Long-Term Test: Merida eOne-Sixty 900 Update


We took the Merida out on a huge day of exploring the moto trails above Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. A couple of crashes and one bent derailleur hanger couldn’t dampen our excitement, it was an amazing day of riding.

Our Merida eOne Sixty 900 has been getting a good old work out over the past month, and as we get accustomed to the way to rides, we’ve begun to make a few tweaks to get the most out of this playful, well-priced steed. Here are a few thoughts, and a bit more info on what we’ve changed and why.

Short rear end, swings both ways:

The compact geometry of the Merida is one of the things we love best about it – it’s closer to a regular mountain bike than just about any eMTB on the market. While this makes it an easy bike to whip about, it does come at a cost when you’re climbing steep and technical terrain. With the extra power of the motor behind you, it’s easy to find yourself looping out unless your timing is good. If you’re having one of those bad climbing skills days, it can be frustrating.

With a rear end of 439mm, the Merida is 20-30mm shorter than most other long-travel e-bikes.

Narrower rubber:

While most e-bikes come with 2.8″ or even 3.0″ rubber, we’re going smaller, looking for a more precise and direct feel. After spending some time on the Focus SAM2 (watch the video here) and 2019 Specialized Levo (learn more here), which run narrower tyres, we decided to downsize the Merida’s tyres a little, to get a more direct, lively feel. The Continental Der Baron Projekt tyre is fast becoming a favourite of ours, and when we saw it was available in a e-bike friendly 27.5 x 2.6″ format, we nabbed a set.


Check out our First Impressions video too:


Rear suspension:

The RockShox Deluxe rear shock on this bike only offers rebound adjustment externally, so we’ve delved inside in order to get the feel and performance we’re after. We’re looking for more ramp up in the rear suspension, so we can run less air pressure and gain sensitivity, but without blowing through the travel. This calls for adding Bottomless Tokens! When we opened the shock up, we were suprised to find it already had two tokens fitted (we were expecting one or none), and you can only fit three to this particular shock. Anyhow, in went a third. We’ve still got some tweaking to do here we feel. The rear end is better, but we feel there’s more performance there.

We added a Bottomless Token to the rear end, but we still haven’t got the rear suspension perfected yet.

New budget-priced brakes:

The XT two-piston brakes have been replaced with a set of Shimano’s new wallet friendly BR-M501 brakes, which are a four-piston stopper. They come in at just $300 for a pair, which is super cheap. Shimano’s lower-priced brakes always seem to work bloody well, so we’ve got high hopes for these.

Slammed the stem:

A lower front end is good for climbing, as well as weighting the front wheel when cornering, especially if the terrain is flatter. The Merida came with a tall cone-shaped headset spacer that left the front end a little tall for our liking, so we ditched it and installed a flat headset top assembly. Then we chopped the steerer tube, just to keep it all looking neat!

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Powerfly LT 9 Plus

Trek’s new 2019 Powerfly gives no mixed messages about its intentions. It is chunky, long, robust and built like a tank. With 160/150mm of travel, 40mm wide rims with 2.8″ tyres, e-bike specific FOX 36 the spec is undoubtedly up for a thrashing, and the chassis also. The newly integrated battery does wonders in making a long-travel e-bike look quite sleek, a contender for the best-looking e-bike of the year in a category of some very clunky looking opposition.

We attended the official launch of the 2019 Powerfly LT in Mammoth Mountain, California earlier this year to get the full story from the horse’s mouth, and now it’s time to sink our teeth into the bike on our home trails. We’ll be comparing the Powerfly LT to the latest crop of popular bikes available in Australia to get a better understanding of its strengths. We’ve had a lot of e-bikes come across our desks lately, the new Specialized Levo is with us, as is the super-light Focus Jam2 and long-travel Sam2. The Merida e-One Sixty is also a close bike to draw comparisons too.



What we are looking for in this review.

The Powerfly LT is a big bike, there’s no hiding the fact it’s a lot longer than the competition, we might sound like a broken record when we quote the length of the Powerfly LT’s chainstays – 474mm – but it’s a what sets it apart from the rest. With more bike behind you, it’ll claw up the steepest climbs darn well, with the front end losing control and wandering about. Hop up out of the saddle, and the traction is still there, it feels like the rear wheel could only break traction on only the slipperiest and steepest climbs.

But too how much is the length of the bike to its detriment? What type of rider will appreciate it, and what trails is it best suited to?

The new Powerfly LT is a contender for the most ‘regular looking’ e-bike on the market. It is super sleek.

After a couple of rides, what do we think so far?

We know our local trails like the back of our hands, and the Powerfly LT tackled them with guts and confidence. The generous suspension and robust chassis felt like we could push it harder, and when it came to a particular climb that we base many of our test bike’s climbing prowess on, it cleaned it like it was nothing. This thing climbs steep singletrack a lot easier than the Levo or Jam2, no doubt about it.

The Powerfly LT is dressed for severe riding; we expect it’ll be one bike that we explore its limits on the climbs as well as the descents.

No Powerfly LT review would be complete without quoting the chainstay length.

Testing continues.

We’re going to spend a few more weeks on the Powerfly LT to see where it fits in, catch you on the other side!

 

Tested: 2019 Giant Trance 29er 1

Giant threw the cat amongst the pigeons with the new Trance; we were not expecting their return to 29” wheel trail bikes with a bike with only 115mm of rear suspension travel. Though after a few solid weeks ripping singletrack alight, we’re impressed with its fun and lively ride. Click here to read our first impressions and reaction to the new bike release.


Watch the Trance 29er in action here:


Stout and lively, the new Trance was SO much fun to rip about the singletrack on.

Packing a punch.

The Trance is a short travel bike that punches way above its weight; we found ourselves going just as hard on the Trance as we were on far bigger bikes and it felt fantastic. We’re used to categorising bikes by wheel size and suspension travel amount, but with the advancements in suspension technology and a better understanding of how all the elements of mountain bike design come together, bikes like the Trance 29er need not be defined by the quantity of suspension, rather the quality of it.

115mm doesn’t seem like a lot of travel for a trail bike, but if we didn’t know that number we’d have sworn it was longer travel.

We’re witnessing a resurgence of shorter travel bikes that keep up on rough trails, with decent rubber, stable steering and a robust chassis, a good technique, line choice and effort is rewarded with a whole lot of fun.

Holeproof spec.

Giant is pretty darn good at speccing their bikes right for the cause, and the Trance is an excellent example of picking the right tools for the job. It’s hard to fault the spec at all, especially considering the very fair price tag. The SRAM GX drivetrain is a real winner in our experience, and a massive contributor to the bike’s smooth and quiet operation, bringing high-end performance to a lower level.

While the higher end Trance 29ers use DVO Suspension, we can’t get enough of the FOX DPS shock, and 34 fork’s fantastic performance, the smooth, supple and highly adjustable fork and shock are what we’d expect to find on top-spec model bikes. The rear shock does a stellar job of managing significant impacts as well as remaining calm under pedalling forces, pretty dialled.

Carbon wheels on a bike at this level is a nice surprise, the new TRX wheels from Giant will be very popular with a nice width and direct feeling. They did pop and ping quite a bit on the first ride as the spoke tension settled down, and the rear wheel wasn’t 100% true after a couple of weeks.

Carbon wheels on a $5499 bike, nice!

Supplied with tubeless sealant and valves, Giant address one of the biggest gripes we have with many test bikes we get, and the Maxxis tyres sealed up like a dream on the wheels, yay!

Giant’s new saddle and dropper post rate a mention too, great high-quality kit.

Who’s it for?

The Trance nails that all-around trail bike vibe with a very comfortable riding position that feels instantly natural. While a race bike might feel longer in the reach, the handlebars on the Trance fall right into your hands like you’ve owned it for years.

The FOX 34 is our favourite trail fork.

It’s efficient enough to take on a marathon race or multi-day event and would be more comfortable on the body that the race-ready Anthem would be, and on our local trail network, only the rowdiest of sections would challenge the Trance leaving us wishing for longer legs to cope with bigger impacts at speed.

How does it compare to the current Trance with 27.5” wheels and longer travel?

This one feels lighter to play around with and make quick line choices, easier to jump up and over stuff on the trail. Pair that with the inherent stability from 29” wheels and you’ve got a bike that is light to ride yet composed.

Pretty stoked on this one!

We’re always searching for new experiences from mountain bikes, and the emergence of short travel trail bikes that rip is one thing that is doing it for us right now. It’s easy to feel a little isolated on a long travel 29er when riding trails that don’t call for such a big bike, riding this one confirms that you don’t need loads of travel for a good time.

Love the feeling of going fast, and your trails aren’t particularly rough or steep? Consider the new Trance 29er, for sure.

Four Piston Brake Comparo: Shimano, SRAM and Hope


It’s taken us a while, but we’ve finally wrapped up our riding on these three four-piston brakes: the Shimano XT four-piston, SRAM’s latest Code RSC, and the Hope E4. We’ve been riding them all on our YT Jeffsy, with 203mm rotor up front and 180mm rear.

Now this is by no means a scientific test. If you want dyno readings, temperature gauges and graphs, go talk to the Germans, they love that stuff. This is a qualitative assessment – i.e. what we liked, and what we didn’t! 

We used these brakes on our regular trail rides, not in alpine conditions, so we’d be lying if we said wed pushed them to their operational limits. Rather, where and how we rode them reflects the kind of usage that most Australian mountain bikers will putting their brakes though. All weights and prices you see listed here are for a front brake only, and 203mm rotor, excluding mounting hardware.So, without further ado.


The SRAM Code RSC:

Brake weight: 295g

203mm rotor weight: 190g

Price per end with 203mm rotor: $450


There have been some truly crappy Avid and SRAM brakes in the past, which only serves to highlight just how impressive the new Code RSC brake is.  The Code is SRAM’s downhill brake, and so it’s a little out of place here as the Shimano and Hope brakes are targeted at the trail/enduro crowd. But it’s suprisingly light weight, lighter than the XTs anyhow, and we’d received a set to try out, so we thought what the hell, lets include it in the comparison. 

We’re pleased to say the Codes were nothing short of excellent.


Highlights:

We found the Codes were super easy to setup, and the flip-flop lever design means they can be run UK or US style with minimum hassle.

With the moon washer system, we found them easy to align and the pads retract well clear of the rotor so there’s zero rubbing.

Given that these are a downhill brake, the power is excellent, and for sheer grunt these were the best of this bunch. 

Levers feel nice and solid, with big sealed bearings at the lever pivot, so there’s no waggle at all.

Contact point adjustment seems to work much better than earlier versions of the Guide or Code brakes. 

 

Lowlights:

Noisiest in the wet in this trio.

Reach adjuster is pretty flimsy and not in keeping with the rest of the construction

Not 100% sold on the lever ergonomics.

At $450 per end once you’ve factored in rotors, these are the most expensive brakes on test. 


Shimano M8020 XT Four Piston:

Brake weight: 294g

203mm rotor weight: 165g

Price per end with 203mm rotor: $350


Shimano original XT four piston brakes were so desirable! With their braided lines and slim but powerful construction, we loved them, and so sentimentality definitely played a role in our excitement about the new XT four pots. The original XT stoppers weren’t first to the disc brake game, but their arrival into the world of disc brakes all those year ago signalled that rim brakes were goners. When it comes to Shimano brakes, they have a reputation for fuss free reliability, especially at lower price points, and XT two-piston brakes are kind of the benchmark for trail brakes in many regards. 

The M8020 brakes look just like Shimano’s Saint downhill brakes. In fact, there’s practically no difference. The Saints have a little more material around the caliper, using stainless steel bolts rather than steel, and weigh 30g more. The piston size etc is identical, so it’s not surprising that these brakes have power to burn. Interestingly, the levers are the same as the standard XT two-piston brakes as well, so you could just buy the calipers if you wanted to upgrade your regular XT brakes.


Highlights:

Everything we love about XT brakes, but with more power and even better heat management. 

Shimano ease of setup – they’re a very  easy set of brakes to fit. Even after trimming the lines, we didn’t need to bleed them.

Excellent power. Shimano claim 20% more grunt than a two-piston XT, but it felt like more! 

Light, fast, lever feel and quick pad engagement thanks to the Servo Wave levers.

 

Lowlights:

Freestroke adjuster seems to have little effect. We’ve never found it a useful feature on Shimano brakes.

The large finned pads rattle a little in the caliper. We’d be tempted to run the non-finned version.


Hope E4 with Tech 3 lever:

Brake weight: 255g

203mm rotor weight: 176g

Price per end with 203mm rotor: $380


If you’re the kind of person who seeks out artisan sourdough loaves, rather than grabbing some Tip Top off the shelf at Woolies, then you’ll appreciate Hope’s handmade in the UK approach. Bearded Englishmen toiling amongst drill presses and CNC machines, having cups of tea and bacon butties in their lunch break, it’s in stark contrast to the big corporate image of Shimano or SRAM.

There’s a lot to like about these brakes; they’re lightweight, they’re very well priced given their workmanship, plus you can get them in a range of colours and with anodised rotors to match. You also have the option of lighter ‘race’ lever with less adjustability if you want to save the grams.  It’s been a while since we’ve ridden Hope brakes, and after spending some time on these, we’re wondering why we left it so long!


Highlights:

Just look at them – they’re seriously glamorous. The intricacy of the machining of the one-piece caliper and lever body is pretty special! 

We love the feel and operation of the chunky adjusters. They have a solid, precise ‘click’ to them that reeks of good built quality.

Power comes on with plenty of control, with quite a linear feel, that translates to great braking control at slower speeds in particular.

The pricing is surprisingly reasonable!

 

Lowlights:

Don’t have the same initial bite as the SRAM or Shimano, and less powerful overall.

Took a few rides to stop dragging completely. 

Whether its just bad luck, but the Hope rotors were the only ones that went out of true during our testing.

 

CrankBrothers Synthesis Wheels – Ridden, First Impressions.

Some of you might recognise the shallow rim shape of the new Synthesis wheels, as one of the brains behind these new wheels is Australian carbon wheel guru Mello Bouwmeester. He produced some exceptionally high-quality wheels with a single wall carbon construction that prioritised compliance and gained quite a reputation for doing so. But before Mello expanded his 27.5” wheel range to offer 29” and leaving his own brand behind in Adelaide, he packed up to move his life to Utah to be a part of SR56 the design and engineering centre for the Selle Royal Group.


So with the superpower engineering minds of Mello and Jason Shiers the original founder of ENVE Composites combined, something good was bound to happen. ENVE was originally known for creating super-stiff wheels, with Bouwmeester wheels being known for their compliance. What was this pairing going to produce, then?

Mello Bouwmeester and Unno Factory DH Team rider, Greg Williamson with a prototype set of Synthesis wheels.
The new Synthesis wheels are set to shake up the game a bit, we expect.
Thinner and lower tension spokes on the front, compared to the rear.

Mis-matched front to back.

The new wheels will be available in three variants; for downhill, enduro and cross country. The front wheel uses a wider rim with a lighter carbon layup, fewer spokes, thinner spokes and less tension, this is said to give a more compliant ride. In comparison, the rear wheel uses a slightly narrower rim, thicker and higher spoke tension for a stiffer and more direct wheel for efficiency and speed.

Look closely, you’ll see the differences in the rim profile from front to back.
This is the Synthesis E11, the top-level enduro/all-mountain wheelset with a big price tag – $3799 AUD.

Sure, tuning spoke tension differently and using different spokes and rims front to back may have been done before by experienced mechanics, but this is the first example we’re aware of that can be purchased ready to ride, tried and tested. We tested a set of Zelvy wheels that used a narrower rim for the back wheel, it makes a lot of sense.

We have a full rundown an interview with Mello, and all the technical details about the unique structure of the narrow profile rim, so get on over and have a read for the particularly interesting story here.

How much!?

They certainly aren’t cheap, this is the Synthesis E11 set using premium US made Project 321 hubs, for $3799, a cheaper option for $2698 will be available with a CrankBrothers hub, but the same carbon rim and spokes.

We weighed this 29” set at 1840g with rim tape and tubeless valves.

On the trail, do they live up to the hype?

Reviewing wheels is a tricky task, once you’ve compared price, weight, warranty and appearance it all comes down to performance on the trail. Our Norco Sight long-term test bike has had five pairs of wheels fitted to it over time, so we used this bike to test them out for a clearer picture. We used the same tyres as previously fitted to the FSA Afterburner Wider wheels, kept the tyre pressures identical, and off we went.

Setting them tubeless was as easy as it can get, the tyres popped on, sealed up and no swearing was heard from the Flow garage, for a change.

Same tyres, tyre pressure and a bike we know like the back of our hands, the Synthesis wheels dramatically changed the bike’s feel on the trails.

These wheels are so darn quiet it made what we thought was a quiet bike, really quite noisy, it was quite astonishing! While we didn’t think of the wheels fitted prior stood out in terms of acoustics, they must have been making five times as much noise as the Crankbrothers wheels! A quiet bike is a fast bike, we strive to make our bikes as quiet as possible, perhaps we now have unlocked another level for the quest for ultimate silence?

Giving the bike a shove into a corner, or locking the rear wheel up through a rocky turn you could feel the wheel thumping along, rather than skipping across the surface. And a nice big volume of air helps the front end feel smooth and supple as the front tyre conforms to the trail surfaces.

Fancy hubs.

The Project 321 hubs are a great choice for a wheel that aims to create a quiet ride, as the freehub is one of the quietest we’ve ever ridden, and the engagement is super-fast, they feel ultra high quality.

The US made 321 hubs on the 11 series models, they come with a brilliant reputation and a clever magnetic pawl freehub system.
Dead quiet, smooth and sturdy. We are very impressed after only a couple of short rides.

After a couple of short rides, we are highly impressed, they changed the bike’s feel dramatically, now much smoother, quieter and faster. We’re going to give these wheels a solid flogging and try them over a longer period on a few different bikes. But so far we can tell we’re going to really enjoy riding these impressive wheels.

Tested: Cane Creek Helm Coil, Continental Baron tyres, FSA Afterburner wheels and more

Those who know me are probably tired of me banging on about my favourite bike that I ride all the time, yeah, yeah it’s the Norco Sight 29er. This one is getting a little long in the tooth now, although the 2017 model carries on unchanged into the 2019 season, minus a few spec tweaks and longer travel forks. Reflecting its long tenure at Flow, with four different wheelsets, three drivetrains, five forks, three seatposts, and countless km, we have enjoyed having one bike to try so many parts on for a clear picture of how each product impacted on the bike’s behaviour and performance.

Since our last update, we have had quite a few new parts to try out; fork, wheels, drivetrain, tyres, cranks, seat post and Bluetooth tyre valves. Plenty!


Cane Creek Helm Coil fork.

Let’s start with the fork; a new experience for us, our first time on a Cane Creek fork, and many years since a fork with a coil spring inside!

Coil sprung suspension has come back in vogue steadily over the last couple of years. Coils have always been the norm in downhill, but with EWS racers using them on particular tracks, it legitimized it to a degree, to be used on bikes with lesser travel, and for suspension brands to expand their coils sprung offerings.

Changing coils for a lighter or heavier spring weight is quick, changing travel is also simple.
The travel adjustment is done by removing the damper rod and moving the parts around and putting it back in. Too easy.

While FOX and RockShox don’t offer a single-crown coil sprung fork, other major players like MRP, Öhlins, and Cane Creek do. We wonder if the big two are working on something, or they are happy enough with their air sprung forks at the moment?

Why coil? Generally speaking, the inherent properties of coil sprung give the suspension a very supple and sensitive action, with less moving parts than an air spring they can react with lower levels of force. Though in comparison to an air spring, they add weight and lack a certain degree of progressiveness as the suspension nears the end of the stroke. Coils tend to maintain consistency when temperatures rise, also.

Air spring suspension is obviously infinitely adjustable, adding and subtracting air pressure to nail the desired sag, while a coil requires swapping out springs for different weight options.

The 35mm legged coil fork gains 260g over the air version with the same damper and chassis (air: 2080g, coil: 2340g).

Travel is adjustable between 160mm and 130mm in 10mm increments.

Riding the Helm Coil.

We love the way this fork feels on the trail, it’s so very sensitive and smooth, and when pushed hard the support is fantastic. Turning the bike on an off-camber section of trail littered with roots is a place you really feel the fork’s light breakaway threshold is its strength, creating a very active fork.

Better than a FOX or RockShox, then? It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly makes the Helm Coil feel so different on the trail and to make a definitive call if its a better system than the best offerings from FOX or RockShox. While we haven’t been able to test it to its limit on long descents, or at EWS level race pace, we feel it’s close to the quality and damping performance of the big two, but we’d still have a hard time giving up a FOX fork with a FIT damper for anything.

What we like.

The fork is very supple and sensitive, which aids traction over chattery terrain and reduces fatigue in the hands.

Travel adjustments are so easy, with no additional parts or purchases required, at any home garage, with no degree in suspension mechanics or fancy tools required.

Solid and robust chassis, with a slick stanchion action and little stiction.

What we don’t.

Cane Creek’s attempt to reinvent the humble quick release axle may have failed, sorry guys, but taking the skewer in and out should not be that tricky. It requires more than one hand to manage, and watching someone use it for the first time, and figuring it out is too painful.

Those bling’n compression adjusters are sharp on the hands, gloves only!

The coils do rattle a little bit inside the fork, but not loud enough to hear on the trail, just when bouncing around the carpark.

Changing coils isn’t as quick and fine as adjusting air pressure.


Continental Baron and Mountain King tyre combo.

Ok, we’re not going to hold back at all here; this tyre kicks some serious ass! While an aggressive tyre like this won’t suit everyone, we can’t get enough of the way that it tames the trickiest type of dirt, the loose, dry, deep, soft and sketchy trails. The combination of a very open tread pattern, tacky yet supportive knobs, tall shoulder tread and a robust casing make this tyre something you can really count on.

This tyre has serious teeth, and we dig it.

We’d draw comparisons to the Maxxis High Roller, the way it bites the trail rather than sticking to it, holding on pretty hard when leant over.

We matched it to the Mountain King out the back, which may not have been the most logical combination as they are two very different tyres, but the trails we ride this bike mostly didn’t require such a big rear tyre. The rounded and lower profile shape gave the rear wheel a good dose of speed, and the tradeoff is certainly less bite than the Baron on the front. But those who’ve tried running a gripper tyre on the front than the back will appreciate how you can steer the bike through the turns by leaning over the front and letting the rear drift around behing you.

The Mountain King is quite round in profile with a lower tread structure for fast rolling and mad drifts!

SDG Tellis Dropper Post.

A relatively new player to the highly saturated dropper post market is SDG, known primarily for their long history of making saddles, their foray into the world of droppers would have to be special for it to stand out. Their whole approach is about simplicity and value, ease of installation and accessibility to maintenance.

We’ve had this one fitted to our Norco for many months and it’s going really, really well, up and down nicely. It was a absolute snack to install, having the cable head fixing at the seatpost end helps keep life simple.

On the trail the Tellis is a quiet achiever, somewhat vague in it’s actuation when compared to a FOX Transfer, Specialized Command Post or RockShox Reverb, the thumb lever feels so light to push with a long throw, it lacks a tactile feeling that it’s actuated. The thumb lever is positioned like a mirror image to the Shimano XT thumb shifter on the other side, so it’s a natural action to actuate when riding.

SDG Tellis Dropper, a newcomer to the market, and a quiet achiever.
The thumb lever is very light to push with a long throw, easy to reach and install. Thumbs up from us!

Probably the most important test for a dropper post is how it fares in bad weather, and how much side-to-side play it develops over time. So far, it has impressed us on both accounts, with no change in its action after plenty of winter rides, and a totally acceptable amount of play. It does move up and down a little, lifting the seat when not at full extension there’s about 3mm of movement, though nothing noticeable when riding.

With an RRP of $439, we’d recommend the Tellis, for sure.


FSA SL-K Modular Cranks.

Full Speed Ahead wheels and cranks have been fitted for a few months, and have given the bike fuss-free performance. The SLK cranks use a new modular system that lets you tune the chain line and swap out spiders easily for different chainring sizes. Their carbon arms and one-piece ring and spider let it achieve a highly appealing 485g weight, only 60g heavier than the SRAM XX1 DUB SL cranks, but significantly lighter than Shimano XT and about 110g lighter than 9000 series Shimano XTR.

The SL-K cranks use a modular spider to fit a range of bikes using different chain lines.

The carbon arms come with a protective sticker to ward against damage to the nice finish from shoe rub, but it’s next-t0-useless and began to peel off after the first ride. There’s no protective boot like many other popular carbon crank arms either, so we weren’t surprised to see the nice finish marked up underneath from striking against rocks on the trail.

The 11-speed cranks retained the Shimano chain perfectly, no dropping, with no chain guide too. The rings are dead-quiet when pedalling, and didn’t grind against the chain when the trails turned muddy.

The SL-K cranks have been a good experience, despite the protective stickers peeling off, we’d recommend them for their adaptability of different chain lines and boost/non-boost compatibility, low weight and great chain retention.


FSA Afterburner Wider Wheels.

While the end goal for us trail riders is always expensive carbon, a pair of aluminium wheels will always have a place. This set of wheels come from a company with huge experience in components found anywhere on your bike, and their new Wider wheels bring them right up to speed with the latest trends of wider and lighter wheels.

FSA Afterburner Wider wheels, solid, light and low-key.

At 1720g and $1,211 they are competing against many carbon wheels on the market in terms of weight, but with a much lower price tag, and with 27mm internal width rims, they suit the all-round trail/all-mountain market where traction and durability are paramount.

We’ve given these wheels a pounding, and they are 100% true, tight, and rolling smoothly. Coming off a set of carbon Bontrager Line 30 wheels, the Norco may have lost a little bit of zing that carbon wheels do, but they feel very compliant and smooth over the chattering terrain.

The rear hub bearings do feel a little under the weather – so to speak – rolling rougher than we’d expect at their age, worth noting. Perhaps they aren’t as well sealed as we’re used to.

24 straight-pull spokes, and a fast-engaging rear hub with adjustable bearings.

Setting up tubeless was refreshingly simple, with the supplied valves and rim strip up to the task, with no struggle.

We’re glad we tried these wheels out, it proves that a simple set of aluminium wheels can be a great upgrade to a bike if you’re looking for a bit more width for a more compliant ride and increased traction.


e*Thirteen TRS 11-Speed Cassette.

Giving a larger gear range than most 12-speed drivetrains, this cleverly designed cassette from e*Thirteen provides a 511% gear range with a tiny 9T sprocket right down to the 46T. The tooth count is 9-10-12-14-17-20-24-28-33-39-46t.

We swapped out our SRAM Eagle 12-Speed drivetrain for this setup for review and this all went well.

The tiny 9T really requires a dialled drivetrain for it to be of effective use, we rarely shifted up to it as our drivetrain wasn’t exactly brand new, and shifting up and down the cassette was not as smooth as the Shimano XT kit or SRAM Eagle it replaced.

Shifting feel and usability of the 9T sprocket aside, this product is a great option for those wanting to add gear range to an existing 11-speed drivetrain without going all-out on a new drivetrain, though it does require an XD driver body (SRAM).

The 9-46T e*Thirteen TRS cassette gives a larger gear range than most drivetrains, with a 511% spread of gears.

Quark TyreWiz.

This is a bit of an odd one… We are incredibly picky about tyre pressure, with a gauge going on our tyres each ride without fail. We keep one digital gauge in the garage, and one in the car or travel bag. Knowing and keeping a consistent tyre pressure is imperative to our bike testing process. A slight change in pressure has a great impact on how a bike rides. Though this isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, this little device is!

Do we need a device to tell us tyre pressure on our phone? Well, no, we do not, but you might.

It does do some pretty cool things though; it can be read on your GPS or phone via ANT+ or Bluetooth, and it can be programmed to sound an alarm when pressures go out of set parameters. So if you’ve got a flat, slow leak, or a burped tyre you’ll know about it.

This gadget comes from the SRAM group Quark, the crew that brought us the very useful ShockWiz, a product we use on most test bikes. Check that out here: ShockWiz suspension tool.

Want valves that submit tyre pressure in real time to your smartphone or GPS? Look no further, the wait its over.

Stay tuned as we announce a new long term test bike, soon!

Polygon Siskiu N9 – First Impressions

Polygon have been plugging away solidly over the past few years, building up a tidy contingent of no-nonsense, sharply priced, alloy trail bikes. We’ve reviewed plenty of them over recent times, and we’ve enjoyed watching them get better and better with each iteration, ticking all the boxes that riders demand, but not sending anyone into financial ruin


Watch our first impressions vid below:


A faux-bar suspension system dishes out 160mm rear travel.

This Siskiu series of bikes doesn’t have the glitz of Polygon’s mind-blowing Xqaurone EX uber bike. They’re pitched at the rider looking for excellent value, not cutting-edge innovation, and so you’ll find effective but uncomplicated suspension designs, with practical, user-friendly components. The Siskiu N9, here, is the hardest hitting bike in the Siskiu line, with 160 or 170mm travel, and angles that have strutted right off the Enduro catwalk.


Check out our other recent Polygon reviews:

Polygon Xqareone EX9

Polygon Siskiu T8

Polygon Siskiu D8


The short head tube suits us, but taller riders will be running a few spacers beneath the stem we’d say. Note the internal cabling.

Wheel sizes? The N9 is available in both 27.5 and 29er, but not in all frame sizes. Large and x-large frames get 29er wheels, small frames get 27.5″ wheels, and if you’re lucky enough to ride a medium, you can choose either wheel size. Want little wheels on a big frame? Sorry, no dice, Captain. We’re riding a medium with 29er wheels – give us the big wagon wheels any day, it’s confidence we crave.

The 500% gear range will come in handy on big days out.

Polygon come to you direct, keeping the costs down, and it’s hard not to be impressed by the excellent component spec for the money. Coming in at $3699, the bike is dressed in Enduro finery from FOX (with a 36 and DPX2 shock), SRAM GX Eagle and Scwhalbe’s Magic Mary tyres. The TRP four-pot brakes scared the hell out of us on our first test ride, as they took a lot longer to bed-in than a Shimano or SRAM brake, but they’re working well now. The majority of the kit is all Entity, which is Polygon’s in-house component label.

It’s awesome that Polyon have invested wisely in high quality suspension.

It’s no featherweight, at 14.75kg, but who’s really fussing, anyhow? You buy a bike like this and clearly you’re not racing the climbs. But we’ll sure as hell be racing the descents, to see how this bike compares to steeds twice the price. Stay tuned!

With many exotic Enduro frames costing $1000 more than this whole bike, it’s easy to see the appeal of this clean, sensible machine.

 

 

 

 

 

Focus SAM2 6.8 – First Impressions


What makes the SAM2 standout?

Focus are all about making their e-bikes handle, as much as possible, like a regular mountain bike. You’ll notice that the geometry of this one is fairly compact out back, with a rear-centre of 455mm, certainly on the short side in the world of eMTBs. That’s music to our ears. Given its gobs of travel and alloy frame, the weight is impressive at 21.39kg.

Just a little battery though.

Key in giving the bike a ‘normal’, lively ride is the use of a smaller and lighter battery than most of the competition. At 380Wh, the capacity could be a drawback, but the trade off is a reduction in weight, as well as allowing the mass of the battery to be kept low in the bike. Theoretically, the standard battery should be able to get you up to three fast hours on the trails, but if you want to go longer or climb higher an additional battery can be mounted to the bike, bolting on to the frame atop the down tube. (Though keep in mind, this adds 2kg and a few hundred dollars.)

The on/off button the top tube is lovely and tactile. Note the relative clutter on the left hand side of the bar. Not the prettiest!
You can add an additional 380wH battery here if you’re looking to go long. It’s a smart solution we think, giving you the best of both worlds.

Long legs.

The sheer volume of travel is worthy of mention too. With 170mm front and rear, it’s got a lot of cushion for the pushin’. Bring it on, we say – with the Shimano e8000 motor taking the sting out of the climbs, why not give the bike long legs for the way back down?

The F.O.L.D linkage design drives 170mm of rear wheel travel from a long-stroke Fox DPS shock.

Speaking of the Shimano motor, we’re itching for the arrival of a smaller, simpler mode-shifter for their system. The big paddles are unnecessarily chunky, making it impossible to run an under-bar dropper post lever.

Conventional rubber.

While much of the eMTB world rolls on 27.5+ tyres, the SAM2 runs on more regular rubber, with Maxxis Minions in a 2.4 and 2.5″ width. A reduction in volume should mean more precision, better support and possibly tougher tyres too, but will the trade off in traction be acceptable?

We’re looking forward to this one. It’s nice to have a bike that wears its design goals on its sleeve so clearly.

Rather than Plus rubber, the [email protected] is on conventional 2.4/2.5″ Minions.

Check out more of the Focus 2019 range here, in our range overview vid!


 

2019 Specialized Levo – Ridden, Rated, Everything You Need to Know.

When the popularity of E-bikes began to grow, it was Specialized here in Australia leading the charge, and it has paid off with what appears to be an astonishing amount of Levos buzzing about on the trails.

The fast-growing segment is immensely competitive, not only from the bike manufacturers, but the motor system companies are pushing hard from their side, with the likes of powerhouses Shimano and Bosch gaining serious market share. It’s an exciting time to be right amongst it!


Watch our in-depth video discussion and first ride impressions of the 2019 Specialized Levo Expert Carbon below:


Testing the new Levo on our home trails, fun times for sure!

We often imagine that testing E-bikes must be how it was reviewing mountain bikes in the nineties, the technology is moving so fast, most of the brands are scrambling madly to get amongst it, developing bikes for a market that is showing huge growth.

We’ve relished the opportunity to test bikes that are still in their infancy to a degree and enjoy seeing the unique approaches to the challenges.

That brings us to the new Levo. Wait, what, a new Levo?

P.s. their official Levo video is pretty funny…

New Levo, yes, a new one already!

We were quite surprised with the news that a new Levo was coming, we’ve only been on the new carbon Levo for one year, and had more plans to keep shredding it. It shows that Specialized are damn keen to stay ahead of the pack, and while they certainly are not cheap bikes, the attention to detail and subtle improvements made are what impress us the most.

The all-new Levo, looks like a Stumpjumper that swallowed a stray cat.
Power up!
Clean and neat, all the information you need is on your smartphone app, with an optional display now available.
The chainstays are only 2mm longer than the 27.5″ wheel Levo with less travel. That’s quite a feat in our opinion.

What is new?

In a nutshell, the new Levo is pretty much a Stumpjumper with a motor. Specialized went to town redeveloping the Stumpjumper, and it appears that what they learnt on that platform has been carried over to the Levo.

  • 29″ wheels with 2.6″ tyres.
  • 150mm travel at both ends.
  • Our bike weighs 21.5kg as pictured, the S-Works is claimed to be under 20kg with a 500W battery.
  • Magnesium body motor shaves 400g over the predecessor.
  • S-Works frame is 800g lighter than the predecessor.
  • A larger 700Wh battery on Expert Carbon and S-Works models for more range (500Wh on other models).
  • Lower centre of gravity.
  • Control unit on top tube houses the bike’s brain, previously in the battery.
  • Mission Control App loaded with more features to tune and customise power outputs.
  • All internal routing travels through the sidearm, not over the motor (yay!).
  • The battery is accessed by sliding it from inside the downtube.
    The new battery is inside the downtube.

Bigger wheels, more power, more travel, more reach, more everything?

Short travel E-bikes just haven’t really taken off, you need a good dose of suspension and robust tyres to handle the weight and power, so jumping up from 135 to 150mm of rear travel and going up to 29″ wheels is a good thing. The bike feels long, slack, low and ready to rumble.

There’s that clever chainstay protector found on the Stumpjumper. Silencing chain slap very well.

Nitty gritty details.

Two things we always wish when we ride E-bikes; that they were lighter and more maneuverable. But batteries, motors and everything that comes with them are heavy, and they take up space.

Specialized have clearly worked hard to drop weight from the Levo, the new magnesium body motor from their partners Brose helped drop 400g, but also the way it mounts into the frame shaves weight.

The new magnesium bodied motor from Brose is 400g lighter and 15% smaller than the previous model.
Old vs new.
The new Turbo Control Unit is the bike’s brain, now on the top tube, not the battery.

On the trail with the new Levo, and its predecessor.

We took to the dirt with the new and old Levo to see how the changes felt on the trail. We apologise advance for calling the old Levo ‘old’. With the bike weighing one kilogram less, but going up in wheel size, suspension travel and stretching out in reach, it was going to be an interesting comparison.

We love the older Levo, though the new one has many improvements.
Doing what 29″ wheels do best, ploughing. Though it takes more body language to tip into a turn than the 27.5″ Levo.

The new Levo feels longer in the front end and more stable to steer than the smaller wheeled version, the motor noise was slightly louder but came on smoother. The rear suspension has improved greatly, where E-bikes tend to suffer in the suspension department, struggling with supporting the weight of the bike, the new Levo feels balanced and composed right through the stroke.

Ploughing down rough and rocky descents, the Levo felt amazing.

29″ wheels, eh? Aren’t most E-bikes rolling on 27.5″ plus wheels?

We did not expect the Levo to go to 29″ wheels, especially since Specialized were early adopters of the plus tyre bikes that came on strong a few years ago and have since taken a back seat, especially since ‘wide trail’ and 2.6″ tyres have been widely accepted.

29×2.6″ wheels and tyres on the new Levo. Plus tyres – or 6Fattie as Specialized call it – are totally compatible.

What’s in the Levo range?

We will see five models of the Levo coming to Australia, ranging from $7000 up to $15000. We dropped by Specialized HQ in Melbourne to see the full range, check it out below.

S-Works.

The chart-topping, jaw-dropping S-Works model. $15000 and it is yours….gulp.
Top-shelf FOX suspension, and a paint-job that looks $15000 worth.

Levo Expert Carbon.

Levo FSR Expert Carbon 29, $11500.

Levo Comp Carbon.

Levo FSR Comp Carbon, $9500.

Levo FSR – men and women’s version.

Levo FSR, entry-level model for $7000. A blue colour option is also available.
Levo FSR Women’s. $7000.
A beaut finish on this one.

Levo long-term test.

We’ll be hanging on to this one for a wee while, so keep an eye out for further testing and updates. We’d love to experiment with 27.5″ wheels, a 160mm travel fork, brakes and a coil rear shock. We’d also like to make weight savings where possible too.

If there are any modifications you’d suggest we make to our test bike, drop us a comment on Facebook, YouTube or below.

Is Gravel the new Road? Updates and Upgrades to our Trek Checkpoint

Trek’s first real dedicated gravel bike, the Checkpoint is a pretty cool beast, with loads of unique frame designs to give it a very distinct feel to its road bike brethren, cyclocross cousins or anything else in the catalogue.

But, after a few rides on the type of terrain that it is built for, we saw room for improvement:

  • Lower gear range for steep climbs.
  • Quieter drivetrain.
  • Lighter wheels, of course.
  • Tubeless tyres for confidence in the rough.
  • Increased braking power on long descents.

We’ve put our names down for an upcoming gravel event, the Gravel Grit Laguna, a 76km ride through the Onley State Forest, near Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. In preparation we’re lining up a few test gravel bikes, a Canyon Grail is confirmed to join us, as well as this beauty.

Many adventures planned with this one, now with a renewed amount of pizazz.
Long days out on dirt roads and loving it!

So, we set out to give the Checkpoint a makeover, ok, maybe we went a little overboard, but you get the drift of what we were hoping to achieve.

Lower range please, dirt roads can get steep!

Look, we’re no Contador, Pantani or Valverde, the climbs are hard on our average ability, so we need the gears to be able to sit down and spin while we talk to our adventurous gravel comrades about anything but bikes. The gearing that came on this bike was a little tall, in our opinion and thus conversation would go quite, replaced with groans and awkward silence as we pushed hard at a very low cadence.

Hooray for compact gearing! To our rescue, Shimano’s Ultegra R800 11-speed cranks with 46-36 teeth chainrings give a lower overall range than the 50-34.

We’ll see how we go with this setup; perhaps a wider range cassette would still be needed, especially if we’re carrying a lot of gear on long rides.

Lower range for the win, phew! 46-36 vs 50-34 it replaced.

Shhhhh, it’s peaceful out here.

Shimano gave us hints of what is potentially in the pipeline for the booming gravel segment with the new Ultegra RX rear derailleur. It’s like an XT and Ultegra combined, the slim Shadow shape with a clutch to stabilise the chain. We saw this derailleur appear on many pro road bikes at this year’s Paris Roubaix, combatting dropped chains and boosting confidence to maintain strong power on the pedals when the bike is kicking around like mad over the rough cobbled surfaces.

Shimano’s new Ultegra RX rear derailleur with chain stabilisation we see on mountain bike derailleurs.
Switch on for rough roads.

The RX derailleur just like the mountain bike derailleurs can be switched on and off, for gentle rides, it can remain off for a lighter shift action but is best engaged when the surfaces are unpredictable.

So far the drivetrain feels markedly more composed, the outgoing 105 mech felt far cheaper and less precise.

All upgrades start at the wheels, right?

Nothing beats dropping some grams out of the wheels to make improvements to a bike, with the Shimano RS770 dropping serious weight from the bike while adding more precision and direction to the ride quality.

The Shimano R770 wheelset is their answer for the gravel and cyclocross segment.
Carbon bonded to aluminium, like most carbon wheels from Shimano.

The R770 are a 1639g set of carbon laminate wheels, disc brake specific with 17mm internal width rims. Shimano’s recommendation is a tyre width range between 25-38mm, we’ll definitely be at the upper end of the spectrum when we select tyres for an upcoming gravel event this summer.

These wheels are also tubeless ready and sealed up with the Schwalbe tyres in the blink of an eye. We failed to convert the Bontrager wheels to tubeless, despite many attempts, the tubes went back in. But no with a successful tubeless installation, these wheels give us a lot more confidence to relax when rocks inevitably hit the rims.

Brake power can never be in short supply.

We found ourselves in a few situations when the Shimano brakes on the Checkpoint were not ideal. Namely during long descents when you are riding the brakes to keep your speed under control, and then you need to bunker down and brake harder to change a line or make a corner. The heat building up in the brakes would become too much, and the power would fade away, not a great scenario.

Shimano is well-known for impressive heat management systems in their mountain bike brakes, the XTR Trail Brakes we have on another long-term test bike manage brake fade a whole lot better than the comparable SRAM Guide brakes that share a lot of bike spec. So, what if we tried Ice-Tech rotors on this bike?

Ice-Tech FREEZA rotors to manage heat buildup on long descents.

With a set of last seasons 11-speed Dura Ace brakes, shift levers and Ice-Tech FREEZA rotors this bike has been transformed. We appreciate that this type of upgrade is a significant cost, but us mountain bikers put a lot of value on good brakes.

Clean cockpit.
Bontrager Kovee saddle with a firmer shape than the original one.
XTR pedals, no other option for us.
Taking the sting out the road, the Checkpoint’s Iso-Speed frame decoupler system.
Bulk protection under the frame, come at us, rocks!

What’s next?

Rubber! Bigger, chunkier rubber.

See you out there!

Long Term Levo: Upgrades and Modifications to our Specialized E-bike

This is the second Specialized Levo we’ve had on test, and the third we’ve ridden. Our experiences of the wide world of E-bikes began on the Levo; a first generation bike with 29″ wheels, narrow tyres, so much power, too much power, dubious spec choices and the result was an eye-opening experience. There were many improvements needed for these bikes to ride how we wanted them to.

Tweaking and tuning with the Levo.

Anyhow, this Levo Expert Carbon we’ve had for almost one year has been brilliant, far smoother to ride with the power coming on strong but with less surging power from the motor at unexpected times, much quieter and lighter overall.

Levo couldn’t hide from the Flow upgrade program.

We decided to make a few tweaks to our test bike, in areas we saw the potential for improvement. Namely the fork, brakes, rear tyre.

Öhlins to Marzocchi, Lingonberry to Arancini.

We swapped out the Swedish fork for an Italian one – well, used to be Italian, Marzocchi is now owned by FOX. We didn’t have any major qualms with the Öhlins RXF 36 fork, but we just never felt comfortable with it. On the trail, it felt smooth, quiet and composed, though unlike a FOX or RockShox for we lamented that feeling of knowing where you were in the travel range. All the Öhlins forks we have tried always seem to feel a little different though, maybe this one just needs a bit of TLC.

Big fans of the Bomber Z1’s simple and slick performance.

The new Marzocchi Bomber Z1 was revived by FOX to provide a robust and uncomplicated fork to a lower price point, we had it fitted to our Norco Sight 29er for a few months and really liked it, and always thought it’d be a good fit for the Levo.

After a couple of rides, the front end of the Levo feels more stable, and we’ve noticed reduced fatigue in our hands with the Bomber’s fast and sensitive action working overtime. Click here to see our review of the Marzocchi Bomber Z1.

2.8″ to 2.6″ tyre out the back.

While you can’t fault a big old 2.8″ tyre when it comes to the task of finding traction when it’s rare, but the large volume 2.8″ tyres on 38mm rims feel a little vague underneath you and don’t like landing hard, being pushed into a banked turn or lip of a jump. They need to be run at low pressure, or the benefit of the air volume doesn’t come into effect, and big tyres at high pressure feel like a waste, carrying unnecessary rubber.

Downsized the tyre out the back in the hope of increased precision.

Off came the 2.8″ Specialized Butcher tyre, replaced with a 2.6″ of the same tread. The 2.6″ tyre felt great, while not as large in air volume and therefore not as smooth, we gained in other areas.

We expected this change to lower the bottom bracket height, while it would have, the feeling on the trail was not evident, as the positive impact it had on our local trails was great. Pushing the rear end into turns harder, reducing the issue of catching unwanted rocks sticking out on the sides of our line.

Saint pedals.

Finally replacing the big old plastic DX pedals mainly seen downhill bikes, Shimano Saint’s are made for heavy work and seemed like a good fit for the Levo. With the inherent nature of E-bikes promoting you to keep on pedalling to keep the power engaged, we often find ourselves bashing pedals and cranks into the ground. That promoted two ideas for us; run smaller bodied XC pedals for more ground clearance, or use robust pedals that should resist damage from potential rock strikes?

Big and sturdy, the new Shimano Saint pedals.

We’re going to experiment with this, first up are the Saints.

TRP Quadiem brakes, DH power for a hefty bike.

After hearing many great things about these brakes, we finally fitted them to the Levo. But before we get to the brake performance, let us inform you that replacing the rear brake on this bike was not a quick job, in fact, it nearly broke us. We’ve changed about seven trillion brakes in bikes over the years; this takes the cake for the most painful.

Quite happy with these brakes, nice to try something different too.

Using the handy Park Tool internal cable guide tool (buy one if you haven’t already) to make things simpler, we pulled out the SRAM Code R brake line with the Park Tool thingo, attached the TRP brake line and gently pulled it back the other way. No, no, nooooo it snagged on something. No matter what we did, try, wished, hoped, we couldn’t get it through, the only next step was to remove the motor and inspect.

Removing motors to change brakes isn’t really what we want to be doing late on a school night, but we’d come this far, and there was no turning back. With the motor hanging out of the bike, we were able to locate what was causing the brake like to snag; the plastic spiral wrapping around the brake line and derailleur cable.

Bleeding the brake didn’t go to plan either, maybe we’re too accustomed to the SRAM Bleeding Edge system which makes life so easy, you never lose a drop of fluid, you could bleed SRAM brakes on the lounge room carpet with confidence. The TRP use a very traditional bleeding method, pushing a hose attached to a syringe onto the bleed nipple, and catch the fluid exiting the lever end in a plastic bag.

Sure enough, the hose popped off when we weren’t 100% concentrated, squirting mineral oil all over the brake, rendering the pads useless. Yes, yes, we shouldn’t have been bleeding the brakes with the pads in, we know, but we’d just been through hell with the install, so we were impatient.

After buying a new set of pads (compatible with Shimano XT 4-piston or Saint pads without the Ice-Tech Fins), we began the bed-in process. Crikey, they sure do take a long time to bed-in!

A very long time to bed-in, but the power is excellent and nicely modulated.
Big four-piston brakes on 180mm rotors, we’d prefer 200mm, but so far not an issue.

After a couple of rides, they are good-to-go, loads of power and modulation. A nicer lever feel than the SRAM Code R brakes it replaced, though with very comparable power. Maybe it wasn’t worth the installation hassle to change from the SRAM Code to TRP Quadiem, but they sure do look fancy.

Levo update, one year on.

It’s been about one year now with the Levo with no significant issues to report, just a couple little ones.

When cold the motor does make a few clunking noises occasionally, but only during the first couple pedal strokes. We believe this is a quick fix by a Specialized dealer and a known issue related to the clutch, though it’s  just a noise, no damage caused.

A little clunk from the motor when cold, and a rough dropper post action are the only issue’s we’ve had after one year.

The drivetrain continues to shift well, something that’s imperative to a correctly performing E-bike, as a shonky shift can result in the motor cutting out momentarily to avoid damage, so you need perfect shifting. The hanger has bent a couple of times inwards, too easily for our liking, not so much from impact but from laying the bike in the ground on photo shoots. Not a fault, just worth keeping in mind.

Specialized’s Command Post is ergonomic, easy to activate, and hasn’t developed unwanted slop but we think it may have been over-inflated at some point of its life. When lifted from full compression, it occasionally sticks at the top of the stroke, requiring a little bit more of a nudge to drop down again. We’d also love to see a post come from Specialized that doesn’t shoot up so fast towards your bits, one day maybe.

What’s next?

29er?

We’ve been dying to try 29″ wheels on the Levo. Smaller 650B/27.5″ wheels have become the standard for the majority of current E-bikes with their inherent lower centre of gravity, maneuverability, strength and ability to fit large 2.8″ and 3″ tyres into a chassis. But what about the classic benefits of 29″ wheels, would they not bring enough to the party? Would they lift the bike up too high? What if we tried 29″ wheels with a 2.4 or 2.5″ size tyre, and ultra-tough casings in between a full downhill casing and a lighter all-mountain or enduro casing.

A set of FSA Wide’R wheels are ready to fit, and we’ve earmarked a set of Maxxis Minion tyres with the new EXO+ casing. The Levo can take both 29 or 650B wheels, though there isn’t any geometry adjustment like many bikes with interchangability.

Coil shock, or ditching the Autosag?

Another area we’re keen to explore is the rear shock. With only 135mm of travel, the Levo does feel a little under gunned at times. We’ve been hearing great things about swapping the RockShox air shock for an Öhlins coil. Or perhaps a RockShox Deluxe air shock without the Autosag adjustment would be a good option, as Specialized has forgone the Autosag system on the new Stumpjumper in favour of a simpler shock with less internal architecture constraints.

What would you like to see us experiment with the Levo? Leave a comment below.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to enjoy riding our Levo and experimenting with different setup and parts. Power up!

Flow’s First Bite: 2019 Giant Trance 29er 1

With the recent news Giant were bringing back 29″ wheels to their popular trail bike platform – the Trance – the internet went into overdrive, with warriors hammering out their disdain that Giant would backflip on their hard-nosed approach to wheel size. But seriously, what would you do if you were Giant?

Short travel 29er are the new enduro… Maybe.

The last Trance that Giant made with 29″ wheels is an abomination by today’s standards but doesn’t everything age? Either way, we don’t care about that, because we’ve ridden this new one and it brought us immense joy. The new bike is a total singletrack weapon!


Watch our reaction to the 2019 Trance 29er here.


We have just taken delivery of the 2019 Trance 29er 1, and are already huge fans of its singletrack manners, after only two rides we know we’re going to get along. There’s something pretty special about this thing; its fast handling, lightweight steering and agility through tight trails is super exciting. We’ve been spending a lot of time on our Norco Sight and Yeti SB100 lately, the Giant gives them a run for their money! Especially considering the frame-only price of the Yeti SB100 is not too far off the complete Trance off the shop floor.

Top FOX minus the fancy Kashima coating, this FOX 34 fork is a real winner.

With a taught 115mm of travel out the back and 130mm travel forks, its a lot shorter than the 140/150mm Trance with smaller 27.5″ wheels. Traditionally going up in wheel diameter lets you drop in suspension travel slightly without sacrificing too much stability over rough terrain. More on that point in more detail coming in our review.

115mm of travel was a surprise to many, but as suspension designs develop, does this mean we don’t need volume but quality for a good ride?

We see a bit of a shift of late, shorter travel 29ers with more aggressive spec – chunkier tyres, wider rims, beefier chassis forks etc, and with a trend shifting towards shorter offset crown forks and slacker head angles. Some are simply 100mm travel bikes with a 120mm fork option, like the Santa Cruz Blur and Specialized Epic EVO, while bikes like the Intense Sniper or Yeti SB100 have come about at the right time with a dedicated, aggressive XC build.

Nice bits, Trance.

The Trance 1 is the top-level aluminium offering with their new carbon wheels, a SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Guide R brakes, a new Giant dropper (feels slick!), saddle and cockpit.

It’s all glorious kit, though we tend to prefer the feel of Shimano’s brakes at this price point, the SRAM Guide R brakes feel a little dead at the lever, but have plenty of power for the cause. SRAM GX Eagle is marvellous stuff, operating like its higher-end siblings, X0 and XX1 without the cost.

Ride time!

Already we know that we’re going to like this bike a lot, more than we expected. It’s a pleasant surprise, lets ride!

 

Tested: FOX Live Valve, Our Thoughts and Everything You Need to Know

The introduction of automated electronics is a bold move by FOX, with the ultimate goal to make a create a more efficient ride experience without any input from the rider. No stranger to electronics, this is advanced technology FOX have experience in from their off-road vehicle division, now it’s our turn for the magical wizardry called Live Valve.


Watch our in-depth discussion below.


How?

Perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s minds; how does it actually work? Well, in a nutshell, the suspension’s compression can switch between closed/locked and open in just three milliseconds, after detecting a bump on the trail. Two sensors – one behind the fork arch and another the chain stay by the rear axle – continually analysing the terrain 1000 times per second, sending data to the controller unit mounted on the frame.

This is where things get especially interesting; the controller unit mounted to the frame has a three-axis accelerometer which can detect if the bike is climbing, traversing, descending or freefalling. Crazy, huh!? But why does that matter?

This bike is LIVE! Live with wires, sensors, accelerometers, batteries and amazing technology.

Well, with all that information fed to the microprocessor, the Live Valve not only opens and closes depending on how rough the terrain is to let your suspension do its thing, but it’s how long the valves stay open that is the key to the system’s smart operation. Hit a bump when you’re on a climb and the valves will open and close quickly, keeping things as efficient as possible. Hit a bump during a descent and the valves will stay open for longer, so the suspension is more active.

The sensor detects bumps from the trail. It only responds to inputs from the ground upwards, not from the rider pushing downwards.
By the rear hub axle, a sensor reads the terrain.
At the official FOX launch of Live Valve, testing the system alongside the team behind the exciting project.

It’s all in the timing, giving you active suspension only when you require it, and efficient pedalling when you need it. Efficient when climbing and staying active when descending. Bingo!

Why?

As they put it, FOX wants to bring the efficiency of a hardtail to full suspension bikes, sorry FOX that’s never going to happen, though this is a very clever endeavour. They wanted to create a system that – while it sounds complicated – gives the rider a more simplified experience, doing the job of adjusting your suspension for you. It’s capable of changing your suspension settings way, way faster than a rider ever could do, all without you doing a thing – no lifting a thumb, pushing a button or flipping a switch.

Plugging our bikes into a computer is a novel experience! Only accessed by OEM customers and FOX service centres at this stage.

Any similarities to FOX Terralogic, Lapierre e:i, Specialized Brain?

We’ve seen sensors and electronics in mountain bikes before, and we have had a lot of great experience with the e:i – a system developed in association with Lapierre and RockShox which is now not available on current model bikes, but which showed a lot of promise. While fundamentally along the same lines as FOX Live Valve, e:i was far from perfect and wasn’t widely accepted by the mountain bike community. From a performance standpoint, it was plagued with inconsistencies and durability, and the system just wasn’t fast enough in the speed it responded to terrain forces.

Tackling this critical issue of speed, Live Valve uses a latching solenoid to open and close the valves, which significantly faster and more consistent than a servo motor such as those found on the e:i system, requiring less power to operate and no additional power to stay in position.

The FOX Terralogic and the Specialized Brain systems are the two other directly comparable offerings. Both of these rely on inertia to open the valves, and again the response of this system is far from immediate, there’s always a degree of  feedback and a clunky sensation you feel as you land or hit that first bump on the trail.

On or off, nothing in between, right?

With battery power, duration, size, weight and frame integration taken into consideration, FOX decided that Live Valve would only switch between two settings – open and closed. The compression adjustment is not variable per se, it’s open or closed nothing in between. Making a system that offered more compression adjustability would’ve drawn significantly more power, requiring a larger and heavier battery.

Interestingly, where FOX Live Valve is utilised in off-road vehicles, the system does offer variable compressions settings, purely because they have power on tap to do so, while a mountain bike relies on a rechargeable battery. mounted onboard. It begs the question, what about E-bikes with loads of battery power at their disposal?

The architecture of the battery and controller unit had a large impact on the design of the system, where to put it?

Does it work?

Absolutely! After all is said and done, Live Valve functions just as it promises to. Our Rocky Mountain Altitude is a big travel rig, and subsequently no slouch on the descents. But with Live Valve fitted, it climbs and picks its way through technical singletrack like a much lighter and smaller travel bike. It brought phenomenal capableness to a bike that would typically forgo a solid dose of pedalling efficiency for descending aptitude.

Imagine laying down the power on the start of a climb and it’s already locked out.

Climbing.

Live Valve has the capability to make your bike climb with maximum efficiency as if it’s locked out, whilst still absorbing bumps to keep your tyres in contact with the trail. It’s pretty impressive how hard you can mash away on the pedals without the bike bogging down and sapping your energy. When climbing it only opens whichever suspension has detected the impact, not both.

Descending.

The Rocky Mountain Altitude is a great descender, we already knew that, but even in this area Live Valve offers benefits, particularly because you never have to remember to unlock your suspension before dropping into a descent.

Traversing.

Pumping your way through flatter terrain or pedalling out of the saddle the bike remains ultimately supportive, until that moment where your wheels detect a bump.

Freefalling.

Perhaps the biggest advantage over a mechanical inertia valve system like Terralogic or the Specialized Brain is how the bike responds when you drop down to earth, the accelerometer detects falling and opens in anticipation. The bike never spiked or felt harsh.

Can you hear it?

Yes, the light clicking sounds from the fork and shock are noticeable as you ride on the trail. You can hear both solenoids latching back and forth “click, click”, you can even hear when the valves open for different times, longer when the bike is pointed down and the clicking sounds are closer together when ascending.

It’s a little off-putting at first, but as we found with the very obvious noise from electronic shifting Shimano Di2, we got used to it very quickly. It’s not loud enough that your mates will hear it from behind you, that’s the foremost point.

Can you feel it?

If you can feel it you’re certainly well in-tune with your bike as many of us didn’t notice a thing. Some Flow testers commented they could feel the first bump in a sequence was slightly harder than the following; others couldn’t detect a thing.

The wires connecting the system are responsible for its rapid reaction times. Three milliseconds is remarkable.

What bike or what type of rider, for racers or weekend warriors, for XC or Enduro?

This could be the most significant discussion topic of them all, who is this best suited to? At the Live Valve launch, the test bikes ranged from 90mm up to 160mm of rear travel, XC race bikes to burly enduro rigs. We’re in the mindset that if something is of benefit to a racer, it’s also of benefit to the everyday rider too.

We can see it making so much sense on a lean and mean cross country race machine, where the system can adjust the suspension faster than you can, milking the bike for more performance. And on the other hand, it’ll bring a real boost of efficiency to any bike, i.e. you might hit the lockout on your suspension a few times each ride, this stuff does it 1000 times per second, that has to be of benefit when pedalling a suspension bike around.

Will we see this lightning-fast technology in downhill racing? Remember the Cairns World Champs where we saw riders fitting remote lockouts to their rear shocks for the long and flat pedalling sections of the track? Aaron Gwin accidentally forgot to unlock his suspension, riding from the whoop section in lock mode, ouch! We can only imagine what Live Valve could bring to that particular situation.

From the future, or from somewhere else?

Unlike its main rival, RockShox, FOX has its fingers in many pies out of the cycling world. The FOX motorsport division has already played host to this whole shebang, with Live Valve technology available in the side-by-side UTV market and the new Ford Raptor mega-truck. While they have four wheels, and we are mainly concerned about two, the fact is that they have a whole team of brainiacs capable of pulling it off.

Born in motorsport, adapted for mountain bikes. Live Valve has deep roots.
That’s not a shock…

What bikes will have Live Valve in the 2019 season?

Not many, at all! At this stage, only the Giant Anthem Advanced Pro (AUD $10999) and the Pivot Mach 5.5 will be the only bikes available in Australia with Live Valve. Scott will be offering the Genius Ultimate with Live Valve but is not a model currently coming to Australian Scott dealers (though we believe this can be placed as a special order). Niner was also a brand we believe might offer a Live Valve bike in the near future.

Can you buy Live Valve for your bike?

FOX plans to offer aftermarket Live Valve kits for the Scott Spark, Rocky Mountain Altitude, Instinct, and Thunderbolt. A kit will include the fork and shock and costs are estimated for around USD $3000 – $3250, so you’re not going to do it on the cheap. Keep an eye on the FOX website for updates on availability.

Big bucks!

There’s no getting around it. This stuff is expensive, and that’s going to be a big hurdle to overcome. At this stage, it looks like FOX Live Valve adds around AUD $2000 to comparable bike without there system. For instance, last season the Giant Anthem without Live Valve was $8999. Now, it’s $10,999 with Live Valve. Yeah, crazy expensive!

Can you tune the controller unit yourself?

The ‘brain’ of the system is almost infinitely adjustable. Using dedicate software, it is possible to tune the living daylights out of the thing, but at time of publishing, the software will only be available for OEM customers and FOX service centres. Sorry!

A general compression adjustment on the fork and shock is tuned via an allen key. We ran it all the way out.
Plug and play, a breakaway junction will prevent the wires being damaged in a crash.

Is it heavy?

On the Scott Genius, it only adds a mere 144 grams over the stock Twinloc cable actuated remote lockout. So, no, the weight is not significant especially versus the efficiency benefits it brings.

How long does the battery run for?

We put plenty of hours on our test bike over three months, and on the classic janky technical singletrack around our local trails of Newcastle and Sydney’s Northern Beaches we got around 5 three-hour rides on the bike before the low battery warning came on, so keeping the battery is something to keep in mind.

The battery is removable for easy charging.
A cover is provided to protect the control unit when the battery is removed.

Charging is easy, we found it easiest to remove the battery and plug it into a USB port rather than finding a cable arrangement that would reach from the bike to a power source.

Final word.

We are super impressed by Live Valve, what the team at FOX has done to bring this technology to the mountain bike world justifies serious kudos, we can’t even begin to fathom how many factors have been taken into consideration for Live Valve to come to market.

It has the potential to change everything, and as we said earlier it’s way more exciting than most of what the the mountain bike industry serves up (“Oh, longer slacker, internal cable routing, compatible with 26″ AND 29”!). When you factor in sensors, accelerometers, algorithms and all the other mumbo jumbo, the possibilities seem boundless to us right now. Where will this technology take us? Will FOX be the only ones to explore the world of automated things sensor bits? Hmmmm. So many things to ponder!

We went to the launch in the USA, brought the Rocky Mountain home with us, spent months riding it, musing over it, worked further with FOX to get comfortable with the compression tune to suit the Rocky Mountain Altitude, and still, we are somewhat divided over the whole thing.  Yes, It delivers unthinkably fast adjustment to your suspension without any remote switches, and that we applaud. But while we are impressed by its operation and execution, we’re still not 100% convinced we’d want the system on our own bike, largely because of the savage cost and the ‘fuss’ it adds.

FOX does a brilliant job of making ‘conventional’ suspension, and with the performance of many excellent suspension systems already, we have to wonder do we need Live Valve on top of what is already available? That said, we really want to experience the system on the 2019 Giant Anthem Advanced 0, as it’ll surely be the most popular Live Valve equipped bike  in Australia and is bike we know well, so we’ll be able to make direct comparison of the performance versus the non-Live Valver version. Stay tuned for a follow-up review soon.

We now wait in earnest to see how the mountain bike community respond to all of this and wonder if it will be a popular addition to the mountain bike realm. Has anyone watched Terminator 2 recently?

Tested: Shotgun Kids MTB Seat

What is it?

The Shotgun Kids MTB seat is a new take on the child’s seat, built specifically for mountain biking. There’s a lot to like about this seat; it only adds a couple of kilos to the bike, unlike a trailer you can ride singletrack, the weight of the kid is kept in the middle of the bike for a better ride for both you and them, plus with the child up front they get a good view and you can yell “yiiieew!” in their ear as you ride.
Daxy and Dan, ready to roll.

Will it fit my bike?

Probably. The Shotgun seat is designed for the tubes of mountain bike frames – it’ll fit top tubes from 30-58mm and down tubes from 30-80mm. So just about every bike, with the exception of some really wild carbon frames or e-bikes should be ok. The rubber coated construction is claimed to be safe for carbon frames, but I couldn’t get our heads around the idea of clamping it onto my carbon bike, so I popped it on an alloy bike (Specialized Stumpjumper) instead. We’re sure it’s fine, we’re just a bit cautious!
The Shotgun seat is designed for kids from 2-5 years, up to 22kg.
We do recommend reading the instructions! We didn’t and wasted time. And once you’ve got the install/removal down pat, you can whip the seat off in seconds. Unlike other seats, there aren’t any brackets or mounts left on the bike once it’s removed too.
The whole shebang clamps onto your frame easily in seconds.
Less photos please, I want to shred.
Your child can just hold onto the bars, or you can purchase addition mini handlebars which sit up a little bit higher.
Simple foot pegs.

How’d it go? 

The Shotgun seat is designed for kids from 2-5 years, up to 22kg, and my two-year-old has taken to it like a duck to water! From our first ride, it was just easy, he jumped right on and we did a cruisey 20km ride with him constantly yelling “faster” and “like it” as we shredded the trails. He honestly didn’t want to get off, the huge grin on his face was priceless and I knew I had given him the MTB bug!
He honestly didn’t want to get off, the huge grin on his face was priceless and I knew I had given him the MTB bug!
You can get optional handlebars too, which just bolt onto your bike’s bars, giving your kid something extra grippy to hold onto. I didn’t have these (they’re an extra $49), so my boy was just holding onto the bars either side of the stem, which was fine really. Even though your child isn’t strapped into the seat at all (their feet just rest on the foot pegs) I never felt like there was a risk my kid was going to fall off, though I’d say you still want to stick to the B-Lines and avoid too many hucks!  This seat has really opened up a whole new world of adventure that we would have otherwise had to wait several years for, it’s so fun and easy to hit the trails together now!
Stoked!

It’s so fun and easy to hit the trails together now!

Merida eOne Sixty 900 – Long-Term Test Introduction

You haven’t been able to get your hands on one of these bikes for love or money over the past few months. We’d hoped to have this review underway some time ago, but with massive global demand for the eOne Sixty series, it just wasn’t happening! We’ve finally nabbed one, and we’ll be riding this bike hard over spring and summer, using it as a vehicle to test all kinds of products, both e-bike specific and not.

Coming in at $6299, the eOne Sixty 900 continues Merida’s trend of aggressive pricing in the e-MTB world.  This pricing strategy has worked a treat, securing Merida a strong foothold in the segment. The only other e-MTB we see as frequently as the eOne Sixty on the trails around Flow HQ is the Specialized Levo, which is pretty telling.

Read to charge. Geddit?

The bike is built around Shimano’s punchy, compact e8000 motor, with the XT brakes and the drivetrain also provided by the Big S. Merida have made some sensible choices with the suspension, opting for robustness and reliability over adjustability. The Lyrik RC fork and Deluxe rear shock don’t offer a lot of external tweaking, but with careful attention to pressures and using Tokens to control the spring crunch, you can get them dialled in nicely.

The size and orientation of the Shimano e8000 motor is a factor in keeping the eOne Sixty’s chain stay length quite short.

2.8″ Maxxis Minion rubber is slipped onto 38mm Alex rims, which are already showing a few dings… we might be looking at a Huck Norris or similar system shortly! As a side note, the rims don’t come ready for tubeless use, and will require taping before you can ditch the tubes.


More from Merida

Merida One Sixty 800 review 

Merida One Forty 800 review

Merida One Sixty 5000


The integration of the battery is a far cry from the sleek, enclosed designs we’re starting to see more of (like the 2019 Trek Powefly or Giant Trance E+), but if that’s the trade off for keeping the overall cost of the bike down, then we’re certain many consumers will be happy to wear it. And it’s not like it’s an ugly bike by any stretch of the imagination.

RockShox front and rear. There’s not a lot of adjustability here externally, but the rear end feels smooth and planted.

We’ve got some tweaks planned for this bike already, including some bigger brakes (XT four-piston stoppers) and we’ll be looking to fit the new Shimano e7000 mode shifter too (once it’s available), which will free up space for an under-the-bar dropper post lever.

Keep your eye out for this bike on Flow, we think you’ll be seeing plenty of it!

Boost mode is certainly quick up the hills, but so far we refer the way the bike responds in Trail mode, a more moderate power setting.
Maxxis Minion DHR 2.8″ rubber at both ends.
The battery isn’t fully integrated like we’re seeing a lot of for 2019 e-bikes.
Shimano’s 11-speed XT drivetrain handles shifting duties, with a 46-tooth cog out back which we can only imagine being used if we get a flat battery!

Specialized Epic Expert Evo 2019 Review

The Epic’s reputation for relentless XC performance is legendary. With the Brain shock out back delivering superb pedalling efficiency, it’s real race rocket. But because of this uncompromising suspension arrangement, it’s never been a very friendly bike away from the race track.


Watch our video review below!


With the EVO version, Specialized are hoping to capitalise on the latest Epic’s more relaxed geometry and stiff frame construction, and expand the bike’s appeal a little. Have they succeeded? Yes, and no.

While we were genuinely surprised with the confidence and technical abilities of this bike, the Brain shock is always there reminding you that this is really a race bike at the end of the day. Sure, you can dial the Brain all the way off, but then what’s the point?

As we explain in our video review, the best way we can describe this bike, is as a race bike for when you’re not racing.


Watch our First Impressions video here

Read our head to head review of the S-Works Epic vs Giant’s Anthem Advanced 0


One of the nicest, tidiest frames we’ve had on review for some time.
A longer travel fork and dropper post are the two most pronounced changes from the regular Epic.
The fork’s damper is smooth as butter, but hard impacts aren’t its friend. We’d add some volume spacers to help it resist bottoming.
We’d have no qualms about taking this bike racing, that’s still where its heart lies.
Maybe we’ve been spoiled by the performance of SRAM’s SwingLink equipped brakes, but the Level TL brakes felt wooden to us.

Cube Reaction Hybrid 500 SL Review


Who is this bike targetting?

There’s a bit of a conundrum with e-bikes. They’re a fantastic way to get new riders into the sport, but because of the technology involved, even an entry-level e-MTB is up over $4000 at present. With that obstacle in mind, brands need to woo potential buyers with a good looking machine, make them fall in love with the bike and forget the investment. Cube know how to play it, and the sleek, black on black Reaction Hybrid 500 SL is a real head turner. This is the very first hardtail e-MTB we’ve reviewed, and it’s the cheapest too, at $4399.

You’ve got to appreciate the clean lines of this bike.

We don’t ride a lot of hardtails now, but in this context a hardtail makes sense. Forgoing rear suspension allows Cube to build a very sophisticated e-bike without the price blowing out too much. This bike is really aimed at new mountain bikers who are less likely to be tackling the kinds of terrain that always warrant rear suspension, and who may use the bike for double duty as a commuter as well. The use of big 2.6″ tyres does help smooth the ride out a bit, even in the absence of rear suspension.

The e-MTB motor setting simplifies things, so you don’t have to worry about any mode shifts on the fly.
Magura brakes. They’re not overly powerful, but they have great control and are easily to modulate.

Highlights?

Aside from the great looks of the bike overall, we’d have to point to the Bosch motor as a real standout. We particularly like the E-MTB mode – this motor setting automatically adjusts the level of assistance to match your efforts, meaning you can forget about shifting power modes and just ride. It helps save battery life too, and we clocked up rides of well over 50km with plenty of juice left in the tank.

The smooth control of the Magura brakes and the generous gear range of the 11-speed Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain also impressed us. With a 46-tooth low gear out back, you’ll get up anything.

The Performance Line CX motor and Powertube 500 battery makes for a grunty combination.
Schwalbe’s Smart Sam tyres are fast rollers, but far from our favourites.

What holds it back?

The lack of a dropper post is a bit frustrating, inhibiting this bike on steeper descents, we so rarely ride a bike without a dropper these days. We’d love to have seen tubeless tyres too – although we didn’t get any flats, it’s only a matter of time on a hardtail. For riders looking to push bit harder, the skinny 30mm legs and light damping of the Judy fork are a little floppy, but we don’t think many people buying this bike will be smashing much technical terrain.

With 30mm legs, the RockShox Judy has its limits, but most new mountain bikers won’t find them.

Overall then?

While this bike has limitations once the trails get technical, that’s not what it’s really built for. This bike, and others like it, are here to opens doors for new mountain bikers; exploring down fire roads without worrying about the climb back out, relaxed cruising on flowing singletrack, going much further than they’d manage without assistance. In this market, the good looks of the Reaction and its intelligent Bosch motor help it stand out, and that’s why it should be on your list if you’re in the market for your first e-MTB.

Tested: Marin Rift Zone 3 – A Dialled Trail Bike Delivered in a Box

The Rift Zone sits firmly in the trail bike category, built for all-around riding with a confident and efficient nature.

There’s 120mm of stout travel out the back, 130mm travel RockShox Revelation up the front, 29” wheels and all those key ingredients we look for like a single ring drivetrain, dropper post and decent width rims.


Watch the bike in action in the video review here:


Yiew, ripping trails on a sturdy 120mm travel trail bike is a fun experience.
Like it fell into the vat of black gloss paint, but not all the way in. Matte silver on top, shiny black below.
A single ring drivetrain with plenty of range, top stuff.

A new direction for Marin sees the aluminium tubing a lot cleaner than in years past, creating a hardy and low-fuss frame with a nice two-tone finish.

It’s a long and low feeling bike to ride, which gives it tremendous speed and cornering ability, we found ourselves holding great speed, often wondering was it the fast rolling 29er wheels or the planted geometry that let us milk the trails for all they are worth.

It’s a long and low feeling bike to ride, which gives it tremendous speed and cornering ability, we found ourselves holding great speed.

With many trail bikes growing in travel and size, it’s nice to see the Rift Zone keeping it level with the frame numbers.  Chainstay length is a sensible 435mm, head angle a moderate 67.5 degrees. While they are not the only numbers that matter, they all convert to a bike that climbs and descents with equal ability and turns through the singletrack smoothly and very predictably.

The RockShox Revelation up front feels equally as stout as the rear suspension. Lots of support to push hard.

On the suspension side of things, Marin has tuned the rear suspension to feel quite firm and supportive, which could be confused for choppy and insensitive at times over fast and rough terrain, but the flipside is a bike that pedals well.

Up the front the RockShox Revelation fork feels equally as stout, promoting a super aggressive low body position leaning over the front end in the corners and up pinch climbs out of the saddle.

For a $3K bike, the 14kg weight is relatively acceptable, considering the spec is well and truly up to the task of hard riding.

Sold in a box the bike arrived in our hands with very little assembly or extra adjustment before riding

We’d not waste any time converting it to tubeless, and perhaps try a more open tread front tyre if your trails are on the looser side of the spectrum. Other than that, the spec is dialled.

Sold in a box the bike arrived in our hands with very little assembly or extra adjustment before riding, check out their sales model here: How are these bikes sold?

With its direct-to-consumer sales model, the Marin is obviously going to be kick arse value – and it is – but it’s the way that the frame geometry and rear suspension feels absolutely spot on, with a very well thought out bunch of numbers resulting in a sensible, efficient and fun trail bike. A bike that doesn’t hold back when you want to let the brakes off.

Tight tyre clearance around the rear wheel though, not too much mud would be needed to slow things down.

Yep!
Pulls a mad wheelie, too!

It’s predictability, speed and fun are what would make this $3K bike a wonderful entry into the world of dual suspension mountain bikes, without leaving you wanting more.

Giant Launches The New Trance E+ Range – First Impressions

So, what are the new bikes?

Giant have released four new bikes for the Australian market, the Trance SX E+ Pro that we tested as well as three ‘regular’ Trance E+ models.

Giant have launched a new e-bike range under the Trance name.

The differences between the two models are in the areas of fork travel, geometry and componentry, with the SX model coming with a slightly longer fork (160mm as opposed to 150mm), as well as slightly more aggressive geometry and componentry choices.

The SX model comes equipped with a 160mm Fox 36.

All of the bikes feature 140mm of rear travel. 

The SX model features a coil shock and is water bottle compatible … just!

Joost Bakker, Giant’s Global Category Manger for e-bikes told us the new Trance models are aimed at a broad variety of riders:

“From our point of view we’ve found a sweet-spot with this new range. The motor handles well in technically demanding situations, as well as tight trails, which have traditionally been more of a challenge on e-bikes.”

Giant are partnered with Yamaha for their motors.

“We’re pretty happy with where we’ve settled in terms of geometry. Some people might think our rear centres are a touch long, but from our testing we found that the rear centre we settled on is ideal for handling the torque of the motor, as if we went shorter the bike felt less planted on technical ascents when you really need stability.”

The SX’s geometry is slightly more aggressive.
The geometry of the Pro models is slightly less aggressive than the SX model we tested.

What’s new about the Trance E+ range compared to the Full E+ models of yesteryear?

The Trance SX E+ Pro we tested has a far more sleek aesthetic in comparison to the Full E+ it replaces, which we dig.

The refined battery integration on the Trance E+ range is very neat.

In terms of geometry, Joost explains that the Trance’s numbers have been updated to reflect modern trail geometry:

“Basically we’ve moved to a more aggressive platform with the longer, lower and slacker treatment. We’ve also steepened the seat tube as we found through our testing that this enhances the bike’s climbing abilities, especially in steeper terrain.”

The steeper seat tube puts you in a better climbing position.

“The Full E+ definitely catered to a less aggressive market, mountain touring and less technical riding generally. Our new Trance E range moves into the realm of modern trail geometry and caters for more aggressive riders.”

Why did Giant decide on 27.5” wheels?

“Basically it comes down to a few factors. We feel that the 2.6” tyres, with 2.8” compatibility for those who want the larger footprint was ideal for this bike. Accomodating 29” wheels would’ve added 6mm to the rear centre, something we weren’t willing to do.”

The Trance E range accommodates 2.8″ tyres front and rear, but comes stock with 2.6″ rubber.

“We were also concerned about stack height. Accomodating 29” wheels would’ve raised the stack height significantly, and we really wanted this bike to handle much like the regular Trance, so if you jumped from one to the other they would feel as similar as possible. Going to 29” compatibility wouldn’t have allowed us to create these similar handling characteristics.”

Are there any neat features you should know about?

Indeed there are! The downtube features a moulded guard to protect both the battery and motor, and despite running into rocks at fairly high velocity during the course of our riding, the battery and motor guards remained undamaged after two full days of riding. 

The downtube and motor feature sturdy guards.

Every bike in the range features an integrated chainguide provided by MRP, which we were thoroughly impressed by. The chainguide bolts onto a proprietary mount, but don’t fear as replacements will be available through both Giant and MRP. 

We’re big fans of the custom MRP chainguide – no dropped chains here!

The benefit of the proprietary mount is that the chainguide bolts on right next to the guide, meaning it feels far more sturdy and less flexy than an ISCG or seat tube mounted chainguide, and best of all there’s no rub in any gears – bravo Giant!

Another excellent feature is the crankset used on all four Trance E+ models, which was developed in partnership with Praxis Works. The crankset features the narrowest Q-factor in the e-bike industry (168mm), which is staggering considering there’s a motor bolted on there and the rear end still has clearance for 2.8” tyres.

The Praxis Works cranks featured on all models have a very narrow Q-factor.

The narrow Q-factor was hugely noticeable when hopping on the bike, as the position felt far closer to that of a regular bike.

Yamaha isn’t a motor brand we see a great deal of in Australia, why have Giant decided to partner with them?

Giant has chosen to continue their partnership with Yamaha for a number of reasons, however the main reasons are the high power output and the quick engagement the Yamaha motor provides. 

The Trance E+ models all feature the Syncdrive Pro motor, which provides 80nm of torque and a 500 watt hour battery. 

Giant’s claimed ranges for the Syncdrive Pro Battery in the power modes on offer.

What the hell does that mean? That it’s a very powerful battery indeed, and combined with the snappy engagement the motor feels especially lively ratcheting up tricky climbs or getting a half pedal stroke in on a descent. 

The quick engagement of the motor was especially useful during tricky ascents.

What does the motor feel like out on the trail?

We were very impressed with the motor in terms of its engagement, battery life and power modes, however the Yamaha produced unit requires a slightly lower cadence than we would ride at on other systems such as the Brose battery found in Specialized e-bikes, and to a lesser extent the Shimano Steps and Bosch systems. 

Conscious application of even pressure throughout the pedal stroke is also important with the Yamaha motor, as if you mash on the pedals the motor doesn’t continuously engage, making the power delivery somewhat unpredictable.

Constant and even pressure yields the best results from the SyncDrive Pro motor.

Once you’ve adapted to these slight modifications in riding style however, the bike is very intuitive to ride.

Why isn’t there a display to tell me what’s going on with the battery and motor?

Thankfully (in our opinion), Giant have ditched the monstrosity of a display unit that was previously found on the Full E+ in favour of a far more streamlined remote they’re referring to as ‘RideControl ONE’.

The RideControl ONE remote integrates nicely with the Giant dropper post lever

The remote is simple and easy to operate, featuring LED lighting to let you know what power mode you’re currently using, and how much battery you have remaining. The remote also features a walk mode, which we found useful when walking up moderate pitches or slightly technical ascents, however when the trail became steeper or more uneven the rear wheel tended to skid out or the cranks would hit obstacles.

We appreciate the streamlined nature of the new RideControl One remote.

The one downside of losing the bulky display is the information you had access to beyond the battery remaining and power mode you’re currently using. Thankfully we’ve heard whispers that Giant will be bringing out an app at some point in the near future that’ll give you access to all the information you could ever want, so watch this space!

What about the battery, anything new there?

Indeed! The battery (which Giant creatively refer to as the ‘EnergyPak’) has been reduced in size and features a number of new features. 

The EnergyPak in all it’s glory.

The battery is now removed from the bike by pressing a single button, and like many bikes on the market also features a lock so you know your battery is safe when you park up for a cappuccino. 

As we mentioned in our article on the new Liv Intrigue E+, the EnergyPak can be charged to 60% in 90 minutes, which is very fast indeed! A full charge will take about 3.5 hours, which is far faster than the more standard charging times of 4-5 hours for a full tank of juice. 

Claimed charging times are best in class.

Another unsexy but useful update to the battery is the use of double the space between the battery’s cells, which allows the battery to stay cooler during operation.

On the charging side of things, the new Smart Charger lives up to its name and extends the life of your battery. It does this by using a lower voltage to charge the battery when the battery has been used more than 500 times, which extends battery life but does not increase charging time.

They don’t call it the SmartCharger for nothing!

The charger will also regulate temperature more effectively than prior iterations by swapping the charge to different cells if individual cells are overheating during charging.

Lastly, Giant have created a 60% storage charge mode, which is the ideal amount of charge for the battery to have if the bike is going to be stored for long periods of time (for example a number of months). 

How does the bike actually ride?

Well! We spent two full days riding in the gorgeous Venosta Valley in Italy’s Northern Alps, and were very impressed by the bike’s adaptability to a number of situations.

Loving life aboard the Trance SX E+ 0

On the climbs, the fast response of the motor was much appreciated when winching up janky single-track climbs, and the position was comfortable for long access road ascents. 

We felt very comfortable cruising up steep climbs aboard the new Trance E+

On the way back down, the beefy component spec and geometry felt planted and confident. We haven’t ridden many e-bikes we would describe as ‘playful’, but you could get the rear wheel up and pop across lines on the trail aboard the Trance E+ SX 0 once you adapted to the extra weight, which was impressive. 

It definitely requires more grunt than a regular bike, but the Trance E can be coaxed into a manual with a bit of practice

The bike uses Giant’s Maestro suspension, which performs well as expected. One additional positive note we would make is that there is less noticeable pedal bob (so much so that we weren’t even using the lockout on the road) than on the regular Trance. 

The suspension felt supportive under pedalling, but opened up on the descents.

We would hypothesise that this lack of bob is due to the increased weight of the bike ‘settling’ the suspension during climbing, combined with the lower power output you’re generally putting through the pedals on an e-bike.

Who is the Trance SX E+ for?

The Trance SX E+, with it’s slightly longer travel and slightly more aggressive geometry is aimed squarely at the aggressive trail market, with the regular Trance E+ models slotting into the role of a more all-around trail bikes. 

If you want to get rowdy, the Trance SX E+ 0 Pro could be the bike for you!

As we’ve said in the past though, we don’t think e-bikes suffer from the same sluggishness other bikes can when they’re increased in travel due to the assistance from the motor, so we didn’t find the longer travel of the SX model an issue, even in undulating and less technical single-track.

The extra travel of the Trance SX model was appreciated when encountering awkward compressions on the trail

How much is one of these things going to set me back?

Giant Australia will be bringing in the SX model, as well as all three regular Trance E models at the following price points:

Trance SX E+ 0 Pro: RRP $8,299
Trance E+ 0 Pro: RRP $8,999
Trance E+ 1 Pro: RRP $6,999

 

 

Trance E+ 3 Pro: RRP $5,999

Is this the start of an e-revolution from Giant?

We’ve seen a plethora of new e-bikes released between Giant and sister company Liv over the last two weeks, so where will Giant go in the future with their range? We asked Joost where he sees e-mtb going in the future, and what Giant’s plans are within this realm.

Liv, Giant’s sister brand released the new Intrigue E range just last week.

“We’re going to diversify for sure. You can expect new models from Giant as early as next year. There may be consumers who want a bike with more travel, or something lighter on the cross-country side of the market. We’re seeing huge growth in this segment so we’re putting lots of resources towards e-bikes in general and are excited about the future.”

Final thoughts?

We thoroughly enjoyed our time aboard the Trance SX E+ Pro, and we’re keen to get our hands on one for a more thorough test on our local trails. We’re also keen to find how differently the Pro models ride compared to the SX, so keep an eye out for more detailed thoughts on the new range soon!

All-Mountain Bargain: Cube Stereo 140 HPC Race

The new Cube Stereo 140 is one of the best value mountain bikes we’ve seen this season. For $4K there’s a lot to like about it on paper, and after a few weeks riding we’ve found it equally as impressive.


Watch the full video review below.


The Stereo is a 140mm travel bike with a 150mm travel fork and 27.5” wheels. That means it’s here for a good time with plenty of travel for getting rowdy and smaller diameter wheels for a playful ride. The carbon front end is paired to an aluminium rear end; you could say it’s the best of two worlds, the stiffness and lively nature of carbon with impact resistant and lesser expensive material aluminium.

Carbon main frame, four-bar suspension and a solid chassis.

At 13.5kg on the scales, it’s lighter than we’d expect for a bike at this price point.

Chunky frame with a high-end appearance.

We like the overbuilt construction of this bike and the huge carbon tubing – the downtube is enormous – and the way the linkage bolts are hidden from view, accessed via the inside of the frame, it gives the bike a sharp and high-end image.

Hidden pivot hardware, very on-trend.
The down tube is massive.

Frame geometry wise, the Stereo doesn’t stray too far from what we are used to from similar bikes from major players like the Giant Trance, GT Force, Specialized Stumpjumper and so on with a reasonably roomy front end and short 425mm chainstays. A 66.5-degree head angle strikes a balance between twitchy and sluggish.

Killer spec!

Now let’s look at the parts, we keep saying it, but for $4k it’s highly appealing.

A Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain and Deore brakes are more than up to the task, and the Raceface single-ring cranks are a damn sight more suitable to Australian conditions than the double chainring version option of this bike sold in Europe – phew! Though it does look like the long-cage rear derailleur is left on to suit the dual ring option, no biggie.

Single-ring spec for the Australian market, while the double ring version on the website is for other markets. Phew!

Rims are 30mm wide, the chunky Schwalbe tyres are tubeless ready, but it’ll require additional parts. So, get the bike shop to chuck in some tubeless rim tape, valves and sealant, and you’re set. An essential upgrade to let the bike live up to its real potential.

Suspension wise, the FOX fork and shock are right on the money. While the Rhythm 34 does feel a little less composed than the higher level FOX forks, it’s still super supple and sensitive, and the three position rear shock gives excellent control over how you wish the bike to behave when pedalled, a nifty feature not often seen at this price point.

The FOX Rhythm 34 fork can feel a little overwhelmed in the rough when compared to its more expensive FOX brothers.
Three-position compression adjustment, very handy feature for an already great pedalling bike.

The Stereo has a dropper post too, see, it really has all the ingredients for a proper thrashing.

Shred o’clock.

We had many great rides on the Stereo on our local trails; it’s a lively ride with rapid steering. Compared to many 29er trail bikes we’ve been riding, the smaller diameter wheels on the Stereo make it a blast to muck around in the jump park too, taking off and landing with high precision.

The 27.5” wheels might be a compromise to some on super rough and fast terrain when compared to a 29er, but we think they make up for it in the tight singletrack and fun sections of the trail. That’s why we believe the Stereo would be an excellent option for the type of rider who likes to ride aggressively, has the terrain that requires generous suspension travel and isn’t afraid of getting airborne.

Convert it to tubeless, give the cables a trim, and you’re good to go.

Hard to fault at this price, a seriously good option for someone who wants to ride hard and have fun doing it.

Liv launches new Intrigue E+ Pro e-MTB – First Ride

The subject of women’s specific bikes is certainly a controversial one, particularly at the moment, with some brands touting ‘gender neutral’ designs and others pushing for women’s specific construction. But regardless of which side of the fence you sit, it’s hard to ignore the commitment of Liv to providing the full spectrum of bikes to the female market. In the year in which Liv celebrates its 10 year anniversary, they are launching not one, but two, women’s full suspension trail e-bikes.


Both the e-bike and women’s cycling markets are growing like mad, and Liv are backing them both with the Intrigue E+.

The two models are; the The Intrigue E+ Pro, which is a more premium performance bike with a Maestro suspension chassis and 140/150mm travel; and the shorter travel 120/130mm Embolden E+, which is aimed at the rider who prefers less extreme terrain and may feel the Intrigue E+ is simply too much bike.

At this point in time, we’ll only be seeing the Intrigue E+ in Australia. You’re correct if you think you’ve heard the Intrigue name before – it was popular 140mm trail bike, the sister to Giant’s Trance if you will. There are two versions of Intrigue E+ available, but it’s just the less expensive (and lower spec) Intrigue E+ 2 Pro that will be making it to our shores for $5999.

There’s no doubt in our minds that e-MTBs are going to be the ticket into the sport for a lot of new female riders, and so full credit to Liv for helping drive this.

Launching two e-bike platforms for women is a big investment in what is surely only a small market segment. Erin Lamb, Liv’s Global Product Marketing Lead, explained that it’s in response to the explosion of e-bikes globally, and that while “The women’s mountain bike market is a small slice of the overall market now, it’s rapidly growing compared to the other segments, and so that’s why the goal in general is to inspire women to ride – to keep that growth going.” There’s no doubt in our minds that e-MTBs are going to be the ticket into the sport for a lot of new female riders, and so full credit to Liv for helping drive this.

Top of a mountain, no suffering needed – group rides on e-bikes are crazy amounts of fun.

 

So what’s women’s specific about it?

The LIV approach is not just about sticking a wider saddle on and calling it a women’s bike. You can delve into the detail here (or read more about it in our Liv Hail review) but everything from component choice, to frame geometry and suspension tune is different to what you’d find on the equivalent men’s model in the Giant range. The geometry design for Liv e-bikes aims to have the riding position and experience as similar as possible to a non-pedal assist equivalent, and there are four frame sizes from XS to Large available.

So, let’s take a look at it!

Looks good, huh? Let’s be honest, many e-bikes are pretty fugly, and Giant (Liv’s brother company) were one of the worst offenders with their Giant Full-E+ Pro. We are stoked to say that the Liv Intrigue E+ is a genuinely good looking e-bike – a rare thing indeed! The paint jobs are top notch as well. Even the cheaper Intrigue E+ 2 Pro which is coming to Australia has a lustrous finish of a striking gloss black with metallic red highlights.

Refined. Liv have nailed the clean looks and integration needed to cut it in the e-bike market.

Let’s start with familiar territory for those not well acquainted with e-MTBs, the suspension. The Intrigue E+ 2 Pro features the Maestro suspension platform with a trunnion mounted Fox Float DPS shock providing 140mm of travel and a 150mm SR Suntour Aion 35 up front. It’s the same suspension configuration that’s served Giant and LIV well for many years, albeit with longer chain stays to fit in the motor and deliver better climbing traction.

140mm travel via the Maestro suspension linkage is a proven winner.

Battery integration is the new frontier for e-bike design and the new downtube integrated Liv EnergyPak really does looks sleek. Its 500Wh capacity theoretically provides a distance range of between 110km (eco mode) and 45km (full power mode).

What about the motor?

The pedal assist is courtesy of the SyncDrive Pro motor, powered and co-developed by Yamaha, which is not a motor system we’ve ridden before. It provides five modes up to 360% power, and a “walk assist” mode for when pushing is the only option. The brain behind the motor is the PedalPlus 4-Sensor technology, with a barrage of sensors claiming to replicate a natural feeling pedal response on all types of terrain.

Giant and Yamaha co-developed the new motor, which has 80nm of torque.
We were very impressed by the immediacy of the motor’s response, even in those tricky situations where you’re ratcheting your pedal stroke.
We won’t see the top-of-the-line Intrigue E+ Pro 1 in Australia just yet, but this bike, the E+ Pro 2, will be available for $5999.
We really like the fact Liv opted for a simple, unobtrusive unit with LEDs to indicate battery life and power mode, rather than a bulky display.

The charger is very fast, the battery can be boosted to over 60% of capacity within one hour and full within approximately 3.5 hours. The smart charger also monitors the health of the 40 individual battery cells and continuously adjusts the charge output based on the battery condition to maximise the battery efficiency and life-span.

We like the fact that Liv have opted to ditch a bulky display unit, just using the minimalistic RideControl ONE module mounted to the left side of the bars, with buttons to switch through support modes and an LED display showing what mode you’re in and battery level. Everything has an App now (hell, our local pizzeria has one) and due for release in September 2018 is the Liv E-Bike App which will enable the rider to tune motor settings and support ratios.

What good is a motor if it’s not fun on the way back down?

What about the ride?

What better place to launch an e-bike (or two) than the stunning Venosta Valley in Northern Italy’s South Tyrol. A lush valley of apple orchards nestled between towering peaks through which an extensive network of mountain bike and hiking tracks weave. It is in this type of terrain that an e-bike really shines, with the pedal assist making light work of road and access trail climbs, giving quick and efficient access to the singletrack.

Hello there, Tyrol.
The chameleon paint job on the E+ Pro 1 is one of the best going.

First impressions?

Our strong first impression was of the responsiveness of the bike and its motor. Many e-bikes suffer from a laggy motor response to pedalling at lower speeds, and this can make slow, technical climbs hard work. But the Liv felt great in these situations, making those techy climbs where you need to ratchet your pedal stroke much easier than we’ve experienced on many e-bikes. Once rolling, the power transfer is smooth and does feel pretty natural.

Can hold a line! 2.6″ tyres have more precision than the 2.8″ rubber often found on e-MTBs.

Descending on the Intrigue E+

On the descents this bike is incredibly confidence inspiring. Its weight and stiffness combining with the impressive Maestro suspension to provide a seriously stable ride, with minimal deflection helping forgive any poor line choices. Ample stopping power was provided by the Tektro four piston brakes with 200mm rotors, which is so important with the extra weight of an e-bike.

For a bike with a long wheelbase, we found the whole thing way more nimble than expected.

What surprised us was how manoeuvrable and agile the bike felt for its weight and long wheelbase, particularly in terms of front end weight, without a feeling of having to significantly increase input to clear obstacles at speed. It was also unexpectedly nimble through tight downhill switchbacks. What we noticed and appreciated about the bike was that it simply felt lighter on the trail than expected, which contributed to its willingness to leave the ground. We never felt like a passenger.

Liv opted for 2.6″ tyres, rather than 2.8″ or 3.0″ rubber. When bombing through more open terrain or cornering at high speeds, the 2.6” tyres offer great support and cornering stability, without any vagueness that can plague bigger Plus sized rubber. The flipside of course is that on loose, steep climbs you do miss the extra grip of a 2.8″ or 3.0″ tyre.

Tektro provide the stoppers on the E+ Pro 2, and with 200mm rotors, they were more than up to the job.

Easy there, tiger!

That same responsiveness we noted above does require a gentle touch sometimes, especially when starting on hill, to prevent the bike surging away. Remembering to lowering the power mode and starting with gentle pressure on the pedals was the solution to this.

On technical climbs, dropping down a couple of modes on the power was a good option to keep things steady.

Speaking of pushing the bike, the walk assist mode is a great feature for the smoother climbs but we found it not terribly useful for pushing the bike up rocky terrain. The button was tricky to hold down whilst wrestling the bike uphill, and the torque being applied through the rear wheel meant it would break traction as we were trying to lift the front wheel up and over an obstacle.

We may have ridden this bike in the Alps, but it’s just as relevant on trails with less climbing.

Final thoughts?

The Intrigue E+ is a great trail weapon, we had a lot of fun on this bike and loved the way it shredded the steep rough terrain of our testing grounds. While Liv say it’s designed to appeal to the more experienced rider, we wouldn’t shy away from recommending it to someone getting started in the sport too, or simply any women wanting to ride further, get to their favourite trails quicker, having more fun along the way.

Trek Checkpoint – Ditching Road for Gravel, Test Update

We’ve grown quite fond of this thing, and the result is the traditional road bike in the garage has been gathering dust. We ride mountain bikes for the fun of it and to get outdoors, we ride road bikes to go long distances and hopefully get ‘fitter’. Combining the two is made simple with a gravel bike, the Checkpoint is a comfortable and versatile rig that we are really enjoying riding.


For a more detailed look at the Checkpoint, check out our first impressions article here. Trek Checkpoint SL 5.


Watch the video for an update on the review.


We’ve received the new Shimano Ultegra RX rear derailleur for review, which is essentially a combination of a road and mountain bike derailleur, using the clutch mechanism to stabilise the chain over the bumps for a quieter ride and less risk of a dropped chain. A handy addition as the 105 derailleur currently fitted is low on the tension required to keep the chain from slapping about on rough gravel roads.

That’s what we’re talking about, back country roads for days!

The ISO Speed decoupler at the seat tube is designed to add compliance to the ride.

The brakes are going to score an update too, with the Shimano Dura Ace units adding power and hopefully resisting fade on the longer descents, as some of the fast roads over the mountain ranges we’ve been riding have us feeling a little nervous when we’re used to the power of mountain bike brakes!

We’ll be back, so stay tuned for an update soon, there are backcountry roads to explore.

Video: Specialized Epic EVO 2019 – First Look

When we tested the new Specialized S-Works Epic a few months back, we heaped praise on the bike for its confidence and flawless singletrack handling. It really did feel like the ultimate new-school XC race machine, with the geometry to tackle some pretty technical terrain. But, like a lot of race bikes, it was pretty hard on the body in rougher trails, especially with the Brain-equipped fork which we found quite choppy.


We’re not going to go into all the details of the latest Epic here – we’ve done that many times before: check out our First Impressions piece, along with our full review here, and a head-to-head comparison with Giant’s Anthem 29 as well


We like it – this bike makes a lot of sense to us. The addition of a dropper post doesn’t interfere with those remarkably clean lines of the Epic, but it definitely changes this bike’s attitude.

Still, was no mistaking the new Epic’s potential to build up into a pretty fun lightweight trail bike too. A super stiff frame, relatively slack angles and dropper post compatibility all gave us pause for thought, “what if we took an Epic, gave it a regular fork, a dropper post and some chunky rubber…?” It turns out Specialized had exactly that in mind, too.

Sharing the exact same frame as the Epic, the EVO version scores a 120mm FOX 34SC fork, a dropper post, a Ground Control front tyre, and a wider bar. You’ve still got the Brain shock out back, and it still weighs bugger all, so it’s not going to be shy of some serious race action.

The Brain shock is a pretty highly evolved piece of kit now, but we’ve never agreed with this technology’s application in a fork, it makes a lot more sense out back in our opinion.
A 120mm-travel FOX 34, a more aggressive front tyre and a slightly wider bar (750mm vs 720mm) all add up to a more confident front end.

We’ve said it many times before; XC race bikes are great… when you’re racing. With the EVO version, Specialized are clearly trying to broaden the horizons of what is a very capable platform, but without sacrificing too much performance on the racetrack.

It’s perfect timing for this bike to roll into our lives -it falls into the mix alongside the Intense Sniper XC and Yeti SB100, both of which aim to bring a bit of trail bike fun to the racetrack as well – so we’ve got some handy reference points for its performance. We’ll be bringing you a full review of this bike in the coming weeks, so hold the phone.

The flex-stay rear end is very laterally stiff.
The heart of the Epic is found at the rear axle – the Brain.

 

2019 GT Force and Sensor – Bringing Back the LTS.

GT is a brand like no other, there’s good reason that a retro tragic like myself has more GT’s in the garage than any other brand. GT is over 40 years old and has pushed the development of mountain bikes so hard, and the result was some very whacky results and some very popular designs that will no doubt trigger a feeling of nostalgia in anyone who’s been riding since the 90s.


Watch the bike in action and hear our thoughts in the video below.


Introducing the new GT LTS range, Sensor and Force.

But that drive to experiment could be blamed for GT dropping out of the spotlight over the last few years, concepts like the i-Drive and AOS had consumers polarised with their abstract looks, and the suspension system was not without its shortcomings in a very competitive market.

Circling back today and GT has released two new bikes that we know you’re all going to say looks like a combination of a Kona, Cube, Trek, Giant, Transition and so on. It is certainly a very familiar shape though we think that’s exactly what GT needed to get back in the game. These bikes are based on a proven design, moving in this direction has given the frame designers complete freedom to do their thing and create a bike just how they wanted.

These bikes are based on a proven design, moving in this direction has given the frame designers complete freedom to do their thing and create a bike just how they wanted.

A proven four-bar suspension design with a horst link pivot on the chainstay.

The new bikes are well specced, low on fuss, there are no proprietary bits, external cable routing, and a refreshing lack of silly acronyms.

Alrighty, so what do we have here then? Two entirely new models, the Sensor and Force. The Sensor is GT’s new trail bike, 29: wheels, 130mm travel front and back, available in carbon and aluminium versions.

The Force is the Sensor’s wilder brother, bumping up the suspension to 160 up front, and 150 out the back, with 27.5” wheels.


GT Force

Yiew, the Force is a playful little thing. Solid, agile and packs a punch.
Double-row bearings at the main pivots and large tubing everywhere, it’s one of the more stiff bikes we have ridden.

This is one very solid bike, with huge tubing, double-row bearings where needed, it rides as solid as it looks. Built around 27.5” wheels and a frame geometry that errs on the shorter side of the spectrum, it is most at home ripping trails for the fun of it.

Suspension is built around a single0ring drivetrain with a focus on traction and efficiency.
160mm forks up front for going bonkers.

We rode some remarkably rough and raw trails on this thing and it took it in its stride really well. Then down to some purpose-built trails in the bike park and we were ripping through the place and jumping gaps blind with great confidence.

This is the bike the GT Factory Race team have been seen using for quite some time now on the Enduro World Series, though unable to really speak about it until now. Both Martin Maes and Noga Korem are here on their team bikes, using the exact same frame.

If we were to take the Force racing, going up one size would give us a longer bike for stability, as we found it shorter in the reach than many of the other 27.5” wheel bikes with the same amount of travel.

If we were to take the Force racing, going up one size would give us a longer bike for stability

The top-end model here is set to retail for $7000 in Australia, the range is quite strong with four Force models, two carbon and one aluminium starting at $4000.


GT Sensor

The Carbon Pro model isn’t an Australian spec model, damn it!

The Sensor shares the same construction and frame design as the force, built around 29” wheels and 130mm of travel at both ends.

After a solid day on the trails we’re confident that this bike is going to be very popular in Australia, while it doesn’t feel like a featherweight it climbs technical trails so very well, and with a robust frame and tough tyres we had the confidence to hammer the descents. The rear suspension feels so supportive, we surprised ourselves by climbing up steep ledges, lunging forward and clawing our way up the Sensor nails it.

We surprised ourselves by climbing up steep ledges, lunging forward and clawing our way up the Sensor nails it.

The Sensor is a brilliant all-round trail bike.
A beefy linkage for a solid bike.
Horst link suspension for a dialled ride.
The lower shock mount can be flipped for geometry adjustment.

Unlike some lighter carbon frames on the market that have a little give or ‘good flex’ in the frame but risk feeling too light and shaky under heavier riders or hard terrain, both these bikes feel solid as a rock. So solid that it’s worth taking the time to dial in the suspension settings and tyre pressures for a smoother ride. Heavier riders will appreciate the robust chassis, for sure.

Like the Force, the frame flip geometry gives you the option of a high and low setting. Lift it up for more pedal clearance and sharper angles that make it climb easier or opt for the lower setting for a lower and slacker bike for better descending and cornering.

The Sensor will be available in four models also, starting at a very appealing $3000 for the base model with an aluminium frame up to $5999 for this groovy maroon and tan model – Expert below.

Verdict

While only spending a few hours of riding on each, we’re pretty impressed with new LTS bikes. Our advice would be to consider upsizing on a Force is racing is your thing, and experiment with the flip chip to dial the geometry for your trails.

The LTS is back, baby!

GT have cut away all the mumbo-jumbo and have gone after the rider who wants a solid suspension bike without the complexities and fuss that can be a distraction from why we ride in the first place.

New 2019 Trek Powerfly – First Impressions.

The bike industry is in full e-swing, with new e-bikes releasing faster than iPhones or GoPros. While Trek might have been a little late to the party – with their first pedal assist mountain bike released just in 2016 – their new 2019 models, however, send a strong message. A lot of resources have been thrown behind their electric bike program, and it certainly will pay off, the new Powerfly is a very well considered package.


Hear our first impressions in the video below.


The long travel Powerfly LT is built for going everywhere, fast.

What’s new?

  • Three models available with the addition of a new LT (long travel dual suspension model) with 160mm travel forks, 150mm travel in the rear.
  • A new OCLV carbon frame version of the Powerfly LT (ooooh yeah!).
  • All three models; hardtail, FS, LT use a new fully integrated Bosch battery inside the downtube.
  • New Bosch e-MTB mode equipped.
  • E-bike specific forks, more robust and tuned specifically.
  • Four-piston brakes on all LT models, and sintered brake pads across the range.
  • SRAM Eagle on higher models with the new steel Eagle NX cassette.
  • 2.8″ Bontrager XR4 tyres with reinforced sidewalls.
  • The integrated battery allows for water bottle and tool storage mounts.
  • New and improved Bontrager Line dropper post.
  • Same frame geometry as 2018 FS and hardtail models.

Long travel Powerfly, where have you been all this time?

Previously only available from select overseas markets, the LT is finally coming Down Under. The Powerfly we reviewed last year was the FS model, with 130mm travel front and back. Certainly a great bike, but it didn’t take much for it to feel a little under-gunned when we took it to more technical trails or descents.

Adding travel to e-bikes doesn’t seem to have the drawbacks that regular bikes do, more is good!

It’s as if the venerable Trek Slash got struck by lightning, or fell into the cauldron of magic potion, this is a long travel bike with superpowers! The suspension felt like what we’d expect from Trek; balanced, consistent and well suited to the cause.

We spent a big day riding big mountains on the Powerfly LT 7 Plus – a non-Australian spec model – we will see two models of the LT, the LT 9 and carbon LT 9.7 pictured below.

It’s as if the venerable Trek Slash got struck by lightning, or fell into the cauldron of magic potion, this is a long travel bike with superpowers!

Ooooh, an OCLV Powerfly. Carbon tech meets e-bikes, a great combination. This is the Powerfly LT Plus 9.7, coming to Australia for a reasonable $8499.

A long travel model, however, is just the ticket to unlocking the Powefly’s true potential. We often don’t see the point in an e-MTB with less than 150mm of travel, with so much power at your disposal, lugging a larger bike around is no big deal. When you need a little more cushion for the push’n, a 160mm travel fork is just what you need to let the brakes off and push it.

Bosch’s new e-MTB mode.

While it’s simply just a mode setting, it makes the world of difference to how the bike rides. Selecting e-MTB mode on the display unit is like putting your camera into auto-mode, no, much better than that.

e-MTB mode, a very intuitive power delivery setting for a more natural ride.

The whole idea of the e-MTB mode is to naturalise the feeling of power delivery, so the response feels much more like a normal mountain bike under pedalling forces – it delivers a less aggressive power output if you’re pedalling slowly and gently, ramping up the juice when you’re hammering at the pedals.

The whole idea of e-MTB mode is to naturalise the feeling of power delivery, so the response feels much more like a normal mountain bike under pedalling forces

Read more about Bosch’s e-MTB mode and how it works here: Bosch e-MTB mode explained.

We tried riding in the three other modes – Eco, Tour, Turbo – and kept returning to e-MTB, it’s ideal.

Same geometry as 2018 models.

While it wasn’t music to our ears, news that the Powerfly’s frame geometry remained the same as last year, we do agree that Trek has made their decision after much consideration.

Unstoppable climbing ability, this is a go-anywhere machine.

When reviewing the Powerfly FS 7 last year, we had criticisms of the long chainstays making it harder to muscle what are already heavy bikes around on the trails. At 475mm it’s one of the longest out there, what does that mean?

See our review of the 2018 model Powerfly FS here.

Well, with so much bike behind you, lifting the front end up by the bars requires a whole lot of effort, and on the trails that translates to a bike that you become a bit of a passenger on, steering it through the trails rather than hopping or manualling around. We’ve ridden plenty of e-bikes with shorter stays and despite the inherent weight of a motorised bike, you can still ride them like a regular bike.

Bombs away!

On the flipside, a longer rear centre makes the Powerfly the best climbing e-bike we’ve ridden, hands down. Even with a tall 160mm fork, we took it up the nastiest inclines on the slipperiest surface with very little effort, the front end never lifted or wandered side to side. Their climbing manners are first rate.

Their climbing manners are first rate.

Climbs vs descents, stability vs agility, Toyota Landcruiser Troopy vs Suzuki Vitari? Everybody is different, we understand that. Though a middle-ground to build a more agile bike even at the sacrifice of climbing ability would be our preference.

E-Bike spec in the bag.

With the component manufactures sorting out their end of the deal and producing more parts that meet the demands of e-bikes, Trek has more to choose from. The 2019 range will have more four-piston brakes specced, tougher tyres, steel Eagle NX 12-speed cassettes and more robust forks that are tuned specifically for the heavier bikes.

Final thoughts.

While our opinions on the frame geometry remain, we appreciate that we might approach e-bikes different to others. The new bikes are very dialled, the new integrated battery will fool anyone from afar thinking it’s a regular bike, it is so aesthetically clean. And the addition of Bosch’s e-MTB mode is really clever, the bike rides very naturally.

We’re hoping to score a ride on the Powerfly 9.7 LT, to see how the OCLV carbon frame changes things, so keep your eyes out for more.

For more on the Australian range of Powerfly models head to Trek’s site here. Yiew, Powerfly!

Reviewed: Ibis RipMo

In a category that’s breeding like rabbits, the Ibis casually struts into the room with a strong offering and a unique approach to the 160mm travel 29er game.


Watch our discussion about the new RipMo from the trails below.


A RipMo in a nutshell.

29″ wheels, 160mm up front, 145 out the back. The FOX fork uses a 44mm offset crown and paired with a fairly sensible head angle of 65.9 degrees and 435mm chainstays. So we have big travel with geometry that on paper lends itself to more toward the lighter end of the spectrum.

The frame is all carbon, using a DW Link to drive the FOX DPX rear shock. The frame is super low to allow the use of a long dropper post or open up the options to upsize the frame without it growing too much height.

44mm fork offset, so what?

The RipMo uses a reduced offset fork, 44mm instead of the traditional 51mm. Something we’ve seen becoming more popular from many brands; the Specialized Epic, Yeti SB100 for instance. The idea behind is simple, yet hard to explain. A longer front-end of the bike adds stability, but a shorter stem is required to keep your body in a comfortable position. Then the shorter offset will give the bike a greater amount of ‘trail’, for more stability in the steering.

So what all that means is there’s a focus on stability at speed or jumping.

And you know what? The RipMo does feel light to steer, yet not twitchy in the slightest, and letting the brakes off is not a scary thing.

Who’s the RipMo for?

Compared to other long travel 29ers we’ve ridden recently, the RipMo feels a lot more spritely and agile on trails that require you to work hard in the turns or pumping the terrain to maintain speed. We’d put that down to the low weight, sensible angles and supportive suspension.

Ibis makes beautiful bikes, we think the new RipMo will be very popular indeed.

Watch our video above for our discussion from the trails!

Canyon Spectral – Tested

The Spectral is Canyon’s all-rounder trail bike using 27.5″ diameter wheels, striking a middle ground between a cross-country bike and an enduro bike, using 150mm travel forks and 140mm out the back. We’ve had so much great experience with the Spectral over the years, a bike that has always reviewed well due to its efficient suspension, agile character and value for money.

We won’t go on too much about what’s new with the new model, we’ve covered it in great depth here, there certainly is a lot to look at:

Canyon’s all-new Spectral.

How did the Spectral ride?

The Spectral is a reasonably neutral feeling bike, every time we jumped back on it; the fit felt comfortable and ready for long rides. While some bikes are going down the ‘long, slack, low, rad’ path, the Spectral keeps it more conservative. So when we took it to our familiar trails everything we were instantly at home, cruising through the turns and tracking up steep climbs very easily. That’s precisely what we look for in a good all-rounder trail bike!

Blasting singletrack with the brakes off, hell yeah!
The Spectral’s supple suspension and grippy tyres make light work of technical trails.

That said, the big rubber, powerful brakes and roomy cockpit allowed you to blast your way into the corners with a reckless approach, the Spectral is super fun to get rowdy. Getting on the gas out of the corners the whole bike felt spritely and supportive, even more so with the FOX shock in the middle trail mode with added compression support.

We noticed that compared to the older Spectral, the rear suspension feels more supportive when pedalling hard, this might be mistaken for a firmer ride at first, but it still felt smooth and supple despite resisting wallowing deeper into the travel when pushing the bike forward.

2.6″ width tyres on 27.5″ wheels = loads of grip, but would we keep them on always?

The big 2.6″ tyres polarised us, where most bikes in the similar category would be rolling on 2.4-2.5″ tyres, the rounded 2.6″ tyres give the bike a very different feel and are best used with lower tyre pressures. It’s not just the width and greater surface contacting the dirt, the large volume of the tyre plays many roles and Canyon have selected them for this bike for very good reason. The 2.6″ tyres help cut out vibration from the trail for a very smooth ride, and the tyre conforms to chunky and changing surfaces exceptionally well, giving the bike fantastic traction.

But with the large tyres comes a lack of precision and somewhat vague feeling on the trail, more experienced riders might find the larger rubber detrimental on terrain that doesn’t necessarily warrant it. We encountered a couple of flat tyres too, pinching the lightweight casing of the rear tyre on sharp rocks.

We tried a set of 2.4″ Kenda tyres with tough casings on the Spectral when riding on faster trails; we appreciated how you could push the bike a little harder with the tyres feeling more stout and concise below you.

Back on the 2.6″ tyres we really couldn’t help but love the generous traction when clawing up and down loose singletrack or tackling steep technical sections where holding your line was crucial to making it out the other side safely.

Rock climbing on the grippy 2.6″ tyres and supportive suspension.

Our thoughts on the tyres? While it might be rider and terrain specific, swapping out to a pair of 2.4 or 2.5″ tyres with a robust casing would be our pick. At least tyres are not too much of an expense to experiment with.

Setup thoughts.

After a few rides, we wanted to get the bars down lower. By fitting one spacer into the air spring, and dropping the pressure to let the fork sag a little lower the fork rode a little lower, and in conjunction with flipping the stem, a respectable bar height was achieved.

The Maxxis Rekon rear tyre was not quite robust enough for the faster trails, where impacts would reach the rim a little too easily. Despite loads of tubeless sealant, we still had to install an inner tube on a ride and repair the tyre when we got home.

Watch that sizing; the Spectral is a tall one.

The Spectral’s new frame design uses a seatpost binder system that integrates neatly into the frame removing the need for a traditional collar and clamp system, a nice touch but the seat tower stands very high. Our test bike is size large and was ridden by two of us at Flow; one was borderline between a medium and a large, the other was firmly in the range for a large. In both cases, we found the seatmast so tall that the RockShox Reverb dropper post was slammed all the way down.

The head tube is fairly long, creating a very tall front end. The seat tower is also tall, we had the seatpost slammed all the way down.

The front end is also quite tall, restricting the adjustability to drop the front end height for own preference sake.

Why would this matter, we hear you say. Well, this bike could well be served as an enduro race bike, where most people would generally seek a longer bike for stability at speed. Some riders might run into issues with a bike too tall if upsizing to a larger bike for length is their preference. We’ve seen bikes like the YT Capra and Ibis RipMo stay low in height, growing in the length as you go up the size chart.

Epic value, chapeau Canyon! Many nice bits.

When compared to the competition, this bike is tremendous value. The CF 9.0 sits second from the top of a vast range, covering a wide range of price points from just over $3000 for an aluminium frame option, right up to the blinged-out $10000 model. This one for $7199 would be many other major brands top offering, comparable in many ways to a $12000+ S-Works.

Killer value all round, this model compares to many other large brands top-tier offerings over $10000.

The full-SRAM build is excellent, DT Swiss carbon wheels with wide rims give the bike a stiff and precise ride, and the SRAM Guide brakes with a 200mm rotor on the front will stop you in a hurry. Ergon is a German brand doing great things, and the saddle and grips are parts we use on our personal bikes, top stuff indeed.

Stellar frame engineering.

It’s worth stopping and taking a closer look at the Spectral to properly appreciate the unique approach to frame design that this German brand has. The headset has a rotation stopper to remove the risk of the bars spinning around in a crash, saving the brake lines from pulling out or the sharp cockpit parts smashing the frame.

The suspension pivot bearings are sealed behind an additional shield, and the rear axle houses its quick release handle inside itself for a clean look but not needing any tools to remove it.

Eye-bogglingly slick.

Underneath the frame is an intelligent design, both adding protection to the carbon frame and a casing for the brake, seatpost and gear lines is a plastic casing fastened to the frame via allen key bots.

While it seems like a straightforward approach to cleaning the bike’s appearance by hiding the cables without them travelling inside the frame, it favours those who run the brake levers opposite to how we do in Australia, with the front brake on the right-hand side. It also requires at least three hands to assemble, tricky with just two.

Routing the rear brake line around the headtube for a cleaner setup isn’t an option, a shame, but no biggie.

The new Spectral was always going to be good, who’s it for?

It was always going to be a sure bet that when Canyon re-vamped their immensely popular trail bike, it was going to be good, and despite the frame height and cable routing (which certainly won’t bother all riders), they have hit the nail on the head.

The Spectral would best be appreciated by someone with an eye for quality and engineering and ride demanding trails. Traction, efficiency and playfulness sum up the Spectral just right.

Video Review: Intense Sniper XC Elite

Intense Cycles aren’t exactly synonymous with cross country racing; these disruptive Californians have traditionally dwelled in the world of downhill and long-travel shredding. But here we are, looking at a full-blown XC race weapon, the Intense Sniper XC Elite.

The name might say XC,  but you don’t have to dig deep to find the Intense downhill DNA. We first clapped eyes on this bike a few months ago (read our first impressions piece here) and right away we knew we wanted to spend more time on it. Its mix of geometry, efficiency and low weight promised to bring more grins and fewer grimaces to XC racing, and that’s why we picked it as our bike of choice for the Port to Port MTB race.

Watch our full video review below to learn if it lived up to our expectations.



For a stage race environment, where you rarely know what’s coming up, the Intense’s stable geometry was a big confidence booster – let it rip!

Stage 2 of Port to Port MTB was a favourite, with loads of singletrack really playing to this bike’s strengths.

Norco Sight – Never Stop Tweaking, Makeover Madness

Sometimes we feel bad for making the Norco Sight sit still for the camera all the time, so, we try to make up for it by giving it gifts. Nice things like new suspension, drivetrains, wheels, tyres etc. Over time it’s become a real mutt of a bike, with parts from all over the place.



In this video we talk about our thoughts on the FOX 34 vs RockShox Pike test, the XTR Shimano brakes, SRAM Eagle drivetrain and our preferences.

We made a modification to the Bontrager wheels, and reveal our plans for a massive makeover with nearly all the parts changing over.

Enjoy!

Just in: Cube Stereo 140 HPC Race

It’s been a while since we’ve spent quality time on a Cube, one of Germany’s biggest bike producers, so we’re keen to start rolling and discuss how they have kept up with the times in a demanding segment. Before we get it too dirty, let’s have a closer look at the smartly finished, and very blue machine.

Carbon frame, solid construction, killer value.

A carbon bike for $3999? Yes, that’s what we said. The Stereo 140 uses a carbon mainframe with an aluminium rear to reap the weight and stiffness benefits of the magic material, with the front while keeping the costs down out the back. The frame appears very well finished, and you can’t help but notice the size of the downtube too, it’s huge. Everything is the right place on paper, and the frame geometry looks to seek a middle ground between high-speed stability and agile handling.

Carbon frame with a price-point spec. The Cube appears to be excellent value.
The four-bar suspension design is a proven winner, and Cube has many years of experience with it.
Unique shapes make up a popular suspension design used by many brands.

Vital statistics for a proper shredding.

The Stereo has 150mm of FOX travel up the front, and 140mm out the back via a four-bar linkage. Meaty Schwalbe tyres on 27.5″ wheels should make for a grippy and lively feel, while the rims are tubeless compatible the ‘Performance’ spec construction of the tyres aren’t designed to be used without tubes, an area for an upgrade for sure.

A FOX Rhythm 34 fork with 150mm of travel up front.

Shimano’s great value and surprisingly powerful Deore brakes have established their worth amongst the Flow crew, and the colossal 203mm disc rotor on the front means business.

The Cube branded dropper post feels a little slow in its actuation, so hopefully, it speeds up when we use it on the trail. There are ISCG mounts for a chain guide for added security if you wish, and ample space for a water bottle, too.

Being single is ok.

When we looked up the 99 Bikes website to see what looked like a double chainring, 2×11 drivetrain, our hearts sunk a fraction. Coming from Germany where front derailleurs are popular it was no big surprise, but the Australian distributor opted for a single ring spec, phew! A Shimano SLX drivetrain with a large 11-46 tooth cassette should be ample range to get around the place; we’ll find out.

A single ring 1×11 drivetrain is certainly more popular in the Australian market for a bike like this.
Less typing, more riding. Let’s hit it!

We’ll have our video review of the Stereo 140 up on Flow soon, stay tuned – pardon the pun – for our thoughts.

Video: Our Yeti SB100 Dream Build for Port to Port MTB

The Port to Port MTB stage race is one of the best events of the year, rolling its way through the gorgeous Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie region before winding up in Newcastle – we love it. This year, we jumped out from behind the cameras to race it!

To tackle the job of four days back-to-back racing, we wanted to put together the ultimate bike for the task. Our black canvas was the stunning new Yeti SB100.

This freshly released new-school XC rocket was built up with a handpicked range of parts, all set-up specifically for the job at hand. Watch our full video discussion of the bike below, and let us know your questions or thoughts!

Finding a balance between speed, efficiency, comfort and fun for four days of great riding.

In our discussion video, we look at everything from suspension setup to choice of grips, watch for our thoughts on:

  • Setting up the new FOX 32 SC 120 fork for reducing fatigue over four days.
  • Why we’d not go without a dropper post.
  • The spiky tyre on the front, even in the dry conditions.
  • Brake setup.
  • How to carry spares.
  • Choice of wheels.
  • Using the Ergon grips to reduce soreness from a wrist injury.
  • What tubeless sealant?
  • Drivetrain and chainring size.

Watch the video here:


Read our daily wrap-ups from Port to Port MTB here: 

Day 1: Hunter Valley 

Day 2: Killingworth and Mt Sugarloaf

Day 3: Awaba and the Watagans

Day 4: Lake Macquarie and Glenrock


Just wow. The SB100 is a very good looking frame.
The Switch Infinity system has been rotated through 90-degrees on the SB100, tucking it all in tight. Surely future Yetis will follow suit.
Off the brakes, gaining time on the rowdy descents before the climbs came again! The Yeti SB100 descends like a little trail bike.

SRAM XX1 Eagle, with a 32-tooth ring to make sure we got up all the climbs.
After four days of racing, she’s a little creaky but what a bike!
The winged shape of the Ergon GA3 grip helped take the sting out of a wrist injury.
We set the fork up soft and then used the low-speed compression damping to control bob and dive.

Video: 2019 Pivot Trail 429 – First Ride Review

The all-new Pivot Trail 429 makes us weep little tears of joy – half a day with this bike and it’s already right up there on our most-wanted list. While we loved the previous Mach 429 Trail, it was starting to feel a little outdated in terms of geometry, and so the new Trail 429 arrives right on cue. Check out our initial impressions and first ride review below!




Looking for more Pivot reviews? 

Pivot Mach 5.5:

http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/first-ride-pivots-new-mach-5-5/

Pivot Switchblade: 

https://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-pivot-switchblade/

Pivot Firebird: 

https://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-pivot-firebird-carbon-pro-xtxtr/

Pivot Mach 429 Trail:

https://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-pivot-mach-429-trail-2/

Pivot Mach 4 Carbon:

https://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-pivot-mach-4-carbon/


Check out the trails were we’ve been riding the new Pivot Trail 429!


Video: Our YT Jeffsy Custom Build

The YT Jeffsy is a ripper of a bike. It’s hard to explain why; when you look at it on paper there’s nothing particularly magical about its numbers or suspension. But on the trails, it flat out shreds, down, up and round the bends. We fell in love with this bike last year, when we took it on our Ride High Country Road Trip – make sure you watch the video of that trip below, and check out our full video review of the Jeffsy CF as well.

We’ve recently welcomed another YT Jeffsy into our lives, this time as a custom build, put together from the frame up. We’re going to be using this bike to review all kinds of test products, and we’ve already got a number of review items bolted on, getting dirty. Here’s a bit of rundown of some of the key items.

2019 FOX 36 Factory Grip 2:

The orange 36 is hard to miss! You can read our first impressions here. Like Mulholland Drive, it’s surreally good, but confusing at the same time!

SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain:

We’ve ridden this drivetrain a lot recently, it’s been fitted to many test bikes. The 500% range and light shifting action is superb, though it’s not niggle free. You can read our review here.

Vittoria Morsa tyres:

Did you know that Vittoria made mountain bike tyres? Neither did we till the Morsa 29×2.3 tyres lobbed on in. Read our first impressions piece here. We’re liking the tough construction, fast rolling speeds and durability of this rubber. The grip is good in soft soils, or deep sand, but not so flash in the wet or when there’s loose over hardpack.

 

Just in: Ibis RipMo

Only a couple years ago were we freaking out over the concept of a 29er with 160mm travel, now it seems like this type of bike is growing in popularity amongst the enduro-racer crowd or anyone that want to go REALLY fast.

160mm travel forks on a 29er are becoming quite familiar but were once thought of as too big.

The RipMo is quite cool, with a super-long reach, a 66-degree head angle paired with a 44mm offset fork. To allow riders to ‘upsize’ for a longer reach, the RipMo’s low standover height will let you gain length without too much height, which you can see with so much seatpost out of the frame here.

145mm of DW-Link controlled travel out the back. Super-low standover height, too.

Not often seen is the use of bushings on the lower linkage that is a high-stress pivot that doesn’t have a large range of motion. Ibis claims the bushing system is lighter and stiffer than a pivot with conventional cartridge bearing. They are protected by an airtight seal, and a lifetime warranty too, interesting.

The lower link uses Igus bushings instead of traditional cartridge bearings.
The upper Dw-Link tucks away neatly inside the rear triangle.

Pricing is pretty sharp, too, this model with a SRAM GX drivetrain, their own wide rim-wheelset and a FOX DPX shock is $6899, which we think is pretty competitive.

The fame looks gorgeous, it’s an all-new model so we’re pretty excited to take it for a good old thrashing on the trails, so stay tuned for our thoughts!

For build kits pricing, stockists and more head to – www.rowneysports.com

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