Review | The 2020 GT Force 29 Expert Is A Rock-Devouring Monster

Dan MacMunn Reviews The 2020 GT Force 29 Expert

GT as a brand has always been a bit special for me. One of the first bikes I owned, certainly my first dual suspension bike, back in the 90’s was a GT RTS – one of the original dual suspension mountain bikes. That raw alloy beast, with 2.2in (!) of rear wheel travel, was my pride and joy. And I remember watching trackside as Nico Vouilloz, who was pretty much God to my 13-year-old self, crushed a dusty Cairns World Champs course back in ’96 aboard a red Boxxer-equipped GT LTS. Later in the 90’s, blue and yellow posters of the GT racing team adorned my bedroom wall. Back then, as far as I and many others were concerned, a GT was THE mountain bike brand to have.

2020 gt force 29 expert lts suspension
GT is done with whacky suspension designs, favouring a more pragmatic approach to its full suspension line.

The Return Of LTS

Part of GT’s allure was that the engineers have always seemed unafraid to think outside the box. They’ve had many weird and wonderful ideas over the years, including thermoplastic frames, gearbox DH bikes, pull-shock suspension systems, and in more recent years, the iconic i-Drive suspension design.

That all changed in 2018 though, when GT unveiled the new generation Sensor, Force & Fury models. Gone was the unique floating-BB suspension linkage of the previous AOS platform, and in its place was a more conventional four-bar arrangement. Utilising a Horst link chain stay pivot, this simpler layout heralded a return to GT’s LTS (Linkage Tuned Suspension) design. Well, in name at least. To begin with, the LTS platform was brought out on the Sensor (the 130mm 29er trail bike) and the Force (the 150mm travel 27.5in enduro race bike). A year later, GT launched this bike here – the Force 29.

2020 GT Force 29 Expert
The Force 29 is the newest mountain bike from GT.

Big Wheel Forces

The 2020 GT Force 29 is essentially a scaled-up version of GT’s race-winning enduro bike, albeit with a few key differences. While it also features 150mm of rear wheel travel, GT has plugged in a bigger 170mm travel fork up front, slackened out the head angle, increased the reach and steepened the seat tube angle to bring it up to speed with the competition. And with the “All Mountain” tagline, the Force 29 sits alongside other bikes such as the Giant Reign 29er, Canyon Strive and Norco Sight in its intended use.

There are two Force 29 models available, and both utilise the same hydroformed alloy frame. The top model is the Force 29 Pro, which sells for $6,499. The Expert we have here is the cheaper of the two, and for $4,999 its spec possesses plenty of value for money. More on that in a bit.

2020 gt force 29 expert
There’s 150mm of travel at the back, with a welded rocker link driving a trunnion-mounted Fox Float DPX2 rear shock.

What Makes It Special?

With its eye-pleasing Aqua colour, bold but not retina burning, the robust alloy frame utilises a four-bar suspension design with a trunnion-style metric shock. A flip-chip in the lower shock mount is there to raise or lower the BB height by 7mm, in turn influencing the seat and head angles by half a degree each.

In the ‘Low’ geometry position, the Force 29 has a slack 64.6° head angle, a pretty steep 76.6° seat tube angle, and a BB height of 349mm. It’s more modern than the 27.5in Force, and sits favourably alongside the competition.

The burly linkage and rear stays allow for loads of clearance for those muddy rides, even with the high-volume 2.4WT Maxxis Minion DHR II on the back. Of course there’s a tapered head tube, ISCG tabs and a threaded BB – all standard fare these days. Cables are neatly routed externally along the top of the downtube, and the frame design also allows for a water bottle, a big plus for many riders.

2020 gt force 29 expert fox 36 float performance grip
GT has given the Force 29 a slack 64.6° head angle and a hulking 170mm travel fork.

What’s It Wearing?

Despite being the cheaper of the two Force 29 models, the Expert comes locked and loaded with an enduro-ready outfit. Suspension duties are taken care of by a solid-performing Fox 36 fork, which provides a nice supple feel off the top and good mid-stroke support. The Fox DPX2 shock was also impressive, with excellent small bump compliance thanks to its large volume EVOL air spring.

GT has spec’d the popular Maxxis Minion tyre combo, albeit with tougher and heavier EXO+ casings – a great choice for a big hitter like the Force 29. The Stan’s NoTubes Flow S1 wheels are a suitably tough addition, with a durable eyeleted construction and tubeless compatibility out of the box.

While we’re more used to seeing Shimano and SRAM brakes spec’d on stock bikes, TRP’s G-Spec Trail stoppers are a great addition. The tool-free reach adjuster is easy to use, and the drilled lever blades have a nice positive shape. On the trail they have excellent feel, and the 4-piston callipers and large rotors ensure there’s plenty of power to slow down the big alloy beast.

And boy is there a lot to slow down. Our Large size test bike, with inner tubes but without pedals, tips the scales at 16.64kg. That’s a whole lot of bike!

2020 gt force 29 expert
The Force 29 Expert sells for $4,999. For an extra $1500 you can upgrade to lighter wheels, an X2 shock and GRIP2 fork on the $6,499 Pro model.

2020 GT Force 29 Expert Specs

  • Frame | Aluminium Alloy, LTS Suspension Design, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float, Performance Series, GRIP Damper, 44mm Offset, 170mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPX2, Performance Series, 185x55mm
  • Wheels | Formula Hubs & Stan’s NoTubes Flow S1 32H Rims, 29mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHF EXO+ 3C Maxx Terra 2.5WT Front & DHR II EXO+ 3C Maxx Terra 2.4WT Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 w/Descendent 30T Crankset & 11-50T Cassette
  • Brakes | TRP G-Spec Trail S 4-Piston w/203mm Front & 180mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar | Spank Oozy 780 Trail, 30mm Rise, 780mm Wide
  • Stem | GT Alloy, 45mm Long
  • Grips | GT Statement2 Double Lock-On
  • Seatpost | GT Dropkick, 31.6mm Diameter, Travel: 125mm (SM, MD) 150mm (LG, XL)
  • Saddle | Fabric Scoop Shallow, Steel Rails
  • Size Tested | Large
  • Confirmed Weight | 16.64kg
  • RRP | $4,999
2020 gt force 29 expert dropkick dropper post
The Dropkick post was a surprise performer. We just wish it had a bit more travel on the Large frame size.

How’d You Set It Up?

There are four frame sizes available in the Force 29, with reach sensibly growing in 25mm increments from 420mm to 495mm. At 183cm tall I tested the size Large, and with a 470mm reach, it was a good fit and slightly longer than my personal 2019 Specialized Enduro 29er. However, I would have preferred a 175mm dropper post given that there’s room for it.

A sag range sticker on the frame made setting up the rear shock easy. GT recommends a minimum of 22% sag (12.6mm) and a maximum of 28% (15.4mm). At 83kg, I ended up with 190psi in the shock, which put me closer to 22% sag. It’s worth noting that the stock rebound tune is quite light, so I ended up with the dial set to the slowest position to keep the back tyre stuck to the ground. If you wanted slower damping again, you’d need to look a custom tune.

2020 gt force 29 expert
See the gold chip in the lower shock mount? You can flip that 180° to lift the BB height and steepen the angles a touch.

The fork was setup as per Fox’s recommendations with 80psi in the air spring. From there it was just adjusting the stem height and saddle height and the big Force 29 was good to go.

Out of curiosity, I did ‘flip the chip’ for a ride on the GT. It is a nice little feature to have, and it’s also a quick 30-second job that you can perform trailside. However, the High position made the seat angle feel a little too steep, almost like it was pitching me forwards when riding seated. Your results may differ depending on your terrain, and those who find themselves clipping pedals regularly will likely appreciate the extra BB clearance from that High position. Experiment completed, I flipped it back into Low and left it there for the remainder of the test.

2020 gt force 29 expert dan macmunn bendigo
The Force 29 gobbles up rocky high-speed descents with a fierce appetite.
2020 gt force 29 expert bendigo dan macmunn
The geometry on this bike is spot-on, and the tough back end ensures it tracks confidently through the turns.

What Does It Do Well?

With its slack head angle, big fork and sturdy alloy frame, the Force 29 feels composed and balanced on steeper and more chundery terrain. The suspension platform is very active and worked well in soaking up big and small hits alike, the weightiness of the bike actually helped to ground the bike and keep it from getting pushed off line. Thanks to the supple Fox suspension and roomy frame, the Force 29 felt balanced from to back. The 442mm chainstay length is neither overly long nor overly short, though the beefy tubing ensures that the rear wheel tracking is direct and responsive. Coupled with the Maxxis tyres, it absolutely rips around faster and more open corners. Tighter switchbacks were best tackled with the old set up wide as possible approach though, where the long wheelbase is more apparent.

Again because of that 16.64kg mass, it felt really stable in the air, the suspension being quite forgiving if one goes a bit short or long. If you are the kind of rider who is happy to plod away on the climbs, or does the odd shuttle day to get to the good stuff, this bike is ready to have A LOT of fun coming down.

2020 gt force 29 expert bendigo dan macmunn rocks
At 16.64kg, the Force 29 Expert is a lot of bike to get uphill, and its slack front-end takes some management on steeper pinches.

What Does It Struggle With?

There is no getting around the fact that this bike is heavy. Like real heavy. As you’d expect, it is hard work up the climbs, and the slack front end does lighten up a lot on steeper pinches. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting. The steep seat tube angle helps to put you in a good forward position, and combined with the low gearing, Minion DHR II rear tyre and active suspension, there is good traction on techy climbs. You’ll need good legs in the first place though, and there’s no doubt that you’ll be improving your climbing fitness.

On flatter train where you have to pedal out of the corners, the Force 29 can feel quite lethargic and uninspired – a direct result of the bike’s sheer weight, length and active suspension. Getting all of that mass moving requires a bit of energy, and some body English is needed to lift and unweight the bike through flatter technical sections.

2020 gt force 29 expert bendigo dan macmunn rocks
The supple Fox suspension package and sticky Maxxis EXO+ tyres keep the Force 29 on track even when the trail is doing its best to knock you off.
2020 gt force 29 expert bendigo dan macmunn
And while you do feel the weight on the climbs, it helps the big GT to keep its momentum on the descents. Such a big brawler!

Component Highs & Lows

It is always great when a frame can hold a water bottle, although I noticed the screws to hold the cable guides to the frame weren’t actually long enough to accommodate the cage. By no means a big issue, but a small detail that prospective owners really shouldn’t have to think about.

The minimalist chainstay protector is too minimalist, in that it doesn’t provide enough coverage towards the rear of the chainstay, I did notice quite a lot of noisy chain slap through rough terrain, especially when lower down in the cluster. This is evident in the paint chips on the chunky chainstay pivot that you’ll see in the photos below. Some creativity with a bit of 3M mastic tape should be able to minimise this problem, but again, this isn’t a problem we should be expecting of a mountain bike in 2020, especially when the likes of Specialized and Santa Cruz have this absolutely nailed already.

While the wheels are tubeless compatible, and the Stan’s NoTubes rims come ready taped, there weren’t any valves included in the box. Once I added my own, it was super easy to set the tyres up tubeless armed only with a floor pump, which was nice. There is nothing worse that wrestling with a tubeless conversion on your new bike day. As for the wheels and tyres themselves, I had no durability issues to speak of. They’re not particularly sexy, but the alloy Stan’s rims can take an absolute battering. And the EXO+ tyre casings are significantly more durable than the regular EXO model.

The SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain was a solid performer, and coupled with a 30T chainring has plenty of usable range. I did find the main bolt that connects the mech body to the derailleur hanger to work its way loose a few times over the test period. I have noticed this issue on a few SRAM mechs, so it’s something to keep in mind.

2020 gt force 29 expert maxxis minion dhr ii exo+ tyre
The stock wheels and tyres have stood up to some serious abuse, and they’re a great choice for a gnar-hungry bike like the Force 29.

GT’s own branded stem was visually pretty chunky and reminded me of a BMX stem, but it did the job. I did not get along with the GT branded grips though, which were super hard and gave my hands a beating. If you ride with your palms on the outer limits of the grips like I do, the outboard lock ring will add to that discomfort. I subbed in a pair of Specialized SIP grips that were vastly more comfy.

The only other GT branded component on the bike was the dropper seatpost. Despite the negative connotation of the Dropkick name, it was really impressive. It has a great action and worked flawlessly over the test period, with no play at the saddle whatsoever. Even the paddle at the lever is well-shaped and easy on the thumb, and the two bolt head was solid, easy-to-adjust and creak-free throughout testing.

2020 gt force 29 expert
The Force 29 is a big ol’ bike, but if you’ve got a penchant for high-speed descending, this bike delivers in spades.

Flow’s Final Word

GT’s Force 29 is not for everyone or everywhere. If the trails you mostly ride are on flatter, smoother terrain, you will really feel this bikes heft, of which there is much. And if you’re KOM-hunting climbing segments, then this is obviously not the bike for you. With all that bulk but a nice upright position, climbing to the top of said trails is an art in patience rather than pace. But hey, you will get strong doing so!

For those who are all about the descents, the steeper and rowdier the better, then you’ll be able to reap the many benefits of this composed, well-balanced and solid machine. It’s great in the air, is composed in the rough and rips corners. It comes with a sturdy and well thought out spec at a great price point, making it a great choice for those who are considering dabbling in some enduro racing.

So, is GT bringing back the cool factor that made the brand so desirable back when I was a pup? No, I don’t think so. Not when there are companies out there like UNNO, Pole, Hope, Forbidden, Geometron and Atherton Bikes, who are all pushing the envelope when it comes to geometry, suspension designs and exotically-manufactured frames. But that’s no bad thing. Here, GT’s more pragmatic approach has resulted in a solid, no-nonsense performer that is heaps of fun to ride and has also proven at the highest level of the sport. And that is far more valuable to the ride experience than any whacky suspension design.

2020 gt force 29 expert bendigo dan macmunn
GT might not have the desirability that it used to all those years ago, but we’re not so sure that’s a bad thing – this Force 29 is rock-solid.

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Review | Business Shoes For Your Party Bike

Mick Reviews The Giant XCR 0 & TRX 0 Carbon Wheels

Ask any experienced rider about the best upgrade you can make to your mountain bike, and nine times out of ten they’ll say the wheels. That’s because a quality set of wheels can make the difference between a bike that rides well, and a bike that rides like a magic carpet.

giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels mick
Looking to upgrade your mountain bike? The first area you should look at is the wheelset.

As a key rotational component on your bike, your wheels are constantly accelerating and decelerating. This means that any change in mass – particularly at the rim – is much more noticeable than if you were to save that weight elsewhere on your bike, like on the frame. Drop a hundred grams with some lighter rims, and you’ll notice it, guaranteed.

Wheels are important in other ways too though. As well as being connected to your drivetrain, wheels are also intrinsically linked to your bike’s braking and steering systems. They help to translate steering inputs from your grips, while also ensuring the whole bike tracks accurately through high-speed berms and down gnarly rock gardens. How stiff or compliant your wheels are, will have a significant impact on the overall handling of your bike.

Of course, many mountain bikers will already know all of this. But what if you looked at wheels not just as an upgrade for your trail bike, but a way of turning it into two-bikes-in-one? Why not consider as an alternative to an upgrade, but an additional set altogether?

giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels
Our Giant Trance 29 long term test bike came equipped with the TRX 0 carbon wheelset as stock equipment.

Switching Up Our Giant Trance 29 Long Termer

I’ve been razzing about on a Giant Trance Advanced Pro 29 0 for a year now, and have thoroughly enjoyed just how much fun this pint-sized 29er ripper is. The bike comes spec’d with Giant’s own TRX 0 wheels, which use hookless carbon fibre rims that come wrapped with a sticky Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II tyre combo. The wheels have been absolutely rock-solid over the past 12 months, showing absolutely no signs of the punishment they’ve had inflicted on them. And they’ve had a lot!

Not long ago, we received a standalone wheelset from Giant called the XCR 0 – a lighter and skinnier version of the wheels that come standard on the Trance 29. To test out these lightweight hoops, I decided to strap them onto the Trance 29 along with some faster-rolling XC rubber. The difference was huge. Not only where the wheels significantly faster, but just a simple wheel swap completely changed the whole bike’s personality.

Before we dive down that rabbit hole though, let’s take a closer look at those wheels.

giant trx 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels
Giant offers two aftermarket carbon wheelsets: the TRX (Trail) and the XCR (XC).

TRX vs XCR – What’s The Difference?

Giant has been making its own wheels for a few years now, but it’s gone hard this year with a complete overhaul of its off-road wheel range.

Giant splits its aftermarket off-road wheelsets into two categories; Trail (TRX) and Cross-Country (XCR). The TRX wheels are designed to be tougher, wider and better suited to aggressive 2.3-2.6in wide tyres, so so you’ll see them spec’d on bikes like the Trance and Reign. In comparison, the XCR wheels are lighter, skinnier and optimised for 2.0-2.3in tyres, and come as stock equipment on Anthem and XTC models.

giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels
The DT Swiss hubs are beautifully machined and specifically developed for Giant’s DBL lacing technique.

What Are They Built With?

Both wheelsets are built with 28 straight-pull Sapim Super spokes with Giant’s ‘Dynamic Balanced Lacing’ technique, and roll on DT Swiss 240 hubs with the ubiquitous Star Ratchet freehub mechanism. Because of this, you can set them up with a SRAM XD freehub body, a Shimano HG body, or the new MicroSpline freehub to accommodate Shimano’s new 12-speed cassettes.

The main difference between the two wheelsets is in the rims. The TRX gets a wider and bulkier carbon fibre rim that measures a substantial 37mm externally, with a 30mm inner width. This is for strength and to support fatter tyres up to 2.6in wide.

giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels
The Giant TRX wheels are designed for trail riding and are best suited to tyres from 2.3-2.6in wide.

The XCR uses narrower carbon rims that measure 31mm externally, with a 25mm inner width. As well as being lighter, this skinnier rim is better suited to narrower XC race tyres up to about 2.3in.

With the skinnier rims, the XCR wheels are quite a bit lighter. According to Giant, the XCR 0 wheelset is claimed to weigh just 1487g, whereas the TRX 0 is 1662g. That’s close to 200g in rotational weight, which in the world of wheels, is a whole lot.

giant xcr 0 carbon wheels
In comparison, the skinnier and lighter XCR rims are better suited to 2.0-2.3in wide tyres.

Stronger And More Compliant Hookless Rims

Both rims are fairly shallow with a 25.8mm depth, and they use a tubeless ready profile with hookless beads. This is the biggest change over the pre-2019 carbon wheels from Giant, which were deeper and pointier in their profile, with a more complicated hooked profile that saw the bead hooks post-machined after the rims came out of the oven.

As well as being a lot easier to manufacture, the new hookless profile also results in a stronger rim with vastly thicker bead books and more uninterrupted fibres. The blunt, rounded profile also supposedly makes them more compliant radially to improve comfort.

Going deeper inside the rim, Giant has also reinforced each of the spoke holes with additional layers of carbon fibre. This isn’t unlike the Santa Cruz Reserve carbon rims, except in this case, the bumpy bits are tucked away out of view on the inside of the rim. While more challenging to mould, the thicker carbon fibre provides more strength without adding too much weight.

giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels
Both carbon rims have a relatively blunt and shallow profile, which helps to improve radial compliance for a smoother ride. It works too – these are comfortable riding carbon wheels.

Carbon For Less Monies

Giant also offers both of these wheelsets in a cheaper version that uses exactly the same hookless carbon fibre rims, but down-specs to Sapim Laser spokes and DT Swiss 360 hubs with a 3-pawl freehub mechanism.

Weights increase, but the price comes down significantly; $1,498 for the TRX 1, and $1,398 for the XCR 1. That makes them some of the best value carbon wheels going from any of the big brands.

giant trance 29 1 trx 1 xcr 0 carbon wheels
Giant also makes a cheaper TRX 1 wheelset that you’ll see spec’d on specific Trance models.
2019 giant trance 29 1 trx 1 carbon wheels
The carbon rims are exactly the same on the TRX 1 and TRX 0 wheelset – the difference is in the spokes and hubs.

Two Bikes In One

But back to our Trance 29 test bike.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve had zero complaints from the stock TRX 0 wheels and the 2.3in wide Maxxis Minion tyres. Giant has spec’d a DHF on the front and a DHR II on the rear, and both use the high quality 3C triple rubber compound for added cornering stick with a faster-rolling centre tread. They’re a terrific tyre choice for an enthusiastic and tech-hungry trail bike like the Trance 29.

Having had my eye on tackling some local club races and longer stage-based events though, I decided to fit the XCR 0 wheels to see if I could add a little more speed and rolling efficiency, without having to get my hands on a whole new XC bike. I setup the XCR 0 wheels with a pair of 2.2/2.3in wide Maxxis Rekon Race tyres – significantly faster and lighter rubber compared to the stock Minions.

giant xcr vs trx carbon wheels maxxis minion ardent race
Mick also threw on a set of faster Maxxis Rekon Race tyres onto the XCR 0 wheels (right).
giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels mick
Lightweight hoops and XC tyres on a speed-hungry trail bike? Yes, please! This thing is a barrel-load of laughs!

The difference from the get-go was huge. The Trance 29 wound up to speed so much quicker, with a snappier response at the pedals. Once up to speed, the fast-rolling Rekon Race tyres kept me hovering along with significantly less drag. For an hour and a half of XC racing, that difference is enormously beneficial.

However, I was also crashing faster too. Having taken away some of the grip level, it did take me a few turns to readjust my braking points and technique. That was more challenging than it sounds, since the Trance 29 loves letting it all hang out on the descents.

That said, unlike hopping onto an XC bike for racing duties, I was still aboard my daily driver. I know the Trance 29 really well. I know its turning character, its weight distribution, and the riding position is both familiar and comfortable. Since I wasn’t having to completely recalibrate to a whole new bike, all I had to do was manage my speed a little more concertedly. Even still, it was kind of fun slipping and sliding around.

Having these two wheelsets opened up my eyes to the potential versatility you can squeeze out of the one bike. In some ways it’s a bit like wearing a pair of hiking boots versus a pair of trail running shoes. It’s still your feet, but the way you connect to the terrain is different, and that affords two unique experiences.

Can a 120-150mm travel trail bike do an xc race? Sure, of course! But a dedicated narrow and lighter weight wheel setup makes a huge difference.

Flow’s Final Word

If you’ve got a tax return burning a hole in your wallet, don’t go straight to carbon bars and a Kashima suspension fork – take a closer look at a second, lighter pair of wheels instead. You’ll potentially make a bigger impact on your trail bike’s ride quality, and if you go for something light and zippy like these XCR 0 wheels, you might just end up with a whole new riding experience.

No, it isn’t quite like being on a full-blown XC race bike, but the result of fitting the lighter wheelset and skinnier tyres took me about 80% of the way there, and for vastly less money. If you take your XC racing seriously, sure, you’ll no doubt want the specific tool for the job. For everyone else who owns an everyday trail bike and wants to be a little more competitive across half a dozen events over a year though, a lightweight wheelset and some speedy tyres is a very worthy option to give you two-bikes-in-one.

giant trance advanced pro 29 0 xcr 0 carbon wheels
Own a trail bike but have a few upcoming races on the calendar? Adding a lightweight set of wheels and tyres to the garage is a relatively easy and cheap alternative to investing in a whole new XC bike.

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

First Ride | 2020 Santa Cruz Heckler CC R

Mick Reviews The New Santa Cruz Heckler e-MTB

In one of the most highly anticipated releases for 2020, Santa Cruz has finally joined the e-Party with its first ever electric mountain bike. That’s right folks, Santa Cruz has an e-MTB! And holy mackerel is this one an absolute doozy. For those who had guessed otherwise, thankfully those hip Californians decided not to call it the e-Bronson. Instead, they revived a classic name from the Santa Cruz archives; the Heckler.

A Santa Cruz mountain bike won’t usually shy away from the camera, the clean lines, simple aesthetics and quality finish make for very desirable bikes.
Little ripper! 27.5″ wheels, tight geometry and supportive suspension for the win.

Watch our video on the Santa Cruz Heckler here!

  • 0:22 – Why it is big news?
  • 0:57 – Bringing back the name; Heckler
  • 1:39 – Modelled off the Santa Cruz Bronson, vital specs
  • 2:00 – Frame construction highlights
  • 3:05 – Shimano E8000 motor and 504W/hr battery overview
  • 3:35 – Battery removal process
  • 4:17 – Model overview, four options
  • 4:40 – Five frame sizes
  • 5:10 – Australian pricing
  • 5:56 – The Heckler CC R we’ve been testing, weight and spec overview
  • 7:06 – Ride review, highlights and lowlights
  • 7:53 – Wheel size discussion
  • 8:34 – Lower-link VPP suspension design
  • 9:00 – Alternate option comparison
  • 9:59 – Pricing discussion
  • 11:21 – Why Shimano? Power delivery, noise and RPM impressions
  • 13:00 – Conclusion

Nope, there are very few similarities with the old Heckler. But the new Heckler does share a lot in common with its naturally aspirated counterpart, the Bronson.

They’re both equipped with 27.5in wheels, a 160mm travel fork, and 150mm of rear wheel travel. Santa Cruz has also engineered the Heckler around the lower link VPP suspension layout, which sees the rear shock placed low down in the frame and driven by the lower linkage. It’s an impressively engineered part of the chassis, particularly when you factor in the short chainstays and water bottle clearance inside the mainframe.

For more detail about the bike’s build, background, features and a range overview, check out our first-look story on the Santa Cruz Heckler here.

Chalk and cheese, the new and old heckler are world’s apart, but we dig the name revival.
Lower-link VPP gives the Heckler proper pop.

You can see the strong resemblance to the current Bronson with the new Heckler below.

Santa Cruz has chosen to build the Heckler around the proven Shimano STEPS E8000 motor, which is powered by a 504Wh battery pack that clips into the underside of the downtube. A 4mm hex key is all you need to unlock the battery from the frame, and the battery pack is armoured with a thick carbon fibre plate that is made from the same structural carbon as the rest of the frame.

Shimano in the belly, with a Steps E8000 motor and battery, a system that may be a little antiquated but still holds its own, just.

What’s It Wearing?

For 2020, Santa Cruz is offering up two colours and four spec levels available in the Heckler lineup. All models are built around the same CC carbon fibre frame and Shimano power plant, with Aussie prices ranging from $12,999 to $19,999. You weren’t expecting a Santa Cruz e-MTB to be cheap, were you?

All Heckler models are made from the fancy stuff; CC.

For the past week, we’ve been riding the ‘entry level’ model of the range; the Heckler CC with the R build. Like the more expensive models, you’re getting a Super Deluxe piggyback shock, a 1×12 drivetrain, and big 4-pot SRAM brakes with 200mm rotors. You also get aggressive 2.6in wide Maxxis Minion DHR II tyres, though there is room to fit up to a 2.8in tyre in the Heckler’s frame.

2020 Santa Cruz Heckler CC R

  • Frame | CC Carbon Fibre, VPP Suspension Design, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Yari RC, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Super Deluxe Select
  • Drive Unit | Shimano STEPS E8000, 70Nm (250W)
  • Battery | Shimano E8035, 504Wh
  • Wheels | WTB ST i29 TCS 2.0 Rims w/SRAM MTH 746 Hubs
  • Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO+ 3C Maxx Terra, 27.5×2.6in
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 w/Single-Click Shifter, Shimano M8050 165mm Crank Arms, & 11-50T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Guide RE w/200mm Rotors
  • Bar | Race Face Aeffect R, 25mm Rise, 800mm Wide
  • Stem | Race Race Aeffect R, 50mm Length
  • Seatpost | Race Face Aeffect Dropper, Travel: 125-175mm (Size Dependent)
  • Available Sizes | S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Confirmed Weight | 21.54kg (Large)
  • RRP | $12,999

Geometry & Fit

Given the Bronson’s successful handling recipe, Santa Cruz hasn’t strayed too far with the Heckler. The head angle is almost identical at 65.5°, though the seat angle is a lick steeper at 76°, and the reach is slightly longer too. Every frame size is equipped with an 800mm wide riser bar and a 50mm long stem.

One interesting note on geometry is that the Heckler has an XX-Large size option. Given how expensive the carbon moulds are in the first place, it’s a significant investment for Santa Cruz to produce five frame sizes, when other brands are only making four, or sometimes just three. It’s great to see a more comprehensive size range with more options for more riders, though we reckon this is also a clear sign that Santa Cruz is anticipating this to be a very popular model.

The black paint job does a remarkable job of ‘thinning’ out the Heckler’s appearance.

Also of note is the lack of adjustable geometry. This differs to models such as the Tallboy and Megatower, which feature a high/low flip-chip at the rear shock mount along with adjustable chainstays. There are no such features on the Heckler, which no doubt saves on manufacturing costs, but also keeps things clean and simple. And perhaps Santa Cruz is anticipating a different type of rider who’ll be attracted to the Heckler?

santa cruz heckler cc geometry

Handling the Heckler

With the inherent weight from a battery and motor, an e-MTB has stability in spades. With that in mind, Santa Cruz has given the Heckler relatively moderate numbers, which puts the rider in a neutral seated position for comfortable climbing when in the saddle and steering that feels light and fast. It doesn’t feel like a raked-out enduro bike; instead the wheelbase and fit feels reasonably conservative. Pair that with a very supportive suspension feel and you’ve got a bike that strikes a balance between generous traction, big-hit confidence, quick steering, and an appetite for air.

The Heckler is a lively e-Bike to ride, and comfortable in the air.
Great climber, too.

Shimano Steps E8000, an antiquated system?

In a fiercely competitive space, Shimano’s E8000 is not particularly en-vogue. We first rode the STEPS E8000 system on a Focus JAM² over three years ago, and it has remained mostly unchanged since then. In that time we’ve seen Bosch release its hugely improved 4th-generation CX motor with a smaller and lighter arrangement. And Specialized’s Brose-equipped Levo has also evolved in the size, weight, power and feel stakes.

On paper, the E8000 motor still holds its own, with good power ratings, weight, size and mobile app connectivity. It also has a narrower stance, with a Q-factor that’s identical to a regular XT crankset. But on the trail, we don’t think this is the best system available only due to its age in the market. It lacks the grunt and oompf that a Bosch and Brose motor have, and at high RPM the power struggles to keep up and at times leaves you with less support.

The Shimano STEPS display is compact and unobtrusive. We’d still like to see an option to get rid of the display completely though.
Using the E7000 mode adjuster, the cockpit components are not compromised for space.
A standard Shimano 504W/hr battery, easily removed for off-bike charging and transport.

That said, it’s Shimano, so it’s premium quality and has plenty of dealer support in bike shops. The e-Tube App allows custom tuning to the boost and trail modes (though not at the level of Specialized’s Misson Control App), and the display unit is compact and unobtrusive, especially in comparison to Bosch’s massive Purion display. The 504W/hr battery gives good range and uses a standard unit that can be purchased and sourced easily.

The three power modes are easily toggled via a thumb lever, and the ‘trail’ mode delivers exceptionally smooth and intuitive power. Kick it up to ‘boost’ mode, and you’ll be greeted with all of the Newtons and the power comes on strong.

How Does It Compare To The Competition?

We can’t compare anything without addressing the elephant in the room; unsurprisingly, the price is impossible to ignore. Santa Cruz’ are expensive, we don’t feel like anyone will debate that fact, though add in the inherent costs of a motor and battery and you have an expensive bike with costly parts. The base-model Heckler CC R we tested is $12,999. That’s a price range where many brands position their highest model option.

That’s what we call protection. Keeping the debris off the sensitive suspension parts with a stumpy rubber guard.

Spec is considerably low for the dosh when compared to brands like Merida, Cube, Norco and Giant. For example, the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 we reviewed recently comes in at four grand less, even though you’re getting Fox Factory suspension, DT Swiss wheels and a Shimano XT groupset.

However, Santa Cruz does play in the ’boutique’ end of the market, and its pricing actually isn’t that outrageous when you compare it with the likes of Pivot, Intense and Specialized. Beyond the cool factor, the reason there are plenty of Santa Cruz’ on the trails boils down to the quality construction, considered handling character, low fuss aesthetic and warranty support – the sort of things that a spec sheet can’t really show you.

The Heckler CC scores very highly in the aesthetics stakes, with a frame that is refreshingly void of fandangled bits, whacky shapes and glaringly obvious e-bits. Where many e-Bikes are boldly e-Bikes, or struggle to retain modest shapes, the Heckler is subtle and beautifully clean, and we like that.

What Kind Of Rider Does The Heckler Suit?

The Heckler CC is undoubtedly the first of many to come from Santa Cruz; the brand’s first attempt has a light-hearted attitude. The decision to roll on 27.5in wheels with a good dose of suspension travel and a relatively moderate fit shows the focus here is on producing a fun bike to ride.

Instantly we wanted to let it all hang out, riding with a reckless attitude.

It’s not a self-shuttle dual-crown DH e-MTB like the Norco Range or Giant Reign E+, nor is it a cosy ride-all day trail e-MTB like the Specialized Levo. Instead he Heckler is aimed squarely at the rider who likes to engage with the trail and let it hang out. It jumps well and predictably, so that will appeal to many riders alone.

Roosting turns, hitting gaps with tight landings, flicking through tight turns, the Heckler is born for this type of riding.

Flow’s Early Verdict

While we’re sure the Heckler’s development was long and complicated, the result is a bike that’s reasonably light on features, proprietary gizmos and acronyms. Which leaves us here at Flow with fewer topics for discussion, and may leave shop staff with fewer features to sell off in comparison the competition. So if you’re going to consider the Heckler seriously, you’ll have to be fans of what makes Santa Cruz’ bikes tick, or have an upmost appreciation for quality.

We found the Heckler CC a blast to ride, appreciating its lively handling and unflappable suspension. We’re glad it’s here, and look forward to more e-bikes from the cool Californians.


Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up to our Facebook page and the Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Review | Testing The Dirt Hoops ‘Wider 40’ Carbon Wheelset From Curve Cycling

There’s a dizzying array of options out there in the mountain bike wheel market. Muddying the waters further, an explosion of new generation wheelbuilders over the past few years has disrupted the scene for the bigger and more established players. Fuelled by the advent of modern Asian-made carbon fibre rims, these smaller and often consumer-direct brands are producing well-spec’d wheelsets at more tantalising price points than the ENVEs of the world. Alongside the likes of Zelvy, Wheelworks, Black Cro and Hunt Bike Wheels, Curve Cycling is one of the smaller names that are sticking it to the big guns.

curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels
New from Curve Cycling, the Dirt Hoops wheelset makes use of a unique carbon fibre rim profile.

Based in Melbourne, Curve is a rider-owned and rider-led company that places a significant emphasis on in-house product development and testing. Having amassed over six years of wheelbuilding expertise, Curve’s product line has steadily grown to include standalone carbon fibre rims and complete wheelsets that cover road, gravel, touring and mountain bike applications. Additionally, Curve also produces frames – including the titanium DownRock we recently reviewed.

While Curve’s previous wheelset offerings have utilised open-mould rim designs, it’s a different story with the Dirt Hoops. The carbon fibre layup and profile is unique to Curve, and it’s offered in two different versions; the Wide 35 (for XC/gravel), and the Wider 40 (for trail/AM). Over the past three months I’ve been testing two sets of the Wider 40 wheels, which are only available in a 29in diameter. Here’s how we’ve got on with them.

curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels
The Dirt Hoops come in two distinct versions; the Wide 30 (XC/gravel) and the Wider 40 (trail/AM).

First Impressions

Constructed from 3K and unidirectional Toray T700 carbon fibre, the Dirt Hoops Wider 40 rims measure 40mm externally, and 30mm internally. They also employ significantly thicker sidewalls than what we’ve seen from Curve’s previous designs. The fat, hookless beads aim to increase impact strength, and their blunt shape is also less likely to damage a tyre casing in the event of a harsh pinch-flat.

During the layup process, additional layers of carbon fibre are built up around each spoke hole. Called ‘Mo-Spo technology’, the added material aims to improve strength where it’s needed, while ensuring the weight increase is kept to a minimum.

curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels
Measuring 40mm externally and 30mm internally, the Dirt Hoops have a thick and generous rim shape.

Speaking of mass, Curve claims a standalone Wider 40 rim weighs 440g. If you want to go lighter, the narrower and more XC-oriented Wide 35 drops down to 385g per rim. Rims are available on their own for $729 each.

For the complete wheelsets, Curve builds the Dirt Hoops rims with 28 Sapim CX-Ray spokes per wheel. They’re laced to DT Swiss 350 Straight Pull hubs, which are only about 40g heavier than their 240s equivalent. If you really want 240s though, Curve offers that as an upgrade option. Complete weight for our Wider 40 test wheels with tubeless tape and valves fitted is 1636g, which is impressively light given the generous rim proportions and hard-hitting intentions.

Price for the complete Dirt Hoops wheelet is $2,198. They’re sold both direct via the Curve Cycling website, and through dealers around Australia.

Setting Up

With a 30mm inner width, Curve recommends running tyres 2.3-3.0 inches wide. In my experience though, 2.4-2.6in tends to be the sweet spot for a 30mm wide rim. Narrower tyres can square off too much, which pushes the bare sidewalls out further than the tread itself, while also deadening the ride quality. At the other end of the scale, wider tyres create more of a lightbulb effect, and exhibit more wobble and casing flex through the turns.

For our test wheels, I’ve tested them with a 2.3in wide Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR2 combo, a 2.4in wide Pirelli Scorpion M/R combo, and 2.6in wide Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres. All of which setup tubeless easily without need for an air compressor.

I also tested a second set of Wider 40 wheels, which came fitted to the Curve DownRock hardtail. This wheelset came wrapped with e*thirteen tyres that were hella tight to get on and off. That was no fault of the rims though – those tyres were tight on every wheel I tried them on.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels
We mostly tested the Dirt Hoops Wider 40 wheelset on a Trek Fuel EX 9.8.

The 350 hubs utilise a Centerlock rotor spline, which is a neat system when you have a matching Centerlock rotor. Unfortunately Curve doesn’t include 6-bolt adapters with the wheels though, so you’ll have to pony up for those separately if you’re sticking to 6-bolt discs.

Being a DT Swiss hub though, spare parts – including Shimano Micro Spline drivers – are readily available, and they’re also a doddle to pull apart and service. The freehub body seal is still too loose though. On several occasions while I had the rear wheel out of the frame, the cassette would accidentally slide off the axle, bringing the freehub body with it. Having to find the Star Ratchet plates on the ground and then clean the dirt off them before reinstalling is terribly annoying.

DT Swiss 350 hubs feature front and rear.

On The Trail

Having first found their way onto my Trek Fuel EX 9.8 long-term test bike, the Dirt Hoops Wider 40 wheelset dropped a significant amount of rotational weight off the stock Bontrager carbon wheels (1908g including rim strips and valves). The difference in speed was immediately noticeable. Not just with zippier acceleration, but also with handling too.

Since lighter wheels tone down the gyroscopic effect, directional changes become just a little bit easier and a little crisper. On trails with repeated S-bend chicanes, the whole bike felt more willing to flip-flop through the turns. The stiff rims and taut build also contribute to the Wider 40 wheelset’s overall fervour.

In terms of ride feel, they’re not the clangiest carbon wheelset I’ve ridden. The Wider 40 rims measure 27mm tall, and the profile is quite round and blunt, which helps with radial compliance. They’re certainly smoother than the deeper Bontrager rims, which are quite harsh in comparison. However, the Curve’s are still a ways off the bump-soothing capabilities of the superb Crank Brothers Synthesis and ZIPP 3ZERO MOTO wheelsets.

curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels
The Mo-Spo technology is invisible from the outside, but it’s an important feature. This sees the carbon fibre layered thicker around each spoke hole for added strength and durability.

I also back-to-back tested the Wider 40s with a DT Swiss EXC 1200 wheelset I’m also testing at the moment. Both have a 30mm internal rim width, and I set them up with an identical Maxxis Minion DHF/DHRII tyre combo inflated to the same pressures. Riding on the same test loop, I can’t say there was a perceivable difference in terms of overall rigidity. Both wheels exhibit the crisp feel one can expect from carbon rims, with a more direct connection between the bike’s contact points and the tyres compared to an alloy wheelset.

One thing I did notice though was how much slower the 18T Star Ratchet freehub is in the Curve wheelset. On technical ascents, the pedal lag is noticeable and distracting. For this reason, I’d like to see Curve use the faster-engaging 36T ratchet kit, especially given the $2K+ pricetag.

curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels dt swiss 350 hubs
Engagement from the 18T ratchet mechanism is noticeably laggy.

Durability

Throughout three months of testing, the Wider 40 wheelset spent plenty of time being hammered on our Fuel EX long term test bike, as well as the DownRock hardtail. While I sliced up a rear tyre during that time with a particularly heinous pinch-flat, the rims have emerged out the other side largely unscathed.

One rear rim did suffer a nasty external rock strike, presumably after a rock was flicked up by the front tyre while bombing down one of my local rim-dinging descents. That was a particularly unlucky event, though it’s proof that while carbon rims can often withstand higher loads than a comparable alloy rim, they can still be damaged.

curve dirt hoops wider 40 carbon mountain bike wheels crack damage
The rims have copped an absolute flogging over the past few months. An unlucky and largely superficial rock strike on the rear wheel is the only damage they’ve sustained during that time.

With that in mind, I fitted a Vittoria Air-Liner to the rear wheel of the DownRock hardtail partway through testing. As well as protecting the expensive rims, the insert also allowed for lower tyre pressures for more grip and comfort. I’m a big fan of tubeless inserts. Even though they add weight and rolling resistance, they’re well-worth considering, especially if you own a high-end wheelset.

Neither of the Wider 40 wheelsets has required any attention with a spoke key – a sign of sturdy rims and a well-balanced build. If you do need to true them, Curve has used external brass nipples for practicality and durability.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
We’ve also been testing the Dirt Hoops wheelset on Curve’s own DownRock titanium hardtail. See the review of that bike here.

The Competition

At over two grand, the Curve Dirt Hoops wheelset does hover around a similar price point to carbon wheels from some big-name competitors. That includes the excellent, if un-lustworthy, Giant TRX 0 wheelset, which is identical in cost and weight, but is built with higher quality 240s hubs. Ride quality is very similar between the two, and the Giant carbon rims feature similar engineering detail with internally reinforced spoke holes.

You could spend $800 more and get the $2,999 DT Swiss EXC 1200 wheelset, which rolls on the uber-trick 180 hubs with their smoother-than-butter SINC ceramic bearings and the new Ratchet EXP freehub mechanism.

Or you could spend $400 less and get the value-packed $1,800 Bontrager Line Pro 30 wheelset, which comes with a 2-year no-questions-asked crash replacement policy.

On that note, while the Dirt Hoops do have a generous 120kg max rider weight limit, Curve currently only offers a 2-year warranty to cover you for any manufacturing defects. When brands like Santa Cruz and Reynolds are leading the game with lifetime crash replacement guarantees on their carbon wheelsets, we’d love to see Curve offer more aggressive aftermarket support given the price point.

Flow’s Verdict

With their new unique rim profile, the Dirt Hoops Wider 40 is a generously proportioned carbon wheelset that’s ideally suited for 2.4-2.6in wide rubber. They’re built to a high standard with quality spokes and hubs, giving them a taut and responsive feel on the trail.

The competition is fierce at this price point though, and other brands are pushing hard with better crash replacement policies. Curve could certainly add further value to the Dirt Hoops with a faster-engaging 36T ratchet kit, along with 6-bolt rotor adapters and some spare spokes in the box.

Pricing and value aside, I do like that Curve has steered away from proprietary components in the first place, which can’t be said of some of its competitors. That makes it a solid and easy-to-live with carbon wheelset that has stood up well in the durability stakes, while being impressively light given its hard-hitting intentions. If you’re looking to buy a quality wheelset from an Australian company rather than one of the big brands, then these will surely be on your list.

curve downrock titanium hardtail dirt hoops carbon wheels rim
The Dirt Hoops is impressively light given its hard-hitting intentions.

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

First Ride | 2020 Pivot Switchblade Pro XT/XTR Review

Wil Reviews The New Pivot Switchblade

Pivot Cycles has just launched the 2nd generation of its popular full suspension 29er trail bike – the Switchblade. As with the original, the new Switchblade is designed to accept both 29in and 27.5+ wheels. However, a quick glance at the new bike shows a very different silhouette. Go beneath the surface, and it’s apparent that very little has actually been carried over from the old model.


Watch the Pivot Switchblade video review here!

  • 0:19 – Intro
  • 0:51 – Frame Features & Suspension Design
  • 1:46 – Geometry
  • 2:13 – Tyre Clearance
  • 3:13 – Pricing & Build Options
  • 3:42 – Switchblade Pro XT/XTR
  • 4:07 – Complete Bike Weight
  • 4:15 – Suspension Setup
  • 4:39 – Riding Position& Fit
  • 5:04 – Climbing
  • 6:28 – Custom DPX2 Shock
  • 7:20 – Shock Tuning
  • 7:36 – Descending
  • 7:57 – Handling
  • 8:50 – The Verdict

It uses Super Boost and the same headset, but beyond that, everything is improved” explains Chris Cocalis, Pivot’s CEO and lead engineer. Part of this is due to the advancements Pivot has made elsewhere in its lineup, with the Switchblade drawing both aesthetic and functional inspiration from the likes of the Mach 4 SL, Mach 5.5, Trail 429, and Firebird 29.

While this new version comes with a whole suite of updates, the Switchblade has also used the opportunity to dig its heels a little deeper into the ground to reassert its position within the Pivot lineup. While the Trail 429 is the brand’s dedicated 29er trail bike, and the Firebird 29 is the enduro race bike, the Switchblade has been sculpted, refined and honed into what Pivot calls a true All Mountain bike.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
Pivot has launched its second generation Switchblade, and it ain’t nothing like the old one.
2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
The Switchblade gets a new carbon fibre frame that is much more pleasing on the eye.

Gimme The Switchblade Basics

Compared to the outgoing model, the new Switchblade keeps the 160mm travel fork, though it pumps up rear travel from 135mm to a more All Mountain-esque 142mm. In terms of travel, that puts it right alongside the likes of the Ibis Ripmo, Norco Sight, Santa Cruz Hightower, Specialized Stumpjumper, and Giant Reign 29. Similarities aside, Pivot is keen to stipulate that the Switchblade is not an enduro bike.

This is reflected in the 66° head angle, which is perhaps on the conservative side these days for a bike with a Fox 36 GRIP2 up front. It is over a degree slacker than the old model though, and the seat tube is (of course) also steeper at 75.5°. The rear centre length is still very compact at just 430mm, though reach measurements have grown a healthy 10-20mm over the old Switchblade, helping to increase the overall footprint.

Super Boost 157x12mm hub spacing remains out back, and helps to keep the back end tight while providing clearance for 29×2.6in or 27.5×2.8in rear tyres. When switching between wheelsizes, a flip chip in the upper rocker link offers high (27.5+) and low (29in) positions.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt fox 36 grip2 fork
There’s a 160mm travel fork with a reduced fork offset.

That Shock Didn’t Used To Be There!

Ha – it’s moved! You’ll still find a dw-link suspension platform, though the orientation of the shock has been flipped and now mounts vertically in front of the seat tube. This follows the layout of the current Pivot Mach 4 SL, and given the improvements in packaging, we suspect future Pivot models will follow suit.

Because the top tube is slung lower, the new Switchblade has better standover clearance while still accommodating a full-size water bottle inside the mainframe. That goes for all five frame sizes, including the new Extra-Small. According to Pivot, it’s got a Switchblade to fit most riders between 152-200cm tall.

The frame itself is constructed using Pivot’s Hollow Core Carbon moulding process, where the carbon fibre plies are laid up over a solid silicone mandrel. This allows for a higher compaction rate during the curing process, helping to minimise air bubbles (voids) in between the layers of carbon to create a denser, stronger structure with smoother walls on the inside of the frame.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
The new frame is lighter, stiffer and the back end has more clearance for the rear tyre, the chainring and your heels too.

Details, Details, Details

The intricately constructed one-piece swingarm attaches to the mainframe via two beautifully CNC machined alloy links. These links are loaded with big diameter Enduro MAX sealed cartridge bearings, while sleek anodized hardware locks it all down. Pivot has very kindly laser etched the torque recommendations onto each one, so no excuses for not using a torque wrench.

The internal cable routing is equally well thought out, with large entry ports for threading the cables in and out of the frame. Just pull the cable taut, then snug down the bolt-on caps to secure the lines. Pivot has deliberately stayed away from in-tube moulded cable guides (like you’ll find on Yeti and Santa Cruz frames), which are not only trickier from a manufacturing perspective, but can also cause more noise since the cables are often free to float around inside the tube.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
The dw-link suspension rolls on two CNC machined alloy links and Enduro MAX cartridge bearings.

Underneath the BB you’ll also find a bolt-on port cover, which looks identical to the Di2 battery storage design of previous Pivot frames. While this port does allow for easier access to the cables and hydraulic hoses during the routing process, given Cocalis’ close working relationship with Shimano, I’d hazard a guess this may be a sign of future proofing for an incoming Di2 groupset. Or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my behalf.

While we’re talking bells and whistles, the Switchblade is also Fox Live Valve ready. As with the Mach 4 SL, there’s a specific mounting point under the top tube for the Live Valve battery pack, along with room for the rear-mounted sensor on the inside of the non-drive side dropout. It ain’t a cheap upgrade though. The Live Valve package is an optional extra on all Switchblade models for a $3000 surcharge.

pivot live valve
The Switchblade is Fox Live Valve compatible, and it’s available as a $3,000 upgrade.

What’s It Wearing?

Jet Black will be offering the new Switchblade in Australia with six different build variants – three with SRAM groupsets and three with Shimano. Complete bikes will kick off at $8,999 for the Race XT build, and will top out at a staggering $19,999 for the XX1 AXS model with Live Valve.

The Switchblade will also be available as a standalone frameset (including the headset, hardware and rear shock), which will set you back $5,499. It will only be available in carbon fibre though – Pivot says there are no plans to add an alloy option.

For a closer look at the full range, check out our detailed first look article on the new Pivot Switchblade. In there you’ll find pricing, specs and geometry, along with a closer look at the development story behind it.

Here we’ll be taking a closer look at the bike I’ve been testing for the past week; the Switchblade Pro XT/XTR.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
Our Switchblade Pro XT/XTR retails in Australia for $10,999.

2020 Pivot Switchblade Pro XT/XTR

  • Frame | Hollow Core Carbon Fibre, dw-link Suspension Design, 142mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float, Factory Series, GRIP2 Damper, 44mm Offset, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPX2, Factory Series, 185x55mm
  • Wheels | DT Swiss M1700, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 3C Maxx Terra 2.5WT Front & DHR II EXO 3C Maxx Terra 2.4WT Rear
  • Drivetrain | Shimano XT M8100 1×12 w/Race Face Aeffect R 32T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
  • Brakes | Shimano Deore XT M8120 4-Piston w/203mm Front & 180mm Rear CenterLock Rotors
  • Bar | Phoenix Low Rise Carbon, 780mm Wide
  • Stem | Phoenix Enduro Trail, 45mm Long
  • Grips | Phoenix Factory Lock-On
  • Seatpost | Fox Transfer, Factory Series, 150mm Travel
  • Saddle | WTB Pro Vigo
  • Size Tested | Medium
  • Confirmed Weight | 14.01kg
  • RRP | $10,999
2020 pivot switchblade pro xt fox dpx2 shock
The clip-on sag indicator is genius! And patented too.

Setting Up The Switchblade

Like every full suspension Pivot model, setting up the rear shock is satisfyingly simple thanks to a clip-on sag indicator. I asked Pivot why other brands hadn’t copied the idea, and it turns out Pivot actually has a patent on it. So there you go!

At 30% sag, the shock O-ring will line up with the red mark on the indicator. For my 68kg riding weight, 175psi in the Fox Float DPX2 did the trick. I set the rebound dial one click faster than halfway (8/14 clicks) and initially set the low-speed compression adjustment wide open.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt fox float dpx2
The DPX2 shock is custom, and we’re not just talking shim stacks either.

To hit 25% sag on the Fox 36 fork while standing on the pedals, I ran 65psi. From the factory, there’s a single volume spacer inside the EVOL air spring, which I later removed to free up the end of the travel and improve small-bump sensitivity. After removing the volume spacer, I increased air pressure ever so slightly to 67psi.

Setting up the GRIP2 damper is a little more complicated, though Fox’s setup guide is a good starting point. After a bit of experimentation, I ended up with just 1-2 clicks off the lightest setting for both high-speed rebound and compression damping. To keep things lively, low-speed rebound was set a bit faster than halfway (8/15 clicks), and to help the fork preserve its travel on the descents, I set the low-speed compression damping halfway (7/14 clicks).

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt fox grip2 36
The GRIP2 fork is superb, but you’ll need to take care during setup.

As for tyres, the high-volume Maxxis Minions come ready to go tubeless, so I set those up with 21psi in the front and 24psi in the rear.

Up at the cockpit, Pivot has gone to great lengths to dial in the fit for different frame sizes. The handlebar width varies from as narrow as 760mm on the XS and goes up to 800mm on the XL. Stem length is 45mm on most sizes, except the XS and SM, which get a itty bitty 35mm stem.

Likewise, dropper post travel grows along with the frame size. All models come with a Fox Transfer dropper post with between 100-175mm of travel. Even the saddle is different on the XS & SM frame sizes, with a WTB Pro Hightail Trail saddle spec’d due to its cutout rear profile that allows for more clearance with the rear tyre when the post is dropped and the shock is fully compressed. How’s that for detail?

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
Our Medium test bike came with 780mm wide low-rise bars and a 45mm long stem.
2020 pivot switchblade pro xt fox transfer kashima
Pivot varies the contact points depending on the size, which includes dropper post travel.

A Technical Climbing Champ

At 175cm tall, I’ve been testing the Medium size in the Switchblade. Compared to the previous model, reach has grown from 440mm to 455mm. That’s roomy for a bike in this travel bracket. And since the seat angle isn’t crazy steep, it gives the cockpit a purposeful and slightly stretched out feel – particularly with the 780mm low-rise bars. The result is a comfortable riding position that suits all-day pedalling on varied terrain.

Early on in the test period, it was apparent that the Switchblade is a highly proficient climber. It’s got great posture on the ascents, and the efficient dw-link suspension is about as stable as it comes. Put simply, it rides a lot lighter than it is.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
The Switchblade has a purposeful, but comfortable riding position.

The DPX2 shock has a three-position compression lever, which gives you Open, Medium & Firm settings. For those wondering, the Firm setting isn’t a full lockout – it just adds a load of really heavy compression damping. Regardless, it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to use anything but full Open. Even on my 10km road commute to and from the trails, I never felt the urge to reach for the little blue lever.

The suspension does bob a bit when heaving out of the saddle, but since there’s no lockout on the fork, the rear shock is honestly the least of your worries. Stay seated, and the Switchblade is steady and composed. There’s good clearance under the cranks, which is partly due to the efficient dw-link suspension design that doesn’t give up all its travel at the first sign of a pedal stroke.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
The dw-link suspension is beautifully efficient. There was no need to ride the rear shock in anything but the Open position.

It isn’t just on smooth climbs where the Switchblade shines though. In fact, the more technical the ascent, the more impressive it gets. That’s hardly a surprise given this bike was born on the extremely rocky and demanding trails of South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona – the first port of call for any Pivot prototype. Chris Cocalis of Pivot Cycles is well known for his love of technical climbing and descending, and the Switchblade is a very good representation of his riding style.

With its grippy tyres, efficient suspension, roomy cockpit and not-too-slack head angle, the Switchblade relishes in being heaved around on lumpy terrain. It responds well to power moves, and it negotiates tight, awkward lines better than any bike I’ve ridden in recent memory. At faster riding speeds, it hovers above chunder remarkably well, with the suspension free to move without being restricted by pedalling inputs. Pivot has done a bang-up job of decoupling chain torque from the rear shock, allowing for consistent traction and smoother pedalling.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
Pivot has built the Switchblade with a progressive rear suspension design for plenty of support for aggressive riders.

Progressive Suspension For Hard Hitters

Turning around to head back down the mountain, the Switchblade feels more poppy than other bikes I’ve ridden with a DPX2 shock. That’s because on the inside, it isn’t actually an off-the-shelf DPX2 shock.

We’re not talking a different shim stack tune either, but rather a whole new compression base valve and selector plate, which Pivot helped to design and test in partnership with Fox Racing Shox. The reason? Cocalis wanted the glue-like traction and repeated big hit consistency of the DPX2 shock, but still preferred the more lively feel of the inline DPS shock. The result is a custom shock with a unique compression assembly that has been specifically tuned for the Switchblade to give it a more sprightly and dynamic ride quality.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
Along with the tight back end and stiff chassis, the Switchblade has loads of pop.

Pivot has also designed the Switchblade with a more progressive leverage ratio, so it’s now compatible with coil shocks – something the old bike with its shock clevis couldn’t do. With the stock DPX2 air shock, it has a very sprightly feel that encourages you to hit any jumps and doubles you come across. Along with the stiff frame, short back end and low overall weight, it’s a total grasshopper on flowy jump trails. However, the progressive spring curve did mean I was struggling to use full travel, even casing horribly on the many jumps down the Hero trail at Mystic Bike Park in Bright. The back end was also feeling a touch chattery on sections of blown-out washboard braking bumps.

Out of the box, the high volume EVOL LV air can has a medium 0.6³ volume spacer fitted inside. That means you can go either way with volume spacers – there are two sizes bigger and two sizes smaller, allowing for a wide range of tuning options. Being on the lighter side, I decided to downsize to a 0.4³ volume spacer. To maintain 30% sag, I increased air pressure slightly to 185psi.

The result was an immediate improvement to the suspension action, with a more fluid feel that allowed me to make use of more of the travel. The back end was still sufficiently progressive – I never once hit full bottom out, despite the back end sucking up some awkward hits. I was simply able to use the travel more effectively.

With a smoother feel throughout, I added a little low-speed compression damping, with 3/10 clicks helping to stabilise the shock around the sag point, without making it feel harsh. This balanced well with the supple 36 fork, giving the Switchblade an impressive ability to track and float over really rough terrain. It’s a thoroughly dialled suspension package – a combination of smooth sliding, supportive damping, and finely-tuned kinematics.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
Once I’d fine-tuned air volume, the Switchblade’s suspension tracked through the rough with a floaty but controlled manner.

All-Round Handling

On higher speed speed singletrack, the Switchblade is an easy handling bike, though it did take me a couple of rides to get used to it after having ridden some pretty raked-out bikes lately. One of which was the Norco Sight – a 29er that shares almost the same travel as the Switchblade, and also has the same reach measurement (455mm, Medium), but is two full degrees slacker in its head angle.

Comparatively speaking, the Switchblade has less trail than the Sight, and the front wheel is also closer to the rider. I found I didn’t have to lean the Switchblade over as heavily through the corners, and I also didn’t need to exaggerate my weight distribution over the front tyre to keep it connected to the trail on less-steep terrain. The riding position is more neutral and central overall. With the shorter front end though, it doesn’t feel as planted when riding absolutely full-gas on steep, wide-open descents.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
The Switchblade’s riding position is more central and neutral compared to some of its uber-slack competitors.

A slacker head angle would help here, but then it would result in compromised performance elsewhere. For those who do want a slacker and lower vibe, it is possible to add a taller lower headset cup to lift up the front, and you can run the Switchblade as a Reverse Mullet, with a 27.5in rear wheel. That would drop the BB height and slacken out the head angle a touch, and it’s something I’d be curious to try out. Shorter riders may prefer that setup for a little more arse clearance with the rear tyre.

Ultimately though, the Switchblade is pitched as more of an all rounder than a white-knuckled enduro sled. Indeed the agile handling is one of the biggest strengths of this bike. It dispatches tight switchbacks cleanly, and thanks to the tight chassis and stable suspension, it threads through back-to-back berms with impressive efficacy. It’s mighty nimble for a bike with big wheels and this much travel.

Thanks to the effective rear suspension, which allows the rear wheel to get out of the way quickly, I found the Switchblade’s dynamic geometry told a different story to that on paper. I’ve ridden other suspension platforms that experience more ‘hang up’ when smashing into rocks and roots on the trail. And for a brief moment, that resistance at the rear wheel causes your body mass to shift forward, compressing the fork and steepening the head angle. To compensate, you need a slacker head angle to begin with to factor in those micro weight-shifts. But because the Switchblade stays so calm and composed when you’re blasting to hell in a handbasket, its dynamic geometry remains more consistent, and that helps you to keep in control.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt wil bright
The 430mm rear centre allows the Switchblade to carve tight corners hard and fast.
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For a 160/142mm travel bike, the Switchblade is mighty nimble.

Component Highs & Lows

I had faultless performance from the Shimano 1×12 drivetrain, with rear shifts performed crisply and accurately with very little hesitation. The wide gear range on offer from the 10-51T cassette is useful on the Switchblade given how well it climbs steep techy stuff, though I’d wang on a 30T chainring if this were my bike to give it even more low-range grunt.

Due to supply inconsistencies with Shimano cranksets (and Super Boost compatible cranks in particular), Pivot has spec’d all its Shimano builds with Race Face cranks. The Aeffect R cranks now use 7000-series alloy and are nicely finished, though they do have a fairly wide Q-Factor of 181mm, which is necessary due to the Super Boost rear hub spacing. Most riders won’t have an issue, but my sensitive knees noticed the difference over narrower crank arms.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
Super Boost spacing sees the Race Face cranks sitting quite wide. Sensitive knees out there may not be into that.

The four-piston XT brakes are not only more powerful than their 2-piston cousins, they also deliver better modulation. The only shame is that the fins on the brake pads rattle against the calliper. The Switchblade is otherwise a quiet bike. The cables are held down securely, and a low durometer chainstay protector deadens chain slap.

All Pivot’s Phoenix-branded components are of high quality, though the new lock-on grips deserve specific mention. The diameter tapers subtly from 30mm on the inside through to 32mm on the outside, and the thickness of the rubber is offset to provide more cushioning on the side that faces your palm. These are really good grips, with or without gloves.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
It’s a small detail, but the new Pivot grips are really very good.

The Race Face 1x dropper remote is a nice addition, and is mounted directly to the XT brake lever using a clever MatchMaker adapter. I’m also a big fan of the Fox Transfer dropper post. It’s worth mentioning that the Switchblade has been built with a straighter seat tube that allows for more post insertion, which helps to facilitate longer dropper posts. I could easily fit the 175mm Transfer on my test bike.

There’s not a lot to be said about the Maxxis Minions that hasn’t been said before, so I won’t repeat myself or others here. However, I would suggest more aggressive riders look at an EXO+ or DoubleDown casing for the rear wheel, rather than the lighter EXO casings that come standard front and rear.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
Pivot has high hopes for the new Switchblade, and we can see why.

Flow’s Verdict

With this second generation platform, Pivot has firmly reestablished the Switchblade as the versatile trail tamer as the original. It’s just been made better in every way.

It is expensive, but you’re getting a masterfully engineered carbon frame that is finished to a very high level. The dw-link suspension is superb, and the custom DPX2 shock is a big contributing factor to the Switchblade’s control over any impact that’s fed into the rear wheel. Traction is tip-top, and the bike’s ability to float you over rough, rocky terrain while maintaining such a neutral pedal feel is quite unreal.

On smoother flow trails, the stiff chassis, tight back end, and progressive suspension allows the Switchblade to glide over doubles, and sling out of berms in a thoroughly involving fashion for a big travel 29er. There are certainly more gravity-focussed bikes out there in this travel bracket, and indeed Pivot still recommends the Firebird 29 for the enduro-heads. If racing isn’t your main focus though, there are few options that are as capable, adaptable, and as technically proficient as this.

In fact, it might just be one of, if not the best do-it-all bikes I’ve ridden.

2020 pivot switchblade pro xt
Yiewwwww!

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

First Ride | 2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon Review

Wil Reviews The 2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon

When Specialized launched the Creo last year, the first-ever e-Bike to be built around the company’s newly developed SL 1.1 motor and battery system, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we’d see the technology adapted into an off-road version.


Check out the video review of the 2020 Specialized Levo SL here!

  • 0:18 – Intro
  • 0:50 – Levo SL vs Levo
  • 1:38 – Background & Development
  • 2:11 – SL 1.1 Motor
  • 2:46 – The Battery
  • 3:22 – The Range Extender
  • 4:03 – 2020 Lineup & Pricing
  • 4:31 – Levo SL Expert Carbon
  • 5:43 – Complete Bike Weight
  • 6:01 – On The Trail
  • 6:11 – Geometry & Handling
  • 7:20 – Fox 34 Fork
  • 7:55 – Motor Performance & Efficiency
  • 9:05 – Mission Control Tuning
  • 9:19 – Issues & Component Notes
  • 9:52 – Overall
  • 10:56 – How Will Other Brands Respond?
  • 11:24 – The Wrap Up

The SL 1.1 motor is, of course, a big story for the Californian brand. Instead of relying on a third-party company like Brose, Bosch or Shimano, Specialized designed and engineered its own mid-drive motor system. And with its svelte profile and stunningly low weight, the Creo has been garnering a tonne of attention since its release.

It turns out that we didn’t need to wait long to see Specialized bring its new motor to the dirt though. In case you hadn’t heard the news, Specialized has just launched a brand new e-MTB called the Levo SL. As the lightest full suspension electric mountain bike that Specialized has ever produced, the Levo SL is also the first e-MTB to be built around the SL 1.1 motor and battery system.

Compared to the Brose-manufactured motor found in the regular Levo, the SL 1.1 motor is more compact, lighter and also less powerful. Peak power output is 240W, compared to 565W in the Levo. The internal battery pack is also less than half the size (320Wh vs 700Wh). That might seem a little strange in an era where e-MTBs seem to be getting bigger batteries and more powerful motors, but in the case of the Levo SL, it all adds up to an e-MTB that is vastly lighter than the competition. How light? We’re talking complete bikes as light as 16.9kg, which is 4kg lighter than the equivalent Levo.

As I found out during my time with the 2020 Specialized Levo SL, that has significant benefits on the trail.

2020 specialized levo sl comp carbon
The Levo SL is a brand new e-MTB from Specialized that’s built around the SL 1.1 motor and battery system.

Yes, There’s A Motor In There!

With its 29in wheels and 150mm of travel front and rear, the Levo SL shares a very similar profile to the regular Levo. Thanks to the SL 1.1 motor however, the Levo SL’s frame is slimmer and lighter overall, giving it a very discreet look for an e-MTB, along with chainstays that are nearly 20mm shorter. The battery pack sits above the motor inside the enclosed downtube, and while it can be removed, you’ll need to unbolt the motor first to do so.

The Sidearm chassis was developed from the lessons learned during the development of the current Stumpjumper, and the same basic frame shape carries over to the Levo SL. This sees a reinforcing asymmetrical strut that hides the shock from the drive-side. As well as strengthening the front triangle, the Sidearm strut helps to brace the gap between the rocker link and the upper shock mount. According to Specialized, this helps to reduce the ‘undamped travel’ that the old Stumpy/Levo frames could experience under hard loads.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike
The Sidearm frame design carries over to the Levo SL, helping to stiffen the frame between the eye-to-eye mounting points of the rear shock.

The Levo SL’s suspension kinematics are pretty similar to the regular Levo and Stumpy. Thanks to the more compact motor, the main pivot is a touch lower compared to the regular Levo, giving the Levo SL slightly more neutral pedalling performance. Otherwise, the rear shock is still a standard off-the-shelf metric size, and the Levo SL carries over the hidden flip-chip in the lower shock mount. Rotating this chip allows you to raise the BB height by 6mm and steepen the head and seat angles by half a degree.

What’s It Wearing?

There are five models in the 2020 Levo SL range, with prices ranging from $9,800 to $26,500. No, that last number isn’t a typo. That’s the actual price of the extremely limited ‘Founder’s Edition’, which comes with a crème de la crème spec and a bonkers paint job that includes gold leaf graphics. Wowsers!

The entry-level Levo SL Comp uses an M5 alloy frame, while all other Levo SL models are built around the same FACT 11M carbon fibre frame. It’s worth noting that whichever Levo SL model you’re looking at, they all come with the same SL 1.1 motor and 320Wh internal battery.

Compared to the regular Levo, the Levo SL gets a lighter weight build kit that employs a 150mm travel Fox 34 fork on every model, along with 2.3in tyres. For a closer look at the specifications of all five models, along with Aussie pricing and more detail about the background development behind the new Levo SL, check out our detailed first look story.

Here I’m going to go into more detail about my experience from testing the mid-spec model of the range; the Levo SL Expert Carbon.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike
The Levo SL Expert Carbon sits in the middle of the range – there are two models below it, and two models above.

2020 Specialized Levo SL Expert Carbon Specs

  • Frame | FACT 11M Carbon Fibre, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 34 Float, Performance Series, GRIP Damper, 51mm Offset, 150mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS, Performance Series, EVOL LV, 210×52.5mm
  • Drive Unit | Specialized SL 1.1, 35Nm
  • Battery | Specialized SL1-320 (320Wh)
  • Wheels | Roval Traverse Carbon 29, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Specialized Butcher GRID Trail 2.3in Front & Eliminator GRID Trail 2.3in Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/Praxis 30T Alloy Crankset & 10-50T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM G2 RSC 4-Piston w/200mm Front & 180mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar | Specialized Trail Alloy, 27mm Rise, 780mm Width
  • Stem | Specialized Trail Alloy, 40mm Length
  • Grips | Specialized Trail Lock-On
  • Seatpost | X-Fusion Manic, 34.9mm, Travel: 125mm (S), 150mm (M/L), 170mm (XL)
  • Saddle | Specialized Bridge Comp, Hollow Steel Rails
  • Available Sizes | Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Confirmed Weight | 17.6kg (Medium size, setup tubeless)
  • RRP | $13,200
2020 specialized levo sl expert carbon wil south africa stellenbosch
I’ve been testing a Medium sized Levo SL, which suits my 175cm height well.

Sizing, Fit & Setting Up

At 175cm tall, I’ve been riding a Medium size in the Levo SL. The short seat tube means there’s good standover clearance and plenty of room to accommodate the 150mm X-Fusion dropper post. However, for those around the same height as me who might be looking to upsize to the Large, bear in mind that there’s a big 45mm jump up in the seat tube length. That means for my given saddle height (69cm BB-to-saddle), I physically wouldn’t be able to fit on a Large. Or at least, not with a 150mm dropper post anyway.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl geometry
2020 Specialized Levo SL Geometry

I didn’t find this to be a real-world problem though since the cockpit on the medium-size Levo SL fits so well. The 435mm reach doesn’t sound long on paper, though the not-mega-steep 75° seat tube angle ensures the seated pedalling position is open and roomy. This is complemented by the 780mm wide riser bars, which have a great profile.

While we’re on the contact points, it’s no surprise that Specialized has them absolutely dialled on the Levo SL. The Bridge saddle has a smooth and supportive shape, and the lock-on grips feature a less obtrusive tread profile compared to the previous Sip grips. Even the dropper post lever, Specialized’s own SRL design, is a pleasure to use.

 

One thing I did note with the SL 1.1 motor and the alloy Praxis cranks is that the Q-factor is still relatively wide at 181mm. A broader stance on the pedals will improve rider stability on the descents, but it might also be less appealing to those with more delicate knees. As a comparison, the Shimano STEPS motor with XT cranks is narrower (177mm), as is the latest Bosch 4th Gen CX motor (175mm). The Yamaha motor featured on Giant e-MTBs is the narrowest I’m aware of on the market (168mm).

For my 68kg riding weight, I set up the Fox 34 fork with 74psi in the EVOL air spring to hit 25% sag while standing on the pedals. The rebound was set a little slower than halfway at nine clicks from the slowest setting.

To achieve 30% sag on the rear Float DPS shock, I had 180psi inside the air spring along with the stock 0.8³ volume spacer. The rebound was set exactly halfway at 7/14 clicks.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike
Specialized recommends 30% sag for the Float DPS rear shock.

Though the Levo SL will arrive at Specialized dealers with tubes installed, the Roval rims are ready to go tubeless. My test bike was set up sans tubes, and I chose to run the 2.3in Butcher upfront with 20psi, and the rear 2.3in Eliminator with 23psi. Both tyres feature the newer GRID Trail casing, which is a substantial improvement in terms of stability over the previous GRID casing. It’s also nice to see Specialized’s new tyres actually measuring up at the claimed width.

All up, my medium-sized Levo SL Expert Carbon came in at 17.6kg on the Scales Of Broken Dreams™. I did have the chance to weigh the same size in the pricier S-Works model, which drops down to 16.95kg, but does add nearly $6K to the price tag.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike
It didn’t take long to feel comfortable aboard the Levo SL – the balance and weight distribution on this bike is spot-on.

Riding The Levo SL

I’ve spent a total of four days aboard the Levo SL so far, with around 150km of riding and 4000m of elevation gain around the purpose-built trails of Stellenbosch in South Africa. The conditions during the launch were very similar to what I experience back home in Australia. Dry, dusty and rocky, with trails that varied from fast and smooth hardpack rollercoaster singletrack, through to loose, lumpy and raw descents. This provided a solid opportunity to test the technical prowess of the new bike, while also getting a feel for the on-trail performance of the SL 1.1 motor and real-world experience of the battery range.

My immediate reaction from riding the Levo SL? Just how similar it feels to its naturally-aspirated counterpart; the Stumpjumper. The 437mm chainstay length is shorter than that of the regular Levo (455mm), and shorter than much of the competition. It’s actually the same length as the Stumpjumper, and it’s a big reason why the Levo SL is so lively on the trail.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike wil
Agility is something that many e-MTBs lack. Not the Levo SL.
2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike expert carbon
437mm chainstay length is the same as the Stumpjumper.

The light front end helps too, with intuitive steering feel provided by a standard 51mm fork offset and a not-super-slack 66° head angle. Without a tandem wheelbase, the Levo SL doesn’t ask you to ride it in an exaggerated manner. It’s an easy-handling bike with spot-on weight distribution and oodles of natural agility.

And here’s the thing. I think it handles better than the Stumpjumper. The reason? It’s heavier. With a motor and battery onboard, there are a few more kilos in the Levo SL chassis, and that makes it a more planted bike on the trail with significant momentum carry on rolling descents. There’s just enough weight to noticeably improve stability, but not so much to stifle the handling. It’s a bit like riding a burly enduro bike, except this one is a lot easier to pedal up the hills.

The extra mass on the mainframe also improves the sprung-to-unsprung weight ratio, and that makes the suspension smoother and more reactive. The rear end tracks well through chunder, with a floaty and supportive feel. It isn’t quite as supple, or as big-hit hungry, as the Merida eOne-Sixty I tested recently (a fellow 150mm travel e-MTB), but then the Merida does come with the glue-like DPX2 shock.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike wil
With a few extra kilos over the Stumpjumper, the Levo SL is more planted at speed, reducing the need for super slacked-out geometry.
2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike
Front-end steering is fast and responsive, but it never feels too light or sketchy.

I would like to try the Levo SL with a piggyback shock, though I can see why Specialized has stuck with the DPS. There’s already enough overlap with the regular Levo, and ultimately the SL is all about keeping the weight down low. Plus, the DPS shock does have more pop to it, and that suits the bike’s character well.

Up front, the Fox 34 is a quality trail fork that’s easy to set up and tune. The GRIP damper is well controlled, and the big negative chamber in the EVOL air spring allows it to slide smoothly, swallowing small-to-medium size bumps with ease. It does feel quite stretched out in its 150mm travel 29in guise, however, and there’s only so much those 34mm stanchions can do when they’re repeatedly smacked into large rocks at speed.

In these moments where I was possibly pushing the Levo SL beyond its intended limit, there was enough binding in the chassis that I was wishing for the burlier Fox 36 on more than a few occasions. Again, I can appreciate the reasons why Specialized chose the lighter 34 for the Levo SL though.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike fox 34 float grip fork
The 34 is a terrific trail fork, but it’s twangy in this 29in 150mm travel guise.
2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike wil
The Levo SL could benefit from a bigger Fox 36 given how technically capable it is.

SL 1.1 Motor – Less Power, More Efficiency

Compared to the Levo’s Brose-manufactured 2.1 motor, the SL 1.1 motor inside the Levo SL uses a gearbox design rather than a belt drive. This allows it to be made significantly more compact, and it’s also a full kilo lighter too.

The gearbox mechanism spins nearly twice as fast as the Brose Mag S motor, with a gear ratio of 1:50 vs 1:27. On the trail, that translates to a higher-pitch whine. I’m told that the decibel level is the same between the two motors, but I definitely noticed the noise more on the Levo SL. It is quieter than a Shimano STEPS E8000 motor though.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike wil
Power delivery from the SL 1.1 motor is smooth and seamless. I still found Turbo to be too much though, and spent 99% most of my ride time in Eco or Trail.

It is also exceptionally smooth, and Specialized is particularly excited about how much more efficient the SL 1.1 motor is. This is evident when you remove the chain from the chainring and spin the cranks forward, which rotate with very little drag present in the bottom bracket. According to the engineers, there are around 2.5 Watts of drag in the SL 1.1 motor. A Dura-Ace crankset and BB has about 1.9 Watts of drag.

Of course, the high-quality marine-grade seals help, but it’s mostly because of the way that the motor completely decouples from the drivetrain after you surpass the speed limiter.

During the launch in Stellenbosch however, our test bikes were programmed with a 32km/h assisted speed limit as per local law. Since we were rarely hitting the speed limit, I had one of the Specialized engineers patch into the Turbo Connect Unit (TCU) of my bike to de-tune it to a 25km/h speed limit, in order to get a better representation of what it would be like to ride this bike in Australia.

specialized levo sl turbo connect unit usb laptop software
The TCU has a USB port inside that dealers can utilise for diagnostics. Or in my case, to de-tune the maximum assist speed to 25km/h.

The motor does continue providing assistance up to around 27km/h, and there’s a very gradual taper to the power delivery as your speed moves beyond that point. If you’re not listening to the motor, it can be pretty hard to distinguish when it’s off. Indeed pedalling the Levo SL above the max speed limit reveals none of the sticky treacle-like resistance that other e-MTBs exhibit.

I also spent a fair bit of time pedalling the Levo SL with the motor switched off completely, and was impressed with how easy it was to pedal. Only on steeper ascents with more acceleration/deceleration changes could I really feel the 17.6kg bike weight. The suspension kinematics certainly deserve credit for the steady pedalling behaviour, but really this SL 1.1 motor is something else.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike wil
There is very little drag present in the SL 1.1 motor, making it harder to detect when the assist switches off.

Insert More Battery Here

With the Levo SL’s 320Wh internal battery pack, Specialized estimates most riders will achieve around an hour of riding on full Turbo mode, and up to three hours on Eco mode. Of course this depends on the rider weight and how mow much elevation you’re hitting. It also depends on how hard you work the motor – it’s still possible to soft pedal the Levo SL in Turbo mode and get the motor to do the majority of the work, but you’ll find your riding speed will be a lot lower compared to a full-power e-MTB like the Levo. And the steeper the incline, the more muscle power you’ll have to commit to keep it rolling along.

I spent most of my time riding in the Trail and Eco modes, where the power delivery felt more natural. In Eco, you’ll actually work pretty hard to ride at a reasonable pace. It’s also possible to alter the power delivery of all three assist modes via the Mission Control app. So for those who want to put in maximum effort to get maximum range out of the battery, you can tune both the support level and the peak power output independently.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike sworks
The S-Works Levo SL comes with a $600 Range Extender battery included.

You can also extend your ride time by adding on a Range Extender battery, which looks a bit like a water bottle. It sits in the cage on the mainframe and plugs into the main charge port on the side of the frame, using a twist-lock connector to secure it in place. A Range Extender is a separate $600 purchase, though it’s worth mentioning that the S-Works model includes one in the box, and the Founder’s Edition comes with two.

The 160Wh Range Extender adds 50% more juice, and that gives you up to five hours of ride time. Via the app, you can tell the system to drain both the internal battery and the Range Extender simultaneously, or one at a time. It’s also possible to run the motor off the Range Extender alone. For those who want to fly with their Levo SL, you could remove the internal battery completely, and fly with the Range Extender (or two) in your carry-on luggage, since the 160Wh size is right on the maximum limit. See our first look story on the Levo SL for more info about this.

I did get the chance to use a Range Extender on my Levo SL test bike, though because I was riding in Eco and Trail most of the time, and none of the rides were above 50km, I didn’t really need the extra battery. I also found after one particularly long and rough descent that the plug at the top of the Range Extender had just so slightly come loose, disconnecting it from the motor. When I pushed the plug back in, the whole system flicked off, so I had to reboot it. It only takes a few moments to turn the motor back on, but the loosening plug is something I’d watch out for.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike
Overall the Levo SL is a quiet bike, except for some annoying cable rattle on my test bike that we couldn’t quite track down.

Component Highs & Lows

Aside from the loosening plug on the Range Extender battery, I did also experience some rattle from the internal cabling, which is particularly noticeable (and annoying), given the rest of the bike is so quiet and smooth. The soft rubber chainstay protector does a marvellous job at silencing chain slap.

As mentioned above, I would love to try it out with a burlier Fox 36 fork. The 34 is a great trail fork, but it doesn’t handle the bigger and more violent impacts like its big brother does. And because the Levo SL is ready for clocking proper descending speeds, it’s something that more aggressive and heavier riders will want to consider. Then again, those riders may want to consider the regular Levo, which comes spec’d with burlier parts and is rated for use with up to a 160mm travel fork (the Levo SL is limited to 150mm).

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike fox 34 float
Specialized has only tested the Levo SL with a 150mm travel fork, whereas the regular Levo will accept a 160mm fork.

I was plenty impressed with the grippy and versatile Butcher/Eliminator tyre combo, which offer good bite in dusty and rocky conditions. The updated Butcher tread pattern feels more consistent, and its cornering blocks lend a lot of confidence to the front of the Levo SL. I’m also glad that Specialized resisted putting on lighter tyres in the search of more gram saving, particularly on the rear.

The SRAM G2 RSC brakes provided the high level of modulation that I’ve come to expect from SRAM brakes, though thanks to the larger brake 200/180mm rotors, they dish out decent power too. They’re still nowhere near as powerful or as fade-free as the Code RSC brakes though, and the bite point is squishier too.

The X-Fusion Manic is an underrated dropper post, with a slick and fast action. Having gotten used to 170mm droppers on my last two test bikes though, I’d be keen to up-travel the 150mm post on the Medium size.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike eliminator grid trail 2.3
The Specialized tyre combo is ace. The Eliminator on the rear is a little faster rolling, but still provides good climbing traction and braking bite.

While I’m sending out wishes, I’d love to see a SWAT box of some description on the Levo SL. Given the smaller 320Wh battery, it’d be great to see some of the extra space in the downtube opened up for internal storage. Then again, I suspect the additional reinforcement required would add weight and complexity to the Levo SL’s lightweight carbon frame, not to mention higher manufacturing costs. And the Levo SL ain’t exactly a cheap bike.

One upgrade worth considering is the Turbo Connect Display (TCD). This is a sleek $150 head unit that sits on the bars and provides you with all your ride information including the current assist mode, remaining battery life, riding speed, distance, cadence, and even your power output (from your legs, not the motor). Yes, the Levo SL comes with a free power meter included! If you don’t want a TCD, you can also pair wirelessly to a compatible Garmin GPS head unit to read most of the same metrics, and we’re told that Wahoo will be adding compatibility soon too.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl emtb electric mountain bike
The Levo SL is an incredibly well engineered bike that signals a split in categorisation between full-powered, long range e-MTBs and lighter, lower-powered e-MTBs.

Flow’s Verdict

With the Levo SL, Specialized has ushered in a new genre of lightweight, low-power e-MTBs. While it wasn’t the first brand to do so, it has shown the biggest commitment to the concept so far with its in-house engineered SL 1.1 motor and battery system. The new motor offers seamless performance, and its compact size delivers a significant packaging advantage for keeping the geometry tight.

As a result of the low complete bike weight and short back end, handling is superb. It’s nimble and easy to ride, but it offers the stability of a bigger enduro bike thanks to the added mass from the motor and battery. From this perspective, Specialized isn’t so worried about the Levo SL eating into the Levo sales, since e-MTB riders who want maximum power and range for shuttling bigger and steeper descents will still opt for the Levo. Instead, it’s more concerned about what the Levo SL means for the Stumpjumper.

Certainly the Levo SL presents itself as a compelling option for those who don’t need to ride around in Turbo all day long, and its low weight and sleek design may be enough to lure in trail riders who haven’t been tempted by existing e-MTBs on the market. It’s the most ‘normal’ e-MTB out there.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how other brands respond to this bike, since the Levo SL establishes something of a fork in the road for e-MTB development. Moving forward, will we see other brands will seek to split their offerings between high-power, big battery e-MTBs, and lightweight low-power e-MTBs? Only time will tell, but one thing is guaranteed – Specialized isn’t going to be slowing down.

2020 specialized turbo levo sl expert carbon emtb electric mountain bike wil
By building its own motor and battery system, Specialized has created a very special e-MTB in the Levo SL. We’re excited for what comes next!

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Review | The Curve DownRock Titanium Hardtail Puts The Spice Back Into The Trail

Wil Reviews The Curve DownRock

In case you hadn’t noticed, hardtails have been enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late. Sure, full suspension bikes are a lot easier to live with these days, having gotten significantly smoother and more capable over the past decade. But so too have hardtails. They’ve just been going about their business a little more quietly.

The same technological improvements and forward-thinking geometry we’ve seen championed in the trail and enduro world have also been made available to bikes without rear shocks. Slack head angles, long reaches, larger wheels, wider tyres, short stems, wide bars, long-stroke dropper posts – these are tools that have become commonplace on full suspension bikes these days. But you’ll also find them on the humble hardtail too, where I’d argue that they’ve made an even bigger impact on the overall ride quality, and capability, compared to their fully suspended cousins.


Watch the video review on the Curve DownRock here:

  • 0:20 – Intro
  • 0:57 – Curve Cycling
  • 1:19 – Frame Material & Construction
  • 3:11 – Scaled Rear Centre
  • 3:56 – Frame Sizing & Geometry
  • 4:57 – Pricing & Build Options
  • 6:01 – Bike Setup
  • 8:06 – Complete Bike Weight
  • 8:20 – Strengths
  • 10:59 – Weaknesses
  • 12:46 – Component Notes
  • 13:20 – The Verdict

For the past two months, I’ve been riding one of these new-school non-rear-shocked bikes. It’s called the DownRock, and it’s a fresh titanium mountain bike from Melbourne-based brand, Curve Cycling. Unlike most titanium hardtails on the market though, this is no bikepacking rig or XC racer.

Designed to accommodate a 130-150mm travel fork, 29in wheels and tyres up to 2.6in wide, the DownRock is 100% made to party. Curve calls it “our interpretation of the modern trail hardtail. A balanced, versatile mountain bike for fanging around like a frill neck lizard on hot sand“. Colour me intrigued.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Now that’s a proper head tube badge!
curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
Keep your speed up, and the big 2.6in tyres, supple Pike fork, and long front centre will see you through some nasty stuff.

Melbourne Born

At first I thought the DownRock was an odd model to have come from a brand that’s best known for its involvement in the road, gravel and bikepacking markets. As it turns out, mountain biking already runs strong through Curve’s DNA though, with the small company having actually started out producing carbon mountain bike wheels. Steve Varga and Liam Carmody of Curve Cycling are both passionate mountain bikers born out of the Melbourne riding scene, and from day one, they’ve been key proponents behind the progression of the brand’s dirtier offerings.

In terms of its off-road range, Curve currently has a couple of curly-bar bikes (the GXR and GMX), as well as an XC hardtail called the UpRock. Adding to that range is the raked-out ripper we have here.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Melbourne-based Curve Cycling has specialised in titanium frames, though the DownRock is its burliest offering by a long way.

With two years of development and prototyping behind it, the DownRock has been quite the passionate project for Carmody – Curve’s lead mechanical engineer and product designer. A huge amount of time and resources have gone into developing the DownRock’s overall shape, with the geometry being something that Carmody has agonised over in obsessive detail.

His goal? To create a hardtail that isn’t just brawny and stable enough to keep up with modern full sussers at high speed, but one that’s still fun and involving to ride too.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Titanium is more fatigue-resistant than alloy, and lighter than steel. It’s also corrosion resistant.

What Makes It Special?

Like all of Curve’s frames, the DownRock is manufactured from 3Al-2.5V Titanium tubing. Why Ti? Well as far as metals go, titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of all of them, and it’s about 40% lighter than steel. It also possesses the ability to make your wallet a lot lighter too.

However, it is corrosion resistant, and it’s more resistant to fatigue than alloy, which makes it a halo choice for riders who want a tough, durable and long-lasting frame. It isn’t the easiest thing to work with though – you’ll need an inert gas like argon in order to protect it from contamination with the air, which has the potential to reduce the integrity of the welds.

Welding doesn’t appear to be a problem here though. The frame itself is beautifully finished to an exceptionally high standard, with a shapely zero-stack headtube, cowled dropouts, and post mount tabs for the rear brake that requires no adapter with a 180mm rotor. This is one seriously good looking bicycle.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Subtle tapered head tube with flush headset cups.
curve downrock titanium hardtail disc rotor
The thru-axle dropouts and post-mount brake tabs keep it clean.

At the centre of the frame is a huge T47 bottom bracket shell, which is basically a threaded version of a PF30 bottom bracket. With the appropriate thread-in bearing cups, it’s designed to accommodate pretty much any crank on the market, while also allowing for greater surface area for where the chainstays, seat tube and downtube meet in this high-load junction point of the frame. Something that’s particularly important for the larger frame sizes, where the top and downtubes are particularly long.

Combined with the the 3mm Boost offset and the solid titanium plates used to engineer the complex chainstay yoke, there’s clearance for up to a 2.6in tyre in the rear. Even more impressive is that Carmody has been able to achieve that clearance while maintaining a very compact rear centre length.

Well, sorta.

curve downrock titanium hardtail t47 bottom bracket
From an engineering perspective, having that big T47 shell provides a more robust anchor point for the long and oversized downtube.
curve downrock titanium hardtail
Solid titanium plates are used for the chainstay yoke – a busy part of the frame.

Ahead Of The Curve

One of the key elements behind the geometry on the DownRock is the scaled rear centre sizing, which sees the chainstay length ranging from 420mm to 445mm long. The concept is simple. To maintain consistent weight distribution between the front and rear wheels, the smaller frames get shorter rear ends, and the bigger frames get longer rear ends. And it makes total sense. After all, if a larger size gets a longer reach, why shouldn’t it get a longer rear centre too?

I should point out that what Curve is doing with the DownRock isn’t a totally unique concept. Brands like Mondraker and Santa Cruz offer certain models with dropout flip-chips, and Norco has been building its full suspension bikes with specific rear centre lengths for quite some time. It still isn’t common though, and that’s largely down to manufacturing costs. The more tubes (or moulds) you can share between sizes, the cheaper the frames are to produce.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Chainstay length is short, though they do get longer as you go up the size range.

Having a unique back end on each of the DownRock frames is inherently more expensive than keeping the rear centre the same length throughout, but Carmody feels strongly enough about keeping that front-centre-to-rear-centre ratio as consistent as possible, that he convinced the wider Curve team to commit to the investment.

While we’re on frame sizes, there are actually five, and not four like you’ll find with most brands. Carmody has squeezed an ‘Extra Medium’ into the middle of the range, which affords another choice for riders in the 175-185cm height bracket. Again, this adds further expense to the manufacturing process, but it also ensures there are smaller gradients between each size. With less compromise on fit, and short seat tubes spec’d on every size, riders have more flexibility to choose based on their preferred reach measurement.

Frame reach is roomy, but not quite as uber-long as some others. The DownRock gets a slack 65° head angle, and a steep 75.75° effective seat tube angle. That last number has actually been slackened off from the original prototype in order to increase the effective top tube length – something I’ll get onto in a bit.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Curve offers the DownRock in a single spec option for $8,699. I’ve changed the tyres and the saddle, but otherwise the bike you see here is what you get.

What’s It Wearing?

Curve offers the DownRock in three different configurations. You can get the DownRock as a standalone frame that sells for $3,399 with the headset, seat clamp, axle and cable gubbins included.

There’s also a complete bike, which is what we’ve got on test here. This single spec option is built with Curve’s own carbon Dirt Hoops, a SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain and G2 RSC brakes (check out the complete specs below). At $8,699 though, it isn’t what I’d consider great value. It’s a huge sum of money for a bike without a rear shock, let alone one spec’d with a mid-level drivetrain. You could buy a carbon Stumpjumper for less! Even Norco’s top-end Optic C1, which gets an X01 drivetrain, a carbon mainframe, and a rear shock, sells for nearly two thousand dollars less than the complete DownRock.

What is a better value proposition however, is the frameset package, which sells for $4,499. Along with the frame, you’ll get a RockShox Pike Ultimate fork and the new generation Reverb C1 Stealth dropper post – two items that are worth over $2,000 on their own. If you went down that route, that would still leave you $4,200 to buy whatever wheels, groupset and cockpit you fancy.

curve downrock titanium hardtail sram gx eagle 1x12 drivetrain
SRAM GX Eagle works well, but it’s a bit low-rent on a bike close to $9K.

Let’s Talk About Setup

At 175cm tall, I could potentially choose between a Medium or Extra Medium frame size. I went with Medium, since my stumpy legs would have presented a problem in trying to to accomodate the longer seat tube and the 175mm dropper. With the Medium, I’m pretty close to having the Reverb’s collar slammed onto the seat clamp, which is ideal.

Reach sits at 444mm, which works great for me, and that’s paired to 800mm wide riser bars and an itty bitty stem. Carmody has designed each frame size around the same 35mm stem length and a reduced-offset fork, so the steering dynamic is consistent whether you’re on a Small or Extra Large. For those who want a closer look at the DownRock’s frame geometry, check out our detailed first look story here.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Every frame size is designed around a compact 35mm long stem and 800mm wide bars.

Being a hardtail, tyre choice and pressures are absolutely crucial to comfort, traction and the overall riding experience. While I didn’t have any problems with the stock e*thirteen tyres, I was looking for a little more compliance, particularly with the stiff carbon wheels. I decided to swap them for a set of higher volume 2.6in wide Bontrager XR4 Team Issues, which are well-damped and highly versatile tyres that recently snuck into my Top 10 list of bikes and gear from 2019.

As well as providing more cushion, I wanted to see how much clearance there’d be in the back of the frame with the biggest tyre you can officially put in there. The answer is ‘not heaps, but enough‘. The one muddy ride the average Aussie mountain biker goes on each year is likely to see things pack up pretty quickly, but aside from that you’ll be fine. I didn’t experience any untoward rubbing or clearance issues throughout testing.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Clearance is tight with the 29×2.6in tyres.
curve downrock titanium hardtail
There’s something thoroughly captivating about that bend in the seatstay bridge. I really like it.

I did fit a Vittoria Air-Liner tubeless insert to the rear wheel partway through though, which allowed me to drop pressures down further – I ended up at 20psi on the rear and 18psi on the front. As well as providing protection for the expensive carbon rims, the Air-Liner also improves compliance and adds a degree of damping control to the big 2.6in tyre, something that is quite noticeable on a hardtail. It does add weight though – 293g for the ‘L’ size I fitted.

Up front, Curve has spec’d the RC2 version of the Pike Ultimate fork. That means you miss out on the lockout and 3-position compression dial, but you do get separately adjustable high and low-speed compression damping. As per the setup guide, I ran 82psi to support my 68kg riding weight, with two Bottomless Tokens inside the DebonAir spring. I ran the rebound one click slower than halfway (8/18 clicks), and the high-speed compression one click off the softest setting (1/4).

Being a hardtail, keeping the fork riding higher in its travel will help to preserve the head angle on the descents. As such, I set the low-speed compression dial on the firmer side between 9-12 clicks out of the 18 available.

curve downrock titanium hardtail rockshox pike ultimate rc2
The DownRock will take up to a 150mm travel fork, though Curve has really optimised the geometry around a 130mm fork.

What Does It Do Well?

My first few rides aboard the DownRock proved to be a bit of a rude awakening back into the world of rigid frames. Without a rear shock isolating you from the trail, your contact points have a more direct line of communication with the terrain, which is both a good and a bad thing. Either way, it takes a bit of time to recalibrate your riding style.

The big volume rubber goes a long way to absorbing smaller vibrations, and shoe choice also has a significant effect on overall riding comfort. Stiff carbon XC toe-tappers will transmit more force through to your feet, so I favoured either flats or thicker gravity-style SPD shoes to provide a bit more cushion.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
Cornering on this bike is an absolute pleasure.

Even still, you’re presented with a tonne of feedback from the trail, and that requires a different technique with a more considered approach to line choices. It also requires you to employ the best suspension mother nature gave you – your arms and legs. The 175mm stroke dropper post is an absolute boon from this perspective. Combined with the low slung frame and wide bars, the DownRock gives off a total BMX vibe when its set to party mode. Crush the saddle right out of the way, bend your knees and elbows, and you’ve got plenty of room to let the bike dance around underneath you.

When you’re on the gas, there’s solid power transfer through the big BB junction and stiff back end. The chainstays are short on the Medium frame at 424mm, and the BB also hangs very low at 66mm below the hub axle line. This sees the rear tyre tucked in right up against the crankset, with your centre of gravity hovering low to the ground. Without any suspension pivots or shock bushings to disrupt things, there’s a very direct connection between your contact points and the rear axle. This gives the DownRock’s chassis a tight and responsive feel.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
With the seat slammed out of the way, it’s got a big-BMX vibe about it.

Cornering is a delight on this bike. In fact, it might just be one of the best cornering mountain bikes I’ve ever ridden, especially when things get tight.

You do need to lean it quite hard though. The slack head angle and reduced offset fork result in more trail compared to a bike with a steeper head angle and 51mm fork offset, so turning the bars won’t get you around corners particularly well. Instead, you have to lean the whole bike over more aggressively to get it through each bend in the trail. The low BB and wide bars make this an easy task though, and once I’d gained trust in the amount of traction that was on tap, I discovered just how hard you can throw this bike around with its addictive dip ‘n’ rip cornering style. If you’re looking to hone your bar-drags, this would be an ideal tool for the job.

As well as slicing and dicing corners, the tight rear end makes the DownRock willing to pop up onto the back wheel, and it’ll encourage you to do so at every opportunity possible. The agile handling also makes it an easy bike to place on the trail, giving it a zingy and thoroughly engaging ride quality that no full suspension bike can possibly match.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
There’s a very direct line between your hands, feet and the rear axle, which affords you crystal clear communication with the trail.

Despite its cheeky attitude through the tight and twisty stuff, the DownRock manages to barrel along at speed remarkably well for a hardtail. The long and slack front end helps in this regard, both by adding stability and by encouraging you to ride further over the front wheel. With more of your weight driving into the front tyre, the back end is able to skip around more freely.

The Pike also deserves credit here for inspiring confidence on the front of the DownRock. The control from the RC2 damper is exceptional, and while there’s only 130mm of travel, RockShox has ensured that it’s a very effective 130mm. There’s excellent sensitivity all the way through, and it takes rapid, violent impacts like a champ.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt pike ultimate rc2
Curve decided against a lockout, instead opting for the Charger RC2 damper. It was a very good choice.

Riding around the granite-laced trails of the Harcourt MTB Park, I was consistently surprised at how well the DownRock handled the hits. The 2.6in tyres helped to maximise traction and support where possible, rounding off square edges nicely. They add crucial comfort, without the excessive drag and vague handling of full plus-width tyres.

Having the tubeless insert in the rear wheel also meant I could more confidently attack the trail without fear of a ride-ruining pinch flat. Find your flow, and the DownRock rumbles along remarkably well at speed. And the faster you push it, the easier it glides and skips over the rough.

But while it is impressively smooth for a bike without a rear shock, in my experience, it isn’t quite as supple as Cotic’s SolarisMAX – a fellow 29er trail hardtail of the long & slack variety. There’s a few reasons for this. In a Medium size, the SolarisMAX’s wheelbase is longer overall, with 20mm longer chainstays and a 20mm longer reach. The skinny steel frame is also a touch more compliant, which is emphasised by the longer rear centre that has inherently more flex to it. This adds up to a little more stability at high speed, giving the SolarisMAX a slightly calmer and more grounded ride quality on the descents.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
As sprightly as it is on flow trails, the DownRock can still barrel downhill hard and fast.

There’s a caveat to that assessment though, since I’m comparing my personal experience from testing Medium sizes in both. Because of the DownRock’s scaled sizing however, the wheelbase does get proportionally bigger on the larger frame sizes. So an XL DownRock is in fact longer in both its reach and its overall wheelbase than an XL SolarisMAX. That means the comparison doesn’t hold for taller riders, who may find the DownRock to be the smoother and calmer performer at speed.

That aside, I do like that there is flexibility when approaching frame sizing on the DownRock. As mentioned above, I could potentially ride the XMD size (though I would need a slightly shorter dropper post). That would get me an extra 15mm more reach, which would increase the bike’s stability. If you were chasing more of that high-speed aggression, then upsizing is something to consider.

It’s also a pretty easy upgrade to fit a longer air shaft to the Pike fork and extend the travel to 140-150mm, which would further bolster the DownRock’s enduro aspirations. It wouldn’t hug the ground as closely though, and you would give up some of the agility that makes this bike so much fun to ride.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil lake mountain
With its steep seat angle, the DownRock actually climbs quite well.

What Does It Struggle With?

Obviously, the DownRock is no XC bike. While the big tyres, slack head angle and roomy front end make it a speed-hungry beast on the descents, they also conspire to make it harder work on tighter and more pedally terrain.

Because of the lean angle the DownRock warrants to get it around each corner, I found that on more natural, old-school XC singletrack, it was pretty common to blow out wide on the sort of surprise corners that end up being sharper than you first anticipate. This was particularly the case if I still had the saddle at full mast, which makes it harder to lean the bike over. This forces you to turn the bars instead, and that causes understeer. That kind of riding also tends to be in places where tree clearance is limited too, where the huge 800mm bars become a problem.

Ultimately the DownRock’s contemporary geometry requires a contemporary handling approach, and it also suits more contemporary trails that are bigger, faster and filled with high-velocity berms, rollers and doubles. It hums along at speed, and being a hardtail, it rides best when you have momentum on your side to carry you over the chunder.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
Speed and momentum are key on a hardtail.

That means it can also be a punishing bike to ride if you’re tired or just having an off day, where you’ll feel the full amplitude of every bump and hump on the trail. Longer descents are also quite fatiguing – something I experienced on the 30km Cascade trail at Lake Mountain, which has over 1500m of descending from top to bottom over a 2.5 hour ride. The DownRock handled it like a champ, and there was nothing I couldn’t ride on it, but geez my calves were feeling it the next day!

One idiosyncrasy that took a bit of getting used to is the slightly short cockpit feel when the saddle is at pedalling height. Even though the reach is generous, the effective top tube length is less generous at 609mm – a direct result of that steep 75.75° seat tube angle. Along with the short stem, the DownRock can feel a bit cramped on the flats, and on longer rides I found there to be more pressure on my shoulders and upper back.

 

You can immediately feel the benefit as soon as you head upwards though, where the steep seat angle places your hips further over the cranks so you’re able to get more power down onto the pedals. As well as being efficient to climb on, it’s also pretty comfy too.

The short stem can make the steering light and floppy at slow speeds, so you’ll need to keep your concentration up as the gradient increases. And while the low hanging BB works well elsewhere, it does lead to more pedal clearance issues on technical climbs. This is more pronounced with big flat pedals for sure, though it was something that I noticed less and less throughout testing, presumably as I subconsciously altered my timing.

Once I’d adjusted my technique, I was actually really impressed with how well the DownRock negotiated tricky ascents. There’s tonnes of grip out of those big tyres, and since the front end isn’t too tall, getting your weight onto the front wheel doesn’t require too many yoga moves. Sure, a longer stem and narrower bars would help improve climbing performance, but the DownRock climbs fine for a trail bike, and I’d be reluctant to mess around with its already superb handling.

curve downrock titanium hardtail wil harcourt
Pedal clearance isn’t great, but once you adjust your timing, the DownRock isn’t a bad climber at all.

Component Highs & Lows

I won’t bore you with too much detail about the parts strapped to our DownRock test bike, as I suspect most prospective buyers are more interested in the frame itself. If it were me though, I’d be seriously considering the frameset package. The Pike is a brilliant performer, and it’s a big contributor to the DownRock’s off-road capabilities. Needless to say that if you don’t have any rear suspension, you want the front to be as high performing as possible, and the Pike Ultimate takes care of things beautifully.

The new generation Reverb C1 dropper post has also been flawless throughout testing, with a fast and light action that is right up there with the Fox Transfer and not too far behind the superb BikeYoke Revive. The hydraulic 1X remote requires a decent amount of thumb force to engage, but otherwise I had no other issues to speak of.

curve downrock titanium hardtail rockshox reverb c1 dropper post 175mm
The 170mm travel Reverb has been superb throughout testing.

In regards to the wheels on our test bike, Curve specs its own Dirt Hoops, which use DT Swiss 350 hubs, Sapim spokes and carbon fibre rims with a 30mm inner width. With an RRP of $2,198, they’re a contributing factor to the complete bike’s high price tag. From that perspective, I’d like to see Curve offer a cheaper alloy wheelset option, particularly as these carbon wheels are quite stiff, which you notice more on a hardtail.

For those who are interested, I’ve actually had a set of these wheels on test for a few months now. Check out the first look story here, and stay tuned for a separate review coming on those soon.

curve downrock titanium hardtail dirt hoops carbon wheels rim
Curve’s own carbon Dirt Hoops feature on the complete DownRock.
bontrager xr4 team issue 29x2.6in tyre curve dirt hoops
30mm inner rim width is a good match for the 2.6in tyres.

Flow’s Final Word

Curve’s new DownRock is a very worthy example of the modern trail hardtail, and it’s real-world proof that considered geometry can make all the difference – even if you don’t have a rear shock.

The DownRock embodies the inherent advantages of the hardtail platform. It’s responsive, agile, and ludicrously adept at carving turns. But with the chunky Pike, high volume 29er tyres and the long front end, it’s also capable of revving up to some ridiculous speeds that’ll have your adrenaline pumping in a way that full suspension bikes can only dream of. Carmody has managed to maintain a terrific balance between stability and agility, something that isn’t easy to do.

Coming from a full suspension bike, it’s an addictively rewarding bike to ride. Flow isn’t fed to you on a silver spoon with this bike – you have to earn it. And when you do, it is so very satisfying.

Yes, it is very expensive. For that reason, I’d love to see Curve investigate a steel option to bring this kind of riding experience to a lower price point.

Believe it or not though, taking on board the build quality, geometry and features of the DownRock frame, it’s actually a pretty damn good price relative to other titanium frames out there. Is it worth it? Well, that’s entirely up to you. However, logic would dictate that it is not, since an equivalent steel frame is a lot cheaper and not that much heavier. But nobody buys a titanium frame based on logic – simply wanting one is a sufficient enough reason on its own.

And if we’re talking about logic, most people would just buy a carbon full suspension bike from a big brand and be done with it. The DownRock isn’t for most people though. It’s more involving and demanding to ride than a cushy full susser, and that has limited mass market appeal. But if you’re the sort of rider who feels that modern trails are too sanitised, or that modern bikes are making old trails feel sanitised, a hardtail like the DownRock might be exactly the remedy you’re looking for.

curve downrock titanium hardtail
Curve has gotten the geometry and handling spot-on with the DownRock – this is a terrific example of how good the modern hardtail can be.

Curve DownRock Build Specifications

  • Frame | Ti-3Al-2.5V Titanium, 0mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Pike Ultimate RC2, Charger 2 Damper, 42mm Offset, 130mm Travel
  • Wheels | DT Swiss 350 Hubs & Curve Dirt Hoops Wider 40 Carbon Rims, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/GX Eagle 32T Cranks & 10-50T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM G2 RSC 4-piston, 180mm Rotors
  • Bar | Joystick 8-BIT LT Alloy, 28mm Rise, 800mm Width
  • Stem | Joystick Binary, 31.8mm Diameter, 35mm Length
  • Seatpost | RockShox Reverb Stealth Dropper Post, 31.6mm Diameter, 175mm Travel
  • Saddle | Ergon SM Pro
  • Size Tested | Medium
  • Weight | 12.1kg (as tested, weighed without pedals)
  • RRP | $8,699
curve downrock titanium hardtail
Brrraaaap!

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Review | Move Over Range, The 2020 Norco Sight A1 Is An Absolute Beast Of A Bike

Wil Reviews The 2020 Norco Sight

In this third decade of the 21st century, bike designers are presented with an abundance of readily available technologies for constructing a contemporary long travel mountain bike. But when Norco decided to relaunch the Sight for 2020, the designers didn’t just cherrypick from the list though. Nope, those greedy Canucks grabbed the whole damn lot.


Watch the video review on the 2020 Norco Sight here:

  • 0:20 – Intro
  • 1:10 Geometry & suspension
  • 2:17 – Wheelsize variants
  • 2:43 – Sight A1 spec overview & pricing
  • 3:25 – Complete bike weight & frame weight
  • 3:52 – Sizing
  • 4:19 – Ride Aligned
  • 5:01 – Suspension, cockpit & tyre setup
  • 5:59 – Strengths
  • 6:37 – Comparison with old Sight
  • 7:30 – Descending
  • 9:09 – Weaknesses
  • 10:07 – Climbing
  • 11:00 – Suspension notes
  • 11:29 – Component highlights
  • 12:23 – Frame construction
  • 12:48 – Component lowlights
  • 13:21 – The Verdict

Long-stroke dropper post? Check. Reduced-offset fork? You bet. Huge reach? Yup. Slack head angle? Oh, it’s slack. Steep seat angle? Quite. DH-spec damping control? Uh-huh. Both ends too.

While other mainstream brands are steadily tip-toeing forward with their All Mountain bikes, Norco has dropped a cannonball with the latest Sight. It’s equipped with about the most up-to-the-minute geometry we’ve seen from any of the big brands – Specialized’s Stumpjumper EVO being a notable exception.

As different as it is to the old version, the Sight’s recalibration hasn’t been a complete blindside. In fact, it would appear to be part of a more comprehensive plan for the Canadian brand, which over the past 12 months has released the new alt-country Revolver, the radically beefed up Optic trail bike, and the Torrent enduro hardtail. All bikes that have made a significant about-turn from the status quo, upping the rad-factor in the process.

Now entering its third generation for 2020, the Sight steps up as the newest model to be smashed with Norco’s Mighty Hammer Of Progression.

2020 norco sight a1
The 3rd generation Sight is all-new for 2020. This ain’t no refresh though – this bike has been totally recalibrated.

What Makes It Special?

Though Norco still refers to the Sight as an “All Mountain” bike, looking at its robust parts package, hefty suspension and slack geometry, it’s a mystery why the e-word is missing from any of the marketing material. Perhaps it’s just that there’s way more people out there who ride for fun as oppose to people who seriously race enduro? Whatever the case, the Sight certainly looks ready for the rowdy. It also makes the current Range look somewhat dated – we anticipate that’ll be the next model due for Norco’s operating table.

Compared to the outgoing Sight, the new model has had a notable bump up in travel and is now propped up with a 160mm fork and 150mm of squish out back. It still retains wheelsize options – all four frame sizes (S-XL) are available with 27.5in or 29in wheels. Suspension travel is identical between the two platforms, and geometry is almost identical. This has been achieved by using unique front triangles, but with shared back ends between the 27.5in and 29in frames.

2020 norco sight a1 rockshox lyrik ultimate
The Sight moves up to a 160mm travel fork, with a DH-worthy 64° head angle.

Norco offers both carbon and alloy frame options, and each one is seriously overbuilt. Claimed weight for an alloy Sight frame is a substantial 4.6kg with a rear shock, while the carbon version drops down to 3.8kg with shock. This is no featherweight.

There are five models available in Australia ranging from $3,599 to $7,999. I’ve been testing the mid-level Sight A1 in a Medium size with 29in wheels. If your budget is tighter though, the base-level Sight A3 still comes with the same chassis, a RockShox Yari fork, chunky Maxxis Minion tyres, a SRAM Eagle 1×12 drivetrain and 4-piston Shimano brakes. It even gets the same long-travel dropper post. For well under $4K, it looks to be a seriously spec’d rig for money.

Geometry wise, Norco has properly pushed the boat out with the Sight. You’ve got a DH-worthy 64° head angle and a humungo wheelbase of 1222mm. The seat angle is nice and tight at 77.3°, and it’s even steeper on the bigger frame sizes. Speaking of, the rear centre length is also different for each of the four sizes, going up in 5mm increments from 430mm to 445mm. This is achieved by moving the BB location on the mainframe rather than increasing the physical chainstay length, so the suspension travel and behaviour isn’t affected. On our Medium test bike, the back end sits at a snuggish 435mm.

2020 norco sight a1 rockshox super deluxe shock
There’s 150mm of rear travel via a four-bar suspension design. Both 27.5in and 29in versions of the Sight have the same travel front and rear.

The geo is fresh, but the product managers have clearly had their ear to the ground too. The A1’s spec is totally on-trend for the most chic hard-hitting riders, with Norco electing for a Lyrik over the Pike, more powerful Code brakes over G2s, and heavier EXO+ tyre casings rather than the standard EXO models. There’s also an e*thirteen chainguide, and thanks to a very short and fat seat tube, long-stroke dropper posts come stock on every model, as do 800mm wide bars, a 40mm stem and big brake rotors. Ooph!

2020 Norco Sight A1 Specifications

  • Frame | 6061-T6 Aluminium, Four-Bar Suspension Design, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2, Charger 2 Damper, 42mm Offset, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Super Deluxe Select+, DebonAir Spring, 185×52.5mm
  • Wheels | DT Swiss 350 Hubs & e*thirteen LG1 EN Rims, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHF 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ 2.5in Front & Minion DHR II 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ 2.4in Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/Truvativ Descendent 7K 32T Crankset & 10-50T Cassette
  • Chainguide | e*thirteen TRS Race
  • Brakes | SRAM Code RSC 4-Piston, 200mm Front & 180mm Rear Rotors
  • Handlebar | Deity Ridgeline 35, 25mm Rise, 800mm Wide
  • Stem | Norco Alloy, 35mm Clamp, 40mm Long
  • Seatpost | JD TransX YSP-39JL Dropper, 34.9mm Diameter, Travel: 150mm (S), 170mm (M/L), 200mm (XL)
  • Saddle | Ergon SM10 Sport
  • Size Tested | Medium
  • Weight | 15.35kg (setup tubeless, without pedals)
  • RRP | $5,799 AUD
2020 norco sight a1
The Sight is available in both alloy and carbon versions.

The Ride Aligned App

When Norco released the Sight, the company made a big song and dance about something it called Ride Aligned. Hyped up with snazzy buzz words like “Geometric Connection!“, “Anthropometric Data!“, and “Science Of Send!“, I must admit I totally glazed over that part of the press release.

Once I received the A1 for testing though, I discovered the Ride Aligned setup page on the Norco website, which is also available as a mobile app. This is basically Norco’s setup assistant for its newly released models, including the Sight. After selecting your specific model, you input your height, riding weight and gender.

What comes next is perhaps the most comprehensive setup guides I have ever come across;

norco ride aligned suspension setup guide app
The Ride Aligned app takes the setup guide to the next level.

As well as recommended air pressures and volume spacers for your fork and shock, you’re also given recommended settings for rebound and compression damping. There are suggested tyre pressures, and even a guide on how best to setup your cockpit.

Of course all of the recommendations are based on a few assumptions, though you’ve also got a Rider Skill Setting that you can shift up or down the scale depending on how rad you think you are. After a bit of experimentation on my first few rides, I discovered I’m apparently of the ‘Advanced Skill’ variety, which is as much of a shock to me as it is to you.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
The setup app can factor in how you position yourself on the bike too, and will adjust fork/shock settings accordingly.

Also of note is that Norco has also recently updated the app with an ‘Offset Type 1/2’ option. This refers to body positioning and whether you ride heavily over the front wheel, or hang off the back wheel. Flicking between those two options, you’ll find the fork and shock pressures are altered, which helps to compensate for your riding position to better balance weight distribution. This is a really interesting development that highlights the level of detail that Norco’s designers have gone to in developing this setup assistant.

In my experience, it’s also something you’ll want to revisit and fine-tune as you get used to the bike, and your riding style and position changes over time.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
At 175cm tall, I’ve been riding a Medium size in the Sight A1 with 29in wheels.

Let’s Talk About Setup

At 175cm tall, I elected to test a Medium size with a healthy 455mm reach. As you’ll see in the above recommendations, apparently I should be on a Large since I’m right on the border between the two. Given the very generous proportions of the Sight though, I’m very glad I went with the Medium. I would not want this bike to be any longer.

Even with my stubby legs and relatively short 69cm BB-to-saddle height, I’ve still got room for the 170mm stroke dropper post, which is not something I’ve typically been able to utilise on Medium frames. Big kudos to Norco for keeping the frame’s seat tube properly short. Take note, Canyon’s and Cube’s of the world.

2020 norco sight a1 dropper post
170mm travel dropper post as stock. The larger frames come with a huge 200mm dropper thanks to the short and fat seat tube.

You’ll have an idea of my bike setup based on the screengrab above, and the recommendations were pretty close to spot on. I ran a bit more pressure in both the fork and shock (80psi & 180psi respectively), and I also increased tyre pressure slightly on the rear to 23psi after I put a nasty ding in the rear wheel within the first few rides. This is a good reminder that Norco’s suggestions are exactly that – suggestions. You’ll need to fine-tune accordingly to suit your terrain and riding style (or lack thereof).

I also adapted the fork’s low-speed compression damping depending on the sort of riding I was doing. When conditions were muddy and the trail surface was traction-poor, I backed the LSC dial off nearly all the way to maximise sensitivity and front-end grip. For faster-paced trails in the dry, I upped the LSC dial to halfway (9/18 clicks) to better support the fork under braking.

2020 norco sight a1 rockshox lyrik ultimate rc2 charger 2.1 damper
Adjustable high and low-speed compression damping on the Lyrik Ultimate RC2 fork.

What Does It Do Well?

I’ll admit that my experience with the 2020 Norco Sight has been something of a slow burn. It’s taken a while for the two of us to see eye-to-eye (ha!), partly because this new version is very different to the old Sight – a bike that we have thoroughly enjoyed riding over the past couple of years.

As well as having more travel, the new bike is just a lot bigger overall. For the equivalent Medium frame size, the reach is nearly 30mm longer, the head angle is 2.5° slacker and the wheelbase has grown by a massive 58mm. This gives the Sight a more substantial footprint on the trail, though it also means the front wheel sticks waaay further out ahead of you – even with the reduced offset fork. Because of this, the Sight really demands a more aggressive riding position to sufficiently weight the front tyre and keep it sticking.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
The Sight requires a forward-heavy riding style. I dropped the stem down, rolled the bars forward, and tilted the grips to encourage me to get over the front wheel.

To encourage me to do so, I dropped the stem down all the way and rolled the bars forward. The superb Ergon GE1 grips support a very defined hand position, which means rotating them on the bars can affect your upper body positioning significantly. They also help you to square off your elbows and broaden your stance over the front wheel, all of which helps to draw your chest further forward in the Sight’s cockpit.

Once I adapted to the Sight’s preferred riding position, I was rewarded with a monstrous amount of stability. This bike is seriously planted on the descents, with near DH-like tracking provided by its supple suspension package and sure-footed geometry. And the steeper the terrain, the more of your weight ends up on the front wheel, and the better it gets. With the 170mm dropper post slammed down all the way, the riding position feels safe and secure, with your bodyweight positioned low down behind the Lyrik and in between those chunky Maxxis tyres. Just watch your arse on the rear tyre on the really steep stuff, as I had a few close encounters. Shorter riders may want to consider the 27.5in version specifically for more tyre-to-arse clearance.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
Traction and stability in spades from the supple RockShox suspension package and grippy Minion tyres.

The result of the Sight’s slack head angle and reduced-offset fork is a huge amount of trail (135mm), which means it takes a lot to knock the front wheel off line. The 800mm wide bars and short 40mm stem ensure you have decent leverage over the front wheel, but there’s still an immense amount of self-correction to the steering assembly that keeps the front wheel pointing straight ahead during the most hectic of descents. Which is good, because the big wheels and overall mass mean it doesn’t take a lot for the Sight to pick up some serious speed. If you like descending as fast as you possibly can, the 29in Sight is definitely the right choice out of the two wheelsize options.

While not overly poppy, the active and composed four-bar suspension keeps the rear tyre glued to the terrain with good sensitivity throughout the travel. Traction and control are excellent, with the high volume Minion tyre combo providing competent and reliable grip on a wide variety of trail surfaces.

I had a particularly muddy day of riding on some really steep, loamy hand-cut trails, where the Sight was totally in its element despite the very slick conditions. The big wheelbase gives you plenty of room to move about, and combined with the supple suspension, the bike remains steady and well connected to the trail surface. Even when the tyres do break traction, the huge wheelbase requires a lot of force to spin the whole bike off its chosen trajectory, that it ends up holding its line in situations where shorter bikes would be skipping and sliding out more readily.

Still, I do think I’d wang an Assegai up front if I was racing enduro and riding in steeper, looser terrain more often.

rockshox super deluxe shock 2020 norco sight a1
Off-the-top sensitivity is superb thanks to the bearings in the upper shock mount and that big volume DebonAir can.
2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
The Sight is willing to use all of its travel when you need it, but it’s possible to boost progression further by reducing air volume in the rear shock.

The Lyrik Ultimate is also a stupendously good performer and complements the Sight’s high-speed thirst well. It has a beautifully supple action that manages to remain active even when you’re deep in the travel, something I appreciated during some particularly high-consequence scenarios. The chassis is heavier and substantially stiffer than a Pike, and combined with the RC2 damper, it is simply more controlled on faster and more violent impacts. Because of the confidence-inspiring front end and reactive suspension, I found myself more inclined to boost the whole bike and land into the sorts of rock gardens that I’d normally pick my way through.

The Code RSC brakes also deserve mention for their immense stopping power, which imparts plenty of confidence for braking as late as possible, should you bite off more than you can chow down on. Despite the anchor-dropping power, modulation and slow-speed control are excellent, even in those aforementioned slick and steep conditions. I also love the adjustable pad contact point, which allows you to control how much free stroke there is in the lever throw, something Shimano is still yet to master.

sram code rsc brake
SRAM’s Code RSC brakes are still one of the best on the market. Masses of power, useful adjustability, and a rock-solid bite point.
2020 norco sight a1 sram code rsc brake lyrik ultimate rc2
Four pistons clamp down on a 200mm front rotor for anchor-dropping power.

What’s Not So Good?

With the Sight having gone up a notch on the Scale Of Gnar™, it has given up some of the all-rounder persona of the old bike. That position has largely been taken over by the new Optic though, which I suspect will end up luring a lot of previous Sight owners.

In comparison, the new Sight has morphed into a much more aggro beast, which is primarily built to winch & plummet steep terrain. As such, it can feel lethargic and a bit uninspiring to ride on flatter and more mundane singletrack. It can even feel sketchy too if you’re not properly weighting that huge front centre. Without a steep descent to pitch your body mass forward, the front tyre can easily unweight and lose traction if you’re not on your game. I had to pay particular attention while riding at pace through flat turns, since it only takes one front wheel washout to unravel all of the confidence the Sight will have amassed up until that point.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
Get that weight forward. If you push off the back of the Sight, it’ll punish you.

As for the ups? Well, I wouldn’t say the Sight is a particularly enthusiastic climber. The complete bike weighs in at 15.35kg, which is not far off a fully-fledged DH bike. Then again, it isn’t far off a DH bike in terms of its ability and its spec, and really, you can’t expect all those big-hitting components to come for free. In particular, the wheels are weighty (1950g confirmed), as are the tyres (1093g front & 1044g rear), and that means there’s quite a lot of rotational mass to get rolling. There were more than a few climbs where I was wishing for a 30T chainring.

The steep seat angle radically improves the riding position though, and in terms of overall efficiency I found the Sight to be easier to ride uphill than the Canyon Spectral I recently reviewed. Of course the overall weight means it is still sluggish uphills, and the big footprint means that tight switchbacks are without doubt the Sight’s number one weakness. Still, it does climb better than expected, and it also deals with technical features on steeper ascents surprisingly well. The long wheelbase minimises unwanted pitching, and while I did chew the stem plenty of times, the front wheel doesn’t wander too badly. There’s also useful ground clearance here thanks to the conservative 25mm BB drop, which keeps the pedals spinning freely over rocks and roots.

2020 norco sight a1 sram gx eagle 1x12 cassette
The 12-speed GX drivetrain shifts fine, but I’d fit a 30T chainring if it were my bike.
2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
Despite its 15kg+ weight, the Sight isn’t a terrible climber thanks to that steep seat angle and spacious wheelbase.

I did notice a little chain-tug when hammering into slabby rocks while pedalling in the lower gears, which is the flip-side to the anti-squat that Norco has built into the Sight’s suspension kinematics. Providing you remain seated though, the rear doesn’t wallow a whole lot even in the open position.

The shock itself has been tuned with a usable amount of base-level compression damping from the factory, so there’s not a whole load of monkey motion under pedalling inputs. That’s good, because it’s quite awkward to flip the 2-position compression lever 180° into the firm setting. Typically it was only on the bitumen where I looked to flip the compression switch.

2020 norco sight a1 rockshox super deluxe shock
Norco selected a Medium tune for both compression and rebound on the Super Deluxe shock. Aside from bitumen climbs, I didn’t need to use the compression switch.

While I found Norco’s suspension recommendations to be close to spot-on, I did kiss full travel on the rear shock on a couple of harsher landings. That’s totally acceptable from time to time, though there is scope to reduce volume further inside the Super Deluxe shock if you’re looking for more support than the two Bottomless Tokens provide. That said, I did have a 90kg tester about the Sight A1, and he had no issues with the stock settings.

I asked Norco about fitting a coil shock to the Sight, and while the designers haven’t tested it, apparently the suspension design is sufficiently progressive to accommodate one for those who like their springs made out of metal rather than air. And if you’re feeling particularly sendy, it’s also worth noting that the Sight has been cleared for use with a 170mm travel fork. Not that I think it needs it, but hey, there you go.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
The Sight will take a coil shock, and you can fit a 170mm travel fork if you really want to go big.

Component Highs & Lows

For the large part, I’ve been nothing but impressed with the build kit on the Sight A1. The big ticket items like the Lyrik fork, Code brakes and Maxxis tyres are all guaranteed showroom floor pleasers, but it’s the smaller stuff that really highlights Norco’s attention to detail on this bike.

I like that you get standard 32h wheels built with J-bend spokes and DT Swiss 350 hubs, which come loaded with the faster-engaging 36T freehub mechanism. Then there are the excellent Ergon grips and saddle – items that Norco could have easily saved money on by spec’ing cheaper own-brand parts. Same goes for the handlebar, which is a street cred-worthy Deity piece.

2020 norco sight a1 dt swiss 350 star ratchet hub
Kudos for the high quality DT Swiss 350 hubs.

The TranzX dropper post was the only main unknown on the Sight A1. But while I found the lever to be a bit big and awkward to position, the action of the post itself has been flawless. In my experience, it’s smoother and more wiggle-free than the own-brand posts out there from the likes of Giant and Trek.

The frame finish is equally as practical as the parts strapped to it. There’s a threaded BB, a new Universal Derailleur Hanger, and a clean direct mount for the rear brake calliper that means no adapter is required with the 180mm rotor. Big forged hunks of alloy are utilised at all the key stress points, and robust pivot hardware rolls on full complement Enduro Max sealed cartridge bearings. For added stiffness and durability, both of the rear chainstay pivots actually place two cartridge bearings together side-by-side.

2020 norco sight a1
The Sight frame is chunky in all the right places. Tidy cable routing too.

Cable routing is also very tidy, particularly with the guides that integrate with the lower shock mount. The only mild annoyance I discovered was related to the tidy bolt-up axles, which I do like. What I don’t like though is that the front requires a 6mm hex key and the rear uses a 5mm. C’mon Norco!

I would recommend future owners keep an eye on the soft e*thirteen rims. If you’re particularly jumpy, the rear wheel would be a good candidate for a tubeless insert for further protection, given just how hard and fast this bike likes it. I’ve put some nasty dings into the rear wheel on our test bike, and the DHR II tyre currently has a couple of tubeless plugs trying to keep it airtight.

maxxis tyre e*thirteen rim damage broken puncture tubeless plug
Uh-oh!
maxxis minion dhr tyre puncture
As well as denting the soft e*thirteen rims, the Minion DHR II rear tyre has a couple of plugs keeping it airtight.

Flow’s Final Word

Having shifted up a category for 2020, the latest Sight is quite a different beast to its predecessor. Depending on how you approach it, that’ll either be a good or a bad thing.

With its newly emboldened geometry and combat-proven components, it’s a vastly more aggressive bike that is designed to excel going steep ‘n’ deep. It’s solid and sure-footed at speed, and it offers an incredible amount of descending prowess that’ll have you searching out the steepest and gnarliest lines you can find.

It isn’t the all-rounder that the old bike was though. It’s not a speedy climber, and the committed riding style it requires can make it hard work on flatter and lower-risk singletrack. Overall it’s much more enduro than it is trail. So if you’re less likely to race and/or frequent alpine terrain, then I’d suggest taking a closer look at the new Optic instead.

If you can deliver the terrain the Sight is designed to thrive on though, and you’re after a highly capable big travel bruiser for pushing your limits on, then it’d be hard to find anything else that’s as up for it or as well-spec’d as this for the money. There are no shortcuts to the Sight A1’s rider-centric build kit, and aside from the rims, which are kind of a perishable item on any 160/150mm travel bike anyway, there’s very little room for upgrades here.

Sure, you could spend more and go lighter with one of the carbon models, but personally, I find there to be something reassuring about smashing a burly alloy bike down the side of a mountain. Which is good, because that’s exactly what the Sight relishes in doing.

2020 norco sight a1 wil maldon
The 2020 Norco Sight is much more of an enduro bike than a trail bike. This is not the all-rounder its predecessor once was.
2020 norco sight a1
Good luck finding a bike that’s as solid and as well-thought-out as this for the money. The Sight A1 is a cracking package from tip to tail.

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that review? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Long Term Review | The 2020 Merida eOne-Sixty 9000

Wil Reviews The 2020 Merida eOne-Sixty

Introduced partway through this year, the 2nd generation Merida eOne-Sixty hit the market in a big way. And really, it could not have come a moment too soon. The competition in the e-MTB market is rapidly heating up, and there are some terrific bikes out there – the Specialized Levo and Norco Sight VLT being two of our current favourites. The good news is that after three months of testing, I can confirm that the new eOne-Sixty delivers – this bike is a big step up.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike
Merida’s eOne-Sixty has received an overhaul for 2020, and has been improved in every way.

Version 2.0 – What’s Changed?

Flow’s Oli Smith went to the launch of the 2020 Merida eOne-Sixty earlier this year, and his first impressions story is a good place to get clued up on all the changes with the new bike. As well as improving stability and suspension performance over the old model, the goal behind the new eOne-Sixty was to create a more visually-appealing frame design by moving to an integrated battery layout. To do this, Merida utilised carbon fibre to construct the eOne-Sixty’s mainframe. This allows for a large, open cavity in the downtube to houses the clip-in Shimano battery pack.

The straight downtube and big 1.5in headtube help to achieve the stiffness values that Merida’s engineers wanted to hit, without copping a big weight penalty like you’d get if you built the same structure out of alloy. Shielding the battery is a clip-on armour plate that’s lined with rubber on the outside for deflecting rocks and debris flicked up by the front wheel. With the cover off, a 4mm hex key (there’s one hidden inside the rear thru-axle lever) unlocks the battery should you need to remove it. Otherwise a neat charging port sits just in front of the lower shock mount.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike
The battery pack is shielded by a heavy duty armour plate that’s lined with thick rubber.
2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike charging battery
Forward of the lower shock mount is the main charging point. You can also remove the battery entirely if you prefer to charge it off the bike.

Big Travel & Mullet Wheels

Suspension travel is similar to the old bike with a 160mm travel fork up front. However, rear travel has shrunk 5mm down to 150mm, and it’s also been made more progressive to enhance bottom-out control.

In a very on-trend move, the eOne-Sixty has also shifted to a 29/27.5in mullet combo. There’s a 29in wheel up front with a huge 2.5in wide tyre, while the rear wheel stays 27.5in with a big-but-not-quite-plus 2.6in wide tyre.

Given the mixed wheelsize thing has been a hot topic this year, including on the World Cup DH and EWS race circuits, the sceptic in me thought Merida might have just shoehorned the big front wheel in. As it turns out though, while the eOne-Sixty project began back in December of 2017, the Stuttgart-based R&D team had already been riding the original alloy model with a 29in front wheel and fork before that. Having been impressed with the results, they committed right from the very beginning to build the new eOne-Sixty as a purpose-built 29/27.5in mullet bike. So humble pie I shall eat.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike maxxis assegai
Front travel stays at 160mm, but Merida has designed the new chassis around a bigger 29in front wheel.

Now before we get stuck into the review, if you’d like to know more of the nitty-gritty details on our long term test bike, be sure to check out the first look story on the 2020 Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 here. And if you’re after more of a broader look at the full lineup, including pricing and spec info for all six e160 models coming into Australia for 2020, check out our range overview article here.

Let’s Talk Setup

Compared to the previous eOne-Sixty, the new bike is available in four frame sizes, with a new XL added to the range. At 175cm tall, I’ve been testing the Medium.

While not as outrageously long as some others, I reckon the 440mm reach is bob-on. The 780mm riser bars and 40mm stem give a roomy, comfortable, though fairly upright riding position. I’ve slammed the stem down as low as it goes, since the eOne-Sixty’s stack height is quite generous at 637mm. Compare that to the 612mm stack on the Norco Sight I’ve also been riding, which also has a big 160mm travel fork and 29in front wheel.

merida grip
Love these grips!

Regarding contact points, Merida’s own lock-on grips deserve a mention, with their subtly tapered profile and angled traction grooves giving exceptional feel. And while pretty firm and flat, I’ve no complaints on the stock saddle either. It also houses a stealthy multi-tool, which is well nifty.

As for tyre pressure, I’ve been able to run pretty low pressures due to the voluminous tubeless tyres,  – 20psi for the front and 24psi in the rear.

Up front the Fox 36 GRIP2 fork has all of the bells and whistles, though luckily the setup chart has gotten me pretty close to my preferred settings. To support my 68kg riding weight, I’ve got 72psi inside the air spring with the three stock volume spacers. All the damper adjustments are all set exactly as Fox suggests, though I have boosted the low-speed compression damping to just two clicks off the firmest setting (12/14) to keep the fork riding higher in its travel.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike fox 36 shockwiz
It took a few rides to get the GRIP2 damper settings dialled in, followed by a few runs with a ShockWiz to validate those settings. A very nifty tool!

Merida recommends 30% sag for the rear shock, which equates to 19.5mm on the stanchion. To hit that number, I’m running 165psi inside the Fox Float DPX2. As I’ve found with other DPX2 shocks, the damping can feel a bit sticky, so I’ve got the rebound damping set only four clicks from the fastest setting (10/14).

There’s a blue, three-position compression lever that provides on-the-fly adjustments between Open, Medium and Firm settings, and you can separately adjust low-speed compression damping via a 3mm hex key located in the eye of the blue lever. For maximum plushness, I’ve left the shock in the Open position for riding off-road, with the low-speed compression wound all the way open.

fox float dpx2 shock merida eone-sixty e160
A 65mm stroke shock watches over the 150mm of rear wheel travel. Overall the suspension is more progressive than the old bike.

Plushy McPlush-Plush

And plush this bike is! From the get-go, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with just how comfortable the eOne-Sixty is, and how well the chassis floats over the roughest of terrain. This is one seriously smooth performer.

Merida’s latest full suspension designs are dialled, but the back end shines even brighter on the eOne-Sixty thanks to that big volume EVOL rear shock and the favourable sprung-to-unsprung mass ratio. The result is a calm and composed demeanour that sees you and the mainframe hovering in a steady trajectory down the trail, while the front and rear wheels jackhammer all over the place.

Thumbs up to the product manager for spec’ing the excellent GRIP2 damper in the Fox 36 too, which affords astounding control on the front of the bike. It also uses the stiffer e-MTB chassis, which when combined with the robust carbon mainframe, gives the eOne-Sixty a hugely solid front end that inspires plenty of courage for ploughing into the chunk.

fox 36 e-mtb chassis kashima
Merida has spec’d the heavier e-MTB chassis for the Fox 36 fork.
2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike fox 36 maxxis assegai
Suspension performance front and rear is outstanding on the eOne-Sixty. This bike floats through the chunder with ease.

Though I’ve made good use of the 150mm of travel out back, I am still yet to detect a single bottom-out event. The shock O-ring always seems to have a few mm spare before it hits full-straps, highlighting the vastly improved control from the new bike’s suspension design. It isn’t obscenely progressive though – Merida doesn’t recommend running a coil shock on the eOne-Sixty, which is also due to potential clearance issues.

The shock’s Large Volume (LV) EVOL air can comes fitted with the grey 0.4³ volume spacer from the factory, and it’s worth noting that this is the biggest volume spacer that Fox recommends for this particular shock size. If you desperately needed more support, running a touch less sag will help, and there are also 10 clicks of low-speed compression damping available for firming up the back end.

Mr Approachable

As well as the uber-plush suspension, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the straightforward handling of the eOne-Sixty. It’s solid and competent at speed, but it’s also a very easy to ride bike that’ll appeal to a wider range of riders and trail types.

In Merida’s press pack for the eOne-Sixty, the bike is described as being able to “shine away from the enduro tracks“, and I’d wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. While Merida has lobbed a degree off the headtube over the old bike (65.5° vs 66.5°), the designers haven’t made it so long and slack that it requires crazy-steep and fast descending trails just to wake it up. It’s actually a load of fun to ride on non-alpine singletrack, and you don’t have to exaggerate your riding style to get the most out of it.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike
Merida has kept the 27.5in wheelsize for the rear, and has brought the alloy subframe over from the old bike too.

In this sense, I’d say it’s more comparable to all-rounders like the Levo, Sight VLT and Trance E+, rather than full-throttle freeride rigs like the Kenevo, Range VLT and Reign E+.

As for the uphills, the 2.6in wide Minion rear tyre and active suspension design ensure there’s dollops of useful traction on tap. Merida has also steepened the effective seat tube angle (75.5° vs 75°), which helps to push your hips further over the cranks. Along with the roomy cockpit, ascending on the eOne-Sixty is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The 17.5mm BB drop is middle-of-the-road compared to the competition, and paired to the stubby 165mm crank arms, there’s reasonable ground clearance to minimise tech climb-crushing pedal stalls.

Short & Sweet

Of note is the alloy sub-frame, which has actually been brought over directly from the previous eOne-Sixty. No doubt has this saved on some of the production costs, but it also means that the bike retains its short 439.5mm chainstay length. This is quite compact for a big 160/150mm travel e-MTB. It’s nearly as short as the class-leading Pivot Shuttle (436.9mm), basically identical to the Norco Sight VLT (440mm), considerably shorter than the Specialized Levo (455mm), and a whole postcode shorter than the gargantuan Giant Trance E+ (470mm!).

The result of the compact back end and 27.5in rear wheel is plenty of agility through the corners – certainly a lot more than I was expecting given the 22kg weight. The mass feels well distributed through the chassis, with the battery sitting low in the downtube.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike shimano xt 1x12
Short chainstays make a big difference to agility on the eOne-Sixty.

Another influencing factor in the eOne-Sixty’s upbeat handling is the 51mm fork offset, which quickens the steering compared to a shorter (and currently more trendy) 42-44mm offset. That makes it nice and responsive on more natural trails, and it’s intuitive to corner. It also means the front end isn’t quite as planted on the steep descents though, and occasionally the front wheel can feel a bit light on really loose trail surfaces when riding at warp speed. However, the bike’s weight, the stiff fork chassis and the aggressive Maxxis Assegai front tyre go a long way to keeping it glued to the ground when you’re really gassing it.

Still, purely out of interest, I asked Merida about fitting a reduced-offset fork to the eOne-Sixty, and was met with a firm ‘NO!’ As it turns out, clearance is pretty tight with that beefy and straight downtube, enough that a shorter offset would see the front tyre contact the frame at full compression – yikes! So whatever you do, DO NOT fit a shorter fork offset to your eOne-Sixty.

Speaking of the fork, I also asked about running more travel. While Merida doesn’t recommend it from a handling perspective, the frame has been tested and verified with 170mm up front. I wouldn’t want to jack up the bars any more though, and really, I think it handles bloody marvellously as it is. I’ve certainly not found the eOne-Sixty lacking in the stability stakes, not even while racing at the Harcourt Gravity Enduro a couple of months back.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike wil harcourt enduro
I was papped by Amelia Howler during one of the race stages at the Harcourt Gravity Enduro. Yiew!

What’s The Battery Range Like?

As is always the case with an e-MTB, how much riding you get out of a single battery depends on a variety of factors. Rider weight, tyre choice and pressure, gradient, and which assist mode you’re using will all influence how many km’s you can eek out. In my case, I’ve had a few 50km rides where I’ve arrived back home having only used three of the five bars on the battery indicator.

To get some more concrete results of a worst case scenario though, I spent an afternoon self-shuttling up Mt Tarrengower in Maldon, VIC. There are some pretty rowdy old-school downhill tracks there, which these days are a great test for a 150mm travel enduro bike.

The road climb is only 2km long, though the average gradient is close to 10% with 188m of elevation from bottom to top. I rode the entire climb on the most powerful Boost mode, and also soft-pedalled to make the motor do as much work as possible.

By early evening, I’d racked up 1 hour and 42 minutes of riding with eight laps in the bag. Total distance was 30km, with just shy of 1500m of climbing & descending. I was pretty beat physically from all the descending, since those rough and rowdy trails are so hard on both bikes and riders.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike wahoo gps shimano steps e8000
1500m of climbing and descending in one action-packed afternoon!

Of note is that on the second last climb, the battery indicator dropped down to the final bar, and the STEPS system automatically switched to ECO mode in order to preserve the remaining juice. I finished the climb, made one more descent, and then in the spirit of science, completed a final climb to see how much more I’d get out of this ‘Emergency ECO’ mode. Turns out it was just over half the climb (about 100m of elevation), with the assist switching off completely for the final kilometre. Ooph!

While the Shimano 504Wh battery is notably smaller than Bosch’s latest 625Wh pack, or the huge 700Wh battery used in the Levo, there’s enough range in it to accommodate 95% of the rides that I’d take the eOne-Sixty on. There’s always a balance between battery size and weight though, so it’s personal preference as to how big you want to go.

The Shimano E8035 battery itself weighs less than 3kg and is reasonably compact, so it wouldn’t be totally out of the question to carry a second one in your backpack if you were planning an all-day epic. That battery will cost you $999 though, so you might even want to consider the top-end Merida eOne-Sixty 10K model, which includes a spare battery and an EVOC backpack to carry it. While we’re on the battery, it’ll take up to 5 hours for a full recharge, and it’s rated for 1000 cycles over its lifespan.

shimano e8035 battery weight scales
The E8035 internal battery pack isn’t the biggest, but it is more compact and weighs under 3kg.

STEPS E8000 Performance & Tuning

We’ve ridden plenty of STEPS systems over the past couple of years, and it’s proven to be a smooth and reliable performer – we’re yet to encounter a problem. Directly compared to the competition, the Shimano system is quieter than a Bosch motor, and pretty close to the Brose motor used in the Levo. It’s only in Boost mode when you’re really pushing the motor at a higher RPM where the whine picks up over the Levo.

As to power delivery, it’s pretty darn smooth, though the 25km/h limit is pretty noticeable when the motor cuts off – certainly moreso than the Levo. Flick the power assist back into Trail mode with the compact left hand shifter though, and everything feels smoother and more subtle.

shimano steps w013 error display e8000
I had a ‘WTF?’ moment when this error message popped up.

You can also utilise the Shimano E-TUBE app to tune the power assist levels of each setting. Pairing your phone to the display unit via Bluetooth isn’t particularly intuitive, and the app doesn’t seem to possess any diagnostics functions or information – something I discovered out on the trail when the display unit flagged a ‘W013!’ error and the motor wouldn’t turn on. I had to use my phone to Google a troubleshooting page on the Shimano website to work out what that code meant and how to rectify it.

(Turns out ‘W013’ is an error related to the initialisation of the torque sensor, which can happen if you’re pushing on the pedals as the system is turning on. For any new Shimano STEPS owners out there, be sure to give the bike a good few seconds to initialise and allow the display unit to come on, before jumping on and pedalling away.)

shimano steps e-tube app mobile phone
Once you finally work out how to pair via Bluetooth, the E-TUBE app allows you to tune the assist levels of each mode.

Having finally connected my phone to the STEPS system, I’ve since been able to drop the Trail mode down to the lowest assist level, which is my preferred setting for riding along singletrack and up technical, traction-poor climbs. Boost is hilarious fun up road climbs and firetrails, but it’s too aggressive for actual off-road riding. De-tuning the power output also throws more of the work over to me to improve total range. I’m hoping to head away on some longer adventures over summer, and I reckon with careful management I should be able to get closer to 60-70km out of the eOne-Sixty, depending on the elevation.

Big Brakes, Crispy Shifting

As for the rest of the eOne-Sixty 9000, I am really impressed with the build kit Merida has curated with this bike.

The 4-piston Shimano XT brakes are absolutely superb, particularly when they’re matched to those huge 203mm rotors. There’s terrific power on tap, but it’s the modulation that the 4-piston callipers offer over their 2-piston counterparts that is most appreciable.

shimano m8020 xt brake lever
The Shimano XT brakes use the new I-SPEC EV mount for integrating the shifter onto the same clamp.
shimano deore xt m8020 brake calliper 203mm rotor
The 4-piston callipers not only offer more outright power than the 2-piston versions, they also provide noticeably better modulation too.

Shimano’s 1×12 XT drivetrain has been similarly flawless. The robust and fast shifting of the Hyperglide+ cassette is even more pronounced when there’s a 250W motor delivering 70Nm of additional torque on the chain. Shifting under load produces some pretty snappy cracks and bangs, but it still changes gear quickly and effectively every single time.

Any Problems So Far?

Not really. Aside from a quick lever bleed on the brakes, and a few turns of the barrel adjuster on the shifter, the eOne-Sixty hasn’t needed a lot of attention during the three months we’ve enjoyed together. There have been no issues with the own-brand dropper post, which has been slick, fast and slop-free.

There are a couple of small annoyances, like the rear thru-axle lever that fouls on the dropout when you try to unwind it. It’s very neat the way it houses both a 4mm and 6mm hex key inside the pull-out lever, but removing the axle requires you to work in 180° turns at a time.

*Update: Merida contacted us after this review was published to inform readers that the rear axle design has changed on later production versions of the eOne-Sixty. The head of the axle is now taller, which means the lever sticks out a little further so it doesn’t foul on the dropouts quite as much. You’ll still have to pull the lever out a fraction to allow for a full 360° rotation, but we’re told it’s much easier to use than the current design found on our test bike.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike thru-axle lever
The thru-axle lever is low profile, but it hits on the dropout when you’re trying to undo it.

I also like the included front and rear mudguards, but the rear guard does contact the back of the saddle at full compression. On a particularly dramatic landing, the guard got sucked in underneath the seatstay bridge by the tyre. It’s a nice idea, but I’ll be removing that guard shortly.

I really like the versatility and traction of the stock tyre combo, though I did manage to put a fatal cut in the rear EXO+ Maxxis tyre after descending a notoriously punishing trail with the rear tyre 1-2psi lower than it should have been. A few Stan’s NoTubes DART plugs helped me to get home, but they blew out on my first run down Mt Tarrengower, so I replaced the tyre with a 2.4in Dissector, complete with a DH-casing.

While tougher, there’s less squish and less traction compared to the stock 2.6in Minion. If I go back to a non-DH rear tyre, I’d definitely consider throwing a tubeless insert in the back wheel for the inevitable punishment it’s likely to encounter over its lifetime.

maxxis minion dhr ii stan's notubes dart
Triple-DART’d rear tyre after a most hideous rock smash with the tyre a little too low on pressure.
dt swiss rim maxxis tyre broken damaged dent
Despite writing off the rear tyre, the DT rim barely flinched.

That said, the DT Swiss wheelset is mint. It’s the heavier HX 1501 Spline One e-MTB wheelset, which is basically a beefed up version of the EX 1501. Thicker spokes, thicker alloy rims and reinforced hub internals see the total weight clock in at 2,017g (confirmed), but they do create a very strong and reliable wheelset.

Even with that horrid tyre-ruining pinch flat, the rim only has the mildest of dings in it, and is still running tight and true.

maxxis dissector 27.5x2.4in dh tyre
I fitted a DH-casing Maxxis Dissector to the rear given I’ve been smacking these wheels into all sorts of nasties over the past couple of months. I’ll be fitting a tubeless insert soon too.

Flow’s Final Word

Having already spent a couple of months aboard the eOne-Sixty, I have been really impressed at the ride quality and versatility of this go-anywhere e-MTB. The suspension is stupendously plush and well-controlled, and the geometry has been carefully considered to provide a comfortable and confidence-inspiring riding position.

The mullet wheelsize combo also works exactly as intended. The back end is usefully short with the 27.5in wheel, allowing for great agility through the turns, while the big Fox 36 and 29in front wheel ensure plenty of ploughability on the descents.

The 504Wh battery doesn’t afford the same kind of range in as some of the bigger packs out there, but it is lighter and more compact, and that presents its own advantages in terms of packaging and handling. Merida has made full use of those weight savings by spec’ing reinforced tyre casings, burlier wheels, a proper piggyback shock, and a heavier e-MTB fork chassis without creating an absolute pig of a bike. The rest of the combat-proven parts spec certainly leaves very little to be desired, and there’s really nothing on here that I’d want to upgrade personally. You’d have a very hard time trying to justify spending the extra $3K going to the next model up.

2020 merida eone-sixty e160 e-mtb electric mountain bike
Merida’s new eOne-Sixty does not disappoint – this is a terrific all-rounder.

As to what’s next? I’ve got a few ideas for our eOne-Sixty 9000 test bike, along with a few big rides I’m hoping to get in over the summer season. But I’d love to hear from you guys. What would you like to know about this e-MTB? Are there any places you’d like us to take it to, or parts you’d like to see us test on here? Let us know in the comments below!

And if you’re after more reading on the eOne-Sixty, check out Oli’s first impressions story here, our detailed test bike intro story here, and the full range overview here.

2020 Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 Specs

  • Frame | CFA Carbon Fibre Mainframe & Alloy Swingarm, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float, Factory Series, GRIP2 Damper, 51mm Offset, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPX2, EVOL LV, Factory Series, 205x65mm
  • Drive Unit | Shimano STEPS E8000, 70Nm
  • Battery | Shimano E8035, 504Wh
  • Wheels | DT Swiss HX 1501 Spline One, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 3C Maxx Grip 29×2.5in Front & Minion DHR II EXO+ 3C Maxx Terra 27.5×2.6in Rear
  • Drivetrain | Shimano Deore XT 1×12 w/Deore XT 34t Crankset & 10-51t Cassette
  • Brakes | Shimano Deore XT  w/203mm Rotors
  • Bar | Merida Expert eTR Alloy, 20mm Rise, 780mm Wide
  • Stem | Merida Expert eTR Alloy, 40mm Length
  • Seatpost | Merida Expert TR Dropper, Travel: 125mm (XS), 150mm (S/M), 170mm (L/XL)
  • Saddle | Merida Expert CC
  • Available Sizes | S, M, L, XL
  • Confirmed Weight | 22.09kg (Medium size, setup tubeless, without pedals)
  • RRP | $8,999
merida eone-sixty e160 emtb electric mountain bike thule bike rack maldon shuttle
The eOne-Sixty with a fully rinsed battery on the side of Mt Tarrengower in Maldon, VIC.

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Review | The 2020 Canyon Lux CF SL 8.0 Is A Near-Perfect XC Race Bike

The 2020 Canyon Lux

Adorned with 29in wheels and 100mm of rear wheel travel, the Lux is Canyon’s super light, full suspension XC speedster. Brand new for 2019, the latest generation Lux has been completely re-engineered with a newly augmented carbon fibre chassis that is more svelte and roomier thanks to a reworked suspension layout. Having integrated design elements found within the latest Strive, Spectral, Neuron models, the Lux is one lethal-looking race bike that, aside from the name, shares very little in common with the old model.


Watch the video review on the 2020 Canyon Lux here:

  • 0:41 – Key model notes
  • 1:02 – Frame construction & features
  • 3:04 – 2020 Canyon Lux range overview
  • 3:55 – Frame sizing & riding position
  • 4:50 – Test bike setup notes
  • 5:51 – Strengths
  • 6:55 – Handling & geometry
  • 7:52 – Weaknesses
  • 10:08 – Component highlights & lowlights
  • 11:40 – Fork offset discussion
  • 13:10 – The competition
  • 13:58 – Overall

What Makes It Special?

Weight is of course a key factor for any XC race bike, and every brand loves a headline figure. Canyon’s goal? To bring the Lux frameset below the elusive 2kg barrier. During its two-year gestation, Canyon’s engineers managed to shave 250g off the Lux, bringing the bare frame down to an incredible 1660g. Add in a Fox shock, the dual lockout remote, derailleur hanger, hardware, and the tidy little chainguide, and the total frame weight is claimed to be just 1986g.

Much of the weight has been saved by moving to a more compact suspension linkage. This is made up of a petite alloy control link, and a composite clevis that captures and drives the lower shock eyelet. Of note is that the three main pivots on the Lux are all rolling on sealed cartridge bearings. This differs from some other full suspension XC bikes that use lighter bushings instead, like the Scott Spark RC.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The new generation Lux shares very little in common with the old model.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The Lux uses a one-piece carbon swingarm, which sees the seatstays flex through the 100mm of rear travel.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
A tiny alloy link connects the seatstays to the seat tube, while a composite yoke wraps around the seat tube to drive the rear shock.

By flipping the rear shock up to sit parallel with the top tube, Canyon has also been able to increase space inside the mainframe, making room for two full-size water bottles on all four frame sizes. Each bike comes supplied with two cages – a pleasing sight for map-crossing XC riders and marathon racers.

Despite the focus on weight, Canyon hasn’t forgone practicalities. The Lux features the excellent IPU headset to prevent over-rotation of the bars, saving your top tube in the event of a crash. I also love the Quixle thru-axle lever, which delivers tool-free functionality before discreetly popping back inside.

The flat-mount brake calliper looks super neat, though any normal calliper will fit with a simple adapter. There’s room for up to a 2.3in wide rear tyre, and there’s also a 30.9mm diameter seat tube. Bar the cheapest model, every Lux comes supplied with a dropper post.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
Boost 148x12mm thru-axle dropouts lock down the shapely back end.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The IPU headset is simple and works exceptionally well – I never hit the stoppers while riding on the trail.

The 2020 Canyon Lux CF SL 8.0

Speaking of models, there are seven in total for 2020, with prices ranging from $4,549 to $11,049. The three top models utilise the SLX frame, and are spec’d with 100mm travel forks with scary Maxxis Aspen tyres front and rear.

The bottom four models utilise the SL frame, which has exactly the same shape and geometry, but is 190g heavier due to using lower modulus carbon fibres. The SL models also come with a slightly longer 110mm travel fork, and a more sensible Maxxis Rekon front tyre.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The 2020 Canyon Lux CF SL 8.0 gets a new Reynolds carbon wheelset, and it also ditches the funky Grip Shift spec’d on last year’s bike.

For the past two months I’ve been testing and racing the piggy-in-the-middle of the range; the Lux CF SL 8.0. This bike is the highest spec option with the slightly heavier CF SL frame.

  • Frame | SL Carbon Fibre, Flex Pivot Suspension Design, 100mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe Ultimate, Remote Lockout, 210x55mm
  • Fork | RockShox SID Select+, DebonAir Spring, Remote Lockout, 51mm Offset, 110mm Travel
  • Wheels | Reynolds TR249 Carbon, 24mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Rekon 3C Maxx Terra EXO 2.25in Front & Aspen EXO 2.25in Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12 w/Stylo Carbon 34T Cranks & 10-50T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Level TLM, 180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Handlebar | Race Face Ride Alloy, 31.8mm Diameter, 720mm Wide
  • Stem | Race Face Ride Alloy, 31.8mm Diameter, 80mm Long
  • Seatpost | Kind Shock LEV Si Dropper Post, 30.9mm Diameter, 100mm Travel
  • Saddle | Selle Italia SLR
  • Sizes Available | Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Confirmed Weight | 11.37kg
  • RRP | $6,599
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The package that Canyon delivers for the money is exceptional, but it isn’t totally sorted out of the box.

Let’s Talk About Setup

At 175cm tall, Canyon’s sizing configurator suggests I should be on a Small. Which is unusual, because I typically ride a Medium in everything. For anyone out there who’s in a similar predicament, I would almost always recommend going for a bigger size than what Canyon recommends, since they typically aren’t long bikes.

That’s definitely the case for the Lux, which has a conservative 430mm reach on the Medium I’ve been riding. That’s combined with an 80mm stem and the narrowest handlebars I’ve ridden in about five years. Mind you, and despite my preconceptions, it didn’t take long to appreciate the extra tree clearance the 720mm wide bars afford on old handcut singletrack. And with the stem slammed, the Lux provides a fantastically racy stance, with a powerful and efficient climbing position.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The 720mm bars are the narrowest I’ve ridden in some time. I actually quite liked it, though big-chested folk will want to consider a wider bar.

I set the front tyre to 24psi, and the flimsy Aspen on the rear to 27psi, since my local singletrack has a habit of chowing down on lightweight casings.

The Lux CF SL 8.0 comes with a 110mm travel RockShox SID Select+ fork, with one Bottomless Token inside the DebonAir spring. As per the setup chart, 100psi got me to 25% sag, and I ran the rebound dial eight clicks off the slowest setting.

Out back, the RockShox Deluxe Ultimate has an unusually long 55mm stroke. That’s a big shock for an XC bike with just 100mm travel. To put it into perspective, that’s the same stroke used on the 130mm travel Trek Fuel EX I’ve also been testing.

On the Lux that creates a very low average leverage ratio of 1.81:1, which means operating pressures are much lower than other XC bikes. I found 110psi (20% sag) was ideal for XC racing, while dropping down to 100psi (25% sag) provided a suppler action for trail riding and 2+ hour races. I set the awkwardly-positioned rebound lever exactly halfway at five clicks from full slow.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 rockshox deluxe shock
Canyon has built the Lux around a huge 55mm stroke shock. Operating pressures are quite low as a result.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
Fat fingers will struggle to get to that red rebound dial.

What Does It Do Well?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Lux is a very fast bike. At 11.37kg, it’s a light package at this price point. Combined with the purposeful riding position and taut rear suspension, the Lux accelerates rapidly. Like many race-focussed XC bikes, there’s a firm feel underfoot, with a terrific response from pedalling inputs. This isn’t a bike that hangs around when you step on the gas.

Even still, it’s a pretty firm-feeling back end, and it takes a reasonable amount of force to break through the threshold.

Even with the suspension unlocked, the shock doesn’t easily surrender its travel. The swingarm is a single piece of carbon fibre with no dropout pivot, which means the impossibly thin seatstays flex throughout the travel. According to Canyon, the seatstays are at their most ‘relaxed’ at the sag point, which is to maintain traction and sensitivity. Even still, it’s a pretty firm-feeling back end, and it takes a reasonable amount of force to break through the threshold.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 wil lysterfield
The Lux quickly asserts itself as an efficient climber.

It’s certainly firmer than the Giant Anthem 29, Scott Spark and Santa Cruz Blur, which all have more sensitive suspension designs that are more reliant on remotes for their efficiency. While the Lux is more organically efficient than those bikes, you will get more trail feedback and you will feel more of the smaller rubble when riding at slower velocities. If you’re after a supple magic-carpet ride for cruising, this is not your bike.

Get the Lux up to speed however, and the support through medium-to-big hits really is superb. The Lux’s suspension is more progressive than the old model, and that leads to fewer bottom outs and better stability when you’re dashing along at race pace. It isn’t plush, but the faster you go, the better and more reactive the suspension gets.

Are you paying attention? Good. Because you need to.

The Lux’s efficient and effective suspension performance is echoed by its truculent handling, which requires you to commit and wrestle it around to get the absolute best out of it. Unlike some other modern XC bikes that are integrating more contemporary figures, the Lux keeps it real with a sharp 69.5° head angle and a 74° seat angle. Are you paying attention? Good. Because you need to.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 wil lysterfield
Sharp angles give the Lux very precise handling.

The back end is pretty short too. By moving to a 1X specific design (yes, a Euro XC bike that won’t take a front mech – sacré bleu!), Canyon has also trimmed the back end of the Lux from a lazy 450mm, to a much snappier 435mm. This all keeps the wheelbase pretty tight, giving the Lux exceptional agility through tight and twisty turns.

It’s sharp, it’s direct, and it loves going fast.

The front-end steering is about as direct as you can get, and that offers you useful split-second decision making when a rock gets spat up by the rear tyre of the rider you’re chasing down, and you need to rapidly change your line. While it is more likely to flinch than a slacker-angled bike in the first place, the ability to micro-manage the front wheel also opens up options when you’re knee-deep in the rough and desperately searching for an emergency exit.

The Lux is no doubt at its strongest however, on undulating singletrack that ebbs and flows through the trees, where you need to continue inputting through the pedals to maintain speed, while darting from corner-to-corner, switchback-to-switchback. It’s sharp, it’s direct, and it loves going fast. The higher the intensity, the better it gets.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 wil lysterfield
This bike loves riding XC trails absolutely flat-out!

What’s Not So Good?

It’s also no real surprise that the Lux can feel somewhat out of its depth the more precipitous the descent. The short cockpit and narrow bars simply give you less to hang onto when things go downhill fast, which will have you reaching deep into your skills bank for the necessary manoeuvres to negotiate your way down. You can’t rely on a huge wheelbase here.

The dropper post is of course a boon for descending, and the 100mm length is spot-on for an XC bike. Being able to drop the saddle is wonderful on a bike with such an aggressive riding position, and though the Lux can be pretty lively, it’ll also get down a lot of nasty shit that hardtails and full-suss bikes of old would struggle with.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
Big thumbs-up for the dropper post.

Alongside the competition, the Lux doesn’t feel as planted as the Specialized Epic FSR or the Scott Spark RC. The Epic has a reduced offset fork (42mm) and the Spark has a slacker head angle (68.5°), so both bikes have more trail, and that simply gives them more sure-footed handling. The Lux’s excellent rear suspension is more responsive than the Epic though, and because it manages its travel so effectively, it’ll surprise you with how hard it’s willing to be pushed.

For any owners out there who are finding their fork feels stiff and they’re blowing through the travel, consider adding some volume spacers.

The SID fork doesn’t exactly help things though, as it’s not as smooth as an equivalent Fox 32 SC. I was able to coax a little more suppleness out of it by adding a second Bottomless Token and dropping pressure down to 95psi, which helped dramatically. I’ve come across a few minimally-Token’d SID and Reba forks recently, so for any owners out there who are finding their fork feels stiff and they’re blowing through the travel, consider adding some volume spacers.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 wil lysterfield
The Lux isn’t the most stable XC bike on the descents, but the quality of its rear suspension keeps it impressively composed given the sharp angles.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 rockshox sid select+
I added another Bottomless Token to the SID fork to give it more bottom-out support.

While I’m on the fork, I gotta say that the dual lockout system leaves a lot to be desired. A single lever is trying to work against both the fork and shock’s compression assemblies simultaneously, which means the lever feel is really stiff – even with slick, brand new cables. In fact it requires so much thumb force to activate the lockout, that I rarely used it.

This steepens the head and seat angles, providing a better pedalling position.

Instead, I decided to remove the fork lockout cable entirely, which left the fork open with the remote only activating the rear shock. I actually preferred this for climbing, as it still allows the fork to sag. This steepens the head and seat angles, providing a better pedalling position. Even with the shock locked out, there’s also enough give in the carbon seatstays and 2.2in rear tyre that you can climb smoother singletrack and fireroad quite comfortably.

If this were my bike, I’d upgrade the fork with an RLC damper cartridge, which would allow for more fine-tune adjustability while losing one cable from the busy cockpit.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 lockout handlebar
The KS dropper post remote works well, though the dual lockout lever is too firm and awkward to use. Ditching the fork lockout cable helped to lighten the action considerably.

Component Highs & Lows

Being a direct-to-consumer brand, Canyon always delivers an alluring package for the money, and the Lux CF SL 8.0 is no different.

The SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain was flawless throughout testing, punching out shift after shift without complaint. The angle-adjustable lever on the X01 shifter is a small but ergonomically-advantageous detail, and the carbon cranks are both pretty and lightweight.

The DUB bottom bracket inside the PF92 frame shell was smooth and quiet too, which mirrors my experience with the latest DUB systems. Personally, I think it’s about time we put to bed the complaints we used to have about old press-fit systems.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 sram x01 eagle 1x12 drivetrain stylo
The Lux gets a tiny integrated chainguide for a little extra security. No chain drops through two months of solid testing and XC racing.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The DUB bottom bracket was tight and quiet throughout testing, and the 92mm wide BB shell creates a broad and stiff junction point for the frame.
ergon sm pro saddle
The stock Selle Italia SLR perch was so uncomfortable that I removed it and subbed in an Ergon SM Pro saddle.

The Selle Italia SLR saddle proved to be a slippery slope to pain though, and lasted a single ride before I replaced it with an Ergon SM Pro – one of my current favourite saddles. The Lux comes stock with Ergon grips (the founders of Ergon and Canyon are brothers), so why can’t we have Ergon saddles too please Canyon?

Points are won back thanks to the top-notch Reynolds TR249 wheels

Points are won back thanks to the top-notch Reynolds TR249 wheels, which feature carbon rims with a 24mm internal width that suits the stock 2.2in rubber well. The wheelset is lightweight at 1601g (confirmed w/tubeless tape & valves), and they achieve a nice balance between rigidity and compliance to complement the Lux’s sharp handling, without being overly harsh. They’re no doubt stiffer than the alloy Hunt wheels I recently reviewed, but they’re more compliant than a lot of other carbon XC hoops I’ve ridden.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 reynolds tr249 carbon wheels maxxis rekon tyre rockshox sid select fork reynolds tr249 carbon wheels
The Reynolds wheels are superb, but the without the oversized Torque Caps, fitting the front wheel is more awkward than it should be.

The only annoyance is with the standard front hub end caps, which float around inside the cavernous dropouts of the SID fork when you’re trying to locate the axle when fitting the front wheel. Either the hub needs the oversized Torque Caps to fit properly, or RockShox needs to ditch the concept and go back to standard dropouts like everyone else.

Speaking of other mild annoyances, the lever reach on the SRAM Level TLM brakes requires a tiny hex key inserted at a really awkward angle to adjust – I had to take the grips off to get to it cleanly. Sure, it’s not the sort of thing you adjust all the time, but it would be most wonderful if SRAM and Shimano work out an easier way to do this on their XC brakes.

Once the lines are rid of pesky air bubbles, the Levels feel rock solid with usable power and terrific modulation.

Using the new generation two-piece calliper, the Level brakes offer more braking power over the previous version. I did need to add a dab of Teflon lube to the lever pivots, which got quite squeaky after some dusty race action, and I also had to run a full system bleed partway through the test period to rectify some squishy brake levers. Once the lines are rid of pesky air bubbles, the Levels feel rock solid with usable power and terrific modulation. These are great brakes.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 sram level tlm disc brakes
Squeaky brake levers were rectified by dropping some Teflon lube into the main pivot bushing.
2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The flat-mount disc brake calliper is very tidy, though any standard brake calliper will fit with an adapter.

Any Changes To The Bike?

Of course! Aside from the saddle, partway through the test period I also fitted a slightly meatier Pirelli tyre combo – a 2.2in Scorpion M on the front and a 2.2in Scorpion R on the rear. The stock Maxxis tyres are light (662g for the Aspen and 681g for the Rekon), but they’re somewhat flimsy and the Aspen is basically a glorified gravel tyre.

The Pirellis have much more stable sidewalls, and they’re really well damped too. These are quickly becoming my go-to combo for XC and fast trail riding due to their dependability, versatility, and dry condition grip.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 maxxis aspen tyre
The stock Maxxis rubber is light, but the Aspen isn’t the stickiest tyre going. I fitted a set of Pirelli Scorpion tyres partway through the test period.

The other component I wanted to experiment with was the fork. This is because every Lux model that’s spec’d with a RockShox fork has a 51mm offset, while the models with a Fox fork have a 44mm offset. In speaking with Canyon, this purely came down to availability – at the time the bikes were being spec’d at the factory, RockShox was only offering the 51mm offset. That has changed since, and moving forward, Canyon will be running the shorter offset for 2021 and beyond.

Lucky for me, I had a 2020 Fox 32 SC fork in my possession with 100mm travel and a 44mm offset. So I fitted it to the Lux to see how it would ride.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 fox 32 step-cast sc fork
I also tested the Canyon with a 100mm travel fork with a shorter 44mm offset.

For a start, the Fox 32 SC dropped a considerable amount of weight. The SID weighed in at a confirmed 1731g, while the 32 SC comes in at 1406g (both with a cut steerer and star nut installed). This brought the total bike weight down to just on 11kg.

With the 100mm travel fork, the Lux’ angles also sharpened by 0.5°, while the BB height dropped by 4mm. I still never clipped a pedal though – the stable suspension performance ensures the cranks maintain ground clearance, as you’re not wallowing through the travel.

I felt more confident and in control on the descents, especially at speed.

Aside from having much better small-bump sensitivity and a more responsive action overall, the 32 SC’s shorter offset gives the Lux noticeably steadier steering. Even having reduced the travel from 110mm to 100mm, the shorter offset helps to increase ground trail, which calms down the steering and increases the front wheels ability to self-correct after being knocked off-line. I felt more confident and in control on the descents, especially at speed.

 

The downside? I needed a little more muscle to thread it around slower, really tight corners – particularly on the flats or uphill. This is something you can adapt to relatively easily though, and it could also be mitigated with a slightly wider bar that would increase leverage over the front wheel.

Having tested both, I preferred the ride quality with the shorter fork offset.

Having tested both, I preferred the ride quality with the shorter fork offset. However, changing the fork is a pretty expensive upgrade in anyone’s books. With that in mind, my pick of the 2020 Canyon Lux range would be the Lux CF SL 7.0, which sells for $5,199 and comes with a 110mm travel Fox 34 Step-Cast fork, that should offer a bit more comfort and descending oomph.

For those who are particularly serious about their racing though, the Lux CF SLX 9.0 Team comes with its XTR groupset and 100mm Fox 32 Step-Cast fork. With a claimed weight of just 10.2kg, it looks like an absolute weapon, but sells for nearly double the price at $10,249.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0
The Lux cuts an aesthetically pleasing figure, but it hasn’t done so at the expense of real-world practicality.

Flow’s Final Word

As far as XC race bikes go, the Canyon Lux is one of the most well-rounded packages on the market. It might not be silky smooth, but it’s faster and more responsive than the Giant Anthem. The lack of proprietary suspension also means it’s less polarising and more practical than the Specialized Epic. It doesn’t descend quite as well as the Scott Spark or the Santa Cruz Blur, but the Lux will take two water bottles inside its mainframe and its superb suspension possesses more natural pedal efficiency.

The Orbea Oiz is a bike that shares a lot in common with the Lux on paper. I’ve only had a single days ride on the new Oiz, so I’m looking forward to getting one in on home trails to see how it stacks up against the Lux. The Trek Supercaliber is another new contender with dual-bottle compatibility and the intriguing IsoStrut suspension design, and we’re eager to see how the latter performs on the trail. Stay tuned for more on those bikes.

None of that takes anything away from the fact that the Lux is a highly refined XC bike though. With a high-value parts package, and a streamlined chassis that places a focus on efficiency and practicality, this is an ideal choice for the privateer racer.

2020 canyon lux cf sl 8.0 wil lysterfield
We reckon this is one of, if not the most well-rounded XC race bikes on the market right now.

Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

1×12 Drivetrain Review | Shimano SLX M7100 vs SRAM GX Eagle

Wil reviews the new Shimano SLX M7100 groupset against SRAM GX Eagle

Earlier this year Shimano rolled out not one, but two brand new 12-speed groupsets – Deore XT M8100, and SLX M7100. This double-release was something of a surprise move from the Japanese brand, which has traditionally only released one new mountain bike groupset each year. Then again, it’s no secret that Shimano has been dragging its heels when it comes to dedicated 1x drivetrains. While SRAM can currently boast having no fewer than eight dedicated 1×12 groupsets (two of those being wireless electronic drivetrains), Shimano has just three. On top of that, Shimano suffered hefty delays in getting XTR M9100 to market last year, which gave up further ground to its US rival in the ongoing battle for drivetrain supremacy.

Of course the Japanese brand isn’t one to rush things. And as the world’s largest component manufacturer, and the owner of some of the world’s largest machines for producing those components, Shimano tends to take its time before hitting the ‘on’ button. Having finally given the green light to the new Deore XT M8100 and SLX M7100 groupsets back in June of this year though, Shimano is ready to return fire in a big way.

Shimano rolled out its first 12-speed groupset last year – XTR M9100. Supply and manufacturing issues hampered its introduction though.
shimano deore xt m8100 derailleur mech
For 2019, Shimano has two new 12-speed drivetrains, including the much-anticipated Deore XT M8100 groupset.
shimano slx m7100 1x12 drivetrain groupset disc brakes 4-piston
The SLX M7100 groupset wasn’t hyped up in the media as much, but we think it’s perhaps the most exciting groupset on the market right now.

Less Bling, Less Bucks

In the world of drivetrain hierarchy, Shimano XTR and SRAM XX1 are the self-proclaimed big dogs at the top of the ladder, with XT and X01 sitting one rung below. Occupying the third, and more sensibly-priced position is Shimano’s SLX M7100 groupset, and SRAM’s GX Eagle groupset.

Both SLX and GX Eagle are heavily modelled on their more expensive counterparts. A more utilitarian approach to materials however, sees both groupsets coming in at around 1/3rd of the price of XTR/XX1 while possessing much of the same functionality. For riders less concerned about grams and bling, SLX and GX Eagle allow you to put more of your dollars into your bike’s suspension, wheels and tyres, or perhaps just directly back into your wallet.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been testing a Shimano SLX M7100 groupset that’s comprised of a 1×12 drivetrain and 4-piston disc brakes. If you’d like to take a closer look at all the options, confirmed weights and Australian pricing, be sure to check out our the detailed first look story here.

In this review, I’ll be focussing on the SLX 1×12 drivetrain. More importantly though, we’re going to look at how it stacks up against its main rival; SRAM’s popular GX Eagle.

shimano slx m7100 1x12 drivetrain
I’ve been testing a 1×12 SLX M7100 drivetrain and the 4-piston Enduro brakes.
sram gx eagle 1x12 drivetrain
I’ve ridden a load of GX Eagle groupsets since its introduction back in 2017. It’s popular for a reason.

Cost

First thing’s first. Cash money. This one’s pretty easy to quantify, because Shimano SLX has SRAM GX Eagle beaten, hand’s down. While a GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain costs $850, a Shimano SLX M7100 1×12 drivetrain is listed at $593. That’s about 30% cheaper.

…which is over double the price of a Shimano SLX M7100 cassette…

While all of the individual SLX components cost less than their GX Eagle counterparts, the biggest price difference can be found in the cassette. A SRAM XG-1275 cassette has a list price of $329, which is over double the price of a Shimano SLX M7100 cassette. The construction is quite different between the two, but regardless, that’s a hefty difference for a consumable item.

Bear in mind that these drivetrain prices don’t include the bottom bracket. Since there’s a kerbillion standards these days (SRAM makes over 20 different BBs for their DUB cranks!), you’ll have to buy one separately. That’ll set you back $49 for a Shimano PF92 BB, and $69 for SRAM’s DUB PF92 BB.

Winner: Shimano SLX M7100

shimano slx m7100 crankset 1x12
Shimano’s SLX groupset is priced incredibly well – the drivetrain is 30% cheaper than GX Eagle.
sram gx eagle crankset
Both GX Eagle and SLX come in at around 1/3rd of the cost of SRAM and Shimano’s flagship groupsets (that’s XX1 and XTR).

Weight

As with price, grams are just as easy to quantify, and here SRAM wins one back on Shimano. Confirmed weight on our Scales Of Doom for a GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain is 1766g, while SLX M7100 comes in at 1882g. Again, this weight is without the bottom bracket.

There isn’t a big weight difference in any single component. However, the SRAM XG-1275 ‘Full Pin’ cassette does come in 79g lighter than the SLX M7100 cassette (448g vs 527g). You can see where the extra grams come from in the SLX cassette, which simply has more meat to it.

For the weight weenies out there, it’s also worth pointing out that both the cassette and crankset are your best point of call for weight-saving upgrades.

Is the weight difference a big deal? You’d have to be a pretty sensitive rider to notice that 79g, but it’s still worth noting that more weight at the rear wheel can affect performance on a full suspension bike. In theory, a lighter cassette will help improve suspension reactivity by reducing unsprung mass.

For the weight weenies out there, it’s also worth pointing out that both the cassette and crankset are your best point of call for weight-saving upgrades. Going to an XX1 crankset (420g) and cassette (357g) would drop 300g over the GX equivalents, and a Shimano XTR crankset (548g) and cassette (369g) would lob off 244g off the SLX equivalents.

Winner: SRAM GX Eagle

sram gx eagle cassette 1x12
SRAM uses a ‘Full Pin’ construction for the GX Eagle cassette. It doesn’t shift as crisply as an X01 or XX1 cassette, but it is a helluva lot cheaper.
shimano slx m7100 cassette 10-51t 12-speed
The SLX cassette is nearly 200g heavier than an XTR cassette.

Installation

I found setting up the Shimano SLX M7100 1×12 drivetrain to be a relatively straightforward affair. Fitting the Hollowtech II cranks is exactly the same as previous generation XT and SLX cranks, with a near-foolproof bearing preload system. Tighten the main plastic crank bolt until the wee safety pin drops down into its guide hole in the axle, then torque the two bolts to lock down the non-drive crank arm down.

One detail I absolutely love is the guideline that Shimano has etched into the back of the jockey wheel cage, which is there to help you align the mech with the 51T sprocket to set the B-tension.

It’s a slightly more convoluted process for getting the right chain length. This is the PDF manual you’ll want on hand to help with setting up a Shimano 1×12 drivetrain, which includes how to determine the correct chain length and adjust the rear mech. Cable tension and limit screws are tuned as normal, though it’s worth flicking the Shadow Plus friction clutch off while you’re adjusting gears in the workstand. One detail I absolutely love is the guideline that Shimano has etched into the back of the jockey wheel cage, which is there to help you align the mech with the 51T sprocket to set the B-tension.

shimano slx m7100 crankset
Shimano’s Hollowtech II system is still the benchmark for ease of installation and removal.
shimano slx m7100 derailleur
There’s a faint etched line on the top of the jockey wheel cage, which is there to help you align it to the 51T sprocket. Love that feature!

I witnessed exploding Eagle mechs on two separate bike launches last year

Tolerances required for modern 12-speed components are tight, so clean cables and a straight mech hanger are a must whether you’re running SRAM or Shimano. That said, I have found SRAM Eagle derailleurs to be particularly sensitive to improper chain length and B-tension setup. I witnessed exploding Eagle mechs on two separate bike launches last year – the first one was due to a too-long chain, and the second was from incorrect B-tension setup. In both cases, the chain lodged itself between the lower jockey wheel and the cage, before it ripped open the whole cage.

A few months later in the latter part of 2018, SRAM quietly introduced a new lower jockey wheel design, which has a wider shelf to prevent the chain from bouncing off and getting jammed in the first place, even if things haven’t been setup properly. I’ve not witnessed any issues since.

sram gx eagle derailleur
SRAM changed the design of the lower jockey wheel last year, and it now features a wider ‘shelf’ to prevent the chain from jamming between the cage and the pulley.

For anyone out there who’s experiencing shifting issues with an Eagle drivetrain though, I’d highly recommend checking out SRAM’s instructional video, even if you bought a complete bike with the drivetrain already fitted. Utilising the red plastic B-tension tool is absolutely critical to position the upper jockey wheel the correct distance from the 50T cassette sprocket. And if you have a full suspension bike, make sure you check this measurement while sitting on the bike to sag the suspension.

It isn’t impossible, but it certainly requires a whole lot more muscle than Shimano’s Hollowtech II system.

Abide by those rules, and GX Eagle is also pretty easy to setup. The new DUB bottom bracket system may have annoyed standards-phobes when it debuted last year, but I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the fit and finish of the new bearing and seal system. The preload collar makes it easy to remove axial play, and so far, long term durability has been positive.

My only complaint is that the main crank bolt requires an enormous amount of force (54 whole Newton meters!) to tighten it down. To remove the cranks, I use a heat gun, a very long torque wrench, and a friend to stand on the opposite pedal. It isn’t impossible, but it certainly requires a whole lot more muscle than Shimano’s Hollowtech II system.

sram gx eagle derailleur b-tension tool setup
Setting B-tension on an Eagle mech is absolutely crucial to proper shift performance. Make sure you use this red tool to do it properly.
sram gx eagle crankset dub bottom bracket t47 threaded bsa
The DUB bottom brackets have performed well. But installing and removing the crank requires more brute force compared to a Shimano crank.

In regards to installation and setup, there are a couple more details to note.

Firstly, Shimano does offer greater gearing flexibility, with SLX being available with both 10-51T and 10-45T cassette options. I’ve been testing the bigger option, but the smaller spread will appeal to racer types who prefer a tighter gear range. And even if it is a shrinking market, SLX is also available in a 2×12 setup for those who want maximum range, and own a bike that will fit a front mech. That said, SRAM does have more crank and BB solutions, including fatbike specific options.

There’s still a long list of brands who aren’t signed up yet though, and that does put up a barrier for some riders who are looking to change over to a Shimano 12-speed groupset.

Secondly, Micro Spline. Yes, in order to fit one of Shimano’s new 12-speed cassettes, one must have a specific Micro Spline freehub. I actually quite like the design’s chunky splines, which allows a lighter alloy freehub body to be used, with less chance of the gouging that Shimano’s HG freehub body design was prone to.

dt swiss micro spline freehub body
Annoying license restrictions with the Micro Spline freehub design have no doubt slowed uptake of Shimano’s 1×12 drivetrains.
shimano slx m7100 12-speed 1x cassette 10-51t
The Micro Spline design is necessary in order to accommodate the 10T cog that Shimano is using on its 12-speed cassettes.

However, the Japanese brand has been very tight with licensing its special freehub body design, and at the time of writing, there’s still only a handful of names outside of Shimano who have hubs available with a Micro Spline fitting. These include DT Swiss, Mavic, Industry Nine, Newmen, Fulcrum, Giant, Syncros, Roval and Bontrager. Thankfully, this will be changing for 2020. Shimano announced recently that it would be relaxing the licensing process, and we understand that both Hope Technology and Hunt Bike Wheels will be offering up Micro Spline freehub bodies from January 1st onwards.

There’s still a long list of brands who aren’t signed up yet though, and that does put up a barrier for some riders who are looking to change over to a Shimano 12-speed groupset. SRAM’s competing XD freehub design is much more prevalent, making it an easier option from a compatibility perspective. For this reason, it’s a tie when it comes to installing these two drivetrains.

Winner: Tie

shimano slx m7100 10-51t cassette 12-speed
I’ve been testing the 10-51T cassette, though you can also get a 10-45T option too.

Ergonomics

While both SLX and GX Eagle do in fact, shift gears, they are less feature-rich compared to their higher-end offspring.

For example, the SLX shifter skips the rubber pads on the levers that you’ll find on XT and XTR. They still get the nice traction grooves though, which improves tactility and grip, with or without gloves. The physical action of the paddles is lighter too, most notably in the up-shift lever. I actually prefer this light action compared to the punchier feel from the XT and XTR shift levers, which do provide a very positive and audible ‘click’, but require more thumb force to engage.

shimano slx m7100 shifter
The traction grooves on the SLX shifter paddles give it great tactility.

One key omission from the SLX shifter is the lack of a double up-shift, something that I’m very fond of on Shimano’s XT and XTR shifters. It’s not a big deal, but I do miss not being able to quickly up-shift two gears in one throw. I plan to upgrade to an XT I-SPEC EV shifter soon, which will also lose one more clamp from the cockpit. The new I-SPEC EV system works really well, allowing for 14mm of lateral and 20° of rotational adjustment for the shifter body while mounted to a Shimano brake lever. This provides greater adjustment than SRAM’s longstanding MatchMaker system, and that gives you more flexibility for getting the levers setup in the ideal position.

In contrast, the up-shift paddle is a pleasure to use, with a nice short throw and a more positive click compared to the SLX shifter.

Though SRAM’s GX Eagle trigger shifter also performs a similar job to X01 and XX1, the main shift paddle misses out on any angular adjustment. It’s still a big and easy to hit lever, but the shape is pointier and less comfortable on the thumb. In contrast, the up-shift paddle is a pleasure to use, with a nice short throw and a more positive click compared to the SLX shifter.

Ultimately, both shifters do what they’re meant to, and it’s only personal preference that will dictate a rider’s preference between SLX and GX Eagle, and for that reason these two are tied when it comes to ergonomics.

Winner: Tie

sram gx eagle shifter
The main paddle on the GX Eagle shifter is a little pointy, and you can’t adjust the angle like you can with X01 and XX1.
sram gx eagle shifter
Love the short throw and punchy action of the up-shift lever.

Shift Performance

On the trail, I have to say that the SLX drivetrain’s shift quality is nothing short of outstanding. In fact, there is really very little that separates the shift quality here compared to the thrice-as-expensive XTR groupset.

The shift performance it delivers under load is rather incredible.

Much of this has to do with the Hyperglide+ cassette. Hyperglide+ is Shimano’s name for the collection of shift ramps and pins that have been laid out in a specific sequence to reduce lag time as the chain shifts up and down the cassette. The technology first debuted on 12-speed XTR, but has now trickled down to 12-speed XT and SLX.

The shift performance it delivers under load is rather incredible. You can be out of the saddle, mashing on the pedals, and the chain will shift with little hesitation in whichever direction you want it to. This goes against everything I was taught when I got my first 21-speed mountain bike, and I’ll admit that it’s taken time with new Shimano drivetrains to trust that I can shift accurately under power, without fear of the chain exploding on me.

shimano slx m7100 10-51t cassette 12-speed
The new Hyperglide+ cassette provides incredible shift performance while under load.

In comparison, the GX Eagle drivetrain shifts just fine, though it isn’t quite as fast or as slick as Shimano’s latest 12-speed cassettes. It’s also a bit clunkier than an X01 or XX1 cassette, both of which are almost entirely machined from a single block of steel. The GX Eagle XG-1275 cassette uses individual steel sprockets that are pinned together instead, which in theory, allows for more flex under load. The result is less crisp shifting, particularly when you’re pushing hard. Yeah it’ll still shift when you’re hammering at the pedals, it just won’t do it as quickly or as reliably as the SLX drivetrain.

Cadence-sensitive riders may say otherwise, but the difference is small enough that realistically, I can get used to either one within a ride.

sram gx eagle 1x12 drivetrain
The GX Eagle drivetrain also shifts well, just not quite as smoothly as SLX.

Shimano also has SRAM beaten on outright range with its 10-51T cassette ratio, though it’s only by a small amount (510% vs 500%). There’s also a slightly different approach to the gear ratios between the two cassettes;

  • SLX: 10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-33-39-45-51T
  • GX: 10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42-50T

SRAM keeps the ratios tighter for longer, before going to a big 8T jump on the last shift to the 50T cog. In comparison, Shimano’s cassette opens up a little sooner in the middle of the cassette, but never makes a jump higher than 6T. Is the difference noticeable between the two? In my experience, only on the last shift, which does feel bigger on a SRAM Eagle cassette. Cadence-sensitive riders may say otherwise, but the difference is small enough that realistically, I can get used to either one within a ride.

Overall, the SLX drivetrain is the smoother and quieter performer of the two. You’ll still get some crackly shift noises when the cassette is covered in dust (as has been the case on our local trails of late), but it’s not as noisy as GX Eagle. This is no doubt also due to the extended and chamfered profile of the inner chain links and the Dynamic Chain Engagement+ tooth profile used on the chainring, which allows for everything to mesh together smoothly and cleanly.

Winner: Shimano SLX M7100

shimano slx m7100 crankset 1x12 chain
The SLX chain uses extended and chamfered inner plates that mesh cleanly with the narrow-wide chainring profile.

Durability

While I’ve only had the SLX drivetrain for a couple of months, I’ve still managed to put several hundred kms on it so far. And aside from a few tweaks to cable tension as things have settled in, I haven’t had to touch any of the other adjustments – it’s been totally rock solid during that time.

Just like GX Eagle, the SLX cassette uses ten steel sprockets with the 51T being made from alloy. This of course makes it heavier than an XT or XTR cassette (the latter of which has three sprockets made from alloy, and five sprockets made from titanium), but it also means the teeth will be tougher and more wear resistant. I also like that Shimano hasn’t coated the steel sprockets, which means it looks fresher for longer.

The SLX chainring also uses steel teeth, which affords further long-term durability. In comparison, the GX Eagle cranks come stock with an alloy chainring. That said, the X-Sync 2 chainring design has proven to wear very well over time, and is a huge improvement on the original narrow-wide profile of the first generation X-Sync chainrings.

shimano slx m7100 crankset 1x12
The outer ring on the SLX chainring is made from steel, giving greater wear life to the teeth.

I’ve not encountered any issues with the SLX shifter or rear derailleur, though one thing I have (or more accurately haven’t) noticed is the slimmer profile of Shimano’s Shadow Plus rear derailleurs. When positioned in the 10T cog, the GX Eagle mech sticks out a full 10mm further away from the frame, putting it more readily in harms way.

It makes removing and installing the wheel a breeze

While we’re on the rear mech, I gotta say I still prefer SRAM’s Cage Lock button for locking out the jockey wheel cage. It makes removing and installing the wheel a breeze, and far easier than the SLX mech even with the Shadow Plus clutch turned off. That said, Shimano does allow the user to adjust the clutch tension internally, which means you can increase the tension it places on the chain for a tighter and more secure fit, even as things wear over time.

Winner: Shimano SLX M7100

sram gx eagle 1x12 derailleur
SRAM’s Cage Lock system makes it wonderfully easy to remove the rear wheel.
shimano slx m7100 derailleur clutch
You can adjust the clutch tension internally, and you can also flick the clutch off too.
sram gx eagle 1x12 derailleur
SRAM’s 1x mechs tend to stick quite far out from the frame.
shimano m7100 1x12 derailleur
You get an extra 10mm of clearance with Shimano’s Shadow Plus derailleurs, keeping them further out of harms way.

Shimano SLX M7100 vs SRAM GX Eagle – Overall

If you’ve been tallying up the results so far, then you’ll already know that Shimano has taken the victory here.

The Japanese brand may have taken its sweet time to deliver its first three proper 1x drivetrains, but it’s put a huge amount of consideration into creating a versatile, durable, and smooth-shifting system. With SLX M7100, the result is a tough 1×12 drivetrain that offers smooth, fast and accurate shifting at a rather incredible price point.

Providing you can fit a Micro Spline freehub to your existing wheels, this is the groupset is the practical choice for value-conscious riders who want XTR-like shifting performance, without the XTR-like price tag.

shimano slx m7100 10-51t cassette 12-speed
Shimano SLX M7100 wins this 1×12 drivetrain battle against SRAM GX Eagle.

Mo’ Flow Please!

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Review | The Syncros Fraser iC SL Is A Whacky But Ultra-Light Carbon Handlebar & Stem (In One)

Wil Reviews The Syncros Fraser iC SL Carbon Handlebar

Around the time of its acquisition by Scott Sports back in 2012, Syncros was primarily focussed on by-the-numbers parts and accessories. You know, stuff that worked fine and was decent, but prioritised value rather than attention-grabbing innovation. That’s all been turned on its head over the past couple of years, with Scott having injected a serious amount of R&D clout into the Syncros brand to take the performance and desirability levels up a notch.

The Hixon handlebar was one of the first notable fruits of this labour. A very unusual-looking handlebar that integrated the fork steerer clamp into the single, angular, carbon fibre structure, the Hixon was the first bar to fall under the ‘Integrated Cockpit’ (iC) range. Syncros has since expanded on the iC concept – quite literally – with a 780mm wide option, and an 800mm wide DH-specific model called the Hixon iC 1.0 Rise.

For the XC racers and riders out there who don’t need such wide ape-hangers, there’s now a lightweight XC version too, called the Fraser iC SL.

Whoa Crazy Shape!

Pretty wild isn’t it? Just like the Hixon, the Fraser is made in a single mould out of unidirectional carbon fibre. There is no need for a traditional stem with the Fraser iC SL, because the handlebar is the stem too. This creates a simpler structure overall, along with a distinctive look thanks to an organic, flared-out profile. When fitted, it kinda reminds me of a hammerhead shark.

Without a stem faceplate to worry about (and the overzealous, tool-wielding bolt-tighteners that are in charge of fitting and adjusting those faceplates), Syncros doesn’t need to overbuild the bar to account for those forces. This gives Syncros’ engineers more flexibility for tuning the bar’s damping and stiffness profile, while using less carbon in the construction process. Of course that also makes it incredibly lightweight – these weigh in at just 226g on our scales. That’s lighter than most handlebars on the market!

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem santa cruz blur
The 740mm wide Syncros Fraser iC SL, fitted to a Santa Cruz Blur CC test bike.

What Options Are There?

The Fraser iC SL comes in a single 740mm width, and it gets a flat profile with a 6° up-sweep, and a 9° back-sweep. You can get it in four different lengths with 60, 70, 80 & 90mm options that emulate an 8° drop.

There are two additional ‘Signature Editions’ of the Fraser handlebar: a 100mm long version with a 17° drop, as ridden by Andri Frischknecht, and a 90mm long version with an insane 25° drop as ridden by Nino Schurter.

Given my talent is lightyears away from those uber-flexible World Cup XC athletes, I elected to test the standard Fraser iC SL handlebar in a 70mm ‘virtual’ length to suit my Santa Cruz Blur CC. Previously I’d been running a 760mm wide Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon with a 60mm Apex stem, so as well as putting me in a racier position, the Fraser iC SL helped to drop nearly 100g from the cockpit – mass that sits quite high up on the bike.

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem santa cruz blur
Syncros offers the Fraser iC SL in a single 740mm width, with numerous ‘stem’ lengths and drop angles.

Installing The Syncros Fraser

The Fraser slides straight onto a regular mountain bike fork steerer tube. The ‘stem’ has a 37mm stack height, which is actually 2mm shorter than the Renthal Apex stem I previously had on the bike. You can use standard 1 1/8in headset spacers, though Syncros includes a suite of plastic spacers that are designed to integrate neatly with the shape of the stem. You also get a plastic Garmin GPS mount in the box – more on that later.

Unlike the Renthal setup that was on the bike before, the Fraser uses just two T25 Torx bolts to clamp it down. This makes installation a breeze, though I do find it’s harder visually to align the bars with the front wheel. Carbon paste on the steerer clamp isn’t a requirement, but Syncros says it doesn’t hurt to use a little if you so choose.

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem santa cruz blur
We’ve been testing a 70mm length with an 8° drop.

Syncros has added sanding texture to the grip area of the bar though, which increases surface friction with your grips, as well as the brake levers, shifter and dropper post clamps.

With the Fraser installed on the front of the Blur, it’s pretty rare to go on a group ride where someone doesn’t point it out. And for good reason – it looks absolutely bonkers. The ‘stem’ is super stout, with most of the forward extension is provided by the bar, which kicks forward first before angling backwards where it straightens out at the grips.

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem santa cruz blur
Sanding texture moulded into the bar’s surface helps to increase friction for the grips, brake levers and and shifter clamps.

On The Trail

Having tested out the Syncros Hixon handlebar in the 760mm, 780mm and 800mm flavours, I’m already very familiar with the iC concept, ride quality and styling. Compared to the wider versions, I wouldn’t say the Fraser is ‘harsh’, but it is noticeably firmer, with less damping compared to its bigger brothers.

Part of this is simply down to the narrower width, which has less opportunity to flex than an 800mm bar does. But the shape and layup of the carbon fibre is also responsible for the stiff and responsive performance of the Fraser. This direct feel is ideal on the front of an XC race whip, particularly as it bears a lot of your weight as you jump out of the saddle to hammer the pedals and heave at the bars on the climbs. The lack of twang also complements the crisp handling of a sharp-angled XC bike well.

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem santa cruz blur bikeyoke silicone grips
Silicone foam grips are light and offer useful buzz filtration.

I did temper the firm feel with a set of Syncros’ lightweight silicone foam grips, which provide a little more cushion compared to conventional lock-on grips. They’re very similar to ESI grips, and come in at a low weight of just 55g for the pair.

As for the shape of the Syncros Fraser iC SL, it is most definitely suited to an XC race setup, with the 8° drop pushing the grips lower down towards the fork crown. The sweep angles are proven, though I did find the bar to be a touch more square than I expected given it has a 9° back-sweep. However, this is mostly down to the racier setup that I’ve move to on the Blur, which now has a slightly longer and lower effective reach relative to the Renthal bar and stem I had on before.

While I’m talking about the bar profile, it’s worth factoring in the head angle of your bike, because this will alter the sweep at the grips. A much slacker head angle will feel like the bars have been rolled back, while a much steeper head angle will effectively roll the bars forward. If you’re hyper sensitive to such things, this will be worth bearing in mind if your your bike has a head angle that deviates significantly from that of a Scott Spark (68.5°) or Scale (69.5°), which the Fraser handlebar was initially designed with.

santa cruz blur cc fox 32 step-cast hunt race xc wide sram x01 eagle bikeyoke divine sl syncros fraser ic sl
We dropped nearly 100g off the front of the Blur going to the Syncros Fraser iC SL bar.

What Are The Downsides?

The most obvious downside of the iC design over a conventional bar and stem setup is that you give up any adjustability to tweak the bar roll. You also can’t as easily change stem length or bar width – you’ll need to buy a whole new Fraser bar if you change bikes and decide you want a longer or shorter reach.

There are also practical limitations with the non-round section of the bar, which makes it difficult to attach a standard GPS mount. That’s no problem if you’ve got a Garmin, as you can make use of the special mount that Syncros includes with the Fraser. I’ve got a Wahoo ELEMNT Roam though, so I fitted a K-Edge Adjustable Stem Mount, which does fit quite neatly. Since receiving this bar for testing, Syncros has launched an aftermarket adjustable GPS mount that’s made by K-Edge, which is kind of a mashup between the two.

garmin wahoo gps k-edge mount
Syncros includes a neat Garmin mount (right) with the Fraser iC SL. To suit a Wahoo GPS, we used a K-Edge Adjustable Mount (left).
syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem santa cruz blur wahoo elemnt roam gps
The Wahoo ELEMNT Roam GPS fits neatly in the middle of the bars. But the shape of the Fraser means you’re limited with a lot of bar-mounted accessories.

Other accessories that you’d normally mount adjacent to the stem faceplate, like a headlight, can also be trickier to fit. Lights that use a rubber strap-on mount (like a Lezyne or Light & Motion head unit) will fit fine, providing you can adjust where the light points to compensate for the wiggidy-whack angle of the bar. My little commuter lights don’t have that option, so they tend to face a little off-centre, which is annoying.

And for those who own a light that uses a solid clamp (like an Exposure, Gloworm or Lupine for example), then you’re basically up the creek sans paddle.

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem
It’s a slightly unusual view from up here.

How Does It Compare To A Regular Bar & Stem Combo?

At 226g, the Syncros Fraser iC SL is very lightweight, but it isn’t quite the lightest out there. It is also pretty expensive at $399, but if you’re looking at other premium bar/stem combos, it’s actually not that bad. In fact, when you consider an ENVE M6 stem sells for the same price on its own, the Fraser iC SL looks like a comparative bargain! Here’s a few of the more exotic options on the market, arranged from heaviest to lightest;

  • Syntace Vector Carbon Low 10 Bar & FlatForce Stem ($539 approx) – 353g
  • Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon & Apex Stem ($420) – 323g
  • ENVE M5 Bar & M6 Stem ($669) – 291g
  • Tune Turnstange Flatbar 2.0 & Geiles Teil 4.0 Stem ($630 approx) – 237g
  • Syncros Fraser iC SL Handlebar/Stem ($399) – 226g
  • MCFK MTB Flatbar & 6° Carbon Stem ($919 approx) – 201g
  • Schmolke MTB SL Bar & Extralite Stem ($581 approx) – 194g
  • Gemini Pröpus Handlebar/Stem ($875 approx) – 149-159g

While there are three options I could find (and probably a few more that I couldn’t) that have a lighter claimed weight than the Fraser iC SL, it’s worth noting that once you get into ultra-light territory for carbon handlebars and stems, rider weight starts to become a more serious component of the whole equation. It’s perhaps with some greater piece of mind then, that the Syncros Fraser iC SL has a generous 120kg rider weight limit – the same as a Scott Spark, since that’s the bike the Fraser was originally designed for.

syncros fraser ic SL carbon handlebar stem
Integrating the bar and stem into one unit presents some quirks, but it also has some serious benefits too.

Flow’s Final Word

There are no doubts that the Syncros Fraser iC SL is one trick piece of kit, though its performance and real-world practicality will prove to be as divisive as its unique looks. If you’re after a smooth and flexy bar for trail riding, look elsewhere. Likewise, if you need to mount specific accessories onto your bars, then you might struggle to get what you want here.

If you can deal with those limitations though, and you’re after a supremely lightweight cockpit without having to spend up big on exotica from the German and Italian brands, then the Fraser iC SL presents itself as a beautiful piece of engineering that has been tuned perfectly for the hard and fast demands of World Cup XC racing.


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Review | The Hunt Race XC Wide Wheelset Is Proof That Carbon Ain’t All That And A Bag Of Chips

Hunt Bike Wheels

A relatively new name to the scene, Hunt Bike Wheels was first established in the UK back in 2015 by the Marchment brothers; Tom & Peter. With a goal to shake-up the market by delivering sensible, durable and well-priced complete wheelsets direct-to-consumer, Hunt doesn’t shy from the fact that it utilises high quality components sourced from its Taiwanese manufacturing partners, some of which are producing parts for the much bigger brand names out there.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide
Hunt Bike Wheels is a UK brand that’s set to shakeup the complete wheel market with its direct-to-consumer approach.

When Tom & Peter first started out, they went after the emerging disc brake road market, with a focus on offering wide, tubeless-compatible rims that were sensibly laced to double sealed cartridge hubs – ideal for their local UK market. The range has expanded rapidly since then, and now encompasses a plethora of road, gravel and CX wheelsets, including rim brake options and a deep-section carbon wheelset that Hunt proclaims as being the fastest disc-brake road wheelset in the world.

Last year, Hunt made the jump into the mountain bike market, with the release of three wheelsets; the Race Wide, Trail Wide and Enduro Wide – all sub-$1000 wheelsets built with standard J-bend spokes, double sealed cartridge bearing hubs, and wide, tubeless-ready alloy rims. The UK wheel brand has since added the heavy duty Downhill Privateer wheelset, its first carbon wheelset called the All Mountain H_Impact, and this; the Race XC Wide.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide fox 32 step-cast fork
The Race XC Wide is a new mountain bike option from Hunt.

The Race XC Wide

The Race XC Wide is the lightest mountain bike wheelset that Hunt produces. It’s lighter than the existing Race Wide wheelset (1647g), which has been achieved by using a lighter rim, straight-pull spokes and hubs. Available exclusively in a 29in diameter and with Boost hub spacing, this is a wheelset that Hunt says is built to handle the demands of modern technical cross-country racing.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide pirelli scorpion
Measuring 24mm internally, the Race XC Wide wheels are suited to 2.1-2.35in wide tyres.

No Carbon Here!

Turn up to any XC race, and you’ll find the vast majority of competitors at the pointy end are aboard carbon fibre wheels – and for good reason. Carbon fibre rims can be made very light, and they can also be very stiff – attributes that are typically lusted after by weight weenies and big-quadded racers.

While carbon fibre continues to dominate when it comes to new wheel releases, the Hunt Race XC Wide bucks that trend by producing an impressive sub-1600g wheelset that utilises alloy – not carbon – rims.

The rims are made from a 6069-T6 heat-treated alloy blend to be specific, which Hunt claims offers 69% greater tensile strength vs 6061-T6. I’m no scientist, but given both Peter and his father John Marchment are both materials engineers, I’m inclined to believe that claim.

The stronger alloy blend allows Hunt to use less material to reduce weight, with each Race XC Wide rim said to weigh just 380g. That isn’t quite as light as a 364g Stan’s NoTubes Crest MK3 rim, though it’s worth noting that the Hunt rims are a touch wider (24mm vs 23mm internally).

hunt bike wheels race xc wide santa cruz blur fox 32 step-cast fork
At just over 1500g, the Race XC Wide is a very light wheelset – especially for one with alloy rims.

How Light We Talking?

Confirmed weight for our test wheelset is just 1538g including the supplied tubeless tape and valves. That’s a darn competitive weight for any XC wheelset, let alone one that achieves it without carbon fibre. To put that number into perspective, here’s a look at a handful of alloy XC wheels currently on the market;

  • Hunt Race Wide (1647g claimed) – $629
  • Hunt Race XC Wide (1517g claimed) – $749
  • Stan’s NoTubes Crest MK3 (1579g claimed) – $999
  • Newmen Evolution SL X.A.25 (1480g claimed) – $1,130
  • DT Swiss XR 1501 Spline One 25 (1600g claimed) – $1,499
  • Mavic Crossmax Pro (1580g claimed) – $1,899

Certainly on paper, the Race XC Wide looks like a great value proposition. Of course you can go lighter with a carbon option like the Stan’s NoTubes Podium SRD wheelset (1287g) or an ENVE M525 wheelset (1388g), but you’ll be spending a helluva lot more cash – about four times as much!

hunt bike wheels race xc wide
Straight-pull hubs and spokes help to lower weight over Hunt’s existing Race Wide wheelset.
hunt bike wheels race xc wide
The hub shells are made from forged and CNC machined 6061-T6 alloy.

What’s The Build Like?

Every Hunt wheels is hand built and finished in Taiwan by two master wheel builders. The Race XC Wide is laced with 28 triple-butted stainless steel Pillar PSR spokes per wheel. These straight-pull spokes are slightly thicker at the head for increased strength, and they thread into 14mm alloy nipples that are hard-anodised for long term durability.

The 6-bolt hubs are initially forged from hunks of 6061-T6 heat-treated alloy, before they’re CNC machined and anodised into the final structure. Inside you’ll find sealed cartridge bearings with dual contact seals, and large diameter 7075-T6 heat-treated alloy axles.

The rear hub is a buzzy one, with 6-pawls set in a dual phase to deliver 72 engagement points per revolution. They’re not as obnoxious as a Chris King or Industry Nine hub, and I was able to dull a little bit of noise by adding a little extra lithium grease partway through the test period, but they’re still pretty loud.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide
The Pillar PSR spokes use thicker, reinforced heads to increase strength.
hunt bike wheels race xc wide
The 6-pawl freehub mechanism utilises a dual-phase offset to provide 5° engagement.
hunt bike wheels race xc wide
36-tooth ratchet ring inside the rear hub. Note the lack of filth inside our test hub – a sign of quality sealing.

At the time of ordering, you can request either a Shimano HG (9/10/11-speed) or SRAM XD freehub body. Hunt has just added a Shimano Micro Spline freehub option for the Race XC Wide wheels, which will be available from January 2020. For existing users, you can buy a freehub body direct from Hunt for a very reasonable $45.

The complete wheels are shipped with four spare spokes and nipples in the box, a spoke key, and RockShox Torque Cap front hub adapters. Kudos to Hunt for doing so.

A point worth raising for Australian riders is that while Hunt offers free worldwide shipping with the Race XC Wide wheels, they will attract a GST surcharge at the time of purchase, which pushes the price up to $823.90. Hunt does offer a range of add-ons via its webshop, including Schwalbe and Maxxis tyres, Peaty’s tubeless sealant, Huck Norris tyre inserts, tubeless repair kits, and various tools. This is worth considering, because if you can get your order over the $1000 threshold, you’ll be able to dodge the GST. Like any foreign online purchase, there’s still the chance of attracting import duties though – check out this section on the Hunt website for more info there.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide bearing hub rotor
The Hunt wheels feature tool-free hub end caps and smooth sealed cartridge bearings.

Setting Up

With its shallow-profile rims and all-black finish, the Hunt Race XC Wide is an unassuming wheelset alongside big-profile carbon wheels with their shouty graphics. Look closer though, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the rims shot-peened finish and laser-etched graphics. Classy.

The rims are wrapped with Hunts own high-tensile PET tubeless tape, and valves are included in the box. A gently curved rim well is designed to ease tubeless inflation, and once the beads have popped in place, the H-Lock profile utilises ‘up-kicks’ to the rim shoulder to keep the beads locked in tightly to help prevent burping.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide tubeless valve tape rim
Tubeless tape and valves are included with the wheels.
hunt bike wheels race xc wide tubeless rim
The H-Lock rim profile uses ‘up-kicks’ that are designed to secure the tyre beads after they’ve popped into place.

Hunt states the Race XC Wide wheelset is compatible with tyres from 2.1-2.35in wide. I’ve tested the wheels with 2.3in wide Specialized GRID tyres (a Ground Control on the front and a Fast Trak on the rear), as well as 2.2in wide Pirelli tyres (a Scorpion M on the front and a Scorpion R on the rear). In each case tubeless inflation has been effortless with a regular hand pump. No compressor or any foul language required.

On The Trail

My first experience with the Hunt Race XC Wide wheelset was on my personal Santa Cruz Blur CC, where they replaced a set of Santa Cruz Reserve 27s – a relatively stiff carbon trail wheelset. Having swapped over the same Specialized tyre combo while keeping everything else the same, the resulting ride quality was considerably different.

With the shallow alloy rims, the Race XC Wide offers an impressive degree of compliance. Compared to the Reserve 27s, the Race XC Wide is quite a lot smoother, and a whole 200 grams lighter too. This gave the bike a nice and whippy feel through twisty singletrack, with an ease to directional changes that’s useful in an XC racing scenario. I also found the whole bike was a little more composed in really filthy rock gardens, where the wheels wouldn’t punish me so harshly, with less pin-balling and violent tugs at the handlebar.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide pirelli scorpion m tyre
In the latter part of the test period, we set the wheels up with a 2.2in Pirelli Scorpion M on the front.
hunt bike wheels race xc wide canyon lux pirelli scorpion
And a 2.2in Pirelli Scorpion R on the rear.

Looking to put them up against something a little more comparable, I did some back-to-back wheel testing with the Reynolds TR249 wheelset on the 2020 Canyon Lux CF SL 8.0 I’m currently reviewing. These are a superb set of hoops that weigh in at 1601g, with carbon rims that feature the same 24mm internal width, along with 28 straight-pull spokes front and rear.

I setup both wheels with exactly the same tyre combo – a 2.2in Pirelli Scorpion M on the front and a 2.2in Scorpion R on the rear. Tyre pressures were set to 22psi on the front and 25psi on the rear. I rode the wheels on a variety of local test loops, which included technical switchback-heavy climbs, loose rocky high-speed descents, and smooth buffed-out wooded singletrack. To round out the comparison, I spent a couple of test sessions on the Blur, and a couple on the Lux too.

The result? There’s no doubt in my mind that the Race XC Wide is one of the smoothest wheelsets I’ve ridden. They’re noticeably more yielding than stiff carbon hoops, with less shock coming through the contact points when I was hammering the millions of embedded square-edge rocks that bless my local trails around Bendigo. The longer the ride, the more noticeable (or unnoticeable) this characteristic is. And while this was something I was still able to appreciate on our two full suspension test bikes, it goes without saying that it’d be even more appreciable on a hardtail.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide pirelli scorpion
The shallow alloy rims help to improve compliance and vibration damping compared to stiffer carbon rims.
hunt bike wheels race xc wide
The 2.2in wide tyres are spot-on for the Race XC Wide wheels. I wouldn’t go much wider than that though.

The Race XC Wides are only about 60g heavier than the Reynolds hoops, and I’m inclined to believe most of that difference is in the rims. I was still able to detect the improved acceleration – both off the start line, and when attempting to bridge a gap while racing.

But while the Race XC Wides are more forgiving in the rough stuff, they’re not quite as stiff laterally on buffed-out, high-speed trails. I noticed this on twistier, high-speed singletrack in the woods, where the carbon wheels were more responsive when rapidly changing direction and flipping from left to right. In comparison, there was marginally more understeer with the Hunt wheels.

No, it isn’t an enormous difference, and like a lot of handling minutiae, it’s the sort of thing that you subconsciously adapt to within a few corners. Still, it’s worth factoring into the broader picture of overall bike stiffness and handling.

Any Durability Issues?

Nope, these wheels have been rock solid, despite the punishment that wheels and tyres are subjected to on my local trails. The rims are ding-free, the spokes haven’t required any adjustment, and there’s been zero bearing contamination even with all the powdery moon-dust that’s built up around the seals. The hubs are easy to pull apart with tool-free end caps, so they’re a doddle to clean and re-grease periodically.

Hunt seems plenty confident in its product, with the Race XC Wide wheels coming with a very generous 120kg rider weight limit. You also get a 3-year warranty with the wheels to cover any materials or manufacturing defects, and there’s a crash replacement program too.

hunt bike wheels race xc wide canyon lux fox 32 step-cast fork
The Hunt Race XC Wides are very light, fast and well-damped wheels that’s perfectly suited to XC riding and racing.

Flow’s Final Word

While many riders tend to overlook alloy wheelsets in their desire for carbon fibre upgrades, the Hunt Race XC Wide is proof that an all-metal wheelset can perform just as well on the trail, while even providing certain advantages.

Firstly, they’re mighty good value at well under a grand. Secondly, they’re very light at just over 1500 grams. Thirdly, they offer a smooth and compliant ride quality that lends itself well to the world of XC where bikes tend to be rather stiff and uncomfortable devices of torture.

Heavier riders and those who desire the most razor-sharp handling will likely still prefer a carbon wheelset – assuming you’re happy to pay the premium. And if you want to run wider tyres you’ll be better off looking for a slightly heavier alloy wheelset like the Hunt Trail Wide or Stan’s Arch MK3 for example. For those after a race-ready set of hoops that won’t shake your teeth out of your skull however, the Race XC Wide is a killer option for the money.


Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

Mid-Term Review | 6 Weeks Aboard Our 2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 Long Term Test Bike

Since receiving the 2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 test bike back in September, this muscly trail brawler has joined me on many a ride across the countryside. From my hometown of Bendigo in the Goldfields region, over to Beechworth in the Victorian High Country, the Fuel EX and I have so far enjoyed a few hundred kms of singletrack slashing, with plenty of saddle time to get to know one another. My early verdict of this long term test bike? It’s rapid. Very rapid.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 beechworth car thule velospace xt 3 rack
On the road to Beechworth yieeewww!

But while the Fuel EX is absolutely humming now, it did take a bit of fine-tuning to get it all dialled in to how I like. And in recent weeks, I’ve also swapped out a few key components, including the drivetrain, brakes, wheelset and tyre combo, to see how the bike would handle with a different setup, while also providing the opportunity to review those parts separately.

Here we’re going to take a look at the current bike setup, with some detail on what settings I’ve settled on, and the changes we’ve made so far. If you’re after a more detailed look at exactly what’s new with this 130mm travel trail ripper, make sure you check out Mick’s story on the 2020 Trek Fuel EX from the launch, which includes a broader overview of the six-model Fuel EX lineup.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 vs 2019 ex 8
2020 Fuel EX meets the 2019 model.

Suspension Tweaking

Having ridden many examples of the previous generation Fuel EX, I was initially surprised to find the suspension on the new bike to feel firmer than I was expecting. Previous versions have been plusher than a penthouse suite, particularly with the recent addition of the Thru-Shaft damper design in the Fuel EX’s rear shock, but the new bike didn’t feel quite as active.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 thru-shaft re:aktiv shock
There’s 130mm of rear wheel travel controlled by a Trek-specific rear shock made by Fox. It took a few rides for the shock on our test bike to bed in.
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 fox 36 rhythm fork 140mm
The 9.8 and 9.9 models are equipped with a 140mm travel Fox 36, which is an absolute beast of a fork.

So over the course of a couple of rides, I lowered both the fork and shock pressures, while also removing some volume spacers to help open up the end of the travel.

The Fox 36 Rhythm fork comes with four volume spacers inside the EVOL air spring as stock. I brought that down to two, and then to one single spacer. This improved the fork action for my 70kg riding weight, and I was able to access full travel more easily. The fork has bedded in quite a bit and become more supple over the last few weeks, so I’ve since added a 2nd volume spacer to regain some mid-stroke support.

With 68psi in the air spring, the rebound dial set 10 clicks off the slowest setting, and the compression lever set partway between Open and Medium, the fork is now spot-on. I really like the 36 Rhythm, even though it’s meant to be the ‘budget’ fork in the Fox line. At 2065g (confirmed) it is heavier than a comparable 34, but it gives the EX a really stout feel. Along with the robust carbon frame and slacker geometry, the new generation Fuel EX has quite the mini-Slash vibe about it.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 quarq shockwiz fox 36 rhythm
I’ve gone from 4 to 2 volume spacers inside the fork, which has helped open up the end of the travel. It’s absolutely humming now!

I also tried a smaller 0.2³ volume spacer inside the rear shock, which did help to reduce the initial firmness I experienced. The shock felt smoother, but it was bottoming out too much on hefty landings, so I reinstalled the stock 0.4³ volume spacer. Compared to when the bike was fresh out of the box, the shock feels like it’s bedded in a lot, and it’s now exhibiting the buttery-plush performance I was first expecting.

And holy crap is this thing plush!

Trek recommends setting the rear shock between 25-33% sag, so I’ve got 150psi inside the air spring to put me around the 30% marker. Rebound is set just faster than halfway, at nine clicks from the slowest setting. With the shock settings dialled in, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying how responsive the back end is on the Fuel EX, and how it keeps the rear tyre glued to the ground. It’s reactivity to incoming obstacles, no matter how rapid-fire the hits are, is really quite something for a bike with just 130mm of travel.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 thru-shaft re:aktiv shock
The RE:aktiv damper means the the Medium and Firm settings on the shock are much more usable on the trail, providing improved pedal efficiency when you need it.

With the Penske-Trek designed RE:aktiv damper inside, the blue compression switch alters between Open, Medium and Firm settings. The regressive damper design means that you can achieve a pretty firm platform in the Medium and Firm positions, with a super fast breakaway when enough pressure builds behind the valve to crack it open as you encounter a bump. In principle, it aims to achieve the same goal as the Specialized Brain damper. In practice, it isn’t as firm as a Brain shock, but it is much smoother and faster in its transition. And in my experience, it makes the Medium and Firm settings a whole lot more effective.

Whereas I’d only use a shock’s compression switch for riding on the road or on a really smooth fireroad climb, I’ve been able to utilise the Medium setting for technical singletrack climbs, where the increased platform helps to improve efficiency while also lifting the bike up a touch for more ground clearance. If the climb isn’t littered with ledgy rocks and roots, the Firm setting goes one step further. I generally prefer to leave my suspension wide open when I’m riding off-road, but the compression settings on the Fuel EX’s shock offer such distinct ride experiences that it’s worth utilising them to get the most out of the bike.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 thru-shaft re:aktiv shock
The back end of the Fuel EX is supremely supple and very active for a bike with ‘only’ 130mm of travel.

Groupset Change

The Fuel EX 9.8 comes stock in Australia with a SRAM GX Eagle groupset, which has thrown up zero surprises so far. However, we recently got our hands on the new Shimano SLX M7100 groupset, including a set of the new 4-piston brakes. While much of the media hype has centred around XT and XTR, we reckon the new 12-speed SLX groupset is more exciting, particularly as it comes in at a third of the price of XTR!

With the SLX groupset looking for a home, I removed the GX Eagle setup from the Fuel EX so I could fit the new SLX test components. So far the performance has been excellent – shifting under load is particularly impressive. The 4-pot brakes are also superb, with more power than Shimano’s 2-piston callipers, but noticeable better modulation to control that power.

shimano slx m7100 brakes
I’ve fitted the new Shimano SLX M7100 groupset to our Fuel EX test bike, which includes the new 4-piston ‘Enduro’ brakes.
shimano slx m7120 4-piston brake rotor mt800
4-pistons of powaaaar!

Pricing is pretty similar between Shimano SLX and SRAM GX Eagle, but there are some key performance differences. Stay tuned for a separate in-depth comparison feature, and feel free to ask any questions you might have in the meantime.

It’s worth noting that you’ll need a Micro Spline freehub body to fit the new Shimano 12-speed cassettes. Depending on the wheelset you’ve got, that might be easier said than done. Bontrager is licensed to produce Micro Spline freehub bodies though, so it’s a question of popping into your local Trek dealer to purchase one. In my case, I had another set of test wheels with a DT Swiss 350 rear hub, so that was also an easy swap, as Micro Spline freehub bodies have been available from DT Swiss for well over a year now.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 shimano slx m7100 crankset
The new SLX crankset uses a direct-mount chainring to create a modular system that looks dead clean too.
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 shimano slx m7100 12-speed 1x12 cassette 10-51t
The 10-51T Shimano cassette offers impressive shifting under load.
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 shimano slx m7100 10-51t 12-speed cassette 1x12
You’ll need a Micro Spline freehub body to fit the new Shimano 12-speed cassette though.

Lighter Wheels, Faster Tyres

Speaking of wheels, the Fuel EX 9.8 comes fitted with a set of Bontrager Line Carbon 30s as stock. These feature deep section carbon fibre rims with a 29mm inner width, and Bontrager TLR rim strips come fitted to create a reliably airtight seal.

During the initial build process, I was surprised to find that there were no tubes inside the tyres – these wheels are legit tubeless ready from the factory. Two bottles of Bontrager TLR sealant are supplied with the bike, so all you need to do is remove the valve cores, squeeze a bottle into each wheel, and you’re ready to roll. Nice!

It’s also worth pointing out that Bontrager now offers a 2-year crash replacement scheme with its carbon wheels, which is nice peace of mind. The Line Carbon 30s have been solid so far, though at 1908g on my scales, they’re not the lightest hoops out there.

curve cycling dirt hoops wider 40 carbon rims
Chunky carbon wheels from Melbourne-based Curve Cycling. These have a 40mm external width!
curve cycling dirt hoops wider 40 carbon rims pirelli scorpion m 29x2.2 mtb tyre tire
The Dirt Hoops are surprisingly light though – less than 1700g for our test set.
dt swiss 350 straightpull hub
Tidy straight-pull DT Swiss 350 hubs and Sapim CX-Ray spokes.

Looking to inject a bit more speed into the Fuel EX, I decided to fit a set of Dirt Hoops from Melbourne-based brand, Curve Cycling. This is the ‘Wider 40’ model, which features carbon rims that measure 40mm externally and 30mm internally. With DT Swiss 350 hubs, Sapim CX-Ray spokes and a confirmed weight of just 1637g, they’ve helped to boost the bike’s acceleration and rolling speed noticeably. The only downside is the use of 18T ratchet plates in the rear hub, which feels comically slow compared to the 54 points of engagement in the Bontrager wheelset. I might look at popping in a 36T or 54T upgrade kit in the rear hub soon. For more info on the Dirt Hoops, take a gander at the detailed first look story here.

As for rubber, I’ve been consistently impressed with Bontrager’s latest XR4 tread pattern over the past couple of years. In its big 2.6in guise here, it’s supremely grippy and you can run them at quite low pressures – 18psi on the front and 20psi on the rear has worked well for me. The XR4 is a really versatile tyre, transcending dry to wet riding conditions, from loose to hardpack trail surfaces. For more aggressive riders though, I’d consider putting an XR5 up front though for more hold on loose and steep enduro-style trails.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 fox 36 rhythm grip pirelli scorpion 2.4 curve dirt hoops wider 40
We’ve set our test bike up with a pair of faster-rolling Pirelli Scorpion tyres.

Given their huge volume, the XR4s are a decent weight for a burly trail tyre, clocking in at around 920g each. They do put more rubber on the ground though, so they’re noticeably draggier than the 2.4in tyres that came as stock equipment on pre-2020 Fuel EX models. Along with the active suspension and the stock bike’s generous 13.2kg weight, the big volume tyres give the Fuel EX a robust and grounded demeanour on hectic, technical descents. On the flip side, it also contributes to a slightly lethargic feel on the climbs – at least compared to more slender and trail bikes in this travel bracket anyway.

If you’re after more rolling speed, a tyre change is a good way to do it. I fitted a pair of 2.4in wide Pirelli Scorpion tyres – a Scorpion M (Mixed) for the front, and a Scorpion R (Rear) for the back wheel. These are actually a very similar weight to the stock Bonty tyres, but they have a significantly faster rolling tread pattern. They’re also well suited to my local dry and dusty trails, including the Harcourt MTB Park and You Yangs, where the Pirellis manage the sandy soil composition mighty well.

pirelli scorpion m 2.4 tyre
There’s a 2.4in Scorpion M tyre on the front, which has been surprisingly grippy on sandy and loose rocky trails.
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 pirelli scorpion r 2.4 tyre
The Scorpion R uses a rear-specific tread pattern for stability under braking.

Handlebar Switcheroo

In the search of more compliance, I’ve also recently switched up the Fuel EX’s cockpit. The stock Bontrager Line Pro bars are made from OCLV carbon fibre and feature a 35mm clamp diameter for the stem. Being very stiff, I’ve found them to be somewhat unforgiving on my hands and upper body – something I’ve experienced with a lot of 35mm bars. In my eyes, it remains as one of the most annoying standards to have permeated the mountain bike industry. Anywho…

So I recently fitted a set of Syncros Hixon iC 1.0 Rise handlebars that I’ve previously tested. These are one of the most compliant full-width bars I’ve ridden, and they’ve already made a noticeable difference in vibration damping on the front of the Fuel EX. Using a one-piece carbon fibre construction that integrates the steerer tube clamp into the centre of the bars, they’re also stupendously light at 273g. Remember, that’s the bar and the stem in one. Width is 800mm and you can get them with a ‘virtual’ stem length of 40mm or 50mm.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 syncros hixon ic rise 1.0 handlebar
Looking for more compliance out of the front end, I’ve fitted a Syncros Hixon iC 1.0 Rise carbon handlebar.
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 syncros hixon ic 1.0 rise handlebar
The handlebar integrates the steerer clamp into the one carbon structure. It’s lighter, simpler and there are a few less bolts to worry about. It isn’t perfect though.

I’ve got the shorter option, which I think is a touch too short for the Fuel EX. The Medium frame has a 440mm reach, which I’ve found ideal for my 175cm height. It isn’t super long by today’s standards though, and the grips now feel a little too close. I’ll look at going back to a 50mm stem length with a different bar/stem combo at some point down the line.

On the note of the cockpit change, if you decide to fit a non-Bontrager stem to your Fuel EX, you will need an adapter so you can ditch the keyed Knock Block headset spacers. This adapter is a simple locking that bolts to the steerer tube directly above the headset, and you can get this small piece of alloy through a Trek dealer for $30.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8
Here’s what it looks like with the original spec.

For those wondering how our long term test bike has evolved, here are the finer details of what’s changed so far;

2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 Current Build Specs

  • Frame | OCLV Mountain Carbon Fibre, ABP Suspension Design, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float, Performance Series, GRIP Damper, 44mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float EVOL w/Thru-Shaft, Performance Series, RE:aktiv Damper, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Curve Dirt Hoops Wider 40, Carbon Rims, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Pirelli Scorpion M 2.2in Front & Scorpion R 2.2in Rear
  • Drivetrain | Shimano SLX M7100 1×12 w/SLX 32T Cranks & 10-51T Cassette
  • Brakes | Shimano SLX M7120 4-piston, 203mm Front & 180mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar | Syncros Hixon iC 1.0 Rise Carbon, 20mm Rise, 800mm Width, 40mm Virtual Length
  • Stem | Syncros Hixon iC 1.0 Rise Carbon, 40mm Virtual Length
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Elite Dropper Post w/Shimano MT800 Lever, 150mm Travel
  • Saddle | Bontrager Arvada, Austenite Rails
  • Confirmed Weight | 12.74kg (without pedals)
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 cable freak internal routing
The internal cabling pops out for a brief gasp of air before popping back into the chainstays.

Any Problems So Far?

Nothing major. I did have a tricky time routing a new hydraulic line through the frame when I fitted the SLX 4-piston rear brake. The bolt-on Cable Freak ports are snug and pretty user-friendly, but there’s a very tight section just behind the main pivot where the rear brake line and derailleur cable exit the mainframe and then re-enter the chainstays. A Park Tool IR-1.2 cable routing kit ensured things didn’t get too sweary for me. I will admit that the routing does look very clean on the Fuel EX, but I’m still a bigger fan of externally-routed cabling.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 storage integrated
The carbon frames get integrated downtube storage underneath the bottle cage.

The only other issue that’s popped up is a rattling noise that’s emanating from the trapdoor underneath the bottle cage. On our test bike, the fit isn’t quite 100% and there’s enough lateral movement where the locating stub at the base of the trapdoor clips into the frame that it causes a rattle when you have a bottle on board. It isn’t particularly loud, but when the rest of the bike is so stealthy quiet, it’s a right old pain in the arse.

I’ll note that this wasn’t a problem that Mick encountered with his test bike during the launch back in July. To see if this was an isolated issue with production models, I went to my local Trek dealer and found that out of the six bikes there with integrated downtube storage (including two Domane gravel bikes), only one frame had a properly tight fit between the frame and the trapdoor. After swapping around trapdoors, I’ve come to the conclusion that the sloppy fit on our test bike is partially from the door itself and partially in the frame component.

I really like the concept of integrated frame storage, but it absolutely needs to be perfect – especially on a $7K bike, and especially when Trek has copied the idea from one of its main rivals. We’re awaiting an official response from Trek, so we’ll keep you updated once we have a solution.

2020 trek fuel ex 9.8 storage integrated
The fit on our trapdoor isn’t totally snug though, and the whole assembly rattles around while riding. Not good on such a premium bike.

What’s Next?

Lots! With plenty of new riding destinations to explore this summer, I’m frothing to see how far I can take the Fuel EX.

One thing I’d like to investigate further is the option of fitting a longer travel fork (or a longer air shaft in the current fork), as I suspect the beefy carbon frame will handle it. A slightly longer fork combined with tougher tyre casings would open up the option of racing enduro – such is the capability of this bike. Speaking of endoooro, we’ve also got some fancy DT Swiss wheels that will no doubt end up on the Fuel EX shortly.

I also intend to flick the Mino Link into the high-and-steep position, since it comes set to low-and-slack out of the box. A little extra pedal clearance wouldn’t go astray, so I’ll be trying that out soon. I’m also keen to upgrade the shifter to an XT I-Spec EV model so I can remove one clamp from the bars, while also getting the double-upshift function that the SLX shifter misses out on.

shimano slx m7100 brake shifter
There’ll hopefully just be a single clamp here next time you see this bike.
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8
The Fuel EX is capable of some outrageous speeds. This is a trail bike that sits closer to an All Mountain bike in terms of its plush suspension performance and high-speed poise.

Right, so that’s where we’re at with the 2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 long term test bike. What do you folks think? Have you got any questions for us about the new Fuel EX? Any parts you’d like to see us test on there? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!


Mo’ Flow Please!

Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!

First Ride Review | The New 2020 Trek Rail 9.8 Is Trek’s Best E-MTB Yet

Fresh to the rapidly growing and exciting e-MTB segment is the new Trek Rail, we spend a few days riding the new 2020 Trek Rail 9.8, here is what we thought of it.

We made no secret that we didn’t particularly gel with the frame geometry that defined Trek’s previous long travel e-MTB, the Powerfly LT. Replacing it, however, is an excellent machine indeed, the all-new Trek Rail presents solutions for all of our criticisms and takes it even further. What have they achieved? Read on and watch the video below.


Watch the Trek Rail 9.8 in action here:


Draws quite a nice silhouette, not too e-bikey at all!

The 2020 Rail 9.8 and its Golden Ticket – New Bosch Performance Line CX motor

In the belly of the beast is a new motor system, responsible for a large portion of the improvements that the Rail can benefit from. The new Bosch Performance CX motor is a dramatically reformed system, nearly half the size of its predecessor, 25% lighter and benefits from a serious reduction in drag when pedalling past the 25km/hr point.

The smaller motor allowed the main suspension pivot to place much closer to the centre of the bike, a massive improvement, subsequently boosting the bike’s agility tenfold. Hooray!

When you reached the maximum speed of 25km/hr with the previous Bosch motor and pushed past that point under your own steam, the drag on the cranks was very evident, but we’ve begun to accept this, to a degree. It would result in us attempting to ride under that threshold more often.

With a redesign, the new system doesn’t feel like you are pedalling into a strong headwind, with a less abrupt transition, and even with the motor switched off, the bike pedals along very well, more like a regular bike. This promoted us to pedal hard, with the reward of more speed, not just more resistance.

The big news is the Bosch motor; low resistance and small in size.
We happily pedalled past the 25km/hr barrier more than with the previous model, or a Shimano Steps 8000 and Brose (Specialized) equipped bike, too.

More grunt, but also more clunk.

There’s more power on tap, too, with increased sensitivity and is noticeable on the trail. But unfortunately, the way the new system operates comes with a lot more noise. It’s not the whirring sound as you pedal, the metallic clunking you hear when the bike is bouncing over rough terrain as the freewheel that connects the chainring to the motor knocks back and forth, especially when the suspension compresses and rebounds, tugging on the chain.

It sounded like our Saint brake pads were rattling in the callipers, well, they were (Shimano, Shimano…), but the noise coming from inside the motor was hard to ignore.

Over chattery rocks where the suspension was working hard, the metallic sounds from inside the motor were noticeable.

This was our first proper experience on the new Bosch motor, and noise aside, we are seriously impressed with how it rides, its efficiency and most importantly the freedom for frame design developments due to its weight and size.

29″ wheels, a sign of the future, or are we still deciding?

In the short-yet-ever-changing life of the e-MTB, there has been a lot of change to date, and we’re clearly not done yet. At first, it was voluminous 3″ or 2.8″ plus tyres on 27.5″ wheels dominating the space, then the new Specialized Levo came out with 29″ wheels. Focus did their Drifter model, with 29″ front and 27.5″ and now we see Merida adopting the ‘mullet’ mixed wheel size as standard. Seems like we’re still figuring out what works best, and what people will buy.

29″ wheels on the Rail.
Climbing the steeps with loads of traction and smooth power beneath you.

The new Trek Rail uses 29″ wheels with sturdy 2.6″ tyres, while it does take a fair bit of body language to throw it around, or flick through a slow and tight turn, the stability and confidence is fantastic.

While Trek harped on a lot (too much) about the Powerfly’s mammoth 475mm chainstays a deliberate feature to give it climbing skills, the new Rail with its 447mm stays doesn’t lose any ground in that space at all, the traction and climbing position makes this bike a capable climber despite its long travel and raked-out front end.

All the classic Trek tracks, greater range 625h/hr battery, neat e-bits and decent value, too!

The Rail receives all of the classic features that we are accustomed to on their Slash, Remedy, Fuel EX etc. We’ll let the Trek website run through all of those features with you. ABP, Mino-Link, Knock Block, Control Freak, R.I.B etc.

Bosch now offers a 625 w/hr battery, a significant jump up from the 500 w/hr battery in the Powerfly LT. And keeping things tidy, Trek has shifted the speed sensor magnet onto the disc rotor, no longer on the spokes, a lot harder to lose which renders the bike useless. A nice touch.

There is space for a water bottle, the nifty new UDH – universal derailleur hanger – from SRAM makes an appearance, and the rear axle key pulls out and can be used as a 5 and 6mm Allen key for other purposes.

Did it Rail?

It certainly did, and we think this bike will be very popular in Australia due to its robust chassis and easy handling. We keep referring to the updates that the Rail has had over the Powerfly, but we can’t help draw comparisons to it, a considerable improvement.

The smaller motor allowed the Rail to use a chainstay that is 27mm shorter than the Powefly LT, that’s a huge difference. And throwing it around at slow speed, lunging up and over trail obstacles and lifting the front end was a testament to the tighter frame geometry.

Dropping in with plenty of confidence and grip on your side.
Custom crowns from RockShox match the whopping headtube for a cleaner aesthetic.

Bontrager’s tough and tacky SE5 tyres are well up to the task, and the 2.6″ size felt quite precise when placing the wheels where you want to, picking lines between sharp rocks and not too squishy when pushing into a berm of the lip of a jump – something the plus tyres don’t do so well.

On the topic of suspension, with a 160mm travel fork and 29″ wheels, you’re pretty much able to mow down much of what’s in your path, and the rear suspension felt remarkably active and supportive coping with the inherent weight of the motor and battery.

We didn’t get too long on the trails with this bike, but the ride that we did undertake was a real mixed bag, flowing singletrack was a breeze and even climbing an old DH track, and bombing back down was taken in its stride. And spinning along the road towards the trails, turning the motor on and off we all relished in the low resistance the system has.

We have a Rail locked in for a more extended Flow review, and we’ll also have comparable options from Merida, Specialized, Giant and Focus to compare it to, so stay tuned!

Bontrager SE5 tyres, with robust casings and plenty of aggressive treads. Thumbs up!
Frame geometry chart shows quite sensible but up-to-date numbers.

What models are coming to Australia?

We’ll see three models from the Rail range coming to our shores, from $8000 to $10500.

Trek Rail 9.8, carbon frame, SRAM GX drivetrain – $10,500.

2020 Rail 9.8 $10500

  • Frame | OCLV Mountain Carbon main frame, alloy stays, Removable Integrated Battery (RIB), 150mm travel
  • Motor | NEW Bosch Performance Line CX, 250 Watt, 75Nm, magnesium body
  • Battery | Bosch PowerTube, 625Wh
  • Fork | RockShox Lyrik Select Plus, DebonAir spring, Charger 2 RC damper, e-MTB optimised, tapered steerer, 42mm offset, 160mm travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe RT3, DebonAir spring, RE:aktiv w/Thru Shaft damper
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, Tubeless Ready
  • Tyres | Bontrager SE5 Team Issue, Tubeless Ready, Core Strength sidewall
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle
  • Brakes | Shimano SLX M7120 4-piston hydraulic disc, 180mm rotor
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Elite Dropper
  • RRP | $10,500
Trek Rail 9, sharing the same spec as the 9.8 but using an aluminium frame – $9500.

2020 Rail 9 $9500

  • Frame | Alpha Platinum Aluminum, Removable Integrated Battery (RIB), 150mm travel
  • Motor | NEW Bosch Performance Line CX, 250 Watt, 75Nm, magnesium body
  • Battery | Bosch PowerTube, 625Wh
  • Fork | RockShox Lyrik Select Plus, DebonAir spring, Charger 2 RC damper, e-MTB optimised, tapered steerer, 42mm offset, 160mm travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe RT3, DebonAir spring, RE:aktiv w/Thru Shaft damper
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, Tubeless Ready
  • Tyres | Bontrager SE5 Team Issue, Tubeless Ready, Core Strength sidewall
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle
  • Brakes | Shimano SLX M7120 4-piston hydraulic disc, 180mm rotor
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Elite Dropper
  • RRP | $9,500
The entry-level Trek Rail 7 with a RockShox Yari fork, Shimano drivetrain, and same motor and battery as the Rail 9 and 9.8 – $8000.

2020 Rail 7 $8000

  • Frame | Alpha Platinum Aluminum, Removable Integrated Battery (RIB), 150mm travel
  • Motor | NEW Bosch Performance Line CX, 250 Watt, 75Nm, magnesium body
  • Battery | Bosch PowerTube, 625Wh
  • Fork | RockShox Yari RC, DebonAir spring, Motion Control RC damper, e-MTB optimised, tapered steerer, 42mm offset, 160mm travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe RL
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, Tubeless Ready
  • Tyres | Bontrager SE5 Team Issue, Tubeless Ready, Core Strength sidewall
  • Drivetrain | Shimano XT M8100/Shimano SLX M7100 12-speed
  • Brakes | Shimano MT520 4-piston
  • Seatpost | TranzX JD-YSP18
  • RRP | $8,000

Want more e-bike reviews?

Check out our thoughts on the TrekPowerfly LT which this bike replaces for the 2020 season – Trek Powerfly LT review.

The Norco Sight VLT is a worthy comparison too – Norco Sight VLT review.

The Specialized Levo, which we still think is hard to beat in the best e-bike available competition – Specialized Levo review.

The Cube Stereo is the least expensive e-bike we’ve ridden, and the Focus JAM2 is the lightest. Check them out, for sure. Cube Stereo & Focus JAM2 review.


How’s the new Trek Rail look to you? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, and stay tuned for more when we get the Rail on home soil.

Long Term Review | The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 Is A Bonafide Hooligan Bike

The Canyon Spectral is the German brand’s aggressive long-travel party bike. Sitting pretty between the 130mm travel Neuron trail bike and the 160mm travel Strive enduro race machine, the Spectral differs from those two bikes in that it’s built around 27.5in wheels. That puts it more inline with the likes of the Trek Remedy, Santa Cruz Bronson, Norco Sight, and Specialized Stumpjumper EVO.


See the 2019 Canyon Spectral AL in action in the video here

The Spectral was completely overhauled for 2018 with a new frame, a new suspension platform, and lots of little tech highlights that we covered in our launch story here. For 2019, the Spectral frame carries over, but it’s been pumped up with a bigger fork and a bigger stroke shock to increase travel to 160mm on the front, and 150mm out back. A 10mm increase in travel (over the previous bike’s 150/140mm combo) doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but after two months with the Spectral AL 6.0, I can confidently state that this bike’s character has actually changed quite a bit.

2019 canyon spectral al harcour wil
The Spectral has been updated for 2019 to give it a bit more travel, and a bit more punch.

A Trail Bike For Many Budgets

With no fewer than 12 spec options in the range, the Spectral is clearly a popular model for the German brand. The Spectral is available with alloy, carbon/alloy, and full carbon frame options, with complete bikes starting at $2,779 and going all the way up to $10,199. Frame sizes range from Extra Small through to Extra Large, and there’s a women’s specific Spectral available too.

The model we have on test is the Spectral AL 6.0 – the highest spec option with the alloy frame.

2019 canyon spectral al
The 2019 Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 is one good-looking trail bike.

2019 Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 Specs

  • Frame | 6061 Alloy, Triple Phase Suspension Design, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Rhythm, GRIP Damper, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPX2, Performance Series, 230x65mm
  • Wheels | DT Swiss M 1900, 30mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO 27.5×2.4in Wide Trail, 3C Maxx Grip Front & 3C Maxx Terra Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/Descendent 6K 32t Crankset & 10-50t Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Guide R w/200mm Front & 180mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar | Canyon G5 Riserbar, 20mm Rise, 780mm Wide
  • Stem | Canyon G5, 50mm Length
  • Seatpost | Iridium Dropper, 145mm Travel
  • Saddle | SDG I-Fly MTN
  • Confirmed Weight | 14.53kg
  • RRP | $3,649 (plus shipping)
2019 canyon spectral al wil harcourt
The front of the Spectral is absolutely rock-solid, largely thanks to the brilliant Fox 36 fork.

What Makes It Special?

It’s basically impossible to discuss a Canyon without discussing the parts-per-dollar-o-meter, and it’s no different with the Spectral AL 6.0. For less than four grand, you’re getting a Fox 36 Rhythm fork, a piggyback shock, broad DT Swiss rims, and high-zoot Maxxis 3C tyres. Along with the dropper post, wide bars, and big front rotor, it’s a tough-looking bike that comes locked and loaded for some seriously rowdy riding. There is basically nothing else available in Australia that we could find with such a package at this price point. The value is bonkers.

Of course none of that matters if the parts are strapped to a poor quality frame, but Canyon seems to have that stitched up too. The raw alloy finish looks the business, and the frame shape and geometry is shared with its pricier carbon siblings. That means you’re getting the same four-bar suspension design, clearance for a water bottle inside the mainframe, a neat internal seatpost clamp, bolt-on pivot shields, and the Quixle thru-axle. The alloy frame skips the IPU headset though.

Further adding to the Spectral’s clean lines is the Cable Tunnel, which provides sort-of-internal-but-not-really cable routing via three bolt-on plastic plates. As well as providing easy access to the cables and brake hose within, the plastic plates provide additional downtube protection. Mick isn’t a fan of the fiddly process to refit the cables and the plastic plates, but I still think it’s a neat and easier alternative to fully internal cable routing.

canyon spectral cfr carbon fibre
Canyon offers the Spectral in alloy, carbon and carbon/alloy variants.

Spectral AL vs Spectral CFR

The alloy frame is heavier than the carbon version, but not as much as I thought it would be. I spoke with Canyon to get the exact weights for each of the three Spectral frame options, and here’s what we got back;

  • CFR (full carbon): 2395g
  • CF (carbon mainframe, alloy back end): 2570g
  • AL (full alloy): 2870g

So the Spectral AL has a 300g weight penalty over the CF frame, and 475g over the full carbon Spectral CFR frameset. That’s a reasonable percentage for sure, but it is less than I expected.

2019 canyon spectral al
The cockpit feels great right out of the box, though I did need to drop the stem down a few spacers.

How’d We Set It Up?

Standing at 175cm tall, I’m bang-on for the Medium size. The cockpit fits well too, with a not-super-long reach of 440mm working well with the 50mm stem and 780mm bars. The head tube is quite tall though, so I dropped the stem down a couple of spacers to get the grips lower down. Oh, and I already mentioned the long seat tube in my first ride review, so I won’t harp on about that again…

The fork has been absolutely superb out of the box, and I’ve not had to touch it since day one.

As for the contact points, Canyon’s own lock-on grips deserve a mention, with a thin but nicely tacky compound and in-board flange giving great tactility. I’ve been less thrilled with the narrow SDG saddle. That’s personal preference of course, but being a bike that’s sold direct-to-consumer, there’s no option to have it swapped out at the point of purchase.

2019 canyon spectral al
The internal seatpost wedge is clean, but the seat tube itself is too long.

To support my 68kg riding weight, I set the Fox 36 with 67psi inside the air spring. Rebound was set 10 clicks off full slow, and I ran the blue low-speed compression adjuster halfway. The fork has been absolutely superb out of the box, and I’ve not had to touch it since day one. It is very active, and relatively linear in action compared to the very progressive rear suspension design. Because of this, heavier riders will want to add a volume spacer or two to the fork to better balance it with the rear.

Speaking of, Canyon recommends a 25-30% sag range for the rear shock, though the difference between the two changes up the back end’s behaviour considerably. To begin with, I set the rear shock at 195psi for 30% sag. The DPX2’s damping feels quite sticky and slow, so the rebound dial ended up just four clicks off the fastest setting (9/13 clicks).

Canyon supplies the Spectral AL 6.0 with inner tubes fitted, but both the rims and tyres are tubeless ready. I added my own valves and sealant, set the tyres to 23psi on the front and 27psi on the rear. Having ditched the tubes, the total bike weight came down to 14.32kg without pedals.

fox float dpx2 shock piggyback canyon spectral
The huge 230x65mm shock dishes out 150mm of rear travel.
2019 canyon spectral al harcour wil
The Spectral is a brawny long travel trail/enduro bike that loves to go fast downhill.

What Does It Do Well?

Early on in the test process, it became apparent that the Spectral is an absolute pig for fast and rough riding. This is no speedy mile-munching trail bike like the Neuron. It’s too heavy, too slack, and too active for that. Instead, the Spectral relishes mostly in going downhill and rumbling over as much chunder as you can possibly find.

Because the suspension design is so progressive, it feels near-bottomless, and I can’t once recall having bottomed out the shock.

The combination of the sticky Maxxis tyres and supple Fox dampers means the Spectral hoovers up trail irregularities with incredible aptitude. The back end has a nicely supple and floaty feel to it, with a responsive and willing mid-stroke. Because the suspension design is so progressive, it feels near-bottomless, and I can’t once recall having bottomed out the shock. Flat pedal riders might find it a touch too progressive on spiky, high-speed machine-gun hits, where I occasionally found my shoes could get blown off the pedals. Because the red rebound dial only adjusts low-speed rebound, your only option to mitigate this is by increasing the rear shock’s air volume to make it more linear. More on that in a moment.

2019 canyon spectral al harcourt wil
It’s quite a jumpy bike, and the solid wheels and plush suspension mean it (usually) soaks up awkward landings with aplomb.

It’s also one of the best jumping bikes I’ve ridden in quite a while. There’s great pop and support from the suspension, which is amplified by the Spectral’s compact 430mm back end and the not-uber-long cockpit. That makes it an easy bike to jump when needed, while the heavy wheels and tyres help to maintain a nice and predictable trajectory, and (most of the time) a reliable landing. I’m not exactly a slopestyle rider, but the Spectral coerced me into hitting a lot of the doubles and drops that I’d usually shy away from. The stout front end certainly aids in the confidence levels here.

It’s a proper Dudes Of Hazzard hooligan trail bike that thrives on jibbing and being thrown about with reckless abandon.

I’m also no back wheel bandit, but the Spectral is. Again, it’s that combination of the tall-ish front end and compact rear centre that helps you to lift the front wheel off the ground with ease, while the active rear suspension happily squats into its travel to help support manuals, wheelies and take-offs. It’s a proper Dudes Of Hazzard hooligan trail bike that thrives on jibbing and being thrown about with reckless abandon. If I were going to own it long term, I’d certainly be putting a tyre insert inside the rear wheel.

2019 canyon spectral al harcourt wil
A low BB, short back end and smaller 27.5in wheels mean the Spectral carves turns and berms like a butcher.

It’s intuitive, with very little technique modification or drastic weight shifts required to have it railing confidently.

As for cornering, the Spectral is sharp and agile, and I found it a pleasure to weave from left to right through successive chicanes. Whereas 29ers in this travel bracket tend to need a bit of working over through tight turns, the Spectral cuts them up with ease. It’s intuitive, with very little technique modification or drastic weight shifts required to have it railing confidently.

The short back end helps no doubt, as do the grippy and stable cornering blocks on the Maxxis Minion tyres, but it’s the low bottom bracket that I noticed most while carving the Spectral. Mind you, at just 288mm off the floor while sitting on the bike, I certainly noticed the low BB in other ways too.

2019 canyon spectral al wil harcourt
Its substantial mass and active suspension means it isn’t particularly enthusiastic for climbing.

What Does It Struggle With?

The Spectral AL 6.0 is not a naturally gifted climber. I found the active suspension design, slow-rolling tyres, and overall heft worked against me any time I wanted to move upwards at anything other than cruising pace. Those same factors mean the Spectral feels pretty dull on flatter and less gnarly terrain. It really needs rough and steep descending to get the most out of it.

…the softest and stickiest rubber that Maxxis makes, and quite possibly manufactured from a combination of treacle and gecko’s hands.

Partway through the test period, it dawned on me that while Canyon has spec’d Maxxis Minion DHR II tyres front and rear, the front tyre employs the 3C Maxx Grip compound – the softest and stickiest rubber that Maxxis makes, and quite possibly manufactured from a combination of treacle and gecko’s hands. Of course it’s a stupendously grippy tyre, but it also has the effect of feeling like you’re pedalling with the brakes on. There were countless times where I stopped to check if I had a puncture, or to see whether the brakes were rubbing.

2019 canyon spectral al maxxis minion dhr II 3c Maxx terra 2.4wt
I swapped the firmer 3C Maxx Terra from the rear to the front tyre.
maxxis dissector
And put a faster-rolling Dissector on the rear.

In search of more speed, I took the front 3C Maxx Grip tyre off, put the firmer 3C Maxx Terra tyre into its place, and fitted a new Maxxis Dissector onto the rear. As well as being a touch lighter, the Dissector also has less rolling resistance than the Minion DHR II. That change in the tyre combo provided an instantly noticeable, and very welcome improvement in acceleration and the ability to maintain speed while rolling down the trail. Of course not everyone has a spare $90 Maxxis tyre kicking around in their workshop, so that’s a modification worth factoring into your budget.

There is zero doubt that a steeper seat angle would make a huge improvement to the Spectral’s climbing abilities.

The Spectral is still quite a slack bike though. Compared to the 2018 Spectral, the 10mm longer fork on the 2019 Spectral has pushed the head angle out half a degree to 65.5°. That’s great for descending, but it hasn’t come for free. Of course the seat angle has slackened out too (now 74°), and along with that active suspension design, sees you quite far behind the bottom bracket when you’re pedalling uphill. I slid the saddle all the way forward on the rails, which certainly helped, but I was constantly reaching for the shock’s blue compression switch anytime the trail turned upwards. There is zero doubt that a steeper seat angle would make a huge improvement to the Spectral’s climbing abilities.

2019 canyon spectral al wil harcourt
The Spectral could benefit hugely a steeper seat tube angle.

Reducing the rear shock’s sag to 25% also helped with climbing, both by bringing more perky pedalling to the party, while also improving the dynamic pedalling position. It also reduced pedal strikes – something that’s relatively frequent due to the Spectral’s low bottom bracket height. I did find I wasn’t getting anywhere near full travel though, so I downsized to a smaller 0.2in³ volume spacer in the DPX2 shock (it comes with a 0.4³ volume spacer as stock) to help open up the end of the stroke. In the end this was my preferred setup, with 210psi in the air spring, and the rebound set at five clicks off of the fastest setting.

With this setup and the speedier tyres, the Spectral was much more pedal-friendly, and more willing to get up technical singletrack climbs. I’d still run the blue compression switch in the medium position for extended climbs, but otherwise it was noticeably less boggy at the pedals.

fox float dpx2 shock
The Fox shock gives you three positions for the blue compression switch, and I regularly toggled it into the Medium or Firm positions for pretty much any climbing.
fox float dpx2 shock volume spacer tuning kit
The 0.4³ spacer (grey) comes standard, but you can run the DPX2 shock with a 0.2³ spacer (purple), or no spacer if you want to temper the progressive rear suspension.

Component Highs & Lows

While it does require some tuning to get the most out of it, the suspension package is easily the standout on the Spectral AL 6.0 for sure. The high-speed control you get from the DPX2 shock and the GRIP damper in the 36 fork means this bike can carry some serious speed when the trail points downhill.

Fitting a 200mm rotor up front is a winning move on Canyon’s behalf, as it gives the 4-piston Guide R brake calliper a load more bite – especially on sustained descents. The brakes were also bled superbly out of the factory, so I didn’t run into the usual ‘excessive lever throw’ problems I’ve had with other Guide T/R/RS brakes in the past.

sram guide r brake canyon g5 handlebar grip
Canyon’s own G5 handlebar, stem and lock-on grips establish an aggressive feel to the Spectral’s cockpit.

There were otherwise few issues that I had with the parts package throughout the test period. Press-fit BBs get a hard time these days, but the SRAM DUB unit was tight and quiet during my time with it. The DT Swiss wheels were also solid, which I expected given they weighed 1931g on the Scales Of Truth™. Being a cheaper DT model, they do miss out on the Star Ratchet freehub mechanism. But while the 24pt engagement wasn’t particularly fast, I never once had the 3-pawl system pop or skip under pressure.

Unlike a bike shop that might let you make modifications and upgrades to the parts on your new bike, currently Canyon doesn’t offer the option to change specification at the point of purchase.

The only thing I’d look at upgrading if this were my bike would be the dropper post, which suffers from a wobbly lever and less-than-slick compression and rebound. Ultimately it does the job, but its action is not nearly as fast or light as something like a Fox Transfer.

I mentioned the tyres and saddle already, but they’re worth reiterating, since the Spectral you click ‘buy’ on the website, is exactly the Spectral you’ll have turn up on your doorstep. Unlike a bike shop that might let you make modifications and upgrades to your new bike, currently Canyon doesn’t offer the option to change specification at the point of purchase. With that in mind I’d be squirrelling some cash aside, at least for some faster-rolling rubber anyway.

2019 canyon spectral al dropper post iridium
The Iridium dropper post works ok, but it isn’t exactly light in its action.
canyon iridium dropper post
The dropper lever feels cheap and wobbly.

Canyon Neuron vs Spectral vs Strive

This is a question we get asked a lot: how does the Canyon Spectral compare to the smaller travel Neuron, and the longer travel Strive? It’s a great question, because there is a certain degree of overlap between all three bikes, which have travel figures that come within just 30mm of each other.

I’ve spent a load of time on the new Neuron CF, so it’s a bike I know very well. With more efficient pedalling manners, lighter weight tyres, and sharper geometry, it is very different to the Spectral. It climbs much better, though it doesn’t have the descending confidence that the Spectral has. Overall it’s designed to be a comfortable and easy-to-ride trail bike, and in my experience it feels more like a safer and longer-legged XC bike, rather than the mischievous high-speed trail ripper that the Spectral is. If you want to read more about the Neuron, check out our review on the Neuron CF 9.0 SL here.

2019 canyon neuron cf 9.0 sl
Canyon’s Neuron CF has less travel at 130/130mm, while different suspension kinematics and a lighter build kit make it a speedier climber and much more of a long distance map-crosser than the Spectral.

The Strive is an interesting comparison, because it shares exactly the same travel figure as the Spectral; 160mm front and 150mm rear. Its geometry isn’t too far different either, with very similar reach measurements between the two. Factor in the 29in wheels, the carbon fibre frame, and the Shapeshifter suspension system however, and the Strive’s character is pushed more towards high-velocity racing.

Being able to adjust the geometry and rear suspension behaviour on the fly gives it some serious climbing chops, which is an important attribute for competitive enduro types. The Spectral is still enduro-capable, and indeed Canyon puts it into that category on its website, but it’s more play bike than race bike. For more info on how the latest Strive performs, check out our longterm review of the Strive CFR 9.0 Team bike here.

2019 canyon strive cfr 9.0 team
The race-focussed Strive has a higher starting price than the Spectral due to its carbon frame and Shapeshifter suspension technology.

Flow’s Final Word

With 10mm more travel at both ends and an enduro-ready build kit, Canyon has made the latest Spectral it’s most raucous yet. It’s a playful, mischievous bike that loves being thrashed about, preferably downhill, at speed, on rough and chundery trails. While it’s currently surrounded by 29ers that are taking over the market, the Spectral does a bang-up job of exemplifying the advantages of 27.5in wheels. It’s a bucket-load of fun.

It isn’t exactly light though, and its newly slackened geometry hasn’t helped its climbing abilities. For riders who are looking for a speedy, long distance capable trail bike for big days in the hills, you’ll be better off at looking at the Neuron. And if enduro racing is your thing, then you’ll be more competitive on the Strive.

But if you just want a fun bike to ride, and you love jumping, pulling cutties and manuals, or you’re after a bike that will let you progress and develop that skill set, then the Canyon Spectral is one tough cookie that’s ready to survive all your mistakes along the way.

2019 canyon spectral al
It may not be an efficient climber, nor does it thrive on tamer singletrack, but there’s no denying Canyon has curated one hell of a trail party in the Spectral.

Specialized 2FO Clip 2.0 Shoes | First Ride Review

Subtle appearance and plenty of protection, the new 2FO Clip 2.0 will be a hit with aggressive trail riders and racers.

Spied on the ends of Loic Bruni’s speedy legs, the new lace-up shoes from Specialized appeared slightly different in shape to the ones available to us mere mortals, until now. Aimed at the DH race crowd, the new shoe slots in below the 2FO ClipLite shoes that would have to be the most-ridden pair of shoes in our stable. Without the BOA dial enclosure, they certainly appear less like mountain bike shoes, and after a few rides, they feel pretty darn good whilst looking less alien.

Long cleat slots and a wide and flat platform sole.

The ClipLite shoes using a Boa Dial enclosure we use a lot, compared to the new lace-up option.

A Specialized shoe wouldn’t be without a host of features with quirky names; they are listed here:

  • Body Geometry sole construction and footbed: ergonomically designed and scientifically tested to boost power, increase efficiency, and reduce the chance of injury by optimising hip, knee, and foot alignment.
  • Captured foam upper protects the foot.
  • XPEL air mesh on tongue and upper provides protection and quickly sheds water weight.
  • Landing Strip™ cleat pocket is optimised for effortless foot-out riding style with platform clip pedals.
  • Stiff Lollipop™ inner plate for high performance pedalling sits in a bed of EVA to soften landings and maintain off-bike traction.
  • Extended length cleat slot (4mm) for rearward cleat set up option.
  • Relaxed Fit for a balance of pedal feel and off-bike comfort.
  • Two-bolt cleat pattern fits all major MTB pedals.
  • Approximate weight: 350g (1/2 pair, size 42).

Stepping out, how’d they ride?

The 2FO shoes feel cush in the sole, soft and comfortable inside and the outer construction is hard and structurally very steadfast. The fit feels roomy up the front, and you can fine-tune the closeness of the overall shape with the laces.

Aggressive foot-out riders and downhillers will appreciate the protection, they are the type of shoe you can kick a sneaky rock hidden out of view on the inside of a corner, and it won’t squish easily, bending your toes over as a regular skate shoe would, putting you in a world of hurt. Ouch. Stomping your heels on the concrete, it’s evident there’s plenty of foam to dampen impacts, too. The inside of the ankle is higher than the outside, offering protection from the rear end of the bike whacking into your bones. And rolling your foot over when stepping back off the bike if you stuff up a techy climb.

The heel sits above a thick cushion of foam.

Clipping into the Shimano XTR Trail pedals is excellent, where some shoes snag rubber on the pedal, the pedal entry is concise and clear.

We don’t mind laces as such; we just find that if you get them muddy and let the mud dry, they lose the ability to feel malleable and make fine adjustments to the fit. A soapy bath would be all they need to keep in check.

Under the feet, the soles exhibit enough stiffness that you don’t feel the cleat pushing into your foot, or bending around the back of the pedal, but there’s plenty of side-to-side roll at the heel which we find helps steer the bike on steep descents. Stiff carbon-soled shoes can isolate you from the feel of the bike somewhat; we appreciate how these strike a balance of feel and pedalling stiffness. Stiffer and lighter than the Giro Chambers, but considerably more subtle and casual than the Shimano AM range.

Considering how much we reach for the ClipLite shoes (didn’t realise how ratty they look until we put them alongside this new pair), we expect to use these a lot, primarily due to the amount of standing around and talking we do on each ride.

First Ride | The 2020 Liv Pique Advanced Pro 29 0 Is A $12K Superbike

The 2020 Liv Pique Joins The 29er Party!

While the name may be familiar, the 2020 Liv Pique Advanced 29 0 is a far cry from the existing 27.5in-wheeled Pique. It’s a completely new XC weapon and marks two firsts for Liv: it’s the brand’s first full carbon dual suspension mountain bike, and it’s also Liv’s first ever 29er. Those two aspects bring this flagship XC bike toe-to-toe with its counterpart from brother company Giant; the Anthem Advanced Pro 29 0.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 fiona dick
Liv unveils its first ever 29er – the brand new Pique 29. Woo-hoo!
2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0
Be prepared to swat away the magpies – this is one spangly mountain bicycle.
2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0
Most likely made from the tears of a male peacock.

Giant was notoriously late to the 29er party, having dipped in, and then back out again, before famously proclaiming 27.5 as the one true wheel size. Well, at least until the re-launch of the Anthem 29 in 2018. And now that we also have the Trance 29 and Reign 29, it would seem that Giant has changed its mind about wheelsizes.

The two-year delay in Liv coming along for the 29er ride was perhaps the challenge around designing frames for smaller riders. Being a women’s specific brand, Liv prides itself on providing a proper fit for ladies all the way down to an XS size.

Liv Global Product Marketing Specialist, Elise Heinold claims, “Not everyone has mastered the size XS for a 29in wheel bike … and we totally nailed it!” But how exactly did they do that? As we’ve covered before, Liv designs are informed by data collected on female body dimensions, muscular activity, and strength patterns. “Our goal was to find the right geometry and fit so that petite women can ride this bike without sacrificing stiffness or weight for XC racing”, says Liv engineer Sophia Shih.

With the specific design objectives achieved, it’s good to note that all frame sizes will fit a downtube water bottle – yep, that’s right, even the XS frame! Sure, the marathon racers may be left asking for more, but it’s still a positive step forward for 29er bikes of this size.

2020 liv pique 29 3
The Pique 29 will fit a water bottle inside the mainframe all the way down to an XS size. Neat!

Travel, Specs, Frame Material – What We Got?

The new Pique family of bikes offers 100mm of suspension up front, and 100mm out back via the Maestro suspension platform and a trunnion-mounted rear shock. This is actually 10mm more than the Giant Anthem, which only has 90mm of rear wheel travel.

There will be four Pique models coming into Australia for 2020; two with the full-carbon Advanced Pro frames, and two with ALUXX SL alloy frames. Regardless of frame material though, all Piques share the same geometry and the same suspension design. We’re pleased to see 1×12 gearing and dropper posts specced across every model in the Pique range, along with lightweight air-adjustable suspension all the way down to the Pique 29 3.

In addition to the frame geometry being female specific, the suspension is tuned to weight ranges and Liv works with each suspension company to achieve this. It’s worth noting that the standard weight range the Pique 29 has been tuned for is 52-73kg. If you’re outside of this weight range, it’d be advisable to look into having your suspension custom-tuned specifically for your weight.

Here’s a closer look at those four models we’ll have available in Oz this season;

2020 liv pique 29 3
The entry-point in the Liv Pique range, the Pique 29 3 gets a mysterious purple & black paint job, along with 1×12 SRAM Eagle shifting, a dropper post and RockShox air-adjustable suspension.

2020 Liv Pique 29 3

  • Frame | ALUXX SL-Grade Alloy, 100mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Recon SL, Solo Air, 100mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe Select+
  • Wheels | Giant Performance Disc Hubs & XCT Alloy Rims
  • Tyres | Maxxis Rekon Race 60tpi EXO 2.25in Front & Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM SX Eagle 1×12 w/SX Eagle 30t DUB Crankset & 11-5ot Cassette
  • Brakes | Shimano MT400 w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Seatpost | Giant Contact Switch Dropper, 30.9mm, 75-125mm Travel
  • RRP | $3,399
2020 liv pique 29 2
Best paint job of the range? We think so! The Pique 29 2 is also built around a swoopy welded alloy frame, but upgrades to Fox suspension front and rear, with a Shimano SLX 1×12 drivetrain laying down your pedal power.

2020 Liv Pique 29 2

  • Frame | ALUXX SL-Grade Alloy, 100mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 32 Float Step-Cast, Performance Series, GRIP Damper, 100mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS, Performance Series
  • Wheels | Giant Performance Disc Hubs & XCT Alloy Rims
  • Tyres | Maxxis Rekon Race 60tpi EXO 2.25in Front & Rear
  • Drivetrain | Shimano SLX 1×12 w/SLX 30t Crankset & 10-51t Cassette
  • Brakes | Shimano MT500 w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Seatpost | Giant Contact Switch Dropper, 30.9mm, 75-125mm Travel
  • RRP | $3,999
2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 1
Lovers of carbon take note – the Pique Advanced Pro 29 1 has the same frame as the top-end 0 model, but comes in $5k cheaper thanks to a more sensible parts selection. This one is going to be popular.

2020 Liv Pique Advanced Pro 29 1

  • Frame | Advanced Grade Carbon Mainframe & Swingarm, 100mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 32 Float Step-Cast, Performance Elite, FIT4 Damper, 100mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS, Performance Elite
  • Wheels | Giant XCR 1 Composite
  • Tyres | Maxxis Rekon Race 120tpi EXO 2.25in Front & Rear
  • Drivetrain | Shimano SLX/XT 1×12 w/XT 30t Crankset & 10-51t Cassette
  • Brakes | Shimano SLX w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Seatpost | Giant Contact Switch Dropper, 30.9mm, 75-125mm Travel
  • RRP | $6,799
2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0
Not interested in making compromises in your time on planet Earth? The Pique Advanced Pro 29 0 is with you all the way – Fox Live Valve suspension, SRAM XX1 shifting, and carbon fibre everywhere, it doesn’t get much more bling than this.

2020 Liv Pique Advanced Pro 29 0

  • Frame | Advanced Grade Carbon Mainframe & Swingarm, 100mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 32 Float Step-Cast, Factory Series, Live Valve, 100mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS, Factory Series, Live Valve
  • Wheels | Giant XCR 0 Composite
  • Tyres | Maxxis Rekon Race 120tpi EXO 2.25in Front & Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM XX1 1×12 w/XX1 32t Carbon Crankset & 10-50t Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Level Ultimate w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Seatpost | RockShox Reverb Stealth Dropper, 30.9mm, 75-125mm Travel
  • RRP | $11,999
2020 liv pique 29
Liv has gone to some lengths to keep the Pique nice and compact, even with the bigger 29in wheels.

Pique 29 Sizing & Geometry

As you’d expect, the new Pique 29 follows the “longer, lower, slacker” trend with a relatively roomy cockpit, low bottom bracket, and a 68.5° head angle. A low standover height combined with a short seat tube and XC-specific dropper post enables plenty of room to move around for descending and cornering. The low stack height means an aggressive XC position can be easily adopted. It has a pretty compact rear end for a 29er with 438mm chainstays, which is intended to give a lively feel to the bike.

As for sizing, Liv will have three sizes available in Australia for the Pique 29: X-Small, Small and Medium. According to Liv, the X-Small will fit riders down to about 148cm tall, while the Medium covers riders up to 177cm tall. Though the reach measurements are over 20mm longer than the previous Pique 27.5, they’re still a touch shorter than the unisex Giant Anthem 29.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 fiona dick
Fi swooping along on the Small-sized Pique 29 test bike.

I’m 168cm (5’4”) tall and rode the Small size. According to the chart I’m right in the sweet spot for that size and felt really comfortable on it once I’d centred the saddle in the rails and taken out one 5mm headset spacer. I probably could have removed more – the Pique 29s come set up pretty upright, which is good, as you’ve got plenty of adjustability and can really slam the stem if you want.

It’s A-Live Valve!

The bike we were riding at the launch is the Pique Advanced Pro 29 0. It’s a seriously premium offering that comes dripping in carbon components with a very sexy paint job, but most notable is that it features the game-changing Fox Live Valve electronic suspension system. Wasting mental and physical energy on your suspension lockouts is now a thing of the past, as this system does that entirely for you (for the full rundown on Live Valve, check out our story here).

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 live valve fox kashima
The dual-link Maestro suspension design is hopped-up with the very clever Fox Live Valve system on the top-level Pique Advanced Pro 29 0.
2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 live valve fox
A solenoid inside the fork and shock damper allow both to flick from open to closed in just 3 milliseconds. And the system does it all automatically, so you can concentrate on the trail ahead.

After setting up your sag and rebound as you usually would, “You just turn it on and ride”, explained Everet Ericksen, Fox Engineering Manager, Advanced Development Group and inventor of the Live Valve system. “It frees up a lot of your mental capacity to focus on breathing or line choices … it’s a big deal”.

Combined with top-of-the-line Fox Factory suspension components, it also comes with a big price tag, but its benefit to race efficiency is undeniable with the delivery of lightning quick adjustments to your suspension as the terrain changes.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 live valve
1×12 Eagle shifting on this Pique, along with Giant’s own XCR 0 carbon wheels and Maxxis Rekon Race tyres. It’s a speedy little number.

ALL Of The Bling

Also undeniable is that the Pique Advanced Pro 29 0 is a helluva good looking bike! With striking chameleon blue/purple paint (complete with matching top cap) and lustrous gloss finish, I love how the lower half of the bike dips into black. The classy raw aluminium-look graphics and curved lines of the carbon tubes complementing the arcs of the trademark Liv frame design are also very aesthetically appealing. Topping off the package is the absence of suspension lockout levers, which leaves the handlebars looking clean. Along with the internal cable routing though the frame, it results in a sleek, sophisticated looking rig.

Worth noting here is that Liv was actually trialling two colourways during the launch, and the bike I’m pictured riding is the one that didn’t make it to market. RIP to the Green Lizard Queen.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 fiona dick
Don’t get too excited by the Green Lizard Queen colour – this one isn’t making it to production.

There have been no compromises in spec for the Pique Advanced Pro 29 0. I couldn’t see one thing to upgrade. In addition to the top shelf suspension, there’s carbon everywhere from the cockpit components to the SRAM Ultimate Level brakes and SRAM XX1 Eagle groupset. With a respectable 1490g claimed weight, the XCR 0 carbon wheelset is paired with the fast-rolling Maxxis Rekon Race 2.25in EXO tyres.

Liv specced surprisingly wide handlebars for an XC machine with 750mm carbon bars as standard – you can of course cut these down to suit your preference, but many racers are going wide for leverage on the climbs and better control on the descents. In a time where XC courses are becoming more technically demanding it’s also great to see the speccing of the Rockshox Reverb Stealth dropper post, with 75mm to 125mm travel across the three frame sizes. A nice feature is Liv’s Contact SLR Forward saddle featuring the nifty Uniclip system for pairing with the compatible lightweight saddle bag.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 fiona dick
Proper 750mm wide bars come as stock on the Pique 29 – good stuff Liv!

A Queen’s Bike On Kingdom Trails

Vermont’s famed Kingdom Trails were the site for the launch of the Pique Advanced Pro 29 0. It’s a unique destination in many ways; most notably because the 160+ kilometres of trails, managed by the Kingdom Trail Association, traverse over 90 private landowners’ properties. Mountain biking has become the driving force for the town’s community and economy, and it’s been welcomed with open arms – landowners have actually requested that trails are built on their land rather than the other way around. Yes, really.

liv pique kingdom trails
A gaggle of journalists on the Kingdom Trail network for the Liv Pique 29 launch.

Our guide and owner of Kingdom Cycling and Experiences, Collin Daulong described Kingdom Trails as “Disneyland for mountain bikers” and it’s hard to disagree with that. Unlike much of the riding in the New England region, these trails are fast and flowy, using the natural contours of the land and creative use of bridges for features and technical challenge.

More often than not you’ll pop out of a trail after weaving your way through a carpet of pine needles or maple forest to a stunning view of lush green countryside, a serene riverside, or a hut in a clearing in the middle of nowhere offering refreshments. Everyone is “just so darn friendly” and genuinely pleased to see you enjoying what’s on offer … it’s just good vibes all round!

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 fiona dick
The Pique is a 100/100mm XC bike, but it can feel like a lot more than that.

That’s Cool, But How’s The 2020 Liv Pique 29 Ride?

With Live Valve inventor Everet Ericksen and Fox Lead Technician Lewis Angeley on hand to run us through the intricacies of Live Valve, we set up our suspension, switched on the Live Valve brain and completed a few demo loops, giving us an opportunity to play with the different bump-sensitivity settings on the Live Valve controller and have the Fox gurus check our suspension was dialled.

The bike came with plenty of headset spacers so it was easy to lower the stem to get over the front wheel for optimal climbing and cornering position.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0
Plenty of spacers for adjusting the front-end.
giant contact slr saddle women's
There are women’s specific touch points throughout.

I expected the Pique Advanced Pro 29 0 to be fast – and I wasn’t disappointed. The light overall weight translated into quick acceleration considering the large hoops, and once up to speed this bike motors along. With the Live Valve system sorting out the suspension you just point and pedal.

Save for the clicking that you hear from the solenoids reacting to bumps, the proof in the pudding of Live Valve is that you basically don’t notice it due to its immediate response – 3 milliseconds, to be precise – and I didn’t feel any harshness of sudden bumps through my hands or feet as I have with other inertia valve suspension systems like the Terralogic and Brain dampers. When hitting a climb, the suspension remained firm as I put the power down and, after opening for a bump or root, the snappy timer action closed it instantaneously, resulting in minimal wallow. Front and rear solenoids mean the suspension works independently, and rear wheel traction was superb on slower, more technical climbs with irregularly spaced roots.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 fiona dick
Even across choppy roots, the Live Valve system is super responsive.

The traction and stability provided by the 29er wheels helped me corner with confidence, but while the Maxxis Rekon Race tyre combo is unquestionably light and fast rolling, I’d elect to run something with a bit more bite up front for greater cornering confidence.

The bike certainly felt agile, and its geometry and light weight meant I could pop over smaller obstacles with ease. For larger obstacles, I did find not knowing whether or not I could preload the suspension (depending on whether Live Valve has closed the fork and shock at the time) a bit tricky, which left me occasionally wishing for more predictable suspension.

I found the Pique Advanced Pro 29 0 to be very stable on the descents. While Live Valve detects your trajectory and keeps the suspension open for longer on descents, I occasionally felt harshness when hitting a bump, but this could also have been due to the stiff carbon wheels. Either way, it didn’t detract from the fun and with the suspension open I enjoyed a plush ride and had no hesitation hitting small drops and jumps. The SRAM Ultimate brakes with 180mm/160mm rotors provided ample stopping power, and I appreciated the bike’s dropper and low centre of gravity. This package combines to give the bike enduro-like descending confidence.

2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 sram level ultimate brakes
SRAM’s Level Ultimate brakes are top quality stoppers with plenty of power.
2020 liv pique advanced pro 29 0 live valve
This bike is undeniably gorgeous, and fast, and comfortable. But it’s also undeniably expensive. Thankfully the Pique 29 range kicks off at a much more approachable $3,399.

I really liked just how quiet this bike is, with its near-silent freehub and the rubber chainstay protector giving you opportunity to simply appreciate the sound of tyres on dirt. The click from the Live Valve controller can be heard doing its thing, particularly when climbing, but it’s not loud enough to be annoying.

Flow’s Final Word

So, what to make of this new women’s specific 29er race bike?

Liv says the Pique 29 sits towards the trail end of the XC market, which I agree with in terms of its capability on more challenging terrain. If you’re looking for a comfortable, pedal-efficient and confidence inspiring cross-country bike, then I’d happily recommend it – particularly if you’re on the shorter side and have had difficulties finding a 29er bike that fits properly.

The Pique Advanced Pro 29 0 with its Live Valve-controlled suspension is a beast unto itself – especially considering the $12k price tag. It is unapologetically high end, which is something we don’t see often for a women’s specific bike, and that’s rad. For those who aren’t interested in compromising, this will be an absolute weapon in the hands of an avid XC or marathon racer, and for anyone who has an appreciation for cutting-edge technology.

For those with shallower jersey pockets, the good news is that you can get into the 2020 Liv Pique 29 range for $3,399. Also good is the fact that Giant Australia is bringing in four models into the country shows the brands commitment to women’s specific bikes, which we’re big fans of.

First Ride Review | The 2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Is One Seriously Refined Trail Bike

Oooh goody, a new Trek Fuel EX! This is particularly exciting for us; the existing Fuel EX is a bike we know well and have spent plenty of time on over its long life, changing every few years to keep up to the current standard the new 2020 one is a slick trail bike with well thought out features. So let’s take a look!


See the 2020 Trek Fuel EX in action in the video here

New Fuel EX is here, yiew!
As well as a slick new paint scheme, the Fuel EX frame is different from tip to tail. Less matte black on matte black colours in the range, too!

Walk-In Wardrobe, Glovebox, Pie-Hole, Not-S.W.A.T, Or simply ‘Storage’

Yep, the new carbon frame Fuel EX has internal storage in the downtube. Wait, what? We can hear you thinking ‘OMG, they copied Specialized!’. Maybe they did, or perhaps the bigger story is that Specialized was the first to make it worthwhile, and now Trek is making it possible for its bikes too. Good on them either way, it’s a great feature, and we welcome it to the trail.

Trek’s first mountain bike with dedicated internal frame storage, nifty.
Lift off the bottle cage with attached base and the internal space is yours for whatever you wish to stash. Can’t fit a motor in there, sadly…

Flick the lever, lift off the cage, and you’ve got access to a whole lot of space to stash your bits, store them in there, so you never leave them behind and keep them out of the way of water and mud for safekeeping.

Included with the new Fuel EX is a tool wrap and bottle cage to complete the storage picture, so you can wrap everything together for silent storage and fill a bottle with your favourite water product, leaving a hydration backpack at home for shorter trail blasts.

Curious to see how it actually works, make sure to check out the video above.

Full Floater Be Gone!

The second most noticeable change to the frame is down in the centre of things. Following the Session, Slash, Remedy and Top Fuel, the new Fuel EX is now Full Floater-free. A feature introduced many years ago to give Trek’s suspension gurus the rear shock rate they wanted, the shock would mount to the chainstay (see on the 2019 model below) and would travel downwards when compressed. Trek states that the latest high-volume shocks now perform well enough and can be tuned to achieve better results without need for the Full Floater linkage.

Gone is the Full Floater, the last of the suspension bikes in Trek’s range to do so. Fewer restrictions around the BB area result in a lighter, larger main pivot and BB region.
Clean and simple.

Without the Full Floater taking space around the BB and main pivot, the frame can be constructed with higher stiffness. No front derailleurs allowed either, a single-ring or nothing situation now.

Longer, Slacker, Steeper, Lower & All The Modern Classic Hits

We were initially concerned that the new bike would follow the apparent trends of bikes for 2020 and increase in overall size and suspension travel, but the Fuel EX stays 130mm of travel on the rear, just with a 10mm increase in fork travel up to 140mm.

Geometry scores a fairly predictable software update, with a longer reach of around 10-20mm depending on size. Head angles slacken by one notch to 66° and to keep the bike’s length in check as the reach grows, the seat angle steeps to 75°. This is all about keeping the new Fuel EX up to date with modern standards. It wasn’t like the previous version felt outdated in any one way, but as we were to find out this one is just that little bit easier to ride hard, while also being more spritely on the climbs.

New geo, small tweaks here and there, add up. A nice trail bike for a wide range of trails.

The top tube is significantly lower, for longer dropper posts and increased standover too, a good move as we wanted to upsize on the previous model but found the seat tube height would restrict the decent range of a 150mm dropper post. Problem solved!

2020 Trek Fuel EX Geometry

Eight size options in total – wowsers!

All Carbon, Universal Mech Hanger, Rebound Numbers & Thumb-Friendly Dropper

Moving into 2020 the carbon Fuel EX models are all carbon; no more aluminium rear ends. This is something we’ve seen a lot of lately, the 2020 Specialized Enduro and Giant Reign and Trance 29 for example.

While around the back end of the bike, we spotted a suspicious ‘UDH’ marking on the rear derailleur hanger. After a little digging, we were told it’s a new universal derailleur hanger standard that the kind folks at SRAM have conceptualised. Imagine that, a universal hanger! Let’s see who adopts it next and whether it actually becomes a thing…

Numbers on rebound dials make a lot of sense, but shock manufacturers have been reluctant to do this as it needs to be set at the factory to match the frame. But, sounds like Trek hassled Fox enough and look what we have here – numbers! So much easier for setup for all involved. Good stuff, Trek.

Bontrager’s new dropper post remote is a significant improvement over the silver ‘button’ of previous models. Under the thumb, the lever-action is tighter and less wobbly. A small but nice touch that we appreciated.

Throw More Fuel On The Trail

We recently took the stealth black 2019 Fuel EX 9.9 on a trip to Derby, Tasmania, so we certainly are familiar with its vibe. The new Fuel EX feels similar but manages to charge descents harder and jumps up short sharp pinches easier. In the saddle, and out of the saddle, we felt the new Fuel was more responsive to hard pedal strokes than the previous model. Put that down to the revised shock tune, longer reach and steeper seat angle or a stiffer bottom bracket area, either way, it’s super zippy.

Hammering tech trails with supportive tyres and a sturdy-feeling bike.

With a robust Fox 36 (previous versions used a Fox 34) fork leading the way, and a stiffer feeling chassis overall, the Fuel EX commands more respect from obstacles when confronted by nasty sections of trail. It’s able to plough a little harder but hasn’t lost that ultra-supple suspension feeling and sensitive reactions to choppy surfaces. Older model Fuel EX bikes would have such a cushy rear end that it required constant use of the shock’s compression lever. Nowadays the sensitivity is there, but the shock can better differentiate between body weight shifts and pedalling bounce from trail chatter.

With such a solid frame and fork it risks feeling harsh and transferring feedback to the rider, but the suspension works overtime to smoothen things out. We’d make sure to keep on top of the regular fork and shock maintenance, or that might change. Take a heavy landing though, and the Fuel EX won’t seem too fazed.

Ripping the new Fuel at the official launch, a super agile and confident bike indeed.

Australian Availability

We’ll see six models of the new Fuel EX coming to our shores; three aluminium and three carbon. Here’s the full rundown on what you’ll be seeing in Trek stores very soon.

2020 trek fuel ex 5
The EX 5 is the entry-point into the Fuel EX range, but it gets the same suspension design and geometry as the top-end models. Props for the quality XR4 tyres too.

2020 Trek Fuel EX 5

  • Frame | Alpha Platinum Alloy, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Recon RL, 46mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe Select Plus, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Alex MD35 Rims & Bontrager Alloy Sealed Bearing Hubs
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in Tyres
  • Drivetrain | Shimano Deore 1×10 w/Race Face Ride Cranks
  • Brakes | Shimano MT200
  • Seatpost | TranzX Dropper Post, 130mm Travel
  • RRP | $2,999
2020 Trek fuel ex 7
The Trek Fuel EX 7 steps up to a Fox shock, RockShox 35 fork and a SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain. A real workhorse spec.

2020 TrekFuel EX 7

  • Frame | Alpha Platinum Alloy, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox 35 Gold, 44mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS EVOL, Performance Series, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, 29mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in Tyres
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 w/NX Eagle Cranks
  • Brakes | Shimano MT400
  • Seatpost | TranzX Dropper Post, 130mm Travel
  • RRP | $3,699
2020 trek fuel ex 8
The Fuel EX 8 is the top-end alloy model, and comes equipped with a Fox 34 Rhythm fork and a Float DPS shock with the clever RE:aktiv damper inside. Hard hitters on a budget, take note of this one.

2020 Trek Fuel EX 8

  • Frame | Alpha Platinum Alloy, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 34 Rhythm, GRIP Damper, 44mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS EVOL, Performance Series, RE:aktiv Damper, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, 29mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in Tyres
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/Descendent 6K Eagle Cranks
  • Brakes | Shimano Deore M6000
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Dropper Post, 150mm Travel
  • RRP | $4,499
2020 trek fuel ex 9.7
For $5k you can get the full-carbon Fuel EX 9.7, which might just be the value pick of the bunch.This frame comes loaded with fully integrated armour, the downtube treasure chest, and Mino Link adjustable geometry chip.

2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.7

  • Frame | OCLV Mountain Carbon Fibre, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 34 Rhythm, GRIP Damper, 44mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPS EVOL, Performance Series, RE:aktiv Damper, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, 29mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in Tyres
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX/GX Eagle 1×12 w/Descendent 6K Eagle Cranks
  • Brakes | Shimano MT420
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Dropper Post, 150mm Travel
  • RRP | $4,999
2020 trek fuel ex 9.8
The Trek Fuel EX 9.8 steps up the suspension quality with the big-hitting Fox 36 on the front and the Thru-Shaft damper on the rear. Remedy who?

2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.8

  • Frame | OCLV Mountain Carbon Fibre, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float, Performance Series, GRIP Damper, 44mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float EVOL w/Thru-Shaft, Performance Series, RE:aktiv Damper, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, 29mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in Tyres
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/Descendent 7K Eagle Cranks
  • Brakes | Shimano SLX M7120 4-piston
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Elite Dropper Post, 170mm Travel
  • RRP | $6,999
2020 trek fuel ex 9.9
Trek is making several Fuel EX 9.9 models, but the one coming into Australia for 2020 is this bike, which features Kashima-laden Fox suspension, carbon Bontrager wheels and SRAM X01 Eagle mechanical shifting.

2020 Trek Fuel EX 9.9

  • Frame | OCLV Mountain Carbon Fibre, 130mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float, Factory Series, GRIP2 Damper, 44mm Offset, 140mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float EVOL w/Thru-Shaft, Factory Series, RE:aktiv Damper, 210x55mm
  • Wheels | Bontrager Line Carbon 30, 29mm Inner Rim Width
  • Tyres | Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.6in Tyres
  • Drivetrain | SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12 w/X01 Eagle Carbon Cranks
  • Brakes | Shimano Deore XT M8120 4-piston
  • Seatpost | Bontrager Line Elite Dropper Post, 170mm Travel
  • RRP | $9,499

What do you think of the 2020 Fuel EX? Worth updating form the 2019 model, or perhaps this bike would make you consider dropping down from a longer travel bike to take advantage of a more engaging ride that’s still robust and solid? We may or may not have one of these slick new Fuel EX bikes coming to our hot hands soon, so keep an eye out for more.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Cheers for reading!

This Fuel EX might just be the best one yet.

First Ride | The 2020 Giant Reign Advanced Pro 29er 0

As one of the most hotly-anticipated bikes of the year, the brand new 2020 Giant Reign 29 arrives on the scene as the longest travel 29er that Giant has ever built. Following hot on the heels of the success of the Trance 29 – a bike that we’ve become rather fond of here at Flow – the Reign 29 ups the suspension travel at both ends, beefs up the chassis and kicks out the geometry to suitably enduro-y proportions. Flow’s Oli Smith set aside his own Reign 27.5 to put the 2020 Giant Reign Advanced 29er Pro 0 to the test at the bike’s official launch.


See the 2020 Reign 29 in action in the video here


Say Hello To The Giant Reign 29er

It’s early. The coffee hasn’t quite kicked in yet. The heli drop has landed us atop Mt Cartier, a 2499m high peak in Revelstoke, British Columbia. Slung across my back is the new 2020 Giant Reign Advanced Pro 0. Oh yeah, it has big wheels now. Welcome to the long-travel 29er crowd, Giant.

We hike-a-bike up to the peak and watch as the bright-orange helicopter cuts a direct line across the peaks, returning to base to pick up the next group. It’s bloody cold up here, but my palms are still sweaty.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0 helicopter
The new Reign 29 climbs well, but helicopters climb better.
Oli putting the new Reign 29 to the test at the launch in Revelstoke.

Snaking below is a ribbon of perfect but concerningly narrow singletrack on shale rocks, with tight goat-track turns. Below that lies a carpet of wildflowers, and below that still is the tree-line. Today’s descent is over 2,200 vertical metres on 18km of pure singletrack.

Conditions are perfect: recent rain has left the trails tacky, but mostly dry. As far as the terrain goes, it’s rough, rocky, rooty, and yeah, steep.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
This one gets all the bells and whistles. Other models are available.

Big Travel, Big Wheels

Perfect for the Reign 29er, then. 146mm of rear travel compliments 160mm upfront. 65° head angle, progressive-but-not-extreme geometry numbers, and a compliment of Fox Factory suspension and SRAM Code RSC brakes with 200mm rotors. I’m going to need all of that to get me to the bottom in one piece.

The bike comes with a RockShox Reverb SL dropper, which was specced at 125mm for the Medium. You could probably fit a 150mm in there if needed, as the frame design has been revised to allow more space for longer droppers. I’m not particularly tall but I would have liked to try a 150mm.

Did I mention this bike without pedals weighs just 13.1kg? Yeah, that’s light – I felt like my backpack full of gear weighed more.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
Strap yourself in and hang on – this bike’s quick!

Err, What About The 27.5 Wheel Thing?

We gather at the top as the marmots watch, and begin our descent. As we drop, I’m watching the loose shale edges drop off right next to my wheel. I need something to take my mind off this exposure, so I think about where the idea of this bike has grown from.

In 2014, Giant launched a range of new bikes, boldly claiming that 27.5 wheels were the future. The brand was “fully committed” to the 27.5 wheelsize, and called this the boldest decision in the company’s history.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
Boost spacing and 1x drivetrains have helped Giant change its mind about the whole 29er thing.

Allow Us To Eat Our Hat

So, why do we now have a Reign 29er? Well, let’s just say bike companies aren’t very good at predicting the future (though I do admire their confidence). Giant desperately needed a longer-travel 29er to complement the Anthem 29 and Trance 29, which are both already well established in the market.

The reality is that Boost wheel spacing and 1x drivetrains have made building good 29ers much easier, because manufacturers can slam the rear wheel in closer without having to engineer-around an awkward front derailleur. We’re also demanding bikes with longer reach for added stability, which compliments the 29er approach when combined with better fork offsets to keep the front end snappy.

We particularly loved the Trance 29er at Flow, which basically nailed the “fun 29er” brief, so the curiosity levels were high for its big brother.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
We’re glad Giant changed its mind about 29in wheels.

Rightio. But What’s It Like To Ride?

So this bike is good. Really good. That’s quite a short review though, so allow me to elaborate.

I’d say it feels more like a longer travel Trance 29er than a Reign with big wheels, and I’ll explain why that’s actually a compliment. It’s supportive on big hits, climbs well, and is still a lot of fun to throw around, whether that’s sliding the tyres around tight turns or getting the bike comfortable in the air.

146mm rear travel may sound a bit underwhelming next to the smaller-wheeled Reign’s 160mm, but it makes this bike much more versatile. It’s a great do-everything bike for the rider who prefers aggressive, nasty trails to smooth, snaking singletrack, but still needs to get to the top of the mountain under pedal-power.

oli smith 2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
Compared to the 160mm rear travel on the Reign 27.5, the Reign 29 shrinks rear travel down to 146mm.

Why 146mm, I hear you ask? Apparently the designers tried a range of travel options, and 146mm just turned out to be the preferred sweet spot. They wanted this bike to be fun and playful, but still able to get you to the top of the climb. Giant didn’t want any weird leverage curve characteristics either, and 146mm was the magic number. So there you go.

Bombs Away!

We survive the top switchbacks, and the trail pitches in to the treeline. Suddenly the trail gets steeper, with big roots and some rocky turns. Speed goes up as the exposure disappears and I feel more comfortable surrounded by trees for some reason (even though they hurt just as much when you hit them, I can attest).

The turn-in is sharp. It’s sensitive to light inputs and easier to get your weight over the front compared to some other long travel 29ers. The 44mm fork offset is a good choice for this bike.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0 fox 36 kashima car truck tailgate
Reduced offset forks help to improve descending stability on the Reign 29.

The riding position was well centred – I felt I could have had a tiny bit more reach in the size medium (455mm), but I forgot about it after the first few hours. The shorter reach allowed me to put my weight further forward on the front wheel, and I felt inside the bike, rather than on top of it. Any concerns about the longer 439mm chainstays were dropped as quickly as our elevation changed.

In terms of straight-line descending, it finds traction everywhere, with the Maestro suspension design extending effortlessly into holes in the terrain and collecting big hits with excellent composure. It doesn’t have quite the ‘liveliness’ of a Trance 29er, which feels like it pops and skips over rough terrain more than sinking into the undulations. But that’s not a bad thing for what will inevitably be the go-to enduro bike for the Giant Off Road team – it means the tyres are on the ground and gripping more of the time, which leads to more traction and more speed when things get really gnarly.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0 oli smith
Big wheels and big travel = big momentum on the descents.

Stealthy Quiet

This bike was almost completely silent on the descents, something that modern bikes are getting very good at. The wheels came with DT Swiss’ standard and underwhelming 18T ratchet, which is a quiet and reliable performer. For a bike costing over ten grand though, it really should come with a faster-engaging freehub. That’s one thing I would personally be upgrading straight away for better engagement – at least a 54T ratchet kit is cheaper than a whole new rear hub.

Upwards & Onwards

During the launch, we climbed quite a bit to get to a local trail with lots of features, rocks, roots and loam – everywhere. Deep breath – this bike climbs well. Again, it’s not a Trance 29er, but the much improved seat tube angle (76.8°), combined with some revised suspension kinematics meant I wasn’t really having any issues getting up and over short pinches, or spending hours in the saddle. The longer stays also helped with stability on short, steep pinches. It’s a huge improvement on the outgoing Reign 27.5.

This bike will excel for riders that want an “all-day” enduro-capable bike – climbing to the top again and again for multiple laps, or going out on a big adventure to hunt out rough, steep and nasty descents.

The lower link is the only alloy component on the Reign Advanced Pro frame – everything else is carbon fibre.

Rubbed Up The Wrong Way

There’s something I do need to mention before I go any further. On the climb, myself and all of the other journos on the launch noticed that the rear brake rotor was rubbing against the calliper whenever we put the power down. It wasn’t an issue of calliper adjustment. Instead, it seemed like flex in either the wheel or the new carbon swingarm was causing the brake to rub as you climb.

I asked the crew from Giant about it and they said that they are already investigating it. Hopefully it’s not going to be a matter of reducing the rotor size to 180mm, because that would feel like a bit of a patch job – this bike is capable of impressive feats and a 200mm rear rotor is a must for big-mountain descents.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0 oli smith
If it looks steep in the photo, you know it’s bloody steep in person!

Reign 27.5 VS Reign 29

Finally, how does it compare to the 27.5 to ride? Frankly, quite different. The Reign 27.5 was like a flaky friend – great when it was time to party and let loose, but somewhat aloof and boring for of the in-between stuff. The 27.5 Reign felt muted and sluggish on a trail that wasn’t steep and full of rocks and roots. It used up a lot of your forward energy to flatten the terrain – which only works when it gets really steep.

The Reign 29 really isn’t like that at all. As mentioned above it’s not a short and snappy short travel bike, but during the launch we rode some classic ‘blue’ singletrack as a warm up and it was a lot of fun – it popped and hopped and skidded around tight turns.

The blue trails we rode were quite smooth, so it will be more revealing to see how it deals with some local Australian trails, which are often much rougher at the same gradient, but first impressions are good.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
Gorgeous lines and two-tone paint job.

Models & Pricing

Ok, Australian pricing. Are you sitting down? $10,299. That’s the Advanced Pro 29 0. Full carbon (even the swingarm this time), full Fox Factory suspension, hookless carbon wheels, all of the good stuff. In context of the spec on this bike, it makes sense. Also remember the weight of this bike is 13.1kg. Incredible for a long-travel enduro 29er.

If you want the model down, the Advanced Pro 1, that’s a much more palatable $6,999. The entry-level alloy is $3,999 and the SX version, with 170mm travel upfront, is $5,299.

2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
You want the best? That’s the 0 model here.

2020 Giant Reign Advanced Pro 29 0

  • Frame | Full Advanced Grade Carbon Fibre, 146mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float Factory Series GRIP 2, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float X2 Factory Series
  • Wheels | Giant TRX 0 Hookless Composite
  • Drivetrain | SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes | SRAM Code RSC, 200mm Fr & Rr
  • RRP | $10,299
2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 1
The same carbon frame, just with an all-black Fox suspension package, alloy wheels and a SRAM GX Eagle groupset.

2020 Giant Reign Advanced Pro 29 1

  • Frame | Full Advanced Grade Carbon Fibre, 146mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float Performance Series GRIP 2, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float X2 Performance Series
  • Wheels | Giant TR 1 Hookless Alloy
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes | SRAM Code R, 200mm Fr & Rr
  • RRP | $6,999
2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 2
For less than $6k, you can get a full carbon Reign 29 with RockShox suspension and 12-speed shifting.

2020 Giant Reign Advanced Pro 29 2

  • Frame | Full Advanced Grade Carbon Fibre, 146mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Lyrik Select, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe Select+
  • Wheels | Giant AM
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes | Shimano MT520, 203mm Fr & Rr
  • RRP | $5,699
2020 giant reign 29er 2
The entry point into the Reign 29 range – the alloy-framed Reign 2.

2020 Giant Reign 29 2

  • Frame | ALUXX SL Grade Aluminum, 146mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox Yari RC, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox Deluxe Select+
  • Wheels | Giant AM
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes | Shimano MT520, 203mm Fr & Rr
  • RRP | $3,999
2020 giant reign sx 29
Equipped with a coil shock and a slightly longer 170mm fork, this is the party animal of the bunch; the Reign SX.

2020 Giant Reign 29 SX

  • Frame | ALUXX SL Grade Aluminum, 146mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Float Performance Elite Series GRIP 2, 170mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox DHX2 Performance Elite Series
  • Wheels | Giant AM
  • Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes | Code R, 200mm Fr & Rr
  • RRP | $5,299
2020 giant reign advanced pro 29er 0
Press SEND!

Verdict

This is a bike that feels like it has been in the development wings for quite some time, and a lot of attention has been paid to finding that magic balance between rock smasher and trail ripper. They could have made another big travel 29er with extreme numbers – long reach, lots of travel, super slack head angle, but Giant stopped short of that, and the bike is all the more impressive for it. We can’t wait to try it on home trails.

First Ride | The new Giro Tyrant helmet combines new-school tech with old-school style

In the world of mountain biking, there are half-shell helmets, full-face helmets, and convertible helmets. Sitting somewhere in the middle of that triad is the brand new Giro Tyrant – a sort of not-quite-full-face-but-not-quite-half-shell helmet. You might have seen this lid on top of Josh Bryceland’s noggin lately, and that should give you a pretty good idea of what, and who, it’s designed for.

Looking a little bit like a Montaro and Switchblade had a slightly questionable-looking baby, the Tyrant is a completely new helmet design from Giro. According to the American helmet brand, the Tyrant is “Designed to meet the needs of today’s progressive trail riders“. The way we see it? This is an ideal aggro option for those who find full-face helmets a little too claustrophobic, but want more protection that your average trail lid.

mips
The Giro Tyrant is a brand new helmet design.

Now Giro isn’t the first brand to have a crack at the daredevil style. The Fox Dropframe was launched this year, and we suspect the Tyrant will be equally love/hate. Whether you’re into the design or not, there are some pretty neat features lurking beneath that polycarbonate outer shell.

Hey There, Sweet Cheeks!

First though, we just gotta talk about those big ol’ ear guards! Like a modern trail helmet, the Tyrant provides plenty of coverage across the forehead and around the back of the rider’s head. Unlike a regular trail lid though, the Tyrant’s shell drops down on either side of the ears all the way down to the jawline. This provides additional impact protection on the side of the head, while also shielding the rider’s ears.

wil mips
The Tyrant offers more coverage around the sides of the riders’ noggin.

Overall, the shape isn’t unlike Giro’s Switchblade helmet with the chin bar removed. The Switchblade isn’t well known for being a light or breezy helmet though, so Giro have gone to some lengths to chisel off the grams and give the Tyrant decent ventilation. There are 14 vents in total, which includes the two horizontal vents over the ear-holes to prevent you from steaming up too much.

Inside the helmet you’ll find removable foam padding, as well as additional ‘cheek pads’ that help to give the Tyrant a nice and snug fit. Included with the helmet are two sets of cheek pads, one thick and one thin, which allows you to fine-tune the fit depending on how chubby your cheeks are.

Swappable cheek pads for dialling in the fit.

To keep the helmet in place, you’ve got the Roc Loc Air DH retention system, which relies on a big rubber adjuster wheel at the back of the helmet to cinch up the harness. You can also adjust the vertical position of the harness’ rear cradle, by unplugging the anchor point and shifting it up or down.

MIPS Spherical – Two Shells Are Better Than One?

Without doubt one of the biggest features of the Giro Tyrant is its use of the MIPS Spherical design – a technology that up until now, has only seen on the Bell Super DH convertible helmet, and the Giro Aether road helmet.

mips spherical
Spot the separation between the two shells?
mips spherical
The inner shell is made with a softer EPP foam, which is designed to provide a more effective crumple zone.

MIPS Spherical is sort of like regular MIPS but on steroids. The system comprises of two shells – there’s a harder EPS foam outer shell, and a softer EPP inner shell. The two shells are moulded so that their contacting surfaces perfectly match each other, and then they’re polished smooth. The result is a slippery interface that sees the inner shell rotate independently of the outer shell – a bit like a ball & socket joint. The two shells are then connected together via four rubber anchors – those are the yellow dots you can see inside the helmet liner.

Why the dual-shell design? According to Giro, the harder EPS outer shell is a better material for harder, high-speed impacts. In comparison, the EPP foam shell is softer and has a slower rebound characteristic, which takes care of slow-speed impacts. The softer EPP shell is the one that sits closest to your head, which is really what you want from a safety perspective.

mips spherical
Four yellow rubber anchors connect the two shells together.

How Heavy Is It Then?

Because of the additional coverage and thick dual-shell design, the Tyrant isn’t particularly light alongside a standard trail helmet. Our Medium-sized test sample weighs in at a substantial 620 grams.

For comparison sake, a Giro Montaro (one of our favourite trail lids) weighs in at 375g, so the Tyrant is a lot heavier than that. Then again, it is a bit lighter than the Switchblade in half-shell mode, which weighs just on 700g.

mips spherical
The Giro Tyrant has a lot more meat surrounding the rider’s head, and that does add weight.

That Big Ol’ Visor

With styling reminiscent of the Switchblade and Chronicle helmets, the Tyrant also gets an adjustable visor with loads of coverage. You can adjust the visors’ two anchor points with a 4mm hex key, though moulded grooves mean you can simply use your hands to perform the same job.

With the visor pushed all the way up, there’s room underneath to stow your goggles while in climbing mode. The profile of the Tyrant means goggles nestle in cleanly, and the back of the Tyrant’s polycarbonate shell has moulded in grooves to keep your goggle strap in place.

Unlike some other helmets out there, the Tyrant doesn’t have a plug-in mount for a GoPro. Instead, the top of the helmet has a nicely smooth surface through the centre that’s ready for a stick-on mount should you wish to plonk a camera up there.

adidas goggles wil
The wide brow ensures a smooth fit with goggles. The look is a lot more tolerable than usual for an open-face helmet/goggle combo. What do you think?
adidas goggles visor
Goggles Up!
goggles
The goggle strap tucks in neatly around the back of the Tyrant’s shell.

Enough! Tell Us What It’s Like To Wear!

In terms of coverage and feel, the Tyrant really does connect the dots between a full-face and a half-shell helmet. The extra coverage around the ears, combined with the cheek pads, give it a cosy feel and a secure fit. The deep bowl-like profile is more akin to a full-face, just without the embarrassing hassles of when you go to eat a banana.

Giro is offering the Tyrant in three sizes: Small (51-55cm), Medium (55-59cm), and Large (59-63cm). Being a Medium in basically every helmet brand, that’s what I went for with the Tyrant. I found the sizing to be pretty similar to my favourite convertible helmet, the Bell Super DH, which isn’t surprising given that Bell and Giro are owned by the same parent company.

A big rubber adjuster wheel allows you to tighten down the harness at the back of your head.
Two plastic stubs can be anchored in four vertical positions, helping to position the cradle of the harness in the right spot.

I’ve only a handful of rides with the Tyrant, and those have all been during a brisk Victorian winter, so I can’t comment on how well it ventilates on a hot summer’s day. I also can’t comment on the protection levels because miraculously I’ve managed to keep it rubber-side down lately. That said, the substantial coverage and dual-shell construction exude plenty of confidence – certainly a lot more than a regular trail helmet.

The only issue I’ve encountered so far is with wearing certain sunglasses, since the fit is pretty tight on either side of the head with the Tyrant. Longer armed glasses tend to foul on the inside of the shell and the harness, though this will vary from head to head and glasses brand to brand.

wil glasses
The Tyrant fit is snug overall, and that will cause fit issues with some riding glasses.

How Many Pineapples?

Six of those will get you a Giro Tyrant, with some cash left over to buy yourself a takeaway 4-pack at your local craft beer establishment. What the heck does that mean? It means the Giro Tyrant retails in Australia for $279. To put that in perspective, that’s thirty bucks more than a Montaro, and a hundred bucks cheaper than the Switchblade convertible helmet.

There’ll be three colours coming to our shores, including the Matte Black as shown, a Matte True Spruce, and a very bright Matte Citron.

So what do you folks think of the new Tyrant? Is this the helmet you’ve been looking for? Or a style that’s just a little too daring? Let us know your opinion in the comments!

If you’re after more protection from a mountain bike helmet, but would prefer not to run a full-face, the Giro Tyrant should fit the bill.

Giro Tyrant Helmet Features

  • MIPS Spherical twin-shell design
  • Dual density foam construction with EPP inner shell & EPS outer shell
  • 14 vents w/Channeled Stack ventilation at brow line
  • Roc Loc Air DH retention system
  • Adjustable cheek pads
  • Tool-free bolt-on adjustable visor
  • Goggle compatible
  • Claimed weight: 615g
  • Sizes: Small (51-55cm), Medium (55-59cm), Large (59-63cm)
  • Colours: Matte Black (shown), Matte True Spruce, Matte Citron
  • From: Sheppards Cycles
  • RRP: $279

Review | Roval’s Control Carbon wheelset isn’t the lightest, but it is damn good value

As Specialized’s in-house wheel brand, the Roval name is most commonly spotted doing circle work on Specialized road and mountain bikes. Thing is though, the wheel specialist offers a pretty comprehensive range of complete wheels for the aftermarket too. And with Specialized’s R&D might and mass production capabilities behind it, Roval wheels tend to be both well-featured and keenly-priced.

Though it’s not immediately obvious, Roval has completely revamped its range of wheels for 2019, placing a greater focus on strength, serviceability and reliability. The model names carry over though, so you’ve still got the Traverse (Trail/Enduro) and Control (XC) wheels taking care of the off-road lineup. We’ve already gotten to know the latest Traverse wheels, with Chris having put a set of the carbon ones through the wringer on his Merida eONE SIXTY longterm test bike.

But back to the XC pinners amongst us.

The new Control range splits into three distinct models; there’s the alloy-rimmed Control wheelset ($1,000), the Control Carbon ($1,600), and the super light Control SL ($2,800). The wheels we’re reviewing here is the Goldilocks option; the Control Carbon.

roval control carbon wheel
Roval has redesigned its wheel range for 2019, with a renewed focus on durability, reliability and ease of service.
roval control carbon wheel rim
The Control Carbon rims feature a 25mm internal rim width that’s ideally suited to XC-width rubber.

Roval Control Carbon Wheels

The last time we reviewed a set of the Roval Control Carbon wheels was waaay back in 2013, where we praised the carbon hoops for their incredible value for money and impressive durability. Those early generation Control Carbons were also some of the first carbon mountain bike wheels to feature a hookless rim design, which kind of blew everyone’s minds at the time. But once Roval had proved that a tyre wouldn’t blow off the rim just because it didn’t have bead hooks, loads of other brands jumped on the hookless profile, which was both cheaper to manufacture and helped to produce a lighter rim.

Nowadays it’s unusual to see a carbon rim with bead hooks.

dt swiss 350 hub spoke
DT Swiss 350 Classic hubs feature large flanges to anchor the J-bend spokes.
roval control carbon wheel dt swiss 350 hub
Inside you’ll find the familiar (and very good) Star Ratchet freehub mechanism.

Compared to previous versions, the latest generation Control Carbon wheelset pumps up the internal rim width to 25mm, which we reckon is about spot-on for XC tyres these days. The rims are manufactured entirely from carbon fibre, and feature a tubeless ready Zero Bead Hook profile.

The complete wheels are handbuilt with 28 x DT Swiss Competition double-butted spokes and Pro-Lock nipples per wheel, which are arranged into a 2-cross lacing pattern. At the centre of the wheels you’ll find a set of DT Swiss 350 Classic hubs.

giant anthem 29 roval control carbon wheel
We fitted the Roval Control Carbon wheels to a Giant Anthem 29, where they did a marvellous job of blending in seamlessly.

What Are They Competing With?

At $1,600 for the set, they’re well-priced for carbon wheels, coming in at around half the price of popular, but very expensive XC offerings from ENVE, Mavic and DT Swiss. From what we could find available in Australia, the Control Carbon’s closest competitors are the Giant XCR 1 wheelset ($1,398 with a 1578g claimed weight) and the Bontrager Kovee Elite 30 ($1,100 with a 1715g claimed weight).

They Control Carbon’s are also noticeably cheaper than Roval’s own flagship Control SL wheels, which come with a $1,200 premium over these. It’s worth noting that the rim shape and profile is the same as the more expensive Control SL wheels, but the carbon layup is actually different between the two. The Control SL wheels also get lighter hubs (DT Swiss 240) and spokes (Competition Race), which results in a significant weight drop – those are claimed to weigh just 1360g.

In comparison, our set of Control Carbon test wheels come with a claimed weight of 1610g. They’re certainly not the lightest, but respectable given the price. And after all, Roval does refer to these as being “Working-class hero with World Cup lineage“. A bit like us then?

roval control carbon wheel tubeless rim tape 2bliss
The rims come pre-taped from the factory, and ready to setup tubeless.

How’d They Set Up?

With very little hassle. The rims come pre-taped from the factory, and Roval includes a pair of alloy tubeless valves in the box with the wheels. Along with the 2Bliss Ready rim profile, we had no issues airing up a set of Maxxis Ardent Race & Reckon Race tyres, which is really what we should expect from tubeless rims these days. The seal has been nice and secure throughout testing, with minimal air loss to speak of.

It’s worth noting that the Control Carbon wheels are only available in a 29in diameter and with Boost hub spacing. It seems that XC wheels in a 27.5in size and with non-Boost hubs are going the way of the dodo, whether you like it or not.

dt swiss 350 hub
The DT Swiss hubs are a good move – these are reliable and easy to service, and you’ve also got options when it comes to fitting 12-speed Shimano.

Roval does include Torque Cap adapters for the front hub, for those who are running a modern RockShox fork with Torque Cap dropouts. The rear hub comes fitted with a SRAM XD freehub body as stock, which was perfect for the GX Eagle cassette that we threaded straight on there. If you’re running Shimano though, you will need to source a suitable freehub body via DT Swiss (Apollo Bikes in Australia).

On the note of freehub bodies, DT Swiss is also one of the few brands out there offering Micro Spline compatible freehubs. If a 12-speed Shimano groupset is in your future, then these wheels will be ready when the time comes.

On the hunt!

Subtle, In More Ways Then One

With their matt black finish and nondescript graphics, the Roval Control Carbon is an easy wheelset to miss. They very much went under the radar on the Giant Anthem 29 they were fitted to, with few of our riding companions picking up anything had changed. If you’re looking for a stealthy upgrade from your heavy stock alloy wheels without your mates or significant other finding out, these will fit the bill.

Likewise, the Star Ratchet freehub has a subtle pulsing action, with 36 points of engagement per revolution. The buzz is audible, but it isn’t loud like a lot of other hubs out there, which some will prefer more than others. It’s worth giving a shout out to the DT hubs, which are terrific pieces of kit. The rear hub is easy to pull apart without tools to service and re-grease, and if you did want faster engagement, it’s possible to upgrade to the 54t ratchet plates.

port to port giant anthem race roval control carbon wheel
The Roval wheels getting a thorough workout during the 4-day Port to Port stage race.

Did They Survive The Test?

With flying colours! These Control Carbons have had a solid thrashing throughout our time with them, having been subjected to weekly social rides, numerous hot laps out at Awaba MTB Park, and this year’s Port to Port 4-day stage race.

Throughout that time they’ve been thoroughly solid and reliable, with absolutely no issues to speak of. They’ve got good pickup and acceleration, especially compared to alloy wheels. They’re not the smoothest riding carbon wheelset, but they’re not obscenely tooth-rattlingly stiff. However, the 2mm wider rim width compared to the stock Giant wheels that came off the bike did provide a surprisingly noticeable improvement to the Ardent Race’s profile. We were able to get away with slightly lower pressures for a more comfortable ride with improved traction too. Good stuff!

maxxis ardent race fox 32 sc roval control carbon
Our test wheels were setup with a 2.35in wide Maxxis Ardent Race up front…
maxxis rekon race tuyre roval control carbon
…and a 2.25in wide Maxxis Rekon Race out back.
The 25mm rim width provided more support than the stock wheels so we could run lower pressures for more traction and more comfort.

Despite some questionable rides that may have seen the wheels subjected to some of the old DH trails around Glenrock (shhh!), we’ve not been able to put a scratch on them. The spokes have maintained tension, but even if they did need a tweak, the external nipples make it a far easier process than something like an ENVE wheel. And the J-bend spokes will make sourcing replacements a whole lot easier than many other high-end wheels that rely on proprietary spokes.

If you did manage to crack a rim though, the good news is that Roval is now offering a Lifetime Warranty with its mountain bike wheels. Aside from covering manufacturing defects, the warranty also covers you if you break a wheel under normal riding conditions. This is something we’ve seen offered by the likes of Santa Cruz, ENVE and Zipp, and it shows terrific confidence in what is already a quality product.

roval control carbon giant anthem 29
The Roval Control Carbons are very unassuming, but they’re potentially a superb replacement for the heavy alloy wheels that come stock on many XC bikes out there.

The Verdict

The Roval Control Carbon isn’t the lightest XC wheelset out there, but it remains as of the best value set of carbon hoops going. In our experience, it’s also proven to be a robust everyday wheelset that goes well beyond the race tape.

Those who are deadly serious about racing will still be more likely to opt for the lighter and more expensive Control SL wheels. But for riders who want a solid, reliable and serviceable set of carbon wheels for their XC/trail bike without spending over $2k, then the Control Carbons should be on your list.

First Ride | The Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 is quite a different beast to last year’s version

Not long ago, Canyon undertook a massive overhaul of the Spectral range, introducing a brand new frame and suspension design to its popular 27.5in trail bike platform. Although it’s already proven to be a winner – both with consumers and testers alike – a year on the German direct-to-consumer brand has rolled out some interesting changes to the Spectral, which aim to bolster its big-hit capability. Here we take a closer look at our newest test bike; the 2019 Canyon Spectral Al 6.0.

The Canyon Spectral returns for 2019, but it’s actually changed quite a bit.

2018 vs 2019 Canyon Spectral

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that the Spectral frame itself hasn’t changed for 2019 – that carries over from 2018. This means you’re still getting the Triple Phase suspension design, the low-slung top tube, and clearance inside the mainframe for a water bottle. Clever features like the Cable Tunnel, bolt-on pivot shields and Quixle thru-axle are also present. All good things.

Instead, the changes to the 2019 Canyon Spectral are entirely spec related. But that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant – far from it in fact.

There’s been a 10mm increase in suspension travel both front and rear, along with a move to bigger forks and piggyback rear shocks. Handlebars have gotten 20mm wider, while stems have actually gotten 10mm longer. Tyres have also shrunk down from 2.6in to 2.4in wide, while also shifting to toothier, more aggressive tread patterns.

There are a few other subtle tweaks going on, so let’s dive in for a closer look to see just how much the Spectral has changed this year.

fox 36 rhythm grip dt swiss wheel
The Spectral AL 6.0 moves up to a 160mm travel Fox 36 Rhythm fork.
fox float dpx2 shock water bottle
Canyon is spec’ing piggyback shocks on the 2019 Spectral range, and rear travel has increased to 150mm.

Moar Suspension! Well, Mostly…

The biggest change for the 2019 Spectral is the increase in suspension travel from 150mm front and 140mm rear, to 160mm front and 150mm rear. On certain models, this change has been accompanied by a shift from Fox 34s to beefier Fox 36s.

Out back, the increased suspension travel has been delivered thanks to the wonder of the latest Metric shock designs. The suspension design is unchanged, and the rear shock length is still 230mm eye-to-eye. However, the stroke (or travel) of the shock has gone up from 60mm to 65mm. This translates to an extra 10mm of vertical travel at the rear wheel, upping the Spectral to 150mm.

There are two exceptions to this. One is the Small size, which actually features a shorter 210x55mm stroke shock. This carries over from 2018, which means the Small size frames get 160mm travel up front, while sticking with 140mm out back. The other exception is the Spectral Women’s models, which retain the 150/140mm travel configuration of the 2018 version. The Women’s models also stick with lighter weight Fox 34 or RockShox Pike forks, along with a lighter shock tunes compared to the Unisex Spectral.

dt swiss maxxis
The Spectral AL 6.0 is equipped with DT Swiss M 1900 wheels that are tubeless compatible, and feature a 30mm internal rim width.
maxis minion dhr ii tyre
Tyres shrink down to a 2.4in width, but you’re getting a burlier Minion DHR II tread pattern front and rear.

No More 2.6in Tyres Then?

That’s correct – with the exception of a single model, the entire 2018 Canyon Spectral range came fitted with 27.5×2.6in tyres. This was something you were either into, or not. The almost-but-not-quite-plus width certainly delivers more traction due to the bigger volume and footprint, but in our experience it also lead to less precision to the Spectral’s handling, and also more pinch flats – something that Mick touched on in his longterm review of the 2018 Canyon Spectral CFR 9.0 SL.

It looks like Canyon was listening, because for 2019 the Spectral range no longer features 2.6in wide ‘plus-minus’ tyres. Instead, you’ll find 27.5×2.4in tyres on most models, including the Spectral AL 6.0 we’ve got here.

While we’re talking tyres, our test bike features Maxxis Minion DHR IIs front and rear in the 2.4in Wide Trail size, complete with 3C triple-compound rubber. The front tyre is the uber-sticky Maxx Grip version, while the rear tyre goes for the firmer and faster-rolling Maxx Terra compound.

The frame carries over for the 2019 Spectral, including the Triple Phase suspension platform.

Geometry

Despite the suspension and tyre changes over the 2018 model, the 2019 Spectral has exactly the same geometry – at least according to Canyon. So you’ve got a 66° head angle, a 74.5° seat angle, 430mm long chainstays, and a 22mm BB drop. Reach on our Medium test bike sits at 440mm, so relatively conservative by today’s standards.

As mentioned above, there are two different versions of the Spectral: Unisex and Women’s. The Unisex Spectral comes in five sizes from X-Small through to X-Large. The Women’s model covers XX-Small through to Medium, and also has different geometry with a slightly slacker head angle, a shorter reach and narrower handlebars.

fox float dpx2 shock
Even with the low-slung top tube and downtube-mounted shock, Canyon has managed to provide clearance for a water bottle.
The main pivot on the Spectral is so clean! Side note: did you know this frame will take a front derailleur? Remember those?
internal cable routing tunnel channel
Bolt-on cable guards protect the cables and hydraulic brake hose, while keeping things very clean.

2019 Canyon Spectral Range

There are no fewer than 12 models in the 2019 Spectral range, which covers alloy frames (AL), hybrid carbon/alloy frames (CF) and full carbon frames (CFR). In Australia, the range kicks off with the $2,779 Spectral WMN AL 4.0, and ramps up all the way to $10,199 for the Spectral CFR 9.0 LTD.

The model we’ve got on test is a more modest Spectral AL 6.0, which is built around a hydroformed 6061 alloy frame, Fox suspension, DT Swiss M 1900 wheels, and a SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain. For $3,649 (plus shipping), it’s a pretty darn impressive package.

sram gx eagle cassette derailleur mech
The AL 6.0 gets a SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain.

2019 Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 Specs

  • Frame | 6061 Alloy, 150mm Travel
  • Fork | Fox 36 Rhythm, 160mm Travel
  • Shock | Fox Float DPX2 Performance Series, 230x65mm
  • Wheels | DT Swiss M 1900, 30mm Internal Rim Width
  • Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO 27.5×2.4in Wide Trail
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
  • Brakes | SRAM Guide R, 200mm Fr & 180mm Rr
  • Bar | Canyon G5 Riserbar, 20mm Rise, 780mm Wide
  • Stem | Canyon G5, 50mm Length
  • Seatpost | Iridium Dropper, 150mm Travel
  • Saddle | SDG I-Fly MTN
  • Confirmed Weight | 14.53kg
  • From | Canyon Bikes
  • RRP | $3,649
With the extra travel, burlier tyres, and wider bars, the Spectral morphs from ‘Trail-Tough’ to ‘Enduro-Light’.

First Ride Impressions

I’ve only had a few rides on the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 so far, but that’s been enough time to get the cockpit, suspension, and tyre pressures setup to my liking, while also getting a bit of a feel for what this bike is all about.

Weighing in at 14.53kg out of the box, this bike ain’t no lightweight, and that was made pretty clear on the first climb. Combined with the sticky Maxxis Minion DHR II tyres, and the gluey DPX2 rear shock, the Canyon Spectral AL 6.0 isn’t a naturally spirited climber. Needless to say, I’ve been getting to know the 50t cog on the GX Eagle cassette quite well.

At a lick over 14.5kg, the Spectral AL 6.0 ain’t no featherweight.

Though the glue-like suspension isn’t exactly the most efficient on the ups, it provides a huge amount of control on the downs. With the supple 36 Rhythm fork up front, the Spectral has a tough and ‘up for it’ feel, which is compounded by the grippy Maxxis rubber. Out back, the piggyback shock offers incredible rear-end control, which has no doubt taken the Spectral’s technical prowess up a notch or two.

canyon g5 stem
The new G5 stem takes a little inspiration from Renthal’s Duo stem. That’s no bad thing though.
sram guide r
The new G5 lock-on grips are also really nice. On-point colour-matching too.

I’m digging the cockpit setup on the Spectral, which includes Canyon’s 78omm wide G5 handlebars and the new G5 stem. Using a split-half construction, the stem’s jaws chomp down on the 31.8mm bars securely, though it does take a little more thought as to the specific order that the six different bolts need to be tightened in.

One thing I’m not a fan of though is the tall seat tube, which measures 440mm long on the Medium test bike. This means I’ve got the collar of the dropper post slammed down as far as it will go, which just gets me to my ideal saddle height. Bear in mind that at 175cm tall, I’m smack-bang in the middle of the recommended height range for the Medium. However, the tall seat tube means I can’t run a longer travel dropper post, and it pretty much eliminates the option of up-sizing for those who are chasing a longer reach. This is something Mick flagged in his review of the Spectral CFR 9.0 SL, and it’s also an issue I’ve encountered with Canyon’s 29er trail bike, the Neuron. Shorter seat tubes please Canyon!

The internal seatpost wedge looks slick, but the seat tube itself needs to be shorter.

What’s Next?

I’ll be spending the next few weeks on the brushed alloy Spectral to explore the outer limits of this pumped-up trail bruiser, with some trips to bigger and steeper mountains on the agenda. I’ll also be messing around with a few things to see whether there’s some more versatility to be unlocked for riding milder terrain. The stock wheels and tyres are on-point for aggressive riding, but they’re not the lightest options going. I’d like to see if we can inject a little more zip into the Spectral with some changes there.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you guys think of the latest Canyon Spectral AL 6.0, and if you’ve got any questions for us about our test bike, then pop them into the comments section below and we’ll do our best to answer them for you!

Has the burlier parts package upped the Spectral’s capabilities? Or has it just made it a heavier trail bike? Stay tuned for the full review coming soon.
Looking mean with that brushed alloy frame and orange pin-striping.

Tested: Merida One Twenty 8000

The front end offers plenty of room to, with a roomy feel and good standover height.

Under-rated steeds.

Merida bikes have never quite nailed the sex appeal thing. Maybe it’s a deliberate strategy, but with model names that read more like a barcode number and straight-down-the-line infographics aplenty, Merida is a brand that seems to appeal to the analytical rather than passionate customer. Maybe their recent fun video to launch the new eOne Sixty is a new direction for them? Speaking of which, check out our first impressions of that bike here.

But in fact, there is a lot to get excited about when it comes to their bikes. Not only are they making some of the best eMTBs on the planet, but they have a tonne of seriously dialled and engaging conventional mountain bikes too. The Merida One Forty we tested a while ago is still a standout for us, for example.

Carbon from front to back. Cheaper models get an alloy frame but share the same geometry.

What have we got here, then?

Mid travel and 29er wheels for the win. The 120/130mm 29er segment is a big portion of the mountain bike market, and Merida have catered for a massive range of potential buyers with the new OneTwenty; they got three different alloy-framed models under the $3000 price point, while the carbon 8000 model we’re testing is the top offering in Australia at $6999.

The epitome of the modern short-travel trail bike.

Merida has straight up nailed it here. Much like the Giant Trance 29er we’ve got on long-term test, the new One Twenty has the nous to handle a huge range of potential riding situations. Efficient and light enough to enjoy smooth XC race courses, but with geometry and components that hint at its capabilities in big hills at high speeds. A lot of Merida’s market is in Europe, and you get the feeling this bike is really pitched at riders who want to ride to the top of a Very Big Mountain and then bomb back down on the unpredictable goat tracks that are some common over there.

Sturdy tyres play a significant role in this bike’s handling.

Try a new line.

There’s a feeling that we get when a bike is just right for us – an itch to try new lines on trails that we’ve ridden dozens of times before. The Cannondale Habit brought out the same feeling, as did the Norco Range 29er. The Merida gave us that urge, big time. A combination of lightweight precision, coupled with excellent tyres and a riding position that felt instantly confident and natural had us looking at pieces of familiar trail in a new way – “I wonder if I could jump from there to there and still make the next corner….?”

The trunnion mount shock runs on bearings, which is nice for longevity and suspension responsiveness. We didn’t find the lockout lever was really necessary, but it’s nice to have.

So what’s the recipe?

Great geometry is the main factor here. Luckily for those who can’t afford the asking price of this particular model, the geometry is identical on all models in the range. The One Twenty packs a winning combo, with a roomy front end, reasonably slack head angle and short 435mm stays. The other key attributes are excellent rubber on wide rims, and a suspension feel that is supportive and encouraging of putting the bike into some nasty places.

The Float Link suspension is very effective and seems to resist bottoming out harshly. We’ve been impressed by this system consistently.

Firm but not harsh.

With the Merida One Forty we tested a while back, we remarked how the Float Link suspension felt bottomless. While the One Twenty gets the same suspension system layout with a floating lower shock mount, it’s a much firmer riding bike overall (though it does still have that same resistance to bottoming we enjoyed on the One Forty). Overall the suspension feel is very supportive, giving the bike great kick when you stab at the pedals out of a corner or need to quickly hop from one side of the trail to the other. There are certainly more silky smooth bikes out there, but we wouldn’t want to change the Merida’s feel at all, it’s all part of the bike’s hard-charging character.

35mm wide and 30mm deep, the FSA Gradient rims are chunky and stiff, but light and fast accelerating too.

Great wheels and rubber.

FSA provides the 1700g-ish Gradient carbon-rimmed wheelset, and it was the first time we’ve ridden these hoops. The deep profiled rims look imposing and purposeful, and while our test bike came to us with plenty of miles on the clock, the wheels were true and tight. Despite having just 24 spokes at both ends, they’re certainly a stiff set of wheels and the 29mm inner width gave an ideal profile to the 2.4″ Maxxis DHR front tyre. While the DHR is really intended as a rear tyre, its blocky tread works well up front too, especially in terms of straight line braking. Out back, a 2.35″ Maxxis Forekaster is specced to keep things rolling quickly. It’s a great dry conditions tyre, but softer soils might call for something with more bite.

10-50 out back. Note the neat cable routing.

Hard to go wrong with a Pike and Eagle.

SRAM gets the nod for most of the components, and the flawless X0 Eagle drivetrain clips through the gears beautifully like we’ve come to expect. While the Pike RTC3 on our test bike was probably due for a service and felt a little dry, getting the fork setup was zero-fuss, with the recommended pressures netting the feel we wanted. Interestingly, the fork gets the Maxle Stealth axle which requires a 6mm Allen key, while the rear axle has a big lever sticking out of it. We’re never sure why brands do this… why not go for a proper bolt-up front and rear? 148mm rear hubs mean bikes are wide enough out back already without a lever poking out to catch on rocks. Rant over.

The beefy four-piston SRAM Code caliper nestled behind the seat stay.

Big brakes are never a negative.

Downhill brakes on a lightweight trail bike? Sure the SRAM Code RSC brakes might be overkill for most riding, but when it comes to stopping power, you really can’t have too much. And if you do take the bike to some big Alpine riding, the power and heat dissipation of these brakes will be a huge plus.

We could just squeeze a 710ml bottle into the size medium frame.

And it climbs too.

With light wheels and an overall weight not much over 12.5kg, you’d expect the Merida to scamper up hills, and it does. Climbing out of the saddle was a highlight, the bike relishes a technical ascent where you can haul on the bars and use lots of body language to tackle tricky ledges. While the RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock has both a lockout and pedal-platform setting, we weren’t interested in using either of these modes finding the One Twenty to be stable and efficient enough with the shock in its open mode.

As with other bikes that have a slack seat tube angle, you need to make sure you don’t end up too far behind the bottom bracket when the post is at full extension, so pay attention to your saddle position.

Merida’s cable port/clamps are a tad over-engineered, but at least the cables don’t slide. We had some issues with cable noise inside the frame till we crammed some foam in there.

A bit rattly to begin with.

Our test bike has some nasty cable rattle to begin with. The internal gear, brake and dropper lines are routed straight through the down tube without any sleeves or foam to contain them which leaves them prone to clacking away inside the frame. We remedied it by pulling out the fork and sliding some lightweight foam into the down tube. Hey, presto! The bike was silenced.

While SRAM provides most of the gear, KS supply the 150mm dropper. Given that we’ve had frequent issues with the RockShox Reverb, we’re happy with this choice.

Right on the money.

We’d be happy to have this bike as our go-to machine – it’d be happy tackling 90% of the riding we do. At $6999, this particular model will be a stretch for most folk, but there are plenty of other options. The $3899 One Twenty 800 looks like it’d be a real winner in particular; the alloy frame shares the same geometry and suspension platform as our test bike, and other vital items (like wide rims, good tyres and a confident cockpit) are all in attendance too, along with the decent RockShox Revelation fork as well.

This hard-riding short-travel segment is the sweet spot for so many people, and Merida has done a superb job with this bike. Nice one, Merida, now go get some branding tips from Yeti or Specialized so more people are excited by your excellent bikes!

Go get it.

Long Term Test: Canyon Strive CFR 9.0 Team

The Canyon Strive is an impressive bike, at the heart of the bike, is a system unique to Canyon, the Shapeshifter. It is so damn effective; it helps this long-travel bike mix it up with the big rigs on the descents and keep up on the climbs with bikes half its size.


Watch the strive in action in our video review here:


What’s new, what has changed?

The 2019 release saw a total overhaul for the Strive, it went from 27.5″ wheels up to 29″, they dropped the aluminium frame models, and FOX manufactured the Shapeshifter unit, which also saw a new remote lever for easier actuation.

We’ve already published a feature on the new bike, check that out here: New 2019 Canyon Strive – First Ride Review.

The Shapeshifter got off to a rocky start, albeit a long time ago, read more about that here: Righting the wrongs with FOX, a chat with Daniel Oster from Canyon HQ.

The frame is very striking, with its hard lines and angular profile. It’s very Canyon. Drawing loads of attention from onlookers due to its sharp aesthetic.
The straight structures and paintwork on the seat stays, and top tube lined up makes for a cool looking bike.
The Strive rewards aggressive riding.
Dropping in!

Ok, the Shapeshifter.

What does it do, how does it do it, and is worth the added complications?

The new 2019 Strive uses a much-improved Shapeshifter remote lever though it might be too much going on, for some.
Tucked away behind the link is a FOX produced gas spring, with a two-way valve. It changes the upper shock mount orientation, for a significant impact on the suspension.

Look closely at the two pictures above; the left is 13mm travel XC mode, right is 150mm DH mode. The little gas spring pushes in, and out.

A product of the Canyon enduro race team, the Shapeshifter thingo gizmo has been designed to make this long travel bike easier to get around the liaisons and climbs between race stages.

Via the remote lever, you can make big changes to the way it rides; toggling from DH mode to XC changes the rear travel from 150mm to 135mm, steepens the geometry by 1.5 degrees, lifts the bottom bracket height and completely changes the suspension kinematics to provide 20% more anti-squat. The two modes feel dramatically different, plush and low in the DH mode and sharp and efficient in the XC mode.

While the principal of the system remains much the same as the earlier model Strive, the new lever is SO much easier to use, just click the lever either way and ride, no more unnatural weight shifts needed for it to toggle between modes. They’ve done a great job in making the system easier to understand and use.

The other significant factor here is that FOX now manufactures the Shapeshifter unit, so their name on it alone should give you utmost confidence. It hasn’t skipped a beat in the time we’ve had it.

A catalogue image, displaying the Shapeshifter gizmo, with the linkage removed.

When did we use it?

Most obviously, we used the uphill mode on the climbs, and descents on the.. well, you know. But unlike a classic shock lockout, the suspension remains totally useable in the uphill mode, it just feels firmer and there is less of it, so we’d run it in uphill mode on flatter trails, or even descents that didn’t require full beast mode.

The Strive on a recent trip to Maydena Bike Park, Tasmania. The Strive is also available from their hire fleet; it’s up to the task.
Fresh tracks on the newly opened Wilderness Trail, Maydena Bike Park.

We recently took part in a local enduro race, where pedal efficiency is key as well as descending speed. One of the three stages was flatter than the rest, requiring more pedalling, so we left it in uphill mode the whole stage.

While the others we were toggling it on and off constantly, even on short climbs or flat sections of the trail only 5m or so in length, we’d still find it easy enough, and worth the effort to make the most of the more responsive pedalling action.

It’s a Canyon; decent spec is not typically a problem.

Out of the box, this thing is so ready to go. From the SRAM Code brakes to the Mavic Deemax wheels, Ergon grips, Maxxis Minion tyres and RockShox Lyrik fork, the build is very capable of what the bike can handle. For the price, it’s impressive.

On rockier trails, a set of tougher casing tyres might be necessary, but that’s all we would think could pose a problem from original spec.

One busy thumb, an added cable and a bulky Reverb remote lever.

While Canyon has improved the Shapeshifter remote ergonomics tenfold from the earlier generation Strive, it still sticks out a long way and adds an extra cable into the mix. The sizeable hydraulic lever on the RockShox Reverb doesn’t exactly help, either.

It’s a stretch to reach the Reverb dropper remote, but not the end of the world; we got used to it.

If it were ours, we’d swap the hydraulic Reverb out for a cable-actuated dropper post, and find a smaller lever that takes up less space. There is a myriad of aftermarket options nowadays.

Gripes?

What’s going on with this lame chainstay guard? It doesn’t even cover the frame adequately and does a poor job in dampening noise from chain slap. Steal one off a Specialized Stumpjumper if you want a quieter bike.

The hard rubber chainstay guard wasn’t particularly useful. Small details, but an odd oversight from Canyon nonetheless.

Also, the water bottle cage sits way too close to the plastic cover over the Shapeshifter, even the fact it’s a Canyon cage didn’t matter, on some of our first rides the bottle would bump off the plastic guard and we’d have to go walking back up the trail to find it.

The water bottle would contact or come within millimetres of the plastic Shapeshifter cover, even with the Canyon bottle cage pushed all the way forward.

In all.

The Strive is at the top of the pile in the long-travel trail/enduro category. The ride quality, value for money and versatility benefits of the Shapeshifter feature make it one of our most favourite bikes of all time.

While it’s a product born out of high-level racing development, it’s also able to be a viable option for mere mortals like us that want a bike to handle speed on rough trails, but don’t want it to shy away from the flatter trails or climbs.

Grove Bike Co R.A.D Force LTD – Long-Term Test

What’s a Grove?

R.A.D stands for Road and Dirt, which should just about give you the gist as to this bike’s intentions. There’s a hefty swell of new gravel and all-road options on the market, so what makes the Grove standout to us? Passion is a big one, along with the surprisingly hard-charging ride quality,  plus the unique options to customise your bike through a variety of wheelset options.

Dave Musgrove, the man behind Grove Bike Co, lives a bike-centric life!

Grove Bike Co represents the dream of one local Sydney rider, Dave Musgrove, a thirty-something family man who has spent the best part of two decades in the bike industry. He’s been involved in just about all aspects of this game, from wrenching kids’ bikes through to working with Taiwanese carbon factories, and Grove is the culmination of that experience. He’s a well-known figure in the Sydney scene too, having been active in everything from cycling advocacy, to running club CX races, to building some of the best dirt jumps around. As we said, there’s a lot of passion here for cycling.

Backroads galore. We’ve loved the places this bike has taken us.

Where have you taken it? 

This bike had its claims of versatility greatly tested. We’ve ridden it a lot: everything from 100km pure road rides, long gravel rides, over-nighter bike packing epics, to razzing the smoother singletracks in our local area. Undoubtedly the highlight so far was loading it up for the Graveleur Thunderbolts Adventure ride, a 250km two-dayer in the Barrington Tops.

There’s plenty of great gravel riding out there. This is about 50km north-west of Gloucester, NSW.
The RAD’s all-carbon fork has plenty of material in the crown area, which fills us with confidence.

Why haven’t I seen these before?

Impressively, Grove Bike Co has skipped the embryonic step of producing one-off frames and jumped straight to mid-scale production with a pretty sophisticated sales and shipping model too. The bikes aren’t available in any stores, they’re shipped straight to the consumer with very neat and minimalist packaging to cut down on waste – pushing back against the bike industry’s love affair with foam rubber, and plastic packaging is another area of passion for the brand’s owner.

The slim CNC machined yoke allows the RAD to run big tyres and up to a 46-tooth chainring while still keeping a very short chainstay length.
The tubes are all triple-butted 6069 T6 alloy, a material not often seen due to its higher price.

High-end alloy.

While the industry tends to conflate ‘performance’ and carbon, there’s a lot to be said for high-end alloy construction. Indeed, high-end alloy bikes often get a bit of cult status; look at Commencal for instance, the legendary Cannondale CAAD road bikes or Specialized’s Allez.

That figure becomes more impressive once you know that the frame is tested to mountain bike standards, not just road bike standards.

The Grove RAD fits that bill too, bringing a level of sophistication that we don’t see in alloy all that often. It’s built from 6069 T6 alloy, which has much-improved strength to weight ratios and fatigue life the commonly used 6061 you’ll find in most frames. It costs a lot more, but these characteristics allow the RADs tubes to be triple butted throughout the main triangle, shaving grams. We didn’t strip our bike to weigh the frame, but the claim is just over 1.5kg in a size medium. That figure becomes more impressive once you know that the frame is tested to mountain bike standards, not only road bike standards.

Three bottle mounts are a gravel must-have.

Either way, we were surprised by the low overall weight of our bike – even with whopping 48mm rubber, it was just on 8.6kg. The build quality is obvious, from the smooth finish of the head tube welds to the complex curves of the stays which have proper heel clearance, through to the clever machine work of the chainstay yoke.

We opted for 650b wheels with 48mm Gravel King tyres and took the upgrade to Hunt carbon jobbies. There are seven different wheel options available in total!

Options, options, options.

What makes the purchasing process unique is that Grove offers you a choice of wheelsets and tyre packages to suit how you intend to ride your bike. The whole point here is that the Grove is all about versatility. There is plenty of option here, so bear with us!

Firstly, there are two models of Grove RAD, both of which share the same frame; the RAD Apex has SRAM Apex running gear and alloy Ritchey components ($2599), or spend an extra grand for a SRAM Force equipped bike with carbon Ritchey WCS kit.

Grove certainly aren’t the only bike brand building gravel bikes that are designed to take either wheel size, but there are precious few that let you customise to this extent at the point of sale.

Our RAD, all set for an adventure, including custom frame bags from Bike Bag Dude.

Then your next choice is picking from either 700c wheels or 650B wheels, both of which come with a bunch of Panaracer tyre options too. In the 700c arena, you can choose 32c slicks for road use, 33c mud tyres for cyclocross use (or light gravel) or 35c rubber for more serious gravel use. Opt for 650b wheels, and you can go for the Road Plus option of 48mm slicks, or 48mm Panaracer Gravel King tyres for the most serious gravel setup.

Nice detailing on the inner fork legs.

In addition to wheel size and tyre option, the Force equipped bike is available with an optional carbon wheel upgrade. An extra $1000 will get you a set of Hunt carbon hoops. We wanted our test bike primarily for tackling rougher gravel, and so we opted for the Force LTD model, with 650B Hunt carbon wheels, equipped with 48mm Gravel King tyres.

Grove certainly isn’t the only bike brand building gravel bikes that are designed to take either wheel size, but there are precious few that let you customise to this extent at the point of sale. As an extra bonus, Grove give you the option of purchasing a second set of wheels for at a reduced rate (20% off – including tyres, cassette and rotors), which is ideal if you want to use the same bike for gravel and road/commuting as you can just swap the wheels across.

A press-fit BB shell offers generous real estate for the down tube and chain stays, making the Grove very stiff under hard pedalling.

Packing in the big rubber.

Fitting in 48mm tyres without blowing out the chainstay length is a challenge that many gravel bikes face. Some resort to a dropped chainstay design (like the Norco Search XR we tested), others use non-standard wheel dishing (like the Cannondale SuperX SE, tested here) in order to create room. The Grove RAD addresses the issue with a slim CNC machined chainstay yoke which maintains clearance for up to a 46-tooth chainring with plenty of room for mud around the tyres. The compromise, if you can call it that, is the absence of front derailleur compatibility – this bike is single-ring only, but for mountain bikers, that’s nothing new.

A bolt-up rear axle keeps things neat, and replaceable dropouts ensure a degree of future proofing. Brake rotors are 160mm at both ends.
The cables all sit well away from the head tube for no frame rub.
Top tube bosses make it easy to mount a bag up top without straps.

The details are nice.

Three water bottle mounts, top tube mounts for a bag, plus fender and rack mounts, tick the must-have gravel boxes. There’s semi-internal cable routing, which is neatly done to keep the cables well away from the frame, and replaceable dropouts just in case we have (yet) another shift in axle standards.

On the aesthetics side, we love the decals inside the fork legs and the overall clean feel of the paint and graphics. The ‘snow gum’ green colour isn’t one we’ve seen from other brands either, which is a smart and bold choice.

This is what it’s about!

So what’s the ride like?

This isn’t one of those slow and steady kind of gravel bikes; the geometry has more of a performance edge to it, which is what lends this bike to be able to do dual duty as a road and CX bike too. That’s not to say it won’t happily plod through big rides with a heavy load, just that if you want to razz it, the RAD will oblige.

Whether that’s clipping the apex of loose gravel corner, or remaining dead on track when bombing a rough and rutted fireroad, it just charges.

The chainstays are super short at just 420mm long, which translates directly into it being an easy bike to hop, flick about or quickly change direction on, as well as helping keep weight on the rear wheel when climbing on loose surfaces.

Chainstays of 420mm make for snappy handling and great climbing traction.

But the overarching feeling we got from this bike, is that it goes precisely where you want it to, and it holds a line better than any gravel bike we’ve previously ridden. Whether that’s clipping the apex of loose gravel corner, or remaining dead on track when bombing a rough and rutted fire road, it just charges.

This trait is a combination of several things. Firstly up, the fork is laterally very stiff, as evidenced by the confidence-inspiring chunkiness of the crown. With the 650b wheels, the bottom bracket sits quite low, which also adds to the calm feeling in the rough. The cockpit helps too, with the moderate flare of the drops putting your hands in a stable and strong position.

Then, of course, you’ve got the big 48mm tyres which can be run in the low 30psi range, boosting grip, comfort and braking traction through the roof. Other characteristics, like the complete absence of cable noise and very little chain slap, bolster your confidence too.

The 12-degree flare on the Ritchey bars is comfy and stable.

It’s very responsive when you get on the gas; the wide bottom bracket shell provides a solid core to the whole bike that resists twist when you give it some fury, which was particularly noticeable when we used this bike on road rides.

What about those wheels and tyres?

This is only the second time we’ve ridden a gravel bike with 650b wheels and big rubber, and we’re converts. There are so many positives to this wheel format and precious few downsides. Sure it’s marginally slower on really smooth gravel roads, but as soon as things get vaguely loose, then the grip and control offered by the wider tyre shine.

We’ve been really happy with these Panaracer tyres and especially impressed by their rolling speed which is unexpectedly good.

Comfort is the other huge factor; with the Hunt wheels 24mm internal rim width we could drop the pressures very low and on long gravel rides the reduced vibration and fatigue is a significant benefit. We’re starting to see more brands introducing complicated flex stay or ‘micro suspension’ into their gravel bikes, but does all the complexity do a better job than high-volume tyres?

A 1×11 drivetrain will always mean some compromises in overall gear range, but there are a lot of upsides to a single-ring for this riding too.

We’re not letting this bike go, we’ve got too many adventures planned for it in the coming months.

Any limitations with 1 x 11 drivetrain?

Obviously, there are compromises here in terms of overall gear range, but there are many upsides too, which is why mountain bikes largely shunned the front mech years ago. The Grove RAD comes with a 42-tooth chainring, paired to an 11-42 tooth Sunrace cassette which has proven to be a good setup for most scenarios.

For the 4500 vertical metres of climbing in the Thunderbolts Adventure ride, we did downsize the chainring to a 38-tooth to help out of the old knees! But the flipside of 1x drivetrain is great chain security, simplicity of operation, quiet running and of course room for big tyres with no front mech to get in the way.

Let’s take a look out there.

What next? 

We’ve clocked over 1000km on the Grove RAD so far, which is way more than we’d typically log on a test bike. Why so much riding on this fella? Simply because it fits the bill for so many purposes for us; grab our lycra and knock out a quick morning road ride, stick on a frame bag and disappear all day, throw a leg over it for short after work blast around the neighbourhood to blow off steam. We’re not letting this bike go; we’ve got too many adventures planned for it in the coming months. This is an incredibly good first offering for a new brand on the scene!

Merida eOne Sixty 2020 – First Ride


See the Merida eOne-Sixty in action here!

The bike that changed a brand forever.

Merida’s explosion into the eMTB scene was a huge turning point for the brand in Australia. Their reputation in Oz was previously for being very XC-oriented, but the eOne-Sixty changed this forever, with a combination of big travel e-bike tech, in a user-friendly package with very affordable pricing. Suddenly eOne-Sixties were everywhere; only the Specialized Levo could match their prevalence on the trails.

In the past couple of years, other brands have quickly caught up; new motor systems, sleek carbon construction, plus better battery and systems integration had begun to make the Merida look a little dated. Well, the latest version is here, and as you’d expect, it’s getting a lot of attention.

The top of the line new eOne Sixty. The model name is the 10K, but it’ll set you back close to 12.
We spent six months with the older Merida eOne Sixty, and it’s interesting to see if the tweaks we made carried over to the new version of the bike.

Our previous experience with the eOne-Sixty.

We spent a full six months riding the previous eOne-Sixty 900, and you can watch and read our various updates about the bike’s performance below.


Long-term test introduction.

Long-term test update.

Long-term test update 2.

eMTBs mean adventures. The eOne Sixty opened our eyes.

Our big takeaways from our time on the previous eOne-Sixty were that it was a superbly reliable bike and exceptionally priced too. But most importantly, it rode very similarly to a ‘normal’ mountain bike, which is a quality that so many eMTBs lack. Personally, we want our eMTB to feel as close as possible to a regular bike, just with some help on the climbs. And more than anything, this the characteristic we most hoped the new version would retain.

During our long-term test period, we made several tweaks to improve the ride quality and get the attributes we wanted from the bike, and so it’s interesting to see how the new model has evolved and whether the alterations we made are reflected in the latest version.


 

A quick overview of the new bike’s features.

The new eOne-Sixty is an exciting mixture of the familiar and the brand new, so let’s jump in for a rundown of the key features.

With the battery tucked away, the new bike really is sharp.

New Shimano integrated battery.

Firstly, and most obviously, is that the battery is now integrated into the down tube. It’s not fully internal and can be removed with an Allen-key in a few seconds for charging or travel. From an aesthetic point of view, this internal battery a big win, but it also has handling benefits too, lowering the centre of gravity. Another plus is that you’ve now got a water bottle mount too.

With the new battery system comes a push-button on the top tube to fire things up.

The battery itself is the first in-tube battery from Shimano. The project was a real collaboration between Shimano and Merida; the octagonal shape allows the frame tubes to really wrap closely around the battery’s profile so that the frame can be as sleek as possible. Capacity is still 500W/hours, which is the same as the previous Shimano battery. In a market where we’re starting to see more batteries with 600 or even 700W/hour capacities, will 500 be enough to satisfy consumers?

Integrated batteries can degrade from heat build-up, which Merida have attempted to counter with some venting around the head tube (Focus use a similar setup) to allow excess heat to escape.

Details of the Thermagate venting system.

Carbon front end, identical rear end.

The mainframe is now carbon, which allowed Merida more freedom in terms of battery integration, better aesthetics, as well as making for a stiffer front end. The move to carbon was not about saving weight in this instance, with the new bike coming in at the same weight as its alloy predecessor.

The rear end is alloy and identical to the previous model, which is fine with us! We never had an issue with the construction of the back end on our eOne-Sixty test bike, and carrying this frame element over helps reduce costs and manufacturing complexity.

While the rear end retains a 27.5″ wheel, up front, you’ll now find a 29er.

Mixed wheel sizes: business up front, a party out back.

Yep, the ‘mullet bike’ (it should be frullet) is a thing now.  The Merida gets a 29er wheel up front with a 2.5″ tyre, and a 27.5″ wheel out back with 2.6″ rubber. The concept is that a bigger wheel up front gives you the confidence, grip and roll-over you want, but a smaller wheel out back preserves manoeuvrability. With World Cup downhill racers proving that the concept works, expect to see more bikes mixing it up.

Shimano motor system.

Shimano’s e8000 motor needs no introduction, and it gets the nod once again from Merida. Some of the lower-priced eOne-Sixty models get the new, cheaper e7000 motor too.

The neat new charging port.

Still the same travel, but geometry is slacker

Merida hasn’t given the new bike any more travel, sticking to 160mm at both ends, but the geometry is a little slacker and a little lower to improve descending stability and confidence. To help keep your pedals clear of the ground with the new lower bottom bracket height, Merida has specced 165mm cranks across the entire range. Good call.


We made several tweaks to our eOne-Sixty with the tyres, geometry, cockpit and suspension tuning.

How does the new bike reflect our own alterations?

It’s somewhat validating to see that a lot of the changes we made to our Merida test bike have been implemented on the new model!

Tyre choice:

One of the first changes we made to our bike was to get some more supportive and precise rubber fitted – we found the big 2.8″ stock tyres too soggy for hard riding and a bit vague. Ultimately we used 2.6″ tyres. Merida seems to be thinking the same thing, and the switch to 2.5/2.6″ rubber on the new bike should deliver more support for hard riding.

We ditched the big volume tyres for 2.6″ rubber, a move that Merida has echoed on the new version of the eOne Sixty.

Slacker head angle:

With a head angle of 66.5 degrees, the old eOne Sixty was on the steep side for an eMTB of this travel, and we found the steering wanted to ‘tuck’ at high speeds sometimes. Our solution with the previous bike was to increase the fork travel to 170mm while simultaneously changing the headset top cap to get a lower bar height. The improvement was drastic.

Merida seems to have come to the same conclusion; they’ve kicked back the head angle to 65.5 degrees on the new bike, which in combination with the larger 29er wheel should make a big difference to the bike’s handling at a high pace.

New mode shifter.

In our review of the old eOne-Sixty, you’ll have heard us moaning about the mode shift lever. The Shimano e8000 mode shifter was a continual source of frustration for us, as it prevented the use of an under-bar dropper post lever. Thankfully the new bike comes with the smaller e7000 mode shifter and a properly located dropper lever.

Perhaps the most significant change we made to our long-term test bike was fitting a longer fork in order to slacken the head angle a little.

More progressive rear suspension.

Getting a more progressive rear suspension spring curve was a priority for us on the old Merida, and so we fitted the maximum number of volume reducers to the rear shock. Thankfully the new bike comes with a more progressive suspension tune from stock which will please hard riders.

A note on pricing.

If you’re wondering how the new carbon frame and all these improvements will affect the price, well there has been an increase across the board. The top-of-the-range 10K model we’ve been riding sits at $11,999, a price point we’re not accustomed to from Merida, especially considering that bargain pricing was what helped the brand secure so much market share in the past few years. But we’re not convinced that it’s overpriced – in fact, when you stack it up against the competition at this price point, it delivers a lot, with 12-speed XTR and DT carbon wheels, plus Merida throws in a spare battery and a backpack to transport it too.

There are three other carbon models to choose from too, with pricing at $6699, $7999 and $8999 for the 5000, 8000 and 9000 models respectively.


The rocks of Girona, Spain, provided a remarkably ‘Australia-esque’ trail surface to test the new bike.

On the trail with the new eOne Sixty 10K

Hooray! It still rides like a regular mountain bike.

Our tester put it best – “within 10 metres of heading down the trail, I’d forgotten I had a motor.” In fact, the new bike has an even more natural feel to it than its predecessor, thanks in part to the increased precision offered by the 29×2.5″ front tyre/wheel combo. The overall lower centre of gravity that has been achieved with the integrated battery and 10mm drop in bottom bracket height means the new bike transitions between corners with a less ‘tippy’ feel too.

Because the short chainstay length of 439mm has been carried over from the previous bike, that playfulness we enjoyed on the earlier bike is there too; many eMTBs are reluctant to leave the ground, but the Merida manuals and jumps beautifully.

Merida stuck to a formula that we love – the short rear end might give up a little climbing traction, but it makes the bike a lot more fun than many eMTBs on the descents.

More descending confidence.

In terms of straight out descending performance, it’s no surprise that the new bike’s slacker head angle, lower bottom bracket and 29er front wheel bring some significant gains too. You’re more ‘in’ the bike than before, so straight line stability and confidence when rolling into butt-clenching chutes is improved.

Climbing is not this bike’s priority. 

It might sound stupid to say that a bike with a motor isn’t optimised for climbing, but that’s the case. This is an eMTB that relies unashamedly on the motor’s assistance to get you to the top with the tradeoff being the exceptional performance on the descents. The Merida’s suspension doesn’t offer much in the way of anti-squat, prioritising small bump performance instead. And while some eMTBs use longer stays to generate massive climbing traction, the Merida eschews this in favour of more playfulness.

Shimano’s XTR 12-speed is not only light, but it handles shifting under load very well, which is a big plus on an eMTB.

Mix and match.

The mixed wheel sizes, which we’d pinned as a potential oddity, didn’t even rate a mention once we hit the trail. There was no disconnect in terms of the feel from the different sized wheels at all. Makes us wonder why the industry has generally shied away from this configuration for so long!

Much quieter too.

Compared to the full alloy frame of the earlier model, the new bike is very quiet. The wavey chainstay protector and rubberised frame protection do a great job of absorbing the chatter in the rough, making for a distraction-free ride.

The textured chainstay protector helps keep things quiet.

How long do we have to wait?

We’re impressed, so much so that we’ve already locked in one of these bikes for a long-term test later this year. Yes, unfortunately, it’s still a few months before these bikes arrive in Australia – September or October is the ETA. We’re sure there’ll be a big queue too; even with the price increases, this is one of the most desirable eMTBs out there.