The new Cube Stereo 140 is one of the best value mountain bikes we’ve seen this season. For $4K there’s a lot to like about it on paper, and after a few weeks riding we’ve found it equally as impressive.
Watch the full video review below.
The Stereo is a 140mm travel bike with a 150mm travel fork and 27.5” wheels. That means it’s here for a good time with plenty of travel for getting rowdy and smaller diameter wheels for a playful ride. The carbon front end is paired to an aluminium rear end; you could say it’s the best of two worlds, the stiffness and lively nature of carbon with impact resistant and lesser expensive material aluminium.
At 13.5kg on the scales, it’s lighter than we’d expect for a bike at this price point.
Chunky frame with a high-end appearance.
We like the overbuilt construction of this bike and the huge carbon tubing – the downtube is enormous – and the way the linkage bolts are hidden from view, accessed via the inside of the frame, it gives the bike a sharp and high-end image.
Frame geometry wise, the Stereo doesn’t stray too far from what we are used to from similar bikes from major players like the Giant Trance, GT Force, Specialized Stumpjumper and so on with a reasonably roomy front end and short 425mm chainstays. A 66.5-degree head angle strikes a balance between twitchy and sluggish.
Now let’s look at the parts, we keep saying it, but for $4k it’s highly appealing.
A Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain and Deore brakes are more than up to the task, and the Raceface single-ring cranks are a damn sight more suitable to Australian conditions than the double chainring version option of this bike sold in Europe – phew! Though it does look like the long-cage rear derailleur is left on to suit the dual ring option, no biggie.
Rims are 30mm wide, the chunky Schwalbe tyres are tubeless ready, but it’ll require additional parts. So, get the bike shop to chuck in some tubeless rim tape, valves and sealant, and you’re set. An essential upgrade to let the bike live up to its real potential.
Suspension wise, the FOX fork and shock are right on the money. While the Rhythm 34 does feel a little less composed than the higher level FOX forks, it’s still super supple and sensitive, and the three position rear shock gives excellent control over how you wish the bike to behave when pedalled, a nifty feature not often seen at this price point.
The Stereo has a dropper post too, see, it really has all the ingredients for a proper thrashing.
We had many great rides on the Stereo on our local trails; it’s a lively ride with rapid steering. Compared to many 29er trail bikes we’ve been riding, the smaller diameter wheels on the Stereo make it a blast to muck around in the jump park too, taking off and landing with high precision.
The 27.5” wheels might be a compromise to some on super rough and fast terrain when compared to a 29er, but we think they make up for it in the tight singletrack and fun sections of the trail. That’s why we believe the Stereo would be an excellent option for the type of rider who likes to ride aggressively, has the terrain that requires generous suspension travel and isn’t afraid of getting airborne.
Convert it to tubeless, give the cables a trim, and you’re good to go.
The subject of women’s specific bikes is certainly a controversial one, particularly at the moment, with some brands touting ‘gender neutral’ designs and others pushing for women’s specific construction. But regardless of which side of the fence you sit, it’s hard to ignore the commitment of Liv to providing the full spectrum of bikes to the female market. In the year in which Liv celebrates its 10 year anniversary, they are launching not one, but two, women’s full suspension trail e-bikes.
The two models are; the The Intrigue E+ Pro, which is a more premium performance bike with a Maestro suspension chassis and 140/150mm travel; and the shorter travel 120/130mm Embolden E+, which is aimed at the rider who prefers less extreme terrain and may feel the Intrigue E+ is simply too much bike.
At this point in time, we’ll only be seeing the Intrigue E+ in Australia. You’re correct if you think you’ve heard the Intrigue name before – it was popular 140mm trail bike, the sister to Giant’s Trance if you will. There are two versions of Intrigue E+ available, but it’s just the less expensive (and lower spec) Intrigue E+ 2 Pro that will be making it to our shores for $5999.
There’s no doubt in our minds that e-MTBs are going to be the ticket into the sport for a lot of new female riders, and so full credit to Liv for helping drive this.
Launching two e-bike platforms for women is a big investment in what is surely only a small market segment. Erin Lamb, Liv’s Global Product Marketing Lead, explained that it’s in response to the explosion of e-bikes globally, and that while “The women’s mountain bike market is a small slice of the overall market now, it’s rapidly growing compared to the other segments, and so that’s why the goal in general is to inspire women to ride – to keep that growth going.” There’s no doubt in our minds that e-MTBs are going to be the ticket into the sport for a lot of new female riders, and so full credit to Liv for helping drive this.
So what’s women’s specific about it?
The LIV approach is not just about sticking a wider saddle on and calling it a women’s bike. You can delve into the detail here (or read more about it in our Liv Hail review) but everything from component choice, to frame geometry and suspension tune is different to what you’d find on the equivalent men’s model in the Giant range. The geometry design for Liv e-bikes aims to have the riding position and experience as similar as possible to a non-pedal assist equivalent, and there are four frame sizes from XS to Large available.
So, let’s take a look at it!
Looks good, huh? Let’s be honest, many e-bikes are pretty fugly, and Giant (Liv’s brother company) were one of the worst offenders with their Giant Full-E+ Pro. We are stoked to say that the Liv Intrigue E+ is a genuinely good looking e-bike – a rare thing indeed! The paint jobs are top notch as well. Even the cheaper Intrigue E+ 2 Pro which is coming to Australia has a lustrous finish of a striking gloss black with metallic red highlights.
Let’s start with familiar territory for those not well acquainted with e-MTBs, the suspension. The Intrigue E+ 2 Pro features the Maestro suspension platform with a trunnion mounted Fox Float DPS shock providing 140mm of travel and a 150mm SR Suntour Aion 35 up front. It’s the same suspension configuration that’s served Giant and LIV well for many years, albeit with longer chain stays to fit in the motor and deliver better climbing traction.
Battery integration is the new frontier for e-bike design and the new downtube integrated Liv EnergyPak really does looks sleek. Its 500Wh capacity theoretically provides a distance range of between 110km (eco mode) and 45km (full power mode).
What about the motor?
The pedal assist is courtesy of the SyncDrive Pro motor, powered and co-developed by Yamaha, which is not a motor system we’ve ridden before. It provides five modes up to 360% power, and a “walk assist” mode for when pushing is the only option. The brain behind the motor is the PedalPlus 4-Sensor technology, with a barrage of sensors claiming to replicate a natural feeling pedal response on all types of terrain.
The charger is very fast, the battery can be boosted to over 60% of capacity within one hour and full within approximately 3.5 hours. The smart charger also monitors the health of the 40 individual battery cells and continuously adjusts the charge output based on the battery condition to maximise the battery efficiency and life-span.
We like the fact that Liv have opted to ditch a bulky display unit, just using the minimalistic RideControl ONE module mounted to the left side of the bars, with buttons to switch through support modes and an LED display showing what mode you’re in and battery level. Everything has an App now (hell, our local pizzeria has one) and due for release in September 2018 is the Liv E-Bike App which will enable the rider to tune motor settings and support ratios.
What about the ride?
What better place to launch an e-bike (or two) than the stunning Venosta Valley in Northern Italy’s South Tyrol. A lush valley of apple orchards nestled between towering peaks through which an extensive network of mountain bike and hiking tracks weave. It is in this type of terrain that an e-bike really shines, with the pedal assist making light work of road and access trail climbs, giving quick and efficient access to the singletrack.
Our strong first impression was of the responsiveness of the bike and its motor. Many e-bikes suffer from a laggy motor response to pedalling at lower speeds, and this can make slow, technical climbs hard work. But the Liv felt great in these situations, making those techy climbs where you need to ratchet your pedal stroke much easier than we’ve experienced on many e-bikes. Once rolling, the power transfer is smooth and does feel pretty natural.
Descending on the Intrigue E+
On the descents this bike is incredibly confidence inspiring. Its weight and stiffness combining with the impressive Maestro suspension to provide a seriously stable ride, with minimal deflection helping forgive any poor line choices. Ample stopping power was provided by the Tektro four piston brakes with 200mm rotors, which is so important with the extra weight of an e-bike.
What surprised us was how manoeuvrable and agile the bike felt for its weight and long wheelbase, particularly in terms of front end weight, without a feeling of having to significantly increase input to clear obstacles at speed. It was also unexpectedly nimble through tight downhill switchbacks. What we noticed and appreciated about the bike was that it simply felt lighter on the trail than expected, which contributed to its willingness to leave the ground. We never felt like a passenger.
Liv opted for 2.6″ tyres, rather than 2.8″ or 3.0″ rubber. When bombing through more open terrain or cornering at high speeds, the 2.6” tyres offer great support and cornering stability, without any vagueness that can plague bigger Plus sized rubber. The flipside of course is that on loose, steep climbs you do miss the extra grip of a 2.8″ or 3.0″ tyre.
Easy there, tiger!
That same responsiveness we noted above does require a gentle touch sometimes, especially when starting on hill, to prevent the bike surging away. Remembering to lowering the power mode and starting with gentle pressure on the pedals was the solution to this.
Speaking of pushing the bike, the walk assist mode is a great feature for the smoother climbs but we found it not terribly useful for pushing the bike up rocky terrain. The button was tricky to hold down whilst wrestling the bike uphill, and the torque being applied through the rear wheel meant it would break traction as we were trying to lift the front wheel up and over an obstacle.
The Intrigue E+ is a great trail weapon, we had a lot of fun on this bike and loved the way it shredded the steep rough terrain of our testing grounds. While Liv say it’s designed to appeal to the more experienced rider, we wouldn’t shy away from recommending it to someone getting started in the sport too, or simply any women wanting to ride further, get to their favourite trails quicker, having more fun along the way.
We’ve grown quite fond of this thing, and the result is the traditional road bike in the garage has been gathering dust. We ride mountain bikes for the fun of it and to get outdoors, we ride road bikes to go long distances and hopefully get ‘fitter’. Combining the two is made simple with a gravel bike, the Checkpoint is a comfortable and versatile rig that we are really enjoying riding.
For a more detailed look at the Checkpoint, check out our first impressions article here. Trek Checkpoint SL 5.
Watch the video for an update on the review.
We’ve received the new Shimano Ultegra RX rear derailleur for review, which is essentially a combination of a road and mountain bike derailleur, using the clutch mechanism to stabilise the chain over the bumps for a quieter ride and less risk of a dropped chain. A handy addition as the 105 derailleur currently fitted is low on the tension required to keep the chain from slapping about on rough gravel roads.
The brakes are going to score an update too, with the Shimano Dura Ace units adding power and hopefully resisting fade on the longer descents, as some of the fast roads over the mountain ranges we’ve been riding have us feeling a little nervous when we’re used to the power of mountain bike brakes!
We’ll be back, so stay tuned for an update soon, there are backcountry roads to explore.
When we tested the new Specialized S-Works Epic a few months back, we heaped praise on the bike for its confidence and flawless singletrack handling. It really did feel like the ultimate new-school XC race machine, with the geometry to tackle some pretty technical terrain. But, like a lot of race bikes, it was pretty hard on the body in rougher trails, especially with the Brain-equipped fork which we found quite choppy.
Still, was no mistaking the new Epic’s potential to build up into a pretty fun lightweight trail bike too. A super stiff frame, relatively slack angles and dropper post compatibility all gave us pause for thought, “what if we took an Epic, gave it a regular fork, a dropper post and some chunky rubber…?” It turns out Specialized had exactly that in mind, too.
Sharing the exact same frame as the Epic, the EVO version scores a 120mm FOX 34SC fork, a dropper post, a Ground Control front tyre, and a wider bar. You’ve still got the Brain shock out back, and it still weighs bugger all, so it’s not going to be shy of some serious race action.
We’ve said it many times before; XC race bikes are great… when you’re racing. With the EVO version, Specialized are clearly trying to broaden the horizons of what is a very capable platform, but without sacrificing too much performance on the racetrack.
It’s perfect timing for this bike to roll into our lives -it falls into the mix alongside the Intense Sniper XC and Yeti SB100, both of which aim to bring a bit of trail bike fun to the racetrack as well – so we’ve got some handy reference points for its performance. We’ll be bringing you a full review of this bike in the coming weeks, so hold the phone.
GT is a brand like no other, there’s good reason that a retro tragic like myself has more GT’s in the garage than any other brand. GT is over 40 years old and has pushed the development of mountain bikes so hard, and the result was some very whacky results and some very popular designs that will no doubt trigger a feeling of nostalgia in anyone who’s been riding since the 90s.
Watch the bike in action and hear our thoughts in the video below.
But that drive to experiment could be blamed for GT dropping out of the spotlight over the last few years, concepts like the i-Drive and AOS had consumers polarised with their abstract looks, and the suspension system was not without its shortcomings in a very competitive market.
Circling back today and GT has released two new bikes that we know you’re all going to say looks like a combination of a Kona, Cube, Trek, Giant, Transition and so on. It is certainly a very familiar shape though we think that’s exactly what GT needed to get back in the game. These bikes are based on a proven design, moving in this direction has given the frame designers complete freedom to do their thing and create a bike just how they wanted.
These bikes are based on a proven design, moving in this direction has given the frame designers complete freedom to do their thing and create a bike just how they wanted.
The new bikes are well specced, low on fuss, there are no proprietary bits, external cable routing, and a refreshing lack of silly acronyms.
Alrighty, so what do we have here then? Two entirely new models, the Sensor and Force. The Sensor is GT’s new trail bike, 29: wheels, 130mm travel front and back, available in carbon and aluminium versions.
The Force is the Sensor’s wilder brother, bumping up the suspension to 160 up front, and 150 out the back, with 27.5” wheels.
This is one very solid bike, with huge tubing, double-row bearings where needed, it rides as solid as it looks. Built around 27.5” wheels and a frame geometry that errs on the shorter side of the spectrum, it is most at home ripping trails for the fun of it.
We rode some remarkably rough and raw trails on this thing and it took it in its stride really well. Then down to some purpose-built trails in the bike park and we were ripping through the place and jumping gaps blind with great confidence.
This is the bike the GT Factory Race team have been seen using for quite some time now on the Enduro World Series, though unable to really speak about it until now. Both Martin Maes and Noga Korem are here on their team bikes, using the exact same frame.
If we were to take the Force racing, going up one size would give us a longer bike for stability, as we found it shorter in the reach than many of the other 27.5” wheel bikes with the same amount of travel.
If we were to take the Force racing, going up one size would give us a longer bike for stability
The top-end model here is set to retail for $7000 in Australia, the range is quite strong with four Force models, two carbon and one aluminium starting at $4000.
The Sensor shares the same construction and frame design as the force, built around 29” wheels and 130mm of travel at both ends.
After a solid day on the trails we’re confident that this bike is going to be very popular in Australia, while it doesn’t feel like a featherweight it climbs technical trails so very well, and with a robust frame and tough tyres we had the confidence to hammer the descents. The rear suspension feels so supportive, we surprised ourselves by climbing up steep ledges, lunging forward and clawing our way up the Sensor nails it.
We surprised ourselves by climbing up steep ledges, lunging forward and clawing our way up the Sensor nails it.
Unlike some lighter carbon frames on the market that have a little give or ‘good flex’ in the frame but risk feeling too light and shaky under heavier riders or hard terrain, both these bikes feel solid as a rock. So solid that it’s worth taking the time to dial in the suspension settings and tyre pressures for a smoother ride. Heavier riders will appreciate the robust chassis, for sure.
Like the Force, the frame flip geometry gives you the option of a high and low setting. Lift it up for more pedal clearance and sharper angles that make it climb easier or opt for the lower setting for a lower and slacker bike for better descending and cornering.
The Sensor will be available in four models also, starting at a very appealing $3000 for the base model with an aluminium frame up to $5999 for this groovy maroon and tan model – Expert below.
While only spending a few hours of riding on each, we’re pretty impressed with new LTS bikes. Our advice would be to consider upsizing on a Force is racing is your thing, and experiment with the flip chip to dial the geometry for your trails.
GT have cut away all the mumbo-jumbo and have gone after the rider who wants a solid suspension bike without the complexities and fuss that can be a distraction from why we ride in the first place.
The bike industry is in full e-swing, with new e-bikes releasing faster than iPhones or GoPros. While Trek might have been a little late to the party – with their first pedal assist mountain bike released just in 2016 – their new 2019 models, however, send a strong message. A lot of resources have been thrown behind their electric bike program, and it certainly will pay off, the new Powerfly is a very well considered package.
Hear our first impressions in the video below.
Three models available with the addition of a new LT (long travel dual suspension model) with 160mm travel forks, 150mm travel in the rear.
A new OCLV carbon frame version of the Powerfly LT (ooooh yeah!).
All three models; hardtail, FS, LT use a new fully integrated Bosch battery inside the downtube.
New Bosch e-MTB mode equipped.
E-bike specific forks, more robust and tuned specifically.
Four-piston brakes on all LT models, and sintered brake pads across the range.
SRAM Eagle on higher models with the new steel Eagle NX cassette.
2.8″ Bontrager XR4 tyres with reinforced sidewalls.
The integrated battery allows for water bottle and tool storage mounts.
New and improved Bontrager Line dropper post.
Same frame geometry as 2018 FS and hardtail models.
Long travel Powerfly, where have you been all this time?
Previously only available from select overseas markets, the LT is finally coming Down Under. The Powerfly we reviewed last year was the FS model, with 130mm travel front and back. Certainly a great bike, but it didn’t take much for it to feel a little under-gunned when we took it to more technical trails or descents.
It’s as if the venerable Trek Slash got struck by lightning, or fell into the cauldron of magic potion, this is a long travel bike with superpowers! The suspension felt like what we’d expect from Trek; balanced, consistent and well suited to the cause.
We spent a big day riding big mountains on the Powerfly LT 7 Plus – a non-Australian spec model – we will see two models of the LT, the LT 9 and carbon LT 9.7 pictured below.
It’s as if the venerable Trek Slash got struck by lightning, or fell into the cauldron of magic potion, this is a long travel bike with superpowers!
A long travel model, however, is just the ticket to unlocking the Powefly’s true potential. We often don’t see the point in an e-MTB with less than 150mm of travel, with so much power at your disposal, lugging a larger bike around is no big deal. When you need a little more cushion for the push’n, a 160mm travel fork is just what you need to let the brakes off and push it.
Bosch’s new e-MTB mode.
While it’s simply just a mode setting, it makes the world of difference to how the bike rides. Selecting e-MTB mode on the display unit is like putting your camera into auto-mode, no, much better than that.
The whole idea of the e-MTB mode is to naturalise the feeling of power delivery, so the response feels much more like a normal mountain bike under pedalling forces – it delivers a less aggressive power output if you’re pedalling slowly and gently, ramping up the juice when you’re hammering at the pedals.
The whole idea of e-MTB mode is to naturalise the feeling of power delivery, so the response feels much more like a normal mountain bike under pedalling forces
We tried riding in the three other modes – Eco, Tour, Turbo – and kept returning to e-MTB, it’s ideal.
Same geometry as 2018 models.
While it wasn’t music to our ears, news that the Powerfly’s frame geometry remained the same as last year, we do agree that Trek has made their decision after much consideration.
When reviewing the Powerfly FS 7 last year, we had criticisms of the long chainstays making it harder to muscle what are already heavy bikes around on the trails. At 475mm it’s one of the longest out there, what does that mean?
Well, with so much bike behind you, lifting the front end up by the bars requires a whole lot of effort, and on the trails that translates to a bike that you become a bit of a passenger on, steering it through the trails rather than hopping or manualling around. We’ve ridden plenty of e-bikes with shorter stays and despite the inherent weight of a motorised bike, you can still ride them like a regular bike.
On the flipside, a longer rear centre makes the Powerfly the best climbing e-bike we’ve ridden, hands down. Even with a tall 160mm fork, we took it up the nastiest inclines on the slipperiest surface with very little effort, the front end never lifted or wandered side to side. Their climbing manners are first rate.
Their climbing manners are first rate.
Climbs vs descents, stability vs agility, Toyota Landcruiser Troopy vs Suzuki Vitari? Everybody is different, we understand that. Though a middle-ground to build a more agile bike even at the sacrifice of climbing ability would be our preference.
E-Bike spec in the bag.
With the component manufactures sorting out their end of the deal and producing more parts that meet the demands of e-bikes, Trek has more to choose from. The 2019 range will have more four-piston brakes specced, tougher tyres, steel Eagle NX 12-speed cassettes and more robust forks that are tuned specifically for the heavier bikes.
While our opinions on the frame geometry remain, we appreciate that we might approach e-bikes different to others. The new bikes are very dialled, the new integrated battery will fool anyone from afar thinking it’s a regular bike, it is so aesthetically clean. And the addition of Bosch’s e-MTB mode is really clever, the bike rides very naturally.
We’re hoping to score a ride on the Powerfly 9.7 LT, to see how the OCLV carbon frame changes things, so keep your eyes out for more.
For more on the Australian range of Powerfly models head to Trek’s site here. Yiew, Powerfly!
In a category that’s breeding like rabbits, the Ibis casually struts into the room with a strong offering and a unique approach to the 160mm travel 29er game.
Watch our discussion about the new RipMo from the trails below.
A RipMo in a nutshell.
29″ wheels, 160mm up front, 145 out the back. The FOX fork uses a 44mm offset crown and paired with a fairly sensible head angle of 65.9 degrees and 435mm chainstays. So we have big travel with geometry that on paper lends itself to more toward the lighter end of the spectrum.
The frame is all carbon, using a DW Link to drive the FOX DPX rear shock. The frame is super low to allow the use of a long dropper post or open up the options to upsize the frame without it growing too much height.
44mm fork offset, so what?
The RipMo uses a reduced offset fork, 44mm instead of the traditional 51mm. Something we’ve seen becoming more popular from many brands; the Specialized Epic, Yeti SB100 for instance. The idea behind is simple, yet hard to explain. A longer front-end of the bike adds stability, but a shorter stem is required to keep your body in a comfortable position. Then the shorter offset will give the bike a greater amount of ‘trail’, for more stability in the steering.
So what all that means is there’s a focus on stability at speed or jumping.
And you know what? The RipMo does feel light to steer, yet not twitchy in the slightest, and letting the brakes off is not a scary thing.
Who’s the RipMo for?
Compared to other long travel 29ers we’ve ridden recently, the RipMo feels a lot more spritely and agile on trails that require you to work hard in the turns or pumping the terrain to maintain speed. We’d put that down to the low weight, sensible angles and supportive suspension.
Ibis makes beautiful bikes, we think the new RipMo will be very popular indeed.
Watch our video above for our discussion from the trails!
The Spectral is Canyon’s all-rounder trail bike using 27.5″ diameter wheels, striking a middle ground between a cross-country bike and an enduro bike, using 150mm travel forks and 140mm out the back. We’ve had so much great experience with the Spectral over the years, a bike that has always reviewed well due to its efficient suspension, agile character and value for money.
We won’t go on too much about what’s new with the new model, we’ve covered it in great depth here, there certainly is a lot to look at:
The Spectral is a reasonably neutral feeling bike, every time we jumped back on it; the fit felt comfortable and ready for long rides. While some bikes are going down the ‘long, slack, low, rad’ path, the Spectral keeps it more conservative. So when we took it to our familiar trails everything we were instantly at home, cruising through the turns and tracking up steep climbs very easily. That’s precisely what we look for in a good all-rounder trail bike!
That said, the big rubber, powerful brakes and roomy cockpit allowed you to blast your way into the corners with a reckless approach, the Spectral is super fun to get rowdy. Getting on the gas out of the corners the whole bike felt spritely and supportive, even more so with the FOX shock in the middle trail mode with added compression support.
We noticed that compared to the older Spectral, the rear suspension feels more supportive when pedalling hard, this might be mistaken for a firmer ride at first, but it still felt smooth and supple despite resisting wallowing deeper into the travel when pushing the bike forward.
2.6″ width tyres on 27.5″ wheels = loads of grip, but would we keep them on always?
The big 2.6″ tyres polarised us, where most bikes in the similar category would be rolling on 2.4-2.5″ tyres, the rounded 2.6″ tyres give the bike a very different feel and are best used with lower tyre pressures. It’s not just the width and greater surface contacting the dirt, the large volume of the tyre plays many roles and Canyon have selected them for this bike for very good reason. The 2.6″ tyres help cut out vibration from the trail for a very smooth ride, and the tyre conforms to chunky and changing surfaces exceptionally well, giving the bike fantastic traction.
But with the large tyres comes a lack of precision and somewhat vague feeling on the trail, more experienced riders might find the larger rubber detrimental on terrain that doesn’t necessarily warrant it. We encountered a couple of flat tyres too, pinching the lightweight casing of the rear tyre on sharp rocks.
We tried a set of 2.4″ Kenda tyres with tough casings on the Spectral when riding on faster trails; we appreciated how you could push the bike a little harder with the tyres feeling more stout and concise below you.
Back on the 2.6″ tyres we really couldn’t help but love the generous traction when clawing up and down loose singletrack or tackling steep technical sections where holding your line was crucial to making it out the other side safely.
Our thoughts on the tyres? While it might be rider and terrain specific, swapping out to a pair of 2.4 or 2.5″ tyres with a robust casing would be our pick. At least tyres are not too much of an expense to experiment with.
After a few rides, we wanted to get the bars down lower. By fitting one spacer into the air spring, and dropping the pressure to let the fork sag a little lower the fork rode a little lower, and in conjunction with flipping the stem, a respectable bar height was achieved.
The Maxxis Rekon rear tyre was not quite robust enough for the faster trails, where impacts would reach the rim a little too easily. Despite loads of tubeless sealant, we still had to install an inner tube on a ride and repair the tyre when we got home.
Watch that sizing; the Spectral is a tall one.
The Spectral’s new frame design uses a seatpost binder system that integrates neatly into the frame removing the need for a traditional collar and clamp system, a nice touch but the seat tower stands very high. Our test bike is size large and was ridden by two of us at Flow; one was borderline between a medium and a large, the other was firmly in the range for a large. In both cases, we found the seatmast so tall that the RockShox Reverb dropper post was slammed all the way down.
The front end is also quite tall, restricting the adjustability to drop the front end height for own preference sake.
Why would this matter, we hear you say. Well, this bike could well be served as an enduro race bike, where most people would generally seek a longer bike for stability at speed. Some riders might run into issues with a bike too tall if upsizing to a larger bike for length is their preference. We’ve seen bikes like the YT Capra and Ibis RipMo stay low in height, growing in the length as you go up the size chart.
Epic value, chapeau Canyon! Many nice bits.
When compared to the competition, this bike is tremendous value. The CF 9.0 sits second from the top of a vast range, covering a wide range of price points from just over $3000 for an aluminium frame option, right up to the blinged-out $10000 model. This one for $7199 would be many other major brands top offering, comparable in many ways to a $12000+ S-Works.
The full-SRAM build is excellent, DT Swiss carbon wheels with wide rims give the bike a stiff and precise ride, and the SRAM Guide brakes with a 200mm rotor on the front will stop you in a hurry. Ergon is a German brand doing great things, and the saddle and grips are parts we use on our personal bikes, top stuff indeed.
Stellar frame engineering.
It’s worth stopping and taking a closer look at the Spectral to properly appreciate the unique approach to frame design that this German brand has. The headset has a rotation stopper to remove the risk of the bars spinning around in a crash, saving the brake lines from pulling out or the sharp cockpit parts smashing the frame.
The suspension pivot bearings are sealed behind an additional shield, and the rear axle houses its quick release handle inside itself for a clean look but not needing any tools to remove it.
Underneath the frame is an intelligent design, both adding protection to the carbon frame and a casing for the brake, seatpost and gear lines is a plastic casing fastened to the frame via allen key bots.
While it seems like a straightforward approach to cleaning the bike’s appearance by hiding the cables without them travelling inside the frame, it favours those who run the brake levers opposite to how we do in Australia, with the front brake on the right-hand side. It also requires at least three hands to assemble, tricky with just two.
Routing the rear brake line around the headtube for a cleaner setup isn’t an option, a shame, but no biggie.
The new Spectral was always going to be good, who’s it for?
It was always going to be a sure bet that when Canyon re-vamped their immensely popular trail bike, it was going to be good, and despite the frame height and cable routing (which certainly won’t bother all riders), they have hit the nail on the head.
The Spectral would best be appreciated by someone with an eye for quality and engineering and ride demanding trails. Traction, efficiency and playfulness sum up the Spectral just right.
Intense Cycles aren’t exactly synonymous with cross country racing; these disruptive Californians have traditionally dwelled in the world of downhill and long-travel shredding. But here we are, looking at a full-blown XC race weapon, the Intense Sniper XC Elite.
The name might say XC, but you don’t have to dig deep to find the Intense downhill DNA. We first clapped eyes on this bike a few months ago (read our first impressions piece here) and right away we knew we wanted to spend more time on it. Its mix of geometry, efficiency and low weight promised to bring more grins and fewer grimaces to XC racing, and that’s why we picked it as our bike of choice for the Port to Port MTB race.
Watch our full video review below to learn if it lived up to our expectations.
Sometimes we feel bad for making the Norco Sight sit still for the camera all the time, so, we try to make up for it by giving it gifts. Nice things like new suspension, drivetrains, wheels, tyres etc. Over time it’s become a real mutt of a bike, with parts from all over the place.
In this video we talk about our thoughts on the FOX 34 vs RockShox Pike test, the XTR Shimano brakes, SRAM Eagle drivetrain and our preferences.
We made a modification to the Bontrager wheels, and reveal our plans for a massive makeover with nearly all the parts changing over.
It’s been a while since we’ve spent quality time on a Cube, one of Germany’s biggest bike producers, so we’re keen to start rolling and discuss how they have kept up with the times in a demanding segment. Before we get it too dirty, let’s have a closer look at the smartly finished, and very blue machine.
Carbon frame, solid construction, killer value.
A carbon bike for $3999? Yes, that’s what we said. The Stereo 140 uses a carbon mainframe with an aluminium rear to reap the weight and stiffness benefits of the magic material, with the front while keeping the costs down out the back. The frame appears very well finished, and you can’t help but notice the size of the downtube too, it’s huge. Everything is the right place on paper, and the frame geometry looks to seek a middle ground between high-speed stability and agile handling.
Vital statistics for a proper shredding.
The Stereo has 150mm of FOX travel up the front, and 140mm out the back via a four-bar linkage. Meaty Schwalbe tyres on 27.5″ wheels should make for a grippy and lively feel, while the rims are tubeless compatible the ‘Performance’ spec construction of the tyres aren’t designed to be used without tubes, an area for an upgrade for sure.
Shimano’s great value and surprisingly powerful Deore brakes have established their worth amongst the Flow crew, and the colossal 203mm disc rotor on the front means business.
The Cube branded dropper post feels a little slow in its actuation, so hopefully, it speeds up when we use it on the trail. There are ISCG mounts for a chain guide for added security if you wish, and ample space for a water bottle, too.
Being single is ok.
When we looked up the 99 Bikes website to see what looked like a double chainring, 2×11 drivetrain, our hearts sunk a fraction. Coming from Germany where front derailleurs are popular it was no big surprise, but the Australian distributor opted for a single ring spec, phew! A Shimano SLX drivetrain with a large 11-46 tooth cassette should be ample range to get around the place; we’ll find out.
We’ll have our video review of the Stereo 140 up on Flow soon, stay tuned – pardon the pun – for our thoughts.
The Port to Port MTB stage race is one of the best events of the year, rolling its way through the gorgeous Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie region before winding up in Newcastle – we love it. This year, we jumped out from behind the cameras to race it!
To tackle the job of four days back-to-back racing, we wanted to put together the ultimate bike for the task. Our black canvas was the stunning new Yeti SB100.
This freshly released new-school XC rocket was built up with a handpicked range of parts, all set-up specifically for the job at hand. Watch our full video discussion of the bike below, and let us know your questions or thoughts!
In our discussion video, we look at everything from suspension setup to choice of grips, watch for our thoughts on:
Setting up the new FOX 32 SC 120 fork for reducing fatigue over four days.
Why we’d not go without a dropper post.
The spiky tyre on the front, even in the dry conditions.
How to carry spares.
Choice of wheels.
Using the Ergon grips to reduce soreness from a wrist injury.
What tubeless sealant?
Drivetrain and chainring size.
Watch the video here:
Read our daily wrap-ups from Port to Port MTB here:
The all-new Pivot Trail 429 makes us weep little tears of joy – half a day with this bike and it’s already right up there on our most-wanted list. While we loved the previous Mach 429 Trail, it was starting to feel a little outdated in terms of geometry, and so the new Trail 429 arrives right on cue. Check out our initial impressions and first ride review below!
The YT Jeffsy is a ripper of a bike. It’s hard to explain why; when you look at it on paper there’s nothing particularly magical about its numbers or suspension. But on the trails, it flat out shreds, down, up and round the bends. We fell in love with this bike last year, when we took it on our Ride High Country Road Trip – make sure you watch the video of that trip below, and check out our full video review of the Jeffsy CF as well.
We’ve recently welcomed another YT Jeffsy into our lives, this time as a custom build, put together from the frame up. We’re going to be using this bike to review all kinds of test products, and we’ve already got a number of review items bolted on, getting dirty. Here’s a bit of rundown of some of the key items.
We’ve ridden this drivetrain a lot recently, it’s been fitted to many test bikes. The 500% range and light shifting action is superb, though it’s not niggle free. You can read our review here.
Vittoria Morsa tyres:
Did you know that Vittoria made mountain bike tyres? Neither did we till the Morsa 29×2.3 tyres lobbed on in. Read our first impressions piece here. We’re liking the tough construction, fast rolling speeds and durability of this rubber. The grip is good in soft soils, or deep sand, but not so flash in the wet or when there’s loose over hardpack.
Only a couple years ago were we freaking out over the concept of a 29er with 160mm travel, now it seems like this type of bike is growing in popularity amongst the enduro-racer crowd or anyone that want to go REALLY fast.
The RipMo is quite cool, with a super-long reach, a 66-degree head angle paired with a 44mm offset fork. To allow riders to ‘upsize’ for a longer reach, the RipMo’s low standover height will let you gain length without too much height, which you can see with so much seatpost out of the frame here.
Not often seen is the use of bushings on the lower linkage that is a high-stress pivot that doesn’t have a large range of motion. Ibis claims the bushing system is lighter and stiffer than a pivot with conventional cartridge bearing. They are protected by an airtight seal, and a lifetime warranty too, interesting.
Pricing is pretty sharp, too, this model with a SRAM GX drivetrain, their own wide rim-wheelset and a FOX DPX shock is $6899, which we think is pretty competitive.
The fame looks gorgeous, it’s an all-new model so we’re pretty excited to take it for a good old thrashing on the trails, so stay tuned for our thoughts!
The Devinci Django Carbon 29 is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s pantaloons. 120mm of rear travel and steepish angles would have you thinking it’s more of a cross-country bike, but this machine is in its element when the trails are technical.
Don’t buy this bike if you’re looking for a fast, zippy trail bike for covering long distances. Do buy it if you value a sturdy build and confidence.
From the company that brought us the first mass-produced mountain bike in the early 80s with the same name, Specialized announce the newest generation of the iconic Stumpjumper.
Three Stumpjumpers, no more Camber.
There will be three versions of the Stumpjumper available; a new Stumpjumper Short Travel, regular Stumpjumper and the return of the Stumpjumper EVO – aluminium frame only at this stage – with longer travel and burlier spec – All of them are available in both 29” and 2.75” versions, with a women’s short travel and regular too.
The lady-spec is available on the 27.5” and 29” short travel (ST) Stumpjumpers. These have 130mm travel front and rear on the smaller wheels, and 130mm front and 120mm rear with 29” wheels. These models replace the Camber (or going back a couple more years, the women’s Rumor). The 27.5” long travel (150mm front and rear) Stumpjumper is available with a women’s spec, but the 29” long travel Stumpjumper (150mm front, 140mm rear) is only available with a unisex build.
In Australia, we’ll see the 27.5” ST Comp model available in alloy only (AUD $2,700 and $4,000), the 29” ST up to the Carbon Comp model, and the 27.5” Comp (alloy, long travel, $4,000). If you want to ride a higher spec or different frame colour, you’ll need to look at the unisex range and custom it up.
Alright, so what is new?
Most unmistakably the frame is asymmetrical, while Specialized informed us that this new asymmetrical design was essential to increasing of the frame’s stiffness in combination to a loss of weight, we don’t bother, it looks modern and sets it apart from the rest.
The rear shock sits off to the side about 1cm, you can run a coil shock if you wish and the gear cable and rear brake line pass through the new ‘Side Arm’ which in turn frees up space in the SWAT storage space, for a 20% larger burrito to be carried on rides.
Other notable new bits include a new chainstay protector to cut down on chain slap noise, the bottom bracket is threaded, and geometry is adjustable by flipping a chip in the lower shock mount.
Seeya, proprietary bits.
In bigger news however in an interesting move, surely driven by consumers and dealers, the new rear shock on the Stumpjumpers are 100% standard and metric sizes, no more Specialized-only specifications and their Shock Block lower mounts. The handy suspension setup system Auto Sag has also gone in favour of creating more space for negative air volume inside the shock.
It has to be longer, lower, slacker, right?
Not entirely. Regarding geometry compared to the outgoing Stumpjumper, the new frame is very similar, looking at the two geometry charts we see that the new one is a touch longer in the reach and half a degree slacker in the head angle.
To give you an indication, the medium-sized 29er we have on test is 20mm longer overall, but the chainstay measurement of 437mm remains the same as the previous model across all frame sizes.
Standover height is lower thanks to the ‘Side Arm’, and the new models come with shorter stems.
Well, it’s not like we had any major complaints with the outgoing Stumpjumper, that’s for sure. On the trail, the bike is very easy to get along with; it strikes a delicate balance between its ability to ride like a maniac or ride conservatively, comfortably and efficiently.
Last year this model came with 2.3” tyres, now we have 2.6” of proper rubber, and on the trail we really let it hang out. A 2.6″ Butcher tyre on the front is a sure way to improve your cornering speeds! The longer reach puts more bike in front of you, too, giving you greater stability downhill.
Forgive us if we sound like a broken record, but what else is there to say? The Stumpjumper is hard to pass up as an ideal all-rounder. And in classic Specialized style, there is no stone unturned in the quest to deliver the latest and greatest; it’s totally dialled.
This is a great bike, though it might not be exceedingly different than the outgoing version, it has a few notable improvements that will keep it at the front of the game, and the type of mountain bike worth considering if you’re after a brilliant all-rounder trail bike.
Collaboration between the suspension team and frame engineers right from the concept stages of the new Stumpjumper was aimed at prioritising the overall performance not just for Joe Average, but for all types of riders on all sized frames. So with that in mind, what makes the women’s tune different?
In fact, what even IS a women’s tune? Is it something radically different to a dude-tune, or is it a case of coming up with a well-developed starting point that allows effective rider-specific customisation? (Spoiler alert, it’s the latter.)
One of the highlights of the Stumpjumper launch for me was getting to ask these questions in person. While every bike brand has their own way of developing and marketing their own take on suspension, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how someone like Chance, who works as part of the suspension team at the Specialized HQ in the USA, views their in-house development processes.
As Chance says, it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. But a little bit of information can go a long way to getting even more enjoyment out of your bike.
The women’s-specced Stumpjumpers come with this magical thing called a ‘women’s tune’, but people aren’t really sure what that means. Can you explain what it actually is?
With the women’s tune, it really is just a little bit of fine-tuning. There’s no black magic behind it really. The key part of the RX tune – it stands for ‘Recommended Experience’, which is us mating a shock to the bike…That’s the real meat of it [he clarifies] creating a shock that works best with our bike, not so much tuned for the individual.
And you’ve done that across the range?
Yes, so every bike has that. We take it one step further with the female rider. We worked with our simulation engineers, who have done a lot of studies on limb weights, body distribution and things like that. We came up with a slightly softer spring tune. We already have lighter damping tunes across the board on this bike already through our RX tune programme. So we really just made the spring curve slightly less progressive. It’s something that’s reversible, even at a shop level, it’s really nothing too crazy.
Wait, just to slow it down just a second for people who haven’t learned much about suspension before…To make it less progressive [easier to push through the travel], what are you changing to do that?
Say in RockShox, they call them their tokens. So in a fork, it would be removing a token. In the shock, it’s removing a token. A volume spacer is all it is really. But they make a big difference. People tune with them all the time, even aftermarket. We’ve come up with our key RX tune, and we’ve just dialled it back a little bit for the women’s tune.
How does the difference of a volume spacer translate to the trails? What does it mean in terms of how it feels to push through the travel, especially for the rider who is using lower pressures?
It really affects the mid and end-stroke. Basically, it takes less force to utilise full travel. It’s not that you couldn’t get on a men’s bike and ride it well and have a good experience. But oftentimes you’re not going to really utilise it to its fullest. That can be true for anybody too. It’s really just tuned better for lighter weight riders in the stature that we’ve come up with through our simulations.
So basically, that means the action of the suspension still initiates in the same way but in get that mid area you get more…reactivity?
Yeh, it takes a little bit less force to use the same amount of travel as the men’s tune. Say you’re hitting a certain bump or a jump landing and it takes 2000 newtons to bottom it out, it might take you 1500 newtons.
Right. In my own riding life I’ve never got full travel out of most of the suspension that I’ve used with a standard, out-of-the-box tune. So this would allow most riders, who are that lighter weight, riding a 150mm travel bike to actually get 150mm of travel?
Exactly. And again, it is tuneable. It’s not to say that a really lightweight male rider couldn’t benefit from this as well.
How hard is it to tune the suspension in this way? Say a female or a lighter weight male bought one of the bikes in the range that doesn’t have the women’s tune. How hard is it to change it?
It’s definitely easily done at a shop level or by a savvy person in their home shop. In the fork it’s really simple, it’s just the top cap: let the air out, unthread the top cap and there are two or three little plastic spacers depending on the travel. We have different tunes depending on whether it’s the short or long travel Stumpjumper. You just add or remove one or two of those spacers.
We will have more tuning guide information coming along. Through our simulation engineers, we’re coming up with a tuning app which is going to be on the Specialized website. [The app is available now.] That’s going to give recommended pressures for you. So you put in your weight and height and it will give you your recommended pressures. And there’ll be an advanced side to it where we’ll help you through any issues. If you’re having a bottoming out issue then we’ll give you a recommendation – in that case you’d probably add a volume spacer. Or again if you’re still not using full travel, you might reduce your air pressure or you might take a volume spacer out.
Does it give a guide on how to set your rebound for different pressures? Or is that a bit more terrain specific?
We think that’s mostly spring specific. We’re going to recommend a spring rate for you, which is your air pressure. And then we’ll also recommend your rebound. Basically, your rebound should be mostly dependant on whatever spring rate you’re running. With a really stiff spring rate, when you compress it you have a lot of energy and it’s going to return quicker. With a lower spring rate, you’re going to need less damping to get that same return rate.
How do you see these things developing in the future?
That’s a good question! It’s hard to say. That’s the fun part of the job, figuring out what we can do next and how to elevate the game.
What would you like to see happen?
I just want to make suspension work better for everyone I guess.
Easier for people to individualise it if they don’t know what to do?
Yeh, definitely. I think that one of the biggest things that I’d like to put my mark on is helping people with set up and understanding it. A lot of it is simple to some people but it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. It makes a huge difference. Without an RX tune you could be lost but even with an RX tune but the wrong set up, you could be way off. I think that’s really important for us to help our consumers get the right experience.
Given the people we see out on the trails I think that could make a huge difference.
We even see it in house. There are some guys that are pretty knowledgeable, but I can make a few tweaks and help them out with a few things and it makes a huge difference for their ride which is pretty satisfying.
Woah, before the tech stuff…You rode these bikes on trails in Aínsa. How were they?
Surprisingly different in character and huge amounts of fun – the bikes and the trails! In terms of the ride experience, there were three stand-out features across the short and long travel Stumpies: how well-balanced they felt on the tech stuff and at speed (partly due to the geometry, but also because of how well matched the trail feedback was through the front and rear of the bike), how effortlessly they climbed even with 150mm of travel and how *silent* they were (have a closer look at that 3D chainstay protector).
While the 150mm 29er monstered over everything, the 150mm 27.5er encouraged a looser, wilder riding style. The 29” 130mm ‘short travel’ was a stand out too. It’s less bike than the others making it easy to manoeuvre while still offering the superior traction of bigger wheels We were obviously there to learn about the marketing behind the updated design, but it was a pleasure to get on the bikes and feel the way they met our raised expectations and often exceeded them.
Is it true that new Stumpjumper uses the same frame design for ladies and dudes? What’s the scoop?
Market research revealed that ladies buying more expensive trail bikes didn’t want a ‘women’s bike’ they wanted the same bike as everyone else. As we see a lot on the trails, in the case of brands using a shared or gender neutral frame, most women prefer to modify the seat and bar width to their choosing. They want the increased spec and colour options available through the unisex range and are concerned about the lower resale value of the women’s model later on. “It’s what women were asking for,” said Specialized staff at the launch.
“If they were asking for a specific frame we would have done that.” That said, the research, data, computer simulation and testing that has gone into each sized Stumpjumper frame make them better matched to riders of different sizes than unisex frames of the past.
Why does the Stumpjumper come in a women’s spec at the lower end of the range, but not the higher end?
A women’s spec at the more entry-level price points makes sense. This makes it easier for these women to jump on a trail bike for the first time and experience the benefit of gender-specific contact points without having to know (or try to imagine) what to change. These changes continue to drive research and development and provide insights into what women purchasing the higher end bikes might want to modify, like the suspension tune.
So what’s different about the women’s spec compared to the man spec?
The bars are narrower (750mm compared to 800mm) but are still generous enough in width that riders can cut them down further. They also come specced with Specialized’s women’s Myth saddle. The 27.5” models run from XS-L frame sizes, while the 29” models are available specced for women in S-L. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the fork and shock come with a women’s trail tune.
Tell me more about the suspension tune.
We thought you’d say that, so we sat down with Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro, to chat about the women’s suspension tune in more detail. The short version? Given most women are lighter than your average guy and put less force through the suspension when landing a jump or riding the rough stuff, the women’s trail tune is designed to work more effectively at lower pressures.
It’s easier to bottom out and feels more responsive in the mid-zone. All changes are reversible and can be done in store. In fact, the difference between the men’s and women’s tune in the fork is the difference of one volume spacer token. Swapping this out would likely suit some lightweight male riders too.
How hard is it to ‘women’s’ a man-spec?
Swap out the saddle, cut down the bars, and ask shop staff to tweak the tune. But to get the sweet looking green and copper paint job featured here, you’ll have to purchase the Women’s Short Travel Carbon Comp 29 (AUD $5,600).
Which models are available decked out for lady-riders from the get-go?
The lady-spec is available on the 27.5” and 29” short travel (ST) Stumpjumpers. These have 130mm travel front and rear on the smaller wheels, and 130mm front and 120mm rear with 29” wheels. These models replace the Camber (or going back a couple more years, the women’s Rumor). The 27.5” long travel (150mm front and rear) Stumpjumper is available with a women’s spec, but the 29” long travel Stumpjumper (150mm front, 140mm rear) is only available with a unisex build.
In Australia, we’ll see the 27.5” ST Comp model available in alloy only (AUD $2,700 and $4,000), the 29” ST up to the Carbon Comp model, and the 27.5” Comp (alloy, long travel, $4,000). If you want to ride a higher spec or different frame colour, you’ll need to look at the unisex range and custom it up.
Why isn’t the 29” long travel Stumpy available pimped out for lady-shredders? We like big wheels too!
I’m with you on that one. In fact, given the opportunity to ride any bike I wanted from the range at the launch in Aínsa, the 29”, man-specced, long travel was the bike I chose for our longest (seven hours) day on the trails. It hungrily devoured everything I threw it at, and I threw it at everything I could – including a slidey, gnarly, mud-covered trail used in the Enduro World Series that even had some of the guys walking.
That said, women who thrive on this kind of riding are still in the minority and have fairly specific ideas regarding set up. Some prefer 800mm bars for instance. Some prefer a different saddle, such as the Power.
Given how customisable the new Stumpjumpers are, and the need to spec each model with sales in mind, I left the launch feeling the Specialized have made the right choice leaving this model one for individual users t customise as they see fit.
Any final thoughts?
Fit and set up issues for women and smaller-than-average guy riders often get missed from bike reviews or condensed into a sentence or two, so I’ve written this article to specifically address some of these issues in a space of their own. However, there’s a heap of other well-integrated, customisable tech in these bikes that gives each model a different character out on the trails. With that in mind, make sure to read up on the performance of the bikes as a whole.
Not this one, but its predecessor. We recently put the 2018 FOX 36 Factory FIT 4 head to head against the Rock Shox Lyrik RCT3 and it came up victorious. You can read that full comparison review here. The 2019 FOX 36 is as fresh as it gets, we literally only received this fork about 12 hours before the embargo lifted!
So, what’s fresh for 2019?
The big change is the addition of the new Grip 2 damper, which takes the adjustability to a new level. It has independent high/low speed rebound adjustment, as well as high/low speed compression adjustment, which was already a feature on the 36 RC2. This four-way adjustability mirrors the adjustments found on the X2 rear shock.
There’s still a FIT4 version of this fork too, for people who don’t want to twiddle more knobs than Stormy Daniels.
More travel too!
In our comparison review, we noted that the Rock Shox Lyrik had the edge when it came to travel options, but this in no longer the case. The 36 is now available up to 180mm-travel in a 27.5″ version, or up to 170mm in a 29er.
Marzocchi is announcing a return to the game with three products produced by parent company FOX; the Bomber Z1 all-mountain/enduro fork, Bomber 58 downhill fork and Transfer dropper post.
They will be sold and serviced via the current FOX Suspension people at SOLA Sport, based in Sydney. Marzocchi aims to provide hardy and uncomplicated suspension with the type of quality Fox is known for at a lower price point.
In a press release announcing Marzocchi’s merger with FOX; “FOX’s strategic plan is to further expand the penetration of bike suspension products across more price points.”
Taking a ride down memory lane, from the 90s to now.
Please excuse us for getting a little nostalgic here (maybe if you weren’t a mountain bike geek in the 90s, skip down a paragraph or two) as we recall the fantastic era of the nineties from the standpoint of mountain bike development, the Bomber was a legitimate icon. What was so special about the original Marzocchi Bomber? Borrowing cues from the motorcycle world the overbuild Bombers used an open oil bath system with oil sloshing around inside around all the moving parts, whereas brands that dominated the scene Manitou and RockShox used sealed cartridges that would overheat and blow, plus the legs needed constant greasing for a relatively ‘smooth’ action. With only 60-80mm of travel from the regular brands, the Bomber’s generous 100mm caused a real stir!
The 1997 model Bombers felt amazing on the first ride and seemed to require a lot less servicing to keep feeling ultra plush. They were the forks on the bikes of the ‘freeride’ era, long travel, single crown forks for doing nasty drops and getting away with reckless riding.
So, in a nutshell, that’s why we loved the original Bombers.
Get over it, nerd, how about 2019?
The new Bomber Z1 is aimed at the similar rider like in the 90s, someone seeking a durable, sturdy and uncomplicated fork. With only one compression and one rebound dial, it’s child’s play to understand and to use the adjustments.
36mm single crown chassis.
15QRx110mm Boost with the option of QR or tooled axle.
1.5-inch tapered steerer tube.
FIT GRIP Sweep damper with adjustable compression and rebound damping.
They feel very similar to a FOX Float fork, though there are many differences internally and externally. While is uses 36mm legs like a FOX 36, the thicker inner walls will mean it will require its own specific air volume spacers, and because the negative transfer port is on the upper tube, it does require a change in air assembly to change travel.
The latest Grip Sweep damper is a new generation unit for 2019, which in comparison to the Float 34 Performance fork we reviewed on the Rocky Mountain Instinct this year offers more support and we found it harder to reach the latter portion of travel when encountering large impacts.
The lowers are constructed from 6000 series aluminium, while the FOX Factory and Performance Elite forks are from higher grade 7000 series aluminium for a lighter body.
Swapping out the FOX Factory 34 Float 29 with the bright red Bomber Z1, our Norco Sight gained 55g but remained the exact same height from axle to crown. We inflated the air spring to the recommended pressure, double checked the sag and off we went.
Like a brand new fork should, the action felt very supple and sensitive, and we were able to feel the difference in the wide range of compression adjustment with a little flick of the large gold coloured Grip Sweep dial.
Ploughing through rocky trails we were reminded that we had a big fork on the front of our bike, the legs feel very stiff, much more than the 34 it replaced. Dropping a few PSI to help us reach further into the travel was a good move, and counteracting that with a touch more compression had us using more of the travel more regularly, but with no extra dive or wallowing.
On our fourth ride, we began to hear a slight noise from the damper over fast and rough terrain, we contacted Marzocchi and we’ll send it to SOLA for an examination, stay tuned for an update.
Cheaper than FOX, though just as good?
After a few weeks on the Z1, we almost forget it was there, it is a great fork with a familiar feeling, a smooth action, very progressive and supportive that allows you to ride the front end of the bike very hard with confidence.
What makes it stand out from the rest then? Let’s look at what makes the Bomber Z1 appealing over a FOX fork, aside from just nostalgic value, of course.
The Bomber Z1 – $1149.
2018 FOX Performance 34 (also Grip Damper) – $1169.
2018 FOX Factory 34 – $1379.
2018 FOX Factory 36 HSC LSC FIT – $1649.
When you look at it, the Bomber is only a slightly less than the 2018 model Performance 34 built around similar internals.
The Bomber is a great fork, hands down. While it might lack the fine tuning abilities of a more expensive Lyrik or FOX 36, the simplicity, price and robust chassis will no doubt see it specced on many bikes next season, and is a very worth update or upgrade from a flogged out fork that’s done its time.
Trek has taken their 29″+ bike – The Stache – and adapted it to a full suspension trail eating monster. We had a jolly good time riding the Kermit green Stache hardtail last year, its 3″ tyres and agile handling promoted very unorthodox riding, it’s a blast. Check that out here – Trek Stache hardtail review.
It won’t take a rocket scientist to assume that 3″ tyres provide gobs of traction, however, with the addition of 130mm of rear suspension could this bike be an un-crashable, go-anywhere bike that you’re after to make light work of challenging terrain?
Plus bikes, are they back, or did they never go anywhere?
We’ve seen plus bikes come on strong and somewhat fade away, the high volume 3″ tyred traction hounds barged their way onto the mountain bike scene a couple of years ago to a very mixed response. We ranked some of them well, while others were a little too loafy and slow, we found they suited some trails well but lacked overall performance. We settled on the very general statement that plus bikes are great on sub-2K hardtails for entry-level riders on technical terrain, or on short-travel duallies for riders that require bulk traction for their conditions.
Since then, the rise of 2.6″ tyres have nearly made the classic 3″ tyred plus bike somewhat redundant, take the Canyon Spectral, Pivot Mach 5.5 or Merida One-Forty for example. The 2.6″ tyres on 30-35mm rims had many traction benefits of plus tyres, but still retained the predictability and support of a 2.4-2.5″ tyre.
Bontrager has stepped up and produced a proper tyre for hard riding, too. The 3″ Chupacabra on the earlier model Stache hardtail was quite vague with its very rounded profile. The Full Stache, however, comes with a 3″ version of their immensely popular XR4 tyre which we’ve had great experiences with on their Trek Remedy and Fuel EX. They have proper bite, not just a large contact patch.
Trek isn’t afraid to give things a go, take a look at their entire range and compare them to other brands with such a representation in the market. In comparison to the other big guns; Giant, Scott and Specialized they produce come pretty quirky bikes for niche areas of cycling. We can imagine the engineering department dreaming up ways to make 29×3″ wheels work in conjunction with dual suspension.
Quite a wild looking frame you have there!
To fit everything in, Trek has had to get very creative with the frame design. While the Full-Stache is based on the Fuel EX platform, it looks so different.
The chainstay measurement is 427mm, quite considerably shorter than the Norco Sight 29er, Trek Fuel EX and Santa Cruz High Tower.
The head tube is tiny, reaching a comfortable height for the handlebars was easy despite the tall wheels. It will no doubt receive a few odd looks but consider what they’ve achieved; we forgive it for appearing a little unconventional.
The Full Stache looks big, but spinning around the block we were surprised to find the steering quite light and the wheels didn’t feel too far away from the centre of the bike like we feared. The frame’s geometry puts you nice and low in the bike and standover height is very generous; it’s odd seeing the tyres so close to you! Give the bike a bounce and with 18 psi in the big balloons it feels like you have swapped out running shoes for enormous basketball shoes. Charging at the gutters the bike doesn’t flinch, wind it up to speed and grab a handful of brake and the tyres let out a roar, sounding like someone is attempting to ice skate down their driveway in summer.
Our first trip to the trails was a fun one, we were pretty open-minded about it, and because of that we weren’t too critical of its appearance, we just wanted to see what it was capable of. The Full Stache is easy to ride, it seems undeterred by loose surfaces and remains quite relaxed down narrow or rocky steep chutes.
Coming to a dead stop at the bottom of a steep singletrack climb we kicked over the pedals and up it went, the rear wheel clawing away at the loose surface but never losing traction. Climbing steep gradients, the low front end resisted lifting, and the low 30T chainring and huge 12-speed spread of gears ensured you wouldn’t run out of puff. It does climb some pretty crazy stuff! It’s fun to tackle lines we typically avoided.
At higher speeds, the big wheels wind up and pull you along for the ride, high-speed corners are a blast with the XR4 tyres biting in the dirt and the low pressures conforming to the ground. The rear end does, however, exhibit a certain vagueness when you hit turns hard and fast; the tall wheel, big air volume and unconventional rear stays contribute to a rear end that is not as laterally stiff as a regular 29er. Though as one of our testers put it; it’s not a race bike.
Back-to-back with a regular 29er.
For a clear comparison test, we took the Full Stache out riding alongside the Norco Sight 29er. We know the Norco well, like the back of our gloves, so we swapped back and forth over a day to ascertain what bike did what, and what type of trail conditions suited either bike best.
The Sight does have slightly more travel front and back and it is lighter than the Full Stache, with its carbon wheels, frame and high-end spec, but we paid particular attention to the tyres and how the bike handles as a result. No clocks were used in this experiment, that’d be silly.
It was no surprise that the Sight’s smaller tyres and lower weight felt more lively on the trail. In comparison, the Full Stache felt like it had twice the momentum behind it and we mowed over stuff with brute force rather than picking lines or making quick decisions. The 2.35″ Schwalbe Nobby Nic’s at around 22-25 psi would slip on the loosest climbs that the Full Stache could manage, requiring more effort to get to the top.
The Sight would make direction changes easier and faster while the Full Stache seemed less picky. The Full Stache could tackle things the Sight couldn’t and felt a lot more comfortable, requiring less energy to cruise through singletrack with a relaxed grip on the bars.
Who’d go Full Stache?
While the Fuel EX would suit 90% of trail riders, there are 10% of riders that might want to get a little crazy on the trails. Perhaps you struggle to remain upright and rubber side down, or battle with tricky surfaces? If so you might relish in the Full Stache’s sure-footedness and confidence inspiring unlimited traction.
It’s probably overkill for the most part, but what it is capable of doing and not it’s all-rounder abilities are its strength. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s called a Full Stache, remember.
Grab your flannel shirt, lace-up shoes and enamel camping mug, Trek has a new bike that might just be what you’ve been looking for. The all-new Checkpoint 5 SL might confuse you as to what it is exactly, but in fact, Trek has let you decide yourself what to do with it, so far what we can tell is they’re calling it a; ‘gravel bike for epic all-road adventures’.
We know what we’ll do with it – adventures! – but before we give it a run to the hills let’s take a look at this unique animal in closer detail.
So many things to look at.
It might look like a road bike from afar but take a couple steps closer and you’ll notice frame features you’d never see on a classic road bike. We’re talking about; rack/utility mounts, multiple water bottle cage mounts, loads of tyre clearance, 12mm thru-axles, impact protection under the downtube, and an adjustable wheelbase.
IsoSpeed decoupler, the fancy little bump-diffuser.
As seen on the Trek Procaliber is Trek’s unique vibration dampening system; IsoSpeed. Seen on Trek’s cross-country hardtail; the Procaliber, the Boone cyclocross bike and their endurance road bike, Domane.
It’s like the tiniest bit of suspension to take the sting out of the road.
It essentially uses a bushing and axle arrangement at the junction of the seat tube and top tube to allow the seat post to bend backwards independently from the top tube, adding comfort when seated. The top tube and seat tube tube are completely separate parts, joined by the decoupler unit.
It’s like the tiniest bit of suspension to take the sting out of the road.
We are aware that our name Flow Mountain Bike is completely void of words like ‘cyclocross’ or ‘gravel’, nor do we profess to be experts in the field of gravel but we’ve ridden quite a few nowadays, and our road bikes are gathering dust because of it. What’s going on?
C’mon, we know mountain bikers are hard on road bikes. There are even gravel events popping up like this one!
Isn’t it just a cyclocross bike?
In comparison to Trek’s cyclocross bike – The Boone – the Checkpoint’s frame geometry is lower in the bottom bracket, taller up the front and has considerably more tyre clearance. The adjustable wheelbase will provide the rider with the ability to select a fast and agile feel, or long and stable.
Other gravel bikes we’ve recently tried out.
Norco’s Search XR shares a lot of features with the Checkpoint, check out the chainstays, multiple mounts, tyre clearance etc. Have a look here.
Cannondale Super X SE is an adaption from a cyclocross race bike for the gravel, a fast bike indeed! Check it out here.
Trek provides the Checkpoint in three models, the SL 6 for $4699 is the top-end carbon frame version with the fancy Shimano Ultegra, the SL 5 we have sells for $3699 with Shimano 105. The ALR 5 uses a is aluminium frame option for $2699.
We are excited about this bike for a few reasons; like we said our road bikes are gathering dust, so we’ll punch out some ‘training’ km on this for a while. But more exciting is we are planning an adventure where a road bike would not survive (it’d most certainly explode) and a mountain bike would be overkill, plus we’ll be carrying a lot of gear. Presto, we have the right tool for the job! How convenient, Trek…
The Hope Tech 3 E4 brake is a gorgeous piece of kit! Along with their ‘made-in-the-UK-chip-butty-and-a-lovely-cuppa-tea’ heritage, Hope have maintained that exquisite CNC machine work that has always set them apart. If these perform on the trail even half as good as they look, they’re a winner. Adding to the appeal, you can get the brakes in a range of six anodised colours, letting you go full World Champs custom with your rig. Now that’s something the big players like SRAM and Shimano definitely can’t offer.
Do they cost more than a night in the MGM Grand penthouse?
No, these are surprisingly competitive price wise. We remember handing over about three months wages back in 2003 for a beautiful set of Hope Mini XC brakes, but now the pricing is a lot sharper, thankfully. At $269 an end, plus another $79 for a 180mm rotor, these feel like a bit of bargain really.
Where do these sit in the Hope range?
In terms of stopping power, these fellas come in just beneath the V4 downhill brake, which is a real beast. The caliper is machined from a single piece of alloy for rigidity, and houses four pistons. It’s paired to the Tech 3 lever that offers both reach and contact point adjustment.
If you’re really weight conscious you can also get this brake in a Race version, which has a slimmed down lever and runs a mix of titanium and alloy bolts, saving about 40g an end.
It’s all in the details.
There are plenty of pleasing details here. The reassuringly waggle-free lever, the laser etched logos and markings, the chunky, glove-friendly adjusters, the generous spanner flats on all the fittings… Hope made their first disc brakes back in 1989 and you can feel the refinement.
What’s the plan with these?
We’re going to be pitting these brakes against two of the newest four-piston offerings from Shimano and SRAM – the fresh XT Trail four piston, and the latest version of the Code. All three brakes will be tested with 203mm/180mm rotors on a YT Jeffsy. Should be an interesting comparison!
The Camelbak K.U.D.U. and T.O.R.O. are designed to integrate a degree of back impact protection into a regular hydration backpack.
Camelbak has been making quality hydration systems and backpacks now for donkey’s years. And while donkeys and camels don’t share the same genome, it’s more of a figure of speech to imply they’re experienced at making a good product. There is a reason why people ask for Camelbak when looking for a hydration system; they are the Texta and Tupperware of the cycling world.
Protection for when getting rad goes wrong.
Addressing the ever-important area of back protection, Camelbak integrates CE Level II certified back protection via an insert that you easily forget is there. T.O.R.O. 8 uses a centre back protector that covers the spine, and K.U.D.U. 10 uses a longer full back protector which can also be unzipped from the pack and worn on its own.
The back protectors are designed to absorb energy from an impact in the event of a crash.
If we were looking to feel invincible then we can add the Sternum Protector – pictured below – it works with any of the packs, operates on its own. It is comfortable enough and easy to put on, with an integrated GoPro mount.
What are the two models?
T.O.R.O. 8 and K.U.D.U. 10 are two new(ish) packs from Camelbak, with the T.O.R.O. being a lightweight pack and the K.U.D.U. is larger for bigger trail missions. Both packs come in different colours and include a hydration bladder. The Crux Reservoir holds three litres of water, with the big bite valve that Camelbak is famous for.
The whole way through the range the numbers of the packs indicates storage capacity (less the three-litres of water they hold). T.O.R.O. 8 is a five-litre pack, and the K.U.D.U. 10 is a seven-litre pack.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
Despite their size differences they share a lot of similarities with handy zipped pockets, spacious compartments and external straps that can attach helmets and pads on the outside of the pack. These sort of features are what we have become accustomed to with Camelbak.
Trail testing the T.O.R.O. 8.
We have been testing the T.O.R.O. 8 for the past two months and enjoyed how lightweight it is, perfect for quick rides and with up-to three-litres of water capacity. We quickly forgot that the bag was more than just our regular backpack.
The triple strap on the T.O.R.O. 8 (which also appears on the K.U.D.U. 10) at first seemed unnecessary, in particular, the dual sternum strap. However, as we got used to it, we liked how firm the pack was against our back when descending. More importantly, the triple strap holds the back protector firmly in place, so there is little risk of it shifting in a crash.
The idea of a back protector on a lightweight daypack did have us lifting an eyebrow at first, how much protection do we need on a quick hit out? As we used the pack, we loved how it’s more than just a back protector, and it helps give the pack more shape. As it warms up over the course of a ride, it does mould to the contour of your back. The back plates are also removable.
The CRUX Reservoir hose attaches firmly to the shoulder straps with the two clips. We did find that the hose kinked and blocked water flow when we tried to drink from the big bite valve unless we unclipped it from the bottom clip. However it never came free and flapped around on a bouncy descent, so we appreciated that it was firmly attached.
T.O.R.O. 8 is predominantly made from lightweight mesh, over the course of the review we have noticed on the underside of one of the shoulder straps had torn slightly. It probably happened when we dumped the pack on the ground while trail building, sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect balance between light, soft and durable but rest assured they offer a lifetime warranty. However, the tears are small and haven’t grown over the course of the review.
For a little pack, we could load it up to the hilt! Every time we went out for a ride we tried to max it out with knee pads, weather jackets and food for a whole day. On one spin we accidentally took our change of clothes around the entire ride and didn’t notice till we got back to the car. It carried the extra weight so well it wasn’t a problem.
You’re looking at around a 50% increase in weight in comparison to a bag with similar carrying capacity, the 12l MULE and 7l Skyline bags that don’t use the back protection are 800g and 600g respectively. The K.U.D.U. tips the scales at 1.48kg and the T.O.R.O. is 820g.
We have been super impressed with the T.O.R.O. 8; there is a reason that Camelbak is such a household name in the cycling industry. The two bags manage to provide certified protection and combine it with a hydration backpack.
We review the Giant Reign 2, Merida One-Sixty 800 and Norco Range A3.
Enduro bikes are so hot right now, look at the latest 2018 models from the big brands like Giant, Merida and Norco, the componentry manufacturers are clearly throwing their weight behind the category and producing genuinely great parts for sub $4K bikes. No longer do you need to sell a kidney to afford a bike with excellent suspension, robust components and frame geometry influenced by team riders. It’s a good time to be buying a new bike, and not a 4K TV!
Why pick these three?
There’s only $300 separating these three bikes, they’re all running 27.5″ wheels, they’re almost identical in travel and are all aimed at Enduro style riding. This trio is very comparable.
It’s safe to say that the Merida – which also happens to be the most expensive – comes out on top in the spec wars, you’re just not left wanting anything more. Highlights are the SRAM Code R brakes and Super Deluxe shock which add bulk value to the overall package.
The Norco isn’t too far behind the Merida, it has a well-thought-out spec for the dollars, and if not for the awkward shifter/brake lever matching we’d be 100% content. The Tektro brakes were better than we expected on the trail, and the wide-range 11-46 SunRace cassette has a smooth range of gears that’s not far behind Eagle in terms of range.
The Giant was a little bit of a surprise to us, perhaps we’ve been accustomed to them ruling the value stakes over the last decade, but the entry-level version of the deep Reign lineup had us wanting a little more for the cash. Especially when compared to the Merida and Norco, the lacklustre brakes and 10-speed drivetrain were quite a stark contrast to the other two bikes.
Chuck them on the scales.
Giant – 14.1kg
Merida – 14.3kg
Norco – 15.16kg
While this category of bikes might not be all about weight, it’s still a point worth looking at, and the Norco is a standout here tipping the scales over the 15kg mark. In fairness, the Norco didn’t feel too much like a 15kg bike when riding.
We’re merely speculating here as we didn’t strip the bikes down to their undies, but we’d say that the Giant Reign frame must be reasonably light, with an overall weight lighter than both the Merida and Norco.
Casting an eye over the frame.
These three bikes are all damn nice, beautifully finished head-to-toe and well protected. In our opinion of the three, the Giant is the slickest looking with its lovely matte finish, one-piece carbon rocker link and internal routing, it is a very tidy package.
Merida wins the most improved award for aesthetics, this new generation One-Sixty looks fantastic, and the internal cables give it clean lines.
The Norco with its lustrous red paint had us all pouring it over it with oohs and ahhs, though the external routing lets it down a touch on the finish scoreboard. Its chunky overbuilt suspension hardware and robust linkage might look industrial to some, but we appreciate its hardiness.
Build today, race enduro tomorrow?
The buzz word on everyone’s lips; enduro. Which of these three 160mm travel bikes would we take enduro racing?
If we were at the top of the Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze, a straight out high-speed race, we’d take the Giant; it’s the most stable and grounded of the three with the most aggressive geometry and longest reach. But take it to an enduro race where you’re pedalling all day and hunting to maintain speed on singletrack, the suspension tune and super-slack steering will prove to be tiring.
The Merida with its efficient climbing position and suspension feel would be an excellent choice to race a classic enduro where there’s plenty of climbing and long hours in the saddle, but it’ll find its limit on the rougher and rocky race tracks with its shorter reach and very linear rear suspension.
The Norco just seems to strike a neat balance between the two, efficient enough to climb, and plenty stable for the descents at race pace. The suspension is well balanced and progressive enough to hammer hard, so, we’d happily take the Norco to a race track unseen; it’ll have you covered.
Not fussed on racing, just want to ride hard?
Want loads of travel to save your skin when things get a little crazy on the trails? 160mm of travel can get you out of a lot of sticky situations, that’s a certainty!
The Giant can be hard work, its long reach and slack steering won’t make a great trail bike for everyday singletrack rides, but turn it up to maximum speed, and you’ll relish in its stable and planted ride.
The Merida would be quite a good trail bike with some serious firepower in reserve, it pedals and climbs nicely despite the long travel. Singletrack rides with a few rock gardens and sketchy chutes? The Merida will take that on the chin, no worries.
Lugging around 15kg of Norco would be tough on the legs, but it’s a nice bike to rip turns and hit jumps on, it seems to have a lot of potential to lift the game and take your riding to the next level. When it came to big drops, loose trails and hard hits the Norco was our favourite.
What would we do for $500 to upgrade these bikes?
Hypothetically, we reach into our jacket pocket and find $500!! Whoa, we haven’t worn this jacket since last winter and don’t remember losing any money. The joys of being a high rolling bike tester, dropping $500 like it’s nothing…
Now let’s see what we’d do with $500.
Merida One-Sixty 800.
Our only real complaint about the Merida One-Sixty 800 was the suspension; we feel it wasn’t up to the task on rowdy trails especially in the hands of heavier riders. We asked Mountain Bike Suspension Centre in Sydney to see what they could do to help this bike achieve its potential.
“We would recommend doing a custom tune on the RockShox Super Deluxe, this would provide more high-speed damping, and that will help with the shock and its tendency to use all its travel too easily. We’d couple this with two more air volume spacers to make the shock more progressive. All this would add up to more grip and compliance over the rough stuff but also more support when the bike gets pushed harder.”
“For the Yari, we would add a Vorsprung Luftkappe. Fitting a Luftkappe air piston kit improves the fork’s small bump compliance and traction while improving mid stroke support and progression.”
We would then be left with about $160, so we’d buy a 50mm stem and a matching handlebar to stretch the reach out a touch.
Giant Reign 2.
The Maxxis Shorty tyre on the front may excel in loam and loose over hardpack conditions but isn’t the most versatile tyre. It’s hard to go past the old faithful 2.35 Maxxis DHF or DHR tyre for a great all-rounder.
The Reign is a plough of an enduro bike, but with 160mm of travel up front, it’s a little under-gunned when we compared it to the 170mm-travel forks on the Range and One-Sixty in this shootout. We asked ‘Mountain Bike Suspension Centre’ to let us know what they would do.
“For the Yari, we would extend it to 170mm with a new air shaft and the Vorsprung Luftkappe”
The recommended suspension tunings need to happen when the fork and shock are relativity new. Otherwise, a proper service with seals will be required and this comes at a (reasonable) higher cost.
Norco Range A3.
We found the suspension on the Range fairly spot on out of the box, so upgrades would come in the shape of ergonomics and brake power.
The TranzX remote on the dropper post is functional and straightforward, but for a little more luxury we would upgrade to the Wolf Tooth Dropper remote lever, it has a silky smooth action and is excellent on any cable activated dropper post.
The Tektro brakes performed great during our test, but to take them to the next level and handle the heat on longer descents, we would upgrade the pads and rotors to Shimano Ice Tech (the Tektro brakes actually use a Shimano Saint pad).
Finally, to give our hands and arse a little more comfort on the longer rides, we would swap the grips and saddle for something plusher.
Possible extra option for the Giant Reign and Norco Range.
The RockShox Deluxe shock (compared to the Super Deluxe found on the Merida) is tuned with trail riding in mind, and so a custom tune will help with more aggressive enduro riding. Custom tuning the Deluxe shock, plus the addition of air volume spacers, will help to improve the small bump compliance giving the shock more support when you’re taking more significant hits instead of the damping disappearing when you need it most.
Crunch time, what’s our pick of the three?
Did you scroll past all the chat for our final verdict? Fair enough…
Quite simply, the Norco Range outshines or comes close enough to the Giant and Merida in all aspects of what these bikes are built for, hard riding, having fun and proving reliable for under $4k. It’s also the only one available in 29″ wheels too, for going REALLY fast.
The Torque is an all-new long travel monster from the fast-moving German brand selling directly to the consumer. Since Canyon came to Australia, we have continuously been impressed by their unique approach to the engineering of their suspension frames, with distinctly high attention to detail.
The Torque is a huge bike, what type of rider or trail would justify something like this?
In this review we’re going to talk about how it rides, but do you want to know EVERYTHING about the Canyon Torque?
Interested to hear a little background on the new platform from Canyon riders; Fabien Barel and Jo Barnes? Read this.
Torque + Maydena Bike Park = Woohoo Yeah!
We nabbed a Torque from Canyon Australia’s demo fleet and ripped a few hot laps of the freshly opened Maydena Bike Park. The model we tested is different to the blue one pictured here, they were early release pre-production models with a high spec with an aluminium frame. And although we only spent a few hours over two days on it, we could still get a fair idea what it’s about.
At first, we did a few laps on the Canyon Strive, an enduro bike we are more than familiar with. The trails at Maydena are very advanced, super-steep and the jumps can get pretty significant, so the Strive found its limits at times, especially as we were riding the different tracks unseen. While the Strive was limited by the fact it was brand new and the brakes were still bedding in, and with a stock Maxxis Minion SS rear tyre not helping in the deceleration department, we still had a damn good time ripping hard and fast laps.
Torque has confidence in spades, and with that confidence, we began to properly let the brakes off and follow the faster riders in front.
Trading up to the Torque from the Strive was where things got exciting. The Torque has confidence in spades, and with that confidence, we began to properly let the brakes off and follow the faster riders in front. A 180mm travel fork would guarantee to put just about anyone into a reckless frame of mind, and while we admit to never realising its full potential we can say that in the right hands you could get away with so much stupid riding.
Mini downhill bike.
Pretty much! The Torque fills a significant void between the Strive and Sender, Canyon’s enduro race bike and downhill race bike. It uses a whopping 175mm travel in the rear and 180mm up front. Those numbers translate to some serious firepower on the trail. While it might act like a mini-DH bike, the only common parts that you’d find on a downhill race bike would be the SRAM Code brakes and perhaps the FOX DHX shock, the rest of the kit you’d recognise from a regular trail bike or enduro bike. Components like a RockShox Reverb dropper post, 12-speed SRAM drivetrain, and a FOX 36 fork with lockout will widen the Torque’s worth; we’re talking about pedalling back up.
In comparison to the Sender downhill bike, The torque is a couple of degrees sharper in the head angle, shorter in the wheelbase, but the reach measurement is the same. So, in comparison, you could expect the Sender to climb like s$%t and stall at slower speeds, while the Torque strikes a balance that will make it manageable when the clock isn’t ticking.
Perfect bike park bike? Oh yes, while we only have a couple of places with uplift services worthy of the term ‘bike park’ in Australia like Maydena, Thredbo, Mt Buller you could trade in a downhill bike or upgrade an enduro bike and let loose.
We took on incredibly steep terrain with confidence, the tall front end, powerful brakes and roomy frame give you a strong position to brace yourself. We rode longer descents with less fatigue in our upper body.
Too big to pedal, too much to handle?
Don’t expect it to jump up with excitement and climb when you turn it upwards; it’s going to get there eventually. While Maydena is a gravity park with everything pointing down (steeply!), we did take a detour which involved a few short climbs and long pedalling straights. With the dropper post right up, and the little blue lever on the DHX shock turned in; we were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t kill us. Canyon claim the top-level Torque CF 9.0 Pro Carbon is 14.1kg, not bad for a bike that size!
It’s the type of bike that you need to sit down and spin the legs with patience for best results.
It’s the type of bike that you need to sit down and spin the legs with patience for best results. If you get up out of the saddle and mash about, the tall front end and raked-out forks will make for a reasonably awkward climbing position. Horses for courses, pretty much.
On slower corners or tight switchbacks, you do feel the Torque’s size, exacerbated for us by the fact we’d just ridden the Strive. Though we quickly got used to it, and by that we mean we just rode everything faster! That’s the key.
Sure, if the tracks are rough enough to warrant 180mm travel forks, the Torque could certainly be a decent enduro race bike. While the Strive was the bike we saw the Canyon Factory Enduro Race Team using the most last EWS season, we did see them ride the smaller Spectral in Rotorua, NZ and Derby, TAS rounds the season prior. Will the team use the Torque on the roughest EWS rounds this season?
After only a couple days on the Torque we got the feeling that if you do the odd downhill shuttle, spend a time riding a chairlift, hit massive jumps, ride big mountain enduro, enter the occasional DH race or just like bikes that aren’t afraid of anything that can still be pedalled up a hill, you could fit the bill.
Writing about Merida bikes, we find ourselves defending them from being called dull or boring, but they should be able to do that themselves, they are big enough. What we will say is that in our experience, the smaller travel One-Twenty and One-Forty have been fantastic bikes for nearly a decade, but the earlier One-Sixty models have traditionally been a little lacklustre in the hands of a confident pilot that watches enduro racing on YouTube. This new generation One-Sixty appeared to buck that trend and is garnering a lot of attention in the core riding community for its smart looks and fantastic value.
Look at me!
We have the new One-Sixty 800 on review, with an aluminium frame, 160mm of bounce in the rear and 170mm up front; this bike could be an enduro master for someone on a limited budget. It’s built tough, sells for $3999 and comes in at 14.3kg when set up tubeless.
Merida’s new lineup of suspension bikes are killing it this season, just have a look at the One-Sixty’s smaller brother, the One-Forty. With less travel and huge 2.6″ tyres, it’s a killer all-day trail bike, worth a look if you don’t need all the travel of the One-Sixty.
As we mentioned in our first impressions piece, Merida has gone against the latest industry trend and made the One-Sixty shorter and steeper than the 2017 Merida One-Sixty 5000. From the 2017 model, Merida has steepened the seat post angle to 75 degrees, this has shortened the reach by 5mm, and a massive 12mm has been taken off the wheelbase.
Perhaps Merida has decided to shorten the One-Sixty in an attempt to have it feel more accessible to a broader range of riders. Bikes with super long reach can feel a little dead and lethargic on all but the fastest on the descents, and take more effort to whip around a tight corner.
But fear not! If you like your bikes long, then the top-shelf carbon 2018 5000 still keeps those long dimensions from 2017 but has the same steeper seat angle like the One-Sixty for a more efficient seated climbing position.
Keen on racing big mountain enduro? Going up one size would be an option, with the standover height not too tall, so added reach can be gained without too much height.
That SRAM Smorgasbord.
Running a full groupset on a budget-oriented model tends to be quite rare, take a look at the Giant Reign 2 for example with a mixture of Shimano/Praxis/Sunrace parts in the drivetrain. Merida is pushing the boundaries of price and making it hard for other companies to hide behind dollar saving lesser known parts. We have seen more expensive bikes have much lower spec than this bike and we are very impressed.
The SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain is excellent, with a fantastic gear range to climb and descend pretty much anything. Merida has also has upgraded the cranks to the robust Descendant over the GX to show us what this bike’s real intent is.
The impressive RockShox Super Deluxe RCT handles the rear suspension. Why is it so remarkable? Ah, the low-speed compression adjustment, rejoice! The dial has 12 clicks of adjustment, and we played around with it over the course of the review. We appreciated how we could tune it in for each track we rode, from anywhere between firm and supportive to buttery smooth.
The RockShox Yari was a great performer. Every time we ride this fork we’re reminded how good entry level suspension is these days. It worked well in conjunction with the Super Deluxe.
The new SRAM Code R brakes have now set the standard for what a price point brake can be; we were blown away by how good they are. They have a smooth action with a dependable feel, from the top to bottom of a descent they felt great with no pump up and loads of power.
Commonly seen on bikes around this price is the KS E10 dropper post which feels a lot slower in comparison to the top of the line KS Lev found on this bike, another excellent spec item that impressed us. This post can have the return speed adjusted by adding or removing air pressure and is fully serviceable. If we were to be super picky, maybe a 150mm drop over the 120mm would be better.
Anything we changed before riding?
We tried hard to fault the spec out of the box, but we couldn’t. Even the Merida branded grips were super comfy, and people that ride gloveless should enjoy these. We just converted the wheels to tubeless like we do with every bike, and started shredding!
How did it handle on the trail?
Oh my, this big enduro bike doesn’t mind pedalling and climbing! We’re not going to say anything outlandish like it ‘climbs like a cross-country bike’, but we will confidently say it climbs like something smaller and hides its size well. When standing out of the saddle, the bike feels firm with minimal pedal bob and motors along well, helped by the low-speed compression adjustment on the Super Deluxe shock.
The One-Sixty thrives in tighter tracks, feels very nimble and is quick to respond to your inputs. Even though it has 160mm out back, the bike does feel like it has less travel with the way it can play about on the trail.
The rear suspension on the One-Sixty feels smooth and controlled, but it is very linear, and perhaps it’s a little to easy to get full-travel for a bike like this. To balance the suspension front and rear, we would have liked to experiment by removing Bottomless Tokens from the Yari fork to help the front end match the rear’s linear feeling suspension.
After a few rides, we couldn’t work out why the Merida felt so short, and why we couldn’t get comfortable on the steeper descents, or at high speed. On paper, it was longer than the Norco Range A3 which we had on test at the same time, and we loved that bike – click here for the Norco Range review – but the Merida still felt short to us. Then we noticed the One-Sixty had a 30mm stem while the Range had a 50mm.
With a quick stem change the Merida transformed, and we became a lot more comfortable. The 50mm stem allowed us to find the middle of the bike and get our weight evenly over both the wheels. The best bit was we were able to get more weight onto the front wheel which helped us to stop understeering.
Heavy rider? How to get the most from the suspension.
When we set the bike up, we started with 30% sag in the rear but found it blowing through its travel too easily. We increased air pressure until we had around 22% sag, and could have still added more. As we did this, we lost some of that sweet small bump sensitivity.
The next step for us (and heavier riders) would be to look at adding Bottomless Spacers to the Super Deluxe (simple and straightforward, just ask SRAM on YouTube) to reduce the air volume. We did inspect inside the shock and were pleased to see there is room for two more spacers to make the shock more progressive.
Is it ‘Enduro’ enough?
So will it be at home on an enduro race course? Well as that old Kiwi expression goes “Yeah… Naa… Yeah”
Yeah – It pedals fantastically, and on flatter courses with the odd huck, this bike would fly.
Naa – It just tends to blow through its rear travel on significant impacts, and we know the enduro crowds would want more frame length or a longer stem for more stability at speed.
Yeah – Just go a size up or get a longer stem. For heavy hitting riders just pop a volume spacer or two into the rear shock for more ramp up and bottom out control. Presto!
Would we recommend it?
Yes, we would. Merida may traditionally be as exciting as cabbage for dinner, but even cabbage can be made more tempting when prepared with butter, garlic and onion.
The spec is so impressive, how can we not recommend it? It also pedals better than most smaller travelled bikes we have ridden. We’d recommend looking at going up one frame size if you’re keen to go super-fast. Spend the time getting the suspension dialled to your riding style, and you’ll be stoked on this thing, like we were.
Mitas Kratos sounds like the villain out of a comic book, or maybe the bad guy in a Cold War era Stallone movie. Mitas tyres made in the Czech Republic, and they’re gaining quite a following in the local Australian cross-country racing arena (a couple of very fast riders by the names of Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson use their tyres). The Kratos is not, however, an XC tread. With a big 2.45″ bag it’s aimed at the trail rider – consistent grip and a forgiving ride are what this tread are all about. We’ve been running the Kratos in a 29×2.4″ size on a Norco Optic.
What’s this sidewall guarantee?
Slice the sidewall of your tyre, under normal riding conditions, within 100 days and Mitas will replace your tyre for free. That’s the kind of product back up we like to see, and one we’ve never encountered before in the fragile world of tyres.
Mitas use a reinforcement in their sidewalls called Textra. It’s super light and highly flexible so it doesn’t affect the ride quality of the tyre’s supple 120TPI casing, but it has excellent abrasion resistance. That’s not to say you can’t cut them (take a Stanley knife to the sidewall and you’ll go right through it) but it’s seems very durable against the kinds of scuffs and impacts that claim the lives of most tyres.
Did you have any dramas with the sidewalls then?
This is the million dollar (well, $79) question. Over a normal summer of riding, we didn’t slice or seriously damage the sidewalls, despite doing much of our riding on some pretty damn rocky trails around Sydney’s north. We certainly scuffed the tyres up a lot (especially the rear) but none of the damage was able to penetrate.
And we do go through tyres regularly around here – it’s one part of the bike that our test trails are particularly rough on. Given the Kratos weighs in at less than 900g, the way it has held up is impressive.
What’s the grip like?
Really good. The dual compound tread gives great support to the cornering lugs while retaining enough liquorice-esque stickiness to hold onto the rocks and hard pack trails. On a rim with a 25mm internal width, the tyre profile was nice and rounded, giving smooth, consistent control right across the whole tyre as you tipped it into a corner. It’s not as aggressive as something like the Maxxis Minion, which sets the grip benchmark, but it rolls faster. The tyres have a very supple feel to them as well, which really aids their performance at slow speeds, particularly on the rear when climbing or hard braking on the front end.
For the first week of use we had some dramas getting the front tyre to seal up properly, it would leak air over a couple of days (strangely the rear tyre was fine). Apparently the issue affected a small batch of tyres, the oil that helps release the tyres from their moulds hadn’t been properly removed, causing some seepage around the bead.
How have they worn?
The wear is in line with what we’d expect for a set of soft compound, high performance tyres like this. The rear tyre is definitely due for replacement, with the centre tread getting low and the side knobs rounded off. The knobs haven’t torn or ripped like some brands of tyres are prone to do (Schwalbe’s older treads were notorious for this, but are greatly improved now) – instead, the tread has just worn down consistently and lost its sharp, biting edges. The front tyre is in good nick, we’d happily rotate it onto the rear for another couple of months use. We’ve noticed some small cranks appearing in the rubber in the past few weeks. It seems limited to the top layer of rubber in half a dozen spots, just beneath some of side knobs. While it hasn’t progressed into any tearing of the knobs, we’ll be keeping an eye on it.
All up then?
If you’ve ever had your wallet thrashed by a bad run of sliced or wrecked tyres, then you’ll obviously appreciate the sidewall guarantee, and this peace of mind alone makes these tyres worth a look. The fact that they’re grippy, supple, relatively fast rolling, and lightweight too is the icing on the cake.
Two things you need to know about the Devinci Django Carbon. One, the D is silent. Two, it’s a robust, mid-travel trail bike, with geometry that places it in the all-rounder camp. There are 29er or 27.5 versions of the bike, but we’ve gone the big wheels – in this 120-140mm travel category, we think a 29″ wheels are the better option generally.
What’s the travel?
The Devinci Django serves up 120mm rear, 140mm front, both sprung by top-shelf FOX Factory suspension. Having a 20mm travel difference between front and rear isn’t that common in off-the-shelf bikes (Yeti and Transition being notable exceptions). That said, increasing fork travel is a common upgrade amongst aggressive riders, so maybe Devinci are just one step ahead of the game here. Will the 120/140mm feel balanced?
It is! The Devinci Django is really well built, with frame stiffness and confidence the priority, and that gets a big tick from us. At 13.22kg, it’s not a super light trail bike, but there’s plenty of beefiness in all the right places – look at that seat stay assembly, it’s a monster. Ordinarily this bike would come with Maxxis Ardents front and rear, but we’ve opted to test this bike with bigger tyres (a Maxxis Minion WT up front and an Aggressor out back) which are heavier but are better suited to our rough test trails.
What about the geometry?
There’s a small amount of geometry adjustment via a flip-chip on the seat stay, but even in the slacker setting, the Django’s geometry is what we’d call neutral. With a 68-degree head angle, it’s certainly not trying to be the slackest, longest bike out there, shooting instead for geometry that’s well balanced between climbing and descending. The 440mm reach is paired with 50mm stem and wide 780mm bar.
Split Pivot suspension.
Dave Weagle, one of the industry’s best brains, is behind the Django’s Split Pivot suspension system which sees a concentric pivot around the rear axle (Trek also use a variation on this theme). It’s a setup that’s know to be exceptionally active and supple, and our initial rides on the Django have definitely had that hovercraft kind of feeling. More to come soon, so stay tuned as we put this Canadian all-rounder to the test.
Maybe its just a product of our rapidly advancing years, but Intense Cycles pulls at our heart strings. We would’ve joyfully given a kidney to ride an Intense back in the day. This is a brand with such heritage, presence, such cool – it oozes out, and that’s why aficionados have always been willing to fork over the big bucks for an Intense. You’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting a small slice of Intense cred. The all-new Intense Sniper is the latest bike to join their range.
You’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting a small slice of Intense cred.
Over the past decade the brand has had ups and downs as they’ve moved some operations away from the US and navigated the world of Asian manufacturing, but the legions of Intense fans have stayed true. The brand is back at its best now, and with a new Rider Direct sales model (more on that later) the pricing puts Intense within the reach of many more riders. The Intense Sniper XC is the first dedicated cross-country bike from Intense in many years and it joins a crew of trail bikes and Enduro bikes that have been getting a lot of accolades recently.
No, we’re not talking about the pop art-esque digital camo graphics. At first look, the Intense Sniper does a good job of pretending to be a conventional high-end cross-county race bike; with 29″ wheels, 100mm travel at both ends and a feathery 10.2kg weight, it has all the boxes ticked to sit alongside the likes of Giant’s new Anthem 29 or Specialized Epic. But when you look deeper, it’s clear this isn’t your usual XC race bike.
Let’s take a look at that geometry.
If you don’t like numbers, just skip this bit, but if you’re a geo-nerd this is interesting stuff! Just like other categories of bikes, XC race machines are getting slacker. But the Sniper’s head angle puts it way ahead of the curve. At 67.5-degrees it’s a full two degrees slacker than the Specialized Epic, and 1.5 degrees slacker than the Giant Anthem 29er.
Similarly, its reach measurements are longer too, designed to work with a 50-60mm stem. In a size medium, the Sniper has a reach of 444.5mm and a wheelbase of 1152mm. Again that’s much longer than either the Epic or Anthem. Compare the Epic in particular and the Sniper is a massive 3omm longer in the wheelbase, despite having practically identical rear-centre measurements.
What it all means, is the Sniper has the confident kind of geometry you’d usually associate with a longer travel trail bike, but mated with the weight and efficiency of a cross-country bike. So does it blend is the best of both worlds, or is it a watered down version of the two? That’s what we’ll be aiming to be find out in our full test to come.
Reinforcing the Sniper’s trail bike vibe is the speccing of a 125mm-travel dropper post from KS. More often than not, a dropper post would be the first addition we’d make to a XC bike, so a big high five to Intense for speccing it out of the box. Even better, the dropper is found on all models in the range, not just the top tier. Intense could easily have been tempted to run a conventional post and get the weight even lower, but we’re happy they didn’t. A 76omm bar and 50mm stem tell you even more about how this bike is meant to be ridden.
It gets better the more you look at it.
The more time we’ve spent with this bike, the greater our appreciation for its construction. We love the lightweight asymmetric rear end, what a stunner! The upper link is carbon, while the lower link is magnesium (the base model frameset found on the Expert spec bike gets an aluminium link, which is about 50g heavier). You won’t find provisions for a front derailleur, nor do you need one with the Eagle drivetrain.
A full size water bottle fits easily, and there’s good chain slap protection, plus a protective guard on the down tube too. The paint job (while pretty lairy) is bloody fantastic, with awesome detail and sharp, crisp lines.
The only downside we’ve found so far is the cable routing for the rear brake. Like some other US brands, they seem to have forgotten provisions for riders who run the rear brake on the left. It would be nice to see a port for the brake line to enter on the other side of the head tube, for cleaner routing.
What’s the whole JS Tuned thing about?
‘JS’ is Jeff Streber, founder of Intense. The JS Tuned tag signifies a wholistic approach to the bike, not just a suspension tune. It’s all about picking the parts that are most fit for purpose, rather than just whatever is convenient or will hit a certain price point. The eclectic spec on this bike demonstrates this perfectly: a SRAM drivetrain, Shimano brakes, a KS dropper post, DT hubs… the spec looks more like it has been hand picked by a shop staff member, rather than chosen out of a catalogue to hit a figure on the shop floor.
Spec options and Rider Direct sales.
There are five tiers of Sniper XC available in Australia, and while our Elite-level bike comes in at a hefty $10499, models start from $5499 for the Foundation build kit. That’s a far cry cheaper than you could ever purchase an Intense for in the past, an outcome of their recent shift to what they’re calling ‘Rider Direct’ sales.
In a nutshell, you now have the option to buy an Intense direct and get it delivered to your door, or you can have it sent to an Intense dealer for assembly and pick up. Either way, the price is the same. Because the model means dealers aren’t required to hold huge amounts of stock, the pricing is a lot sharper. In our mind, the Expert level spec ($6999) is especially competitive.
This bike is going to be with us for a few months, we’ll be racing it at Port to Port MTB, so expect an in-depth review and plenty of updates!
The Range is Norco’s fun do-it-all enduro bike, available in two wheel sizes and packing a massive 170mm travel up front and 160mm in the rear (29er has 160mm and 150mm). We’ve had great experiences with their more expensive carbon Ranges over the years, this one is the base model in 27.5/650b wheels, so can the Canadian company produce the type of bike we hope for, for under $4K?
See our head-to-head review from last year of the Norco Range C9.2 vs Trek Slash 9.8 here: Range vs Slash.
An aluminium frame in a hot red suit.
Our Range A3 has an aluminium frame with burly tubing, large bearings and solid hardware on the suspension pivots, and it looks tough as! All the chunkiness and large hardware can add more weight to a frame, but it can be worth it when you consider durability. Norco appears to have built the Range with a privateer enduro racer or a poor bike park rat in mind, or someone that doesn’t understand the words ‘regular maintenance’.
Norco has also opted for thru axles that require an Allen key to remove the wheel, adding to the clean lines to the front and rear of the bike.
As we mentioned in the first bite, we are in love with the red colour, and where some brightly coloured bikes lose their sex appeal over time due to the novelty wearing off, we still can’t get enough of it! We received loads of compliments on it, too, that’s cool.
Although it looks a little messy at first glance, the external cabling is neatly attached to the frame with alloy clips. It reminds us a little of an old Australian muscle car under the hood; simple and easy to see how it works and what may be, or could be going, wrong. Perfect for that privateer or home mechanic.
What wheel size is best; 27.5″ or 29″? Uh oh, a wheel size discussion.
Well, that may be a good question, but we aren’t touching that one with a 50-foot floor pump right now… Three things we tire talking about on the internet are; riding in wet weather, e-bikes and wheel size – it will just get us in trouble again. Fortunately, Norco offers the Range in both wheel sizes, so no one feels left out or condemned for their choice, and then we can all go about our lives silently judging each other for the wrong decision.
In a small nutshell if you want a fast and stable bike, go 29″ or a playful and aggressive one, lean towards 27.5″/650B.
How’s the spec stack up?
Keeping the price in mind, the Range A3 exceeded our expectations when we hit the dirt, and the spec played a large part of that. It wasn’t that long ago that $3699 would only buy you something pretty ordinary, with basic suspension, under-gunned brakes and a dropper seat post was something you purchased afterwards. Fast forward to 2018, and we’re absolutely spoilt rotten!
The RockShox Yari was again a solid performer, and the RockShox Deluxe rear shock matches the fork nicely. Though the Range is ‘okay’ at climbing, a trail mode on the shock wouldn’t have gone amiss for technical climbs in place of the ‘on-or-off’ lockout feature. The full lockout is only good for the tarmac and makes for a bumpy ride on anything but the smoothest surfaces.
We’re happy to report that the lesser-known TranzX adjustable post worked great, and didn’t miss a drop. Its under-bar remote kept the handlebar looking clean and tidy and was always easy to reach.
Unlike a lot of more prominent bike brands that have their own in-house wheels, Norco uses standard rim and hub manufacturer; great if the unfortunate happens, spares are easy to track down from a bike shop or website.
WTB i29 rims came taped ready for tubeless, we added the valves, and the internal width of 29mm gave the Maxxis High Roller II tyres an excellent profile with plenty of grip. Novatec hubs laced up with 32 j-bend spokes and brass nipples are ready for a hard life, but no Torque Caps on the front hub makes for a slightly fiddly wheel installation into the Yari fork as the hub doesn’t directly align with the fork dropouts, leaving us wishing we had three hands at times.
Shimano and Sunrace.
After spending a lot of time on increasingly popular SRAM drivetrains, the 11-speed Shimano feels like we are about to dislocate a thumb joint with a substantial shift action, ok a slight exaggeration… However, (joking aside) as we got used to the firm shift action with the SLX shifter, we appreciated how precise it felt, never leaving us wondering if the gear was fully engaged or not. We think there has been a direct correlation between how poorly we have been performing at thumb wrestling and using a SRAM drivetrain, the shifter paddles are so easy to push, making our thumbs weak, terrible for finishing off our opponents in the thumb wrestle.
It was our first time using the Sunrace 11-46 tooth cassette, and the shifting was quite smooth and dependable. The only time we remembered we weren’t on a Shimano cassette was when shifting between the 36, 40, and then down to the 46 tooth cog. As you may know, Shimano 11-speed cassettes have adopted a similar technology found on the budget-friendly Megarange cassette, with a massive jump from the 36 to 46 tooth. We always felt there needed to be another cog in the middle and Sunrace seem to have solved this demand exceedingly well.
The Tektro HD-M745 brakes may sound more like a dull serial number but for an entry priced four-pot brake these things did stop us in our tracks. They may not have the massive bite of a Code R as we experienced on the Merida One-Sixty, but we would take these Tektro brakes over any entry level two-pot brake. The brake levers are relatively long and have decent modulation; these brakes draw similarities to their higher modelled TRP G-Spec brakes ridden by the one and only Aaron Gwin.
In a current trend on enduro bikes; the Range comes with a huge 200mm disc rotor up front and 180mm on the rear, unsurprising as we are pushing the limits of the speed of modern enduro bikes, we expect it won’t be long before we see 200mm rotors on the rear as standard as well. Keeping it accessible for future pad replacements the Tektro HD-M745 uses the same brake pads as Shimano Saint, handy indeed.
A handlebar nightmare.
Unfortunately, the Tektro brake levers just didn’t want to match up with the Shimano SLX shifter pod and TranzX dropper post remote on the handlebar. We found that the shifters were either too close and rubbed on our thumb knuckles or too far away from making it hard to use. After playing around, we found a (crap) happy medium where we could just reach all the levers, and over the course of the review, we still weren’t 100% satisfied.
What we’d change?
Apart from a few personal preferences on the contact points; seat, grips, stack height and handlebar width, we’d not rush out to change anything, it is the base model of Range in Norco’s range, we can’t be too picky for under $4K.
To jump up to the next level, for an extra $900, you can get the A2. You’ll notice upgraded suspension with the Lyrik RC fork using the more sophisticated Charger damper and the Fox Performance Float rear shock which has that handy trail mode we mentioned earlier. The A2 looks slightly better all over, that makes for good value worth considering.
How’d it ride then?
We are going to cut straight to the chase; the bike rode great regardless of the sharp low price and entry-level spec. Norco has created a very competent machine for just $3699.
With a 160mm of travel out the back, the Range climbs like a slightly-older, fatter, sure-footed mountain goat, conquering most technical climbs we came across, just don’t expect it to get there in a massive rush. The meaty tyres let you climb with little regard to picking the best line, they hook up anywhere.
When we stood up out of the saddle and pushed hard on the pedals we wished the rear shock had a third or ‘trail mode’, it would have helped with traction as the full lockout caused the bike to skip around. However, with a smooth pedal action, the bike did respond well enough to the extra effort and wasn’t wasted in suspension bob.
This bike is made for descending and prefers it! Its well-balanced geometry and fit meant we could easily find the middle of the bike and push it hard on the fast straights and rough corners.
At speed, the Range felt planted yet playful on the trail, opening up our imagination to new line choices on trails we were familiar with. As we became more in tune with what the Range was best at, we had more confidence to take the rowdier lesser-known lines and were rewarded for it. It’s not afraid of much. It’s not lightweight, at over 15kg, but it’s also under $4K so we can’t really complain.
We believe that the Range A3 is a very well balanced bike that doesn’t lack in any component performance. It’s for a rider that who wants to push their limits, dabble in enduro racing or requires a longer travelled bike to fully appreciate technical terrain; the Range is worth a look for sure.
Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 0, it is on! Testing either bike individually we’d expect to feel pretty positive about them, they are both the top-shelf models, with proven parts and a high-quality heritage. But what about when you ride them side-by-side? How do they differ? Which bike does what best?
Of the two, what would we choose? What would you choose? Firstly, make sure you’ve read our Giant Anthem 29er 2018 review and Specialized Epic 2018 review.
100mm-travel 29ers, we think, have the magic formula for cross-country racing. With the increasingly technical nature of race tracks, combined with the improvement of suspension systems and lower weights, it’s no wonder we’re seeing full suspension bikes at the top of the game in the World Cup more often each year.
Specialized Epic 2018.
All-new for 2018, the release of the new Epic had us all in awe. The new Brain 2.0 suspension system is a significant advance over the preceding one, the bike’s handling takes it to another level, and the frame weight drops significantly. It’s an impressive release that we didn’t think was achievable!
Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet.
Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet. It’s a $12500 bike that sits at the top of a decent range of options, and all the way down to an aluminium frame version developed around the same concept.
The new Epic has taken a different approach to frame geometry. The head angle is now 69.5 degrees, a full 1.5 degrees more relaxed than the previous Epic. The Epic uses a custom RockShox SID Brain-equipped fork, with just 42mm of offset (compare that to the 51mm found on many 29er). That means it’s slacker but paired with a shorter stem for quicker steering.
Giant Anthem 29er 2018.
We touted the new Anthem as ‘The cross-country race bike we’ve been waiting for from Giant’. It breaks a long drought of 29ers in their range, after staunchly standing by their ‘27.5” is best’ mantra. The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed, we’ve thoroughly loved ripping laps of the race track with it.
The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed.
The Advance 0 model is the top model from a healthy range of Anthems, with a far more value conscious representation than the Epic.
FOX dual remote lockout vs RockShox/Specialized Brain.
The Brain suspension system is what sets the Epic apart from the rest of the pack, the unique inertia valve damping can successfully differentiate between impacts from the ground and bobbing motions from the rider, to give you an amazingly efficient ride without relying on external lockouts. Push down on the bike and it won’t compress the fork and shock, run over a bump and it will. Confused? Watch this.
The Anthem’s suspension system may be without any fancy proprietary suspension technologies like the Epic, but that’s certainly not a downside, quite the contrary if you ask many of us here. The Anthem uses regular FOX Suspension front and back with remote lockout control. The new FOX lockout levers are easy and quick to use, sitting comfortably under the left side of the bar requiring only light action to engage. It only 90mm of rear travel, but it’s super-active and supple. Why only has 90mm of travel? Read this.
Back-to-back on the race track.
We spent hours riding these two bikes back-to-back on three different circuits to replicate what terrain you’d encounter in a season of multi-day, short course and marathon racing. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad in our minds between the two.
Best aspects of the Specialized Epic:
Fantastic handling. Right away we found the Epic’s handling to be a real highlight, especially the steering through singletrack corners. The new approach to the frame geometry of longer, slacker front end/quicker steering, with shorter stems, has paid off and makes a cross-country race bike far more confident to rip through the singletrack super-fast. The front end is remarkably composed and easy to hold onto, where we’d expect the front wheel to feel nervous and to tuck underneath you in a sharp turn it wouldn’t, so our confidence grew, and we found ourselves going faster and faster and laying off the brakes for longer.
Brain 2.0. The updated Brain 2.0 shock out the back takes the inertia valve technology to the next level with a more sensitive action and a wider range of adjustability. There’s still that trademark knocking feedback as the Brain opens up with each impact – even in the softest setting – but it’s a significant improvement over years past. It’s about as close to ultimate efficiency as you can get, just with the sacrifice to a certain degree of ‘plushness’.
Aesthetics and cleanliness. The Epic will win over the most pedantic freak with its squeaky-clean aesthetics; the bike is all class. With no remote lockouts or any added fuss on the bars, the cockpit is refreshingly clutter-free.
Mad light. 9.58kg out of the box, c’mon that’s pretty insane!
Low points for the Specialized Epic:
Ouch, that fork! Our hands are still aching as we type, ok that’s a slight exaggeration, but we never got along with the Brain damper in the fork. While we respect this bike’s high-end race intentions, and it sure is efficient, the feedback transferred to our hands and body as we rode rough terrain was pretty brutal.
Noisy drivetrain. For a bike that’s so dialled, it makes quite a racket on the descents, the chain slap on the chainstay is not what we’d expect. Not too hard to rectify though, with a little section of rubberised tape.
Outrageous price. Nobody can tell us this bike is good value! S-Works models are a premium offering, and the frame and suspension technology are superb, but when you stack it up against the Giant which has a very comparable spec, it’s hard to justify the $3500 difference in price.
Proprietary suspension concerns. Sure it may not ever pose an issue, but the rear shock and fork damper are parts exclusive to Specialized. Proprietary elements are always at risk of limiting your options and serviceability centres.
Best aspects of the Giant Anthem:
Fast yet comfortable. The Anthem strikes a great balance between fast and too fast to handle. While the Maestro Suspension relies on you to hit the lockout for better efficiency during climbs or sprints, its smooth and supple action wins our hearts and our hands.
FOX 32 SC fork. There’s something special about the new 32 SC fork from FOX, the combination of the low weight, smooth action, supple air spring and stable damper make it a fantastic addition to a race bike. The 100mm of travel was so supportive when pedalling out of the saddle, yet it kept that front wheel sticking to the dirt and reduced feedback to the hands damn well.
Fast rolling 29er. The wheels and tyres wind up to speed easily and the body position is low, long and fast. The Anthem feels like a classic race bike just with really great suspension.
Fair price. Compare it to a Specialized or compare it to a Canyon and the Anthem holds its own in the value department, especially considering that we can’t think of anything that needs to be changed to make it race-ready.
Low points of the Giant Anthem:
On or off remote lockout. Compared to the regular non-remote FOX suspension that has three modes of adjustment, the remote has two. The two modes are ‘on and off’ so it’s either locked out for the smooth climbs or open for rough descents. The middle ‘trail mode’ is sorely missed, we know we’d use it more than both of the provided settings combined.
Male model only. The Anthem 29 is not represented in the LIV range, which doesn’t make it un-rideable for women, Specialized does offer the Epic with a gender-neutral frame with gender-specific parts.
Where is my dropper post? Repeating this will send the product managers at Giant into a groaning frenzy, but building the new Anthem with a 27.2″ seatpost severely limits your options for dropper post with only a couple key brands producing one that size. If the Anthem were our bike, we’d want to add a dropper; we’re probably not alone either.
Cable Carbonara. The suspension remote levers add two cables to the equation like pasta hanging from your bars. It’s not a deal-breaker for us, as we see how it adds to the efficiency of the bike without sacrificing the suspension performance on the descents (sorry, Epic Brain). But we can appreciate how it’ll mess with the minds of the fussier riders. You can certainly make it all neater with a little cable-cutter tailoring and time.
The narrow crown and chassis of the FOX SC forks are partly responsible for its low weight. This fork outshone the RockShox SID fork with the Brain internals hands down; it’s perfect for this purpose.Out of the box, the Anthem’s cockpit is a bit of a headache with the additional two cables for the fork and shock lockout but with time, tailoring, trial-and-error and a pair of cable cutters and cable ties it’d be quickly consolidated.
Proprietary vs standard?
The Giant is 100% standard; the Specialized is not. How does that sit with us? On one had it limits upgrade options, and on the other the approach to servicing, but we are talking about Specialized here and not some obscure brand. We’re pretty confident that the Epic shouldn’t run into any issues with its proprietary bits with strong after-sales support.
Specialized has taken a new approach for this year model offering a gender-neutral frame with a gender-specific build instead of a women’s specific bike. A women’s ‘version’ is available which uses a lighter suspension tune, a ladies Myth saddle, a smaller 30t chainring and a different paint job.
Simple suspension setup.
Specialized’s own suspension setup system ‘Auto Sag’ takes the guess-work out of setting the sag on the rear shock, it is as easy as inflating the shock, sitting on the bike, pressing a button and presto, it’s good to go. The Giant loses out with any whiz-bang helping hand here. Auto Sag is an excellent feature.
The Giant will require the good-old trial-and-error setting sag as you balance propped against a wall, not exactly a chore but in comparison, the Specialized Auto Sag is pretty nifty in contrast.
Two water bottle cages on all sizes? Yes, the Epic has you covered here, sorry Giant while we appreciate the merits of a rear shock that is mounted in the centre of the frame down low, the single-bottle mount could pose an issue for a marathon racer needing more water storage.
No frame protection, Specialized? C’mon rocks puncture downtubes all the time, Giant have prioritised protection here, and a rubber guard underneath the downtube is sure to prevent expensive unfortunate incidents. And what’s with the poorly placed chainstay protection, not only does the chain wallop the stays over rough trails, it’s chipping away the expensive paint!
Don’t drop the dropper, Giant! The Epic uses a post diameter that can accommodate any brand of dropper post; the Anthem doesn’t.
Oh, Anthem you look so lovely! Your 50 shades of blue and mixture of matte and gloss graphics give the Giant attractive looks, while the black on white Epic looks as flashy as a bike of half the price. Bummer that the team riders and international markets have access to the coloured frame S-Works models, as they look so fine! Like the women’s S-Works Epic above, it is way cooler than the mundane magpie we tested.
$3500 between the two, sorry what!?
There are no two ways about it; the S-Works Epic is astonishingly expensive, $12500 is mind-boggling! Yes it’s an industry-leading brand, yes it is loaded with excellent and modern tech, and yes they will still fly off the shop floors because they are fabulous bikes, but $12500… They use the same drivetrain, brakes, and all have carbon bits everywhere. Put it side-by-side with the $8999 Giant you could argue all day about where the dollars go, but we’re talking 3500 of them!
Is the Brain suspension and lighter overall bike worth the difference? Nah, it’s not worth that much to us.
If we were to take it a marathon or multi-day stage race? The Giant. It’s way more forgiving to ride over a few hours or multiple days, no doubt about that!
Our choice for a 1.5hr cross-country Olympic distance event? The Specialized for its hard-out pedalling efficiency and cornering prowess, especially on a buff race track you’ve been practising.
What’s lighter? The Epic is 9.58kg and Anthem is 10.08 as we tested them.
If we had to race it 100% stock, no parts changed? The Giant, it is simply ready to go. We’d not put up with the Specialized’s fork any longer, and send it to a suspension service centre for a conventional RockShox Charger 2 damper to be installed, not a cheap fix.
Part-time trail bike, part-time race bike? The Specialized’s handling feels more like a trail bike, but the suspension on the Giant was more confident and active off the beaten path.
What bike impressed us the most? The Specialized, it’s an engineering masterpiece with its frame construction, Brain technology and overall weight.
Women’s option? The Specialized has you covered with a women’s gender-specific spec model, though the Anthem with a few spec preference modifications will bring it in line with the Epic.
Value for money? Giant, hands down. The complete spec is very comparable, though the price is not. The Giant blows the Specialized out of the water with this one. $8999 vs $12500, ouch.
Fastest lap times? The Specialized. It beats you up and doesn’t feel exceptionally kind at times, but the clock doesn’t lie, and we posted faster lap times of our 20-minute race track on the Specialized.
If money was no option, bottom line verdict? The Specialized, thanks.
We’ve been on the Rocky Mountain Instinct 50 for a little over a month now it’s been a real pleasure, lead it to fast and open singletrack and this 140mm travel 29″ wheeled carbon beauty flies up and down the mountain alllllll day long.
As you could expect from a Canadian company steeped in heritage and based on Vancouver’s North Shore the bike’s finish, fit and frame geometry looks ready to rumble. But did our suspicions around the appropriateness of some of spec (which we highlighted in our first impressions piece) surmount to anything on the more technical trails? The bike feels light to ride and comes in well under the 13kg mark, not bad at all!
We do love us some smart frame design.
The Instinct is all-new for 2018, vastly different to the outgoing model in appearance and design, bringing it into line with rest of the Rocky range. It’s a sleek looking frame, finely colour matched and well protected with under the frame armouring from flying trail debris. The pivot on the chainstay is fastened from the inside creating a smooth finish with the hardware concealed from view, something we’ve seen from Rocky in their newer models.
The vulnerable down tube is protected from debris impacts by a thick rubber guard.
Some lovely smaller things to point out on the Instinct frame is the cable management; large headtube ports with some smart plastic bosses keep the cables neat and tidy, and more importantly off the frame, so no unwanted rubbing the paint job around the head tube. There are provisions for Shimano Di2 with internal battery storage, and we spy mounting threads for the unreleased FOX Live Valve system.
They have even replaced the traditional nylon DU bushing on the lower shock mount with their own neat bearing system, which will increase the life of the linkage and keep rattle at bay.
The spec, a little confused perhaps, or is that just us?
Bear with us while we over-analyse the spec, we think there may be a slight identity dilemma going on here.
Combine a 140mm travel Fox 34 fork with a chunky Minion DHR front tyre and a slack 66-degree head angle and all we say is; “Let’s party and descend hard!”
Then we see it comes with lightweight Level TL brakes and narrower rims than we’d expect, and we now think; “Let’s turn those legs baby and do some k’s because we are going cross-country!”
Suddenly the downhiller in us is tempted by changing to more powerful brakes, wider rims, and even fantasises about lifting the fork to 150mm and we now think; “Let’s put up with the extra mass and rule all of the trails!”
Or are we looking at it all wrong, and we should be slamming the stem, steepening the head angle to 67 degrees and running even lighter tyres front and rear so we can; “Grab a big bag of protein powder to make some marginal gains because we’re going to race our mates all day.
We were right, what are those XC brakes doing here?
For a bike that has so much descending potential, the dual-piston SRAM Level TL brakes are not ideal, save them for a cross-country bike where counting grams matter. With the Instinct being an impressive 12.78kg out of the box we wonder why Rocky Mountain spec’d these brakes, was it really for saving weight or was it dollars? The brakes have a snappy bite initially but then the power and feel fade away on long descents, perhaps something like the new entry SRAM Guide T could have been a sounder alternative?
27mm rims are wide… Right?
It was only five or so years ago that 25mm internal width rims were considered wide, and before that 19 – 21mm was the norm. Since then the wheel brands have played around with wider rims, settling on around 28-30mm to give the tyres a generous profile, providing more grip at lower pressures.
A fast rolling rear tyre on 27mm rims is a speedy combination, but some riders might want a wider footprint on rougher trails.
The Instinct 50 comes with 27mm rims, which was fine for the duration of the review, but we did need to pump the tyres up five to ten more PSI than we would typically on a wider rim. However, under hard cornering, we still felt the rear tyre rolling around.
Coming to grips with the FOX fork.
The Instinct Carbon 50 comes with a 140mm travel FOX 34 Float Performance fork, the ‘Performance’ level forks use a simplified Grip damper where higher spec FOX forks use the FIT4 damper. The fork feels beautifully supple and active, and with a few clicks of the large blue dial on top of the leg, you can add compression damping in a flash and the rebound has a vast range from too fast to too slow.
During repetitive harsh impacts, the fork doesn’t rise to the occasion like the more expensive FIT4 forks do, it felt like it dove to easily into the latter part of its travel, we found this on the Recently reviewed Scott Genius 920. Bigger and heavier riders will, unfortunately, notice this more. In past experiences we have improved the situation by adding those little green air volume spacers, this will give the fork more support and ‘ramp up’ to help resist blowing through the travel too easily.
‘Ride-9’the lesser known Transformer.
Adjustable geometry has become commonplace on trail/enduro bikes over recent years, useful for the savvy rider for dialling a bike in for your local terrain or swapping it around for different trail styles, though most manufacturers typically offer two positions. Rocky Mountain has stepped it up, and has nine! Nine options, that’s fun… but who are we kidding? Don’t we all just stick it into the slackest possible option, because a slack bike is a badass bike?
Ride-9 achieves its adjustable geometry through the use of two sets of two square shock hardware chips that rotate inside each other. Each of the nine positions affects how slack/ low (67-66 degree) and how progressive/ linear the suspension of the bike can be. But don’t stress! Rocky Mountain has a great page on its website explaining Ride-9 and what each position means.
Over the course of the review, we played around with the Ride-9 and the different options and settled on the slackest, lowest position. The bike felt more stable at speed in this mode, and we didn’t feel like it lost anything in its handling over the whole spectrum.
More importantly, how did it ride?
Once we got the suspension and bike dialled it was like we started to unlock its potential and on open flowing singletrack this bike flies! When the trail starts to flatten out or has an uphill pinch, we got quickly rewarded with constant trail speed. Its well-supported pedalling encourages you to get up out of the saddle and keep the legs turning, so we could blast through that section and get to the descending fun again.
It’s nice to be on a bike that encourages you to get up and go, rather than some bikes where you end up sitting down and lazily steering while turning the pedals with low effort.
Climbing on this bike is not a chore, and if you were inclined to join your less gravity inspired cross-country mates for a ride, you wouldn’t feel like you have bought a bazooka to a knife fight, it jams plenty of ability in a lightweight package.
Why do we keep trying to up-spec this bike into an Enduro race bike?
As mentioned before the geometry is quite progressive and still pushing the boundaries of what an aggressive trail bike can manage. It’s incredible how quickly geometry has changed over the last few years. The Instinct has a 66 to 67-degree head angle which is relatively slack, and a 1206mm wheelbase is quite long and is considered to be a ‘trail bike’ with 140mm of travel.
By modern standards, this is true when you compare it to the monstrous YT Capra and Evil Wreckoning with these bikes pushing the boundaries of what an Enduro 29er’s can be. But go back four or so years, and Trek’s Remedy 29er was an enduro beast with stock 140mm travel, slightly steeper 67.5-degree head angle and a shorter 1179 mm wheelbase, and it one of the most winning stage bikes in the EWS with Tracey Moseley (and Justin Leov) at its helm.
So, is this bike for us?
Mid-travelled aggressive 29er trail bikes are becoming more commonplace because of how versatile they can be. Want to hit a cross-country loop? Sure, go all day. Want to do some mellow bike park laps? Hell yeah, let’s go!
No better example of this is our long-term test on the Norco Sight C9.2. We have had great success on this bike, and even though it is slightly heavier and has less travel, (keep in mind it has a higher price point and spec) we were able to follow the EWS route in Tasmania without any problems and didn’t feel like we needed more bike.
These mid travelled 29er bikes are enjoyable to ride and are opening the doors what is possible on lesser travel. With the changes, we have suggested the Instinct could be as good as the Sight.
We enjoyed riding this bike, it was lightning fast on open singletrack, making you feel like a hero. With a couple of component changes like the brakes, rim width and tubeless conversion, it’d be more confident in the rough and adding air volume spacers in the fork would be a god idea too. No surprises that a lot of our complaints are solved with the more expensive Instinct 70, but of course, it costs more with its full-carbon frame and better spec. Bikes, huh? Always have that ability to make you want to spend more…
The 2018 alloy Norco Range A3 is the entry-level option from Canadian brand Norco’s new(ish) gravity enduro inspired platform that matches geometry with the high-end carbon model that came out mid last year. It’s offered in high rolling 29″ and agile 27.5″ wheels, for this test we have the 27.5″. The Range uses 170mm of travel up front and 160mm back, with all the spec pointing towards the burly and durable end of the spectrum.
With a skim of the geometry chart, the Range looks to slot in between the long and low Giant Reign and shorter and steeper Merida One-Sixty, it’s burly but not overly massive.
Dressed to impress.
The Range A3 has a smart and well-considered parts spec, someone that regularly rides a mountain bike has most certainly had something to do with it. It looks like it should serve a rider well, someone looking to push the bike hard, but still keeps the bike under $4K.
In our experience, while they lack multiple adjustments of the higher end options, we know that the chunky RockShox Yari fork and RockShox Deluxe shock are top performers. And the TranzX dropper post has proven to be plenty reliable, this one has a 120mm drop and a neat remote lever under the left side of the bar.
This is the first time using the affordable Tektro HD-M745 four-piston brakes, so we are particularly curious to see how they perform. After all, TRP is an acronym for Tekro Racing Products, and that fast guy Aaron Gwin seems to go okay using them… We are hoping to see some trickle-down performance, sure the 203mm rotor on the front will contribute to decent power.
The Shimano SLX shifter and derailleur pair with a Sunrace 11-46 cassette and RaceFace cranks, it’s a bit of a mixture of brands, let’s hope no compatibility issues arise when we get deep into the review as we’ve already struggled to find a comfortable position on the bars with the shifter and long brake levers not meshing too well.
A quote from the film ‘Kinky Boots’ (2005) sums up our feeling perfectly.
“Burgundy. Please, God, tell me I have not inspired something burgundy. Red. Red. Red. Red, Charlie boy. Red! Is the colour of sex! Burgundy is the colour of hot water bottles! Red is the colour of sex and fear and danger and signs that say, Do. Not. Enter. All my favourite things in life.”
Yep, this bike is red, and we like it so far.
We have had good experiences with Norco bikes over the years, and this is one of it’s the lowest priced models. Will it stand up and meet our expectations and how will it compare to our other sub $4K 160mm travel 27.5″ wheel bike shootout!?
The Norco Range A3 will go up against the Giant Reign 2 and the Merida One-Sixty 800 in our three-way sub-$4K shootout, so stay tuned for our full review and then the shootout!
As you probably know, Merida is one of the more prominent manufacturers of the bicycle in the world and make fantastic bikes with a reputation for great value. We’ve got the One-Sixty 800 on review and so far it’s raised some eyebrows amongst our camp. We loved the affordable carbon One-Sixty 5000 from a couple years ago but can this new top specced aluminium version cut it?
The One-Sixty is a (you guessed it) 160mm travel rig rolling on 27.5″ wheels and is aimed at the aggressive end of the spectrum, perhaps even at enduro racing.
The unbelievable spec, it’s a SRAM smorgasbord!
What more could you want from this bike on this sort of budget? Umm, nothing… The build is impressive, it’s like a whole bunch of great SRAM parts fell off the back of a truck, and Merida were there to pick them and stuck them on this bike for our benefit. It even has a great pair of wide rims, a Torque Cap compatible front hub to match the RockShox Yari, dropper post, great Maxxis tyres and a fun and bright paint job. Tick, tick and tick!
Up front, the One-Sixty 800 comes with some of the best stopping power in the game with the new SRAM Code R brakes. Out the back has the SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed for a fantastic gear range.
And for suspension the always reliable RockShox Yari fork and the star of the show the top shelf Super Deluxe RTC. This shock has all the adjustments; rebound, compression and even low-speed compression for greater control. Minds are blown!!
Not longer but shorter?
In a move against industry trend, Merida has shortened the overall wheelbase (from the 5000) and steepened the seat angle, we wonder what Merida is onto here. These changes would, in theory, make a bike climb better and be more nimble at slower speeds, however, it could possibly be at a sacrifice to its downhill ability, but we’ll find out on the trail.
While we are shredding this Merida One-Sixty 800, it’ll be up against the Giant Reign 2 and Norco Range A3 in a sub $4000 160mm travel 27.5″ wheel bike shootout.
Stay tuned for a full review and the ultimate shootout!
Here’s a good battle, if ever we’ve seen one! The FOX 36 vs the RockShox Lyrik. We’ve put two of the biggest forks in the business head to head, to find out which one we really do prefer, bolting them both to the front of our Commencal Meta AM for a bit of rough and tumble.
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 vs FOX 36 Factory FIT4, on paper.
As we reflected in our introductory piece, you won’t find a more evenly matched pair than this. For the records, we tested both forks in a 170mm travel version, for 27.5″ wheels. The Lyrik RCT3 in the spec we tested is $1549.95, while the FOX 36 Factory FIT4 is $1579.
With the steerer tube trimmed to 185mm, and with a star nut fitted, the weights were very similar: 1998g for the Lyrik and 2027g for the FOX. While the FOX is slightly heavier it also has a tool-free QR15 axle fitted, while our Lyrik needs an Allen key to remove the axle. The Lyrik has the edge by a few grams, but it’s not enough to really separate the two.
When it comes to travel options, the Lyrik has the advantage. You can get the RockShox in travel variants from 150-160-170-180mm (for 27.5″ wheels – it tops out at 170mm for 29ers), plus it’s available in a travel-adjustable Dual Position version. FOX no longer offer a travel adjustable 36, so if you’re looking for a fork that will let you lower the front end on a climb, then the Lyrik is for you.
Off the shelf, the 36 comes in 150-160-170mm versions. That said, you can extend a 27.5″ 170mm-travel 36 up to 180mm (or a 29er 160mm 36 up to 170mm) with a new air shaft, which will set you back around $75.
FOX have the advantage when it comes to damper options however. In addition to the FIT4 damper (with its three position compression lever) you can also get a HSC/LSC damper, which gives you more precise control of the high-speed compression settings and independent low-speed compression adjustment.
Both the RockShox and FOX have a single air spring, and practically identical damping adjustments. Both have three position high-speed compression adjustment, with open, medium and firm settings. Both have low-speed compression adjustment (which only effects the fork when the high-speed compression adjuster is in the ‘open’ setting). Both obviously have generous rebound ranges. There’s plenty of scope for tuning, but without being overly complex.
Finally, both allow you to adjust the rate of the air spring via a spacer system, which involves removing the top cap and threading (with the Lyrik) or clipping (with the FOX) spacers into place. For our testing, we opted to run two spacers/tokens in both forks.
RockShox Lyrik RCT3 vs FOX 36 Factory, on the trail.
So, you’ve got two forks that are practically identical on paper. It turns out there’s not much between them on the trail either, though ultimately we came away preferring the FOX.
Both of these forks are simple to achieve setting that’s 90% of the way there, with a bit of ongoing fettling required to get the perfect setup. On the back of both forks, you’ll find a chart of recommended air pressure for a given rider weight. The FOX goes a step further, with recommended rebound settings too. However, we’re big believers in getting your suspension sag correct, and that’s where the Lyrik’s sag gradient markings really come in handy. On the trail, we found that FOX’s recommended pressures a little firm, while the RockShox was surprisingly bang on.
Which fork reacts to the terrain best? FOX make a lot of noise about the slickness of the Kashima Coat anodising on their fork legs, but we don’t think it’s inherently much smoother than RockShox’s Fast Black coating. We’ve felt good and bad forks with both coatings – variables like bushing tolerances, maintenance and friction due to flex in the fork have a bigger impact than the finish of the fork legs.
But the air spring is the other vital component when it comes to creating a responsive fork, and the FOX 36 has the edge here. The higher volume of the negative air spring in the new EVOL air spring assembly makes for pretty incredible small bump sensitivity (an issue that has plagued the 36 in past years).
This is where the FOX really stood out to us, particularly in the way it handled high-speed impacts. When the biggest hits happened, it was the FOX that left us feeling more in control and sent less of the impact our way.
At the end of the roughest descents we were surprised to find that FOX would consistently keep a little travel up its sleeve, but without ever having felt harsh or like we had the front end setup too firmly. On the other hand, the Lyrik would consistently use up all 170mm to gobble up the terrain. It wasn’t that the Lyrik was too soft, or too linear, just that it was using more travel to get the job done.
You could say this is a negative for the FOX, that it was too progressive and we should have removed spacers. But the fact is, even when it was not getting the full 170mm, the ride it delivered was just as smooth, controlled and supple as the Lyrik, while still keeping a little travel ready for when things got out of hand. The FOX’s high speed compression damping was doing an amazing job, dissipating the force from the hits so effectively that full travel was only required when we really made a mess of things.
Decision time. What would we choose?
It’s easy to see why these two forks are so dominant in the Enduro market. Their performance out of the box is ridiculous – it’s incredible that you can buy this level of suspension right off the shelf, and with very little setup you’ve got a fork that could happily win an EWS. But if we were picking one, we’d take the FOX 36 Factory. It just has the slightest edge in damping performance and in this arena that counts for a lot.
Rocky has a big range, where does the Instinct fit in?
The Instinct has been in the Rocky Mountain 29er lineup for a few years now but has had a total refresh for 2018. It’s a 140mm travel 29er with a carbon front end and uses Rocky’s clever and original geometry and suspension rate adjustment system. As we’d expect from the Canadian designed bike brand steeped in mountain biking heritage, it looks like it can push the boundaries of what an aggressive trail bike should be able to handle.
Aimed at the all-mountain/trail rider, the Instinct sits in between the XC/trail oriented Thunderbolt and more aggressive and longer travel Altitude.
When we first saw the Instinct we loved the (not Yeti) teal, red and black frame with red (not Deity) Rocky Mountain decals on the handlebar and stem. Someone has thought a lot about the colourway, and it is quite striking.
Mixed thoughts on the parts.
The build looks overall really safe and ready for action, the Fox 34 fork and a Minion DHR tyre up front are a recipe for fast descending and SRAM GX Eagle to help the legs with the all-day rides in the saddle. The bike feels light to throw around, and initial impressions are that they have played the balance of light and sturdy well.
We are little concerned about how the lightweight SRAM Level TL brakes will perform under hard braking on longer runs; we’d expect to see the single piston SRAM Level brakes on cross-country race bikes, with the SRAM Guide typically more common on a longer travel bike like the Instinct. And while 27mm wide (internal width) rims are wider than what was standard a few years back, closer to 30mm wide is something that gives tyres a better profile and grip. Rocky probably chose these products to keep the overall weight and price down.
The other item that could be wider is the WTB saddle; it is coming straight off before we ride it any further, our ass doesn’t need to look like the end of a “Saw” horror film, with blood everywhere and lots of screaming.
The Rocky doesn’t come supplied with necessary parts for a tubeless setup, a shame, so we’ve done that ourselves, and we’re already mucking around with the Ride-9 system to tweak the feel of the rear suspension and ride geometry. Lucky the Rocky website has a simple setup guide; there are myriad options.
RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RCT vs RockShox Super Deluxe RT Remote
The Commencal Meta has been given a plush injection! It has been a long, long time since we rode a coil shock. With air shocks being so damn good, we didn’t understand the point of throwing on a coil – extra weight, fiddly setup swapping coils, it all seemed unnecessary. For hardcore racers, with 15 minute descents to contend with, it made sense. But for the punters… really? To be honest, we’d painted the recent uptake of coil shocks as a trend, driven by wannabes with an overinflated sense of their own abilities, and one that would surely pass.
We’d painted the recent uptake of coil shocks as a trend, driven by wannabes with an overinflated sense of their own abilities.
But then we pulled our head out of our butt and actually gave this whole coil shock renaissance a go. And, holy hell, there’s something to it! We’d been toying with the idea of swapping the shock on our Meta for a while (we didn’t like the clutter of the remote lock out on the original shock), so when the chance to try out the new RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RCT came our way, we grabbed it.
Weight difference – coil vs air shock
The weight penalty cannot be overlooked. The RockShox Super Deluxe RT Remote weighs 480g, the RCT Coil shock is 860g (with a 350lb/in spring fitted). That’s not an insignificant amount of weight, and if you’re a heavier rider using a beefier spring, the weight penalty will be higher still.
We welcome you, plush gods
But the weight difference took about three seconds to forget. From the very first moment we hopped on the bike, we had a big, big grin. We’d forgotten just how good a coil feels – that lively, silken PLUSHNESS – it’s brilliant. You can feel the difference instantly – the rear suspension is more active, more sensitive. There’s more traction, so you can go faster. It’s simple, really.
Now we’re not suggesting that a coil is the right option for everyone, but on this kind of bike a coil shock does make a lot of sense. The Commencal is always going to be a bit of pig on the climbs, so why not optimise its performance on the way back down? The shock has all the levers you need to aid your path back up the hill (including a compression lever, which firms it up dramatically, plus separate low-speed compression adjustment) so you’re really just contending with the extra weight. We can’t see ourselves rushing to put an air shock back on.
Compared to our usual go-to XT Trail pedals, it’s clear to see just how much more surface area the Saints have.
Shimano Saint SPD pedals.
The long-awaited follow up to the DX SPD is finally here, with the new gravity oriented Saint pedal, and we’ve just popped them onto our Commencal to review.
Compared to our usual go-to XT Trail pedals, it’s clear to see just how much more surface area the Saints have. They’re designed to give you as much stability as possible with more flexible gravity style shoes, plus there are four height adjustable pins per side too, to bite into the soles of your shoe if you end up getting a little loose and need to ride it out without being fully clipped in. They weigh in at 540g/pair, which is a fair whack more than the XTs, which are just 403g/pair.
Maxxis Forekaster 2.6″ tyres
The Maxxis Minions that came on the Meta have been swapped out too, replaced by the generous 2.6″ bag of the Maxxis Forekaster. They’re billed as ‘last season’ tyre, which we assume is North American for ‘damp conditions’. Now, we don’t have a lot of damp to ride these in, but we’d heard good things about their performance in sandy trails too, which we have plenty of.
Fitting the Forekasters shaved about 300g off the Meta, which was welcome given the extra heft added by the coil shock and Saint pedals. Our impressions so far are that they’re fast rollers, and that the big bag floats beautifully over sand and loose surfaces. They’re a supple tyre too, giving plenty of climbing grip on the rear. Where they do feel less impressive is under hard braking – compared to the Minions, they just don’t bite nearly as firmly. We’ve had one puncture so far, which isn’t unreasonable given the rocky conditions, but we’d had no such dramas with the Minions.
From the crisp click of the shifter, to smooth clutch in the derailleur SRAM GX Eagle has been great. It feels great, maybe even better than 11-speed, which was very nice. The new redesigned X-Sync 2 chainring hasn’t skipped a beat, and we haven’t dropped a chain, and it’s feeling smoother and quieter than the first generation X-Sync it replaced.
On steep climbs, the ultra-low 50 tooth gear is very welcome when you are digging deep on a climb and need it the most, and it also means we could go up a chainring size from the previous 11-speed. At the moment we’re using the 32 tooth chainring the groupset came with but will be looking to upsize to 34, we have the low range covered.
The gear spacings all the way through the cassette are well spaced, though we hear some riders lamenting the gearing jumps at the low end, we’ve not had that feeling with the gear being too big or small after a shift. And finally the price, how can you complain about $800 for a complete groupset? You can upgrade or dust off your favourite old bike and make it new again with such a worthy update.
Do we like it? Maybe?
That all said, we’re not sure we like it. Is it 12 really better than 11? Don’t get us wrong – the performance so far and gear range are excellent, it’s just that it seems like a lot of investment for a fairly marginal increase in gear range over existing 11-speed options.
It reminds us of when BlueRay video first came out. It looked like the same disc as DVD, it was better quality, but maybe not the technology jump we were looking for and for this, we didn’t all rush out and purchase it.
As for Eagle, we don’t think more gears was the answer we were looking for; maybe a more refined eleven was the approach. (The Sony PlayStation 3 ended up being one of the saviours for Blueray, and we imagine OEM will be the same for Eagle GX.)
What about Shimano options, or e*Thirteen cassettes?
Eagle touts itself as a drivetrain revolution, killing the front derailleur entirely, but is it really such a huge leap? Firstly with Shimano or other aftermarket 11-speed cassettes you can have an 11-46 tooth range, so Eagle only has a 20% wider gear range. Is it worth investing in a whole new groupset for this? Then of course there’s E13’s new TRS cassette, which with its 9-46 tooth range has a wider range (511%) than Eagle, all while retaining existing 11-speed equipment. It’s so good that YT bikes has backed this cassette as a better option for a lot of their bikes for 2018, and looked at it as true innovation.
Sticks out like dogs balls.
Secondly, the aesthetics aren’t good. It sticks out like dog balls, and its size looks prime to be smacked and hit. 11-speed derailleurs had a great gear range, without being nearly so massive. The length of the cage on an Eagle derailleur seems to run at odds with everything we’ve strived for in terms of reducing a derailleur’s vulnerability.
Eagle has us wondering what they are preparing us for next; 60 teeth on the cassette? They’ll tell us that a more substantial gear range means we can run a larger chainring up front, but have you noticed a lot of these new Boost frames can only take up to a 36 tooth chain ring (or even a 34 in some instances)?
C’mon GX Eagle, you can do this.
So what does all this mean for our review? Well, time will tell. If the GX Eagle proves to be as reliable as our 11-speed stuff, we might well be convinced – we’re a sceptical bunch. We’ll be back with more.
Form should follow function, but as Norco have proved here, putting practicality first doesn’t mean making it ugly. Norco have managed to take a utilitarian machine and given it the kind of sleek appeal that eludes most bikes in this segment. The new Norco Search XR is a beauty, both in terms of presentation and the way it performs.
With the exception of the rubber boot over the seat clamp, and the small silver bolt heads on the fork legs, you’d struggle to notice this bike’s rugged intentions – they’re masked by its awesome paint job, clean lines and light weight of just 8.58kg for our large 55.5cm test bike.
What can’t you carry on the Norco Search XR?
The Norco Search XR has been a serious workhorse – we’ve done well over 500km of proper gravel riding and bike packing on this steed over summer, loading it up for overnighters, heading out for day-long wanderings in the Watagans, getting chased by goannas. It’s been epic. In short, this bike has fulfilled its mandate as an adventure machine.
At first glance its easy to miss, but there’s room for three bottles on the main frame, plus mounts on the fork legs which can take more cages or other fixtures, as well rack and neat fender mounts too. As you can see, we had the bike loaded up during our testing. But then we also rode it stripped right back with just a single bottle cage fitted, and it morphed from back country beast to endurance road bike. In fact, we took this bike out in the local road bunch, and while the big tyres attracted a bit of attention we were able to hang on.
Do it all day long
As an all-day machine, the way this bike rides is tough to beat. The tall head tube gives a moderately upright riding position, the gentle slant of the hoods feels natural, the big tyres and 27.2mm post provide a little bit of forgiveness. But for all that, it’s not a sluggish ride either – the chain stays have been kept short with some clever construction so it still reacts quickly, and the head angle is relaxed but without being slow.
It’s happy when the going gets fast and rough too. When you’re in the drops, the flared handlebar puts you in a strong position – your centre of gravity spread low and wide – giving you more confidence to leave the powerful brakes alone. The Clement tyres measure up a touch wider than their claimed 40mm, and while they don’t have much in the way of knobs, they’re sturdy and we had a lot of confidence in them when the gravel got deeper.
What’s with that chain stay?
The dropped drive side chain stay on the Norco Search XR is reminiscent of the boutique Open U.P frame. It’s all about creating more clearance without resorting to long chain stays. By dropping the chain stay down low, Norco leaves room for 700x45c tyre (or 27.5 x 2.1″ mountain bike rubber should you prefer) while keeping room for mud shedding and facilitating the use of a front derailleur too. Interestingly, the Search XR uses ‘size scaled wheels’, a concept sometimes seen on 29er mountain bikes – the two smallest frame sizes are equipped with 27.5″ wheels out of the box.
I thought double rings were on the way out?
At first we saw the double chain ring setup as a negative, but we quickly realised it’s actually pretty handy having such a wide spread of gears. The Praxis cranks run sensible 32/48-tooth chain rings, and paired to an 11-34 cassette you’ve got it all covered.
We had assumed the Ultegra mech, which doesn’t have a clutch mechanism, would flap around and make a racket, but it was pretty damn quiet actually and to our surprise we never once dropped a chain. Maybe single rings aren’t the be all and end all… The shifting performance of the new Ultregra gear is silky smooth too. While SRAM are getting a lot of the attention in the gravel space, the refinement of Shimano’s offerings shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in terms of braking performance.
So you like it?
We sure do. The Search XR has been getting plenty of global attention, and after a few months of riding it, we understand why. There are options galore to suit your style, including two steel versions of this bike as well as a model that comes with 27.5″ wheels, mountain bike tyres and a dropper post. But we think this one is the pick of the bunch – at $4499 it’s a bit of a steal for such a sophisticated, well-appointed gravel weapon. Tempting, isn’t it?
Bike packing mega-adventure and pretty flower images courtesy of Josh Stephenson @joshivision
When Cannondale went back to square one and redesigned the Cannondale SuperX cyclocross weapon for 2017, the bike they created just happened to fit the bill for gravel riding too. And so Cannondale took the SuperX frame, decked it out with a gravel grinder’s wish list of components and set it free on the backroads.
It’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.
The fast end of the spectrum
In the world of gravel bikes, there’s a real spectrum of bike styles. At one end, you’ve got your long-haul truckers, bristling with mounts for bottles, fenders, bags and dynamo-powered things, with an upright riding position. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got bikes which are zippy, light, with more road bike DNA, and are better suited to day rides.
The SuperX exemplifies that more performance-oriented gravel bike – it’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.
Can a CX bike really be gravel-worthy?
You may have heard that cyclocross bikes are dramatically different to gravel bikes, and many brands have unique framesets for cyclocross versus gravel. So are Cannondale cheaping out on some frame moulds and trying to trick us into thinking that a ‘cross bike is suitable for all-day mixed terrain adventures, simply by running some oversized tan walls and some easy gears?
Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops.
Firstly, it’s worth considering the actual differences between a traditional cyclocross bike and a new school gravel bike. Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops. The current breed of cyclocross bikes have changed quite a lot in recent years, to the point where there is as much geometry variance within cyclocross bikes or gravel bikes, as there is separating the two ‘categories’. So, no, Cannondale aren’t just cheaping out!
The SuperX’s gravel makeover sees it get a bunch of simple spec changes, compared to its CX brethren. The brakes get more bite thanks to the use of 160mm rotors at both ends, reasonably aggressive 37mm tyres (WTB Riddlers, in a funky tan wall, nice), and a smaller 40-tooth chain ring paired to an 11-42 cassette for better climbing range.
About that geometry
The SuperX has frame geometry inspired by concepts that have been around in the mountain bike world for some time now; Cannondale call it Out Front geometry, but in a nutshell the idea is running a longer front end and a slightly slacker head angle, but using a fork with more offset to reduce the trail measurement. Put all the numbers into a large pot and simmer, and you get handling that is both stable at high speed (thanks to the slack angles) but still zesty at slow speed (thanks to the short trail measurement).
It works. The SuperX feels brilliant in the corners, fast or slow. With a 90mm stem fitted, it’s a confident position, and it’ll hook into a turn in neatly whether you’re on the hoods on in the drops. Thanks to the slacker head angle there’s plenty of toe clearance too, even with 40mm rubber fitted.
Given the firm overall quality, the SuperX is more comfortable than you’d expect when flying down loose fireroads too, as testament again to the good geometry mix, particularly the slack head angle.
At the other end of the bike, Cannondale have done a lot fiddling to get the rear end tight (422mm) while still keeping room for rubber up to 42mm wide. The whole rear end of the bike is offset to the right, by 6mm, to create room for the chain ring and big rubber. Of course, this then requires that the wheel be dished 6mm in the other direction. Apparently this makes for a stronger rear wheel, as the bracing angle of the spokes is more evenly matched on both sides of the wheel. But we feel it’s a pretty complicated solution, with the downside that you can’t just borrow a wheel in the event of an emergency. Other brands have been able to achieve similarly short rear ends without using custom wheel dishing (such as the Norco Search XR we’re reviewing).
Regardless, the short rear end makes it a blast to ride when things are a bit technical. It’s an easy bike to hop, wheelie or flick the rear wheel about, which is part of the appeal to us – it’s just a playful ride – and it feels incredibly responsive.
Firmer than a hospital mattress
Despite the use of Cannondale’s slender, supple 25.4mm Save seatpost, the ride is firm overall. The frame is stiff, a constant reminder that this bike’s origins lie in the one-hour of power that is CX racing, not eight hour back country grinds. If more serious gravel work is in your plans, we’d recommend putting on some 40mm tyres. There’s more than enough clearance to do so, and the extra bag makes this bike much more forgiving over a long ride.
That said, the frame stiffness is reassuring and rewarding too. When the going gets rough or fast, those big hoods of the SRAM Force 1 give you plenty to grab on to, and the bike doesn’t flinch. You feel the bike fly forward under power too, it converts your effort 100%.
And the annoyances?
We did have a few gripes. The seat post is prone to creaking, and a generous amount of carbon paste was required to silence it where it’s clamped into the frame. We also found the rear brake tricky to align to run drag free, with the SRAM brakes not offering a lot of pad clearance. The brakes do have a pretty wooden feel overall too – the power is good, but they just don’t feel great.
If you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.
Ride it off road, ride it on road
For us, the real novelty of the SuperX is the performance edge it carries. It’s a very fast gravel bike, way lighter than most – ours was under 8kg setup tubeless – and with a bit of Formula 1 pep that sets it apart. Beyond the two bottle mounts, you won’t find any other mounting points for extra cages, bags or fenders, so if you’re looking to go extra long, there are better options out there. But if you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.
The Trek Powerfly 7 FS isn’t one of those e-bikes designed to replace a shuttle van or chairlift. With 130mm travel at both ends, this bike is built as more of an all-rounder, rather than a pedal-assisted downhill weapon. Its forte is long cross-country rides, letting the generous range supplied by the Bosch motor system take you to places you’d normally avoid or put in the too-hard-too-far basket.
We knocked out rides well over 50km long and always finished with plenty of power left in the battery. Of the four modes you can run the bike in, we spent most of our time in the Tour mode, which gave plenty of assistance for a lightweight rider, though heavier riders will probably use the Sport mode more. The Turbo mode is off-the-charts powerful, and for us was more of a novelty than anything else.
Unlike the Trek Fuel, which rolls on 29er wheels, the Powerfly uses the 27.5+ format, with 2.8″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on 40mm-wide rims. With great power comes great traction responsibility.
Here I am!
Hard to miss it, hey? Subtly is not this bike’s caper – it’s got all the impact of a fire engine, in its bold red livery and with that massive down tube. The size of the tube isn’t just a product of fitting in the battery, it also provides a tremendously stiff core to the frame as well, a hallmark of the recent generation of Trek dual suspension bikes.
Look more closely and there’s a lot of finer detail to appreciate too. The smooth integration of the motor, battery and cabling is superb, and the build quality is typical Trek – top shelf. A small amount of geometry adjustment is available via the Mino Link (we ran it in the slack setting).
About that fork…
Our bone of contention with the Powerfly is the fork this bike comes with, a basic RockShox Recon Silver. It’s just not up to scratch. We get it; building an e-bike is expensive, pricepoints need to be hit. But compromising in an area like the fork doesn’t make sense to us, particularly when you’ve got the weight and momentum of an e-bike to grapple with. We ultimately fitted one of the new FOX e-bike optimised 34 forks, which let us ride the bike to its full capacity.
Trek always deliver in the rear suspension department, and the Powerfly nails it once again. We’ve ridden many an e-bike where the rear end seems to struggle a little (the extra weight of the bike, coupled with the mass of the heavy wheels perhaps), but the Powerfly is on top of the game. The rear end has a brilliant progressiveness to it, staying up in its travel nicely, saving the last 20% for the truly nasty hits.
Let’s torque about it
Bosch provide the grunty motor. There’s a tonne of low-down power here, and when you combine it with the climbing gears offered by the 46-tooth Shimano cassette, even the heaviest riders on the steepest climbs aren’t going to be left wanting for more power or gear range. Our only criticism of the Bosch system is the bulky display unit. It doesn’t need to be so big, surely, and it looks ripe for destruction sitting up there!
Longer than a wet weekend
When it comes to the handling of the Powerfly, the bike’s long chain stay play a big role. At 474mm, the Powerfly’s rear-centre measurement is one of the longest on the market, and this has both positive and negatives implications in our mind.
Climbs like Bitcoin
The biggest upside of the Powerfly’s long chain stay is the way it climbs, particularly when it’s steep and loose. Keep your butt in the saddle and the traction is exceptional, you’ll climb things that you’d never have dreamed of.
But not a playful ride
If you’re looking for an e-bike that handles just like a regular mountain bike, then this isn’t it. Getting the front wheel into the air takes plenty of body language, it prefers to stay on the ground. And when descending steep, technical terrain the long stays push your centre of gravity forward when compared to a bike with a shorter rear end.
All up then?
There’s a lot to like about this bike, so it’s a downer that the fork is below par. Finger crossed Trek take this feedback on board for future versions of this bike. While the Powerfly didn’t blow us away on tricky, technical descents, that’s not really what this bike is aimed at. It excels at exploration, long cross country rides, or hooning flat-out up and down fireroads and smooth singletrack, so if that sounds like your bag, give it a look.
As we said in our 2018 range overview, improving on the 2017 Specialized Epic was always going to be a tall order, but Specialized have pulled out all the stops. The result is a very fine race bike, built for the new generation of race tracks which demand more from riders and bikes than ever before.
At the heart of the Epic is the Brain, Specialized’s one-of-a-kind suspension platform, it sets it apart from the rest of the pack, nobody has a system like it. The Brain has stood the test of time, a testament to its effectiveness and how the cross country community has accepted it with immense popularity.
350g has been sliced out of the S-Works model Specialized Epic, and over 500g from the Expert level frame. Our medium size Epic weighs 9.58kg without pedals, very impressive! The most notable change, and one that let Specialized shed some of that weight, was the move to a flex stay system, rather than the traditional Specialized FSR link. Dropping a pivot makes for a lighter, stiffer and more durable rear end. Did we miss it? Not one bit.
The Brain… it’s a proprietary system from Specialized that aims to eliminate unwanted suspension activity, ensuring every ounce of your effort is converted into pedal power and not absorbed in the bike’s suspension – the holy grail of mountain bikes, ultimate efficiency. On paper, the Brain system seems like the perfect solution, but it’s not without its quirks.
Like the way triathletes obsess over aerodynamic performance in their equipment, top-level cross-country racers prioritise suspension efficiency and weight.
Via an inertia valve, the suspension responds to activity from the ground, not from the rider. It’s adjustable, too, in the firmest setting the bike feels totally rigid with no movement in the suspension when pushing down, only an impact from the ground in an upwards direction will activate it. The Brain is in both the RockShox SID fork and on the rear end also.
Like the way triathletes obsess over aerodynamic performance in their equipment, top-level cross-country racers prioritise suspension efficiency and weight.
For the 2018 Epic, Specialized collaborated with RockShox (previously the Brain shock was built by FOX) to develop the Brain 2.0 rear shock, a wholly revised unit that is said to react quicker to impacts for a smoother transition between open and closed. It’s a tiny little system, and worth having a closer look at its construction to appreciate the clever engineering fully.
Are your trails buff, singletrack flowing, do you dabble in gravel roads or considering entering the National XCO Series? The Specialized Epic is your tool to give back every inch off your effort in return.
Our thoughts on the Brain.
We’re not going to beat around the bush here, the Brain system polarised us and dominated most discussions about the bike. Each time we threw a leg over it, we would relish its incredible efficiency and acceleration speed, and on the other hand, we’d curse the way it punished our hands on rougher sections of the race track. We are well aware that it is built for all-out cross-country racing and not much else, and has won plenty of medals doing so, but blimey it isn’t sunshine and lollipops when the trail surface isn’t ultra-buff.
The Brain is adjustable, at both ends, but it’s not something that you can entirely turn off. The rear shock’s Brain Fade adjuster is way out of reach on the fly down behind the rear axle, the SID World Cup’s Brain Fade adjuster is on top of the right leg, easy to reach. In a perfect world we’d like to be able to turn it off with a remote somehow, but then that would detract from its incredible simplicity, argh, it’s not a perfect world, we know that ok…
Brain in the fork, do we need it?
It’s the fork that had us the most frustrated, does the Epic really need the inertia valve in the fork? Could the Epic be just as good with a conventional damper with a good range of slow speed compression?
The Brain out the back makes a lot of sense and seems to be more sensitive and faster to react that the fork. If we could have our way, we’d opt for a conventional FOX Fit 4 damper or a RockShox Charger 2 damper in the fork, with a three-stage lockout and slow speed compression adjustment.
We think preserving your hands is more valuable, so we’d forgo the Brain up the front, keeping it to the rear suspension only.
The current crop of top-end XC forks are excellent at discerning the difference between high and low-speed impacts so with a couple of dials of low-speed compression it lets you lean over the front of the bike and mash away without too much – if any – unwanted suspension bobbing. They don’t leave your hands feeling like you’ve been hi-fiving a busload of exuberant karate students.
Ok, so, we do appreciate how the Brain can make a suspension bike feel like a hardtail when you want it to but still helps you control the bike on technical sections, sure you could easily adapt and become used to it. And we unquestionably love how clean the whole system is with no remote lockout cables or clutter on the bars. But in comparison to other 100mm cross-country race bikes we have ridden, we think preserving your hands is more valuable, so we’d forgo the Brain up the front, keeping it to the rear suspension only.
Gender-neutral frame, gender-specific build.
A big point of emphasis from Specialized is that they’re moving away from women’s specific frames in 2018, and the Women’s Epic sees the end of an Era…or the Era to be more specific, the company’s previous women’s XC dual suspension offering.
Only a handful of distinctions remain between the Women’s Epic and the men’s model: a women’s front and rear suspension tune, the ladies Myth saddle (thankfully available in a less padded model on the S-Works build), a smaller 30-tooth front chainring instead of a 32, a different paint job, and that it’s only available in sizes small to large. That’s it, as far as we can tell. We were surprised to find that the stem length is the same relative to frame size, and the stock handlebar width is identical for the men’s and women’s rigs, leaving it up to the rider change the size if needed.
While both models look similar placed side by side, a standout feature for women, and any men needing a 16”/small frame size, is this is one of the only XC race bikes available at the moment with 29” wheels and space for two drink bottles. Most other major brands, with the most obvious exception being the Rocky Mountain Element, currently build their small sized, dual suspension XC bikes around 650b wheels and/or a vertical rear shock limiting space for a second biddon.
The mono-bottled Giant Anthem 29 is available in a small size, but the company’s brand for women, Liv, only offer the equivalent Pique in 650b. Trek’s Fuel EX 29 also fits one bottle and is only available in sizes 17.5” and above. This makes the Epic a desirable option for riders with marathon or stage racing aims, who prefer bigger, faster rolling wheels and onboard hydration to smaller rubber and a non-negotiable hydration pack.
Enough Brain and gender chit-chat, how does the Epic ride?
A big focus on the new Epic was to improve its steering and handling. In our experience, this Epic has to be one of the best handling 100mm travel 29ers available. For a bike so light and fast up the climbs, it manages the descents way better than it should. It first became apparent when we took on a series of switchback turns downhill, where turning so hard and using the front brake, we’d expect a sharp-angled race bike to understeer and dive, but it felt quite the opposite. We were able to truly haul ass into corners leaning right over the front of the bike to carve through the turns with astonishing speed.
In our experience, this Epic has to be one of the best handling 100mm travel 29ers available.
There is so much room to move too, the wide bars and roomy top tube means there is a lot of bike in front of you and a strong position to brace yourself with, for those moments when you want to lay off the brakes and milk the terrain for more speed.
The head tube is super-short, too, that will please even the meanest racer with a low handlebar height. And for 2018 the Epic took one step away from the traditionally narrow handlebars and tyres found on cross-country race bikes, so we found ourselves sitting pretty comfortably on the type of bike that would historically be hard to spend more than a couple hours in the saddle on.
Dial the Brain Fade adjuster towards the firmer end of the spectrum, and you are presented with a suspension bike that pedals like a hardtail; we’re not talking crap here, there is no hint of any energy-sapping bounce or wallowing, it’s full steam ahead with each pedal stroke. That feeling is absolutely fantastic. There’s no need to lock or unlock your suspension or risk forgetting about it and drop into a downhill with your suspension still locked accidentally.
There’s no need to lock or unlock your suspension, or risk forgetting about it and drop into a downhill with your suspension still locked accidentally.
Despite its perfect finish, we were surprised to find the Epic quite noisy on the rougher descents, though, the super-large and stiff chainstay’s proximity to the chain was the cause of chain slap and even paint chips on the frame behind the rubber guard. If it were our own, we’d be experimenting with adding more rubber protection in that particular area.
Sleek, slick, sexy.
Aesthetically the Epic is an elegant bike to look at, Specialized value clean bikes and this new steed is about as slick as they come. With only three cables going up to the bars, and the Brain’s hose travelling very neatly through the little suspension linkage, it’s a bike that will please the most finicky purists with its ultimate cleanliness and simplicity.
There are provisions for a dropper post, too, with internal routing and we can imagine plenty of riders will take up this option to further expand this bike’s spectrum of use.
With only three cables going up to the bars, it’s a bike that will please the most finicky purists with its ultimate cleanliness and simplicity.
The black and white paint job is kinda bland in our opinion, the lower spec and women’s Epic models are way flashier, but that’s just our taste, it does look smart. We do like the way it keeps the logo branding to a minimum, and it’s actually hard to find the word Specialized in many places anywhere on the bike and parts. But keep an eye on the wheels, the stickers were peeling in multiple places with our bike, quite unexpected considering how meticulously well-finished everything else is.
All the good parts. All of them.
It’s an S-Works, there is no expecting anything else but the absolute best, especially for $12500. Like most Specialized bikes, there are more in-house components than not, with only the brakes and drivetrain that you’d find on other brand bikes. This kit is supreme, from the carbon wheels right down to the grips. There’s so much carbon in this bike; if it were ever exposed to fire, only a small handful of shiny bits would be leftover.
The SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain scores a fat ten out of ten from us; we have a set on our long-term test bike, it’s a system as close to perfect as we’ve ever experienced. The SRAM Level Ultimate brakes are also a great option for XC racing.
The Fast Track tyres have significant volume and a very supple casing, so when we are really hooking into a turn, they track the ground and conform to the surfaces providing exceptional traction on hard and dry trails. We’d keep a front tyre with a deeper, more open tread pattern on hand for wetter or softer surfaces, just to be sure.
What parts would we change if we were to take it racing? Nothing. But, there’s racing and then there’s riding. If it were ours to keep, we’d look into fitting a regular RockShox Charger 2 damper in the fork, and a dropper post, to make it a bit more friendly on rougher trails.
Are you up for it?
The Epic is a high-end bike that will suit a high-end rider. While they have made considerable improvements to the way the bike handles rougher terrain and therefore widening its scope, there is still no ignoring the fact that it’s designed to race, and that’s what it does so well. Racing a few times a year, but spend the majority of riding time enjoying the trails with friends? Then don’t rule out the Specialized Camber as a worthy option, which uses a traditional fork and shock in the super-supple and efficient FSR suspension design.
Are your trails buff, singletrack flowing, do you dabble in gravel roads or considering entering the National XCO Series? The Epic is your tool to give back every inch off your effort in return.
This bike is seriously impressive, it rips through singletrack way faster than it should for a bike that climbs so well. While we didn’t love the Brain entirely on all race tracks we tested it on, we appreciate the way it is as close as it gets to the ultimate efficiency in a simple and user-friendly manner. It’s smart engineering too, and the latest iteration is better than the past, but we just aren’t sold in the system in the forks, but we know that sentiment comes from our particular taste of how we like the suspension to behave.
The price? Yes, $12500 is about as expensive as it gets, no doubt about that. Poor value in comparison to other big brands? Yes, though it’s not hard to see how much they have worked to improve an already excellent bike, and there is no stone unturned when it comes to the best parts, and it’s 9.58kg, remember!
You’d be mad not to consider the Epic if you’re serious about racing, it’s seriously fast.
Some brands just ooze excitement and desirability. Yeti, Santa Cruz, Cannondale, Mongoose (ok, not Mongoose)…. We think it’s fair to say that Merida does not have the same sex appeal. While the brand’s image is drier than the silica sachets you get in your tortilla packet, the bikes are generally incredibly good, and very decent value as well. The new Merida One-Forty 800 certainly gives the old cage a rattle – it’s a genuine contender as the best trail bike we’ve ridden at this price point.
No mess, no fuss.
There’s a nice utilitarianism to this bike. It’s 100% alloy, no carbon anywhere, and the frame layout is clean and robust. All the cables are managed securely, using chunky alloy clamps to hold them tight where they enter the frame. You can fit a water bottle too (though it is tight on a medium sized frame). We wouldn’t call it a ‘no-frills’ bike, but it’s very purposeful in its build. We think that’ll appeal to a lot of riders.
Bottomless, and in a hurry.
The One-Forty is built on the same Float Link suspension design found on the One-Twenty and One-Sixty platforms. It’s a very good system – the suspension feels bottomless, like there’s more than the 140mm travel, and it carries speed exceptionally well. That was a real highlight of this bike’s performance, it just didn’t get caught up or bogged down in the rough.
The grip to back it up.
We think it’s fair to say that the Plus-sized format is going to die a death pretty soon (excluding on hardtails and some e-bikes). In its place, we’re starting to see a lot of 2.6″ rubber, which delivers a better balance of grip, stability and durability than 2.8″ or 3.0″ Plus rubber.
The Maxxis combo found on the One-Forty, with the wide 30mm rims, is a pearler. There’s a huge amount of braking, cornering and climbing grip on tap.
And the geometry to rip.
We love the geometry of this bike. The head angle is the 66.3-degrees, which is slacker than most of its direct competition, and the chain stays are short. It’s precise and jumps like a champ, but still very confident when you point it down those tech sections that want to stop your front wheel dead and shoot you out the front door. The reach measurements aren’t overly long, so if you’re sitting on the borderline between sizes we’d suggest going larger rather than smaller.
Perhaps the only downside to this bike is the very low bottom bracket, which saw us clipping pedals more than usual, especially when climbing. The flipside is that the low centre of gravity gives you a nice feeling of being ‘in’ the bike, rather than on top of it.
On-point spec choices.
It’s fantastic to see SRAM Eagle appearing on bikes at attainable price points now! Big points to Merida for going with Eagle – the 500% gear range and quiet performance makes this groupset a winner. SRAM’s whopping four-piston Code brakes might seem like overkill, but they give a good of signal this bike’s descending capabilities and they’re very powerful.
From the moment we first saw this bike, at the Merida dealer show last year, we knew we’d enjoy our time on it. It just looked right – the right angles, the right components, at the right prices. It’s nice to know our gut instinct about this bike was correct: it’s a bloody hoot to ride.
If you’re looking for a tool to dismantle the trickiest trails, and you don’t have bundles of cash to throw around, then this bike should be right up there on your test-ride list. Merida, hey? Who’d have though it?!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
What are we aiming to do here?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pedalling performance was a surprise standout element for us too – it’s a really stable pedalling bike.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What model did we ride?
We tested the Spectral CF 9.0 SL model on the simply stunning Madeiran singletrack.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!).
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.