Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0: Reviewed and Rated

The new Giant Anthem 29 is finally here; we’ve wanted this bike for a while now, this is the bike we needed from you, Giant. Thanks for listening!

Hammer time! Laying down the power aboard the Anthem was amazing, so fast.
Giant has finally produced the XC race bike we’ve been waiting for.

Welcome back, Anthem 29!

Back before the wheel size thing dominated discussions and confused everyone, Giant Anthems were everywhere at the races; they were light, fast, affordable and always really well specced. But over the past few years, Giant stubbornly stuck to their guns by only producing 27.5″ wheel bikes. In the meantime, other brands began to make really great 29ers and gained major ground on the biggest brand in Oz.

Yes, we are pumped to see this bike come to fruition. We know it’ll be a welcome sight for the keen mountain biker that pushes their fitness and loves to lap around the race track.

While Giant went all-in with 27.5″,  the rest of industry seemed to finally figure things out with 29ers. Frame geometries and handling characteristics improved and component manufacturers overcame their teething issues – mainly weight problems – and 29ers eventually became the staple choice for cross-country racers due to their rolling speed. Even Nino Schurter – an advocate for smaller 27.5″ wheels – couldn’t resist the momentum and finally went full 29er.

The Anthem name diversified and went through a bit of a reformation during that time too, taking a half-step toward the Trance, Giant’s all-rounder trail bike. The geometry got slacker, travel got longer and many people bemoaned the fact the Anthem seemed to be abandoning its XC racing roots. We reviewed an aluminium version of the 2017 Anthem, check that out here. It turns out Giant were repositioning the 27.5″ Anthem just to make room for the new 29er version.

Yes, we are pumped to see this bike come to fruition, we know it’ll be a welcome sight to the keen mountain biker that pushes their fitness and loves to lap around the race track, hooray!

What’s new with the Anthem 29?

Everything! While still based on Giant’s long-standing Maestro suspension design, the frame is entirely new for 2018, and it looks one million bucks. Sleeker lines than we’ve seen before, cleaner finishes with crisp new graphics and on-point colour matching give the new 2018 Anthem 29 an extra fresh look. The cable management and seat binder system helps clean up the whole package.

There are five Anthem 29 models available here in Oz, with two carbon models (the top-of-the-line $8999 version we have here and a SRAM-specced $5999 version using the same frame). The three aluminium versions range from $2999 to $4999, so, plenty of choices. Taking a closer look at the range will reveal some very appealing bikes for the cash. With great value and well-considered spec for the dollars, the new range is a sure bet.

The one-piece rear end is super trim, smooth shapes and a narrow profile give the bike an air of allurement.

Tell me everything about this new Anthem 29.

For the full rundown on the new bike and the background on the design, jump on over to our coverage of the official launch at Giant’s headquarters in California last year; New Giant Anthem 29!

Oh, that fork! The new FOX 32 SC.

The FOX 32 SC Factory fork is completely marvellous, it is so supportive and stable yet so sensitive, an ideal scenario for cross-country racing.

The way the fork handles the terrain is a great highlight of the bike.

The ‘Open Mode Adjust’ feature is a valuable adjustment; with a few turns of the dial the fork will limit the way it will react to slow movements, so you can still jump up and lean on the bars to sprint away out of the saddle without the front suspension bouncing around wildly, but it’ll still respond to bumps to help the bike from skipping around or deflecting interrupting your direction. The way the fork handles the terrain is a great highlight of the bike.

Read more about the FOX SC in our full review here: FOX 32 SC Factory fork review.

On/off suspension, what about the middle guy?

With the fork having such a useable range of adjustability (with Open Mode Adjust) it’s a pity the rear end only has an on/off lockout.  So much of the time when we ride cross-country or trail bikes, we spend the bulk of our riding time with the shock in the middle compression setting, or ‘trail mode’ as it is often referred to.

On the Anthem, the remote lockout lever gives the rider immediate access to the shock to lock it out, but it’s either fully open or fully firm –  you forgo a useable pedalling platform setting in between on and off. We’d prefer the two settings to be ‘trail and off’ or ‘on and trail’ rather than just on or off.

The new FOX remote lever is very easy to access and light to actuate; we just wish there was more options than on and off.
The tiny little FOX DPS EVOL Factory shock with remote lockout, driven by a stout little one-piece carbon link.

Our gripes with the fork and shock lockout aren’t easily rectified. It’s not merely just a case of fitting a standard shock-mounted lever and taking off the remote and cables to the fork or shock; it’s a different system.

We’d prefer the two settings to be ‘trail and off’ or on and trail’ rather than just on or off.

In fairness to the new FOX system, the lockout lever is particularly ergonomic and is much lighter to push than in years past encouraging more regular use. The cables could do with a trim, and you could even ditch the barrel adjusters to clean it up aesthetically. This might mean more work to get the right cable tension, but it can be done.

Let’s take the Anthem 29 to the race track!

The Anthem 29 is 100% built for cross-country racing, on paper the frame geometry numbers look right on the money. When we hit the dirt, our expectations were met faster than we could say “GO!” – this thing is quick! Stomping on the pedals hard had us winding up the speedometer with brilliant efficiency, and hitting the remote lever on the smooth sections of trail and tarmac practically turned it into a hardtail so you could mash away even harder and not worry about losing energy to the suspension.

Hot summer days ripping laps on the Anthem, locked into position and hunting out more speed.

The Anthem 29 holds terrific speed, staying off the brakes through the singletrack it rolls with such little resistance, you feel very fast on this thing.

A long, outstretched position has you sitting comfortably on the saddle with open shoulders and when standing there’s loads of room to move around. The long reach and tall front end had our backsides firmly planted a lot during a lap of the track, we were reaching with our arms around through the corners, so we experimented with dropping the fork pressure and increasing pressure in the rear end. This propped the bike up and forward more, for a more aggressive cornering position over the front end and had us riding out of the saddle more often.

We love the saddle, way more comfortable than the one on the Giant Reign we’ve been testing, we pushed it forward on the rails a touch to get closer and lower over the front, to get more comfortable with the seated climbing position. We also flipped and lowered the stem for an extra aggressive climbing and cornering position. That’s what this bike is all about; attacking speed and fast corners! If you want all-day comfort and confidence on wilder trails, you could leave the spacers under the stem and keep the front end tall, or better yet check out the longer-travel Giant Trance for an option.

The bars are fairly wide; we’d suggest new owners consider trimming down a centimetre or two unless you’re particularly broad-shouldered, it’ll help speed things up in the twisty stuff.

The Anthem 29 holds terrific speed, staying off the brakes through the singletrack it rolls with such little resistance, you feel very fast on this thing.

Once we got comfortable with a lower front end, we began to ride the front end very aggressively through the turns.

Just 90mm of travel? Short-changed, or just right?

The 90mm of travel surprised us, it doesn’t feel any shorter than a 100mm travel bike, even though we can’t recall the last time we rode a bike with less than 100mmm. We made sure the rebound speed wasn’t too fast, or the bike would bounce back hard after G-out impacts. Keeping the rebound speed slower stabilised the pedalling when the shock was open, also.

Part of Giant’s reasoning behind building the Anthem 29 around only 90mm of travel was that they believe many 100mm race bikes in this category don’t actually use the full 100mm of claimed travel. A frame with dedicated 90mm of travel and its associated moving parts can be packaged into a smaller space to achieve the desired geometry, weight and stiffness. That all sounds pretty fair to us.

It felt smoother and more active than we’d predicted. The new generation FOX DPS rear shock is super-supple and very sensitive off the top of the stroke, helping keep the bike composed through braking ruts and rocky sections.

Dropper post limitations, oh damn.

Building the frame with a 27.2mm seat post in our mind is a massive fail, whether you run a dropper post or not, speccing a 27.2mm post rule out the vast majority of dropper post options. Sure you can still get a 27.2mm dropper post, KS, for example, make one in the small size, but c’mon folks!

At the World Champs in Cairns, we lost count of how many dropper posts there were on cross-country bikes. Even the top pros, like Julien Absalon and Yolanda Neff for example, were running them. If they appreciate the benefits of lowering the saddle for a descent, then surely the punters will too! Admittedly, a thinner post is traditionally more compliant, which is why you see them on a lot of hardtails, but on a dual suspension bike…?

Super SRAM Eagle.

This top-end Anthem 29 comes specced with the brilliant SRAM Eagle XX1 with a 34-tooth chainring for high top-end speed; it might be a bit too tall for a mid-pack rider during a multi-day stage race, keep a 32-tooth handy if the hills are looming. We found ourselves in the lowest gear on the steep climbs of our local XC race track, and we are remarkably powerful bike riders here at Flow… (ha!)

Ah, sweet, sweet Eagle we love you.

10.08kg, nice.

10.08kg is mighty impressive out of the box, trimming the bars, steerer tube and lockout cables it might even be closer to 10kg for extra kudos in the race pits.

A 10kg bike is always going to be a breeze to climb on, but it’s more than just low weight that helps the Anthem on the way up.

Nice bits from Giant.

All of Giant’s best parts are here, and so much carbon! The seat, post, bars, stem, rims are all Giant’s own gear, and it all hit the mark for this bike intended use. Any upgrade areas? Not really, it’s good to go.

This Anthem 29 is supplied with tubeless tape, valves AND sealant, chapeau Giant! For what might seem like a small inclusion to the whole package, it wins big points from us.

Sensible rubber, the Maxxis Ikon is a great dry conditions tyre, keep a spikier one in the gear bag for wet races though. It’s 100% tubeless ready too, nothing missing for a proper setup.

Verdict.

Yay, the Anthem 29 returns to the front of the race pack with a brilliant race bike that will serve the speed-hungry racers with a valid range of options. The top-shelf model we tested is a real winner, we can’t fault its design and ride character, and the high-end parts are spot on for the cash. We might have sounded a bit harsh on the on/off FOX lockout system and lamented the 27.2mm seatpost restricting the dropper post options, as it sure won’t bother everyone. The new Anthem 29 is tops.

FOX 34 E-bike Optimised Fork First Impressions

Why do I need an e-specific fork? 

As we’ve noted in other reviews, when you’re riding an e-bike you tend to find yourself smashing through the terrain, rather than floating over it. FOX noticed that a lot of e-bikes were rolling onto the trails with 32mm-legged forks that were under-gunned for the kind of abuse they’re likely to face. The Trek Powerfly we’ve got on test is a classic example, coming stock with a slender RockShox Recon, so we’ve taken the opportunity to test the FOX 34 e-bike fork to give us the confidence to wallop the trails at full e-speed!

We’ve fitted the FOX 34 E-bike fork to a Trek Powerfly, the perfect candidate for this addition.

How is an e-bike optimised fork different to a normal FOX fork? 

No batteries were harmed in the making of this fork. The e-bike specific nature of these new FOX forks relates to the way they’re constructed, not any electronic internals.

It’s really a matter of more beef. There’s extra material in the fork crown and the walls of the stanchions are thicker, so you’re getting a fork that’s much stiffer overall and better equipped to handle the heavy loads imposed by a speeding e-bike.

You’d struggle to spot the difference between this e-bike fork and a regular 34, but there’s more material in the crown and fork legs have thick walls.

Because of the extra wall thickness of the fork legs, there’s less room for the air spring assembly, so a FOX 34 e-bike fork actually uses the air spring out of a FOX 32. Similarly, a FOX 36 e-bike fork runs the air spring from a regular FOX 34 (with the latest super plush EVOL tech – read about it here). The lower legs are the same as a regular FOX 34 fork.

Because of the increased wall thickness of the legs, the 34 fork actually uses the air spring assembly out of a 32 fork. It still has the latest EVOL tech you’ll find in other FOX 2018 forks.

What about the damper? 

On forks with running FIT4 damper, the unit is identical to a standard FOX – the wide range of low-speed compression adjustment on the FIT4 damper can happily accommodate an e-bike’s extra mass. However, e-bike forks with the cheaper GRIP damper get a slightly different damper tune that’s a little stiffer than that found in a standard GRIP damper.

The FIT 4 damper on our fork is the same as a standard FOX 34 – it has a wide range of low-speed compression adjustment that helps tame the extra mass and wallow of an e-bike.

Setup so far?

As mentioned above, we’ve popped these on a Trek Powerfly. There’s a recommended pressure and rebound guide on the back of the fork, but following the guide felt too soft for our liking. In our experience so far, because e-bikes are much heavier, a softer suspension setup just ends up taking all the liveliness out of the ride and the bike can feel super wallowy to throw around. We ended up running about 15psi more than the chart recommended, and so far we’ve been running the fork’s high-speed compression adjuster in its middle setting for more support.

Can I run these on my normal bike?

Sure, why not? We think loads of riders would appreciate the extra stiffness. The only difference externally between this fork and a regular FOX is the sticker telling you it’s optimised for e.

E-bike optimised forks are available in loads of configurations: FOX 34 in 27.5 or 29, in both Performance and Factory guises, 110-150mm travel options; or FOX 36 in Factory only, with 130-170mm travel.

Merida One-Forty 800 First Impressions

Merida One-Forty: the right tool.

When you want to carve up a turkey, you don’t use a spoon. And when you want to rip a trail, you don’t want some flim-flammy noodle cycle. You want a bike with purpose and guts. Maybe it’s just the colour which gives it the appearance of a piece of mining equipment, but the new Merida One-Forty 800 screams ‘tough as nails’ – it looks like the right tool for the job.

Unashamedly yellow-bellied. We like the purposeful feel of this bike.

The One-Forty 800 applies the successful Float Link suspension design and frame layout found on the One-Sixty platform (which we reviewed here) in a slightly shorter travel package. It’s a no fuss machine – 100% alloy, with the cash spent wisely to deliver excellent components for the $3999 price tag.

There’s something very reassuring about the way this bike is assembled. It feels stout and strong, but throw it on the scales and the weight isn’t over the top, 13.59kg. There’s sure to be a carbon version of this bike on the way.

The lower shock mount isn’t fixed to the mainframe, but ‘floats’.

Smart, tough components.

We like the way Merida have approached the rolling gear  – 29mm-wide rims, shod in 2.6″ Maxxis rubber (though it’s lamentable that the rims don’t come taped and sealed for tubeless use!). 2.6″ rubber is becoming the norm for aggressive trail bikes, and this Maxxis combo looks very good indeed.

2.6″ Maxxis tyres front and rear. The use of a Minion DHR up front is an interesting choice.

Up front, the new RockShox Revelation is inspired by the Pike, with 35mm legs. It’s a huge improvement over previous versions of this fork. And of course, the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain is a real highlight.

Finally, the Revelation is a serious trail bike fork, with 35mm stanchions.

For some reason, this bike has us really excited. And not just us – a lot of people have commented on it already, in the short period of time we’ve had our hands on it. Can it deliver where it counts?

Trek Powerfly 7 FS: First Impressions

Hooley dooley, it looks like a fire truck. What’s the Trek Powerfly 7 FS about?

The Trek Powerfly FS is the e-bike e-quivalent of the Trek Fuel, in terms of suspension travel and intended usage. It runs 130mm travel at both ends, but rather than the 29″ wheels found on the Fuel, the Powerfly rolls on 27.5″ wheels with 2.8″ Schwalbe rubber. Plus sized rubber is pretty common in the e-bike world, giving you the grip to make the most of the power on tap.

Check out the bumpers on the down tube to protect the frame from the fork crowns. The tradeoff for the huge down tube is massive stiffness.

While we’re starting to see more and more long-travel e-bikes, this one is intended as an all-round trail bike. Trek do have a more aggro version of the Powerfly too, the LT, but it’s not available in Australia yet. Insert face-palm and crying face emojis here.

The Schwalbe 2.8″ Nobby Nics are setup tubeless and feel pretty tough in the sidewalls actually.

What’s under the hood?

Bosch have been given the job of making you feel invincible on the climbs. The Performance CX Line 250W motor is a mountain bike specific unit with gobs of power and a 500 amH battery, which is nestled nicely in the down tube.

The Bosch system has an e-MTB specific drive mode too, which automatically alters the power output to suit your pedalling forces, rather than forcing you to toggle between power modes. We actually tested this mode out a few months ago on a Bosch e-bike demo day, read about it here.

We swapped the fork out. Sorry Trek.

The Powerfly 7FS comes with a basic RockShox Recon fork. Ermahgawd… We understand that a motor ain’t cheap, but this is still a $6500 bike, it should not come with a fork that is commonly found on a $1200 hardtail.

We have fitted a FOX 34 e-bike optimised fork.

We didn’t even leave the workshop till we’d swapped the Recon out for something more appropriate, taking this opportunity to try out one of FOX’s new e-bike optimised numbers. These get a stiffer chassis than a conventional FOX 34 and a damper tune that was originally intended for the bigger hits of Enduro racing, which is what you really want with the extra weight and speed of an e-bike.

The Trek Fuel series is a long-standing favourite of ours, so we’re looking forward to seeing how it goes with a little bit of battery behind it! Stay tuned.

Wheelworks Flite Apex Enduro: Value Conscious Wheels on Review

What are they?

The Flite Apex Enduro are a $1080 ($1200 NZ) set of wheels using 30mm wide DT Swiss 511 rims, Wheelwork’s Dial hubs and round-section double-butted DT Swiss spokes. The weight is a reasonable 1922g, there’s lifetime warranty on spokes and nipples, and you’re able to customise the colours of the stickers to match your sweet ride, we opted for the green decals of our glossy black Specialized Enduro for a bit of pop and dazzle.

Ever wanted a genuinely well-built pair of wheels?

But what makes a Wheelworks wheelset a valid option for an upgrade is the build process that they pride themselves on. You can read all about the Wheelworks wheel building process in our interview with Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas. We truly recommend you have a read, as there are some pretty interesting aspects to the process and Tristan does a great job of dispelling some popular myths about wheels.

Swapping out the stock Specialized wheels didn’t drop any grams but after one or two rides the bike certainly felt more responsive, stiffer and the rear hub far more engaging.

Stay tuned for more as we put some hard hours on the wheelset over summer!

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

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

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

What are we aiming to do here?

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

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

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


Once was 11, now we’re 12.

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

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


What now?

Let’s ride!

Tested: SD Components Dynamic Volume Chamber

What is the SD Components DVC?

The SD Components DVC is an Australian designed and made piece of kit, designed to improve the performance of your fork by giving you more control over the spring curve. At present, it’ll fit RockShox Pike, Lyrik, BoXXer and 2018 Revelation forks, along with the FOX 36 too.

It replaces the token/spacer system found in the forks listed above with a sealed, secondary air chamber, the pressure of which can be adjusted externally with a shock pump.

Fitting it is as simple as unthreading the old top cap, and threading in the DVC using the supplied laser-cut stainless steel tool. You adjust the main air spring via the valve number 1, while valve number 2 controls the progressivity.

Remove the old top cap, pop in the DVC. Easy!

What’s the idea here?

You’re likely familiar with the token or spacer system found in most new RockShox and FOX forks, where adding or removing spacers changes the fork’s air spring volume and therefore its progressiveness. The DVC takes this to another level, allowing you to make precise tweaks to the spring curve.

The DVC comes with a neat stainless steel pin spanner to install the kit.

The DVC isn’t just about providing ease of adjustment – it provides more flexibility over the fork’s performance, allowing greater independent control over the beginning and end-stroke.

The pressure in the main air chamber dictates the fork’s sag and the performance for the first half of the stroke, the pressure in the second chamber controls the level of mid-stroke support and the bottom-out resistance. Fine tuning the pressures of the two chambers allows you to really alter the fork’s feel.

One valve for the main air chamber, one for the secondary.

Why is it superior to a spacer system?

With a spacer system, you’re physically changing the volume of the main air spring, and as such any spacer changes, therefore, do necessarily have an impact on the fork’s initial bump performance. It’s a fairly rudimentary system really.

The Bottomless Tokens look pretty basic in comparison.

With the DVC, the volume of the main air spring is not impacted, no matter what pressure you have in the second air chamber. The second chamber only comes into play once an impact causes the pressure in the main air spring to exceed the pressure in the secondary chamber. As such, you’ve got genuinely independent control over these two aspects of the fork’s performance (beginning and end-stroke).

What did you fit it to?

We ran the DVC in a 170mm-travel RockShox Lyrik on the front of our Commencal Meta AM test bike. There was about a 20g weight penalty compared to the original Lyrik top cap with two Bottomless Tokens fitted.

One point worth noting is that the two valves are pretty prominent. On our bike, there were no clearance issues between the valves and the down tube, but on some bikes, with chunky, straight down tubes (like the new Treks) this could potentially be an issue.

How did it go?

Superb. Over the course of a few rides, we made fine adjustments, experimenting with small changes to the two chambers till we hit the sweet spot we liked. We wanted to maximise traction, so for a 65kg rider, we ended up with a main air spring pressure of only 43psi and with a touch over 80psi in the secondary chamber.

This netted a ridiculously smooth initial stroke, but with great support and bottom out resistance. With such a low pressure in the main air spring, the small bump performance was brilliant, giving a notably grippier front end in loose conditions.

If we’d wanted a stiffer mid-stroke, we could add a little pressure to the main air chamber. If a more linear feel was what we were after, dropping a few psi out of the second chamber would be the answer. We can see how useful this item would be for really heavy or very lightweight riders too, people who often struggle to get the setup they’re after.

So is it worth investing?

At $260, the DVC is not a cheap item, especially considering the stock RockShox/FOX volume spacer system works pretty effectively as it stands. The other consideration is that most people will find a fork setup that works for them and then rarely vary it.

On the other hand, there will be plenty of people out there who love to tweak, twiddle and fiddle, trying to get the absolute best out of their suspension, and the DVC definitely makes this process both easier and more precise. Enduro or downhill racers who are looking for the edge and who find themselves faced with changing conditions will certainly fall into this category.

First Impressions: FOX 36 vs RockShox Lyrik

The FOX 36 changed the game forever, bringing performance and stiffness that rivalled many downhill forks to a single-crown package. With its then jaw-dropping 36mm stanchions it was unlike anything else on the market. Over a decade later, the 36mm legs remain – it really was leagues ahead of its time. We reviewed the 2015 version of this fork too – have a look here. We’ve got the top-shelf Factory version here, all glossy and lustrous with its Kashima coat legs.

The RockShox Lyrik is a relative new comer. It’s a direct evolution of RockShox Pike, which itself has proven the second most influential single-fork in this market segment, after the FOX 36. It shares the same 35mm stanchions and damper as the Pike, it has a more robust chassis to give it the kind of stiffness demanded by the Enduro market now. We reviewed the 2016 version recently and we were blown away by the way it chewed up terrain like a full-on downhill fork. Our test fork is the premium RCT3 model.

We’ve going to be running these forks on our Commencal Meta AM 4.2 long-term test bike – we’ve got them both in a 170mm travel version, with Boost hub spacing. On paper there’s very little between these forks. Let’s take a look at them now.


FOX 36 vs RockShox Lyrik:

Chassis and appearance:

With its 36mm legs and characteristically girthy lowers that have always been an attribute of the 36, the FOX definitely looks like the beefier fork, ready for a pounding. The Lyrik is a little more svelte. Black is a slimming colour of course, and the Maxle Stealth axle and lower profile rebound adjuster give it a cleaner looks than the FOX.

Axles:

Our Lyrik has the Maxle Stealth axle setup. It requires a 6mm Allen key, but looks super slick and won’t snag up on rocks. You’ll notice the large axle recesses on the Lyrik – these are for Torque Cap hubs, made by SRAM, which have a larger interface between the fork and hub. The FOX runs their QR15 axle setup, for neat tool-free wheel removal.

Weight:

There’s sweet FA difference here. With the steerers both cut to 185mm and with a star nut installed, the Lyrik weighs in at 1998g, while the 36 is 2027g.

Dampers:

Both forks’ dampers offer essentially the same adjustments. The FIT4 damper found in the FOX has a three position compression dial (open, medium or firm) along with low-speed compression adjustment that only effects the fork when it’s in the Open compression setting.  The Lyrik’s RTC3 damper mirrors the FOX – you’ve got three compressions modes, again with low-speed compression adjustment.

Air spring:

FOX has just introduced the EVOL air spring concept (previously found in their rear shocks) into their forks for 2018. There’s a larger negative air spring than previous generations, which makes for more sensitivity and less breakaway friction. The DebonAir air spring in the Lyrik purports to do the same thing – smooth off the top, more ramp at the end stroke.

To assist setup, both forks have a recommended pressure guide on the lowers, to give you a ball park air pressure to work with. The sag gradients marked on the Lyrik’s leg are super useful in this regard too.

In addition, both forks offer you spring curve adjustment via a token system – adding or removing spacers physically changes the air volume. We’ll begin testing both forks with two spacers/tokens in each as a starting point.

Axle to crown: 

While both of these forks have 170mm travel, the FOX has a slightly longer axle-to-crown measurement of 570mm vs 560mm on the RockShox. Something to keep in mind if you’re particular about stack height. Ok, enough waffle. Let’s get these onto the bike!

Tested: Scott Contessa Genius 720 2018

After a month on the Scott Contessa, the bike really lives up to its name. It’s a beauty that inspires fun. It may be an aluminium bike but it doesn’t feel like a second-tier bike, it delivers maximum fun for minimum bank roll. If you’re in the market for a new trail / Enduro bike, this should definitely be on the shortlist.


Watch National Enduro Champ Izzy Flint razz her Scott Contessa Genius on the trails of Blue Derby.


How did the Contessa Genius feel on the trail?

The Scott Contessa gave us the feeling of an old reliable friend. One of those people you’ve known for a long time; they’re dependable, don’t let you down and require little effort to maintain the friendship. Riding the Contessa Genius felt like this. It just did what it was supposed to do. We didn’t feel the need to make a lot of modifications to the bike and it was perfectly balanced for a really predictable ride. It just felt simple, easy and fun.


The new Genius frame shape is super compact, ideal for shorter riders.

Scott Contessa Genius 720 Frame Details

Interestingly, while the men’s Genius is available in 29er or 27.5 formats, the Contessa is 27.5″ only.

What is the Contessa Genius built for?

With 150mm suspension front and rear it is a real all rounder in the trail / Enduro category. In Scott’s words it’s made for “Any trail, Any time”. Our bike was running 27.5″ wheels with big 2.8″ rubber for huge amounts of traction, but you can also fit 29″ wheels if you prefer the feel of a larger wheel. That adaptability is pretty cool, though we can’t imagine many people will have a second set of wheels to take advantage of this ability. Interestingly, while the men’s Genius is available in 29er or 27.5 formats, the Contessa is 27.5″ only.

The Contessa Genius comes stock with 27.5+ tyres, but you can fit a 29er wheel if you prefer.

For 2018 Scott have given the Genius a total makeover. You can read all the details here, or in our Contessa Genius 720 First Impressions piece. For women riders though, one of the benefits is a super low standover height now, with the new frame shape.

It’s not super light, being an aluminium model – it comes in at 13.4kg – and while we could feel the weight a bit on the ups, it’s not a slug.


Scott have given the Contessa’s shock a lighter tune than the men’s Genius.

Scott Contessa Genius 720 Spec Details

So what makes it a women’s specific model?

This bike has exactly the same frame and geometry as the men’s Scott Genius. The contact points that are different (740mm bar, 40mm stem and a women’s saddle), the rear shock has a lighter tune, and the chain ring is two teeth smaller than the men’s bike, with a 30-tooth.

The frame and geometry is the same as the men’s Genius, but the contact points like the saddle, grips and bar are women’s items.

In order to get the dropper lever where we felt comfortable accessing it, we had to rotate the whole Twin Loc assembly backward quite a lot, which made it hard to get at the lockout lever.

Any pre-ride mods?

It was literally a set the sag and go have fun kind of set up. Sweet hey. The FOX Nude EVOL Trunnion rear shock comes with a Contessa custom tune. We’re not sure exactly what they did, but it felt perfect to us, and was easy to get dialled in.

We spent a bit of time try to get the position of the Twin Loc and dropper post lever right for our hands too, which we’ll get into more below.

We even hit up some new jump trails that we’d never ridden previously and it didn’t disappoint, soaking up everything we chucked at it.


We took the Contessa Genius on all our local, rocky trails.

Where did we ride it?

Over a four week period we took it to our local trails – Enduro style trails with rocky sections, fast corners, drops and jumps – to get a good feel of the bike on familiar and technical terrain. We even hit up some new jump trails that we’d never ridden previously and it didn’t disappoint, soaking up everything we chucked at it.


Standout ride qualities

The best thing about this bike is the playful and fun feel. It’s easy to throw around, has great traction and feels super balanced to ride. It felt great cornering and in particular was enjoyable on drops and jumps – the sizing had that right balance of stability and manoeuvrability. The bike felt amazing in the air; it pops nicely and is predictable. If you’re an experienced rider, or just keen to start jumping we recommend this bike for air time.


With the Twin Loc set to the 100mm mode, the Genius climbs nicely.

Climbing on the Contessa Genius

The Contessa Genius comes with a pretty unique lock out system, Twin Loc, which places the lockout lever for both rear shock and the fork on the bars within reach of your thumb. The rear shock has three modes: 150mm-travel, 100mm-travel and full lock out, with the fork’s compression also adjusted at the same time.

One of the first things we noticed about the Scott Genius was the excellent pedal clearance when climbing. With the Twin Loc engaged to 100mm-travel mode, the bottom bracket is lifted. Riding up technical terrain and being able to pedal through steep rock features enhanced the ride compared to other bikes in this category.

SRAM Eagle’s massive gear range is a game changer.

We did struggle a little bit with the ergonomics of the Twin Loc system. The dropper lever and Twin Loc lever are all integrated into one clamp and you can’t adjust the position of the levers separately. For our test rider, who has small hands, it was tough to get at both dropper and Twin Loc levers, we had to favour access to the dropper as it was used more often, and the TwinLoc system we rotated to a position where it was quite hard to access

Plenty of cables up front!

Features we dig

The Syncros Trail Fender is fully integrated and super cool. It is designed to work specifically with Fox 34 and clips directly onto the fork with a 2-bolt direct mount. No more cable ties nor mud in your eyes.

The Maxxis Rekon+ tires are a nice addition to the bike to inspire confidence and stability, and that white wall retro look is a winner. Often the first thing we swap out on a new bike are the tires, however we we’re super keen to try the Rekon+ and they worked really well on the Genius. They are a plus tire and have a tread pattern with angled centre tread for braking, coupled with a raised shoulder area for cornering – meaning they both roll and grip well. They didn’t feel slow or sluggish in the least.

The Syncros fender is so neat! Much cleaner than having to zip tie a fender on.

The bike also has SRAM’s new GX Eagle. Not only a thing of beauty, it came in very handy on a few steep climbs on our local trails, with super low climbing gears. While we understand why Scott went for a small 30-tooth ring, we’d still prefer a 32-tooth.We had the feeling on climbs of being either in too easy or too heavy a gear, and couldn’t quite find the sweet spot with the 30-tooth.

With the new suspension layout, there is lots of water bottle space, something often missing on small-framed bikes, which is a nice luxury for days without a pack.

Plenty of room for a water bottle there too.

Sizing

The size small was perfect for our tester’s height at 163cm, although we felt on the cusp of moving to a bigger size. The small was easy to throw around, but a medium could also have worked for our tester.

The size chart shows the small fame going up to around 173cm and medium starting for someone of 168cm. Sizing is really personal preference, but we think that if you are much taller than 165cm the small would feel a bit cramped in the cockpit.

At 163cm, our test rider was on a size small, but could stretch to a medium.

Final thoughts on the Contessa Genius?

Who doesn’t want a beautiful Italian Contessa? This bike is a real winner. It looks awesome and rides awesome, with excellent balance and all-rounder handling. We’d ideally like to see some tweaks to the Twin Loc system for riders with smaller hands like our tester, but that’s a minor gripe. Overall, this is a top trail bike that really does come close to that ideal do-it-all steed and is pretty decent value too.

RockShox Pike, The New Generation: Upcoming Review

Since the RockShox Lyrik came onto the scene to handle bikes with upwards of around 160mm travel, the RockShox Pike can now refocus entirely on the all-mountain/trail segment. With that in mind, the designers of the new Pike were able to make some legitimate improvements.

The fork that had a significant impact on the suspension game has lifted its own game.

RockShox Pike 2018: Lighter, leaner, ripped.

150g has shaved off the outgoing Pike without losing any stiffness, not bad at all! The new chassis looks visibly entirely different upon closer inspection the lower legs and crown look very lean. With thicker upper tubes, the fork retains the desired amount of stiffness, but make sure you only use the new slightly smaller grey coloured Bottomless Tokens in the new fork instead of the older red ones when tuning the air spring volume.

The new Pike’s chassis is visibly leaner than the previous model.

Boost only, Plus compatible all around.

By offering the new Pike in a Boost 110mm wide axle, the engineers were able to maximise the weight saving by focussing on manufacturing just the one lower chassis. There are available in both wheel sizes though and can accept up to 2.8″ tyres found on plus size bikes.

Boost axle width only, but compatible with up to 2.8″ tyres.
180mm and up. The Pike is a direct mount for 180mm rotors; the FOX 34 can accept a 160mm rotor, and needs an adaptor for 180.

Clearance updated because everything is so big nowadays.

With the boost hubs pushing the width of the overall forks out, and many frame designs becoming pretty bulky with large tubing – take a look at the Trek Remedy for example – another focus with the new fork is to increase clearance, hence a new super-low profile top cap.

The new air assembly upper uses a low profile cap and fixed with a cassette tool fitting.

Updated damper to increase performance.

The Charger 2 damper comes out of years of refinement and development of designing air springs to match the forks intended use and the three compression modes are more ‘useable’. With a remote option available also.


New Debonair spring for better feel and spring rates for trail riding.

The new Debonair is said to feel more supple but not in any way is it a short travel downhill fork, the ride is said to feel more sporty and lively. We’ll find out soon!


Price and weight?

Pike RCT3 DebonAir Boost Charger 2  – $1,299.95

Pike RCT3 DebonAir Remote Boost Charger 2 – $1,399.95

We put our test fork on the scales complete with the quick release Maxle and a cut 50mm steer tube and star nut fitted – 1.86kg


ShockWiz-it!

To help us with setup, we’ve cracked out the ShockWiz; this little data analysis thing is pretty amazing, read more about it here: Quark ShockWiz.

The nifty suspension setup tool – Quark ShockWiz.

Fox 34 vs RockShox Pike?

We are comparing the two big guns of the mountain bike world, head to head. We’ve spent some time on the FOX 34 already, and it’s pretty slick!

We’ll be fitting the two forks to our Norco Sight long term test bike, check it out here: Norco Sight.

The big showdown begins! Fox 34 vs RockShox Pike.

The FOX comes in touch lighter than the Pike at 1.78kg with a QR axle, 150mm steerer and star nut fitted and is priced a bit higher than the Pike we have at $1379.

Let’s ride!

First Impressions: 2018 Canyon Torque

Bikes like the Commencal Supreme SX and the Polygon Square One are carving out a new future for the 180mm bike with the help of lighter frames and componentry, combined with today’s wide range gearing.

Now there’s a new kid joining the 180mm club, the reinvented Canyon Torque.

The Torque is a lean looking 180mm bike.


What’s New?

The Canyon Torque forms part of Canyon’s new ‘family’ of bikes consisting of the Spectral, Torque and Sender. All of these bikes share the same ‘three-stage’ suspension design and philosophy (and we expect the 160mm Strive will receive an update at some point in 2018) that we covered in depth in our first impressions piece on the all-new Spectral.

The Canyon Torque forms part of Canyon’s new ‘family’ of bikes consisting of the Spectral, Torque and Sender.

Fabien Barel floating through the Madeira singletrack aboard the new Torque.

The Torque fits in between the enduro race focused Strive and the Sender downhill bike, pairing 175mm of rear travel to a 180mm fork. With these numbers, there’s no doubt the Torque is aimed squarely at riders who live for the descent and be it by choice or necessity they pedal their way to the top.

Long descents are very much what the Torque is about.

So, how does the bike ride?

The new Canyon Torque does what it says on the box, which is a very good thing.

Our first day on the Torque was a complete washout (literally) with regards to testing the bike, as we slid our way down (sometimes on the bike, sometimes not) Madeira’s most technical trails in absolutely torrential rain.

While we battled our way through the day, Joe Barnes didn’t seem to have any issues.

On the second day, however, we got to open the throttle up a bit more, and the bike came into its element. The rear suspension is incredibly supple off the top, providing traction and support, but the mid stroke provides just enough pop for the bike to ride more playfully than its 175mm of travel might suggest.

The stable mid-stroke means the bike doesn’t wallow in its 175mm of travel.

As we discussed in our first impressions piece on the Spectral, the progressiveness of the ‘three-stage’ suspension is truly exceptional, and we couldn’t bottom the Torque out running 30 percent sag, even on some big, nasty and flat landings on the most hectic of trails.

The Torque really shone riding wide open, technical trails, where its active suspension and forgiving geometry allowed you to make a mistake after mistake and still ride out.

Where the bike struggled a touch was in super tight terrain and European style switchbacks, where its slack geometry and long legs could feel a bit vague if you were trying to snap the bike through tight corners quickly, or pivot on the front end to get around a tight switchback.

The Torque requires a fair bit of body language to manoeuvre in tight terrain.

While the Torque is impressively playful for a 180mm bike, it does lack some of the poppy character of its shorter travel Spectral sibling, and riding the two bikes back to back affirmed that you need some demanding trails or an ultra-aggressive riding style to get the most out of this bike.

The Torque really shone riding wide open, technical trails, where its active suspension and forgiving geometry allowed you to make a mistake after mistake and still ride out.


Is the Torque a total pig uphill?

Surprisingly not. While you won’t be taking the victory in your local XC series aboard the Torque, the bike climbs very well considering its long legs.

The Torque’s geometry is aggressive, but not totally out there.

For all but the most technical of climbs we would engage the shock’s lockout, as well as firming up the forks, and we wouldn’t mind if the seat tube was a touch steeper, however we were climbing up roads with a locked-out fork, and climbing off road with the fork open would put you more over the front when the fork sags.

All in all though, with the compression levers engaged there’s only a hint more bob than you might find on a 150mm bike.


What models are available?

There are seven Torque models available in total, with four aluminium models and three models featuring a carbon front end mated to an aluminium rear.

The Torque CF 9.0 Pro

We rode an aluminium frame adorned with top of the line components for the majority of the launch. However the cheaper models come with 11 speed drivetrains and 32 tooth chainrings.

The Torque AL5 is the cheapest model in the range.

We think that perhaps this gearing might be a touch steep if you’ll be riding up steep access roads as the weight will creep up on the lower end models, but swapping out to a 30 or 28 tooth chainring isn’t too much of an issue.

All models feature a threaded bottom bracket.

We rode both an aluminium Torque as well as the CF frameset, and for us, there was only the slightest discernible amount of increased frame rigidity in the CF model. We later asked Fabien Barel about this, and he said there are stiffness gains there, as well as the obvious weight savings, but the large majority of riders wouldn’t be able to perceive the difference in feeling between the two front triangles.

We’re excited to see the Canyon Torque land in Australia. It’s the kind of bike we’re itching to rail down those tough descents that can only be accessed by leg power.

First Impressions: Vittoria Morsa 29×2.3″ Tyres

First impressions?

This tread definitely looks promising. The siped side knobs are reminiscent of a Maxxis Minion DHF, and the lower profile centre tread that reminds us of a Specialized Purgatory, both of which are which are great tyres, so that’s a good starting point.

The tyre is tubeless ready of course. The sidewall recommends a minimum tubeless pressure of 29psi, which is much higher than we’d usually run, so we’ll see how that plays out.


What’s special about it?

The big selling point with this tyre lies in the compounding. There are four different rubber compounds used in the tread layup,  to provide the right blend of support, protection and compliance, as well as the magic ingredient of graphene. Don’t worry, we had to Google it too. Most of what we read went over our heads, but the key point is that it’s super strong (200 time stronger than steel apparently) but also perfectly flexible.

So, nutshell here, the use of graphene apparently allows Vittoria to make a tyre that is durable and fast rolling but without resorting to using hard, inflexible rubber compounds to achieve that longevity. It’ll definitely be a good trick if it works as promised on the can! The compound certainly feels nice and malleable – let’s see how it likes a bit of punishment from Sydney sandstone.

Size options? 

We’re running the 29 x 2.3″, but there are options for 27.5 wheels as well, with a 2.3″ or whopping 2.8″ widths. Our tyres tip the scales at a reasonably heavy 935g, but they do have a pretty robust looking sidewall which bodes well for resistance to damage. Expect a full write up soon once we’ve logged some miles,

Tested: Polygon Siskiu T8

Watch the full video review! 


It’s a sharp looking whip!

What am I looking at here?

This is a thoroughly modern trail bike, made affordable. You can grab the Siskiu with either 29″ or 27.5″ wheels, with 140mm or 150mm respectively, though depending on your frame size you might only have one option. In a size small, it’s 27.5” only, sorry shorties. In a size medium you can get either wheel option, while in a size large or XL, it’s 29er only. We’ve been riding a size medium in 29er.

Modern geometry, internal cabling, Boost hub spacing… what’s the catch?

Where can I see one?

This is where it’s a bit tricky. Polygon are sold online, direct to consumer here in Australia, so waltzing down to your local shop for a carpark bounce won’t happen. The bike is shipped to you 99% assembled, requiring just a few things to be done before you head to the trails. For some people, this will be a deal breaker, but it’s the price you pay for not paying much of a price, if you get our drift. The bike does come with a money back 14-day test ride period.

This is a thoroughly modern trail bike, made affordable.

The 1×11 drivetrain has an 11-46 tooth Sunrace cassette, paired with Shimano XT/SLX shifting.
A short 50mm stem and 760mm bar, both are from Polygon’s in-house brand Entity.

All the fundamentals are there.

On paper, Polygon have nailed it. Modern geometry? Tick, it’s got the geometry numbers that stack up nicely with the competition, and the dropouts have Boost spacing too. A confidence inspiring front end? Yep, there’s a 35mm-legged fork, and a wide bar and short stem. Dropper post? Yes, a 150mm dropped is ready for the steep stuff. Good rims and rubber? Indeed, 29mm internal rims give a Schwalbe tyres good stability. A single-ring drivetrain? Yes, once again the Polygon is up to speed, with a 1×11 drivetrain using a wide range cassette.

Tranz X provide the 150mm-travel dropper post.

A few compromises.

To hit such a sharp price point and still deliver those items above, Polygon have saved a few bucks in some other areas – the crankset is from Prowheel for instance. The Tranz X dropper post isn’t one we’ve ridden before, and while it works nicely, the lever feels a bit flimsy.

The shifting performance of the XT rear mech is perfect, and we didn’t drop the chain either despite not having a chain guide.

It took us a couple of rides to find our groove with the Siskiu. Long story short, it’s a bike that has a sweet spot.

Shimano brakes, hassle-free and with a light, consistent lever feel.

It’s not overly refined either; the cables rattle inside the frame quite a lot (you can fix this by placing some foam rubber inside the frame), and the welds are a bit chunky. But, of course, none of these issues have a big impact on the way the bike rides.


That is the story on paper. But what about on the trail?

It took us a couple of rides to find our groove with the Siskiu. Long story short, it’s a bike that has a sweet spot. We found that suspension setup and tyre pressures made a big difference on this bike and until we got this right, it all felt a little chattery and tiring in the rough.

The Schwalbe Nobby Nics are a good tyre, but this hard compound version works much better once set up tubeless.

Tubeless first.

First up, we converted the Siskius wheels for tubeless use. You’ll need to add tubeless tape to the rims first as they’re not set up for tubeless use out of the box. This is a must-do. The Schwalbe tyres are a hard compound, so you really need to ditch the tubes and drop the pressures or they tend to skate around on hardback trails. A set of stickier tyres would be a great upgrade for this bike, helping glue it to the trails more firmly.

We ran the rear end with 30% sag, and took one Bottomless Token out of the fork (leaving one in place).

Get that suspension working for you.

In order to help get the bike feeling as smooth and composed as possible, we spent more time than usual making fine adjustments to the suspension. Ultimately, a softer suspension setup and a moderately fast rebound speed was the best approach for this bike. Set up like this, the suspension stays nice and active which helps the bike hold speed better in the rough and gave us a lot more grip in the corners. With the fork, we actually removed one Bottomless Token from the air spring and followed the recommended pressure guide on the fork leg. Again, this is a softer setup than we’d usually run, but it worked best for this bike.

Set up like this, the suspension stays nice and active which helps the bike hold speed better in the rough and gave us a lot more grip in the corners.

The seat angle is slack, so expect to push the seat forward a little to maintain a nice and central pedalling position.

Strong position.

Once we had all that sorted, the bike became a lot easier to get along with and suddenly we found our groove with the Siskiu and we began taking it to all our usual haunts, banging through the rocks around Flow HQ. The riding position is great; the wide cockpit and stout fork put you in a strong and commanding position, encouraging you to take control, and 140mm travel will get you out of trouble most times. It’s exactly the kind of feeling you want if you’re an intermediate rider losing to push your skills to the next level.

The recently updated Revelation from RockShox is inspired by the Pike – the 35mm legs and stiff chassis are a huge leap ahead from the older version.

Impressive efficiency.

Given the price, the sub-14kg weight is pretty damn good. Pedalling performance was a surprise standout element for us too – it’s a really stable pedalling bike. The shock has a three compression settings (open, firm and locked) but we rarely flicked it out of the open position. It’s certainly happy to trundle through a few hours on the trail without draining you too much – it’s way more efficient in this regard than we expected.

The Entity saddle is called the Assault. Interesting name. But it’s comfy.

Pedalling performance was a surprise standout element for us too – it’s a really stable pedalling bike.

Niggles?

There’s a fair bit of cable rattle going on, and there aren’t any water bottle mounts. The seat angle is slack too, and we needed to push the saddle forward in the seat clamp to feel like we were in a good position over the cranks. Tall riders with a lot of seat post out might find themselves pushed out over the rear wheel quite a long way.

13.78kg is pretty good for an alloy framed trail bike with good-sized tyres and 29″ wheels!

Hard to top for this money.

This is exactly the kind of bike that’s going to make mountain biking (real mountain biking, not just cruising in the bush) accessible to a much bigger audience. Three grand is eminently more achievable than five or six grand, and the compromises this bike makes to hit such a good price point really are quite minimal.

This is exactly the kind of bike that’s going to make mountain biking accessible to a much bigger audience.

Once you’ve invested the time to get the suspension set up perfectly (and maybe added some stickier rubber once the stock tyres are worn out) you’ve got a bike that comes very close to matching the performance of bikes with much higher ticket prices.


Looking for other Polygon reviews?

Tested: Polygon XQUARONE EX9

Tested: Polygon Collosus N9 2016

Tested: Polygon Collosus DH9 2016

Tested: Polygon Siskiu D8

All-Mountain Assassin: The Polygon Collosus N9

Tested: Polygon Recon 4

First Impressions: 2018 Canyon Spectral

Introducing the all-new Canyon Spectral, a hard-hitting 27.5” trail bike combining a 140mm rear end with 150mm of travel up front, a whole host of changes from the previous model, and excellent value.

We’ve just spent a few days on the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal riding the new bike, and here’s what we thought!

The chart-topping Spectral CF 9.0 LTD – $9999 AUD.

What’s New?

Just about everything! Starting with the frame, the linkage system has seen a complete overhaul, with new pivot placements and a horizontal shock orientation that puts the Spectral in line with a new ‘family’ of Canyon bikes.

There is a trick new cable housing system we’ve not seen before, a new rear hub axle concept, a funky storage system, great water carrying facilities and a wallet-friendly aluminium versions too.

We’ll go into this new ‘family’ of bikes in an upcoming article, but essentially the Spectral’s linkage design has been altered to allow for what they call ‘Triple Phase’ suspension kinematics, a system that was initially derived from the development of their Sender downhill bike.

Triple Phase suspension kinematics, according to Canyon, is the combination of a sensitive initial stroke for small bump sensitivity, a stable mid stroke for support and a progressive end stroke to provide a bottomless feel.

The ‘Triple Phase Suspension’ design has, you guessed it, three phases.

The redesigned linkage and kinematics also provides high levels of anti-squat and anti-rise, meaning pedal bob is controlled and brake jack is minimised, a double win for Canyon on this one!

As a side benefit, standover clearance has been increased in every size due to the horizontal shock mounting.

In terms of standards, the Spectral is equipped with a metric shock, and boost spacing front and rear.

We’ve also spent a lot of time on the outgoing Spectral – Read our reviews here: Spectral CF 9.0 EX and Spectral AL 7.0 EX.


27.5” wheels and 2.6” tyres?

Bucking the trend of longer travel 29” bikes of late, Canyon decided on 27.5” wheels and ‘almost’ plus 2.6” tyres for the new Spectral.

Smaller wheels were chosen for more agile handling.

The 27.5” wheels contribute to the spritely handling Canyon wanted to achieve with this bike, and Canyon found 2.6” rubber to be the right balance between traction and avoiding the squirminess that can sometimes occur with plus-sized rubber.

Joe Barnes threads the needle through the slippery Madeiran singletrack.

A new era for cable integration, frame and bearing protection

As well as overhauling the Spectral’s linkage design and suspension kinematics, there are a number of small but impressive details featured on the new bike.

Canyon’s impact protection unit makes a return, a system that prevents your controls from mashing into your top tube in the event of a crash by locking out the steering before the handlebar overlaps the top tube.

The integration cable channel is a new idea that’s so simple it makes you wonder why nobody’s done it before. Canyon’s solution to the debate between internal and external cable routing, the cable integration channel combines the simplicity of external cables with the clean aesthetic of internal routing.

Canyon’s solution to the debate between internal and external cable routing.

This is done via a cover running the whole way along the downtube, with individual cable channels that house the dropper post, rear derailleur and brake cables. There’s also a channel for a front derailleur cable if you’re planning on summiting Everest aboard the Spectral. As a secondary feature, the channel also doubles as downtube protection.

The integration seat tube clamp reminds us of a similar system used by Whyte, where the clamp bolt is also integrated into the frame, allowing for a rubber grommet to be placed over where the seatpost enters the seat tube to prevent water ingress. Pulling off the grommet at the end of one of the muddiest days on the bike we’ve ever had revealed no moisture.

Another very intelligent feature of the new Spectral is the bearing caps used for the main pivot bearings, and additional bearings seals throughout.

Tested in the Scottish mud.

Joe Barnes was critical in the development of this feature, and he trialled running one side of his bike with a standard bearing cap, and another with the bolted-on cover, and the result was that the covered bearing still spun after months of abuse in the brutal Scottish mud, whilst the exposed bearing had almost completely seized.


The Eject ‘system’ and Frame Case:

Whilst there’s a lot of taking the mickey when it comes to haphazardly taping everything you need for a ride onto your bike, there are many riders out there who don’t want to go for a ride with the kitchen sink hanging off their back.

Canyon has listened to those riders, and the Spectral is compatible with their new ‘Eject’ water bottle system. Whilst at first, we thought the labelling of a water bottle as a ‘system’ was somewhat amusing, the Eject really is another innovative idea from the crafty Germans.

We absolutely love this. Unfortunately, our bikes weren’t kitted out with the Eject system, but we’re itching to try it back home.

The Eject is a bottle cage holder that has two offset cages holding two 400ml water bottles. The system was originally developed so that extra small and small frames could fit a water bottle, but testers loved the fact that you could run two bottles with two separate liquids, as well as take 800ml of fluid out on a ride, so Canyon will be offering the system with all Spectral purchases, as well as separately in the near future.

The Eject is a bottle cage holder that has two offset cages holding two 400ml water bottles.

The frame case is reminiscent of the external SWAT box found on some Specialized models, however, Canyon’s equivalent is mounted in the junction between the top and down tube, and has enough space for a spare tube, C02 cartridge and tyre levers.

The Frame Case utilises the same space as Josh Carlson’s custom “the frother” frame bag.

What model did we ride? 

We tested the Spectral CF 9.0 SL model on the simply stunning Madeiran singletrack.

Another tough day at the office.

This is a bike absolutely dripping with bling, and as such our bike hit the scales at just over 12kg for an XL without pedals, an impressive figure considering the frame’s beefy chassis and 2.6” rubber.

This model is one of two models featuring the SLX frameset, Canyon’s full carbon offering. A further three models pair a carbon front end with an aluminium rear, and there are also three aluminium models on offer.

Our bike hit the scales at just over 12kg for an XL without pedals.

The Spectral was easy to pick up and play with on the trail.

So, how does it ride?

Our six foot one tester found himself in between a large and extra-large frameset, and on the advice of one Fabien Barel went with the larger frame for the increased stability when tackling the long and rough Madeiran descents.

Similar to our Canyon Strive long term test bike, the Spectral features a fairly long front centre combined with a compact rear end, which according to Canyon offers straight-line stability whilst still retaining the ability to pop onto the rear wheel for a manual, or whip the rear end through a set of turns.

When Fabien Barel talks, we listen.
Joe giving his Spectral some back wheel loving.

We found their rationale to be pretty much spot on. On an XL frame with a 482mm reach and 430mm chainstays, we were able to point and shoot through some pretty nasty sections, but through the back-to-back rutted corners on offer high in the Madeiran mountains, the bike didn’t feel too lengthy.

We did switch to the large sized frame during testing to compare the sizing, and whilst the shorter reach and wheelbase meant we could change direction a little easier in some situations, the overall capabilities of this bike would have us reaching for the larger size every time if we were in between sizes.

The overall capabilities of this bike would have us reaching for the larger size every time if we were in between sizes.


Who is this bike for?

Whilst we only had a couple of days on the bike, we were able to smash out run after run of almost every type of trail thanks to the crew at Freeride Madeira (if you’re planning a trip to Madeira, these are the guys that build, maintain and shuttle the trails every day – be sure to get in touch), and it became clear this bike is a potential quiver killer for many riders.

‘Fun’ was the word thrown around a lot, that is for certain.

Running 30% sag in the rear and the shock completely open, the bike tracked the ground impressively, with comfortable small bump sensitivity.

‘Fun’ was the word thrown around a lot, that is for certain.

The middle portion of the travel provided a firmer platform to push against when changing lines on the trail, preloading the bike for a jump or keeping the bike from diving through chunky rock gardens.

Introducing Ieuan Williams, one crazy Welshman.

As Canyon had told us, the end stroke was indeed progressive, as usually 30 percent sag in the rear on a 140mm bike would see us bottoming out on bigger hits, but we had some horrible flat landings aboard the Spectral that didn’t push through all of the travel, so the bottom out resistance is indeed exceptional.

This was also with the standard amount of volume spacers in the Fox Float shock, so for heavier riders, or those with a particularly rough riding style, adding an additional volume spacer should prevent bottoming even further whilst still being able to run the optimal amount of sag.

On the geometry side of things, while a 66-degree head angle is on the slacker side if you’re after a bike to do a bit of everything, the 74.5-degree seat tube angle keeps you in a fairly upright position for seated pedalling, and the smaller wheels are able to be whipped through tighter trails with a bit of body language, as well as accelerating quickly.

Getting back up to speed out of corners is a snack.

While we were riding a higher end model with a lightweight parts kit, the geometry and kinematics of the Spectral were impressive for a broad spectrum of riding, and it wouldn’t be a too sluggish a bike on less demanding trails.


Any complaints?

Whilst at the end of our two days aboard the Spectral we formed the opinion this is a bike that could easily serve as a do it all trail rig, we’re also aware not everyone’s pockets are deep enough to afford the SLX frameset adorned with top of the line componentry. We’ll be trying to get our hands on a more budget-friendly model in the near future to see if the added weight takes anything away from this impressive machine.

For fans of lively bikes with character, agility and confidence we think the new Spectral re-affirms its place again for 2018.

The Spectral AL 6 has a pretty dialled spec for just $3599 AUD.

One thing that we would love to see is a 29” model, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s coming down the pipeline, and we think Canyon’s single-minded focus on the 27.5” wheel size for the Spectral allowed them to really nail the design brief.

It’s time to get on the blower to Canyon Australia and secure one of these on home soil we reckon!

For the complete range, pricing and availability head to the Canyon site for more – www.canyon.com

Tested: Scott Genius 920 2018


The 2018 Genius is a very different machine to earlier models, borrowing heavily from the new Spark line up.

2018 sees the biggest leap yet for the Genius platform. With a brand new frame design, 150mm of travel, 29″ wheels with big rubber, and pretty laid back geometry, this latest Genius pushes the bike further away from its roots. The Genius platform began life with victory in the XC Marathon World Champs in 2003 under Thomas Frischknecht, but there’s no way anyone would opt to race this latest version in an event like that any more; it certainly sits at the aggressive end of the trail bike spectrum now.


So what changed for 2018?

It’s more a question of what didn’t! Firstly you’ve got an entirely new frame and suspension configuration. In its full carbon guise found on the higher end versions (this bike is carbon front, alloy rear) the frame weighs just over 2.2kg, it’s freakishly light for a 150mm-travel machine.

The front end has tonnes of standover height, but preserves space for full-sized water bottle.

The new suspension layout places the shock low in the bike, and the whole shock mount / bottom bracket area is massive now, making for a very stiff heart of the frame. The shock placement means standover height is nice and low, while you’ve still got room for a water bottle. It also allows for neater cable routing for the bike’s Twin Loc system too. The suspension is now a proper four-bar linkage, with a pivot on the chain stay which translates to improved performance under braking in particular.

The Nude shock is a partnership between FOX and Scott. It’s unique in that you can adjust the air volume (and the shock’s travel) remotely, and it doesn’t feature a traditional compression adjustment or lockout.

All of these changes have flowed from the Spark, which was given an overhaul 18 months ago. At the same  time, Scott introduced more aggressive and trail-oriented versions of the Spark, allowing them to position the Genius as bike for more serious terrain.

Bombing through the trails of Hornsby Mountain Bike Park.

What’s remained?

You learn your way around the Twin Loc levers pretty quickly. It’s amazing how much you use this feature once you’re in the habit.

The key to the Genius’s all-rounder abilities has always been in its suspension adaptability, and that hasn’t changed. The Twin Loc system, which lets you reduce the rear travel via the FOX NUDE shock from 150-100mm at the push of the lever, or lock the suspension out entirely, is a hallmark of Scott’s bikes. It’s undeniably effective and simple to use. The system’s downside is the extra clutter and annoyance of the cables, but some time invested with cable cutters and some brake line trimming can get it all pretty neat. Your thumb learns to navigate all the levers quickly.

The FOX Transfer dropper is top notch. Bonus marks for the neat integration of the dropper lever into the grip clamp too.

What version is this?

The Genius comes in both 29er and 27.5 formats, though it’s actually the same frame, only the wheels change. The 27.5 version gets 2.8” rubber, and even the 29er runs chunky 2.6” tyres (on proper 30mm rims too!). This version, the 920, rolls on the big wheels, and is carbon up front and alloy out back, for a reasonable $5399.

30mm-wide rims give plenty of support to the 2.6″ tyres.
The cable ports make dealing with the internal routing pretty straightforward really.

Where does it shine?

Anywhere technical, both up and down. While the Genius is a far cry from some of the burly Enduro bikes on the market, Scott have definitely shifted this bike’s focus towards rowdier terrain. It’s slack, with a 65-degree head angle (or 65.6 in the steeper setting), and the wheelbase is quite long too with a 438mm rear centre, giving it good stability in the rough and at speed.

This bike relishes in the chunder.

Then on the climbs, it just claws up everything – the tyres have a big contact patch, and you’ve got plenty of low-range gearing. The Twinloc system is golden on technical climbs too – hitting the lever and engaging the 100mm mode provides a firmer suspension feel (and helps raise the bottom bracket height for pedal clearance on tricky climbs), but without impinging the bike’s small bump compliance like a traditional lockout would.

On smooth trails, or when trying to make really fast direction changes, it does feel like a fair bit of bike to throw around.
The 150mm-travel FOX 34 uses the more basic GRIP damper. On the bigger, uglier hits we felt it could use a bit more ramp up or high-speed compression damping.

Any drawbacks?

We found that the fork, with its GRIP damper, can’t quite match the performance of the rear suspension when the hits come big and fast. The addition of some volume spacers is recommend to help resist the thunk of a bottom out too, as the rear end seems more progressive than the fork.

If you run the bike in the 100mm mode, it’s much more nimble on smooth trails.

Those big 2.6″ tyres weigh close to a kilo each, and at high speeds it’s a little reluctant to make quick direction changes, but that’s the trade off for stacks of grip and confidence obviously. We’d happily live with them.

It’s not the first time we’ve had the chain jump off the lower jockey wheel of a SRAM Eagle derailleur.

We also managed to bounce the chain off the lower jockey wheel a couple of times, causing the drivetrain to jam up. It’s not the first time we’ve experienced this with a SRAM Eagle rear derailleur, so hopefully SRAM are onto it!

More refined than high tea.

Aside from the Genius’s performance when the terrain gets challenging, it’s the level of refinement and attention to detail that impressed us most. Small things like the way the Twin Loc, dropper post lever and lock-on grip are all integrated into the one clamp, or the way the chain guide is mounted to the suspension pivot.


Check out our reviews of the earlier versions of the Genius below too

Tested: Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned

Tested: Scott Genius 710 Plus

Tested: Scott Genius 710

Tested: Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned


How neat is the integrated mud guard from Syncros?
The chain guide is affixed to the main pivot, again incredibly nicely executed.
Smart lines, clean cables.

Even little things like the headset spacers have unique styling to them. The cables have large ports too, which makes the arse ache of internal cables easier to handle as well. All those small things add up to a really impressive machine, though we do wish the frame had more comprehensive down tube protection (we put a rock through a Scott frame in early 2017, and the experience scarred us!).

More aggressive and more confident than before.

So what’s the verdict?

Scott have played a smart game here: when they created ‘trail’ versions of the Spark, it gave them space to give the Genius a whole new character, with more guts and swagger than before. The new Genius, with its slack angles and oodles of grip, won’t be hanging at the pointy end of many 100km marathon races like it did in 2003, but it’s a far more confident and fun bike now, and that’s what we’re all about.

Fresh Product: M2O Cycling Compression Socks

We can’t promise M2O socks will make you ride like Cannonball, but they are a big supporter of his racing and that’s pretty cool.

We’ve just received a few pairs of socks from Australian brand M2O Industries, and after just a few rides they’ve become our go-to (which is nice, because our previous favourites have been worn to death). There’s plenty of science behind the way these socks are constructed, the benefits of which are all laid out for you to read on M2O’s site, but here’s what we like so far.

Nothing is more annoying than when your once proud, upstanding socks are found flaccid hanging around your ankles.

Firstly, they don’t fall down. We like our socks to have a bit of length about them – mid-calf is perfect – but nothing is more annoying than when your once proud, upstanding socks are found flaccid hanging around your ankles like a discarded snake skin. These stay put.

Note the sock/helmet matching?

Second, they’re a compression sock which helps with muscle fatigue, but also means they fit super tight across your mid foot and calf. On hot days, this helps reduce swelling, and it also means they don’t bunch up underneath the arch of your foot or slip and cause friction and hot spots

M2O are supporting Australian riders including local Flow hometown hero, James ‘Cannonball’ Hall.

Third, they’re cool, as in they breath well, which is great as we come into summer. Four, they come a bunch of colours, so you can colour match them to your helmet.

Fifth, and this is really important, is that they’re supporting Australian riders including local Flow hometown hero, James ‘Cannonball’ Hall. M2O stepped up to the plate earlier this year, helping fund James Hall his EWS series, and that alone gets the brand a lot cred in our minds.

It’s almost Christmas, and they’re only $25. Don’t make your feet spend another summer in those God awful old socks. Take a look here.

Socks ‘n’ Stocks approved.

 

 

Tested: Bontrager Line Pro 30 Wheels

Saying the two words ‘carbon’ and ‘wheel’ would send your credit card running to hide under the couch, with brands like Reynolds, ENVE doing wheels around and above the $3K mark, yikes! Sure, there is carbon, and there is ‘carbon’, and there is also a myriad of lesser-known or even imitation brands selling wheels for under $1500.

The Line 30 are a $1698 pair of wheels for the trail/all-mountain/enduro segment, available in 27.5″ and 29″ in Boost hub spacing only.

The Bontrager Line 30s are understated in appearance, with the graphics sealed under a clear coat, so no peeling stickers!

Bontrager’s name is a very reputable one; they only do quality stuff, found primarily on Trek bikes. Though over the last few years we’ve seen products like their tyres, saddles, shoes, helmets and wheels become some of the best, and worthy to fit on any brand of bike. We doubt we’d have the same confidence with many other bike brand’s in-house componentry lines.


Cool, so they aren’t over the top expensive, and we dig Bontrager’s stuff. How did the wheels ride?

Stiff, very stiff. We fitted the Line 30s to our Norco Sight after an excellent term riding the Wheelworks Flite Wide Alloy wheels; a 35mm wide aluminium wheelset handbuilt in Wellington, NZ. The Wheelworks wheels felt great, they had a huge air volume and we relished in running lower tyre pressures for traction and feel. Swapping to the narrower profile Bontrager wheels which measure 29mm internally, the bike instantly felt less supple, but definitely more direct and laterally stiff.

Upgrading to carbon wheels added rigidity and speed to our Norco.

The freehub in the rear wheel feels nice and solid with great engagement and a sophisticated sound of quality. We only serviced it once, and give the sealing and ease of serviceability two thumbs up. And after five months of hammering, they are straight and true, never requiring any attention with a spoke key to tension or straighten.


Stiff is good, right?

Well, yes, and no, the best wheels achieve a balance. We’ve ridden wheels that are too stiff that lack feel and compliance, and on the other hand, we’ve found plenty of wheels with underwhelming performance due to their lateral rigidity.

We’d say they the Bontragers are on the stiffer end of stiff-o-meter providing a very direct feeling when you move the bike around and jump hard on the cranks. Holding a straight line through a rock-strewn trail or sliding the wheels sideways with the rear brake on displayed a wheel with good feel and a nice balance of stiffness and compliance.

Rolling along the 1700g set of wheels feels light and fast, a worthy upgrade to add some speed to your steed, for sure.


Arrgh, the terror of the tubeless rim strips!

In our first impressions piece on the wheels, we praised the hard plastic tubeless rim strips. We expected them to be robust, removable without the need for sticking tape, and to provide a firm connection between the bead of the tyre for a strong bond between tyre and rim. But my-oh-my was that last part true. The tyre and rim strip practically glued together after three months of use, the Schwalbe Performance Nobby Nic and Magic Mary with a standard dose of Orange Seal tubeless sealant were stuck on the wheels, no matter how hard we tried.

The hard plastic tubeless rim strips are a great concept but drove us up the wall.
We traded the supplied strips for standard tubeless rim tape.

We did find the thick plastic strips to make tyre installation a little tight, but it was the removal that had us swearing and bringing out unconventional techniques in an attempt to release the tyre’s bead from the inside of the rim strip. It broke us. We eventually (many failed attempts) broke the tyre away using a thin tyre lever, and have since removed the supplied strips and installed plain old tubeless rim tape, and we’ve not encountered any issue since. No rolling tyres off at low pressures, leaking air or anything. Maybe it was an unfortunate combination of Orange Seal sealant and Schwalbe tyres? We don’t know, but that’s just what happened.


Yay, or nay?

Our great experience with the Bontrager Line 30 wheels on the trail was a little marred by the tubeless strip saga; we can’t say the same for everybody experiencing what we did.

We like their understated appearance, stiff and precise feeling on the trail, the easy to service and well-sealed freehub and of course the impressive pricing, under $1700.


Want more specs, pricing and compatibility options?

Wander over to Bontrager’s wheel lineup page on their site for more: https://www.trekbikes.com/au/en_AU/equipment/cycling-components/bike-wheels/mountain-bike-wheels-wheelsets/c/E418/

First Impressions: Polygon Siskiu T8

Angular, sharp, smart lines and bold highlight colours make a strong first impression.

What’s the scoop?

You’re looking at a 140mm-travel 29er trail bike, alloy-framed, and decked out with components that would normally be found on a bike with a higher price tag. At first glance, it would seem that Polygon have covered every base: a no-fuss suspension system, good-quality units from RockShox at both ends (the new Revelation up front, and a Deluxe RT3 shock), a 1×11 XT/SLX Shimano drivetrain, decent dropper post, good quality tubeless-ready tyres… we’re struggling to find any gaps here for three grand. The geometry looks to be on target too, with good all-round trail bike figures.

The frame is alloy through out. Large and X-large bikes are 29er only. In a size medium you get the option of 29er or 27.5″, while small bikes are 27.5″ only.
The RockShox Deluxe RT3 has three compression positions; open, firm and locked.

You’ve ridden the Siskiu before, correct? 

Yes, we’ve reviewed previous iterations of the Siskiu, but this version is a pretty different kind of bike. Longer travel, with a much more tougher fork, cockpit and tyre setup, it’s got more aggressive riding in mind than earlier models of the Siskiu.

The new 2018 RockShox Revelation is seriously upgraded from previous years, with 35mm legs.
A Sunrace 11-46 cassette is paired to an XT rear mech.

Is it 29er only?

Polygon have gone down the route of proscribing certain wheel sizes for the different frame sizes. In a size medium, like the bike we’ve got here, you can choose between 29″ or 27.5″ wheels, while the size small is 27.5″ only and larger frames come with 29″ wheels solely. If you ride a size large or bigger but want little wheels, you’re out of luck. The 27.5″ versions have a little more travel, 150mm vs 140mm on the 29ers.

The rims are tubeless compatible, but you’ll need to add tape and valves. Schwalbe Nobby Nics in a 2.35″ width provide the traction.
Some dollars have been saved with a ProWheel crankset, rather than better known item.

What can you tell me about Polygon?

With a direct sales model here in Australia, Polygon don’t have the same presence that the big brands get via a network of dealers, but that’s not a reason to be sceptical about the bikes. After all, Mick and Tracey Hannah both rode Polygons to the podium at the 2017 World Champs, a Polygon just won Red Bull Rampage (again), and the new Polygon XQUARONE EX9 blew our minds when we reviewed it recently. We also visited the Polygon factory in early 2016, where we saw Siskius rolling off the production line, and it’s an incredible place.

The suspension system is a simple single-pivot-with-linkage setup. Note the chain slap protection too.

The bikes are also backed by a 14-day test ride policy, that allows you to return a bike even if it has been ridden, no questions asked, within the first two weeks.

We’re going to whack some tubeless valves in now (which really should come with the bike, Polygon!) and hit the trails. Full review to come soon.

Off we go!

Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Long-Term Test Update

The obligatory suspension fiddling:

With sag gradients on the fork and shock, getting your baseline sag set is fuss free, but we’re still making refinements to the setup. After a bit of internet trawling, we initially set the rear end up with about 25% sag (some reviewers out there felt the Meta rode best with less sag than would be common for this style of bike). We’ve subsequently dropped the shock pressure to give about 30% sag, and things feel a lot more settled now in our opinion.

We’re 50/50 on the shock’s remote lockout. It’s a blessing on smooth climbs, but you do sacrifice adjustability to have the on-the-fly convenience.
The Lyrik just feels like a downhill fork. Superb.

We’re loving the performance of the Lyrik once again. This fork dominates, it looks bad-ass with its super wide stance thanks to the Boost hub spacing and it just chomps up the ugliest terrain. As we’ve noted below, the long 170mm-travel fork is tall, so we were planning on running it at 25% sag and adding some Bottomless Tokens to the keep the stroke supportive (the Meta comes with just one Bottomless Token fitted).

The SD Components Dynamic Volume Chamber is an Australian made piece of kit, available for RockShox Pikes, Lyriks, Boxxers and FOX 36 forks.
Installing the DVC was simply a matter of unthreading the old top cap and Bottomless Token and threading in the new unit.
One valve controls the main air spring, the second controls a smaller chamber that dictates the spring curve’s progressiveness.

Instead, we picked up a neat suspension mod from SD Components, the Dynamic Volume Chamber. This cool little unit allows you to independently adjust the main air spring and the end-stroke, so you can get a buttery soft initial spring curve, and still have good support in the mid/end-stroke. We’ve only just fitted it, so we can’t comment on performance yet, but it adds a bit of ‘factory’ cool we think!

Hitting the lockout lever helps keep the bike up in its travel which greatly improves the bike’s tendency to wander on steep climbs. The downside is that you sacrifice a lot of rear wheel grip, as the tyre doesn’t follow the terrain as well.

The rear shock doesn’t offer a lot of adjustability, just air pressure and rebound. With the remote lockout, you lose any kind of  independent low-speed compression adjustment in favour of the convenience of being able to lock things out on-the-fly. We’re still on the fence about this… We’ve found the lockout useful, as the bike isn’t the most willing climber, but you do sacrifice quite a lot of rear wheel grip as soon as you hit that lockout lever. It’s best used on smooth fire roads or on the tarmac.

The DVC’s valves do look mighty exposed there, let’s hope they don’t get damaged.

High rise, maybe a bit tall for shorties: 

With its 30mm rise bar, the Meta is pretty tall up front, especially for a shorter rider like our tester. When the trails point down steeply, it makes for a very confident position, at the expense of being a little ungainly on technical climbs. You’ve got to really consciously keep the weight over the front end to stop it lifting and wandering when negotiating steep pinches. We’ll be experimenting with the fork setup, running slightly more sag (and a more aggressive ramp-up) to see if this improves things. We might look for a bar with less rise too, 15-20mm would be ideal.

With the long fork and 30mm rise bar, the Meta is tall up front. Some riders will love it, others might want to get lower.

Rubber choices:

You’ll never hear us complain about the performance of Maxxis Minions. The stock tyres on the Meta are some of the grippiest and most predictable going, but we’ve just received some new 2.6″ Maxxis Forekasters to try, so on they go! The Forekasters are a little lighter than the Minions (785g vs 960g) and we’ll welcome the reduced rotating weight, but we hope they can match the Minions in terms of reliability, durability and traction.

We’re giving the wide 2.6″ Maxxis Forecasters a try on our Meta. They’re a fair bit lighter than the Minions they replace, so hopefully they’re tough enough.
Maxxis bill these tyres as a good option for dampish conditions, but we’ve had good reports about their performance in loose and dry conditions too.

We’re excited to see how this system performs… when we finally manage to fit it!

CushCore frustrations:

We also took the opportunity of swapping out the tyres to try and fit the new Cushcore system. Note we said ‘try’…. While the in-tyre damping/rim protection system sounds very promising, fitting it proved too time consuming and we gave up after an hour of fighting it. We did try to follow the instructions, but perhaps we missed a step? We’ll return with a cold drink, plenty of spare time, and a better frame of mind and try to install it!

The CushCore system mounted to the Meta’s rim. Getting the tyre on is the tricky bit…

Tested: Giant Reign 2

Let’s skip the features of the new Reign for now (click here to get the lowdown on features with the new model) and talk more about how it goes in the dirt.

Our first ride on the Reign was a big loop that would take in just about any style of trail, from steep rocky chutes, flat drops, fast flat turns, double jumps, switchback climbs, the whole lot. We aimed to recreate what you’d encounter in a classic enduro race, pretty much.

Upcoming sub $4K 160mm travel 27.5″ wheel bike shootout! This Giant Reign will go up against the Merida One-Sixty 800 and the Norco Range A3 this summer, stay tuned for our full video review.


Go time!

From the moment we hopped on, we felt the apparent length of the bike, for a medium size the front hub axle felt a very long way away from you, and the steering reflected that with that trademark wandering front end. It’s a familiar feeling that occurs on long and slack bikes, with the front wheel flopping side to side as you turn the bars. Sitting back in the saddle the seat tube angle also felt very laid back, putting you right behind the bottom bracket. We knew it was going to be long but didn’t expect it to feel like we were riding two sizes up.

Two wheels a long way apart. Long bike = stability in spades.

We adapted our steering inputs to keep the front wheel pointing where we wanted and pedalled out to the dirt where we very quickly found out that it takes a lot of effort to keep up to speed on the flatter sections, no major surprises there. Then as the speeds trickled up, we had a moment where we didn’t feel like we were going that fast, but the trail was whizzing by very rapidly. When the first proper descent came along, it was then that we began to turn it up a notch and let the Reign come into its own. We expected it to be a ripper descender, but we didn’t expect it to make us feel invincible!

27.5″ wheels, 160mm of travel, aggressive geometry and meaty tyres are a recipe for serious shredding!

On the Reign you have so much bike in front of you to move around and let the bike move around underneath you, the bars are wide, the stem is short and the top tube super-long so it promotes you to get over the bars and attack the turns with all your might, weighting the front tyre and pushing it into the dirt the stability is simply remarkable.

Like using a bit of bod language, and letting the bike dance about beneath you when situations get a little hectic? The Reign likes that too.

The stumpy headtube allows the rider to achieve a low bar height if so desired.
The frame looks to have provisions for the upcoming FOX Live Valve system with battery mounts and sensor mounts integrated into the frame.

We dropped into a particularly fast chute of large boulders, and old creek bed, with no real apparent line we put trust in the stiff forks and stable cockpit to get us through and pounded our way to the bottom. That’s how it wants to be ridden, hard.

It’s at the bottom of the descent that the mood shifts down a notch as you realise that you have to climb. There’s no way to sugarcoat it; this Reign isn’t the best at climbing. If you race up the climb, hammering out of the saddle with the shock locked out, it’s not too bad, but a tired rider sitting down makes for a laborious task to get to the top.

The Reign’s Maestro suspension is ultra plush, so don’t expect spritely pedalling with the shock unlocked.
The stout little carbon link driving the trunnion mount shock.

The rear shock has two compression modes, on or off, which is better than nothing but we can imagine how the higher Spec Reigns with greater adjustments (a middle setting like on the RockShox Deluxe RTC3) would help you pedalling the flatter trails with the bike still settling into the travel to achieve suitable geometry.


Stop complaining about the climbs; you’re boring us.

What are we whining about, there has to be a tradeoff for descending ability and Giant have clearly done their homework with the input from guys like Josh Carlson to position the Reign above the Trance in the realm of epic descenders. It has 160mm of travel, use it!

We did see the Giant Factory Off-Road Team race their Giant Trances at the less challenging rounds of the EWS series, proving that the Reign is made for charging hard, getting loose and pretending you’re on a downhill bike.

Check out our review of the 2017 Trance Advanced here: 140mm travel Giant Trance review.


The parts.

For the dollars it’s mighty dialled, the cheapest of the Reign range, the Reign 2 has you covered with a careful selection of robust parts. If you’re keen to get rowdy and push the limits of product durability and strength you should feel confident, in our minds, the components are well up to that task. The Shimano Deore drivetrain worked great for us, a far sight from the Deore from past years, and the chain guide and bash guard kept the chain protected and snug on the Praxis chainrings all the time.

Shimano brakes, big rotors, we found them very ample.

The fork and shock are proven performers and smooth operators, and the rims feel tough and are nice and wide to give the tyres a great shape and loads of volume.


What would the more expensive Reign 1 do better than the Reign 2?

For an extra 1800 bucks the bright red Reign 1 scores a few worthy upgrades, notably the remote lockout shock and SRAM Eagle drivetrain which would lift it’s climbing game tenfold. The fork goes from the Yari to the Lyrik which uses a more sophisticated damper for more composure, and the brakes are going to withstand longer descents with less fade of power. Then there are the lighter carbon frame models… Anyhow, we digress.


What we liked.

  • Tidy rig. The new Reign range is the best looking yet, not just the colours but the finish and graphics are slick. The logos are minimal, and colour matched suspension parts rounds out a beautiful looking bike. The pivots, linkages and rear axle are low in profile, flush and well-thought out.
  • Tubeless ready. The tyres are ready for tubeless, and the rims come taped up with tubeless rim strips and two little bottles of tubeless sealant are included, not something you could say about many other brands.
  • Maxxis tyres. The Maxxis Shorty up front is super aggressive, we thought the spiky profile would have only suited soft soils, but on drier gravel and loose-over-hardpack grounds it dug in and hooked up nicely.
  • Descending. Oh boy, it’s fast, like a mini Giant Glory that you can pedal back up.

    The spiky Maxxis Shorty tyre on the front, amazing bite.

What we didn’t.

  • The on-off rear shock lockout. We’d trade anything for a middle setting that we could leave it in for flatter descents and technical climbs.
  • Hard as a rock saddle. Not our cup of tea, sorry!
  • Meandering climbs. Grit your teeth and bear it, it has to be done.
  • Firm, so firm.


Yay, or nay?

We did find the Reign 2 to feel bigger and a lot more to manage on flatter singletrack and slow climbs than we expected, but on the flipside we also found it to be one of the most confident high-speed descenders of recent times despite it being the entry-level model at a very reasonable price.

Giant offer the Trance for riders who want to pedal everywhere and spend less time cursing on the climbs, we’d seriously consider a test ride on both models. But of course the Trance doesn’t go absolutely bonkers for the descents like the roomy, long and slack Reign does.

Like shredding as hard as what you see on TV? Don’t care how long it takes you to pedal up, beats walking or shuttling? The Reign is burly, loves a pounding and isn’t afraid of much.

We’re not done yet, the Reign will go up against a Norco Range and Merida One Sixty in a sub $4K shootout, so stay tuned!

Tested: Camelbak Chase Vest

From the back, the Chase Vest just looks like a regular, small backpack.

Inspired by jogging. Yes, jogging.

We admit it, there are members on staff here at Flow who occasionally dabble in a bit of trail running. The shame. But as any trail runner will tell you, one of the handiest pieces of kit you can own is a running vest. It seems like some bright spark at Camelbak realised the same fundamental aspects that make a vest so good for running are equally applicable for mountain biking – ergo, the Chase Vest is born, sharing a lot of similarities with Camelbak’s Circuit running vest.

The Chase Vest keeps a low profile, all the weight is kept close to your core.

So what’s the idea here?

The idea is simple; spread the load, increase stability. Backpacks put the full weight and bulk of whatever it is you’re carrying way out there, dangling off your back. Every time you swing your hips or throw your weight about, you’ve got that extra mass of the backpack adding to the inertia and trying to yank you off the bike. In contrast, the Chase Vest is all about positioning the weight across the front and back of your torso, meaning more of the mass can be kept closer to your body and helping to alleviate some of the feeling of being pulled about by the moving weight of your pack and its contents.

The main compartment has enough room for spares and food.

How is the load spread?

The weight is split about 70/30 between your back and front when the pack is loaded up. The main section of the vest is where you’ll find a 1.5 litre bladder, along with a large zippered compartment, a deep pouch section, a smaller zippered pocket, and an another smaller stretchy pouch that will hold a jacket or flanno. This main section sits in the middle of your back, it doesn’t hang low on your hips like Camelbak’s new Low Rider range.

The ‘straps’ then both hold quite a lot of gear too – on your right you’ve got an external webbing pouch, plus a a deep zippered pocket, the left strap has another large double-zippered pocket that has further internal compartments.

The 1.5 litre bladder has Camelbak’s cool handle system too, so it’s easy to hold and fill.

What does it actually carry?

The Chase Vest will fit a solid amount of gear, it’s only the water capacity that’s a little limited at 1.5 litres. But in terms of equipment and nutrition, you can easily store enough for a few hours on the bike. Without feeling like we were overloading the pack, we stashed a multitool, Co2 dispenser, a bunch of bars and gels, phone, tube, mini pump, tyre plugs, sunnies, a vest and we still had nothing in the large pouch section.

We used the the left hand compartment for tools, CO2, tyre plugs and the like.

Is it more practical to use than a backpack?

Yes, it’s very convenient. What we like about the Chase Vest is that it has a variety of small stash points, which is far more usable than having a large compartment you need to rifle through. You can keep all the small items you use regularly in the front compartments, things like your phone, food, multitool or CO2, which can all be accessed without needing to stop or take the pack off. Then bigger items that are less frequently needed can go out back. If you’re using a jersey with rear pockets, you can still get at them too without taking the pack off too, as the Chase sits higher on your back.

In the right, we kept our phone for all those important calls, and our food.

Is it cooler to use than a backpack?

We’d say it’s fairly comparable. While the construction is fairly minimalistic and the pack doesn’t cover up much of your back, there’s not a lot of airflow under the bladder and the front compartments do restrict airflow to your flanks more than a traditional backpack’s straps do.

The hose clips are a tad fiddly when trying to stash the hose on the fly.

Anything annoying about it?

We found out the hard way that the elasticised pocket of the righthand strap is very good at launching your precious gels and food! When the going gets rough, things can bounce out of this pocket. Only use it to stash items that aren’t going to bounce free, or that you don’t want.

The little hose clips are a bit fiddly too. They’re easy to remove the hose from, but getting it clipped back in takes more concentration than we like.

But what about how it rides?

Along with the convenience of being able to access the front pockets so easily, the biggest advantage of the Chase Vest is its stability. It really does hug your body snuggly, and even when we had a full load of gear and water there’s no feeling of it shifting, bouncing or sloshing about, which makes it the perfect companion for wilder riding. If you’ve shied away from regular backpacks because you dislike the way they can affect your balance, you really should give the Chase a look, it’s a very ifferent feeling to a regular backpack.

Winner!

Recommended then?

Yep, for sure! Over the past few years, especially since the arrival of storage bibs such as Specialized’s SWAT bibs, we’ve been using backpacks less frequently. But the arrival of new-school packs that are better suited to technical and rough riding (such as the Camelbak Repack, Bontrager Rapid Pack, Henty Enduro Pack or Camelbak Skyline LR) has been changing our tune once again. The Chase Vest ticks a lot of boxes for us. Who knew that the world of jogging could bring some good to mountain biking?!

 

 

Upcoming Review: FOX Float DPS Factory Shock

We’re putting the RockShox Deluxe RTC3 and FOX Float DPS Factory head to head, using the same bike as a testing platform, our long-term test bike – Norco Sight. We’re not going to get into too much tech, we just want to know how two different shocks feel on the trail, how easy they are to use and that’s about it.

Two new shocks for 2018, the RockShox Deluxe RCT3 and FOX Float DPS, both from the top of their class.

First up is the FOX, an all-new shock for 2018 with an improved construction and damping tune, we’ve already had a great test with the new shock on a Scott Spark where we swapped out a 2017 shock with the 2018 model and quickly went back to the singletrack to feel the difference.

Hear our impressions on testing a 2017 and 2018 FOX fork and shock back to back here: FOX 2018 testing.


FOX DPS, what?

The DPS shock is for the short-mid travel segment, compact and lightweight. The new construction drops weight and parts from the 2017 model, we weighed it 10g lighter than the RockShox.

The Factory model is the top of the line, with the lustrous Kashima coating and all the adjustments.


What now?

We’ve weighed it, fitted it, and have begun the setup process. We’ll send the RockShox RCT3 off to SRAM for a refresh service as it’s been fitted to the Norco for a while now, and then we’ll go back to back laps of a test circuit swapping the shocks back and forth.


What about long travel shocks, and forks, too?

Up the front, we have a new FOX 34 29 fork and await a new Rockshox Pike to compare, and our bigger long-term test bike is primed for a FOX vs RockShox hitout too, to the tune of; FOX 36 vs Lyrik and Float DHX vs Super Deluxe. The burly 160/170mm travel Commencal Meta AM 4.2 will be the test sled.

We have the FOX 34 fork on test too, get ready for a RockShox vs FOX bounce-off!

Check out the new FOX fork here, it’s super slick; 2018 FOX Float 34 29.

We’re looking forward to it! So, stay tuned.

First Impressions: Scott Genius 920

The 2018 Genius looks a lot cleaner than in years past.

What are we looking at here?

It’s a 150mm-travel 29er, with the trail bike category in its sights. Although this bike recently won the Enduro National Champs under Rowena Fry and Izzy Flint (read about it here), we would shy away from positioning it as an Enduro machine. It casts a broader net. A 150mm 29er might sound like a big bike, but it doesn’t look or feel like a handful. It’s lightweight, and the proportions are easily managed.

You can read a lot more about the new frame design here, in our 2018 Genius launch piece.

The thumb gym – Twin Loc levers and the dropper, all in one clamp which is incorporated into the grip lock ring.
The rear shock is custom item from FOX – when you hit the Twin Loc lever, the shock’s air volume changes, reducing the shock stroke and changing the spring rate.

Sticking to their guns

Scott have been beating the drum of their Twin Loc system for a long time now. Ask anyone who’s owned a Scott and they’ll tell you the same story: they can’t imagine riding without Twin Loc. It does work bloody well once you train your thumb (Gameboy users will be fine), allowing you to alter the suspension travel and damping on the fly.

Yes, there are a lot of cables up front, but with some care you can keep it reasonably neat.

The downside is that the handlebar has cables hanging from it like a Hanoi telephone exchange. At least Scott now supply the bike with some coiled plastic wrap to help contain the tangle a bit; it’s kind of like they’re admitting, “hey, we made a mess, but here’s a wettex to clean it up.”

Whatever your thoughts on the aesthetics, the system is simple to use, and we really like the way the Twin Loc and dropper post lever are all integrated into one clamp.

No mucking about here – chunky rubber on wide rims, for stable tyre performance.

Other wheel size options?

Yes, you can get this bike (or one fairly equivalent) with 27.5 wheels shod with 2.8″ rubber. Even this 29er version comes with good sized tyres, 2.6 / 2.4″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics mounted to 30mm wide Syncros rims. It’s a solid pair of shoes, meant for real riding. Hallelujah – nothing holds a bike back quite like feeble wheels and tyres.

How neat is this? The Syncros fender not only keeps mud off you, but it also covers up the holes in the back of fork arch, so mud can’t collect there either.
The 34 Performance fork has the basic Grip damper. A question mark here.

First ride impressions?

At the time of writing, we’ve only had one outing on the Genius, but it felt really promising. We’ll definitely be paying close attention to the setup of the FOX 34 fork, which only has the base model Grip damper – our inkling is that we’ll need to add some volume spacers to get the support we want, but time will tell. We’ll be bringing you a full video review of the Genius 920 soon.

SRAM GX Eagle out back, you’ll hear no complaints from us!
A bit of extra security, with a chain guide factory fitted.

Upcoming Review: FOX Factory Series 34 FLOAT 29

In the battle of bike parts, a good old fork-off is the ultimate showdown, front suspension is an area of huge technological development, and can serve as a beneficial upgrade to an older model bike. So, what better than to put the two big guns together in the busy segment of trail riding, the RockShox Pike vs FOX 34. It’s ON!

Ahead of the full review, let’s take a look at the FOX 34 before we fit it to our Norco Sight.


Why Pike vs 34?

These two make up for the lions share of the market, sure there are other great options from brands like DVO, Manitou, Formula, Suntour, DT Swiss, Cane Creek, Girvin (ok, maybe not Girvin), but we want to cut it back to big guns of bounce.

FOX Factory Series 34 FLOAT 29, the top of the line.
You can’t beat that lustrous glow of the Kashima coated legs, it’s damn classy and gives the bike a high end appearance.

Looking back at the last five or so years, the Pike and 34 have both had their ups and downs with questionable damping, creaking crowns, faulty air springs etc, but 2018 would have to be the closest they’ll be to their best, even Stevens.


What’s new with the FOX 34?

It’s all in the fine tuning of the air spring and damper that lifts the 2018 FOX 34 that little bit higher, while the chassis remains unchanged. The EVOL air spring has a larger negative spring, and the damper is tweaked to suit the change.

The new EVOL air spring aims to be more sensitive than the 2017 version.
The new 2018 FOX forks have a tuning guide on the back of the leg, RockShox have been doing that for years. Yay!

We know this as earlier this year we took part in a very valuable testing session with FOX where we swapped out current 2017 internals for 2018 ones and tested them all back to back with very interesting results.

Check that out here: FOX 2018 fork and shock testing.

For more specs and options of the 34 range, FOX site has it all.


What bike will we fit the RockShox Pike and FOX 34 to?

The Norco Sight 9.2 long-term test bike is our test sled of choice for the trail bike fork shootout, 140mm travel, regular offset, Boost 110mm spacing, and 29″ wheels.

The Norco Sight will be fitted with both forks, for back-to-back testing.

Stay tuned for the full review!

First Impressions: Scott Contessa Genius 720

Off to a good start!

The Genius platform just underwent a huge redesign for 2018 (read all about it here in our Genius Launch piece), bringing its frame design into line with refreshed Spark. The 2018 Genius is off to a good start in Australia – Rowena Fry just claimed the Enduro National Champs on a Genius (interview here), and her young protege Isabella Flint took out the junior women’s on a Contessa Genius too.

150mm travel up front, with a FOX 34.
A SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, with a 30-tooth ring, gives you climbing gears aplenty.

More aggressive, but still very much an all-rounder

The geometry of this latest version is slacker than its predecessor (you can adjust the head angle from 65 – 65.6 degrees), but the bike hasn’t ventured into full on Enduro territory,  it has stayed true to its adaptable roots, which make it such a exceptional all-rounder. It runs 150mm travel at both ends, and the suspension is adjustable on-the-fly with the Twin Loc system. Hitting the lever shortens the rear travel to 100mm for climbing, and firms the fork damping, or you can lock both ends out completely.

How good do those gum wall tyres look?

What makes this a women’s bike?

So what makes this bike women’s specific? Just the paint job, a women’s saddle and a ‘Contessa Custom Tune’ rear shock, as far as we can tell. The geometry is identical to the men’s version, but you don’t get wheel size options – the men’s Genius comes in both 27.5 or 29er, but the Contessa is 27.5 only, rolling on high-volume 2.8″ Maxxis rubber. In all though, there’s not a lot of difference between this bike and the men’s version.

The Twin Loc system is neatly integrated – you can barely see where the cable meets the rest shock.

By way of comparison, we’re also going to be reviewing the men’s version of this bike, but in a 29er format. Our experiences with the Genius go way back over a decade now, so we’re itching to experience the improvements of this new evolution.

The left hand side of the bar is a busy place, with the Twin Loc lever and seat post dropper remote.

Check out our reviews of the earlier versions of the Genius below too

Tested: Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned

Tested: Scott Genius 710 Plus

Tested: Scott Genius 710

Tested: Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned


 

Tested: Camelbak Repack LR

Carrying a bit of extra weight on your hips isn’t such a bad thing in mountain biking. The new Camelbak Repack is a new-school bum bag, and it’s awesome. Why we all were such haters of this style of pack in the past?


Why bum bags, not just a regular pack?

Enduro-style riding, where you need to carry spares and water aplenty, but really want to retain good manoeuvrability has seen the resurgence of bum bags in mountain biking once again. They put the weight on your hips, for a low centre of gravity, and the pack is less likely to snag on trees, plus your back doesn’t get nearly so sweaty. You also don’t need to remove the pack to access your spares, you can just swing it around to your front. More convenient than online shopping.

Compared to running a backpack, you feel noticeably less top-heavy when using a bum bag.

Any downsides?

What we’ve found, in our limited experience, is that getting the bum bag secure so it doesn’t bounce and shift when things get rough can be difficult, especially if you’ve got a lot in the pack.  The Repack is an evolution of the Palos (which we took a look at here), and while the Palos stored a lot of gear we did find it tended to migrate if things got a bit wild, like it was trying to sit on our hip for a cuddle. We’ve also used the Bontrager Rapid Pack extensively, which is a super minimalist bag, and while it’s very secure when riding it only has limited storage capacity.

We used to Repack for two all-day gravel missions, and it was the perfect choice. Maybe not its intended use, but it was ideal.

How have you used it?

We’ve run the Repack at both ends of the spectrum of riding. It’s been taken out on some properly rough, technical rides (like when we were testing the Cannondale Jekyll, here), and we’ve also used it for some all-day gravel riding adventures too. During the latter, we absolutely crammed the Repack to its gills with food, spares and water, and it was brilliant.

The bladder has a handle, which makes it very easy to fill.

So what’s the Repack like?

This thing is a solid improvement over the Palos. The bladder hold 1.5 litres and we have no hesitation filling that sucker right up – even fully loaded with water it’s stable when you’re riding. Like other Camelbaks, the bladder has a handle that makes it easy to fill, though stuffing the fully-filled bladder back into the Repack is a bit like wrestling an blue jelly fish.

Two hip pockets – one zippered, the other elasticised, are good places to stash snacks.

There is a surprising amount of storage too; the hip pockets can be stuffed with M&Ms for fast access, and the main compartment is big enough for a tube, mini pump and multitool, maybe even a super lightweight jacket. Then you’ve also got a cool front compartment that zips right open, which makes it easier to use than traditional pockets; you can see what’s in there and you’re not having to rifle through from the top down with gloved hands. It’s good for all your spares, your keys, phone and the like.

Unlike a backpack, there’s only one strap to worry about.

When you compare the Repack to the Palos, the way the waist strap works is simpler and makes it much easier to adjust the strap tension on-the-fly (the Palos has a secondary set of straps to compress the bladder… it can be a bit fiddly), and it holds tight too. We didn’t notice the straps slipping or loosening, and you can crank it down tight enough to impede digestion if you like for seriously rough trails.

The front compartment swings open, giving you very easy access.

Unlike a backpack, where you can just let the bladder hose hang loose, you need to clip the hose back into place once you’re done drinking, or it’ll dangle in your spokes. The pack scores a magnetic clip that helps kind of ‘guide’ you when re-docking the hose, but it still requires a little bit of concentration to stash it, so you’ll tend to do most of your drinking on smoother climbs when you’ve got more time.

Clipping the hose back into its little magnetic dock when the trails are rough takes some getting used to.

Better than a backpack?

That depends on how much you need to carry. If 1.5 litres of water, a few snacks and the basic spares are all you need, then yes we think the Repack is probably a better solution. If you need more stuff, run a backpack. Having less weight on your upper body, not having a sternum strap across your chest (which can impede breathing), and getting less sweaty are all good reasons to give the Repack a go. If people can get over the stigma that they’re only for kids, tourists or rollerbladers, we think the trails will be full of bum bags soon.

 

 

Tested: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Trail time thoughts.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Introducing our Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Long-Term Test Bike

It’s big, it’s burly, and it’s oh so shiny. Welcome to Flow, you gorgeous thing.

The new Commencal Meta AM 4.2 has just joined our ranks of long-term test bikes. We’ll be riding this one for the next 12 months, using it is a the test sled for all manner of Enduro and trail-oriented products. That’s a prospect that brings a big smile – our last experience on a Commencal was almost ten years ago, and we can still remember the buttery smooth performance of that bike, the way it seemed to float. It’s great to be throwing a leg over one of these Andorran machines once again.


We LOVE that finish. Alloy bikes can be just as sexy as carbon.

Don’t know much about the brand?

That’s not surprising, they’ve had a bit of a hiatus from the Australian scene. During that time, the brand has really consolidated what it is they’re about. There’s a unique ‘fun comes first’ attitude with Commencal that we appreciate. Max Commencal, the brand’s founder, has been a behind the scenes figure for many of the sports’ greatest riders, and he gave us a fantastic interview recently where he stressed his belief that mountain biking should not be about suffering. In his opinion, mountain biking must be all about enjoyment – it needs to stand apart from the world of road riding. Even traditional cross-country riding isn’t really on the Commencal agenda, their range is dominated by aggressive trail bikes and enduro bikes.

There’s a unique ‘fun comes first’ attitude with Commencal that we appreciate.

The shock bolts and most of the pivot hardware uses 8mm allen keys – try to round one of those out! The shock is of the new metric sized variety.

Where do I buy one? 

The return of Commencal to Australian shores is timely. Like other European brands such as Canyon or YT, the brand operates via a direct sales model – you purchase them online, and they arrive boxed with a small amount of assembly required. It’s a concept the Australian market now understands and embraces, and it allows Commencal to nail some impressive price points too.

Nice attention to detail everywhere, including great chain slap protection.

And yes, the frame is alloy too, which we know will draw applause from the many carbon sceptics out there.

So what is this model?

The Meta AM is Commencal’s line up of enduro rigs. 160mm/170mm travel, with frame construction that is clearly built to go the distance. There’s nothing under-gunned about the assembly, with reassuring 8mm and 10mm Allen-key fittings for all the pivot hardware.

And yes, the frame is alloy too, which we know will draw applause from the many carbon sceptics out there. In fact, you won’t find a single carbon bike in the Commencal range – it’s another point of difference and a topic that Max Commencal is very passionate about.

Our test model is the ‘Race’ version, $5299, running full SRAM spec with E13 wheels and Maxxis rubber. There’s nothing about this bike we’d rush out to change, but that’s not going to stop us from making plenty of tweaks of course!

It’s not a lightweight, coming in at 14.1kg, but it sure feels like it’s up for some punishment.

It does look bloody good too, doesn’t it?

Oh yes, it sure does. The brushed alloy finish is wicked, and the angry looking graphics set it off perfectly. The lines are great too, especially with the Trunnion mounted shock tucked right up into the top tube. This bike has some serious racing pedigree as well, with Cecile Ravanel absolutely dominating the women’s EWS series on board her Meta, winning just about every stage of every round.

What was the build like? 

Assembly was straight forward, the only elements that might irk some purchasers being the need to trim the dropper post line (it was very long) and the fact the bike didn’t come supplied with tubeless valves, which is annoying. Otherwise it was all smooth sailing – the gears and brakes didn’t need adjusting, and the wheels were true and tight out of the box too.

Our test model comes with Super Deluxe RT shock, with a remote lock out, it’s driven bar single-pivot/linkage arrangement. Room for a water bottle too!
Stunner!

What’s next? 

We’ve got a bunch of product already lined up for this bike; we’ll be using it as the vehicle for a head to head FOX and RockShox test, plus we’ve got new rubber from Maxxis and much more on the way too. But for now, it’s time to get acquainted with our new Andorran buddy!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Reign 2

The new longer and lower Giant Reign is here, and we have the base model $3799 Reign 2 on review. Excuse me; this is supposed to be the base model…?

While it does sit at the bottom of the range of the Reign lineup, on paper, the Reign 2 is everything one could wish for when it comes to hard enduro riding. The 160mm travel Reign scores some chassis updates for 2018, a notch up the aggressive parts scale, and a very sleek new paint job.



The new Reign is a real looker with a clean finish, cool graphics and aesthetics.

2018 brings updates, what are they?

Longer, lower. The decision to stretch out the reach and wheelbase even further was a request from the factory enduro racing team, making this bike really appeal for those who prefer a lot of bike in front of them when speeds get high. What does that mean for us mere mortals though, will it be so big it’s too much to handle, or will we change our attitude on the trails and begin to ride with reckless abandon with a renewed sense of confidence?

Much longer in the reach, time to ride off the brakes!

The suspension gets a few small tweaks, most notably the upper shock mount and linkage. The new trunnion mount shock is driven by a very tidy little one-piece carbon rocker arm, and the result is the shock uses a longer stroke in a smaller package. Lengthening the shock stroke while maintaining the 160mm of travel has enabled the frame designers to run a lower leverage ratio to let the shock react more to smaller bumps.

Sweet one-piece carbon linkage on all the Reign models, even this one.

How’re the parts for the cash?

From where we sit, the Reign 2 is pretty dialled for $3799. The Yari fork is a solid performer, we already know that, and we’re stoked to see wide rims with super meaty tyres and a single ring drivetrain.

160mm RockShox Yari, smooth and solid performers.
Praxis Works cranks, MRP guide and a Shimano Deore drivetrain.
Maxxis Shorty tyre, miniature DH tyres!

The new Giant Contact Switch dropper post remote feels super light to actuate, and it even comes with tubeless sealant to seal the tyres. It’s very much ready to go.


Shootout test time! What’s it going to be compared to?

We’re aiming to have the Reign 2 up against a few other new-for-2018 bikes in a sub $4500 160mm travel 27.5″ wheel shootout. We’re talking; Norco Range A3, Specialized Enduro Comp 27.5 and the Merida One-Sixty 800. So, stay tuned for the ultimate entry-level enduro bike showdown!

Let’s ride.

So, stay tuned for the ultimate entry-level enduro bike showdown!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Epic

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


Mad light, S-Works light.

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

10kg of speed.

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


What’s new with the frame?

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

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

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

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

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


Early impressions?

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

Long Term Test: Norco Sight – SRAM & Shimano, Best From Both Worlds?

Happy days on the Sight 29er, it’s a super-capable bike and boat loads of fun to ride.

Read our original review of the Sight before we began swapping parts for testing – Norco Sight C 9.2 review.

Our previous update with Wheelworks wheels and a BOX drivetrain – Norco Sight Long Term Update.

Current weight as pictured with pedals – 13.2kg.


What’s new?

Bontrager Line Pro 30 Wheels.

SRAM XX1 Eagle Drivetrain.

Shimano XTR Trail Brakes.

Specialized water bottle cage.


Carbon wheels, but pretty well priced!

Bontrager gave us something to be excited about with the release of their new carbon wheels at very appealing prices. When we’re used to seeing carbon wheels trickle up to and well over the $2000 mark, these for under $1700 were worth a look.

Bontrager’s excellent new carbon wheels, the Line Pro 30.

The rims are 30mm wide, they use a robust plastic rim strip to seal the internal rim area and roll on nice hubs, the freehub has 108 engagement points and has a very sophisticated feeling and sound.

How do they compare to the aluminnium wheels?

Swapping from the 35mm width aluminium Wheelworks Flite Wide wheels to the carbon Bontrager wheels had quite a dramatic effect, while they are lighter they are also a lot stiffer. The narrower 30mm Bontrager wheels are very responsive to your actions on the bike, and you can really feel how stiff they are when you push the bike around sideways into a corner or hammer hard on the pedals.

Coming off the 35mm wide Wheelworks they certainly don’t feel any near as smooth, in part due to the softer feeling material and the bigger air volume from a wider wheel, the Norco felt more supple and more planted with the Wheelworks. The change to the Bontragers has given the Norco a more racey and fast feel with more trail feedback transferred up to hands.

It has us wondering what we’d pick as the better wheel out of the two, smooth and grippy, or fast and stiff? Full review coming shortly.

In comparison to the 35mm aluminium wheels from Wheelworks, the Norco now rides a lot stiffer and therefore harsher.
We’re big fans of the hubs, very quick to engage and easy to service.

SRAM XX1 Eagle, the best drivetrain going?

It’s hard to argue that SRAM is driving ahead with mountain bike drivetrains causing Shimano to chase, it’s a competitive segment and we really enjoy watching it play out. SRAM Eagle solved any debate over the gear range that’s comparable to a double chainring setup, but for us, it’s more than just the range we like about Eagle. The shifting is ultra-crisp, the chain and chainring are dead quiet and it handles its enormous spread of gears without a hiccup.

SRAM XX1 Eagle, sublime stuff indeed.
10-50T range, plenty.
The little chain guide that the Norco came with stripped when we built the bike, luckily we haven’t dropped a chain and probably won’t with XX1.

Shimano XTR TRail Brakes, fickle but fantastic.

In the braking department, it is the XTR Trail brake that really seals the deal for the best trail bike brakes going. While they too are not without their inconsistencies, when you get a good set working well they are hard to match. It’s the power and heat management that edges out the SRAM Guide Ultimates in our opinion, most evident on long descents where you’re constantly on the brakes.

Fade-free power, it’s all about the power.
Cooling fins on the pads and the clever aluminium/steel disc rotors help manage heat.
Though there’s not a huge difference between the XT and XTR in performance, they are lighter and definitely sexier.

A water bottle cage that fits.

The Specialized cage fits the tight space for a water bottle just right, and the side-access was the only way.

A snug fit, but we can’t be without a water bottle for short rides.
Pro tip! These little cable management clips come on Specialized bikes, steal one from your mate’s Specialized for a nifty clean mod.

Tested: Cannondale Jekyll 2

Watch our full video review below: 


Nothing like the old Jekyll – Cannondale, we thank you.

So what’s new?

Everything. Cannondale went right back to the fundamentals with this one, leaving a lot of previous development behind. We think it was the right call. Cannondale’s mountain bikes have been crying out for an injection of practicality and rider-first design, and with Jeremiah Boobar (the man behind the RockShox Pike) at the helm of suspension design now, they’re getting it. The only carry over from earlier Jekylls is the fact you can adjust the travel on the fly.

Super neat cable routing all round. Even with the extra cable from the Gemini shock, it’s all very neat.
We took our Jekyll to Trailshare at Kulnura – beautiful, private trails, check them out here: http://www.trailshare.re-zycle.com

Not a trail bike, no sir.

The previous Jekyll awkwardly tried to straddle the divide between trail bike and enduro bike, but Cannondale have been clear this time around. This bike is here to win Enduro races and hammer descents. 165/170mm travel, slack as, big rubber.

Yes, it has adjustable travel down to 135mm, but that doesn’t mean it’s trying to disguise itself as a trail bike – the travel adjust is there to add a little zest on the climb to the top of the next descent.

Eagle X0 – never worry about gear range again.
A proper chain guide with a bash guard – this bike is built to get you through the roughest race stages, hassle free.

Where does this model sit? 

Our Jekyll 2 is the second top model in the range, at $7999. You can spend a little more to get Eagle XX1 and Factory level FOX suspension, plus carbon wheels, but we don’t think many people will be looking to upgrade beyond this level.

Room for a 600ml water bottle. It’s a bit tight to get in/out, but at least you can leave the pack at home if you want.

How’s the build?

The aesthetics of this bike were a little jarring to us at first – we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing the rear shock tucked down low on most new bikes, that it seemed quite strange to have such a high and forward shock position. The advantage of course, is that you can still run a water bottle, which is a big plus on an enduro race bike, where lots of riders are looking to ride without a pack if possible. Anyhow, we’re used to the frame layout now, and we’ve been impressed by the attention this bike gets – the general consensus is that it looks “hot”.

The finish and construction are beautiful. The paint job is so crisp, and in the sunlight, the darker olive patches come alive with glimmering metallics.

Expanding collet style pivot hardware should stay nice and tight. The bike isn’t the stiffest out there through the rear end, but it’s far from being too flexy.

Is that link carbon?

Sure is! The link is massive, so making it from carbon was probably pretty important to keep it all light, but it also adds stiffness to the frame. Looking at the distance from the rear axle to where the linkage joins the frame, it’s a pretty long unsupported span. If the link wasn’t super stiff, this frame would definitely be at risk of being quite flexy. As it stands, it’s not the stiffest bike we’ve ridden, but the whopping chain stays and linkage keep it all in line. Less obvious is the use of expanding collet style hardware on all pivots, which has been rock solid over the course of our testing.

A massive carbon link lies in the heart of the frame.

Tell us about that shock! 

The Gemini shock is a partnership between FOX and Cannondale, with on-the-fly adjustable air volume/travel. Using a handlebar mounted lever, you can switch between two modes, that Cannondale have called Flow and Hustle. Flow gives you the full 165mm of travel. Flick it into Hustle mode, and the air volume of the shock is reduced, giving you 135mm of travel and a much firmer spring rate. This means less sag, a higher bottom bracket height, and more lively pedalling performance.

It’s not a remote lockout – the compression damping doesn’t change at all when toggle between modes. It’s simply an air volume and travel adjustment. It’s simple to use and cleanly executed.

The Gemini shock uses variable air volume, toggled via a remote lever, to adjust the travel and spring rate on the fly.
FOX users might be familiar with the shock lever. Depress the silver lever to engage Hustle mode.

TEST LOCATION: TRAILSHARE CABINS

As part of our review of the Cannondale Jekyll 2, we spent a weekend up at the new Trailshare Cabins, Kulnura, just over an hour out of Sydney. This place is remarkable: over 20km of private trails, in beautiful blackbutt and turpentine forest, rider-friendly sustainable accommodation. It really is a little piece of paradise, and we’re certain we’ll be using it as a base for a lot more bike testing in the future.

Funky, sustainable accommodation at the Trailshare Cabins. It’s just an hour out of Sydney.
Lounging on the suspended deck looking out into the valley below. Neil, right, is the creator of the trails, and the designer of the accommodation too.

There’s accommodation for up to six people, with a communal kitchen, relaxed outdoor dining with a fire pit and as you can see below, the trails literally start from the edge of the verandah. Peace and quiet, trails all to yourself, it’s the ideal place for a chilled out weekend away. Take a look for yourself right here, or book via Air BnB.


Practicality first.

Cannondale have done their darnedest to overcome the perceptions on impracticality from the previous Jekyll. The new shock is easy to service (unlike the notoriously expensive and fiddly DYAD pull shock of years past), and the frame will happily accept any standard off-the-shelf shock, should you wish to change shocks or if you need to get yours serviced.

Fireside, another killer day on the Jekyll in the bag.

The spec is super practical too, all carefully selected to give enduro racers peace of mind; beefy down tube protection, a chain guide with bash guard, alloy rims rather than carbon, and a whopping gear range, thanks to the Eagle 12-speed drivetrain.

Geometry standouts? 

It’s all very descent focused here; 65-degree head angle, a very low bottom bracket for good stability, a steep seat angle for climbing. But it’s the rear-centre measurement that stands out. Through cleverly offsetting the rear end (they call it Ai – Asymmetric Integration) and then using a custom dished rear wheel, Cannondale have kept the chain stay length to just 420mm. That’s very, very short for a bike of this travel, and it has a big impact on the lively way this bike rides.

AI – Asymmetric Integration – is what has allowed Cannondale to keep the rear end so short. The wheel is dished across 6mm, giving it clearance from the chain ring.
165mm travel in Flow mode, 135mm in Hustle.

Setup? 

Getting the most out of the Jekyll took a couple of rides. Initially we ran the bike with 30-35% rear sag, which is not uncommon for a bike like this, with our thinking being we’d use the Hustle mode to keep it up in the travel on the climbs. But we found ourselves blowing through the travel too often, and feeling like we were stuck down in the suspension. Upping the pressures until we had 25% sag was the key. With things a little firmer, we had heaps more support, and the bike’s agile and urgent character came to the fore.

Eager and playful in the singletrack.

What’s the ride like?

This is one of those bikes that suits a rider who likes to work the terrain for speed. As we’ve noted above, the rear end is short and the bike reacts best to a slightly firmer setup, which makes this bike a very lively ride. It likes to get on its rear wheel and manual out of trouble, or jump over ruts looking for a faster line. It wants to pump down the backside of every compression or lander, giving you good feedback about what those big 2.5″ Maxxis tyres are doing beneath you.

The proportions feel great as well, we like the length of the bike; it might be long and slack up front, but the short rear end means you’re never feeling like you’re at the mercy of a massive wheelbase when you need to change direction quickly.

The pedalling performance isn’t mind blowing (unless you switch into Hustle mode), but we found ourselves working the terrain to go faster, rather than hammering at the pedals. In short, it’s much more engaging to ride than a lot of long-travel bikes.

The Jekyll is a very silent machine – no cable noise, a chain guide and dense chain slap protection keeping the chain quiet. It’s a nice feeling, just hearing those big tyres on the rocks, and not being distracted by noises that make you think everything’s shaking apart around you.

What about the climbs?

Switching into Hustle mode makes all the difference here. We only used the shock’s compression lever perhaps once in the whole test. Instead, we just left the shock’s open-mode compression setting in number 2 (the little black dial), and engaged the Hustle mode when it was time to climb. Because Hustle mode doesn’t add any extra compression damping, the shock is still able to deliver excellent traction on slippery surfaces, which is usually compromised with a lockout.

With Hustle mode engaged, we didn’t feel the need to use the compression lever at all.

It’s still definitely an enduro bike though, not a trail bike, and it prefers long fireroad grinds to technical singletrack climbing. Nothing will change the fact you’ve got 65-degree head angle to contend with on the climbs, so don’t expect any miracles when you’re climbing, Hustle mode or not.

Would you recommend it?

For enduro racing, or descent focused riders, 100%. If you’re more of a trail rider, then take a look at the Trigger which shares all the same construction and suspension features, but with a little less travel and more climb friendly geometry.

The new Jekyll is a big victory for Cannondale – a triumph of practicality and playfulness that they definitely needed. We like that Cannondale have been able to retain the key elements of the previous Jekyll that shone (the travel adjustment) and rework the rest into a glamorous, modern enduro bike. Welcome back, dudes!

Flow’s First Bite: 2018 Trek Remedy 9.8

When we first saw news from Trek around this new Thru Shaft we had next to no idea what they were banging on about, what is a Thru Shaft and what does it do? We had to see a moving image of the shock for us to grasp the concept,

For the full story, video and technical details on the new shock, dive in deeper right here – All the details.

The new shock doesn’t look very different, but when compressed you’ll see the shaft exiting the lower end of the shock, and back in again as it rebounds.

Long story short, by replacing the classic internal floating piston design with a thru-shaft design, there is claims of reduced friction in the whole system. RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is the latest development from the brand’s partnership with Penske Racing Shocks, while not unseen in the suspension world before it’s new to mountain bikes.

RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is available on select Trek trail bikes, including Slash 9.8, Slash 9.7, Remedy 9.8, Remedy 9.8 Women’s, Fuel EX 9.9.


Enough about the shock, what else is new for 2018?

Plenty to get excited about with the new Remedy 9.8, especially as we had the 2016 model on long term test, and got to know it intimately. The 2018 model is even burlier with its spec and uses more SRAM across the board. The new model has also dropped in price, down $300 to $6499, that’s a bonus for sure.

Read more about the frame’s features like their massive down tube, Knock Block headset and more in our 2017 Remedy review here.

While the frame remains the same, spec highlights for us, include the shift from a Shimano XT drivetrain with a double chainring to a SRAM Eagle GX 12-speed single-ring drivetrain, though we’d traditionally prefer Shimano XT brakes over the Guide RS. The fork jumps from a RockShox Pike up to the Lyrik which uses a more robust chassis and feels more like a single crown downhill fork than a trail bike fork, a super impressive fork indeed.

SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, our first proper ride on the budget 12-speed kit.
RockShox Lyrik, move over, we’re coming through!
SRAM cranks with a little MRP chain guide, interesting!

Other highlights include seriously meaty tyres from Bontrager on their new Line wheels, and the 35mm clamp bar and stem for even more of an aggressive appearance up the front.

Full review to follow shortly, it’s time to shred this thing!

Flow’s First Bite: 2018 Trek Remedy 9.8 with new RE:aktiv Thru Shaft damper

When we first saw news from Trek around this new Thru Shaft we had next to no idea what they were banging on about, what is a Thru Shaft and what does it do? We had to see a moving image of the shock for us to grasp the concept,

For the full story, video and technical details on the new shock, dive in deeper right here – All the details.

The new shock doesn’t look very different, but when compressed you’ll see the shaft exiting the lower end of the shock, and back in again as it rebounds.

Long story short, by replacing the classic internal floating piston design with a thru-shaft design, there is claims of reduced friction in the whole system. RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is the latest development from the brand’s partnership with Penske Racing Shocks, while not unseen in the suspension world before it’s new to mountain bikes.

RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is available on select Trek trail bikes, including Slash 9.8, Slash 9.7, Remedy 9.8, Remedy 9.8 Women’s, Fuel EX 9.9.


Enough about the shock, what else is new for 2018?

Plenty to get excited about with the new Remedy 9.8, especially as we had the 2016 model on long term test, and got to know it intimately. The 2018 model is even burlier with its spec and uses more SRAM across the board. The new model has also dropped in price, down $300 to $6499, that’s a bonus for sure.

Read more about the frame’s features like their massive down tube, Knock Block headset and more in our 2017 Remedy review here.

While the frame remains the same, spec highlights for us, include the shift from a Shimano XT drivetrain with a double chainring to a SRAM Eagle GX 12-speed single-ring drivetrain, though we’d traditionally prefer Shimano XT brakes over the Guide RS. The fork jumps from a RockShox Pike up to the Lyrik which uses a more robust chassis and feels more like a single crown downhill fork than a trail bike fork, a super impressive fork indeed.

SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, our first proper ride on the budget 12-speed kit.
RockShox Lyrik, move over, we’re coming through!
SRAM cranks with a little MRP chain guide, interesting!

Other highlights include seriously meaty tyres from Bontrager on their new Line wheels, and the 35mm clamp bar and stem for even more of an aggressive appearance up the front.

Full review to follow shortly, it’s time to shred this thing!

Tested: Reid Solo360 27.5″

Subtle, killer value and as we were to find out, quite a lot of fun to ride, too!
Ripping smooth singletrack is what the Solo360 is best at.

What is it?

We looked closer at the Solo360’s spec and value in our first impressions piece, have a read of that one here – Flow’s First Bite, Reid Solo360.

Reid Bikes are all about bang for buck, and their direct sales model is helping them deliver some impressive bikes at attractive prices. We reviewed Reid’s aggressively priced Solo360 last year. Quite simply, it’s the sum of its parts, which happen to be very bloody good for the money.

A FOX fork with the Grip damper on a $1799 bike is seriously appealing.

The Solo360 is a subtly presented and well-finished, 27.5″ wheel size aluminium hardtail with a Shimano 11-speed XT drivetrain and brakes, FOX fork. At a quick glance, you could be fooled thinking the frame is made from carbon as the welding around the joints has been finished off with a smooth appearance, and the graphics are gloss black which almost disappears on the matte black frame.

The rear wheel uses a quick release thru-axle for added security.
The black-on-black graphics only appear from certain angles, a nice feature if you don’t want a bike that screams for attention.

What’s new from the previous version?

In our review last year of the same bike, we found a few minor elements that weren’t exactly to our liking that detracted from our experience, so to see many of those addressed, we’re more than impressed. The latest model scores upgrades to the tune of a wider handlebar, through axle on the rear wheel, wider and tubeless compatible rims, dual water bottle mounts and a single-ring 11-speed drivetrain.


How did it go on the trails?

The Solo360 is a lively little thing, perhaps because we’re used to riding larger diameter 29″ wheels on hardtails like this, the Solo360 just wanted to sprint everywhere and pull wheelie out of every corner! A hard crank on the pedals is rewarded with a strong jump in acceleration; there is very little loss of energy going on. Winding through singletrack the steering felt very predictable and calm, though when you got it up to speed you really needed to hold on tight.

Woohoo, so much acceleration speed!

Once we got a feel for it, we began to enjoy how engaging and fun it was to ride, pumping through undulations the trails to milk more speed and dropping the seat post down to get a bit more aggressive through the corners.

With the wider bars and wider rims it feels more confident than the previous version we tested, that’s for sure.


Does it fit well?

Sort of, the frame is very low at the front end and seat tube, we had the seat post out at near maximum extension and the stem as high as they would go on the headset spacer stack. Make sure you check the sizing chart to be sure the bike won’t feel too small or low for you.

Up to speed, the frame isn’t particularly forgiving, so hold on tight!

What trails is it best suited?

Smooth ones, that’s for certain! The small wheels and aluminium frame don’t give you much in the way of compliance, and in comparison to a hardtail with 29″ wheels, the Solo360 would be more at home on tighter singletrack with less rock to stop the wheels rolling. You can’t have everything, and we often see the high-end brands doing amazing things with compliance in carbon frames to provide a bike that is fast and also smooth to ride, but we’re talking well over double the price for that type of benefit.

We could only imagine what this bike would be like built around 29″ wheels, while it might lose some of its snappy handling and fast acceleration, it’d roll through rougher terrain easier and give you a smoother ride overall.

But if the trails you ride are rocky, loose and technical, we’d suggest considering a bike with bigger rubber. Reid does an excellent ‘plus size’ bike, using 27.5″ wheels with big tyres and a dropper post, called the Vice, we rated it for trails that are more demanding. Check out our review of the Vice here – Tested: Reid Vice 3.0.

Good times on the fast and fun Solo360.

Favourite bits.

The Shimano 11-speed drivetrain is a favourite of ours – read our long term review here – for being a consistent performer all the time, and it brings tremendous performance to a bike of this price point. The bike shifted gears perfectly, was quiet in operation and we already know it’s very durable.

Shimano XT all round, too good. The single-ring is very clean and neat, too!

The XT brakes are excellent too; one finger has all the power you’ll need for a confident ride.

Top shelf brakes.

Up front, the FOX fork felt very sophisticated, smooth and the Gripdamper is easily adjusted on the fly via the big blue dial. Another part that gave this bike serious credit far beyond its price.


Best value upgrade areas?

If you’re keen to throw some dollars at the Solo360 down the track, we’d start by matching the tyres to your terrain and make sure they’re tubeless compatible, the rims are good to go, just choose tubeless tyres, add sealant and the bike will ride much smoother with lower tyre pressures, there’s less risk of pinch flats too. The Continental X-King tyres (not the tubeless compatible versions, too) are fast rolling and fine for softer surfaces, but on hard packed or dry trails they are a little nervous, we’re all about matching tyres to the terrain you ride most.

A dropper post would be a good upgrade if you’re one to jump and throw the bike around on the trails, the best invention since tubeless tyres can be found for around $350 these days, try the PRO Koryak or Bontrager Line for a significant upgrade. And perhaps a higher ride handle bar would help raise confidence on steeper trails, and not a big cost item either.

An even cheaper upgrade would be to drop the forks out and stuff some foam into the down tube to silence that internal cable rattling around inside.


Yay, or nay?

We’d just make sure your trails aren’t too rough for the solid frame and 27.5″ wheels, or we’d be inclined to seek out a 29″ hardtail, or considering the Reid Vice plus bike with more traction. But if you’re keen to dabble in a bit of cross country racing or only tend to race about on smooth trails, this is a great option for the dollars.

Double check the fit and match the tyres to your terrain, and it is good to go.

For more on the range of mountain bikes from Reid and details on their direct-to-consumer sales model, click through here.

Tested: Polygon XQUARONE EX9

Watch our full video review below: 


Jeez it’s ugly.

No, it’s not really, we promise. Pictures just don’t do this bike any favours. It’s unconventional, for sure, but when you see it in the flesh it’s far more impressive than offensive. In an era where bikes seem to settling into a couple of broader frame layouts/configurations, the shape and design of this bike was always going to be divisive, but we like it.


Where the magic happens.

What the hell is going on with that rear suspension?

The Nailed R3act 2Play suspension system is like nothing else on the market, and in many ways it’s the key to the Polygon’s abilities. This bike is really a partnership between Polygon and Darrell Voss, the designer of the R3act suspension system. And don’t be surprised if you see this system appearing under license with a variety of other brands very soon (Marin are also using this system already).

We’re still not 100% certain how the system does what it does so well.

We recently interviewed the system’s design, Darrell Voss (we’ll be publishing it in full soon), and to be honest we’re still not 100% certain how the system does what it does so well.

No lockouts, and very little damping. So how does it work so well?

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the system is hugely decreased reliance on damping when compared to other bikes. The FOX X2 shock is has been de-tuned, with roughly half the damping applied to the oil flow compared to a regular version of this shock. In fact, twiddling the adjusters had no perceptible impact on the bike’s performance. This makes setting up the bike’s suspension a very fast process. Set your sag at about 25%, then go ride, no dial twiddling required.

You’re left with a bike that simply grips the terrain like crazy.

The conventional wisdom is that damping is essential to control the suspension’s motion, and with so little damping you’d expect the ride to be like an uncontrolled pogo stick, and indeed when you bounce around in the carpark, that’s what it feels like. But the moment you get onto the trail, this sensation disappears entirely, and you’re left with a bike that simply grips the terrain like crazy.

When you start to really admire the shapes of the frame, the price doesn’t seem so unrealistic.

We’re paraphrasing Darrell Voss’s explanation here, but in a nutshell, when you apply damping to the rear wheel’s motion, you lose energy, and you impede its ability to grip. By reducing damping, you free up the rear wheel to follow the terrain, and allow it to get out of the way of impacts.


But surely with so little rebound damping, you’re going to be thrown over the bars?

That’s what we thought too, and so it was with a bit of trepidation that we approached hitting jumps initially. But strangely enough, the anticipated ejection out the front door never happened. Again, we can’t really explain it, but at no stage did we have even an inkling of getting bucked. The bike just sucked up the hits and stayed calm.

The Polygon simply carries more speed through rough terrain than any other bike we’ve ridden.

What does this all mean for the descents?

Put it this way: on trails we’ve ridden dozens of times, we found ourselves having to relearn our braking points. The Polygon simply carries more speed through rough terrain than any other bike we’ve ridden – it is faaaaaast. It gobbles up repeated hits and chunder, accelerating down the hill, getting speed out of every backside. You don’t have that feeling of getting bogged down and having to work to maintain momentum.

It swallows up big hits too, and while the shock’s o-ring told us we’d used all the travel, we never felt it bottom out.

You carry so much speed on the Polygon, it’s easy to leave your braking too late as it all comes up so fast.

TEST LOCATION: TRAILSHARE CABINS

As part of our review of the Polygon XQAURONE, we spent a weekend up at the new Trailshare Cabins, Kulnura, just over an hour out of Sydney. This place is remarkable: over 20km of private trails, in beautiful blackbutt and turpentine forest, rider-friendly sustainable accommodation. It really is a little piece of paradise, and we’re certain we’ll be using it as a base for a lot more bike testing in the future.

There’s accommodation for up to six people, with a communal kitchen, relaxed outdoor dining with a firepit and as you can see below, the trails literally start from the edge of the verandah. Peace and quiet, trails all to yourself, it’s the ideal place for a chilled out weekend away. Take a look for yourself right here, or book via Air BnB.

The trails at Trailshare start right from the accommodation.

So would you call it an Enduro bike?

When you look at this bike’s figures on paper, particularly the huge 180mm of travel, it’s easy to assume it’s built with descending in mind. But this is the magic of the XQUARONE – it completely defies the standard categorisation we’ve come to use to pigeonhole bikes. In a nutshell, it does what other bikes say they’re going to do, but usually don’t.

It completely defies the standard categorisation we’ve come to use to pigeonhole bikes

We’d have no qualms using this one as our day-to-day trail bike, it’s mind blowingly capable as an all-rounder, which seems insane for such a big bike. This thing climbs very, very well. And we don’t put the caveat “for a bike with 180mm travel” on that statement either. The way this bike scoots up a hill puts many 100mm travel bikes to shame, and it does so without relying on any lockouts or travel adjustment, which simplifies the whole riding experience.

If you switch off that bit of your brain that tells you a climb is impossible, you’ll be surprised what this bike will get up.

Plus it has the added benefit of crazy levels of traction, thanks to the big tyres and the remarkable sensitivity of the suspension. In fact, we made it up climbs on this bike which we’ve fallen short of cresting on every other attempt. If you switch off that bit of your brain that tells you a climb is impossible, you’ll be surprised what this bike will get up.

It cuts a mean profile!

Because the bike climbs so efficiently and accelerates so well, Polygon have been able to run some seriously meaty tyres without making the bike feel like a sloth. It’s a neat trick.

The geometry plays to the bike’s strengths too. It’s a little taller in the bottom bracket than other long-travel bikes, and not as slack up front either. This all conspires to help give the Polygon all-rounder appeal that you’d never expect.


The elevated swing arm has loads of clearance for big tyres.

Surely that big swingarm is flexy?

No, it’s very stiff actually. There’s a lot of carbon in there, and the slider hidden away inside the swingarm also serves to keep it tracking in a straight line. We didn’t notice any wiggle at all, and when you couple that chassis stiffness with the exceptionally stout FOX 36 up front, well you’ve got a bike that goes where you point it.


The Polygon sticks to the ground, so if a playful ride is your priority, then this isn’t the bike for you.

It doesn’t bunny hop around the trail like some other bikes, but then again, you can probably just hammer over that terrain which other bikes are forced to jump.

I’ve heard this bike isn’t playful. True?

Hmmmm, kinda. Yes, you will find that this bike is not as ‘poppy’ as others, that’s part of its design intentions, to follow the terrain. But does that mean it’s not playful?

We think this bike’s playfulness takes a different shape, in that it encourages you to ride lines that weren’t on the radar before. We can attest to this – we tried and succeed in riding lines on this bike that we’ve never even spotted previously. So sure, it doesn’t bunny hop around the trail like some other bikes, but then again, you can probably just hammer over that terrain which other bikes are forced to jump.


But it’s a Polygon.

And this is going to be the sticking point for a lot of potential customers. The market just isn’t accustomed to seeing a bike of this price point or this performance level from Polygon, a brand that’s traditionally been known for delivering value first. If this bike had a different name on it – Intense or Yeti perhaps – then we doubt there’d be any hesitation and the orders would be flowing in.

Contemplating awesomeness.

But put the name aside, and let’s be rational. Yes, at $10,499 the price point is very high, but there are absolutely no corners cut here – XX1 Eagle, e13 carbon wheels, RaceFace NEXT… it’s dripping with good stuff. There’s also a cheaper option in the EX8, which is $8499. Admittedly still a lot of coin, but when you stack the componentry alone up against other high-end offerings from Trek, Specialized, Santa Cruz and so on, it comes up looking like pretty good value. And that’s even before you even take the way the bike actually rides into account.

Ultimately, this bike represents a fundamental repositioning of Polygon in the market, both in terms of price and performance. How mountain bikers react is yet to be seen.


You sound very excited about this one.

Really? Yes, we’re unashamedly pumped on this bike. It’s come from nowhere, and it’s blown our minds. As we’ve said above, the way this bike works is incredibly hard to describe, both technically and experientially, so we’d 100% encourage you to try and get a ride on one to see what we’re on about.

Tested: DT Swiss SPLINE ONE XM1501 29 30mm Wheelset

But things got off to a soft start, with DT’s first few models of rims proving about a resilient as a fairy floss raincoat. A few hard rides could leave them dented like my blind Nanna’s Corolla. We think it’s fair to say it took DT a few years of refinement to get their rim offerings up to scratch. Times have certainly changed, and the new XM1501 wheelset delivers the complete package, and a level of performance you’d expect from DT.

28 straight-pull spokes, front and rear.

Wider, finally.

Like many of the larger rim manufacturers, DT took a little while to get on board with the wide rim program to support the larger tyres that have become the norm for trail riding. But they’ve recently turned the ship around with a whole swathe of wider rims, under the banner of SPLINE ONE, which itself is divided into XR, XM and EX categories, designed for cross-country, all-mountain and Enduro use respectively.

Printed graphics, not fragile stickers.

The range includes these guys, the XM1501 30mm wheelset which runs 30mm-wide rims. We think 30mm is the sweetspot for most trail riding, but DT have five width options in this XM series from 22.5-40mm width, so you’ve got just about every base covered there!

Fitting the DT XM1501 30mm wheelset to our Jeffsy gave it a huge performance boost.

What bike did you run these on?

Our YT Jeffsy long-term test bike was crying out for a wider set of rims to allow it to reach its full potential. At around the same time, DT had just landed these new generation wheelset in Australia, featuring wider rims. We removed the under-gunned DT M1900 wheels from the YT, and on went the XM1501s. The transformation was instant and dramatic, traction was through the roof, as we could run almost 30% less tyre pressure, which combined with the stiffer rims made for more precise handling. Over the course of the review, we’ve run these wheels with Onza Ibex rubber in a 2.4″, and a Specialized Butcher/Slaughter combo in a 2.3″.

A 30mm width is right on the sweet spot for most riding, and works well with tyres in the 2.3-2.5″ range.

What do you like about them?

We’re big fans of high quality alloy wheels such as these, which are stiff, light (sub 1800g) and won’t break the bank. While a carbon wheelset has many benefits, the price of most carbon options is a big barrier (excluding some notable exceptions, such as these from Bontrager) and the durability of an alloy rim to keep rolling even when damaged is appealing too.

The hubs at the heart of this wheelset are brilliant – lightweight, reliable, and easy to service. The Star Ratchet freehub system has few moving parts, and so keeping it running smoothly is within reach of any mechanic. You don’t need any special tools to disassemble it, to give it all a clean or lube.

The Star Ratchet system is simple, with just the two springs and two ratchet rings to worry about. It’s easy to service and lasts a long time.

That same serviceability extends to the spokes and rim. There are 28 straight pull spokes, with external nipples for easy truing. That said, we’ve not needed to take a spoke key to these wheels. The nipples are injected with DT’s Prolock thread sealant, which helps prevent them working loose, and in our case they’ve stayed true and tight.

It might sound like a small thing, but the use of printed graphics as opposed to stickers is a nice touch. It sucks to pay top dollar for a set of wheels only to have the stickers peel or get rubbed off quickly.

Any downsides?

We only suffered one puncture with these rims, but it did result in a cut through the tyre, right on the bead. Upon closer comparison, we’ve noticed that the shape of the bead hook is noticeably sharper than many other alloy rims. While we can’t say for sure that this contributed to the tyre damage, it was interesting to note.

The rims are taped for tubeless with valves supplied. We did notice the bead hook is quite narrow, which may have contributed to us slicing a rear tyre along the tyre bead.

For me? 

The wheel market is a crowded space at the moment, with custom and off-the-shelf options in carbon and alloy galore. You only need to scroll back through the past 12 months of reviews here and see how many wheelsets we’ve tested to get an idea of all the options out there now.

At almost $1500, these wheels sit right at the upper end of the range for alloy rims. As such, they’re really aimed at the rider who wants a high performance set of wheels but who either doesn’t trust carbon (and plenty don’t) or who won’t stretch the budget another few hundred to get into the carbon realm. If that sounds like you, then put these wheels on the shortlist.

 

 

First Impressions: Reid Solo 360 27.5 2017

Reid Bikes are all about bang for buck, and their direct sales model is helping them deliver some impressive bikes at very good prices. We reviewed Reid’s aggressively priced Solo 360 last year. Quite simply, it’s the sum of its parts, which happen to be very bloody good for the money.

The Solo 360 now runs a 1×11 XT drivetrain.

It doesn’t add up…

The Reid Solo is an alloy-framed, 27.5″-wheeled hardtail, and it’ll set you back just $1799. That’s not a lot of money when you start to do the maths on this bike – in fact, from a purely component perspective, this is the best priced hardtail we’ve encountered. The reliable Shimano XT groupset gets the nod for all aspects except the hubs, but it’s the choice of a FOX Performance fork that’s really impressive. Most bikes at this price point will be equipped with a far less capable fork than this.

Scoring a FOX fork at this price point is a big plus.
Internally routed cables and smooth finished welds are unexpected in this price bracket.

What’s changed from last year?

Reid have taken on board some of our feedback from last year’s review too – the new version of the Solo comes with a 1×11 drivetrain, and the bars are wider now, both of which are sensible improvements. It’s also now running through-axles front and rear. ‘

Where will you test it?

It’s definitely true that a 27.5″ hardtail is best suited to smoother, faster trails, and so we’ll be testing this one out on the fast singletrack of Glenrock MTB Park. We’ll let you know how it stacks up soon.

 

First Impressions: New Specialized 2FO Flat Shoes

Subtle, light, $200.

Last weekend, Sam Hill won a round of the EWS on flat pedals, defying conventional wisdom that there’s too much pedalling in an EWS to come out on top running flats. Ok, Hill’s riding is far from conventional, but we think it’s safe to say all the doubters about using flat pedals on trail bikes have now been hushed. Flats are fun and they can be fast too.

We’ve got a pair of the new 2FO shoes on test. First impressions are that they’re a very lightweight shoe, we weighed them at 359g in a size 43, which is about 70g lighter per shoe than our usual set of Five Tens.

Not as soft as some, but much gummier than previous Specialized shoes.

They’re a straight up lace-up job, no buckles or ratchets to be seen. The sole compound is noticeably softer and gummier than earlier 2FOs as well, and the chunky, open lugged design of the tread looks like it’ll do a good job of hanging onto pins and directing mud out from between pedal and shoe.

Press your thumb into the side of mid sole of the shoe and it’s got a cushiness to it that’s more reminiscent of a pair of running shoes than other flat pedal shoes we’ve used. According to Specialized’s 1500-word press release (yes, it’s big on tech!) getting the density of the EVA foam rubber midsole correct is vital – too firm and the pins won’t penetrate enough, too soft and you’ll feel everything and your feet get fatigued.

The inner cuff offers a little extra protection.

Specialized’s Body Geometry program is immensely impressive (read our interview with some of the chief Body Geometry scientists here) and even though it’s a flat pedal, the 2FO gets the same technologies that make other Specialized shoes anatomically sound, adding stability to your knees under pedalling.

Durability and protection looks good, there’s solid reinforcing around the lace holes and a raised inner cuff to stop you whacking your ankles on the cranks or frame too. We’re giving these shoes to our resident flat pedal rider to test. So stay tuned for a full review soon.

 

 

 

 

Long Term Test: Tweaking Our Norco Sight

The latest range of Norco suspension bikes have been so good. First, it was the short travel Optic, then the long travel Range and the Sight in the middle. Using a new frame, great spec and a very well received approach to geometry, they’ve been popular!

We sat down with one of Norco’s bike designers, Owen Pemberton, chatting about frame geometry, wheel size and suspension, it’s an excellent read. “I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?”

Have a read of that piece here – Talking geometry and wheel sizes with Owen Pemberton from Norco. 

Read our review of the short travel Optic here – Norco Optic C 9.2.

We put the Norco Range vs the Trek Slash in a big travel 29er faceoff, have a look at the outcome here – Norco Rance C 9.2 vs Trek Slash 9.8.

And the Sight before we began swapping parts for testing – Norco Sight C 9.2 review.


Norco’s mid-travel trail bike, the Sight comes in 29″ and 27.5″. We are very much a fan of the 29er. Currently as pictured here it is 13.84kg including the ShockWiz and Shimano XTR pedals.
One of the most engaging and lively 29ers we’ve ever ridden. Big love for the Sight.

What’s changed with our Sight then?

Wheels – Wheelworks Flite Wide Alloy Trail 29.

While the wheels from custom wheel builders Wheelworks use the similar rims to the stock spec Raceface ARC 30, these have 35mm internal width rims and have been handbuilt with bladed spokes, they also use high-end hubs with a very positive freehub engagement. There was quite a discernable difference in the ride quality with the wheel change, especially on loose surfaces where we could drop the tyres down a little further to give us more traction.

Going to wider rims are an absolute no-brainer for anyone looking to add composure and confidence to their bike, we’ve been super happy with these.

Wheelworks Flite Wide wheels, 35mm and tough.

Read our full review of the wheels here – Wheelworks Flite Wide Alloy Trail 29.

Drivetrain – BOX One 11-speed drivetrain.

This was an interesting one for us, our first ride of the BOX One drivetrain, a brand previously known mainly for BMX components. The drivetrain is 11-speed with an 11-46 tooth cassette, a black KMC chain and it uses a few unique approaches to the classic task of shifting; the most obvious one is how you shift with your thumb. Instead of two paddles that shift up, and the other shifts down, the BOX One uses one paddle that can be downshifted like normal, but to upshift you ‘poke’ the L-shaped thumb lever inwards towards the shifter. It took a few hours to get used to, but the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.

We fitted a BOX One drivetrain to the Norco, we were very curious!

It only took a few hours of riding to get used to, the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.

The rear derailleur not only looks vastly different from Shimano or SRAM, but it also uses a different approach to chain retention, too. While BOX does suggest using a chain guide with the system, we didn’t drop a chain despite the derailleur’s tension feeling significantly lighter than the Shimano it replaced.

The clutch tension feels very light, but the shifting is very smooth as a result.

Our biggest gripe with the shifter is how it meshed with the Shimano XT brake lever, the architecture of the mount didn’t allow us to roll the shifter upwards to our preference. Though we doubt that would pose an issue for everyone. Overall we were happily impressed with the drivetrain, though it may not stand forth as a stronger option to the other big guns, it’s nice to try something different.

Geeking out with the ShockWiz.

This is one very interesting little device, we’ve had this fitted to the fork and shock for quite some time now and are really beginning to understand how it works. Interestingly though, one thing we take away from deciphering the ShockWiz feedback is to back off the rear shock’s compression even when it’s in open mode and decrease its progresivity by removing volume spacers. This proves the point that the Sight’s suspension is quite supportive and firm, we’re going to delve into this a little deeper in our next long term test update.

The nifty little data collection device, helping us get the most out of the 130mm of travel.

Dropper post – FOX Transfer.

The best dropper post we have ridden, the Transfer is so reliable, consistent and the lever fits so well on the left-hand side of the bar. We’re open to suggestions as to what could trump the Transfer as the best dropper out there if the cost was no factor.

FOX Transfer dropper, our ultimate fave of the dropper segment.

Cockpit – ENVE stem, PRO Tharsis bar, Ergon GE1 grips.

To drop some weight from the front end, we went full carbon with the ENVE stem and PRO Tharsis bar, some of the lightest available. The Ergon grips are huge favourites of ours.

ENVE stem, fancy stuff!
PRO Tharsis bar, seriously light, wide, low and subtle.
Massive fans of the Ergon grips, these are the Factory soft compound, extra tacky!

Saddle – Ergon SMA3-Comp.

Saddles are a personal thing, while the SDG saddle that came on the Norco was a good fit for our backsides, we wanted to lose some weight from the bike and try something new. The SMA3 Comp saddle comes in two widths – medium and small – we’ve got the medium on there now, and the saddle feels firm but not too hard, and the material and shape allow us to move around it as we ride in and out of the saddle.

The Ergon SME3 Comp saddle is quite flat and smooth, with a firm padding.

What’s next?

While we’re never going to set records for the lightest trail bike out there, the Sight makes it up in other areas. We’re going to try some 2018 FOX suspension, Bontrager carbon wheels, XTR brakes, TRP Quadiem brakes, Schwalbe Addix tyres, a SRAM Eagle drivetrain and try to find a water bottle cage and bottle that fits in the tight space.

Time to ride!

First Ride Review: Crankbrothers Highline Dropper Post

The Highline Dropper entered the competitive market of dropper posts mid-2016, and recently announced a long-drop 160mm version to accompany the 100mm and 125mm posts. It’s a cable actuated unit with a sealed and user-replaceable cartridge controlling the motion via a highly adjustable thumb lever.

We fit one to a bike and spent a few hours trying it out, here are our first impressions.

Getting dirty with the Highline Dropper.

The installation.

We watched a Highline Dropper Post go from its packaging to bike and ready to ride in a very short space of time. With the cable end attaching to the post into the actuator mechanism that can be removed by hand, the cable fixes at the lever with an allen key bolt. To make the fitting even quicker, the seat clamp can be opened up to let the saddle install without removing any bolts and juggling nuts.

The head of the gear cable clips into the post actuator.

The lever is elegant, with enormous scope to mount it where you like and move it into position by swivelling on a ball joint with a huge range. It has to be one of the most adjustable and ergonomic levers available, and by dialling in the cable tension, you can further customise the feel of the lever throw.

Up and down, up and down part.

To sum up the operation in words, we’d say it’s smooth and slow. The lever action is light and with no real feedback or noise, the post motions up and down very calmly at the same speed each time.

With the release of a 160mm drop version, the Highline will appeal to riders who want to get the saddle right out of the way, and bikes with low standover height. Though for most applications a 125mm post will be okay.

There’s no speed adjustment, so some may find it a little slow, but we didn’t mind.

How is it different to the rest?

Crankbrothers aimed to restore confidence in their dropper posts in a crowded and competitive market, a tough task for sure. The Highline though has many unique features that set it apart from the likes of KS, RockShox, FOX, Bontrager, PRO, etc. Firstly the 160mm drop is a big one; then there’s the user-serviceability option that appeals. With the internal workings of the post housed inside a replaceable hydraulic cartridge, there is no bleeding required, that should make light work of any issues if they did occur.

With the easy saddle installation and cable management, it’s a quick post to fit into a bike, and the thumb lever can be mounted in a wide range of positions.

Options, weight and pricing.

Choose from a 100mm, 125mm and 160mm and expect to pay around $549.95 AUD for one.

Weight are 525g (100mm), 560g (125mm) and 610g (160mm).

Testing New 2018 FOX Suspension

We recently took part in a very interesting testing event with the crew from FOX, where the aim was to get a better understanding of what is new from FOX in the 2018 range. While it may seem that the new season doesn’t bring massive change to the fork and shock range, it’s the small details of the air spring and damper that was the focus.

A 2017 model bike received the 2018 treatment, it’s all about the internals and small details for FOX this season.
Three FOX team members, clipboards, pens and a shock pump. It’s getting serious!
FOX’s big gun – Eamonn Cleere knows a thing or two about tuning suspension; we picked his brains until he could take it no more… Sorry, Eamonn!

So, what is new in 2018?

The headline item is the introduction of the EVOL air spring system to the FOX 36, which we already took a look at here. And larger negative air springs in the EVOL system, and a new damper to suit. EVOL was introduced last year with the new DPS Float shocks, which we tested in-depth on a Yeti SB5 – read our Float DPS shock review here. Other new tweaks include a lighter weight EVOL air can for DPS shocks which also loses a seal to decrease unwanted friction.

The new DPS shock with its one-piece air can. A lighter unit, and smoother in operation.

What’s EVOL all about? 

EVOL is a snazzy abbreviation of Extra Volume, in reference to the increased volume of the negative air spring found in EVOL forks and shocks. What does it mean on the trail? The most noticeable benefit is a reduction in breakaway friction i.e. it takes less force to get the fork moving, meaning less shock is transferred to the rider.

There’s only so much space inside a fork, so if you’re increasing the negative air spring volume, you’re taking that space away from something else. In the case of the forks, the trade-off is a smaller positive air spring, smaller air volumes have more progressive curves. So to bring things back in line the damper in the other fork leg needed to reflect the increase in spring curve with a tune that would suit it.

Testing time!

Oh gee, didn’t we feel special on this one day, like a real top pro rider! We had many FOX technicians from FOX Australian crew, and FOX guru big wig Eamonn Cleere (FOX Europe technical manager, Europe Asia/Pacific.) and Damon Chen (Technical support Asia/Pacific.) at our disposal.

We arrived with a test bike equipped with 2017 FOX suspension on our bikes, and the aim was to ride the bike on a short testing loop and upgrade the fork and shock in stages and adjust the settings with the FOX technicians like we’re on the team. Greg Minnaar would have been envious.

For the test, we brought along the Scott Spark 900 with a 120mm travel FOX 34 with Fit 4 damper up front, and the FOX Nude EVOL DPS rear shock out the back, a bike we know well and have spent quite some time on in its stock spec.

Test lap #1 – 2017 standard.

Before heading out for our first lap the crew took note of the important settings; air pressure, rebound and compression, tyre pressure, etc, and off we went. The bike performed as we expected and were familiar with.

First lap on the stock suspension.
Note taking, back to school for us.

Test lap #2 – New spring.

In went the new air spring, suspension sags were measured and off we went. The fork didn’t feel particularly great with the new spring fitted, to say the least. As we warmed up on the trail, we were riding faster with more aggression and found ourselves blowing through the fork travel far too quickly and riding low in the last third of the travel too much. 

New vs. old – the MY18 air spring has a larger negative air volume (space around and above the black rubber) for increased sensitivity.

The new air spring has greater negative air volume, and hence the positive chamber is smaller, so in theory, it should have felt too firm and harsh, but our experiences were that it felt harsh and too soft. It was back to camp to install the damper to match the spring.

Test lap #3 – New damper fitted to match the new air spring.

In went the new damper designed to match the new air spring, and we were back on the trails in the blink of an eye. And presto! The bike was feeling great, the fork’s action was incredibly smooth and very supple, the change was slight but as the timeframes between the changes were so short, and on the same trail, we were able to discern the smallest of differences.

With the new spring and damper inside the fork, it was reacting faster to impacts and transferring less feedback to our hands. It felt softer, but there was the support and progression from a fork with higher air pressure.

Small improvements to the fork’s action made for a significant increase in performance on the trail.
The damper in the right-hand side of the leg.
Damon from FOX on the task of dialling in the suspension settings after each lap.

With the new spring and damper inside the fork, it was reacting faster to impacts and transferring less feedback to our hands. It felt softer, but there was the support and progression from a fork with higher air pressure.

On the climbs, the front wheel would track along with less disturbance, especially when out of the saddle and over the bars, pushing hard up ledges and over bumps the 120mm of travel felt very active to help maintain significant forward momentum.

Test lap #4 – Completing the picture with the new rear shock.

On the trail with the new shock, the rear suspension felt to be better matched to the fork regarding suppleness and feel; the bike was tracking along the trail excellently. While the Scott Spark wasn’t by any means old or worn out, the updated shock and fork internals made it feel super fresh and highly sophisticated.

A new EVOL DPS shock out the back, a more supple and sensitive unit than the one it replaces.
With the new shock fitted, things don’t look far different. Although the EVOL air can has no join near the shaft seal, requiring one less seal, resulting in a smoother operation.

The larger negative air spring let the shock access its travel faster with less force required to get it moving, it felt smooth, that’s for sure. It’s a lighter unit too, though that’s not something we would necessarily feel out on the trail.

So, new stuff is better than old stuff?

While we do wish we had a long travel bike on hand to feel more of the suspension in action, the 120mm Scott Spark we upgraded with the 2018 internals came away feeling a million bucks. It’s hard to put the experiences of testing suspension into words sometimes, and we risk repeating words like smooth, supple, supportive. While the FOX crew were on hand to help the installation process they weren’t there to tell us what to expect, though our feedback to them was generally what they would expect.

Stiction is suspension’s worst enemy, and for 2018 FOX have used larger negative air volumes and adapted the dampers to match, the outcome is a new level of suppleness. That suppleness translates to a very smooth ride, enhancing traction, keeping your bike in check when the terrain turns choppy.

So we should all rush out and buy the new stuff?

Well, while development of new stuff drives sales and makes the racers even faster, there’s plenty of people with current suspension forks and shocks happy enough not to replace them. FOX has come out with something very interesting globally, FFT – Fox Factory Tune. FFT will be a cheaper, and faster way to get the most out of your suspension.


Read about the FFT program here.

FOX has come out with something very interesting globally, FFT – Fox Factory Tune. FFT will be a cheaper, and faster way to get the most out of your suspension.


FFT, do this whole process from home, or through your bike shop.

FFT will give consumers a direct line to FOX for servicing, tuning and upgrading. Effectively anyone could do the same process we did here with existing FOX components and upgrade the internals to current spec and also request custom tuning to suit unique requirements.

Tested: 6D ATB-1 EVO Helmet

So what is this thing again? And how is it safer than my regular helmet?

We went into the technology in detail in our first impressions piece, and it makes for some interesting reading, so we do suggest you take a look.

Way, way more going on than a regular helmet! Two shells, which float independently of each other, with ‘dampers’ in between the layers.

Here’s the nutshell version. The 6D helmet is constructed using two shells of different densities (harder outside, softer inside) which are separated by 6D’s Omni Directional Suspension system. This suspension allows the two shells a degree of independence from each other. It’s all about reducing the transfer of energy to your head and brain at the moment of impact, in a way that a conventional helmet, even those equipped with MIPS, simply cannot match.

 6D deserve to be applauded for really re-thinking helmets to find new levels of impact protection.

The basic concepts of helmet construction haven’t really evolved in a couple of decades, and 6D deserve to be applauded for really re-thinking helmets to find new levels of impact protection.

You can clearly see the two shells here.
It’s a big helmet, no two ways around it. The orange straps on our model definitely do emphasise the helmet’s width too.

I’m self-conscious. Should I get this helmet?

Well sorry, but you’re going to get noticed wearing this one! Maybe it’s because we opted for the brightest colour in the range, but the 6D does look considerably bigger than most helmets, including the larger ‘extended coverage’ lids out there.

At various stages we were told we looked like a toadstool or that we had a pumpkin on our head. Lucky we’re thick skinned, and you should be too, knowing that your brain is being well looked after.

The 6D compared to the Giro Montaro.

When heading to more challenging or higher speed trails, the 6D was the obvious choice.

Do you feel safer in this lid? 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, yes, we did. Interestingly, we found ourselves consciously reaching for this helmet instead of our usual lid on a number of occasions, especially when we were heading to more technical trails, and particularly when we were going riding on our own.

A magnetic clasp.

How about the fit and feel?

We really like the quality feel of the magnetic clasp on the chin strap, and the fact the strap is padded too (why don’t more helmets do this?). The retention system had no problems keeping the helmet nice and secure, but without any obvious pressure points.

The padded chin strap is really comfortable.

Even though the 6D weighs around 200g more than many open-face helmets, you’re never conscious of this, and the helmet doesn’t shift around, even on the roughest trails. You’d be surprised how many helmets fail terribly in this department – we’ve used plenty that are just about covering your eyeballs by the bottom of some of the rougher trails around Flow HQ!

The adjustable visor is easily bumped out of position – the plastic screws which secure it can’t be done up very tight, or they begin to round out. It’d be good to see this revised.

The 6D doesn’t get the airflow of some of its competitors.

A little hot? 

The only compromise we noted with using this helmet over our usual lids, was airflow. With the double shells and comparatively small number of vents, there’s not as much air getting to your melon. In summer, this will definitely be a warmer lid than many others.

Does it work?

Sorry team, as much as we’re dedicated to the cause, we didn’t crash onto our melons in the name of product testing this time around. So we can’t give you an honest answer in that regard. But the theory and testing data that 6D have made available makes a lot of sense.

Anything that makes mountain biking safer, but without overly impinging on your riding, gets a big tick from us.

Would you recommend it?

Anything that makes mountain biking safer, but without overly impinging on your riding, gets a big tick from us. And the 6D ATB helmet definitely delivers in that regard, bringing you more protection with very few downsides other than a little bit less airflow.

Whether or not you like the styling, well that’s a personal choice, but we’d suggest you’ve got your priorities a bit muddled if that’s the only thing stopping you from considering this helmet!

 

 

Tested: Bontrager Rapid Pack

One bottle, two pockets, and a whole lot of  ‘style’.

Why would I use it?

If your frame doesn’t take a water bottle, or has room for just one bottle and you want more water storage, then your options have traditionally been limited to wearing a backpack of some description, which has the downside of being rather heavy and hot, or stuffing a bottle in a pair of SWAT bibs or similar, which looks awful and feels worse.

However, with the re-emergence of the bum bag as a piece of acceptable cycling kit (ok, debatable), you’ve now got a third option, letting you store water a few spares but without the bulk of a full blown pack.

Room for just the delicious essentials, but this bag isn’t designed for long missions obviously.
A simple clasp holds it all in place securely and quickly.

Why do we like it?

Because it’s just big enough to hold the essentials, but small enough to forget you’ve got it on. Unlike other bum bags we’ve used (such as the Camelbak Palos), the Bontrager Rapid Pack doesn’t have a bladder. It’s simply designed to carry a single water bottle, which slips into a nice elasticised little pouch. Realistically, that’s enough water for a blast around the local trails.

Because it’s lightweight, it doesn’t bounce or move around on rough trails either, which have found to be an issue with the Palos when it’s got a full load of water on board. In fact, you barely notice you’re wearing it – it’s not particularly warm, breathing well, and as the weight is on your hips, it doesn’t have a perceptible impact on how you feel on the bike. The pack’s light foam backing is super malleable too, so it hugs close to your hips, helping it really stay in place.

Like other bum bags, it’s also super easy to spin around to your front when you need to get into the pockets to have a feed or grab your phone to tweet about it.

Neat little hook for your car key! Better than having it bounce out of your unzipped pocket somewhere in the shrubbery.

What will it hold? 

In addition to your bottle, there are two zippered stretchy pockets, with enough room for a tube, a CO2, multitool, phone, a bar or two. There’s even a neat little hook for your sweet Toyota Townace key. Obviously there’s not enough storage to embark on a mega mission (there aren’t any external straps for securing a jacket for instance), but if you’re out for a short ride then it’s ideal.

You’ve got three seconds to tell us what year Bontrager was founded in. 3…. 2…. 1…. Well done!

So you’d recommend it?

110%. When a bike doesn’t have room for a water bottle, it can be a real bugger – we really like being able to ride without a full blown pack on shorter rides. But with the Rapid Pack, we feel like we’ve got the perfect solution. It holds just the right amount of water and gear for those quick arvo loops.

We’ve been using the Rapid Pack for a few months now and it’s unscathed. We haven’t had it come loose or move on us once, and it hasn’t launched a bottle either. Our only gripe is the price, which at $99 seems a little steep all things considered, but that’s your choice to make. We like it a lot.

Tested: Wheelworks FLITE Wide Alloy Trail 29 Wheels

Wheelworks wheels are not your average off-the-shelf wheel; they aim to offer a broad range of custom options predetermined from a consultation with the friendly folk at their Wellington, NZ headquarters. They’ll call you to discuss the options, on an actual phone if you wish, how personal is that!  

You can read all about the Wheelworks wheel building process and just why they feel confident in offering a lifetime warranty here,  in our interview with Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas. We recommend you have a read, as there are some interesting aspects to the process and Tristan does a great job of dispelling some popular myths about wheels.

“It all starts with a short conversation with the rider where we’ll talk about what bike they’re going on, what style of riding they’ll be used for, and how hard the customer is on equipment.  We do a lot of bench-testing as well as ride testing so we know stiff different rims and combinations will be and how much they’ll weigh. All our staff ride so we’re able to combine the theoretical benefits with actual ride quality. We’ll also talk about colours to make sure their new Flite wheels look good on their bike.” – Tristan Thomas.

They are sold online, direct to the consumer with very impressive warranty terms; we’re talking lifetime warranty on hubs, rims, spokes and nipples. The options are plentiful, choose from rim widths, rim materials, hub brands, spokes and even decal colours to match your bike just right.

It’s hard to take photos of bladed spokes, so please appreciate this shot.

Let’s go shopping!

Following our review of the FLITE Wide Carbon wheels which resulted in a first-hand test of their warranty process as carbon met rock (the rock won and the ride was done) we picked out an aluminium set to try. The wheels were to be fitted to our mid-travel Norco Sight, we opted for the FLITE Wide Alloy Trail 29 wheels with Wheelworks’ own Dial hubs, all colour matched to the frame nicely.

Choose from a myriad of colour options.

The width.

The rims are very wide, 35mm wide internally. Why go so wide? The last few years have seen trail bikes, all mountain bikes and enduro bikes being fitted with wider rims. Long story short, with wide rims there is more air volume to dampen the ride, more support for your tyres when run at lower pressure and the result is mega traction. With that added traction climbs are not as slippery, corners feel grippy, and the bike responds to braking with more composure.

We’re seeing most ‘wide’ rim wheelsets hovering around the 27-30mm mark; we’re so used to it now we shudder when receiving a test bike with anything under 25mm, even cross country bikes with 19mm rims feel so outdated.

35mm wide, that translates to a LOT of traction.

Can wide become too wide?

After riding a huge variety of wheels, we feel that around the 30mm mark is a good balance of traction, precision and support. We’d reserve 35mm rims for serious terrain, rocky and loose surfaces and root-riddled trails – the stuff we love! Take a bike with 35mm wide rims to buff trails and it is overkill, the weight and rolling resistance will drag you down. But take it to a trail where traction is rare, drop those pressures down, and you’ll be cleaning sections of trail like a champion.

What tyres?

Don’t go throwing any old set of tyres on 35mm rims; it’s important to match the rubber to the width. You’ll know if your tyres aren’t right if you can see the sidewalls bulging out past the tread, or the shape of the tyre goes somewhat square. Maxxis have a range of tyres in a particular shape designed for this; the WT (wide trail). Or you’ll be relatively safe with anything above 2.35-2.4 ish.

Going wide requires a tyre to make the most of it, choose wisely.

How’d they roll?

Replacing the wheels on the Norco  (Raceface ARC 30) with the Wheelworks set (which use Raceface AR 35 rims) was surely not going to provide a vast amount of difference to ride. Or was it? The 5mm of extra width, combined with build quality, actually lifted the bike’s performance.

Three months on, they feel the same as the first ride. Tough and true.

Straight away the wheels felt tight and ready, no pinging sounds came from the spokes on our first ride, the wheels were tensioned perfectly. The Dial hubs had significantly better engagement than the Shimano XT hubs they replaced, and the freehub was much smoother too.

We hammered the living daylights out of these wheels; we even sliced the rear tyre from slamming a sharp-edged rock we didn’t even see on one fast descent. A few dings emerged but the spokes didn’t lose tension, and they never went out of true. After three months of pounding, they are still straight, with no twiddling of spoke keys from us at all.

Upon reflection, we probably should have gotten more punctures during the three months; there are way more dings in the rims than the amount of punctures received.

How do they ‘feel’?

When talking wheels, the word ‘feel’ comes up a lot, especially when talking carbon vs. aluminium. These wheels lacked a little zing and pep that we expect from a lightweight pair of carbon wheels, but they had a feeling that we got to appreciate – tough. Throw the bike sideways and the wheels land with a thud, not a chatter, they bomb through rocks quietly and confidently.

The Dial hubs.

Wheelworks offer a bunch of hubs like Chris King, Hope, DT Swiss and their own branded hubs, the Dial (they sound like a dial of a safe). The rear hub has a very precise 72 point engagement freehub, something you’d only find on top end hubs, but Wheelworks spec the Dial hubs on their lower price point wheel builds.

There are loads of hub options available; we tested the Wheelworks Dial hubs, very nice freehub!

Front hubs don’t typically demand our attention too much, there’s not much going on, but we did find this one a little frustrating when fitting into the bike. The end caps aren’t fixed, they hang loose when the hub is not clamped into the fork. So when dropping the fork onto the front hub, lining up the rotor in between the pads isn’t the only thing you need to take care with. The hub end caps need to be held into place with one hand while the other guides the wheel into the dropouts.

What are the rims?

“Unlike the Flite carbon wheels we develop in-house we do not produce our own aluminium rims and instead choose rims developed and sold by other companies.  We’re a fully custom wheelbuilding company and we have access to basically any rim produced and if it suits the customers needs then we’ll source and build whatever is best.  What we find is that some rims work better than others for certain applications and those are the rims we choose to stock and recommend.  We’ve found the RaceFace ARC range to be well suited for XC and Trail riding and we’ll often suggest the ARC27 and ARC30 for XC use, and the ARC30 and ARC35 for trail use.  These rims are wide and light and have good durability for trail use, but not great durability for Enduro so for a harder-hitting rider or bike we’ll use the DT Swiss 512 or 570.  These DT Swiss rims are heavier than the ARC rims but stand up better to really aggressive riding.” – Tristan Thomas.

Carbon wheels break, right? 

Traditionally speaking, carbon wheels crack where aluminium wheels ding, and it’s more common to see a trashed aluminium wheel still going after heavy abuse where carbon gets to a point where it just can’t go on. It’s a fine line to tread if you’re an aggressive rider, and even more so under pressures of racing. At the EWS in Derby we say many carbon wheels breaking, and occasionally saw bikes fitted with carbon wheels on the front, but aluminium out the back. While not everyone races their bikes, we can still understand why racers make those particular decisions. If we were racing enduro and serious about it, we’d go for something like these for security’s sake, for sure.

Weight, price, stuff like that?

We weighed them at 1900g on our Park Tool scales, which is ok, not fantastic. When comparing wheel weights, though, it’s key to compare apples to apples, these rims are 35mm wide and aluminium.  The $1620AUD price gives us that same response, decent, but not a bargain. But again, it’s worth looking at the value of the product as a whole, not just the wheel. Warranty, local support (southern hemisphere is kinda local), custom options and the hand-built process. These guys prove that you can still get good old fashioned service AND purchase on online. In a way, it’s the best of both worlds. 

Yay, or nay?

If you’re investing in your bike and want to upgrade, you can’t go past wheels as an area with room for improvement. If your bike is a few years old and running standard narrow-ish rims, these would be a great upgrade, and yes we agree this is a long review for a set of wheels, but there’s just a lot going on.

Hard on wheels? Ride loose trails? Consider these.

Tested: Avanti Competitor S Plus 2

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.

Plus bikes are ideal for tricky terrain, and a safe bet for beginners, also.

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.

This much grip changes everything.

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.

140mm of travel, add the cushion of the plus tyres and you’ve got quite a lot of bounce to enjoy.

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.

Plus tyres are not immune to punctures, finding the right tyre pressure to suit the terrain is paramount.

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.

Choose wisely, the Competitor ain’t for smooth trails.

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.

Avanti’s long-serving four-bar linkage provides smooth and supportive suspension.

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 smooth and crisp SLX drivetrain was a real highlight for us.

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.

The brakes felt nice under the finger, but aren’t particularly powerful.

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.

The wide rims give the tyres tremendous support at low pressure, but did feel a little soft when ridden hard on harsh rocky trails.

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!

2018 Giant Anthem – First Ride

Say hello to Giant’s new cross-country weapon.

While Giant’s 2017 Anthems steered away from the bike’s race focused history (their 2017 model bordered on trail bike territory with a 120mm front end paired with an 110mm rear – read our review here), the 2018 Anthem 29” takes this ever-popular model back to its racing roots. We know a lot of racers who are going to be very excited to see this bike back in its pure, Watt-bombing form.

The Anthem is back rolling on big wheels.

Apart from the move to 29” wheels, the new Anthem also sports a 100mm front end paired with 90mm of rear suspension. Yep, 90mm out back. Didn’t we tell you this was a dedicated XC weapon?


Why all the dramatic changes- weren’t Giant 100% committed to 27.5” wheels?

Where the previous year’s Anthem models focused on versatility and appealing to a wider audience than merely dedicated racers, the 2018 Anthem is an unashamed race bike through and through.The goal for the 2018 Anthem, was speed. Filthy, nasty speed.

The frame is beefy where it needs to be, and slender everywhere else. Our complete bike was 9.8kg.

The bike’s intentions were perhaps best summed up by Kevin Dana, Giant’s Global Off-Road Category Manager.

“We’re completely unapologetic, we know this isn’t a bike for everyone, this is a purebred cross-country race bike”

Southern California’s smooth single track was the perfect testing grounds for the new Anthem.

So, the bigger wheels are faster now?

Yep. Giant were staunch 27.5″ advocates – indeed, they might have been the industry’s strongest proponents for 27.5 – proclaiming that the handling attributes of a 27.5” wheel outweighed the benefits of a 29” wheel. Maybe this was the case in 2014, but we don’t need to spell it out that 29ers have come a long way in the past three years, across all segments of the mountain bike market. New technologies and approaches to geometry have seen 29ers get their mojo back, and Giant has incorporated these into the new bike.

The new Anthem’s geometry is radically different to its 2013 predecessor, and Giant feel they can now create a bike that takes advantage of the benefits of the big wheels without the handling compromises of previous years.

Boost spacing played a big role in the new Anthem.

We’ll spare you the standard longer, lower and slacker diatribe, but the triple threat treatment means the bike feels far less twitchy than a cross-country bike of yesteryear- no more sweaty palms descending aboard a 29” cross-country bike with a 72-degree head angle! Full geometry is below.

The new Anthem 29 handles the descents far better than its predecessor.

One area of geometry that drastically effects the Anthem’s handling is the shorter rear end. During the prototyping phase, long-time Giant athletes Carl Decker and Adam Craig wanted the bike to be easier to flick around on the trail and pop onto one wheel for getting over obstacles.

Carl Decker was instrumental in this bike’s development.

The number they settled on, which they were able to achieve through the new standards of 1x drivetrains (the aluminium model features a brazed-on front derailleur mount for nostalgic purposes), Boost spacing and metric shocks, was 438mm. That a full 24mm shorter than the previous Anthem 29er! That number felt pretty spot on to us, providing the right mix of making the bike’s handling livelier than its boat-esque predecessor while keeping the bike’s wheelbase in check for its intended use (1133mm for a size medium). 438mm is a sensible length – we’ve often noted that going too short on a XC bike can make it harder to keep the front end from lifting and can detract from the overall stability.

The new Anthem features a trunnion mounted rear shock.
The new Anthem is a 1x only affair, with the exception of the aluminium model.

What about the suspension- why 90mm of rear travel?

90mm of travel definitely feels like a pretty hardcore approach – we can’t think of many bikes in recent years emerging with less than 100mm out back. Giant’s rationale for the abbreviated travel isn’t just about positioning this bike as a race weapon, it’s also because they feel that 90mm of premium quality travel is better than 100mm with compromises.

The aim with the Anthem was to provide 90mm of fully usable travel.

Less can be more. Explain, please! 

When Giant first set about reincarnating the Anthem 29”, they tested several 29” dual-suspension cross-country bikes already on the market, all of which had 100mm of rear travel. What they found was that due to the short shock strokes, low air volumes and high leverage ratios generally used on these bikes, the shock’s air pressure had to be run quite high, which lead to suspension performance compromises.

With high suspension leverage ratios and the associated high shock pressures often found on XC race bikes, it was often difficult to obtain full travel. And often, to get full travel, they ended up having to run too much sag and lose mid-stroke support. Finally, high shock pressures can result in less usable rebound tuning range – it’s something we’ve seen often, too much pressure leads to you having just a couple of clicks of truly relevant rebound adjustment, with the rest being largely superfluous.

The Anthem features a more usable rebound range than other XC bikes on the market.

So, how does the Anthem’s 90mm shock solve these problems?

What Giant found after trialling a couple of 100mm prototypes was that moving to 90mm travel with a lower leverage ratio, and using a shock with a higher air volume and a longer stroke length, allowed for lower air pressures to be used.

Carl Decker explains the rationale behind the Anthem’s rear suspension.

Pushing through all the tech talk, lower air pressures let Giant obtain better shock sensitivity, more mid-stroke support, more rebound control, and the usability of the full travel range without blowing through and bottoming out.

We would describe the Anthem’s rear suspension as supportive and efficient.

The mid stroke support gives you a better riding position, as regardless of whether you’re in or out of the saddle there’s minimal bobbing and good traction. Cutting to the chase- we were very impressed by the Anthem’s rear travel. It’s not the brutal, and super firm feel we anticipated when we first heard it had 90mm of travel, but rather it’s quality, and it’s effective.

The Anthem’s 90mm of travel isn’t a lot on paper, but it works superbly.

How did the rest of the bike go out on the trail?

Fast. We were aboard the top of the line Anthem 29 Advanced Pro 0 for the bike’s launch, a bike featuring nothing but the best components available, and the bike didn’t disappoint.

Suffering on the climbs behind Carl Decker.

Our testing took place in Southern California at Giant USA’s headquarters, on perfect testing grounds for the bike of predominantly smooth and fast singletrack, although the treacherous loose over hardpack surface kept us on our toes! Due to the trails’ slippery surface, many of the climbs were best tackled in the saddle, where the bike’s seated traction was impressive. It felt precise and easy to manage on the switchback climbs too, whipping through nicely with the shorter rear end.

The rolling terrain was best ridden with intent.

Opening up the speed a bit more on wide open fire trails, punchy ascents and undulating singletrack, the Anthem came into its own. The impressively light overall weight (9.98kg without pedals for a medium) was backed up by predictable traction, and the bike’s geometry encourages you to go for it.

A big chainring for a fast bike.

With the suspension’s excellent sensitivity, out of the saddle efforts over choppy surfaces resulted in far less skipping of the rear wheel than we’ve experienced in the past, meaning more of our power was delivered to the ground, even on the seriously loose trail surface.

We enjoyed powering out of the saddle on the Anthem.

The shock uses a remote lockout – it’s a two-stage system, with the compression either open or locked. Racers will love it, though we’d like to have seen a middle setting here – something similar to Scott’s Twinloc system would be very useful. With the bike locked out, the super firm compression setting tended to see the rear wheel skipping. And with the bike fully open, the compression sometimes felt a little more wallowy than we would’ve liked if we were racing and every second was on the line.. Something in the middle would have been ideal.

The longer paddle is used to open the suspension.
The shorter paddle is used to lock the suspension.

This is a minor complaint, and perhaps setting the bike up with a touch less sag (Giant recommend between 20-25%, and we were using the latter measurement for our testing) would allow you to run the bike fully open all the time whilst retaining as much efficiency as possible, saving the lockout for only full blown sprints.

Sag setup on the Anthem is critical. 20-25% is the recommendation. We’d urge you to go closer to 20%.

What about the descents?

As mentioned above, the new Anthem features the standard longer, lower, slacker treatment that barely rates a mention when a new bike is released these days.

Who said you can’t have fun on an XC bike?

Key measurements like a 69-degree head angle, 73.5-degree seat tube angle and a 610mm top tube in a size medium mean the Anthem’s handling on the descents is far less twitchy than in years past. Combined with the more pliable rear end, the Anthem is a surefooted descender for a cross-country race bike, however, we think a dropper post would’ve been a welcome addition.


No dropper post?

Nope. And with a 27.2mm seat post, there aren’t too many options to fit one. This is another nod to the Anthem 29’s intentions as a dedicated XC race bike, however, there are provisions for an internally mounted dropper. As a side note, Giant’s Senior Global Marketing Manager had a dropper on his Anthem, and he was flying down the descents!

Giant’s Andrew Juskaitis tips his dropper equipped Anthem into another slippery Socal turn.

Giant also justify the decision as the 27.2mm seatpost provides additional compliance when smashing along in the saddle, and by running a rigid post there are the obvious weight savings over a dropper. Still, as comfortable as the bike is when powering in the saddle, we’d be looking to install some kind of dropper – even if it were just a short-travel XC-specific offering.

A rigid seatpost was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Any other neat touches?

We’re big fans of the Kabolt axles front and rear on the Anthem, that both shave weight and give the bikes a clean look. The skeletal, one-piece carbon Maestro link is also svelte looking piece of kit, as is the hidden seat post binder – schmicko.

The carbon Maestro link has been refined for maximum weight savings.

Something that’s often overlooked on cross-country bikes is that an 180mm front rotor provides quality stopping power- we’re glad Giant chose to sacrifice a bit of weight over speccing a 160mm offering.

An 180mm front rotor gets a thumbs up from us.

Lastly, the cabling of the bike rates a mention. Giant have always done a superb job, but the way they’ve kept it all smooth and rub-free is nicely done. The dual lockout lever is clean and ergonomic, and the rear lockout comes out neatly just underneath the bottle cage, very unobtrusive.


Right, how many Anthem models will we see in Australia, and for how many dollars?

There are four Anthem models, with three carbon models and one aluminium bike in the range. The bike we were testing is the only full-carbon model with both a carbon front triangle and a carbon rear end, while the other two carbon models feature an aluminium rear end. According to Giant, the carbon rear end saves around 120 grams.

We tested the top of the line Anthem Advanced Pro 29 0.
The Anthem Advanced 29 1 features an aluminium rear end.
The Anthem 29 1 is the only aluminium model that will be available.

The 2018 Anthem models that will be coming into Australia, as well as their prices, have not been confirmed, but watch this space!

First Impressions: Bontrager Line Pro 30 Wheels

1700g, 29mm rims, 108 engagement point hub… where’s the catch?

Alloy is so 2016…

There has been an explosion of carbon mountain bike wheels (sometimes literally) in the past 18 months. A market that was once cornered by the likes of ENVE has been democratised and now proliferates with carbon hoops of all kinds of origins and qualities.

Along with the abundance of options, we have started to see prices come down, though not to the extent that we’d have anticipated or hoped. Most carbon wheels are still north of the $2000 mark, ouch. Bontrager, however, are doing their bit to make the performance of carbon hoops just that little bit more attainable, and without sacrificing features either.

You could’ve forgiven Bonty for taking short cuts with the hubs, but they didn’t.

Tell us the price!

The new Bontrager Line Pro 30 wheels are $1698 for the pair. That’s not chicken feed, but it’s very reasonable for a carbon wheelset from a top-tier manufacturer, and it’s a lot cheaper than many comparably featured wheels. The competition are on notice!

Proper tubeless rim strips for a tight tubeless seal.

So what do you get for the coin?

Fully modernised rims, for starters. With a 29mm internal width, these OCLV carbon rims are right in the sweet spot for trail riding / enduro riding.

They also come fitted with Bontrager’s tubeless rim strips, which are a robust, hard plastic strip, not just tape. These strips won’t budge or slip no matter how many times you remove or install tyres.

The six pawl freehub.

The freehub has 108 engagement points; there are six pawls (two sets of three) and they engage faster than a Bachelorette winner. We pulled the freehub off to take a look, and the sealing seems to be much better than previous Bonty free hubs. Let’s see how winter treats them.

Our 29er version weighs in at just on 1700g, so it’s not even like they’re a heavy set of hoops. Really, there’s nothing we don’t like about these so far, other than they took a bit of wrestling to mount our tyres too.

Stay tuned. We’re taking these bad boys to Rotorua next week to put some miles on them!

Tested: Canyon Spectral AL 7.0 EX


In cycling, we tend to conflate high performance, with carbon. But the Canyon Spectral AL 7.0 EX goes against this norm, and makes a very compelling case for a riding an alloy framed bike, dressed with top-end components. Canyon have their invested cash in the areas that will have the most tangible impact for serious trail riders, giving this bike components from the top shelf, but sticking with aluminium for the frame lets them keep the price point under $5000.


The carbon boogey man.

The other target market for this bike is the riders out there who, for one reason or another, just do not want a carbon bike. Whether it’s because of a persistent stigma that carbon is fragile, or because they feel like they might be more likely to damage a carbon bike, plenty of riders still prefer the familiarity of alloy.

Super subtle graphics position this bike as a bit of a ‘sleeper’. The frame shapes of the alloy bike practically identical to those of the carbon spectral. Some areas, like the lower shock mount, are a little less refined.

This is the first alloy-framed Canyon we’ve had a Flow – we’ve ridden their carbon bikes a lot over the past 18 months, and they’ve proven to be incredibly tough (read our long-term review of the Strive Enduro bike here). The alloy Spectral has the same sleek and sturdy quality about it as the carbon bikes we’ve tested, though in comparison to the exceptional finish on their carbon bikes, the alloy bike does feel a little less refined.


What is this bike built for?

The Spectral is a trail bike, but with a mean edge; 140mm out back, and 150mm up front, and geometry that borders on Enduro bike territory. We like its no-fuss design and spec approach – it’s really built for a rider who wants the minimum of fuss, here to get down to business of riding trails as fast as possible, with the minimum of setup or maintenance.

140mm out back.

External cabling for the dropper and rear brake line deliver the zero-fuss message too. The suspension at both end has sag gradients so you can get it dialled in quickly, and good quality tubeless wheels and tyres mean no faffing about to get it set up. The 1×12 Eagle drivetrain has you covered no matter how steep or varied the terrain you’re riding.

The Pike RCT3 and Maxxis High Roller front end combo is a sharp and impressive combo.

On the trails.

The bike shares the same geometry as the Spectral CF which we reviewed last year and loved. It’s one of the best handling 27.5” bikes we’ve ridden, full stop. There’s an awesome precision about it, the short rear end, the confidence-inspiring angles up front, the support you’ll find in the suspension, the tyres that are bitey but not too big and loafy. It’s got the right mix.


Read our review of the Spectral CF 9.0 EX below.

Tested: Canyon Spectral CF EX9.0

 

The way this bike attacks a technical piece of singletrack is inspiring. Rather than just covering ground, we found ourselves stopping and surveying the trail, looking for new ways to ride it. It’s that kind of bike, it opens up your eyes to new creative lines, prodding you to jump, wheelie, manual and skid your way through the trail.

The business of climbing isn’t a chore either, and while the riding position is more about the handling than efficiency, we were consistently impressed by its ability to claw up the long climbs, and the agility when the climbs got technical. You’ve got a three position compression lever on the shock, within easy reach, to firm things up if you want to.

The Spectral frame is a couple of years old now, so it doesn’t have a trunnion mount shock or Boost hub spacing.

What do you get for the coin?

At $4799, the Spectral has some stiff competition, and plenty of riders at this price are heavily focused on getting maximum bang for the buck. And when you look at the quality of the components, we doubt many rider will be itching to make any component changes before hitting the trails, we certainly wouldn’t. There really aren’t any holes in the spec choices here, and there are plenty of pleasant surprises. Items like the Renthal cockpit and the Ergon grips are nice touches, as is the use of Matchmaker clamps for a clean cockpit, integrating the shifter, dropper and brake levers. The Pike RCT3 fork and X0 Eagle drivetrain are total standouts, of course.

A nice touch. Renthal provide the cockpit.

This tyre combo is one we really enjoy, a great mix of speed and grip. Riders in softer soils might want something more aggressive out back, but on dry trails this combo is a lot of fun and in conjunction with the light wheels you’ve got rolling gear that is quick to manoeuvre.


Where are the flaws? 

It’s actually a really hard bike to find an issue with. You could make the point that it’s a bit behind the curve in that it doesn’t use Boost hub spacing, but it? It’s not like we ever found ourselves out on the trail longing for different hub spacing. Nor did we ever find ourselves missing the carbon frame either – the high end spec balances out the extra weight of the alloy frame so it’s quite a light bike overall, and while the carbon version of this bike has a calmer, quieter feel overall, the great suspension means this bike never feels clattery or rough.

The absence of Boost hub spacing is really not a big issue in our minds.

Does it stack up? 

When you compare the Spectral with its competition, notably the Giant Trance 1, YT Jeffsy AL1, Norco Sight A7.1, you can see that it’s dwelling in a pretty competitive sector of the market. Even though the Canyon does have exceptional spec, it doesn’t blow the competition away on that front – clearly this a segment where brands are running some tight margins. It’s fortunate for Canyon then, that this bike has some fearsome performance on the trails too, it’s not relying purely on its spec sheet to win riders over.

As a direct to consumer brand, getting a test ride on a Spectral could be a hurdle that some potential purchasers will struggle to overcome, but if you do decide to push the buy button on Canyon’s website, you’re making a sound choice with this piece of weaponry.

2018 Scott Genius – First Ride

Following on from the drastic changes to the featherweight Scott Spark last year, it was no surprise to see the new Genius has adopted many of the design and construction methods into the longer travel platform to achieve a ridiculously low frame weight of 2249g with shock and hardware. In true Scott fashion, the new frame is leading the 150mm travel trail bike category on the scales; we’re very impressed.

Scott’s new recruit, one of downhill racing most experienced, Andrew Neethling holding the medium size Genius frame we weighed at 2180g. Yes, that’s ridiculously light.
2018 Genius 900 Tuned. Photo – Markus Greber.


So, in a carbon nutshell what is new?

One frame, two wheel sizes, and for many reasons.

The new Genius has been designed to accept 27.5” and 29” using one frame, changing wheel diameters will only requiring a flipping of the geometry chip on the upper shock mount to change bottom bracket height. Scott are confident that without the need to change parts like the headset and forks, the bike can ride in a manner that they are happy with. This means less models to manufacture, and in the end the pricing will reflect at dealer level, that is always a plus (ha, get it…).

Choose your size, 27.5″ and 29er.

The names remain the same, any Genius models in the 700 range use 27.5″ wheels with 2.7″ tyres, and the Genius 900  models use 29″ wheels with 2.6″ tyres.

Brendan Fairclough was frothing to get his new Genius built and hit the trails. 27.5″ wheels for his Genius, always.

Don’t call a Genius a ‘plus’ no more.

Well, sort of, plus it is still there, but in an effort to simplify the enormous Scott range there will be with fewer models in the catalogue. All the 27.5” Genius bikes will have 2.8” tyres (plus, pretty much) and not called ‘plus’ bikes as such. We’d be happy if the rest of the industry followed suit on this move, tyres are tyres, bigger tyres are bigger tyres, that should do it.

The new Maxxis 2.8” Rekon tyres are the rubber of choice for the Genius, and when compared to the Maxxis 2.5” Minion WT tyre, there is an only 1mm difference in the width between them, though the 2.8″ does appear to have the larger volume. Like what we have seen with the release of the new Pivot Mach 5.5, we predict the era of plus tyres bikes to shrink in size and find the sweet spot, and 2.6″ on 30-35mm wide rims seems to provide enough air volume and tread patch without too much bounce and roll from being too huge. Traction is a good thing, but not with a sacrifice of weight, speed and the ability to blast into a berm without the tyre blowing off. We like this.

Big tyres on 27.5″ wheels = agility and traction. Or choose the 29er and you’ve got some serious speed on your side, with a trade off for some of that rapid agility.
2.8″ rubber in a lightweight tread pattern and casing, we had no flat tyres during four days of hard riding.

An entirely new frame construction.

Put the new Genius and the cross country oriented Scott Spark side by side and you’ll see a strong resemblance, the tiny carbon linkage drives the new trunnion mount rear shock down toward the bottom bracket region, this frees the top tube to become much lighter without having to bear the load of the shock. Also, the whole bottom bracket area needs to be strong to manage all the forces that go into the bottom bracket and crank region, so to combine it with the rear shock it’s a no-brainer.

While the 100/120mm travel Spark uses a one-piece rear end and a flex-stay arrangement, the Genius uses 150mm of goodness so a flex pivot arrangement wasn’t achievable and they’ve opted for a lightweight bushing in place of a cartridge bearing on the chainstay. Bushings are so 1995, but we’re totally going to trust the engineers on this one, as this pivot has only a small jog to do, and a bushing can do it.

Taking advantage of the expired patent surrounding the Horst Link that Specialized held for many years, the Genius shifts the suspension pivot from the seat stay to the chain stay.

The big change was shifting the rear shock down towards the centre of the frame to share pedalling and suspension forces in one area.
Frame cutaway showing the Shimano Di2 battery mount integrated into the downtube protector and very nice cable routing. The trunnion mount shock lets it all fit into a smaller space than before.
Yes, 2.18kg for a 150m travel frame with rear shock and hardware. Crazy stuff.
New vs. old – full carbon construction, less aluminium bonded into carbon. The new chain stays are HUGE.
The seat stays are much lighter and simpler too with fewer parts providing marginal gains to an overall lighter bike, losing 100g right here. A bushing is used in the chain stay pivot to save grams.

TwinLoc, the remote lever that simultaneously adjusts the front and rear suspension.

Nothing new here, Scott’s tried and tested Twinloc lets you toggle between open, traction and locked mode. In open mode you have all the 150mm of travel out the back, traction mode closes part of the FOX Nude rear shock’s air chamber limiting it to 110mm of travel with a much more progressive feel, and then the climb mode is locked out completely.

The three modes also have an effect on the fork, adding compression and locking it out to match the rear. It’s a great system, and so very easy to activate.

The Twinloc lever integrated into the Syncros grip with the FOX Transfer dropper post lever too.
The FOX Nude shock has the Twinloc cable entering from the underside of the shock, very tidy!

That cockpit!

The moment we set eyes on the thing, it was the one-piece Syncros cockpit that had our attention. Scott’s in-house parts and accessories brand – Syncros – have come up with a crazy new one-piece bar and stem called the Hixon iC. With a virtual stem length of 50mm and 760mm wide, it weighs only 290g. It’s not eh first-time Syncros have done such a thing, the Scott Foil aero road bike also uses a one-piece cockpit.

While we would usually expect a 150mm travel bike to be fitted with a 780mm handlebar, we typically would trim to 760mm anyhow. There is a 780mm bar in the pipeline, perhaps a feature on a longer travel Genius LT to be released next year.

A 290g bar and stem anyone?
The Syncros stem and matching spacers give the front end a sleek shape. The bars we had on the demo bikes are pre-production samples; the final product will have a glass finish to match the frames.

Getting dirty, how does it ride? Oh yes, and ride we did.

Sticking to its heritage as a bike born in the Alps of Europe, the Genius is the all-day trail bike personified. It is super-light, efficient to climb, and for want of a better description, not too big or not too small. 150mm travel at both ends may seem like a lot, and it does feel super plush when you jump on, but with a flick of the Twinloc lever, the bike can be quickly adapted. While we are a long way down under from the snow-capped craggy peaks of the Alps where cows roam the fields and trails are often hundreds of years old, the adage of ‘earning your turns’, or simply climbing long roads to bomb back down gnarly singletrack translates anywhere in the world.

Dropping in, the Genius was quite capable of hitting trails blind, pinned and safe.

Scott have always put a lot of emphasis on creating bikes that climb well, hence the Twinloc and frame geometry that remains sensible and practical, rather than going for the buzz-word trends like; short chain stays, massive top tubes and slack head angles the Genius plays it fairly safe with numbers, and that is its key to the balance. Scott were keen to stress te point that the new Genius is not an enduro race bike, rather a trail bike with a wide range of versatility. We can only bet a Genius LT using the new frame configuration will be up for renewal next year

Talking frame geometry the new Genius is far longer in reach, slacker in the head angle and steeper in the seat angle. We’re happy to see the chain stays shorten too, down from 445 to 436mm, a big difference and gripe we had with the Genius we reviewed recently.

The numbers on the new Genius tick the boxes.
Nino and Brendan, two riders from opposing ends of the spectrum coming together on the Genius that sums it up really.
Climbing super-technical trails made much easier when using traction mode with a higher BB and less rear travel.

It was only very recently that we reviewed the outgoing 2017 model Genius Plus 700 Tuned, so it was very fresh in our minds how that bike performed. In comparison, the new model feels to have made improvements in key areas, especially the suspension curve, now with a very nice and supple feeling off the top of the stroke. The geometry tweaks make the bike more nimble in the turns, easier to manual and jump through tight landings. With the suspension, pivot moved from the seat stay to the chain stay the bike feels more planted under brakes and very supportive beneath you when pumping through the trails, and resists pedal strikes well.

27.5″ or 29″ then?

We rode both, after two long days of riding a huge variety of trails on the 27.5″ wheels with 2.8″ tyres we changed to the 29″ wheels and got back to it. The trails in Aosta Valley were ideal to gain a great understanding of what wheel size suits best, with nail-bitingly fast straights, rough embedded rock gardens all joined with the tightest switchback corners we’d ever seen. That’s Europe for you!

It was the 29er variation that we stuck with, the stability in traction won us over, though it was certainly a tougher task to ride the tight switchback turns, even resulting in one over the bars incident while attempting a nose-pivot turn at speed. Scott give you the option to choose what wheel size you want, offering many models.

How were all the parts?

The bike we rode was the Genius 700 Ultimate, a bike that will be available in Australia as a special order only as it’s going to hit a price point that would make you weak at the knees, a top-spec model with nothing shy of the ultimate parts. A SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain with its lustrous gold finish, FOX 34 forks (the 700 and 900 Tuned Genius models come with a FOX 36), DT-Swiss 30mm wide carbon wheels and a very slick black/black paint job.

Our only gripes were that on the steep, dry and loose trails of Aosta, we wished for a more aggressive front tyre, though we’re sure that on our home trails we’d have no qualms with the fast and light Maxxis Rekon, and the SRAM Guide brakes even with 180mm rotors at both ends didn’t particularly like the insanely flat-out descents into hairpin corners, though like the tyres we would surely be happy with the power of the Guide brakes on our regular trails.

Massimo
Massimo from Aosta Freeride, our guide on amazing trails, hauling through steep and slippery switchbacks.

The longer reach and slacker angles give the new Genius way more scope to push hard.

Give me more Genius!

Following the might impressive launch of the Spark last year, the release of the new Genius will solidify its place in the long-travel trail bike segment. If your rides involve a blend of exploring new places, climbing to the top on your own steam, descending hard and fast, then from our early impressions, we will back this bike with full confidence.

We’ll be back with more from the 2018 Scott range with pricing and availability, stay tuned.

First Look: Cannondale Jekyll 2

This is going to be fun. It’s a slightly unconventional looking bike, but we like it. Plenty of room for a bottle behind that linkage too.

After the muddle and excessive techiness of the past Jekyll, this version carries itself differently. Like it’s gone through some kind of Anthony Robbins self-actualisation course, and can finally express its real character. Unashamedly, it’s here for a good time, not trying to impress you with complicated proprietary tech solutions. Even the marketing language around this bike is right, read Cannondale’s blurb and it’s all about how the bike feels and should make you feel, rather than burying you in jargon and carbon layups.

An alloy rear end, with carbon up front.
The big link is all carbon. All the pivots use expanding collet style hardware to lock it all together firmly.

It’s a full blown Enduro beast, not a long-legged trail bike like the old Jekyll. The angles are more relaxed than a medicated lap-dog, and travel is a robust 165mm out back, 170mm up front. A long reach paired with a 35mm stem, Maxxis WT rubber, SRAM X0 Eagle… all the fixings are there to see you through a very rowdy day out.

When this bike first emerged, there were a few comments out there about the unorthodox placement of the shock and linkage – it definitely goes against the usual trends in frame design of getting the shock lower and more rearward. But in the flesh it all ties together nicely, it doesn’t come across as kooky, and if it makes room for fitting a water bottle then we’re on board.

On-the-fy adjustment.
Wide bearing placement on the chunky down tube. The underside of the frame has a protective carbon plate too, to guard from rock strikes.

Cannondale haven’t abandoned the adjustability that has always been part of the Jekyll’s identity, but they’ve found a way to incorporate it in a far more appealing manner. You can still adjust the rear travel on-the-fly, but the rear shock no longer looks like a scuba tank and can be serviced like a regular FOX shock. When you toggle between the Hustle and Flow modes, you’re actually altering the usable air volume of the shock, which adjusts the available travel (165mm – 130mm) and the spring curve too, as opposed to simply changing the shock’s compression damping. It’s a similar solution to that found on the Scott Spark and Genius.

Neat cabling for the rear shock.

With the tubes ditched (honestly, why doesn’t this bike come setup with proper tubeless rim tape?) our Jekyll 2 weighs in a 13.8kg. We’re genuinely excited about this bike, and have been for sometime. The new Jekyll is the product of the involvement of Jeremiah Boobar (read our interview with him here), who was hired by Cannondale after a distinguished career at RockShox, where he led the team behind the Pike. The freshness that his involvement brings is written all over this bike, so let’s go hit some trails!

NB. Pricing on this bike is yet to be confirmed, we’ll update this post as soon as it becomes available.

Tested: Wheelworks FLITE Wide Carbon Wheelset

Serious hoops. Just look at them!

What’s special about the Wheelworks wheels?

At over $2500 for the wheelset, these are an item that few mountain bikers will ever consider. But if you’ve got the money to spend on some thoroughly high-end hoops, then there are some compelling reasons to look at Wheelworks.

As we went into in detail in our First Bite on these wheels, the Wheelworks build process is pretty special. Not only do you get all the custom colours under the sun, but the actual build process is second to none with custom cut spokes, and the wheels are pre-stressed to a very high level, so they aren’t going to need any spoke key love. Mind you, when you see how stiff the rims are on this wheel set, you kind of wonder if it’s even possible for them to go out of true! The components used to build this wheelset are top shelf too, with DT hubs and DT Aerolite bladed spokes, which also contributes to the price tag.

Since we began this review, Wheelworks have expanded their FLITE Carbon lineup – they’ve now got a XC, Trail and Enduro specific versions, with different rim widths/weights for each category. The exact model we’ve tested here most closely aligns with the new Enduro version, but no matter what model you choose, the build process is the same.

You can read a lot more about the Wheelworks approach in our interview with Tristan Thomas, the founder of Wheelworks.

You can see just how much more support the FLITE rims offer your tyre.

Is wider better?

For the type of riding we like to do (technical, loose, ageing and  uncoordinated) wider rims have some real advantages, letting you drop the tyre pressures while retaining tyre stability. You reap the traction and control benefits, but you do need to pick a tyre that suits. If your tyres are too narrow, or have a particularly square profile, then you end up with a very on/off cornering feel. Luckily, there are plenty of wide rubber options to suit now, such as the Maxxis WT series that we’ve been loving.

It’s in this realm of wide rims that carbon really comes into its own. Making a rim this wide out of alloy adds a lot of weight, or if you keep the rims too light, you sacrifice strength.

What’s that lurking in the garden shed?

How did they ride?

We put these wheels onto our Canyon Strive, and fitted them up initially with Maxxis DD Aggressors (reviewed here). While these tyres are really a bit too narrow for optimum performance (we later fitted Maxxis Minion WT rubber, much better), the sheer stiffness of this wheel/tyre combo was out of control – you just do not appreciate how much flex there is in a ‘regular’ wheel until you ride something as washboard stiff as this. It actually takes a bit of getting used to, they’re just so direct.

Nothing is standing in the way of this… or so we thought.

When your wheels are this precise, everything just seems to work better; you hold better lines, your brakes seem to have more bite; your suspension is able to do its job properly; they’re incredibly responsive to accelerations, a fact no doubt helped by the crisp engagement of the DT 240 freehub. The bike even sounds better, less clangy, more of a dull thudding of tyres on terra firma.

The issue was, we started to believe we were invincible. As it turns out, nothing is indestructible, and in a moment of joyously uncontrolled and ill-considered hucking, we cracked the rear rim!

What? You broke them? How?

Basically in exactly the same way as we’d have trashed an alloy rim, really. We launched off a five-foot ledge going too fast to pick a landing, and crunched the rear wheel into a square-edged rock, complete with a total suspension bottom out. With a noise like someone had whacked our helmet with a stick, we knew the rim was toast. Ouch.

In this instance, the damage to the Flite rim was relatively moderate. Sure, the rim was cactus, cracked enough to lose air, and we wouldn’t keep riding it long term, but we could fit a tube to get back home, the wheel wasn’t in pieces or anything drastic like that.

Would the impact have ruined an alloy rim? It certainly would have put a big dent in it anyhow, but at least that dent wouldn’t have left us with that sinking feeling in our stomach. Breaking a $2500 anything really feels bad! Fortunately, part of that price tag is the backing of a lifetime warranty, as we’ve discussed below. Yes, these wheels have lifetime warranty, including for broken spokes and impact damage.

What happened then?

We got on the phone to Wheelworks, of course! As it turned out, what could have been a very shitty experience became a good reminder of why great product back up is priceless.

They took the news well. After building hundreds of these wheels, they told us they know that around 3% of riders will have an issue. They also accept that these wheels are designed to be ridden hard, and in their assessment what we were doing certainly fell within their ‘realm of normal use’, meaning it would be covered by their lifetime warranty.

When we cracked a rim, Wheelworks didn’t question it – we had the wheel back in five working days. It’s not just the wheels you’re paying for, but the product back up too.

We sent the wheel back to Wellington NZ (from Sydney), and within five days we had it back, a new rim ready to roll.

We asked Tristan Thomas to give us a bit more of an explanation about the warranty terms, because these things can be notoriously vague:

“If something happens to a wheel during normal riding we’ll cover it.  We’ve only had a handful of failures from quite a few hundred wheels and we’ve covered all of them however we wouldn’t warranty something like a bike on the roof of a car being driven into a garage.  We’ve built enough wheels with high-end carbon brands to have plenty of data about failure rates and we know what we’re doing with our wheel builds results in an industry-leading low failure rate, and that’s the only way we can offer such a generous warranty.

“We can’t promise that a wheel won’t break but we do promise that if it does we’ll sort it and that we’ll do it as quickly as we can to minimise any delays.  The customer pays to get the wheel back to us and we’ll replace the rim, spoke nipples, rim tape, and cover return shipping.”

So, carbon. 

This incident did get us thinking about carbon rims in mountain biking once again. Undoubtedly the performance benefits of a carbon rim are there – to get a wheelset to perform like these do with an alloy rim just wouldn’t happen. But for all the benefits of weight, stiffness and strength, there is a trade off, both in terms of price and practicality.

We’ve ruined plenty of wheels in our time, and some of them have been carbon. And in our experience, when a carbon rim goes boom, it often does so in a terminal kind of fashion, whereas an alloy rim will usually dent up, battered but often still rideable. There are plenty of EWS racers on alloy rims for that very reason – they need a wheel that can take a dent or flat spot, but still be nursed through a full day of racing. And of course there’s no way to grab a pair of multi-grips and bend your carbon rim back into shape back in the workshop.

Carbon rims are a performance item, and there are enough performance benefits there to ensure they’re going to have a bigger presence in mountain biking (especially as the price does come down). But this incident really drove home to us again that with expensive kit like this, equal investment must be there in product back up and warranty support, and as a consumer you should factor those into your purchasing choices.

So, they cost a lot, and you broke them. Can you still recommend them?

Yes, we can. Though if we were buying these wheels, we’d be inclined to fit a Huck Norris kit (read our Huck Norris Anti-Flat Tubeless Protection review here) to at least the rear wheel as a measure of insurance.

Fitting something like a Huck Norris kit is cheap insurance for your pricey wheels.

While we hate it when things break, we’re happy we’ve at at least had the firsthand experience of just how well Wheelworks handle the process if you do happen to munch a wheel. As we said before, that kind of back up is a huge reassurance when you’re handing over significant amounts money for a wheelset.

We totally understand that a $2500+ set of wheels is not a ‘must have’ for any mountain biker, and a set of far cheaper wheels will do the job just fine. But leaving all that aside, nothing can change the fact these are a ripping set of wheels. Stiff, light, precise, and with great looks too. They will markedly change the way you look at the trail, we promise.

 

Tested: Liv Hail 1

A proper enduro bike, built for women from the ground up.

We love the Liv Hail. It’s a kick ass bike for kick ass women. It recognises that girls also want to have fun and is designed specifically for that.

It’s an aggressive, 160mm travel bike and the one of the only female bike of its class that isn’t simply a gender neutral frame re-painted and re-branded. It’s not just marketed to women, the Liv team actually took the time to build a frame to better suit women, with differences inspired by the feedback of female Liv brand ambassadors.

A big bike, for sure, but never unmanageably so. The geometry is very well balanced.

So, how did it feel?

Beefy, solid, strong. This bike is not mucking around, we felt confident and comfortable straight away.  The long wheel base keeps you in control and the Maestro suspension system eats up technical terrain with ease.

With the aluminium frame and overall burly feel, we were a bit worried about how the bike would handle climbing, yet were pleasantly surprised.

The alloy frame has a tough wearing shot-peened finish.

Any modifications pre-ride?

Before heading out, we swapped out the bars from 800mm to 740mm (rather than cutting down the stock bars), and changed from a 50mm to a 30mm stem. As we’ve noted later, the medium sized frame was pretty long for us, hence the shorter stem to get the reach feeling good for us.

After the first ride, when we dinged the rear rim, we also swapped out the tires for something with thicker sidewalls to protect the rims and let us ride harder.

We fitted a slightly shorter stem, as we felt a little stretched out on the medium frame. In hindsight, we should have tested a small.

How did it perform?

Over a four week period we took it to our local trails many times – enduro style trails with rocky sections, fast corners, drops and jumps – to get a good feel of the bike on familiar and technical terrain.

At 800mm, the stock bars will probably need a bit of trimming for most riders.

The handling overall is unreal. If you want to ride aggressively, it inspires a level of daring that we haven’t ever experienced in a women’s specific bike. It was stable at full speed, we felt assured right away and it absolutely gave us the confidence to send it.

We also enjoyed the control on slower speed navigating down steep technical rocks chutes. We were able to tell it where to go, not the other way around.

But could we get it back up to the top?

Absolutely. We weren’t about to win any XC races, but we could comfortably pedal all day on this bike and still be smiling at the end.

The Lyrik RC dual-position fork allows you to adjust from 160mm to 130mm when climbing for steeper angles, however we didn’t use this much. We would have preferred to see more adjustability in the rear shock rather than the fork. The bikes comes with a RockShox Deluxe R, Trunnion mounted rear shock, which has an external rebound dial but no compression setting adjustment.

The Lyrik fork’s adjustable travel is a bonus on smoother, steep climbs, but be aware it does lower the bottom bracket height too.

On technical climbs, with rocky features, we found pedal striking a recurring problem. We would have liked a compression adjuster on the shock, not so much to increase efficiency, but to help with pedal clearance by keeping the shock higher in the initial stroke – but there’s not a lot of tinkering on this shock.

The trunnion mounted shock is driven by a carbon link. We’d love to see a shock with some external compression adjustment on the Hail 1.

How does it size up?

The reach on this bike is long, like proper Enduro long. So if you’re considering the Liv Hail, read the size chart and don’t assume that it fits small being a womens-specific frame.

We tested the medium, however at 165cm tall, we would have been more comfortable on the small. The size chart was spot on, also indicating we should have had a small.

Once we had some tough tyres on the Hail, we were ready to send it without second thought.
Neat internal cable routing.

So what’s actually ‘female specific’ about the frame? 

According to Liv, their team takes data from a global body dimension database for its design, coupled with feedback from its ambassadors and refinement through testing. A key physical difference for females is strength distribution, where females have a lower relative upper body strength vs. their male counterparts.

This means women will generally favour leg strength to manoeuvre the bike vs. upper body comparatively to males, and it can mean women are generally positioned a bit further back on the bike as a result.

The mens’ equivalent of the Liv Hail is the Giant Reign, also a 160mm, 27.5 wheel size bike. Compared to its brother, the Hail’s head angle is a bit steeper (66 degrees on the Hail vs. 65  degrees on the Reign) and there is a higher bottom bracket. We assume these difference are all about making the bike more manoeuvrable and less reliant on upper body muscle to command it. The reach measurement is about 25mm shorter than the Reign in the same frame size too, and the cranks are 170mm across all sizes, versus the 175mm cranks found on the Reign.

As we’ve mentioned above, even though this is a big bike in terms of travel, we never felt like we were a passenger on it, so clearly the geometry mix works well for us, and likely a lot of other women too.

The Maestro system is efficient, plush and reliable. We’re very much a fan of this suspension setup.

Any gripes?

We don’t like the lever of the Giant dropper post. We much prefer dropper levers that are positioned under the bar, so you don’t have to compromise your grip to hit the lever. There are lots of aftermarket levers that will work with this post, so we’d swap it out for a different brand if this were our ride.

A ding in the rear rim on ride one motivated us to swap to some tyres with a stiffer sidewall. We like the grip of the Schwalbe tyres, but on our rocky trails we wanted something a little thicker.

The Giant PAM-2-disc rims are pretty soft considering what this bike is capable of. We managed to ding the rims on first ride with our usual pressures.

Other options in the range

There are three Hails in the Liv range – the alloy Hail 1 we have here, and two Advanced carbon versions too, at $5699 and $7999. Seriously, Liv deserve a huge pat on the back here for not only creating a women’s specific Enduro bike, but offering properly high-end versions as well. We’d loved to have had the chance to ride the lighter Hail Advanced 1, which comes with a FOX Float X2 shock with compression adjustment. Without obviously having had the chance to ride it, it looks like a very impressive bike.

 

 

Yep, we like it a lot. And we like the price too.

 

Overall verdict

If you’re on of those girls that when the working day is done you just wanna have fun, then the Liv Hail was made for you. At $4499, you’ll be able to push limits, ride harder and faster on technical terrain, and generally progress your riding. It rides hard and won’t ruin you at the bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shootout: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29 vs Scott Spark 900

A tale of two trail bikes from the big ‘S’ and bigger ‘S’.

We love these type of reviews, where we carefully set both bikes up and jump between them multiple times over a few solid rides to feel the differences, then we sit back and pick the finer details apart taking into consideration everything that would concern a potential buyer.

Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29er: $7000, 12.82kg.

Scott Spark 900: $6500, 12.32kg.

We chose the Spark and Camber for many reasons, they share the same wheel size, suspension travel amount and are aimed at the all-round trail rider. The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29 and the Scott Spark 900 are only $500 Australian dollaroos apart too, see, very close in many ways. Still, no matter how similar they may appear on paper, there were quite a few subtleties that helped us to our final verdict.


Where these two sit.

Slotting in between the lean World Cup cross-country racer, the Epic and immensely popular all-mountain Stumpjumper, the current iteration of the Camber has been around for a few years now and is a touch older in its development cycle than the Scott Spark which was completely revised for the 2017-year model. The Camber uses the outgoing non-boost standard hubs and could possibly be due for a refresh soon-ish, while the Spark is up to date with all the modern standards. The Camber is available in 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes, and in a wide range of price points from $2500 right up to the $11000 S-Works.

The Camber is Specialized immensely popular trail bike, built to suit the everyday trail rider.

The Spark has won its fair of World Cup races too and recently both gold medals at the Rio Olympics. While the longer travel and more laid back Spark 900 we have on test is not the ultra-light and mighty sharp version that Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds race, it’s built on the same platform. It must be confusing to work at Scott with so many Spark models in the catalogue – there are dozens of variants, in three wheel sizes, 27.5”, 27.5” Plus and 29er.

The Spark draws on its cross country racing heritage and adds travel and a slacker attitude.

Frame and build:

The Camber and Spark both have lovely carbon front triangles mated to an aluminium rear end. The well-regarded FSR suspension design used across all Specialized suspension bikes gives the Camber top marks straight away. The Spark uses the one-piece rear end with a flex stay taking place of a suspension pivot on the rear end. Both bikes have 120mm of rear travel.

Scott haven’t done much at all in the way of frame protection with this Spark, leaving the underside of the frame vulnerable to flying trail debris, even the chain stay is bare, resulting in noisy chain slap and chipped paint. In fact, this is our second Scott Spark 900. An unfortunate incident on the Juggernaut Trail in Launceston rendered the first one useless as a random rock kicked up and put a whopping hole in the down tube. Unlucky? Yes, but it could have been avoided with protection like the thick rubber shielding found on the downtube and along the chain stay.

On the scales, the Spark is 500g lighter than the Camber. The wheels and drivetrain are the bulk of the weight savings on the Spark.

Aesthetically, they’re both winners. The Specialized is a real jaw dropper, its understated glossy finish and minimal graphics are appreciated, take a step closer and the glittering blue paint will wink back at you in the sunlight, very slick indeed. The Spark’s light grey and green scheme is also well done and matched nicely with all the components, sharp indeed.

Shining carbon and glitter under a dark blue clear coat, be the envy on the trail with a bike looking this good.

With Scott’s new frame design placing the rear shock and linkage low and centred in the frame it gives the bike a low centre of gravity and loads of space in the frame for a full-size water bottle. The move to this new shape, suspension configuration and one-piece rear end allowed Scott to make the lightest suspension frame on the market with the Scott Spark RC model.

Wide, low and beefy, the heart of the Spark.
Check out how the rear brake calliper attaches to the hub axle, another weight saving and allows the rear end to flex without a suspension pivot.

Both bikes have very neat internally routed cabling through the frame, and we appreciate the way the Spark so neatly gets the TwinLoc cable to the rear shock, you can barely even see where it exits the frame.

Unique to Specialized is the SWAT system, a very clever way of incorporating storage inside the frame. By removing the ‘trapdoor’ underneath the bottle cage you can access a large amount of space in the Camber’s down tube to stash an inner tube, chicken burrito and spare parts. An allen key set clips securely into the underside of the top tube, it’s amazing how handy that can be!


Suspension configuration:

The Camber is a real set and forget type of bike, with the Auto-Sag system taking the guess work out of the rear shock setup. With a standard three-position compression lever on the rear shock (open, medium and locked) and indexed GRIP damper in the fork, it is very easy to get your head around.

Simple, neat and quick to setup. The Camber is very low on fuss.
That red valve is Specialized’s own technology – Auto Sag, inflate the rear shock, press the red valve and it’ll rest at the right sag for your weight. Too easy.

In classic Scott fashion, the Spark’s suspension revolves around their Twinloc design, which allows the rider immediate control over the suspension at both ends. The Twinloc has three settings; 120mm travel,  an 85mm travel setting (which gives you a much firmer spring rate and less sag), and then fully locked out, while simultaneously adding compression damping to the fork to match. The Twinloc does a stellar job of adapting the bike’s characteristic – not just travel amount – to suit the moment. Use full-travel mode for descents and rough surfaces, the medium one for the climbs (less travel, firmer compression and less sag) and locked out for tarmac or out-sprinting Julien Absalon.

The Twinloc lever sits close to the thumb on the left side of the bar, it’s is incredibly ergonomic which promotes you to use it often during the ride to your advantage. A lot of people dislike the cabling associated with TwinLoc, but once you’ve used the system for a while, you’ll be less concerned about the cabling and stoked on the performance, we promise.


Parts and spec:

Both bikes have a solid dose of in-house components. Scott’s own component brand Syncros dominates on the Spark, and the Camber is dressed Specialized’s own parts. With the Camber, Specialized gear is used everywhere except the drivetrain and suspension. While the Scott uses Maxxis for tyres and FOX for the dropper post amongst their Syncros parts.

The Spark is a real winner in our eyes when talking spec – the 12-speed SRAM Eagle drivetrain is a HUGE upgrade from the Camber’s 11-speed SRAM GX drivetrain. We’d also pick the FOX Transfer post over the Specialized Command Post, it’s really our favourite dropper on the market right now.

The Spark’s brakes are a level higher than the Camber with Shimano XT vs SLX (we dig the Camber’s integration of the SRAM shifter and Shimano brake levers, nice one!), not a huge difference in braking performance while riding though. The difference in suspension, on the other hand, is quite noticeable – the Spark’s FOX FIT 4 Performance Elite fork feels leagues ahead of the GRIP damper in the Camber’s fork.

There’s a big difference in the wheels with the two bikes too. The Roval Transfer rims are 29mm wide versus the terribly narrow 20mm Syncros rims. The sturdier rims and tacky tyres gave the Camber a sure-footed feeling when the trails got faster. We also bent the Spark’s rear wheel out of shape on one ride. The narrow Syncros rims may feel light and contribute to the Spark’s fast rolling, but we’d ditch them in favour of something wider in a flash.

The Maxxis Forekaster tyres seem to feel more at home on softer soils while the Specialized Purgatory/Ground Control combo is a great pair of tyres for a wider range of trails. During our testing, the trails were dry and handpicked, so the Forecasters on the narrow Syncros rims felt a little on the sketchy side in comparison to the Specialized tyres.

The higher specced drivetrain and suspension has a real impact on the way the bike rides, it feels lighter, smoother and the increased gear range is a big bonus.


Pricing and value:

The pricing came as a real surprise to us. Without checking we’d have sworn the Spark would have been dearer than the Camber, but it’s the other way around. Considering they are both from well-established brands with subsidiary headquarters in Australia the pricing is quite a contrast. The Specialized is priced $500 higher than the Scott, but with a level of spec that comes in well under that of the Spark. We have to question why it’s so expensive, it does seem fairly uncompetitive on that front.

**UPDATE** Specialized have informed us of updated pricing on the Camber, since April’s Autumn Savings sale the price dropped from $7000 to $6000, a big drop in price for sure!


Ride time:

Shredding the trails on these two steeds was unreal. They both meld the best bits of a cross country race bike with just the right amount of trail bike performance. We’re often watching riders, white-knuckled and tense, trying to wrangle their sharp cross country race bikes around the local trails. If only they knew how much better off they’d be on bikes like these two!

With 120mm of travel, dropper posts and decent width bars you’re able to relax and tackle the trails with more confidence and comfort. If you’re considering a Specialized Epic or Spark RC/World Cup we’d suggest trying one of these too, for 90% of the trails they are just as efficient and can also cross over to a race a few times a year too.

The Spark has slightly slacker geometry than the Camber, which will let you push a little harder when trails get steep and technical, and in the hands of a skilled pilot, you could let it rip very hard. It’s got more fire about it, encouraging you to get up and attack, weighting the front wheel, and the suspension is very smooth. If you’re diligent with the TwinLoc lever, it’s fast and efficient too – hit a climb, push the lever, and sprint away.

In comparison, the Camber felt slightly more laid-back to ride; we found ourselves seated more, pedalling through the trails, less aggressive overall. It’s calm demeanour and grippy tyres make it a very stable and relaxed bike, but without at the same sense of urgency as the Spark.

The wide rims, tacky tyres and sensitive suspension feel very sure-footed.

Best aspects for the Camber:

It’s a sturdy bike to ride with zero-fuss suspension, easy to understand the setup. We love the clean aesthetics, minimal graphics and lustrous finish. The SWAT system is nifty and handy. On the trail the Camber is a comfortable and confident bike to ride, the sure-footed manners from the wider rims and tacky tyres really set it apart from the Scott.


Low points for the Camber:

It’s the value in the spec that received low marks in this comparison –  the drivetrain, brakes, less sophisticated fork and shock are all good performers though for $7000 we’d have to wish for more coming from one of the biggest brands in the world. There was rattling in the dropper post while the FOX Transfer felt smooth and quiet all the time. 


Best aspects for the Spark:

The Spark is quite good value for the money, excluding the rims, the spec is dialled. The Twinloc broadens its usage ability; it could well dabble in a marathon or multi-day event with its quick adjustable suspension, low weight and fast rolling wheels.

The frame geometry is very trail friendly; it will be a great bike for an aggressive rider without isolating a cross country rider who requires efficiency.

There’s a lot to like with its attention to detail, the way the Syncros grips integrate both the FOX Transfer post remote with the Twinloc lever and the stem spacers shaped like the stem to give a unique and clean aesthetic. We appreciate the nice Syncros chain guide for peace of mind and the SRAM Eagle drivetrain is a standout spec choice we are totally impressed by.


Low points for the Spark: 

We are dumbfounded that there’s no frame protection either underneath the downtube and across the chainstay. We have had firsthand experience how that can play out.

The 20mm wide rims are too narrow which give the bike nerves over loose terrain, and we bent the rear wheel way out of shape during testing.

A debatable point is the Twinloc’s added complication. It adds an element of untidiness to the cockpit with two extra cables to manage and of course, maintain. There are a lot of fussy neat-freaks out there (us included) and the added cables might deter them, though really with some time and TLC (and a pair of cutters) you can tidy the Spark’s front end up just fine.


Verdict: 

If it’s a question of practicality vs performance, the Specialized has that edge with its zero-fuss suspension, frame protection, the ability to store your tools and spares on the bike so they’re ready to go, and robust wheels and sure-footed tyres.

**UPDATE** Note the updated pricing from April onwards, the Camber went on sale for $6000.

Though from a performance standpoint the Scott has its measure, we found it a more exciting and versatile bike to ride and the higher quality suspension and drivetrain are noticeable on the trail. It’s hard to pass up, especially when you consider the price.

Not even our concerns about the fragile wheels and unprotected frame could turn us off the Spark in this head to head review. Its superior spec, adaptable suspension, low weight and price impressed us. Once you trash the rims, stick on some wider ones, and you’ll be good to go.

Pick one? The Scott.

First Look: Henty Enduro Pack

The Henty weighs just over 500g, plus bladder, making it impressively light.

Hen-who?

Henty are an Australian company, based in Hobart. They’ve made a name for themselves with some really smart and successful travel/commuter cycling bags (especially the Wingman) but this is the first time they’ve released a mountain bike pack. The Enduro was debuted at the Derby EWS round, a fitting launch.

The upper harness section is all lightweight mesh.

Like a bum-bag, but more stable.

Essentially the Enduro is like a really big bum-bag (or fanny pack for you North Americans), but with a shoulder harness to stabilise it all. There’s a lot to like about bum-bags, they position the weight lower on your body for a better centre of gravity, and they don’t get nearly so sweaty up top. The downside is that once they’re loaded up with a lot of water and stuff, they have tendency to swing about if your trails are rough and involve a lot of body language. The Enduro looks to solve the conundrum by adding a very light, highly breathable mesh harness.

Jeremy Grey, Henty’s Co-Founder, told us inspiration for the design comes from ammunition belts used by infantry. Getting the weight distributed low and wide around your hips is the aim, and so the hydration bladder (not supplied) runs horizontally, rather than vertically. The idea is similar to the Camelbak Skyline LR pack we tested last year, which uses a wider ‘lumbar’ bladder, but the Henty definitely takes the notion of getting the weight down low even further. We used a 3L Camelbak bladder and on Henty’s advice filled it with about two litres. Filling it more than that made the pack feel a bit bulbous and it didn’t wrap around our hips so nicely.

Two large zippered compartments.

How much does it fit?

Given the pack itself weighs just 500g and looks so minimalist, you can get a surprising amount of stuff into it. In There are stretchy mesh pockets, two large zippered sections (kind of like a toiletries bag!), hip pockets, plus a bunch of loops for hanging grenades off we guess. There’s another large zippered pocket in the harness section too, which could work for something small and flexible, like a lightweight jacket or map perhaps. In the storage to weight stakes, the Henty is impressive.

We used a 3L bladder, filled to two-thirds full.

How does it feel?

Just as you’d assume, it’s a very breathable pack, and even though we had it loaded up with more than our usual trail ride supplies, it felt very light to wear. With all the bulk around your hips, the feeling really was more like wearing a bum bag than a backpack, just without the hassle of it shifting about on rough trails.

Our skinny test rider had the straps just about at their limits to get it all tight, which meant a lot of extra strap ‘tails’ hanging about. The waist straps use neat Velcro tabs to contain the excess, but the shoulder and sternum straps don’t have this feature – perhaps this will be a future addition, as this is a first release.

Worth a look?

Keeping your centre of gravity low is always a plus in mountain biking, and the Henty have done a splendid job of blending backpack storage and security with the positioning and breathability positives of a bum-bag. We’ve only had a handful of rides with this pack so far, so no word yet on durability, but our impressions so far are fantastic.

 

Tested: Bontrager Drop Line Dropper Seatpost

Subtle black in colour and an easy to adjust seat clamp too.

Suddenly it seems like just about every company has brought out a dropper post, either as an aftermarket alternative to the established players, or to spec dropper posts on lower priced bikes by manufacturing their own model (Giant, Specialized, Merida and Trek/Bontrager all have their own posts now).

The Bontrager Drop Line Dropper Seatpost falls into both of those categories – OEM and aftermarket – killing two birds with one stone by allowing Trek to spec dropper posts on more bikes, and providing an aftermarket upgrade for consumers.


How does the Drop Line work? 

The Bontrager Drop Line is an internally routed, cable actuated dropper post, operated by a lever that sits on the underside of the left-hand side of the handlebar. The cable stop simply ‘plugs’ into the base of the post, which operates the internals that offers infinite height adjustment. 

The under-bar lever is easily reached with the left thumb. An over-bar lever is available if you are using a left-hand shifter too.

What lengths available?

The Drop Line comes in 100, 125 and 150mm variants. Obviously, the more travel you go for, the more the post weighs, but we’re very pleased to see Bontrager offer different height options, as the needs of a shorter cross-country racer are very different to that of a lanky enduro rider.

A 150mm Drop Line weighs in at 624 grams, which is similar in weight to more established dropper posts such as the KS Lev Integra and the RockShox Reverb.


Is it easy to install?

Too easy. With the cable installing with the head at the post end – not at the lever – and fixing with a grub screw at the thumb lever, the install is quick. If you’re fussy about cable neatness like we are, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to cut down the cable in increments until you have the perfect length.

The head of the cable fixes at the post, making for quick installation and trimming of the cable length.

Is it reliable? 

We’ve ridden the Line post on dry trails and it feels super-slick, smooth and consistent. It’s only when the rides are wet and long that the post falters, the sealing suffers when there is mud flicking up from the rear tyre onto the shaft, so keep that in mind. Our suggestion would be to make sure there is no buildup around the seal area and learn the quick job of lifting up the seal (two allen keys and some thick oil/grease and you’ll be right) to clean and re-lube the sliding parts of the post.

The 125mm drop post on our Trek Slash test bike was a great performer.

While we are used to not servicing some of the more expensive posts like the FOX Transfer, we can accept paying less for a post that requires a little more love and care from the user.

Unlike many of the cheaper posts, the Bontrager didn’t develop an unacceptable amount of rattling or play – nobody likes a rattling post that you can feel when you ride, it’s super distracting. So, top points on this one, Bonty.


Is the post easy to actuate? 

The Drop-Line’s lever is fine. It’s somewhat similar in appearance to KS’s Southpaw remote, the lever isn’t a thin and wide paddle-like the KS, instead, it’s narrower and chunkier. Even with a slick and new cable, the actuation is slightly vague, though we’ll get used to it.


How much does it cost? 

Here’s where Bontrager gets a big thumbs up over other alternatives! The Drop Line retails for $359 in every size, which is great value compared to other offerings on the market, and of course, the Drop Line is backed by Bontrager’s excellent 30-day unconditional guarantee as well as a three-year warranty, so there are no worries there.

Fair value at $359.

Would we buy one? 

For $359, with a three-year warranty, we could definitely get used to the lever and frequent service intervals during the muddier rides. The Bontrager Drop Line is a great option to consider if you’re thinking about getting a dropper post or perhaps increasing your dropper post travel without breaking the bank.

For more – click through the Trek page here: Bontrager Line Post.

First Look: 6D ATB-1T EVO Helmet

So what’s the deal?

Fundamentally, open-face helmets haven’t changed much since the introduction of EPS (expanded polystyrene) as the material of choice, so the 6D ATB-1T helmet is a very progressive piece of kit. This is the first open-face mountain bike helmet to use 6D’s Omni Directional Suspension (ODS) technology. Cutting past the fluff, the aim of the game here is to create a helmet that transfers less energy to your noggin in the event of a crash than any other open-face on the market, which means less risk of brain injury.

The most brain friendly open-face yet?

How is that done?

What we have here with the 6D is kind of a helmet within a helmet – look closely and you’ll see there are two separate EPS shells, the outer one is firmer, the inner one is a little softer. But it’s what goes on between the two shells that really gives the 6D its brain saving edge, namely the ODS system.

Kind of like the turducken of the helmet world. Layers within layers.

ODS is a series of small flexible dampers – they look like little rubber hour-glasses or buttons – mounted to two plastic carriers that are joined to the EPS shells (take a look at the pic below for more clarity). The whole system ‘suspends’ the shells, allowing them to have degree of movement independent of each other.

Why go to all this trouble?

We don’t profess to be physiologists, neurologists or even very intelligent, but here’s what we understand. We’re still learning a lot about brain injuries, in all kinds of sports, but one of the most interesting things to emerge recently is data about the energy transfer in oblique impacts (e.g. the kinds where your head hits the ground at an angle, and slides or skims, rather than smacking straight down). What has been found, is that the angular acceleration passed to your head from an oblique impact is exactly the same whether the rider is wearing a conventional (read, traditional EPS) helmet or not. And given that angular acceleration is the primary cause of concussion, it makes sense to try and mitigate this.

6D claim that their ODS system achieves this and “dramatically reduces the transfer of angular acceleration to the head forms and the brain.”

The little red dampers, sandwiched between the two shells.

In terms of protecting you from other impacts – for instance toppling over backwards and hitting your head, or running front on into a tree – 6D claim they outperform all comers in those instances too. They say that other helmets, in order to pass high-velocity impact tests, are made too stiff and hard and therefore sacrifice absorption against low-velocity impacts. The 6D, by virtue of its dual density EPS shells and ODS, is able to offer more cushion against these low-velocity impacts, while the firmer outer shell doesn’t sacrifice protection in high-velocity impacts either. Look, we’re going to have to take their word for it here, but it makes sense to us.

The heart of the ODS system. The carriers, separated by low friction discs and with their movement controlled by the dampers, allow the two shells a degree of independence from each other.

How does this system differ to MIPS?

You’re probably familiar with the MIPS system, or you’ll have at least likely seen the little yellow label on many modern helmets. The ODS system is different to MIPS in a number of ways, but in essence, MIPS is a helmet liner that is designed to introduce a slip plane between your helmet and head, to reduce rotational forces upon impact. The 6D approach achieves the same outcomes (by virtue of the two shells being able to ‘slip’ relative to each other) as well as offering more compliance and energy absorption than a helmet without ODS.

The 6D vs the popular Giro Montaro. The extra size of the 6D is clear.

Is it bigger than a regular helmet?

All that technology has to fit somewhere, so yes, the 6D ATB is probably larger and heavier than your current helmet. Our size M/L weighs 524g. By way of comparison, a Giro Montaro with MIPS is 390g in size medium.

Size-wise, it is a big helmet. But really, when you compare it to many other three-quarter coverage trail helmets (particularly thenew Fox Meta helmet, or even the Bell Super) it’s not over-the-top big.

Does it look good?

From a styling sense, yes, we think it’s a cool looking helmet. The graphics are sharp, there’s a tonne of colour options, plenty of visor adjustability, and the retention system is easy to use. Still, it is big, and the overall size of the 6D is definitely going to turn off some riders who fear looking a bit like a mushroom, but surely your safety is more important than that. And we think you’d quickly get used to it too.

There are six colour options to choose from.

The 6D will set you back $289, which is certainly on the upper end of the helmet spectrum, but we actually think it’s a pretty sharp price given the innovation and R&D that has clearly been invested here. We’re going to ride this thing over the coming weeks, and while we can’t promise that we’re going to crash on to our heads in the name of testing, we’ll be back with a full report on the comfort, fit and ride performance soon.

Shootout: Trek Slash 9.8 v Norco Range C 9.2

No, this isn’t silly, it’s amazing! And especially available from the big manufacturers, it simply says that riders are pushing the boundaries of mountain biking and the technologies involved have made them a reality.


Watch the video here.



Prepare yourself to be going absolutely bonkers on the trail on one of these bikes

Take 160mm of travel and jam in a bike with 29″ wheels, and you’ll end up with a monster of a bike that will allow you to cut sick on the descents, but on the other hand, it poses serious challenges to the manufacturer to pull off. There is a lot of stuff and moving parts to fit into a space that can be still pedalled, let alone lightweight or even to fit a water bottle in the frame; it’s not as simple as it may seem from the shop floor.

Two big rigs, head to head.

We chose two bikes that in our mind epitomise this booming segment, the Norco Range C 9.2 and Trek Slash 9.8 to review head to head, back to back, fork to fork, in a review where we took them both out on the trails. With identical setup, we aimed to determine where they would shine, how different they would be, but most importantly which one we would choose if we were to keep it.


Why put the Slash and Range head to head?

Aside from looking quite similar from a distance, both black paint jobs, SRAM builds kits, RockShox suspension all round, same travel amounts and only $300 apart, we chose these two because we both know their suspension platforms well. The Norco Range is the bigger brother of the Sight that we reviewed recently, and the Slash is the big brother of the Remedy which we have ridden countless times over the last five or so years.

The Trek is the second-tier option available in Australia with the flashy red Slash 9.9 model above in a higher spec, but in the Australia Norco catalogue, this is the top spec Range.


Who are they for?

These bikes are mighty serious, not for the faint hearted and not for a comfortable ride. Aggressive riders only need apply, or if enduro racing on the most ragged and wild tracks is your thing too, they might be your bag. But we’d strongly recommend looking at the Norco Sight or Trek Remedy if the majority of riding might not warrant such a huge bike.

We can’t go past the Trek for its looks and aesthetics, such a smart machine.

How do they differ on paper?

The Trek is nearly 1kg lighter, has a lot going on in the frame with the Knock Block system, geometry adjustment, and a full carbon construction. It’s a whopper of a bike, with a down tube that gives the bike a real ‘get outta my way’ attitude, and it’s murdered out black paint job is even more menacing.

The Norco is a heavier bike and appears much more swoopier in the tubing, especially up the front to allow clearance of the fork crowns to rotate fully under the down tube. The four-bar linkage drives a trunnion mount shock, and there’s just enough space for a water bottle. Interestingly (also took us a few days to notice) that the graphics are green on one side, and black on the other, tricky!


Frame geometry differences.

Comparing the two bikes in terms of geometry is a little tricky, as the Trek is available in four sizes from 15.5″ to 21.5″ while the Norco sticks to the more common school of thought with one of the three M, L, XL options, the Range is also available in 27.5″ wheels in a wider range of sizes too. We reviewed the 19.5″ Trek and M Norco.

Taking a look at the geometry charts the bikes are very close, though the Trek does have the MinoLink adjustment to allow 0.5-degree adjustability in the head angle which also alters the bottom bracket height by 10mm.


Norco vs Trek regarding spec.

Yes, we can hear the keyboards furiously smashing away, criticising us for comparing two bikes with $300 difference between them, but in our opinion, that is about as close as it gets.

For an extra $300 you get a lot for the cash with the Norco, the SRAM Eagle drivetrain is superb, the gear range is huge and had us cleaning the steep climbs easier with a few gears up our sleeve, and the shifting and operation is so crisp, quiet and smooth. The SRAM Guide RS brakes (S stands for Swing Link) have a much snappier lever feel, and the power delivery is excellent.

Rim widths are similar between the two, but the tyres feel vastly different when you hit the dirt – the Bontragers almost feel a little under-gunned in comparison to the meaty Maxxis Minions on the Norco. We’d love to try the Bontrager G5 tyres on the Slash to let it rumble.


How different were they on the trail?

By choosing two bikes that on paper were so close, you’d think that would reflect on the trail, right? Well, yes, they were very similar when it came to turning the pedals.

In summary, we found the Trek a more efficient bike to ride, with its low weight, fast rolling tyres, and Dual Position fork for the climbs it was an easier bike to get along with after a few hours on singletrack.

But whenever we got back onto the Norco our attitude changed, the skies darkened and we released our inner maniac. We rode more aggressively into the corners, braked later, jumped further and let it hang out more.


The tough task of picking one.

It was tough, they both are amazing bikes, nothing went wrong with either of them, and there was never a moment that a frame design, spec choice or compatibility let us down. If you were to lean towards longer rides on lesser aggressive trails the Slash would be ideal, and even on the race tracks we have here in Australia it might be a more logical choice due to its great efficiency and speed.

Pick one? This one.

Though we couldn’t go past the fact that if you’re in the market for a bike this size with this much suspension travel you’re going to want it to descend hard and fast, and that’s what the Norco does very well. You could easily find some faster rolling tyres to bring it closer to the Trek Slash, and vice versa with the Bontragers on the Slash, but we could go on forever about spec modifications, as it stands we’d pick the Norco.

Tested: Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned

We reviewed the Genius Plus 710 model earlier this year, using the same frame as this model with a lower level parts spec for $5999. We went deep into our thoughts behind the plus bike concept and how they ride on the trails, head to that review here – Tested: Scott Genius Plus 710.

On review this time around, we have the top-end ‘Tuned’ model, which translates directly to ‘holy crap this bike is dialled!’ with its premium parts kit and absolutely gorgeous finish and impressive 12.1kg weight. Everywhere you look on this bike you are greeted with pure class, from the parts to the paint the Tuned level option is very tidy.

We love the colour scheme; it’s a kick arse looking rig.

27.5″, Plus, or 29er? Our two cents on plus bikes.

Arrgh, it’s still convoluted to explain after a couple of years coming to terms with the middle wheel size; 27.5″ plus. So, you’re a mountain biker in the market for a new bike, what wheel size do you choose? Let’s simplify it here; 27.5″ for agility, 27.5+ for traction and control, and 29er for speed and confidence. The Plus tyres are typically between 2.8″ and 3.0″ in width, they have a huge volume of air and mount to wide 35-40mm rims. This all lets you drop the tyre pressures right down low, that’s where the grip comes from.

The Plus format is an excellent option; though it’s not going to be ideal for every rider, or every trail. That said, in the world of hardtails, we do think it has the potential to take over. It makes perfect sense: Unless you’re looking for a full-blown cross-country racing machine, you’re better off on a hardtail with 27.5+ wheels/tyres. You’ll crash less, get fewer flats, have more fun. When it comes to dual suspension bikes, then the matter is a bit murkier, and it becomes more of a horses for courses kind of issue.

Plus bikes, are they your thing?

Despite the marketing teams from the big brands telling us so, we’ve still not seen a plus bike raced at the top level at an Enduro World Series race; we’d have to agree though, for race speed we’d opt for a 29er with chunky rubber on wide rims over a plus bike. It’s the way that the tyres can still bounce and squirm when pushed at race pace. That said, we are about as close to that pace as we are to winning anything, so we’ll back away from that debate and get back to bashing around the trails for the fun of it.

This Scott Genius Plus uses 2.8″ Maxxis tyres on 35mm internal width Syncros rims, which traditionally is on the smaller end of the scale to what we’ve used previously on plus bikes. The Maxxis tyres also have a more regular shape to them, the Maxxis Minion tyre on the front is particularly incredible.

Why not just big tyres on wide rims? Well, that’s a good question, thanks for bringing it up. While we’re not able to see into the future, we can bet on a few things now and then that the industry is up to, and where things are going. After the release of the new Pivot Mach 5.5 with its 2.6″ Maxxis tyres on 35mm wide DT Swiss rims and the 2017 Specialized Enduro 650B with 2.6″ tyres, we’re expecting that platform to put a dent in the popularity of the big 3″ tyre plus bikes next season. Or we could be very wrong, let’s see.


The traction. 

There is so much traction, the dilemma we had testing this thing was what to do with it all? Jumping onto the Genius after riding various long travel 29ers we found ourselves doing some pretty cool things when we began to get comfortable. Like pedalling anywhere and all the time, keeping our feet up through sketchy corners, blasting long jumps over obstacles with a complete lack of regard of line choice. It was damn good fun!

Imagine a 2.8″ Maxxis Minion… Yeah, exactly.

There are always sections of trail that challenge the traction of a mountain bike tyre when we dropped the tyres down to around the 20 psi mark and even lower, we were able to claw our way up steep and loose sections of the track so, so, so much easier.

When compared to the Schwalbe or Specialized 3″ tyres we’ve tried, the Maxxis tyres have more bite and cornering feel than the larger balloon shaped tyres, it helps the bike find good precision on the trails, a criticism we had with the Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie and the original Schwalbe Rocket Ron 3″ tyres on the earlier Scott Genius Plus models.


The high-end bits.

The Tuned model is the top offering from Scott in the plus bike range, the FOX suspension is the best you can get with all the adjustments and slick Kashima coated bits, the SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain is a big winner in our hearts, and the finishing touches from Syncros like the carbon bar, stem and saddle finish it perfectly. All the small bolts like the seatpost clamp, bar/stem, and grips are all torx keys, too.

Big wheels need good brakes and the SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes are well and truly up to the task, it’s also nice to see the aluminium carrier rotors as standard too, very fancy.

Even the unstoppable FOX Transfer post is the flashy Kashima one, there’s really nothing to dislike about this parts spec at all.

Top FOX kit, front and back. The suspension is superb.
That’s what we call high end, a FOX Transfer dropper post, Kashima too!
The Syncros cockpit is carbon, no corners cut here at all.
Adjustable frame geometry via a little reversible chip at the rear shock.

When compared around with other big-name brands, the Scott stacks up very well indeed, have a look for yourself. Where top-end carbon bikes tend to hover around the $9-$11K mark, it makes this one an attractive option if you’re interested.


Twinloc.

Scott’s dual suspension bikes are built around their Twinloc suspension adjustment system, it works perfectly and gives Scott a point of difference from the masses. The nicely ergonomic Twinloc lever sits closely to your left thumb to toggle the rear shock between 130mm, 90mm and locked out. It simultaneously adjusts the fork too, to match the rear end. Yes it does add extra cables that might put off the fussiest riders, though with some time with a pair of cable cutters and some trial and error you’ll be able to tidy it up just fine.

The Twinloc lever on the left side of the bar.
The remote cable to the rear shock is hidden from view, nice touch.

In Open mode, the suspension feel is super buttery, with a really lively feel, that ramps up nicely. Like we mentioned in the review of the Genius 710 Plus, the single-pivot suspension design coupled with the Twinloc is a great pairing. There’s no pedalling platform, and with very little anti-squat in the suspension configuration, it’s very responsive. Hit the lever and engage Climb mode, and the feeling is very different – the bike sits up higher in its travel, raising the bottom bracket, and the suspension becomes much firmer. As we’ve noted above, the Plus tyres still take the edge off, so the ride is surprisingly smooth even with only 90mm of travel.

The full lock-out is really useful on the road, but where we would normally let rear suspension help find traction on loose fire road climbs we would still be able to lock it out and rely on the big tyre and low pressure to bite in hard.


Want more on how it rides?

Click through to our video review of the Scott Genius 710 Plus to see it in action and hear more of our thoughts on the bike’s construction and ride character. 


Cut to it.

The Genius Plus is an all-terrain monster; it’s a big bike with massive ability. Take it to a trail that you’ve found challenging, and your worries will fade away as the traction machine gets going. Don’t look for the Genius Plus for a bike park or race track, give it a challenge, not a clock, and it’ll sure be a great companion on many trails to come.

Max traction, maximum fun.

The stunning finish, incredible parts, adjustable frame geometry, adjustable suspension and grippy Maxxis 2.8″ tyres are a real standout. And on the trail, it’s super confident, lovely and smooth and dead quiet.

Tested: Praxis Works C32 Mountain Wheels

Praxis Works have entered the carbon wheelset game.
Praxis Works have entered the carbon wheelset game.

Praxis Works’ C32 Mountain wheels are the Californian brand’s first foray into the carbon wheel market, and you can read a bit more information about the history of these wheels and what you can expect out of the box in our First Bite.


How did the C32’s ride? 

The Praxis Works C32 Mountain wheels ride exactly as you’d expect from an all-mountain carbon wheelset, stiff and direct. Moving from an alloy wheelset onto the C32’s, the difference in stiffness is immediately noticeable when pushing through corners, or trying to track a straight line through rough terrain.

The C32's are about as stiff as wheels get.
The C32’s are about as stiff as wheels get.

Where on an alloy wheelset you feel a slight amount of flex pushing the bike into a corner, the C32’s go exactly where you point them, so be ready to hold on tight!

If you can hold on, the C32's will always go where you point them.
If you can hold on, the C32’s will always go where you point them.

The sensation is much the same through rough terrain. When you hop on the C32’s from an alloy wheelset, their stiffness and directness mean if you can hold on, the wheels will track a precise line without flexing and twisting, which is a sensation you don’t realise is happening until you ride a wheelset like the C32s.

We're big fans of the understated decals.
We’re big fans of the understated decals.

Whilst the extra stiffness is appreciated when laying down the watts, or keeping your line to the millimetre in a corner, it takes time to get used to the C32’s stiffness, as their lack of deflection and absorption of trail chatter requires a bit more of a forceful hand to stay on track when you first start riding them, where on a softer and flexier aluminium wheelset the wheels will absorb trail chatter, and can also settle the bike if it your line wavers.

You might want to take rough sections of trail a little easy on your first few rides on the C32's.
You might want to take rough sections of trail a little easy on your first few rides on the C32’s.

If you’re confident in your line selection and bike control, you’ll feel a lot faster on the C32’s quickly, but if technical terrain isn’t your forte then you might want to run slightly lower tyre pressures, to compensate for the C32’s stiffness.


They’re not too much lighter than many alloy wheelsets out there, do they feel faster?

Despite not weighing in at the lighter end of the carbon wheelset spectrum at 1761 grams for the set, these wheels are meant to take a battering, they’ve got a 32mm internal rim width, and we discovered throughout testing that they are indeed incredibly strong.

The C32's feature a spot on 32mm internal rim width.
The C32’s feature a spot on 32mm internal rim width.

When you want to get up to speed however, the C32’s are very crisp on the uptake, offering faster acceleration and rolling speed than their weight might suggest. The C32’s replaced a set of Bontrager Line Elite wheels on a Trek Slash 9.9, and whilst they’re only a tad over 100 grams lighter than the Bontragers, they feel much faster to accelerate out of corners, or up a pinch climb when starting from a low speed.

The front wheel feels easy to pop up into a manual or over trail obstacles.
The front wheel feels easy to pop up into a manual or over trail obstacles.

Part of this eagerness comes from the stiffness of the rims, and part of it the responsiveness of the Industry Nine hubs, which were a real standout.


Why were the hubs a standout?

Our C32’s were laced onto a set of Industry Nine Torch hubs. Both hubs spun smooth for the entirety of the test, despite most of the testing taking place in atrocious Sydney riding conditions, and the engagement on the rear was excellent, adding to the C32’s ability to quickly get back up to pace out of a corner or on a punchy climb.

In terms of servicing the hubs, after a few weeks of solid riding, we whipped the wheels out of the bike to see how the freehub internals have been holding up, and to gauge how easily serviceable they are.

To access the hub bearing and freehubs, it’s a matter of pulling off the end caps but blimey they are tight! We pulled and pulled on them for quite some time but the o-rings lock the end caps on very securely indeed. We ended up having to crack out a bearing puller tool kit to pop off the end cap it was so tight.

The Industry Nine's hub end caps are very tightly sealed.
The Industry Nine’s hub end caps are very tightly sealed.

The next step was to gently pull off the freehub body, but be warned the pawls and springs are not held together like many hubs are, resulting in a pawl flying out onto the work bench. These little objects are not what you want going missing on the floor; our advice would be to be gentle and careful when removing.

Six pawls provide almost instant engagement.
Six pawls provide almost instant engagement.

Once inside the internals of the freehub we expected a cleaner mechanism considering the extra-tight seals, the grease was a little dirty and there was evidence of moisture (the bike had just been washed).

The internals were a touch dirtier than we were expecting, but they were subjected to some attrocious riding conditions and unforgiving hosings.
The internals were a touch dirtier than we were expecting, but they were subjected to some atrocious riding conditions and unforgiving hosings.

What about the overall maintenance?

From a maintenance perspective, we’ve ridden the C32’s hard for a couple of months now, and the wheels haven’t needed any time in the truing stand, with the spokes remaining the same tension as the day we picked them up- that’s a thumbs up in that department!

Despite a few scratches on the rim, you wouldn't know our C32's are a couple of months old.
Despite a few scratches on the rim, you wouldn’t know our C32’s are a couple of months old.

Should I be worried about breaking a set of C32’s?

During our testing of the C32’s we had two incidents, both where we went into a clearly audible rock versus carbon duel, and to our disbelief there was no damage to be seen, and the tyre also remained intact and inflated both times.

We were really impressed by the C32's strength.
Fancy slamming your rear wheel into rocks? The C32’s can handle it.

Had these incidents occurred on an alloy wheelset, we’re almost certain we would’ve dented or cracked the rim, or at the very least suffered a flat tyre.


If they break and it’s not my fault, what’s the warranty like?

If you do happen to get unlucky (and judging by our testing we think you would have to be very unlucky indeed!) and break a set of C32’s, Praxis offer a discounted rate to re-lace the hub to a new rim, which can be arranged through your local shop.

The wheels also come with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty against defects, so you’re covered there as well.


Any lowlights?

Not really. The C32’s were subjected to a cruel test period and they remained in prime condition throughout. There was no loss of spoke tension, the wheels are still straight as an arrow and the hubs are spinning as smooth as they did on day one, with the crisp engagement you would expect from an Industry Nine hub.

Industry Nine's Torch hubs were a pleasure to ride.
Industry Nine’s Torch hubs were a pleasure to ride.

We discussed in the First Bite that the practicality element of these wheels is a big selling point, with their external nipples and J-bend spokes, and despite not having to true the wheels, or replace a spoke, in the event that you do have to do some maintenance, these features will make your life (or your mechanic’s) much easier. 

Hooray for external spokes!
Hooray for external spoke nipples!

Who are the C32 Mountain wheels for?

The C32 Mountain wheels would be a good upgrade for a wide variety of riders, from casual trail riders through to enduro racers. Their excellent balance of weight, strength, stiffness and serviceability make them a great option if you’re looking to upgrade your wheels, and we’re confident after riding the C32’s back to back with several other wheelsets that you’ll notice the difference on the trail immediately.

The C32 Mountain wheels are a versatile wheelset.
The C32 Mountain wheels are a versatile wheelset.

Are they worth it?

How long is a piece of string? Sure, these wheels are an expensive upgrade, but by no means are they the most expensive out there, and the performance benefits are there compared to a standard aluminium wheelset.

Praxis Works C32-9504

We’ve enjoyed our time on the C32’s immensely, now to figure out a way to not give them back!