The Neuron CF range combines 130mm of travel with a 130mm fork across all models. As mentioned, the Neuron is sandwiched between the Lux cross-country bike (that sports 100mm of rear travel) and the longer travel Spectral (140mm of rear travel matched with 150mm up front). That puts it in the sweet spot for Australian trail riding.
What’s been updated from the old Neuron?
Pretty much everything! For starters, Canyon has brought the shock orientation from a vertical position to a horizontal one. This has brought the bike’s suspension design, and aesthetics, in line with the Lux, Spectral, Torquecolourwayand Sender.
This design is motivated by Canyon’s ‘Triple Phase Suspension’ philosophy. Canyon describes the suspension design as a sensitive beginning stroke, a stable mid stroke and a progressive end to the shock’s travel.
The horizontal shock mount also provides clearance for a lower standover height, space for a full-size bottle on medium frames and above, and space for Canyon’s ‘Eject’ water bottle system (a funky side-by-side bottle system) on smaller models.
Moving on from the suspension configuration, the Neuron CF range consists of carbon front and rear ends, as well as a nifty composite shock linkage. The composite linkage serves a dual purpose of keeping the frame weight down (a medium frame with shock weighs approximately 2670 grams), as well as covering the bearings connecting the seat stays and shock linkage.
The composite linkage isn’t Canyon’s only effort to increase bearing life and decrease maintenance. Once again following the Spectral’s lead, Canyon have introduced bearing covers, metal inserts inside the frame, higher quality grease and additional seals, all in the name of longevity.
The asymmetrical main pivot also features two oversized bearings to cope with the higher loads brought about by chain tension. There’s also the option of mounting a chainguide, or if you’re after that retro vibe,, the frame is also front derailleur compatible. Yes, Canyon can’t shake that European allegiance to the front mech!
Keeping on the topic of small but pleasing details, Canyon is using size specific tubing with the Neuron range, meaning the smaller frames will be lighter with better standover clearance, and the larger sizes won’t lose stiffness through skinny tubing. The geometry numbers are also tweaked throughout the sizes, all with the aim of keeping the ride feel as similar as possible.
Lastly, the new Neuron adopts the cable channel system used on the Spectral. The idea behind this system is to offer the aesthetic of internal routing, by encasing the cables beneath a cover that also serves as downtube protection. In practice, we found the system pretty fiddly on our Spectral test bike.
While Canyon have gone longer, lower and slacker than the previous Neuron range, the numbers aren’t breaking new ground, in fact,, concerningthey’r,e pretty conservative really. Clearly this bike isn’t buying into the aggressive, short-travel 29er trend that some other brands are pursuing.
The head angle is 67.5 degrees, a little steeper than we’ve become accustomed to seeing on new bike releases for the trail category. By way of comparison, the new Giant Trance 29 sits at 66.5 degrees, and the GT Sensor 65.5 degrees. And the 60mm stems across all sizes is a surprise too – 40mm or 50mm has become the norm now.
So, is this a missed opportunity to grab a slice of the aggressive trail market or a smart move to build a bike that’s more realistic in terms of the aspirations of its target user? We’d lean towards the latter.
The Neuron encourages you to pop and play. On the thasopic of numbers, Canyon have stuck with the split wheel size approach of the previous Neuron range, meaning the smaller models (XS/S) will come with 27.5” wheels, but the larger models (M/L/XL) will come with 29” hoops.
One point Canyon was keen to make is that all models are equipped with a 29” fork. Why have they done this? Well, the combination of a narrower handlebar on the 27.5” models and a slacker head angle means that with a 29” fork the bike will retain a similar trail in both wheel sizes (95mm for the smaller sizes and 99mm for the larger ones), and consequently a very similar ride feel across the wheel sizes.
How does the bike ride?
The Neuron CF 9.0SL we rode weighs a scant 12.12kg in a size medium, and combined with the efficient suspension the bike is eager to power along. That’s definitely this bike’s happiest place; on the gas, chewing up rolling singletrack.
On the descents, the middle of the range frame numbers were a great reminder that the race to longer, lower and slacker geometry makes sense for riders who love shredding fast and technical trails. But for trails that aren’t hosting an EWS, the Neuron’s more balanced geometry makes for an engaging ride, one that is agile, quick steering and precise.
The lighter weight makes undulating trails a real treat, but perhaps an even bigger advantage noticed on rolling trails, or descents with a mild gradient, is the Neuron’s mid stroke support.
Rather than the wallowing feeling of a bike that’s eager to chew up everything in its way, the Neuron’s mid-stroke gives back everything you put in, screaming at you to pop between those roots, or pump out of a corner faster than you entered.
The pedalling efficiency of the new suspension layout is top notch, and whilst we’d still lock the shock out for long road climbs, we’d keep it open for pretty much everything else. One minor point we’d make is that the traction on technical climbs isn’t the best in class, but we’re happy to be more mindful in these situations in return for the excellent pedalling characteristics.
We didn’t get to take the bike down a great deal of steep terrain, and that’s something we’d love to do on our home trails should we get the chance.
Is there anything we didn’t like?
At this stage we honestly can’t fault the Neuron, however, we did test the bike in the perfect terrain for the bike’s scope of use. We’d love to see how far we can push the bike’s 130mm of travel on technical, steeper and rougher terrain, as well as trying to keep up with our lycra-clad mates.
There is a tiny part of us that wishes Canyon had pushed this bike into more aggthe ressive territory (perhaps even just a 140mm fork to expand the bike’s comfort zone, somewhat). But on the flip side, we really enjoyed the way this bike engaged with the trail, its quick handling and its responsiveness. Plus there’s the always the Spectral, if you’re really wanting to push things.
What model did we ride?
We rode the Neuron CF 9.0 SL model, and priced at $5399 you’re riding away with an incredibly specced package featuring X01 Eagle gearing, Fox Performance Elite suspension and a set of Reynolds TR309 carbon wheels.
How many models are in the range?
There are four models in the range in total, and the two cheapest models are also offered in women’s variants. Every model is offered in the matte black shown in the photo below, as well as an alternate colourway for each model.
Is there any difference in the women’s models beside the paint?
Indeed there is! As women are typically lighter than men, Canyon has opted for a lighter compression and rebound tune on both the shocks and forks of the women’s models. The women’s models also come equipped with women’s specific touch points.
Are there aluminium models available?
There is a range of aluminium Neuron models ranging from $2349 to $4999, but these bikes don’t feature a number of the updated features in the Neuron CF range. This includes the new suspension design, as well as the bearing protection and cable channel. Canyon has updated the geometry from the 2017 models, however, and the updated numbers are very similar to the Neuron CF range.
Who is the bike for?
The Neuron CF range features well-balanced geometry, excellent suspension and componentry that strikes a good balance between weight and durability. After riding a bike like this we often think anywhere from 110 -130mm is the perfect trail bike for most riders, many of whom are riding a bike with too much or too little travel for the majority of their riding.
We’re itching to get our hands on one of these to ride on our home trails, so keep your eyes peeled.
Giant have released four new bikes for the Australian market, the Trance SX E+ Pro that we tested as well as three ‘regular’ Trance E+ models.
The differences between the two models are in the areas of fork travel, geometry and componentry, with the SX model coming with a slightly longer fork (160mm as opposed to 150mm), as well as slightly more aggressive geometry and componentry choices.
All of the bikes feature 140mm of rear travel.
Joost Bakker, Giant’s Global Category Manger for e-bikes told us the new Trance models are aimed at a broad variety of riders:
“From our point of view we’ve found a sweet-spot with this new range. The motor handles well in technically demanding situations, as well as tight trails, which have traditionally been more of a challenge on e-bikes.”
“We’re pretty happy with where we’ve settled in terms of geometry. Some people might think our rear centres are a touch long, but from our testing we found that the rear centre we settled on is ideal for handling the torque of the motor, as if we went shorter the bike felt less planted on technical ascents when you really need stability.”
What’s new about the Trance E+ range compared to the Full E+ models of yesteryear?
The Trance SX E+ Pro we tested has a far more sleek aesthetic in comparison to the Full E+ it replaces, which we dig.
In terms of geometry, Joost explains that the Trance’s numbers have been updated to reflect modern trail geometry:
“Basically we’ve moved to a more aggressive platform with the longer, lower and slacker treatment. We’ve also steepened the seat tube as we found through our testing that this enhances the bike’s climbing abilities, especially in steeper terrain.”
“The Full E+ definitely catered to a less aggressive market, mountain touring and less technical riding generally. Our new Trance E range moves into the realm of modern trail geometry and caters for more aggressive riders.”
Why did Giant decide on 27.5” wheels?
“Basically it comes down to a few factors. We feel that the 2.6” tyres, with 2.8” compatibility for those who want the larger footprint was ideal for this bike. Accomodating 29” wheels would’ve added 6mm to the rear centre, something we weren’t willing to do.”
“We were also concerned about stack height. Accomodating 29” wheels would’ve raised the stack height significantly, and we really wanted this bike to handle much like the regular Trance, so if you jumped from one to the other they would feel as similar as possible. Going to 29” compatibility wouldn’t have allowed us to create these similar handling characteristics.”
Are there any neat features you should know about?
Indeed there are! The downtube features a moulded guard to protect both the battery and motor, and despite running into rocks at fairly high velocity during the course of our riding, the battery and motor guards remained undamaged after two full days of riding.
Every bike in the range features an integrated chainguide provided by MRP, which we were thoroughly impressed by. The chainguide bolts onto a proprietary mount, but don’t fear as replacements will be available through both Giant and MRP.
The benefit of the proprietary mount is that the chainguide bolts on right next to the guide, meaning it feels far more sturdy and less flexy than an ISCG or seat tube mounted chainguide, and best of all there’s no rub in any gears – bravo Giant!
Another excellent feature is the crankset used on all four Trance E+ models, which was developed in partnership with Praxis Works. The crankset features the narrowest Q-factor in the e-bike industry (168mm), which is staggering considering there’s a motor bolted on there and the rear end still has clearance for 2.8” tyres.
The narrow Q-factor was hugely noticeable when hopping on the bike, as the position felt far closer to that of a regular bike.
Yamaha isn’t a motor brand we see a great deal of in Australia, why have Giant decided to partner with them?
Giant has chosen to continue their partnership with Yamaha for a number of reasons, however the main reasons are the high power output and the quick engagement the Yamaha motor provides.
The Trance E+ models all feature the Syncdrive Pro motor, which provides 80nm of torque and a 500 watt hour battery.
What the hell does that mean? That it’s a very powerful battery indeed, and combined with the snappy engagement the motor feels especially lively ratcheting up tricky climbs or getting a half pedal stroke in on a descent.
What does the motor feel like out on the trail?
We were very impressed with the motor in terms of its engagement, battery life and power modes, however the Yamaha produced unit requires a slightly lower cadence than we would ride at on other systems such as the Brose battery found in Specialized e-bikes, and to a lesser extent the Shimano Steps and Bosch systems.
Conscious application of even pressure throughout the pedal stroke is also important with the Yamaha motor, as if you mash on the pedals the motor doesn’t continuously engage, making the power delivery somewhat unpredictable.
Once you’ve adapted to these slight modifications in riding style however, the bike is very intuitive to ride.
Why isn’t there a display to tell me what’s going on with the battery and motor?
Thankfully (in our opinion), Giant have ditched the monstrosity of a display unit that was previously found on the Full E+ in favour of a far more streamlined remote they’re referring to as ‘RideControl ONE’.
The remote is simple and easy to operate, featuring LED lighting to let you know what power mode you’re currently using, and how much battery you have remaining. The remote also features a walk mode, which we found useful when walking up moderate pitches or slightly technical ascents, however when the trail became steeper or more uneven the rear wheel tended to skid out or the cranks would hit obstacles.
The one downside of losing the bulky display is the information you had access to beyond the battery remaining and power mode you’re currently using. Thankfully we’ve heard whispers that Giant will be bringing out an app at some point in the near future that’ll give you access to all the information you could ever want, so watch this space!
What about the battery, anything new there?
Indeed! The battery (which Giant creatively refer to as the ‘EnergyPak’) has been reduced in size and features a number of new features.
The battery is now removed from the bike by pressing a single button, and like many bikes on the market also features a lock so you know your battery is safe when you park up for a cappuccino.
As we mentioned in our article on the new Liv Intrigue E+, the EnergyPak can be charged to 60% in 90 minutes, which is very fast indeed! A full charge will take about 3.5 hours, which is far faster than the more standard charging times of 4-5 hours for a full tank of juice.
Another unsexy but useful update to the battery is the use of double the space between the battery’s cells, which allows the battery to stay cooler during operation.
On the charging side of things, the new Smart Charger lives up to its name and extends the life of your battery. It does this by using a lower voltage to charge the battery when the battery has been used more than 500 times, which extends battery life but does not increase charging time.
The charger will also regulate temperature more effectively than prior iterations by swapping the charge to different cells if individual cells are overheating during charging.
Lastly, Giant have created a 60% storage charge mode, which is the ideal amount of charge for the battery to have if the bike is going to be stored for long periods of time (for example a number of months).
How does the bike actually ride?
Well! We spent two full days riding in the gorgeous Venosta Valley in Italy’s Northern Alps, and were very impressed by the bike’s adaptability to a number of situations.
On the climbs, the fast response of the motor was much appreciated when winching up janky single-track climbs, and the position was comfortable for long access road ascents.
On the way back down, the beefy component spec and geometry felt planted and confident. We haven’t ridden many e-bikes we would describe as ‘playful’, but you could get the rear wheel up and pop across lines on the trail aboard the Trance E+ SX 0 once you adapted to the extra weight, which was impressive.
The bike uses Giant’s Maestro suspension, which performs well as expected. One additional positive note we would make is that there is less noticeable pedal bob (so much so that we weren’t even using the lockout on the road) than on the regular Trance.
We would hypothesise that this lack of bob is due to the increased weight of the bike ‘settling’ the suspension during climbing, combined with the lower power output you’re generally putting through the pedals on an e-bike.
Who is the Trance SX E+ for?
The Trance SX E+, with it’s slightly longer travel and slightly more aggressive geometry is aimed squarely at the aggressive trail market, with the regular Trance E+ models slotting into the role of a more all-around trail bikes.
As we’ve said in the past though, we don’t think e-bikes suffer from the same sluggishness other bikes can when they’re increased in travel due to the assistance from the motor, so we didn’t find the longer travel of the SX model an issue, even in undulating and less technical single-track.
How much is one of these things going to set me back?
Giant Australia will be bringing in the SX model, as well as all three regular Trance E models at the following price points:
Is this the start of an e-revolution from Giant?
We’ve seen a plethora of new e-bikes released between Giant and sister company Liv over the last two weeks, so where will Giant go in the future with their range? We asked Joost where he sees e-mtb going in the future, and what Giant’s plans are within this realm.
“We’re going to diversify for sure. You can expect new models from Giant as early as next year. There may be consumers who want a bike with more travel, or something lighter on the cross-country side of the market. We’re seeing huge growth in this segment so we’re putting lots of resources towards e-bikes in general and are excited about the future.”
We thoroughly enjoyed our time aboard the Trance SX E+ Pro, and we’re keen to get our handson one for a more thorough test on our local trails. We’re also keen to find how differently the Pro models ride compared to the SX, so keep an eye out for more detailed thoughts on the new range soon!
A dependable option that gives you what you expect most the time, the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a trail bike that does the job but doesn’t set the world alight doing it. Is that a bad thing? Let’s discuss how the bike performed in the sort of situations you’ll come across on a trail ride first, and then ponder whether the Competitor S Plus 2’s lack of flair is a positive or a negative.
In terms of the bike’s spec, you can check out a comprehensive run through of what comes on the Competitor S Plus 2 in our First Bite, so let’s jump into what happened when we hit the dirt!
How does the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 ride in the singletrack?
With 140mm of front suspension paired with 130mm in the rear, the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a bike we would define as a long travel trail bike, and the key to any good trail bike is the performance in the singletrack, so let’s start by discussing that.
The Competitor S Plus 2 provides a stable, balanced ride when the trail gets twisty and narrow. Its middle of the road geometry numbers paired with a long 450mm chainstays means that the Competitor clings to lines well, and is very predictable and planted through corners when you setup well and trust the traction of the big tyres.
When cornering aboard the Competitor S Plus 2, we found it far more critical than on other bikes to use the traditional outside to inside cornering method.
Compared with a bike like the Cannondale Habit, for example, the Competitor S Plus 2 doesn’t like being thrown in on the inside with a foot out and the rear wheel drifting, it prefers to use its stable geometry and predictable traction to cut a smooth arc when the going gets twisty. The exception to this is when you’re faced with repeated tight turns, where we found the best option was to lift the rear wheel rather than drift it, as once you lose traction with the plus tyres it’s hard to regain it, whereas lifting the rear in tight, repetitive turns still gives you the traction of all your weight over the front tyre.
What about when you’ve got to go uphill as well?
In undulating singletrack, the Competitor is a comfortable bike to swap between seated and out of the saddle positions. This is a good thing, because you’ll find yourself cycling through these positions more than you would on a 130mm 29” trail bike, as the tradeoff for the Competitor S Plus 2’s confidence inspiring plus tyres and long-legged suspension is a weight of more than 15 kilograms once you’ve slapped on a set of pedals.
The Competitor S 2 Plus’s weight also becomes apparent on longer singletrack climbs, as well as punchy technical efforts. One saving grace for the bike’s weightiness though is the traction provided by the plus tyres, and the very active rear suspension, which mean unless the terrain is very soft or slippery you’ll almost always have traction.
Not having to worry about traction means you can focus on putting the power down to get the Competitor moving, rather than taking the line that you would have to take on a bike with regular tyres or less travel.
The Competitor has 140mm of travel up front, how does it go on rowdier trails?
The Competitor is a surprisingly capable performer when the going gets rough, or steep. As we noted in our First Bite, for a trail bike in this relatively budget price point, Avanti has done a great job in speccing the bike with adjustable and reliable suspension front and rear. Once we’d set up the Yari fork and Monarch RT shock to our liking, we took the Competitor out on a couple of the more technical trails near Flow HQ.
In the steep stuff, the Competitor holds a straight line impressively, and performs well under braking with its bulky rubber and planted rear end. The biggest limiter in throwing the Competitor into steeper sections is the Shimano M365 brakes, which lack the power of more premium Shimano offerings and require some serious forethought about your braking points when riding steep and technical terrain. In rough and choppy sections of trail, we were also impressed by this sub 4k bike’s ability to soak up the chunder.
The limiter on the Competitor S Plus 2’s performance in rocky or rooty terrain is preserving the tyres because we found running them at mid-teen pressures gave the best performance characteristics, but we flatted the rear twice pushing through technical rocky sections. These flats were a combination of the relatively thin WTB Ranger tyres and soft Alexrims rims, which were about as robust through rocky sections as an iPhone screen going on a date with the pavement.
We were riding the Competitor S 2 Plus in places that perhaps we shouldn’t on the occasions when we got flats, but we wouldn’t want to run higher pressures in the tyres, as running high pressures gives the bike no traction and makes it very bouncy, which are sketchy sensations we like to keep to a minimum!
If your riding involves lots of super rocky stuff, the Competitor can handle it, but we would recommend you swap out to a beefier tyre and wheel set combo.
I might still want to ride the odd fire trail, how does the Competitor S Plus 2 go on more sedate trails?
Whilst we’re sticking to our guns in classifying the Competitor S Plus 2 as a trail bike, albeit one on the longer travel side for the category, it’s not the sort of bike that you’ll be wanting to take on sedate fire trail rides, or longer, smoother rides in general if possible.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, as we’ve mentioned a couple of times now, the Competitor S Plus 2 isn’t light. We can’t complain about this too much considering this bike is pitched as a budget oriented, confidence inspiring trail machine, but it does make the Competitor S Plus 2 a laborious ride on smooth, non-technical trails.
During our testing of the Competitor S Plus 2, we rode a few sections of fire trail linking up more interesting trails with riding buddies who we’d normally plod along just fine with, but aboard the Competitor S Plus 2 we finished these same rides feeling pretty hammered due to the Competitor’s portly figure and ground hugging tyres.
Despite our reservations about taking the Competitor S Plus 2 out on the fire trails or longer rides, having a lockout on both the front and rear suspension is a bloody brilliant addition if getting to the good stuff involves a road commute, as it does for us most of the time.
So, if the Competitor isn’t a ‘do it all’ style trail bike, who is it the right bike for?
We’ve spent longer than we normally would in this review talking about what the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 isn’t, which has affirmed what this bike is perfect for. If you’re the type of rider who’s on a budget, but wants a bike that gives you grins in flowy singletrack, or when the going gets just a touch gnarlier without getting to the stage where you’re thinking about putting on body armour, then the Competitor S Plus 2 could be the ticket.
If you’re the type of rider who’s willing to have a bike that requires a bit more grunt on the up and the flats as a tradeoff for traction, stability and confidence on the way down, than the Competitor S Plus 2 is worth a look.
All in all, the Competitor S Plus 2 is just like a soft serve from McDonald’s, you know exactly what you’re getting every time.
How did the parts go, is the bike good value for money?
As we mentioned in our First Bite, and also our Avanti Range Highlights piece, the Competitor S Plus 2 is a bike that represents pretty good value for money at under $3500 bucks, and Avanti specced this bike very wisely, for the most part, spending their dollars where they really count.
Of course, the heart of any bike is its frame, and the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is an all-aluminium affair with pronounced welds and solid feeling construction. The bike’s suspension platform is a four-bar linkage that Avanti call Tru4, it delivers stability and grip through a fairly linear stroke, which promotes keeping the tyres glued to the trail rather than floating or popping over it.
The suspension is handled by RockShox, with their budget oriented Yari fork and Monarch RT shock. The fact that these are closer to the entry level of RockShox’s line and they delivered outstanding performance is a testament to how good the suspension of today is, and with rebound and air volume spacer adjustments available, as well as compression adjustment on the fork, there were more than enough knobs to satisfy our inquisitive tweaking.
The drivetrain was Shimano’s SLX 1×11, and as we said in our comprehensive test of the groupset, it’s bloody awesome! We set the gears up on the stand for 10 minutes when building the bike, and a half turn of the barrel adjuster a couple of times throughout testing kept the shifts going smoother than Chris Froome’s legs.
The brakes were handled by Shimano, and whilst their M365 brakes aren’t top of the line items, they do the job most of the time. On typical singletrack rides and undulating trails their power and modulation is fine, although their initial bite is on the weak side, so think about your braking points in advance.
The M365’s budget price point becomes more obvious when the going gets steeper, but if you’re getting into longer, steeper riding than upgrading to something like an SLX brake set isn’t a hugely costly upgrade.
Wheels and tyres play an important role on plus bikes, the tyres need tough casings but can risk being too heavy, the rims need to be wide and should withstand dings, too. The wheelset on the Competitor S Plus 2 uses Shimano Deore hubs laced to Alex rims MD35 rims, the 35mm width is necessary to support the tyre. During testing, we noticed the rear wheel needing a little TLC with a spoke key to return it to true.
With the mid-teen pressures that the WTB Ranger tyres need to be run at to give the best compromise between grip, damping and avoiding tyre roll, the rims ding and dent remarkably easy. They’re also not the lightest wheelset out there, perhaps a wheel upgrade down the track to something lighter and stronger would take all the great handling traits of the Competitor S Plus 2 and amplify them with better performance on the climbs, flatter trails and inspiring confidence to give it a bit more of a nudge when the going gets rough.
The KS Eten dropper post, despite having the external routeing performed well, and allowed us to get the best out of the Competitor not just on the descents, but getting low and tipped in (at least in our heads) through the corners.
Any final thoughts?
The Competitor S Plus 2 might not be the most radical bike out there in terms of geometry, suspension design or spec, but its overall abilities offer consistency, and you’re not going to experience too many surprises out on the trail. Despite a few niggling issues with the Competitor, it remains a bike that is excellent value for money and sits right in the sweet spot for the sort of bike most riders should be riding, especially on loose and challenging conditions.
If you’re someone who takes predictably solid performance over potentially outstanding performance, and you don’t want to re-mortgage your house to buy your next bike, then the Competitor S Plus 2 is worth a look!
The Spark 900 we’ve got on test is a 120mm, 29” trail bike. With a dropper post and a beefy fork, it’s a world apart from the Spark RC 900 World Cup we recently tested.
What’s the Scott Spark 900 all about?
The 120mm trail bike hasn’t received much love recently, with many companies increasing their trail bike model’s travel to 130mm, and going with beefier components than in years past.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the evolution of more aggressive trail bikes, and indeed a 130mm trail bike with solid kit is a great quiver killer, a 120mm bike with a slightly lighter build gives you that extra versatility you don’t get from an XC race bike, whilst remaining light and zippy in the singletrack.
What do you get for your money with the Scott Spark 900?
The Scott Spark 900 retails for $6499, and comes with an acceptable rather than astounding build kit for the price. The front triangle is carbon, paired with an alloy rear end.
What’s the frame’s build quality like?
The Scott Spark 900 is a lovely bike on the eye, and a scan over the frame reveals real attention to detail.
The front triangle is very similar to the Spark RC model we tested earlier this year; Scott have once again integrated a very neat chainguide that attaches to the main pivot, however the grade of carbon is slightly heavier than what you’ll find on the RC models.
The sloping top tube gives solid standover clearance, and the headtube and downtube are chunky and look ready for some straight-line ploughing.
The rear end is alloy, a definite nod to the Spark 900’s trail riding intentions as opposed to its race oriented RC siblings, as well as a point of difference between the 900 and the Ultimate and Premium Spark models, which come with a full carbon rear end.
What about the squishy bits?
the suspension is from Fox, with the Performance Elite fork and shock utilising the same internals as the top of the line Factory series, but without the Kashima coating.
The 34mm fork with low speed compression adjustment is a great choice, providing a stiff front end with tonnes of adjustment.
Both the front and rear end are hooked up to a Twinloc remote on the left-hand side of the handlebar, which has fully open, 95mm travel and fully locked out settings.
In the dropper post department, the bike comes stock with a Fox Transfer dropper post that’s integrated nicely into the Twinloc suspension remote, which also doubles as the lockring for the grip.
As we discussed in our First Bite of the Transfer, it’s a very impressive offering. Disappointingly however, the post only features 125mm of drop in a size large- we’d like to see a 150mm post specced for larger sizes.
Is that an Eagle drivetrain?
It is indeed! The drivetrain is Sram’s Eagle paired with a 32 tooth chainring up front.
Yep- we won’t waste your time here, Shimano’s XT brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear will work exceptionally
Where will we ride the Scott Spark 900?
We started this First Bite discussing how many brands are beefing up their trail bikes to cope in gnarlier terrain, at times to the detriment of how fun a lightweight trail bike can be in flowy singletrack.
We’re excited to see how the Spark goes on the flowy trails it was designed for, but we’re also interested as to whether its 120mm of squish will be noticeably different to beefier 130mm trail bikes on more technical trails.
Out of the box it’s a chunky looking wheelset, with a hookless bead, wide profile and some fancy hubs, but that’s pretty standard for carbon wheels these days, so let’s jump into the interesting stuff.
What makes this carbon wheelset different?
One thing that stands out to us about the Praxis Works C32 Mountain Wheelset from the outset is its nods to practicality. Where many carbon wheelsets go for internal nipples and funky proprietary spokes, Praxis Works have stuck with external nipples, 32 hole hubs and classic J-bend spokes.
The wheels also come with rim strips, valves and some spare service spokes, so you’ll be ready to roll out for your first ride in no time!
What’s the C32 Mountain wheelset intended for?
The Praxis Works C32 Mountain wheelset is aimed at the trail/all-mountain/enduro segment, utilising carbon for its strength and stiffness properties rather than creating an ultra-lightweight rim.
Our build uses Industry Nine’s Torch hub with a 6-bolt rotor system, and comes in at 1761 grams for the set, which is solid considering the wheel’s 38mm external diameter and 32mm internal rim width, as well as the wheelset using 32 spokes front and rear.
What sizes does it come in?
The C32 wheels are available in both 27.5” and 29” options.
Does it come in different hub options?
It sure does! You can get them in 142x12mm and boost 148x12mm hub spacing options, and there are two builds levels offered.
The C32 wheelset built up with Industry Nine torch hubs that we’ve got on test retails for $2800, and the Praxis Works branded DT Swiss 350 hub option costs $2600.
The only exception is the 142×12 Praxis hubs, which come with Praxis’ own straight pull spoke design on one side, which is said to increase the stiffness of the 142x12mm wheel to that of a boost wheel.
What about freehub options?
You can purchase the C32 Mountain wheelset with both Shimano or SRAM compatible freehubs.
What’s the warranty like?
This is a question we get all the time when it comes to carbon wheelsets, and rightly so considering their price. The Praxis Works C32 Mountain wheelset comes with a 2-year warranty against manufacturing defects, but this doesn’t include barging into rocks at warp speed. We’ve got lots of riding planned for this wheelset, so lookout for the full review where we’ll be able to shed light on the C32’s durability over time.
Where to now?
Time to get some miles in we think. We’re fitting these wheels to a Trek Slash 9.9 that we use for some pretty demanding riding, so we’ve put on some beefy rubber. Keep an eye out for our full review once we’ve logged some solid trail time!
Upon closer inspection, though, the 1×11 SLX drivetrain and Zero finishing kit reveal that this chunky trail bike is more on the budget end of the price spectrum, despite its lavish paint scheme.
What is the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2?
The Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a 27.5+ trail bike, offering 130mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 140mm fork up front.
The vibrant red frame is very sturdily built, with solid welds and chunky pivots that stick out upon closer inspection. Avanti integrates the main pivot with the bottom bracket on the Competitor S Plus series with a system they call ‘Trucore’, which they say creates more rear end stiffness and strength.
Despite the sturdy design of the Competitor S Plus 2, one aspect of the frame that was overlooked was proper chainstay protection, as in only a couple of short rides aboard the bike thus far, the slim, clear chainstay cover has copped a beating and woken up local residents on early morning rides.
If we were to purchase this bike, we’d be popping on a proper chainstay protector before rolling out of the shop.
What can you expect from the Competitor’s rear suspension?
The 130mm of rear suspension is delivered via a pretty simple four bar linkage arrangement, and the resulting suspension feel is supple throughout the stroke, but a bit linear feeling. Luckily the shock features a wide range of adjustments to dial in the ride qualities, which we’ll discuss in more detail later.
Is that external cable routing?
Moving on from the chunky hardware and bulging welds, the cables on the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 are all routed externally, and the downtube mounted rear brake and derailleur cables are neatly executed.
One blemish to the otherwise well thought out routing is the externally routed dropper post. As the last mount for the cable outer on the frame is on the top tube, the line runs loosely and almost entirely exposed from the end of the top tube to the tip of the saddle, the exception of the KS provided a mount that attaches to the seatpost itself.
What bouncy bits does it come with?
The suspension at both ends is handled by RockShox. The Yari fork has a similar chassis to the venerable Pike RC, with 35mm stanchions, the ability to install bottomless tokens, as well as rebound and compression adjustments. The difference between the two forks is that the Yari uses the ‘Motion Control IS Damper’ instead of the Charger Damper found on Pike models.
The different damper is noticeable if you’ve ridden a Pike in the past, but the Yari still offers excellent performance, especially at this price point. With the range of user-friendly adjustments available, you’ll be able to get the front-end setup in no time.
The shock is a Monarch RT, which offers fully open and locked out compression settings as well as rebound adjustment. We like the decision to pair the Yari and the Monarch RT, especially at this price point, as with their simple adjustments they increase the ability of the rider to fine tune their ride, and the ability to lockout both ends increases efficiency on smoother trails or when riding on the road.
Considering the Competitor S Plus 2’s portly figure and wide rubber, locking out your suspension on smoother terrain will make a big difference, especially on longer rides.
What have Avanti specced in the shifting department?
The drivetrain is also a real winner. We can’t believe just how well 1×11 SLX just plain works, and minus the loss of the double downshift option XT/XTR shifters have, so far our shifting has been hammering home perfectly every time.
Our only complaint with the drivetrain is that with pedals, the Competitor S Plus 2 weighs in on the wrong side of 15 kilograms, so we wouldn’t mind seeing a bigger lowest gear than the 30-42 that comes as standard. We feel that a 28-tooth ring on the front, or speccing the 11-46 XT cassette would give riders a better range of gears for a bike as weighty as the Competitor S Plus 2.
What’s the finishing kit like?
The Zero (Avanti’s in-house component manufacturer) components such as the saddle, stem and handlebar look and feel up to the job, but we didn’t understand why the bike came with very thick push on grips. Not only were they squirmy, but they were unusually thick, which didn’t feel all that comfortable underhand. We’ve changed these out for a set of lock on grips for the review.
The 27.5+ wheelset uses Alexrims rims laced to Shimano Deore hubs and is shod with 2.8” WTB Ranger tyres that converted easily to tubeless. Run at mid-teen pressures, the tyres deliver the oodles of traction we’ve come to love from plus bikes.
The braking is handled by Shimano with their M365 hydraulic disc brakes. Whilst they certainly aren’t at the high end of the Shimano range, hooked up to 180/160mm rotors front and rear they do the job, and are a testament to how well modern componentry works, even at the lower end.
Their overall feel is excellent, but one indicator that they’re a lower spec model is the lack of initial power in comparison to an SLX, XT or XTR brake where you can feel the power of the initial bite. The more gradual power the M365 brake provides requires you to think about your braking points a bit further in advance out on the trail.
What’s the geometry like?
A look at the geometry reveals the bike isn’t overly slack, low or long for a bike with this amount of travel, where we’re starting to see some manufacturers go quite aggressive with their geometries, however at this price point Avanti are clearly aiming for a bike that provides stability and confidence on the trail, rather than a bike that is super flick able, and demands the rider makes bold decisions and throws the bike around.
The 450mm chainstays in every size are a standout measurement that shows the intended audience of this bike. Whilst lots of experienced riders appreciate the flickability a shorter rear end provides, the slightly longer chainstays give the Competitor S Plus 2 a bit more stability, perfect for a newer or less flamboyant rider.
The 68.5 degree head angle isn’t overly slack either, but is a good choice from Avanti to get more weight over the front wheel, as the plus tyres and 140mm fork can feel vague through weaving singletrack if there’s not enough weight over the front.
How are we poised heading into the full review?
So, despite a couple of niggles, which are somewhat understandable at this price point, the Competitor S Plus 2 looks like a very solid trail bike at a great price that’ll allow both beginners and riders looking for a simple trail bike to have a blast out on the trails.
On our first ride, we were committed to attending a ride with a mate on some more technical trails than we would normally take a bike like this out on, but it performed surprisingly well, so we’re excited to see the bike’s capabilities throughout the remainder of the test.
Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the box. Live a little. Breathe. And then shred.
The Hei Hei Trail is an out of the box thinker, like many of Kona’s bikes. Everyone who swings a leg over one notes that it outrides its numbers, surpassing their expectations of a trail bike’s capabilities.
Light and efficient with its full carbon frame and Fuse suspension design, snappy and playful on the way back down.
While the Fuse suspension design is shared with our race-ready Hei Hei cross-country bike, the Hei Hei Trail, with 140mm of travel and 27.5′′ wheels, is a completely different beast. It’s the kind of bike that challenges preconceptions, and redefines what a bike in this class can do.
RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX AND UNDER OUR WORLD CUP RACER:
With the Hei Hei Trail’s lineage, it may have been expected of us to produce a video featuring one of our Endurance Team racers. But the reality is, this bike may just get you out of your box, thinking differently about the Hei Hei name from which this bike found its lineage, and pedalling to places you previously considered outside that box.
So, we sent World Cup downhiller Connor Fearon into British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains with the Hei Hei Trail. And what we came out with was exactly the proof we needed that this bike doesn’t belong in the box, but up in the hills, getting loose. We tend to think you’ll agree.
HEI HEI TRAIL DETAILS:
All three Hei Hei Trail models feature the same Kona Race Light full carbon frame. From the top-spec Hei Hei Trail Supreme through the Hei Hei Trail DL and the Hei Hei Trail, you can expect to find wide rims, great tires, and high quality suspension components. No matter which model you choose, you can be assured it’ll be ready to shred right out of the box.
You can find more information on the Hei Hei Trail here.
The direct-to-consumer brand released the Jeffsy mid last year amongst much fanfare with the 140mm trail bike being the first 29” offering from the gravity oriented Germans. Given the brand’s image, a 29er was certainly a surprise move, but YT acted fast to make sure everyone knew this was a bike that was still built to shred, by pumping out one of the best launch videos of the year. Watch it below.
What’s the YT Jeffsy all about?
Before releasing the Jeffsy, the YT line up consisted of the 27.5” Enduro focused Capra (read our review here) a couple of dirt jump bikes and the Tues downhill bike, so the Jeffsy filled the hole for the type of bike many riders are buying these days, a 140mm trail bike, something that shines on the climbs and descents equally. We’re pretty stoked about this also, as the 120-140mm travel range is also pretty spot on for most Australian conditions.
Despite being the bike with the least amount of travel in the YT line up, it’s clear the Jeffsy is a 140mm bike that wants to throw any stereotypes off a bridge. A burly frame is the first sign of this bike’s eager intentions, and geometry numbers like the slack 67.6 degree head angle and a long front centre tell you the Jeffsy doesn’t want to be treated gently out on the trail.
The Jeffsy has a flip-chip on the shock that allows the rider to switch between two head angle and bottom bracket options. We’re starting the review in the slacker head angle position, but will be alternating between the two positions throughout the course of testing to see how the geometry adjustments change the ride.
Is that a full carbon frame?
It sure is! YT are clearly confident in their carbon layup, as you see many brands going for aluminium rear triangles and chainstays in this travel bracket. The frame’s construction is beautifully finished, with smooth carbon lines throughout, chunky pivot points and well thought out frame protection. The frame is the only carbon you’ll find on this bike, but even still the complete bike weighs respectably smack on 13kg.
A regular shaped water bottle won’t fit in the frame, but YT offer their own “Thirstmaster 3000”, which is a custom water bottle and cage combo for the Jeffsy, with the bottle holding exactly one pint of liquid (an American Pint that is- 473ml). Whilst the inability to fit a regular sized drink bottle in the Jeffsy and the $100 price tag for the Thirstmaster 3000 is a slight annoyance, we believe every trail bike should have somewhere to put a bottle, so we appreciate YT giving riders the option rather than forcing them to wear a pack.
If I don’t pick up this bike assembled from a bike shop, is the bike easy to build out of the box?
We covered YT’s shipping process and what you can expect as a consumer in our review of the Capra last year, and building up the Jeffsy was very simple. As we covered in out article on the Capra, YT really do make the process fairly straightforward, and the boxing of the bike is excellent.
What’s the spec like?
Across their range of bikes, it’s clear that YT put a lot of time into speccing their bikes with parts that are up to the job. They don’t skimp on components in one area to bolster another, and the direct to consumer sales model keeps the pricing keen.
The Jeffsy CF Comp 2 is no exception, and the $5499 price tag represents a favourable dollars to shiny parts ratio. The suspension is handled by Rockshox front and rear, and the top of the line Monarch shock and Pike RCT3 fork are pretty hard to beat as far as suspension goes. The drivetrain is a normally a 2×11 XT arrangement with RaceFace Turbine cranks on this particular model, but we converted the bike to 1×11 before we’d even left the workshop.
Brakes are Shimano XT, with a whopping 200mm front rotor paired with a 180mm rotor out back.
The wheelset is DT Swiss’s M1700 Spline hoops in their narrow guise, coming in at 22.5mm internally. This is the only component we’re feeling a little dubious about, just because we’ve become such fans of wider hoops over the past 12 months.
The Onza Ibex tyres strongly resemble Maxxis’ Minion DHR II tyres, which are a great option for the aggressive trail rider, and they match the intentions of the Jeffsy perfectly. They’re a big 2.4″ front and rear.
It’s funny how the little things can really help a bike make a good first impression – the RaceFace grips instantly meshed with us, and the SDG saddle’s narrow nose works for us too.
How many models are there in the range?
YT bring three carbon Jeffsy models into Australia as well as three alloy models, so there’s plenty of choice. Prices range from $3299-7499, so there’s a good spread for a wide variety of budgets.
Where are we going to ride the YT Jeffsy?
We’ve just had a trip to some of Victoria’s finest trails, to get to know the Jeffsy, before returning to our home base of Sydney’s rocky, rugged trails. We know one particularly fast local shredder aboard a Jeffsy who pilots it around some technical trails pretty quickly, so we’re interested to see how far we can push the limits of the Jeffsy’s 140mm of travel.
We’ve been having a nostalgic look at all the shiny bikes that we’ve been lucky enough to review here at Flow this year, and we’ve put together a list of some of the bikes that stood out to us as trail bikes with a personality.
What we’re talking about is the sort of bike that’s a real all-rounder. We’d all love to own a bike for every sub-category and niche discipline of mountain biking, but the reality for most of us is that isn’t going to be the case, and having a bike that does lots of things well, with a slight focus on the priorities you have as a rider is a more realistic proposition.
Before we launch into the bikes, we should clarify that our definition of a ‘trail bike’ for the purposes of this article refers to a bike that is within the rear travel boundaries of 115mm-135mm of travel. More importantly than the travel numbers though are the subtleties and ride qualities that these bikes possess, the unmeasurable quantities that make them real standouts in our eyes for the rider looking to do a bit of everything.
There’s a pretty vast range of prices and specs across the bikes we’ve selected for this article, just like there’s a variety of consumers out there who’ll have vastly different budgets for a new mountain bike. If you’re in the market for a new trail bike, or just interested in the variety that’s out there, this isn’t a bad place to start!
“From the raw and steep hills of Laguna Beach, California, all the way back to our rocky and fast trails back at Flow HQ, we’ve spent many heavenly hours flogging this thing, it’s been a legitimate dream ride.”
It’s probably fair to say nobody is going to nominate us for a Walkley for uncovering that a $16500 bicycle is a dream to ride. That being said, the Spider 275C comes in four build kit options with a $10000 variance in price, and the outstanding frame and ride qualities remain the same throughout.
The Spider 275C has an adjustable 130mm or 115mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork, and we think this is an excellent feature for the trail rider looking for a bike that can head out for technical trail rides, and with some quick adjustments in the workstand be ready for a Cross-Country race the next day.
In its 130mm guise, with the frame’s balanced geometry, the Spider represents just how capable the modern trail bike is:
“The Spider is a lively little bugger, with the magical combination of super-short 419mm chain stays, a slack 67-degree head angle, roomy 445mm reach and a tiny 50mm stem we found ourselves throwing it around the trail with remarkable ease. Flicking around the tight turns with a spritely pop the Spider is a heap of fun to ride, we’ve enjoyed it so very much.”
Our final thoughts on the Spider 275C pretty much sum it up- if you’re after an aggressive trail bike with adjustment allowing for a more XC oriented ride, this bike is well worth a look!
“If you like to ride hard, shred turns, jump over things on the trail and pump and manual along throwing up roost then this is your bag. It’s hard to hide our love for riding this bike, and we can vouch that if you can manage the cost it’ll give you the same feeling on the trail.”
Not only were we lucky enough to get our hands on the Gucci spec Intense Spider 275C this year, but we also checked out the 29” model, which also comes with 130/115mm of rear travel paired with a 130mm fork.
“Flow’s home trails are the ultimate testing ground for bikes like this, rocky, ledgy and unforgiving. Each ride on the Spider we couldn’t help but compare it to bigger travel 27.5″ bikes we’ve been testing lately, it holds its own against bikes with bigger travel but smaller wheels. The Spider 29c is a rolling dream, munching its way through rocky trails, skipping across the top of holes and undulations instead of falling in them.”
We remarked throughout the review where the 29” Spider differed from 27.5” wheeled trail bikes on the market. It’s a traditional 29” trail bike in the sense that it prefers to stay grounded and munch terrain rather than flick, pump and jump through the trail.
“Looking at the frame geometry it’s quite a classic mid-travel 29er, long out the back and short up front, with a relatively sharp steering angle. So it’s no surprise that we weren’t jumping around or popping off objects on the trail as much, instead we were hammering over them pedalling easily as the suspension worked away furiously below us.”
Summing up, it’s a case of horses for courses if you’re looking at an Intense Spider, in either it’s 27.5” or 29” guise as your next trail bike. If you’re after a classic handling 29” trail bike- the Spider 29C could be the ticket:
“The Spider 29c will make a calm type of trail rider very happy, it’s not an aggressive or rapid handling weapon, it is more about confidence and control and in a comfortable package that’s a pleasure to ride all day long.”
The Pivot Switchblade sits on the threshold of being too much bike for this piece with 135mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork, however it was noted in the review that in either guise this bike is not an out an out enduro descender, with a tall and short geometry that leans more towards traditional trail bike geometry and ride qualities.
We tested the Switchblade in both 27.5+ and 29” form, and here’s what we thought:
“Riding both bikes back to back it was clear to feel the differences, the consensus going around the mountain bike community is that a regular 27.5″ bike will feel agile and fun, a plus bike will have loads of confidence and control and the big wheels of a 29er will be fast. That’s certainly the case here, the plus bike was eager to clamber up and down anything and take creative lines through tricky corners, while the 29er would get up to speed and want to stay there with fantastic rolling momentum and corner speed.”
Summing up the Switchblade, despite its long travel compared to other bikes in this review, we thought that it would be an excellent bike for the trail rider looking for more confidence in all aspects of their riding, or someone who would take advantage of the Switchblade’s ability to run two different wheelsizes on the same frame.
“Like we mentioned before we found the front end quite tall in comparison to many 150mm travel bikes we’ve ridden recently, which made for a less aggressive cornering bike. We believe the Switchblade is more suited to riding everything capably and confidently than setting personal best times on your enduro trail descents.”
The Whyte T-130 is a 27.5” 130mm bike that would suit an experienced rider who wants a bike that can be ridden more aggressively than its travel would suggest, and that begs for its owner to take creative control out on the trail.
“Whyte Bikes are a little different; they tend to circle the outside of the main pack waiting for someone to outgrow the norm, someone looking for more. One of our testers nailed it by stating Whyte provide bikes for experienced riders who can appreciate the finer details and get the most out of the progressive designs; that sums them up nicely. We like riding Whytes.”
Worried about maintenance? The T-130 takes sealing the frame from the outside world to another level.
“Born and bred in the UK, the T-130 is built to sustain wet weather like no bike we’ve seen before. The bike is sealed at every angle to prevent any muddy water entering the frame through the seat post and cable ports, and all the pivot bearings are protected by sealed caps too. On top of the sealing on the bearings, they are also backed by a lifetime warranty, that’s confidence!”
We really enjoyed the 27.5” wheeled T-130 in a section of the market that is increasingly dominated by 29” wheeled bikes. Why? Read on!
“Smaller things fit into smaller spaces, so it’s no secret that 27.5” wheels have a livelier and precise feel to them, they feel easier to jump and land on smaller transitions, drift sideways. And with stiffer wheels and the axles being lower to the ground a 27.5” bike tends to respond better to throwing down onto the sides of the tyres through a turn. Make sense? We know, the wheel size debate/topic is a headache.”
Overall, we think the Whyte T-130 is the perfect trail bike for lots of people, but perhaps it will appeal to this type of audience the most:
“If your trails are not especially rocky and rough, but they are fast this is your type of thing. Or if you’ve got a few years of riding experience behind you and find the new trend of 140-160mm travel bikes a little too easy to ride and numbing, then the zippy and capable T-130 will have you feeling the rush of speed while feeling the terrain and trails below.”
The Orbea Occam TR M30 is a 120mm 29” bike with an outstanding frame, but a couple of the spec choices held back this bike’s fantastic potential, namely a narrow and flexy Fox Float 32 fork and a lack of dropper seatpost.
The option to counter this however Is the custom ‘my Orbea’ program, which allows you to customise your Orbea build.
“This is a great looking bike, and the quality of the frame is the real stand out, giving you a magnificent base from which to build your dream machine. Orbea make it easy to go down this custom route too, using their My Orbea custom bike program, which lets you change certain components from the stock build to create a one-off bike to suit your style. To see what the options are, head to the Orbea website – on the spec listing for each bike, there are certain items you can change which are marked with a little dropdown menu, and the prices to make these modifications are clearly listed.”
With its stiff, direct frame and hard charging attitude, we feel that the Occam could cater for a variety of riders. In the setup we tested, with a narrow fork and no dropper post, the Occam could be a great bike for an owner who wants a fast trail bike that can double as a cross-country race bike.
We also believe that with a few changes to the spec, the Occam could be beefed up as a more aggressive trail bike. All of these potential changes are possible through the My Orbea program.
“The Occam TR M30 is a bit of a fence sitter, and this might make it perfect for you. If you’re a cross country rider looking for a glamorous steed to push a little harder, then this bike will really nail it for you; it’s efficient, very comfortable for big days in the saddle and packs some really confident geometry. If you’re looking for an aggressive trail bike, then we think there’s an absolute beast of a bike lurking here. The frameset is amongst the nicest we’ve seen, we love its simplicity, its clean looks and the stiffness it possesses. The Occam certainly has the bones, but you’ll need to flesh them out with a dropper post, possibly a stiffer fork and maybe a more aggressive rear tyre too, to take it to the next level.”
We’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Lapierre Zesty here at Flow. We’ve ridden many in the past that have made hitting the singletrack such a pleasure, and the Zesty XM 427 was no exception.
With 27.5” wheels, and 120mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork, the Zesty definitely falls into the category of a hard charging trail bike that begs for aggressive use.
“The Zesty XM uses a 130mm travel fork on a 120mm travel rear end, there’s a massive gear range, dropper post and a robust aluminium frame to keep you riding anything in your path.”
We appreciated the Zesty’s stiff and burly frame when the going got rough, however we wouldn’t see the Zesty as a potential XC and trail bike all in one as much as the Focus Spine, Cannondale Habit or the Orbea Occam. The Zesty XM 427 is a bike that with a beefier fork and rubber could handle far more abuse than its 120mm of rear travel would initially suggest.
“We can’t get enough of these new breed of mid-travel trail bikes with dialled geometry, and the Zesty is one of them. It has a fun character from it’s vibrant paintwork, right down to the way it lights up the singletrack.”
The Habit is another 27.5” trail bike that falls into the category of a bike that loves to play with the trail and has a lively feel, but can also roll your trail bike and race bike into one.
“Its target audience is the one-bike-rider, someone who doesn’t want a quiver in their garage, but needs a bike that’s light enough for the odd marathon race perhaps (and at just over 12kg, that’s certainly the case here) and is confident and burly enough for some over-enthusiastic play.”
The Habit rolls on 27.5” wheels, and comes with 120mm of travel front and rear. Much like the Whyte T-130, the Cannondale Habit promotes lively and aggressive riding- we commented that it was often as we lay on the ground after a crash that we thought about how much we loved the Habit’s ability to make us want to double things up, or take the inside line.
“We feel it will be best in the hands of a fairly competent rider. Those looking for more cushiness or a bike that will soak up mistakes will be happier on the Trigger, or perhaps the Jekyll.”
Despite the Lefty fork feeling somewhat behind the latest offerings from Fox and Rockshox, its unparalleled stiffness was one of the attributes that makes the Habit so eager to find far more ambitious lines than you would usually seek aboard a 120mm trail bike.
“The colour is divisive. The suspension is far from perfect. But none of that matters to us, especially when we’re out on the trail grinning from ear to ear as we go back yet again to try and make that tricky inside gap line for the fifth time, or as the rear wheel sprays through a loose corner. This bike feels fast, it feels fun, it feels like Cannondales should.”
Despite having just 10mm less travel then the Whyte T-130 for example, the Focus Spine is a very different bike. The Spine is a 27.5”, 120mm travel front and rear trail bike that leans towards the XC side of trail riding through its suspension tune and spec decisions.
“This is a bike which makes sense at speed. Toodle about on the Spine C0.0 at lower speeds and you’ll find it feels very firm, like a shorter-travel cross country machine. This has its advantages on smoother trails or when climbing, as the bike never feels like it’s loafing in its travel, but if the terrain is choppy it can all feel a bit harsh, like you’ve got too much pressure in the suspension.”
The Spine is the sort of bike that with its firm, efficient suspension damping and lightweight spec encourages you to go fast to get the most out of it.
“If you’ve got aspirations to roll your cross-country race bike and your trail bike into one, then the Spine C0.0 could be the answer. It is about as light as trail bikes come, and its efficient, taut ride will see it hang out happily with the lycra set on the climbs and drop them on the descents.”
So, which of these bikes is the right one for me?
Any one of these bikes would make an excellent choice for the rider looking for the ‘quiver killer’ bike to do it all. Some of them lean towards the XC side of the spectrum, with lightweight specs and firm, race oriented suspension, whilst others have beefy componentry choices, confidence inspiring geometries and chunky frames built for abuse.
Budget is also a factor, but with bikes ranging from the high four thousand range to over sixteen thousand, and the fact that most of these bikes have a model range with a wide variety of prices, we hope that if you’re in the market for a new trail bike, this has at least inspired some thought about what might be the right rig for you, or at least what isn’t!
As is often the case, what starts on the road eventually makes its way to the mountain biking industry, and following in the same vein as the opinion dividing Giro Empire, the Scott MTB RC Lace shoe is a cross-country mountain bike shoe that forgoes the fancy closure systems we’ve become so accustomed to in favour of trusty laces.
Hold on, this is a cross-country shoe with laces?
Indeed! Despite most cross-country shoes relying on ratchets and BOA dial closure systems, which undoubtedly have their place, Scott believe there is a market for laced cross-country shoes. Benefits of laced shoes include increased contact points, increased aerodynamics, and most importantly increased comfort.
How do the laces compare to ratchets, or BOA dials?
As mentioned above, laces offer increased points of contact over the more commonly seen ratchet or BOA systems, which in theory should result in a more comfortable fit. The Scott MTB RC Lace shoes feel comfortable out of the box, although setting them up did take longer than a ratchet or BOA system, as we took our time tightening and adjusting the laces to ensure optimal pressure across the whole foot. Once you’ve done the laces up, they tuck away neatly into a strap located in the centre of the shoe.
Who is the Scott MTB RC Lace Shoe for?
With a rating of nine on Scott’s stiffness index, which means very stiff, and a lightweight design (a US 8.5 weighs in at 350 grams), the RC Lace shoes lean towards the XC side of the mountain biking spectrum. Despite their low weight however, the shoes feature nods to durability and adjustability though reinforced toe and heel boxes, provisions for mounting studs and long cleat grooves. Despite the shoes having mounting points for studs, they don’t ship with them as standard.
How’s the fit?
The fit was comfortable out of the box, but should you find the shoes uncomfortable, the insoles feature removable metatarsal buttons and arch inserts. Like the studs, these inserts are additional purchases, but they’re a nice touch to allow you to customise your fit.
Are there other colour options?
The Scott MTB RC Lace shoes only come in black, however the shoe ships with two lace options. We’re big fans of the poppy red laces, but if you prefer a more modest look you can swap them to black out of the box.
What sort of money are we talking?
The Scott MTB RC Lace shoes retail for $289.95, which we think is a fair price for a carbon soled, lightweight shoe with additional features such as the adjustable insoles. In comparison, Giro Empire VR90’s retail for $349.
That’s it for now, it’s time to see how these fresh kicks go out on the trail!
E*Thirteen’s first foray into the tyre market, the TRS range incorporates a number of exciting features that draw upon recent advances in wheel and tyre technologies.
What is the E*Thirteen TRS?
There are two versions of the TRS tyre, the TRS Race and the TRS Plus. We’ll be testing the TRS Plus, which uses slightly harder rubber compounds than the Race, however out of the box the compound feels very soft, similar to Maxxis’ 3C tyres, which is impressive considering this is the entry level tyre in the range. The Plus retails for $99.95, and the Race retails for 114.95, and both tyres are available in 27.5″ and 29″ options.
The tyre profile is aggressive, with wide knob spacing, but the profiling of the centre knobs is quite low, and the compound of the centre tread is slightly firmer, which should assist in decreasing rolling resistance.
In the pivotal cornering department, the TRS uses meaty, angled knobs. The knobs have additional support at the base, which should assist in preventing knobs from collapsing or tearing during hard cornering. The compound of the cornering knobs is very soft, so it will be interesting to assess the TRS’s durability throughout testing.
Will they work with my rims if they have wide internal widths?
Due to the advent of wider internal rim widths, E*Thirteen designed the TRS range to work specifically with 24-31mm internals. The test wheelset they are currently mounted to is a SRAM Roam wheelset boasting a 30mm internal rim width, and the tyre profile looks spot on.
How heavy are they?
In terms of weight, the TRS Plus comes in at a very respectable 870 grams. Considering the aggressive tread pattern and reinforced sidewalls, and that an alternative like a 2.3 Maxxis Minion DHF in the comparable Double Down sidewall protection comes in at over 1000 grams, we’re impressed. It will be interesting to see if the lighter weight comes at the cost of puncture protection considering the style of riding these tyres are aimed at.
Where would you use this tyre?
The open spacing of the TRS and tall cornering knobs will provide excellent traction in a variety of trail conditions. We will be running the tyre front and rear, however if you were to pair this tyre we would recommend using it as a front tyre with something faster rolling out back.
Our first impressions of the TRS Plus are positive, so we’re excited to see how they perform out on the trail.
Whyte’s offering in this hotly contested sector is the T-130. Based around 27.5″ wheels, a long and slack geometry and the usual forward thinking from this progressive brand, we’re excited to get pedalling!
So who is this bike for?
The Whyte T-130 will suit a variety of riders, but this bike is screaming ‘pick me!’ to riders with an aggressive style. Attributes such as 27.5″ wheels, short 420mm chainstays and a 67 degree head angle mean the T-130 can be thrown around, and also punch above its weight in more technical terrain. We’ll be taking this bike on some trails normally reserved for longer travel steeds to see just how capable it is.
What do I get for my money?
Whyte place priority in their customers knowing their bikes are for riders, by riders. This is reflected in the T-130C RS’s specifications. For $6999, the bike represents a well rounded, premium offering.
The build on the T-130C RS is almost exclusively SRAM. The drivetrain is the new Eagle XO 12 speed group, which we applaud as Eagle’s huge range should mean that the bike having no front derailleur mount shouldn’t be an issue.
The suspension is handled by RockShox with the proven Pike/Monarch combo (Pike RC and Monarch RT3), and the brakes are Guide RS’s. The stealth routed RockShox Reverb rounds out the SRAM cockpit, which allows for the use of matchmaker clamps throughout and a very uncluttered handlebar.
The wheels are Raceface ARC-30’s with, you guessed it, 30mm internal width. Whyte have stocked the bike with a beefy Maxxis High Roller II on the front in the super-grippy 3C compound, and a faster rolling Maxxis Crossmark II out the back.
What are some unique features of the bike?
Whyte’s UK heritage shines through when you take a closer look at this bike. Rubber grommets seal the internally routed cables, a rubber stopper is used at the seatpost to avoid water getting into the frame and the bearings are all weather-sealed with bearing caps. Whyte are so confident in the bearings they offer a lifetime bearing replacement. Built to be ridden in soggy British winters, the bike also features fender mounts on the underside of the downtube.
Another well-thought out feature of this bike is the brakes, which are not mounted directly into the frame in case the thread becomes rounded, but attached via a barrel thread that inserts into slots on the brake mounts.
We’re excited to get out on the trail and see if this bike lives up to expectations, so stay tuned for the full review!
When Norco first let slip a few details about the Optic, we didn’t actually even know that they’d be offering the bike in both a 29er and 650b format, so when a 650b test bike arrived we were happy to get into it. However, once we learnt a bit more about the 29er version of this bike, we decided quickly that it was the more intriguing model and we made moves to get a 29er out from Canada quick smart! The bike that Norco sent our way is the Optic C9.2, and we’ve been getting a few early miles in on board this subtly clever (if not subtly coloured) machine.
When you first clap eyes on the Optic C9.2 it’s easy spot the muscular stance of the FOX 34 fork with Boost spacing, or the 50mm stem and 760mm handlebar, and make the assumption that it’s an all-mountain machine. But you’d be wrong – the Optic’s place in the market is true trail bike, or even an aggressively positioned cross-country bike. Travel is a short 110mm out back and 120mm up front. That said, by virtue of its geometry, suspension rate, dropper post and aggressive cockpit, it is still capable of being thrown into situations that would make most bikes (particularly most 29ers) of this travel crap a shade of green to match the Optic’s paint job.
The C9.2 is carbon up front, with styling that is consistent with Norco’s approach in the Sight and Range models too. The rear end is alloy, and with Boost rear hub spacing Norco have managed to keep the rear-centre measurement to 430mm on our size medium. In a size small, the 29er’s stays are just 425mm, which is remarkably short. Keeping the rear end lengths identical to what you’ll find on the 650b version of the Optic is one of the key elements in making the 29er handle just as well as the smaller wheeled bike.
Norco are keen to point out that even though the stays are so short, they’ve managed to retain front derailleur compatibility. Our test bike is running a double-ring drivetrain, but the Optic C9.2 will apparently ship with a RaceFace narrow/wide chain ring in the box too, in case you’d prefer to run a single ring. Full praise to Norco for giving riders both options from stock!
Setting up the Optic for our first ride presented some tubeless dramas. The rim tape on the Alex rims looks like it’s ok for tubeless use but we soon found otherwise as sealant sprayed over our whole workshop and onto the jeans we’d promised our wife we wouldn’t wear while working on bikes. It’s annoying that a bike at this price doesn’t come out of the box ready to go tubeless, because no one likes tubes expect people who sell patch kits.
We’ll save all the ride details for later, but we’re happy to tell you the Optic just feels perfect as soon as you swing a leg over it. Looking down over that tiny 50mm stem and chunky 35mm-diameter bar, you instantly know that it’s going to be incredibly playful and precise. The suspension is similarly reassuring, a few bounces instantly conveys a feeling of both suppleness and support/progression for when it gets a little crazy out there.
We think we’re going to really get along with this bike very well. There’s something about the blending of short travel, confidence inspiring frame numbers and quality suspension which just makes us smile, and this bike seems to have that mix pretty much nailed. Hold tight for a full review in the coming weeks.
Today, the Norco Optic can finally emerge from the misty forest of North Vancouver and come out in the world! Norco have been working on this bike for a long time, and once you start to learn some of the detail behind this bike’s development, you’ll begin to understand why it has been such a process.
While on the surface the Norco Optic might look like it’s simply an extension of existing Norco designs (it’s easy to just see it as the little brother of the Sight), in actual fact the Optic represents a pretty serious progression in trail bike geometry and it pushes the envelope in terms of how wheel size should impact on a bike’s handling.
But before we delve into all the tech, it’s also important to note that this bike really fills an important gap in the Norco lineup. We’ve been crying out for a bike to slot into the space between the cross-country racer Revolver (reviewed here) and the all-mountain Sight series (reviewed here), and we’re happy to see that Norco have delivered and then some.
So what is it? The Optic is an aggressive short travel trail bike, available in two wheel sizes (29 and 27.5), and with both carbon and alloy framed models – the carbon frame saving around 350g over the alloy. Pricing in Australia starts at $3499 and the five-model line up tops out at $8999, so there’s a full gamut of spec and build variants on display.
In terms of performance, we can assure you it’s the real deal too. Shortly we’ll be publishing our First Bite review of the Optic C9.2, which we were fortunate to secure for testing ahead of the bike’s official launch. In the brief time we’ve had onboard the bike so far, we’re completely stoked – it’s the hard riding, grin making, effortlessly cornering trail bike we’d been yearning for Norco to build. We plan on hanging onto this bike for some time yet, and we’ll have a full review soon.
As we noted above, the Optic comes in both 29er and 27.5″ wheel sizes, and that’s the case across the entire range. At every price point you have the option of choosing the wheel size you prefer. With the difference in wheel size you’ll also see a slight difference in travel – the 29er is 120mm front / 110mm rear, the 27.5″ get 10mm more at both ends. The 29er is available in four sizes (S/M/L/XL) while the 27.5 gets an XS in addition too.
So, we hear you say, what’s so progressive about that? It’s true – lots of brands offer a choice in wheel sizes across a particular line of trail bikes. Take for instance Trek, who offer a 29er and 27.5″ version of the Fuel EX. Or the Specialized Camber which too comes in both wheel sizes and also has a 10mm travel difference between them. Or the Scott Spark as well.
But where these other bikes differ from the Optic, is that with them the difference in wheel size also sees a marked change in the geometry and the bike’s handling and ride character too. On all of the bikes we’ve listed above, you’re not just choosing a wheel size preference, you’re also having to decide between very different feeling bikes that have truly divergent behaviour on the trail.
This is where the Optic is very unique; no matter what wheel size or frame size you opt for, the Optic has been designed to have exactly the same measurements, handling and ride feel as its counterpart in the other wheel size. If you take size medium 29er and a size medium 27.5 Optic, all the measurements that really dictate how a bike ‘fits’ you and the trail are the same: the rear-centre, the reach from the BB to bar, the stack heigh and the wheelbase are virtually identical (the wheelbases differ by one or two millimetres). The head angles are slightly different as well (half a degree steeper on the 29er), but that too has been a very calculated call to help ensure the bikes have the same steering feel and responsiveness.
It’s an impressive achievement, to isolate the wheel size so it becomes the determining factor when you’re making the call between 29er and 27.5″. The idea is that choosing your preferred wheel size shouldn’t mean compromising on handling or attitude. Your choice with the Optic is not a call between hugely different geometries or suspension feels or attitudes (both bikes are total trail shredders) – instead you’re simply making the call between the subtle difference of acceleration and roll-over abilities between a 29″ and 27.5″ wheel. It’s not all marketing fluff either – we’ve been riding both bikes on our home trails and there’s a lot more that unites these bikes and divides them.
In the next day or two we’ll be publishing an in-depth interview with the Optic’s designer, Owen Pemberton, where he really gets into the nitty gritty of geometry, wheel size and suspension development. If you’re a techo, you’ll love it, the man knows his stuff!
When it comes to the bike’s features, the Optic has a mix of familiar and new construction for Norco. Both the 27.5 and 29er Optic make good use of the new Boost rear hub spacing, which not only allows for a stiffer rear end but also enabled Norco to get the Optic’s rear-centre measurement so short (it’s just 425mm in a size small, and yes that’s with a 29″ wheel).
The suspension system is the proven ART design that has been so highly praised across the industry, and on the Optic the suspension rate ramps up quite noticeably, a clear indicator that the bike is designed to be ridden hard. Up front, all Optics get a FOX 34 fork too, with the Optic 29 getting a Boost version as well. We’re very happy Norco didn’t faff about with a lightweight 32 fork on this bike.
Norco have a new cable management system on the Optic as well, which allows you to run up to five cables internally and has roomy access ports to make the job of threading cables much easier. While most Optics come with a single-ring drivetrain, the frame has a unique removable front derailleur mount that attaches via the ISCG tabs. It’s an ingenious solution, meaning the frame looks super clean with the front mech removed, rather than having the usual front derailleur tab sticking out like a sore thumb.
We’ve got lots more to come on the Optic over the next few days and weeks. We’re very excited about its release and its promise on the trails so far is immense. Nice one, Norco! You guys are alright! For more on the Optic, take a look at Norco’s microsite here.
YT’s rise as a brand as been meteoric, from an unknown upstart to now sponsoring some of the absolute biggest names in the sport, like Aaron Gwin and Cam Zink. But while their image and branding is fantastic and their products great (we loved our time on the Capra, read the full review here), up until now they’ve lacked a bike with real mass market appeal. With the arrival of the new Jeffsy, their quirkily named 29er trail bike, that could all be about to change.
Quite frankly, YT had us the moment we saw this video. It’s quite possibly the sickest bike launch vid we’ve ever seen – the way Aaron Gwin and Cam Zink ride a 29er trail bike will make you laugh out loud with incredulity.
The Jeffsy is a 140mm-travel 29er. Yes, a big-wheeler, which is certainly not what we would associate with YT’s gravity-inspired roots and image. YT themselves admit that when they set out to make a trail bike, they didn’t expect that they’d end up designed a 29er, but that it proved to be the right platform for creating a shorter travel bike that could still shred hard.
The Jeffsy uses the Virtual 4 Link suspension found on the Capra, which we found to have a super progressive rate that is really targeted at hard riding. Geometry-wise, the Jeffsy is exactly as you’d expect; quite slack, a low bottom bracket, 435mm stays (440mm on the large and x-large frames) and plenty of reach up front. There’s geometry adjustment via a simple Flip Chip system too. We also like the Thirstmaster 3000, a specific water bottle and cage to fit the Jeffsy frame.
There are going to be six models in the Jeffsy range, from $3799 for the base model alloy-framed Jeffsy up to the carbon Pro model at $8099.
We’re looking forward to getting a ride in on this bike in the coming weeks. The Capra was a lot of fun, but too much bike for most of our local trails, so the Jeffsy could be the right tool for the job. You can read more on YT’s site, right here.
Öhlins haven’t rushed into the market open slather though, instead they’ve strategically partnered up with Specialized; initially it was their TTX coil shock that found its way onto the Specialized Demo, then the STX22 air shock graced the S-Works Enduro. In terms of forks, they have released a cartridge damper for the FOX 40, but up until now they hadn’t produced a complete fork. But here comes the RXF34 fork, which a 29er only item (at this stage) and comes in three travel variants, designed specifically for the Specialized Camber (120mm), Stumpjumper (140mm) and the Enduro (160mm).
We had the Camber Expert Carbon 29 on test recently and by a stroke of luck the Öhlins fork became available, so on it went, allowing us a great opportunity to directly compare the stock FOX 34 fork and the Öhlins.
Before we even delve into its guts, the Öhlins has some unique construction features. Most obviously, the Unicrown, which means the steerer tube and crown are all one piece of aluminium, rather than having the steerer pressed/bonded into the crown. This setup promises more stiffness than a British upper lip and should deliver creak-free performance. The steerer is machined to integrate perfectly with the lower bearing used in Specialized’s headset, so there’s no need for a crown race. This confused the hell out of us when installing the fork at first! If your bike uses a different headset, at worst you’ll need to source a new lower headset cup/bearing to run the Öhlins fork. One downside of this arrangement is the absence of any rubber sealing to keep the crud away from the bearing, so using plenty of grease on installation is a good idea.
Öhlins claim the Unicrown makes the RXF 34, with its 34mm legs, is as stiff as the competition’s 36mm-legged forks. It’s a trail fork, not an XC fork, so it’s more of a welterweight on the scales. We clocked it at 2.07kg with an uncut steerer, which makes it around 200g heavier than the FOX 34 Performance fork originally fitted to the Camber. Interestingly, it’s actually a pretty similar weight to a FOX 36 Factory 29er fork too, so even though the RXF uses 34mm legs there’s no real weight saving benefit in doing so.
If you’re a fan of clean lines, you’ll appreciate the RXF’s 15mm axle system. It requires the use of a 5mm Allen key for removal/installation, but it sits flush with the fork legs, which looks great. The Camber has a similarly neat rear axle system too, and with the RXF fitted it all looked nicely matched front and rear. For now the RXF has standard 100mm dropout spacing, there’s no Boost 110mm version yet.
We’re not opposed to having to use an Allen key to remove the axle, and we like the stiffness of this setup, but we did find it was a bit of a pain to remove as the pinch bolts don’t fully release the axle and there’s nothing to grip when you’re pulling the smooth and slippery axle out of the fork.
Internals and adjustments.
The guts of the Öhlins RXF34 borrow from the company’s motorcross technology, with a TTX twin tube damper. In this configuration, the damping oil is under less pressure than a standard single-tube damper, which Ohlins claims allows for better sensitivity amongst other things. External damping adjustments include a five position high-speed compression dial, and low-speed compression and rebound, both of which have a huge adjustment range. If we had any concerns about this fork’s build, it was the compression adjuster assembly, which felt pretty loose and rattly compared to the likes of FOX or DVO. The adjuster dials work well, but they don’t feel as high quality as the rest of the fork.
We found the range of low-speed compression adjustment to be very subtle, there’s not a huge difference between either extreme of the range. Conversely, the high-speed adjuster has a marked effect. Turning the dial to its firmest setting dramatically stiffens the fork, making it almost usable as a quasi on-the-fly pedalling platform.
Like many high-end forks, the RXF gives you control over the spring curve. Other brands, like the RockShox Pike for example, achieve this with spacers or ‘tokens’, but the RXF uses a third Ramp Up Chamber to give you this control. The main air spring determines your positive and negative air pressure, but the second valve on the bottom of the fork leg determines the progressiveness of the fork’s spring curve. We followed the recommend pressures from Ohlins for the main chamber (95psi), then opted to run the pressure to Ramp Up Chamber a little higher than recommended setting for our weight (150psi) to give the fork a nice progressive feel under big hits. The Ramp Up Chamber system is a winner, it’s a much more user friendly system than the spacers or tokens in FOX or RockShox forks, and it makes a noticeable difference with only small adjustments.
On the trail.
What was most appreciable about this fork on the trail was how incredibly and immediately smooth it was. Even before we’d done enough riding to properly break in the bushings and seals, the suppleness and responsiveness was perfect, the slightest murmur on the trail was enough to get the fork moving. As we’ve noted above, the low-speed compression adjustment is fairly unobtrusive, so we ran the adjuster about two-thirds of the way in to better match the supportive feel of the Camber’s Brain equipped rear suspension.
We rode the Öhlins pretty hard, and certainly noticed how well it’d hold itself up in the travel, resisting diving and wallowing. Descended with the front brake on and ploughing the front wheel through braking ruts left us impressed with the fork’s damping.
The progressiveness of the fork’s travel is a real highlight, we were able to tune the fork to our liking using the Ramp Up Chamber, resulting in a very useable 120mm of travel without harsh bottom-outs.
In a perfect world, we’d loved to have tested this fork in a longer travel version on a Stumpjumper or Enduro. At 120mm-travel it’s harder to get a real appreciation of what a fork’s capabilities truly are – travel and geometry start to hold you back a bit before you can really put the fork through its paces. Still, that said, if you only have 120mm of travel available, then you want it to be working for you to the highest possible standards, and the RXF certainly does so.
As it stands, we’d have no issue with saying that the RXF 34 performs at the same level (or even higher) as the very best, perfectly maintained 120mm forks we’ve ever ridden (including the Pike RCT3 and the FOX 34 Factory FIT4), but with the added bonus of having a more easily tuneable air spring and crown assembly that should stay silent and stiff forever.
The RXF 34 is just what you’d expect from a company such as Öhlins; a true performer that places real performance benefits ahead of flashy stickers, acronyms or fads. It’s not going to revolutionise the world of mountain bike forks, but it does serve notice to the dominant brands that they’d better stay on their toes and keep agile, because the Swedes are coming, and what they do, they do right.
People get to the top of the mountain in different ways.
The NS Snabb was designed to get you to the top whichever way you choose, but as Sam Pilgrim and Slawek Lukasik demonstrate, that’s not the important part.
Finally. Something we’ve been working on for a long time. Here it is. The Snabb – our new Enduro and Trail bike.
When we launch a new product, especially one that is so important – we always try to get some cool action shots and videos. We really wanted to feature our superstar rider, but there was one problem. Sam Pilgrim hates riding uphill! And what is enduro riding without the climbs? So we thought hard and long how to put him to work and came up with a plan – and it’s called La Grande Corsa – The Great Race!
From Afghanistan to Argentina and two dozen places in between, the Trail Ninja has brought havoc, pain, laughter and insight into the lives of a lot of mountain bikers. There’s only so much he can cram into a 5 minute episode, so here in all its glory are the fails, falls, out-takes and nonsense that was just too close to the edge of sanity to include in the series. Get ready for a whirlwind tour of the globe, Trail Ninja style. 24 Months Of Insanity – The Best Of Trail Ninja | Trail Ninja, Ep. 22
Shimano shoes are fantastic pieces of kit, with particularly legendary durability. But while Shimano have always made great cross-country shoes, and some great downhill shoes, the brand hasn’t really had an offering that was aimed specifically at the trail rider; you could choose either a stiff-soled cross country shoe, or a softer, but much bulkier, downhill shoe and not much in between.
But now Shimano have filled that void, with two new shoes aimed at the trail/all-mountain market (ie. the kind of riding that most of us do day to day). One of these new shoes is the M163 (the other is the M200 – previewed here) – well-priced, understated and beautifully fitted shoes that we’ve been sullying with our stinky leg ends for the last couple of months.
While it’s too early to comment on whether or not this shoe lives up to Shimano’s usual standards of durability, we can definitely deliver a verdict on how this shoe fits and performs.
The M163 uses Shimano’s new TORBAL (Torsional Balance) system, which basically allows the shoes to offer a good degree of longitudinal flex through the midsole so you can roll your foot side to side and get better pedal feel, but retain pedalling stiffness under the ball of your foot. TORBAL, despite sounding like the name of a robotic dog, works like a charm and there’s great support on offer where it counts, but without any of that isolating woodenness that can come from a really stiff shoe.
The Cross X-Strap and ratchet buckle closure provides a supple and secure fit, which ensures that your foot never feels like its floating or squirming in the shoe – as you roll your foot around in a corner, the upper moves with it, rather than your foot simply slipping about inside the shoe.
We particularly appreciate the longer-than-normal cleat positioning slot thingos, which allow you to run the cleat a long way back. Normally on a Shimano shoe, we have the cleat at the very back of its adjustment range, but on the M163s we’re closer to the middle. Having a more rearward cleat position puts less leverage on your ankles if you’re riding aggressively and landing hard. A handy little insert is also provided to plug up the large cleat holes and stop excessive mud or water getting in.
The M163 is built for a bit of rock scrambling too, with a fully rubberised sole – a blessing if you miss a pedal entry – and slim armouring around the generous toe box as well. Its big tread blocks aren’t super tacky like on some shoes (such as the Five Ten shoes we recently tested), but they are malleable and grippy all the same.
These are really ideal shoes for the masses, and exactly what we’ve been looking for from the big S; put ’em on, ride ’em up, ride ’em down, kick ’em about and repeat for many years.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
Well, there’s really not too much to say; this bike is exquisite.
When you spend some time assessing the whole (massive) Specialized mountain bike range, it’s easy to pass over the Camber series. It’s somewhat overshadowed by the whippet-esque racing performance of the Epic line and the legendary versatility of the slightly longer-travel Stumpjumpers.
But ask anyone who has ridden a Camber for their thoughts and they’ll launch into a mushy soliloquy about how the Camber is their perfect ‘one’ bike and they’re in a state of monogamous bliss.
Quite frankly, if this bike doesn’t blow us away, we’ll be disappointed. At around $10,000, it ought to leave us in a right lather of joy. We’ll be taking the Camber with us when we head north to Atherton next week, and putting it through the wringer on our rocky local trails when we return. Full video review to come!
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.
Sizes available: 26, 27.5 and 29″ diameters in 2.25 and 2.4″ widths.
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.
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.
Sizes available: 26×2.2″, 26×2.35 and 29×2.3″
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.
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″
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
For the second video episode of Over the Edge, we follow professional mountain bike athlete Mike Hopkins as he returns to his hometown of Rossland, British Columbia to mountain bike on his home trails.
Being a professional MTB athlete brings with it the rare opportunity to see the world. We’re always pushing and searching for that new adventure, but eventually if you chase that horizon long enough, it will always bring you back full-circle to what’s familiar.
For the second video episode of Over the Edge, we follow professional mountain bike athlete Mike Hopkins as he returns to his hometown of Rossland, British Columbia to mountain bike on his home trails.
Being a professional MTB athlete brings with it the rare opportunity to see the world. We’re always pushing and searching for that new adventure, but eventually if you chase that horizon long enough, it will always bring you back full-circle to what’s familiar.
Blue Mountains City Council opened the first accredited downhill mountain bike track in the City at Knapsack Reserve, Glenbrook on Saturday 21 September to the delight of the mountain bike community.
Mayor, Cr Mark Greenhill, said “The new downhill mountain bike track will be an important recreational facility for the Blue Mountains and greater Western Sydney region.
After a lot of careful planning and hard work, we can be proud of developing an environmentally friendly, low impact walking track and bike trail network in a bushland setting of national significance.”
Mountain biking is one of the faster growing recreational and sporting activities in Australia.
Working with experienced mountain bike riders, Council completed a Knapsack Reserve Mountain Bike Plan in October 2010. Construction of the track started in March 2013 after the necessary planning, design and environmental assessment work was completed and Australian Government approvals were obtained.
“Council and the riders have achieved a great deal working in partnership to complete Stage One of Council’s Knapsack Mountain Bike Plan”, said the Mayor.
Most notably, this partnership has achieved the design and construction of an 1,150m downhill track for experienced riders, a new volunteer Trackcare group to foster sustainable trail maintenance and ecological restoration, extensive track closure and rehabilitation and the installation of signage across the Reserve.
The $52,000 project was funded by a NSW Government Community Partnerships Building Grant of $12,000, a contribution of $8,000 from nature-based recreation licensing fees and the balance of $32,000 from Council’s operational budget.
Member for Penrith, Stuart, Ayers MP, said, “The Knapsack downhill mountain bike track is a perfect example of community partnership in action to build and improve local community facilities.”
Council and the community acted on the need to formalise opportunities for the popular sport of mountain bike riding in Knapsack Reserve to ensure riding is undertaken in as sustainable a manner as possible and to protect the biodiversity of Reserve.”
Mark Hawling, of Blue Mountains Off Road Cyclists (BMORC), said BMORC and riders welcome the long awaited opening of this trail after the closure of some important mountain bike trails in the Blue Mountains in the last few years.
This project has been achieved from a positive collaboration of riders, council and environmentalists working together and sharing knowledge.
“A big thanks” should go to the Council staff that BMORC have been involved with on a day to day basis as well Mayor Greenhill, Deputy Mayor Luchetti and Stuart Ayres MP who have been great champions for this project from the start. Also all the riders for getting behind the project and providing their considerable volunteer hours to see it to fruition.
This is also the beginning of an exciting mountain biking tourism opportunity.
Council and riders are now looking forward to Stage Two the Knapsack Mountain Bike Plan, to develop a 6.6 km cross country bike trail. Using the existing track network, Council and riders will work together to progressively improve sustainability of the old and degraded tracks that will form the cross country circuit and installation of additional track signage.
Mountain bike racer Curtis Keene hits British Columbia to bomb some trails on his 29er.
On a break between Enduro World Series races, Santa Monica-based Curtis Keene took a trip up to western Canada with his Enduro 29 for a sampling of the area’s well-known trails. Watch him rip down some of BC’s mountainous landscape in the video above.
Keene explored the local scenes in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, while traveling along the “Sea to Sky Corridor” following highway 99.
Mountain bike racer Curtis Keene hits British Columbia to bomb some trails on his 29er.
On a break between Enduro World Series races, Santa Monica-based Curtis Keene took a trip up to western Canada with his Enduro 29 for a sampling of the area’s well-known trails. Watch him rip down some of BC’s mountainous landscape in the video above.
Keene explored the local scenes in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler, while traveling along the “Sea to Sky Corridor” following highway 99.
Knolly are as Canadian as pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. And like the aforementioned delicious breakfast, we highly recommend giving them a try.
The Knolly brand has its roots in Vancouver’s North Shore and their bikes have always reflected this; big hucks and scary, slippery root-infested trails need solid bikes to tame them and the brand bills itself as ‘a high-end manufacturer of freeride and downhill bikes.’ But the Endorphin, a relatively recent addition to the Knolly stable, is a machine that’s far more relevant to the masses, yet doesn’t stray too far from the brand’s home turf too.
We first clapped eyes on the high-vis yellow Endorphin at a gravity enduro race and locked it in for testing straight away. We wanted to make sure it lived it up to the showy appearance. With 140mm rear travel (paired to a 150mm fork), a kicked-back head angle of 67 degrees and boxy construction, the Endorphin looked ready to fight its way through rough trails. We had a medium-sized bike on our doorstep from importer Endless Flow Cycles within days.
Kitted out with a premium build kit, the Endorphin gave us plenty to admire; FOX 34 fork, CTD dampers front and rear, Hope hubs, Raceface Next carbon cranks, SRAM XX drivetrain, Thomson stem, Maxxis Minion rubber and the highly rated KS LEV adjustable post with a massive 150mm of adjustment. This build kit needs little tweaking in our opinion, though we envisage the narrow DT rims requiring a bit of spoke key love over time with the kind of punishing riding this bike is capable of. Our test bike tipped the scales at a fair 12.8kg, certainly weightier than many other premium-level trail bikes, but not excessively so.
The really eye catching element of the bike’s construction is the ‘Four by 4’ suspension linkage – kind of a link-on-a-link setup. Practically, it’s actually pretty simple; there’s your traditional four-bar linkage arrangement to control the bike’s axle path, and the second linkage controls the shock rate. Before the advent of dropper posts, the system also had the advantage of allowing a full-length seat tube too, so you could get your saddle out of the way. The bike’s rear ends with surprisingly narrow dropouts clamping a 142x12mm axle, which requires a 5mm Allen key for removal, and a tapered head tube up front
This isn’t a bike for ticking off big kays on fireroad trails. The Endorphin carries the same hunger for technical riding as the rest of the Knolly range, just in a lighter more efficient package, and the bike’s sizing reflects this. With a stocky 17” seat tube and upright riding position, the whole bike feels super compact. Short stays (425mm) mean that even with though the head angle is slack, the overall wheelbase is quite short.
Consequently, you’re really centred over the bike, and it’s very easy to pick and choose exactly where you want to place the wheels. It’s most adept when the trails require lots of body language; the short reach, dropped top tube and compact rear end make it easy to twist yourself all over the bike as you rip it over and around technical trails.
You can slam the big FOX 34 fork into just about anything and it won’t complain, leading the way for you to start looking for more and more nasty rocks or drops to fly off. We had absolute confidence in the front end, finding the cockpit ideal, and feeling very connected to the grippy Minion front tyre. On board the Endorphin we tackled some steep, rocky rollers that we’ve been avoiding on other bikes recently. The kind of obstacles where you need to hit the line just-so or risk going over the bars became fun challenges, rather than terrifying.
We spent a lot of time on this bike with the seat post lowered, out of the saddle, playing with the trail. We ran the rear shock in Trail mode generally, which added to the bike’s responsiveness, making it easy to pick up the front wheel or wheelie-drop off ledges. Hard landings didn’t worry the Knolly, and even though we bottomed-out the suspension with a clunk on a few occasions, the bike didn’t flinch or get out of shape. In fact, the bigger, faster hits really seemed to suit Endorphin. The Four by 4 suspension system isn’t particularly supple, feeling a little choppy over repeated small hits. The rear end performed best when you showed no mercy, hammering over the rocks fast, or slamming back to earth off drops.
Fast riding did reveal one hole in the Knolly’s spec, that being the absence of either a clutch derailleur or some kind of chain retention device, and we bounced the chain off a few times. It’s funny how quickly we’ve come to take the great chain retention afforded by clutch derailleurs for granted. The frame is equipped with ISCG mounts so, installing a chain guide (either single ring or dual ring) is hassle free should you wish to go that route.
The drawbacks of the upright riding position come when climbing or sprinting. The short reach cramps your style a little if you’re out of the saddle. The best approach for technical uphills was to hit them hard and fast, or alternatively to sit and spin. Grinding out of the saddle didn’t suit the Knolly and tended to set the suspension bobbing. Sprinting was a little awkward on the Endorphin too, the saddle tended to get in the way. Again, the KS LEV dropper post came to the rescue – we really love this seat post, it’s superb. You could fit a longer stem to open up the top tube a little, but this would sacrifice performance in terms of responsiveness. The best bet is try out a couple of frame sizes if possible, and consider going a size bigger than usual. It all depends on your trails and your riding priorities.
Admittedly, the Knolly isn’t quite as versatile as some other 140/150mm trail bikes, which may out-climb the Endorphin or weigh in a little lighter. But the Knolly knows its niche and nails it. It rewards the rider for whom technical trails aren’t a challenge to be negotiated but a playground to be explored and unlike some of the featherweights of this category, we’re sure it’ll be faithfully dependable for years to come.
In the lead up to the 2012 World MTB Championships Flow managed to get a weekend in the backcountry with soon-to-be World Junior XC Champion Anton Cooper. This story and film captures the events of one of the coolest trail journeys we have been on yet with one of the coolest cats in MTB.
The Poulter River MTB trail in Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury, is one of the Cooper family’s favourite haunts – Anton has been coming here with his mum and dad and two sisters since he could walk.
The trail is a 27km gradual climb up the Poulter Valley on the true right of the Poulter River. It is mostly on an old 4WD track that climbs up and across the many river washouts that cascade down the mountainsides. The trail wanders through a few impressive stands of mountain beech forest on the final approaches to Casey Hut. Mountain biking is permitted up to the Trust/Poulter Hut a further 6km along from Casey Hut. Anton and his dad Paul have ventured even further on foot to Lake Minchin where they often fished for trout. As we were to learn on this trip, Anton’s got a swag of handy fishing techniques that he’s developed over the years.
The backcountry hut system in New Zealand is a real blessing for mountain bikers, but even with a warm fire and a mattress at the end of the ride, Anton is still a very lightweight traveller. He takes a single Macpac pack and sleeps in a sleeping bag that can fit in the palm of your hand. On the night we spent in there – at the tail end of winter – the temperature plummeted to -7°C overnight. Cold enough to frost the inside of the hut windows and to freeze a drink bottle in minutes.
We shot some images at dawn the next morning and the hoar frost had turned every living thing in sight white with icicles. Impressive stuff. One of the river crossings on the return leg had an inch-thick layer of ice across it – not quite strong enough to support Anton’s frame and Trek.
The two-day journey was taken at a relaxed pace and it gave us a good insight into just how comfortable this then 17-year-old was in the mountains not far from his home.
It was no surprise to see him win New Zealand’s first ever Junior World XC Championship a few months later. Anton, it seems, is born to shine in the hills.