Long Term Test Update: 35mm Wide Ibis 741 Wheels

We knew wide rims were going to catch on, since we reviewed these wheels almost 12 months ago the mountain biking fraternity has seen the rise and reality of more than just wide rims, we now have 27.5+ bikes. All this time we’ve been rolling around on what was pretty much a plus bike, it just wasn’t called one as such.

The 27.5″ Ibis 741 wheels are 35mm wide (internal width), we fitted them to our Trek Fuel EX with 2.4″ Bontrager XR4 tyres. These are not ‘plus’ size wheels, they use standard width hubs, on 27.5″ diameter rims. So if you’re interested in the benefits that a plus bike has, but already have a nice bike a set of these wheels would bring it pretty close in performance to the new breed of ‘semi fat’ plus bikes.

The Ibis wheels on the right, next to a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie with 3" tyres.
The Ibis wheels on the right, next to a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie with 3″ tyres.

More on plus bikes here: Tested – Specialized Fuse 6Fattie and Tested – Scott Genius Plus and Scale Plus.

It was riding these wheels which has started our affinity for bigger bagged rubber on trail bikes, the way they transformed our bike into a traction machine was unmistakable. But as you would read in the review below, the set of wheels we were using developed cracks around a few of the spoke nipple holes. The wheels were swiftly replaced, and we sent them back to Ibis HQ in Santa Cruz, CA for inspection. Here was the official word from Ibis:

Regarding the spoke hole problem, that’s unusual (1 time) and would have been covered under our warranty.

The carbon is reinforced at each spoke hole so that the rim pull through strength is more than 2x the strength of the spoke. So the spoke will normally break long before the rim will crack. It looks like the spoke hole reinforcement material was not lined up with the spoke hole drilling, or did not mould correctly. Currently there are specific places for the reinforcements in the tooling to keep everything lined up, so this should not be a reoccurring problem.

So that was that, the replacement set of wheels are still fitted to the Trek Fuel to this day, and we still love them to bits.

The Ibis wheels took a break from the Fuel EX, and came over to Queenstown, NZ with us fitted to a Trek Remedy for some big mountain shredding. And we mean SHREDDING! There has been not one sign of any repeat issue in the carbon.

IBIS

Going forward, they will now come with a DT 350 rear hub.

Read below for our initial review on the wheels.


Wider rims on bikes are inevitable, there is no doubt it’s going to be the next big thing. We’re so confident that the trend of wide rims will spread into all genres of mountain bikes, that we’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long?

Ibis are best known for making curvy and fluid carbon bikes like the Mojo or Tranny, but a few sets of wide rimmed wheel sets have appeared in their catalogue recently. These new Ibis 741 wheels are carbon, subtle in appearance and have an internal width of 35mm, now that is really bloody wide. Using pretty standard looking hubs with Enduro sealed bearings (new wheels will now ship with a DT Swiss 350 rear hub) these wheels don’t cry out ‘look at me!’ like many carbon hoops around, they almost make it look like you’re riding a fat bike, but what they do to your ability on the trails is astounding.

Many of you may remember riding rims with such width in the early days of mountain biking, most likely steel or heavy aluminium. Now it appears history is repeating itself now that carbon technology has advanced so far. These wheels are available in a 650B/27.5″ size, and the Ibis 941 set for 29ers.

Test Ibis 741 Wheels 13
The 741’s made our Bontrager XR4 tyres look far bigger than when fitted to the original wheels.

It’s all about traction, and it’s that connection with the dirt that us mountain bikers seek. When there is no traction we hit the deck and that hurts, so imagine if you could add traction to your bike without adding weight to a place on your bike like your wheels? Well, you can.

Wider rim gives your existing tyre a greater contact surface with the ground. Taking the exact same tyre and fitting it to a wheel with a wider rim clearly shows the tyre looking visibly bigger and having more volume. The tyre also has a stronger stance, and withstands rolling around on the rim. With a 35mm internal width, these are a whole lot wider than your average mountain bike rim. Most traditional all-mountain rims are around 21-23mm, but we’ve seen brands like Specialized and ENVE pushing for a wider width. Specialized’s Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels are also a beefy 30mm wide.

Ibis-741-wheels-4
The 741 wheels use tape to seal up for a tubeless set up. Simple, easy and perfect during testing.

It took us about three minutes on the trail to make up our minds, and another three to completely confirm that wide rims are the way forward. You know that feeling when you get a flat tyre, but before it loses all the air you have that fleeting moment of magic traction? Well imagine that all the time, but without the tyre squirming, or dragging along or stopping to fix it.

We used the Ibis 741 wheels on two bikes, a Giant Trance Advanced SX and a Trek Fuel EX 9.8. Switching between the standard wheels and the Ibis felt like you suddenly had the bike handling skills of Sam Hill. We were literally throwing our bikes into the turns, harder than usual, and with new-found confidence. Rolling resistance on the trail is reduced too, with lower tyre pressures, the bike rumbles over the rougher surface with less resistance, and without pinging back off rocks or roots.

Test Ibis 741 Wheels 4
No flashy decals at this stage, just stealth black.

We didn’t drop the pressures enough on the first ride, and we kept going lower and lower until our tyres were running less that 20 psi. Dropping the pressures down unlocked the full potential of the wide rims, aiding the traction in corners, climbs and slippery roots like mad. With such low pressure, we never rolled a tyre off the rim or burped air from the tubeless system. 

The Ibis wheels made our 120mm travel Trek Fuel feel like it had 130mm, that may sound silly, but that is exactly how it felt. Rocky terrain seemed less intimidating, and climbing up the steepest single tracks all of a sudden became a reality. We walked less climbs, hit corners harder and rode our bikes looser and more relaxed than before. Terrain was opened up to us, we felt like cheats. The trade off is increased drag on the ground, you can hear and feel your tyre’s knobs rumbling over the trail surface. But we were so happy with these wheels where it mattered the most, that we found the trade off to be perfectly acceptable.

They are really going to suit the trail bike rider with an all mountain attitude, they are light enough to drop weight out of stock bikes, and stiff enough to not feel like you’re riding a traditional lightweight set of wheels.

After a few good months of testing, the wheels stayed true and the hubs spinning fast and smooth, but we did notice a slight amount of carbon cracking around one of the nipples on the rear wheel, and two more showing a signs of stress. We immediately let the Ibis folks in Australia know, and their response was – “We haven’t seen or heard of this happening since the release of the wheels, and are confident that it was an anomaly. Ibis will be giving comment upon inspection of the fault by their engineers at Ibis HQ”. Ibis are going to take a look at our set of wheels, and also send out another set for a longer term test, so stay tuned.

In the end, we’re happy to be continuing a test on the 741s. They allow you to ride harder and in more control as if you are magically riding on ‘hero dirt’ all the time, and that is a very good thing.

So, this set is going back to Ibis, and we’ll keep on flogging the replacement set all summer long.

Tested: iSSi Trail Pedals

Shimano are the big gorilla in the clipless pedal zoo, so perhaps it’s a sign of animal respect that iSSi’s new Trail pedals look, feel and perform just like Shimano equivalent. But iSSi, a small manufacturer out of Minneapolis, do have a few points of difference that may sway riders away from ubiquity of Shimano.


ISSI 8

The nearest equivalent pedal in the Shimano range is the XT Trail – the similarities between the XT and iSSi Trail pedals are obvious – so throughout this review we’ll be drawing a lot of comparisons between these two pedals, apologies in advance if you’re not a Shimano user! The size and weight is practically the same (both around 420g/pair) and getting Shimano riders to give the iSSi pedals a go is simple too, because they will work fine with a Shimano cleat. We didn’t ever bother to install the iSSi cleats, because the Shimano cleats already bolted to all our shoes worked perfectly. The entry/release of the pedals is close to identical too, so there’s no adaptation needed there.

[divider]What makes these pedals different?[/divider]

So what are the differences? Most obvious is the colour – you can get both iSSi’s Trail and XC pedals in a rainbow of colours to match or clash with your bike. The downside with a painted pedal is that they become a bit tattered looking pretty quickly if you ride in rocky terrain. Our red pedals look a bit less Ferrari and a bit more pizza delivery Corolla now. Perhaps the polished silver colour option is the best if you’re worried about your bike looking scuffed up.

ISSI Pedals 2
A 6mm Allen key gives you access to the guts of the pedal.

From a functional perspective, you can get iSSi pedals in two bearing/bushing options; the more expensive ‘Triple’ option runs three sealed bearing, whereas ours has a bearing and bushing combo (like a Shimano). To the pedal’s credit, we’ve had no play develop yet in the bearing/bushing assembly, but servicing is simple with just a 6mm Allen key and 9mm socket needed to take them apart. Riders with massive feet or those with clearance issues (like your heels rubbing on the frame) will appreciate that iSSi offers their pedals in three axle lengths too, with variants that are 6mm or 12mm longer than the 52.2mm standard axle.

ISSI Pedals 3
The cleat tension indicator is big and obvious, making it easy to ensure even tension on both pedals.

But for us the most important difference is in the pedal’s cleat tension adjustment. The iSSi pedals use a 3mm Allen key for adjustment (which we prefer to the Shimano’s 2.5mm) and allow you to ratchet up a higher level of entry/release tension than with a Shimano. This is good if you’re the kind of rider who often pulls out of a pedal, either under power or while throwing the bike about. While we personally don’t run our pedals that tight, we know some people do, and so it’s good to have that option of cranking them up. We also really appreciate the clear tension indicator of the iSSi pedals, which makes it really easy to ensure you’ve got the same tension across both sides of both pedals. In this regard, the iSSi pedals have the edge.

Where Shimano continue to have an edge is in the support stakes. We’ve just received a set of Shimano’s newest XT pedals this past week, and once again Shimano have increased the contact patch between your shoe and pedal to increase foot stability. It’ll be interesting to see if iSSi follow suit in the near future.

 

[divider]Final Thoughts[/divider]

All up, we’re impressed. We’re not sure if the iSSi Trail pedals are necessarily better than a Shimano XT, but the performance is so similar that we’d struggle to tell the difference underfoot. The colours, cleat tension adjustment range and axle length options will be enough reason for many riders to give them a try, and having such a close competitor to Shimano’s performance can only be a good thing.

Long-Term Test: Norco Range C7.2

The notion of picking a 160mm bike as a suitable long-term test sled for riding on our home trails would’ve seemed fanciful up until the last couple of years. Travel in these meaty portions traditionally has brought with it too many compromises – floppy singletrack handling, ploddy climbing, sogginess like a tomato sandwich.

But lighter frames, 27.5” wheels, more balanced geometries and better suspension have all come together to deliver a delicious cocktail of all-round abilities that have made 160mm+ bikes a viable do-it-all machine. And the latest incarnations of the Norco Range exemplifies this.

Even sicker caption
Go anywhere, do anything… and love it.

The Black Beauty caught our eye almost 12 months ago at the Australian Norco launch. Like a schoolboy too shy to ask for a dance, we didn’t give the Range c7.2 a whirl immediately, but admired it from afar. And so arrangements were made for an extended test ride. We’ve now had a little over eights months of fun on this beast. – here’s what we’ve learnt.

[divider] Build[/divider]

Norco have sky-rocketed in our esteem these past few years; they now produce some of the best looking, best featured carbon bikes on the market. Take a squiz at the Range; full carbon (excluding the chain stay), internally cabled, new-school single-ring-only construction, size-specific geometry, gorgeous gloss-on-matte graphics.

Finer details just emphasise the refinement; the flush Syntace rear axle won’t snag on rocks and roots, the internal cables don’t rub or rattle, and they’ve even managed to make room for both a piggy-back shock and a full-size water bottle.

On the point of the cables, we are a little circumspect about the need for an internal rear brake line. We damaged the line on the SRAM Guide RS rear brake early in the piece and the internal-only routing definitely makes this kind of repair work a little more arduous. But, it does look great. One improvement could be the addition of internal guide tubes too, to make threading the brake line and rear housing a simpler task.

The neglect test is a good way of establishing how well a bike has been assembled, and so we didn’t check the suspension pivots for the use of Loctite or even check the bolt tensions when assembling the Range. They came loose eventually, but it took a lot of riding. The main rocker pivot was the first to wiggle loose, followed by the dropout pivot. Since tightening them both back up, there haven’t been any repeat issues, so that’s a big tick in our books.

The drop out is like some massive carbon shark fin. Please note with appreciation the Syntace X12 axle.
The drop out is like some massive carbon shark fin. Please note with appreciation the Syntace X12 axle.

Norco have a unique take on bike sizing; the different sizes aren’t just longer in the seat tube / top tube, but the rear end correspondingly is longer or shorter too. In a size medium, the chain stays are just 428mm long. Ditching the front derailleur certainly helps free up some space, and there’s plenty of tyre clearance. During our testing we’ve run up to 2.4” rubber and clearance has never been a concern.

One point of note is that while the Range does come with a bash guard, your choice of chain guides is a little bit limited unless you fit a larger chain ring. The Range comes stock with a 30-tooth ring, which we really like, but you can’t run a D-mount style chain guide (no front derailleur tab) and there aren’t many ISCG-mounted guides that’ll accommodate a small ring like this. This is especially relevant to racers, and given that we’ve dropped the chain a handful of times, it something worth considering.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

The Range’s build kit is sensible, robust and very, very black. This is not the kind of bike you want to leave outside your tent at night – it’s invisible. During our testing, we did change a few components on the Range, including the wheels and fork. Both of these changes were in the name of product testing, though the wheels are one item we would consider upgrading on this bike.

 

SRAM’s super popular Pike and X1 drivetrain need no introduction, but the Guide RS brakes with 180mm rotors weren’t a known quantity when began riding this bike. It didn’t take us long to appreciate that they’re a much better brake than the Elixirs and a huge leap forward for SRAM on this front, which a snappy, positive lever feel and shit tonnes of power. We’ve had zero issues with these stoppers, other than some wet weather howling.

Unless you're deadset focused on weight saving, we can see few reasons to buy the more expensive X01 or XX1 groupsets, when regular X1 works so well.
Unless you’re deadset focused on weight saving, we can see few reasons to buy the more expensive X01 or XX1 groupsets, when regular X1 works so well.

The fork and shock have likewise been great, though it must be said the Pike has been sharing the workload with a FOX 36, which we also tested on the Range. We didn’t feel the need to add any volume reducers to the Pike to get the spring rate right for our lightweight test rider (63kg) though some heavier riders might opt to run a spacer or two. As we’ve noted before, it’s an easy fork to get along with, with buttery performance from the get go.

Everyone likes waffles. The grips on Range have a cool half-waffle pattern to them, but if you've got big hand you might find them a little thin.
Everyone likes waffles. The grips on the Range have a cool half-waffle pattern to them, but if you’ve got big hands you might find them a little thin.

We experimented a little with the rear shock pressures, before settling on more sag, rather than less. With 30% sag, we were able to get full travel on the trails where we’d like to, and then we judiciously used the shock’s compression lever to tackle the climbs. Norco have got it right with the Range’s rear suspension feel too – it’s nicely and lively, and it always seems to be shooting you forward.

We didn’t run the Norco’s stock wheelset for very long. After busting a spoke on an early ride, we took the opportunity to pop on some other wheels we were reviewing. While the Range’s stock Sun/DT wheelset is solid, it does have a fair bit of heft to it, especially compared to some of the wider, carbon-rimmed wheels that are becoming more popular and cheaper by the minute. During our testing we’ve run SRAM Roam 60 wheels (too narrow by current standards, and which have since cracked) and more recently Mavic’s Crossmax SX wheels, which are fantastic. Dropping weight out of the wheels brought even more liveliness to the bike, and really improved the climbing performance too. We know wheels aren’t a cheap upgrade, but it’s really the only obvious avenue to extract any more meaningful performance out of this bike.

There's 125mm of ride-freeing travel with the Reverb Stealth post.
There’s 125mm of ride-freeing travel with the Reverb Stealth post.

The reliability of the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post has been pleasing too. We’ve had some issues over the years with the Reverb’s reliability, but this particular one was put together right and hasn’t missed a beat. We also really like the way Norco have used Match Maker clamps on the brakes/shifter/dropper – it makes for a super clean handlebar.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

In the current #soenduro market, there has been a real push towards some pretty downhill geometries – bikes have been getting pretty darn slack and low in this 160mm segment. The Norco doesn’t dive into the trend quite as eagerly as some, and that’s real part of the appeal for us. It’s a long-travel bike that doesn’t feel like a pig if you’re riding it on less than long-travel trails.

Feeling very at home, on our home trails.
Feeling very at home, on our home trails.

The Norco’s head angle is 66 degrees. Compare this to some of its direct competitors; YT Capra – 65.2; Specialized Enduro – 65.5; Trek Slash; 65.0; Giant Reign – 65.0 degrees. The difference isn’t huge on paper, but it is enough to be noticeable on the trail, keeping the front end on track when the trails are flatter or pointing up. The relatively slim and fast-rolling tyres that come on the Range (Maxxis High Rollers in a 2.35”) help too.

Tight corners are less arduous on the Range than on many 160mm bikes.
Tight corners are less arduous on the Range than on many 160mm bikes.

Norco have their own take on the four-bar FSR suspension configuration, using a longer Horst link than some other brands that run the same system (for instance, Specialized). This gives the Range a notably rearward axle path early in the travel, resulting in more chain growth, which is designed to make for more efficient pedalling. And it is efficient, especially if you’re spinning that little 30-tooth chain ring up a climb. The responsiveness of the Range to quick stabs at the pedals is a highlight too; with the short chain stays and sensible use of chain tension, you can easily pop up the front wheel. You do notice a bit of chain tug back through the pedals when sprinting, especially over rougher terrain, but the power definitely gets to the ground in a nice and direct fashion.

It's all good fun until somebody loses an eye.
It’s all good fun until somebody loses an eye.

On the other side of the equation, those times when you’re pointing straight down the hill and pedalling is far from your mind, the Range is a balanced, precise and fast machine. Getting the front and rear suspension working in harmony is simple with the matched RockShox fork/shock, and we actually found the Norco’s overall balance was better when we had the Pike up front, rather than the FOX 36. We do think the FOX is better fork on the whole, but it didn’t mesh quite so nicely with the Monarch Plus shock.

For a bike with 160mm travel, the Range possesses a serious ability to change lines or take to the air. It doesn’t hug the ground quite like some other bikes in this segment, but rewards riders who like to find ways over, rather than through, the nastiest bits of trail. That said, when you do need to muscle the Range, it’s not lacking; there’s a ton of steering precision and confidence with the massive 35mm diameter Raceface bar and stem.

[divider] Other options[/divider]

With the rise in popularity of Enduro racing, plus the huge improvements in weight and efficiency we discussed earlier, the Australian market is now full of great 160mm-travel bike options that weren’t available in previous years. In the last few months alone, we’ve tested a whole swathe of them.

There’s the unique Breezer Repack Team, which is really more of a long-travel trail bike than a radical all-mountain bike. Trek’s Slash 9.8 is a superb offering, and offers very similar value to the Norco Range. We especially like the wheels on the Slash, plus the fact that Trek opted not to use their DRCV shock. Giant’s Reign 1 will appeal to those who like an alloy bike, rather than carbon. This mango coloured beast is pretty much a mini downhill bike in terms of the way it rides. The Specialized Enduro is a superb platform, and even though we were underwhelmed by the rear shock on the S-Works model we reviewed, we rate the Enduro from the big S very highly. Finally, we’re in the midst of reviewing the YT Capra, which seems to be extremely good value and a potential firestarter in the market.

[divider]Conclusion[/divider]

The Range has been a brilliant addition to the Flow stables over the past eight months. Swapping out the wheels for lighter, more responsive hoops is a nice way to compliment the Range’s abilities as an all-rounder, and would be the only upgrade that we could recommend.

Norco Range 9
Thanks for the good times.

We do have plenty of rough riding on our local loops, but we were nonetheless a bit concerned that the Range was going to be overkill for most situations, and we worried that perhaps the shorter travel Sight would have been a better choice. This wasn’t the case, and we’ve found ourselves reaching for this bike far more often than anticipated. The Range may be big on travel, but its efficient riding position and suspension, and sensible geometry mean it refuses to be pigeon holed.

Tested: Giro Terraduro Shoes

Buckling your feet into these shoes gives that feeling of hopping into the passenger seat of your parent’s old 90s Volvo, solid and very secure.

The Terraduro is a new-school shoe aimed squarely at the feet of the enduro/all-mountain rider, or simply someone who typically finds themselves kicking the ground foot-dragging through turns, climbing rocks to scout sick lines or just pushing their bikes back up the hill to hit a line again.

There is no carbon material to make the sole stiffer than a frozen house brick, or any fancy lightweight materials used in space exploration, just a classic styled shoe with a few key points of difference. It’s also quite subtle and traditional in its appearance, aside from the deep orange colour they don’t look too dissimilar to your traditional mountain bike shoe.

Giro Terraduro 1

At first these shoes felt quite bulky when on, but by the second and third ride the upper material around the shoe softened up nicely conforming to the foot with a more supple feel. The overall fit is slightly more relaxed than your classic cross country shoe, but not as roomy as the Specialized 2FO or Five Ten Impact XVI. The Giros will please riders with slightly narrower feet.

The buckle is an especially effective item, cranking up the plastic clip is very easy and pulls a good amount of tension around the whole foot rather than squashing it straight downwards. And the velcro straps pull tension across a metal clip, ensuring that mud doesn’t clog up their range of movement too much.

The rubber out sole is really quite soft and tacky, and branded proudly with the Vibram badge of approval. The shoes stick to rock really very well, but with a few areas on either side of the cleat already showing wear a couple months in, we might have to accept increased wear as a trade for great grip. But saying that, we do spend a lot of time in riding shoes, and plenty of time off the bike with a camera in hand, probably more than most.

We used the shoes with Shimano XTR Trail pedals, which have a bigger contact area around the pedal to support the shoe. Initial rides found us restricted in our pedal float, it took a couple rides for the shoes and pedals to fit best and the rubber sole wasn’t making too much contact with the pedal cage.

Giro Terraduro 10
No toe studs or deep plasticky spiked soles here.
Giro Terraduro 12
Note the way the sole curves upwards at the toe. Makes for great walking and clambering up un-rideable trails.

What we liked most about the sole was the way the toe area curled up, great for pushing your bike in. Your foot rolls forward on the sole as you walk, rather than bending the front of the shoe up and cramping down on your toes.

On the bike the shoes certainly do feel super sturdy and secure, the toe area provides loads of protection via a stiffer section of material up front, defending you from debris impacts. They do feel heavy when wet though, the soft mesh material under the tongue and around the inner heel area soaks up sweat and water from the trail, and doesn’t dry out as fast as some lighter cross country shoes or the Specialized 2FO shoes. Not our pick for wet weather riding as such.

Sole stiffness is pretty good, too. You can feel the sole bend around the pedal slightly when really giving it some, they aren’t trying to be an XC racer shoe, so what you do gain from a little give is a good feel of what’s going on down there, not that isolated feeling you get with super-stiff soled shoes.

Giant Reign 28
Pretty neat colour matching, right?

So, if you’re like us and appreciate a shoe that isn’t so stiff that you lose feeling of the bike below, you spend a bit of time dragging feet through turns and clambering around the bush looking for sick #enduro trails, these tangelo Terraduros are a killer option. Bolt some on and see for yourself.

Mavic Crossmax XL WTS Wheelset

Mavic’s Crossmax wheels have quite the reputation. Mavic, the French gods of rolling gear, have long made the rims and wheels that other manufacturers aspire to equal, and the Crossmax line has been at the pinnacle – le summet, if you will.

Mavic Crossmax XL 10

 

Mavic Crossmax XL 2

Their are four flavours of Crossmax wheels available, and we’re taking a look at the newest version of the XL wheelset in a 650B format (26″ and 29″ are available too), which is right in the sweet spot with the popularity of enduro-style riding/racing. Mavic bill these wheels as the “adventurer’s choice”;  I once ate a sea urchin, that’s pretty adventurous, so hopefully we make the cut.

Mavic Crossmax XL 1

First thing, these wheels come pre-dressed with some excellent looking tyres! Mavic have been developing rubber for both mountain and road bikes over the past few years, and this will be our first experience on their treads. The Quest tyres are a 2.4″ width, with a generous bag to them, nice and soft compound, with a lowish-profile centre tread. The claimed weight for them is 780g in 650B, and of course they’re tubeless ready too.

Mavic Crossmax XL 8
The 2.4″ Quest tyres are a soft compound, with a tread pattern we definitely like the look of.

The wheels themselves are a pleasant evolution, rather than a blank-sheet re-design. Mavic have bumped the internal width of the rims up to 23mm, for more tyre stability, as well as changing the rim profile to make it more dent resistant. The milling on both the hub and rim is something pretty special, giving the wheels that gorgeous ‘carved from a hunk of aluminium’ industrial chic that we really like. 24 massive Zircal spokes hold each wheel together, with radial lacing on the rear driveside.

Mavic Crossmax XL 9
The four-pawl freehub body feels light and crisp in action. Easy serviceability has always been a feature of Mavic hubs too.

We haven’t yet removed the tyres to weigh the wheels on their own, but the claimed figure is 1710g. With tyres and tubes fitted, the complete weight of our 650B wheels is just on 3.6kg, which will drop significantly once we go tubeless (valves are supplied).

Mavic Crossmax XL 3
With a 23mm internal width, the Crossmax XL rims aren’t as wide as many we’ve tested lately – will there be enough support?

We’re genuinely looking forward to riding some Mavic wheels again. With the trends towards super-wide rims we’ve been seeing in the all-mountain category, it’ll be good see how some high-quality not-so-wide wheels perform in comparison. These will be finding their way onto our Norco Range long-term test bike very shortly. NB. Our wheels are fitted with an XD Driver body, not a Shimano driver as is standard.

Shimano XTR Di2 – Shift Modes Explained

We’ve now logged about three weeks on board Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed drivetrain on our Pivot Mach 4 carbon test bike, happily zapping, beeping and whirring away through the trails. We’re conducting a long-term test on this remarkable new groupset; our aim is to find out what it’s really like to live with electronic shifting on a mountain bike. You can read all about the installation process and some of the questions we hope to answer in the coming months, here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/shimano-xtr-di2-long-term-test-installation/

Shimano XTR Di2 9
A whole stack of gears. The 11-40 cassette is broad enough that we’re spending most of our riding time in the big chain ring.

One of the most unique features of the Di2 drivetrain, is that it offers you a variety of different shift modes (all of which can also be customised, which is an aspect we’re yet to really explore). Our drivetrain is a 2×11 configuration, and as such we have three different shift modes to choose from.

Shimano XTR Di2 10
Ultimately, we’d like to just run the right hand shifter and use Syncro Shift mode full time.

 

There’s a ‘conventional’ manual shift mode, using both left and right shifters which control separate derailleurs, just as with a regular cable-actuated shift system. The big difference between a cable system and the Di2 system is that the shifts are completely instantaneous, and you can hold down the shifter button to shift across the entire cassette in one go.

The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next.

Then there are two Syncro Shift modes, which allow you to use just one shifter, with the system automatically shifting the chain between the chain rings. The two Syncro modes can be programed to offer different shift patterns; for example, you might set one mode up for racing and and configure it to keep the chain in the big-ring most of the time, only using small chain ring as a bailout gear. Then you could set the other mode up to use more lower range gears, staying in the small ring for longer. Again, we’re yet to delve into customising these modes, and so far we’ve been sticking to the pre-programed settings.

Shimano XTR Di2 21
The display is not intrusive. In fact, the only time we’ve been distracted by it is when riding in very low light, when it’s actually quite bright!
Shimano XTR Di2 8
The front shifts are powerful and crisp. The little servo motor that drives the front derailleur packs a punch, so much so that it carries a warning to keep your fingers out of the way!

Any fears we had that the Syncro Shift mode would prove somehow disconcerting or unpredictable have already evaporated. The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next. The shifts between chain rings are conducted with a corresponding shift at the rear derailleur (i.e. it downshifts the rear at the same time as upshifting the front), so that the ratio changes are kept even, and you don’t have that same huge jump in gear ratios that you normally associate with a front shift.

Shimano XTR Di2 6
The rear derailleur is bulkier than a standard Shimano mech, but we haven’t had any impacts yet.

Our preference is to eventually remove the left hand shifter and install a dropper seatpost remote lever in its place, and our experience with the Syncro Shift mode thus far definitely gives us the confidence to do so. We’re going to be revisiting our XTR Di2 drivetrain plenty more in the coming months, so we’ll leave it there for now. Stay tuned. Zeeeeeep!

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Reign 1

Holy mango explosion! We’ve finally got our hands on the spectacular Giant Reign, and we’re itching to give it an absolute bollocking. Somehow, we think it’s looking forward to it, too.

Giant Reign 1 6

We got our first taste of Giant’s updated Reign last year, when we attended the launch over in Pemberton, Canada. Have a read all about it here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-2015-giant-reign-advanced-0/

At the launch, we were lucky enough to spend all of our riding time on board the $7700 Reign Advanced 0. But this time we’re on the slightly more attainable alloy-framed Reign 1, which is dressed with a pragmatic yet performance-focused parts kit and is priced at $5699.

Giant Reign 1 3
If you’ve got eagle eyes, you’ll notice the top shock mount rotates on cartridge bearings for supple performance.

There’s no mistaking the Reign’s intentions, this bike is as #enduro as it gets. One glance at this bike in side profile gives you the full picture: it’s slacker than a pair of the Kepper Jeans in 1998 – the static head angle is 65-degrees, which becomes more like 63 once it’s at 30% sag. In contrast the seat angle is a climbing-friendly 73-degrees, and the keen eyed will notice that the RockShox Pike fork has travel adjustment too, which will help keep it on the straight and narrow on the climbs as well.

Giant Reign 1 7
We approve of the addition of a top guide and bash guard for the SRAM X1 crankset. The small weight penalty is worth it for the extra security.

Travel is 160mm front and rear and we’re well versed in the mannerisms of the Maestro II suspension, which we know works superbly with a high-volume shock such as Monarch Plus. Four-piston Guide brakes with big rotors, excellent Maxis rubber, and 800mm-wide handlebar all remind you that this is not a trail bike. The weight, however, is more like you’d expect from a trail bike, coming in at 13.46kg (before tubeless conversion) – we’ve got to say, this figure was a pleasant surprise when we lobbed it onto the scales.

Giant Reign 1 2
Pike fork, Minion tyre. Win.

Prior to the release of the new Reign, the nearest equivalent bike in Giant lineup was the Trance SX, which was actually one of our long-term test bikes. We absolutely loved that bike (you can read the full review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/long-term-test-giant-trance-advanced-sx/) which bodes well for the Reign.

 

Tested: Giant Anthem Advanced SX

Take a dedicated XC racer, corrupt them with hamburgers, air-time and baggy shorts, and introduce them to the Anthem Advanced SX – the perfect bike for a cross country racer gone a little wild.

The Anthem Advanced SX takes Giant’s incredibly popular Anthem platform, then gives it a bit of a shake up with the addition of a swathe of more aggressive components. The aim is take create a bike that will tackle descents, jumps and berms with a bit more vigour than the standard Anthem, but without slowing your lap times down too much. Mission accomplished.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Bursting onto the trail with more vibrant colour than a toucan vomiting up a packet of Skittles, the Anthem Advanced SX is a real head turner. There’s a lot to admire; the frame mates a beautifully finished carbon front end with an aluminium rear, and in the middle is Giant’s longstanding Maestro II suspension system, delivering 100mm of very efficient travel.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-1

As is the norm with Giant, the attention to detail is top notch. The cabling is neater than a military haircut, and there’s not a rattle to be heard, a feat rarely accomplished with internally cabled bikes. All the racers will be happy to find that there’s room galore for a water bottle so getting a drink on the fly isn’t a dexterity challenge, and the shock’s lockout lever is easy to access.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-6
Great colours, clean cabling, and a head tube length that lets you get low if you like it that way.

 

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-21
The Maestro II suspension system drives a short-stroke Monarch RL shock. In a 29er format, the lower Maestro link led to a long rear end, but this isn’t a worry with the 27.5″ wheels. Note the press-fit bottom bracket and clean cabling too.

Giant have been a real driving force in the industry for the rapid normalisation of 27.5″ wheels, and this is the first Anthem we’ve ridden with this wheel size. The Anthem 29er was noted for having a rather ungainly long chain stay, but with the smaller wheels, the Anthem SX has the attributes for a much more fun ride, with the stays just over 430mm long.

Despite the extra heft associated with a dropper post and bigger-bagged tyres, the Anthem SX weighs in at just over 11.25kg once set up tubeless, which is certainly in the healthy BMI range for this style of bike.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-3
The right mix of light and burly! With the longer fork pushing the head and seat angle back a degree, you can see how we’ve had to push the seat right forward to get the desired position over the bottom bracket.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

We often find ourselves adding a wider bar or bigger tyres to cross country bikes, but Giant have done all the hard work for us this time. Most notably, the bike comes with a confidence-boosting 120mm fork, rather than an Anthem’s usual 100mm, which kicks out the head angle a degree. The cockpit of a 70mm stem and 740mm bar puts you in the right frame of mind for razzing too.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-10
The 120mm-travel RockShox Revelation is the key component in transforming this bike from a regular Anthem to the playful animal you see here.

 

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-14
Giant have ditched their controversial OverDrive 2 steerer system for 2015, which means you can now run a regular stem should you wish to swap out the length or rise. We found the 70mm stem to be perfect.

Carbon wheels add a little spice and strength, and are an unexpected bonus at this price point. The wheels are from Giant’s own range; the P-TRX1 rims are 27mm wide, which isn’t massive, but is a step up in width from those on the regular Anthem Advanced. The tyres are also slightly beefed up, with a Maxxis Ardent up front, and the ‘Race’ version of the same tyre out back. The bike comes supplied with valves and rim tape too. We went tubeless, and even though the front tyre isn’t specifically a tubeless-ready item, it held air fine.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-11
The rims don’t scream ‘carbon’ at first glance, and it wasn’t until we went to convert the wheels for tubeless use that we even noticed that they weren’t alloy. These hoops are a great addition at this price. The bike comes with rim tape and valves, and the rims hold onto the bead nice and tight.

The soggy saddle feels like some has jammed a piece of white bread into your knicks, and for a bike that has this kind of performance on offer, something firmer and less prone to snagging your shorts is needed. The handlebar sweep isn’t our cup of tea, but that’s personal, so you may love it.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-28
We’re not a fan of the saddle, but we do like the Giant dropper post it’s attached to.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-27
The neat thumb lever for the dropper post is unobtrusive and has a light feel. We’ve used the Giant Switch-R dropper post on a number of bikes now and we think it’s a quality performer.

On the positive side of the ledger are the SRAM drivetrain and brakes; finally SRAM have some stoppers which are a worthy accompaniment to their excellent 1×11 drivetrain offerings. We’ve raved often enough about the quite, simple performance of SRAM’s single-ring drivetrains, so we won’t bore you again.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-18
No dropped chains and no missed shifts. The SRAM X01 drivetrain was flawless. Do you like the black KMC chain?

The Anthem’s fork and shock are mid-range RockShox items. On the plus side, both the fork and shock are reliable, have effective lock-outs and are so simple to setup that even the least suspension savvy rider will get them working properly. The Revelation RL fork has been round for years, well-loved for its sheer reliability. It’s smooth over the small hits, but with repeated big impacts the basic Motion Control damper feels less controlled than the more sophisticated RTC3 or Charge dampers found in more recently updated RockShox forks. Out back, the rear suspension is similarly matched. It too has good sensitivity to the small impacts, but the overall feel is quite firm though, with a supportiveness that rarely necessitates hitting the lockout lever.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

This bike isn’t really designed to hug the ground, so the firmer overall suspension feel suits the way it’s meant to be ridden – no wallowy suspension robbing it of responsiveness, saving the bulk of the travel for when it’s really needed, to handle the big hits that are coming its way. And they are coming, because the Anthem SX cries out to be chucked in the deep end.


Giant Anthem Advanced SX 3

While the Anthem’s firm suspension mightn’t isolating you from the rough terrain beneath your wheels like some bikes, it puts you in an excellent position to use every bit of vocab in your body language arsenal and to really play with the trail and stay loose. The slacker head angle and short cockpit encourage you to lift the front wheel more, or to roll into steeper descents, and with the dropper seat post getting the saddle out of the way, you’re left with room to move, to use all that suspension in your arms and legs to get the bike through whatever line you’ve picked.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 4

Of course the Anthem best known for its cross country abilities, and the SX version doesn’t forget its roots as a great climber. The Maestro II suspension system is efficient in our out of the saddle, and the bike’s weight isn’t going to cause you to break a sweat. It did take us a bit of time to get the saddle position dialled though – because the frame is built around a 100mm travel fork, the use of a 120mm on the SX version makes the seat angle quite slack, which is further emphasised by the 25mm offset in the dropper post. We ultimately jammed the seat right forward on its rails to get a position that felt good over the cranks for long climbs or in-the-saddle accelerations.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 21

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-31

We’ve said it before, but you should always pick the bike that suits 90% of the riding you do. For many riders out there, who may dabble in a few Marathon or XCO races each year, the temptation is to buy a full-blown cross country race bike. But that’s a mistake in our opinion – why sacrifice the fun factor on your day-to-day rides just to knock twenty minutes off your next 100km race? A bike like the Anthem SX lets you have the best bits of both worlds.

 

 

Flow’s Freshies: Giro Terraduro Shoes

The Terraduro is a new in-between’er shoe from Giro; it’s not a full-on downhill shoe, and it’s not a cross-country shoe either. Stiff, but not too stiff, and with a chunky Vibram rubber sole, it’s designed to deliver great pedalling efficiency but not send you into an unplanned groin-tearing ballet manoeuvre should you accidentally step on some wet rocks.

Giro Terradurro 4

First impressions are that the shoe feels stiffer than either the Teva Pivots, Shimano M163 or Five Tens we’ve been using lately. They’ve definitely gone to town on the sole too – there’s plenty of rubber there, and the toe box looks well protected with scuff guards. We like the safety-first colour too, no one will have any excuses for standing on your feet.

Giro Terradurro 2

The Terraduro is available in a men’s or women’s version (sizes 41-47 men’s, 37-42 women’s) and comes with the reasonable price tag of $219 AUD. On the Flow scales they come in at 430g each, which is a bit heavier than the comparable Shimano M163 (370g).

Giro Terradurro 3

Jared Graves has been running these shoes in the EWS and they seem to have done the job there for him, so we’re looking forward to channeling his powers and winning all kinds of glories too. Stay tuned for a full write in a few months.

 

 

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.

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

Trail Testing a Rocket: The GT Helion Carbon Pro

Gone are the days where you needed loads of suspension travel to let you go bloody fast off road. A bike with top quality short-travel suspension, dialled geometry in a stiff and responsive frame is so incredibly capable of a fast ride. The GT Helion is one bike that knows its place: it’s not a do-it-all, one-bike-wonder kinda thing, this is a cross country weapon.

[divider]Construction[/divider]

From afar, the Helion looks so simple with its straight carbon tubes creating a clean and angular looking frame, plus the way the top tube and chainstay both follow a parallel path gives the Helion an uncluttered and traditional appearance. But tucked away underneath out of sight is effective technology that’s far from traditional, more on that soon.

The Helion Carbon Pro is of course a carbon frame; all tubing is made from the fantastically stiff, responsive and lightweight wonder material. The wheels are 650B, which is not such a common sight in such a short travel machine – we would usually expect to see the bigger 29” wheels with shorter-travel bikes of around 100-120mm of travel.

GT Helion 2
Set the trails on fire, on this rocket ship.

A new generation RockShox Maxle (found and loved on the Pike fork) fastens the rear wheel in tight, and all the cables are externally routed down the underside of the frame. External cable routing may not be the flavour of the times, with many brands boasting internal routing as a feature, but gear cable and brake line work is far easier like this. GT prove that routing externally can be as neat as internally routed frames, and the way the rear derailleur cable goes internal just towards the rear is a nice way of keeping the cable away from the slapping chain.

GT handle the task of directing the cables with real class, especially with the tricky task of navigating a clean path around the suspension linkage.

GT Helion 30
That silver linkage delivers on what many bikes fail to do: offering great suspension, but with minimal drivetrain feedback.

 

GT use a suspension design called AOS, Angle Optimised Suspension. The whole idea behind this system is to have the rear suspension pivot around a very high main pivot – note how far above the bottom bracket the main pivot is. This all adds up to a rearward axle path that helps the rear wheel can move up and over impacts, helping maintain your momentum. Confused? Watch this video from GT.

But that’s not the end of it, having such a high pivot means that the chain length will grow dramatically as the suspension compresses, which creates hectic pedal feedback. The solution was to de-couple the cranks from the frame, isolating any tension added to the chain from the rear wheel moving away from the frame. The bottom bracket is housed in an independent section of frame, which retains the optimal location as everything compresses and rebounds.

GT Helion 10
From the drive side, the Helion hides all its trickery.

This system is not new, we’ve just seen it in many variations over the years, and even the old GT i-Drive from the 90s was achieving similar results. GT also uses the AOS system across their entire dual suspension range, from this short travel Helion up to the massive GT Fury which Gee Atherton rode to victory in the Cairns World Cup Downhill this year.

This all might sound like a lot of complication, but in fact there is no more moving parts than your typical Giant, Specialized or Santa Cruz. All the bearings are large, and held together with solid hardware and not once during our testing were any concerns of increased maintenance raised.

The rear shock is protected from any mud or debris from the rear tyre by a nifty guard, so that solves any of those issues nicely.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Geometry wise, the Helion errs on the sharp and racey side of things. Not only does the short travel lend itself to cross country, the frame’s geometry, too, is clear about its intentions. Our medium frame has a long 606mm top tube, a sharp 69.5-degree head angle, and behind you are long 438mm chain stays. These numbers combine to give the Helion a very stong personality, and a distinct place in the lineup of offerings from GT.

During our testing time aboard the Helion, we were also ripping around on a Trek Fuel EX 9.8 and a Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B, so when it came to throwing a leg over the Helion it sure felt racey! Setting up the suspension on the Helion is a little different to most bikes as the rear shock is hidden away out of view, making sag measuring the traditional way with the rubber o-ring a bit tricky. GT incorporate a sag indicator into the frame. Some bikes do sag meters better than others, and we found this one a bit hard to gauge precisely where we were at. We went out a couple times with not enough sag, eventually dropping the shock pressure to find that sweet spot, which just required a bit of trial and error.

Immediately we noticed the bike’s length: it’s a big one! The long top tube allows you to really get out of the saddle and put the hammer down with enough room to keep your hands away from your knees. And not having such a short rear end is a blessing on the climbs, you don’t need to put in any effort to keep the front wheel from lifting up uncontrollably like you do on your typical all-mountain bike.

The Helion really does fly up the climbs, it’s bloody fantastic at gaining traction and transferring your hard efforts into lightning fast motion.

When the trails get tight and twisty, the length is a bit of a handful, but we got used to it quickly, drawing wider lines and keeping a consistent pace rather then throwing ourselves into turns like we have been doing on the Enduro or Fuel EX. But as soon as the trails open up, you’ll be hard pressed finding a bike that takes off and holds its speed as much as this one.

If you’re into the new-school enduro bikes, or even take downhill racing seriously this style of bike would be the ultimate training tool to sharpen your handling skills and appreciate the feel of a razor sharp bike again.

GT Helion 4

It’s an engaging ride, the stout 110mm of travel is firm and supported, so you’re really able to work the terrain to your advantage, pulling on the handlebars out of turns and pumping it into undulations in the terrain. Add the light and fast wheels into the mix, and we found ourselves ripping through our local singletrack with less pedal stokes than we’d usually need to keep the bike moving.

Our medium frame came with a 80mm stem, and 740mm wide bars, and we appreciated the way that the wide-but-long cockpit helps to counteract the bike’s razor sharp head angle. We wouldn’t suggest going any shorter in stem length on the Helion, it may make the handling a touch too quick and quite a handful.

Where this bike doesn’t exactly shine is no surprise the area that you’d expect such a fast and efficient climber, steep and challenging descents.

It requires a composed pilot to make the most of the stiff and sturdy frame when the trails start turning up the pace and pointing down. Maybe the lack of dropper post that we are so used to using contributed to that nervous attitude on steeper trails, but it didn’t like to be jumped or lofted off drops. But in fairness to the Helion, this is simply just the trade off you pay for with a bike that is so strong in other areas.

GT Helion 11
The front end of the frame is long, and also incredibly precise when steered through twisty trails.

With remote lockouts on both fork and shock, you have immediate control of compression adjustment, and on this type of bike, the remote lock outs are a good fit. The FOX lever might be a little clunky in appearance, and adds cables into the mix, but at least the GT is without a front derailleur, so that’s a bonus. A little time and a pair of cable cutters would be worth it, trimming the cable a bit shorter would reduce the spaghetti mess. Activating the remote lever with one click puts both the fork and shock in ‘trail mode’, great for climbing trails, or when the terrain is buffed. One more click and both end lock out firmly for tarmac jaunts. If it wasn’t for the remote lever, a traditional lever on the shock would be a stretch to reach do to when riding, as it’s a long way down.

GT have nailed it, the balance between suppleness, comfort, control and traction is spot on.

Even without the use of the remote lever, the rear suspension remains firm and supportive under pedalling, resisting bob or unwanted compressions leading to energy loss. This is about as good as it gets, GT have nailed it, the balance between suppleness, comfort, control and traction is spot on. The FOX CTD shock is tuned to perfection, the 110mm travel is delivered in a plush yet efficient manner.

The whole AOS thing works a treat, the efficiency is really noticeable in reducing those mushy moments you don’t want from a dual suspension bike. We did notice the bottom bracket back and forth in relation to the main frame when the suspension was cycling through its motion, especially when seated, but only ever so slightly and didn’t bother us one bit.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

GT do it differently when it comes to speccing parts and they’re not afraid to mix it up – just take a look at the drivetrain for example. A Shimano XT 10 speed drivetrain is mixed with a RaceFace crankset with their take on the narrow/wide chainring, first pioneered and proven in SRAM’s single ring drivetrains.

To keep the gear range low enough, an e*Thirteen sprocket is retro fitted to the cassette by removing the 17 tooth sprocket and adding the large black 42 tooth cog.

To keep the gear range low enough, an e*Thirteen sprocket is retro fitted to the cassette – the  17 tooth sprocket has been ditched at the large black 42 tooth cog fitted. The range of gears is actually pretty good – whereas a single ring conversion with 10 speed Shimano loses a bit too much on one end of the range, the Helion’s e*Thirteen conversion works a treat. Shifting into the low gear is fine, perhaps not as seamless as with regular Shimano cassette, but it’s worth it for the extra climbing gear. A chain guide is fitted for extra security, though perhaps not really necessary, and we’d happily ride the bike without it.

GT Helion 23
Note the big black sprocket? That’s the e*Thirteen 42 tooth that gives the Shimano 10 speed drivetrain a lower range of gears. Nifty!

FOX take care of the bouncy bits in excellent fashion and we especially love the custom coloured decals on the forks. The fork felt smooth and supple, once again re-affirming that FOX are back on their game for 2015. All the cockpit parts are great, even if the Tundra saddle is a bit firm. Did we miss an adjustable seatpost? Yes, even on this type of bike an adjustable post would widen its abilities, the weight penalty is always worth it in our opinion!

The wheels were fine, and the refreshingly quiet DT rear hub was a nice change after riding some seriously noisy Specialized and Bontrager wheels. The tyres however were not tubeless ready, and are best suited to softer soils, so buyers beware. A tackier set of rubber sealed up with a tubeless valve would have taken the bike to the next level of awesomeness.

A highlight of the parts were the Shimano XT brakes, with 180mm rotors at both ends, they simply can’t do any wrong.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

The GT really grew on us! We really appreciate the way that its geometry and efficiency combines all the things we like about hardtails, but with what we love about a dually! The long and roomy frame puts you in a seriously powerful position to sprint through singletrack and fly up climbs, and the unique gear components and sharp appearance give the Helion that feeling of riding something special, and different.

A short travel dually of this quality in the hands of a skilled rider can really show up any slack trail bike or enduro weapon on calmer trails, or if you’re seeking a fast bike for marathon events or taking on a cross country race, you’ll be well served with this one.

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

 

 

 

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: RockShox RS-1

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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/

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano’s New M200 Enduro Shoes

Shimano go full enduro with a completely new shoe, loaded with features that are aimed to please even the most enduro of enduro riders. Even if you’re not full enduro, all these features in this great shoe simply lend it to suit the average trail rider anyhow. Protection, efficiency and a balance of on and off the bike stability.

Shimano M200 8
Even though they kinda look like what Robocop would wear bowling, we like ’em.

The most obvious feature is the big flap that covers the top of the shoe, underneath is a drawstring style set of laces, that pulls tension across the foot. This will also help the shoe from soaking in too much water and mud, and keeps the laces in check too. In classic Shimano style, a slim and low profile buckle is the main source of closure giving the rider quick and on-the-fly adjustability. All Shimano ratchet-style buckles are replaceable, if you ever manage to damage one on the trail.

Shimano M200 1

The inside of the shoe is raised to offer your ankles protection from the sharp edges of your bike and crank, and the toe area is also quite tough. So feel free to ride with your foot out dragging through turns like Jared Graves, your toes will be safe from impending threat.

A new style of sole ‘Torbal’ is introduced into a few mountain bike shoes for 2015. As Shimano puts it “TORBAL allows the outsole to twist, allowing for lateral movement of the rider, while keeping the forefoot aligned with the pedal. This encourages a natural rider “flow” motion, improving control especially during technical downhills, and allowing aggressive trail riders to push their limits even further.”

We’ve got a set of these shoes lined up for dirt time, so stay tuned for our feet’s impressions on these new kicks from Shimano.

Tested: 2015 Lapierre Zesty Trail 829

The French are not known for offering much leniency when it comes to their conceptions of what an item should be or how it should be used: “This is a croissant. It is made with butter.” “This is a baguette. It is eaten with ham and cheese.” And it’s fair enough – what the French do, in their very particular way, they do very well. Therefore, it seems particularly un-French, that Lapierre should now offer a choice of two variants of their vaunted Zesty.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 38

For many years, the Zesty’s formula has been bang on, so were as surprised as anyone when Lapierre brought out the Zesty in two completely different configurations for 2014. It seemed odd to us that Lapierre would muddy the Zesty’s identity, splitting the range into an AM (all-mountain series) with 150mm travel and 27.5” wheels, and the TR (trail series) with 120mm travel and 29” hoops. But as old mate said, “what’s in a name?” What really matters is how this rose smells on the trail.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 4
Alice Springs is one hell of a place to ride, and the ideal place to test a bike from our perspective as there’s so much trail so close to town.

We were fortunate enough to log a few hours on the 2014 version of this bike last year at the Lapierre launch, but we didn’t clock enough trail time for a full review. This time around we’ve grabbed the 2015 model and taken it on a holiday, far away from the depressing Sydney wet weather, out to Alice Springs in Central Australia.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Let’s start with the area that everyone always asks about first: the e:i Shock electronic suspension system. 2015 is the third year that Lapierre have implemented this brainy, automatically-adjusting suspension and we feel that the system has finally reached the level of refinement that will gain it broader acceptance. We’ve had reservations about the e:i system in the past (read about our experiences in our long-term review of the 2014 Zesty 927) but this year it’s a different kettle of fish.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 35
The Relay motor can adjust the shock’s compression settings in less than 0.01 seconds.

In a highly abbreviated version, the system works thus: a sensor on the fork and a sensor in the bottom bracket communicate with your rear shock to ensure that it’s using the ideal compression setting for any given situation. If it’s bumpy, the shock is fully open, if it’s smooth/smooth-ish then the shock is either locked out or uses a medium compression setting. If you want to learn more about the detail of the e:i system, watch this video.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 34
The e:i system’s battery has been shifted and has changed shape in order to make room for a water bottle. We do wish it was internal though!

What is great about the new version of the e:i system is how much more simple the interface is with the rider, and how much more cleanly it integrates with the bike. The battery (which last for around 24hrs riding) is now offset, meaning a water bottle cage can be fitted (hooray!), and the bulbous head unit is gone. In its place is a small receiver that is fitted with a single LED light to communicate to the rider which setting system is currently in. The sleek incorporation of the new receiver not only looks a lot neater, but it’s far less susceptible to damage too – last year, we unthinkingly flipped an e:i bike upside to fix a flat and broke the display, but that can’t happen now.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 32
The e:i head unit / receiver is now much smaller, neater and simpler. The whole display aspect has been ditched too.

As with previous versions of the system, you can opt to leave the suspension in automatic mode (which we highly recommend), or you can select to ‘fix’ it into a medium or locked out compression setting. You also have ability to set the sensitivity level of the automatic mode, which dictates how much bump force is required to disengage the medium/locked-out compression settings. We definitely preferred the most sensitive setting, which delivers the smoothest and most supple ride.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 20
The small accelerometer on the back of the fork leg communicates with the head unit to tell the rear shock what the terrain is doing beneath your wheels.
Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 24
The OST system is smooth and laterally stiff, dishing up 120mm of travel.

Looking beyond the electronics, this is a striking, bold machine that’s put together to an exceptionally high standard. The front triangle is carbon, the rear end alloy, which is a construction configuration we’re seeing a lot more of now. The Zesty TR 829 shares the same OST suspension design as is found on the Zesty AM; it’s a true four-bar configuration, with a double row of bearings used for the dropout pivot. The seat stays and chain stays are super robust and widely set, giving the 829 a level of rear end stiffness that evades most 29ers. The downside of this beefy construction is that some riders may experience a little heel rub (especially flat pedal users), but thankfully this wasn’t an issue for us. If you’ve got big feet, or your ride duck-footed, expect to clip your heels.

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While the rear end is very stiff, the downside is potential heel rub on the seat stays.

The pivot hardware uses massive fittings, and the rear shock doesn’t undergo any rotation at the DU bush, all of which should reduce the need for maintenance. The shock itself is a Rockshox Monarch – there are no FOX shocks currently compatible with the e:i system. Up until 12 months ago, we’d have regarded this as a downside, but Rockshox have truly lifted their game with their rear shocks of late and the stiction that plagued previous Monarch shocks is gone.

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While the cables are routed internally out of the box, the frame has a full complement of cable stops so you can run the brake and gear lines externally too if that’s your preference. There’s a high level of attention to detail as well, with nice touches like a sag indicator on seat stay, a quality chain slap guard and thick frame protection stickers fitted to the exposed areas of the frame. If we’re getting picky, we do feel that the rear axle is a bit average, as the cam mechanism became very hard to operate once it got gritty after a few days’ riding.

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While the gear/brake lines are internal, there are provisions for routing them externally should need be.
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We love the neat, tucked-away rear brake caliper positioning. The rear skewer we’re not fond of – it gets awfully hard to operate when gritty.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

As the second-highest model in the Zesty TR range, the 829 is kitted out with some of the finest offerings that SRAM can muster. Undoubtedly the highlight is the XX1/X01 drivetrain (using X0 carbon cranks), which never seems to miss a beat – not one dropped chain or missed shift, and the gear range is tremendous. The SRAM Roam 40 wheels were a pleasant surprise too; even though they’re SRAM’s more basic Roam wheel offering, they’re super light, tubeless ready and the freehub engagement is speedy.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 5

Suspension duties are handled by a Rockshox Monarch rear shock and a SID 120 fork with slick looking Fast Black coated legs.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 13
Four-piston Guide RS brakes bring it all to a stop.

The new Guide RS brakes and a Reverb Stealth post complete the picture. One the advantages of the full SRAM ensemble is that the Match Maker system can be enjoyed to full effect, with just two clamps on the bar for both brakes, the seatpost remote and shifter.

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SRAM’s Roam 40 wheels were a nice surprise! Fast rolling, light and tubeless.

Schwalbe’s new-look Nobby Nic in a 2.25” width handles the rubber duties. The tread pattern of these tyres is greatly improved, with far more stability available when cornering. We do still have some questions about their long-term durability as we did cut the sidewall of the rear tyre, though we were testing the bike in the notoriously tyre-slashing terrain of Alice Springs.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 11
Match Maker clamps keep the bars clutter free.
Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 36
Schwalbe’s new look Nobby Nic is far more predictable than in the past. Big thumbs up.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Zap, zap goes the Zesty’s brainy shock the moment you turn a pedal stroke and set off into the trail, instantly firming up the suspension when the terrain is smooth or opening it up when it’s bumpy.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 9
Woohoo! So much singletrack!

It takes just a few minutes of riding before you begin to ignore the noise of the little motor working away and you stop paying attention to the LED indicator telling you which mode the suspension is in. But after those few minutes you begin to realise something… You’re not thinking about your suspension, at all.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 23
With an XX1 drivetrain the bike is near silent, except for the zapping of the rear shock motor.

Reaching for a lock-out on the shock or hitting a lock-out lever on the bars has become such a standard part of riding a dual suspension bike (especially on longer-travel bikes) that it’s really refreshing to be able to forget about all that and concentrate on just riding, knowing that your bike is as efficient as is ever possible. And it IS far more efficient; there’s absolutely zero unwanted suspension movement.

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With the seat post remote located within easy access of your thumb, utilising the dropper post feels very intuitive.

Ignoring the e:i system, the Zesty TR is a fantastic handling bike in its own right. It’s a really solid frame, not in a boat anchor kind of way, but in a shove-it-int0-a-corner kind of way – the rear end is much stiffer than we’re accustomed to on a 120mm 29er and this brings lots of confidence to the ride overall. Confidence is everything as far as we’re concerned, and this bike has it in spades.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 19

With its 1×11 drivetrain, the Zesty’s seatpost remote lever is located where your front shifter would normally reside. This seemingly simple setup configuration actually adds tremendously to the ride of the bike. Because the seat post lever is so easy to hit (just as easy as hitting a shifter) we used it much more than usual, dropping the seat an inch for a fast corner, popping it back up for a pinch climb, slamming it all the way down for a jump… In conjunction with the suspension automatically working its magic, we found it really easy to ensure the bike was in the perfect mode for the terrain at any given moment.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 26
The Zesty’s cockpit is ideal. With a bit of creative taping/zip ties, you could just about make the wiring invisible too.

The top tube and cockpit are nice and roomy too, and our size medium fitted us perfectly. We’re big fans of the long top tube / short stem setup, and the 740mm bar and 80mm stem are ideal. You’re left in a really strong, confident position to really work the terrain or slot into a corner, which is one thing the Zesty does exceptionally well. Once we’d settled on tyre pressures of around 23/24psi, we found the Nobby Nics to be super consistent, with a predictable break-away point on the loose Alice Springs surfaces.

On the whole the SID 120 is well equipped for the job at hand. It’s simple setup and lightweight construction are a highlight, but we’re sure some riders will look to put on something a little more stout, like a FOX 34 or Pike 120mm, as the bike is not afraid of harder riding. In the extremely dusty, arid, gritty conditions of Alice Springs, the fork became a little dry and sticky over the small bumps. The occasional hard compression was needed to keep the seals and legs slippery and lubricated. Chatting with locals, it’s a common story – the dust in Alice is so fine that just about every fork will need more love than usual.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 2

Interestingly, we noticed that we rarely clipped a pedal onboard the Zesty, even though the bottom bracket height is right where you’d expect it. We put this down to the bike sitting a little higher in its travel as the e:i system kicks in as soon as you start pedalling, raising the bike’s sag point slightly.

If we had to find one area where we thought the e:i system interfered with our normal riding style, it would be in those instances where we put in a fast half pedal stroke to lift the front wheel. Normally when you jab at the pedals and lean back, the bike would sag into its travel a little in the rear, helping the front wheel to unweight. But with the e:i, because the suspension firms up as soon as you pedal, the bike doesn’t sag so much out back, meaning a bit more effort is needed to get the front wheel up. But that’s it, that’s the only instance we could perceive the e:i system as requiring any kind of adaptation from us.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 3

Overall:

After some slightly frustrating experiences with the e:i system in the past, we are absolutely thrilled with this bike and the advancements it represents. No, of course you don’t ‘need’ electronic suspension (and no-one’s forcing it upon you), but neither do you ‘need’ traction control in your car, or an electric toothbrush or a 6-megapixel camera on your phone.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 37

The e:i system does add complexity to the bike, but what this test showed us, is that it actually simplifies the ride. The Zesty TR is a really fantastic bike, with great geometry, smooth suspension and well-thought out component choices, and even the non-e:i versions of this bike would be magnificent. But when you add the e:i system’s efficiency to a bike that’s already this good, you get an amazing machine. Nice work, Lapierre, it’s great to see this system reach a level we’re truly happy with (now, hurry up and make that battery pack internal too!).

 

Tested: PRO Mega Bag

Travelling with a bike kind of like travelling with a toddler, the only difference is that you’re the one chucking the tantrums. With a toddler, you can always sedate them, but when it comes to bikes, the best solution is a proper bike bag.

We’ve usually gone down the route of a cardboard bike box for travelling with a bike, purely because there are generally a few empty boxes lying around the office. But on our recent trip to Alice Springs, we were transporting some precious cargo – a $10,000 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 – so a cardboard box wasn’t going to cut it. We wanted something that offered lots of protection, but which wasn’t going to blow out our baggage allowance. Enter the Mega Bag.


Pro Mega Bag-4

The PRO Mega Bag weighs in at 7.75kg on our scales (surprisingly, almost a kilo less than PRO claim), which is a fraction lighter than both of the other bike bags we’ve used in the past 12 months (Evoc and Dakine, both 8kg). In terms of construction, it melds some aspects of a soft bag and a hard case, with an alloy frame reinforcing the the bottom of the bag, and it has four wheels, so you can use it as a skateboard. It’s all put together with quality materials, reinforced seams and robust-looking zippers and there are more handles than an octopus could use.

Pro Mega Bag-13
Here you can see the bag’s alloy frame with its sliding dropout mounts. Note the chunky foam pads on either side of where the dropouts affix. The mesh bag on the bottom can be taken out and filled with clothes, shoes etc.

With no instructions supplied, we thankfully didn’t have to think to hard about how to fit our bike. First, off come your handlebar/stem and pedals. Fit the triangular frame protection pad around the head tube area, then affix the bars vertically to the pad using the velcro straps. Stick the pedals in one of the bag’s interior pockets.

Next, both wheels come off, then it’s a matter of securing the bike’s dropouts into the resin dropout mounts/brackets using the bike’s own axles to hold it all in place. The resin brackets can be slid along the alloy frame to account for wheelbase variations, and there are upper and lower mounting positions to account for the height of your bike. With our 29er, we needed to extend the wheelbase adjustment almost to its limit – bikes with a wheelbase longer than 120cm will be a tight fit – and we used the lower mounting point for the fork dropout. The rear dropout bracket has a neat chain holder too, so your derailleur and chain are kept under tension and don’t flop around. There’s also an optional drivetrain cover, which is kind of like a shower cap for your chain, that we didn’t bother with, along with two more random foam blocks that can be fitted to the frame alongside the head tube and seat tube junctions for a little bit more cushiness.

Pro Mega Bag-22
There are two mounting positions on the dropout brackets – for a mountain bike, you need to use the lower one. The fork axle slides through the mount, holding your bike in tight. Check out the big foam pads, once again.
Pro Mega Bag-21
The rear dropout mount incorporates a chain guide to keep your chain under tension.
Pro Mega Bag-20
Much neater than a cardboard box, we’d say!

The sides of the bag are large zip-up compartments for the wheels, and they’re generously voluminous – our 29er wheels with 2.3″ tyres didn’t need to be deflated to fit. There are hard plastic panels to protect your rotors (or you could remove them) and thick padding prevents the hubs/cassette from digging through the interior panel and damaging your bike in the main compartment. Finally, there are a handful of zip-up pockets in the bag that can be stuffed with tools, tubes and jelly snakes, and also a large mesh bag that’s perfect for your hemet, shoes and hydration pack. The second time we used this bag, it genuinely took us about five minutes to completely pack the bike.

Pro Mega Bag-17
The side pockets / wheel compartments are large enough to accommodate a 29er wheel with a fairly large tyre. Inside the pockets you’ll find thick pads and plastic guards to protect your rotors.

Our only gripe with the PRO Mega Bag is that it’s a bit of a handful to wheel around. Because all four wheels can swivel, it’s actually really hard to keep the bag rolling in a straight line, kind of like trying to teach a puppy to walk on a lead! We think the bag would be better if one set of wheels were fixed and the other set swivelled, as this would give you all the manoeuvrability you need but without the bag occasionally flying out of control like a satellite that’s spun out of orbit.

Of course the high price is also a serious consideration. At almost seven hundred clams, this PRO Mega Bag is a lot more expensive than your average cardboard box (infinitely more expensive, actually, as cardboard boxes are normally free). Still, we’re sure they’ll be available for less than the ticket price, because this is a competitive part of the market. Regardless of the price, compared to the pain of cramming your bike into a cardboard box, jamming it with padding, fretting about the box getting wet or crushed, and then having to drag it around the airport with the handles tearing apart… well, let’s just say that we’re not going back to the old cardboard box, that’s for sure. If your bike is your baby, you travel often, or you can’t bear the idea of travel damage, then a bag like this is a no brain-brainer.

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. 

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: Norco Revolver 7.1

Stable in the air, rails the corners, switches directions faster than a PUP senator and loves the rough stuff – no this isn’t an another all-mountain bike, it’s Norco’s 650b cross-country race rig.

Tested Norco Revolver 22

[divider]Build[/divider]

Clean and smooth are the two words of choice when describing the build of this bike. The frame lines, the colour and the decals all combine to maintain the understated but eye-catching theme.

The matte finish to the Norco is alluring, the subtly of the black and gray decals draws your eye to look closer at this bike. You notice straight away the lack of cabling on the frame, the brake hoses and gear cable (just one, this bike runs XO1) disappear at the head tube and reappear on the chainstays. The internal routing of the brake line left a few questions around serviceability hovering in the air, however when we spoke with Norco Australia they confirmed that the routing is guided within the frame making replacement straight forward.

There's a spare port for a front derailleur cable should you want it.
There’s a spare port for a front derailleur cable should you want it.

The large head tube section of the frame is in distinct contrast with the thin seat stays; the head tube provides directional stiffness, while the seat stays are designed to flex, absorbing and smoothing out the small trail chatter.

A meaty down tube and chain stays, with supple and slender seat stays.
A meaty down tube and chain stays, with supple and slender seat stays.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Our first reaction was “Sweet XO1! Finally, a 1×11 setup on a bike that doesn’t cost $6,000!” We’re big fans of the 1×11 set-up and the XO1 setup on the Revolver only reinforced this. The XO1 comes with a 32-tooth chain ring (which we have previously swapped out to 34-tooth on other cross-country rigs), and we found the gearing range worked really well – we would only be considering swapping the size if the local trails required it. The Revolver came with the OEM-only aluminum XO1 cranks, super stiff, especially when combined with the PF30 bottom bracket.

The Revolver uses an oversized PF30 bottom bracket.
The Revolver uses an oversized PF30 bottom bracket.

Matching the race theme, the Revolver gets a Prologo Zero saddle and silicon grips, both of these are big favourites of ours here at Flow HQ. The silicon grips provide the rider with a direct connection with the bike and are super comfy even for our gloveless mitts. While a zero (i.e. flat) saddle may not be the first choice for most, it is one of the comfiest saddles we have come across yet.

XO1 offers all the performance of XX1 - we can't tell the difference out on trail.
XO1 offers all the performance of XX1 – we can’t tell the difference out on trail.
Tested Norco Revolver 7
Check out the supremely neat brake line routing.

The SRAM vibe continues with the anchors on the Revolver being Elixir 7 Trail brakes. While not the pick of the range the 7s did the job, though at times they did lack sheer stopping power. The Elixir 7 Trail brakes had the job of pulling up Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads on Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims laced to Kore Hubs. The wheels held up fine on the rocky test trails and race tracks we rode the Revolver on – we’d be interested to see how the wheels stand up to a full season.

The alloy bar, stem and seat post are to be expected on a bike in this price range, and they provide an opportunity to drop more weight. We were not overjoyed to see fairly basic RockShox Recon Gold fork on such a race-worthy rig. The absence of a remote lockout on a bike aimed for the XC racer was also noted.

The alloy bar, stem and post are all fine, but there are potential weight savings here.
The alloy bar, stem and post are all fine, but there are potential weight savings here.
We've never used the Stan's Rapid rims before. They are sleeved and pinned (rather than welded) but they are still light, fast and easily set up tubeless.
We’ve never used the Stan’s Rapid rims before. They are sleeved and pinned (rather than welded) but they are still light, fast and easily set up tubeless.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

This bike is extremely fun to ride, confident in the air and more than willing to follow you through a corner. While our experience with 650B hardtails has often been a nervous one, the Revolver was anything but, and felt right at home bombing through rock garden of death cookies. We found converting the bike to tubesless certainly helped with eliminating the trail chatter and this was made easy by the Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims.

The Recon fork is light and simple, but its damping is fairly rudimentary.
The Recon fork is light and simple, but its damping is fairly rudimentary.

Acceleration is the name of the game when it comes to winning cross country races, and the power transfer on board the Revolver is excellent. The chunky chain stays and big bottom bracket shell don’t give up an ounce of power, and the light weight wheels get moving on command.

Crowd favourites. The Racing Ralph treads are a good all-rounder. We prefer to run them at lower pressures so they don't feel skittish.
Crowd favourites. The Racing Ralph treads are a good all-rounder. We prefer to run them at lower pressures so they don’t feel skittish.

Only the Recon fork holds the bike back. It feels like you either need to set the fork up for small bump performance or big hits – there’s no real middle ground. If you want good control over the little impacts, you need to accept the fact you’ll be bottoming out often. We preferred to run the fork a little harder, sacrificing sensitivity for support when we really pushed the bike.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Revolver’s frame and groupset make a clear statement about this bike’s intention to inflict some pain (the good kind) on the race track. But it’s also a fun bike to ride, an element that’s often missing with cross-country race machines. We’d love to see a better fork (perhaps a SID) on the Revolver to match the rest of the bike’s abilities.

Tested Norco Revolver 15

We’re still undecided overall about whether we prefer a 650B or a 29er for our serious cross-country racing too. We still love the way a 29er eats up the bumps, but we’re certainly stoked with the flickability, fun and acceleration of this wheel size. Maybe this rig could win over some of the 29er diehards, including us.

 

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!

 

Tested: Specialized Women’s Riata and Cascade Shoes

I remember my first set of mountain bike shoes. I picked a ‘best guess’ size and special ordered them from my local bike shop. There were a men’s design, fitted well enough, and worked well in the face of no other wildly different options that small or at that price point. I’ve had knee niggles ever since, a likely outcome given over training, under stretching and my feet swimming around in my shoes.

Specialized have developed research, training and design systems that eliminate experiences for female riders like the one above. Like the women’s saddles we tested recently , our women’s shoe test also began by meeting with Lyndell van de Walle at Cyclery Northside, getting fitted for two new offerings from Specialized: The Riata MTB shoes and the Cascade XC shoes.

[divider]Finding your fit[/divider]

The fit process for a pair of Specialized shoes takes into account two important measurements. The first is a rider’s size, the second is the amount of contact their foot has with the sole of the shoe.

A heat sensitive device measures the two in one go. This limits the fussing around with special ordering and multiple shop visits if the first size isn’t right. (Although, due to brand’s reputation for excellent fitting women’s shoes most shops stock a good range of sizes and styles.)

Behold, the arch-o-meter.
Behold, the arch-o-meter.

Our foot contact measurement indicated a high arch. This signalled that extra support inside the shoe would provide additional stability, an improved pedal stroke and better power transfer.

Three different innersoles, or footbeds, are available as an add-on to a shoe purchase for riders who want to address this area of fit and performance. In our case, we were supplied with innersoles that support a higher arch, which stopped our foot collapsing during the pedal stroke.

The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.

The built up footbeds have led to much better tracking of our hips and knees, to the point where knee pain on the bike and was far more responsive to stretching and maintenance off the bike. The difference is so pronounced we want to put these in our regular shoes as well – except that they’re carefully designed for a pedal stroke, not a foot step.

With size and arch support taken care of, what would the shoes offer on top of this?

[divider]Specialized Women’s Riata MTB Shoe[/divider]

The Riata MTB shoe is an entry level mountain bike shoe. At $129.95 it retails at a price you’d expect to pay for a reasonably supportive running shoe.

Like a similar level of running shoe, the Riata is constructed out of well-researched features delivering fit and performance without going over the top with bells and whistles.

We can't say enough good things about the Riatas - especially for riders new to the sport or who don't want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.
We can’t say enough good things about the Riatas – especially for riders new to the sport or who don’t want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.

The sole provides reasonable traction. There are no studs or softer compound materials to add extra grip, but we didn’t miss this. In fact, we preferred the durability of the more basic sole that is less affected by walking on scratchy surfaces.

Specialized shoes are built up a little along the inside middle of the foot. Whether you buy additional inner soles or not, riders will also benefit from the ‘metatarsal button’ which helps to keep the toes feeling relaxed and ‘longitudinal arch’ support. Again, great for the demands of long rides and a cycling pedal stroke.

The sole of the Riata has a ‘stiffness factor’ of six. This means it’s stiff-ish without being so light, hard and power transfer-y that Specialized would want to use similar materials for Tony Martin’s next time trial bike.

The more basic sole provides ample traction.
The more basic sole provides ample traction.

Of the two pairs of shoes we tested we preferred these for trail riding and gravity enduro – ride days where we valued the flexibility of the sole for extra pedal feel and subtle manoeuvres through the feet. We also preferred the Riatas for these rides as we’re more off and on the bike as they’re better suited for walking. Our heel tended to slip a little but not in a deal breaker way.

We were very impressed by the fit, feel and value for money of these shoes. They offer new riders an affordable, stylish and very functional package.

We were blown away by how far they’ve come from heavy, ‘unisex’, box-like designs of the past.

[divider]Specialized Women’s Cascade XC Shoes[/divider]

There aren’t many companies offering a high end women’s specific XC shoe. The carbon soled, fancy-strapped, shiny, pro-looking Cascades are in fact a model down from the even more blinged out Specialized Women’s S-Works race shoes.

We were excited about testing them, but then devastated when they didn’t seem to fit. They’re so snug, stiff and efficient that, at first, matched to our broad feet they just seemed to cause blisters and cramps.

The women's Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.
The women’s Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.

We were surprised about this given our success with other models in the Specialized range, but soon realised it wasn’t the shoe that was causing the problem, but the shoe combined with our broad, high arched feet and the extra bulk of the add-on green footbeds we’d inserted.

After a month of breaking in the shoe with the original, less built up footbeds we were able to switch back to the support of the green inserts and have blissfully remained blister and cramp free since. In fact, the Cascades now feel akin to a pair of stylish, powerful slippers. Cinderella eat your heart out.

The Cascades do away with some of the extra material that adds room and bulk in the Riatas. Two Velcro straps and a replaceable ‘Boa S2 Snap’ dial pull the top in nice and close.

The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.
The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.

Test Specialized WMNS Shoes 3

A carbon sole adds stiffness and shaves weight. The sole also has more traction than earlier women’s shoe designs from Specialized, a welcome addition given they are made for mountain biking after all. Like the Riatas, we were really pleased to see these shoes come in a practical black.

With a stiffness index of 11, five more stiffness-es than the Riatas, these shoes are the pick for transferring power to the pedals. They hold the feet in place well eliminating extra movement and energy loss, but are still as comfortable at the end of an all day ride as they are at the beginning (after that initial breaking in period for our test feet).

A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.
A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.

Like the name suggests, they’re best suited to XC and marathon. We also used them a lot on the road bike during the test period. They’re light, efficient and we prefer the extra float on MTB pedals compared to some road brands. Plus, if we were to spend $350 on a pair of shoes, we’d want to be using them every chance we could!

The Cascades are more than twice the price of the Riatas. In the absence of many competitors on the market, they’re a worthwhile investment for women wanting a high performing, injury reducing, snug fitting pair of kicks.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We were obviously impressed by these two women’s offerings from Specialized. While some brands still only make a token effort in the women’s shoe department, it’s impressive to see such a comprehensive, innovative and extensive range coming out of this company for female riders at both ends of the sport.

Specialized's womens Riata MTB and Cascade XC shoes.

The fit process reflects the research findings from the design team and adds to the pleasurable ride experience both shoes provide. The impact of a good fitting pair of shoes on injury reduction is something we can’t emphasise enough making either pair a valuable investment if you find yourself riding regularly.

We were surprised by the initial tightness of the Cascades, but it was in fact the fit process that made us think it was worthwhile trying them a little longer – and given how comfortable they became, we’re certainly glad we did.

 

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: 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

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Remedy 9 29

Check out our full review here.

It’s nice to be able to get away with mistakes. You know, maybe give someone’s car a nudge on a tricky reverse park, but they don’t see and there’s no damage. Or looping out during a wheelie but getting your feet unclipped just in time to save your coccyx.

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Impressive.

The Remedy 9 29 is a bike that let’s you get away with a lot mistakes. It’s big on bigness – big wheels, big travel (140mm at both ends), big tyres – and it uses all this traction and travel to full effect out on the trails.

For us, this is a very interesting bike to test. It wasn’t long ago that we reviewed the Remedy 9 27.5, which is nearly identical with the exception of having smaller wheels. You can read all our thoughts about the 27.5″ version here. We don’t want to spoil the party already, but there’s a lot more uniting these bikes than dividing them, so all our thoughts regarding frame construction and spec on the Remedy 27.5 can pretty much be extrapolated to the 29er. Same same, but different.

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Looks like fun, especially when you’re on a bike with this much traction.

So far we’ve spent four days on the Remedy 9 29, riding in and around the Cairns region. After putting on a wider bar, it took us approximately seven seconds to feel comfortable on the Remedy. Partly this is due to our familiarity with the bike’s suspension design and components, but it’s also because you know that few trail obstacles are going to be a problem on board this beast – “Big rock up ahead. I’ll just run that over then, I guess.”

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Yes. This bike was tested in paradise.

Now we’re back on home turf, we’re going to ditch the tubes and spend some more time getting the fork dialled as it’s riding a little harsh up front. We plan on taking this bike to the same trails where we did most of our riding on the Remedy 27.5, to really get a feel for how the two bikes compare.

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High up on a soon-to-be-opened trail in Atherton Mountain Bike Park, Qld.

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Avanti Torrent 2

Despite being somewhat a local brand (New Zealand) you don’t see too many Avanti bikes on the local trails. We think the 140mm Torrent may change that.

 

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The Torrent 2 is a good looking, stiff, and very capable 27.5″ all-mountain machine. The 140mm travel market is pretty well saturated and you have to be a good bike to stand out in that crowd and on paper the new Torrent 2 really does stand out as a viable option against some of the bigger brands.

The all aluminium bike has striking looks and a good relaxed stance. Not that you’ll see it advertised anywhere but the geometry of the bike is adjustable via a little chip at the bottom of the shock. We love this little tune-ability and the aggressive angles of the Torrrent range from a 67-65.5 degree head angle and up to a 5mm drop in the bottom bracket height.

The standout features of the Torrent 2 are a Fox CTD fork and shock, Mavic Crossride wheels, e*thirteen cranks, and a mix of SRAM X7 and X9 components.  There’s even porting for an internally routed adjustable seat post should you want an upgrade.

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e*thirteen crankset matched with a 2x chain device makes for a pretty strong and secure drivetrain.
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“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.” – Avanti
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Mavic wheels are nice touch and something you see less of as original stock items these days. We’ve always had good experiences with Mavic and we’re hoping the same.  Not tubeless out of the box though so that’s a downer.
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FOX CTD front and rear gives some excellent on-trail tunability. We’ll see how much we need it, especially for climbing.
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The rear end of the bike is really stiff and our initial testing (one ride) showed it to work very well on the bigger hits and held well in corners.

So far we’re loving the whole package and with a few minor changes (the grips suck and we’ll be going tubeless) this bike is ready to be ridden hard.

We’ll be blasting the Torrent 2 up an down our local trails over the next few weeks and give you a full run down soon. On our first rides we found the Torrent pretty lively so we’re looking forward to see how much fun we can have with it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tested: Avid Elixir 9 Trail Brake

The Avid Elixir 9 Trail brake is a powerful stopper that’s simple to set-up and has loads of modulation. We’ve had great success with the XO Trail brake (read our review here) and the Elixir 9 Trail has many of the same features in a more wallet-friendly package.

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The Elixir 9 Trail brake. A little more beef for more stopping power.

The Elixir 9 is aimed at the all-mountain crowd but it’s no boat anchor – you still get carbon fiber levers (on an aluminium body) to help keep the weight at 350g per end with a 160 mm rotor. At the  business end you get a two-piece, four-piston caliper with easy to access pads. Adjustment wise the Elixir 9 has both reach and pad contact adjustments to get your ideal lever feel.

On a maintenance side changing pads is easy and only requires an allen key and maybe some small pliers to remove the split washer on the pad retaining bolt.

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Four pistons of fury.

Installing the brakes was simple, even with the pain-in-the-arse-ness of internal routing on our test bike. We did have to cut the cables to install, however re-bleeding them was easy, as per these instructions. We matched them with an Avid HS1 180mm rotor on the front and a 160mm on the rear. There was no need for any bed in time as they worked perfectly with super bite straight out of the box. How do some brakes do this, while others seem to take days of riding to come good? Baffling, batman.

Avid market the Elixir 9 Trails feel as having “Deep Stroke Modulation”. Kinky. Away from the marketing and in the real world we found the modulation both good and bad. Good: Avoiding unwanted lock-ups is easy, there’s lots of control and the power comes on more gradually than some other brands of brakes. Bad: Our tester has small hands (enough with the jokes) and we found that if you adjust the levers in too close the lever would pull to the bars before reaching full power. The simple fix was to run the lever reach and contact point adjustment out a little further, ensuring the brakes hit their full power earlier in the lever stroke.

If you’re coming off Shimano brakes the modulation will take some time getting used to as it can feel like you’re lacking power at the same point in the stroke. Brake feel is personal, however, so you may love the more gradual feel of the power of the Elixirs.

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Modulated, like your local FM radio channel.

The Elixir has both reach and pad contact adjustment, both tool-free. As with the issues noted above, for some it can take a little longer to get that perfect set-up but seeing as it’s so simple it can all be done on the trail. We found a little ongoing fine-tuning was needed to keep the feel entirely consistent, perhaps related to pad wear.

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The small dial (close to the bars) sets your reach.
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A twist of the barrel adjusts the pad contact point.

During our test period we noted no issues with the performance of the brakes (once the set-up was corrected) and found them to be very powerful and predictable. The modulation meant we were dragging the brakes a little more than usual but the added heat from this didn’t impact performance. The only slight issue we noted was a slight sense of “pulsing” when they were super hot, or under hard braking. This was only noted infrequently and a change of front rotor and pad seemed to have fixed the issue. Also, embarrassingly, they do get a bit noisy when they get wet (most brakes do).

Overall we think these are great brakes. Their ease of adjustment, power and modulation was top class and they sure got us out of trouble on more than a few occasions. They’re perfect for your all-mountain bike.

Tested: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29

This bike was never intended to be a review item for us here at Flow, but after a three-day love-in with the Camber Evo whilst filming for our next Flow Nation video in Mt Buller, we had to let you in on this bike’s dirty little secrets. A gentleman always tells.

When planning our trip to Mt Buller, the conversation soon turned to selecting the best tool for the job. A bike worthy of tackling Buller’s rocky, steep and fast trails, something that wouldn’t flinch at three back-to-back eight-hour days in the saddle. Given that Specialized have close ties to Mt Buller, a bike from the big S made sense. But which one?

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If you’d asked us the same question three months ago, we probably would have opted for a Stumpjumper FSR 29er. But having recently spent some time on the Camber series, we weren’t so sure. The Camber truly exceeded our expectations as an all-rounder. In the end, we decided on a middle ground and chose to ride the 2014 Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29.

Build:

We won’t dwell on the build too much, as this bike shares many of the same construction features we noted in our review of the S-Works Camber here. It’s a truly awesome piece of work. What makes this bike different from the regular Camber line up is the Evo tag.

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The Evo framset uses a different rear shock mount/link to the regular Camber frame, which slackens the frame by a degree and delivers 10mm more travel.

Essentially the Evo label means that Specialized have given the bike some muscle, some grunt. The geometry is a degree slacker than the regular Camber, with 10mm more travel (120mm front and rear), there’s a beefier fork, and the bars are and tyres are wider too. In other words, it reflects the kind of tweaks that an advanced rider might make to the bike in order to boost its performance in technical terrain. And with Buller’s mix of tough climbs and ludicrously fast descents (think the Delatite River Trail… 60km/h easy), this bike really ticks the boxes.

Spec:

When a bike leads with the Rockshox Pike, it’s starting on the right foot. Chopped down to stocky 120mm, this is a seriously stout fork and we can’t think of a better option up front at the moment. It’s even relatively light in spite of its 35mm legs. Rear bounce in handled by a lustrous FOX Float CTD Factory shock that is further enhanced with the foolproof Auto Sag system.

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The best suspension product of the last 12 months? Yes.

The SRAM theme continues with a XO1 drivetrain, the 11-speed 10-42 tooth cassette paired with a 32 tooth ring. This gear range was enough to get us up the steepest Buller climbs while carrying heavy packs and gave enough top-end speed for the fastest fire road descents too. We didn’t drop the chain once or miss a single shift.

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An X01 drivetrain running with custom SRAM carbon cranks,

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo rolls on a set of hoops that even Serena Williams would be envious of. Wide Roval Traverse rims are fat enough to keep the whopping 2.3 Butcher and Ground Control tyres stable in the corners and the bike comes ready for tubeless conversion – just add sealant and atmosphere.

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Formula’s T1 brakes are light and stayed quiet in the dusty conditions.

Formula’s T1S brakes wouldn’t be our first choice, but they wouldn’t be our last either. Their feel takes a bit of getting used to, as the engagement is more vague than a Shimano or Avid brake, and they do seem to heat up a bit. That said, they look fantastic and are very light, and the effortless lever action is really nice.

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Clockwise from top left: The XO1 mech is big, but we’ve never damaged one. A Formula made clamp combines the shifter and brake lever neatly. Specialized’s own Command Post has a very effective little lever that actually forms the clamp for the lock on grip. You have control over both lever reach and brake engagement point with the Formula T1S levers.

Ride:

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo hunts out grip like a boozer searches for a kebab. In the dust of Buller it was pretty inspiring really; just lean it on in and the Camber would worry about all that pesky traction stuff. A combination of excellent big-volume tubeless tyres and near frictionless suspension gives the Camber the kind of stickiness that you expected from bikes with more travel.

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The IR (internal routing) version of the Command Post is significantly lighter to operate than the previous version of Command Post.

After a few hours on the trail we noticed that we hadn’t yet used full travel on either the fork or shock. This came as surprise as the bike certainly didn’t feel too stiff. We dropped the fork pressure 15psi and reset the rear shock’s Auto Sag a couple of times and the transformation was immediate. Suddenly the Camber went from ‘very smooth’ to ‘buttered Teflon’. Both the fork and shock have a progressive spring rate that lets you really use every millimetre of the bike’s travel without smacking the bottom-out bumpers. Charge hard and the Camber won’t make excuses.

We’ve mentioned the bike’s great cornering abilities above, but we do think a small setup change could make it even better.  With its large amount of back-sweep, we found the Camber’s handlebar a bit too lethargic for such a confident bike. We’d have preferred a bar that pulled us over the front a bit more to really drive that Butcher tyre into the ground even harder.

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The stem feels perfect at 65mm, but for our tastes the back-sweep on the 750mm bar is too extreme.

When compared to the non-Evo Camber, the climbing position is a smidge more relaxed and upright. You tend to go at the climbs one gear lower, with confidence that the huge amounts of traction, as opposed to sheer momentum, will get you up the steepest and loosest pinches. On tight switch backs, the slacker head angle and rather long chain stays (451mm) ask that you take a wide entry or you risk the front wheel pushing or lifting. Of course the upside of the overall bike length is stability when you’re bombing the descents.

Overall:

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo was a perfect choice for Mt Buller’s trails. This bike makes line selection and cornering technique an afterthought, without punishing your legs the way a longer-travel bike would. For long days or rides into the unknown, the Camber Evo’s ability to fill in that gap where the unexpected happens or the talent evaporates makes it a fine steed indeed. Grippingly good stuff.

News_Buller_Day2a-5

Test rider: Chris Southwood

Height: 172cm

Weight: 63kg

Tested at: Mt Buller, Victoria

Setup changes made: None, completely stock bike. 

Tested: Focus SAM 1.0

A 160mm travel bike with 650B wheels is nudging the upper ceiling of what we’ve come to expect from an all-mountain bike. Would the Focus SAM be too much to lump around the trails while out searching for that ultimate totally gnarly descent?

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SAM in the spirit of all-mountain.
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Clean lines, subtly arranged graphics, a stealth black paint job and parts kit make SAM a hot date for the steamy trails.

Build:

The SAM is a brand new model from the German folks at Focus in 2014, one of two suspension bikes in their fairly tight mountain bike range. Their Super Bud 29er – with it’s equally kitsch name – will cater for the rider seeking a leaner, racier and sharper ride. The SAM, however, is certainly keen and ready for more partying than racing.

Our new great mate, SAM (Super All Mountain) has impressed us with its refreshingly humble approach to hard all-mountain riding. An aluminium frame, simple suspension and a fairly classic frame finish and colour. The linkage driven shock and its single pivot design claims no crazy axle paths, or acronym riddled chain feedback reducing promises, it is about as old school as it comes.

And tipping the scales at under 13kg is a big bonus, that sub 13kg mark is hard to reach when bikes have more than 150mm travel. Sure it is specced well, but this low figure is also testament to the frame weight, long live quality aluminium!

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A single pivot actuated linkage design, with a pivot above the axle like this, is not going to claim to do any fandangled axle path things or change your life, it just works fine.

It may be basic, but in our opinion the perfect execution of this simple design is its strength. The rear end’s lean looking pivot points are secured using a mixture of axles with pinch clamps and the more common threaded variety. And all these fixtures use torx key fittings too. The pivots may be small but the frame receives a nod of approval from us in terms of lateral rigidity and durability.

It really does tick all the construction department boxes, with really big ticks. The internal routing of all three cables; the rear derailleur, rear brake and adjustable seat post disappears into the head tube, as neatly as it gets creating a very clean, clutter-free and smart appearance. A front derailleur mount is present, as are ISCG tabs to keep front shifting options open. The 12mm x 142mm rear axle by Shimano is quick release and one of our favourite methods of keeping the rear wheel secure at all times.

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ISCG mounts are there if you’re bang up for a proper chain guide.
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Neat inputs for your cables. Plus one hole spare for a front derailleur.

It’s also the frame’s stealth finish that turns heads, matte black with subtly located graphics that don’t scream at you. And those classic big welds on the joints will satisfy the aluminium fans out there, no doubt.

Test__FocusSAM22
There is no geometry adjustability on the SAM, at least the forks drop down in travel via a switch to sharpen the shape for climbs.

Spec:

Nothing says all mountain like a phat set of rubber, tall and beefy forks and a super-wide handlebar. We could have loved the bike enough without riding it at all, because it had some of our most favourite standout parts fitted to it, like the superb Rockshox Pike, Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres and Avid Trail brakes to name just a few.

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We clicked with these wheels, a real spec highlight that aids not only just weight but compliance and positive direction.
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Our most favourite product at the moment, the ground breaking Rockshox Pike. Haven’t tried one yet? That’s a shame…
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Avid XO Trail brakes on a whopping downhill bike worthy front 200mm rotor, now that is stopping power!
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Needing no introduction is the super superb SRAM XX1.
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We’d love to test these hoops out for a longer time, they were sweet. And on a bike for $6K? Crazy…

Flawless SRAM XX1, Rockshox Stealth post, and carbon – yes 1620g CARBON – wheels from Reynolds with a generous 23mm internal width were an absolute delight to use. How could we argue with such great kit? But the best thing is that for the dollars, this bike is a really outstanding value. For $6k, it’s a real winner in the parts department.

The little 32 tooth XX1 front chainring was unreal, the lower the better for a bike like this. If you’re concerned about spinning out of gears, keep an eye out for cars, or weirdos on cyclocross bikes as you’re probably on a road or fast fire trail. Save the low range for the real technical climbs that such a grippy bike will allow you to tractor up. We didn’t ever drop a chain either, love this stuff.

Test__FocusSAM43
Show us your CEX stem… Awkward name for a stem?

Ride:

One of our first rides on the SAM was three days on a big mountain named Thredbo, beginning with a big backcountry mission on fire roads with climbs that burned like a dragon with hiccups. We felt very comfortable climbing though, the short headtube, flat handlebar and travel adjustability on the forks enabled us to sit or stand comfortably without that awkward tall or too-slack shape that bikes with over 150mm forks can have.

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Let her rrrrrip!

With many bikes actually seeing a reduction in travel with the advent of 27.5″ wheels (for example, the Trek Remedy), it’s great to see Focus catering for the rider who needs more cushy to go harder. And it sure does go hard. The SAM can attack a turn with real confidence, and promotes you to stay off the brakes with its stable position (bolstered by the mega 777mm bars), amazing traction and aggressive geometry. It’s a real slacker, too – with a claimed 65 degree head angle (!!) the forks are raked out way in front of you.  With the Pike delivering such a supple and incredibly controlled action, when we pushed the SAM into big holes and deep rocky sections we received no argument, just speed and sure-footed confidence.

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The Rockshox Monarch Plus bettered our expectations – this isn’t a shock that normally  get us too excited. Many say that the shock is only as good as the frame it sits in, and perhaps this case it applies, the rear end’s action was supple enough to maintain comfort and traction, but also managed the deep impacts with no worries. Switching the three simple modes of compression adjustment is a snack, and we found ourselves riding all but only the tarmac climbs and roughest descents in the middle setting. Just imagine if it was all black, like the Pike, you’d lose this bike in the dark.

Verdict:

Mr. SAM will appeal to more than just bargain hunting aluminium fans, it’s also a bike for the rider who simply can’t get into 29ers but want something that can run the worst terrain down. The sweet balance of low weight and high volume of travel and traction will also make the SAM a killer option for a spot of gravity enduro racing, or all day riding on sections of trail that a downhill bike would normally be required for.

Test__FocusSAM44
German made and designed.

It’s a real tenacious ride, finds traction where most can’t and survives the roughest of corners by holding onto the craziest lines you can throw at it. We lerrrrve this bike.

Rider: Mick Ross
Height: 180cm
Weight: 70kg
Tested at: Thredbo, Manly Dam, Oxford Falls, Red Hill NSW
Mick and SAM. No trail, or destination is too challenging for SAM, rest assured that it is a true all-mountain ride.
Mick and SAM. No trail, or destination is too challenging for SAM, rest assured that it is a true all-mountain ride.

Tested: Six 2014 model 27.5″ bikes

Still wondering if this whole 650B/27.5/fence-sitter hoohah is worth a look? We’ve tested a whole bunch of 27.5-wheeled bikes of late. Maybe these reviews will help you make up your mind!

Giant Trance 1 27.5 

Click here for the full review.

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Giant’s overhaul of the Trance range this year went the whole nine yards. This was no quick botox and collagen, oh no, Giant booked the Trance in for the works: nip and tuck, implants, hair extensions and more. Diana Ross would be in awe.

Yeti SB75

Click here for the full review.

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Many people have been hanging out expectantly, waiting to see what Yeti would do with 27.5″ wheels after this core Colorado-based brand arguably came to the mid-wheel market a year late. Some were betting on 27.5″ version of the SB66, but instead Yeti unveiled two new 27.5″ machines. One was a remake of the classic 575 (which we hope to test soon), the other is the gorgeous yellow machine you see here; the SB75.

Pivot Mach 6 Carbon

Click here for the full review.

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All carbon and all glorious, the Mach 6 is only a small step up in the travel stakes from the legendary Mach 5.7, but it’s quite a different beast. First of all, the wheels are a little bigger – it’s one of three new 27.5″ bikes in the Pivot lineup. Secondly, it shuffles towards the descending end of the spectrum a bit, with slacker angles, a lower bottom bracket and FOX’s premium Float X shock. Pivot built this bike with Gravity Enduro racing in mind, you know.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5

Click here for the full review.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-2

The Remedy has been Trek’s all-mountain / trail bike for a number of years now, and it’s always been an impressive machine, well noted for its excellent suspension and spritely feel. For 2014, Trek have made two big changes to the Remedy. There’s the wheel size, obviously, with the Remedy now packing 27.5″ hoops, but they’ve also reduced the travel, back to 140mm from 150mm in previous generations.

Merida One Forty B

Click here for the full review. 

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When we ripped open the box containing the new Merida One Forty B, we immediately knew that this was a big step in our preferred direction. Fortunately for us, we had a five-hour ride planned the next day on the exact style of trails this bike’s designed for. Let’s get acquainted!

GT Sensor Carbon Team

Click here for the full review.

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What GT has aimed to do is build upon their Independent Drive system which we’ve known for many years, and improve on it. And with the new bigger (but not that much bigger) 650B wheels and a wild looking carbon frame thrown in the mix, the 2014 Sensor gives you a real sense that GT have stepped it up, reaffirming their heritage rich reputation, big time.

Tested: Trek Remedy 9 27.5

About a year ago, we put the question to some Trek staff: “What are you guys doing with 27.5?” Their response? “Why would we do 27.5 when we’ve got the best 29ers on the market?” Very cagey! Six months later, and out come two new lines of 27.5″ bikes from Trek, including the one you see here, the Remedy 9 27.5. By the way, it’s very orange. Had you noticed?

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-1

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-31

Build:

The Remedy has been Trek’s all-mountain / trail bike for a number of years now, and it’s always been an impressive machine, well noted for its excellent suspension and spritely feel. For 2014, Trek have made two big changes to the Remedy. There’s the wheel size, obviously, with the Remedy now packing 27.5″ hoops, but they’ve also reduced the travel, back to 140mm from 150mm in previous generations.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-9
Well finished. Small things, like the way the fork crown sits so perfectly flush with the head tube, are very appealing.

It’s extremely rare to see a bike’s travel reduced from year to year. Ordinarily, advances in suspension technologies and efficiencies result in travel increases, so to see a reduction was a surprise.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-12
The Full Floater suspension system. The rear shock is not mounted to the mainframe, but floats between the upper link and a lower mount on the chain stay. Keeping it independent of the front triangle removes stress from the main frame and allows complete control over the shock rate.

There are two main reasons for the move, as we see it. The first is to create a logical progression in the Trek range. There’s the 120mm-travel Fuel EX, the 160mm-travel Slash enduro bike, and now the Remedy slots neatly in the middle at 140mm. The second reason relates to wheel size. With a larger diameter wheel, you can get away with a little bit less travel somewhat, especially in terms of sheer ability to roll over obstacles.

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The Active Braking Pivot system uses a concentric pivot around the rear axle which keeps the suspension largely unencumbered by braking forces. It also make chaining the derailleur hanger a pain in the butt.

In other respects, the Remedy is largely unchanged from previous years. It still uses Trek’s lively, active and smooth ABP / Full Floater suspension system and large-volume, twin-chambered DRCV shock. The frame is constructed Trek’s Alpha aluminium, with plenty of nice touches, including integrated down tube and chain slap protection, and internal cabling for the front and rear derailleurs. In spite of the internal shift cabling, somehow the cables do look cluttered and a bit messy overall, especially when compared to other bikes like the Focus SAM or Giant Trance which we’ve been riding lately.

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Down tube armouring and chain slap protection help keep the ride quiet and protect the bike in the long run too.
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Looks much neater than an old tube, huh? We like this kind of attention to detail!

The Remedy continues to run the Mino Link geometry adjustment system. Flipping the small chip/insert located the junction of the seat stay and EVO Link gives you a little over half a degree of head angle adjustment and lowers or raises the bottom bracket by 8mm. Given that the Remedy’s angles are already quite sharp by today’s standards, we left the bike in the slacker setting, for a 67.5-degree head angle. It’s really interesting to note that the Remedy’s head angle is actually steeper for 2014 than it was for 2013 (67.5 vs 67 degrees).

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Swapping this chip around will move the head angle from 67.5 to 68.2 degrees.

Spec:

We’ll say it now and get it off our chest. The Remedy’s handlebar is too narrow – it constricts this bike, and feels about five years out of date. In Trek’s defence, the only reason they supply the bike with this bar is because of some outdated Australian standards that stipulate a bike can’t have a bar over 700mm wide! So actually, every other brand is technically in the wrong from a legality perspective. Whatever the case, we fitted a 745mm bar to the very neat 70mm Bontrager Rhythm stem and felt much better.

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The Bontrager Rhythm stem is gorgeous. The bar should be swapped for something wider. Keep the original under your bed to ward off home invasions.

Trek kicked their product development team into overdrive and managed to develop new Bontrager 27.5″ wheels and tyres for the Remedy, and both items are really top notch. The Bontrager Rhythm wheelset and XR3 tyre combo is great. The tyres a massive for a claimed 2.35″ width and we rate their consistently grippy and fast-rolling tread pattern as one of our favourites. Our test bike was set up tubeless with Bontrager’s own plastic rim strips installed. These don’t come with the bike ordinarily, but Trek dealers can supply them. Other standout Bontrager items are the Evoke saddle (this tester’s favourite) and Rhythm grips.

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‘AWESOME,’ say our arses. The Bontrager Evoke saddle is tops.
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Bontrager’s tyre program keeps on kicking goals. Read more about the development of these tyres here in our interview with tyre designer Frank Stacy.

Shimano’s XT drivetrain and brakes are the pick for the Remedy 9. The 2×10 drivetrain and clutch derailleur is precise, quiet and gave us mercifully low gears when climbing big hills with a heavy pack in the Snowy Mountains. Of course, there are ISCG mounts if you’d rather a single ring.

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The 2×10 drivetrain uses a direct mount front mech. With an XT Shadow Plus clutch rear derailleur, we didn’t drop a chain once during testing.

We had a weird recurring issue with the brakes on our test bike; the pads would appear contaminated (lacking power and making lots of noise) when we first hopped on the bike after not riding it for a week or so. After a couple of minutes of riding, they had come good again and the power was back to normal… Strange! We can only assume it was either some minor oil seepage, salt air or ghosts. Probably the latter. Regardless, Trek and Shimano assure us they’ve not had it happen on any other 2014 model bikes and the XT brakes are generally amongst the best out there.

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One, two, three clamps on the left hand side of the bar. Compared to the elegant solution of SRAM’s Match Maker all-in-one mount (with combines shifter, brake and seat post remote levers) this setup is messy.

 Rounding out the package is a RockShox Reverb Stealth post with 125mm of adjustability. The handlebar is rather cluttered – it would’ve been nice touch if Trek had opted to utilise Shimano’s I-Spec combined shifter/brake mounts to tidy up the cockpit.

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The Reverb Stealth post has been getting huge amounts of OEM spec this year, and we’re happy about that. It delivers 125mm of adjustability smoothy and with little lateral play that can affect some adjustable posts.

Ride:

The Remedy is engaging, fun and lively ride. That’s a feeling that we’ve always found with Trek’s Remedy range, and we’re glad the addition of slightly bigger wheels haven’t dumbed down this playfulness at all. In fact, the bigger wheel size really slipped out of view on the trail. This isn’t to say that there aren’t benefits to be found with the slightly larger 27.5″ wheel when compared to a 26er, just that there aren’t any obvious negative traits to leave us wishing for a smaller wheel once again.

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Trek’s ABP / Full Floater suspension is one of the best. It’s a superbly responsive system, it just ripples over the terrain, soaking up the little bumps like they’re not even there. Factor in the large volume tyres and you’ve got one very smooth ride indeed. The FOX 34 fork is a worth accompaniment as well, though we did find the rear suspension outshone the front in terms of sheer sensitivity. In the dusty test conditions, we liked to apply a small amount of suspension Teflon spray to the fork legs before each ride to help keep the fork slick and smooth like the rear end.

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The DRCV shock is made by FOX purely for Trek bikes. It features two air chambers, the second of which is only opened once the shock moves deeper into its travel. The idea is to provide support in the initial stroke, while delivering a more linear spring curve later in the travel for better big hit performance.

There’s very little anti-squat built into the Trek’s suspension curve, which does mean it’s prone to suspension bobbing if you mash the pedals and it can wallow a little on steeper, technical climbs. The upside to this is that the Trek has negligible pedal feedback when pedalling over rough terrain, making it easy to stay on the gas, and there is mountain of rear wheel grip because the chain isn’t causing the suspension to stiffen. Of course, there’s always the shock’s CTD adjustment if you want to firm things up for more efficiency, and running the FOX shock in its middle Trail setting goes a long way to removing all pedal induced bob at the slight expense of some of that silky small bump compliance.

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What you looking at, Chris? On long climbs, we used to shock Trail setting to firm up the rear end and pedal bob.

One of the clear areas that demonstrates Trek have listened to the public and the media’s feedback is the fork choice on the new Remedy. In 2013, the Remedy had a FOX 32 fork which lacked the stiffness to really make the most of the bike’s descending potential. For 2014, Trek have gone for FOX 34 it makes a world of difference. What is pretty amazing, is that even though the 2014 Remedy has both steeper geometry and less travel than it did in 2013, it descends even better. The fork stiffness, along with the bigger wheels, surely play a part in the this. We particularly appreciated the beefier fork on the really big hits; the stiffer chassis helps avoid any binding or spiking and allows the fork to keep up with the bottomless rear suspension feel delivered by the DRCV rear shock.

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There’s nothing wrong with fat legs. The FOX 34 adds welcomed precision and directness to the Remedy’s handling.

We felt really comfortable descending on the Remedy from the very outset. One of our favourite test trails features some steep, swooping chutes/gullies, the bottom of which is littered with loose, sliding pieces of rock. We have a standout memory of just how composed the Remedy felt tackling this bit of trail; even when hard on the brakes, with both wheels sliding around, the Remedy left us feeling like we were in total control, with time up our sleeve to negotiate the next drop or corner.

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Watch that sucker on rocks! The ABP skewer sticks out a mighty long way.

On less extreme terrain, the Remedy doesn’t feel like overkill. In fact, we were distinctly reminded of our time on board the Fuel EX 9.8 26er (still one of our favourite all-time bikes). It feels flickable and fun, pouncing on the next bit of trail rather than flopping from corner to corner, and the low slung top tube encourages you to move the bike about.

Overall:Trek Remedy 9 27.5-30Trek’s new Remedy 9 is a worthy successor in this prestigious line of bikes. While the reduced travel and steeper geometry had the potential to take a bit of the fire out of this bike, we don’t feel like it really has, and the bike’s abilities as a do-it-all machine are as strong as ever. As a package, this is definitely one of the most appealing trail machines on the market and you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to drop your four and half(ish) gees if technical trail riding is your kettle of fish.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-2

Rider: Chris Southwood
Height: 174cm
Weight: 63kg
Tested at: Thredbo, Glenrock and Red Hill NSW

Tested: Rockshox Monarch RT3 rear shock

We won’t lie – in the realm of short travel air shocks, Rockshox have done it tough over the past few years. The FOX RP23 and CTD rear shocks are very good, and Rockshox just haven’t been able to keep up. So when we went looking for a shock to fit our new BH Lynx  4.8 29er frame, our first inclination was FOX.

Rockshox RCT3 rear shock-7

 

As it turned out, the BH uses a fairly obscure shock size, and while we couldn’t get a FOX to suit, we were able to get the new Monarch RT3 from Rockshox in the correct length. ‘What the hell,’ we though, ‘let’s give it a run!’ Turns out we’re very thankful that we did, as Rockshox seem to have really upped their game.

The new Monarch is, in a word, excellent. Compared to the previous iterations of Monarch shocks we’ve used, the most noticeable improvement is in its small bump sensitivity. This shock is as supple off the top of the stroke as any short travel air shock we’ve used, coming very close to the sensitivity of a Kashima coated FOX shock.

Getting your setup dialled is easy with sag markings on the shock shaft.
Getting your setup dialled is easy with sag markings on the shock shaft.

Setup is very easy, thanks to the sag markings on the shock shaft, particularly appreciated on the BH where the shock is quite tricky to access. The rebound damping range is suitably wide; there seems to be a rather large jump between each click of rebound adjustment once you get towards the slower end of the rebound range, but that is our only gripe.

Rapid Recovery. Won't help your lungs get over that last climb, will keep your suspension in the sweet spot.
Rapid Recovery. Won’t help your lungs get over that last climb, will keep your suspension in the sweet spot.

The Rapid Recovery damping is a new inclusion for this shock and it seems to work very well. Essentially, the rebound circuit is valved to ‘recover’ quickly from big impacts, allowing the shock to ride higher in its travel rather than becoming bogged down. It’s not the kind of thing you’re actively aware of on the trail, but on a shorter travel bikes it makes good sense, as you want to make the most of the bike’s available suspension travel.

 

Similarly to a FOX CTD shock, there are three compression damping positions; open, platform and a ‘locked’ setting. We rarely use the locked setting, but the middle platform setting is ideal on our test bike, and we’ll regularly go for a whole ride with the shock in this setting if the terrain is smooth and grippy. We particularly like the way the lever operates to toggle between the different modes. Whereas on a FOX CTD shock, the lever only moves approximately  30 or 40-degrees between each setting, with the Monarch there is a full 120-degrees between each setting. Simply put, you’re never in any doubt about which setting the shock is in.

Three clearly defined, easy to use compression settings: open, platform and locked.
Three clearly defined, easy to use compression settings: open, platform and locked.

Rockshox have some catching up to do when it comes to their shock mounting hardware. Compared to the new five-piece FOX hardware, there is a lot more friction with the Rockshox bushings. Fortunately, you can actually use FOX hardware in a Rockshox shock, although neither manufacturer would recommend it! (We did, running it on the end of the shock that encountered the most bushing rotation, and there have been no problems.)

We ran a combo of FOX and Rockshox hardware. It's not recommended, but it works.
We ran a combo of FOX and Rockshox hardware. It’s not recommended, but it works.

All up, we’re really pleasantly surprised by the new Monarch RT3 and we’ll be sticking with this shock for the long term.

Tested: Whyte T129 S

So why are you reading this review? You’re either bored, or you are actually thinking, “is this bike for me?” If you’re of the latter then that’s always a tough question to answer.  Whether a bike is for you is determined by many factors including riding style, riding preferences, and the terrain in which you will most commonly ride. If you are more playful, like aggressive angles, and ride a more mixed trail type then the Whyte T129 S may be for you.

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As English as a warm pint of beer, the Whyte is proud of its roots.

As a snapshot we think the Whyte T129 S is a silent achiever that really makes a bold statement in 29er design.  It’s not beating its marketing chest to yell that fact at you, but  after a month or riding this rig we’ve found it to be one of the most playful and fun trail bikes we’ve ridden. It’s not a XC racing machine, and it can’t take the huge hits, but if you like to ride somewhere in the middle of those extremes then this bike is a winner.

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Build

The T129 S is a recent move into the 29er market for Whyte and as a company with a history of some very aggressive and worthy 26” bikes the move to big wheels called for some wholesale changes.  In order for Whyte to produce a 29” bike with their trademark aggressive style a new suspension platform was needed. Enter the Quad 4; similar to the 4 Bar Specialized FSR design, Whyte have produced a package that meets their design specifications of being compact, stiff and weather proof (something of a trademark feature for Whyte).

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The top link of the Quad 4.
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Those aren’t actually the pivot bolts, they are just the dust caps. There’s no way you’re going to get dust or mud in there. The pivots also have a lifetime warranty so you’re even more assured of continued performance.
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The Quad 4 has a long stroke shock and we found we had to run it a little softer than normal to get full travel.

The entire frame is made from 6061 T6 aluminium with a tapered head tube and 142mm dropouts. The top tube looks a little thinner than most big-tubed modern bikes but the big welds and solid feel of the frame certainty discounted any concern about frame strength we had. If anything, the frame may be a little over engineered but gram counting wasn’t a goal of the T129 S.

The whole bike weighs 13.4 kg (sans pedals) and whilst that’s not a featherweight, for a 120mm bike it’s still very respectable. As always you have to consider price and purpose when thinking of the grams and the T129 S satisfies the balance of those two elements well.

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This could be your view.

The geometry is a real showpiece of the bike. At only 120mm of travel you would think it’s more designed for and XC/Endurance type rider but with a slack head angle (68 degrees), short chainstays and mid range bottom bracket height (343mm) it’s more suited as a more aggressive trail riding machine.  The only angle on the spec sheet that was against this is the seat tube, which at 73 degress pitches you more forward for increased pedalling efficiency so you don’t feel like you’re ploughing a field when riding.

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It’s all in the angles and Whyte seem to have it right on the 129S.

We recall fondly how the interwebs went crazy when the Specialized Enduro 29er hit the market, with class changing geometry and a chest beating chainstay length of 430mm. The T129 S too should be shouting loud and hard as it comes in just 1mm longer at 431mm.  This short chainstay was immediately noticeable as manualing and tight cornering were very much not 29er-like. The downside to a short chainstay can be less stability at high speeds and matched with the slightly floppy wheels we did notice a little of this.

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The frame has two internal ports for cables. The first (on the top tube) is for the front derailleur.
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The second port for internal cable routing is for the dropper post. The cable routes mostly externally (under the downtube) and only enters the frame for a short journey up to the dropper post.
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The house branded stem was a perfect length for the bike (70mm) and we flipped it to help keep the front end down. Whyte actually offer different size stems depending on the frame size and we think that’s a nice touch to help deliver a similar ride for all people.
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Routing the cables down the donwtube is a nice way to hide the mess and Whyte have done it well. The cable clamps are easy to work with and held everything well.
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The tubing on the 129S is interesting – it’s rare to see traditional round tube shapes these days.
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Bottle mounts. A must for some and increasingly disappearing from many modern frames.
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Sometimes it’s the little things that matter. How’s this for a nice patriotic touch?

Overall the frame build and design is top quality and much thought has been placed into making the bike durable.  The colours on also stood out from the crowd and the turquoise splashes are a nice touch to give it that bling look.

Spec

Choosing spec on a bike has to be one of the harder jobs in the cycling industry. Not only do you have to think about form and function but you also have to think about price point.  No bike in this price range is going to be perfect, and nor should it, and the Whyte team has done a pretty good job on spec to meet their design brief.

The T129 S is mid-level in the range and the spec highlighted the design intentions of the bike. Wide bars, dropper post, clutch deraillier, all matched with the geo that shouts “trail”. For the price we think the Whyte is a good purchase. Standard is a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper, X9 clutch derailleur, 120mm RockShox Reba fork (with 15mm axle), 750mm wide bars, and a great mix of strong parts.

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The drivetrain is all SRAM. An X9 clutch derailleur kept the chain on all test, and the 2x set-up up front with X7 front mech gave a huge spread to cover all type of mountains. This bike would be perfect for a 1x set-up too.
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A 12mm x 142mm rear and 15mm front clearly shows where the bike is targeted. Matched with some colour coded house brand hubs the whole setup looked nice and stiff.
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The Whyte seat was comfortable, the wide bars were perfect, and overall the cockpit had a great feel.
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The Reba took a little while to loosen up in terms of small bump compliance but once over that initial period it held up superbly to everything put in its path.

The wheels were probably the only let down exhibiting too much flex. The axle and hubs were nice and big, and well matched with the WTB rims and double-butted spokes, so we expected them to be a little better. It’s not that they aren’t a decent set of hoops, but when considering the type of aggressive riding the bike is designed for, they didn’t match the strength and abilities of the rest of the bike. That being said, they’d probably last a good year of flogging and then you will have saved enough for a wheel upgrade.

The tyres were also not that well matched to the bike.  At 2.2″ (front and rear) we thought they were a little too narrow. We swapped the front for something a little wider and also converted to the rims to tubeless. The WTB Nano 2.2 that we left on the rear held up well despite out reservations. Still, maybe a 2.3″ would be a little better.

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We can’t ride a bike without it being tubeless so you can imagine the joy at reading the sticker on the rims that read, “tubeless compatible”. We later learnt that just because the rim states it’s tubeless compatible it doesn’t quite mean it’s actually tubeless ready. Unlike a true tubeless rim, that has the spoke holes covered in the manufacturing process, these needed a rim strip.
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Avid Elixir 5 stoppers were more than adequate for the job. 180mm front, and 160mm rear. They worked straight out of the box, had generous reach adjustment, and never gave us an issue.

The Ride

To use one word – great.  As expected the bike was playful and easy as (cold pork) pie to manual and pump through the terrain.  It climbed well, but on the steepest of steeps it was a little hard to keep the front end down and some extreme body language was needed.  That’s common trait of a 29er but the shorter chainstays does add to it.

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This section of trail is super, super steep and like most 29ers you have to really get over the front to stop the front from popping.

It did take a little while to get the suspension right and we ended up running a little less pressure than normal.  The forks were initially a little firm but did soften up after a while and quite possibly a quick disassemble and lube would have made them more buttery. The rear end took us by surprise and we ended up running about 35% sag to get better small bump compliance. Initially we thought that would be too soft and make the bike bobble and bottom out but none of that was noticeable.

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Playful is such an overused word in mountain biking so we’re going to invent a new word. Funful – the T129 S was funful to ride.

The downhill and jumping performance was excellent, when the super short chainstays and slack head angle come into play. On the rhythm sections and berms of Stromlo Forest Park the bike was quick to respond to body language changes and the dropper post added to the ability to keep low on the frame.

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The geometry was great. You could point the bike down and over anything and it could handle it with glee.

The only real let down was the wheels (yes, we know we have mentioned it before). The frame and pivots are all super stiff and feel strong, however that strength then exaggerated the lack of stiffness in the wheel set.  When we pushed it hard through a corner or picked a rough line through a rock garden we did notice some wobble in the wheels.

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The 129S did like to be pushed hard in corners but maybe that invitation was just a little too much for the wheels to handle; the old spoke key got a bit of work.

Overall

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A Whyte with a view.

Overall this bike was great to ride, strong, and of course, funful.

What makes it better than others or makes it the bike for you? (That’s probably the question that got you all the way to the bottom of the page.)  It has to be the geometry.  The Whyte delivers the confidence of a longer travel bike with the agility of a 120mm frame; it’s the kind of bike that backs up the notion that good angles are better than longer travel. If you’re a rider who likes to jump around a little, corner hard and be more playful then this bike is for you.

Also, if you’re still on the fence as a 26″ rider this is probably one of the better bikes to make the leap over to the dark side.

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Another look at the bike as the golden sun sets.

 

The Test

Rider Weight: 72 Kgs
Proving Grounds: Stromlo Forest Park, Bruce Ridge
Adjustments: Tubeless, new front tyre, stem flipped.

Fresh Product: Bell Super Helmet

ALL-MOUNTAIN RULER

Though the line between gravity mountain bikes and cross country machines has been blurred the last couple years, most associated equipment is still high-contrast–either overbuilt for DH gear or wispy light for XC. The new Bell Super aims to split the difference, riding that all-mountain line perfectly.

25 vents. More protection needn't mean less ventilation.
25 vents. More protection needn’t mean less ventilation.

In order to meet the demands of the all-mountain, trail ride and enduro racing scenes, Bell has released the Super, a versatile performer with specific features for this growing style of riding. Incorporating an innovative eyewear management system along with a clever, integrated break-away camera mount and advanced ventilation matrix, the Super is the perfect complement to the do-anything breed of all-mountain bikes.

Using input from Bell’s stable of sponsored riders, Bell came up with a purpose-built package for aggressive riders who need the versatility to go from XC-style climbs to near DH descents and everything in between.

Over-brow ventilation. Perfect for those folk with excessively thick eye brows.
Over-brow ventilation. Perfect for those folk with excessively thick eye brows.

Key features include:

· Integrated Camera Mount makes capturing the ride hassle-free with a removable mount that seamlessly affixes a GoPro camera.

· GoggleGuide™ Adjustable Visor System allows riders to manage their eyewear with minimal intrusion into the ride. The flexible system accommodates both goggles and sport glasses and works either with the visor installed or without using the included goggle retention arms.

· Overbrow Ventilation™ works in concert with 25 vents to usher cool air over the head through four intake ports on the helmet brow.

· The Speed Dial™ Fit System is designed to work with helmets that have lower rear coverage. This new system cradles the head and creates a glove-like fit with the turn of a dial.

· Fusion In-Mold Microshell bonds EPS foam to shell for durability

· Internal Reinforcement in order to maximize venting and minimize bulk, high-end helmets feature internal reinforcement structures.

· Lightweight Cam-lock Levers™ for easy strap adjustments

· Lightweight Buckle

· Lightweight webbing

· X-Static Padding is quick-drying and anti-microbial

· 25 vents, 4 brow ports

Tested: Juliana Joplin Primeiro

As a general rule, women mountain bikers hate sissy looking bikes. We like to ride hard and we want a bike that looks like it’s up to the job. Nothing insults us more than being directed to the latest in a women’s range of bikes and seeing that it’s about as pimped out as a garden variety Toyota Camry.

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Big wheels, carbon frame, high-performance build, women’s specificity – the Juliana Joplin Primeiro is no Camry. She’s way more bad-ass. The Joplin takes on our rockiest local trails like the Batmobile takes to Gotham City.

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The Build

Juliana was originally a women’s line of bikes within the Santa Cruz range. They’ve long been one of very few bikes that are confidently recommended to women below 5’3” who are looking for a mountain bike that fits and performs. As more women are riding, and the Juliana range has extended to encompass as wider range of bikes, it has since become a brand in it’s own right.

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We were consequently surprised to learn that the Joplin shares the same frame geometry as the Santa Cruz Tall Boy. Guys talk about the Tall Boy sizing as being on the small side, meaning it does boast features that certainly justify extending the frame to the women’s market.

The original Tall Boy was only available in sizes down to medium, but a fine-tuned rear suspension design has freed up space where it matters allowing for a small size to be fit in the range without compromising anything major. The head tube is short (at 90mm in the small size) as is the top tube length. The stand over height is reasonably low too, both feet can touch the ground when off the front of the saddle, a tell tale Santa Cruz look.

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In comparison to the medium sized Specialized Rumor Comp we tested recently, the top tube length is 17mm longer, and the seat angle is 2.4 degrees more relaxed. This puts the saddle further back over the bottom bracket making for a roomier ride. Good for riders at the taller end of a specific size, less good for riders who prefer their weight more aggressively toward the front of the bike.

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The Santa Cruz VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension has long been a favourite of many riders due to the nice balance of pedal efficiency and sensitive suspension. The updated design on the Joplin/Tall Boy has been achieved by changing the location of the pivot points, with fine refinements to suit the style of the bike. This makes for an improved pedalling action with less bobbing and a more linear, plush feeling cushion throughout the 100mm of travel.

We’ve become so used to 2x10 and 1x11 set ups lately, which made it look a little doudy and seem a bit like riding with a piano accordion out on the trails.
We’ve become so used to 2×10 and 1×11 set ups lately, which made it look a little doudy and seem a bit like riding with a piano accordion out on the trails.

Paired up with no-nonsense, kashima coated Fox Float CTD front and rear shocks, the VVP rear end provides a ride feel so buttery smooth that inexperienced riders will miss how exceptional this suspension is. We left the rear shock in descend mode (less Propedal or lockout) most of the time for a plush and comfortable ride without noticeable pedal bob, which we don’t often get to do with many bikes. Trail riding bliss.

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The decorative elements, to their credit, caused a number of riders to stop and chat to us about the Joplin who had read our First Bite or seen images on our Facebook page. She certainly is a head-turner.
The decorative elements, to their credit, caused a number of riders to stop and chat to us about the Joplin who had read our First Bite or seen images on our Facebook page. She certainly is a head-turner.

The carbon main frame is one carefully moulded piece of the carbon stuff. You don’t even need to take this bike to the trails to know that it’s going to be stiff and stick to its line with no shuddering flex while providing a very absorbent and compliant ride feel as a result. The care that has gone into the design of the Joplin takes the ride benefits of a carbon frame to another level.

The Parts

Adding to the allure of the frame is the fact that the Primeiro is the highest specced of the three Joplin models available. It’s not so blinged out you’d be afraid to ride it in the mud, but it’s built with performance, class and many hours of happy and versatile riding in mind.

A Shimano XT group covers this rig from front to rear. This is particularly nice to see given how many brands are speccing brakes that have neither the reputation of Shimano stoppers nor the service support in Australia. The XT brakes have a crisp and reliable ride feel and are easy to look after. The reach can be adjusted without fiddling with tools so you can set them up quickly for small hands.

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We swapped the (surprisingly long) 90mm stem with a 70mm substitute for better control on the trails.

A triple chain ring on the front is matched to a 10 speed 11-36 cassette on the rear. Paired up with 29” hoops, the 42 tooth big ring made the bike feel over-geared for trail riding in typical Australian conditions, especially for women. We only reached for it very occasionally on road commutes to the dirt.

On more technical trails we tended to look down and find the chain frequently in the granny ring. Aside from the bad chain line in this gear, it also accentuates the subtle ‘pull’ of the VPP suspension on the chain (it lengthens the chain as it pulls back at the beginning of its travel).

Class all ‘round. There are no down-specced parts hidden anywhere on this bike.
Class all ‘round. There are no down-specced parts hidden anywhere on this bike.

Maybe we’re just being snobby, but we feel a 2×10 set up would make this bike a lot sexier, quieter and be the final touch of awesome that is missing from a build that means business.

In terms of women’s additions to the Joplin, these extend to the bars, the saddle and the crank length. The 690mm wide, Juliana branded bars are thinner under your hands than regular bars at the grips. In theory this reduces arm pump and increases control. They felt weird at first, but they fit nicely in the palm and, like the saddle, quickly became an unconscious contact point when riding. We’d recommend these as an aftermarket purchase to ladies with smaller hands riding with other bikes too.

 The thinner grips fitted to special thin bars (note the decrease in diameter between the brake lever mount and grip) were nice to ride with, but they’re not enough to sell us on the women’s specificity of the Joplin. Lucky the rest of the bike rides so well!

The thinner grips fitted to special thin bars (note the decrease in diameter between the brake lever mount and grip) were nice to ride with, but they’re not enough to sell us on the women’s specificity of the Joplin. Lucky the rest of the bike rides so well!
As a light weight rider, it’s so nice to get full travel out of your suspension, and not something that always works as well as it should. The 120mm Fox 32 Float fork and 100mm Fox Float rear shock used every mm to make our ride even sweeter.
As a light weight rider, it’s so nice to get full travel out of your suspension, and not something that always works as well as it should. The 120mm Fox 32 Float fork and 100mm Fox Float rear shock used every mm to make our ride even sweeter.

The rest of this shining blue performer is adorned in classy parts you’d expect given the price point that also comes attached. Juliana branded WTB Frequency Team i19 rims are laced to DT Swiss 350 hubs for a light wheelset that you wouldn’t want to swap out after taking the bike home.

We found the saddle quite comfortable for all-day rides, although it’s better suited to a more upright riding position.
We found the saddle quite comfortable for all-day rides, although it’s better suited to a more upright riding position.

The frame includes routing for a dropper post, but a Thomson seat post with a quick release collar adds a style of its own to Joplin as well. The external cable routing is nice, neat and points toward the easy serviceability of the Joplin, although we’re not sold on the tight line of the cables around the biddon cage area.

We tore a sidewall on the Maxxis Tubeless Ready Ikons on the very first ride on a debris filled, unused trail. It sealed up quickly and we thanked the sealant gods for being so amenable.
We tore a sidewall on the Maxxis Tubeless Ready Ikons on the very first ride on a debris filled, unused trail. It sealed up quickly and we thanked the sealant gods for being so amenable.

The Ride

As boasted by the marketing for the Joplin, she really is the queen of rocks and roll. The big wheels and buttery smooth suspension meant we pointed her at the steepest, most technical, rocky, straight-line descents we could find. She tackled them so capably we stopped checking for lines before dropping in.

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The same can be said for rocky climbs. The big wheels allow for extra momentum on rocky ups and the suspension soaks up the rough terrain nicely so you don’t get spat around or thrown off line. This not only saves energy but does wonders for confidence in the face of technically challenging trails

Long, open, flowing descents with big wide berms were another type of trail where the Joplin really excelled. Get this bike up to speed and it’s only your eyes that will confirm the speed of the trail passing underneath you, such is the stable and compliant trail feel of this bike.

The massive gear range also points firmly to the versatility of the Joplin. With big wheels, and plush, efficient travel, the Joplin is a handy ‘do everything’ bike. Throw on some bigger rubber and shred the more technical trails, or stay with the racey Maxxis Ikons and take confidence in how capable this machine would be in a 100km marathon.

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At 164cm tall, two centimetres above average for an Australian female, our tester was boarderline between the small and medium sized frames. The slacker seat angle and the longer-than-preferred 175mm cranks on our medium test rig kept us positioned too far back from the front of the bike. This impacted our ability to really muscle the bike around on technical trails and keep things balanced and in control when chasing a rider in front at speed.

This served as a timely education in how fatiguing it can be for women riding bikes that are on the big side. Always check your size when in the market for a new bike and take a few for a test ride if you’re not sure how the numbers translate.

175mm length crank arms were specced on the medium frame, but we found this to be too big for ladies at the lower end of the size chart for this rig.
175mm length crank arms were specced on the medium frame, but we found this to be too big for ladies at the lower end of the size chart for this rig.

The small sized frame is designed to be suitable to riders down to 5’1” tall. Riders needing an extra-small frame size will need to stay with 26” wheels in the Juliana line up for now – which is not necessarily a bad thing. A good fitting frame gives you a hundredfold more advantages to your confidence and riding ability than the size of the wheels underneath it, beautiful as a bike like this one may be.

Overall

At 11.7kgs the rock-dominating Joplin is a tidy and high-performing all rounder for the type of riding the majority of women are doing on Australian trails. As a carbon-framed, immaculately finished dual suspension 29er, it’s great to see the choices it opens up for women who want more than middle of the range running gear or an alloy or flowery looking frame.

This rock-dominating weapon of a ride holds its speed, feels incredibly stable and rewards you for every obstacle you hop, pump or lean into.
This rock-dominating weapon of a ride holds its speed, feels incredibly stable and rewards you for every obstacle you hop, pump or lean into.

While it’s still a rarity to find a women’s bike designed from the ground up, a little more care in the spec for the Joplin could make it hit the mark even better in this way. That said, if you don’t like the cranks or the stem length, it’s nice to know there might be other options specced with the Tall Boy if you want to swap out the seat rather than the extra gears.

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At $6,780, the Joplin Primeiro is not on the cheap side, but the unique and boutique finish, is certainly part of this bike’s appeal. We can only think that the reason for the different paint and its own marketing campaign is to reach a group of women who may not otherwise consider what is an excellent and versatile bike.

The symbols mean ‘Powerful, Beautiful, Natural.’ Now go dance your way through that mean looking rock garden.
The symbols mean ‘Powerful, Beautiful, Natural.’ Now go dance your way through that mean looking rock garden.

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.

Tested: Storck Rebel Seven

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Babies are delivered by storks. It’s a well known fact. Storcks, on the other hand, are delivered by couriers, in a box, or in this case two boxes.

The Storck Rebel Seven came to Flow HQ as a bare frame and build kit. This is a rarity; most bikes leave a factory in Taiwan 90% assembled with only some tweaking, tightening and lubing left to be done by the shop mechanic. While building the Storck from scratch took a while, it also gave us a chance to really appreciate the fine workmanship of the German-made frame. It also gave the whole assembly process a sense of ceremony, or anticipation, kinda like a gestation period.

Yep, it uses dem size wheels. We didn't expect to see so many brands producing 650B hardtails this year, but when they're winning World Cups it's tough to argue.
Yep, it uses dem size wheels. We didn’t expect to see so many brands producing 650B hardtails this year, but when they’re winning World Cups it’s tough to argue.

The Rebel 7 is a single-minded machine; a 27.5”-wheeled carbon cross country race hardtail. We’ll be honest, it’s the first of its ilk we’ve tested here at Flow, so it’s a challenge not to draw comparisons with a 29er hardtail, given that 29ers have been so dominant in the hardtail ranks over the past few years.

The Build:

Marcus Storck looks like a genius, and he is widely viewed as such by many in the bike industry. Behind that mighty forehead lurks a powerful design brain and the Rebel Seven is a very fine piece of work.

The rear end is super neat. We love the brake mount and the simplicity of the axle system (though it does require an Allen key to remove the axle).
The rear end is super neat. We love the brake mount and the simplicity of the axle system (though it does require an Allen key to remove the axle).

At 1.1kg, there are lighter frames, but it has a great finish – both aesthetic and construction-wise – with a reassuringly solid feel, especially through the chain stays and dropout area. It’s clearly a frame built with great power transfer in mind. Tube profiles are broad, especially the top tube, and the ‘super size chainstays’ are deep to resist flex.

The rear is built for stiffness and power transfer, rather than compliance. There's good clearance too for muddy conditions.
The rear is built for stiffness and power transfer, rather than compliance. There’s good clearance too for muddy conditions.

A host of practical features won us over. Smart cable guides with full-length gear housings make for simple setup and minimal maintenance. Sure, internal cables are nice… until they rattle or need replacing. A direct mount front derailleur makes for powerful, crisp shifts, and the use of a pressfit bottom bracket gives plenty of meat to this critical area.

A direct mount front derailleur with full length housing makes for easy setup and maintenance.
A direct mount front derailleur with full length housing makes for easy setup and maintenance.

The chain stay mounted rear brake looks good, especially with the adjustable banjo on the XT brakes allowing a very clean brake line routing to the caliper. Brake calipers with less angle adjustability for the brake line mightn’t look so neat. Given the bike’s purpose, it’s surprising that the 142x12mm rear axle requires tools for removal – in a race situation, most riders would prefer not to carry an 8mm Allen key. That said, the system is low profile and will never give you any dramas.

The bottom bracket area is seriously robust, as is the seat tube / top tube junction.
The bottom bracket area is seriously robust, as is the seat tube / top tube junction.

The geometry features what we’d call traditionally European cross country angles. It’s not common to see a 70-degree head angle on many newer bikes – such quick steering angles are the domain of serious cross-country racers. The wheelbase is compact too, with 425mm stays and 100mm stem on our medium sized bike to provide a decent reach.

Would you like to Super Size that for only an extra 50c?
Would you like to Super Size that for only an extra 50c?

The Parts:

If you’re stacking the Storck up alongside offerings from some of the bigger market players, the value for money won’t blow you away. But keeping in mind the boutique, German, handmade pedigree here, we feel that the build kit is pretty decent…. Except for the grips, which we found too fat and which aren’t lock-ons. An easy swap.

These can go. Thankfully a new set of grips is the only change we'd recommend out of the box.
These can go. Thankfully a new set of grips is the only change we’d recommend out of the box.

We’d have expected to see a Rockshox SID on the Rebel Seven, but while the Rockshox Revelation has a small weight penalty, its performance is very hard to fault. It’s a stiff steering option, and in conjunction with the Crank Bros cockpit it makes for a front end that goes exactly where you point it.

A 100mm-travel Revelation handles things up front. It's a real set and forget fork - there is a compression adjustment / lock out, but we never felt compelled to use it
A 100mm-travel Revelation handles things up front. It’s a real set and forget fork – there is a compression adjustment / lock out, but we never felt compelled to use it

Shimano provide the deceleration with immensely powerful XT brakes. We’d ideally drop down a rotor size up front to a 160mm (rather than the 180mm fitted) as the bigger rotor sometimes had too much bite for the bike, overpowering the tyres. Still, that’s a much better problem to have than the opposite!

StorckRebelSeven 14

DT M1700 wheels set off the frame finish nicely and while they’re not the lightest wheelset, they’re stiff and reliable. They’re ordinarily a tubeless ready wheel, as are the tyres, though unfortunately ours didn’t come with the tubeless rims strip in the box. As we’ve stressed below, adding some more compliance to the ride is something we’d look to do, and going tubeless is the best solution.

Schwalbe's Racing Ralphs are a safe bet for just about all conditions.
Schwalbe’s Racing Ralphs are a safe bet for just about all conditions.

A matching Prologo saddle is a classy touch, and the Shimano 2×10 drivetrain is a wise choice, giving riders enough gears to get this light machine up just about anything.

We don't see that many Prologo saddles, but we think they're great.
We don’t see that many Prologo saddles, but we think they’re great.

Ride:

It had been a while since we last rode a bike as single-mindedly cross-country focused as the Rebel Seven, let alone one with little wheels (ok, mid-sized wheels technically… but 26” is so 2012). While we’re still dubious about all the claims that a 650B wheel offers ‘the best of both worlds’, there’s no denying how quickly these wheels get moving. This bike gets up and going faster than a dobberman chasing a commuter cyclist. The short chain stays, stiff wheels, crisp shifting and direct power transfer tell you to get up out of the saddle and click up a few gears out of every corner.

The frame is quite low and the wheelbase on the short side, so it's an easy bike to throw about.
The frame is quite low and the wheelbase on the short side, so it’s an easy bike to throw about.

At less than 10.5kg, the Rebel 7 is incredibly easy to move around. There’s no lethargy to the steering, it can be lifted and popped over every undulation in the trail. Thankfully it still doesn’t feel overly twitch, the wide (well wide given the style of bike) bar gives everything a touch of stability, as do the grippy tyres.

There’s definitely a knack to riding this style of bike, and coming off bigger wheels and longer travel it takes a little bit of smoothing out your riding style before you find some flow. The Rebel 7 isn’t happy if you plough and the chainslap against the carbon stays lets you know loudly if you’re riding roughshod, rather than floating. Sit-down riders (or regular dual suspension riders, like us) will soon be beaten out of their lazy ways.

The Crank Bros cockpit is stout and stiff. We approve of four-bolt stem and decent width bar.
The Crank Bros cockpit is stout and stiff. We approve of four-bolt stem and decent width bar.

While decent rubber and 100mm-travel fork provide a little more forgiveness than some other cross country hardtails, there’s still nothing particularly soft about the Storck. The large diameter 31.6mm aluminium seat post is at odds with the trend towards narrow, 27.2mm carbon posts – there is not a lot of give under your butt. As we’ve noted above, we didn’t have a tubeless conversion kit handy, but setting the Storck up tubeless is a wise move, so you can drop the pressures lower than we dared without fear of pinch flats.

It's a fun looking bike, and it's playful on the trail too. But it will punish you if you're sloppy!
It’s a fun looking bike, and it’s playful on the trail too. But it will punish you if you’re sloppy!

As you’d hope, the Storck is a fantastic climber, particularly in situations where sharp accelerations are needed, like getting up ledges or steep pinches. Get your timing wrong though and the rear wheel will kick back and skip, get it right and it shoots up any incline like a lizard up a tree. On the flipside, high speed descending requires a good nerve; the sharp head angle needs a firm hard on the tiller to avoid the front wheel tucking. We had a couple of hairy moments hitting sand at pace before we got back in the swing of things. Getting the bike off the ground and floating over the worst of it is the way to go, and the Storck is happy to oblige, its short wheelbase a pleasure to bunny hop.

Overall:

While the window of appeal for the Storck Rebel 7 is narrow, it hits the mark for those who know what they want from a cross-country race bike. Its construction is a true highlight, and when it comes to that critical aspect of acceleration, the Rebel 7 feels like it has an afterburner. We’d love to try the Rebel 9 (the 29er brother of the Rebel 7) by way of comparison to get a better feel of the trade off between weight, acceleration and abilities in technical terrain afforded by the two wheel sizes.

Tested: Louis Garneau T-Flex LS-100 Shoes

If you haven’t tried a pair of shoes with BOA Technology (dial adjustment, in place of velcro) enclosures, you’re missing out. These shoes from Louis Garneau offer the best of what a BOA dial can do to the fit of a shoe, in a super supple and close-fitting shoe.

The heel cup features a grippy material to combat slippage, and works really well.
The heel cup features a grippy material to combat slippage, and works really well.

The fit of these shoes is their best asset, primarily due to the supple material used in the shoe’s upper, and the BOA dial. They are quite soft to touch and it reflects when not fitted to a pair of feet, they lose their shape. But when on, they conform to said feet with upmost comfort. The fit is quite narrow around the toes, which suited us well.

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They are not the stiffest shoes out there at all though, which is a bit odd as they are positioned quite high in the range of Louis Garneau shoes. The carbon sole may be made from the stiff material, but the whole shoe bends around the pedals quite a lot when riding. Mated to a trail style pedal, like the Shimano Trail or Crank Bros Candy, helps to keep a solid connection between the foot and pedal a sold one.

These are the type of shoes that at the end of the day when you take them off, it feels like you haven’t been wearing rental ice skates all day.

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The removable carbon blade thing on the outside of the sole does next to nothing, and we were perplexed by it’s intention to increase stiffness of fitted, or increase ventilation if removed.

Gimmick? We think so. Removing the carbon blade reveals ventilation holes.
Gimmick? We think so. Removing the carbon blade reveals ventilation holes.

We’ve been using this shoes for many months now, and really love the slipper like fit, when compared to some of the rock hard shoes available. All day rides and standing around in these puppies is a pleasure, and when riding the give in the sole allows you to feel the pedals underneath you rather than isolating yourself from the bike.

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T-Flex stands for toe flex. A bendable section up the front of the shoe aids walking about. They are super comfortable to stand in.

The T-Flex shoes will suit a rider looking for a softer and supple fitting shoe that you can walk about it and wear all day, but perhaps not stiffest shoe for hard nosed racing.

Tested: Yeti SB75

We seem to be testing a lot of 27.5″ bikes all of a sudden, across a whole range of riding styles too. It’s almost like the old days when one wheel size did it all.

Many people have been hanging out expectantly, waiting to see what Yeti would do with 27.5″ wheels after this core Colorado-based brand arguably came to the mid-wheel market a year late. Some were betting on 27.5″ version of the SB66, but instead Yeti unveiled two new 27.5″ machines. One was a remake of the classic 575 (which we hope to test soon), the other is the gorgeous yellow machine you see here; the SB75.

Yeti SB75 test -3

The build:

The SB75 fills a hole left in the Yeti lineup by the departure of the ASR-5, a bike that was lauded for its meshing of cross-country weights and all-mountain aggression. Given the resounding praise the SB66 and SB95 bikes have garnered, it’s no surprise that the SB75 follows a similar line of development, built around the Switch suspension system.

Yeti SB75 test -4
Yay for the Yeti Man! Note the fat welds and stout tube profiles.

The geometry underpinnings are similar too; short stays out back, a longer travel fork (in this instance 140mm, compared to 125mm rear travel), a slack head angle and low bottom bracket. It’s that iconic Yeti feel once again.

We’ve been riding the SB66 Carbon for some time now, and while the basic frame architecture of the SB75 is similar, the aesthetics of the frame are very different. With welds bigger than your fingernails and broad, flat-topped tube shapes, it looks and feels very robust, rather than slippery and sleek. Weight-wise, there’s a bit of muscle in there, with our medium sized bike edging up just over 13.4kg, so no featherweight.

Post mount rear brake tabs and a Shimano made 142mm rear axle.
Post mount rear brake tabs and a Shimano made 142mm rear axle.

The frame bristles with well considered features (aside from the constraints around fitting a water bottle). Highlights include a threaded bottom bracket – this system is still the best in our humble opinion – and a Shimano-made 142mm rear axle. The cable routing is neat too, avoiding any cable rub around the head tube area, and there are provisions to run either internal or external cables for a dropper seat post.

Yeti SB75 test -9
The internal seat post cable goes in here, or there are guides for an external cable too.

When it comes to sizing, we were caught out a little by the SB75. The size medium measures up more like a size large when compared to other Yetis. For our 170cm-tall test rider, a medium would normally be spot on, but a size small would’ve been more appropriate. We ended up swapping out the 90mm stem for a 70mm. We also ran the stem flipped too, as the medium frame has a quite a tall head tube. For a medium frame, the seat tube length is considerable, at 19.5 inches. Again, check the size before you buy, as the long seat tube has the potential to cause dramas should you wish to run a dropper seat post. (Some dropper posts are super long, and tall seat tubes can sometimes mean it’s hard to get the seat low enough when the post is at full extension).

Ostensibly a size medium, our test SB75 is pretty big.
Ostensibly a size medium, our test SB75 is pretty big.

We’ve dwelled on the Switch suspension system in previous reviews (see here, and here) so we won’t go into too much detail, suffice to say its pedalling performance is a real highlight, it handles big impacts like nobody’s business and it’s super durable too. We did let all the air out of the shock and compress the suspension to observe the Switch system in operation; on this particular bike, the eccentric pivot really does not rotate very much at all, just a few degrees. This is interesting to note, as the Switch system on the SB66 has noticeably more rotation.

A Kashima FOX Float CTD Trail Adjust shock is the damper of choice for the SB75 frameset.
A Kashima FOX Float CTD Trail Adjust shock is the damper of choice for the SB75 frameset.

The Bits:

There are numerous build kits available for the SB75, with SRAM and Shimano options. Our bike ran an XT kit, using a premium FOX 34 CTD (Trail Adjust) fork, with Kashima coated legs an 140mm travel – SRAM kits come with a Rockshox Revelation fork. No matter which kit you choose, the frame runs a superb FOX Float CTD shock.

The Easton wheels are great - stiff and tubeless ready - but we did notice a bit of play in the rear hub.
The Easton wheels are great – stiff and tubeless ready – but we did notice a bit of play in the rear hub.

Easton provide the carbon Haven bar (a narrowish 710mm wide – we wouldn’t mind a tad more width) and Vice XLT wheelset. We noticed the tinniest amount of play in the rear hub; it wasn’t overly noticeable on the trail but giving the rear wheel a wiggle you could feel it. The rims are tubeless ready, as are the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres and so we ran them sans tubes.

If you're running a fixed (as opposed to a dropper) post, Thomson is the way to go. It's pretty cool to see this item come stock on the SB75.
If you’re running a fixed (as opposed to a dropper) post, Thomson is the way to go. It’s pretty cool to see this item come stock on the SB75.

A Thomson stem and seat post add a glamorous touch; it almost seems a pity to remove a Thomson post to install a dropper, but that’s what we’d do given the option. Shimano’s XT brakes and drivetrain can’t be topped for sheer reliability, and the 2×10 gearing with a 24/38 crankset is a sensible option for most riders.

The Ride:

Our first ride on the SB75 left us feeling a bit like a passenger – as we mentioned earlier, the medium frame is actually pretty big – so we quickly went away and fitted a slightly shorter stem. Instantly we felt 100% better on the bike and we could get down to the serious business of riding the arse off this Yeti.

The Cane Creek headset has a bit of height to it, on top of an already tall head tube, so we flipped the stem. Normally the SB75 runs a Thomson stem too, but we needed something a tad shorter for our tad short test rider.
The Cane Creek headset has a bit of height to it, on top of an already tall head tube, so we flipped the stem. Normally the SB75 runs a Thomson stem too, but we needed something a tad shorter for our tad short test rider.

In terms of how we’d position the SB75’s performance on the trail, it slots in fairly close to the SB66 in many regards. 125mm of travel doesn’t sound like much when you position the 75 alongside the current ranks of all-mountain bikes, but thanks in part to the 140mm fork with its 34mm stanchions, the SB75 can hold its own when things get rough. The flat out descending performance is not in the same league as the SB66, but neither would you expect it to be, due to the steeper head angle and shorter wheelbase. That said, with some larger rubber on board we reckon the downhill performance gap between the 75 and 66 wouldn’t be much at all.

The Switch. Any doubts we had about the durability of this system when it was announced have long since been alleviated.
The Switch. Any doubts we had about the durability of this system when it was announced have long since been alleviated.

As we’ve noted in past tests, the Switch suspension found on the SB series bikes is best when ridden hard. As such, we set both the fork and shock to Trail mode most of the time, giving up a little small bump compliance in order to deliver a ride that skimmed over the terrain and saved its legs for the bigger hits. Despite the different travel lengths between the fork and rear suspension, getting a balanced feel was easy. The fork ramps up quite hard near the end of its stroke, so it never felt as if it was diving, and the rear end is so capable it genuinely feels like there’s more than 125mm on offer.

The FOX 34 series fork is a massive boon to this bike. The extra couple of hundred grams is well worth the point-and-shoot confidence.
The FOX 34 series fork is a massive boon to this bike. The point-and-shoot confidence is well worth the couple of hundred gram weight penalty.

A low bottom bracket height makes the 75 a lot of fun in the corners, but some care is needed on technical climbs. We tagged the chain rings a number of times when climbing up rock ledges. Overall, we’d gladly take the stability benefits of the low bottom bracket height any day, even if it means the odd pedal or chain ring scrape. Overall climbing performance is pretty good. It’s not a mountain goat, not at this weight, but there’s no pedal induced bobbing, and forward drive is excellent.

We primarily left the fork and shock in the Trail setting, for a firmer, faster ride.
We primarily left the fork and shock in the Trail setting, for a firmer, faster ride.

On the medium sized frame, the tallish head tube has both positives and negatives; you do have to work harder to ensure the front end keeps biting, but you’re also filled with confidence to drop into chutes and roll-ins that would be intimidating should the front end be much lower. In terms of the riding position, it reminded us bit of the 575 of previous years – ultra comfortable.

Do the bigger wheels make a difference? That’s a hard call to make. On fast, pedally, flat sections of fire road, the 75 certainly seems to roll nicely and carry momentum well. However, whether or not this is the product of the wheel size or just an indicator of great suspension is hard to say!

Overall:

If you were a fan of the ASR-5, you’re going to love the new SB75. It retains that same hard-charging trail bike vibe, but incorporates greatly improved suspension, faster rolling wheels and a stiffer frameset too. For us, the weight is a slight niggle, so we’re hanging out for the inevitable carbon version of this bike.

Yeti SB75 test -2

If we had to choose between an SB75 and an SB66 for our day to day riding, it would be a very tough call to make. They’re both great bikes, with the 75 maintaining a slight edge in the versatility stakes, largely because its slightly steeper angles make it less of a handful on flatter trails. And then there’s the new 575 to consider too… We’ll have to give it a try too and pick our favourite.

 Test rider:
Chris Southwood. Height: 170cm. Weight: 63kg

Tested: Specialized Command Post BlackLite Adjustable Seat Post

It always surprises us when we meet someone on the trail who asks us, ‘what’s that?’ while pointing at our adjustable seat post. We guess that’s because once you’ve been using a dropper post for a while, it kind of becomes impossible to imagine riding without one!

Specialized Command Post-6

The Specialized Command Post BlackLite (whatever that means – kind of sounds like a commando squadron) comes as a stock item on many Specialized bikes. Specialized are one of only two brands (the other being Giant) to have developed their own in-house dropper post, rather than speccing one of the myriad of options available from FOX, RockShox, KS, crankbrothers and more. So how does the Command Post stack up?

Specialized Command Post-16
The Command Post BlackLite uses external cable actuation, rather than an internal cable or hydraulics. It may not look as neat as an internal system, but maintenance and installation is far easier.

Since we began this test, Specialized have unveiled another version of the Command Post, this time with internal cable routing (ala the RockShox Reverb Stealth). However, as most older frames won’t be compatible with the new internally routed post, so we think the standard Command Post will remain very popular. As an aftermarket item, it’s available in two diameters (30.9 and 31.6mm) and three different lengths, offering 125, 100 or 75mm of on-the-fly adjustability.

Specialized-Command-Post
Full height, 35mm drop and fully dropped. Our post had 100mm of adjustability, but you can get 125mm or 75mm versions too.

The Command Post, like the FOX DOSS post, uses pre-set drop levels, rather than infinite adjustability. There’s full extension (climbing), fully dropped (getting rowdy) or an intermediate 35mm-drop ‘cruiser’ setting, which gets the saddle out of the way without making seated pedalling too hard.

We hit an early snag with installation; our BH Lynx frame didn’t allow us to insert the seat post far enough to get the seat height right – it was about 25mm too high when the post was at full extension. We sent our 125mm version back and swapped it for the 100mm-drop version, which is about 35mm shorter in overall length. It’s interesting to note that the Command Post is comparatively long for its amount of adjustability. By way of comparison, the RockShox Reverb and KS Lev posts are both about 20mm shorter in overall length while maintaining 125mm of adjustability.

Specialized Command Post-11
The small lever takes up very little room on the bar. We’re running a single ring drivetrain on this particular bike too, so the cockpit is nice and clean.
The lever isn't too much of a stretch to reach, and it's quite low profile too.
The lever isn’t too much of a stretch to reach, and it’s quite low profile too.

With that issue sorted, installation went very smoothly. The Command Post uses an air spring; we set the post’s air pressure at about 30psi. There is no rebound damping with the Command Post, meaning it really shoots back to full extension quickly when you hit the button, so it’s important not to run too much air pressure or it’ll spring back like a gonad-seeking missile.

Specialized Command Post-8
The cable can be unclipped from the post’s head easily making removal, servicing or packing it all up for travel very simple.

Compared to a hydraulic system, like the Reverb post, the cable actuated system is easy to set up. The lever is petite and comes supplied with a ‘noodle’ to ensure clean routing from the handlebar – keeping the line of cable as smooth as possible is important or you’ll end up with too much friction in the system. There’s also a barrel adjuster, which is useful as the system is quite sensitive to the correct cable tension. The post head uses a single bolt clamp, and like other single bolt systems, you need to do it up super tight. The cable has a quick release mechanism as well, meaning you can detach it from the post in seconds if you need to take the post out of the frame.

The post head uses a single bolt clamp, secured with a 5mm allen key.
The post head uses a single bolt clamp, secured with a 5mm allen key. There’s loads of angle adjustment, so getting your saddle position right is easy.

Performance so far has been consistent and reliable and we’ve got high hopes for the durability of the post too. Unlike many dropper posts, the Command Post isn’t plagued by side-to-side slop, which makes it feel robust and well built.

Specialized Command Post-12
One half of the pivot bolt in our lever rattled loose and went bushwalking, never to be seen again. The lever still works, it just is a tad floppy.

The lever isn’t as tough, and we lost one half of the pivot bolt assembly early in the game. It still works fine, but there’s a bit of slop in the lever as a result. That said, there’s still plenty to like about the lever; it takes up little bar real estate, fits neatly with most shifters or brakes, and is easy to position in comfortable reach of your thumb. It can also be integrated with a Specialized lock-on grip, replacing the lock ring, which is pretty tidy. The downside of the small lever is that it doesn’t give you that much leverage – posts like the KS Lev or FOX DOSS have significantly lighter actuation.

Coming off an infinitely adjustable post (the crankbrothers Kronolog… not so good…) it took a while to adapt to the three-position adjustment of the Command Post. Engaging the fully dropped position is easy – there’s very little resistance to lower the post – but finding the intermediate 35mm drop position takes a bit of practice to hit it smoothly. You need to compress the lever, sit on the seat and compress the post past the 35mm point, then release the lever before taking your weight off the seat, allowing it to slot back into the intermediate position. It took half a dozen rides before it became intuitive. The FOX system, where there is a second lever to engage the intermediate position, is easier to operate, but it is significantly more bulky and heavier.

Specialized Command Post-14
When the Command Post locks in position, you know it’s secure. The action is reassuringly solid.

We like the reassuringly solid engagement of the Command Post. You can really feel and hear it lock into position with a clunk. The internals of the post are quite simple, using a expanding collet style locking mechanism that sits securely into recesses in post’s inner wall. It’s robust, and feels and sounds positive and tough.

Overall, the Command Post is a solid offering, not entirely without foibles, but then no dropper post seems to be perfect yet. Now that we’ve adapted to the operation of the post and can engage the very useful intermediate position quickly, we’ve become quite fond of the Command Post. The robust post construction is the highlight, and the price is good too, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it’s going in a year’s time as we get the feeling it’ll be trucking along nicely.

 

 

 

 

 

Tested: Maxxis Minion DHR II Trail Tyre

Do you know the easiest way to tell your rear tyre needs replacing?

Put on a really good grippy front tyre and you will find out, as we did with the new Maxxis Minion DHR II trail tyre.

Web_Test_Tyre_MaxxisDHRII-3
We used the term “trail tyre” to differentiate the DHR II with the DHR II downhill tyre. Some tread pattern, but the trail tyre is lighter and better for general trail riding.

The Maxxis DHR II is a tyre that gets a whole lot of grip and as soon as we threw it on our bike we noticed how loose things had been getting on the rear. Borrowing technology from the DH range of tyres, the DHR II uses the same aggressive pattern as the downhill version (Maxxis DHR II – Downhill) but shaves over 500 grams by going single-ply on the sidewalls to come in at a very, very respectable 782 grams (on our scales).

Web_Test_Tyre_MaxxisDHRII-1
That’s some good aggressive knobs. Firmer compound through the middle and softer on the edges.

Yes, it is a little slower than a less aggressive tyre but the extra confidence it gave us to get over the front of the bike is well worth the slight loss in rolling speed.  In some senses you do actually get the best of both worlds. You do get all the super grip of a DH tyre, without all the weight. Sure, the DHR II doesn’t come in the Super Tacky compound that the full DH bigger brother does, but that also means you get more wear and a faster rolling tyre. A tyre like this is more for people who want to ride faster on the corners not faster in a straight line.

Another notable was the softness of the ride feel. The larger and softer knobs did help to take the edge out of the smaller rocks on the trail and that gave us even more confidence to ride faster.

Web_Test_Tyre_MaxxisDHRII-2
We’ve been running ours for about a month (front only) and only now it’s starting to show some signs of wear on the side knobs.

We had no issues installing them tubeless to Shimano XT UST rims and ran them at 28psi as a front tyre only. Burping was never an issue and no flats or cuts occurred during the test period.

Web_Test_Tyre_MaxxisDHRII-5
Our test tyre was 26″ x 2.30 and came with Maxxis 3C Max Terra (firmer compound through the middle and softer on the side knobs), EXO sidewall protection (helps reduce sidewall cuts and abrasions) and Tubeless Ready (Maxxis’ version of a UST tyre) technologies.

We highly recommend this tyre as a fantastic front tyre and perfect for adding more confidence to your cornering. Due to the rolling speed it’s best matched with something less aggressive on the rear however if you ride gravity non-stop, but not gnarly DH, then this tyre will be perfect front and rear.

Long Term Test: Yeti SB66 Is Fitted With SRAM X01 And RockShox Monarch Plus

Out with the old, and in with the new, it was time to show the Yeti SB66 long term test bike some love, and give our shiny new SRAM X01 a worthy home.

The Shimano XTR cranks and shifters have served us so well, it’s really quite impressive. And the Shimano XT derailleur and cassette also deserve a fine send off for never missing a beat during its tough life aboard the super bike.

We’ve run the Wolf Tooth Components chainring for many months now, and for only $70 it’s a really sensible and simple solution to convert your bike to using a single ring (check out our review). We feel a shorter cage derailleur with more tension is needed for maximum retention, as we dropped the chain twice with our long cage XT derailleur.

Shimano XT and XTR is so damn durable, it may look a bit beat up, but function is 100%.
Shimano XT and XTR is so damn durable, it may look a bit beat up, but function is 100%.

X01 signifies a step forward for the Yeti, with eleven speed single ring drivetrains becoming the latest and favoured trend. Shimano will have eleven speed one day too, so why not. We’ve loved SRAM XX1 since day one, and with X01 being so incredible similar in construction and features, we are curious to put it on long term test, but we can’t help but think that it’s just XX1, only a minute fraction heavier. So that means it should be just as good on the trail, right? We’ll see.

One advantage of running a brake and shifter from the same brand is combining the clamps, into one.
One advantage of running a brake and shifter from the same brand is combining the clamps, into one.
WEB_Test_YETISB66SRAM_0318
Off comes the Shimano, cheers for the good times.
Hello SRAM, and your thick and thin chainring teeth.
Hello SRAM, and your thick and thin chainring teeth.
The shifter and brake lever, are now mated very neatly.
The shifter and brake lever, are now mated very neatly.
WEB_Test_YETISB66SRAM_0354
Very neat indeed.
SRAM XD driver body and the outgoing standard one. A new standard is always a pain to begin with, but the new system actually makes sense, simply in the way that the bearings are positioned to support the cassette.
SRAM XD driver body and the outgoing standard one. A new standard is always a pain to begin with, but the new system actually makes sense, simply in the way that the bearings are positioned to support the cassette.
The big and bulky X01 derailleur is a target for impacts and abuse, we'll need to keep that in mind, as the Shimano Shadow it replaces tucks away out of harm very well.
The big and bulky X01 derailleur is a target for impacts and abuse. We’ll need to keep that in mind, as the Shimano Shadow it replaces tucks away out of harm very well. We’ve already dropped the bike, and the derailleur walloped the ground, whoops.
The Rockshox PIKE is so bloody good, we simply cannot get enough of its controlled, smooth and sturdy action.
The Rockshox Pike is so bloody good, we just cannot get enough of its controlled, smooth and sturdy action. (check out our review)
Is it so, are the crowns creaking? This is usually a negative trait to FOX forks from a few years ago. We greased the headset bearing, bar clamps, and fork axles, but when you stop to a halt with the front brake on, there is creaking.
Is it so, are the crowns creaking? This is usually a negative trait to FOX forks from a few years ago. We greased the headset bearing, bar clamps, and fork axles, but when you stop to a halt with the front brake on, there is creaking.
The best tyre in world? We love the Schwalbe Hans Dampf, but the rear tyre is showing serious signs of wear, after an acceptable term of shredding. The front tyre could stay on for a while longer, but we have fresh rubber to test.
The best tyre in world? We love the Schwalbe Hans Dampf, but the rear tyre is showing serious signs of wear, after an acceptable term of shredding. The front tyre could stay on for a while longer, but we have fresh rubber to test.
A Specialized Ground Control 2.3" sealed up the the ENVE wheels nicely.
A Specialized Ground Control 2.3″ sealed up on the ENVE wheels nicely.
Up front, the Specialized Purgatory in 2.4" width. We've had great experiences with these guys, and they are also lighter than the bigger Schwalbe tyres that it replaces.
Up front, the Specialized Purgatory in 2.4″ width. We’ve had great experiences with these guys, and they are also lighter than the bigger Schwalbe tyres that it replaces.
One of the Shimano XTR Trail pedals felt a bit sloppy in the axle, so we whipped the axle out, and nipped up the tiny bearing adjustment. A quick and easy job.
One of the Shimano XTR Trail pedals felt a bit sloppy in the axle, so we whipped the axle out, and nipped up the tiny bearing adjustment. A quick and easy job.
The Thompson post is a real winner, the up and down action is so slick. The collar/seal was coming loose a few times during each ride, a quick bit of Loctite on the thread fixed that and it hasn't budged since. No additional play has become obvious either, so far so good for the most expensive seatpost we've ever sat on.
The Thompson post is a real winner, the up and down action is so slick. The collar/seal was coming loose a few times during each ride, a quick bit of Loctite on the thread fixed that and it hasn’t budged since. No additional play has become obvious either, so far so good for the most expensive seatpost we’ve ever sat on.
The latest Rockshox Monarch Plus rear shock also found its way onto the Yeti. We plan to do back-to-back comparison testing with the FOX Float X. We d have to say, that it has its work cut out for it though, the FOX Float X is superb, and our past experiences with the Monarch shocks have been fairly average. Let's hope the latest revisions to the damping have helped the sensitivity.
The latest Rockshox Monarch Plus rear shock also found its way onto the Yeti. We plan to do back-to-back comparison testing with the FOX Float X. We’d have to say, that it has its work cut out for it though, the FOX Float X is superb, and our past experiences with the Monarch shocks have been fairly average. Let’s hope the latest revisions to the damping have helped the sensitivity.
PRO Tharsis controls, we love the feel, weight and look of the gear. It is well worth a look into for taking any bike the next step into all mountain terrain. We use a 60mm stem and a 640mm wide bar.
PRO Tharsis controls, we love the feel, weight and look of the gear. It is well worth a look into for taking any bike the next step into all mountain terrain. We use a 60mm stem and a 740mm wide bar.
Hey good looking! Ready for Flowtorua next week, the Yeti is born again and looking hot!
Hey good looking! Ready for Flowtorua next week, the Yeti is born again and looking hot!

If anyone has some ideas to further upgrade this juicy test bike, we are all ears. Just look at the thing!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Juliana Joplin Primeiro

The Juliana Joplin Primeiro is the latest in a growing collection of women’s bikes that we’re taking to the trails. This one pairs a high-performing parts list with the light and compliant ride feel of a quality carbon frame.

29" wheels, carbon frame, VPP suspension and a premium level build kit - oh yeah!
29″ wheels, carbon frame, VPP suspension and a premium level build kit – oh yeah!

Juliana is Santa Cruz’s female specific line of bikes. The range is named after 1990’s US mountain biking pioneer, Juliana Furtado, the John Tomac of her time, or a Gunn-Rita DahleFlesjå in today’s terms. We are excited to clip our feet into the latest 29” trail bike offering from the company, the Juliana Joplin Primeiro.

WEB_Test_SantaCruzJuliana_0197

The Joplin part is a throw back to the rock legend of the same name (it’s ‘the Queen of rocks and roll’). Primeiro is Santa Cruz for ‘highest spec in a specific range,’ in this case kashima coated Fox front and rear suspension (120mm on the front and 100mm on the rear) and a Shimano XT build.

Shimano triple ring crankset, gives a massive range of gears.
Shimano triple ring crankset, gives a massive range of gears.

Despite the high-performing build and shiny marketing of the Joplin Primeiro, we were a little disappointed to discover that the frame shares the same geometry as the Santa Cruz Tall Boy. The women’s features extend to the contact points, the powdery blue finish and a 3×10 drive train with a roomy 11-36 cassette on the rear.

One question we have for the review period is whether these changes are enough to satisfy a growing number of savvy female consumers. The small size Joplin was in fact released ahead the small Tall Boy, which had male riders thinking about buying a women’s bike rather than the other way around for a change. The frame design of the Tall Boy also incorporates female friendly features like a low standover and short head tube length

Santa Cruz's well-loved VPP suspension design makes for efficiency to the maximum.
Santa Cruz’s well-loved VPP suspension design makes for efficiency to the maximum.

Marketing questions aside, the performance of the bike is something best answered out on the trails. Hitting the dirt, the Joplin immediately showed us why the Santa Cruz and Juliana brands have such a proud and loyal following.

The Joplin climbs more efficiently than we were expecting, mowed over short technical ‘ups,’ and descended at warp speed. It feels fast, stable, very capable and has a beautifully smooth ‘ride feel’; a winning combo for all-day outings on an extensive variety of trails.

Note the step down in the handlebar's diameter under the grips, for smaller hands.
Note the step down in the handlebar’s diameter under the grips, for smaller hands.

We’re looking forward to getting more attuned to the Joplin over the test period to discover more about the experiences it opens up and the subtleties of how it performs. Keep an eye on Flow for a full review soon.

Tested: SRAM Roam 50 29er Wheelset

When a wheelset proves to be light, stiff and durable, it becomes pretty hard to put together a particularly interesting review, but we’ll try!

What can you say? They've been perfect.
What can you say? They’ve been perfect.

The Roam 50s are SRAM’s versatile alloy-rimmed trail wheel. There’s also a carbon version, the Roam 60, which isn’t actually any lighter, but has the strength and stiffness benefits of carbon construction.

It’s worth mentioning too that SRAM have the serious cross-country crowd covered with the lightweight Rise wheelsets and if you’re more gravity oriented, there’s the tougher Rail series wheels too. Put simply, SRAM now have a shedload of wheels for you to pick from. You can get the Roam, Rise and Rail wheels in 26″, 27.5″ or 29″ versions. We tested the big 29er hoops.

There is a carbon version of this wheel available too, in 26, 27.5 or 29er sizes.
There is a carbon version of this wheel available too, in 26, 27.5 or 29er sizes.

Since we first received these wheels, we’ve only had a month or so on the trails with the Roams so we can’t honestly comment on the long-term durability, but we’ve not been nice to these wheels in order to cram as much punishment in as possible in a short period.

The hub shells use SRAM's Double Decker spoke flange design. The spokes are long, but the wheels are stiff all the same.
The hub shells use SRAM’s Double Decker spoke flange design. The spokes are long, but the wheels are stiff all the same.

In a nutshell, these wheels are as true as the day we fitted them, the sealed bearings and superb freehub are still spinning perfectly smoothly, and we’ve suffered negligible air loss with them set up tubeless. Speaking of tubeless, the rims come pre-fitted with a super tough tape that seals up the rim bed nicely, plus valves are included.

SRAM Rise 50 wheel-5

The Double Decker hub design is very low profile, which looks good, but it does mean the spokes are very long – something that many 29er wheels try to avoid in order to maximise wheel stiffness. That said, these wheels are surprisingly stiff, more than stiff enough for all but the heaviest or roughest riders. Furthermore, the 21mm internal rim width gives your tyres a good measure of support too, helping keep everything going where you want it to, rather than squirming about.

The rims are offset, allowing the use of one spoke length across both wheels. A generous 21mm internal width ensures good support for wide trail rubber.
The rims are offset, allowing the use of one spoke length across both wheels. A generous 21mm internal width ensures good support for wide trail rubber.

On the subject of spokes, SRAM have made life very easy for mechanics the world over, but using the one spoke length for both drive-side and non drive-side of front AND rear wheels! No more spoke length calculators!

The axles are modular, so you can run all the common dropout configurations, and the freehub mechanism (DT’s Star Ratchet) is one of the easiest to maintain on the market. We love servicing these freehubs, the simplicity is just so perfect.

We're running XX1 on our test wheels. Make sure you grease up the freehub body before installing your cassette if you're going 11-speed too.
We’re running XX1 on our test wheels. Make sure you grease up the freehub body before installing your cassette if you’re going 11-speed too.

On the subject of freehub bodies, if you’re running the SRAM XD body for SRAM’s XX1 or X01 cassette, make sure you use lots of grease when you install the cassette. We had a drama with a cassette getting stuck and it was a real battle to free it (almost resulting in a ruined XX1 cassette; now that would’ve been expensive).

We’d love to try the Roam 60 carbon versions of these wheels, because we’re very impressed by the 50s and can only imagine how good the stiffer carbon rim would make this wheelset.

 

 

Tested: GT Sensor Carbon Team

Same name, very different game. GT’s 2014 Sensor appears to be a big step into the future, when compared to the 2013 model of the same name.

What GT has aimed to do is build upon their Independent Drive system which we’ve known for many years, and improve on it. And with the new bigger (but not that much bigger) 650B wheels and a wild looking carbon frame thrown in the mix, the 2014 Sensor gives you a real sense that GT have stepped it up, reaffirming their heritage rich reputation, big time.

Wings are included, to help you fly, maybe.
Wings are included, to help you fly, maybe.

Design:

At the heart of the GT is a fresh new approach to mountain biking’s age-old challenge of reducing the impact that your pedalling forces have on the rear suspension. Gone is GT’s long serving Independent Drive, and in comes the Angle Optimised Suspension design, all new for 2014. The suspension pivots around a very high pivot point above the chain rings, but the bottom bracket is housed in a separate part of the frame, the Path Link.

Looks bloody hot, just standing there.
Looks bloody hot, just standing there.

A high pivot gives great suspension traits when it comes to bump absorption, but there are negative impacts on the chain tension, with feedback through the pedals as the suspension compresses. Enter the Path Link. When the rear suspension begins to compress, the Path Link moves the bottom bracket in the same rearward direction as the wheel will travel, in an arc, reducing chain growth and therefore the feedback typically associated with high pivot suspension designs.

Web_Test_Giant_GT_Sensor_Riding-4
The GT gets up to speed with very little effort.

It may sound like epic time wasting mumbo jumbo to some people, or really quite confusing, but in theory it all should make for plush suspension with good efficiency and a minimum of pedal feedback. Take a look at the video below of the linkage in action to help your head around what moves what, and why.

The Path Link (grey section) is pulled backwards by the chain stays, which pushes the shock. The bottom bracket also moves backwards with the rear axle. Hmmm, just watch the video.
The Path Link (grey section) is pulled backwards by the chain stays, which pushes the shock. The bottom bracket also moves backwards with the rear axle. Hmmm, just watch the video.

One thing that really struck us when first laid eyes on the Sensor, was the frame shape. It is chunkier than a fluorescent shoed boot camp instructor on Bondi Beach, with massive carbon tubes and shapes all over it, and its widely spaced pivots mean business. It is as stiff as it looks; we were quite baffled as to how such a tight and lowly slung rear triangle could feel so solid when we grabbed the rear end and wrenched it side to side – there was hardly any flex at all. The linkages are also quite meaty, with big axles and cartridge bearings adding to the very stiff construction.

All the action is housed in a small space, down low and central in the frame. This
All the action is housed in a small space, down low and central in the frame. Weight down low helps the bike tip into the corners, and makes weight shift changes easier, and faster.

The gear and brake cables are externally routed. In our mind if external cable routing is done as well as it is done here, we’d often prefer this to internal cabling. It’s neat, unobtrusive, quick and easy to work on and it also acts as a protective shield from debris impacting on the underside of the frame. Cable clamps fix the cables to the frame, keeping the bike quite free from zip ties, which is a nice change.

We LOVE sag indicators. To take any guess-work out of setting up the rear suspension, simply sit on the bike and look at where the indicator lines up. Simple!
We LOVE sag indicators. To take any guess-work out of setting up the rear suspension, simply sit on the bike and look at where the indicator lines up. Simple!

Build:

Triple chain rings? How odd. To cater for the booming European market (they love triple rings up there) GT have specced the Sensor with a triple ring crank set. To suit our tastes, we’d go for a double or single ring setup. But saying that it has been so long since we rode in such a low gear, it was actually quite good to knock it down to the low range gears and spin up steep inclines rather than yanking on the bars, out of the saddle gnashing teeth and groaning.

Triple rings may look a little out of place, but in fact it widened the Sensor's scope to getting up just about any steep section of trail, go the granny!
Triple rings may look a little out of place, but in fact it widened the Sensor’s scope to getting up just about any steep section of trail, go the granny!

It looks like GT took a part from each brand when dressing up the frame. Making up the components is a real mixed bag from e*Thirteen, Formula, Shimano and RaceFace. Where we are used to seeing either Shimano or SRAM front to back on stock bikes these days, this looks more like someone’s custom ride than standard spec. Everything came together well though, but the handlebars were a little cluttered with a RockShox adjustable seatpost lever, Shimano shifter and Formula brake lever taking up a lot of real estate on the bars.

Three is a crowd.
Three is a crowd.

Our test bike had a bit of a hydraulic meltdown before we got it, with the brakes and seat post spewing juice everywhere during transit, so we had to borrow an older pair of Formula RO brakes, and live with the post not adjusting, ah well. That’s hydraulics for you.

The wheels were a real standout, fast rolling, light and super duper stiff but the freehub was so insanely loud it became a bit of an issue. It was hard to hear anyone talking to you, unless you were pedalling. Some people like loud rear hubs, we don’t mind them either, but in this case it was pretty intense! Pack some headphones if you plan to go for a quiet relaxing ride on these hoops.

The loudest hubs in the cosmos?
The loudest hubs in the cosmos?

The Sensor Team Carbon is the top of the line, and with a price tag to reflect that. Check out the GT website though for more model options, the carbon ones start at $4880, which is very fair.

Ride:

Yes, it has 650B wheels – but wait a second – does it actually have 27.5” wheels? Well the graphics on the frame state both to help alleviate any stress caused by confusion. Haha!

The 2013 Sensor has 26” wheels; did we notice a difference with the bigger wheels? We forgot all about it in fact, as the whole bike rode superbly well in all areas and without a 26” bike on hand to compare it too we just focused on the bike, not the wheel size. Maybe we should have said the 650B wheels gave the bike great rolling, traction, etc etc but let’s just think of it as a whole new bike incorporating the new wheels instead. The Sensor rolled along great, and exhibited great traction.

27." or 650B wheels. It seems that the industry can't decide on one term, so GT inscribe both in the paintwork.
27.” or 650B wheels. It seems that the industry can’t decide on one term, so GT inscribe both in the paintwork.
In the open trails, the roomy cockpit and laterally stiff frame made for great confidence at speed.
In the open trails, the roomy cockpit and laterally stiff frame made for great confidence at speed.

Our test bike came to us as a large, which fitted some of our testers fine, but with the latest ‘long top tube and short stem’ trend, it was a big bike to rip around on. We are fans of the way modern bikes are coming out with longer front ends, as it gives you a lot more room to get rowdy and muscle the bike around, coupled with a short stem the grips don’t feel out of reach and the steering is rapid and responsive. The GT has totally dialled numbers.

The spiky Continental tyres hooked up really well in the soft soils, but wouldn't suit sandstone or hardpack soils  too much.
The spiky Continental tyres hooked up really well in the soft soils, but wouldn’t suit sandstone or hardpack soils too much.

For a 130mm travel bike, the geometry felt more like a bigger all mountain rig than a typical 130mm dually, with a very long and low feeling figure. This will appeal to the more experienced rider nicely, one that can pump and play with the trail and terrain more. The geometry of the bike lets you ride it hard, but with only 130mm of travel you are never feeling too isolated from terra firma. There really was a lot of stability on hand, and that coupled with such a stiff frame and wheels, it was pretty easy to be comfortable when the wheels were wound up fast.

Mick taking on Gunna Gotta in Rotorua, loving it.
Mick taking on Gunna Gotta in Rotorua, loving it.

Rolling the 650B wheels into the rougher trails, we noticed that the bike dealt with square edge impacts really very well, so maybe GT are onto something here with the super high main pivot point after all. And stomping on the pedals, the suspension firmed up just the right amount, so as not to soak up any of your energy into the shock.

We expected to feel the bottom bracket moving forwards and backwards as you ride, as you can actually see it moving when bouncing up and down. But, unlike the Mongoose and GT’s of yesteryear, we couldn’t notice it. Perhaps on the larger travel GT Force you may feel it.

Letting the GT fly off a blind drop in Rotorua.
Letting the GT fly off a blind drop in Rotorua.

FOX Suspension’s premium offerings handle the bumps, the fork felt amazingly supple and supportive, and matched the rear shock’s wide range of adjustability perfectly. Testament to the frame’s great suspension efficiency, we spent most of the time with the rear shock set to the open Descend mode, for a super supple and sensitive ride.

Overall:

We all have a soft spot for GT as a brand, but we feel like they lost their way for a little bit over the last few years, we are happy to see that it looks like they have found their footing and are killing it with their latest models for 2014. The GT Force is another one we are eager to try out, at 150mm travel it’s got our name on it.

Our experience abord the Sensor was a great one, it is a fast rolling and efficient bike to ride. Not super mushy or comfortable when plodding about the trails, it’s more of a ‘get up and hammer hard’ type of bike with great geometry that allows you to really let the brakes off and pound it into the rough bits and drift around corners. There really is a lot to love about this guy.

Keep an eye out for a GT Force, the Sensor's bigger brother soon, Mick may have put one on order.
Keep an eye out for a GT Force, the Sensor’s bigger brother soon, Mick may have put one on order.

Tested: Time ATAC XC Carbon 8 Pedals

You can often make one of three assumptions when you spot a rider in Australia using Time ATAC pedals: the rider is French, the rider had knee problems about ten or fifteen years ago (especially if you see the rider using ATACs on their road bike as well), or the rider is following the advice of someone who had knee problems ten or fifteen years ago.

The smaller body size the of the new ATACs isn’t quite as convenient for those times when you miss a clip before a rock garden, or you want to do a hill start somewhere steep, but the lower pedal weight certainly makes them an attractive option to XC racers instead.
The smaller body size the of the new ATACs isn’t quite as convenient for those times when you miss a clip before a rock garden, or you want to do a hill start somewhere steep, but the lower pedal weight certainly makes them an attractive option to XC racers instead.

It’s unlikely that most people reading this review are francophones wanting to learn more about their national pedal. We’re going to concentrate on what makes them so recommendable to others instead.

Time's over time.
Time’s over time.

The biggest things that set the Time ATAC XC Carbon 8 pedals apart from its competitors are a wide release angle and excellent mud shedding ability.

The release tension can be adjusted with a flat screwdriver on the side of the pedal.
The release tension can be adjusted with a flat screwdriver on the side of the pedal.

Depending on which way you run the cleats the release angle is 13 or 17 degrees. For riders with knee issues this means more movement at the ankles. This places less stress on and around the knee joint by allowing a riding position that is less ‘fixed’

Cleat engagement is quick, simple and provides an audible click. While riders used to Shimano pedals will miss the tighter feeling of the cleat in the pedals, we like that the ATAC system means more freedom to move the angle of the foot on the pedal. This allows us to move nicely with the bike through technical terrain. It also means less chance of accidentally clipping out. See our previous review on the ATAC DH pedals for further comments on the cleats from a rider used to Shimano pedals.

After several months of use the XC 8s only show visual signs of wear.
After several months of use the XC 8s only show visual signs of wear.

Unfortunately there is also extra movement when you pull up on the pedal, something that is only really noticeable on very steep climbs. It doesn’t happen with the wider platform ATAC ROC line and is something we’d like to see in the next update of the XC range.

The self-cleaning design of the pedal sheds mud easily, as advertised.  We’ve clipped in effortlessly in boggy conditions and ridden away from other riders still banging cleats and scraping pedals too many times to count. This makes the ATAC XC 8s easy to recommend to people who like equipment which functions well in all conditions – an especially good option for the committed racer who wants to push forward despite the weather.

The release tension can be adjusted with a flat screwdriver on the side of the pedal.
The release tension can be adjusted with a flat screwdriver on the side of the pedal.

The XC 8s feature a lighter, more minimal design in comparison to its predecessors and we were curious to see how they would hold up over several months as a result. The polycarbonate body is certainly more scratched than when they were new, but given the rocky trails we enjoy riding we were glad to see the wear stopped there. The same goes for the stainless steal retention system. Neither have impacted performance, the impact is purely aesthetic.

The new XC 8s use an 8mm allen key, instead of a 6mm. Check your multiool if you're travelling light
The new XC 8s use an 8mm allen key, instead of a 6mm. Check your multiool if you’re travelling light

After a solid year of use we’d expect that the most we need to do with XC 8s is put some grease under the dust cover at the spindle to keep them spinning smoothly. It’s almost like these pedals age a fair bit visually speaking over the first few months then stop. This is were they have the biggest edge over the Crank Brothers Eggbeater – a pedal that also shares the float and mud shedding properties of the Times but tends to need a lot more ongoing maintenance.

We see the XC 8s as a solid option for riders who want a little more float from their pedals or who don’t want to mess around in muddy conditions. We are impressed with the durability so far, and if our collection of older model ATACs are anything to go by, we expect to be using them for a long time yet.

Tested: Giant Trance 1 27.5

Giant’s overhaul of the Trance range this year went the whole nine yards. This was no quick botox and collagen, oh no, Giant booked the Trance in for the works: nip and tuck, implants, hair extensions and more. Diana Ross would be in awe.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-8
Seconds later, we pushed it into the lake to get it clean for Aussie customs (kidding).

Design:

The question isn’t so much what have Giant changed on the Trance, but what haven’t they changed. This is a new bike entirely and an entirely better bike too. The Trance 1 we tested over seven days in New Zealand is the top of the alloy framed series, but there are three Advance carbon framed Trance models too, the cheapest just $3599.

Giant have repositioned the Trance to cover more of the terrain previously reserved for the Reign. With 140mm-travel at both ends, more aggressive geometry, an increase in wheel size up to 27.5″ and endless smaller refinements, the Trance will happily cover the vast majority of riding styles, from cross country to all-mountain use.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-22
The little plug you can see here can be removed and replaced with an insert that allows you to route rear brake line internally too if you wish. It’s awesome that Giant have abandoned their old cable routing, which used to foul on the rear shock.

If we move from front to back, you’ll find….

  • a more aggressive cockpit with a 70mm stem, 730mm bar
  • a laid back 67-degree head angle
  • a shorter head tube using Giant’s OverDrive 2 steerer system with a 1.5″ lower and 1.25″ upper bearing (which does limit stem choice options)
  • internally routed cables, including for the new internally actuated Switch-R dropper post
  • a press fit bottom bracket with ISCG tabs (hooray!)
  • a revised and stiffer linkage
  • post mount rear brake
  • 142x12mm compatible dropouts, though this particular model uses a quick release that threads into funky dropout reducers rather than a dedicated through-axle
  • Oh, and 27.5″ wheels too.

As we said, it’s all new. Giant have thrown their considerable weight behind the 27.5″ wheel wholeheartedly. You can read all about it here in their analysis, but we’re not going to bang on about it too much because, frankly, a good bike is a good bike, no matter what size wheels it has.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-30
The dropouts on the Trance 1 are fitted with an insert that allows the use of the DT wind-up quick release skewer, but the frame will also work with a regular 142x12mm axle (you will need different hubs, of course).

The Build:

Take the squidgy grips and even squidgier tyres off, replace them with something more supportive, and go ride. With the exception of those two items, we couldn’t have been happier with the build kit on the Trance 1.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-37
For a trail bike, you just can’t go past the simple reliability of the FOX Float CTD rear shock. We ran the bike in Trail mode most of the time.

The FOX CTD fork and shock might be from the mid-range Evolution series but the suppleness and performance is outstanding. Likewise the SLX/XT brakes and drivetrain, which remained consistent and precise even in the worst muddy conditions, while the shifting and braking on other bikes degraded.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-18
The MRP G2 guide is quiet and smooth. We debated its necessity, but it works well all the same.

Initially we questioned the need for the MRP G2 roller/chain guide, but in action it’s so unobtrusive and quiet that we’d happily leave it on for the long term. On one very rough landing we did manage to somehow bounce the chain out of the guide’s grasp, but the chain didn’t actually come off the chain ring even once.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-43
Giant’s own saddle looked like it was going to be too broad for us, but it was actually pretty comfy!

We did find the wheels a tad on the soft side, so keep an eye on the spoke tension. The rims are Giant branded, and the hubs are reliable and simple cartridge bearing affairs that will go forever and then some. Giant’s in-house Contact dropper seat posts are awesome, and this new iteration with internal cable actuation is fantastic – we love the small remote lever and it worked perfectly across our test period.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-47
This new dropper from Giant is a huge improvement over the previous version; internal cabling, smooth action, very little side-to-side play.

Ride:

Three different testers rode this bike over the course of a week and each came back praising the fun, spritely and supple ride of the Trance.

Web_Test_Giant_Trance_27.5_riding_masthead-4
The trails of Rotorua were a great testing ground for the Trance. We rode it on everything, from the downhill track to the man-made drops and jumps of Little Red Riding Huck to the roots of Te Tiwi O Tawa.

It took a while to nail the setup, we played round with the bar height for a while until we got a position that gave us the confidence to lean on that front wheel. With a stumpy head tube on the 2014 bike we ultimately brought the bars back up a couple of centimetres. With that sorted, the position on the bike was perfect for all-day adventures.

The Trance is longer in the chain stays than some of its competitors, giving you more of a central position on the bike, but this didn’t seem to affect the playfulness of the bike at all. With the suspension so supple and lively at the top of the travel, it was easy to make the bike work for you, popping it all over the trail or keeping the front wheel up over slippery roots. On tighter, twisty trails the Trance felt even lighter than its reasonable 13.2kg.

Web_Test_Giant_Trance_27.5_riding_masthead-1-2
Big, fast corners like this revealed the only real chink in the Giant’s spec, the tyres.

At faster speeds it we were impressed by the stability of the suspension – big, fast hits never bucked us or unsettled the bike. But when laying into the grippy, big berms of the Rotorua at pace, the stiff frame and fork was let down by the Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres. We converted the bike to tubeless for the test (and we suggest you do the same), but without the added support provided by the tube, the sidewalls were just too light. We ultimately ran 10-12psi more pressure than usual to lessen the tyre roll when cornering and just lived with the reduced traction this caused. Best solution? Fit some sturdier rubber, as the bike is well and truly up for some harder riding than the tyres permit. In an ideal world, the Trance would have wider rims too.

Giant Trance 1 27.5-16
The TALAS fork can be dropped by 30mm with the flick of a switch, but the Giant climbs so well we didn’t ever really feel the need.

Climbing on the Giant is excellent; the suspension is nice and neutral, and there’s very little chain tug even when in the small chain ring. With the TALAS fork, you’ve got the ability to lower the front end when it gets steep. Surprisingly, we never needed to use the TALAS feature; the lower head tube height makes for a good climbing position, and with the shock set to Trail mode (where we left it most of the time) the rear suspension doesn’t squat or sag excessively when grinding uphill.

Overall:

The trails are going to be full of these things. The performance (and price) is on the money, and all of the folk out there who weren’t entirely convinced by the Trance 29 are going to be falling over themselves to give this bike a try. Sticking to 140mm-travel is a good move, it’s perfect for 90% of the trails out there, not too big, not too small. Giant have listened to the feedback of riders and reviewers and produced a fantastic machine.

Flow’s First Bite: Merida One Forty B

Merida make lots of bikes, for lots of companies. It’s no secret. But despite making some frames for some of the ‘coolest’ brands in the world, the company has not developed much of a ‘cool’ image for itself. Unless you’re a serious cross country racer (an area in which the brand has had loads of success), Merida has traditionally been a bit bland. But that could be about to change.

Merida One Forty B-17
Nice lines, baby. The One Forty B isn’t as beefy looking (especially in the rear end) as some all-mountain bikes, but it’s a stiff frame all the same.

Say g’day to the new Merida One Forty B, which coincidentally (uh huh) has 140mm of travel with 650B (27.5″) wheels. In case you didn’t discern what this bike is designed for, Merida wrote in on the satin black top tube in bright yellow letter: All Mountain.

It’s easy to miss at first glance, but the One Forty B runs a new suspension system for Merida, using a dual-link design, rather than their usual single-pivot arrangement. The new VPK system looks very similar in configuration to Giant’s Maestro linkage.

Merida One Forty B-8
Something a little different for Merida! The VPK system looks quite similar to the Giant Maestro linkage, which can’t be a bad thing.

A price tag of $4299 sees the bike kitted out with a fine build kit indeed, including a FOX TALAS fork, Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes, plus stiff and burly Sun Charger wheels shod in fat-as-butter Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.4″ tyres (with Snake Skin sidewalls). There’s a Reverb Stealth post too, nice touch.

Great brakes, crisp shifting and a Reverb Stealth post.
Great brakes, crisp shifting and a Reverb Stealth post.

Things are looking very good so far, so let’s hope the Merida can walk the walk too.

 

Tested: Swift Charge High Performance Supplements

With a list of ingredients as long as your arm, and with names reminiscent of a university science class experiment, Charge is a carefully chosen mixture of legal substances that aim to help you push your physical capabilities further.

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Naturally, we are a little hesitant when it comes to putting loads of chemicals in our bodies, but energy supplements like gels, bars and recovery formulas are a must when you want to go faster for longer. Some purists achieve results from a simple, natural and balanced diet, but could we ignore the claimed benefits of this Charge stuff and not give it a try? Nope, we mixed up a bottle, downed it waited 30 minutes and off we went.

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Our faces started tingling, it spooked us but we were assured it was a side effect of one ingredient and it won’t last past a couple uses.

A couple uses later there was no tingling but there sure was some great impact on our stamina, power, focus and we relished in it one particular long day out on the bike where we could really lay down powerful pedal strokes for far longer than we should have been able to with just a couple Weetbix in the tank.

If supplements are your thing, this stuff will give you a good kick up the backside and keep you pumped and moving quick.

Long Term Test: SRAM XX1

After more than six months on SRAM’s 11-speed, single-ring-specific drivetrain, we’re ready to give up a kidney to get this system on all of our bikes. Hands down, this is the best mountain biking product to have been released in quite some years. Here are 11 thoughts about going 11 speed.

SRAM XX1 long term2
10-42 teeth and 11 gears. We still get funny looks when people see this whopping cassette for the first time.

1. The triple chain ring is dead. Its reign ended the day 10-speed mountain bike shifting was released. With the advent of the 36-tooth rear cog, the 22-tooth chain ring became superfluous; two chain rings paired to an 11–36 cassette was all you needed. And now, with the development 11-speed XX1, we think the days of 2×10 drivetrains are numbered too.

We’ve been fans of 1×10 drivetrains for a while now, but a 1×10 setup inevitably has some compromises, particularly when it comes to climbing. You do still lose a small amount of gear range with XX1, compared to a double-ring setup, but it’s negligible. And when you consider the advantages, the compromise is well worth it.

2. The right gearing for 99 percent of the time. We have encountered precious few situations where we’ve been left wanting more gears, in either direction. On our test bike we opted to run a 34-tooth chain ring – it was the perfect choice. If you’re struggling to push a 34:42 uphill, you’re going to go just as fast if you hop off and walk. At the other end of the spectrum, a 34:10 is more than tall enough to sail along a fire road at over 40km/h.

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XX1 has won XCO and XCE World Champs and World Cups, but it’s popularity and versatility extends beyond the cross country realm. XX1 has found a strong following amongst trail and enduro riders too and is coming specced increasingly on 140mm+ travel bikes.

3. This is not a cross country-specific product. One of the most impressive things about XX1 is how it can’t be pigeonholed as a product for a particular style of bike. While we’ve been running it on a cross-country race bike, it’s just as applicable for use on a 160mm-travel all-mountain bike. We’re sure that some of the XX1 technology will be adopted in the downhill world soon too.

4. We have not dropped a chain. From the very first day we installed our XX1 drivetrain on our Trek Superfly test bike, right up until the moment we sat down to type this review, we are yet to drop the chain on our XX1 groupset. And, no, we haven’t been running a chain guide. Furthermore, it hasn’t felt like we’ve come even close to losing the chain. There is so little chain slap going on, you just know that the chain is going to stay in place.

Part of the XX1’s amazing chain retention comes down to the tooth profile of its chain ring. The teeth are in two widths and they alternate (wide, narrow, wide, narrow), so they mesh perfectly with the alternating widths of the chain links. It’s an incredibly simple solution, and now we’re starting to see copycat rings from other manufacturers as well.

5. You’re never caught out. How many times have you caught yourself in the wrong chain ring, having to crunch a shift under load? Or had to listen to the grinding of an out-of-adjustment front derailleur? Or shifted to your granny ring and dropped the chain onto your bottom bracket? These issues don’t exist with XX1. You’re never caught in the wrong ring, never listening to a grindy front derailleur, never bending chain ring teeth.

SRAM XX1 long term
We opted for a 34 tooth chain ring on our XX1 drivetrain, but swapping rings for different conditions is a two-minute job.

6. Chain ring selection is key. There is only one cassette spread available for XX1 (10–42 teeth), so the chain ring choice (from 28 up to 38, in two-teeth increments) determines your gear range. Choose wisely! In our opinion you’re far better off to pick your chain ring based upon the lowest gear you’re likely to use. Swapping the chain rings is very easy, however, because you don’t need to remove the cranks. It’s so easy you could just purchase a couple of chain rings and change them out according to the conditions – keep a bigger ring in the tool box if you’re heading to a flatter race.

7. SRAM’s bottom brackets still suck. We found the installation process with SRAM’s GXP bottom bracket pretty fiddly, especially compared to Shimano’s seamlessly simple systems. There are a bunch of spacers and rubber bearing covers that just didn’t play nicely, not even when we followed the instructions. The system also requires you to tighten the cranks very, very tight in order to get it all to cinch together without any play. It’s a little unnerving the first time you do it.

8. Chain strength. We remember when 10-speed was first introduced and the mountain bike world was quick to cry out that we’d be swamped by broken chains. It didn’t happen. In fact the new 10-speed chains proved tougher. But with the advent of 11-speed, SRAM has had to go narrower again. And this time around, it seems that perhaps it has been hard to retain that same strength in the chain.We’ve witnessed XX1 chains snapping twice – including seeing Chris Jongewaard’s chain snap during an eliminator round at the National Champs. The chain on our test groupset has been fine to date, but we’re not putting out the same kinds of watts as Jongewaard and many bigger riders.

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SRAM had to create the new XD driver body to accommodate the 10-tooth sprocket of the XX1 cassette. Most of the major hub manufacturers now make an XD body for their rear hubs.

9. Compatibility. XX1 uses a completely new freehub body design – the XD driver system – to accommodate the tiny 10-tooth cog and handle the leverage forces from the large diameter 42-tooth. This means you can’t just whack the system onto any old wheels – you’ll need a rear hub that’s compatible. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of brands now manufacturing XD/XX1-compatible freehubs that can be retrofitted to existing wheels. Of course, this doesn’t include Shimano, the world’s biggest producer of hubs.

Trek Superfly 100 Long Term 28
XX1 in situ on our Trek Superfly 100 Elite long term test bike. We never missed a shift or dropped a chain once in over six months,

10. Silence! A quiet bike is a fast bike, and nothing is as quiet as XX1. The combination of the Type 2 clutch derailleur, which keeps chain slap in check, and the absence of a front derailleur means there’s no rattle. We removed the chain slap protector from our Trek Superfly and replaced it with lightweight Framewrap and the bike is still deadly quiet.

11. The possibilities are incredible. Doing away with a front derailleur has some obvious advantages (weight reduction, less complicated, cleaner appearance and cabling, better mud clearance and many others) and some less obvious advantages too, particularly when it comes to frame design.

Front derailleurs are tyrants of mountain bike frame design. Squeezing in a front derailleur limits how robust you can make the lower pivots point on full suspension bikes, having implications for frame stiffness. All kinds of horrendous asymmetrical formations are required to fit a front mech in too, increasing manufacturing costs. Front derailleurs cause all kinds of headaches when it comes to wheelbase lengths as well, forcing bikes (particularly 29ers) to run much longer chain stays than is ideal. Broader adoption of single-ring drivetrains will solve many, many problems. If the only price to pay is an ever-so-slightly reduced gear spread, sign us up to a single-ring future.

 

New Long Term Test Bike: BH Lynx 4.8 29

Here at Flow, in amongst the stream of test bikes that come and go, we always like to have a couple of bikes on hand to serve as long-term test mules.

These are the bikes that we use to review products and components. We’ll keep them in service for between six months and year, riding them as much as we can. The logic is that we become very familiar with the bike so we can better determine how, say, a new shock or set of tyres effects the ride quality.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 long term

Here’s the latest addition to the Flow stable – the BH Lynx 4.8 29. We delivered our first ride impressions of this bike a few weeks back and it’s fair to say our opinion was pretty positive. Since then we’ve acquired a bare frame and built it up with a whole host of new (and some used) parts, most of which we’ll be delivering a full test write up on soon.

At present, the BH is decked out with the same XX1 drivetrain that we’ve been running for the past nine months. Suspension is all Rockshox, including a Monarch RT3 shock and Reba RL 120mm fork. We hope to get our hands on the new SID when it appears back in the country too.

We’ve just installed the new SRAM Roam 50 wheels, which we’ll be giving a good hard testing over the next few weeks, and shod them in new Specialized Purgatory and Ground Control rubber. Again, we’ll be testing these tyres over the next few months, so expect a review soon-ish.

Specialized also provide the dropper post, with a 100mm-drop version of the Command Blacklite post (we had to opt for the 100mm version as the interrupted seat tube design of the BH wouldn’t work with the 125mm version – it was too long for our test rider).

Over the past few months we’ve been predominantly using two bikes as the sleds for our product testing – the Yeti SB66C and Trek Superfly 100 Elite – so it’s great to bring the BH into the mix as well, as it sits quite nicely between these two bikes in terms of riding style.

BH Lynx 4.8 29 long term 2

The weight of our BH Lynx test bike, as you see it in the photos with Shimano XT pedals, dropper post and bottle cage, is an impressive 11.47kg.

While you’re here, why not check out some of our other bike tests too? 

Pivot Mach 429 carbon17
Pivot Mach 429 Carbon
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 2919
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29
She's a slacker. Long, low and with very relaxed angles.
Whyte 146 s
On the whole, the EI system is integrated vey cleanly. The battery is the only element which really jumps out at you as being a little obtrusive. We're betting that next year it'll be internal.
Lapierre 314 EI

Tested: Pivot Mach 429 Carbon

Wrongness is easy to define – it’s just not right. But rightness is something a little harder to pin down. What we can attest to is that the Pivot Mach 429 Carbon has maximum rightness, precious little wrongness, and deserves its status as one of the dreamiest bikes on the market. Let’s take a look at the ledger.

 

Pivot Mach 429 carbon15

The rightness:

 

It’s one bad-arse machine

From the moment we slung a leg over the deep curve of the broad carbon top tube, the 429 Carbon spoke to us. It said ‘I’m not afraid.’

‘But you’re just a cross country bike,’ we told it.

‘That’s just a front,’ the Pivot conspired. ‘I’m actually a bad-arse trail shredding machine. Here, let me show you.’ And it did.

The 429 is a deceptive beast. With 100mm of travel front and back, 29″ wheels and typically cross country-oriented angles, you’d be correct in assuming the Pivot’s aim in life is to whip across smooth trails at speed. It does this ridiculously well, just devouring the miles. It would be the perfect machine for a marathon.

But to limit the 429 to mellow, undulating marathon terrain would be a travesty. When the going gets rough, the Pivot is all too happy to roll up its sleeves and go nose to nose with the bigger bikes. A combination of superb suspension and unflappable frame stiffness lets you plough through lines that would cast other bikes aside. Wide bars and a low bottom-bracket height keep you feeling grounded, like you’re in the bike rather than perched on top of it. It encourages you to get off the brakes and off the ground.

Pivot Mach 429 carbon43
Behold, the DW link rear suspension system.

DW-link suspension

Few suspension systems can hold a candle to the DW-link. Under pedalling forces, the performance of the Dave Weagle designed suspension is second to none, making it a real drawcard for this bike.

Other dual-link suspension designs may look similar, but Dave Weagle vehemently guards the patents surrounding the exact suspension configuration of the DW-link. We can see why; it’s a magic combination. The 429 Carbon pedals without any perceptible suspension-bobbing, yet the rear wheel stayed firmly glued to terra firma, even when we pedalled it through the rough. It simply motors up loose climbs. From the smallest trail ripples to walloping big hits, the Pivot’s rear end is ready.

Stiffer than a frozen carrot

In the bike industry’s war on weight, frame stiffness is often the first soldier to take a hit. But a floppy frame is the enemy of confidence – when you command a bike to go somewhere, you want it to respond like a well-trained German pointer. We were delighted to discover that, in this arena (frame stiffness, not dog training), the 429 Carbon is a category leader.

Just have a look at this thing. The head tube, the down tube and the chain stays are simply enormous. The rear end is tied to the mainframe with stout links and capped off with a 142x12mm axle. Does it flex? No sir, it does not.

Pivot Mach 429 carbon27
Look at those chain stays. They’re almost as thick as Chris Froome’s arms! This is a very stiff rear end.

Until you ride a bike with this amount of frame stiffness it’s hard to appreciate just how much it adds to the bike’s performance. The Mach 429 Carbon settles into a corner and rails hard, and when it does drift, it’s even and balanced from front to rear. Stomp the pedals and yank on the bars and the whole bike reacts as one, launching forward – there’s no disconnect between your hands, the pedals and the rear wheel. When you land a nasty drop or come down from the stratosphere a bit crooked, the bike doesn’t squirm or twist, so its suspension is free to work to full effect. Time and again, the feeling of indestructibility really brought a smile to our faces.

Sensibly pimped

It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, and the Pivot is unlikely to be caught looking shabby with this build kit. Top-of-the-line Fox suspension graces the 429, and we highly recommend you take the option of a 120mm-travel fork, rather than a 100mm-travel version we had on our test bike. With a longer travel fork, the bike would blitz the descents even faster.

Pivot Mach 429 carbon29
The Pivot is well dressed: XT, Stans wheels and cockpit that’s gives the bike more stability than Mugabe’s government.

Pivot has used components that enhance this bike’s abilities in the rough. A 740mm-wide bar and an 80mm stem mightn’t be the usual fare on a 100mm-travel carbon 29er, but they just bring the Pivot’s descending abilities to the fore. Big-bagged Kenda rubber helps too, though we can’t say we agree whole-heartedly with this tyre choice. Not being tubeless ready, the Slant Sixes caused more than a few headaches and sessions with the track pump.

Wrongness:

 

Spaghetti

The clump of messy cables clustered above the shock is a persistent frustration for us with Pivot bikes. A blight on the Pivot Mach’s otherwise clean lines, these cables bend and flex and rub against the shock body, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. We’d love to see Pivot run its cables internally through the down tube and along the chain stays, cloistered away from muck.

Pivot Mach 429 carbon36
Clean lines, only tainted by the cabling above the shock. We’d prefer the gear and brakes lines were routed through the down tube.

Tight squeeze

If you’re a thirsty fella, you’ll be frustrated by the tight fit for a water bottle. Trying to extricate a full-sized 750ml bottle from the compact mainframe while riding is akin to wrestling a Frisbee back from a determined Staffy. On a medium-sized frame, even a 500ml biddon tends to catch on the shock’s ProPedal lever. Install a side-loading bottle cage to make the process a bit easier.

In the balance

 

A tornado of awesomeness, the 429 Carbon blew us away. The more time we spent on this bike, and the more we ogled it, the greater our appreciation for its abilities and its attention to detail. The 429 Carbon fills you with confidence, it transcends the boundaries of what a cross-country bike should be capable of and is guaranteed to make you faster. It’s all kinds of rightness.

Tested: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29

I was listening to the nightly quiz on an AM radio station recently – AM radio is my secret vice – and the topic of discussion that night was movie remakes. Specifically, was the original movie always the best, or could a remake surpass the original. There were plenty of examples – The Blues Brothers, Batman, King Kong and loads more – with the general consensus that the original was still the favourite. I couldn’t help wondering if people are biased by nostalgia, and if that blinds us to the improvements made in a remake. Or could something truly be lost in that mad rush to ‘update’ a classic?

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 2919
Insert wolf whistle here.

A few days later I headed to Canberra to pick up a new test bike, the eagerly awaited Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29er. The 26-inch version of this bike is celebrated as one of the greatest trail bikes on the market, but Trek believed it could create a better bike by adding larger wheels. Would this remake prove to be a genuine improvement? Or would it be the mountain bike equivalent of watching a classic movie in 3D – a cool effect, but not actually better?

TREK FUEL EX 9.jpg.8001.
The bike that stole our hearts; the Fuel EX 9.8 26er leaves big shoes for the Fuel 29er series to fill.

I was bringing my own nostalgic baggage to this review. I absolutely loved my time on board the 26″ Fuel EX when I reviewed it last year, so much so that I hung onto it for weeks after the test period had finished. As dispassionately as I tried to approach my time on board the new EX 29er, this wheel-diameter-enhanced remake was always going to have to live up to the glorious memories of my time on board the earlier rendition of the Fuel EX, the 26-inch version.

The Fuel is an interesting bike in terms of the evolution of the Trek brand. Up until a few years ago Trek and Gary Fisher Bicycles co-existed but had separate identities: Trek manufactured the ‘core’ mountain bikes, while Fisher produced the 29ers and had a more quirky approach. As the 29er market grew, this two-pronged approach no longer made sense, so Trek absorbed Gary Fisher Bicycles, creating the Gary Fisher Collection of 29ers under the Trek banner. In the meantime, Trek had been beavering away on a massive program of redevelopment for their mountain bikes. Let’s be honest: up until half a dozen years ago, Trek full-suspension bikes were absolute dogs. Acknowledging this (though perhaps not so bluntly), Trek began investing heavily in its mountain bike program, bringing in some of the industry’s best minds and starting with a clean slate. The results are clear to see; the Trek line-up is consistently excellent, and the Full Floater and ABP suspension system Trek uses across its entire full-suspension range is one of the best. And the Fuel EX 29 marks the completion of the Trek and Fisher merger – the Fuel EX 29 is Trek’s first 29er to employ the complete host of technologies developed by Trek for its full-suspension range.

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Nice lines! The Fuel EX 29 is low and compact.

On a bleak Canberra morning, I got acquainted with the Fuel. You only get one first impression, and the Fuel EX 9.8 29er made it count, with an incredible smoky-red carbon finish that glistened in the light like heavily lacquered timber. All of the same sensible and practical details that had left me enamoured with the 26″ Fuel were on display; clean cable routing, a Rockshox Reverb Stealth post, Trek’s trademark Full Floater and ABP suspension system… But more importantly, the bike still looked fun and sleek. Somehow Trek had grafted bigger wheels onto the Fuel EX platform without making the bike look like it had run into the back of a car.

Fuel EX 9.8 2914
With a short head tube, it’s easy to keep the bars at a height that’s gives you a great climbing position.

The EX 29er’s OCLV carbon frame has compact proportions and gorgeous lines, all packaged into a wheelbase that’s less than three centimetres longer than its 26-inch predecessor. The EX 29 doesn’t present as a ‘big’ bike, unlike many 120mm-travel 29ers. Twenty-niners with an excessively tall front end and a head tube length of just 10.5cm is one of my pet hates. But even the bar height on the Fuel EX 29 reminded me of the 26-inch bike I loved so much. Before I’d even turned a pedal, I was enjoying this remake.

Stromlo was the first testing ground. Funnily enough, this was also the first place we rode the 26″ Fuel last year. The maiden ride began with a long climb, right to the top of the mountain, and instantly revealed the new Fuel 29er to be a superb ascender. The more technical the terrain became, the greater the bike’s climbing performance. The rear suspension tune demonstrated the perfect balance of sensitivity and efficiency. In its trail setting, the EX’s CTD shock kept the rear wheel on to the ground but used only as much travel as was necessary. It may be that Trek has improved the suspension tune, or it could be simply the result of the bigger wheels, but the EX lapped up Stromlo’s rocky pinches where keeping climbing momentum is key. With an 80mm-stem, the climbing position was ideal, keeping the steering responsive, without making the front end light or prone to lifting.

Fuel EX 9.8 2915
We found the Fuel’s suspension to be superb. Whether it’s just a product of the bigger wheels or a revised shock tune, the Fuel to be very smooth over the chatter even with the shock in Trail mode. We’re very impressed performance on the big hits too – the Full Floater linkage and DRCV shock handles harsh impacts like a champ.

The top of Western Wedgetail, with its incredible views from the top of Stromlo, is a good place to ponder a bike’s performance. Hands down, the Fuel 29er has the edge over the 26-inch one when it comes to climbing. I’d barely had to leave the 38-tooth big chain ring the whole way up, and the bike had made it round even the tightest of Stromlo’s switchbacks without feeling like too much of a squeeze.

Trek has given the Fuel 29 the G2 treatment – that’s a geometry concept that was developed by Gary Fisher as a way of increasing the slow-speed responsiveness of 29ers without sacrificing high-speed stability. Essentially, it uses a custom offset fork crown to reduce the trail measurement of the bike, allowing the use of relatively slack head angles but simultaneously reducing the tendency for the steering to wander or flop about at slow speed. The results speak for themselves: I was consistently surprised by the way the Fuel nipped around tight slow-speed turns.

Fuel EX 9.8 297
The chain stays and EVO link are alloy, the rest of the frame is carbon. The Fuel’s chain stays measure up at 450mm, on the longer side.

Compared to the 26″ bike, the 29er Fuel loses 10mm of suspension travel, front and rear, but overall the 29er’s sheer bump-eating performance far exceeds that of the 26-inch-wheeled version. Back on home turf in Sydney, I took the new Fuel to the same trails I’d ridden on the Fuel 26″. These are rocky, rough tracks, and they require a mix of high-speed blasting and slow-speed technical moves. When it comes to carrying speed through the rough, the 29er was far superior, its wheels sailing over obstacles that would’ve tugged at the 26-inch bike. The abilities of Trek’s suspension to deal with the big hits is inspiring; the DRCV rear shock feels bottomless, and we felt happy taking the Fuel into trails that would ordinarily be more suited to a 150mm-travel bike.

Fuel EX 9.8 2917
Bontrager XR3 rubber is a favourite, but make sure you go tubeless!

When I pushed hard, I found myself wishing for a wider bar, but this would be the only tweak I’d make if this bike were my own. Oh, and I’d go tubeless too, of course – having to fix four flat tyres in as many rides may be good for the biceps, but it’s a pain in arse. Otherwise, Trek has done a splendid job with the build kit, selecting only the most reliable components for this trail bike.

Fuel EX 9.8 2910
Shimano XT brakes and running gear, plus a Rockshox Reverb Stealth is a winning combo. Without the use of Shimano’s I-Spec mounting system, the bar is a little cluttered.

When remaking a classic, preserving the character of the original is one of the biggest challenges. For the most part Trek has succeeded, surpassing the ride quality of the original Fuel EX. But fitting in the bigger hoops has reduced the playfulness of the bike. Amongst my favourite elements of the 26-inch wheeled Fuel’s ride performance was how easily it took to the air and how it could be chucked into corners like a go-kart. These attributes don’t carry over to the 29er. The chain stays on the Fuel EX 9.8 29 are 450mm (as compared to 425mm on the 26″ bike), definitely on the long side for a modern 29er and contrary to the design trends of other brands. It takes more muscle to get the 29er airborne or to pop the front wheel up for slow-speed drops, and you just can’t flick the back-end into a corner with quite the same pizzazz as on the 26-inch bike.

Of course, these attributes won’t be particularly important to every rider. In the more primary areas of speed, confidence, comfort and efficiency, the new Fuel EX 29er is superior to the original. And these traits bring their own flavour of fun – you will blast your local trails faster on this bike. For the time being, Trek will have 26- and 29-inch versions of the Fuel available, so there are options to suit your riding style.

Fuel EX 9.8 2912
Thumbs up!

And me? Do I prefer the original version or the remake? It’s a very tough call and I’d be happy with either bike, if I could switch between them for different circumstances. On the balance of things, however, to put it back in movie terms, while the original version will always have a place in my heart, I’m picking it’ll be the 29er that gets the popular vote and claims the Oscar.