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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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[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.

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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.

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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.

Tested: Surly Krampus

It’s not a fat bike ok, it is a just a rigid 29er with huge tyres – not that unusual, right?

Actually, we won’t hide it, this bike is very unusual, but it’s a Surly and there is nothing you could call ‘usual’ in their entire catalogue. It actually looks like they know how to have more fun than any of us, with a bike that could cater for any tiny niche in the colourful world of cycling. Surly are also responsible for what we know as the original ‘mainstream’ fat bike – The Pugsley. But no, we’re not testing a Pugsley, don’t fret – we like to enjoy trails at speed and we aren’t that weird!

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We’d have to admit, when we opened the box and out came this heavy, fat tyred bike we felt conned. In the photos on the Surly website, it looked more like a normal rigid hardtail 29er bike than it did in the flesh as we glared at it on our office floor with a look of disgust. There was a lot of, “you’re testing this one”, and a few “no, I’m not, you are” calls thrown around, but please don’t hate us for actually having a pretty bloody good – albeit short – time on this odd bike.

The Krampus has a pretty narrow window of intended use, it’s not going to do more than a few things really well, obviously. But we gave it a go, with curiosity, and found ourselves behaving very differently in the woods when the big tyres began to roll.

The Build

Fat bikes are 26″ wheeled creatures with mega wide rims and 4″ tyres. Just to settle the score here, the Krampus uses 29″ wheels, 50mm wide rims and 3″ tyres. Surly call it a 29er+. It’s built with less sand or snow grovelling or riding up stairs in mind, rather singletrack ripping with a twist of fun and a lot more bounce than your average rigid 29er.

Steel is real, and really adds to this bike’s burly and unstoppable character. The solid nature and thin tubing of the old-school frame material goes hand in hand with rigid bikes, the steel factor helps take the sting out of the trail vibrations. It’s not light though, at 14.52kg. Built from 4130 chromoly, with a classic style green, glittery paint it’s got a real retro look about it.

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The Parts

It’s a renovators dream, a real blank canvas you could say. Ok without sugar coating it, the parts are pretty basic but that’s not really what this is all about. What really matters in this situation are the tyres, rims and the things you hold on to, and in this case there is nothing better.

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Salsa Whammy bars are super wide, flat and help give the Krampus a more normal feeling cockpit.

The brakes are mechanical from Avid, but at least they are the best mechanical ones out there. After they finally started to bed in, the power and modulation was ample to control the mega rotating mass.

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Shimano SLX shifter and Shadow + derailleur get the job done, but the gear range is still fairly limited with the 1×10 speed drivetrain with the 34 tooth chainring up front. Perhaps a SRAM 11 speed setup could help widen the bike’s usability with a wider gear range.

Shimano Zee cranks is an odd spec choice, they are super tough and aimed at the budget conscious gravity rider, or a cheaper alternative to the downhill racing group set – Shimano Saint. At least you won’t be able to break them, but they sure would be contributing to the bike’s beef. A simple MRP chain guide keeps the chain on the ring safely, and it worked ok for us. Just a couple times the chain would jump off the bottom of the ring, but the guide held it on top so when the pedalling began, it would correct itself and all would be fine again.

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The Ride

We wanted to take the Krampus somewhere that the mega tyres would actually be a benefit, we needed deep gravel, steep rocks, sand and some fast fire roads. We had to think hard. The moon would have been a good place, but that wasn’t an option on a Tuesday morning.

Big arse tyres.
Big arse tyres.

The big rubber takes a lot more effort to get rolling, but with the large rotating mass, speed was maintained in a weird way. The long feeling wheelbase makes for some seriously stable riding, and the bigger rotating mass makes the bike feel heavy to turn, but after a little while we began to get into it. Throwing our weight around on the bike and using a healthy dose of body language we found ourselves hooting along and using way less brakes through corners than we usually would. The lack of braking through corners became one of the funnest elements of this unique ride, we found the commitment of our new steel beast a real hoot.

You do bounce around a lot, like an old Toyota van with blown shocks. If you hit one depression or rise in the trail surface, you often begin to oscillate a bit, you just need to keep it all under check or you’ll go bounding off into the shrubs. This feeling is a lot more apparent with the 26″ fat bikes out there, but aboard the Krampus we found ourselves a passenger at times but it wasn’t such an issue and unless the trail turned into a drop or jump we could bounce our way to safety.

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A pea gravel climb which usually takes great focus and careful line choice became a laughable affair, as we would just hop out of the saddle and spin our way up the loose surface with the big arse tyres conforming and sticking to the loose surfaces like magic.

Don't you be afraid of pea gravel surfaces, the Krampus isn't.
Don’t you be afraid of pea gravel surfaces, the Krampus isn’t.

Rougher and faster singletrack was not a real highlight, to be expected. Just imagine that time when you first rode a 29er, the old ones that were cumbersome but super stable. It’s like that, but with no suspension, just cushioning bounce that takes a bit of a knack to keep under control.

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Despite its girth, the Krampus holds speed over rough surfaces really well, as the tyres don’t deflect from small rocks or roots like we’re used to on regular bikes. It’s also quite smooth rolling along, that is until you hit something bigger than a shoe, then you’d better be paying attention.

We climbed this crappy old road, and laughed at it from the top, no worries.
We climbed this crappy old road, and laughed at it from the top, no worries.
Wide and low.
Wide and low.
Super low tyre pressures and a special rim help the tyre to conform to a wide variety of surfaces to give a super smooooooth ride.
Super low tyre pressures and a special rim help the tyre to conform to a wide variety of surfaces to give a super smooooooth ride.
Three inches of bounce.
Three inches of bounce.
Steel baby, steel is real.
Steel baby, steel is real.

Verdict

The Krampus blurs the line between fat biking and 29er riding, it’s quite trail friendly and surprisingly agile in the right environment, you just need to find that happy place for the Krampus. It’ll tame those trails where traction problems would usually stop you in your tracks, and seems to remove that competitive ‘must go fast always, all the time’ attitude from our minds. It’s just good fun, and a real change.

We liked it more than we expected, mainly because we wanted to see the best in it, but at the end of the day, we’re lucky there are other bikes to ride, conventional ones, with suspension and frames of carbon.

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Got Soul?

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

The Cotic Soul trail hardtail

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

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

For more details go to Cotic Australia