Devinci Django Carbon 29 Review

The Devinci Django Carbon 29 is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s pantaloons. 120mm of rear travel and steepish angles would have you thinking it’s more of a cross-country bike, but this machine is in its element when the trails are technical.

Don’t buy this bike if you’re looking for a fast, zippy trail bike for covering long distances. Do buy it if you value a sturdy build and confidence.

Tested: The All-New Specialized Stumpjumper

From the company that brought us the first mass-produced mountain bike in the early 80s with the same name, Specialized announce the newest generation of the iconic Stumpjumper.

Three Stumpjumpers, no more Camber.

There will be three versions of the Stumpjumper available; a new Stumpjumper Short Travel, regular Stumpjumper and the return of the Stumpjumper EVO – aluminium frame only at this stage – with longer travel and burlier spec – All of them are available in both 29” and 2.75” versions, with a women’s short travel and regular too.

Lady-spec options.

The lady-spec is available on the 27.5” and 29” short travel (ST) Stumpjumpers. These have 130mm travel front and rear on the smaller wheels, and 130mm front and 120mm rear with 29” wheels. These models replace the Camber (or going back a couple more years, the women’s Rumor). The 27.5” long travel (150mm front and rear) Stumpjumper is available with a women’s spec, but the 29” long travel Stumpjumper (150mm front, 140mm rear) is only available with a unisex build.

In Australia, we’ll see the 27.5” ST Comp model available in alloy only (AUD $2,700 and $4,000), the 29” ST up to the Carbon Comp model, and the 27.5” Comp (alloy, long travel, $4,000). If you want to ride a higher spec or different frame colour, you’ll need to look at the unisex range and custom it up.

Alright, so what is new?

Most unmistakably the frame is asymmetrical, while Specialized informed us that this new asymmetrical design was essential to increasing of the frame’s stiffness in combination to a loss of weight, we don’t bother, it looks modern and sets it apart from the rest.

The ‘Side Arm’ looks neat, agreed?

The rear shock sits off to the side about 1cm, you can run a coil shock if you wish and the gear cable and rear brake line pass through the new ‘Side Arm’ which in turn frees up space in the SWAT storage space, for a 20% larger burrito to be carried on rides.

Other notable new bits include a new chainstay protector to cut down on chain slap noise, the bottom bracket is threaded, and geometry is adjustable by flipping a chip in the lower shock mount.

The new chainstay protector design might not be the biggest feature of the new bike, but the bike is certainly very quiet on the trails.

Seeya, proprietary bits.

In bigger news however in an interesting move, surely driven by consumers and dealers, the new rear shock on the Stumpjumpers are 100% standard and metric sizes, no more Specialized-only specifications and their Shock Block lower mounts. The handy suspension setup system Auto Sag has also gone in favour of creating more space for negative air volume inside the shock.

Flip a chip in the linkage for geometry adjustment.

It has to be longer, lower, slacker, right?

Not entirely. Regarding geometry compared to the outgoing Stumpjumper, the new frame is very similar, looking at the two geometry charts we see that the new one is a touch longer in the reach and half a degree slacker in the head angle.

To give you an indication, the medium-sized 29er we have on test is 20mm longer overall, but the chainstay measurement of 437mm remains the same as the previous model across all frame sizes.

Standover height is lower thanks to the ‘Side Arm’, and the new models come with shorter stems.

Anyhow all the details and numbers are all over the net, check it out here if you want it all.

How does it ride?

Well, it’s not like we had any major complaints with the outgoing Stumpjumper, that’s for sure. On the trail, the bike is very easy to get along with; it strikes a delicate balance between its ability to ride like a maniac or ride conservatively, comfortably and efficiently.

Last year this model came with 2.3” tyres, now we have 2.6” of proper rubber, and on the trail we really let it hang out. A 2.6″ Butcher tyre on the front is a sure way to improve your cornering speeds! The longer reach puts more bike in front of you, too, giving you greater stability downhill.

Ripping trails on the new Stumpjumper, the new model is nicely balanced and more confident to push hard.

Forgive us if we sound like a broken record, but what else is there to say? The Stumpjumper is hard to pass up as an ideal all-rounder. And in classic Specialized style, there is no stone unturned in the quest to deliver the latest and greatest; it’s totally dialled.

This is a great bike, though it might not be exceedingly different than the outgoing version, it has a few notable improvements that will keep it at the front of the game, and the type of mountain bike worth considering if you’re after a brilliant all-rounder trail bike.

Suspension. Women. Lightweight man riders. And the new Stumpjumper.

Collaboration between the suspension team and frame engineers right from the concept stages of the new Stumpjumper was aimed at prioritising the overall performance not just for Joe Average, but for all types of riders on all sized frames. So with that in mind, what makes the women’s tune different?

“I’ve ridden some pretty poor tunes in the past, and was sceptical at best about how this one would translate to the trails. But the welcome difference was noticeable immediately – even more so when swapping between man-specced and girl-specced bikes over the three days of the launch.” Kath Bicknell.

In fact, what even IS a women’s tune? Is it something radically different to a dude-tune, or is it a case of coming up with a well-developed starting point that allows effective rider-specific customisation? (Spoiler alert, it’s the latter.)

One of the highlights of the Stumpjumper launch for me was getting to ask these questions in person. While every bike brand has their own way of developing and marketing their own take on suspension, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how someone like Chance, who works as part of the suspension team at the Specialized HQ in the USA, views their in-house development processes.

Specialized’s Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro.

As Chance says, it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. But a little bit of information can go a long way to getting even more enjoyment out of your bike.

The women’s-specced Stumpjumpers come with this magical thing called a ‘women’s tune’, but people aren’t really sure what that means. Can you explain what it actually is?

With the women’s tune, it really is just a little bit of fine-tuning. There’s no black magic behind it really. The key part of the RX tune – it stands for ‘Recommended Experience’, which is us mating a shock to the bike…That’s the real meat of it [he clarifies] creating a shock that works best with our bike, not so much tuned for the individual.

And you’ve done that across the range?

Yes, so every bike has that. We take it one step further with the female rider. We worked with our simulation engineers, who have done a lot of studies on limb weights, body distribution and things like that. We came up with a slightly softer spring tune. We already have lighter damping tunes across the board on this bike already through our RX tune programme. So we really just made the spring curve slightly less progressive. It’s something that’s reversible, even at a shop level, it’s really nothing too crazy.

Wait, just to slow it down just a second for people who haven’t learned much about suspension before…To make it less progressive [easier to push through the travel], what are you changing to do that?

Say in RockShox, they call them their tokens. So in a fork, it would be removing a token. In the shock, it’s removing a token. A volume spacer is all it is really. But they make a big difference. People tune with them all the time, even aftermarket. We’ve come up with our key RX tune, and we’ve just dialled it back a little bit for the women’s tune.

How does the difference of a volume spacer translate to the trails? What does it mean in terms of how it feels to push through the travel, especially for the rider who is using lower pressures?

It really affects the mid and end-stroke. Basically, it takes less force to utilise full travel. It’s not that you couldn’t get on a men’s bike and ride it well and have a good experience. But oftentimes you’re not going to really utilise it to its fullest. That can be true for anybody too. It’s really just tuned better for lighter weight riders in the stature that we’ve come up with through our simulations.

So basically, that means the action of the suspension still initiates in the same way but in get that mid area you get more…reactivity?

Yeh, it takes a little bit less force to use the same amount of travel as the men’s tune. Say you’re hitting a certain bump or a jump landing and it takes 2000 newtons to bottom it out, it might take you 1500 newtons.

Right. In my own riding life I’ve never got full travel out of most of the suspension that I’ve used with a standard, out-of-the-box tune. So this would allow most riders, who are that lighter weight, riding a 150mm travel bike to actually get 150mm of travel?

Exactly. And again, it is tuneable. It’s not to say that a really lightweight male rider couldn’t benefit from this as well.

How hard is it to tune the suspension in this way? Say a female or a lighter weight male bought one of the bikes in the range that doesn’t have the women’s tune. How hard is it to change it?

It’s definitely easily done at a shop level or by a savvy person in their home shop. In the fork it’s really simple, it’s just the top cap: let the air out, unthread the top cap and there are two or three little plastic spacers depending on the travel. We have different tunes depending on whether it’s the short or long travel Stumpjumper. You just add or remove one or two of those spacers.

We will have more tuning guide information coming along. Through our simulation engineers, we’re coming up with a tuning app which is going to be on the Specialized website. [The app is available now.] That’s going to give recommended pressures for you. So you put in your weight and height and it will give you your recommended pressures. And there’ll be an advanced side to it where we’ll help you through any issues. If you’re having a bottoming out issue then we’ll give you a recommendation – in that case you’d probably add a volume spacer. Or again if you’re still not using full travel, you might reduce your air pressure or you might take a volume spacer out.

Does it give a guide on how to set your rebound for different pressures? Or is that a bit more terrain specific?

We think that’s mostly spring specific. We’re going to recommend a spring rate for you, which is your air pressure. And then we’ll also recommend your rebound. Basically, your rebound should be mostly dependant on whatever spring rate you’re running. With a really stiff spring rate, when you compress it you have a lot of energy and it’s going to return quicker. With a lower spring rate, you’re going to need less damping to get that same return rate.

How do you see these things developing in the future?

That’s a good question! It’s hard to say. That’s the fun part of the job, figuring out what we can do next and how to elevate the game.

What would you like to see happen?

I just want to make suspension work better for everyone I guess.

Easier for people to individualise it if they don’t know what to do?

Yeh, definitely. I think that one of the biggest things that I’d like to put my mark on is helping people with set up and understanding it. A lot of it is simple to some people but it’s easy to get in over your head with suspension set up. It makes a huge difference. Without an RX tune you could be lost but even with an RX tune but the wrong set up, you could be way off. I think that’s really important for us to help our consumers get the right experience.

Given the people we see out on the trails I think that could make a huge difference.

We even see it in house. There are some guys that are pretty knowledgeable, but I can make a few tweaks and help them out with a few things and it makes a huge difference for their ride which is pretty satisfying.

Specialized Stumpjumper short and long travel – women’s perspective

With almost as many models to choose from as trails to ride them on – long travel, short travel, big wheels, medium wheels, evo (more gravity focussed), women’s-specced, non-women’s-specced, vegetarian, gluten free… – I took a closer look at what the range offers female riders. Head here to read about the new Stumpjumper more broadly, including a closer look at the tech behind it.

Woah, before the tech stuff…You rode these bikes on trails in Aínsa. How were they?

Surprisingly different in character and huge amounts of fun – the bikes and the trails! In terms of the ride experience, there were three stand-out features across the short and long travel Stumpies: how well-balanced they felt on the tech stuff and at speed (partly due to the geometry, but also because of how well matched the trail feedback was through the front and rear of the bike), how effortlessly they climbed even with 150mm of travel and how *silent* they were (have a closer look at that 3D chainstay protector).

While the 150mm 29er monstered over everything, the 150mm 27.5er encouraged a looser, wilder riding style. The 29” 130mm ‘short travel’ was a stand out too. It’s less bike than the others making it easy to manoeuvre while still offering the superior traction of bigger wheels We were obviously there to learn about the marketing behind the updated design, but it was a pleasure to get on the bikes and feel the way they met our raised expectations and often exceeded them.

Is it true that new Stumpjumper uses the same frame design for ladies and dudes?  What’s the scoop?

Market research revealed that ladies buying more expensive trail bikes didn’t want a ‘women’s bike’ they wanted the same bike as everyone else. As we see a lot on the trails, in the case of brands using a shared or gender neutral frame, most women prefer to modify the seat and bar width to their choosing. They want the increased spec and colour options available through the unisex range and are concerned about the lower resale value of the women’s model later on. “It’s what women were asking for,” said Specialized staff at the launch.

“If they were asking for a specific frame we would have done that.” That said, the research, data, computer simulation and testing that has gone into each sized Stumpjumper frame make them better matched to riders of different sizes than unisex frames of the past.

Why does the Stumpjumper come in a women’s spec at the lower end of the range, but not the higher end?

A women’s spec at the more entry-level price points makes sense. This makes it easier for these women to jump on a trail bike for the first time and experience the benefit of gender-specific contact points without having to know (or try to imagine) what to change. These changes continue to drive research and development and provide insights into what women purchasing the higher end bikes might want to modify, like the suspension tune.

So what’s different about the women’s spec compared to the man spec?

The bars are narrower (750mm compared to 800mm) but are still generous enough in width that riders can cut them down further. They also come specced with Specialized’s women’s Myth saddle. The 27.5” models run from XS-L frame sizes, while the 29” models are available specced for women in S-L. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the fork and shock come with a women’s trail tune.

Tell me more about the suspension tune.

We thought you’d say that, so we sat down with Suspension Development Technician, Chance Ferro, to chat about the women’s suspension tune in more detail. The short version? Given most women are lighter than your average guy and put less force through the suspension when landing a jump or riding the rough stuff, the women’s trail tune is designed to work more effectively at lower pressures.

Click here for the full story behind the women’s suspension tune, with Chance Ferro.

It’s easier to bottom out and feels more responsive in the mid-zone. All changes are reversible and can be done in store. In fact, the difference between the men’s and women’s tune in the fork is the difference of one volume spacer token. Swapping this out would likely suit some lightweight male riders too.

How hard is it to ‘women’s’ a man-spec?

Swap out the saddle, cut down the bars, and ask shop staff to tweak the tune. But to get the sweet looking green and copper paint job featured here, you’ll have to purchase the Women’s Short Travel Carbon Comp 29 (AUD $5,600).

Which models are available decked out for lady-riders from the get-go?

The lady-spec is available on the 27.5” and 29” short travel (ST) Stumpjumpers. These have 130mm travel front and rear on the smaller wheels, and 130mm front and 120mm rear with 29” wheels. These models replace the Camber (or going back a couple more years, the women’s Rumor). The 27.5” long travel (150mm front and rear) Stumpjumper is available with a women’s spec, but the 29” long travel Stumpjumper (150mm front, 140mm rear) is only available with a unisex build.

In Australia, we’ll see the 27.5” ST Comp model available in alloy only (AUD $2,700 and $4,000), the 29” ST up to the Carbon Comp model, and the 27.5” Comp (alloy, long travel, $4,000). If you want to ride a higher spec or different frame colour, you’ll need to look at the unisex range and custom it up.

Why isn’t the 29” long travel Stumpy available pimped out for lady-shredders? We like big wheels too!

I’m with you on that one. In fact, given the opportunity to ride any bike I wanted from the range at the launch in Aínsa, the 29”, man-specced, long travel was the bike I chose for our longest (seven hours) day on the trails. It hungrily devoured everything I threw it at, and I threw it at everything I could – including a slidey, gnarly, mud-covered trail used in the Enduro World Series that even had some of the guys walking.

That said, women who thrive on this kind of riding are still in the minority and have fairly specific ideas regarding set up. Some prefer 800mm bars for instance. Some prefer a different saddle, such as the Power.

Given how customisable the new Stumpjumpers are, and the need to spec each model with sales in mind, I left the launch feeling the Specialized have made the right choice leaving this model one for individual users t customise as they see fit.

Any final thoughts?

Fit and set up issues for women and smaller-than-average guy riders often get missed from bike reviews or condensed into a sentence or two, so I’ve written this article to specifically address some of these issues in a space of their own. However, there’s a heap of other well-integrated, customisable tech in these bikes that gives each model a different character out on the trails. With that in mind, make sure to read up on the performance of the bikes as a whole.

For more on the new Stumpjumper click here.

We have the opportunity to spend more time on one of these bikes later in the year. Which would you like to know more about?


Words: Kath Bicknell.

Photos: Harookz, Specialized.

2019 FOX 36 Factory – First Look

We love the ‘heritage’ orange colour option – there’s plenty of black in mountain biking already!

Didn’t you guys just review this fork?

Not this one, but its predecessor. We recently put the 2018 FOX 36 Factory FIT 4 head to head against the Rock Shox Lyrik RCT3 and it came up victorious. You can read that full comparison review here. The 2019 FOX 36 is as fresh as it gets, we literally only received this fork about 12 hours before the embargo lifted!

The stacked dual rebound adjusters of the Variable Control Valve offer low-speed and high-speed rebound control.

So, what’s fresh for 2019?

The big change is the addition of the new Grip 2 damper, which takes the adjustability to a new level. It has independent high/low speed rebound adjustment, as well as high/low speed compression adjustment, which was already a feature on the 36 RC2. This four-way adjustability mirrors the adjustments found on the X2 rear shock.

The Factory level forks get Kashima coat stanchions, but you can save a few bucks with the Performance Elite version that has the same damper with black anodised legs.

There’s still a FIT4 version of this fork too, for people who don’t want to twiddle more knobs than Stormy Daniels.

More travel too!

In our comparison review, we noted that the Rock Shox Lyrik had the edge when it came to travel options, but this in no longer the case. The 36 is now available up to 180mm-travel in a 27.5″ version, or up to 170mm in a 29er.

 

Marzocchi Bomber Z1 – The Return of a Suspension Icon

Marzocchi is announcing a return to the game with three products produced by parent company FOX; the Bomber Z1 all-mountain/enduro fork, Bomber 58 downhill fork and Transfer dropper post.

They will be sold and serviced via the current FOX Suspension people at SOLA Sport, based in Sydney. Marzocchi aims to provide hardy and uncomplicated suspension with the type of quality Fox is known for at a lower price point.

In a press release announcing Marzocchi’s merger with FOX; “FOX’s strategic plan is to further expand the penetration of bike suspension products across more price points.”

Taking a ride down memory lane, from the 90s to now.

Please excuse us for getting a little nostalgic here (maybe if you weren’t a mountain bike geek in the 90s, skip down a paragraph or two) as we recall the fantastic era of the nineties from the standpoint of mountain bike development, the Bomber was a legitimate icon. What was so special about the original Marzocchi Bomber? Borrowing cues from the motorcycle world the overbuild Bombers used an open oil bath system with oil sloshing around inside around all the moving parts, whereas brands that dominated the scene Manitou and RockShox used sealed cartridges that would overheat and blow, plus the legs needed constant greasing for a relatively ‘smooth’ action. With only 60-80mm of travel from the regular brands, the Bomber’s generous 100mm caused a real stir!

How’s the timeline! From 1995 to 2019 our retro collection consists of the 1995 Marzocchi DH3, 1997 Bomber Z1, 1999 Bomber Z2 BAM and all-new 2019 model Bomber Z1.
Oh, how things have changed…
Bombing.
The all-new Bomber Z1

The 1997 model Bombers felt amazing on the first ride and seemed to require a lot less servicing to keep feeling ultra plush. They were the forks on the bikes of the ‘freeride’ era, long travel, single crown forks for doing nasty drops and getting away with reckless riding.

So, in a nutshell, that’s why we loved the original Bombers.

Get over it, nerd, how about 2019?

The new Bomber Z1 is aimed at the similar rider like in the 90s, someone seeking a durable, sturdy and uncomplicated fork. With only one compression and one rebound dial, it’s child’s play to understand and to use the adjustments.

In comparison to FOX or RockShox, the new Bomber’s lower legs are straight and void of any visible external sculpting.
Air valve cap on the left, and one large compression dial on the right. Simple.
  • 36mm single crown chassis.
  • 15QRx110mm Boost with the option of QR or tooled axle.
  • 1.5-inch tapered steerer tube.
  • FIT GRIP Sweep damper with adjustable compression and rebound damping.
  • EVOL air spring with adjustable volume.
  • Gloss Red or Matte Black
  • Travel options: 29/27.5+” – 130-170mm. 27.5” – 150-180mm.

How similar to a FOX fork is the Bomber?

They feel very similar to a FOX Float fork, though there are many differences internally and externally. While is uses 36mm legs like a FOX 36, the thicker inner walls will mean it will require its own specific air volume spacers, and because the negative transfer port is on the upper tube, it does require a change in air assembly to change travel.

The latest Grip Sweep damper is a new generation unit for 2019, which in comparison to the Float 34 Performance fork we reviewed on the Rocky Mountain Instinct this year offers more support and we found it harder to reach the latter portion of travel when encountering large impacts.

The lowers are constructed from 6000 series aluminium, while the FOX Factory and Performance Elite forks are from higher grade 7000 series aluminium for a lighter body.

Bomb time.

Swapping out the FOX Factory 34 Float 29 with the bright red Bomber Z1, our Norco Sight gained 55g but remained the exact same height from axle to crown. We inflated the air spring to the recommended pressure, double checked the sag and off we went.

Like a brand new fork should, the action felt very supple and sensitive, and we were able to feel the difference in the wide range of compression adjustment with a little flick of the large gold coloured Grip Sweep dial.

Ploughing through rocky trails we were reminded that we had a big fork on the front of our bike, the legs feel very stiff, much more than the 34 it replaced. Dropping a few PSI to help us reach further into the travel was a good move, and counteracting that with a touch more compression had us using more of the travel more regularly, but with no extra dive or wallowing.

On our fourth ride, we began to hear a slight noise from the damper over fast and rough terrain, we contacted Marzocchi and we’ll send it to SOLA for an examination, stay tuned for an update.

The Z1 is solid!
The 29″ fork is 27.5+ compatible, and we dig the ‘M’ shaped arch like the old times.

Cheaper than FOX, though just as good?

After a few weeks on the Z1, we almost forget it was there, it is a great fork with a familiar feeling, a smooth action, very progressive and supportive that allows you to ride the front end of the bike very hard with confidence.

What makes it stand out from the rest then? Let’s look at what makes the Bomber Z1 appealing over a FOX fork, aside from just nostalgic value, of course.

The Bomber Z1 – $1149.

2018 FOX Performance 34 (also Grip Damper) – $1169.

2018 FOX Factory 34 – $1379.

2018 FOX Factory 36 HSC LSC FIT – $1649.

When you look at it, the Bomber is only a slightly less than the 2018 model Performance 34 built around similar internals.

Verdict.

The Bomber is a great fork, hands down. While it might lack the fine tuning abilities of a more expensive Lyrik or FOX 36, the simplicity, price and robust chassis will no doubt see it specced on many bikes next season, and is a very worth update or upgrade from a flogged out fork that’s done its time.

Welcome back, Bomber!

Trek Full Stache 8 Tested – 29er Plus Bike Madness!

What crazy contraption is this?

Trek has taken their 29″+ bike – The Stache – and adapted it to a full suspension trail eating monster. We had a jolly good time riding the Kermit green Stache hardtail last year, its 3″ tyres and agile handling promoted very unorthodox riding, it’s a blast. Check that out here – Trek Stache hardtail review.

What would 29×3″ wheels do for you?
Fun times exploring the boundaries of traction.

It won’t take a rocket scientist to assume that 3″ tyres provide gobs of traction, however, with the addition of 130mm of rear suspension could this bike be an un-crashable, go-anywhere bike that you’re after to make light work of challenging terrain?

Plus bikes, are they back, or did they never go anywhere?

We’ve seen plus bikes come on strong and somewhat fade away, the high volume 3″ tyred traction hounds barged their way onto the mountain bike scene a couple of years ago to a very mixed response. We ranked some of them well, while others were a little too loafy and slow, we found they suited some trails well but lacked overall performance. We settled on the very general statement that plus bikes are great on sub-2K hardtails for entry-level riders on technical terrain, or on short-travel duallies for riders that require bulk traction for their conditions.

Since then, the rise of 2.6″ tyres have nearly made the classic 3″ tyred plus bike somewhat redundant, take the Canyon SpectralPivot Mach 5.5 or Merida One-Forty for example. The 2.6″ tyres on 30-35mm rims had many traction benefits of plus tyres, but still retained the predictability and support of a 2.4-2.5″ tyre.

Bontrager has stepped up and produced a proper tyre for hard riding, too. The 3″ Chupacabra on the earlier model Stache hardtail was quite vague with its very rounded profile. The Full Stache, however, comes with a 3″ version of their immensely popular XR4 tyre which we’ve had great experiences with on their Trek Remedy and Fuel EX. They have proper bite, not just a large contact patch.

Grip that.
The Full Stache combines momentum of a 29er with the traction of plus bike into a lively package.

Who’s keen enough to make a 29″ plus bike?

Trek isn’t afraid to give things a go, take a look at their entire range and compare them to other brands with such a representation in the market. In comparison to the other big guns; Giant, Scott and Specialized they produce come pretty quirky bikes for niche areas of cycling. We can imagine the engineering department dreaming up ways to make 29×3″ wheels work in conjunction with dual suspension.

Quite a wild looking frame you have there!

To fit everything in, Trek has had to get very creative with the frame design. While the Full-Stache is based on the Fuel EX platform, it looks so different.

The chainstay measurement is 427mm, quite considerably shorter than the Norco Sight 29er, Trek Fuel EX and Santa Cruz High Tower.

A stumpy little headtube helps the bars stay low despite the tall wheels.
The suspension pivot has been shifted forwards to make space for the wheel and short 427mm stays.
All the regular frame features found on Trek’s suspension bikes are here; the Active Braking Pivot, impact protection and the Knock Block and geometry adjustment via the Mino Link.
Check out how close the tyre is to the chainring, the ultra-short 427mm stays mean the main suspension pivot needed relocation in front of the BB.

The head tube is tiny, reaching a comfortable height for the handlebars was easy despite the tall wheels. It will no doubt receive a few odd looks but consider what they’ve achieved; we forgive it for appearing a little unconventional.

Let’s ride!

Punching down rocks, and back up the other side.

The Full Stache looks big, but spinning around the block we were surprised to find the steering quite light and the wheels didn’t feel too far away from the centre of the bike like we feared. The frame’s geometry puts you nice and low in the bike and standover height is very generous; it’s odd seeing the tyres so close to you! Give the bike a bounce and with 18 psi in the big balloons it feels like you have swapped out running shoes for enormous basketball shoes. Charging at the gutters the bike doesn’t flinch, wind it up to speed and grab a handful of brake and the tyres let out a roar, sounding like someone is attempting to ice skate down their driveway in summer.

Our first trip to the trails was a fun one, we were pretty open-minded about it, and because of that we weren’t too critical of its appearance, we just wanted to see what it was capable of. The Full Stache is easy to ride, it seems undeterred by loose surfaces and remains quite relaxed down narrow or rocky steep chutes.

Climbing anything in our path.

Coming to a dead stop at the bottom of a steep singletrack climb we kicked over the pedals and up it went, the rear wheel clawing away at the loose surface but never losing traction. Climbing steep gradients, the low front end resisted lifting, and the low 30T chainring and huge 12-speed spread of gears ensured you wouldn’t run out of puff. It does climb some pretty crazy stuff! It’s fun to tackle lines we typically avoided.

At higher speeds, the big wheels wind up and pull you along for the ride, high-speed corners are a blast with the XR4 tyres biting in the dirt and the low pressures conforming to the ground. The rear end does, however, exhibit a certain vagueness when you hit turns hard and fast; the tall wheel, big air volume and unconventional rear stays contribute to a rear end that is not as laterally stiff as a regular 29er. Though as one of our testers put it; it’s not a race bike.

Back-to-back with a regular 29er.

For a clear comparison test, we took the Full Stache out riding alongside the Norco Sight 29er. We know the Norco well, like the back of our gloves, so we swapped back and forth over a day to ascertain what bike did what, and what type of trail conditions suited either bike best.

Toe-to-toe with a regular 29er, the Norco Sight.

The Sight does have slightly more travel front and back and it is lighter than the Full Stache, with its carbon wheels, frame and high-end spec, but we paid particular attention to the tyres and how the bike handles as a result. No clocks were used in this experiment, that’d be silly.

It was no surprise that the Sight’s smaller tyres and lower weight felt more lively on the trail. In comparison, the Full Stache felt like it had twice the momentum behind it and we mowed over stuff with brute force rather than picking lines or making quick decisions. The 2.35″ Schwalbe Nobby Nic’s at around 22-25 psi would slip on the loosest climbs that the Full Stache could manage, requiring more effort to get to the top.

The Sight would make direction changes easier and faster while the Full Stache seemed less picky. The Full Stache could tackle things the Sight couldn’t and felt a lot more comfortable, requiring less energy to cruise through singletrack with a relaxed grip on the bars.

Who’d go Full Stache?

While the Fuel EX would suit 90% of trail riders, there are 10% of riders that might want to get a little crazy on the trails. Perhaps you struggle to remain upright and rubber side down, or battle with tricky surfaces? If so you might relish in the Full Stache’s sure-footedness and confidence inspiring unlimited traction.

It’s probably overkill for the most part, but what it is capable of doing and not it’s all-rounder abilities are its strength. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s called a Full Stache, remember.

Trek Checkpoint SL 5 – First Impressions

Grab your flannel shirt, lace-up shoes and enamel camping mug, Trek has a new bike that might just be what you’ve been looking for. The all-new Checkpoint 5 SL might confuse you as to what it is exactly, but in fact, Trek has let you decide yourself what to do with it, so far what we can tell is they’re calling it a; ‘gravel bike for epic all-road adventures’.

We know what we’ll do with it – adventures! – but before we give it a run to the hills let’s take a look at this unique animal in closer detail.

So many things to look at.

It might look like a road bike from afar but take a couple steps closer and you’ll notice frame features you’d never see on a classic road bike. We’re talking about; rack/utility mounts, multiple water bottle cage mounts, loads of tyre clearance, 12mm thru-axles, impact protection under the downtube, and an adjustable wheelbase.

Thick bar tape and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes.
Robust frame shapes, loads of mounts for carrying stuff and protection from debris.
Flat mount disc brakes on both ends. Braking performance is paramount.

IsoSpeed decoupler, the fancy little bump-diffuser.

As seen on the Trek Procaliber is Trek’s unique vibration dampening system; IsoSpeed. Seen on Trek’s cross-country hardtail; the Procaliber, the Boone cyclocross bike and their endurance road bike, Domane.

The seat tube is a separate piece from the top and down tubes, for less feedback when seated.

It’s like the tiniest bit of suspension to take the sting out of the road.

It essentially uses a bushing and axle arrangement at the junction of the seat tube and top tube to allow the seat post to bend backwards independently from the top tube, adding comfort when seated. The top tube and seat tube tube are completely separate parts, joined by the decoupler unit.

It’s like the tiniest bit of suspension to take the sting out of the road.

See the IsoSpeed used for the purpose of mountain biking here: Trek Procaliber review.

Flow ‘GravelCross’ Bike, sorry, what?

We are aware that our name Flow Mountain Bike is completely void of words like ‘cyclocross’ or ‘gravel’, nor do we profess to be experts in the field of gravel but we’ve ridden quite a few nowadays, and our road bikes are gathering dust because of it. What’s going on?

C’mon, we know mountain bikers are hard on road bikes. There are even gravel events popping up like this one!

Isn’t it just a cyclocross bike?

In comparison to Trek’s cyclocross bike – The Boone – the Checkpoint’s frame geometry is lower in the bottom bracket, taller up the front and has considerably more tyre clearance. The adjustable wheelbase will provide the rider with the ability to select a fast and agile feel, or long and stable.

A wide range of gears for going everywhere.

Other gravel bikes we’ve recently tried out.

Norco’s Search XR shares a lot of features with the Checkpoint, check out the chainstays, multiple mounts, tyre clearance etc. Have a look here.

Cannondale Super X SE is an adaption from a cyclocross race bike for the gravel, a fast bike indeed! Check it out here.

Checkpoint options?

Trek provides the Checkpoint in three models, the SL 6 for $4699 is the top-end carbon frame version with the fancy Shimano Ultegra, the SL 5 we have sells for $3699 with Shimano 105. The ALR 5 uses a is aluminium frame option for $2699.

What now?

We are excited about this bike for a few reasons; like we said our road bikes are gathering dust, so we’ll punch out some ‘training’ km on this for a while. But more exciting is we are planning an adventure where a road bike would not survive (it’d most certainly explode) and a mountain bike would be overkill, plus we’ll be carrying a lot of gear. Presto, we have the right tool for the job! How convenient, Trek…

Hope Tech 3 E4 Brakes: First Impressions

Well isn’t that a nice bit of bling?

The Hope Tech 3 E4 brake is a gorgeous piece of kit!  Along with their ‘made-in-the-UK-chip-butty-and-a-lovely-cuppa-tea’ heritage, Hope have maintained that exquisite CNC machine work that has always set them apart. If these perform on the trail even half as good as they look, they’re a winner. Adding to the appeal, you can get the brakes in a range of six anodised colours, letting you go full World Champs custom with your rig. Now that’s something the big players like SRAM and Shimano definitely can’t offer.

Hope Tech 3 e4
The four-piston E4 caliper is made from a single chunk of alloy on one of Hope’s 55 CNC machines.
Hope Tech 3 e4
The Tech 3 lever has reach and contact point adjustment.

Do they cost more than a night in the MGM Grand penthouse?

No, these are surprisingly competitive price wise. We remember handing over about three months wages back in 2003 for a beautiful set of Hope Mini XC brakes, but now the pricing is a lot sharper, thankfully. At $269 an end, plus another $79 for a 180mm rotor, these feel like a bit of bargain really.

We were pleasantly surprised to read the pricing on these is in line with other four-piston brakes.

 

Where do these sit in the Hope range?

In terms of stopping power, these fellas come in just beneath the V4 downhill brake, which is a real beast. The caliper is machined from a single piece of alloy for rigidity, and houses four pistons. It’s paired to the Tech 3 lever that offers both reach and contact point adjustment.

If you’re really weight conscious you can also get this brake in a Race version, which has a slimmed down lever and runs a mix of titanium and alloy bolts, saving about 40g an end.

A floating rotor handles changes in temperature better than a one-piece rotor.

It’s all in the details.

There are plenty of pleasing details here. The reassuringly waggle-free lever, the laser etched logos and markings, the chunky, glove-friendly adjusters, the generous spanner flats on all the fittings… Hope made their first disc brakes back in 1989 and you can feel the refinement.

Look at that intricate construction!

What’s the plan with these?

We’re going to be pitting these brakes against two of the newest four-piston offerings from Shimano and SRAM – the fresh XT Trail four piston, and the latest version of the Code. All three brakes will be tested with 203mm/180mm rotors on a YT Jeffsy. Should be an interesting comparison!

Ok, you glamorous thing, let’s go get dirty.

 

Camelbak T.O.R.O. & K.U.D.U. – Back Protection Integration

The Camelbak K.U.D.U. and T.O.R.O. are designed to integrate a degree of back impact protection into a regular hydration backpack.

Camelbak has been making quality hydration systems and backpacks now for donkey’s years. And while donkeys and camels don’t share the same genome, it’s more of a figure of speech to imply they’re experienced at making a good product. There is a reason why people ask for Camelbak when looking for a hydration system; they are the Texta and Tupperware of the cycling world.

Protection for when getting rad goes wrong.

Addressing the ever-important area of back protection, Camelbak integrates CE Level II certified back protection via an insert that you easily forget is there. T.O.R.O. 8 uses a centre back protector that covers the spine, and K.U.D.U. 10 uses a longer full back protector which can also be unzipped from the pack and worn on its own.

The back protectors are designed to absorb energy from an impact in the event of a crash.

The K.U.D.U. has the ability for the main compartment to be separated into a standalone back protector without the water bladder.
The Center Back CE Level II Protector in the T.O.R.O. is a special multi-layered foam strip that sits against your back for protection against impacts.
The K.U.D.U. uses a Full Back CE Level II Protector for more coverage.

If we were looking to feel invincible then we can add the Sternum Protector – pictured below – it works with any of the packs, operates on its own. It is comfortable enough and easy to put on, with an integrated GoPro mount.

The Sternum Protector is sold separately.


What are the two models?

T.O.R.O. 8 and K.U.D.U. 10 are two new(ish) packs from Camelbak, with the T.O.R.O. being a lightweight pack and the K.U.D.U. is larger for bigger trail missions. Both packs come in different colours and include a hydration bladder. The Crux Reservoir holds three litres of water, with the big bite valve that Camelbak is famous for.

The T.O.R.O. 8, the mid-size pack.
The K.U.D.U. 10 is a larger pack with loads of storage.

The whole way through the range the numbers of the packs indicates storage capacity (less the three-litres of water they hold). T.O.R.O. 8 is a five-litre pack, and the K.U.D.U. 10 is a seven-litre pack.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Despite their size differences they share a lot of similarities with handy zipped pockets, spacious compartments and external straps that can attach helmets and pads on the outside of the pack. These sort of features are what we have become accustomed to with Camelbak.


Trail testing the T.O.R.O. 8.

We have been testing the T.O.R.O. 8 for the past two months and enjoyed how lightweight it is, perfect for quick rides and with up-to three-litres of water capacity. We quickly forgot that the bag was more than just our regular backpack.

The triple strap on the T.O.R.O. 8 (which also appears on the K.U.D.U. 10) at first seemed unnecessary, in particular, the dual sternum strap. However, as we got used to it, we liked how firm the pack was against our back when descending. More importantly, the triple strap holds the back protector firmly in place, so there is little risk of it shifting in a crash.

Carrying our Giro Switchblade removable chin-guard and knee pads, no worries.

The idea of a back protector on a lightweight daypack did have us lifting an eyebrow at first, how much protection do we need on a quick hit out? As we used the pack, we loved how it’s more than just a back protector, and it helps give the pack more shape. As it warms up over the course of a ride, it does mould to the contour of your back. The back plates are also removable.

The CRUX Reservoir hose attaches firmly to the shoulder straps with the two clips. We did find that the hose kinked and blocked water flow when we tried to drink from the big bite valve unless we unclipped it from the bottom clip. However it never came free and flapped around on a bouncy descent, so we appreciated that it was firmly attached.

Camelbak’s excellent Crux water bladder.

T.O.R.O. 8 is predominantly made from lightweight mesh, over the course of the review we have noticed on the underside of one of the shoulder straps had torn slightly. It probably happened when we dumped the pack on the ground while trail building, sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect balance between light, soft and durable but rest assured they offer a lifetime warranty. However, the tears are small and haven’t grown over the course of the review.

For a little pack, we could load it up to the hilt! Every time we went out for a ride we tried to max it out with knee pads, weather jackets and food for a whole day. On one spin we accidentally took our change of clothes around the entire ride and didn’t notice till we got back to the car. It carried the extra weight so well it wasn’t a problem.

You’re looking at around a 50% increase in weight in comparison to a bag with similar carrying capacity, the 12l MULE and 7l Skyline bags that don’t use the back protection are 800g and 600g respectively. The K.U.D.U. tips the scales at 1.48kg and the T.O.R.O. is 820g.

We have been super impressed with the T.O.R.O. 8; there is a reason that Camelbak is such a household name in the cycling industry. The two bags manage to provide certified protection and combine it with a hydration backpack.

2018 Sub $4K Enduro Shootout Review – Giant Reign vs Merida One-Sixty vs Norco Range

We review the Giant Reign 2, Merida One-Sixty 800 and Norco Range A3.

Enduro bikes are so hot right now, look at the latest 2018 models from the big brands like Giant, Merida and Norco, the componentry manufacturers are clearly throwing their weight behind the category and producing genuinely great parts for sub $4K bikes. No longer do you need to sell a kidney to afford a bike with excellent suspension, robust components and frame geometry influenced by team riders. It’s a good time to be buying a new bike, and not a 4K TV!

Why pick these three?

There’s only $300 separating these three bikes, they’re all running 27.5″ wheels, they’re almost identical in travel and are all aimed at Enduro style riding. This trio is very comparable.

Giant Reign 2 – $3799.

Merida One-Sixty 800 – $3999.

Norco Range A3 – $3699.


Read the individual reviews of the trio here.

Giant Reign 2.

Merida One-Sixty 800.

Norco Range A3.


Ploughing the rockiest trail we could find on the Giant Reign, it LOVES this stuff.

Let’s look at the spec.

It’s safe to say that the Merida – which also happens to be the most expensive – comes out on top in the spec wars, you’re just not left wanting anything more. Highlights are the SRAM Code R brakes and Super Deluxe shock which add bulk value to the overall package.

The Norco isn’t too far behind the Merida, it has a well-thought-out spec for the dollars, and if not for the awkward shifter/brake lever matching we’d be 100% content. The Tektro brakes were better than we expected on the trail, and the wide-range 11-46 SunRace cassette has a smooth range of gears that’s not far behind Eagle in terms of range.

The Giant was a little bit of a surprise to us, perhaps we’ve been accustomed to them ruling the value stakes over the last decade, but the entry-level version of the deep Reign lineup had us wanting a little more for the cash. Especially when compared to the Merida and Norco, the lacklustre brakes and 10-speed drivetrain were quite a stark contrast to the other two bikes.

The top-shelf RockShox Super Deluxe on the Merida, premium stuff!
A Shimano 11-speed SLX drivetrain and SunRace 11-46t cassette on the Norco.
Shimano Deore level brakes on the Giant. Not all bad, just lower spec in comparison to the four piston SRAM Codes on the Merida.

Chuck them on the scales.

Giant – 14.1kg

Merida – 14.3kg

Norco – 15.16kg

While this category of bikes might not be all about weight, it’s still a point worth looking at, and the Norco is a standout here tipping the scales over the 15kg mark. In fairness, the Norco didn’t feel too much like a 15kg bike when riding.

We’re merely speculating here as we didn’t strip the bikes down to their undies, but we’d say that the Giant Reign frame must be reasonably light, with an overall weight lighter than both the Merida and Norco.

Casting an eye over the frame.

These three bikes are all damn nice, beautifully finished head-to-toe and well protected. In our opinion of the three, the Giant is the slickest looking with its lovely matte finish, one-piece carbon rocker link and internal routing, it is a  very tidy package.

Merida wins the most improved award for aesthetics, this new generation One-Sixty looks fantastic, and the internal cables give it clean lines.

The Norco with its lustrous red paint had us all pouring it over it with oohs and ahhs, though the external routing lets it down a touch on the finish scoreboard. Its chunky overbuilt suspension hardware and robust linkage might look industrial to some, but we appreciate its hardiness.

Big suspension hardware, a glossy red paint job and well executed – though external – cable routing.
A fresh look for Merida, the colours are bright, the rear suspension linkage is clean and the welds are very tidy.
The only piece of carbon on any of the bikes is this excellent piece of frame construction, the one-piece Maestro Suspension rocker arm. The Giant is our favourite in terms of frame finish, attention to detail and overall appearance.

Build today, race enduro tomorrow?

The buzz word on everyone’s lips; enduro. Which of these three 160mm travel bikes would we take enduro racing?

If we were at the top of the Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze, a straight out high-speed race, we’d take the Giant; it’s the most stable and grounded of the three with the most aggressive geometry and longest reach. But take it to an enduro race where you’re pedalling all day and hunting to maintain speed on singletrack, the suspension tune and super-slack steering will prove to be tiring.

The Merida with its efficient climbing position and suspension feel would be an excellent choice to race a classic enduro where there’s plenty of climbing and long hours in the saddle, but it’ll find its limit on the rougher and rocky race tracks with its shorter reach and very linear rear suspension.

The Norco just seems to strike a neat balance between the two, efficient enough to climb, and plenty stable for the descents at race pace. The suspension is well balanced and progressive enough to hammer hard, so, we’d happily take the Norco to a race track unseen; it’ll have you covered. 

Pedalling and climbing on the Merida was quite comfortable, suitable for racing enduro on the lesser aggressive courses.
Racing on gravity assisted tracks like the Thredbo Cannonball Festival or Enduro? The Giant would haul on the open and fast sections.
A neat balance of confidence inspiring geometry, balanced suspension and a solid chassis let you really lift your game when riding the Norco.

Not fussed on racing, just want to ride hard?

Want loads of travel to save your skin when things get a little crazy on the trails? 160mm of travel can get you out of a lot of sticky situations, that’s a certainty!

The Giant can be hard work, its long reach and slack steering won’t make a great trail bike for everyday singletrack rides, but turn it up to maximum speed, and you’ll relish in its stable and planted ride.

The Merida would be quite a good trail bike with some serious firepower in reserve, it pedals and climbs nicely despite the long travel. Singletrack rides with a few rock gardens and sketchy chutes? The Merida will take that on the chin, no worries.

Lugging around 15kg of Norco would be tough on the legs, but it’s a nice bike to rip turns and hit jumps on, it seems to have a lot of potential to lift the game and take your riding to the next level. When it came to big drops, loose trails and hard hits the Norco was our favourite.

The Reign is a big bike, be warned!
The Merida is happier on technical trails than the race track.


What would we do for $500 to upgrade these bikes?

Hypothetically, we reach into our jacket pocket and find $500!! Whoa, we haven’t worn this jacket since last winter and don’t remember losing any money. The joys of being a high rolling bike tester, dropping $500 like it’s nothing… 

Now let’s see what we’d do with $500.

  • Merida One-Sixty 800.

Our only real complaint about the Merida One-Sixty 800 was the suspension; we feel it wasn’t up to the task on rowdy trails especially in the hands of heavier riders. We asked Mountain Bike Suspension Centre in Sydney to see what they could do to help this bike achieve its potential.

“We would recommend doing a custom tune on the RockShox Super Deluxe, this would provide more high-speed damping, and that will help with the shock and its tendency to use all its travel too easily. We’d couple this with two more air volume spacers to make the shock more progressive. All this would add up to more grip and compliance over the rough stuff but also more support when the bike gets pushed harder.”

“For the Yari, we would add a Vorsprung Luftkappe.  Fitting a Luftkappe air piston kit improves the fork’s small bump compliance and traction while improving mid stroke support and progression.”

We would then be left with about $160, so we’d buy a 50mm stem and a matching handlebar to stretch the reach out a touch.

  • Giant Reign 2.

The Maxxis Shorty tyre on the front may excel in loam and loose over hardpack conditions but isn’t the most versatile tyre. It’s hard to go past the old faithful 2.35 Maxxis DHF or DHR tyre for a great all-rounder. 

The Reign is a plough of an enduro bike, but with 160mm of travel up front, it’s a little under-gunned when we compared it to the 170mm-travel forks on the Range and One-Sixty in this shootout. We asked ‘Mountain Bike Suspension Centre’ to let us know what they would do.

“For the Yari, we would extend it to 170mm with a new air shaft and the Vorsprung Luftkappe”

The recommended suspension tunings need to happen when the fork and shock are relativity new. Otherwise, a proper service with seals will be required and this comes at a (reasonable) higher cost.  

  • Norco Range A3.

We found the suspension on the Range fairly spot on out of the box, so upgrades would come in the shape of ergonomics and brake power.

The TranzX remote on the dropper post is functional and straightforward, but for a little more luxury we would upgrade to the Wolf Tooth Dropper remote lever, it has a silky smooth action and is excellent on any cable activated dropper post. 

The Tektro brakes performed great during our test, but to take them to the next level and handle the heat on longer descents, we would upgrade the pads and rotors to Shimano Ice Tech (the Tektro brakes actually use a Shimano Saint pad).

Finally, to give our hands and arse a little more comfort on the longer rides, we would swap the grips and saddle for something plusher.

Possible extra option for the Giant Reign and Norco Range.

The RockShox Deluxe shock (compared to the Super Deluxe found on the Merida) is tuned with trail riding in mind, and so a custom tune will help with more aggressive enduro riding.  Custom tuning the Deluxe shock, plus the addition of air volume spacers, will help to improve the small bump compliance giving the shock more support when you’re taking more significant hits instead of the damping disappearing when you need it most.


Crunch time, what’s our pick of the three? 

Did you scroll past all the chat for our final verdict? Fair enough…

Quite simply, the Norco Range outshines or comes close enough to the Giant and Merida in all aspects of what these bikes are built for, hard riding, having fun and proving reliable for under $4k. It’s also the only one available in 29″ wheels too, for going REALLY fast.

The Norco Range is our pick from the three; it impressed us in all areas assessed, has a well-thought-out spec, and rode really well.
Yeow!

Canyon Torque – Tested

The Torque is an all-new long travel monster from the fast-moving German brand selling directly to the consumer. Since Canyon came to Australia, we have continuously been impressed by their unique approach to the engineering of their suspension frames, with distinctly high attention to detail.

The Torque is a huge bike, what type of rider or trail would justify something like this?


In this review we’re going to talk about how it rides, but do you want to know EVERYTHING about the Canyon Torque?

It’s a neat machine, worth checking out. Head to our feature on the new Torque release here. 

Interested to hear a little background on the new platform from Canyon riders; Fabien Barel and Jo Barnes? Read this.


Torque + Maydena Bike Park = Woohoo Yeah!

We nabbed a Torque from Canyon Australia’s demo fleet and ripped a few hot laps of the freshly opened Maydena Bike Park. The model we tested is different to the blue one pictured here, they were early release pre-production models with a high spec with an aluminium frame. And although we only spent a few hours over two days on it, we could still get a fair idea what it’s about.

What’s Maydena Bike Park? Excuse me, is that even a question? The biggest news in trail developments in Australia, Tasmania’s new bike park!

Sinking the Torque into a lovely piece of hand-built trail in Maydena.

At first, we did a few laps on the Canyon Strive, an enduro bike we are more than familiar with. The trails at Maydena are very advanced, super-steep and the jumps can get pretty significant, so the Strive found its limits at times, especially as we were riding the different tracks unseen. While the Strive was limited by the fact it was brand new and the brakes were still bedding in, and with a stock Maxxis Minion SS rear tyre not helping in the deceleration department, we still had a damn good time ripping hard and fast laps.

Torque has confidence in spades, and with that confidence, we began to properly let the brakes off and follow the faster riders in front.

Trading up to the Torque from the Strive was where things got exciting. The Torque has confidence in spades, and with that confidence, we began to properly let the brakes off and follow the faster riders in front. A 180mm travel fork would guarantee to put just about anyone into a reckless frame of mind, and while we admit to never realising its full potential we can say that in the right hands you could get away with so much stupid riding.

All Torque’s use air shocks, the highly sophisticated FOX DHX X2 takes time to set up but can be tuned for a variety of styles and terrain.
A 12-speed drivetrain is a critical ingredient in the Torque’s versatility, it can climb, though just be patient.

Mini downhill bike.

Pretty much! The Torque fills a significant void between the Strive and Sender, Canyon’s enduro race bike and downhill race bike. It uses a whopping 175mm travel in the rear and 180mm up front. Those numbers translate to some serious firepower on the trail. While it might act like a mini-DH bike, the only common parts that you’d find on a downhill race bike would be the SRAM Code brakes and perhaps the FOX DHX shock, the rest of the kit you’d recognise from a regular trail bike or enduro bike. Components like a RockShox Reverb dropper post, 12-speed SRAM drivetrain, and a FOX 36 fork with lockout will widen the Torque’s worth; we’re talking about pedalling back up.

In comparison to the Sender downhill bike, The torque is a couple of degrees sharper in the head angle, shorter in the wheelbase, but the reach measurement is the same. So, in comparison, you could expect the Sender to climb like s$%t and stall at slower speeds, while the Torque strikes a balance that will make it manageable when the clock isn’t ticking.

Perfect bike park bike? Oh yes, while we only have a couple of places with uplift services worthy of the term ‘bike park’ in Australia like Maydena, Thredbo, Mt Buller you could trade in a downhill bike or upgrade an enduro bike and let loose.

We took on incredibly steep terrain with confidence, the tall front end, powerful brakes and roomy frame give you a strong position to brace yourself. We rode longer descents with less fatigue in our upper body.

Laying off the brakes on one of the million great corners of Maydena Bike Park, Tasmania.

Too big to pedal, too much to handle?

Don’t expect it to jump up with excitement and climb when you turn it upwards; it’s going to get there eventually. While Maydena is a gravity park with everything pointing down (steeply!), we did take a detour which involved a few short climbs and long pedalling straights. With the dropper post right up, and the little blue lever on the DHX shock turned in; we were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t kill us. Canyon claim the top-level Torque CF 9.0 Pro Carbon is 14.1kg, not bad for a bike that size!

It’s the type of bike that you need to sit down and spin the legs with patience for best results.

It’s the type of bike that you need to sit down and spin the legs with patience for best results. If you get up out of the saddle and mash about, the tall front end and raked-out forks will make for a reasonably awkward climbing position. Horses for courses, pretty much.

On slower corners or tight switchbacks, you do feel the Torque’s size, exacerbated for us by the fact we’d just ridden the Strive. Though we quickly got used to it, and by that we mean we just rode everything faster! That’s the key.

Enduro?

Sure, if the tracks are rough enough to warrant 180mm travel forks, the Torque could certainly be a decent enduro race bike. While the Strive was the bike we saw the Canyon Factory Enduro Race Team using the most last EWS season, we did see them ride the smaller Spectral in Rotorua, NZ and Derby, TAS rounds the season prior. Will the team use the Torque on the roughest EWS rounds this season?

Who’s it for then?

The Torque sits amongst a select few long travel new-generation ‘freeride bikes’ like the; Commencal Supreme SX, Pivot Firebird, Polygon XQUARONE.

After only a couple days on the Torque we got the feeling that if you do the odd downhill shuttle, spend a time riding a chairlift, hit massive jumps, ride big mountain enduro, enter the occasional DH race or just like bikes that aren’t afraid of anything that can still be pedalled up a hill, you could fit the bill.

2018 Merida One-Sixty 800 Review

Writing about Merida bikes, we find ourselves defending them from being called dull or boring, but they should be able to do that themselves, they are big enough. What we will say is that in our experience, the smaller travel One-Twenty and One-Forty have been fantastic bikes for nearly a decade, but the earlier One-Sixty models have traditionally been a little lacklustre in the hands of a confident pilot that watches enduro racing on YouTube. This new generation One-Sixty appeared to buck that trend and is garnering a lot of attention in the core riding community for its smart looks and fantastic value.

Look at me!

We have the new One-Sixty 800 on review, with an aluminium frame, 160mm of bounce in the rear and 170mm up front; this bike could be an enduro master for someone on a limited budget. It’s built tough, sells for $3999 and comes in at 14.3kg when set up tubeless.

Merida’s new lineup of suspension bikes are killing it this season, just have a look at the One-Sixty’s smaller brother, the One-Forty. With less travel and huge 2.6″ tyres, it’s a killer all-day trail bike, worth a look if you don’t need all the travel of the One-Sixty.

Click here to see video review of the One-Forty 800. 

Geometry number wonders?

As we mentioned in our first impressions piece, Merida has gone against the latest industry trend and made the One-Sixty shorter and steeper than the 2017 Merida One-Sixty 5000. From the 2017 model, Merida has steepened the seat post angle to 75 degrees, this has shortened the reach by 5mm, and a massive 12mm has been taken off the wheelbase. 

Perhaps Merida has decided to shorten the One-Sixty in an attempt to have it feel more accessible to a broader range of riders. Bikes with super long reach can feel a little dead and lethargic on all but the fastest on the descents, and take more effort to whip around a tight corner.

The ‘shorter and steeper’ frame geometry made it easy to throw around, but a little nervous at higher speed.

But fear not! If you like your bikes long, then the top-shelf carbon 2018 5000 still keeps those long dimensions from 2017 but has the same steeper seat angle like the One-Sixty for a more efficient seated climbing position. 

Keen on racing big mountain enduro? Going up one size would be an option, with the standover height not too tall, so added reach can be gained without too much height.

That SRAM Smorgasbord.

Running a full groupset on a budget-oriented model tends to be quite rare, take a look at the Giant Reign 2 for example with a mixture of Shimano/Praxis/Sunrace parts in the drivetrain. Merida is pushing the boundaries of price and making it hard for other companies to hide behind dollar saving lesser known parts. We have seen more expensive bikes have much lower spec than this bike and we are very impressed.

An MRP chain guide and Descendant cranks are a nod to the heavy riding end of the spectrum.
SRAM GX Eagle, such great kit and impressive to see on a bike for $4K.

The SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain is excellent, with a fantastic gear range to climb and descend pretty much anything. Merida has also has upgraded the cranks to the robust Descendant over the GX to show us what this bike’s real intent is.

Top spec shock on a $4K bike, not bad!

The impressive RockShox Super Deluxe RCT handles the rear suspension. Why is it so remarkable? Ah, the low-speed compression adjustment, rejoice! The dial has 12 clicks of adjustment, and we played around with it over the course of the review. We appreciated how we could tune it in for each track we rode, from anywhere between firm and supportive to buttery smooth.

The RockShox Yari was a great performer. Every time we ride this fork we’re reminded how good entry level suspension is these days. It worked well in conjunction with the Super Deluxe.

The cheaper Code R brakes have LOADS of power.

The new SRAM Code R brakes have now set the standard for what a price point brake can be; we were blown away by how good they are. They have a smooth action with a dependable feel, from the top to bottom of a descent they felt great with no pump up and loads of power. 

Commonly seen on bikes around this price is the KS E10 dropper post which feels a lot slower in comparison to the top of the line KS Lev found on this bike, another excellent spec item that impressed us. This post can have the return speed adjusted by adding or removing air pressure and is fully serviceable. If we were to be super picky, maybe a 150mm drop over the 120mm would be better.

Anything we changed before riding?

We tried hard to fault the spec out of the box, but we couldn’t. Even the Merida branded grips were super comfy, and people that ride gloveless should enjoy these. We just converted the wheels to tubeless like we do with every bike, and started shredding!

How did it handle on the trail?

Oh my, this big enduro bike doesn’t mind pedalling and climbing! We’re not going to say anything outlandish like it ‘climbs like a cross-country bike’, but we will confidently say it climbs like something smaller and hides its size well. When standing out of the saddle, the bike feels firm with minimal pedal bob and motors along well, helped by the low-speed compression adjustment on the Super Deluxe shock. 

The One-Sixty thrives in tighter tracks, feels very nimble and is quick to respond to your inputs. Even though it has 160mm out back, the bike does feel like it has less travel with the way it can play about on the trail.

The RockShox Yari up the front reminds us how far bikes of this pricepoint have progressed in recent years.

The rear suspension on the One-Sixty feels smooth and controlled, but it is very linear, and perhaps it’s a little to easy to get full-travel for a bike like this. To balance the suspension front and rear, we would have liked to experiment by removing Bottomless Tokens from the Yari fork to help the front end match the rear’s linear feeling suspension.

On the rowdy trails like this, it would blow through its suspension easier than most.

After a few rides, we couldn’t work out why the Merida felt so short, and why we couldn’t get comfortable on the steeper descents, or at high speed. On paper, it was longer than the Norco Range A3 which we had on test at the same time, and we loved that bike – click here for the Norco Range review – but the Merida still felt short to us. Then we noticed the One-Sixty had a 30mm stem while the Range had a 50mm.  

With a quick stem change the Merida transformed, and we became a lot more comfortable. The 50mm stem allowed us to find the middle of the bike and get our weight evenly over both the wheels. The best bit was we were able to get more weight onto the front wheel which helped us to stop understeering.

Heavy rider? How to get the most from the suspension.

There’s plenty of scope to tune the suspension for heavier riders and harder riding with air volume spacers in the fork and shock,

When we set the bike up, we started with 30% sag in the rear but found it blowing through its travel too easily. We increased air pressure until we had around 22% sag, and could have still added more. As we did this, we lost some of that sweet small bump sensitivity.

The next step for us (and heavier riders) would be to look at adding Bottomless Spacers to the Super Deluxe (simple and straightforward, just ask SRAM on YouTube) to reduce the air volume.  We did inspect inside the shock and were pleased to see there is room for two more spacers to make the shock more progressive.

Is it ‘Enduro’ enough?

So will it be at home on an enduro race course? Well as that old Kiwi expression goes “Yeah… Naa… Yeah”

Yeah – It pedals fantastically, and on flatter courses with the odd huck, this bike would fly.

Naa – It just tends to blow through its rear travel on significant impacts, and we know the enduro crowds would want more frame length or a longer stem for more stability at speed.

Yeah – Just go a size up or get a longer stem. For heavy hitting riders just pop a volume spacer or two into the rear shock for more ramp up and bottom out control. Presto!

Would we recommend it?

Yes, we would. Merida may traditionally be as exciting as cabbage for dinner, but even cabbage can be made more tempting when prepared with butter, garlic and onion.  

The spec is so impressive, how can we not recommend it? It also pedals better than most smaller travelled bikes we have ridden. We’d recommend looking at going up one frame size if you’re keen to go super-fast. Spend the time getting the suspension dialled to your riding style, and you’ll be stoked on this thing, like we were.

Mitas Kratos Textra Tyres: 100-day review

The Mitas Kratos?

Mitas Kratos sounds like the villain out of a comic book, or maybe the bad guy in a Cold War era Stallone movie. Mitas tyres made in the Czech Republic, and they’re gaining quite a following in the local Australian cross-country racing arena (a couple of very fast riders by the names of Dan McConnell and Bec Henderson use their tyres). The Kratos is not, however, an XC tread. With a big 2.45″ bag it’s aimed at the trail rider – consistent grip and a forgiving ride are what this tread are all about. We’ve been running the Kratos in a 29×2.4″ size on a Norco Optic.

Mitas kratos

What’s this sidewall guarantee?

Slice the sidewall of your tyre, under normal riding conditions, within 100 days and Mitas will replace your tyre for free. That’s the kind of product back up we like to see, and one we’ve never encountered before in the fragile world of tyres.

Mitas use a reinforcement in their sidewalls called Textra. It’s super light and highly flexible so it doesn’t affect the ride quality of the tyre’s supple 120TPI casing, but it has excellent abrasion resistance. That’s not to say you can’t cut them (take a Stanley knife to the sidewall and you’ll go right through it) but it’s seems very durable against the kinds of scuffs and impacts that claim the lives of most tyres.

Mitas kratos
The Textra layer adds protection without making the tyre feel too stiff or heavy.

Did you have any dramas with the sidewalls then?

This is the million dollar (well, $79) question. Over a normal summer of riding, we didn’t slice or seriously damage the sidewalls, despite doing much of our riding on some pretty damn rocky trails around Sydney’s north. We certainly scuffed the tyres up a lot (especially the rear) but none of the damage was able to penetrate.

And we do go through tyres regularly around here – it’s one part of the bike that our test trails are particularly rough on. Given the Kratos weighs in at less than 900g, the way it has held up is impressive.

Mitas kratos
The side knobs are stout and well buttressed, so they don’t fold over, but they still have great sensitivity too, thanks to siping on the outer knobs.

What’s the grip like?

Really good. The dual compound tread gives great support to the cornering lugs while retaining enough liquorice-esque stickiness to hold onto the rocks and hard pack trails. On a rim with a 25mm internal width, the tyre profile was nice and rounded, giving smooth, consistent control right across the whole tyre as you tipped it into a corner. It’s not as aggressive as something like the Maxxis Minion, which sets the grip benchmark, but it rolls faster. The tyres have a very supple feel to them as well, which really aids their performance at slow speeds, particularly on the rear when climbing or hard braking on the front end.

Mitas kratos
The rear tyre is rounding off after three months of use, but the wear isn’t out of the ordinary.

Any issues?

For the first week of use we had some dramas getting the front tyre to seal up properly, it would leak air over a couple of days (strangely the rear tyre was fine). Apparently the issue affected a small batch of tyres, the oil that helps release the tyres from their moulds hadn’t been properly removed, causing some seepage around the bead.

Mitas kratos
A consistent, rounded profile and spread of grip makes these a very predictable tyre.
Mitas kratos
Recently a few small cracks have appeared where the side knobs join the casing.

How have they worn?

The wear is in line with what we’d expect for a set of soft compound, high performance tyres like this. The rear tyre is definitely due for replacement, with the centre tread getting low and the side knobs rounded off. The knobs haven’t torn or ripped like some brands of tyres are prone to do (Schwalbe’s older treads were notorious for this, but are greatly improved now) – instead, the tread has just worn down consistently and lost its sharp, biting edges. The front tyre is in good nick, we’d happily rotate it onto the rear for another couple of months use. We’ve noticed some small cranks appearing in the rubber in the past few weeks. It seems limited to the top layer of rubber in half a dozen spots, just beneath some of side knobs. While it hasn’t progressed into any tearing of the knobs, we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Mitas kratos

All up then?

If you’ve ever had your wallet thrashed by a bad run of sliced or wrecked tyres, then you’ll obviously appreciate the sidewall guarantee, and this peace of mind alone makes these tyres worth a look. The fact that they’re grippy, supple, relatively fast rolling, and lightweight too is the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

Devinci Django Carbon 29 – First Impressions

Two things you need to know about the Devinci Django Carbon. One, the D is silent. Two, it’s a robust, mid-travel trail bike, with geometry that places it in the all-rounder camp. There are 29er or 27.5 versions of the bike, but we’ve gone the big wheels – in this 120-140mm travel category, we think a 29″ wheels are the better option generally.

Devinci Django
You can clearly see how the Django’s big brother, the Spartan, has infused the robust construction of this bike.

What’s the travel?

The Devinci Django serves up 120mm rear, 140mm front, both sprung by top-shelf FOX Factory suspension. Having a 20mm travel difference between front and rear isn’t that common in off-the-shelf bikes (Yeti and Transition being notable exceptions). That said, increasing fork travel is a common upgrade amongst aggressive riders, so maybe Devinci are just one step ahead of the game here. Will the 120/140mm feel balanced?

Devinci Django

Devinci Django
Plenty of stiffness here. Tyre clearance is good too. Devinci say a 2.4″ will fit, but there looks to be space for a bigger rubber than that.

Looks sturdy.

It is! The Devinci Django is really well built, with frame stiffness and confidence the priority, and that gets a big tick from us.  At 13.22kg, it’s not a super light trail bike, but there’s plenty of beefiness in all the right places – look at that seat stay assembly, it’s a monster. Ordinarily this bike would come with Maxxis Ardents front and rear, but we’ve opted to test this bike with bigger tyres (a Maxxis Minion WT up front and an Aggressor out back) which are heavier but are better suited to our rough test trails.

The BB/shock mount area is huge too. Cables are cleanly handled.

What about the geometry?

There’s a small amount of geometry adjustment via a flip-chip on the seat stay, but even in the slacker setting, the Django’s geometry is what we’d call neutral. With a 68-degree head angle, it’s certainly not trying to be the slackest, longest bike out there, shooting instead for geometry that’s well balanced between climbing and descending. The 440mm reach is paired with 50mm stem and wide 780mm bar.

This offset chip allows a small amount of geometry adjustment.
Split Pivot suspension. Our test bike is equipped with the commendable Eagle GX drivetrain.

Devinci Django

Split Pivot suspension.

Dave Weagle, one of the industry’s best brains, is behind the Django’s Split Pivot suspension system which sees a concentric pivot around the rear axle (Trek also use a variation on this theme). It’s a setup that’s know to be exceptionally active and supple, and our initial rides on the Django have definitely had that hovercraft kind of feeling. More to come soon, so stay tuned as we put this Canadian all-rounder to the test.

Devinci Django

New Intense Sniper XC – First Impressions

Ah, Intense. How can you not love this brand?

Maybe its just a product of our rapidly advancing years, but Intense Cycles pulls at our heart strings. We would’ve joyfully given a kidney to ride an Intense back in the day. This is a brand with such heritage, presence, such cool – it oozes out, and that’s why aficionados have always been willing to fork over the big bucks for an Intense. You’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting a small slice of Intense cred. The all-new Intense Sniper is the latest bike to join their range.

You’re not just buying a bike, you’re getting a small slice of Intense cred.

Short travel, long days, small weight, big grins.

Over the past decade the brand has had ups and downs as they’ve moved some operations away from the US and navigated the world of Asian manufacturing, but the legions of Intense fans have stayed true. The brand is back at its best now, and with a new Rider Direct sales model (more on that later) the pricing puts Intense within the reach of many more riders. The Intense Sniper XC is the first dedicated cross-country bike from Intense in many years and it joins a crew of trail bikes and Enduro bikes that have been getting a lot of accolades recently.


Check out our review of the luscious Intense Spider 275 C here!


Super sharp paintwork!

Shhh, it’s in disguise!

No, we’re not talking about the pop art-esque digital camo graphics. At first look, the Intense Sniper does a good job of pretending to be a conventional high-end cross-county race bike; with 29″ wheels, 100mm travel at both ends and a feathery 10.2kg weight, it has all the boxes ticked to sit alongside the likes of Giant’s new Anthem 29 or Specialized Epic. But when you look deeper, it’s clear this isn’t your usual XC race bike.

The upper link is carbon, and the lower magnesium.

Let’s take a look at that geometry.

If you don’t like numbers, just skip this bit, but if you’re a geo-nerd this is interesting stuff! Just like other categories of bikes, XC race machines are getting slacker. But the Sniper’s head angle puts it way ahead of the curve. At 67.5-degrees it’s a full two degrees slacker than the Specialized Epic, and 1.5 degrees slacker than the Giant Anthem 29er.

Similarly, its reach measurements are longer too, designed to work with a 50-60mm stem. In a size medium, the Sniper has a reach of 444.5mm and a wheelbase of 1152mm. Again that’s much longer than either the Epic or Anthem. Compare the Epic in particular and the Sniper is a massive 3omm longer  in the wheelbase, despite having practically identical rear-centre measurements.

The Sniper’s head angle is what you’d expect to find on a 130-140mm trail bike.

So what?

What it all means, is the Sniper has the confident kind of geometry you’d usually associate with a longer travel trail bike, but mated with the weight and efficiency of a cross-country bike. So does it blend is the best of both worlds, or is it a watered down version of the two? That’s what we’ll be aiming to be find out in our full test to come.

It’s so good to see a dropper post on an XC weapon like this.

Proper dropper.

Reinforcing the Sniper’s trail bike vibe is the speccing of a 125mm-travel dropper post from KS. More often than not, a dropper post would be the first addition we’d make to a XC bike, so a big high five to Intense for speccing it out of the box. Even better, the dropper is found on all models in the range, not just the top tier. Intense could easily have been tempted to run a conventional post and get the weight even lower, but we’re happy they didn’t. A 76omm bar and 50mm stem tell you even more about how this bike is meant to be ridden.

The compact front end will fit a full size bottle.

It gets better the more you look at it.

The more time we’ve spent with this bike, the greater our appreciation for its construction. We love the lightweight asymmetric rear end, what a stunner! The upper link is carbon, while the lower link is magnesium (the base model frameset found on the Expert spec bike gets an aluminium link, which is about 50g heavier). You won’t find provisions for a front derailleur, nor do you need one with the Eagle drivetrain.

The rear end is asymmetrical.

A full size water bottle fits easily, and there’s good chain slap protection, plus a protective guard on the down tube too. The paint job (while pretty lairy) is bloody fantastic, with awesome detail and sharp, crisp lines.

The only downside we’ve found so far is the cable routing for the rear brake. Like some other US brands, they seem to have forgotten provisions for riders who run the rear brake on the left. It would be nice to see a port for the brake line to enter on the other side of the head tube, for cleaner routing.

We’re big fans of the slender FOX 32 Step Cast fork – it’s way more capable than its slender build would suggest.
A 50mm stem and 760mm is not your standard XC racer fare.

What’s the whole JS Tuned thing about?

‘JS’ is Jeff Streber, founder of Intense. The JS Tuned tag signifies a wholistic approach to the bike, not just a suspension tune. It’s all about picking the parts that are most fit for purpose, rather than just whatever is convenient or will hit a certain price point. The eclectic spec on this bike demonstrates this perfectly: a SRAM drivetrain, Shimano brakes, a KS dropper post, DT hubs… the spec looks more like it has been hand picked by a shop staff member, rather than chosen out of a catalogue to hit a figure on the shop floor.

The Pro build we have been riding rolls on Intense’s own carbon rims laced to DT hubs.

Spec options and Rider Direct sales.

There are five tiers of Sniper XC available in Australia, and while our Elite-level bike comes in at a hefty $10499, models start from $5499 for the Foundation build kit. That’s a far cry cheaper than you could ever purchase an Intense for in the past, an outcome of their recent shift to what they’re calling ‘Rider Direct’ sales.

In a nutshell, you now have the option to buy an Intense direct and get it delivered to your door, or you can have it sent to an Intense dealer for assembly and pick up.  Either way, the price is the same. Because the model means dealers aren’t required to hold huge amounts of stock, the pricing is a lot sharper. In our mind, the Expert level spec ($6999) is especially competitive.

This bike is going to be with us for a few months, we’ll be racing it at Port to Port MTB, so expect an in-depth review and plenty of updates!

 

Tested – Norco Range A7.3

What’s a Norco Range?

The Range is Norco’s fun do-it-all enduro bike, available in two wheel sizes and packing a massive 170mm travel up front and 160mm in the rear (29er has 160mm and 150mm). We’ve had great experiences with their more expensive carbon Ranges over the years, this one is the base model in 27.5/650b wheels, so can the Canadian company produce the type of bike we hope for, for under $4K?

See our head-to-head review from last year of the Norco Range C9.2 vs Trek Slash 9.8 here: Range vs Slash.

An aluminium frame in a hot red suit.

Our Range A3 has an aluminium frame with burly tubing, large bearings and solid hardware on the suspension pivots, and it looks tough as! All the chunkiness and large hardware can add more weight to a frame, but it can be worth it when you consider durability. Norco appears to have built the Range with a privateer enduro racer or a poor bike park rat in mind, or someone that doesn’t understand the words ‘regular maintenance’.

External routing might look a little cluttered compared to an internally routed bike, but it sure is easy to work on!

Norco has also opted for thru axles that require an Allen key to remove the wheel, adding to the clean lines to the front and rear of the bike.

As we mentioned in the first bite, we are in love with the red colour, and where some brightly coloured bikes lose their sex appeal over time due to the novelty wearing off, we still can’t get enough of it! We received loads of compliments on it, too, that’s cool.

Although it looks a little messy at first glance, the external cabling is neatly attached to the frame with alloy clips. It reminds us a little of an old Australian muscle car under the hood; simple and easy to see how it works and what may be, or could be going, wrong. Perfect for that privateer or home mechanic.

What wheel size is best; 27.5″ or 29″? Uh oh, a wheel size discussion.

Well, that may be a good question, but we aren’t touching that one with a 50-foot floor pump right now… Three things we tire talking about on the internet are; riding in wet weather, e-bikes and wheel size – it will just get us in trouble again. Fortunately, Norco offers the Range in both wheel sizes, so no one feels left out or condemned for their choice, and then we can all go about our lives silently judging each other for the wrong decision.

In a small nutshell if you want a fast and stable bike, go 29″ or a playful and aggressive one, lean towards 27.5″/650B.

How’s the spec stack up?

Keeping the price in mind, the Range A3 exceeded our expectations when we hit the dirt, and the spec played a large part of that. It wasn’t that long ago that $3699 would only buy you something pretty ordinary, with basic suspension, under-gunned brakes and a dropper seat post was something you purchased afterwards. Fast forward to 2018, and we’re absolutely spoilt rotten!

The RockShox Yari was again a solid performer, and the RockShox Deluxe rear shock matches the fork nicely. Though the Range is ‘okay’ at climbing, a trail mode on the shock wouldn’t have gone amiss for technical climbs in place of the ‘on-or-off’ lockout feature. The full lockout is only good for the tarmac and makes for a bumpy ride on anything but the smoothest surfaces.

The RockShox Yari with 170mm of travel, look out rocky trails, we’re coming through!
Raaaaaargh! Range!

We’re happy to report that the lesser-known TranzX adjustable post worked great, and didn’t miss a drop. Its under-bar remote kept the handlebar looking clean and tidy and was always easy to reach.

Unlike a lot of more prominent bike brands that have their own in-house wheels, Norco uses standard rim and hub manufacturer; great if the unfortunate happens, spares are easy to track down from a bike shop or website.

WTB i29 rims came taped ready for tubeless, we added the valves, and the internal width of 29mm gave the Maxxis High Roller II tyres an excellent profile with plenty of grip. Novatec hubs laced up with 32 j-bend spokes and brass nipples are ready for a hard life, but no Torque Caps on the front hub makes for a slightly fiddly wheel installation into the Yari fork as the hub doesn’t directly align with the fork dropouts, leaving us wishing we had three hands at times.

Shimano and Sunrace.

After spending a lot of time on increasingly popular SRAM drivetrains, the 11-speed Shimano feels like we are about to dislocate a thumb joint with a substantial shift action, ok a slight exaggeration… However, (joking aside) as we got used to the firm shift action with the SLX shifter, we appreciated how precise it felt, never leaving us wondering if the gear was fully engaged or not. We think there has been a direct correlation between how poorly we have been performing at thumb wrestling and using a SRAM drivetrain, the shifter paddles are so easy to push, making our thumbs weak, terrible for finishing off our opponents in the thumb wrestle. 

A Shimano SLX shifter and derailleur on an 11-46 tooth Sunrace cassette.

It was our first time using the Sunrace 11-46 tooth cassette, and the shifting was quite smooth and dependable. The only time we remembered we weren’t on a Shimano cassette was when shifting between the 36, 40, and then down to the 46 tooth cog. As you may know, Shimano 11-speed cassettes have adopted a similar technology found on the budget-friendly Megarange cassette, with a massive jump from the 36 to 46 tooth. We always felt there needed to be another cog in the middle and Sunrace seem to have solved this demand exceedingly well.

Tektro brakes.

The Tektro HD-M745 brakes may sound more like a dull serial number but for an entry priced four-pot brake these things did stop us in our tracks. They may not have the massive bite of a Code R as we experienced on the Merida One-Sixty, but we would take these Tektro brakes over any entry level two-pot brake. The brake levers are relatively long and have decent modulation; these brakes draw similarities to their higher modelled TRP G-Spec brakes ridden by the one and only Aaron Gwin.  

The Tektro brakes were a pleasant surprise with plenty of power and good feel.

In a current trend on enduro bikes; the Range comes with a huge 200mm disc rotor up front and 180mm on the rear, unsurprising as we are pushing the limits of the speed of modern enduro bikes, we expect it won’t be long before we see 200mm rotors on the rear as standard as well.  Keeping it accessible for future pad replacements the Tektro HD-M745 uses the same brake pads as Shimano Saint, handy indeed.

A handlebar nightmare.

Unfortunately, the Tektro brake levers just didn’t want to match up with the Shimano SLX shifter pod and TranzX dropper post remote on the handlebar. We found that the shifters were either too close and rubbed on our thumb knuckles or too far away from making it hard to use. After playing around, we found a (crap) happy medium where we could just reach all the levers, and over the course of the review, we still weren’t 100% satisfied.

Long brake levers and the Shimano SLX shifter and TransX dropper remote weren’t perfectly compatible.

What we’d change?

Apart from a few personal preferences on the contact points; seat, grips, stack height and handlebar width, we’d not rush out to change anything, it is the base model of Range in Norco’s range, we can’t be too picky for under $4K.

To jump up to the next level, for an extra $900, you can get the A2. You’ll notice upgraded suspension with the Lyrik RC fork using the more sophisticated Charger damper and the Fox Performance Float rear shock which has that handy trail mode we mentioned earlier. The A2 looks slightly better all over, that makes for good value worth considering.

How’d it ride then?

We are going to cut straight to the chase; the bike rode great regardless of the sharp low price and entry-level spec. Norco has created a very competent machine for just $3699.

With a 160mm of travel out the back, the Range climbs like a slightly-older, fatter, sure-footed mountain goat, conquering most technical climbs we came across, just don’t expect it to get there in a massive rush. The meaty tyres let you climb with little regard to picking the best line, they hook up anywhere.

The Range in its element; rowdy and technical terrain.

When we stood up out of the saddle and pushed hard on the pedals we wished the rear shock had a third or ‘trail mode’, it would have helped with traction as the full lockout caused the bike to skip around. However, with a smooth pedal action, the bike did respond well enough to the extra effort and wasn’t wasted in suspension bob.

This bike is made for descending and prefers it! Its well-balanced geometry and fit meant we could easily find the middle of the bike and push it hard on the fast straights and rough corners.  

An on/off rear shock lockout, no middle mode on this level Range.
Tough build, supple suspension and loads of travel. The Range is built for hard riding on hard terrain.

At speed, the Range felt planted yet playful on the trail, opening up our imagination to new line choices on trails we were familiar with.  As we became more in tune with what the Range was best at, we had more confidence to take the rowdier lesser-known lines and were rewarded for it. It’s not afraid of much. It’s not lightweight, at over 15kg, but it’s also under $4K so we can’t really complain.

Bottom line.

We believe that the Range A3 is a very well balanced bike that doesn’t lack in any component performance. It’s for a rider that who wants to push their limits, dabble in enduro racing or requires a longer travelled bike to fully appreciate technical terrain; the Range is worth a look for sure.

Giant Anthem vs Specialized Epic – The Ultimate XC Face-Off

Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 0, it is on! Testing either bike individually we’d expect to feel pretty positive about them, they are both the top-shelf models, with proven parts and a high-quality heritage. But what about when you ride them side-by-side? How do they differ? Which bike does what best?

Of the two, what would we choose? What would you choose? Firstly, make sure you’ve read our Giant Anthem 29er 2018 review and Specialized Epic 2018 review.

Dive in deep with the full reviews right here.

Complete Specialized S-Works Epic 2018 review.

Complete Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0 2018 review.


Where do these two sit in the scheme of things?

100mm-travel 29ers, we think, have the magic formula for cross-country racing. With the increasingly technical nature of race tracks, combined with the improvement of suspension systems and lower weights, it’s no wonder we’re seeing full suspension bikes at the top of the game in the World Cup more often each year.

giant anthem vs specialized epic

Specialized Epic 2018.

All-new for 2018, the release of the new Epic had us all in awe. The new Brain 2.0 suspension system is a significant advance over the preceding one, the bike’s handling takes it to another level, and the frame weight drops significantly. It’s an impressive release that we didn’t think was achievable!

Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet.

Anything with ‘S-Works’ written on it is about as good as it gets, no stone left unturned in the hunt to blow your mind and wallet. It’s a $12500 bike that sits at the top of a decent range of options, and all the way down to an aluminium frame version developed around the same concept.

The new Epic has taken a different approach to frame geometry. The head angle is now 69.5 degrees, a full 1.5 degrees more relaxed than the previous Epic. The Epic uses a custom RockShox SID Brain-equipped fork, with just 42mm of offset (compare that to the 51mm found on many 29er). That means it’s slacker but paired with a shorter stem for quicker steering.

s-works epic 2018 review

Giant Anthem 29er 2018.

We touted the new Anthem as ‘The cross-country race bike we’ve been waiting for from Giant’. It breaks a long drought of 29ers in their range, after staunchly standing by their ‘27.5” is best’ mantra. The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed, we’ve thoroughly loved ripping laps of the race track with it.

The new Anthem 29 is unquestionably fantastic, an excellent race bike with a lively nature and seemingly unlimited speed.

The Advance 0 model is the top model from a healthy range of Anthems, with a far more value conscious representation than the Epic.

giant anthem 29er 2018 review


FOX dual remote lockout vs RockShox/Specialized Brain.

Epic.

The Brain suspension system is what sets the Epic apart from the rest of the pack, the unique inertia valve damping can successfully differentiate between impacts from the ground and bobbing motions from the rider, to give you an amazingly efficient ride without relying on external lockouts. Push down on the bike and it won’t compress the fork and shock, run over a bump and it will. Confused? Watch this.

specialized epic 2018 brain
The new RockShox/Specialized Brain 2.0 is said to react faster and feel more sensitive than the previous model, which it is to a degree, but still sacrifices a lot of feel and comfort for increased efficiency. Especially when compared to the plush Anthem.
specialized epic 2018 brain
View of the Brain unit with the rear wheel removed.

Anthem.

The Anthem’s suspension system may be without any fancy proprietary suspension technologies like the Epic, but that’s certainly not a downside, quite the contrary if you ask many of us here. The Anthem uses regular FOX Suspension front and back with remote lockout control. The new FOX lockout levers are easy and quick to use, sitting comfortably under the left side of the bar requiring only light action to engage. It only 90mm of rear travel, but it’s super-active and supple. Why only has 90mm of travel? Read this.

giant anthem advanced pro 29er 0 2018 review
The Anthem’s stout 90mm of rear wheel travel is ultra-plush, very smooth and supple. The polar opposite of the Epic’s system.

Back-to-back on the race track. 

We spent hours riding these two bikes back-to-back on three different circuits to replicate what terrain you’d encounter in a season of multi-day, short course and marathon racing. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad in our minds between the two.

Best aspects of the Specialized Epic:

  • Fantastic handling. Right away we found the Epic’s handling to be a real highlight, especially the steering through singletrack corners. The new approach to the frame geometry of longer, slacker front end/quicker steering, with shorter stems, has paid off and makes a cross-country race bike far more confident to rip through the singletrack super-fast. The front end is remarkably composed and easy to hold onto, where we’d expect the front wheel to feel nervous and to tuck underneath you in a sharp turn it wouldn’t, so our confidence grew, and we found ourselves going faster and faster and laying off the brakes for longer.
  • Brain 2.0. The updated Brain 2.0 shock out the back takes the inertia valve technology to the next level with a more sensitive action and a wider range of adjustability. There’s still that trademark knocking feedback as the Brain opens up with each impact – even in the softest setting – but it’s a significant improvement over years past. It’s about as close to ultimate efficiency as you can get, just with the sacrifice to a certain degree of ‘plushness’.
  • Aesthetics and cleanliness. The Epic will win over the most pedantic freak with its squeaky-clean aesthetics; the bike is all class. With no remote lockouts or any added fuss on the bars, the cockpit is refreshingly clutter-free.
  • Mad light. 9.58kg out of the box, c’mon that’s pretty insane!

Low points for the Specialized Epic:

  • Ouch, that fork! Our hands are still aching as we type, ok that’s a slight exaggeration, but we never got along with the Brain damper in the fork. While we respect this bike’s high-end race intentions, and it sure is efficient, the feedback transferred to our hands and body as we rode rough terrain was pretty brutal.
  • Noisy drivetrain. For a bike that’s so dialled, it makes quite a racket on the descents, the chain slap on the chainstay is not what we’d expect. Not too hard to rectify though, with a little section of rubberised tape.
  • Outrageous price. Nobody can tell us this bike is good value!  S-Works models are a premium offering, and the frame and suspension technology are superb, but when you stack it up against the Giant which has a very comparable spec, it’s hard to justify the $3500 difference in price.
  • Proprietary suspension concerns. Sure it may not ever pose an issue, but the rear shock and fork damper are parts exclusive to Specialized. Proprietary elements are always at risk of limiting your options and serviceability centres.
specialized epic 2018 review
Set how hard or soft you wish the Brain to feel, and you’re off. Hammer hard on the pedals and the Epic is an absolute rocketship.
specialized epic 2018 brain RockShox SID World Cup fork
Deluxe carbon crowns on the RockShox SID World Cup fork with a Specialized exclusive Brain damper system inside.
specialized epic 2018 suspension sram xx1
The new one-piece rear with the 2018 Epic forgoes the Horst Link pivot of years past; the frame flexes in the right place instead.
specialized epic 2018 brain handlebar
Winning the clean cockpit challenge, the Epic is a standout with a neat and clutter-free handlebar setup.

Best aspects of the Giant Anthem:

  • Fast yet comfortable. The Anthem strikes a great balance between fast and too fast to handle. While the Maestro Suspension relies on you to hit the lockout for better efficiency during climbs or sprints, its smooth and supple action wins our hearts and our hands.
  • FOX 32 SC fork. There’s something special about the new 32 SC fork from FOX, the combination of the low weight, smooth action, supple air spring and stable damper make it a fantastic addition to a race bike. The 100mm of travel was so supportive when pedalling out of the saddle, yet it kept that front wheel sticking to the dirt and reduced feedback to the hands damn well.
  • Fast rolling 29er. The wheels and tyres wind up to speed easily and the body position is low, long and fast. The Anthem feels like a classic race bike just with really great suspension.
  • Fair price. Compare it to a Specialized or compare it to a Canyon and the Anthem holds its own in the value department, especially considering that we can’t think of anything that needs to be changed to make it race-ready.

Low points of the Giant Anthem:

  • On or off remote lockout. Compared to the regular non-remote FOX suspension that has three modes of adjustment, the remote has two. The two modes are ‘on and off’ so it’s either locked out for the smooth climbs or open for rough descents. The middle ‘trail mode’ is sorely missed, we know we’d use it more than both of the provided settings combined.
  • Male model only. The Anthem 29 is not represented in the LIV range, which doesn’t make it un-rideable for women, Specialized does offer the Epic with a gender-neutral frame with gender-specific parts.
  • Where is my dropper post? Repeating this will send the product managers at Giant into a groaning frenzy, but building the new Anthem with a 27.2″ seatpost severely limits your options for dropper post with only a couple key brands producing one that size. If the Anthem were our bike, we’d want to add a dropper; we’re probably not alone either.
  • Cable Carbonara. The suspension remote levers add two cables to the equation like pasta hanging from your bars. It’s not a deal-breaker for us, as we see how it adds to the efficiency of the bike without sacrificing the suspension performance on the descents (sorry, Epic Brain). But we can appreciate how it’ll mess with the minds of the fussier riders. You can certainly make it all neater with a little cable-cutter tailoring and time.
giant anthem 29er 2018 review
The long, low and fast Anthem is the ultimate race bike, just with really good suspension! With such efficiency and low weight, it’s a worthy choice over a hardtail any day.
giant anthem 29er 2018 with SRAM XX1 eagle drivetrain
So smooth, so quiet.

FOX SC forks on giant anthem 29er reviewThe narrow crown and chassis of the FOX SC forks are partly responsible for its low weight. This fork outshone the RockShox SID fork with the Brain internals hands down; it’s perfect for this purpose.giant anthem 29erOut of the box, the Anthem’s cockpit is a bit of a headache with the additional two cables for the fork and shock lockout but with time, tailoring, trial-and-error and a pair of cable cutters and cable ties it’d be quickly consolidated.


Proprietary vs standard?

The Giant is 100% standard; the Specialized is not. How does that sit with us? On one had it limits upgrade options, and on the other the approach to servicing, but we are talking about Specialized here and not some obscure brand. We’re pretty confident that the Epic shouldn’t run into any issues with its proprietary bits with strong after-sales support.


Gender options?

Specialized has taken a new approach for this year model offering a gender-neutral frame with a gender-specific build instead of a women’s specific bike. A women’s ‘version’ is available which uses a lighter suspension tune, a ladies Myth saddle, a smaller 30t chainring and a different paint job.

s-works epic 2018 women's


Simple suspension setup.

Specialized’s own suspension setup system ‘Auto Sag’ takes the guess-work out of setting the sag on the rear shock, it is as easy as inflating the shock, sitting on the bike, pressing a button and presto, it’s good to go. The Giant loses out with any whiz-bang helping hand here. Auto Sag is an excellent feature.

The Giant will require the good-old trial-and-error setting sag as you balance propped against a wall, not exactly a chore but in comparison, the Specialized Auto Sag is pretty nifty in contrast.


Be sensible.

Two water bottle cages on all sizes? Yes, the Epic has you covered here, sorry Giant while we appreciate the merits of a rear shock that is mounted in the centre of the frame down low, the single-bottle mount could pose an issue for a marathon racer needing more water storage.

No frame protection, Specialized? C’mon rocks puncture downtubes all the time, Giant have prioritised protection here, and a rubber guard underneath the downtube is sure to prevent expensive unfortunate incidents. And what’s with the poorly placed chainstay protection, not only does the chain wallop the stays over rough trails, it’s chipping away the expensive paint!

Don’t drop the dropper, Giant! The Epic uses a post diameter that can accommodate any brand of dropper post; the Anthem doesn’t.


Be snazzy!

Oh, Anthem you look so lovely! Your 50 shades of blue and mixture of matte and gloss graphics give the Giant attractive looks, while the black on white Epic looks as flashy as a bike of half the price. Bummer that the team riders and international markets have access to the coloured frame S-Works models, as they look so fine! Like the women’s S-Works Epic above, it is way cooler than the mundane magpie we tested.


$3500 between the two, sorry what!?

There are no two ways about it; the S-Works Epic is astonishingly expensive, $12500 is mind-boggling! Yes it’s an industry-leading brand, yes it is loaded with excellent and modern tech, and yes they will still fly off the shop floors because they are fabulous bikes, but $12500… They use the same drivetrain, brakes, and all have carbon bits everywhere. Put it side-by-side with the $8999 Giant you could argue all day about where the dollars go, but we’re talking 3500 of them!

Is the Brain suspension and lighter overall bike worth the difference? Nah, it’s not worth that much to us.


Verdict.

If we were to take it a marathon or multi-day stage race? The Giant. It’s way more forgiving to ride over a few hours or multiple days, no doubt about that!

Our choice for a 1.5hr cross-country Olympic distance event? The Specialized for its hard-out pedalling efficiency and cornering prowess, especially on a buff race track you’ve been practising.

What’s lighter? The Epic is 9.58kg and Anthem is 10.08 as we tested them.

If we had to race it 100% stock, no parts changed? The Giant, it is simply ready to go. We’d not put up with the Specialized’s fork any longer, and send it to a suspension service centre for a conventional RockShox Charger 2 damper to be installed, not a cheap fix.

Part-time trail bike, part-time race bike? The Specialized’s handling feels more like a trail bike, but the suspension on the Giant was more confident and active off the beaten path.

What bike impressed us the most? The Specialized, it’s an engineering masterpiece with its frame construction, Brain technology and overall weight.

Women’s option? The Specialized has you covered with a women’s gender-specific spec model, though the Anthem with a few spec preference modifications will bring it in line with the Epic.

Value for money? Giant, hands down. The complete spec is very comparable, though the price is not. The Giant blows the Specialized out of the water with this one. $8999 vs $12500, ouch.

Fastest lap times? The Specialized. It beats you up and doesn’t feel exceptionally kind at times, but the clock doesn’t lie, and we posted faster lap times of our 20-minute race track on the Specialized.

If money was no option, bottom line verdict? The Specialized, thanks.

Specialized S-Works Epic vs Giant Anthem 29er

S-Works Epic review.

Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0 review.

Tested – Rocky Mountain Instinct Carbon 50

We’ve been on the Rocky Mountain Instinct 50 for a little over a month now it’s been a real pleasure, lead it to fast and open singletrack and this 140mm travel 29″ wheeled carbon beauty flies up and down the mountain alllllll day long.

As you could expect from a Canadian company steeped in heritage and based on Vancouver’s North Shore the bike’s finish, fit and frame geometry looks ready to rumble. But did our suspicions around the appropriateness of some of spec (which we highlighted in our first impressions piece) surmount to anything on the more technical trails? The bike feels light to ride and comes in well under the 13kg mark, not bad at all!

The all-new Instinct promises more versatility than the previous version.


We do love us some smart frame design.

The Instinct is all-new for 2018, vastly different to the outgoing model in appearance and design, bringing it into line with rest of the Rocky range. It’s a sleek looking frame, finely colour matched and well protected with under the frame armouring from flying trail debris. The pivot on the chainstay is fastened from the inside creating a smooth finish with the hardware concealed from view, something we’ve seen from Rocky in their newer models.

The vulnerable down tube is protected from debris impacts by a thick rubber guard.

The chainstay pivot fastens from the inside to create a smoother backend contributing to the Instinct’s clean shape.

Some lovely smaller things to point out on the Instinct frame is the cable management; large headtube ports with some smart plastic bosses keep the cables neat and tidy, and more importantly off the frame, so no unwanted rubbing the paint job around the head tube. There are provisions for Shimano Di2 with internal battery storage, and we spy mounting threads for the unreleased FOX Live Valve system. 

They have even replaced the traditional nylon DU bushing on the lower shock mount with their own neat bearing system, which will increase the life of the linkage and keep rattle at bay.

Rocky replace the lower bushing with two cartridge bearings for increased life and less susceptibility to developing play.

The spec, a little confused perhaps, or is that just us?

Bear with us while we over-analyse the spec, we think there may be a slight identity dilemma going on here.

Lightweight SRAM Level brakes, are we going cross-country riding?
140mm travel FOX 34 and a Minion front tyre, are we going all-mountain?

  • Combine a 140mm travel Fox 34 fork with a chunky Minion DHR front tyre and a slack 66-degree head angle and all we say is; “Let’s party and descend hard!”
  • Then we see it comes with lightweight Level TL brakes and narrower rims than we’d expect, and we now think; “Let’s turn those legs baby and do some k’s because we are going cross-country!”
  • Suddenly the downhiller in us is tempted by changing to more powerful brakes, wider rims, and even fantasises about lifting the fork to 150mm and we now think; “Let’s put up with the extra mass and rule all of the trails!”
  • Or are we looking at it all wrong, and we should be slamming the stem, steepening the head angle to 67 degrees and running even lighter tyres front and rear so we can; “Grab a big bag of protein powder to make some marginal gains because we’re going to race our mates all day.

We were right, what are those XC brakes doing here?

For a bike that has so much descending potential, the dual-piston SRAM Level TL brakes are not ideal, save them for a cross-country bike where counting grams matter. With the Instinct being an impressive 12.78kg out of the box we wonder why Rocky Mountain spec’d these brakes, was it really for saving weight or was it dollars? The brakes have a snappy bite initially but then the power and feel fade away on long descents, perhaps something like the new entry SRAM Guide T could have been a sounder alternative?

The Level brakes feel nice under the finger, but on long descents, the power fades and their snappy feel turns into a wooden feel.

27mm rims are wide… Right?

It was only five or so years ago that 25mm internal width rims were considered wide, and before that 19 – 21mm was the norm. Since then the wheel brands have played around with wider rims, settling on around 28-30mm to give the tyres a generous profile, providing more grip at lower pressures.  

A fast rolling rear tyre on 27mm rims is a speedy combination, but some riders might want a wider footprint on rougher trails.

The Instinct 50 comes with 27mm rims, which was fine for the duration of the review, but we did need to pump the tyres up five to ten more PSI than we would typically on a wider rim. However, under hard cornering, we still felt the rear tyre rolling around. 


Coming to grips with the FOX fork.

The Instinct Carbon 50 comes with a 140mm travel FOX 34 Float Performance fork, the ‘Performance’ level forks use a simplified Grip damper where higher spec FOX forks use the FIT4 damper. The fork feels beautifully supple and active, and with a few clicks of the large blue dial on top of the leg, you can add compression damping in a flash and the rebound has a vast range from too fast to too slow.

The FOX uses a Grip damper in the right leg, which is totally fine for the most part but we found its limits on larger repetitive impacts.

During repetitive harsh impacts, the fork doesn’t rise to the occasion like the more expensive FIT4 forks do, it felt like it dove to easily into the latter part of its travel, we found this on the Recently reviewed Scott Genius 920. Bigger and heavier riders will, unfortunately, notice this more. In past experiences we have improved the situation by adding those little green air volume spacers, this will give the fork more support and ‘ramp up’ to help resist blowing through the travel too easily. 

Add a couple of these into the air spring to reduce the volume if you’re a heavier or harder rider.

‘Ride-9’ the lesser known Transformer.

Adjustable geometry has become commonplace on trail/enduro bikes over recent years, useful for the savvy rider for dialling a bike in for your local terrain or swapping it around for different trail styles, though most manufacturers typically offer two positions. Rocky Mountain has stepped it up, and has nine! Nine options, that’s fun… but who are we kidding? Don’t we all just stick it into the slackest possible option, because a slack bike is a badass bike? 

Ride-9 achieves its adjustable geometry through the use of two sets of two square shock hardware chips that rotate inside each other. Each of the nine positions affects how slack/ low (67-66 degree)  and how progressive/ linear the suspension of the bike can be. But don’t stress! Rocky Mountain has a great page on its website explaining Ride-9 and what each position means.

The Ride-9 system will allow you to tinker to your heart’s content to find a balance of suspension feel and head angle adjustment.

Over the course of the review, we played around with the Ride-9 and the different options and settled on the slackest, lowest position. The bike felt more stable at speed in this mode, and we didn’t feel like it lost anything in its handling over the whole spectrum. 


More importantly, how did it ride?

Once we got the suspension and bike dialled it was like we started to unlock its potential and on open flowing singletrack this bike flies! When the trail starts to flatten out or has an uphill pinch, we got quickly rewarded with constant trail speed. Its well-supported pedalling encourages you to get up out of the saddle and keep the legs turning, so we could blast through that section and get to the descending fun again. 

It’s nice to be on a bike that encourages you to get up and go, rather than some bikes where you end up sitting down and lazily steering while turning the pedals with low effort.

Yessss, singletrack for days.

Climbing on this bike is not a chore, and if you were inclined to join your less gravity inspired cross-country mates for a ride, you wouldn’t feel like you have bought a bazooka to a knife fight, it jams plenty of ability in a lightweight package.

We found the limits of the GRIP damper in the FOX fork when the impacts got heavier, experimenting with air volume spacers will lift its game and resist blowing through its travel.

Why do we keep trying to up-spec this bike into an Enduro race bike?

As mentioned before the geometry is quite progressive and still pushing the boundaries of what an aggressive trail bike can manage. It’s incredible how quickly geometry has changed over the last few years. The Instinct has a 66 to 67-degree head angle which is relatively slack, and a 1206mm wheelbase is quite long and is considered to be a ‘trail bike’ with 140mm of travel. 

By modern standards, this is true when you compare it to the monstrous YT Capra and Evil Wreckoning with these bikes pushing the boundaries of what an Enduro 29er’s can be.  But go back four or so years, and Trek’s Remedy 29er was an enduro beast with stock 140mm travel, slightly steeper 67.5-degree head angle and a shorter 1179 mm wheelbase, and it one of the most winning stage bikes in the EWS with Tracey Moseley (and Justin Leov) at its helm.


So, is this bike for us?

Mid-travelled aggressive 29er trail bikes are becoming more commonplace because of how versatile they can be. Want to hit a cross-country loop? Sure, go all day. Want to do some mellow bike park laps? Hell yeah, let’s go!

No better example of this is our long-term test on the Norco Sight C9.2. We have had great success on this bike, and even though it is slightly heavier and has less travel,  (keep in mind it has a higher price point and spec) we were able to follow the EWS route in Tasmania without any problems and didn’t feel like we needed more bike.

These mid travelled 29er bikes are enjoyable to ride and are opening the doors what is possible on lesser travel. With the changes, we have suggested the Instinct could be as good as the Sight.


Final thoughts.

We enjoyed riding this bike, it was lightning fast on open singletrack, making you feel like a hero. With a couple of component changes like the brakes, rim width and tubeless conversion, it’d be more confident in the rough and adding air volume spacers in the fork would be a god idea too.  No surprises that a lot of our complaints are solved with the more expensive Instinct 70,  but of course, it costs more with its full-carbon frame and better spec. Bikes, huh? Always have that ability to make you want to spend more…

Norco Range A3 – First Impressions

The 2018 alloy Norco Range A3 is the entry-level option from Canadian brand Norco’s new(ish) gravity enduro inspired platform that matches geometry with the high-end carbon model that came out mid last year. It’s offered in high rolling 29″ and agile 27.5″ wheels, for this test we have the 27.5″. The Range uses 170mm of travel up front and 160mm back, with all the spec pointing towards the burly and durable end of the spectrum.

With a skim of the geometry chart, the Range looks to slot in between the long and low Giant Reign and shorter and steeper Merida One-Sixty, it’s burly but not overly massive.

The new aluminium offerings from Norco are built to match the geometry of their more expensive carbon siblings.
External cable routing is a little clunky, but we can hear the bike mechanics rejoicing, it’s quick to access compared to internal cables.

Dressed to impress.

The Range A3 has a smart and well-considered parts spec, someone that regularly rides a mountain bike has most certainly had something to do with it. It looks like it should serve a rider well, someone looking to push the bike hard, but still keeps the bike under $4K.

In our experience, while they lack multiple adjustments of the higher end options, we know that the chunky RockShox Yari fork and RockShox Deluxe shock are top performers. And the TranzX dropper post has proven to be plenty reliable, this one has a 120mm drop and a neat remote lever under the left side of the bar.

Two-stage RockShox Deluxe shock, locked for climbs and open for anything else.

This is the first time using the affordable Tektro HD-M745 four-piston brakes, so we are particularly curious to see how they perform. After all, TRP is an acronym for Tekro Racing Products, and that fast guy Aaron Gwin seems to go okay using them… We are hoping to see some trickle-down performance, sure the 203mm rotor on the front will contribute to decent power.

Haven’t seen these before! Tektro HD-M745 brakes using four-piston callipers and 203mm front rotor.

The Shimano SLX shifter and derailleur pair with a Sunrace 11-46 cassette and RaceFace cranks, it’s a bit of a mixture of brands, let’s hope no compatibility issues arise when we get deep into the review as we’ve already struggled to find a comfortable position on the bars with the shifter and long brake levers not meshing too well.

Shimano, Sunrace and Raceface make up the multi-branded drivetrain. Will it all play nicely together?
Confidence is no chain guide. Fingers crossed!
The Shimano SLX shifter and Tektro levers don’t play that nice, we’re not 100% on our cockpit setup yet.

That colour…

A quote from the film ‘Kinky Boots’ (2005) sums up our feeling perfectly.

“Burgundy. Please, God, tell me I have not inspired something burgundy. Red. Red. Red. Red, Charlie boy. Red! Is the colour of sex! Burgundy is the colour of hot water bottles! Red is the colour of sex and fear and danger and signs that say, Do. Not. Enter. All my favourite things in life.”

Where have all the shining red bikes been all these years?

Yep, this bike is red, and we like it so far.

We have had good experiences with Norco bikes over the years, and this is one of it’s the lowest priced models. Will it stand up and meet our expectations and how will it compare to our other sub $4K 160mm travel 27.5″ wheel bike shootout!?

The Norco Range A3 will go up against the Giant Reign 2 and the Merida One-Sixty 800 in our three-way sub-$4K shootout, so stay tuned for our full review and then the shootout!

2018 Merida One-Sixty 800 – First Impressions

As you probably know, Merida is one of the more prominent manufacturers of the bicycle in the world and make fantastic bikes with a reputation for great value. We’ve got the One-Sixty 800 on review and so far it’s raised some eyebrows amongst our camp. We loved the affordable carbon One-Sixty 5000 from a couple years ago but can this new top specced aluminium version cut it?

The One-Sixty is a (you guessed it) 160mm travel rig rolling on 27.5″ wheels and is aimed at the aggressive end of the spectrum, perhaps even at enduro racing.

Merida are on a roll this season, with their latest range of bikes ticking all the boxes.
On paper, the frame geometry looks to be more aimed at the trail rider than the enduro racer.

The unbelievable spec, it’s a SRAM smorgasbord!

What more could you want from this bike on this sort of budget? Umm, nothing… The build is impressive, it’s like a whole bunch of great SRAM parts fell off the back of a truck, and Merida were there to pick them and stuck them on this bike for our benefit. It even has a great pair of wide rims, a Torque Cap compatible front hub to match the RockShox Yari, dropper post, great Maxxis tyres and a fun and bright paint job. Tick, tick and tick!

SRAM GX Eagle, great kit for a bike at this price.
SRAM Code R brakes, mighty stopping power!

Up front, the One-Sixty 800 comes with some of the best stopping power in the game with the new SRAM Code R brakes. Out the back has the SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed for a fantastic gear range.

And for suspension the always reliable RockShox Yari fork and the star of the show the top shelf Super Deluxe RTC. This shock has all the adjustments; rebound, compression and even low-speed compression for greater control. Minds are blown!!

170mm travel RockShox Yari, a solid choice.
The top model shock from the RockShox catalogue, the Super Deluxe. All the dials to twiddle.

Not longer but shorter?

In a move against industry trend, Merida has shortened the overall wheelbase (from the 5000) and steepened the seat angle, we wonder what Merida is onto here. These changes would, in theory, make a bike climb better and be more nimble at slower speeds, however, it could possibly be at a sacrifice to its downhill ability, but we’ll find out on the trail.

Shorter in reach and steeper seating angle than the previous One-Sixty. Are Merida going for a better climbing bike than previously?

While we are shredding this Merida One-Sixty 800, it’ll be up against the Giant Reign 2 and Norco Range A3 in a sub $4000 160mm travel 27.5″ wheel bike shootout.

Stay tuned for a full review and the ultimate shootout!

Fox 36 Factory FIT4 VS RockShox Lyrik RCT3

Here’s a good battle, if ever we’ve seen one! The FOX 36 vs the RockShox Lyrik. We’ve put two of the biggest forks in the business head to head, to find out which one we really do prefer, bolting them both to the front of our Commencal Meta AM for a bit of rough and tumble.


RockShox Lyrik RCT3 vs FOX 36 Factory FIT4, on paper.

As we reflected in our introductory piece, you won’t find a more evenly matched pair than this. For the records, we tested both forks in a 170mm travel version, for 27.5″ wheels. The Lyrik RCT3 in the spec we tested is $1549.95, while the FOX 36 Factory FIT4 is $1579.

Weight:

With the steerer tube trimmed to 185mm, and with a star nut fitted, the weights were very similar: 1998g for the Lyrik and 2027g for the FOX. While the FOX is slightly heavier it also has a tool-free QR15 axle fitted, while our Lyrik needs an Allen key to remove the axle. The Lyrik has the edge by a few grams, but it’s not enough to really separate the two.

Winner: DRAW 

Given its larger legs and QR15 axle, we were surprised the 36 was only 20g or so heavier than the Lyrik.
Our Lyrik’s axle was a bolt-up, which looks clean and reduces snags but you’ll need a multitool handy.

Options:

When it comes to travel options, the Lyrik has the advantage. You can get the RockShox in travel variants from 150-160-170-180mm (for 27.5″ wheels – it tops out at 170mm for 29ers), plus it’s available in a travel-adjustable Dual Position version. FOX no longer offer a travel adjustable 36, so if you’re looking for a fork that will let you lower the front end on a climb, then the Lyrik is for you.

Off the shelf, the 36 comes in 150-160-170mm versions. That said, you can extend a 27.5″ 170mm-travel 36 up to 180mm (or a 29er 160mm 36 up to 170mm) with a new air shaft, which will set you back around $75.

The Lyrik is available up to 180mm off the shelf. To extend the FOX out past 170mm requires purchasing a new air spring.

FOX have the advantage when it comes to damper options however. In addition to the FIT4 damper (with its three position compression lever) you can also get a HSC/LSC damper, which gives you more precise control of the high-speed compression settings and independent low-speed compression adjustment.

Winner: DRAW


Tuneability:

Both the RockShox and FOX have a single air spring, and practically identical damping adjustments. Both have three position high-speed compression adjustment, with open, medium and firm settings. Both have low-speed compression adjustment (which only effects the fork when the high-speed compression adjuster is in the ‘open’ setting). Both obviously have generous rebound ranges. There’s plenty of scope for tuning, but without being overly complex.

Both forks have a three position compression adjuster, with separate low-speed compression adjustment as well.

Finally, both allow you to adjust the rate of the air spring via a spacer system, which involves removing the top cap and threading (with the Lyrik) or clipping (with the FOX) spacers into place. For our testing, we opted to run two spacers/tokens in both forks.

Winner: DRAW


RockShox Lyrik RCT3 vs FOX 36 Factory, on the trail.

So, you’ve got two forks that are practically identical on paper. It turns out there’s not much between them on the trail either, though ultimately we came away preferring the FOX.

FOX’s setup guide includes recommended rebound settings, which we followed and found to be ideal.

Setup:

Both of these forks are simple to achieve setting that’s 90% of the way there, with a bit of ongoing fettling required to get the perfect setup. On the back of both forks, you’ll find a chart of recommended air pressure for a given rider weight. The FOX goes a step further, with recommended rebound settings too. However, we’re big believers in getting your suspension sag correct, and that’s where the Lyrik’s sag gradient markings really come in handy. On the trail, we found that FOX’s recommended pressures a little firm, while the RockShox was surprisingly bang on.

Winner: Lyrik

We found the Lyrik’s pressure guide to be on the money, in conjunction with two Bottomless tokens.

Responsiveness:

Which fork reacts to the terrain best? FOX make a lot of noise about the slickness of the Kashima Coat anodising on their fork legs, but we don’t think it’s inherently much smoother than RockShox’s Fast Black coating. We’ve felt good and bad forks with both coatings – variables like bushing tolerances, maintenance and friction due to flex in the fork have a bigger impact than the finish of the fork legs.

If you’re a black on black kinda person, well the Lyrik is about as black as it gets.
Does the Kashima Coat make much of a difference? Meh. But it does look great in our opinion.

But the air spring is the other vital component when it comes to creating a responsive fork, and the FOX 36 has the edge here. The higher volume of the negative air spring in the new EVOL air spring assembly makes for pretty incredible small bump sensitivity (an issue that has plagued the 36 in past years).

Winner: FOX

The EVOL air spring assembly has a large negative spring volume that results in a fork that needs little force to get moving.

Damping performance:

This is where the FOX really stood out to us, particularly in the way it handled high-speed impacts. When the biggest hits happened, it was the FOX that left us feeling more in control and sent less of the impact our way.

At the end of the roughest descents we were surprised to find that FOX would consistently keep a little travel up its sleeve, but without ever having felt harsh or like we had the front end setup too firmly. On the other hand, the Lyrik would consistently use up all 170mm to gobble up the terrain. It wasn’t that the Lyrik was too soft, or too linear, just that it was using more travel to get the job done.

We found the FOX had the edge when it came to high-speed compression forces, and that was the real deciding factor between these two forks for us.

You could say this is a negative for the FOX, that it was too progressive and we should have removed spacers. But the fact is, even when it was not getting the full 170mm, the ride it delivered was just as smooth, controlled and supple as the Lyrik, while still keeping a little travel ready for when things got out of hand. The FOX’s high speed compression damping was doing an amazing job, dissipating the force from the hits so effectively that full travel was only required when we really made a mess of things.

Winner: FOX


Decision time. What would we choose?

It’s easy to see why these two forks are so dominant in the Enduro market. Their performance out of the box is ridiculous – it’s incredible that you can buy this level of suspension right off the shelf, and with very little setup you’ve got a fork that could happily win an EWS. But if we were picking one, we’d take the FOX 36 Factory.  It just has the slightest edge in damping performance and in this arena that counts for a lot.

 

 

Rocky Mountain Instinct Carbon 50 – First Impressions

Rocky has a big range, where does the Instinct fit in?

The Instinct has been in the Rocky Mountain 29er lineup for a few years now but has had a total refresh for 2018. It’s a 140mm travel 29er with a carbon front end and uses Rocky’s clever and original geometry and suspension rate adjustment system. As we’d expect from the Canadian designed bike brand steeped in mountain biking heritage, it looks like it can push the boundaries of what an aggressive trail bike should be able to handle.

Neutral, all-rounder trail geometry with the option to tweak it a little, the Instinct is at home on our fast singletrack.

Aimed at the all-mountain/trail rider, the Instinct sits in between the XC/trail oriented Thunderbolt and more aggressive and longer travel Altitude.


Slick looks.

When we first saw the Instinct we loved the (not Yeti) teal, red and black frame with red (not Deity) Rocky Mountain decals on the handlebar and stem. Someone has thought a lot about the colourway, and it is quite striking.

The back end is very tidy, the higher-end carbon models are even tidier.

Mixed thoughts on the parts.

The build looks overall really safe and ready for action, the Fox 34 fork and a Minion DHR tyre up front are a recipe for fast descending and SRAM GX Eagle to help the legs with the all-day rides in the saddle. The bike feels light to throw around, and initial impressions are that they have played the balance of light and sturdy well.

FOX 34 with the Grip Damper leads the way with confidence.
SRAM Level brakes are for cross-country race bikes, not something like the Instinct!
Yay, Minion!

We are little concerned about how the lightweight SRAM Level TL brakes will perform under hard braking on longer runs; we’d expect to see the single piston SRAM Level brakes on cross-country race bikes, with the SRAM Guide typically more common on a longer travel bike like the Instinct. And while 27mm wide (internal width) rims are wider than what was standard a few years back, closer to 30mm wide is something that gives tyres a better profile and grip. Rocky probably chose these products to keep the overall weight and price down.

The other item that could be wider is the WTB saddle; it is coming straight off before we ride it any further, our ass doesn’t need to look like the end of a “Saw” horror film, with blood everywhere and lots of screaming.


Let’s go!

The Rocky doesn’t come supplied with necessary parts for a tubeless setup, a shame, so we’ve done that ourselves, and we’re already mucking around with the Ride-9 system to tweak the feel of the rear suspension and ride geometry. Lucky the Rocky website has a simple setup guide; there are myriad options.

Ride-9. The lower linkage has nine variations of adjustment, changing suspension tune and frame geometry.

Stay tuned for our full review soon!

Commencal Meta AM 4.2 – Long-Term Test Update

RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RCT vs RockShox Super Deluxe RT Remote

The Commencal Meta has been given a plush injection! It has been a long, long time since we rode a coil shock. With air shocks being so damn good, we didn’t understand the point of throwing on a coil – extra weight, fiddly setup swapping coils, it all seemed unnecessary. For hardcore racers, with 15 minute descents to contend with, it made sense. But for the punters… really? To be honest, we’d painted the recent uptake of coil shocks as a trend, driven by wannabes with an overinflated sense of their own abilities, and one that would surely pass.

We’d painted the recent uptake of coil shocks as a trend, driven by wannabes with an overinflated sense of their own abilities.

Fitting a coil shock added just under 400g to the Meta.

But then we pulled our head out of our butt and actually gave this whole coil shock renaissance a go. And, holy hell, there’s something to it! We’d been toying with the idea of swapping the shock on our Meta for a while (we didn’t like the clutter of the remote lock out on the original shock), so when the chance to try out the new RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RCT came our way, we grabbed it.

Weight difference – coil vs air shock

The weight penalty cannot be overlooked. The RockShox Super Deluxe RT Remote weighs 480g, the RCT Coil shock is 860g (with a 350lb/in spring fitted). That’s not an insignificant amount of weight, and if you’re a heavier rider using a beefier spring, the weight penalty will be higher still.

With a three-position compression lever to stiffen it up on the fly, the only real downsides when you’re climbing is the extra weight.

We welcome you, plush gods

But the weight difference took about three seconds to forget. From the very first moment we hopped on the bike, we had a big, big grin. We’d forgotten just how good a coil feels – that lively, silken PLUSHNESS – it’s brilliant. You can feel the difference instantly – the rear suspension is more active, more sensitive. There’s more traction, so you can go faster. It’s simple, really.

Now we’re not suggesting that a coil is the right option for everyone, but on this kind of bike a coil shock does make a lot of sense. The Commencal is always going to be a bit of pig on the climbs, so why not optimise its performance on the way back down? The shock has all the levers you need to aid your path back up the hill (including a compression lever, which firms it up dramatically, plus separate low-speed compression adjustment) so you’re really just contending with the extra weight. We can’t see ourselves rushing to put an air shock back on.

Compared to our usual go-to XT Trail pedals, it’s clear to see just how much more surface area the Saints have.

Shimano’s Saint pedals have been a long time coming.

Shimano Saint SPD pedals.

The long-awaited follow up to the DX SPD is finally here, with the new gravity oriented Saint pedal, and we’ve just popped them onto our Commencal to review.

Compared to our usual go-to XT Trail pedals, it’s clear to see just how much more surface area the Saints have. They’re designed to give you as much stability as possible with more flexible gravity style shoes, plus there are four height adjustable pins per side too, to bite into the soles of your shoe if you end up getting a little loose and need to ride it out without being fully clipped in. They weigh in at 540g/pair, which is a fair whack more than the XTs, which are just 403g/pair.

Maxxis Forekaster 2.6″ tyres

The Maxxis Minions that came on the Meta have been swapped out too, replaced by the generous 2.6″ bag of the Maxxis Forekaster. They’re billed as ‘last season’ tyre, which we assume is North American for ‘damp conditions’. Now, we don’t have a lot of damp to ride these in, but we’d heard good things about their performance in sandy trails too, which we have plenty of.

The large volume of the Forekaster 2.6″ makes for a supple ride.

Fitting the Forekasters shaved about 300g off the Meta, which was welcome given the extra heft added by the coil shock and Saint pedals. Our impressions so far are that they’re fast rollers, and that the big bag floats beautifully over sand and loose surfaces. They’re a supple tyre too, giving plenty of climbing grip on the rear. Where they do feel less impressive is under hard braking – compared to the Minions, they just don’t bite nearly as firmly. We’ve had one puncture so far, which isn’t unreasonable given the rocky conditions, but we’d had no such dramas with the Minions.

Looking for more on our Commencal? Check out our initial impressions here, or our recent update here.

 

 

 

SRAM GX Eagle – One Month Review Update

Way more refined than the price would suggest.

From the crisp click of the shifter, to smooth clutch in the derailleur SRAM GX Eagle has been great. It feels great, maybe even better than 11-speed, which was very nice.  The new redesigned X-Sync 2 chainring hasn’t skipped a beat, and we haven’t dropped a chain, and it’s feeling smoother and quieter than the first generation X-Sync it replaced.

On steep climbs, the ultra-low 50 tooth gear is very welcome when you are digging deep on a climb and need it the most, and it also means we could go up a chainring size from the previous 11-speed. At the moment we’re using the 32 tooth chainring the groupset came with but will be looking to upsize to 34, we have the low range covered.

So far we’re in the happy camp, will GX Eagle keep us that way with reliability and quality over time?

The gear spacings all the way through the cassette are well spaced, though we hear some riders lamenting the gearing jumps at the low end, we’ve not had that feeling with the gear being too big or small after a shift. And finally the price, how can you complain about $800 for a complete groupset? You can upgrade or dust off your favourite old bike and make it new again with such a worthy update.


Do we like it? Maybe?

That all said, we’re not sure we like it. Is it 12 really better than 11? Don’t get us wrong – the performance so far and gear range are excellent, it’s just that it seems like a lot of investment for a fairly marginal increase in gear range over existing 11-speed options.

It reminds us of when BlueRay video first came out. It looked like the same disc as DVD, it was better quality, but maybe not the technology jump we were looking for and for this, we didn’t all rush out and purchase it.

As for Eagle, we don’t think more gears was the answer we were looking for; maybe a more refined eleven was the approach.  (The Sony PlayStation 3 ended up being one of the saviours for Blueray, and we imagine OEM will be the same for Eagle GX.)


What about Shimano options, or e*Thirteen cassettes?

Eagle touts itself as a drivetrain revolution, killing the front derailleur entirely, but is it really such a huge leap? Firstly with Shimano or other aftermarket 11-speed cassettes you can have an 11-46 tooth range, so Eagle only has a 20% wider gear range. Is it worth investing in a whole new groupset for this? Then of course there’s E13’s new TRS cassette, which with its 9-46 tooth range has a wider range (511%) than Eagle, all while retaining existing 11-speed equipment. It’s so good  that YT bikes has backed this cassette as a better option for a lot of their bikes for 2018, and looked at it as true innovation.

Holy dinner plate technology!

Sticks out like dogs balls.

Secondly, the aesthetics aren’t good. It sticks out like dog balls, and its size looks prime to be smacked and hit. 11-speed derailleurs had a great gear range, without being nearly so massive. The length of the cage on an Eagle derailleur seems to run at odds with everything we’ve strived for in terms of reducing a derailleur’s vulnerability.

Eagle has us wondering what they are preparing us for next; 60 teeth on the cassette? They’ll tell us that a more substantial gear range means we can run a larger chainring up front, but have you noticed a lot of these new Boost frames can only take up to a 36 tooth chain ring (or even a 34 in some instances)?


C’mon GX Eagle, you can do this.

So what does all this mean for our review? Well, time will tell. If the GX Eagle proves to be as reliable as our 11-speed stuff, we might well be convinced – we’re a sceptical bunch. We’ll be back with more.

Norco Search XR Carbon Ultegra Review

Form should follow function, but as Norco have proved here, putting practicality first doesn’t mean making it ugly. Norco have managed to take a utilitarian machine and given it the kind of sleek appeal that eludes most bikes in this segment. The new Norco Search XR is a beauty, both in terms of presentation and the way it performs.

From the ‘burbs to the back roads.

With the exception of the rubber boot over the seat clamp, and the small silver bolt heads on the fork legs, you’d struggle to notice this bike’s rugged intentions – they’re masked by its awesome paint job, clean lines and light weight of just 8.58kg for our large 55.5cm test bike.

The matte fade paint job is a little bit eighties and really nicely done.

What can’t you carry on the Norco Search XR?

The Norco Search XR has been a serious workhorse – we’ve done well over 500km of proper gravel riding and bike packing on this steed over summer, loading it up for overnighters, heading out for day-long wanderings in the Watagans, getting chased by goannas. It’s been epic. In short, this bike has fulfilled its mandate as an adventure machine.

We loaded it up alright!

At first glance its easy to miss, but there’s room for three bottles on the main frame, plus mounts on the fork legs which can take more cages or other fixtures, as well rack and neat fender mounts too. As you can see, we had the bike loaded up during our testing. But then we also rode it stripped right back with just a single bottle cage fitted, and it morphed from back country beast to endurance road bike. In fact, we took this bike out in the local road bunch, and while the big tyres attracted a bit of attention we were able to hang on.

Open roads ahead.
Take all the bottles, bags and racks off, and it’s a really sleek machine.

Do it all day long

As an all-day machine, the way this bike rides is tough to beat. The tall head tube gives a moderately upright riding position, the gentle slant of the hoods feels natural, the big tyres and 27.2mm post provide a little bit of forgiveness. But for all that, it’s not a sluggish ride either –  the chain stays have been kept short with some clever construction so it still reacts quickly, and the head angle is relaxed but without being slow.

The Clement Xplor tyres are a hardy choice.

It’s happy when the going gets fast and rough too. When you’re in the drops, the flared handlebar puts you in a strong position – your centre of gravity spread low and wide – giving you more confidence to leave the powerful brakes alone. The Clement tyres measure up a touch wider than their claimed 40mm, and while they don’t have much in the way of knobs, they’re sturdy and we had a lot of confidence in them when the gravel got deeper.

We found the flared bar superb when it got a little fast and loose, and the gentle slant of the Ultegra hoods was really natural.

What’s with that chain stay?

The dropped drive side chain stay on the Norco Search XR is reminiscent of the boutique Open U.P frame. It’s all about creating more clearance without resorting to long chain stays. By dropping the chain stay down low, Norco leaves room for 700x45c tyre (or 27.5 x 2.1″ mountain bike rubber should you prefer) while keeping room for mud shedding and facilitating the use of a front derailleur too. Interestingly, the Search XR uses ‘size scaled wheels’, a concept sometimes seen on 29er mountain bikes – the two smallest frame sizes are equipped with 27.5″ wheels out of the box.

The asymmetric chain stay opens up room for the big tyre without needing a long rear end.

I thought double rings were on the way out?

At first we saw the double chain ring setup as a negative, but we quickly realised it’s actually pretty handy having such a wide spread of gears. The Praxis cranks run sensible 32/48-tooth chain rings, and paired to an 11-34 cassette you’ve got it all covered.

We had assumed the Ultegra mech, which doesn’t have a clutch mechanism, would flap around and make a racket, but it was pretty damn quiet actually and to our surprise we never once dropped a chain. Maybe single rings aren’t the be all and end all… The shifting performance of the new Ultregra gear is silky smooth too. While SRAM are getting a lot of the attention in the gravel space, the refinement of Shimano’s offerings shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in terms of braking performance.

We expected dropped chains and a noisy ride with the Ultegra mech but experienced neither.
Superb braking performance from the Ultegra stoppers and 160mm rotors.

So you like it?

We sure do. The Search XR has been getting plenty of global attention, and after a few months of riding it, we understand why. There are options galore to suit your style, including two steel versions of this bike as well as a model that comes with 27.5″ wheels, mountain bike tyres and a dropper post. But we think this one is the pick of the bunch – at $4499 it’s a bit of a steal for such a sophisticated, well-appointed gravel weapon. Tempting, isn’t it?

Bike packing mega-adventure and pretty flower images courtesy of Josh Stephenson @joshivision

Cannondale SuperX SE Force 1 Review

When Cannondale went back to square one and redesigned the Cannondale SuperX cyclocross weapon for 2017, the bike they created just happened to fit the bill for gravel riding too. And so Cannondale took the SuperX frame, decked it out with a gravel grinder’s wish list of components and set it free on the backroads.

It’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.

We’ve used our SuperX SE on a massive variety of terrain, from mellow gravel, to tarmac, to eyeball quivering fire roads.

The fast end of the spectrum

In the world of gravel bikes, there’s a real spectrum of bike styles. At one end, you’ve got your long-haul truckers, bristling with mounts for bottles, fenders, bags and dynamo-powered things, with an upright riding position. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got bikes which are zippy, light, with more road bike DNA, and are better suited to day rides.

The SuperX exemplifies that more performance-oriented gravel bike – it’s got the chops to knock out 100km on the dirt one day, ride with a road bunch the next, and take to the CX race track on the weekend.

Cannondale’s own Si cranks with a sleek 40-tooth Spidering. It looks great, and weighs so little, but changing the chain ring requires special tools.

Can a CX bike really be gravel-worthy?

You may have heard that cyclocross bikes are dramatically different to gravel bikes, and many brands have unique framesets for cyclocross versus gravel. So are Cannondale cheaping out on some frame moulds and trying to trick us into thinking that a  ‘cross bike is suitable for all-day mixed terrain adventures, simply by running some oversized tan walls and some easy gears?
Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops.

Firstly, it’s worth considering the actual differences between a traditional cyclocross bike and a new school gravel bike. Drilling down to the key geometry, gravel bikes’ bottom brackets are typically a few millimetres lower, and that’s normally where it stops. The current breed of cyclocross bikes have changed quite a lot in recent years, to the point where there is as much geometry variance within cyclocross bikes or gravel bikes, as there is separating the two ‘categories’. So, no, Cannondale aren’t just cheaping out!


Check out our review of the Cannondale Slate while you’re here, their killer go-anywhere 650b all-road bike.


The Cannondale SuperX gets a gravel makeover

The SuperX’s gravel makeover sees it get a bunch of simple spec changes, compared to its CX brethren. The brakes get more bite thanks to the use of 160mm rotors at both ends, reasonably aggressive 37mm tyres (WTB Riddlers, in a funky tan wall, nice), and a smaller 40-tooth chain ring paired to an 11-42 cassette for better climbing range.

37mm rubber is part of the gravel makeover. We set our bike up tubeless – the rear tyre took a while to seal for some reason.

About that geometry

The SuperX has frame geometry inspired by concepts that have been around in the mountain bike world for some time now; Cannondale call it Out Front geometry, but in a nutshell the idea is running a longer front end and a slightly slacker head angle, but using a fork with more offset to reduce the trail measurement. Put all the numbers into a large pot and simmer, and you get handling that is both stable at high speed (thanks to the slack angles) but still zesty at slow speed (thanks to the short trail measurement).

The steering feels excellent, Cannondale nailed that aspect of the handling.

It works. The SuperX feels brilliant in the corners, fast or slow. With a 90mm stem fitted, it’s a confident position, and it’ll hook into a turn in neatly whether you’re on the hoods on in the drops. Thanks to the slacker head angle there’s plenty of toe clearance too, even with 40mm rubber fitted.

Given the firm overall quality, the SuperX is more comfortable than you’d expect when flying down loose fireroads too, as testament again to the good geometry mix, particularly the slack head angle.

The hidden seat binder was creaky, but it does look oh so clean.

Asymmetric what?

At the other end of the bike,  Cannondale have done a lot fiddling to get the rear end tight (422mm) while still keeping room for rubber up to 42mm wide. The whole rear end of the bike is offset to the right, by 6mm, to create room for the chain ring and big rubber. Of course, this then requires that the wheel be dished 6mm in the other direction. Apparently this makes for a stronger rear wheel, as the bracing angle of the spokes is more evenly matched on both sides of the wheel. But we feel it’s a pretty complicated solution, with the downside that you can’t just borrow a wheel in the event of an emergency. Other brands have been able to achieve similarly short rear ends without using custom wheel dishing (such as the Norco Search XR we’re reviewing).

We love the open, clean lines of the seat stays. The whole rear end is offset 6mm towards the drivetrain, to create more room for the tyre/chain ring. It works well, but means you can’t just use a wheel off the shelf without re-dishing it.
You can fit a front derailleur if that’s your thing, but we don’t see the point.

Regardless, the short rear end makes it a blast to ride when things are a bit technical. It’s an easy bike to hop, wheelie or flick the rear wheel about, which is part of the appeal to us – it’s just a playful ride – and it feels incredibly responsive.

The flat, broad top tube is designed to make the bike easy to shoulder in CX racing.

Firmer than a hospital mattress

Despite the use of Cannondale’s slender, supple 25.4mm Save seatpost, the ride is firm overall. The frame is stiff, a constant reminder that this bike’s origins lie in the one-hour of power that is CX racing, not eight hour back country grinds. If more serious gravel work is in your plans, we’d recommend putting on some 40mm tyres. There’s more than enough clearance to do so, and the extra bag makes this bike much more forgiving over a long ride.

Even with the slender stays and 25.4mm post, the ride is firm, so we’d recommend upsizing to more comfy 40mm tyres.

That said, the frame stiffness is reassuring and rewarding too. When the going gets rough or fast, those big hoods of the SRAM Force 1 give you plenty to grab on to, and the bike doesn’t flinch. You feel the bike fly forward under power too, it converts your effort 100%.

And the annoyances?

We did have a few gripes. The seat post is prone to creaking, and a generous amount of carbon paste was required to silence it where it’s clamped into the frame. We also found the rear brake tricky to align to run drag free, with the SRAM brakes not offering a lot of pad clearance. The brakes do have a pretty wooden feel overall too – the power is good, but they just don’t feel great.

If you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.

The SRAM hoods offer plenty to hang onto when it’s rough. We found the brakes lack feel though, the lever action is pretty sluggish.

Ride it off road, ride it on road

For us, the real novelty of the SuperX is the performance edge it carries. It’s a very fast gravel bike, way lighter than most – ours was under 8kg setup tubeless – and with a bit of Formula 1 pep that sets it apart. Beyond the two bottle mounts, you won’t find any other mounting points for extra cages, bags or fenders, so if you’re looking to go extra long, there are better options out there. But if you want a bike that goes like the clappers, handles like a dream and has what it takes to dabble on the racetrack and road bunches too, then this is a go’er.

 

 

Trek Powerfly 7 FS E-Bike – Ridden and Rated

Who does the Trek Powerfly 7 FS suit?

The Trek Powerfly 7 FS isn’t one of those e-bikes designed to replace a shuttle van or chairlift. With 130mm travel at both ends, this bike is built as more of an all-rounder, rather than a pedal-assisted downhill weapon. Its forte is long cross-country rides, letting the generous range supplied by the Bosch motor system take you to places you’d normally avoid or put in the too-hard-too-far basket.

Trek powerfly
The Bosch Performance CX motor has plenty of grunt.

We knocked out rides well over 50km long and always finished with plenty of power left in the battery. Of the four modes you can run the bike in, we spent most of our time in the Tour mode, which gave plenty of assistance for a lightweight rider, though heavier riders will probably use the Sport mode more. The Turbo mode is off-the-charts powerful, and for us was more of a novelty than anything else.

Unlike the Trek Fuel, which rolls on 29er wheels, the Powerfly uses the 27.5+ format, with 2.8″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on 40mm-wide rims. With great power comes great traction responsibility.

Trek powerfly
23.3kg of go-anywhere machine.
Trek powerfly
We set the Schwalbe tyres up tubeless and they were great.

Here I am!

Hard to miss it, hey? Subtly is not this bike’s caper – it’s got all the impact of a fire engine, in its bold red livery and with that massive down tube. The size of the tube isn’t just a product of fitting in the battery, it also provides a tremendously stiff core to the frame as well, a hallmark of the recent generation of Trek dual suspension bikes.

Trek powerfly
Look at that girth.

Look more closely and there’s a lot of finer detail to appreciate too. The smooth integration of the motor, battery and cabling is superb, and the build quality is typical Trek – top shelf.  A small amount of geometry adjustment is available via the Mino Link (we ran it in the slack setting).

Trek powerfly
The Mino Link offers a small amount of BB and head angle adjustment.
Trek powerfly
Attention to detail – 10/10.

About that fork…

Our bone of contention with the Powerfly is the fork this bike comes with, a basic RockShox Recon Silver. It’s just not up to scratch. We get it; building an e-bike is expensive, pricepoints need to be hit. But compromising in an area like the fork doesn’t make sense to us, particularly when you’ve got the weight and momentum of an e-bike to grapple with. We ultimately fitted one of the new FOX e-bike optimised 34 forks, which let us ride the bike to its full capacity.

We swapped out the RockShox Recon for a FOX 34 in order to get the most out of the bike.
We’d have liked a more bitey set of brakes, but at least the lever feel is light and consistent.

Buttery supportiveness

Trek always deliver in the rear suspension department, and the Powerfly nails it once again. We’ve ridden many an e-bike where the rear end seems to struggle a little (the extra weight of the bike, coupled with the mass of the heavy wheels perhaps), but the Powerfly is on top of the game. The rear end has a brilliant progressiveness to it, staying up in its travel nicely, saving the last 20% for the truly nasty hits.

Trek powerfly
The rear suspension performance is a real highlight.

Let’s torque about it

Bosch provide the grunty motor. There’s a tonne of low-down power here, and when you combine it with the climbing gears offered by the 46-tooth Shimano cassette, even the heaviest riders on the steepest climbs aren’t going to be left wanting for more power or gear range. Our only criticism of the Bosch system is the bulky display unit. It doesn’t need to be so big, surely, and it looks ripe for destruction sitting up there!

Trek powerfly
Note both the down tube and motor protection.
Go fast buttons.
We rode for 3hrs plus and still had plenty of juice left in the tank.

Longer than a wet weekend

When it comes to the handling of the Powerfly, the bike’s long chain stay play a big role. At 474mm, the Powerfly’s rear-centre measurement is one of the longest on the market, and this has both positive and negatives implications in our mind.

E-bikes all have pretty lengthy rear ends – you’ve got to fit the motor in somehow – but the Trek is at the longer end of the spectrum.

Climbs like Bitcoin

The biggest upside of the Powerfly’s long chain stay is the way it climbs, particularly when it’s steep and loose. Keep your butt in the saddle and the traction is exceptional, you’ll climb things that you’d never have dreamed of.

But not a playful ride

If you’re looking for an e-bike that handles just like a regular mountain bike, then this isn’t it. Getting the front wheel into the air takes plenty of body language, it prefers to stay on the ground. And when descending steep, technical terrain the long stays push your centre of gravity forward when compared to a bike with a shorter rear end.

Trek powerfly
The ABP suspension system is Trek’s answer to reducing the impact of braking forces on the suspension.

All up then?

There’s a lot to like about this bike, so it’s a downer that the fork is below par. Finger crossed Trek take this feedback on board for future versions of this bike. While the Powerfly didn’t blow us away on tricky, technical descents, that’s not really what this bike is aimed at. It excels at exploration, long cross country rides, or hooning flat-out up and down fireroads and smooth singletrack, so if that sounds like your bag, give it a look.

 

 

 

Specialized S-Works Epic 2018: Reviewed and Rated

A more epic Specialized Epic

As we said in our 2018 range overview, improving on the 2017 Specialized Epic was always going to be a tall order, but Specialized have pulled out all the stops. The result is a very fine race bike, built for the new generation of race tracks which demand more from riders and bikes than ever before.

At the heart of the Epic is the Brain, Specialized’s one-of-a-kind suspension platform, it sets it apart from the rest of the pack, nobody has a system like it. The Brain has stood the test of time, a testament to its effectiveness and how the cross country community has accepted it with immense popularity.

The lighter, faster, better Epic.
Australian team rider, Cam Ivory on the very bike we reviewed, once we washed away the Cairns dust from it.

How light?

350g has been sliced out of the S-Works model Specialized Epic, and over 500g from the Expert level frame. Our medium size Epic weighs 9.58kg without pedals, very impressive! The most notable change, and one that let Specialized shed some of that weight, was the move to a flex stay system, rather than the traditional Specialized FSR link. Dropping a pivot makes for a lighter, stiffer and more durable rear end. Did we miss it? Not one bit.

Sleeeeek! With the FSR pivot gone, the Epic is a clean, lithe machine.

You can read more about the changes to the Epic in our preview piece here.


Inertia valve… Sounds complicated, what is it?

The Brain… it’s a proprietary system from Specialized that aims to eliminate unwanted suspension activity, ensuring every ounce of your effort is converted into pedal power and not absorbed in the bike’s suspension – the holy grail of mountain bikes, ultimate efficiency. On paper, the Brain system seems like the perfect solution, but it’s not without its quirks.

The heart and brain of the Epic, the Brain.

Like the way triathletes obsess over aerodynamic performance in their equipment, top-level cross-country racers prioritise suspension efficiency and weight.

Via an inertia valve, the suspension responds to activity from the ground, not from the rider. It’s adjustable, too, in the firmest setting the bike feels totally rigid with no movement in the suspension when pushing down, only an impact from the ground in an upwards direction will activate it. The Brain is in both the RockShox SID fork and on the rear end also.

Like the way triathletes obsess over aerodynamic performance in their equipment, top-level cross-country racers prioritise suspension efficiency and weight.

View of the Brain with the rear wheel removed.

For the 2018 Epic, Specialized collaborated with RockShox (previously the Brain shock was built by FOX) to develop the Brain 2.0 rear shock, a wholly revised unit that is said to react quicker to impacts for a smoother transition between open and closed. It’s a tiny little system, and worth having a closer look at its construction to appreciate the clever engineering fully.

Are your trails buff, singletrack flowing, do you dabble in gravel roads or considering entering the National XCO Series? The Specialized Epic is your tool to give back every inch off your effort in return.


Our thoughts on the Brain.

We’re not going to beat around the bush here, the Brain system polarised us and dominated most discussions about the bike. Each time we threw a leg over it, we would relish its incredible efficiency and acceleration speed, and on the other hand, we’d curse the way it punished our hands on rougher sections of the race track. We are well aware that it is built for all-out cross-country racing and not much else, and has won plenty of medals doing so, but blimey it isn’t sunshine and lollipops when the trail surface isn’t ultra-buff.

The Brain is adjustable, at both ends, but it’s not something that you can entirely turn off. The rear shock’s Brain Fade adjuster is way out of reach on the fly down behind the rear axle, the SID World Cup’s Brain Fade adjuster is on top of the right leg, easy to reach. In a perfect world we’d like to be able to turn it off with a remote somehow, but then that would detract from its incredible simplicity, argh, it’s not a perfect world, we know that ok…


Brain in the fork, do we need it?

It’s the fork that had us the most frustrated, does the Epic really need the inertia valve in the fork? Could the Epic be just as good with a conventional damper with a good range of slow speed compression?

Dial it up, dial it down. While we ran the rear shock’s Brain on the firm side, we preferred the fork to be as supple as possible.

The Brain out the back makes a lot of sense and seems to be more sensitive and faster to react that the fork. If we could have our way, we’d opt for a conventional FOX Fit 4 damper or a RockShox Charger 2 damper in the fork, with a three-stage lockout and slow speed compression adjustment.

We think preserving your hands is more valuable, so we’d forgo the Brain up the front, keeping it to the rear suspension only.

The current crop of top-end XC forks are excellent at discerning the difference between high and low-speed impacts so with a couple of dials of low-speed compression it lets you lean over the front of the bike and mash away without too much – if any – unwanted suspension bobbing. They don’t leave your hands feeling like you’ve been hi-fiving a busload of exuberant karate students.

The Brain Fade adjustment lets you choose a firm or soft ‘breakaway’ setting, in full-firm it won’t budge if you push down on the fork, but in full-soft there’s a little more give.

Ok, so, we do appreciate how the Brain can make a suspension bike feel like a hardtail when you want it to but still helps you control the bike on technical sections, sure you could easily adapt and become used to it. And we unquestionably love how clean the whole system is with no remote lockout cables or clutter on the bars. But in comparison to other 100mm cross-country race bikes we have ridden, we think preserving your hands is more valuable, so we’d forgo the Brain up the front, keeping it to the rear suspension only.


Gender-neutral frame, gender-specific build.

A big point of emphasis from Specialized is that they’re moving away from women’s specific frames in 2018, and the Women’s Epic sees the end of an Era…or the Era to be more specific, the company’s previous women’s XC dual suspension offering.

Flow contributor Kath Bicknell has just picked up her size-small S-Works Epic. Loving it.

Only a handful of distinctions remain between the Women’s Epic and the men’s model: a women’s front and rear suspension tune, the ladies Myth saddle  (thankfully available in a less padded model on the S-Works build), a smaller 30-tooth front chainring instead of a 32, a different paint job, and that it’s only available in sizes small to large. That’s it, as far as we can tell. We were surprised to find that the stem length is the same relative to frame size, and the stock handlebar width is identical for the men’s and women’s rigs, leaving it up to the rider change the size if needed.

Being able to fit two water bottles (and a SWAT multitool too) into 16″-framed full-suspension 29er is pretty awesome.

While both models look similar placed side by side, a standout feature for women, and any men needing a 16”/small frame size, is this is one of the only XC race bikes available at the moment with 29” wheels and space for two drink bottles. Most other major brands, with the most obvious exception being the Rocky Mountain Element, currently build their small sized, dual suspension XC bikes around 650b wheels and/or a vertical rear shock limiting space for a second biddon.

Contact points, chainring size and shock/fork tune – those are the only differences between the men’s and women’s Epic.

The mono-bottled Giant Anthem 29 is available in a small size, but the company’s brand for women, Liv, only offer the equivalent Pique in 650b. Trek’s Fuel EX 29 also fits one bottle and is only available in sizes 17.5” and above. This makes the Epic a desirable option for riders with marathon or stage racing aims, who prefer bigger, faster rolling wheels and onboard hydration to smaller rubber and a non-negotiable hydration pack.


Enough Brain and gender chit-chat, how does the Epic ride?

A big focus on the new Epic was to improve its steering and handling. In our experience, this Epic has to be one of the best handling 100mm travel 29ers available. For a bike so light and fast up the climbs, it manages the descents way better than it should. It first became apparent when we took on a series of switchback turns downhill, where turning so hard and using the front brake, we’d expect a sharp-angled race bike to understeer and dive, but it felt quite the opposite. We were able to truly haul ass into corners leaning right over the front of the bike to carve through the turns with astonishing speed.

In our experience, this Epic has to be one of the best handling 100mm travel 29ers available.

There is so much room to move too, the wide bars and roomy top tube means there is a lot of bike in front of you and a strong position to brace yourself with, for those moments when you want to lay off the brakes and milk the terrain for more speed.

There’s a lot more fun about this bike than previous versions of the Epic – it’s built to tackle the tricker, more technical XCO courses that are becoming standard.

The head tube is super-short, too, that will please even the meanest racer with a low handlebar height. And for 2018 the Epic took one step away from the traditionally narrow handlebars and tyres found on cross-country race bikes, so we found ourselves sitting pretty comfortably on the type of bike that would historically be hard to spend more than a couple hours in the saddle on.

Dial the Brain Fade adjuster towards the firmer end of the spectrum, and you are presented with a suspension bike that pedals like a hardtail; we’re not talking crap here, there is no hint of any energy-sapping bounce or wallowing, it’s full steam ahead with each pedal stroke. That feeling is absolutely fantastic. There’s no need to lock or unlock your suspension or risk forgetting about it and drop into a downhill with your suspension still locked accidentally.

No wasted energy – that’s what makes this bike shine.

There’s no need to lock or unlock your suspension, or risk forgetting about it and drop into a downhill with your suspension still locked accidentally.

Despite its perfect finish, we were surprised to find the Epic quite noisy on the rougher descents, though, the super-large and stiff chainstay’s proximity to the chain was the cause of chain slap and even paint chips on the frame behind the rubber guard. If it were our own, we’d be experimenting with adding more rubber protection in that particular area.


Sleek, slick, sexy.

Aesthetically the Epic is an elegant bike to look at, Specialized value clean bikes and this new steed is about as slick as they come. With only three cables going up to the bars, and the Brain’s hose travelling very neatly through the little suspension linkage, it’s a bike that will please the most finicky purists with its ultimate cleanliness and simplicity.

The hose connecting the shock to the Brain actually runs through the minimalist linkage.

There are provisions for a dropper post, too, with internal routing and we can imagine plenty of riders will take up this option to further expand this bike’s spectrum of use.

With only three cables going up to the bars, it’s a bike that will please the most finicky purists with its ultimate cleanliness and simplicity.

Cleanest cockpit in the XC world, we love it.

The black and white paint job is kinda bland in our opinion, the lower spec and women’s Epic models are way flashier, but that’s just our taste, it does look smart. We do like the way it keeps the logo branding to a minimum, and it’s actually hard to find the word Specialized in many places anywhere on the bike and parts. But keep an eye on the wheels, the stickers were peeling in multiple places with our bike, quite unexpected considering how meticulously well-finished everything else is.


All the good parts. All of them.

It’s an S-Works, there is no expecting anything else but the absolute best, especially for $12500. Like most Specialized bikes, there are more in-house components than not, with only the brakes and drivetrain that you’d find on other brand bikes. This kit is supreme, from the carbon wheels right down to the grips. There’s so much carbon in this bike; if it were ever exposed to fire, only a small handful of shiny bits would be leftover.

The SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain scores a fat ten out of ten from us; we have a set on our long-term test bike, it’s a system as close to perfect as we’ve ever experienced. The SRAM Level Ultimate brakes are also a great option for XC racing.

Great Specialized Fast Trak tyres with a large volume 2.3″ width offer fantastic cornering confidence.
The SRAM Eagle XX1 drivetrain was 100% at all times, we love this stuff.
SRAM Level Ultimate brakes feel so nice under the finger and provided ample power on the race tracks we rode.

The Fast Track tyres have significant volume and a very supple casing, so when we are really hooking into a turn, they track the ground and conform to the surfaces providing exceptional traction on hard and dry trails. We’d keep a front tyre with a deeper, more open tread pattern on hand for wetter or softer surfaces, just to be sure.

What parts would we change if we were to take it racing? Nothing. But, there’s racing and then there’s riding. If it were ours to keep, we’d look into fitting a regular RockShox Charger 2 damper in the fork, and a dropper post, to make it a bit more friendly on rougher trails.



Are you up for it?

The Epic is a high-end bike that will suit a high-end rider. While they have made considerable improvements to the way the bike handles rougher terrain and therefore widening its scope, there is still no ignoring the fact that it’s designed to race, and that’s what it does so well. Racing a few times a year, but spend the majority of riding time enjoying the trails with friends? Then don’t rule out the Specialized Camber as a worthy option, which uses a traditional fork and shock in the super-supple and efficient FSR suspension design.

Are your trails buff, singletrack flowing, do you dabble in gravel roads or considering entering the National XCO Series? The Epic is your tool to give back every inch off your effort in return.


Verdict

Cleanest cockpit in the game, hands down. Simplicity exemplified.

This bike is seriously impressive, it rips through singletrack way faster than it should for a bike that climbs so well. While we didn’t love the Brain entirely on all race tracks we tested it on, we appreciate the way it is as close as it gets to the ultimate efficiency in a simple and user-friendly manner. It’s smart engineering too, and the latest iteration is better than the past, but we just aren’t sold in the system in the forks, but we know that sentiment comes from our particular taste of how we like the suspension to behave.

Rocketship.

The price? Yes, $12500 is about as expensive as it gets, no doubt about that. Poor value in comparison to other big brands? Yes, though it’s not hard to see how much they have worked to improve an already excellent bike, and there is no stone unturned when it comes to the best parts, and it’s 9.58kg, remember!

You’d be mad not to consider the Epic if you’re serious about racing, it’s seriously fast.

Merida One-Forty 800, Reviewed and Rated


Some brands just ooze excitement and desirability. Yeti, Santa Cruz, Cannondale, Mongoose (ok, not Mongoose)…. We think it’s fair to say that Merida does not have the same sex appeal. While the brand’s image is drier than the silica sachets you get in your tortilla packet, the bikes are generally incredibly good, and very decent value as well. The new Merida One-Forty 800 certainly gives the old cage a rattle – it’s a genuine contender as the best trail bike we’ve ridden at this price point.

A nice piece of yellow muscle.

No mess, no fuss.

There’s a nice utilitarianism to this bike. It’s 100% alloy, no carbon anywhere, and the frame layout is clean and robust. All the cables are managed securely, using chunky alloy clamps to hold them tight where they enter the frame. You can fit a water bottle too (though it is tight on a medium sized frame). We wouldn’t call it a ‘no-frills’ bike, but it’s very purposeful in its build. We think that’ll appeal to a lot of riders.

Alloy, alloy, alloy. If you’re a carbon sceptic, rejoice!

Bottomless, and in a hurry.

The One-Forty is built on the same Float Link suspension design found on the One-Twenty and One-Sixty platforms. It’s a very good system – the suspension feels bottomless, like there’s more than the 140mm travel, and it carries speed exceptionally well. That was a real highlight of this bike’s performance, it just didn’t get caught up or bogged down in the rough.

With the Float Link suspension design, the lower shock mount moves with the chain stay.

The grip to back it up.

We think it’s fair to say that the Plus-sized format is going to die a death pretty soon (excluding on hardtails and some e-bikes). In its place, we’re starting to see a lot of 2.6″ rubber, which delivers a better balance of grip, stability and durability than 2.8″ or 3.0″ Plus rubber.

The Maxxis combo found on the One-Forty, with the wide 30mm rims, is a pearler. There’s a huge amount of braking, cornering and climbing grip on tap.

Serious rubber. The Minion DHR makes a brilliant front tyre too – gobs of braking traction.
The 2.6″ Rekon is a fast roller, even in this size.

And the geometry to rip.

We love the geometry of this bike. The head angle is the 66.3-degrees, which is slacker than most of its direct competition, and the chain stays are short. It’s precise and jumps like a champ, but still very confident when you point it down those tech sections that want to stop your front wheel dead and shoot you out the front door. The reach measurements aren’t overly long, so if you’re sitting on the borderline between sizes we’d suggest going larger rather than smaller.

35mm legs make the new RockShox Revelation a precise fork, even though it’s not overly smooth.

Banging pedals.

Perhaps the only downside to this bike is the very low bottom bracket, which saw us clipping pedals more than usual, especially when climbing. The flipside is that the low centre of gravity gives you a nice feeling of being ‘in’ the bike, rather than on top of it.

SRAM GX Eagle is getting massive amounts of OEM spec, and for good reason.

On-point spec choices.

It’s fantastic to see SRAM Eagle appearing on bikes at attainable price points now! Big points to Merida for going with Eagle – the 500% gear range and quiet performance makes this groupset a winner. SRAM’s whopping four-piston Code brakes might seem like overkill, but they give a good of signal this bike’s descending capabilities and they’re very powerful.

We love the colour. Industrial!

Other options under $4K?

There are a number of comparable bikes on the market you could consider. YT’s Jeffsy 27 AL at $3699 looks great (we’ve ridden the 29er Jeffsy and loved it, review here), Canyon have just released an all-new Spectral and the AL 6.0 version also comes in at $3699. Giant too have their ever popular Trance available at $3699 as well, for the Trance 2.0 (read our Trance review here).

We knew we’d like it.

From the moment we first saw this bike, at the Merida dealer show last year, we knew we’d enjoy our time on it. It just looked right – the right angles, the right components, at the right prices. It’s nice to know our gut instinct about this bike was correct: it’s a bloody hoot to ride.

If you’re looking for a tool to dismantle the trickiest trails, and you don’t have bundles of cash to throw around, then this bike should be right up there on your test-ride list. Merida, hey? Who’d have though it?!

Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0: Reviewed and Rated

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

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

Welcome back, Anthem 29!

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

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

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

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

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

What’s new with the Anthem 29?

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

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

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

Tell me everything about this new Anthem 29.

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

Oh, that fork! The new FOX 32 SC.

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

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

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

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

On/off suspension, what about the middle guy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropper post limitations, oh damn.

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

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

Super SRAM Eagle.

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

Ah, sweet, sweet Eagle we love you.

10.08kg, nice.

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

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

Nice bits from Giant.

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

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

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

Verdict.

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

FOX 34 E-bike Optimised Fork First Impressions

Why do I need an e-specific fork? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the damper? 

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

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

Setup so far?

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

Can I run these on my normal bike?

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

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

Merida One-Forty 800 First Impressions

Merida One-Forty: the right tool.

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

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

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

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

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

Smart, tough components.

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

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

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

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

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

Trek Powerfly 7 FS: First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

What’s under the hood?

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

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

We swapped the fork out. Sorry Trek.

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

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

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

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

Wheelworks Flite Apex Enduro: Value Conscious Wheels on Review

What are they?

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

Ever wanted a genuinely well-built pair of wheels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we aiming to do here?

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

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

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


Once was 11, now we’re 12.

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

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


What now?

Let’s ride!

Tested: SD Components Dynamic Volume Chamber

What is the SD Components DVC?

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

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

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

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

What’s the idea here?

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it superior to a spacer system?

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

The Bottomless Tokens look pretty basic in comparison.

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

What did you fit it to?

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

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

How did it go?

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

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

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

So is it worth investing?

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

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

First Impressions: FOX 36 vs RockShox Lyrik

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

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

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


FOX 36 vs RockShox Lyrik:

Chassis and appearance:

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

Axles:

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

Weight:

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

Dampers:

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

Air spring:

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

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

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

Axle to crown: 

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

Tested: Scott Contessa Genius 720 2018

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


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


How did the Contessa Genius feel on the trail?

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


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

Scott Contessa Genius 720 Frame Details

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

What is the Contessa Genius built for?

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

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

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

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


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

Scott Contessa Genius 720 Spec Details

So what makes it a women’s specific model?

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

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

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

Any pre-ride mods?

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

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

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


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

Where did we ride it?

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


Standout ride qualities

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


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

Climbing on the Contessa Genius

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

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

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

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

Plenty of cables up front!

Features we dig

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of room for a water bottle there too.

Sizing

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

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

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

Final thoughts on the Contessa Genius?

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

RockShox Pike, The New Generation: Upcoming Review

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

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

RockShox Pike 2018: Lighter, leaner, ripped.

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

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

Boost only, Plus compatible all around.

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

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

Clearance updated because everything is so big nowadays.

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

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

Updated damper to increase performance.

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


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

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


Price and weight?

Pike RCT3 DebonAir Boost Charger 2  – $1,299.95

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

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


ShockWiz-it!

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

The nifty suspension setup tool – Quark ShockWiz.

Fox 34 vs RockShox Pike?

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

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

The big showdown begins! Fox 34 vs RockShox Pike.

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

Let’s ride!

First Impressions: 2018 Canyon Torque

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

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

The Torque is a lean looking 180mm bike.


What’s New?

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

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

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

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

Long descents are very much what the Torque is about.

So, how does the bike ride?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is the Torque a total pig uphill?

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

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

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

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


What models are available?

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

The Torque CF 9.0 Pro

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

The Torque AL5 is the cheapest model in the range.

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

All models feature a threaded bottom bracket.

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

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

First Impressions: Vittoria Morsa 29×2.3″ Tyres

First impressions?

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

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


What’s special about it?

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

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

Size options? 

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

Tested: Polygon Siskiu T8

Watch the full video review! 


It’s a sharp looking whip!

What am I looking at here?

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

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

Where can I see one?

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

This is a thoroughly modern trail bike, made affordable.

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

All the fundamentals are there.

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

Tranz X provide the 150mm-travel dropper post.

A few compromises.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tubeless first.

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

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

Get that suspension working for you.

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

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

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

Strong position.

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

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

Impressive efficiency.

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

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

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

Niggles?

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

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

Hard to top for this money.

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

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

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


Looking for other Polygon reviews?

Tested: Polygon XQUARONE EX9

Tested: Polygon Collosus N9 2016

Tested: Polygon Collosus DH9 2016

Tested: Polygon Siskiu D8

All-Mountain Assassin: The Polygon Collosus N9

Tested: Polygon Recon 4

First Impressions: 2018 Canyon Spectral

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

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

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

What’s New?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


27.5” wheels and 2.6” tyres?

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

Smaller wheels were chosen for more agile handling.

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

Joe Barnes threads the needle through the slippery Madeiran singletrack.

A new era for cable integration, frame and bearing protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tested in the Scottish mud.

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


The Eject ‘system’ and Frame Case:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What model did we ride? 

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

Another tough day at the office.

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

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

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

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

So, how does it ride?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who is this bike for?

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Ieuan Williams, one crazy Welshman.

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

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

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

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

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


Any complaints?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tested: Scott Genius 920 2018


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

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


So what changed for 2018?

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

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

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

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

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

Bombing through the trails of Hornsby Mountain Bike Park.

What’s remained?

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

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

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

What version is this?

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

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

Where does it shine?

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

This bike relishes in the chunder.

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

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

Any drawbacks?

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

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

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

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

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

More refined than high tea.

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


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

Tested: Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned

Tested: Scott Genius 710 Plus

Tested: Scott Genius 710

Tested: Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned


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

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

More aggressive and more confident than before.

So what’s the verdict?

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

Fresh Product: M2O Cycling Compression Socks

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

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

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

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

Note the sock/helmet matching?

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

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

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

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

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

Socks ‘n’ Stocks approved.

 

 

Tested: Bontrager Line Pro 30 Wheels

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Stiff is good, right?

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

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

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


Arrgh, the terror of the tubeless rim strips!

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

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

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


Yay, or nay?

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

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


Want more specs, pricing and compatibility options?

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

First Impressions: Polygon Siskiu T8

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

What’s the scoop?

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

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

You’ve ridden the Siskiu before, correct? 

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

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

Is it 29er only?

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

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

What can you tell me about Polygon?

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

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

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

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

Off we go!

Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Long-Term Test Update

The obligatory suspension fiddling:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High rise, maybe a bit tall for shorties: 

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

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

Rubber choices:

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

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

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

CushCore frustrations:

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

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

Tested: Giant Reign 2

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

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

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


Go time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


The parts.

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

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

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


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

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


What we liked.

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

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

What we didn’t.

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


Yay, or nay?

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

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

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

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

Tested: Camelbak Chase Vest

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

Inspired by jogging. Yes, jogging.

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

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

So what’s the idea here?

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

The main compartment has enough room for spares and food.

How is the load spread?

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

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

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

What does it actually carry?

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

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

Is it more practical to use than a backpack?

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

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

Is it cooler to use than a backpack?

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

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

Anything annoying about it?

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

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

But what about how it rides?

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

Winner!

Recommended then?

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

 

 

Upcoming Review: FOX Float DPS Factory Shock

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

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

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

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


FOX DPS, what?

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

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


What now?

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


What about long travel shocks, and forks, too?

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

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

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

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

First Impressions: Scott Genius 920

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

What are we looking at here?

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

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

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

Sticking to their guns

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

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

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

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

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

Other wheel size options?

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

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

First ride impressions?

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

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

Upcoming Review: FOX Factory Series 34 FLOAT 29

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

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


Why Pike vs 34?

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

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

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


What’s new with the FOX 34?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Stay tuned for the full review!

First Impressions: Scott Contessa Genius 720

Off to a good start!

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

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

More aggressive, but still very much an all-rounder

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

How good do those gum wall tyres look?

What makes this a women’s bike?

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

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

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

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

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

Tested: Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned

Tested: Scott Genius 710 Plus

Tested: Scott Genius 710

Tested: Scott Genius LT 700 Tuned


 

Tested: Camelbak Repack LR

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


Why bum bags, not just a regular pack?

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

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

Any downsides?

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

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

How have you used it?

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

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

So what’s the Repack like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better than a backpack?

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

 

 

Tested: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Trail time thoughts.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Introducing our Commencal Meta AM 4.2 Long-Term Test Bike

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

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


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

Don’t know much about the brand?

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

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

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

Where do I buy one? 

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

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

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

So what is this model?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the build like? 

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

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

What’s next? 

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

 

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Reign 2

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

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



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

2018 brings updates, what are they?

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

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

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

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

How’re the parts for the cash?

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

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

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


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

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

Let’s ride.

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

 

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized S-Works Epic

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


Mad light, S-Works light.

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

10kg of speed.

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


What’s new with the frame?

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

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

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

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

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


Early impressions?

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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