantly carbon frame (all but the chain stays and Evo link), and a suspension package that gives you a great degree of on-the-fly control over the compression settings and geometry too.

Where the Slash is a little different to the Fuel or Remedy, is the use of conventional shock – the excellent Rockshox Monarch Plus – opposed to Trek’s usual proprietary FOX DRCV shock

Like the Fuel and Remedy series of bikes, the Slash is built around the formidable ABP/Full Floater suspension system. With its floating shock mounting arrangement and concentric pivot around the rear axle, the system gives Trek a lot of control over the suspension rate and reduces the effect of braking on suspension performance.

Trek Slash 24

Where the Slash is a little different to the Fuel or Remedy, is the use of conventional shock – the excellent Rockshox Monarch Plus – opposed to Trek’s usual proprietary FOX DRCV shock. The oil volume of the Monarch Plus is definitely more suitable for this style of riding than a DRCV shock; while we like the DRCV system, it has quite a linear rate, which doesn’t necessarily suit the hard riding a bike like this is built for.

Trek Slash 27
The combination of the Full Floater linkage and Monarch Plus shock makes for a seriously bottomless suspension feel.

Treks don’t always have the cleanest lines, but the Slash, without a front derailleur, semi-internal cabling and angsty-looking graphics job, is the prettiest Trek we’ve seen in a while. The only blight is the rear axle, which sticks out like a broken finger, and with the beefy SRAM X1 derailleur too, the rear end of the bike is very wide and snags like a fisherman on a weed bank.

Flow Mountain Bike - Queenstown and Wanaka 22

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Trek have taken the shopping trolley straight to the Enduro aisle at Woolies and picked out all the favourites, then topped it all off with a few tasty bits and pieces from the Bontrager pantry.

Trek Slash 12
The Pike RC Dual Position.

SRAM’s 11-speed X1 drivetrain might theoretically be a lower-end offering than their X01 or XX1, but it works so well there’s almost no difference on the trail. We didn’t drop the chain during testing, but if we were racing, we’d probably still add a top guide, just for security.

These obese hoops offer superb support to the aggressive Bontrager XR4 tyres

The venerable Pike RC up front, in a Dual Position format, can be toggled between 160-130mm travel, for better climbing performance. Like James Bond, this fork’s reputation precedes it, and it’ll churn through the rocks like 007 dispatches with bad guys.

Trek Slash 15
XT brakes make us smile. The only downer with Shimano stoppers is that the Reverb dropper lever can’t be neatly integrated into the one clamp with the brake.

SRAM’s stranglehold on the spec is broken by Shimano XT brakes, with a big ol’ 203mm rotor up front too. We’re firm fans on the new SRAM Guide brakes, but Shimano still have the edge we think.

Trek Slash 13
Fat rims make a better bike. The Maverick wheelset is a top addition to the Slash.

Wide rims are the next frontier of wheel development, and Bontrager are on the program with their new 35mm-wide Maverick Pro TLR wheelset. These obese hoops offer superb support to the aggressive Bontrager XR4 tyres, which also happen to be our favourite tyres at the moment. This combo offers more grip than Sylvester Stalone in Cliff Hanger in any conditions.

Trek Slash 18
There is bugger all performance difference between SRAM’s X1, X01 and XX1 shifting.

Trek Slash 17

[divider]Ride[/divider]

According to ‘Back to the Future’ we were meant to all be riding hoverboards by 2015. That hasn’t happened, but the Slash does give you the experience of riding a hoverbike – this beast is smooth in the extreme.

Flow Mountain Bike - Queenstown and Wanaka 106

A combination of big, low-pressure tyres, suspension that’s supple off the top, and great damping properties of the carbon frame and bar, make this bike just float along. There’s incredible fluidity to the way the latest generation of Treks ride, and with the Pike and Monarch suspension combo, the Slash takes this smoothness to a new level.

Trek Slash 16
Making good use of the rear shock’s compression lever will help get the most out of the Slash.

As we’ve found with other Treks, getting the most out of the bike can involve judicious use of the rear shock’s compression adjustment. There’s precious little anti-squat built into the suspension design, so using the shock lever and a smooth pedalling action are key to extracting the most efficient ride.

Riding the Slash with its fork dropped and the suspension firmed up is like eating diet ice cream, kinda missing the point

The fork’s travel adjustment got a workout too, and we quickly got into the routine of dropping the front end and hitting the lockout lever at the base of every climb.

Trek Slash 2 (1)
With the fork dropped and the rear shock in its firmest setting, the Slash does a decent job as a trail bike on smoother trails.

In fact, on smoother trails, we often left the Trek in that setting – with the fork dropped and the rear suspension firmed up. In this mode, the Slash actually adopted the guise of trail bike pretty well. The downside is that with the fork in its 130mm setting, the bike’s bottom bracket height is super low, so you need to be very conscious of clipping pedals.

But riding the Slash with its fork dropped and the suspension firmed up is like eating diet ice cream, kinda missing the point. This bike is happiest in situations where the suspension is fully open, when you’re letting all that grip and damping do the work, you’re not pedalling, off the brakes, and looking ahead for the next potential down ramp to launch onto.

Flow Mountain Bike - Queenstown and Wanaka 18
The Slash at home, on Rude Rock high above Queenstown.

Trek have obviously been eager to position this machine as a very different bike to the slightly shorter travel Remedy series, and so the Slash’s geometry is more relaxed than a sloth on Valium. It’s built for rolling into the steepest lines and keeping its composure at speeds that would normally require a motor.

Using the neat Mino Link system, you can set the Slash to have a head angle of 65-65.5 degrees. For us, the 65.5-degree setting was already a bit of a handful on flatter or slower trails, pushing the front wheel a bit in spite of the huge amounts of grip, and we think it’d take some pretty serious terrain and high speeds to get us to use the 65-degree option. Still, it’s good to have that option of going slacker, and we’re sure plenty of riders will use this setting once the Slash replaces their downhill bike.

Trek Slash 3 (1)
The Slash making easy work of the trails at Derby, Tasmania.

 

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Magic stuff. All up, we think the Slash is pretty damn good value too. A ticket price of $5999 is still a lot of dough, but the Slash is as fully featured for this style of riding as you could ever hope, especially given it comes with new-school wide rims out of the box.

Trek Slash 10

A rider considering the Slash needs to be aware that this isn’t a heavy-duty trail bike – it’s a proper gravity enduro machine. If all-day trails are your thing, take a look at the Remedy, it’ll give you a zippier singletrack experience. But if you’ve got descent KOMs (or podiums) in your sights or you’re looking to roll your downhill bike and trail bikes into one butt-whipping machine, this is where you want to be.

 

Attainable All-Mountain: Orbea Rallon X30 Review

Holy seared eyeballs! Say hello to the new Orbea Rallon XR30, the brightest star in this Spanish company’s mountain bike line up, and the only bike that’s visible from space.

_Q5A0126
Orbea have traditionally been renowned for their excellent road and triathlon bikes, and in years past their dual suspension mountain bikes have had all the appeal of a haggis breakfast. But the Rallon signals a new era for this prestigious brand – this bike is right on the money and right on trend.

Orbea Rallon 4
[divider]Build[/divider]
The Rallon is another addition to the so-hot-right-now all-mountain/enduro category; 160mm-travel, 27.5” wheels, geometry that’s happiest when the earth slopes down, but with the gearing and suspension efficiency needed to methodically gobble up the climbs too.
Orbea Rallon 24

The suspension design is a neat faux-bar arrangement, with a concentric dropout pivot, similar to that found on Trek’s ABP system. This setup helps negate the effect of braking forces on the suspension, meaning more grip and a more settled ride when you jam on the anchors after you get blinded by your own top tube and overshoot a corner. FOX’s CTD shock (2.5” stroke) takes care of business with simplicity and reliability galore. It’s well located for easy access to the CTD lever too, which is handy on the climbs.

The suspension uses a concentric dropout pivot. Note the post-mount 180mm brake mount? Sweet as.
The suspension uses a concentric dropout pivot, but it all rotates around a piddly little rear skewer. Note the post-mount 180mm brake mount? Sweet as.

It’s disappointing that Orbea spec this model of Rallon with a skinny quick-release rear skewer. The dropouts have inserts that allow you to run a 142x12mm through-axle hub, but this really should be out-of-the-box equipment on a bike like this. Similarly, it’d be nice to see more robust bearings at the dropout pivot too; this area is under a lot of stress, and the slim bearings look a little under-gunned.

The dropped top tube means loads of standover for a relatively big bike.
The dropped top tube means loads of standover for a relatively big bike.

We like the Rallon’s excellent standover height. While it’s a fairly large bike overall, the dropped top tube keeps it feeling unobtrusive between your knees, like wearing a sarong when you’re used to jeans. Given the frame’s front triangle design, it’s odd that there’s no bottle mounts, meaning you’ll need to run a backpack, or put up with an amazing dehydration head ache.

The Orbea uses a very neat mix of internal and external cable routing. It's all rattle-free and easy to work on.
The Orbea uses a very neat mix of internal and external cable routing. It’s all rattle-free and easy to work on.

Orbea have hit all the right numbers with the Rallon’s geometry. Short 420mm chain stays make for a lively ride, and the head angle / bottom bracket height can be tweaked to suit your tastes via the simple, clean offset forward shock mount.

The forward shock mount has a offset insert that gives you a choice of slacker/lower or steeper/higher.
The forward shock mount has a offset insert that gives you a choice of slacker/lower or steeper/higher.

[divider]Spec[/divider]
The Rallon’s spec is designed to hit a competitive price point, and on the whole it succeeds in giving riders who don’t have a squillion dollar budget a great all-mountain experience.

The FOX 34 160mm fork is a pearler.
The FOX 34 160mm fork is a pearler.

If we had to pick a highlight, it’d be the suspension; the FOX fork and shock are excellent. Both items are easy to setup, and work with the zen-like harmony of a good dragon boat crew. The other fundamentals which have a huge impact on the ride are also nailed, with a great RaceFace cockpit and top-notch Maxxis rubber. With a confident cockpit, good rubber and great suspension, you’ve got a solid foundation that won’t hold you back in any situation.

No dropper! Upgrade numero uno.
No dropper! Upgrade numero uno.

Of course, we’d have loved to have seen a dropper post on this bike, but that would push up the price. Still, a dropper would be the first upgrade we’d make (the frame has cable routing provisions for an internal post). Second on the list would be the wheels; the Mavic 321 rims are rather narrow, and aren’t tubeless friendly, plus the rear hub is a cheapy with poor sealing. We’d suggest riding these wheels until they turn into octagons in a year or two’s time, then upgrading to something wider and tubeless ready.

The Formula C1 brakes don't offer much adjustment and have quite a wooden lever feel, but there's plenty of power there.
The Formula C1 brakes don’t offer much adjustment and have quite a wooden lever feel, but there’s plenty of power there.
You'll never hear us whinge about the performance of an SLX derailleur. Perfect shifting, with great chain retention.
You’ll never hear us whinge about the performance of an SLX derailleur. Perfect shifting, with great chain retention.

[divider]Ride[/divider]
The Rallon, by virtue of its great geometry and suspension, is an easy bike to trust. With a hefty 14.65kg weight and heavy wheels, momentum is your best friend; stay off the brakes, let the suspension and tyres work their magic. If you get bogged down, it takes a bit of muscle to get thing back up to speed.

Ganhia Track 12

A solid, precise front end rewards bold line choices, though sometimes we did a feel bit of a wag in the tail – the difference in stiffness between the front 15mm axle and the quick release rear is obvious on rough corners.

Some good quality rubber is perhaps the single simplest performance enhancement you can make to a bike.
Colour matching rims from Mavic.
Some good quality rubber is perhaps the single simplest performance enhancement you can make to a bike.
Some good quality rubber is perhaps the single simplest performance enhancement you can make to a bike.

In spite of its weight, the Rallon manages to remain pretty playful in the tight stuff. A tall-ish front end and the short stays make it easy to get the front end in the air, and the Rallon surprised us with its agility and perfectly composed little drifts through singletrack corners. The bitey Maxxis High Roller up front holds tight, letting the rear scoot on through with grin-inducing slides.

With a 36/22 double ring crankset, you'll always have the gears, even if you don't have the legs.
With a 36/22 double ring crankset, you’ll always have the gears, even if you don’t have the legs.

Climbing is what it is. The Rallon will get it done, but you’ll sweat a bit along the way. Make use of the CTD lever and settle in for a spin to the top. Without a dropper post, you invariably end up running the seat a centimetre or two lower than optimum height (or else you’re constantly hopping on and off to adjust it for every descent) so just chill out on the climbs – this bike’s all about the descents anyhow.

Ganhia Track 11

[divider]Overall[/divider]
As an entry-level all-mountain machine, the Rallon passes with flying fluro colours. The fundamentals are all there; geometry, suspension, confidence-inspiring components – a few simple upgrades down the track, like a dropper post and tubeless wheels, will make this bike really sing.

 

Tested: Shimano M163 Shoes

Shimano shoes are fantastic pieces of kit, with particularly legendary durability. But while Shimano have always made great cross-country shoes, and some great downhill shoes, the brand hasn’t really had an offering that was aimed specifically at the trail rider; you could choose either a stiff-soled cross country shoe, or a softer, but much bulkier, downhill shoe and not much in between.

Shimano M163 2

We ran the M163 shoes for the entirety of our recent trip to Queenstown and loved them.
We ran the M163 shoes for the entirety of our recent trip to Queenstown and loved them.

But now Shimano have filled that void, with two new shoes aimed at the trail/all-mountain market (ie. the kind of riding that most of us do day to day). One of these new shoes is the M163 (the other is the M200 – previewed here) – well-priced, understated and beautifully fitted shoes that we’ve been sullying with our stinky leg ends for the last couple of months.

While it’s too early to comment on whether or not this shoe lives up to Shimano’s usual standards of durability, we can definitely deliver a verdict on how this shoe fits and performs.

Shimano M163 (1)
Just riding along.
Shimano M163 5
TORBAL is all about longitudinal flex where it counts.

The M163 uses Shimano’s new TORBAL (Torsional Balance) system, which basically allows the shoes to offer a good degree of longitudinal flex through the midsole so you can roll your foot side to side and get better pedal feel, but retain pedalling stiffness under the ball of your foot. TORBAL, despite sounding like the name of a robotic dog, works like a charm and there’s great support on offer where it counts, but without any of that isolating woodenness that can come from a really stiff shoe.

Shimano M163 7
The opposing direction and offset positioning of the Cross X Strap system is designed to more evenly distribute pressure from the upper across your foot.

The Cross X-Strap and ratchet buckle closure provides a supple and secure fit, which ensures that your foot never feels like its floating or squirming in the shoe – as you roll your foot around in a corner, the upper moves with it, rather than your foot simply slipping about inside the shoe.

Shimano M163 6
The sole is grippy the whole way through, from toe to heel, and the longer cleat slots allow more positions than your standard Shimano shoe.

We particularly appreciate the longer-than-normal cleat positioning slot thingos, which allow you to run the cleat a long way back. Normally on a Shimano shoe, we have the cleat at the very back of its adjustment range, but on the M163s we’re closer to the middle. Having a more rearward cleat position puts less leverage on your ankles if you’re riding aggressively and landing hard. A handy little insert is also provided to plug up the large cleat holes and stop excessive mud or water getting in.

Shimano M163 4
Shimano’s ratchet buckles are strong and don’t get easily clogged like some brands’ buckles. On the M163, the leading edge of the buckle has a protective lip, to deflect impacts that could potentially damage the ratchet.

The M163 is built for a bit of rock scrambling too, with a fully rubberised sole – a blessing if you miss a pedal entry – and slim armouring around the generous toe box as well. Its big tread blocks aren’t super tacky like on some shoes (such as the Five Ten shoes we recently tested), but they are malleable and grippy all the same.

These are really ideal shoes for the masses, and exactly what we’ve been looking for from the big S; put ’em on, ride ’em up, ride ’em down, kick ’em about and repeat for many years.

 

Shred-ette: Specialized Rumor Expert Evo 29 Reviewed

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

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

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

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

Bicknell-Rumor Evo-16

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

[divider]Build[/divider]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

[divider]Ride[/divider]

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

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

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

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

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

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-13

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-11

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

 

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

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

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

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

[divider]Overall[/divider]

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

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

XC on ‘Roids: Giant Anthem Advanced SX First Impressions

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

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 1

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

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

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

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

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

 

Five Unique 650B All-Mountain Bikes Tested

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

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

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

Read the full review here.


Polygon-Collosus-N9-9 Polygon Collosus N9

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

Read the full review here.


Pyga-140650-selection-26 Pyga OneForty 650

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

Read the full review here.


Scott-Genius-710-1 Scott Genius 710

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

Read the full review here.


Yeti-575-27-20 Yeti 575

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

Read the full review here.

Tested: Contour Roam 3 Camera

Contour are one of the older players in the wearable/helmet camera world, though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 2013 the brand closed its doors, but with new management and vision, they’re back to challenge for a bigger chunk of this incredibly competitive market.

Contour Roam 3-1

The Roam 3 isn’t a huge departure from previous Contour cameras. It has the same cylindrical shape as earlier models, making it very low profile, so it’s ideal for helmet mounting. Alignment is achieved via laser beams (good in low light, but hard to see in bright sun) with a rotatable lens to ensure a flat horizon. The Roam 3 also gets the trademark Contour slide-to-record button that’s easy to use with gloved hands.

Contour Roam 3-5
The lens barrel is rotatable to keep the horizon correct, with a laser pointer indicating where the camera is pointing.

Where it does represent an improvement over previous versions is that it’s now waterproof to 30 feet, and you can switch to photo mode on-the-fly. There are two default video modes (720p @ 60fps, or 1080p @ 30fps), and you can select other resolutions if you plug it into your computer (which is unlikely, as 720p/1080p are the standards). Battery life is a claimed 3.5hrs, which is fine, but the battery isn’t removable so once it’s flat your recording fun is done till you get to a charger.

Contour Roam 3-4
The large slide button is very easy to use. Basic LED indicators give information about battery life and card space.

The Roam uses Contours own mounting system, which is a kind of rail arrangement, with the camera sliding into place. For helmet mounting, this system is low profile. There are stacks of other mounts available (including for a gun barrel – yep) but no chest mount option.

Contour Roam 3-10
The flip-down rear panel gives you access to the Micro SD card, USB port, and the switch to toggle between different resolutions.

The simplicity of the Roam is both its strength and weakness. Upsides: The big slide button both powers up the camera and starts recording all in one motion and is really easy to operate in a hurry, and switching to photo mode is just a matter of holding down the rear button for a few seconds. Downsides: Without a screen or mobile connectivity, you can’t check the camera angle, review footage, or make adjustments to the settings without a computer. Picture quality is fine, especially given the price point, with a super wide 170 degree lens. It doesn’t do so well in dappled light at high speed, but few helmet cameras do. There’s no built in stabiliser (ala the Sony Action Cam) so we recommend running it through your stabilisation software of choice, which is something we do as a matter of course for all wearable camera footage.

All up, the Roam 3 is solid offering that plays to the strengths of its simple design and ease of use of the trail and won’t break the bank.

Our Travelling Partner: Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29

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:


Tasmania-Flow-Nation-191-1020x500
The Fuel EX 9.9 with RockShox RS-1 in Hobart.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 9

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.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 7
Locally made, the Noble Entities CB1 is a neat single-ring and bash guard in one.

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!

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 24
No chain drops issues here.

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.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 5
When the Reverb Stealth post is working, it’s great. But these guys do have occasional issues – we’ve had problems with two of them in recent months.

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.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 12
Excuse the ugly tape! We taped the crank arm to protect it from damage on a bike trailer in Falls Creek recently. Reinstalling the Reverb Stealth post meant removing the bottom bracket and main pivot.

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.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 22
Bontrager’s XR3 tyres are excellent all-rounders.

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.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 23
We’ve had some strange contamination issues with our XTR brakes.

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.

RockShox RS-1 v2 22
We tested the RockShox RS-1 on the Fuel too. It’s a unique piece of kit. But is it better than a conventional fork?

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.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 6
The Re:aktiv regressive damping system does work. It’s not a game changer, but it’s an improvement.

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

The Slasher! First Impressions of the Trek Slash 9.8

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

IMG_2355

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannondale Trigger Carbon 2: Long-Term Test Update

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.


 

Cannondale Trigger  4
The unique DYAD shock is a key element of the Trigger’s personality.

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.

Cannondale Trigger  7
For the time being, the Trigger is running a 2×10 drivetrain, but this will soon be converted to a 1×10 setup.

 

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!

Cannondale Trigger  3
The Bontrager XR3 tyres are a really good all-rounder. Unlike the Mavic rubber that came on the bike, which is all round, but far from 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.

Cannondale Trigger  6
Once we install the single ring up front, the shock remote lever will be flipped to the other side of the bar where it’ll take the place of the left-hand shifter. It’s cool that this lever can be flipped so easily.

Getting the suspension dialled has been more involved than usual, but we’ll delve into that a little more next time!

 

 

Mr Consistent: SRAM Guide RSC Brakes Review

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “You build a bridge, does anyone remember you as John the Bridge Builder? You save a forest, does anyone remember you as John the Conservationist? You teach a child to read, does anyone remember you as John the Educator? ….But you f#%k just one goat and…”

The point being, people tend to remember the goats you screw, not the good deeds you do. And in the case of Avid brakes, unfortunately a few goats got screwed.


SRAM Guide RSC brake 5

Yes, countless sets of Avid Elixir brakes did, and continue to, work flawlessly, but there were some duds along the way and SRAM’s reputation with brakes definitely ended up a little tarnished. But now they’re looking to put things right, with the brand new SRAM Guide series of brakes, which were launched this year and have already found considerable spec on production bikes. These brakes have a wide appeal – from trail, through to Enduro and downhill – with multiple price points targeted too. There are three models of Guide brakes available (the basic Guide R, the Guide RS and Guide RSC), and since receiving these brakes in August (read our first impressions here) we’ve been trialling the RSC version across two different bikes – a Norco Range and Trek Fuel EX.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 2
The neat contact point adjuster is very effective.

The Guide brakes are a radical departure from the Elixir design (at least in the lever – the four-piston caliper is actually identical to the Elixir Trail brake). Gone is the Taperbore master cylinder design, replaced with a more conventional reservoir design that is reminiscent of the original Avid Juicy. The reach adjustment is easily accessible on the front of the lever blade, and in RSC brake, there’s contact point adjustment too, via a spinny dial on the lever body.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 9
On the RSC model, the lever pivot uses a sealed cartridge bearing.

In the the RS and RSC models, the Guide brakes also feature a new master piston actuation system called Swing-Link; the lever blade drives a small cam/link that in turn pushes the master piston. This system allows the for a variable rate of leverage throughout the lever stroke, moving the caliper’s four piston quickly at the outset of the stroke (to engage with the rotor nice and fast), then more slowly deeper in the stroke for better modulation. Unfortunately the lower-priced Guide R misses out on the Swing-Link doodad.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 10
The small reach adjustment dial is far easier to access than on earlier SRAM brakes. Note how the Match Maker clamp keeps the handlebar clean.

If the Swing-Link system sounds a little like Shimano’s Servo-Wave system, it’s because the principle is much the same. In fact, the lever feel is very similar to that of a Shimano SLX or XT brake, with that same reassuringly solid engagement where you can really feel the pads hit the rotor firmly. It’s very confidence-inspiring feeling with no uncertainty about when the power is going to come on, and more importantly, that feeling has remained completely consistent throughout our testing.

In every area, the Guide brakes are an improvement over the Elixirs. Bleeding the Guides is fast and easy with a dual syringe system, and even if you do a slightly shonky job (as we did when rushing out the door for our first ride on them), any air bubbles seem to migrate their way harmlessly up to the lever reservoir where they stay put. The seemingly random appearance and disappearance of air in the system was a nightmare with Elixirs, so it’s fantastic this seems to have been sorted.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 1
The Guide brakes use the same four-piston caliper as the Avid Trail series brakes, with its neat adjustable banjo fitting.

Getting the brakes positioned and operating how you’d like them is simple too; the reach adjuster isn’t as slick as the rest of the brake but it works perfectly. The contact point adjuster is a real highlight – it allows for really precise adjustment, so you can match the levers up perfectly.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 8
SRAM’s new Centreline rotors are quiet in the dry, but you’re not going to be sneaking up on anyone in the wet.

Of course, power is excellent, as you’d expect from the big four-piston caliper, and it’s easy to modulate too. The new Centreline rotors are significantly quieter than the old Elixir rotors in the dry, but get them wet and you’ll be getting noise complaints from the other side of the state, on a wet ride they howl like two cats fighting on hot summer night. As the caliper and brake pads are unchanged from the Elixir Trails, the pad life should be excellent, and we’ve had a number of miserable, grimy rides without any significant wear to date.

For the first time in a few years, we’re excited about SRAM’s brakes once again. Our confidence in their stoppers has returned, and that is kinda reassuring when you’re grabbing a fistful of brake at 45km/h. Bravo!

 

 

The King is Back: FOX 36 Float RC2 Review

Fox 36 Float RC2 6
Retro graphics just add to the appeal.

FOX knew they had to hit back hard this year with the relaunch of the 36; since the arrival of the RockShox Pike 18 months ago, riders had been leaving FOX in droves, clamouring to get a Pike onto the front of their all-mountain/enduro rig. It was time to stop the rot!

The vehicle FOX chose to launch their counter attack is the venerable 36 series. While there were other long-travel, single-crown forks before the 36 was released almost 10 years ago, it was this massive 36mm-legged beast from FOX that showed what was truly possible. For years, the 36 series set the standard of performance, stiffness, tuneability and versatility, and the fork’s status became legendary and legions of hardcore riders still regarded it as the leading single-crown fork… until the Pike arrived.

It’s no surprise that FOX want to reclaim their crown, and after a few weeks of riding the 2015 36 RC2, we think the King of All-Mountain might be back to regain his throne. Read our first impression of the FOX 36 here. 


FOX have thrown a lot of firepower at the 2015 36, and it really is an entirely new fork. Or we should say forks, plural, because there are variants galore, in 26, 27.5 or 29” wheel sizes, with Float or TALAS (travel adjustable) options, and travel from 140-170mm. Our test fork is a 160mm-travel Float RC2.

Fox 36 Float RC2 12
The new crown is slimmer, for a shorter axle-to-crown length, but has more overlap with the stanchions. FOX claim that creaking crowns are a thing of the past.

An obvious standout is the huge reduction in weight; the 36 Float now weighs about the same as the FOX 34 series (2.04kg for our fork) fork and is within 200g of an equivalent Pike. Not only is it lighter, but it’s also lower, with a the new crown assembly offering a shorter crown-to-axle length, so you can run a longer travel fork, without bumping up the ride height.

Other immediately noticeable differences include the absence of FOX’s CTD damper system, with an RC2 damper taking its place. This is a very good call. The CTD damper has never really found favour with the more high-performance end of the all-mountain market, where many riders come from a downhill background. It was felt that the CTD system lacked damping subtlety and control, and FOX have never managed to shake the stigma of their 2013 forks which were noticeably under-damped for hard impacts, forcing many riders to run their fork in the ‘Climb’ setting on descents in order to prevent the fork from diving. The new RC2 damper has external control of both high and low-speed compression, via big blue knobs, identical to the setup on the FOX 40 downhill fork.

Fox 36 Float RC2 9
The RC2 damper has independent high and low-speed compressions adjustment and offers greatly superior, incremental control when compared to a CTD damper.

There’s no quick-release axle system, instead FOX have gone for maximum stiffness, with a dedicated bolt-up axle system that uses a 5mm Allen key to lock your wheel in tight. Again, this is a wise call we feel – the stiffness of the 36 was one aspect that made this fork legendary, and it makes sense to reinforce this advantage. Ok, taking your wheel out is a pain, but it’s a trade-off that we can live with. The axle system can cleverly take 15mm or 20mm hubs too, with reducers to accommodate either setup.

Fox 36 Float RC2 10
No quick releases here. The 36’s axle is a true bolt-up system, just like on the FOX 40 downhill fork. Note the protective cover for the rebound knob too.

Less obvious changes are highlighted by an all-new air spring assembly, and FOX has ditched the steel negative spring of earlier forks, using a self-equalising air spring for the negative chamber. This change plays a key role in reducing the fork’s weight, as well as improving the fork’s performance, especially for riders at either end of the rider weight spectrum.

Fox 36 Float RC2 2
Glamorous in gold. The Kashima treated stanchions are part of the battle against friction.

Reducing friction was seen as a key battleground, and FOX have gone all-out to make the 36 as slippery as possible. Externally, the Kashima coated legs are now polished using a different process that apparently traps more oil particles in microscopic pores in the aluminium. Internally, two completely different styles of oil are now used for lubrication and damping purposes; the new Gold Oil fluid used for lubricating the lower legs/sliders is claimed to be more slippery than a jail house soap bar. A new seal head on the damper cartridge with reduced friction completes the package.

But how does it bloody well ride? We fitted our 36 Float to our Norco Range C7.2 long-term test bike, where it replaced a Pike RC. We were tempted to run the FOX at 170mm, but for the sake of a direct comparison with the Pike, we went for 160mm instead.

Norco Range 7.1 First Bite-1
Our Norco Range C7.2 long-term test bike, in its original format with a RockShox Pike.

Getting the fork setup for our weight was aided by FOX’s new recommended pressure guides, which are found on their website. You simply punch in the four digit code that’s marked on the fork, and the site will bring up the manuals, setup guide and such for your exact fork. For our 62kg test rider, the site recommended 58psi, and the sag and spring curve this pressure delivered felt 100% spot-on! If you did want to change the fork’s feel, FOX now gives you the option of fitting air volume reducers (just like you can do with their rear shocks, a similar system to the RockShox Bottomless Tokens). We followed FOX’s recommended mid-range settings for the high/low-speed compression too, and got down to it.

The notion of a bed-in period seems to be non-existent with the new 36; the almost complete absence of friction that this fork exhibits from the very outset is just amazing. From the first 100 metres of our very first ride, you could have sworn this fork already had 10 hours of riding on it, so good is the small bump response. It’s so supple, the displaced air from a passing magpie could make it move. This fork is as close to frictionless as we’ve ever felt in a single-crown fork, and because the chassis is so stiff, there’s never any hint of binding or increased friction when you start asking the tough questions.

Fox 36 Float RC2 7
The 36 won’t accept a 160mm front rotor – it’s a 180mm direct mount.

It didn’t take long to appreciate the benefits of a true low-speed compression damping system, rather than the CTD damper, either. Whereas the CTD system feels like a trade-off between bump response and support, a few clicks of low-speed compression made a huge difference, keeping the 36 supported under brakes, without losing any of its ridiculous bump response.

But it’s when things are really rough and rowdy that the 36 does its best work. Occasionally you ride a product that completely changes the way you see or ride a trail, and the 36 is one such product. It gave us a feeling that we’d normally only associate with a very well setup downhill bike; a sensation of having more time to react, as if the trail was coming at you 20% slower, when you’re actually riding faster than ever before. The feeling was that our front tyre was glued to the ground, affording us more braking traction and cornering bite, and the roughness of the terrain just did not translate to the bars, leaving us more relaxed and feeling more fluid on the bike.

Fox 36 Float RC2 3
Can you see the dropout reducers? Remove these guys and you can run the 36 with a 20mm front hub.

On our Norco, already a super stiff bike, the addition of the 36 just took it to the next level. Line choice became as irrelevant as an election promise. This fork simply does not flinch! That feeling of spiking, or twanging or imprecision… all gone. Basically, if you have the guts and the strength (or the cleat tension) to just run into something, the 36 will encourage you to do it. It’s like there’s a group of teenagers sitting by the side of the trail, heckling you until you try something really stupid.

So, is the 36 a better fork than the Pike? For general trail riding, the Pike has the edge with both weight and it’s more user-friendly in terms of damping controls, plus it has the Maxle quick-release system. But if the focus is on the descents, then we’d have to say that we’re in awe of the FOX 36, and we think it’s the new leader in this arena. The stiffness, the completely amazing smoothness, the way it gobbles up hits from the smallest pebble to the nastiest ledge drop – all these things and more make us very fond of the new 36. Welcome back, FOX.

Fox 36 Float RC2 13

 

 

 

Fresh from Italy, New Saddles and Shoes From fi’zi:k

Fine Italian fashion made into a quality range of ergonomic components, fi’zi:k focusses on providing for the contact points of your ride, like saddles, shoes and cockpit parts.

Flow had a chance to view the 2015 range from fi’zi:k, and this is what caught our attention.

[divider]M3B Uomo[/divider]

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The M3B UOMO is a real sleek pair of shoes.

Fizik 17

With such a supple leather material used in the upper of the shoe construction, the M3B UOMO can conform to the foot for a snug fit, whilst the BOA dial pulls even tension for security. Their first BOA shoe for mountain biking weighs an impressive 350 grams (size 43) and will set you back $349 Aussie bucks.

[divider]M1 Uomo[/divider]

Fizik 10
The flagship shoe from the Italians, the M1 Uomo uses their finest materials.

The M1 shoes are like no other shoe on the market, using unique materials and fine attention to detail, they also take fit to the next level with a heat foldable insole. For $449 they weigh a svelte 380g.

A carbon sole, kangaroo leather and sail cloth make up these shoes and we are dying to test them out.

Included with the M1 shoes are the customisable insoles from 3D Flex. Sold separately for around $110, these insoles use materials with names like: Transflux, Ortholite and Podiaflex to achieve conforming shapes arch support and vibration dampening. Click here for more info on the insoles. 

Fizik 14
The M1 shoes score the ultra technical 3D Flex mouldable insoles.
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Using heat to begin the custom fit process, the soles can be fitted to your foot at your fi’zi:k dealer.

[divider]The 29er specific saddle, f’izi:k Thar[/divider]

f’izi:k address the need for a different saddle position when riding 29er bikes, with the big wheels forcing the rider to sit more towards the back of the saddle. The THAR has rails with 95mm of fore/aft adjustment, 25mm longer than normal. The rail is longer towards the rear of the saddle to help you push it further forward.

The Thar 29″ will start at $139 and go up to $179 for lighter rails.

 

Fizik 2
The That 29″ on the left, with the traditional Gobi on the right. Not the short tail for clearance on longer travel 29ers with the seat down.
Fizik 1
Longer rails, toward the rear for more adjustment.

For more info jump to http://www.fizik.com/en/

All-Mountain Assassin: The Polygon Collosus N9

Polygon Collosus N9 9
Like something out of freakin’ Blade Runner.

Five years ago, we’d rather have shared a car ride to Melbourne with a pack of angry wasps than have ridden a Polygon. Clearly that ain’t so any longer. This brand has undergone a transformation more pronounced than Rene Zellweger’s face; and while we preferred the old Rene, the definitely prefer the new Polygon. Right here we’ve got the all-new Collosus N9, the very same bike the Hutchinson / United Riders teams have been racing in the Enduro World Series.

 


Polygon Collosus N9 12

“Holy Moses! Is that the new Polygon?” was the standard response from all who laid eyes on this savagely futuristic looking piece of kit, usually followed by the question, “what’s it like?” Well, we’ll tell you.

[divider]Build[/divider]

If the world suddenly starts to run low on carbon fibre, you can blame Polygon. The new Collosus N9 is has some of most incredibly complex, but perfectly executed, carbon frame shapes we’ve ever seen – Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher certainly didn’t envisage that bikes would ever look like this! It’s clear that Polygon have looked for opportunities to shape this frame is ways that would have been basically impossible in aluminium. While they’re at it, they’ve equipped the Polygon with some of the most intricate frame graphics out there. Look closely and you’ll see some incredibly detailed graphics subtly adorning the less visible parts of the frame – very cool.

Polygon Collosus N9 29
Beautiful, subtle graphics.

This 160mm-travel machine has a compact look about it, and the frame numbers reflect this, with the wheelbase a couple of centimetres shorter than many of its competitors. The chain stays are 430mm (fun), and the top tube is 590mm (a little short), while the head angle is 66.3 degrees (ideal). But numbers don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, and there’ll be plenty of time to chat about that later.

Polygon Collosus N9 11
The lower link sits snuggly over the bottom bracket shell.
Polygon Collosus N9 14
The shock is driven from both ends. Huge pivot axles are used to try keep the rear end as stiff as is possible with this design.

Polygon have employed their FS03 suspensions system, which is another variant of a four-bar linkage. The lower link arcs over the bottom bracket shell, driving the shock, which is also squished by the stubby upper link. (The design is actually a little similar to the Quad Link II arrangement previously used by Whyte bikes, but the Polygon’s lower link is located closer to the bottom bracket, which makes for less pedal feedback – winner.) The most striking aspect of the design is the extremely long ‘seat stay’; while most four-bar linkage designs have an upper link mounted off the seat tube, the Polygon’s upper link is way forward. This uninterrupted curve of the seat stay looks insane, but it does present design challenges in terms of keeping it all stiff. Giving the rear end a quick waggle reveals that even the use of huge pivot axles and an E-Thru 142x12mm axle can’t get rid of the inherent flex of this design. But as we’ve noted many times, a bit of wobble in the carpark doesn’t necessarily mean a thing on the trail.

Polygon Collosus N9 39
The cables are all kept clear of the head tube with neat internal routing.

With such a complicated looking frame, Polygon have managed to declutter things by routing all the cables internally, keeping them clear of the frame so there’s no rub at any point either. External routing options are in place for a dropper post, should you not get along with the Rockshox Reverb Stealth. We really don’t like remote fork lockouts on this style of bike (keep them for cross country racing, please) so we removed the CTD fork remote that came on the bike to further declutter its appearance. Speaking of lockouts, because of the orientation of the FOX Float X shock, getting access to the CTD lever is quite a stretch. Fortunately the Polygon pedals beautifully, so you’re not relying on the CTD lever to scoot it along at all.

Polygon Collosus N9 35
The CTD lever on the shock might be tough to reach on the fly, but we barely used it. For the most part, we left the bike in Trail(1) mode.
Polygon Collosus N9 31
You’re not fitting a bottle in there. Note the brace running from the chain stay up the top of the seat stay? It’s only on the non-driveside – on the driveside the need to keep a front derailleur means the bracing can’t be used.
Polygon Collosus N9 38
Downtube protection. Neato.

Few details have been overlooked; the down tube is protected from rock strikes by thick frame stickers, and the chain is silenced by a heavy duty moulded rubber guard. You can fit a front derailleur should you wish, or a chain guide with the ISCG tabs, but not a water bottle – it’s a pack only affair.

Tyre clearance out back is pretty tight, not width-wise, but you’re restricted by height/depth of the tyre. A Schwalbe Hans Dampf in 2.25 squeezes in with plenty of room on either side, but there’s minimal space between the tread and the chain stay junction, so fitting anything much bigger than the stock rubber is not advisable. We didn’t test the Polygon in the wet, but we can imagine this could get a bit gloopy in the mud.

Polygon Collosus N9 20
Tyre clearance is tight around the chain stays – the Hans Dampf 2.25 is about as big as you’d want to go.

[divider] Spec:[/divider]

While a price tag of $5799 isn’t exactly pocket change, what you get for your money is pretty fantastic. With the exception of a adding a carbon bar in place of the Spank Oozy alloy number, you’d be hard pressed to upgrade the N9 in any meaningful way.

Polygon Collosus N9 28
Carbon hub shells! With wheels this nice, we think the super loud freehub is justified.

 

We like the fact that Polygon have cherry-picked the components, rather than sticking with a SRAM or Shimano/FOX theme. The end result is a great mix of Shimano, SRAM, FOX and e13. Shimano provide the ever-reliable XT brakes (still the best on the market, we feel), SRAM deliver with the superb XX1 drivetrain and RockShox Reverb Stealth post, and e13 supply the stiff (and loud!) TRS Race wheelset. FOX handle front and rear suspension, with a Float X rear shock and 160mm-travel 34 TALAS fork. Spank provide the 740mm-wide bar and 50mm stem, and it’s really nicely finished kit. The anüss pleasing Fizik Gobi saddle is a safe call too.

Polygon Collosus N9 22
The N9 does come with a fork remote, but we preferred to run the bike without it, reducing the clutter. Besides, the fork already has travel adjustment, which we feel is more important than a lockout anyhow.
Polygon Collosus N9 24
The TALAS dial drops the fork travel from 160mm to 130mm for climbing.

Specific praise should be given to Polygon’s decision to add a travel-adjustable fork; dropping the front end by a few centimetres on climbs does wonders for bikes like this, which can be a handful to keep on track up loose, steep fireroad grinds. As we mentioned before, we ditched the fork’s remote CTD lever – we think the travel adjustment is far more important on this kind of bike than remote lockouts.

Polygon Collosus N9 17
The finish on the Spank cockpit is great.

Compared to many new all-mountain wheel offerings, the e13 TRS rims are a little bit narrower than we’re becoming accustomed too. But these wheels are certainly stiff, thanks to absolutely massive hub shells/flanges, and the rims come ready for tubeless use, just add valves and spooge. They’re also amongst the loudest wheels we’ve ever ridden, which is sure to divide riders into the ‘look at me, look at me’ crew and those who want to actually talk to their mates while riding!

Polygon Collosus N9 27

[divider]Ride: [/divider]

The Collusus N9 is the funnest thing to come out of Indonesia since those Gudang Garam clove cigarettes that gave us head spins back in year 8 at high school. (Smoking is bad, kids!) But seriously, this bike is incredibly playful, especially given its generous chunk of travel. With its relatively short wheel base, it wants to hop, flick about and manual, hiding its 160mm of bounce until you need it. The same can be said of the way this bike pedals – it’s stable and efficient under pedalling efforts, not wallowing about like some 160mm bikes.

Polygon Collosus N9 44

The bike’s immediate, first-pedal-stroke acceleration isn’t quite as good, which we put down to the frame’s rear end flex. It just seems to lose a bit of that initial snap when you first put down the power, when compared to a stiffer framed bike.

Carrying speed, however, is not an issue, as both fork and rear suspension do a fantastic job of getting the wheels moving out of the way of the bumps that want to slow you down. The suspension design is super active, delivering excellent traction under power. We’re certain the FOX Float X shock plays a big role too, as its arguably the most responsive and smoothest air shock on the market, handling fast, repeated hits beautifully.

Polygon Collosus N9 42
We couldn’t find fault with the FOX 34 TALAS fork.

Polygon Collosus N9 40

Getting the fork pressure dialled was easy thanks to the handy setup guide on the FOX website, and from the word go we were 100% happy with the fork’s feel, the rear end took a little more twiddling. We ultimately ended up running a tad less sag than usual for this style of bike (just on 25%), which delivered the balance that we wanted. If we dropped the pressures towards the 30% sag mark, we found the bike hitting the bottom of its travel a bit easily and not keeping in step with the fork. It’s always worth taking a shock pump out for your first few rides we think, and the Polygon proved this once again. Once we had the pressures dialled, the bike’s balance was impossible to fault.

Polygon Collosus N9 43
XT brakes have the best feel and positive engagement of any brake out there in our mind.

Descending is obviously the bike’s forte, and we loved how quiet and smooth the Polygon was. The fact that it’s such a playful, manoeuvrable machine makes it easy to manhandle around technical trails, putting the wheels exactly where you want them, and the grip is sensational (great tyres, supple suspension), letting you brake hard and late with the awesome Shimano stoppers. We wouldn’t say it’s a class leader in flat-out, super rough terrain – there are other longer and slacker 160mm bikes that will serve you better if you’re looking for downhill bike stability at speed – but for the kind of steep, techy descending that most riders will be doing, the N9 is brilliant. It’s a fun bike in corners too, making easy work of tighter trails that would bog a lot of other bikes in this category down.

Polygon Collosus N9 46
The N9 gets a full XX1 drivetrain, no shortcuts here!

The Polygon’s climbing prowess is fine on shorter inclines, where you can get out of the saddle and hit the climb nice and quickly. On long grinders we found ourselves wishing for a little bit more length – either a slightly longer stem or a longer top tube – as the upright seating position is hard on the lower back. As with every bike, it’s important to get a test ride if you can, and we wouldn’t be surprised if many riders go up a size over their usual, in the N9 in order to get the required top tube length.

Polygon Collosus N9 34
e13’s TRS Race rims aren’t super wide, but they are tough, light and very stiff.

[divider]Overall:[/divider]

In today’s market, and particularly in this rapidly-growning all-mountain segment, it takes a lot to standout. But the N9 really does; it looks amazing, is excellent value (yes, an expensive bike can still be good value), blends fun and confidence perfectly, and registers Polygon as a serious contender for the ‘most-improved’ award in the industry. Make sure you check the length of the bike before you buy, because some riders may want to size up, but otherwise you should have no reservations about handing over your hard-earned for this weapon and hitting those rowdy trails on a bike that quite clearly comes from the future.

Polygon Collosus N9 5

Tested: Pyga Oneforty650

Pyga is the brainchild of Patrick Morewood (the man behind Morewood Bikes), and Mark Hopkins, the co-founder of protection company Leatt. That’s an interesting combination of talented minds! To be honest, we hadn’t encountered this South African brand until recently, when we received an email asking if we’d like to try one out. We’ve always had a soft spot for Morewood Bikes, so when we discovered that Patrick Morewood was at the helm, we jumped at the chance to get one on review.

Pyga 140650 selection 6
Flying the South African flag proudly, jah.

The pragmatically named ‘Oneforty650’ (the whole bike has a pragmatic bent actually), is aimed purely at the booming trail/all-mountain sector of riders, sporting a “do it all” 140mm of travel paired with 650b wheels. For now, the Oneforty sells as a frameset only, a feature that will turn away some potential buyers, however on the plus side, a naked frame allows a rider to completely customise their ride to their riding style and intended purpose. It’s definitely not a bike aimed at the novice rider, and that option to build from scratch will resonate with those more experienced.

Pyga 140650 selection 7
The ‘Pascoe’ tag is apparently in honour of a local trail building legend, Kevin Pascoe.

[divider]Build[/divider]

As this bike only comes as a frameset we won’t harp on about the parts spec, but it’s worth a mention as the bike was set up in a way we felt perfectly matched the intention of the frame design – tough trail abuse. SRAM’s X01 1×11 setup handled the drivetrain, the wheels used were Pyga branded carbon rims (nice and fat to match the bike’s rowdy intentions), and the suspension was looked after by RockShox with a Pike (in a 160mm format) and a Monarch Plus – perfecto. The tyre combo of a Maxxis Minion up front and speedy Ikon out back is a favourite of ours, and mounted to the wide rims, this rubber has a seriously grippy footprint. Rounding out our build was the exquisite Truvativ Jerome Clementz carbon handlebar and Avid Elixir Trail 9 brakes.

Pyga 140650 selection 23
Super cool head tube badge.

While our bike had a 160mm fork, PYGA say that anything from 140-160mm is suitable, so if you’d like to sharpen things a smidgen, you know that’s possible without interfering with the bike’s balance.

Back in his Morewood days, Patrick Morewood used to build claim his bikes were ‘The bikes that downhill built’, and it would seem this ethos has carried across to Pyga. This frameset exudes toughness. The choice of material alone – robust alloy, not carbon – sends a message that this bike’s meant for riders who don’t want to be concerned about their equipment if they take a tumble or two. Pivotal areas such as the stays and head tube feature plenty of reinforcement with some seriously sturdy looking welds, and double-row bearings at high-load areas of the suspension linkage should ensure years of rattle-free action.

Pyga 140650 selection 12
Putting a Pike up front is always a sensible way to start your all-mountain build!

The suspension system is worth closer examination. More than one observer pointed out that it “looks like a Trek”, and that is certainly true (and not a bad thing!). The shock floats between the upper linkage and the chain stay – it’s not not mounted to the mainframe at all – which opens up more possibilities for tuning the shock rate throughout the stroke. There are no funky axle-path claims going on here; it’s a straight up single pivot design, with a link driving the shock. The relatively low location of the main pivot point is designed to ensure that the suspension remains active under pedalling forces, with very little feedback when pedalling over the rough too.

Pyga 140650 selection 22
External cables mightn’t have the sex appeal, but they make life much easier!
Pyga 140650 selection 4
If you’re running a stealth dropper post, the cable enters here.

The practicality aspect of the bike is reinforced by the nearly entirely external cable routing. Whilst internal cable routing looks pretty on the showroom floor and has largely become de rigour on high end bikes, any home mechanic will know the pain of trying to route cabling through a frame, especially when the frame curves to any degree. As those who purchase this bike will have to BYO componentry, the external mounts will be a blessing for easy assembly and maintenance.  The sole exception to the external routing is a port on the  seat tube for a stealth routed dropper post, though you can run an externally cabled dropper too. In the context of all the other mechanic-friendly features, some might be surprised to find the bike uses a press-fit bottom bracket.

Pyga 140650 selection 10
The lower shock mount is asymmetric to allow room for a front derailleur.
Pyga 140650 selection 14
The linkage in side profile – the main pivot is just above the chain line with a 32-tooth ring. A direct mount front derailleur tab is there is you need it, along with ISCG tabs.

Geometry-wise the PYGA has the kind of numbers that are very reassuring; in a medium frame the top tube is 600mm (perfectly matched with a 50-70mm stem), and the head angle sits at 67-degrees, all reinforcing the idea that this bike lives to throw the rider confidently through tougher trails.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Pyga is a real rider’s bike; aggressive, responsive, stiff and tough. There are lighter, more polished looking machines out there, but out on the trail (particularly if it points downhill) this bike will leave you grinning. With excellent frame stiffness throughout, aided by the Syntace X12 axle out back, the Pyga is the kind of bike that loves to sprint, be thrown around and slapped into turns. There’s plenty of room through the top tube and cockpit so that you never feel trapped or crammed in, giving you space to let the bike work and move beneath you. Compared to the swoopier designs of many carbon frames, the Pyga is a little lacking in stand-over clearance, but this is only likely to be a consideration for short(er) riders and it didn’t impinge our riding.

Double row bearings on the rear pivot, along with an X12 axle, keep the rear end tight and wobble free.
Double row bearings on the rear pivot, along with an X12 axle, keep the rear end tight and wobble free.

You can lean on the Pike like an old friend through the roughest situations and the rear end will be there tracking through with equal aplomb – that sensation of connectedness between front and rear wheels is something often missing from lighter bikes. That feeling of trustworthiness is definitely reinforced by the Maxxis Minion rubber up front, which bites like a pitbulll, especially when mounted to wide rims like those on the Pyga.

Pyga 140650 selection 1

It’s a supple ride too, but without becoming isolating or wallowy like some bikes in this category can be. The buttery action of the Monarch Plus rear shock is testament once again to have far RockShox rear shocks have come; it has the kind of smoothness we’d have previously only associated with a FOX shock. Patrick Morewood has done a fantastic job of tuning the shock rate for bigger impacts (the man does love to ride fast – he’s a former downhill National Champ) and the Pyga has a real sense of bottomless suspension travel out back. Even though our bike was paired with a 160mm fork, the 140mm-travel rear end never felt out-gunned or unbalanced.

Pyga 140650 selection 20
Keep an eye out for cable rub where the rear gear housing slides through the chain stay – we should have added some protective stickers.

With its alloy construction and robust parts kit, the Oneforty is no lightweight, but it climbs quite well and handles flatter singletrack riding easily all the same. The seat angle is step enough to keep you nicely centred over the bottom bracket even with the seat at full height, so you never feel like you’re pushing a recumbent up hill. We found ourselves spending most of our ascending time with the Monarch switched into its blue compression lever in its middle setting – because the shock lever is easy to reach on the fly, we did toggle between compression settings quite a lot to get the most out of the bike.

If your riding predominantly involves a lot of tight, twisty trails, setting the Pyga up with a 140-150mm fork would probably be ideal for snappy handling, but even with a 160mm fork fitted we didn’t have any worries on slower, flatter terrain. Because the stays are a short 431mm, whipping the back end of the bike around those tighter turns, or popping the front end up pinchy, technical climbs was easily done.

The Maxxis Ikon played a part in keeping the Pyga quick on the flatter trails.
The Maxxis Ikon played a part in keeping the Pyga quick on the flatter trails.

Overall:

Admittedly the market for high-end aluminium bikes isn’t what it once was as carbon becomes increasingly prevalent, but the Pyga Oneforty 650 is targeted at a specific type of rider, not the mass market. With its robust build, perfect all-mountain geometry and suspension that just gets better the harder you ride, it’s a bike for those who prioritise confidence and downhill performance over low weight and glitz. Its practical construction will keep you out of the workshop too, and on the trails more, which is always a plus. While the frame-only availability will be an obstacle for some, if you’ve got a dream all-mountain build in mind, the Pyga Oneforty is the ideal workhorse to make it happen.

Pyga 140650 selection 26

 Tester info:

Test riders: Chris Southwood / Will Shaw

Weight: 62kg / 74kg

Height: 172cm / 180cm

 

 

Tested: RockShox RS-1

RockShox RS-1 v2 11
Looks cool, right? The uninterrupted curve of the carbon crown doesn’t collect any mud either.

The RS-1 is an exceptionally ambitious undertaking. Over the course of the last two decades, the development of mountain bike suspension has followed the conventional train of thought that upside-down fork construction just wasn’t really the way to go for mountain biking. There have been relatively few attempts at developing inverted forks, and those forks that have been at least marginally successful have overwhelmingly been designed for downhill, where they have the benefit of dual crown construction and fewer weight constraints. Similarly, the use of carbon fibre has been largely limited to fork crowns and steerers, and attempts to use carbon in the lowers of a fork have commonly resulted in excessive stiction.

RockShox RS-1 v2 23
There are no leg guards on the RS-1, but it hasn’t been an issue… yet.

So the RS-1, with its inverted, largely carbon fibre construction certainly comes to the game with some serious stigmas to overcome! You get the feeling that RockShox have taken this one on as a real showpiece, to show what can actually be done when all the stops are pulled.

This clean slate approach sees a fork like no other. Carbon fibre is used for the bulk of the construction, and an entirely new axle/fork interface has been implemented to deal with the torsional flex that traditionally plagues inverted designs. With such a novel design, we naturally came into this test with a lot of questions; would the fork be stiff enough, would the unprotected stanchions prove to susceptible to damage, could the performance ever hope to justify the price? You can read all about our initial impressions of the fork here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-rockshox-rs-1/

Tasmania Flow Nation 154

Over the course of testing, our RS-1 has been fitted to the front of a Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29er (the RS-1 is only available in a 29er format for now) so we opted for an RS-1 with 120mm travel to match the bike’s rear end. The fork is available in 100mm and 80mm travel versions as well, and given its billing primarily as a cross country item, we’re sure the 100mm-travel version will be the most popular. Regardless, offering this fork in a 120mm version clearly sends the message that RockShox feel the RS-1 is up to the job of technical trail riding too.

RockShox RS-1 v2 7
‘Predictive Steering’ – the hub is a structural element of the fork as much as a part of the wheel.

We’re no engineers, but we can imagine the R&D and testing involved in creating this carbon beauty wasn’t exactly carried out over a sandwich or two on a Thursday arvo. Getting this thing right would have been a mammoth undertaking, and that’s reflected in the cost.

Let’s deal with the elephant on the trail first; the price tag. The RS-1 is very expensive, but take a look at it – this is not just another fork. We’re no engineers, but we can imagine the R&D involved in creating this carbon beauty wasn’t exactly carried out over a sandwich or two on a Thursday arvo. Getting this thing right would have been a mammoth undertaking, and that’s reflected in the cost.

With that behind us, onto the testing! Any initial questions we had about how RockShox would tame the matter of flex disappeared as soon as we got a proper look at the Torque Tube hub/axle system. The hub rotates around a massive axle supported by oversized bearings, all secured by a 15mm Maxle. There’s a huge amount of contact between the hub end caps and the fork dropouts too; the hub really isn’t just part of the wheel so much as a vital component of the fork (and therefore the bike’s steering) itself.

RockShox RS-1 v2 4
The Torque Tube hub uses a massive axle with huge, knurled end caps.

The catch (there’s always a catch) is that you’re currently tied to using either a SRAM or DT hub, though other manufacturers may come to the party soon. On the matter of the hub and dropouts, installing the wheel is a bit fiddly when compared to a conventional fork, as the legs can rotate/slide independently – we can imagine changing a front flat in the mania of a race could be frustrating!

RockShox RS-1 v2 5
The legs can move independently with the wheel out (exactly what the Torque Tube hub is there to eliminate!), which does make wheel installation more fiddly. Here you can see how the hub end caps really bite into the dropouts to gain more stiffness.

The gram counters out there will note that the RS-1 is actually a fraction heavier than RockShox’s lightest SID fork. There’s about 50g in it, but the RS-1 is still lighter than just about all its competitors, so this fork sits happily in the feathery realms demanded by racers. Racer types will also appreciate the handlebar-mounted XLoc remote lever which puts a lockout within easy reach of your thumb. For those less interested in racing, it’d be great to see this fork offered without the remote too for a cleaner cockpit.

RockShox RS-1 v2 13
For now, the RS-1 only comes with an X-Loc remote lockout.

RockShox have equipped the RS-1 with a new damper called the Accelerator, which follows the same sealed cartridge design principles utilised in the highly praised Charge damper now found in the Pike and BoXXer. It offers the Rapid Recovery dual stage rebound circuit as found on various other RockShox products, a system designed to get the fork back up its optimum ride height quickly after heavy impacts. Compression is managed by the new DIG valve, which is not externally adjustable. In fact, external adjustments are limited to just rebound and lockout threshold, which will appeal to many.

RockShox RS-1 v2 8
The Accelerator sealed damper uses Rapid Recovery technology for the rebound circuit, helping the fork resist getting caught low in its travel over big hits.

Over our first few rides, we struggled to find the right air pressure to give us the ride feel that we wanted. Running the fork at the recommended pressure felt too soft for us on the big hits, and we found ourselves blowing through the travel too easily. But adding more pressure to increase the firmness of the spring rate left us with almost zero sag and poor small-bump responsiveness. We found the sweet spot eventually by utilising the simple, effective Bottomless Tokens system which is also found on the Pike and BoXXer forks. These plastic threaded ‘tokens’ can be added to the air chamber to change the air volume and therefore the spring rate. Installation is super simple – just unscrew the top cap from of the air spring assembly air, screw in the token/s and you’re done. Adding two of these tokens (out of a possible three) gave us the perfect spring rate – we could now run the recommended pressure, obtain the correct amount of sag, and not worry about the fork riding too deep in its travel.

NB – We have since been advised by RockShox that the RS-1 in a 120mm version actually comes pre-fitted with two Bottomless Tokens. Our fork was an early release model.

Getting the ideal spring rate meant fitting two Bottomless Tokens. It's a five-minute job you can do at home, requiring no special tools.
Getting the ideal spring rate meant fitting two Bottomless Tokens. It’s a five-minute job you can do at home, requiring no special tools.

With the spring rate/pressures sorted, we were able to better appreciate the abilities of the Accelerator damper too, which does a fantastic job of unobtrusively dissipating hard landings, allowing you to hit full travel without any harsh spiking.

RockShox RS-1 v2 18
Production forks will be included with protective stickers to protect any cable rub damaging the lustrous finish on the precious carbon legs.

One of the theoretical advantages of an inverted fork is that gravity helps keep the seals bathed in lubricating fluid which should yield less friction, and all the chat/reviews out there about the RS-1 seemed to support this notion. On our test fork, it took a fair bit of riding to achieve the levels of smoothness we were expecting – unlike the RockShox Pike which is slipperier than a greased dolphin from the very first ride, the RS-1 took about five or six hours of riding to truly free up. Now, with a few weeks on board the fork, it’s a different story, and the RS-1 has a responsiveness that will rival the smoothest forks out there. Is it more responsive than a well-maintained conventional fork (for example, a FOX Kashima Float 120)? It’s hard to say objectively, but we’d definitely rate it as on par with the most supple cross-country forks we’ve ridden.

 There was no twanging or fore/aft wobbling going on, which we can only attribute to the extreme rigidity of the carbon steerer/crown.

RockShox RS-1 v2 15
Sag gradients make setup easier. The fork is also equipped with a recommended air pressure chart. As you can see by the sticker, the RS-1 is 29er only for now.

So, is the RS-1 stiff enough for hard trail riding? The short answer is yes; the Torque Tube axle design and massive carbon uppers ensure the RS-1 does not flex excessively. Of course there is some torsional flex, but we feel it’s in line with what you’d expect from a fork this light and designed for this style of riding, and we never found ourselves battling to keep the fork on line or fighting the bars when the going got rough. In all, we’d rate the torsional stiffness as being equivalent to a RockShox SID with a 15mm axle. Where the RS-1 felt superior to other lightweight 32mm-legged forks was when landing hard or slapping the front wheel down off a drop – there was no twanging or fore/aft wobbling going on, which we can only attribute to the extreme rigidity of the carbon steerer/crown.

Tasmania Flow Nation 177
Hooray for Hobart trails!

Our fears that the sliders would be easily damaged have not yet been realised. Admittedly, we’ve only had five or six weeks of riding on the RS-1 so far, but that has included a lot of rocky trails as well as two trips in a bike bag facing the mistreatment of budget airline baggage handlers, and we’ve not had an issue with the exposed lower legs. On the trail, we haven’t given a second thought to the sliders’ proximity to passing rocks, but overall we’d probably feel more comfortable if the fork did incorporate some kind of lightweight leg guards.

As an exercise in pushing the design envelope, it’s hard to think of a product in recent years that can out-do the the RS-1.

All up then, is the RS-1 a success? 100% yes. As an exercise in pushing the design envelope, it’s hard to think of a product in recent years that can out-do the the RS-1. It has achieved that previously elusive goal of creating a truly high-performance, lightweight, inverted single-crown fork, and RockShox deserve a lot of praise for managing this.

Tasmania Flow Nation 170

But is the RS-1 sufficiently superior to existing offerings to win over consumers and justify the price? That’s where things are less clear-cut, but we actually don’t think that’s the point. Why? The RS-1 is the kind of item that is only going to be bought by a very special kind of rider, the kind for whom having cutting-edge equipment is a priority. What makes the RS-1 so cool is that it delivers a product that succeeds where others have previously failed, offering a high-performance alternative to a conventional fork, without any of the usual compromises. Would we buy one? If we had the cash, yes, we would. But that’ll take a lot of saving!

 

Tested: DHaRCO Gravity Shorts

A couple of months ago we introduced you to DHaRCO, a new Australian apparel company with a style the we really dig. Blending mountain biking tech with a bold surf aesthetic, their shorts and jerseys grabbed our attention straight away. You can read more about DHaRCO in our profile here.

DHaRCO shorts 2

For the past three months we’ve been trialling a number of items of DHaRCO kit, including their Gravity Shorts. Really, the ‘Gravity’ tag is a bit of a misnomer, and we’ve been using them for general trail riding an awful lot – we’ve been spending more time in these shorts than any other item of cycling apparel in the wardrobe. In fact we’ve run them through the washing machine so often that the once glaringly bright orange has begun to fade a little and become a tad peachy. We should have cold washed them…!

DHaRCO shorts 15

What we like about the DHaRCO Gravity Shorts is their simplicity – they aren’t covered in vents and zippers, and they’re sold liner-free so you can wear them with your favourite knicks. For us, this is a plus as it keeps the price down and we always end up riding with bib knicks under our baggies. DHaRCO are quick to emphasise that their shorts are built for Australian conditions (i.e. warm weather), and as such they’re much lighter, more breathable and feel far less bulky than a lot of baggy shorts. So often, baggies feel like something a commando would wear into battle, but these shorts feel more like a nice pair of boardies.

DHaRCO shorts 8

Storage is kept to a minimum, with just one leg pocket and a phone size pocket (unless you’re running the new MEGA iPhone) below the waist at the rear of the short. It’s a good place for a pocket actually, as you rarely crash onto that part of your body. Having only two small pockets means you don’t go loading your shorts up with all kinds of stuff that makes them heavy, saggy and hard to pedal in – keep your stuff in your pack instead.

DHaRCO shorts 14

The fabric is a flexible four-way stretch, and the cut isn’t too long, so pedalling freedom is a strong point (another reason why we think the Gravity name is a bit misleading). There’s an inch or two of waist adjustment via velcro tabs, which we found useful so we could keep the shorts in place and stop them moving around on our bib kicks. In fact, if there was one addition we’d like to see with these shorts, it would be little more friction at the waistband, just to stop them slipping if you do happen to be a bib knick wearer.

DHaRCO shorts 7

In addition to the orange here, the Gravity Short is available in a less #enduro black or navy blue. Simple, suitable for stinking hot weather, comfy, well-priced and local to boot – we give the DHaRCO Gravity Shorts two thumbs up.

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Trigger Carbon 2

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 12

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

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 16
Glossy!

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

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 11
Even with the whopping shock, there’s a lot of room in the mainframe for a bottle. The nude carbon / gloss red finish is luscious.

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

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 30

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

 

The multi-chambered shock has independent rebound speeds for the Elevate and Flow settings.
The multi-chambered shock has independent rebound speeds for the Elevate and Flow settings.
Cannondale Trigger 27.5 14
Mavic tyres? Yes sir. We have a feeling that Michelin may have a hand in the construction of these tyres. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform!

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

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 1
Yep, there are a lot of cables going on, but they’re all routed neatly underneath the down tube.
Cannondale Trigger 27.5 10
With no quick-release axle front or rear (both axles use a 5mm Allen key) the bike’s profile at the dropouts is super slim. While some will lament the absence of quick release mechanisms, we appreciate the extra clearance.

 

Tested: BH Lynx 6 27.5 Carbon

One of life’s most frustrating occurrences is gelato inconsistency; sometimes you get a generous soul who heaps it into the cup like a mad person, other times you leave holding an ice cream that befits a child on a diet. Lately, our relationship with BH bikes has been a little like our relationship with our favourite gelaterria.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-75
Lovely lines.

In most instances, the experience has been fulfilling and damn tasty (take for instance our time on board the BH Lynx 4.8 29 – superb!). But we’ve also had experiences that left us wanting just a little more, such as our test of the Lynx 6 Alloy 27.5; a fine bike, but just not as satisfying as we’d hoped.

But now the overly-generous staff member is back on shift, and the BH Lynx 6 27.5 Carbon has left us absolutely stuffed to the gills with tasty trail memories. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-45
6-inches travel, 27.5-inch wheels. Simple.

[divider]Build[/divider]
Don’t be fooled into assuming that the 627 Carbon is just a magic plastic version of the Lynx 6 Alloy we reviewed a month or so ago. The two bikes are chalk and cheese. Where the Lynx 6 Alloy felt a little rough around the edges, the 6 27.5 Carbon is sculpted beauty of a thing, its full carbon frame all curved lines, like someone has stuck 650B wheels onto a dolphin. (Now there’s an interesting concept…). The upper link and pivot hardware are just about the only alloy in the frame, with the bottom bracket shell and headset cups all carbon. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-66
But the differences run far deeper than its sleek carbon skin. Take a closer look at the rear end and you’ll notice the frame/suspension configuration is different too. Whereas the Lynx 6 alloy had a pierced seat tube with the shock located within the frame, the 6 27.5 Carbon is more conventional, with the FOX CTD Factory Series shock positioned in front of the seat tube. Unsurprisingly, the suspension kinematics are quite different on the trail too, but we’ll get into that later.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-80
The frame layout is quite different to the Lynx 4.8 29 or Lynx 6 we’ve tested previously – the shock does not pierce the seat tube.

Dave Weagle is kind of the secret evil genius of the mountain bike industry. He’s got his hands on the levers of many machines, and the Split Pivot suspension system the BH employs is one of his creations. The secret of the design is a concentric pivot around the rear axle which ensures the suspension is uninhibited by braking forces. The rear shock is ‘sandwiched’ between an upper link and the chain stays, so it’s actuated from both ends, and this floating arrangement means suspension forces are not transferred into the main frame. Rear travel is a buttery 150mm, matched with 150mm up front. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-31
Torx fittings for all the pivots ensure everything stays tight.

If you don’t own a full set of Torx keys, hopefully you got a Bunnings gift card for Christmas, as the BH will require a trip to the hardware store – all the suspension pivots use a variety of Torx fittings, rather than Allen keys. While this is a pain in the proverbial, Torx heads are actually a better solution as they’re harder to round out under high torque loads. While our test riding often got loose, the pivots all stayed tight. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-43
Yes, there are many cables. But they’re well managed. We used one single zip tie to keep them silent, and clean routing around the head tube prevents any cable rub.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-16With a remote lockout for the fork and shock, the Lynx 6 27.5 has more cable than Foxtel, but thankfully it’s all neatly managed, with rattle-free internal routing (hooray!) for the derailluers and KS dropper post. The rear brake line is external (double hooray! Overwhelming joy!), as is the rear shock remote cable. The rear shock’s lockout cable does slide backwards and forwards through the cable guides the suspension compresses, which does make us worry about potentially nasty cable rub in wet conditions.

In just about every regard, the BH keeps ticking boxes like a food safety inspector. There’s a press-fit bottom bracket, ISCG mounts, a neat low-stack head tube, and the super neat double-bolt seat post clamp even has a rubber sheath to keep grit out of the frame. You can fit a full-sized water bottle in there, but there’s a catch! Depending on your bottle cage, you may need to file out the cage’s bolt holes in order to sit it further forward; we found the shock’s rebound adjuster just caught on the end of our bottle, turning the rebound dial one click faster with every suspension compression! Thirty seconds with a round file to modify the bottle cage fixed it.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-27
Great lines and graphics.

[divider]Spec[/divider]
BH have listened to rider and media feedback and the 6 27.5 is specced with cockpit and fork that we felt were sorely missing from the Lynx 6 alloy. A 740mm bar and 50mm stem make for an aggressive front end, and the FOX 34 Float fork sweeps your poor line choices under the rug. We’re hoping that all new season FOX forks work as well as this one, because this fork has more sensitivity than an exposed nerve ending – it’s so smooth at the top of the stroke it felt like we had a slow leak in the front tyre. The Kashima coated shock is equally adept, as always.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-32
Almost frictionless performance.

The Stan’s Arch EX wheelset is an interesting choice, being very light, and the rims aren’t as wide as we’d normally see on a bike of this travel. Still, our past experiences with these wheels is that they punch well above their weight and they’re wisely wrapped in a pair of Hans Dampfs, which stick like a smashed moth to a windscreen.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-41
The Arch EX rims are a little narrow for the big Hans Dampf tyres, but these hoops are very tough for their weight.
BH Lynx Carbon 627-26
Confidence-inspiring grip.

Braking, shifting and fishing reel duties are all handled by Shimano, with an XT/XTR combo. A cheaper SLX cassette is also slipped into the mix, but cassettes wear out and you can replace it with a lighter XT cassette in year’s time. As a European brand, the BH is understandably equipped with a double ring drivetrain – the hills are just a lot bigger over there. Even though we’re big fans of a single ring setup, there were times we thankfully slipped into the granny ring on long climbs. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-33
XT brakes with 180mm rotors fore and aft.

Completing the menagerie of cables out front is a KS Lev dropper post, with its neat remote lever smoothly actuating 125mm of adjustment. Along with two shifters, two brakes and remote lock outs for the fork and shock, there are six cables off the bars, but BH have done an admirable job of taming the serpents’ nest and with the addition of just one zip tie we were able to prevent any cable rub. All the cables use a full-length housing too, which should reduce the need for regular maintenance to keep the lockouts, post and shifting working smoothly. With so many levers for your thumbs to hit, we’ll admit that it took us a good ride or two to stop pushing the wrong button occasionally, stiffening the suspension when we really wanted the big ring!

[divider]Ride[/divider]
When we rode the BH Lynx 6 Alloy a couple of weeks ago, we noted the bike’s excellent geometry and the fact that the suspension had the same super lively feel to it as its 29er brother, the Lynx 4.8 29. The genes are strong, and the 6 27.5 has that same ultra-supple, responsive and lively ride quality, but it’s also a far more capable bike when you start pushing harder. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-64
It feels wrong to treat such a pretty bike so badly… but it loves it.

With the 34mm fork leading the charge, the 6 27.5 is a reckless beast. Thanks to the 50mm stem, your weight is naturally pushed back over the rear axle, encouraging you to keep the front end up and plough over all comers. The Lynx has a very short rear end too, which makes it very easy to pick the bike up, jump or pump through the trails – it’s just really playful.

While we found the Lynx 6 Alloy blew through its travel a little easily, the 6 27.5 offers a more progressive suspension feel. When you really slam it, you’ll find plenty of support to the ride, so it’s still responsive when other bikes would be feeling bogged down by the rough riding. Basically, go ahead and treat the bike like it insulted your sister, it’ll take it.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-48
The Lynx is equipped with a 2×10 drivetrain, which mightn’t be ‘on trend’ but will bring a smile to your face at the end of a big day’s riding.

The 50mm stem on the 6 27.5 definitely adds to the ‘get rad’ factor of the bike and makes it really easy to manoeuvre, but it won’t suit everyone. When climbing up ledges or steep pinches, the short stem does leave the bars right in your lap, so we tried going a little longer. With a 70mm stem fitted, we didn’t feel like the bike gave up much of its playfulness, but there was more front end grip in flat turns and the climbing position was better. It’s a horses for courses thing, and like during your teen years, a bit of experimentation is good.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-9
While we’ve ridden lighter all-mountain bikes (and many much heavier too) the 627 is a steady, grippy climber, preferring a conversational pace. We don’t like to rely on lockouts too much, and we often find them too firm and only suitable for the smoothest surfaces, but we actually found the light tune of the Trail and Climb modes on the 6 27.5 to be really usable. In Trail mode the suspension only stiffens marginally, and even when you push the lever further to engage Climb mode, the suspension becomes just firm enough to resist bobbing under heavy pedalling, but not so firm that you’ll be put through the wringer if you leave it engaged for a descent. 

[divider]Overall[/divider]

This is the all-mountain bike we knew BH had the potential to make, a glamorous (cable nest aside), wicked all-rounder. Those riders with Gravity Enduro aspirations will likely fit a single ring, and for our purposes that would be the only modification we’d likely make in the longer term. But we’re sure that most riders will be completely blown away with the bike as it stands. 

Long Term Tester: Norco Range Carbon 7.2

Only a couple of weeks ago, we got our first in-the-flesh look at the new Norco line up. You can read the detail here, but let’s just say that the Norco of today does not bear much of a resemblance to the Norco of six or seven years ago. It’s like watching a movie and it suddenly dawning that the hottie you’re looking at used to be the 12 year-old kid in Full House. Startling, slightly creepy, but a welcome surprise.

Merely sitting on the bike and admiring its finish through the camera lens was enough to make us say “yes, we want.”

Norco Range 7.1 First Bite-1 One of the stars of the 2015 line up is the Range Carbon 7.2. We didn’t see a lot of these bikes in Australia last year, which was a real bummer. But with the growth of the Gravity Enduro scene, the local distro is bringing in more Range models and in greater numbers for 2015. Most excellent. In truth, we didn’t get a chance to even take the Range 7.2 for a spin during the product launch at Old Hidden Vale. But we didn’t need to. Merely sitting on the bike and admiring its finish through the camera lens was enough to make us say “yes, we want.” The bike just felt perfect when we slung a leg over it, and the weight, spec and finish were brilliant.

Fast forward two weeks of persistent nagging and a big brown box full of carbon, rubber and f#ck-yeah turned up at Flow HQ. The Range 7.2 is a real stunner of a bike. Carbon throughout (chain stays aside), a build kit that challenges you to find something to upgrade, excellent suspension, trail-friendly weight and great angles.

 

Norco Range 7.1 First Bite-4
There’s no front derailleur mount on the Range C 7.2 – single ring only.

While 160mm is generally a little more travel than we’d opt for on our local trails, there are enough rocky, wild descents for us to give the Norco the kind of walloping that it yearns for. And it’ll be an interesting exercise to see how this long-travel machine handles the flatter trails too; we’d normally take a bike like this to the roughest trails in order to assess its abilities, so it’ll be good to have the time on our side to try the whole gamut of trail types and really get its measure as an all-rounder.

First up on the cards for us is to set the bike up tubeless (the Maxxis High Roller IIs are good to go for tubeless use) and maybe lop the bars down a smidgen – at 800mm, they’re maybe 20 or 30mm wider than we’re accustomed to.

Flow’s First Bite: BH Lynx 627 Carbon 2015

Now this is a welcome sight; here is the all-mountain bike we knew BH could make. The Lynx 627 carbon is a seriously appealing bike.

Read our final review of the Lynx here.

BH Lynx 627-4
No more pierced seat tube.

Having previously fallen in love with the BH Lynx 4.8 29er, we were a little underwhelmed with some aspects of the BH Lynx 6 which we tested recently. Yes, it rode very well, but when compared to the stunning, curvy construction we’d been treated to with the Lynx 4.8 29, the Lynx 6 felt a bit rough. This new bike more than makes amends in that department! The lines of this bike are seamless.

BH Lynx 627-3

BH Lynx 627-8
The Lynx 627 Carbon uses the Dave Weagle design Split Pivot system. Shimano XT dominates the spec, with an XTR rear mech.

The Lynx 627 is not just a carbon version of the Lynx 6, but features a completely revised suspension layout. Gone is the funky arrangement that saw the shock piercing the frame, with the shock now located vertically in front of the seat tube. Taking a look at the geometry chart, the slack head angle (67-degrees) and short stays (425mm) have instant appeal, but we’ll see how those figures translate to the trail.

BH have specced an appropriately aggressive cockpit and fork too, with a FOX 34 up front. The 627 carries over the remote front/rear lockouts we saw on the Lynx 6. Undoubtedly they’re a useful addition, but they do somewhat disrupt the bike’s clean look. We’re sure we’ll get used to them!

Expect a full review soon, we’re really looking forward to this one!

 

Tested: Yeti 575 27.5

When Yeti’s 575 disappeared from the Colorado-based brand’s range a couple of year ago, the crew here at Flow were devastated. We rank it right up there with the disappearance of Scribbler ice blocks in the disappointment stakes. But then, like a leader in exile, the 575 made a glorious return, and while it was away it underwent a fantastic transformation.
Yeti 575 27-23
The 2014 575 is proof that a classic bike can be modernised, without damaging its original appeal – something that few remakes ever achieve (VW Beetle, we’re looking at you).
[divider]Build[/divider]
Yeti 575 27-18
Unmistakable.
The 575 retains its unmistakable profile and simple, effective suspension configuration, but the ‘old-school’ 26” wheels have been upsized to 27.5”, the spring curve has been changed to provide more mid-stroke support, the formerly carbon seat stays are now alloy, and there’s internal dropper post routing amongst a host of other tweaks.
Yeti 575 27-4
With the move to 27.5” wheels, the geometry was also brought in for a nip and tuck too; Yeti slackened the head angle (now 67 degrees) and slightly lengthened the front-centre measurement too, in line with the trend towards long top-tubes / short stems. But the overall fit and feel of the 575 hasn’t changed one bit – think your favourite track suit pants; instantly comfortable. It has a relaxed, slightly upright position that is best suited to big days in the saddle and which takes absolutely no effort to get used to.
Yeti 575 27-3
Compared to the new-wave suspension designs that abound on the most modern Yetis (check out the new Infinity design here), the single pivot 575 is like a blast from the past. The seat stay drives a swing link, which deliver 5.75” /146mm travel from a FOX CTD damper. It’s a reliable, proven design. While there are some drawbacks to this simple system, it has the benefits of being easy to understand and maintain, it’s relatively lightweight, is cost effective to produce and works bloody well in most trail situations. Sometimes, with so much development emphasis and marketing directed at suspension configurations, it’s nice to ride a bike that reminds us there’s more to a good bike than a fancy wheel path.
Yeti 575 27-8
Lovely machine work! The swing link design is many years old now, but it just continues to work so well.
As we’ve always found with the 575, the sizing runs a little tall, with a long seat tube and fairly high handlebar position relative to the reach. For shorter riders, (especially with a 150mm fork fitted) the bar position may be a bit high, so switching to a headset with a lower stack height or running a negative rise stem might be the trick.
Yeti 575 27-14
The main pivot uses a double row of bearings. It’s not the stiffest Yeti we’ve ridden, but it’s more than up to the job.
As a bike that instantly appeals to the traditionalists, it’s nice to see that the 575 still fits a water bottle within the mainframe, a feature that is missing from the new crop of Yetis. Tyre clearance is a little tight but up to a 2.35” should clear with minimal rub in the corners. We were running the massive Schwalbe Hans Dampf on the rear and we did notice a bit of scuffing where the tyres had rubbed on the seat stays.
Yeti 575 27-16
Tyre clearance is a little tight, and under hard cornering the tyre did occasionally rub on the seat stays.

[divider] Spec[/divider]

Yeti 575 27-22
For a classic bike, our build kit was anything but, with a suite of sweet all-mountain components. 2014 will be remembered as the year that SRAM dominatde the all-mountain / Enduro segment, and the 575 gets a Reverb post, X01 drivetrain and superb Rockshox Pike fork, along with a set of Elixir brakes. We opted to encase the Easton wheels with meaty Schwalbe rubber, which may have done us no favours in terms of rolling speed but gave the 575 cornering and braking traction like a cat on a billiard table.
Yeti 575 27-12
Easton and Thomson finishing kit is a nice touch.
As befits such a nice bike, the cockpit gets a Thompson stem and carbon Easton bar. We’d prefer to see a headset with a lower stack height, just to give riders the option of getting lower up front.
The 575 is available with a range of different build kits, none of which we’d call low-end, so you can really make this bike as light and Gucci as your wallet will allow. Our bike clocked in at $5600 and 12.62kg.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Having spent a lot of time on previous versions of this bike, getting back onto the 575 was kind of like dropping by to visit grandma’s house…after she’d died and someone else has moved in. It smells the same, but the taffeta curtains are gone and there’s now a modern flat screen TV.
Yeti 575 27-20
It’s a seriously familiar feeling bike; the top tube length isn’t rangy like many new all-mountain bikes, there aren’t any funky on-the-fly shock adjusters on the bars, you’ve got a spot for your water bottle. It’s just so easy to get along with!
Getting the suspension balance right with the 575 has been a bit of challenge in years past; the suspension design tended to blow though the middle portion of the travel quite easily. For 2014, Yeti really focused on creating a more progressive ride, and for the most part they’ve succeeded, with the bike sitting higher in the suspension stroke and not bottoming out as readily. We did still ultimately end up running a tad less sag than usual (more like 20% than the usual 25%) in order to get the front and rear suspension to work as a team. Taking the time to get it right makes all the difference.
The 150mm travel Pike is pretty much cheating.
The 150mm travel Pike is pretty much cheating.
Putting a Pike on the front of a bike is like having four or five beers before you hit the disco – it imbues you with so much confidence you’d swear you were the best rider/dancer in existence. With a slacker head angle than previous versions, the monstrous contact patch of the Schwalbe front tyre AND the Pike, the 575 is now far more adept at running things over than in the past. The improved front/rear balance helps keep the bike on a more even keel too, when you get in too deep, the bike doesn’t find itself all bottomed-out and out of shape.
With an X01 drivetrain fitted, the 575 was deadly quiet.
With an X01 drivetrain fitted, the 575 was deadly quiet.
Unlike more modern suspension designs, the 575 doesn’t exactly rocket forward when you mash the pedals. Out of the saddle sprints can set the rear suspension bobbing unless you rely on the shock’s CTD lever to keep the monkey motion to a minimum. We were disinclined to use the Trail mode on the rear shock in most cases, finding it a bit firm, especially as the fork is so freakishly plush. It’s not really a ‘sprinty’ kind of bike, favouring a more consistent kind of pedalling. Spin and win.
Just like the Yeti man, you've got confidence to let it all hang out on the 575.
Just like the Yeti man, you’ve got confidence to let it all hang out on the 575.
For an alloy bike, the 575 is remarkably quiet. Partly this is due to the stable X01 drivetrain, but the clean, rattle-free cable routing plays a roll, as does the bike’s overall suspension smoothness. When it comes to eagerly slurping up the bumps, the effectiveness of the 575 does make you wonder how some more complicated designs really stack up in the complication/effectiveness ledger.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Yeti 575 27-1
With its full alloy construction, the 575 makes it more affordable than ever to own a Yeti full suspension bike – still, we’d shudder to use the term ‘price point’ with reference to this great machine. The 575 proves to us that a classic can be reinvented, reformed and evolved without losing any of its original vibe. The fact that this bike continues to be real performer does also subtly call into question how much development is actually genuine progress, versus mere sideways stepping. As a long-legged trail bike, or a mellow all-mountain steed, the 575 is still as relevant, capable and desirable as ever.

Tested: BH Lynx 6 27.5

BH Lynx 6 27.5-2

The Spanish have a reputation for being hot-blooded, passionate folk, who are very good at dancing. The Lynx, from ye olde Spanish bike brand BH, is also a fine dancer, performing a lively flamenco through the singletrack.

We’ve now ridden a number of bikes from BH, including a long-term review on the exquisite, curvy carbon Lynx 4.8 29er, and we’re starting to ‘get’ the theme of the way these bikes perform. These are fun, playful bikes.

[divider]Build[/divider]

BH Lynx 6 27.5-19
The Dave Weagle designed Split Pivot system offers a very lively and supple ride, with excellent control under braking.

The 150mm-travel Lynx 6 uses those new fandangled 650B wheels, a full aluminium frame, and a unique configurations with the rear shock piercing the seat tube. As with all the Lynx series bikes, the bike is assembled around a Dave Weagle designed Split Pivot suspension system. It’s a very effective suspension configuration, offering excellent performance both under pedalling and braking, with top-notch small bump sensitivity. The shock is not actually mounted to the mainframe, instead it’s sandwiched between the upper link and the chain stays. This offers BH more control over the suspension curve.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-5

If you like handlebar levers, you’ll like the BH Lynx 6. This bike comes configured with a remote lock-out for both the fork and rear shock. We’re almost glad there’s not a dropper post to add to the mix! Some people will love the remote activation, as it is handy particularly for the rear shock, others will prefer a cleaner look. Ideally, we’d keep the remote for the rear end, but not for the fork. You’ll notice in these shots that there is no remote fitted for the fork or the shock – we experimented with leaving the remote lockout levers both on and off the bike during testing.

This is the stock cockpit configuration with a longer stem, narrower bar and remote lockout levers.
This is the stock cockpit configuration with a longer stem, narrower bar and remote lockout levers.

We’ll be up front; compared to the sublime construction we found on the carbon Lynx 4.8 29 (one of the nicest finished bikes we’ve seen), the alloy Lynx 6 feels a little rough around the edges. For instance, with so many cables going on, it’s a pity more thought wasn’t given to keeping them all quiet! There is a lot of noise from the internally routed gear cables rattling around inside the top tube and down tube. We ultimately took the fork out of the bike and pushed some lightweight foam into the frame (something we’ve had to do on road bikes in the past) to keep the cables from pinging around so much.The absence of any chain slap protection is also downer – it’s such a simple addition and really should be standard fare on a bike of this price.

While the BH doesn’t come with a dropper post (it will for 2015) there’s cable routing in place. You’ve also got room for a full-sized water bottle and frame is up to date with a direct mount front mech, press-fit bottom bracket and a 142x12mm rear end, plus direct mount brake tabs. The pivot hardware is cool too, with a cassette lock-ring tool being used to keep many of the pivots tight – this is a great idea, allowing a solid fit for the tool that won’t round out.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

A $3999 asking price fetches you a suitably specced machine; Shimano XT and SLX throughout, with FOX Evolution series suspension. The Stan’s Arch EX wheelset is a highlight, contributing greatly to the bikes playful handling. Schwalbe Nobby Nics are a safe all-rounder, and they’re perfect for tubeless conversion.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-7
You can’t argue with the quality of Shimano XT!

The FOX fork is a 32mm version, rather than the stouter 34, which won’t faze lighter riders, but bigger dudes might lament this skinnier choice. Either way, both the fork and shock are as smooth and hassle-free as it gets, and very easy to setup.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-21
Stan’s Arch EX rims are an excellent choice for this bike.

Keen-eyed readers will notice that we’ve changed the bar and stem on the BH. The original cockpit on the BH was well out of step with current design trends, with a 90mm stem and 690mm bar, when a 60/70mm stem and 740mm+ bar is the industry norm for this style of bike.

Riding a bike like this without a dropper post is a little frustrating, you end up feeling a bit constrained, like you can’t unleash bike’s full fury. We’d encourage you to fit a dropper post ASAP. Whether or not you prefer a single-ring or double-ring drivetrain, you simply cannot fault the performance of Shimano XT. Superb shifting, with a crisp lever feel and we never dropped a chain either.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

While we weren’t 100% impressed by the BH’s construction, we had no qualms with the way it handles just about every situation on the trail.

The Lynx, once we’d fitted a more appropriate bar and stem, has ideal geometry. With a low bottom bracket and a slack head angle, you feel like you’re able to really attack every corner. It’s a bike that responds really well to a bit of aggressive body language too; give the rear wheel a bit of a shove as you enter a corner and it’ll fling its tail out wide and drift beautifully!

BH Lynx 6 27.5-4
Low in the bottom bracket, slack up front – the Lynx puts you in a position for reckless riding.

It’s happiest once you’re up to speed, changing direction faster than its slack head angle should allow. At slower speeds or on steep climbs the front wheel is a little wayward, but that’s always a trade off, and one we’re happy to live with.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-20
The Split Pivot suspension system works very well – this design remains active under braking.

A real highlight of the BH is just how smooth the suspension is. It has a very linear suspension feel, using its full travel easily. It just hoovers up rough trails brilliantly, regardless of whether you’re pedalling, on the brakes or out of the saddle just hanging on. Given the bike’s awesome appetite for choppy terrain, it’s a surprisingly good climber as well. The bike’s excellent small bump sensitivity means there’s traction aplenty and you never feel like you’re pedalling a recumbent.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Lynx 6 is a mixed bag. It’s a bike that is beautifully designed – the suspension system is great, the geometry ideal – but it’s just not quite as refined as we’d hoped in a construction sense. Perhaps it’s just that previous BHs we’ve ridden set the bar so high! The BH is a lively, buttery smooth ride, it just needs a bit of love to help it realise its full potential.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-18

 

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Genius 710

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

Scott Genius 710-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flow’s First Bite: I-Track P3 all-mountain

You can read our full review of the itrack here. Go on!

Those of you out there in Flow Land who were readers of the magazine may recall an interview we did with Hugh McLeahy. Hugh has more engineering savvy than your typical bloke and he’d begun creating his own dual suspension frames, fabricating them right there in his own garage.

Test I-Track 19

Test I-Track 17
Woah!

His designs were built around a suspension system of his own creation, called I-Track, and he initially debuted the concept with a downhill bike that he built from chromoly steel. He’s now evolved the concept further, incorporating his new incarnation of I-Track into a 160mm all-mountain bike that we’ve been lucky enough to borrow for a few weeks.

Before you get your wallets out, this bike isn’t going to be available for sale in its current format. Like the earlier downhill bike, the P3 is currently built from steel, but Hugh is hoping to have a production version made from aluminium available for sale within the next 12 months.

Test I-Track 7
From this side, the P3 looks similar to other short-link four-bar designs.

It’s obviously a very unique bike, but what’s it all about? (TECH WARNING) The P3’s suspension system is centred around a four-bar linkage configuration with a significantly rearward axle path. But where the P3 differs from similar ‘short-link’ four bar designs is the incorporation of an idler pulley.Test I-Track 18

The idler moves moves upwards and rearwards as the suspension compresses, which allows the rate of chain growth, and therefore anti-squat, to be tuned throughout the suspension range.

Idler pulleys aren’t anything new (for example, look at Brooklyn Machine Works, K-9 Industries or many others), but this is the first time we’ve seen an idler which is mounted to the suspension linkage in this manner. In most other systems that use an idler, the pulley is typically static and is used as a way to reduce pedal kickback caused by dramatically rearward axle paths. But in the case of the P3 the idler moves moves upwards and rearwards as the suspension compresses, which allows the rate of chain growth, and therefore anti-squat, to be tuned throughout the suspension range.

The whole idea is to create a bike that: a) has a rearward axle path b) doesn’t rely on excessive low-speed compression damping for pedalling efficiency c) doesn’t suffer from too much pedal feedback d) has an anti-squat profile that is variable throughout the suspension travel.

Test I-Track 10
The P3 test bike is running the same Formula 35 fork we tested recently.

One notable aspect of the idler system is that the bike must be single ring only, so the P3 is decked out with SRAM xx1. The rest of the build kit is very ‘South Australian’ with loads of Syntace and Formula gear from Adelaide based EightyOne Spices. We’re particularly looking forward to riding the wide Syntace W35 wheels that the bike is equipped with.

Well now we know the theory, it’s time to take the I-Track P3 out for some trail time! Let’s see how one man’s project translates from the drawing board to the dirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long-term Test: Giant Trance Advanced SX

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 15

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

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

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

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

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

Web_Test_Giant_Trance_27.5_riding_masthead-4-590x392
We tested the ‘regular’ Trance 1 27.5 in Rotorua late in 2013.

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

[divider]Build[/divider]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[divider]Spec[/divider]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant-Trance-Advanced-SX-5-710x473
The Giant P-TRX1 wheels come supplied with tape to seal them up for tubeless use.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[divider]Ride[/divider]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant Trance Advanced Long Terms Update-5

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

[divider]Overall[/divider]

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

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 25

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

 

 

Tested: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels

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

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -16

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

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

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -1

 

Flow’s First Bite: Morewood Zula 27.5

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

Morewood Zula -18

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

Morewood Zula -20

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

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

Morewood Zula -14

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

Morewood Zula -16

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

 

Tested: Trek Remedy 9 29

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

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

Trek Remedy 9 29-12

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

[divider]Build[/divider]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[divider]Spec[/divider]

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

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

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

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

[divider]Ride[/divider]

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

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-73

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trek Remedy 9 29-19

[divider]Overall[/divider]

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

Trek Remedy 9 29-25

Tested by: Chris Southwood

Rider height: 172cm

Rider weight: 62kg

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

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

 

 

Tested: Breezer Repack Team

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

TestBreezerRepack 39

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

[divider]Build[/divider]

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

TestBreezerRepack 35

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

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

TestBreezerRepack 34

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

TestBreezerRepack 19

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

pop_up_design_02

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

[divider]Spec[/divider]

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

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

[divider]Ride[/divider]

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

 

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

TestBreezerRepack 8

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

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

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

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

TestBreezerRepack 6

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

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

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

TestBreezerRepack 3

 

[divider]Overall[/divider]

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

 

Testing notes:

Test rider: Chris Southwood

Weight: 62kg

Height: 172cm

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

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

 

 

TESTED: Specialized SWAT bib knicks

We’ll admit it. When we first saw these things, we shook our heads… bib knicks with pockets? It just seemed, well, like a product that we didn’t really need.

We’ve changed our minds, completely and utterly. The new Specialized SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) bibs work very, very well and we’re huge fans.

Where's all your gear for the ride, Chris?
“Where’s all your gear for the ride, Chris?”  “I’m wearing it.”

Like a lot of riders, we love riding without a pack when possible. On shorter rides, the comfort and feeling of freedom that comes from riding without a bag on your back is unreal – lighter, cooler, faster and more manoeuvrable.

We also prefer the feel and look of looser fitting jerseys and baggy trail shorts for most of our riding too. Unfortunately, most loose-fitting jerseys don’t have any pockets (and even if they do, they sag and flap around if you use them) and putting bulky items in your shorts pockets can make pedalling awkward.

This leaves you with the problem of your spares and food. Do you strap your tube, pump and multitool to your bike? Do you leave them behind and risk a mechanical? Or stick them in your pockets so your shorts and jersey sag all over the show?

OR, do you get a set of Specialized SWAT bibs?

The SWAT bibs are a seriously useful way to carry your gear, without a pack. Right now, Chris has a tube, food and pump under his jersey. Like magic, only better.
The SWAT bibs are a seriously useful way to carry your gear, without a pack. Right now, Chris has a tube, food and pump under his jersey. Like magic, only better.

The whole idea of these bibs is that you can ride without a pack while still carrying your spares and food in a way that keeps them secure and close to your body so they don’t flap around. There’s a pocket on each leg, and then three pockets across the middle of your back.

We’ve taken to keeping our phone in one leg pocket, a small multitool and car key in the other, then a tube, CO2 canister/head and some food in the three pockets across our back. Combine this with a 750mL bottle in your bottle cage on the bike and you’ve got everything you need for a couple of hours on the trails.

There are three pockets across the lower back, giving you the storage you'd normally only get with a tight-fitting roadie-style jersey.
There are three pockets across the lower back, giving you the storage you’d normally only get with a tight-fitting roadie-style jersey.

If your bike doesn’t have a bottle cage, then Specialized suggests that you use the pocket in middle of your back for a water bottle. We don’t like that idea. Do you really want a massive water bottle sticking out under your jersey like the hunchback of Notre Dame?

In practice, this is a very comfortable and practical way of carrying your stuff. Everthing is secure, close to your body, and remarkably unobtrusive. We didn’t notice the food/tube/canister in the pockets on our back at all. Admittedly, we don’t like the idea of crashing with all those spares strapped so close to our body, so try to keep it upright! Importantly, the chamois is good too, definitely up to scratch for a few hours in the saddle.

There are pockets on both thighs. Because these pockets are tight-fitting and hold the contents close against your legs, they don't flap around or feel awkward when you're pedalling.
There are pockets on both thighs. Because these pockets are tight-fitting and hold the contents close against your legs, they don’t flap around or feel awkward when you’re pedalling.

We can understand why some people are dubious about these things, but if you’re the target rider (ie. wears baggy clothes, has a bike with a bottle mount and likes to ride pack-free) then these bibs are just unreal.

Tested: Shimano XC90 shoes

Shimano XC90 shoes-1Shimano’s latest top-end cross-country shoes definitely makes you look and feel faster. We reckon that the metallic blue finish, while being a little out there, is pretty damn cool and it certainly helps draw attention to the fact that these are an absolutely awesome pair of shoes.

Shimano XC90 shoes-4

We’ve been running these guys for almost four months now. When we first picked them up, we made sure to take advantage of the Custom Fit system; the shoes and insoles are heated in a special oven by a qualified Shimano dealer before being ‘vacuum wrapped’ to your feet. We’d highly encourage you to do the same if you have a Custom Fit Shimano shoe, as the comfort is superb. The insoles also come with two sets of arch inserts, allowing you to raise the in-step of the shoe.

Shimano XC90 shoes-6

Hands down, the Custom Fit combined with the low weight, great breathability and quick drying construction of these shoes, makes them the most comfortable ‘race’ shoe we’ve ever ridden in. This is extremely impressive given there has been zero compromise made in the performance stakes too; the full carbon sole is stiffer than a British upper lip and transfers power stupendously and the three-strap closure grasps your foot like a scared spider monkey.

Shimano XC90 shoes-3

We’re appreciative that Shimano has added a little some extra rubber to the sole of the shoe when compared to previous versions, making a poorly aimed pedal entry incident less of a problem. That said, clipping in seems incredibly intuitive with these shoes, especially when combined with a Shimano pedal. There’s a large window of adjustment for cleat positioning as well, allowing us to achieve the quite rearward cleat positioning we prefer.

Our previous experiences with Shimano shoes have often revealed the ratchet strap buckle to be a bit vulnerable. On the XC90s, Shimano have added a little plastic guard to deflect impacts and save the buckle itself, but the strap itself is showing evidence of have caught a lot of rocks. We’ll be trimming the excess 10mm or so off the end of the ratchet strap in the future to neaten it all up a bit.

Shimano XC90 shoes-7

As these are a ‘race worthy’ item, it goes without saying that they’re not really intended for much hike-a-bike work or scampering about the bush on foot. Unfortunately we’ve had to do rather a lot of this kind of stuff during video shoots, and as such the soles are starting to show a fair bit of wear. The toe studs have almost completely worn down (one has left the building completely), but they can be replaced. If you do plan on doing a lot of walking or rock scrambling, we’d encourage you to check out some of the other shoes in the range.

We’re over the moon with how these shoes have performed so far and we hope the sole rubber lasts a few years yet, as the quality of Shimano’s carbon soles and the manufacturing of the shoe upper is superb. And they’re metallic blue. Which is awesome.

Shimano XC90 shoes-2

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cell Awaba 2.0

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

Cell Awaba logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flow’s First Bite: Breezer Repack Team

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

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

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

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

Test_BreezerRepack014
Big, burly pivots!

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

Test_BreezerRepack018
Shimano XT all over! Tres impressife!

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

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

TestBreezerRepack 10
Keep those tyres clean, Chris.

Tested: Avanti Torrent 2

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-44
The Avanti Torrent 2 in all its glory.

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

[divider]Build[/divider]

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C2
Even if the head tube decals are something from the Transformers we still think the bike looks good from all angles.

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-31
The Avanti has another variants of a 4-bar linkage, with a Horst Link system.
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C7
Just like the rest of the bike, the rear end and suspension is all strong and well made.

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

[divider]Spec[/divider]

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C1
Simple, yet effective. Like a number of FOX forks we’ve tested lately, we felt these forks could have used a strip and re-lube.
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-14
This is what makes the magic happen and if it’s not right you’re in for a bad ride. We found it hard to get the right balance between too soft (sucks for climbs) and too hard (sucks for the downhills) and ended up on the soft side. A little sacrifice on the climbs for a bit more fun.

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-35

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C3
As always Shimano offers great stopping power.

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C6
A view of the Mavic hubs. We have always like Mavic and these hoops didn’t let us down. No quick release either – perfect.

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C5
The Kenda Honey Badger is probably better suited to a XC machine.

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

 

[divider]Ride[/divider]

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-1

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-2

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-3

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-4

[divider]Overall[/divider]

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

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

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-39
Even from far away the bike looks slack – that’s a good thing for the aggressive rider.

 

[divider]Test[/divider]

Test rider: Damian Breach

Rider weight: 72kg

Rider height: 172cm

Size tested: Medium

Changes made prior to testing: Grips, Tyres, Tubeless

Test location: Stromlo Forest Park

 

 

 

Tested: Polygon Recon 4

Polygon Recon 4 -1

Champagne and caviar are grand, but what if your budget only extends to beer (non-imported) and bar snacks? And maybe a bowl of wedges…. Mmmm…wedges…

Polygon are a brand looking out for that beer drinker, offering some truly exceptional value bikes. Not long ago we tested their flagship downhill bike, the Collosus, and now we’ve had a chance to test the 27.5″ wheeled Recon 4. It’s a 120mm-travel trail bike, and it’s a lot of fun for just $1400.

[divider]Build[/divider]:

Built from 6061 aluminium, the Recon is a pretty smart looking frameset. While it doesn’t have all bells and whistle of a more expensive bike (such as internal cabling or 142x12mm dropouts), there’s still a tapered head tube for front end stiffness, and very importantly the suspension pivots are all easy-to-service cartridge bearings.

Polygon Recon 4 -4

The suspension configuration is a simple arrangement – the main pivot is low and close to the bottom bracket, with a link to stiffen the rear end and tune the shock rate. Without any prior experience on the Epicon RL rear shock, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of suspension performance; the shock has rebound adjustment and a basic lockout function too.

Tyre clearance is fine for the kind of rubber this bike’s riders are likely to use, and the sizing for medium-sized frame felt perfect for our test rider. The overall wheelbase of the bike is pretty compact, but the top tube and cockpit don’t feel cramped, thanks in part to the sensible decision to run a 720mm-wide handlebar.

Polygon Recon 4 -7

Our only gripe is the cable routing on this frame, which forces the brake and gear lines to bend as the suspension compresses, leading to problems with cable rub. Make sure you have frame protection stickers in place on the seat tube, or you’ll damage your frame in no time on a muddy ride.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

For many buyers, the Recon will be their first ‘serious’ mountain bike, for whom $1400 is pretty good-sized investment. They’re looking for a bike that isn’t going to cost a lot to maintain, and reliability is vital. In this regard, the Recon is perfectly specced and with a little preventative maintenance, this should be a hassle-free bike.

Polygon Recon 4 -13

Shimano has been given the nod to keep the Recon shifting, braking and rolling smoothly – the 10-speed Deore drivetrain is matched up to a basic Octalink crankset. This older Octalink bottom bracket / crankset system mightn’t be a light or stiff as newer outboard bearing systems, but it’s always proven reliable in our experience. A triple chain ring is the right choice for this bike too, offering riders a huge gearing range to climb out of any valley they’ve inadvertently found themselves in! Polygon opted for the cheaper non-clutch Deore derailleur and this is an oversight in our opinion; the Shadow Plus clutch-equipped derailleur would deliver a quieter ride with superior chain retention too.

Polygon Recon 4 -8

For an entry-level hydraulic disc, the brakes are fantastic. They’re easy to setup, the lever feel is solid with decent power too. We’re not sure how they’d go over a super long descent, but for generally punting about the trails they’re great.

Throughout our testing, the Shimano wheels remained true, and they’re an easy item to service as well. In terms of rubber, the Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres are ok – skid them into oblivion over a few months riding and look for something with more support as your riding improves and you start pushing the bike harder.

It has been a while since we rode a fork as skinny as the Rockshox 30 TK Gold, with its 30mm legs and quick release axle. As expected, it’s not a particularly stiff item, but it is properly damped, the air spring is easy to setup and it responds to the bumps with surprising smoothness. We don’t think it holds the bike back in any way.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

All of our testing of this bike was conducted at Sydney’s Manly Dam. Being Sydney’s best known riding location for newbie mountain bikers, this is exactly the kind of place we’d expect many Recons to be ridden. This bike quickly reminded us that, as nice as a $8000 carbon duallie might be, you can have a lot fun – and ride pretty fast – on a bike that costs far, far less.

Polygon Recon 4 -3

Geometry is the most important element of any bike, and the Recon has a fun, flickable and responsive ride. It’s a super easy bike to pop up onto its back wheel (it’ll wheelie forever) and changing lines is done as quickly as thinking about it. It’s not a bike for ploughing over the rough, as the lightweight fork is not built for that kind of hammering, but the Recon is adept and hopping over, or picking a line through, the ugly terrain.

One of our pre-ride concerns with the Recon was how the rear shock would perform, but we needn’t have worried. We were genuinely surprised by how well the rear suspension worked overall. There’s a little bit of suspension movement under pedalling forces, but no more than many other bikes of similar travel. You could use the lockout, but it’s very firm and pretty much redundant except for the tarmac. The fork’s rebound adjustment is fairly imprecise (it goes from super slow to very fast with only three clicks in between). While this doesn’t sound overly sophisticated, it actually makes setting up the suspension very simple.

Polygon Recon 4 -13

Without any chain slap protection, the Polygon sounds rougher than it really is. Putting on a Shadow Plus derailleur with a clutch mechanism to reduce chain slap is a simple upgrade that we’d consider when the original derailleur meets its maker. A clutch derailleur would make the bike feel much smoother.

Ergonomics make a huge difference to a bike’s confidence, and Polygon got it right here. The 80mm stem and 720mm bar are a welcome, confidence inspiring addition, giving you a strong riding position to tame the bike if it does get a little loose. While the tyres are ok, we think some rubber with more supportive side knobs would help to give riders a bit more reassurance.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Polygon is a really good bike, especially at $1400. It’s surprisingly comfortable and agile, reasonably light, with a component spec that places emphasis on reliability. Upgrading the tyres and rear derailleur down the line are ways to sweeten an already great package, but even completely stock, this bike will keep a new mountain biker stoked for a many, many rides.

Test rider: Chris Southwood
Rider weight: 62kg
Rider height: 172cm
Size tested: Medium
Changes made prior to testing: Nil

TESTED: Formula 35 fork

Getting your hands on a product with which you’ve had no previous experience is always enjoyable: will it open your eyes to a whole new product line, or it will reaffirm why you’ve generally stuck with an offering from the better known brands?

Formula 35 fork v2-10
Without any of the glittering finishes we’re accustomed to seeing on fork legs, the Formula 35 does look a little bland – the performance is anything but.

The Formula 35 is definitely one of those products. We didn’t even know that Formula made suspension forks! So it was with a little bit of excitement and a little bit of trepidation that we removed the FOX fork from our bike and fitted up the Formula 35 before heading to Mt Buller for three days at the Kona Bike Buller and then to Rotorua for five days of riding.

Our test fork was the 650B version, but Formula also make the 35 to suit 29ers.

Features and setup:

As we noted in our first impressions piece, it’s a very light fork, coming in at 1750g. This is a class leading figure, over 100g lighter than a FOX or RockShox with equivalent features. That alone is reason enough for many riders to give the Formula a go, but there’s much, much more to like about this fork. Part of the weight saving comes from the axle which does not have a quick-release function, requiring a 5mm Allen key for removal. Overall, the finish quality of the 35 is pretty good, though not quite in the same super slick league as FOX.

Formula 35 fork v2-5
You can actually get the Formula 35 with a quick release axle too, but the low weight and clean looks of the tooled axle are appealing.

The unique arrangement of damping adjusters on the right fork leg control the low-speed compression, lockout and lockout threshold adjustment, while rebound is at the bottom of the leg. For our riding, the only dials we touched were rebound and low-speed compression, both of which have a very usable range.

The fork’s air spring runs at a lower pressure than most, and for our scrawny 63kg rider just 53-55psi was all that was needed to provide the ideal sag and spring rate.

Formula 35 fork v2-4
We found the pressure guide to be quite accurate – the pressures required are far lower than many other forks.

Travel is adjustable internally, from 160mm down to 120mm; the fork is supplied with two 20mm spacers and two 10mm spacers, so you can add these in combination to select your desired travel. We fitted one 10mm spacer, bringing the fork down to 150mm which felt like a good fit for our Giant Trance Advanced SX test bike (140mm rear travel). The process is pretty easy, just pull the lower legs off, remove the air spring assembly and clip the plastic spacer onto the air spring rod. Refitting the coil spring onto its little retaining perch is the only fiddly element.

Formula 35 travel adjust-5
Plastic spacers clip onto the spring rod to reduce the travel from 160 – 120mm in 10mm increments.

Rather than standard fork oil, the Formula 35 is lubricated with Jagermeister. Ok, that’s not true – the fork’s splash oil and air-spring lubricant is actually a product called Ballistol, which smells like a herb-based liquor! We’d never seen this stuff before, and a bit of searching revealed that it’s usually used for lubricating gun mechanisms. Hopefully it’s easily sourced locally.

Formula 35 travel adjust-7
Smells like liquor, keeps things smooth. We’d probably prefer it if the fork just used regular fork oil though.

Ride:

To help overcome any initial friction in the fork’s stroke (as is sometimes associated with air springs) and to provide maximum small bump sensitivity, the 35 actually relies on a coil spring for the initial part of its travel. Coil-sprung forks are a bit of a rarity in this style of riding now, but by combining a coil with an air spring as well, the fork is able to deliver an ‘old school’ plushness while keeping the weight and tuneability benefits of an air spring.

The feel this configuration delivers is one of the defining characteristics of the fork – it has a very lively, responsive and plush feel in the beginning and mid-stroke. Over roots, loose rocks and repeated medium sized impacts, the fork chomps up the bumps. Or more accurately, we should say ‘slurps’, as you can hear the damping working away with every hit, making little sucking noises.

Formula 35 fork v2-1
Blue = low speed compression. Gold = lockout. Black = lockout threshold.

Occasionally there’s also a little bit of noise from the coil spring, a slight metallic clunk sound, particularly over hard repeated hits, but this doesn’t seem to be accompanied any decrease in performance.

Because of the very plush beginning stroke, there is a tendency for the fork to bob when climbing out of the saddle. More low-speed compression helps, but comes at the expense of that buttery smooth bump response. Like most fork lockouts, we found this feature of limited use; we dialled the lockout threshold right back to minimum and only used the lockout on the road.

Formula 35 fork v2-3
The hollowed out fork arch is fairly minimal and we did feel that the Formula was a fraction less direct and stiff than some of its competitors.

On our first couple of rides we found it quite difficult to use the last two centimetres of travel. A quick call to the distributor (Eighty One Spices) and we were advised to reduce the amount of oil we were running in the fork’s air spring chamber. Adding or reducing the oil volume that rests on top of the air piston allows users to tube the spring curve. Formula are also producing future versions of the fork with a slightly shorter air piston rod to deliver a more linear spring curve as standard. After removing a few mills of oil and dropping the pressure by two or three psi, we found the sweet spot.

This is a fork in which small setup changes can make a real difference, so be prepared to experiment for the first few rides. Once we had it all dialled in, the fork’s spring rate felt absolutely perfect, happily using the mid-stroke and ramping up neatly as it approached full travel. Checking the o-ring revealed we were getting full travel, but not once during testing did we feel the fork bottom out harshly.

On the whole, we’d rate the Formula’s sensitivity and spring curve as being as good as any other offering on the market. In fact, the only area in which we could mark the Formula down a smidgen is its performance on sudden, super-harsh impacts, such as launching into a corner full of braking bumps. In this instance, the fork seemed to make the rider work a little harder than with a Pike or FOX. This sensation didn’t feel like a damping spike, more a product of the fork’s lightweight construction sending a bit more lateral twist through to the bars. Hey, we’re being picky here!

Formula 35 fork v2-7

With around 50 hours of ride time on the fork so far, we have noticed a very small amount of oil seepage from the seals. It’s certainly not a blown seal (we’re talking a couple of millilitres here) but it’s enough to indicate that perhaps the seal tolerances are a little on the loose side in the name of reducing friction. Keeping up the regular oil changes and topping up the lubricating oil will be important in the long run to keep stiction at bay. As noted before, stripping down the fork requires an Allen key and 10 minutes of your time, so this kind of maintenance isn’t really a headache.

Overall:

We’ve got to say, we’re very impressed. We definitely didn’t expect this level of performance from a such small player in the suspension arena. The weight, the lively and plush ride quality and the ease of service/tuning are all big ticks for the Formula 35, and there are precious few negatives to complain about. It’s always nice to see a little bit of Italian exotica too.

Tested: GT Force X Expert Carbon

“I want that for sex!”

“Excuse me?”

“I said; I want that Force X!”

“Oh, yes, of course. It is a nice bike, thank you.”

The GT For Sex, I mean, Force X, is a serious piece of artillery in GT’s fight to re-establish themselves, after a few fairly quiet years on the development front. It’s a big-hitter, a gravity enduro bike with real guts, developed with input from Dan Atherton and the rest of the Atherton clan.

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GT’s recent reinvention has won them a lot of fans, or perhaps more correctly rekindled a love that had simply faded a bit, as GT is one of those brands that everyone seems to have a soft spot for.

There are three key models in the range now: the Sensor (130mm), the Force (150mm) and the Fury DH. The Force X (of which there are two variants with different spec) sandwiches in between the regular Force and the Fury. It uses the same frameset as the Force, but with a number of component choices such as a longer travel fork that push its descending credentials a bit harder.

 

Build:

Like a pair of white jeans, the GT screams look at me. The frame has a bulbous well-fed python look to it, and you get the feeling that GT opted for carbon not for its weight saving properties, but its strength and the opportunities for creative frame shapes it provides. The lines are muscular to say the least.

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Carbon lets GT create some very involved frame shapes, including the pierced seat tube.

It’s tricked up with all the features too, like an internally activated seat post, a sag indicator to aid suspension setup, a Maxle 142x12mm rear end, and Shimano’s new direct mount rear derailleur system. There are ISCG tabs as well, a feature that is becoming increasingly irrelevant with this new era of single-ring chain guide-free drivetrains.

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Behold, the AOS (Angle Optimised Suspension).

The new 150mm-travel Angle Optimised Suspension system is one of the more involved out there. Have a look at video below to see it in action. It’s designed to provide the benefits of a high-pivot suspension system but without fewer negative (brake jack and pedal feedback). The bottom bracket is housed in the Path Link, which rotates slightly rearward with the suspension compression so as to minimise the amount of chain growth. It’s a fair bit to get your head around!

A FOX Float X shock handles the damping duties, sitting low in the frame. There’s a neat mud guard slipped in behind the shock too, to offer some well considered protection for the shock shaft. On the topic of protection, you’ll want to wrap the chain stay with some Framewrap to both protect the bike and silence any chain slap, as the bike makes a racket in the rough.

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Neat cabling… until it all hits the Path Link, at which point it all gets a bit complicated! With a single-ring drivetrain, it’d be much neater.

By virtue of the cramped front derailleur / shock mount junction, the cabling is little convoluted. This is one bike that would’ve been far easier to design without having to consider front shifting, but having a good complement of gears doesn’t seem like such a bad option once you point this beast uphill.

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There are some similarities between the AOS system and the iDrive suspension system of years past (namely, the rearward movement of the bottom bracket of the suspension compresses), but the new system is far superior.

This brings us to an issue that can’t be ignored; the GT has a weight problem. Out of the box, the GT is 15kg. Add some pedals and you’re getting into the territory of some downhill bikes. It’s simply too heavy. Fortunately there are a couple of easy tweaks to bring the bike back to a more acceptable figure.

 

Spec:

With the scales showing 16.1kg once we’d fitted pedals and a full water bottle, we had to work out where the weight resided in the GT. It didn’t take long to work out that the problem is predominantly in the wheels, more specifically the tyres and cassette.

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Some cable trimming is needed! The KS LEV seat post and GT themed saddle are both great! We’d definitely opt for lighter, fast and more supple rubber than these Continental Trail King tyres.

The Continental Trail King rubber is massive with very stiff sidewalls, but just far too heavy, at a kilogram per tyre. Our first move would be to fit something like a Schwalbe Hans Dampf or Maxxis High Roller 2, both of which would save you 200g per wheel. Then we’d go tubeless (another 100g saving per wheel). GT have done the dodgy with a crappy steel cassette – the HG50 Deore-level cassette is close to 400g. Swapping it for an XT cassette would save 110g and shift better. Finally, we’d go for a single chain ring drivetrain. Fitting a 32 or 34 tooth Raceface, e13 or Wolf Tooth chain ring and removing the front shifter, derailleur, the bash guard and associated cabling will save you at least another 200g.

All up, that’s close to a kilo saved right away, without huge expense, whilst simultaneously simplifying and improving the performance of the bike. Easy!

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WTB’s Tubeless Compatible Rims really aren’t all that tubeless compatible – they don’t come ready for tubeless use, you’ll still need to install rim strips or tape/valves.

The rest of the componentry is all good stuff. We’re especially fond of the KS LEV seat post, and the Kore bar/stem combo is great as well, with the huge 760mm bars making you feel like a viking! As with a number of FOX forks we’ve ridden in the past 12 months, the FOX 34 160mm fork was a little sticky in its performance. It only takes 10 minutes to pull the lowers off the fork and we highly recommend you do so in order to lube the seals and change the splash oil. It makes a world of difference.

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Formula’s RX brakes are a little on/off at slow speed, but modulate well once you’re up to pace. The tiny remote lever for the KS LEV seat post is the best out there.

Ride:

Our first ride on the GT was what we’d classify as ‘ok’. It felt big – very confident once gravity was on your side – but hard to get moving and not as responsive as many other gravity enduro / all-mountain bikes. Sure the riding position was solid and the frame relished a hard impact, but the bike felt a bit dead.

Test_GT ForceX 4

We knew there was a more exciting, lively and versatile bike in there. Softening the suspension a little (30% rear sag vs 25% on our first ride) and speeding up the rebound was the first move; suddenly the ride went from being choppy to delivering the kind of control we’d expect from a high-pivot design and the FOX Float X shock.

We also changed out the wheels, although simply swapping to lighter tyres would have had the same effect. With less rotating weight the GT was much easier to get up to speed or to change direction. The bike’s low centre of gravity suddenly shone, as it became easy to flick the bike from turn to turn. Reducing the unsprung weight (i.e. the wheels) also assisted the suspension’s responsiveness to small bumps. Overall, the bike was suddenly one we could appreciate!

Test_GT ForceX 7

The GT catalogue claims that the Force X has a 67.2 degree head angle, but we’re certain it feels slacker. Either that, or the bike’s willingness to run blindly into the roughest trails just convinces you it must have a more relaxed head angle. With a 760mm bar and a 50mm stem, you’re in a very strong, stable position on the bike and so keeping it on track in the rough is made easy.

This is bike that really likes big hits. The high pivot suspension design is particularly adept at smoothing out sudden harsh, square impacts (rock ledges etc). As you’d have guessed, the frame is robust in the extreme, and it doesn’t give a stuff if you wedge it into situations that would twist or upset a lesser beast. It’s only if you really concentrate in it that you become aware of the bottom bracket moving backward and forward as the suspension moves – it’s certainly not enough movement to upset your rhythm.

Despite its weight, the GT is a reasonable climber. The seat angle is sufficiently steep to keep the front tyre on the ground when grinding up climbs, and rear wheel tracks well under power, rarely breaking traction. In the granny ring, despite the Path Link’s best intentions, you can notice a bit of chain tug though the pedals as the rear suspension works. If your regular riding does include a lot of climbing, the 50mm stem might prove to be a little too short as well, as the riding position does become pretty cramped when you shuffle forward onto the nose of the saddle.

Overall:

Whereas some all-mountain bikes have a fairly even split in terms of descending and climbing performance, the Force X unreservedly leans towards the descending end of the spectrum, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a ride that can handle the odd day shuttling the local downhill track. Make the changes we’ve recommended in this review to drop some weight and get most out of this bike, because it has some savage potential as a gravity enduro / all-mountain bike. Of course, you could also look at the Force X Pro, which already comes with lighter, tubeless wheels and a single-ring drivetrain!

Test_GT ForceX 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tested: 2014 Scott Gambler 20

Take a gamble on our full review here.

Country and Western star Kenny Rogers has a very famous song about The Gambler. Essentially the song is a metaphor for life; dealing with what you have been dealt, and knowing when to walk way from trouble. It has nothing to do with this bike as you can change what you’ve been dealt and should never need to be walking away from anything that may trouble you on the trail.

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The Scott Gambler is a very slack, very capable and adjustable downhill race machine that can be easily dialled to suit you and/or the terrain you’re riding. Add to that a pretty good suspension platform, and some pretty capable spec, and you have a downhill machine that fits very nicely in its price-point.

Thredbo was the perfect testing track for the Gambler, especially as it was nearing the end of the bike season and the downhill track was at its best (roughest). Also, the rain gods sprinkled the hill with water the night prior so we had that ultimate testing environment to sink our tyres into.

Build.

The Scott is a beautifully built and solid bike that stands out amongst the crowd. A full aluminium bike with welds and neat hydroformed tubing with almost a carbon look to it.  Everything is beefy and burly with large pivots and hardware, the whole rear end is obviously very stiff.

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The Gambler was at home at Thredbo.
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No matter how you look at it, we think it looks great.

The suspension is what stands out. Scott call their design a “Floating Link” and to paraphrase of their own marketing: “There is a subtle dual progressive curve to achieve the goals, but not too exaggerated to avoid shock tuning limitations. The floating link creates a progressive feeling suspension with an almost direct compression of the shock, minimizing DU bushing rotation. This increases shock bushing life and improves small bump sensitivity.”

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The engine room of the Scott. Don’t let all this links and pivots fool you, it’s pretty simple and really stiff.

Basically all those links and pivots are there to support the suspension curves and feel, for what is a single pivot bike; which pivots on the seat stay, directly above and in-line with the bottom bracket. The Gambler uses a long 3.5″ shock stroke that ramps up progressively (slightly rising rate) as the shock compresses. Given that the travel of the bike is 210mm this also means a leverage ratio of around 2.3-2:5:1 (leverage ratio can change through the stroke). That’s a low number and the advantages of low leverage ratios are increased small bump performance and a wider range of shock tunability. The downside can be too much bob and action on the rear-end when you don’t want it but seeing as the Gambler is designed for super steep downhilsl then this should be less of an issue.

WEB_TEST_Scott_Gambler_20_C3
Everything pivots on the one main pivot just above the bottom bracket (on the right), The rest helps maintain the curve the to the shock.

The Gambler’s geometry is super adjustable. The head angle can be adjusted in two different ways, the first is with the adjustable bottom bracket height. This little chip near the bottom of the shock can be flipped to raise the height of the bike (from 345mm to 354.5m) also sharpening the head angle by +0.7°. The second method to adjust the head angle was to play with the Syncros headset (either integrated or via a separate cup) for a change of either +/- 1°, or +/- 2°. The permutations of headset adjustably were massive however we left ours at the factory default of 62° – pretty damn slack already.

WEB_TEST_Scott_Gambler_20_C1
By playing with these three elements you can really adjust the Gambler for all your needs.

The other bit of adjustably was the bike’s overall length, which you can adjust by 15mm via another chip around the rear wheel axle.  At the stock length of 425mm the Gambler is nice and short with an overall wheelbase of 1185mm (size tested). We did push the rear-end out to the longest setting but it did feel a little too long for us, especially considering the slack head angle. We also think there’s a chance to fit in a 27.5″ wheel at the longer setting however we didn’t try this ourselves.

The Gambler is also full of other neat and nice design features. Bumps stops on the down tube to prevent denting from the forks in a crash is a nice touch, as to is the rubber protection at the bottom of the down tube to protect against those hard rocks flinging up at the frame. The cable routing is also quite neat and we loved the little trick of routing the shifting cable through the chain stay. You will however need a few zip-ties when it comes time to change the cables.

WEB_TEST_Scott_Gambler_20_C2
A little peek at the rear shifting cable before it disappears again. And a nice simple and nice touch – a bump stop to protect the frame from the forks .

Finally, you’re either going to love or hate the bright green colour of the Gambler 20 but but the looks and the questions we got when riding it sure made us feel popular.

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Yep, it’s bright green (and blue).
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Some additional rubber to reduce chain slap noise.

Spec.

The Gambler sits at the lower end of downhill bikes when it comes to price. The $4499 price tag does net you a very decent build kit though, with highlights being FOX 40 fork, a FOX Van RC rear shock and a Shimano Zee drivetrain.

The drivetrain is taken care of with all Shimano Zee parts. The Zee is the more affordable cousin to Shimano Saint. The rear derailleur uses a clutch mechanism to reduce the whole thing flapping around and worked perfectly, it’s just that it looked a bit plastically and we wonder how well it would hold up to a few hits. Chain retention is taken care of with a E.thirteen chain device (with bash guard) and during our test we noted no issues with shifting or chain loss.

WEB_TEST_Giant_Glory_20_C14
Shimano ZEE, weird name, great solid kit.

The FOX 40 is a good entry level fork from FOX, however basic pre-load and rebound (and spring changes) are your only options for tuning. During our testing we found the fork to be fine, we only having issues with spring noise. The rear shock is also the more basic unit; FOX VAN RC with adjustable rebound and low-speed compression. The rear shock felt pretty good for us and the spring was pretty much spot on for our weight. It would be great again to have a little more adjustability but the lack of it is the norm at the this price-point.

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Preload and rebound up front.
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Low-speed compression and rebound dials out back.

The brakes are a lower spec single piston stoppers, Shimano Deore with big 203mm rotors. This would probably have been the low-light of the spec. Sure, the brakes did work well, but at Thredbo we were wishing for a little more. By the end of such a long run you were wishing for something with a bit more bite when your hands were tiring. A great upgrade to the bike would be a set of ZEE brakes.

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Probably the only really big let-down was the brakes. Sure they worked, but the Gambler is made for high speed so you need high speed stoppers.

Syncros rims with Formula hubs were all fine, and held up well to our testing. The Schwalbe Magic Marys are a great tyre and when Thredbo was a little wet they are exceptional. We actually ran tubes in the test (which is almost unheard of for us) and didn’t flat once. That’s a good sign but of we had the bike for the long term we would have converted it to tubeless.

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If you read the fine print the rims are actually made by Alex.
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Big hubs with sealed bearings.
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We like the Magic Mary.

The cock pit was comfortable and the 800mm Syncros bars were actually wider than we would normally run, however we got used to them pretty quickly. The quick release on the seat post clamp was a weird one as a downhill bike is a set-and-forget type of thing when it comes to seat height.

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800mm is pretty wide but we got used to it.
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??? Not sure if this is needed.

Ride.

The Gambler is stable, and even more stable at speed. The slack head angle, low bottom bracket, and long front end all add up a very stable bike at speed, especially on the steeper sections of the track. The bike really does want you to go faster.

WEB_TEST_Scott_Gambler_20-2

The other notable was the bike felt better when ridden a little further back, with your weight over the rear wheel. This would let the rear suspension shine as the rear suspension was a highlight, small bump performance was great and we never felt like we were bottoming out at all. If you see Scott world cup downhiller Brendan Fairclough ride you will see he is often hanging right off the back, and we can see why this bike suits him.

While the Gambler was really good at high speed and rough straight lines, it was a little harder to get around the tight stuff. We also found it a little harder to jump than other downhill bikes we had ridden.

All that slackness and lowness though does have its downside and it’s when the trails get a little less steep. If it’s flat, or you have to work a little more for your speed, the Gambler is a bit more of a slug. If you’re thinking about buying this bike, really think about how steep your riding will be. The steeper the better your experience will be.

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The bike also rode pretty quiet, which is a nice thing. Some people have mentioned noise issues however we noted none.

Just like the FOX 40 on the Giant Glory 1 test, we had issues with the spring clanging around inside the fork. While where on the subject of the forks, the price you pay (or don’t pay) for a lower spec fork is lack of adjustability. The FOX 40 was good at it’s designed job, it’s just that we feel a better fork would have made the riding package a whole lot better as the rear did outshine the front.

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Verdict.

We liked the Gambler and think you will too. It’s a bike that makes you feel very comfortable at speed and across the tough and rough stuff – as long as the terrain is steep and fast. We did find it a little harder to manoeuvre on the tight stuff, and it was a little harder to be playful and jump about on. However, we’re pretty confident that if we had more time to get more aggressive  and comfortable with this beast it would have taught us a different way to ride.

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Even brighter than moss.

We also dug the adjustably of the Gambler. 60 degrees is probably too slack for most Australian riding but if you’re heading off to the steeps of Europe then this beast can be pointed straight off Mt Blanc without any fear. The Gambler does 20 weighs in at 17.8kg, which is admittedly a smidge heavier than some of its competitors, but this is a bike designed to have plenty of gravity on its side.

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Kenny Rogers didn’t sing about this Gambler bike but maybe if he had of ridden it he would have changed the words to his most famous song to: “You’ve got to know when to smash it, know when to jump it, know when to let off the brakes, and know when to have fun…”.

Tested: Giant Glory 1

In 2011 Danny Hart won the UCI World Championships on the Giant Glory. However, at that time he was on a bike that was a little different from what us consumers could buy off the shop floor. “World Cup” angles, changed geometry and a slimmer weight was what Danny needed to get on the podium.

Lucky for us soon after Danny’s rainbow striped win Giant released the same bike to the world and the 2014 Glory’s have continued with that same winning formula. A slacker head angle, longer wheel base, lower bottom bracket, and lighter bike all add up to a package that’s world cup race ready.

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We took the Glory 1 to Thredbo for some testing to see if we could channel Danny Hart a little, and ride like a World Champion.

Build.

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The Glory 1 is based on the same Maestro suspension platform you’ll find on the entire Giant range however this beast gets 203mm/8″ of travel. This suspension design has been proven on their entire range and its liner spring curve means a nice even stroke. Maestro utilizes four pivot points and two linkages (upper and lower) that all work to create a single floating pivot point.

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The business end of the rear end. The Maestro suspension design has been with Giant since 2006.

The Glory 1 frame is made from Giant’s ALUXX SL aluminium and is essentially the same frame as the top of the line model. Giant have an extensive line of carbon bikes now however at this stage they have chosen not to include it in their downhill offerings. On the graphics and look side, there’s no missing that the bike is either a Giant or Glory as the styling and colours really mean you wear your brand with some pride.

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There’s no hiding what bike you’re riding.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph Giant have stuck with the same new angles as released after Danny Hart’s World Championship win. The head angle is 63.5°, seat angle 61.8°, bottom bracket height at around 330mm, chain stay length 444.5mm and overall wheelbase 1211.5mm (on the size Medium). If you look at the stats of the older Glory you will see the wheelbase has really been extended from the bottom bracket to the front wheel – the from-centre measurement. This lets the bike stay playful at the rear but adds stability to the front to the bike.

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The Glory angles.

There is no adjustability with the frame however a shortish head tubes means you have some flexibility in the set-up and can change the head angle a little.

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You can play with the head angle slightly by raising and lowering the forks and a smaller head tube lets you have that little bit of room to move.

The cable routing is neat but we’re a little puzzled with running the cables on the underside of the downtube. As downhilling tends to be a little more extreme we’d be a little concerned about damage to cables, especially brake cables.

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One little sharp rock could mean no rear brake.

Spec.

Any Giant is always excellent value for money and their OEM sometimes leaves you wondering off which truck did they steal the components. At $4299 off the rack, the Glory 1 is kitted out with a full Shimano Zee group set, FOX suspension and DT Swiss wheels.

The Zee is the more affordable cousin to the Shimano Saint and the biggest noticeable difference is the more “plastically” looking rear mech. Performance wise the Zee group worked really well. It shifted well and chain bounce and security was great with a clutch derailleur matched with a MRP G3 chain device.

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Zee cranks and chainring matched with the MRP G3 chainguide were a perfect combo.
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Even though the Zee has a little more plastic that the Saint it still did the job of shifting and holding the gears more than adequately.

The Zee brakes share the same twin-piston design as their more expensive cousin – Saint – and over all the Zee’s still did a good job. Thredbo has always known to be brutal on brakes and it’s really only going to be the top-of-the-line models that can handle it best. That being said, the Zee’s still had power at the end of the run, it’s just that you needed to pull them just that little harder and at no time did we ever feel like we didn’t have enough to stop us. Our experience with the Shimano Saint maybe has made us a little lazy in the braking department.

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Large 200mm front and 180omm rear rotors add up to some good stopping power.
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The twin-piston Zee’s worked well and with just a little power issues at the end of a long Thredbo run. Reach adjustment was simple and easy too.

You’re also treated to FOX front and rear, with an Performance series 40R fork and RC2 shock. These items don’t offer the same adjustability as the more expensive Factory series fork and or RC4 shock, but that’s a tradeoff we’re certain many will be willing to make. We found it took a little while to get the suspension dialled and we felt the rear of the bike a little under-sprung for our 72Kg tester.  Once set-up though the bike handled really well and most noticeably in corners, jumping through rock gardens and hitting the big jumps. You have to appreciate that the price point of this bike means a little less adjustability and you really need a few extra fork and shock springs to swap around to get that perfect performance.

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The DHX RC2 give you low speed compression and rebound adjustment. If you need anything more then we suggest you choose a different spring. Our test bike had a 400lb spring.
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Overall the performance of the rear shock was good however the last few mm’s of travel were a little hard.
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The FOX 40 R Performance fork has only the two adjustments, preload (basically compresses the spring) and rebound. We recommend you (or your bike shop) take out the spring, re-apply some kind of shrink-wrap and put a bunch of lube on it.

The wheels are a mix of Giant hubs, DT hubs, and DT rims. We noted no problems with rims and they stayed straight during our testing period. The Schwable Magic Mary tyres were great when you were able to get them to dig into the soil, really great actually, and especially after a little bit of rain and ensuing hero soil. However we think they’re probably a little less suited to really hard-packed terrain as the knobs won’t be able to dig in and you can feel them move under cornerning.

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Good strong rims from DT Swiss matched with DT Swiss (rear) and Giant (front) hubs.
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The Magic Mary’s were excellent tyres and gripped best when able to really dig into the soil. Here they are after one day of runs.

The cockpit is comfortably equipped with a 750mm Giant Contact bar, Giant grips and Truvativ stem. We would have like the bars to be a tad wider and sorry Giant, you have to get a better grip designer, we ditched ours straight away.

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The cockpit was comfortable and so was the Fi’zi:k Tundra saddle (although you hardly used it on a downhill bike).

Ride.

The Giant Glory comes with proven World Cup pedigree and the ride felt like a winning Danny Hart run. Fast, a bit loose, and ready to jump all over the place.

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The strength of the Giant is its ability to move around the trail quickly as you pop in and out of corners and across rock gardens with ease.  It’s more a bike that prefers to be gently lifted and placed on the trail rather than ploughed through the rough stuff. Think of it as doubling through a rough section more than pointing and hoping. The Glory also felt better when ridden more centred on the bike with your body weight pretty much over the bottom bracket.

If you’re lacking a little confidence in your jumping then the Glory may be the bike for you.  We found it super easy to jump and at times we found ourselves jumping a little too far.  The Glory even made the big double at Thredbo feel like a breeze.

When bottoming out the Glory does feel a little harsh right at the end of its travel and you will hear it screaming back at you with a bit of a “thud”. There was never an issue with performance it was a little harder than the rest of the stroke. We think our Glory was under-sprung for us as we pushed the bike to that point a bit too often. A few turns to pre-load the spring would help this but that’s reality never a recommended way to adjust the suspension. A new spring would be the answer.

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The only real negative was the rattling spring in the FOX fork. It’s a common fault with the  lower spec. FOX 40 as the plastic wrap on the spring works its way down the length of the spring, thus enabling the spring to rattle inside the fork under low speed compression. It’s an easy fix though and we recommend you ditch the standard wrap and add a full length one of your own.

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Verdict.

The Giant Glory 1 is a great downhill race machine – straight out of the box.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better value bike that has been race proven at the world level. It’s best ridden with a lighter more playful style and if you channel Danny Hart before you begin your run it will actually let you pull an amazing whip. Just fix the forks and you have a bike that’s quietly ready for anything.

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Testing Stats

Location: Thredbo, NSW.
Conditions: Dry to a little moist. Cool with a high around 18 degrees.
Tester Weight: 72kgs.
Tester Height: 172cm.
Bike Size Tested: Medium.
Changes made: Grips.
Issues during test: Fox 40 spring rattle.

Fresh Product: Time ATAC MX4 pedals

“What time is it?,” asked Flavour Flav.

“These are the new ATAC MX4s, Flav. Do you like them?”

“Yeah, BOY. They look good.”

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We think so too. These are the pedal we’ve been waiting for from Time! Sitting somewhere in between the lightweight ATAC XC and the beefy ATAC DH pedals, the new composite bodied MX4 is more of a trail pedal. In the same vein as Shimano’s Trail series pedals, it has a larger surface area for increased stability, but without much of a weight penalty.

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The MX4 is built around Time’s simple and robust ATAC engagement system. It’s a mechanism that has a loyal following – it’s near impossible to clog up in muddy conditions and it’s exceptionally durable. The ATAC system offers a good deal of lateral float too (6mm), which is a blessing to those with sore knees or riders who like to feel a little more free when they’re clipped in.

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Sitting at the lower end of the MX range, the MX4s use a steel axle with a composite body. There’s no adjustability in terms of spring tension, but the cleats are reversible and swapping them round will deliver either 13 0r 17 degrees of release rotation.

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As ardent fans of Shimano’s XT and XTR Trail pedals, it’ll be refreshing to give an alternative offering a try. Expect a full test in the coming months.

Tested: FOX Float X CTD w/Trail Adjust

Gravity enduro is so hot right now. So hot. But when it comes to suspension, all that hotness is the enemy! Heat build-up decreases suspension performance, and that’s one of the biggest challenges facing suspension manufacturers today; how can suspension be kept light and efficient enough for the climbs but still deliver the control and consistency needed for serious gravity enduro use?

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The Float X is FOX’s answer to this question. We’ve now run the Float X CTD with Trail Adjust on two bikes (a Yeti SB66c and a Giant Trance Advanced SX), over the course of almost eight months, and we’re convinced it’s a winner.

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Our long term test bike – Giant Trance Advanced SX

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The Float X may have the same bones as the regular Float shock, but the large piggyback reservoir clearly marks it as a different beast. The larger oil volume the piggyback affords is key; more oil equates to less heat, better damping performance and more control over long descents. There are other obvious external differences too, with the CTD lever located on the side of the shock reservoir, and the rebound adjuster in-line with the damping shaft.

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While we’re on the topic of the rebound adjuster – what the hell? We don’t know whose fingers the rebound adjust dial is designed for, but it’s practically impossible to adjust without an Allen key or small stick (a bloody stick!). Thankfully rebound is largely a set-and-forget element once you’ve established your baseline settings/pressures, but this aspect was very annoying during the first half a dozen rides when we were still making tweaks to the suspension setup.

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Teeny fingers, a stick or an allen key is the only way you’ll adjust the red coloured rebound dial.

So does it all work as planned? Can I get a ‘hell yeah’? If you’re accustomed to the feel of a regular Fox Float shock, you’ll immediately appreciate the on-trail differences of the Float X. For lack of a better term, the Float X just feels ‘plusher’, much more like a coil shock than the standard Float. On our Giant test bike in particular, the bottomless feel had us re-checking our suspension sag, convinced that we must be running things too soft, but it wasn’t the case –  the shock is just superbly smooth throughout the whole stroke.

The buttery responsiveness of the shock on small and medium sized hits is amazing. In our experience, FOX still has the edge over Rockshox when it comes to pure smoothness and suppleness. Whether it’s a product of better sealing tolerances, the new five-piece shock hardware, shaft coatings or lubricants, we’re not sure – we just know that the Float X has better small bump response than any Monarch Plus shock we’ve ridden.

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FOX’s five piece hardware in the shock’s mounts are a vast improvements over the DU bushes we’ve known for many years, reducing friction allowing the shock to pivot slightly when motioning.

When we pushed hard, the Float X always had the answer, and longer runs we didn’t notice any spiking or inconsistency that we’d usually associate with an air shock being taken beyond its limits. For us, the ultimate vindication of the Float X as a serious piece of descending equipment came when Jared Graves raced on this very shock at the Pietermarizburg World Champs… and almost bloody won.

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The CTD system is effective and easy to operate. With the lever on the side of the shock, it’s very easy to access. The three positions are clearly defined, and the Trail mode is a great compromise for adding some welcomed efficiency to a longer-travel bike. We did find that the lever could get a little jammed up in very sandy or dusty conditions though, so cleaning and lubing around the lever junction isn’t a bad idea occasionally.

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Would we consider upgrading from a standard Float shock to the Float X? That’s a tough one. The performance benefits are there, and the weight difference is minimal, so it’s really a matter of justifying the spend. From our standpoint, we’d probably be more inclined to look for the Float X as desirable feature when considering a new bike purchase, rather than dole out the cash to upgrade an existing bike.

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We’ll be running this shock for another six or so months and we’ll update this review should anything new and noteworthy emerge, but for now we’re very impressed!

Tested: Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2

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

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

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Build:

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

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Alloy out back, carbon out front, and a FOX shock in between.

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

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The beefy, welded rocker link is a the heart of the rear end stiffness. Note the cable routing for the rear shock remote lockout.

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

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Both gear cables are internally routed, while the brake and shock remote run underneath the down tube.

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

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With a short seat post and seat tube, we were forced to run the seat post just beyond the minimum insertion mark. Not advisable.

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

Spec:

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

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Shimano XT all over.

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

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A good set of wheels is critical to keep a 29er feeling lively. The DT 1600s are up to the task.

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

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

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

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This neat junction box allows both fork and shock lockouts to be actuated with a single lever.

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

Ride:

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

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

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In dusty conditions, we found it important to keep the fork legs and seals clean and lightly lubricated.

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

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

Overall:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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