Long-Term Test Update: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

The Remedy comes in two wheels sizes, we went for the 27.5 one, it sits in between the 120mm travel Fuel EX and 160mm travel Slash. A real all-rounder with a buttery smooth rear suspension and relaxed geometry, it’s the type of bike that strikes a good balance between long and short travel. Perfect for travelling in search of new trails, not afraid of the rougher trails, and still efficient enough to keep up with the cross country bandits.

Coincidentally it’s the same bike that National Enduro Champion Chris Panozzo rides, although his goes much faster. Check out his unique build and setup here: Panozzo bike check.

We’ve been tinkering and modifying the Remedy from its stock spec, with a current weight of 12.6kg let’s take a look at what’s been going on under the hood of the ‘Pine Lime Express’.

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Hauling on Delatite, Mt Buller.

Front Suspension: 

The FOX Float 36 fork with its beefy legs is an uncommon sight at only 140mm travel, typically we’d see this travel category dominated by the FOX 34, with the 36 found on 160-180mm travel bikes. Not a bad thong at all though, it’s one of the stiffest steering front ends around, you really can put your weight over the forks and push them so, so, so hard.

The fork’s sensitivity isn’t the greatest though, especially when the rear suspension is smoother than butter melted on a silk tablecloth. A known trade for bigger diameter legs is increased surface area which often translates to more stiction, and being a non-Kashima level the fork on this bike does feel a little wooden when compared to the FOX 34 we reviewed recently.

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With a couple Air Volume Spacers fitted helps the fork feel more progressive.

We’ve fitted two air reducers in the spring side to add progressiveness to the stroke, the little plastic spacers are easily fitted but not supplied with the bike, we sourced them from FOX and popped them in to tune to our liking.

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Full Floater, fully plush.

Rear Suspension: 

Anyone who’s spent time on the Trek suspension bikes that use the Full Floater linkage system will agree, it’s one of the most sensitive and supple designs out there. After many years of Trek’s tight relationship with FOX they’ve been able to achieve the desired air spring that makes these bikes really tick without the need for their now superseded DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) rear shocks, the new large volume EVOL air cans on 2016 FOX Float rear shocks is exceptional.

The Remedy’s rear suspension is a system that certainly does require you to use the blue lever on the shock to your benefit, not in a bad way at all, it’s just so plush if you leave it open for anything but the descents it feels a little soft underneath you. To it’s credit, Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv rear shock damper works so well in ‘trail mode’ that we spend most of our time in that middle setting, it’s still more sensitive to small impacts than your regular rear shock thanks to their unique damping system.

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Dwarfed by big mountains, Bright.

Shimano XTR and Di2:

The Remedy was lucky enough to be chosen for the ongoing review of Shimano’s super XTR Di2 electronic shifting and M9020 groupset. With the wheels and brakes also badged with the three letters that spell ‘oooooh, fancy’, the Trail series of XTR with its powerful brakes and wider rim wheels have been ridden hard.

There’s no doubt we’ll see more electronics in the future of mountain biking, Shimano are bound to trickle down the technology to lower price points like on the road cycling domain with Dura Ace and Ultegra, and SRAM mustn’t be far off with a mountain bike version of their wireless road cycling drivetrain, Red E-Tap. Electronics enable things to happen at speeds that are unachievable with hand, and wires can travel places gear cables cannot.

The shifting on this bike is exceptional, super precise and never have we needed to tune the gears, the battery lasts for months and on those trails where you are shifting gears under load nothing compares to the precision and consistency of XTR Di2.

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The Pine Lime Express, as we like to call it. Strikes a good balance between ‘trail’ and ‘all mountain’.
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Electrics, totally from the future.
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The wires travel inside the handlebar, tricky.

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While the Remedy doesn’t have any specific integration for the Di2 wires like some of the latest high end cross country bikes (Trek Top Fuel, Pivot Mach 4 etc) it’s turned out quite nicely. By using a couple of the rubber grommets and plugs that are supplied with the Trek road bikes specced with Di2 Ultegra or Dura Ace we’ve been able to make it look neat and secure.

One long wire travels from the rear derailleur through the chainstay and pops into view under the rear shock, then its back into the down tube where it exits alongside the rear brake and Reverb line before connecting to the computer. The battery is inside the fork steerer, made possible by the Pro Tharsis Di2 bar and stem.

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At home on Sydney’s iconic sandstone.

PRO Tharsis Trail Di2 cockpit: 

Nothing is neater than Di2 with internal wiring, and with Shimano’s component line working so close with Shimano on the dedicated cockpit, the result is the cleanest bike possible.

Click here to read our full review of the Tharsis Trail gear.

The Tharsis bar and stem take the Di2 to the next level, providing internal routing of the wire in through the bar and the battery inside the fork’s steer tube.

The bars were trimmed down from a whopping 800mm wide to 760mm.

C’mon that’s pretty darn neat, right?
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The wires travel into the stem and inside the bars.

Schwalbe Procore:

Schwalbe have successfully produced a very effective dual air chamber system for your wheels, in an effort to increase traction while reducing wheel damage and risk of flat tyres.

While it added 420g to the existing tubeless setup we had already, it’s been a super interesting test of an impressive product. We’ve been running between 10-14psi in the outer chamber and 75 in the inner chamber with great results.

We talk about Procore a lot, discussing its strengths and weaknesses, what bike it suits and what type of rider it will appeal to most. We’ll be delivering our conclusion soon!

Read our initial impressions and installation log here: Schwalbe Procore.

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The inner core of the Procore system, with 85 psi.
Finding traction in the loam of Derby.
Finding traction in the loam of Derby.
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The special valve can select and inflate the two air chambers by switching between them.
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It makes for a heavier wheel, but it has serious appeal and benefit.

Absolute Black Oval Chainring:

With an in depth review coming to Flow shortly, we’ve fitted Absolute Black Oval rings to both our Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 and the Remedy.

It’s odd to ride at first, with a slightly lumpy feeling pedal stroke that is quickly forgotten about during the ride, but with more oval rings becoming popular, the benefits in the theory were worth exploring.

The chainring uses a narrow/wide tooth profile, and it’s all very secure, no dropped chains at all. But the XTR cranks don’t exactly match the black chainring so it’d better be worth it, or it won’t be on for long.

The word from Oval is: “Our Oval chainrings work because a rider does not produce power evenly through a pedal stroke; they maximise the part of the stroke where power is produced and minimise resistance where it isn’t. Oval rings make the spin cycle a lot smoother and are easier on legs while climbing. Believe it (or not), but a round chainring doesn’t transfer torque to your rear wheel as smoothly as an Oval one. You will actually feel your stroke to be more “round” with an Oval shape than with a round chainring.” – Oval.

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Chilling in the green room, Derby.

Ergon GE1 Slim Grips:

Left and right specific, and angled towards the edge to give your hands the best position for wider handlebars, the GE1 Slim Grip from Ergon is a real favourite here.

And the colours match.

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Stay tuned for more sightings of this great bike on Australia’s latest and greatest trails for many more months to come.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Schwalbe Procore. Fitment and Initial Thoughts

The biggest thing to happen to your wheels since tubeless is the development of Schwalbe Procore. There is good reason this system comes at such a high price – the amount of research and development in getting it right would have been huge. In our review we aim to determine if it achieves all that it sets out to do, but most importantly ascertain what type of bike and rider will benefit from this technology the most.

Developed by German tyre gurus Schwalbe in conjunction with component and wheel manufacturer Syntace, Procore is a special dual chamber system that fits inside regular tyres and onto regular rims (some limitations do apply).

We’ll be putting Procore to a test over a couple months, here is our initial thoughts after fitment and a couple weeks riding.

[divider]What is it?[/divider]

Procore is a dual air chamber system that fits inside the tyre.  It’s compatible with any brand of tubeless compatible tyre, in three wheel sizes (26″, 27.5″/650B and 29″) and will fit any rim (even non-tubeless rims) with a minimal internal width of 23mm. You’ll need tyres at least 2.25″ (but we found out bigger is better) wide and rims with valve stem depth no more than 20mm.

It’ll add about 420 grams to an existing tubeless wheel set, and retails for around $400.

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Double chamber: The small chamber runs very high pressure (around 85 psi) and the larger outer chamber very low, around 15 psi.

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[divider]What does it aim to do? [/divider]

In a nutshell, Procore aims to reap all the traction and control benefits of running super-low tyre pressures, without the usual downsides. Motorcycles use a similar technology, the theory certainly stands up well on paper.

Less chance of tyre roll/burping: The inner chamber locks the tyre bead to the rim.

Reduced chance of rim damage: With the high-pressue inner chamber, your rim is protected from impacts.

Less chance of tyre pinching: The cushioning of the inner chamber makes it near impossible to pinch your tyre against the rim.

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

The way we like to think about it is not what type of bike it suits the best, but instead what type of rider. Procore aims to enhance ride quality and also reduce tyre failure, so anyone can benefit from these things.

Because it adds about 420 grams to you wheels, it’s certainly not one for the weight conscious cross country riders with narrow tyres, it’s more suited to gravity hungry riders, hard charging enduro riders and downhill racers. Or quite simply a rider who wants more traction and less flat tyres.

Enduro racers who ride hard on rough tracks on bikes that still need to light and efficient could really benefit, and downhillers that can’t afford to risk flats or tyres or rolling tyres off the rim will also appreciate the appeal of Procore.

[divider]Fitting Procore[/divider]

If the whole concept still confuses you, watch the video that Schwalbe made and then their fitment instructional video helps clear it up even further.

We fitted Procore to our Trek Remedy long term test bike, with Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.25″ tyres (which we found to be too narrow) and Shimano XTR Trail wheels.

The process was fairly straight forward, and armed with just the paper instruction manual we got it done with no problems at all.

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The blue inner core, feels like a thin road bike tyre carcass.
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The special inner tube to go inside the blue inner core.
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Schwalbe Procore 6 Lining the hole in the blue carcass with the red clip to allow air to pass around the tube and into the larger chamber.
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Presto! The inner core fitted.
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Our 2.25″ Hans Dampf tyres were too small, a wider tyre will make the most of the system.
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This is no ordinary valve, it can swap between the two chambers by threading it in and out.
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The Trek Remedy 27.5 no with Procore and Shimano XTR Di2. Talk about upgrades!

[divider]First ride.[/divider]

For a crystal clear comparison we drove the Trek Remedy out to the trails and blasted around a familiar loop of rocky, loose and tricky trails. We then fitted Procore in the carpark and headed straight back out on the same track.

With the two chambers set to 85 and 15 psi the bike was transformed into a traction generating machine. The low pressure tyre allowed the tyre tread to conform and mould around the terrain underneath you, which both made it feel smoother and grippier.

Then we turned our attention to the gutter, and repeatedly rode straight at the sharp concrete edge in an attempt to pinch the tyre, but there was no loud bang or any flats at all. The hard inner chamber guards the rim wall from hitting the terrain below you. Top marks in that area so far.

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At the time of testing the Australian Schwalbe distributor didn’t have stock of a suitable tyre for the Trek Remedy over 2.25″ and while Schwalbe state that Procore can be used with tyres at least 2.25″ wide we found them not ideal at all. Whilst they fitted up fine and the traction was excellent on the trail we found the ride quite harsh on faster rough descents, with such a small volume of air in the main chamber of the tyre. Plus we noticed the inner Procore chamber actually bottoming out against the inside of the tyre when rolling along tarmac or hardpack trails, this led to a bit of a strange ‘self steering’ effect and it all just felt wrong.

Ideally we would have liked to test Procore with a bigger tyre. At least we found out why you need fairly big rubber to make the most of the system. On hand was a set of Bontrager XR4s in 2.35 so on they went. Whilst the XR4s don’t offer a massive difference in width, the overall volume of the tyre is bigger and that worked a treat giving a bigger space between the core and the top of the tyre.

That also gave us the chance to experience a tyre change, and in the aim of experimenting we changed the inner tube too, and wasn’t that a bit of a pain! With sealant all over the place, we were forced to use tyre levers to remove the blue core, and the whole process was a lot messier and very complex when compared to a regular tubeless setup. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that too often.

Schwalbe Procore 29

With the bigger tyres fitted we were able to really feel the benefits even more, and we’ve been very happy with the performance since.

Trying as hard as we could to roll the tyre off the rim or burp it by deliberately landing sideways, we just couldn’t do it. The high pressure chamber pushes outwards firmly on the tyre’s bead, locking it onto the rim with a level of security that no other tubeless system can give.

We plan to experiment a little more with the two tyre pressures, and will aim to try even bigger tyres to see if that helps with that harsh feeling on the really rocky descents.

[divider]Initial impressions.[/divider]

We couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Procore and the recent 27.5+ bikes we have been testing lately, like the Scott Genius Plus and Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie. Whilst Procore is something that you can fit to your existing bike, the new breed of ‘plus bikes’ are aiming to achieve similar things. Procore might well deliver the holy grail of increased traction without going for the massive 3″ tyres of plus bikes.

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We’re very impressed so far at how well Procore rides, and even more impressed that Schwalbe have managed to make the system work. The way it fits easily regular wheels and tyres is impressive, and it’ll be a great solution for riders who want the best, or those who struggle with slippery terrain or irritating pinch flats.

But does it out-perform a regular tubeless setup? Is it worth the cash and hassle?

We’ll be delivering our final verdict soon.

Tested: Schwalbe Rocket Ron

If you’re like us, and the sight of the original Rocket Ron tyre from Schwalbe conjures up scary memories of tyre that was great on soft soils, but quite frightening on anything else, rest assured the updated version we have here is roughly 745,955 times better than before.

The German tyre folks at Schwalbe have a catalogue that is impressively complete and constantly evolving, offering up a myriad of tread patterns, compounds and sizes. You can bet that there is a tyre in there that will suit your riding style and terrain, you just need to make that match happen.

We tested the Rocket Ron EVO TLE – Evolution, Tubeless Easy. A triple compound tyre with a reinforced casing dubbed ‘Snakeskin’, the TLE will do a better job of retaining air and reduce the risk of casing tears. A TLR (Tubeless Ready) version is available for the super weight conscious, saving around 60 grams per tyre via a thinner casing but would best only be in the hands of racers.

The Rocket Ron is a lightweight cross country tyre with openly spaced and spiky tread, a style that suits softer trail surfaces where the spikes bite through the dirt, penetrating the surface for a solid hold. And right now as we head into winter, it makes a lot of sense to choose tyres to suit the conditions. We’ve been riding these on our 27.5″ wheeled Pivot Mach 4 with the futuristic electronic Shimano Di2, and with 120/100mm travel, the 2.25″ Rocket Ron is a great match for the sharp handling singletrack racer.

What makes the new Rocket Ron so much more appealing than it’s predecessor is the way it holds its own on surfaces that it’s not specifically aimed at, making it a pretty good all-rounder if you still spend the majority of time on softer trails.

The tacky and slow rebounding rubber compound with increased support around the tread knobs helps it find friction on hard pack or rock, and in a 2.25″ size we were running fairly low pressures and that helped it from pinging off roots and rocks.

Tubeless wise, it sealed up to the Shimano wheels without a hint of any leaking, the gummy and supple bead creates a nice and tight lock, and holds air just fine. We did have one puncture (climbing a rocky embedded fire trail, oddly enough) through the top of the tyre, we lost a bit of Stans Sealant, but the hole clogged up and we were able to continue on our ride with no further worries. It’s a risk with such an openly spaced tyre, sharp rocks can easily find a weak spot in between the knobs, but that’s a price to pay for less weight.

Tested- Rocket Ron 3

The Rocket Ron is a mighty fast rolling tyre, the low weight and low tread mass gives your wheels a zippy and quick feeling. They would make a great upgrade to your cross country bike if you’re looking to reduce weight, and bang for your buck this is a great way to do it. It’s not a tyre to ride with a heavy hand though, if you’re going to benefit from low weight you won’t get the best results if you muscle it around and lean it over too far, it’s not an enduro tyre, it’s a cross country tyre. Check out the burlier Nobby Nic or meaty Hans Dampf if you’re in need of a tyre to suit a wild riding style, or if your trails are dry and hard, the Racing Ralph is another old favourite of ours, see, told you Schwalbe have all bases covered.

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Tall and spiky knobs, spaced apart to help it from clogging up with sticky mud.

Tested- Rocket Ron 6 Tested- Rocket Ron 1

Available in 2.10″ or 2.25″ widths and a super light, or with a reinforced casing (Snake Skin), the Rocket Ron is worth a look if you’re looking for a fast tyre to match your tyres to the upcoming winter months.

Tested: 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. And it’s all thanks to one particular clever and well thought out element, the Twinloc. What is Twinloc and how can one feature it have such a positive impact on one bike?

Whilst the one reviewed here is a 2014 model, there is little change to the Genius for 2015, we previewed the 2015 range, check it out here. 

The Genius is available in both wheel sizes, we test the 27.5″ version.

Scott Genius 710 22

[divider]Build[/divider]

This is one seriously subtle and understated carbon bike, with the black on black finish, only very minimal glossy stickers separate the graphics from the matte black frame paint. From a distance the lack of graphics is both refreshing and stealthy. And in an age of brightly branded bikes, we welcome this murdered out stealth black ride.

Scott Genius 710 17
From some angles the frame looks nude, and void of any graphics. You need to look a little closer to see the subtle logos and branding.

A carbon mainframe is joined to an aluminium rear end, the cables are a mixture of internal and externally routed and included is a super neat rubber chain stay guard finishes off the impeccable frame.

At the heart of the Scott Genius (and integral to the shorter travel Scott Spark and longer Scott Genius LT) is a nifty handlebar mounted lever that controls the rear shock and fork, the Twinloc. It may just only be one of many features of this bike, but it impacts on multiple elements of the bike’s ride character via by changing both the suspension feel and geometry. 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.

Yes, the Twinloc adds an extra two cables into the mix creating a very busy cockpit. Scott are also pretty experienced with this stuff, and they manage to keep any clutter to a minimum with clean routing, but with a little bit of time and care in the workshop you could trim the cables down in length, plus shortening the gear cables and brake lines a touch will lessen the birds nest of cables in front of the bars.

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The Twinloc is a perfectly effective system controlled via a neat and ergonomic lever.
A bit of time in the workshop will reduce the extra clutter of the cables.
A bit of time in the workshop will reduce the extra clutter of the cables.

A bike with 150mm of travel is fantastic if the trails are on the rougher and steeper side of things, but it’s still a fair bit of bounce to be lugging up the climbs or through flatter trails. With the Twinloc it felt like we were riding two bikes in one. Heard that before? Well, try one out and you’ll see.

Not only does the Twinloc lessen the suspension travel quantity, it also sharpens the bikes important angles in favour of climbing when in Traction Mode. So the Genius will never feel like too much bike, it cleans up in the versatility stakes. You could ride the Genius hard on the rough trails and still enter the odd 24 hour or marathon race without any penalty from a non-efficient or heavy bike to battle with.

Scott Genius 710 25
Check out that massive section of the frame, the beef is where you need it on this one. Providing a sweet balance of lateral rigidity, comfort and low weight.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Shimano XT score the majority of the business with the Genius 710, and we’re totally fine with that. Although our test bike had a slight issue with the brake calliper leaking a tiny amount of mineral oil onto the pads, making for a noisy action for a few stops before coming good again, most definitely a warranty issue that can be sorted quickly by your local bike shop. A shame, as XT brakes are usually a benchmark for reliability and consistency.

A double chainring setup gives the Genius a real ‘all mountain’ conquering range of gears. Some riders may be rushing out to single-ring their bikes but if you ride all day in steep terrain a gear range as wide as this is a real blessing! It’s silent in its operation, and we didn’t experience any dropped chains at all. The trendy conversion to a single ring would clean up the bars with one less cable and shifter, but we appreciate the useable range too much to consider that, long live the low gear range!

Scott Genius 710 13

Syncros components have been around for yonks, but a couple years ago they were snapped up by Scott and are now their in-house component brand. The benefits of the bigger brands having in-house components is boundless, with the big players able to match colour, spec and intended use of each component to the bikes models easier and cheaper. In this case with Syncros already having such a great reputation for quality prior to the merger with Scott, the perceived quality matches our positive impressions after testing. Even the saddle was a fave for all testers. A short stem and wide bars were faves too.

The wheels use Syncros hubs and rims with bladed spokes. With such a capable all mountain bike, we’d prefer the rims to be wider as some of the new generation of wide rims are really impressing us with the way they boost the tyre’s traction and low pressure abilities. They are tubeless ready though, and come with tubeless valves for quick and easy conversion.

Schwalbe handle the rubber bits with the Nobby Nic in a tacky triple compound and tubeless ready casing. We’d swap them out for a tyre more suited to our hard packed trails, perhaps a Hans Dampf on the front at least, but if your soils are softer these tyres are lightning fast and light for their size. The 2015 Genius 710 comes with the new generation Nobby Nic on the front, which we’ve been much happier with in a variety of conditions in comparison the the ones we find here.

Scott Genius 710 3
The FOX Float 32 fork led the way with a nice and supple action, but we couldn’t help wish for a fatter 34mm legged fork when things got hairy.

A RockShox Reverb adjustable seatpost with internal Stealth routing is always a welcome sight on any bike, aside from matching the paintwork like they were born together, its action is superb. Our had some leaking issues, with the hose adjoining the bottom of the post not quite tight enough, most probably our fault as we had to instal and bleed the post out of the box. Moments like these we miss external posts, or simply cable actuated ones.

FOX suspension front and back served up smooth and supple suspension as always, with the fork in particular being one of the smoother and progressive forks from the batch of 2014 forks from FOX.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Spinning to the trails on the tarmac with the Twinloc engaged, we roll along as if we’re riding a cross country hardtail with the fork and shock locked firm. Up and into the trails we engaged the traction mode which dropped the rear travel to a taut 100mm and also firmed up the compression setting in the fork. In traction mode we were able to stand up and crank ourselves up and over the pinch climbs without losing too much energy into the suspension, but still it was able to react to impacts helping maintain traction to the rear wheel, and avoid pinging our front wheel around. We like this!

Scott Genius 710 1

When the trails turn down, we release the Twinloc into open mode and let her rip, with the 150mm or FOX suspension taking more than just the sting out of the trails. Still with the Twinloc in full travel mode, the suspension feels firm under you, the trade off is when speeds get really high the rear end feels choppier and harsher than some of the other 150mm bikes that don’t climb as well as the Genius.

Geometry wise, the Genius uses a nice and roomy front end coupled with a short stem, giving the rider quick handling but plenty of room to move around when negotiating turns and wild terrain.

The Genius is a little different to the others in its category, it may have a generous 150mm of travel front and back but the whole bike rides so light and efficiently that we forget we were packing some serious firepower beneath us for when we needed it most. Riding more like a light trail bike with some backup saved up for the gnarlier descents, the Genius won’t be one for the rougher enduro race nuts out there, but will suit the rider seeking a classic trail bike with some added travel to get up and down any mountain you need to.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

It’s a well named bike, that’s for sure. The clever suspension adjustment and a nice balance between a lightweight all day riding bike and big hitting all mountain bike is achieved in true style and class. The subtle graphics and stealth image hides it’s racey attitude. On either side of the Genius sit the leaner Spark and burlier Genius LT, we don’t doubt that one of these three bikes would please the most demanding rider.

Tested: Merida One Twenty 7.900

Merida’s new trail bike, the One Twenty picks up some considerable revisions for 2015. This honest, no-frills ride skips all the mumbo jumbo marketing spiels, and delivers a fun and efficient ride, and for a very fair price.

This shiny blue Merida was our companion for a couple solid rides on the absolutely incredible trails of Alice Springs where the terrain around town is brimming with fun, scenic and challenging singletrack. Riding out in the red centre of our big continent is harsh on body and equipment, so if your bike is not up to the task you’ll know about it. Suffice to say, the Merida came out the other side with two big thumbs up.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 25
An honest and reliable trail bike, ready for anything.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Yep, as the name clearly suggests the One Twenty has 120mm of bounce out back, with a 130mm FOX fork leading the way up front. The number 7 denotes the 27.5″/650B wheel size, and this is all an attempt to simplify the names of the Merida models for 2015.

The aluminium welders had a field day with this one, there is plenty of neatly finished joints and shapes adorning the all-alloy frame, so there is no doubt the fans of the material or carbon skeptics will find their happy place with this one. New for 2015 is a completely re-designed rear suspension system. The big visible difference to its predecessor is the way the lower shock mount is of the same section of the frame as the chain stays, so when the rear shock compresses the whole shock shifts downwards. This is said to aid the process of tracking the desired suspension curve, for a supple but supportive ride.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 1

Merida One Twenty 7.900 18
The shock floats up and down as is compresses.

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A Shimano quick release rear axle holds the rear wheel in very nicely, and mirrors the fork’s super easy quick release axle system. When we see so many different axle systems on bikes these days, especially at the rear wheel, it’s nice to  find one that not only matches the quick release axles both front and rear, it’s also the easiest to use making wheel removal quick and painless.

The paintwork may be a little bit 90s with its sparkling dark blue, and the Merida decals not really attract many oohs and aahhs, but it’s clean and we like the way there isn’t 100 acronyms or fancy engineering names painted all over it.

 

Merida One Twenty 7.900 11
Sweeeeet.

With a refreshing lack of marketing gadgets and acronyms the Merida seems to skirt around the pressure to dazzle potential purchasers, instead they offer a bike with no proprietary suspension parts or specific components. Whether or not this was going to be a good or bad thing, we were to find out when the ride time came.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Merida took most of the Shimano XT on offer here, with a full kit of Shimano’s workhorse component group fitted to the One Twenty 7.900. We all know how much the mountain bike world loves a pair of Shimano XT brakes, more reliable than a Toyota Corolla and in this case with 180mm rotors, more powerful than a Toyota Hilux. Shifting is Shimano XT, too with a double chainring setup delivering 20 gear options in a huge range, wider than a 1×11 setup.

FSA handle the cockpit with a nicely finished handlebar in good width and a short stem for zippy handling. We were delighted to see the RockShox Reverb Stealth post fitted to a bike of this value, and the internally routed line for the seat post helps to reduce the already very cluttered bike. Mind you, our seat post wasn’t 100% bled properly, and whenever there is hydraulics involved, a quick fix is simply not that quick so we had to put up with a spongy feeling seat post during our testing period. We lamented the simplicity of a cable actuated seat post in Alice Springs.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 20
A RockShox Reverb push button lever controls the seat post, and the Shimano XT brake and shifter are integrated into one clamp on the bar.
Merida One Twenty 7.900 13
It may not a trendy single ring setup, rather a sensible and useable range that won’t leave you without enough gears in any situation.

FOX handle the suspension, front and back with both the fork and shock controlled remotely with one thumb lever. This will most certainly appeal to the rider who locks out their suspension a lot during climbs or on tarmac jaunts, but on the flip side it makes for a mighty busy bunch of cables up at the handlebars. With a bit of time and attention, you could certainly minimise the cable mess by trimming any excess length of cable down.

The stock wheels aren’t going to float if you drop them in the dam, they’re pretty weighty, but super tough and suit this bike’s sting vibe. There’s always going to be room for upgrades to a $4k bike, and perhaps a lighter set of wheels would be a good item for the Christmas gift list.

The real highlight of the One Twenty’s spec is the high level of gear you get for the bucks. The value in this one is high, and in true Merida style.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

It’s a calm and comfortable ride, with a nice and stretched out top tube to open up your position on the bike. With a fairly upright geometry you sit up and over the centre of the bike, creating a suitable body position for climbing and flowing through the singletrack. We quickly became comfortable on the Merida. After spending the days prior to testing on the Trek Fuel EX, the Merida felt a little firmer in the suspension tune and sharper/upright in it’s seating position.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 3
The Merida was a calm ride, settling into long open turns with a relaxed feeling.
Merida One Twenty 7.900 2
Running high tyre pressures to avoid pinch flats wasn’t ideal, so a proper tubeless conversion would be our first change.

We dropped the stem down as low as it could go on the fork steerer tube, but with the headset’s big cone shaped upper spacer, we couldn’t go as low as we would have liked to suit our aggressive riding style, but that’s an easy one to remedy with a raiding of a bike shop workshop parts box.

For a 120mm bike, the suspension felt super controlled and smooth with a firm feel that resisted wallowing and unwanted pedal bobbing. With a quick flick of the lever by your right thumb the FOX CTD (climb, trail and descend modes) fork and shock switches to Trail Mode, which is like a ‘half lock’, good for climbing or smoother trails. One more click to Climb Mode and both ends lock out almost like a rigid bike.

When the trails got faster and wilder we found the limits of the tyres, the tread pattern and compound were fine, it was because we couldn’t run low enough pressures at risk of a pinch flat on the super rocky trails of Alice Springs. If tubeless is not imperative to you, the tyres will be totally fine but we always strongly recommend a tubeless setup on any mountain bike.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 4
The 27.5″ wheels roll with a calm and confident manner.

Merida have matched the geometry to the suspension travel amount perfectly, when bigger travel bikes tend to be slacker and aimed at handling steeper terrain, and shorter travel bikes are for the cross country race track, this 120/130mm travel bike is all about just getting out on the trails and enjoying them in comfort and control.

The big range of gearing served up by the double chainring was a highlight, especially after riding a lot of bikes with SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain. This will appeal to the rider without years of riding in their legs, or steep climbs at their door. We found ourselves using gears in both the high and low range often, and after a few hours in the saddle those lower gears were a bloody blessing.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 1
Simple, solid and reliable.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

It’s not an overly flashy ride, with loads of over the top fancy talk, this Merida gets the job done in a calm and honest manner and we respect that. We flowed through the trails in Alice for hours on the One Twenty comfortably and carried great momentum up and down the steeper sections easily. We would have preferred to do away with the remote lockouts in favour of a less cluttered cockpit, but otherwise this well-handling bike is specced in a way that will have it last for years without any fuss or bother.

It’s pretty impressive how much you get for your dollars these days with an aluminium dual suspension bike from one of the biggest brands in the business, don’t look past this one as a genuine trail bike for summer and beyond.

Tested: iTrack Suspension P3 All-Mountain Prototype

It’d be hard to find a brand or genre of mountain bikes that we haven’t ridden here at Flow. This one, on the other hand, is as unique as a vegetarian dog, a real one-off, a prototype. Handmade in a home garage in Adelaide, this wild and unique contraption of a bike deserves a nod of respect, and the man behind this concept deserves a beer.

Flow was fortunate to have the P3 in our possession for a couple weeks, riding it was fun, but what we loved the most about it was the way it made us really think.

Test i Track 14

The iTrack P3 All-Mountain we received at Flow is currently the only one in existence, ridden by the frame builder Hugh Mcleay himself. In the name of development, Hugh eagerly awaits feedback and opinions from anyone who rides it, every point is taken on board to add to the development of the next prototype. Derived from two earlier downhill bike prototypes, the recent availability of single ring drivetrains has allowed this concept to be applied to all-mountain bikes, like this guy.

[divider]Buid[/divider]

Wow, where do we start? Apart from being a chromoly steel frame, there are also obvious differences between the iTrack and your common mountain bike. The P3′s suspension system is centred around a four-bar linkage configuration with a rearward travelling rear axle, which isn’t that unique, just that it moves rearwards significantly more than most. But where the P3 really differs from similar ‘short-link’ four bar designs is the incorporation of an idler pulley.

We’ve seen pulleys used in mountain bikes before, with varying amounts of success. For example Redalp, a Swiss brand who use a similar frame design in their bikes, but fall far behind in looks, oh dear… 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.

As we mentioned in our first impression piece on the bike before testing, the main aim of all this is to create a bike that has a) has a rearward axle path for exceptional bump-eating 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 3

Single ring drivetrains, like SRAM's XX1 allow for this suspension system to be used on more bikes than just downhillers.
Single ring drivetrains, like SRAM’s XX1 allow for this suspension system to be used on more bikes than just downhillers.

Test i Track 21

Curious to know more of the technical details? Luckily their website is loaded with more information than most of us can possibly handle. Check it out.

Suspension travel is 150mm, but if you measure the distance the rear axle travels, and not just the vertical path, travel amount is closer to 158mm. The fork is 150mm, and all the frame geometry and important angles that depict the bike’s handling are very much in-line with the popular 150-160mm travel bikes that we know and love already. Think Santa Cruz Nomad, or a Yeti SB66. Wheels are 650B, and with big tyres like we have here, it’s ready to mow down the roughest trails.

Test i Track 11

[divider]Spec[/divider]

It’s a prototype, so the spec isn’t really the main point, but to credit to the frame builders – who obviously ride the bikes they build – the P3 is built up to best represent what the bike is all about. Big rubber, wide bars, short stem and powerful brakes allow the rider to let it hang out a bit, and hit terrain fast. A Formula fork is not something we see often, but its low weight and consistent feel is more than satisfactory, we reviewed one earlier this year.

Syntace wheels with wide rims and a ridiculously loud rear hub are another low weight but sturdy component choice for hard riding.

A Cane Creek Double Barrell shock is at the heart of the suspension, with a whole lot of adjustment to play with if you so desire, we left it as it came to us, but if we had the bike longer, some experimenting with the smorgasbord of compression and rebound settings would be an interesting process.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

All this fuss, all this technical talk, what does it all boil down to? It has to be worth something, right? This bike works, and it works very well with the claimed benefits of the suspension design doing just what they intend to.

Pedalling into the trail for the first time, the bike felt so normal, the seating position was nicely centred, and the head angle not too slack for solid all-mountain riding. It was just when we started to pedal along a fire trail littered with loose rubble and embedded rock that we noticed things were very smooth indeed. The rear shock was hyper active, reacting quickly and effectively to the terrain, even whilst pedal forces were applying tension to the chain.

Test i Track 28

We were heading into Red Hill, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, a long-loved testing ground for Flow’s test bikes. The washed out, rutted, stepped sandstone terrain was what we were after to push the iTrack hard. It loved very minute of it. With almost 160mm of rear wheel travel, the bike was always going to feel pretty capable.

But where it shines is hiding all that travel when pedalling. Despite its big and heavy tyres and overall mass, the iTrack didn’t feel too clumsy when winding through flatter singletrack, or climbing up pinch climbs on the trail.

We ignored the temptation to use the shock’s Climb Switch and found the iTrack worked a treat, resistant to getting bogged down but not stiffening so much as to sacrifice climbing grip. Sure, we’d still use the Climb Switch on a really smooth climb, but we didn’t feel it was needed off road.

Test i Track 25

To be expected with a good whack of travel, it’s not a poppy or playful bike, rather a trail bully, with real attitude. It’s a bike that begs you to plough down the trail, rather than dart all over the place searching for a smoother line. Given how much the bike cries out for abuse, we did feel that the suspension curve needs a little refining still, as it’s quite hard to get the last 20% of travel out of the shock which makes the bike a little ‘spiky’ when taking on a flat landing.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

We hope that these bikes make it into production. With a few refinements to the suspension curve and a lighter weight material used for the frame, this bike will be a fantastic machine.

Before we sign off this review let’s just clarify one thing. We’re not trying to sell you this bike as the latest and greatest, nor is iTrack Suspension aiming to steer you away from the big brands with claims that it’s better than anything else out there. This is simply a great and inspiring story, an act of passion for bikes, the engineering and design of mountain bike suspension and realising the dream of making something truly special that actually works.

They’ll be available for purchase one day soon, and that’s an opportunity to ride something different, with a story. So, before you say ‘why?’ try and think along the lines, of ‘ok, that made me think’.

We like it.

Schwalbe launch Procore Dual Chamber Tyre System

Is this be the next evolution of tubeless? A system that allows more traction than ever before, but without the risk of burped air, snake bites or tubeless tyres rolling off the rim?  Or is this complication we don’t need, especially with the new generation of super wide rims?

Procore_A4

Schwalbe have finally given us a look inside the belly of their new ‘dual chamber’ tyre system, Procore. We’ve know about the existence of this system for some time, especially since riders on the World Cup circuit began riding around on bike with two vales on each rim, but the exact particulars haven’t been known until now.

The system is actually a collaboration between Schwalbe and Syntace; both companies had been working on the concept independently but have pooled their knowledge and resources to bring this project to fruition.

So what’s it all about? Procore is ultimately aimed at allowing riders to run lower pressures for a smoother and grippier ride, at the same time as nullifying the risks of either a puncture or rolling the tyre off the rim.

Procore_CloseUp_A4

The way it works is actually pretty simple. Procore is a high-pressure, secondary air chamber that is located inside a standard tubeless tyre. This chamber is run at between 55-85psi and serves a few purposes; it provides an extra layer of protection against punctures, it help protect the rims from damage normally associated with running lower pressures, and it helps lock the tyre to the rim protecting against any risk of rolling or burping the tyre. Furthermore, should you still somehow get a flat, Procore offer an emergency ‘backup’ keeping some pressure in the tyre.

In testing, Schwalbe claim that riders have been running pressures as low as 14psi without issue, and relishing in the extra grip and control this provides. That’s an impressively low figure, though not that much lower than some riders are currently achieving using a standard tubeless setup on a super wide rim.

DSC_5667

Schwalbe claim the system will only add 200g to a conventional tubeless setup, and that some of this weight will be offset by the ability to run lighter tyres than in the past. Until Eurobike, we won’t know further details about compatibility or pricing. We’re certainly intrigued – it’s a cool concept, but is it more complex than your average rider will accept? We can definitely see it appealing to racers, and perhaps that’s where this technology is primarily aimed. In that vein, Nico Lau, Sam Hill and Emmeline Ragot have all had success on the Procore system already, so it clearly works at the highest level of competition.

proCore_shooting_ews_tweedlove_16_hiRES

 

Tested: Four great trail bike treads

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

Maxxis Ardent

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

Ardent Masthead

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

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

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

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

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

Weaknesses: A bit vague in intermediate corners.


Bontrager XR4

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

Web Test Bontrager XR4

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

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

The aggressive XR4 in 2.35" size

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

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

Weaknesses: Not the best for tubeless use.


Continental Trail King

Sizes Available: 26×2.2″

Continental Trail King

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

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

Continental Trail King Protection

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

Strengths: Resilient sidewall. Black Chili compound wears well.

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


Schwalbe Hans Dampf

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

Schwalbe Hans Dampf

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

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

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

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

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

Weaknesses: Big dollars.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evolution Series

The Racing Ralph, from Schwalbe, is a designed for speed, and the tubeless ready Evolution model with ‘Double Defense’ technology adds that extra bit of durability to the sidewalls for those who need it.

We got to test these at our local trails in Sydney and found them fantastic – albeit they wear a little quickly. [private]

Set-up was easy and we got these to seal (tubeless) with relatively little effort.  Also, the tyres kept their seal and remained flat free for a solid 300km of delicious trail riding.

The tyre rolls fantastically fast, and while there is not a huge amount of depth to the tread, traction was decent in all but the loosest trail surfaces.

Cornering was also very predictable thanks to the soft compound tread and the round profile of the tyre.  We did however find that we lost confidence once the tread started to wear as the knobs would flex significantly.  This was more evident on rock surfaces -which led to a few hairy moments.

The durability and relatively quick wear was our only beef. As with most performance tyres, it’s a trade-off between performance and durability and for those not willing to make the trade-off for performance, maybe a longer wearing tyre would suit.

An excellent tyre that performs extremely well. The only draw back is the wear, but that’s the sacrifice you make for the good performance.

 

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