SRAM GX Eagle – Trickle Down Tech at its Best, On Review

SRAM GX Eagle is a prime example of trickle-down technology; about one year on from the launch of SRAM XX1 and X01 Eagle, SRAM’s impressive 12-speed drivetrain with a mighty 10-50 tooth cassette we now have the option of SRAM GX Eagle. Probably more impressive than how much it looks and feels like the top-shelf offerings are the box kit price of GX Eagle, $799. Upgrading your 11-speed SRAM drivetrain for a fair $799 is now very appealing.

Holy dinner plate technology! 11-speed GX vs 12-speed GX.

What are we aiming to do here?

The shift lever feels slightly less crisp than the more expensive X01 and XX1 Eagle, but otherwise, there is very little difference in feel overall.

Is SRAM’s cheapest 12-speed drivetrain up to the task? How can it be cheaper? How much heavier? We know very well that SRAM are heralding the death of the front derailleur and claim that it “matches or down-right beats 2X drivetrains”, but is it only the enormous range of gears that defines Eagle?

There’s a whole host of other improvements over the SRAM 11-speed drivetrain, and we have fitted our GX Eagle groupset to our Specialized Enduro which came with 11-speed SRAM GX which will make testing between them wholly noticeable.


Once was 11, now we’re 12.

What we do know for now is that GX is around 250g heavier that X01 Eagle, predominantly in the cranks and cassette. It’s a touch heavier – about 120g – than the outgoing 11-speed GX drivetrain, although the Specialized uses RaceFace cranks.

It was a breeze to install, included with the derailleur is a tool to help guide you when setting up the b-tension – the distance the top jockey wheel sits from the cassette teeth – most important on rear suspension bikes as it requires deflating the shock and compressing the suspension to bottom-out for a correct measure.


What now?

Let’s ride!

Tested: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

It’s all about the new RE:aktiv Thru-Shaft…

Found on the Remedy, Fuel EX and Slash is a new shock design; RE:aktiv Thru-Shaft. Long story short, by replacing the classic internal floating piston design with a thru-shaft design, there are claims of reduced friction in the whole system.

The 2018 Remedy scores a new shock with some interesting tech.

RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is the latest development from the brand’s partnership with Penske Racing Shocks with ties to Formula One Racing, while not unseen in the suspension world before it’s new to mountain bikes. The Thru Shaft tech is available on higher end Trek trail bikes, including Slash 9.8, Slash 9.7, Remedy 9.8, Remedy 9.8 Women’s, Fuel EX 9.9.

The shock has a unique shape, with a mini piggyback reservoir on top.
A closer look at the shock’s architecture, removed from the bike.
The shock uncompressed.
And compressed with the internal shaft breaking out into the light of day.

Want to know more, perhaps a moving image will help explain all the mumbu-jumbo? For the full story, video and technical details on the new shock, dive in deeper right here – All the details.


How does the Thru-Shaft change things on the trail?

We’ve always found the Trek suspension bikes – Fuel EX, Slash, Remedy etc – to be supple and very active in the rear suspension department, but add in the new shock design and that buttery smooth suspension takes one more slide across the dancefloor in your socks, like leaving the honey jar in the sun and now everything is a little bit smoother.

It’s most noticeable when you switch the shock into open mode and push down on the saddle with short and fast frequency, the shock compresses and rebounds with a delightfully light action. Even after a few solid rides, the shock felt smoother to push on than a blown coil shock in a 2003 Orange 222.

How many times can we say the word ‘smooth’ in this review?

On the trail, we forgot all about the shock tech and it all just blended in to make the Remedy feel very planted and grippy, with the supple suspension and generous traction the whole bike confidently glues to the ground where many others would skip about and feel nervous.

With the shock being so supple it pays to make the most of the three-stage compression adjustments on the shock or the bike feels a little slow to jump forward when you crank on the pedals. But in comparison to our Norco Sight long-term test bike (admittedly it’s only 130mm of travel) which uses a regular RockShox Deluxe shock, the middle mode feels far less sensitive than this one. We also found the shock to be still quite responsive when set in the middle mode, we could push off the rear suspension more with less wallow, but it would still react to small bumps, it made for a great setting for technical climbs with so much traction.


Trail time thoughts.

The Remedy doesn’t muck around when the trails turn nasty, with a huge amount of grip from the excellent tyres and supple suspension it is a total blast to throw into the corners and rip around them; our favourite thing to do on the Remedy was to cut inside on flat turns and drift out to the other side. We gained a lot of confidence in the way the Remedy would rip corners hard, and keep the rubber side down.

Good times exploring blind trails on the Remedy, not afraid of much.

Trek has the bigger Slash for the serious enduro race crowd, so the Remedy can afford to forgo that mini-downhill bike character of many modern bikes and retain ample agility.


Why roll on 27.5″ wheel when Fuel EX and Slash are 29″?

Do you sense a wheel size debate coming on, too? Don’t run off, just yet.

We’ve spent plenty of time on Treks on either side of the Remedy that use 29″ wheels; the 130mm travel Trek Fuel EX, and the monster-truckin 160mm travel Trek Slash. So we had to ask ourselves why did Trek decide to stick with the smaller wheel for the Remedy?

Well, while bike brands are becoming increasingly better at making the most out of 29″ wheels with fewer drawbacks, you simply can’t look past a 27.5″ wheel when it comes to throwing it around for the fun of it, and that’s precisely what the Remedy is great at. Whenever we jumped on board this thing, our attitude lightened, we darted around the place like a hyperactive kid on a double espresso Gu Gel. It reminded us of the time we reviewed the Whyte T-130, which we thought would have been a style of the bike better suited to a 29er, but damn did we enjoy the smaller wheels!


The weight, price, parts and what we’d change.

13.1kg is fair for this spec level, the bike’s not built for cross country racing, so this figure means that the frame and parts are pretty reasonable on the scales. Some weight could be saved with a lower tread rear tyre if your trails don’t require such chunky treads, other than that any weight savings would be big ticket items like the cranks, cassette, rims etc.

We think Trek is traditionally pretty fair with their pricing of their mid-high range carbon suspension bikes, and this Remedy is a good representation of that. Thanks to the trickle-down of great technology like the SRAM Eagle drivetrain to this price point gives the spec massive appeal; it works so damn well.

The 150mm travel RockShox Lyrik leads the way with absolute confidence.

All the Bontrager parts are so dialled, each year they prove to be a legitimate component brand holding their own amongst the best boutique options out there. The wheels, dropper post, tyres, cockpit etc. are great and give the Remedy an aesthetically stylish appearance with everything matching so well.

Even in its highest setting, the MRP guide still rubbed on the chain when pedalling the low range gears.

The little MRP guide is a nice addition, but in the lower range gears the chain rubs on the underside of the guide, we’d seek out a different size guide or just ditch it.

The bike doesn’t come specced with tubeless valves or sealant, so don’t leave the shop without adding them.


So many bikes, who is the Remedy for, and does the shock live up to the hype?

The Remedy has massive appeal for a rider that pushes hard and has the skills to turn the trails into a playground. Or if you’re after a fast and confident bike to make light work out of loose, steep, choppy and tight terrain.

And the shock? Well, like we said earlier, the Remedy has always felt really smooth and supple so unless you had a direct comparison to a regular shock, the Thru Shaft shock won’t blow you away with a huge difference in feeling. But we can feel it, and it just contributes to an already great feeling bike.

To see more of the Remedy range, head over to the Trek site here: Trek Remedy, please!

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Epic

We’ve assembled, set up and had a couple of quick laps of the race track on the most anticipated arrival to the XC circuit this season, ahead of our full review here’s what we are in for.


Mad light, S-Works light.

10kg (including carbon water bottle cage) is very exciting for a bike you can wheel out of the bike shop, this brings it in line with the top-end Giant Anthem Advanced 0 and Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup, though half-a-kilo lighter than the Cannondale Scalpel Si HiMod Team.

10kg of speed.

How so light? No expense is spared with the S-Works model; carbon wheels, fork crowns, bars, post, saddle, cranks, shifters, brake levers… It’s superior kit and much of it from Specialized’s in-house component line, and wheels from Roval.


What’s new with the frame?

No more FSR suspension, the Horst Link has gone in favour of a one-piece rear end that relies on flex in the carbon (on aluminium Epic model also) instead to drop weight and moving parts from the bike.

The new RockShox Brain 2.0 shock is structurally very different and is mounted right off the back of the bike. Why? We’ll get into more of that in our review. For a quick video from Specialized of the brain’s brain, click here.

The one-piece rear end, lighter, simpler, sleeker.

It’s slacker by a full 1.5 degrees in the head angle, and pair that with a fork offset of only 42mm (regular 29ers tend to be 51mm) the new Epic feels a whole lot less twitchy and nervous than previous models.

A few more modern updates include Boost hub spacing, new internal routing for the cable and brake and it’s dropper post compatible too.


Early impressions?

After only a couple quick rides to dial in the position and suspension setup it’s safe to say a few things; it’s fast, light and begs for more. The brain in the fork sure feels firm even when dialled right back, and out the back, the transition between open and closed is a lot less apparent than earlier models with a useable tuning range via the little blue lever.

New brain location and structure pictured with the rear wheel removed.

 

Putting the hammer down on the Epic is a wonderful experience, it’s efficiency personified, there just is no unwanted loss of energy through the suspension at all.

With a new brain damper and slacker geometry, will the new Epic widen its value to being less limited to the race track? We’re going to find out.


Of course, it’s good, it’s an S-Works.  

Yes, so that’s why this Epic is going in a head to head review with a few other comparable bikes. So far we’ve confirmed the all-new Giant Anthem Advanced 0 and the Scott Spark RC 900 SL, two chart-topping race bikes that will undoubtedly be compared to by eager Australian cross country racers.

So, stay tuned for the ultimate XC race bike battle ever!

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team

On review we have the cream of the crop, the top of the shelf race bike from prestigious brand Cannondale, the Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team. The highest spec of all the Scalpel models available in Australia comes in at a mighty $11999, but is dressed accordingly in an absolute premium parts kit from SRAM, ENVE and FSA.

Our medium sized bike tipped the scales at 10.47kg after tubeless conversion and without pedals, top that!


UPDATED – Final review is now live, click through to that here.


Greener than a mossy log under a lush canopy deep in the Awaba MTB Park.
Greener than a mossy log under a lush canopy deep in the Awaba MTB Park.
Take a moment to admire the Scalpel's unique asymmetrical shape.
Take a moment to admire the Scalpel’s unique asymmetrical shape.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the review, here is what we are looking at.

Who is the Cannondale Scalpel for?

The Scalpel has been around for many, many years and has always catered for the cross-country and marathon racing crowd with its lean and lightweight frame and minimal suspension travel. It rolls on 29″ wheels, but the size small frame uses 27.5″ wheels.

It’s not for the faint hearted though, this is a seriously fast handling race bike. There is the Cannondale Habit for anyone looking for a more fun and confident trail bike on a variety of terrain, read our review of that one here: Cannondale Habit review.

my17_geo_scalpelsi

Check out the numbers on this one.

It’s a new frame for 2017, what has been changed?

Lighter, stiffer, slacker, shorter, longer etc. The new Scalpel is ‘Built For XXC’ by adding another ‘x’ to ‘xc’ they want the message to be that this is an XC bike that can handle the rougher race courses out there. Shorter chain stays, slacker head angle, increased fork offset, and Cannondale’s new OutFront Geometry. We’ll have more to say on that in our final review.

There’s not a lot of symmetry going on here, aside from the obvious – single sided fork – the rear end and wheel is also wildly offset to help achieve shorter chain stays with good tyre clearance. It’s a trippy bike to look at!cannondale-scalpel-si-hi-mod-team-9735

There’s also a new internal cable routing and provisions for Shimano Di2, and the rear shock remote lockout cable is the neatest we’ve ever seen, travelling inside the top tube to the shock.

The upper shock mount sits inside the top tube, so neat!
The upper shock mount sits inside the top tube, so neat!

For more on the frame details head over to our feature on the release of the 2017 Scalpel here: CANNONDALE’S NEW SCALPEL SI


What is ‘Si’ that Cannondale harp on about?

Si stands for System Integration, where many of the components of the bike are closely integrated into the frame like the cranks, fork, stem etc. Cannondale take this a few steps further than most with their proprietary front suspension ‘fork’, the Lefty.

Si - System Integration.
Si – System Integration.

So what’s new about this new Lefty then?

We have ridden and rated dozens of Cannondale Leftys since 1998 when it was introduced to the world, but they’ve always polarised with their obvious appearance and performance when up against the likes of FOX and RockShox. While we’ve always had plenty of great things to say about the light weight and steering precision of the single sided fork we’ve had just as many unhappy opinions on the plushness and sensitivity of the air spring and damper. At a time where the suspension market is making huge improvements with air spring curves we wanted more from the Lefty, we wanted it to be more supple off the top of the stroke and lighter in the compression tune.

MASSIVE improvements to the Lefty with 2Spring.
MASSIVE improvements to the Lefty with a new 2Spring – the new two coil valve and top-out springs.

Enter 2Spring, a completely new part developed by the team at Cannondale that can be retrofitted to 2014-2017 model Lefty forks and fitted as standard going forward with 2017 bikes. After one short ride we can certainly say that this is the best Lefty we’ve ever felt, far more sensitive and supple over the small bumps and it remains that way when the impacts become faster and harder. So far we’re very, very impressed.

Here’s the word from Cannondale on 2Spring:

“2Spring is named for its self-balancing positive and negative air springs, which are controlled by two coil valve and top-out springs that deliver significant improvements in performance and dependability.”

“First, the coil top-out spring reduces friction, allowing Lefty to move more freely at the top of the travel, which provides increased traction. Second, the simple design combines multiple parts into one and reduces part count by 17% which increases reliability. Third, softer material and reduced surface area at contact points create a soft touch, further removing feedback to the rider. Fourth, the air piston geometry was changed to hold more oil against the seal which keeps the fork moving more smoothly.”

“Finally, 2Spring’s valve and top-out springs have been designed to last the lifetime of the fork, unlike previous systems that required servicing every 100 hours.”

Pretty high spec, is it worth the cash?

It’d be hard to find a bike with such a high spec as this one, especially with SRAM Eagle and ENVE wheels. Then there’s the premium stuff from FSA with the bars and post, and Schwalbe tyres all ready for tubeless. So, yes it is mega bucks, but mega high-end too.

ENVE M50 rims, there's a lot of the dollars.
ENVE M50 rims, there’s a lot of the dollars.

We’ve already had one quick ride on this thing and holy moly it is quick. We were very well acquainted with the older Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate after a few weeks testing and racing it at the Cape to Cape, and already this feels like a very different beast. Once we got the suspension setup and tyre pressures sorted we began to put huge confidence in this bike and really let it gallop on fast singletrack, we were absolutely flying. For such a rapid handling front end, there was also a lot of stability on the descents, not what we’d expect from a racey 100mm travel 29er.

As we gear up for a few more solid test rides we’re going to get to know the details behind the 2Spring part in the new Lefty, and investigate what tuning capabilities there are with the front and rear suspension. We’ll also look into stem configurations too, we may want to get those bars down a little lower and we also noticed our medium frame had us nearing the limit of the seat post maximum height out of the frame.

Stay tuned, we’re going to love sinking our teeth into this one!