We’ve put two of the most popular ‘trail’ pedals on the market head to head: Shimano’s XT Trail and Crankbrothers’ Mallet E LS. As it turns out, the way they ride is very different, and both are excellent pedals overall in our opinion, so we’re sure you’ll find yourself happy with both options. But they do each have real highlights and lowlights.
Shimano XT Trail: 403g/pair, $179
Work perfectly without any fuss or faff on a huge variety of shoes and without needing any cleat shims or shoe modification.
Tension adjustability will be a boon for riders who really muscle the bike around through the pedals or who want to be really securely locked in.
Very positive and crisp engagement/release – you know when you’re in or out.
Convex pedal body shape really doesn’t offer a lot of grip or support should you happen to miss a pedal entry.
While these latest versions are better in the mud than in previous iterations, they still are prone to collecting crap and becoming hard to engage in muddy, gloopy conditions.
Crankbrothers Mallet E LS: 430g/pair, $259
Large amounts of shoe/pedal contact gives you a feeling of support normally associated with using a flat pedal.
Concave body shape and grub screws offers decent traction should you miss a pedal entry.
Open design is resistant to mud to build up, making these pedals very consistent in the wet weather.
Some shoes will require the use of cleat spacers to get these pedals performing properly.
Entry/exit is rather vague, and feels less precise than the Shimanos.
We came into this comparison with our view slightly clouded by past experiences. We last tried Crankbrothers pedals during a dark patch in the brand’s history, when corners were cut and durability suffered. Partly because of this experience, we’ve tended to stick with Shimano over the past few years. We’ve always loved the consistent, crisp and precise feeling of the Shimano SPD mechanism, and the overall durability of the pedals has been a big drawcard too. As we’re regularly swapping shoes too, we’ve appreciated the ease of setup and how the pedals just seem to work well with almost any shoe on the market.
But the new Mallet E is a much better offering than in years past, and we can now really appreciate what so many people can see in these pedals.
The ride feel is certainly different to the snappy Shimanos. Whereas the XTs have you locked in and it takes a good consistent force to release them, it feels like you more gradually ease out of the Crank Bros. We’re still adapting to it.
We had figured the absence of tension adjustment on the Mallet’s would worry us, but it hasn’t been a consideration at all. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much shoe/pedal contact that you don’t rely solely on the pedal mechanism to keep your feet in place, so release tension is less of an issue. We’re also impressed by the support and grip of the Mallet’s too – the concave body shape makes a hell of a lot of sense for riding in conditions where you’re often clipping out and not always able to get back in straight away.
In truth, we’re now completely torn between the two brands and we’re going to continue to use both for the time being. In our minds, both are emerging as a great product, and they prove to us there’s no one right way of designing a pedal. Fence sitting isn’t popular, but to pick either of these pedals as being ‘better’ than the other would mean ignoring too many positive attributes of the other. Pay your money, make your choice, you’ll be happy.
29er trail bikes of this kind of travel seem to often have the misconception hanging over them, that somehow the addition of big wheels morphs them into quasi-Enduro bikes. It ain’t the case – this bike is very capable all-rounder, a true trail bike, albeit with a lot of enthusiasm for the descents.
We’d have to rate the Jeffsy as one of the most engaging trail bikes we’ve ridden. A floater, not a flogger – it skims along, doesn’t get stuck down in its travel. It combines that supportive feel with a stiff frame too, so there’s never any vagueness about what the bike is up to. With 140mm front and rear, the bike was easy to balance, and we enjoyed the damping symmetry of the RockShox combo of a Pike up front and Monarch out the back.
We’d have to rate the Jeffsy as one of the most engaging trail bikes we’ve ridden.
The reach and overall length measurements of the Jeffsy are comparative moderate, it’s not a big boat to pilot, it’s sizing and geometry are such that it doesn’t require steep descents to come alive. In fact at the opposite end of the spectrum, on steep climbs, we were impressed too by both the climbing efficiency and the grip on offer.
We’re yet to get a creak or loose pivot bolt, despite nearly five months of regular use.
Its versatility was proven to us when we took the Jeffsy road tripping, hitting seven different destination across the Victorian High Country. On everything from flowing singletrack in Beechworth, to big climbs in Mt Buller, and some hefty jumps in Bright, the Jeffsy didn’t put a foot wrong. Nor has it required any maintenance, we’re yet to get a creak or loose pivot bolt, despite nearly five months of regular use. The assembly quality would appear to be top notch, and we like the mechanic friendly brake/dropper housing routing too.
What did we change?
This particular model of Jeffsy is the only bike in the range that comes with a 2×11 drivetrain. We didn’t waste any time swapping it out for a 1×11 setup, as we’re sure many riders will.
Over the five months of testing, we’ve fitted a number of other test parts too. This is not because the stock items on the Jeffsy needed changing, but purely because it’s nice to test parts on a bike that you’re familiar with. We’re currently reviewing the PRO dropper post and cockpit, and DT XM1501 wheels on the Jeffsy, along with the Industry Nine MatchStix fork axle/multi tool.
External cable routing for the dropper and rear brake line (and a continuous, sleeved route for the rear gear cable too) makes the Jeffsy one of the most mechanic-friendly bikes we’ve tested in a while.
Well, the fact you can fit a water bottle into this bike really appealed to us, as we like the freedom of riding without a pack. There’s a catch, however. The only bottle you can actually fit is YT’s own ThirstMaster, which at just 480ml capacity, can’t bust master of a thirst. YT also supply the bottle cage and it doesn’t have a firm enough grip, launching bottles into oblivion. We gave up on the YT bottle setup after a few rides and reverted to backpack.
This bike begs for some broader rims to give more support to the large 2.4″ tyres
The Jeffsy’s narrow rims aren’t optimum either. This bike begs for some broader rims to give more support to the large 2.4″ tyres, as the stock setup restricts you from dropping the tyre pressures. As part of our long-term test, we fitted a set of 30mm wide DT XM1501 wheels to the Jeffsy and the transformation was instant. We could lower the tyre pressures by 5psi for more traction, but without any tyre roll. Wider rims really are the ultimate upgrade for this bike.
The wrap up
It’s hard to deny that a direct-to-consumer model like YT has some real appeal in terms of delivering a lot of bike for a reasonable price; the $5499 price tag nets you a full carbon bike of superb quality, top-shelf suspension and performance that puts the Jeffsy amongst our favourite trail bikes we’ve ridden.
Of course, for some riders, having the ability to communicate face-to-face with a salesperson and build a relationship with a local shop is paramount, and you just don’t get that with an online purchase like buying from YT. But if you’re happy with the sales approach, and you want a bullet-proof carbon 29er trail bike, then you’d be mad not to peruse the Jeffsy range from YT.
The changes for 2017 – including slacker geometry, Boost hub spacing and a longer travel fork (now 150mm) – align the Trance as a more capable beast when it gets technical. The introduction of carbon upper linkage adds stiffness and drops weight, while the use of trunnion mount shock sees a reduction in shock pressures which has an associated benefit of more supple suspension response.
At $5799 this bike is at the upper range of the spectrum, but we’d argue it represents excellent value for money. When you stack it up against similar offerings from all the other major brands, and even the direct-to-consumer competition like YT and Canyon, this bike is very well equipped for the cash, with carbon wheels, full Shimano XT and FOX Factory suspension on a (mostly) carbon frame.
As an all-rounder, we feel this bike is the pick of Giant’s range. A lively technical descender and climber, its sheer smoothness will win a lot of riders over, and the new geometry encourages a more reckless approach to the trail. For 90% of the situations we encountered, the Trance had it all wrapped up. It’s not the most efficient bike out there, but the butteriness of the ride makes it a lot of fun when things are rough or slippery.
The only component we felt restricted by during our time on the Trance was the rear tyre. The Schwalbe Nobby Nic is excellent in softer soils, but it couldn’t handle rough riding in rocky conditions and we ended up with numerous cuts in the tyre. We’d encourage you to look for a tougher tread if rocky trails are the bread and butter of your riding.
We’ve been riding a lot of 29er trail bikes lately, and while we would love to see a big-wheeled version of this bike one day, the Trance also reminded us why 27.5″ wheels are so infectiously fun. Giant have defended their turf well with the 2017 Trance Advanced 1, it keeps apace with all the trends towards more aggressive trail bikes, delivering a ride and an overall package that is very hard to top for the cash.
What the hell? How can it ‘sort of’ stop punctures?
Whilst testing the Huck Norris, we did get one puncture, but we would’ve had a whole heap more had we not been running the system.
We did get one puncture, but we would’ve had a whole heap more had we not been running the system.
How do we know we would’ve had more punctures? Well, when we swapped the Huck Norris between wheelsets after one month of use, there were numerous dents, tears and punctures in the strip that indicated the tyre had bottomed out onto the rim, and that the Huck Norris took the blow as opposed the tyre’s bead or sidewall.
The second indicator for us was line choice. With Huck Norris on board, we could just be more reckless. Running our regular pressures with a set of trail tyres, we could take lines that would’ve have almost certainly been rim bending tyre deflators without the system.
So, where did we get a puncture?
The puncture we had was on a rocky downhill track, where we went full whack into some pretty nasty rocks. Keep in mind too, that we were using trail-weight tyres, not downhill tyres.
The one and only puncture occurred with a hole punched through the tread are of the tyre. When we removed the tyre we saw that the puncture had occurred directly above one of the holes in the Huck Norris strip (the strip isn’t solid, there are cutaways). Talk about bad luck!
As we mentioned before, the numerous dents and tears in the Huck Norris when we removed it proved it was doing its job most the time. But it’s not bullet proof flat protection if you hit something hard and it happens to line up with one of the strip’s holes, where there’s not a layer between the tyre and rim.
Did Huck Norris save our rims?
Much like preventing punctures, the Huck Norris does an admirable job of protecting your rims most the time. Running a set of Bontrager Line Elite 29” wheels, there were marks on the Huck Norris that did not correspond with a ding in the rim, indicating that the system has indeed protected the rim from a nasty impact from the trail.
One of the touted benefits of Huck Norris is that you can run lower pressures. This is true, but the lower you go, the more you tempt fate. Our test trails are very, very rocky, and so we ultimately decided to keep our pressures the same as normal but then relish in the fact that we could ride harder and faster with more confidence.
During the course of testing, we did get a couple of dents in our rim, but the impacts that caused them were very harsh, and we hate to think what would have happened without Huck Norris installed. At the minimum, we’d be looking at a flat tyre, at worst, a properly dinged up rim.
Does Huck Norris make inflating tubeless tyres easier?
It sure does! We inflated tyres with Huck Norris on five different occasions, and each time they went up with no fuss, including when we used a regular track pump. The pressure the Huck Norris places on the tyre does seem to force the tyre into the bead, and as we take lots of tyres on and off here at Flow, that attribute was greatly appreciated.
Is it easy to swap a Huck Norris between wheels?
Yep! Swapping the Huck Norris between wheels was very simple indeed. We covered the installation process in our First Bite, and the only difference when swapping a used Huck Norris into a new rim is to check for damage to the strip, and making sure you wipe down the strip to remove excess tubeless sealant, especially if you’ll be using a different brand of sealant than you used in the previous wheelset.
If my Huck Norris is damaged, will I need a new one?
Potentially. As you can see from our photos, after a month of regular riding our Huck Norris is already showing signs of wear, and some solid tears are emerging, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out to make sure it hasn’t torn completely, as if it does the system you’ll need a new strip.
Do you need more sealant than you would with a regular tubeless tyre?
Yes. The strip does absorb some sealant, so it’s probably wise to use about 1.5 times as much sealant as you regularly would.
This also means that you’re adding more weight to the system, so for us, the added system weight (with 1.5 times as much sealant and the Huck Norris) was about 280 grams. Not an insignificant amount, but if you’re riding hard, or racing enduro, then it’s an acceptable penalty for some much-needed added security.
So, is Huck Norris worth it?
Huck Norris is sold per wheel or in kits for both wheels. Prices start from around $49 per wheel or $89 for a kit, in both 27.5″ and 29″ size in size small, medium and large depending on rim width.
We think so, it’s not too much to fork out for about $89 for a whole lot of insurance. Despite the product not completely eradicating punctures, it does a pretty good job of stopping more than its fair share of them. Similarly, whilst the Huck Norris doesn’t keep your rims in showroom condition, we’d far prefer the added protection when your expensive rim is about to meet something immovable on the trail, usually at high speed.
Our only complaint about the Huck Norris would be the wear ours is showing already after only a month of use, but we’ve got plenty more riding in store aboard our Praxis Works wheels, so stay tuned for further updates!
We all know carbon wheels have their big benefits, but there’s no hiding their propensity to explode if hit hard enough, while aluminium rims can withstand a beating for longer. Sure the top downhill and enduro pro riders might have carbon wheels, with a rack of spares at the ready but you can bet the privateer racer who bets on aluminium to get them through.
From our standpoint, we are currently seeing a divide in the mountain bike scene when it comes to the material of choice for wheels. While there are weight and ride quality properties to be benefited from the more expensive carbon option, aluminium rims have gained a lot of ground and a decent wide rim wheelset is more commonplace on high spec bikes than ever before.
We’re fitting this set to our Norco Sight C 9.2 test bike which currently has RaceFace 30mm wheels on Shimano XT hubs, which have been great, we’ll see how these handbuilt wheels with wider rims stack up. Stay tuned for more!
Wheelworks FLITE Wide Alloy Trail 29″.
1900 grams with rim strip and valves as pictured.
35mm internal width.
2″ up to 2.8″ plus tyre width compatible.
Dial hubs, 72-point engagement with angled flanges and low-friction seals.
Hub weights – 135/250g.
DT Swiss Aerolite spokes with Wheelworks lifetime broken spoke guarantee.
Tubeless tape and lightweight aluminium valves included.
Custom ordered decals, CNC in-house, available in about 30 different colours.
The Sight sits in between the Range and Optic in Norco’s catalogue, a mid-travel trail bike available in both wheel size options. The Sight could be dubbed the middle child of the Norcos, with parts, and a shape that strikes a sweet spot between the lean cross country scene and the burly enduro crowds. In fact, we’d say that this is the type of bike we would hope more mountain bikers consider instead of being attracted to a race bike, or what the pros ride.
We have 140mm of travel up front, and 130mm out the back (the 27.5″ version has 150/140mm), it’s a good amount, not too much, not too little, just right for riding hard on rough trails up and down, right?
The frame is quite compact, low and drew many comments from onlookers it doesn’t look like a typical 29er at first glance. The proportions are nice, the finish is very classy, and the internal cabling managed by the rubber clamps at the frame ports hold the cables from making noise inside the frame and can be easily accessed too, it’s an excellent cable management system in an area that a lot of other brands still battle with.
The frame is quite compact, low and drew many comments from onlookers it doesn’t look like a typical 29er at first glance
The Sight C 9.2 a full carbon frame save for the aluminium chainstays and two-piece rocker linkage, and with no quick release axles at either ends the profile of the bike is quite narrow – great for sneaking past rocks – but make sure you have an allen key handy for wheel removal.
One thing that irks us is the super-tight space provided for a water bottle cage; we’re still experimenting on what size water bottle and cage combination doesn’t come into contact with the rear shock lockout lever and rub the underside of the top tube. Suggestions anyone?
We’ve got more details on the specifics of the new bike on our feature on the Sight release here – Meet the new Sight Carbon – read further on the unique frame geometry that changes with the frame sizing and more.
27.5″ or 29″?
While we admit rolling our eyes and letting out a sigh of disdain when we have to talk about wheel sizes, who wants what size, what’s the best size for what type of trail, blah blah, options are a good thing? The Sight (along with the shorter travel Optic) are available in both wheel sizes, big for momentum, small for agility. We chose the 29er because to review, in our opinion, this category of bike is well-suited to 29″ wheels. That said if you’re after a more nimble bike to ride on the trails and a more precise and sturdier wheel on your bike, the 27.5″ version is available. We rode the Optic in both wheel sizes recently, have a look at our thoughts on the two bikes here. Riding two wheel sizes of the same bike, the Norco Optic.
How’s the spec stack up?
Norco is always pretty good at choosing the right parts for the intended use, and this is no exception. We packed this bike and took it for a week of riding – not racing – in Derby to cover the Enduro World Series, and we didn’t change a thing, and it is still completely 100% stock.
Shimano takes care of most of the bits, with the robust and reliable Shimano XT, even down the hubs too. Unfortunately, the XT drivetrain fell victim to the notorious grinding and noise in the wet and dry, even with care taken in cleaning and lubing the chain still would grind and groan over the cassette when we got out of the saddle and put massive torque on the pedals. And we did drop the chain a couple of times too, a bummer for our confidence.
The bike is fitted with a One-Up S3 chain guide mounted neatly via the ISCG mounts, but as we assembled the bike, we found the screw holding the plastic guide to the backing plate overtightened and spinning in its thread. It’s an excellent little guide, but a plastic thread holding it together didn’t work out too well, so we had to ditch the guide and risk a dropped chain on rough trails.
The tyres are amazing too, we’ve not ridden the super-aggro Schwalbe Magic Mary on a bike with less that 160mm of travel
There’s plenty to be positive about the spec though, we loved the powerful Shimano XT brakes, the shifting was always precise, and the new 11-46T cassette may be heavy but offers up a great range of gears.
The tyres are fantastic too, we’ve not ridden the super-aggro Schwalbe Magic Mary on a bike with less that 160mm of travel, but in 2.35″ size on 30mm wide rims, it’s quite fast rolling yet still very grippy on the technical climbs and through the turns. Both the tyres are excellent; we found the Sight to have gobs of traction on the trails.
RockShox takes care of the bounce, at both ends with the new Deluxe RT3 shock with the trunnion (frame linkage mounts on the side of the shock, rather than on top) mount. We used the ShockWiz suspension setup tool on both the fork and shock to guide our setupconfiguration and with two Bottomless Tokens fitted inside the fork as standard we didn’t have to do too much to get it dialled, just fine tuning of the shock pressures was all we needed.
How’d it ride then?
This is the type of 29er that will actually win the wheel-size cynics over; it’s a very agile, quick handling and confident bike to ride. The suspension amount isn’t huge, so coming off a lot of other longer travel bikes we’re currently testing like the Canyon Strive, Norco Range, Trek Slash etc, this bike feels so light to ride and engages with the trail.
This bike feels so light to ride and engages with the trail.
The Sight felt at home manualling sections of trail, hopping up steps and nosing into tight landings, we quickly felt at home on it, and natural like we were on a 27.5″ bike but relished in the momentum and traction that the 29″ wheels have. The supple-yet-supportive suspension, frame geometry and grippy tyres let the Sight keep up with bigger travel 160mm bikes but drop them on flatter trails and climbs in no time.
The supple-yet-supportive suspension, frame geometry and grippy tyres make the Sight come alive through the singletrack when you need to think quick and maintain speed. On the amazing trails of Derby in Tasmania, we hooked hard through the perfect berms and tackled the raw and gnarly race tracks of the EWS without a worry at all.
If you watched any of the coverage of the EWS in Derby, Tasmania you’d understand the type of trails we took this bike through. While it may not have been our choice to race on – we’d opt for the bigger travel Range to let the speeds at race pace be more manageable – the Sight held its own so very well. Standing up on the pedals with one finger on the brakes the bike is confident at rolling down steep chutes, squeezing through tight gaps in massive boulders and pounding straight rock gardens at hectic speed.
What we’d change?
We’d fix the chain guide straight away, and look for a few areas to drop some weight out of the bike like the aluminium cockpit, saddle, etc. Other than that, the Sight is ready for it.
Who’d suit the Sight?
Because it strikes such a nice balance between a heavy-hitting enduro rig or a short travel trail bike, the Sight will suit quite a wide range of riders. The 29″ wheels give the bike high confidence and traction, the frame geometry is quick-handling, and the suspension supple and balanced.
Trek’s Fuel EX series went under a serious refresh for the 2017 season, growing in every aspect. Longer travel, longer reach, slacker geometry, more everything. It’s about as modern as they come, and a step in the right direction to keep up with the progression of mountain biking.
Who’s it for?
The Fuel EX is aimed squarely at the all-round trail rider, one step up from the cross country Top Fuel, and one step down the spectrum from the Remedy. There’s 130mm of travel, 29” wheels a dropper post, wide rims, and space for a full-sized water bottle.
We weighed our 19.5” size Fuel EX at 12.74kg with no pedals and set up tubeless. That’s very competitive considering its chunky appearance!
Trek’s unique features.
Trek are known for breaking the mould and doing things their way, hence their own suspension technology inside the rear shock, custom fork offset G2 geometry and a special headset that prevents the bars and fork crowns from spinning all the way around and damaging the frame.
If you’re curious to experiment, you can flip a little chip in the linkage to tweak the frame geometry slightly, we had our set in the ‘slack and low’ setting but would certainly consider trying the other setting if planning a longer ride with loads of climbing, or entering a multi-day race.
Got any blacker?
2017 is the year of the black bike, and this one is about as black as it comes. If it weren’t for the blue lockout lever on the fork and the red sticker on the shock, there would be no colour at all! The matte/gloss finish is elegant, super high quality, and flawless up close. Though during some wet rides our baggy shorts left super-fine scratching on the glossy section of the top tube, maybe not the best part of the frame to be glossy?
How did it ride?
For a just 130mm travel 29er, it feels pretty burly, it packs a punch but hides it really well. The frame is long, bars are wide, and the chunky frame tubes add to the whole feeling that it wants to be ridden hard. Cruising through the singletrack it steers really well through the turns, never requiring you to persuade it into any situations with a heavy hand. It’s one of the lightest handling 29ers we’ve ridden too, the geometry feels spot on, not nervous or sluggish at all.
Get it up to speed and the Fuel’s long front end and relaxed angles had us feeling very confident to let the brakes off and ride it hard. Pushing it into the rough descents, there were plenty of moments where the Fuel surprised us of its straight-line ploughing abilities!
The double chainring took the shine off our confidence to crank hard on the pedals through rough trails, there’s always the thought that the chain may not be 100% engaged, but we’ll come back to the double debate later.
We hate seeing bikes still coming specced with narrow rims, another reason to appreciate the Fuel, the Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheels with wide rims give the Bontrager XR3 tyres a whole lot of volume and in turn, the bike feels very sure-footed and composed.
We found the rear suspension outshone the fork in a way, the FOX 34 with the Grip Damper felt smooth and supple across clattery surfaces, especially while seated in the saddle pedaling along. But when you’re out of the saddle and leaning on the front end it required a few extra clicks of the big blue dial which would detract from the forks sensitivity.
Trek’s own component line Bontrager handles the majority of the parts, and very well too. The tyres are great, fast and tacky, with the wide rims we ran quite low pressures and found loads of grip and cushion as a result. We always like the Evoke saddle, and the carbon bar is a nice touch.
Shimano XT brakes are phenomenal as always, certainly big fans here at Flow. The Bontrager Line Dropper post works well but lacks the sophisticated feel at the lever, and in our experience requires regular maintenance during the wet season.
Double chainring, yay, or nay?
A double chainring is not for us, we can appreciate why a trail bike comes with 22 gears, but once you go single ring, it’s too hard to go back. It’s a lot noisier, adds clutter and weight for only a small increase in gear range. Shimano does have some work to do to match the fantastic SRAM Eagle drivetrain which offers a huge range with only one chainring, and even the Shimano 11-46 cassette would be a preferable option for us in this instance.
Thankfully the upcoming 2018 models of the Fuel looks to have specced more single ring drivetrains.
A trail bike from Trek was always going to be a sure bet, they’ve been refining the Fuel range over many years now, and were one of the first brands to make bikes ride well with the larger 29″ wheels. The latest Fuel is a competent bike in the rough and still nice and efficient to pedal all day.
Ditch the double-ring in favour of the Shimano XT 11-46 cassette if you’re like us and appreciate a quieter and smoother drivetrain, but other than that, this thing is good to go.
At $329 (or $339 for the I-Spec lever version) the price is going to be a big drawcard. That’s about $200 less than a lot of the competition, making it a palatable upgrade for folk who haven’t yet joined the present era.
The lower price doesn’t mean it weighs a tonne either – 560g (plus cable) puts it right in line with the bulk of the droppers on the market.
For now, it’s only available with a maximum of 120mm drop, which might turn off some people who like to get particularly radical, but that will be fine for most trail bikes and riders.
It’s cable actuated, which puts maintenance within the realms of the average home hack, but we found it a pain to install. Because the cable is clamped at post end of the system, not the lever end, getting the correct housing/cable length is fiddly and can involved a bit of trial and error. A quick plea to PRO: Please change this, because simply swapping the end at which the cable is clamped will make installation much, much easier and mechanics will love you.
If you’re a user of Shimano brakes, the I-Spec integrated lever allows you de-clutter your bar too. The lever is far from the most refined offering on the market, it doesn’t offer any adjustability, but at least it’s big and easy to hit with your thumb.
The Spark 900 we’ve got on test is a 120mm, 29” trail bike. With a dropper post and a beefy fork, it’s a world apart from the Spark RC 900 World Cup we recently tested.
What’s the Scott Spark 900 all about?
The 120mm trail bike hasn’t received much love recently, with many companies increasing their trail bike model’s travel to 130mm, and going with beefier components than in years past.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the evolution of more aggressive trail bikes, and indeed a 130mm trail bike with solid kit is a great quiver killer, a 120mm bike with a slightly lighter build gives you that extra versatility you don’t get from an XC race bike, whilst remaining light and zippy in the singletrack.
What do you get for your money with the Scott Spark 900?
The Scott Spark 900 retails for $6499, and comes with an acceptable rather than astounding build kit for the price. The front triangle is carbon, paired with an alloy rear end.
What’s the frame’s build quality like?
The Scott Spark 900 is a lovely bike on the eye, and a scan over the frame reveals real attention to detail.
The front triangle is very similar to the Spark RC model we tested earlier this year; Scott have once again integrated a very neat chainguide that attaches to the main pivot, however the grade of carbon is slightly heavier than what you’ll find on the RC models.
The sloping top tube gives solid standover clearance, and the headtube and downtube are chunky and look ready for some straight-line ploughing.
The rear end is alloy, a definite nod to the Spark 900’s trail riding intentions as opposed to its race oriented RC siblings, as well as a point of difference between the 900 and the Ultimate and Premium Spark models, which come with a full carbon rear end.
What about the squishy bits?
the suspension is from Fox, with the Performance Elite fork and shock utilising the same internals as the top of the line Factory series, but without the Kashima coating.
The 34mm fork with low speed compression adjustment is a great choice, providing a stiff front end with tonnes of adjustment.
Both the front and rear end are hooked up to a Twinloc remote on the left-hand side of the handlebar, which has fully open, 95mm travel and fully locked out settings.
In the dropper post department, the bike comes stock with a Fox Transfer dropper post that’s integrated nicely into the Twinloc suspension remote, which also doubles as the lockring for the grip.
As we discussed in our First Bite of the Transfer, it’s a very impressive offering. Disappointingly however, the post only features 125mm of drop in a size large- we’d like to see a 150mm post specced for larger sizes.
Is that an Eagle drivetrain?
It is indeed! The drivetrain is Sram’s Eagle paired with a 32 tooth chainring up front.
Yep- we won’t waste your time here, Shimano’s XT brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear will work exceptionally
Where will we ride the Scott Spark 900?
We started this First Bite discussing how many brands are beefing up their trail bikes to cope in gnarlier terrain, at times to the detriment of how fun a lightweight trail bike can be in flowy singletrack.
We’re excited to see how the Spark goes on the flowy trails it was designed for, but we’re also interested as to whether its 120mm of squish will be noticeably different to beefier 130mm trail bikes on more technical trails.
Going from some mediocre tyres to something that does exactly what you’re after will drastically increase the performance of your bike for a relatively small amount of cash.
Over the last few years, we’ve been impressed with the development of Bontrager’s range of tyres, so we were excited to get some trail time in on their new SE4 and SE5 offerings.
Who are Bontrager’s SE4 and SE5 tyres for?
Bontrager’s SE4 and SE5 tyres are a step up from Bontrager’s well-renowned XR trail tyre range, pitched as offerings for the all-mountain rider or enduro racer.
The SE4 tyre shares the same tread pattern as Bontrager’s most aggressive trail tyre, the XR4, but with a sturdier casing and stiffer sidewall for increased puncture protection and cornering stability.
The SE5 is a toned-down version of Bontrager’s G5 downhill tyre; however, it has slightly more puncture protection than the SE4.
Due to the SE4 coming in a 2.4” width and the SE5 tyre only being available in a 2.3” width, and with the SE5 featuring increased puncture protection, we ran an SE4 on the front paired with an SE5 on the rear for the majority our testing.
How do they hook up?
Bloody well! The SE4 and SE5 tyres excel in rocky and loose conditions, but due to the wild shifts in weather Sydney has been experiencing recently, we’ve been able to test these tyres in all sorts of conditions, from bone dry and dusty, to drivetrain destructing slop.
In dry conditions, the grip from both tyres is very predictable, and the rolling resistance feels better than comparable rubber from other tyre brand alternatives with similar tread and casing.
The SE5 is exceptionally stable under braking as a rear tyre, as well as shedding mud and other gunk when the trails are wet, however, we think Bontrager should produce a 2.5” version. The larger 2.5″ size would be a great tyre to have on the front of an enduro bike as a dependable all-rounder for all but the wettest conditions.
It was only when it was very wet that we found the limits of the SE4 on the front, with the tread clogging up, and the side knobs not providing enough penetration to give the predictable handling we experienced in dry to medium conditions.
This isn’t unexpected, though, as, for a tyre that’s grippy in most conditions with such great rolling resistance, you can’t really expect it to double as a standout wet weather performer.
Do they wear out quickly?
The SE4 and SE5 tyres do use a fairly soft rubber compound, especially on the side knobs. We chewed through a set in a solid long weekend of lift assisted gravity riding, but most tyres won’t survive multiple days of chairlift aided abuse on chopped out trails.
In terms of how fast the SE4 and SE5 wear from normal riding week to week, we would say it’s not drastically different to how quickly comparable tyres from Maxxis or Schwalbe will wear- for example, a 3C tyre from Maxxis or a Vertstar tyre from Schwalbe.
Do they puncture?
Whilst the SE line of tyres from Bontrager does feature more puncture protection in the form of beefier sidewalls and casings to their XR line, we still had two punctures in the rear whilst running pressures in the high twenties, and on one occasion with the Huck Norris Anti-Flat Tubeless Protection System.
In comparison to other tyres on the market, the only other non-downhill tyre we’ve used that’s been 100 percent reliable throughout testing has been Maxxis’ Double Down offerings, however, they do weigh in around 100 grams heavier than the Bontrager SE models for a comparable size.
We should disclose that these punctures occurred barging through rocks on less than ideal lines, so overall we were impressed with the SE4’s and SE5’s durability, especially considering their lighter weight than other ‘enduro’ focused tyres on the market.
What if I’m not happy with them?
One thing about Bontrager tyres we think is truly exceptional is their 30-day unconditional guarantee. Whilst we’ve been impressed with the SE4 and SE5 in a variety of conditions, if you pick some up and you’re not happy, you can return them to your Bontrager dealer within 30 days for a product replacement or full refund.
If you’re on the fence about trying these tyres out, you’ve really got nothing to lose.
Bontrager’s SE4 and SE5 offerings are well worth a look if you’re an aggressive rider or enduro racer looking for a tyre that’s dependable in a variety of conditions, but doesn’t weigh a ton. Our biggest gripe is the single width available for both tyres, as we think a 2.5” SE5 matched with a 2.3” SE4 on the rear could be an excellent combination.
Out of the box it’s a chunky looking wheelset, with a hookless bead, wide profile and some fancy hubs, but that’s pretty standard for carbon wheels these days, so let’s jump into the interesting stuff.
What makes this carbon wheelset different?
One thing that stands out to us about the Praxis Works C32 Mountain Wheelset from the outset is its nods to practicality. Where many carbon wheelsets go for internal nipples and funky proprietary spokes, Praxis Works have stuck with external nipples, 32 hole hubs and classic J-bend spokes.
The wheels also come with rim strips, valves and some spare service spokes, so you’ll be ready to roll out for your first ride in no time!
What’s the C32 Mountain wheelset intended for?
The Praxis Works C32 Mountain wheelset is aimed at the trail/all-mountain/enduro segment, utilising carbon for its strength and stiffness properties rather than creating an ultra-lightweight rim.
Our build uses Industry Nine’s Torch hub with a 6-bolt rotor system, and comes in at 1761 grams for the set, which is solid considering the wheel’s 38mm external diameter and 32mm internal rim width, as well as the wheelset using 32 spokes front and rear.
What sizes does it come in?
The C32 wheels are available in both 27.5” and 29” options.
Does it come in different hub options?
It sure does! You can get them in 142x12mm and boost 148x12mm hub spacing options, and there are two builds levels offered.
The C32 wheelset built up with Industry Nine torch hubs that we’ve got on test retails for $2800, and the Praxis Works branded DT Swiss 350 hub option costs $2600.
The only exception is the 142×12 Praxis hubs, which come with Praxis’ own straight pull spoke design on one side, which is said to increase the stiffness of the 142x12mm wheel to that of a boost wheel.
What about freehub options?
You can purchase the C32 Mountain wheelset with both Shimano or SRAM compatible freehubs.
What’s the warranty like?
This is a question we get all the time when it comes to carbon wheelsets, and rightly so considering their price. The Praxis Works C32 Mountain wheelset comes with a 2-year warranty against manufacturing defects, but this doesn’t include barging into rocks at warp speed. We’ve got lots of riding planned for this wheelset, so lookout for the full review where we’ll be able to shed light on the C32’s durability over time.
Where to now?
Time to get some miles in we think. We’re fitting these wheels to a Trek Slash 9.9 that we use for some pretty demanding riding, so we’ve put on some beefy rubber. Keep an eye out for our full review once we’ve logged some solid trail time!
We have the Spectral on review, we’ve tested one before, but this time it’s their mid-level aluminium frame version. For $4799 this is a pretty impressive bike already, let’s have a closer look at it before we put it to work.
What is it?
The Spectral is Canyon’s long travel all-mountain bike, with 140mm travel out back and 150mm up front and 27.5″ wheels. The little brother of Canyon’s burly enduro race bike the Strive – which we’ve spent a lot of time on – the Spectral aims to provide better all-round performance with a less aggressive shape and feel.
The Spectral range is quite extensive, with many price point options including a few women’s specific versions too. Check out the Canyon site for the full range including pricing.
We spent a few weeks on the higher end Spectral CF 9 with its superb spec and flashy carbon frame. It’s another insanely good looking bike too, have a look at that review here!
Aluminium frame, but with high-level parts spec, what’s going on here?
Aluminium frames are obviously cheaper than carbon, for comparison’s sake take a look on the Canyon website with all the pricing for your local region you’ll see this Spectral AL 7.0 EX sitting roughly in between the carbon framed Spectral CF 9.0 and CF8.0 regarding component spec. These two carbon bikes are which are $6199 and $5199 respectively while the aluminium Spectral we have here is $4799, we’ll let you do the math.
There are no doubt mountain bikers who are fans of aluminium over carbon for the age-old reasons that may or may not be true in this modern age, but there’s still no debating that we’d much rather have an aluminium framed bike landing on a rock than a carbon one.
So this brings us to the topic of carbon versus aluminium. Would we choose a higher spec aluminium frame over a lower spec carbon one? We’ll certainly have a lot to say on that in our upcoming review.
The parts look pretty good, huh!
Standing out to us in the spec is the SRAM Eagle drivetrain, Mavic wheels, Maxxis tyres, Renthal cockpit and a RockShox Pike fork. This is seriously good stuff!
The SB5.5 is Yeti’s long-travel trail bike, it’s built with pretty aggressive parts, meaty tyres, wide bars, piggyback rear shock and massive 160mm travel 36mm diameter leg forks. Sitting below it with 29″ wheels also is the trail oriented SB4.5 and cross country racer ASR with women’s specific ASR Beti. It’s absolutely gorgeous with smooth and fluid carbon shapes and clean angles finished with a durable and stylish matte finish. Yeti are known for their attractive bikes, just take a look at those sweet lines! Worth paying for alone, almost.
Switch Infinity, oooh fancy suspension!
Yeti’s exclusive suspension design is about as unique as it comes, produced in conjunction with FOX Suspension the two little Kashima coated sliders above the bottom bracket give the bike its desired rear wheel axle path.
As the bike goes through its initial phase of travel, the carrier moves upwards on the two shafts, creating a rearward axle path putting tension on the chain for improved pedalling performance. As the bike compresses further into its travel it switches direction and moves down, creating a vertical axle path, reducing chain tension for better use of the suspension on bigger hits. There’s only slight movement in either direction and is easily serviced via pumping fresh grease into the grease ports while simultaneously pushing out old grease.
TURQ and Carbon options.
The SB5.5 can be purchased in two frame variants, Carbon and TURQ. The higher priced TRQ saves around 250-350g over the Carbon model using higher grade carbon materials. The Carbon frame comes as part as a slightly cheaper build kit options beginning at $7390. The premium TURQ option can be purchased as a frame only for $5350 (yes, we know, ouch!) and ranging from $9890 for a Shimano XT drivetrain build through to $10850 for the Eagle X01 model with the FOX suspension we’re testing.
Long way for a drink.
A total deal breaker for some, unfortunately, but the layout of the suspension leaves no space for a drink bottle to be mounted in the main frame like we’ve been accustomed to. So the mounts for a bottle cage have been shifted down on the underside of the downtube, which is a long way to reach for a drink whilst riding and the part of the bottle you put in your mouth is in direct line of debris flying off your front tyre. It’s also a little bit foreign and an eyesore to a degree, ah well, it’s a Camelbak type of bike for us.
The drivetrain, wheels, brakes, cockpit etc.
It’s a pricey one but the build kit is really quite nice, well selected to match the bike’s purpose and works together to create a highly desirable and reliable bike.
There is not one bad thing we could possibly say about the SRAM Eagle drivetrain, it’s absolutely superb in its shift, quite driving and the gear range is immense. It’s certainly the flavour of the moment, SRAM has raised the bar with this impressive stuff.
The brakes were ok, not overly powerful but the modulation is great. If you’re a fan of brakes with feeling, these will be nice, but sometimes we wished for a little more bite.
The wide bars and short stem give the Yeti a quick steering feeling with loads of stability in attack mode, but we’d probably go for some cushier grips.
The rims are nice and wide, 30mm hooray! This alone helps lift traction levels right up, with the tyre sitting nice and wide and supported with lower pressures. Wheel removal is quick release at both ends too, where many bikes are ditching the levers for a more clearance and a slimmer look at least you won’t be reaching for allen keys when removing wheels.
The fork and shock are straight off the top shelf from FOX, the Float X uses a piggyback system for a larger volume of oil to help keep its composure on longer descents and has an excellent range of tuning that is accessed easily from where you’re sitting.
The fork and shock can be tuned easily to gain a very nicely supportive bike, with a few clicks of the slow speed dials in ‘open mode’ it cancels out much of the bobbing from your pedalling and braking. This adjustment alone is gold for the setup conscious rider.
How does it ride?
Yeah, not too bad…
$10850 for just ‘not too bad!!?’
Ok, we loved it. No surprises really, these days it’s unlikely to find a bike from a reputable brand built with such great parts that won’t ride like a dream is it? Our fairly extended testing period aboard this beauty was a real pleasure, it’s comfortable all day, quiet and smooth to pedal along and quite fun to flick about and jump. We learnt that it’s not a hard out enduro race bike, more of a go literally anywhere ride anything in your path bike. It doesn’t sacrifice too much climbing or flat terrain performance by making it super long and slack, and the suspension feels very supportive when you get up and crank on the pedals out of the saddle.
Up the hills.
Despite its long travel amount, the SB5.5 is a brilliant climber, especially when you ride it alongside comparable bikes like the Norco Range or Trek Slash. The seating position is more neutral than a bike that’s aimed at descending hard, and with plenty of ground clearance and a manageable head angle, it’s really great at climbing the twisting singletrack that we might struggle on an enduro race bike.
When it was time to climb we twiddled the suspension adjustments to suit and up we went without whining.
Down the hills.
The SB5.5 is not a burly ground hugging monster, there’s the 27.5” wheel big travel SB6 for that, the trade-off for the SB5.5’s excellent all-round trail manners like we mentioned above is a firmer feeling ride in the rough. With the suspension set up just right and all the compression dials backed off, and even with fairly low tyre pressure, there is still quite a bit of feedback from the trail transferred to your hands when the speeds get high and you really start to move along. The stiff fork chassis and supportive suspension tune may have a lot to do with that, but it was certainly obvious when we jumped on the Norco Range on the same ride (which of course was no match on the climbs).
The firm ride gives the Yeti real pop and a quick direction changing feel when descending, it doesn’t take much from you to change line, jump a rut or manual through a section of the trail. A lot of the time we forgot we were riding a bike with so much travel.
With such a massive fork up the front you can really lean on it and trust it will hold a line, and paired with the 2.5” Maxxis Minion we were deliberately putting more weight over the front wheel through rough turns.
Punching it harder.
If you’re new to 29ers then it’ll take some getting used to if you’re keen to jump big and land precisely or corner down on the sides of your tyres with aggression, sure we hear everyone saying that too, but it’s also something that really becomes quite intuitive after only a short time one.
Jumping the SB5.5 at the new Bright Hero Track was a little on the nervous side to really relax and send it, but out of all the bikes around us it’d be our pick if the shuttle vehicle broke and we had to pedal to the top.
Big travel 29ers, who are they for?
Big wheels equal bigger confidence, traditionally that meant you could pair 29” wheels with less travel to gain a similar level of confidence over a smaller wheel bike with more suspension travel. But in this case, we have a fair whack of bounce – 160/140mm – with 29er wheels, a trend we’ve seen becoming increasingly popular in the last couple years.
Why big travel and big wheels too? It’s double the confidence and grip, and with the way frame geometry and component construction has improved these big bikes are not too big to get around. So when you point one at an angry trail, they just manage to calm them down a little, take the sting out of the bumps and there’s less interruption of your momentum.
Yeti were slower than most to the 29er game; we recall Yeti being quite averse to the bigger wheel size when the bigger brands began to push them hard. They even named their first 29er the Yeti Big Top referring it as a ‘clown bike’. Fast forward to 2017 and not only has the public wholly accepted 29” diameter wheels, the industry has successfully managed to produce great riding 29ers, and Yeti have strong representation of them in their well-curated range.
Does it make hard trails easier ride?
Yes, we think so. Jumping between a fairly traditional 27.5” wheel bike and a long travel 29er like this one, or the Trek Slash or Norco Range we certainly felt more capable on hard sections of trail right away. The steep chutes don’t feel as steep, the rocky surfaces don’t seem to require as much attention to get through and it feels harder to break traction on sketchy surfaces. Even on the climbs, the grip provided by meaty tyres on big wheels with wide rims feels endless.
So yes, these bikes to tend to make trails easier to ride. But on the flip side that also can mean that you can ride them quicker, and with an aggressive style, these things are scary fast.
Does Richie Rude race one?
We couldn’t care less, if he doesn’t race it, it’s almost a good thing to us. Too often do we see everyday riders look towards the pros on what to ride, when they are on a completely different level. Yeti has the SB6 for that, a far more aggressive bike with the suspension and geometry for charging mighty hard.
Where did we ride it?
The SB5.5 came with us on our mammoth Ride High Country road trip which took in a seriously diverse array of trails over a whole week of exploring and filming. From clawing our way around the jangly tracks of Mt Beauty, boosting big tabletops and hauling through towering berms on the Bright Hero Trail to cruising blissful singletrack in Yackandandah we found it super reliable and it held its own no matter where we took it.
Its versatility is its finest asset, if you don’t know what’s ahead you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more reassuring bike to ride.
The new generation of Yeti frames use internal cable routeing with rubber grommets at the ports to secure and quieten the gear cable, seatpost and brake lines. On our test bike the grommet for the gear cable never sat in its place properly and eventually fell out somewhere on the trail. Not a big deal, but an area where we’d expect Yeti to have all their ducks in a row. And the grips are super-thin, we’d swap them out for something thicker and cushier.
Why so expensive?
There are no two ways about it, these bikes are a fair hit to the back pocket and always have been. Is it the boutique brand thing? Is it the Colorado-based brand’s smaller size in comparison to the mass-market producers, or is it the US dollar vs ours? Sure it all contributes to it, but the best thing you can do it don’t compare them to the big brands and appreciate the craft, deep heritage, cutting-edge design, fine details and supreme quality of a top-dollar Yeti.
Get one or not?
If you’re in the market for a Yeti in the first place you have great taste, they are not your average mountain bike, they are pure class and it’s obvious they push the envelope in suspension design. Their catalogue may be small but it’s precise, they offer a bike for all type of rider. The SB5.5 may not be as grounded and plush as others on the faster descents, but it strikes a very good balance everywhere else making it one of our favourite all-day trail bikes.
This one comes at a price, but represents the cutting edge of the modern trail bike that’ll go up, down and over anything in style.
Not having a multi-tool or a chain link, and completing the slow and cumbersome walk out of god knows where is almost a rite of passage for mountain bikers, but the Industry Nine MatchStix Multi-Tool is a product that aims to put this frustrating experience to bed.
Industry Nine describe the MatchStix Multi-Tool best with their slogan ‘Holds your wheel, saves your ass.’ The MatchStix certainly does exactly that, doubling as both an axle for your front wheel, with a concealed multi-tool so that you’ll never leave the essentials at home again.
How can a fork axle be a multi-tool?
Very cleverly! The lever for the axle (which attaches to the axle body via a 5mm allen key that also tightens the axle) doubles as a driver for the four bits that are housed within the axle body in a plastic sleeve.
The MatchStix comes with 2, 2.5, 3, 4 and 6mm allen key bits (you decide what four bits you want to take in the sleeve), which simply push into the driver slot located on the lever. Other bits that are included with the MatchStix include a 3.23mm spoke wrench, a T25 bit and a valve core remover. The driver slot is weather sealed through a tightly fitting rubber cap, and the 5mm end of the lever that attaches to the axle does so with a satisfying snap to let you know it’s in place and ready to roll.
The MatchStix Multi-Tool also works as a chain tool for nine, ten and eleven speed chains, using the 3mm bit as well as the axle lever after attaching them together- so you must have the 3mm bit to use the MatchStix as a chain tool, don’t forget it!
Using the chain tool isn’t difficult, but it’s best to watch Industry Nine’s video, where they explain clearly how to install the included bits, as well as adapting the MatchStix and operating it as a chain tool.
Does the MatchStix have the tools I’m likely to need out on the trail?
As mentioned above, the MatchStix Multi-Tool does a pretty good job of concealing a fair few tools in a limited space, however you can only take four bits in the MatchStix’s plastic sleeve, so choose wisely according to what sort of bolts are most prevalent on your bike.
In terms of what’s missing, most regular multi-tools will come with an 8mm allen key, which is handy if you need to tighten or take off your pedals, or you need to tighten a burly axle.
Despite not having the full array of tools you’re likely to find on a regular multi-tool, the MatchStix’s integrated chain tool is a real winner, and the axle insert has a specific space for a spare link, so you’ll never have to walk your bike home chainless again!
Isn’t pulling all the bits out of a plastic sleeve annoying?
Getting a bit out of the sleeve is actually quite simple, as the sleeve has slits so that you can take the bit you need straight out.
How much does it cost?
Industry Nine aren’t exactly a budget-oriented brand, so it’s no surprise the MatchStix doesn’t come cheap. We do feel however that the retail price of $230 ($160 US MSRP) is perhaps a tad steep- we’ll have to see how the MatchStix performs out on the trail before making any conclusions though.
One justification for the MatchStix’s high price is the clear attention to detail in the MatchStix’s construction, for example the weather sealing cap on the bit driver, and a seal covering the guts of the chain tool fitting snugly and ensuring nothing gets into these important parts. The gorgeous anodised finish on the axle lever is also a clear demonstration of the MatchStix’s high end construction.
Is it heavier than a regular axle?
Marginally. The Maxle Ultimate found on the RockShox Pike this MatchStix is replacing weighs in at 77 grams, whilst the MatchStix axle, with four bits installed in the plastic sleeve weighs in at 103 grams. If that 30 grams really worries you, you can slide out the innards of the MatchStix on race day- just don’t snap your chain! If you do decide to take this route (which we wouldn’t recommend unless your name is Nino or Julien), then the MatchStix axle alone is bloody light, weighing in at just 43 grams!
In terms of comparing the MatchStix to a regular multi-tool you might take out on the trail with you, the high end Lezyne Carbon 10, which features the same tools as the MatchStix plus a couple more wins both the grams game and the price game, tipping the scales at 80 grams, and costing $150 as opposed to the MatchStix’s $230 retail price.
Realistically however, the MatchStix is indeed lighter than most alloy or stainless steel multi-tools on the market, not to mention the fact it’s not going to bounce around in your pocket while you ride, and it’s definitely going to be there when you need it most!
What sizes does it come in?
The MatchStix is available in two sizes, including the “old” 15x100mm standard, as well as the more contemporary boost 15x110mm sizing. The axle lever also comes in a variety of colours so you can get your matchy matchy on. We’ve gone with blue, which fits nicely with the colour scheme on our YT Jeffsy test bike.
Where to now?
As we mentioned above, we’ve popped the MatchStix in our YT Jeffsy, which was just as easy as using the regular RockShox Maxle in terms of installation. The removable axle lever allows you to simply pop the lever off and put it out of harm’s way once the axle is tight, so now all that’s left is to hit the trails!
Read on for our full review, or watch the video below for a discussion about the S-Works Enduro.
The 2017 Specialized Enduro 29″ keeps on pushing too. Not only is it a 29er with 165mm of travel, but it has a hole in the downtube to store spares and suspension from a company that has only been producing mountain bike products for a handful of years.
If that’s not taking a leap in search of the next best thing, we don’t know what is. For a bit more a breakdown on new Enduro frame and the changes, check out our introductory piece.
Which wheels size are we testing?
The Enduro has been available in multiple wheel size options for years, but in 2017 you have the third option, with the 29er version also capable of running the 6Fattie format (27.5 x 3.0″ tyres). We only had a brief opportunity to run the Enduro with 6Fattie wheels, and so nearly all our testing was done in a 29er guise.
Is the Enduro fully enduro?
The Enduro 29″ is most definitely an Enduro race bike, you only have to look at Curtis Keene and Graves tearing it up on the EWS to see that. But unlike some 160mm/170mm bikes, which can feel like pure descenders with climbing abilities barely salvaged by virtue of low gearing and suspension lockouts, the Enduro still aims to be a bike that caters to a wider variety of riding than just flirting with the limit on downhill tracks.
The Enduro still aims to be a bike that caters to a wider variety of riding than flirting with the limit
What are the Enduro’s strengths?
The Enduro’s biggest strength is its incredible versatility for a bike with 165mm of rear travel. Despite being well up there as an Enduro race bike, the Enduro is still a hoot to ride on relatively tame singletrack.
For one thing, the beast can climb. The steep 76-degree seat tube angle assists seated pedalling on more sedate trails, and even in a size large the Enduro doesn’t feel like a boat. The geometry doesn’t go to the same extremes as some new-school enduro bikes, which means a more versatile ride. For instance, the top tube in a size large of 600mm and 66 degree head angle is significantly less extreme than a large Whyte G-160, which has a 655.9mm top tube and a 65 degree head angle.
On the descents, the Enduro 29er crushes every 29” stereotype out there. If you’ve got a riding buddy who still insists on bagging 29ers as being boring, awful to corner, and afraid of jumps, then put them on this thing for a run down the hill.
Specialized worked hard to keep the rear end short (430mm stays with this much travel is pretty impressive) which brings the big wheeler to life. It feels more nimble than many 160mm 27.5” bikes out there, but never does it feel unstable or too short out back either. Even on some of Thredbo’s more rowdy offerings, where a lot of testing took place, we felt calm aboard the Enduro.
Perhaps the only barrier to the Enduro 29’s descending abilities is its rubber. The front tyre is just too skinny in our opinion for a bike travelling at this pace, and bigger rubber would enhance both cornering confidence and forgiveness when ploughing the front end through rough terrain. We found the combination of the stiff Ohlins fork, Roval wheels and narrow Butcher 2.3” front tyre a bit harsh sometimes – bung on a 2.5″ tyre.
It differs from the 29” model in that you almost can’t run out of traction
Speaking of rubber, the Enduro 6Fattie, with its 3.0″ tyres, is a very different ride. It differs from the 29” model in that you almost can’t run out of traction, but we did find ourselves riding it less aggressively than the 29er. With the lower pressures of the big tyres and a lower bottom bracket (the bottom bracket height drops by 5mm when you run 27.5×3.00” tyres), barrelling through rock gardens or any harsh impacts can lead to striking your rims, so we tended to select more gentle lines in these sections of trail.
The only other downside to the seemingly limitless traction and trail dampening is in high speed bermed corners, especially droppy ones, where there is potential to for the tyre to squirm and burp air.
What are the Enduro’s weaknesses?
Not a great deal. As mentioned above, when steamrolling through technical terrain in the 29” configuration, at times the narrow front tyre meant the front-end felt a bit harsh. However, we were reluctant to drop tyres pressure or soften up the fork, because the Enduro encourages you to ride so fast that we felt much safer coming into sections hot with a high, stable front end as opposed to the front-end diving or slamming the rims into rocks. We do think that a wider front tyre at lower pressure, and more fine tuning of the fork could address this issue.
We’d also like to see the bike come with a dropper post that has more travel. 125mm on a size large is ok, but 150mm drop would be much better, to get that centre of gravity lower when things get properly steep.
Is the spec worth the money?
There’s no hiding from the fact that the S-Works Enduro 29/6Fattie costs $11000. With that in mind however, you’re getting the best of the best throughout.
The full Eagle XX1 groupset is the perfect setup, not just for this style of bike, but for mountain biking in general. The range is massive, and it didn’t miss a trick. SRAM also provide the brakes, Guide RSCs, and whilst they come equipped with a 200mm rotor on the front and a 180mm rotor on the rear, we were finding they had some fade on the long runs down Thredbo, and so we’d suggest swapping the organic pads out for sintered pads. If you’re really keen, you could even modify the brakeset like we have on our Canyon Strive, by hooking up the RSC levers with the more powerful Avid Code Caliper.
The wheels are of course from Specialized’s wheel subsidiary, Roval. We found the carbon rims stiff and direct, and the 30mm internal rim width is ideal. Keep an eye on the spoke tension though, as after a few days of many runs at Thredbo, the rear spokes were getting loose. Despite the abuse, both wheels ran true after weeks of riding.
Finally, the Enduro is finished off with a lovely cockpit comprising of a stubby Syntace ‘MegaForce’ stem and an S-Works handlebar. Despite costing the big bucks, you’ll really struggle to get a more premium spec than the S-Works Enduro.
Is the Ohlins suspension really that good?
Specialized’s partnership with Ohlins suspension gives a certain gravitas to the brand – these Swedish suspension experts have an immense reputation – the Enduro S-Works gets Ohlins front and rear. We’ve had positive experiences with the RXF 34 in the past, so we were interested to see whether the beefier RXF 36 would step things up a notch.
It didn’t disappoint. With 36mm stanchions as well as the one-piece crown/steerer tube, it’s an incredibly stiff fork. In terms of damping performance, multiple testers reported the suspension feeling dead and dull when rolling around the carpark, but out on the trail the fork feels balanced and supportive. It really comes alive once you’re hammering.
The fork has dual air chamber adjustments. There’s a main chamber, for setting your overall spring rate, then a separate ‘ramp up’ chamber to adjust latter part of the spring curve. Another feature we appreciated that carried over from the RXF 34 was the compression adjustments on the top of the left fork leg, which can be used as a quasi-lockout for long climbs. Is the fork any better than a FOX 36 or RockShox Pike? It’s certainly at least on par, and the uniquely burly one-piece crown/steerer and tool-free ramp up adjustment do have real benefits.
The RXF 36 is paired with the Ohlins STX22 in the rear, which gets Specialized’s Auto Sag feature. Like all Ohlins shocks, there’s actually a very limited band of damping adjustment, with only a few clicks of compression and rebound to toy with, plus a ‘climb switch’ to firm things right up. The compression adjustment is very subtle too which, coupled with the absence of adjustment descriptions on the shock, made setup a bit tricky at first, so dialling in a base setting took longer than usual.
Once we had a base setting, however, the STX felt supportive and stable in the rear, and we didn’t feel any harsh bottoming out throughout the course of our testing, despite some casing action going down when our ambitions exceeded our abilities at Thredbo.
We’d like to say that everything was 100% peachy with the Ohlins gear, but we did have some problems with the rear shock. It lost air, and we had issues with air passing from the positive to the negative chamber, which caused the shock to become ‘stuck down’ and remain compressed!
To Specialized’s credit, a new shock was on its way to us immediately. Specialized told us that they haven’t seen the issues that we were having before, so here’s hoping they were genuine outliers and moving forwards Ohlins suspension is as good as we know it can be.
Who is this bike for?
The Enduro 29/6Fattie is a bike that could service a far wider range of riders than just the Enduro race crowd. Specialized have refined long travel 29” geometry over the years with the Enduro models, and the 2017 edition does a remarkable job of hiding the big hoops in a geometry that feels lively, but also stable when the going is fast and rough.
In the 6Fattie configuration, one word that we found ourselves using continually was control. If you’re not the craziest rider out there, jumping into rock gardens and slapping turns with reckless abandon, and you’re looking for something that is predictable in just about every situation, then the S-Works Enduro 6Fattie is hard to look past.
Due to its hard-charging attitude and well-balanced angles, the Enduro 29″ is obviously a bike that fits the bill as an enduro race machine, but it could also be a great option for a rider looking for something confidence inspiring on the descents that doesn’t lose its zippiness on more sedate trails.
We’re obviously testing the crème de la crème model here, so if you’re tossing up between a mid-range Enduro or perhaps a Stumpjumper, we would highly recommend going for a test ride.
We started the review by talking about how Specialized are a brand renowned for taking risks with their products and moving the sport in new directions. After spending some quality time on the new Enduro, it’s clear the future is only getting better for mountain bikers.
Upon closer inspection, though, the 1×11 SLX drivetrain and Zero finishing kit reveal that this chunky trail bike is more on the budget end of the price spectrum, despite its lavish paint scheme.
What is the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2?
The Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 is a 27.5+ trail bike, offering 130mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 140mm fork up front.
The vibrant red frame is very sturdily built, with solid welds and chunky pivots that stick out upon closer inspection. Avanti integrates the main pivot with the bottom bracket on the Competitor S Plus series with a system they call ‘Trucore’, which they say creates more rear end stiffness and strength.
Despite the sturdy design of the Competitor S Plus 2, one aspect of the frame that was overlooked was proper chainstay protection, as in only a couple of short rides aboard the bike thus far, the slim, clear chainstay cover has copped a beating and woken up local residents on early morning rides.
If we were to purchase this bike, we’d be popping on a proper chainstay protector before rolling out of the shop.
What can you expect from the Competitor’s rear suspension?
The 130mm of rear suspension is delivered via a pretty simple four bar linkage arrangement, and the resulting suspension feel is supple throughout the stroke, but a bit linear feeling. Luckily the shock features a wide range of adjustments to dial in the ride qualities, which we’ll discuss in more detail later.
Is that external cable routing?
Moving on from the chunky hardware and bulging welds, the cables on the Avanti Competitor S Plus 2 are all routed externally, and the downtube mounted rear brake and derailleur cables are neatly executed.
One blemish to the otherwise well thought out routing is the externally routed dropper post. As the last mount for the cable outer on the frame is on the top tube, the line runs loosely and almost entirely exposed from the end of the top tube to the tip of the saddle, the exception of the KS provided a mount that attaches to the seatpost itself.
What bouncy bits does it come with?
The suspension at both ends is handled by RockShox. The Yari fork has a similar chassis to the venerable Pike RC, with 35mm stanchions, the ability to install bottomless tokens, as well as rebound and compression adjustments. The difference between the two forks is that the Yari uses the ‘Motion Control IS Damper’ instead of the Charger Damper found on Pike models.
The different damper is noticeable if you’ve ridden a Pike in the past, but the Yari still offers excellent performance, especially at this price point. With the range of user-friendly adjustments available, you’ll be able to get the front-end setup in no time.
The shock is a Monarch RT, which offers fully open and locked out compression settings as well as rebound adjustment. We like the decision to pair the Yari and the Monarch RT, especially at this price point, as with their simple adjustments they increase the ability of the rider to fine tune their ride, and the ability to lockout both ends increases efficiency on smoother trails or when riding on the road.
Considering the Competitor S Plus 2’s portly figure and wide rubber, locking out your suspension on smoother terrain will make a big difference, especially on longer rides.
What have Avanti specced in the shifting department?
The drivetrain is also a real winner. We can’t believe just how well 1×11 SLX just plain works, and minus the loss of the double downshift option XT/XTR shifters have, so far our shifting has been hammering home perfectly every time.
Our only complaint with the drivetrain is that with pedals, the Competitor S Plus 2 weighs in on the wrong side of 15 kilograms, so we wouldn’t mind seeing a bigger lowest gear than the 30-42 that comes as standard. We feel that a 28-tooth ring on the front, or speccing the 11-46 XT cassette would give riders a better range of gears for a bike as weighty as the Competitor S Plus 2.
What’s the finishing kit like?
The Zero (Avanti’s in-house component manufacturer) components such as the saddle, stem and handlebar look and feel up to the job, but we didn’t understand why the bike came with very thick push on grips. Not only were they squirmy, but they were unusually thick, which didn’t feel all that comfortable underhand. We’ve changed these out for a set of lock on grips for the review.
The 27.5+ wheelset uses Alexrims rims laced to Shimano Deore hubs and is shod with 2.8” WTB Ranger tyres that converted easily to tubeless. Run at mid-teen pressures, the tyres deliver the oodles of traction we’ve come to love from plus bikes.
The braking is handled by Shimano with their M365 hydraulic disc brakes. Whilst they certainly aren’t at the high end of the Shimano range, hooked up to 180/160mm rotors front and rear they do the job, and are a testament to how well modern componentry works, even at the lower end.
Their overall feel is excellent, but one indicator that they’re a lower spec model is the lack of initial power in comparison to an SLX, XT or XTR brake where you can feel the power of the initial bite. The more gradual power the M365 brake provides requires you to think about your braking points a bit further in advance out on the trail.
What’s the geometry like?
A look at the geometry reveals the bike isn’t overly slack, low or long for a bike with this amount of travel, where we’re starting to see some manufacturers go quite aggressive with their geometries, however at this price point Avanti are clearly aiming for a bike that provides stability and confidence on the trail, rather than a bike that is super flick able, and demands the rider makes bold decisions and throws the bike around.
The 450mm chainstays in every size are a standout measurement that shows the intended audience of this bike. Whilst lots of experienced riders appreciate the flickability a shorter rear end provides, the slightly longer chainstays give the Competitor S Plus 2 a bit more stability, perfect for a newer or less flamboyant rider.
The 68.5 degree head angle isn’t overly slack either, but is a good choice from Avanti to get more weight over the front wheel, as the plus tyres and 140mm fork can feel vague through weaving singletrack if there’s not enough weight over the front.
How are we poised heading into the full review?
So, despite a couple of niggles, which are somewhat understandable at this price point, the Competitor S Plus 2 looks like a very solid trail bike at a great price that’ll allow both beginners and riders looking for a simple trail bike to have a blast out on the trails.
On our first ride, we were committed to attending a ride with a mate on some more technical trails than we would normally take a bike like this out on, but it performed surprisingly well, so we’re excited to see the bike’s capabilities throughout the remainder of the test.
We headed to Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula, to try out the Proframe at the helmet’s local launch. A steamy 31-degree day meant we had the ideal conditions to put the claims of breathability to the test.
Who is it meant for?
Obviously the Enduro race crowd are one target market for this helmet, but Fox are hoping to cast a wider net than just the race scene. If you ride trails that regularly terrify you, or you’re simply a very good crasher, then Fox are hoping this helmet appeals, even if your riding involves plenty of climbing.
Fox aren’t trying to position this helmet as an item for downhillers – they have their Rampage helmet for that market. That said, we can’t see any reason why you couldn’t use this for downhill too. Downhillers get hot too, right?
How light is it?
Our medium sized Proframe tips the scales at 755g, which is around 400g less than our already light Fox Rampage full face helmet (1178g). This doesn’t make the Proframe the lightest helmet in this class (the MET Parachute is about 100g lighter), but it’s still a big weight saving versus a normal full-face.
Open the windows and let some air in.
Weight is only part of the equation, and when it comes to wearability on a hot climb, the helmet’s venting and breathability are going to play a bigger role than the grams. The Proframe has 15 vents up front, and nine out the back. The chin bar doesn’t sit any further away from your face than a normal full face, but it has huge, gaping holes (wide enough to pass the banana eating test) to allow you to breathe easily.
The visor isn’t adjustable, but is positioned to drive as much air as possible into the vents. There’s a bit of a compromise here in having no adjustability, as we did notice you could just see the visor when descending. It wasn’t enough to be a worry, but we could still see it.
Is that chin bar removable?
No. Despite the metal pins that appear to secure the chin bar, it’s fixed in place. The pins are just part of the reinforcement that allow this helmet to receive full downhill certification.
What about strength? Can I faceplant with confidence?
Fox tell us that this helmet exceeds all the same standards as their Rampage full-face, so crash away! The more open vents of the chin bar might mean you get more gravel in your mouth, but your face should stay on.
The actual EPS material has a dual density (Fox call it Varizorb) which is designed to spread impacts across a wider area. It’s also MIPS equipped, which is a bonus, so if you do hit the dirt, the MIPS arrangement (which allows the helmet’s shell to slide slightly, independently of the liner) should ensure less rotational force makes its way to your melon.
Honestly, how is it to actually pedal in?
No bullshit here, this helmet was way, way nicer to climb in than we expected. We rode the Proframe on a properly hot day, over 30 degrees, and it totally outshone our expectations. We could breathe much more easily than in a traditional full-face, and there was an impressive amount of airflow to our face – we had none of that claustrophobic clamminess that can be part of pedalling about in a full-face helmet. Only on the top of head, where there is less venting, did we feel a bit hot.
Of course an open-face is still going to be a little more pleasant, but the breathability and all-round wearability for climbing was really good, and we didn’t feel compelled to rip the helmet off at the top of each climb like we normally would if wearing a traditional full-face.
Aside from the slight intrusion of the visor at the very top of our field of vision, overall visibility in the helmet is top notch. You can also hear everything properly, you don’t ride around in a muffled cocoon of silence of full-face silence, which is both more social and less disorientating.
Well, the Proframe is the first full-face we’ve seen that doesn’t look kooky if you ride wearing sunglasses and not goggles! There’s even channels in the padding to accomodate sunglasses arms comfortably. The chin strap buckle is nice too, using a magnetic clasp, which can be undone with one hand.
Each helmet also comes with two sets of pads of different thicknesses, so you can easily tweak the fit if you find it a little tight or loose in certain areas. There are a massive six different colours to choose from too. Six!
Couldn’t you just use a normal full face and take the cheek pads out for climbing?
Yes, but your head would be a damn sight hotter. The extra weight of a normal full-face is considerable, and the breathability of the Proframe is leagues ahead of any normal full-face out there. Plus, who wants the hassle of pulling out cheek pads? This is a much better option.
Would we recommend it?
Yes! The Proframe has a lot of appeal. It looks great, is comfy, and very safe. We’ve only had an hour or so of trail time in the Proframe so far, but that was more than enough to assess that it lives up to its claims of excellent breathability.
Apart from the fact that there’s a whole heap of absolute shredders out there who also happen to be women, more and more women are getting into mountain biking every year, which is awesome to see.
It’s also great to see bike companies starting to put more resources behind female specific models, and in the case of Giant Bicycles, an entirely separate company for women’s bicycles, components and apparel- Liv Cycling.
We’ve got a Liv Hail 1 on test, a 160mm enduro race bike, but before we jump into the First Bite, let’s learn a little bit more about Liv, and what makes them unique in the women’s market.
I haven’t heard of Liv, what’s it all about?
Liv Cycling was launched in 2014 as a standalone brand to Giant Bicycles focusing entirely on women’s specific bikes, equipment and apparel. Rather topically, the first ever Liv specific store is about to open in Vancouver!
For 2017, Liv have signed Kiwi shredder Raewyn Morrison to race the EWS aboard the Liv Hail Advanced, which is the only female specific 160mm bike currently on the market.
What makes the Hail 1 female specific, or is it just the fancy colour scheme?
Thankfully, the entire Liv range shows a real attention to detail through bikes with genuine differences to their Giant counterparts- you won’t simply see colour changes with different grips and saddles here! For a bit more of an overview of the entire Liv range, check out our 2017 range highlights piece.
All Liv products follow their ‘3F’ principal, which encompasses fit, form and function. We think that all bikes should follow these principals, regardless of the gender they’re designed for, but the video below goes into Liv’s ‘3F’ mission and its centrality to all of their products in a bit more detail.
Another aspect that makes Liv Bicycles truly female specific is their use of the Global Body Dimension Database.
What’s the Global Body Dimension Database- is my head going to start hurting?
Thankfully, despite the fancy name the Global Body Dimension Database is pretty simple.
The database provides Liv with information on the average body dimensions of women around the world. Average arm, torso and leg lengths give Liv essential measurements to consider when designing new bikes.
Where does the Global Body Dimension Database information come from?
We must admit that initially reading about the Global Body Dimension Database we were a bit sceptical about the data, but Liv’s website gives a clear explanation of where they source the information, its relevance in their bike designs and its limitations. Read below for the summarised version of what the data encompasses.
The Global Body Dimension Database includes over 250 individual body measurements from men and women of nine different nationalities. From this data set, Liv can gather information on things like stature, inseam, torso length, shoulder breadth, arm length, hand length, hip breadth, ischia (sit bone) distance, weight, and strength that allow them to uncover fundamental differences between men’s and women’s bodies.
Liv’s ‘function’ design principal is also an interesting point of difference to their Giant parent company. From the data Liv have collected, they’ve changed the material layup of Liv bikes compared to comparable Giant models to make the bike stronger and stiffer where it needs to be, and lighter where possible. These changes are made relevant to where women are putting forces through the frame and where they aren’t. Interesting stuff indeed!
Getting back to the Hail 1 we’ve got on review, the obvious comparative model in the Giant range is the Reign, however there’s some key differences that demonstrates the Hail 1 is an entirely different product designed specifically for women.
What are some differences between the Liv Hail and the Giant Reign then?
The Giant Reign has a head angle of 65 degrees, in comparison with the Hail’s 66-degree head angle. Liv say that their data indicates that by making the bike slightly steeper in the front end, it will be easier for women to manoeuvre the Hail up and over obstacles due to their generally shorter upper torsos.
Another point of difference in comparison to the Reign is the higher bottom bracket height. Liv say that their data has indicated that the benefit of a higher bottom bracket in allowing a female rider to pedal over rough terrain with more ease is an attribute they wanted to incorporate on the Hail.
The Hail also has more standover clearance than Reign models in the same size, and yes, female specific finishing touches are present such as the Liv Contact Upright saddle.
Are there any other differences other than the geometry?
There sure are! The front and rear suspension on the Hail runs a different tune to a Reign or Trance, to specifically accommodate female riders. We’re very interested to see how noticeable the different suspension tune is during testing.
How much does the Hail 1 cost, and what do you get for your dollars?
The Liv Hail 1 retails for $4499, putting it squarely in the budget price point as far as enduro bikes go.
For your cash, you’re getting an aluminium frame (except for the carbon rocker link which comes as standard across all Hail models), RockShox suspension front and rear with a Lyrik RC dual position (130-160mm) fork and Deluxe R shock, and the full SRAM package in the form of an X1 drivetrain and Guide RS brakes.
Giant provide the handlebar and grips, which are a standout item, offering tackiness and a nice profile. The Truvativ Holzfeller stem is a nice touch, and so is the MRP chainguide, something we see as a must for any bike with more than 150mm of travel.
The bashguard is another welcome inclusion, especially on a bike with 160mm of travel, saving your chainring from a walloping should you get a little eager out on the trails.
The Giant dropper post is simple and very mechanic friendly, but we would like to see a 125mm drop specced over the 100mm drop model that comes on the medium sized model we have on test.
The wheels are a nondescript aluminium offering from Giant called the PAM-2, however the tubeless conversion with the Schwalbe tyres was simple and the slightly wider rim width than you see on some house brand wheelsets gives the Schwalbe rubber great shape, so our initial impressions are positive.
Speaking of the tyres, it’s good to see Giant going with the beefier Magic Mary up front paired with the slightly less chunky Hans Dampf out the back to offer predictable traction up front paired with something faster rolling in the rear.
Women’s bikes are often more expensive that a comparable unisex model, does the Liv Hail 1 represent good value?
For under $5000 the Liv Hail 1 packs a fair amount of value and is a bike that can be ridden out of the box with no real weak spots in the components.
Our only complaint would be the lack of piggyback reservoir on the Deluxe R shock, but considering the price and the other nice touches such as the chainguide and bashguard we’ll wait until we get some trail time on the bike before making any hasty judgements.
Where will we be riding the Liv Hail 1?
Everywhere we would normally shred a 160mm bike! Just because the Hail 1 has a lovely colour scheme doesn’t mean it’ll be subjected to anything but the most brutal trails we reserve for testing 160mm bikes.
Stay tuned for our detailed thoughts in a full review soon!
Much like the Fed wouldn’t settle for a rubbish racquet, Nino Schurter wouldn’t rock up to the start line aboard anything but the best, so when Scott released an all new Spark frame last year, we sat up and paid attention.
We covered the revisions to the frame, as well as the spec on the model we’re testing in our launch recap and First Bite for this bike, so we’ll jump straight into how the bike went out on the trail.
What’s the Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup all about?
The Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup is about going fast everywhere, all the time. Every watt of power that you put into the pedals goes straight into moving you forward, at pace, through the incredibly stiff frame, efficient suspension and light overall weight.
The seated position is a real winner, comfortably stretched, and perfectly suited to spending extended periods of time on the bike, either racing or chewing up long training rides. In the saddle, the Spark’s riding position felt long enough in the front end to give stability and confidence, and short enough in the rear to feel like you could whip the bike through a corner or take the tighter line.
In terms of pumping and weaving the Spark through the trails, we’re seriously impressed with how the new Spark has improved upon its predecessor not only with lighter weight but with increased frame stiffness, which means the Spark goes where you want it, without feeling squirmy or deflecting off track.
The Spark climbs like a scalded cat. Seated pedalling puts you in a good position to grind away powerfully, but for short bursts of power, utilising the Twin Loc remote, locking the rear shock out and pounding out of the saddle delivers devastating efficiency.
If the climb is loose or technical, we found leaving the shock open useful to increase traction to the rear wheel. With the TwinLoc system in its open position, the suspension is very smooth at the top of the stroke, so the rear wheel tracks over loose terrain nicely. Around switchback corners, the Spark goes exactly where you point it, which was a refreshing reminder that not all bikes have 65-degree head angles and kilometre long wheelbases!
Whilst it’s a bit of a given that a ten-kilogram XC bike is going to climb well, the descending performance of the Spark was sound too. The combination of the longer front centre, slacker head angle and shorter chainstays than the previous Spark was noticeable, meant the bike felt confident in some pretty technical terrain.
The biggest limiter for the Spark on the descents was cornering traction with the race focused Rocket Ron tyres, which we had to run quite hard due to the combination of the flexy sidewalls, narrow rims and minimal puncture protection.
The other limiter on descents was the lack of dropper post- we stopped to put our seat down for a couple of descents and it demonstrated just how capable the Spark has the potential to be. Even if you’re a racer who wants the lightest possible weight, unless your descending technique is flawless, we seriously think a dropper post could be the faster option, not to mention a ton more fun riding with your mates on the weekend.
Through twisty and undulating singletrack, the Spark delivers an efficient and addictive ride. We always found ourselves wanting to push harder aboard the Spark, it just rushes forward, even when you should be exhausted – this thing would be an XC Marathon destroyer.
The only criticism we would have about the Spark out on the trail is the commitment it requires from the rider to get the most out of the bike.
Where on a trail bike with a more relaxed geometry a rider can safely potter through singletrack in the saddle if they’re not feeling it, and ride technical sections with a dropped saddle and slacker geometry, the upright and forward position of the Spark rewards hitting the trails at pace, as the steering is twitchy at slow speeds, and the bike feels tippy coming into technical terrain slowly.
Put faith in the Spark’s stiff frame and excellent geometry however, and you’ll find yourself negotiating tricky sections and singletrack with more confidence than you would think aboard an XC race bike. It just takes a more confident approach!
As we discussed before, with the addition of a dropper post and in the hands of a skilled pilot, you would have yourself a super light and super capable bike not just for the race track, but a bit of lighter trail riding also.
Who is this bike for?
There’s no doubt that the Spark is aimed at the gel-munching, leg shaving XC racer. Its race credentials in the hands of Nino Schurter prove far beyond our amateur opinions that this bike is ready to be ridden up, down and all around at serious pace.
Despite this, we think that if you place a high value on having a bike that is light and fast, and your trails are relatively smooth and non-technical, then a skilled rider could have a lot of fun aboard the Spark. Fit it out with a dropper post and you’ll surprise yourself with how capable this machine is, not to mention the fact that on a bike this light you’ll be able to ride much further before getting tired.
What upgrades could you make?
As we discussed in our First Bite, it would be difficult to blame your bike if this was your race weapon and you had a bit of an off day.
Despite this, if you really wanted the ultimate race machine, you could go for the Spark 900 RC SL model, which is the lightest full-suspension bike in existence, weighing in as a complete build at under 10kg, and coming stock with Fox’s Factory level suspension, a full Eagle XX1 groupset and carbon Syncros wheels.
Another option is to get yourself a set of race wheels for the World Cup model tested here. The stock Syncros XR RC wheels aren’t a bad wheelset whatsoever, and they did the job perfectly throughout the review. Impressively, the lightweight and relatively nondescript aluminium wheelset stayed true throughout testing. However, a set of slightly wider, lightweight hoops for race day would give the Spark even more zing.
Is it good value for money?
Cynics will probably point to the Fox Performance level suspension, Eagle X01 drivetrain and alloy Syncros wheels and see them as below par for a bike of this cost. However we think the Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup is hard to go past for the discerning XC racer.
With an overall weight of ten kilograms on the dot, and perhaps the best dual suspension XC frame currently on the market, not only in terms of weight but in the areas of stiffness and geometry, we would sacrifice the top of the line components in a couple of areas.
How did the components perform?
The Eagle X01 drivetrain was flawless throughout testing, as were the wheels as we discussed earlier. If you bought a set of race wheels, the XR RC’s would make an excellent training wheelset. Another potential upgrade you could make to the bike with a second wheelset is saving the lightweight Rocket Ron tyres for race day, and using something a bit sturdier that can be safely run at lower pressures for everyday riding.
The Fox Performance series suspension was a real eye opener. Far from feeling like Fox’s second tier offering, the fork and shock felt supple, stiff and well tuned to the purpose of the bike. The way Fox have managed to lower the weight of their 32mm fork offerings through their ‘Step-Cast’ technology has not led to any loss in stiffness or increased flex, which is astounding.
As we noted in the First Bite, the Ritchey World Cup Series components are real standouts on this bike. Not only do they look gorgeous, but the stem and handlebar combination worked well, and the seatpost stayed put with just 4nm of torque and a smear of carbon paste.
Scott’s Twin-Loc remote system worked excellently on the Spark, as its pace-demanding attitude meant that having the option to stiffen or lock out the suspension completely was highly useful during short sprints, climbs and smoother sections of trail. The ergonomic positioning of the remote with its integration with the grip clamp meant it was easy to reach the levers for on-the-fly suspension adjustments.
We think the rims should be slightly wider internally, as their narrowness meant we were forced to run the Rocket Ron tyres at very high pressures or they felt very squirmy, which meant there wasn’t a heap of traction available on loose trail surfaces.
Secondly, whilst the integration of the Twin-Loc remote onto the Syncros grips gives the handlebar a clean look, it means you can only run grips with the same lock ring fitting as the stock Syncros offering. As grips are often a personal preference on a bike, we see the lack of options for changing them out as a potential dilemma for some riders- for example, lots of XC riders use push on foam grips, which is not an option aboard the Spark.
So, who would the Spark light up the trails for?
The all-new Scott Spark is a cross-country race bike through and through, but it’s reminded us how much fun blasting through the singletrack at full pace and having a bike that responds with ferociously sharp steering can be. Whilst the majority of people that own this bike will probably enjoy racing, it doesn’t have to be your number one focus to have a good time aboard the Spark.
Here at Flow, we’ve got one of these riders who works with us, and he’s an each way bet to get a puncture or damage a rim on every ride.
Other than the annoyance of having to stop, get tubeless sealant on everything and pump a tube up to flat-proof pressures, having a habit like this can be costly, both in terms of lost riding time and the dollars handed over for new rubber and rims.
Where are we going with this?
You’re probably wondering right now if this is a First Bite for a product or an opinion piece about how annoying getting flats is, so let’s jump into what instigated this rant in the first place.
This is one of those ‘why the hell didn’t someone make this earlier?’ kind of products.
Huck Norris is a very exciting product for anyone that runs tubeless and hates flats and dinged rims. Described as an ‘Anti-Flat Tubeless Protection System’, it utilises a closed cell foam insert that goes on the inside of your tyre and acts as a barrier between the tyre and your rim. Sounds pretty simple? It is! This is one of those ‘why the hell didn’t someone make this earlier?’ kind of products.
The foam is a fair bit thicker than your average yoga mat, and it springs back into place quickly upon impact- we mucked around whacking and stabbing it using things like forks and hammers before installing it into our tyres and we were pleasantly surprised with how sturdy it is.
What does Huck Norris do inside the tyre?
The benefit to having this additional layer between tyre and rim is when the tyre bottoms out onto the rim (as it tends to in reckless hucking situations, hence the name), the tyre won’t pinch against the rim and cause a flat.
The secondary benefit is that the offending rock, root or piece of usually immovable trail that’s caused your tyre to bottom out won’t ding or destruct your rim. It’s a rim-win situation!
How does the Huck Norris go on the trail?
We’re yet to give the Huck Norris a solid thrashing out on the trail, but if anyone is going to see whether Huck Norris allows you to run lower pressures without the risk of pinch flats and rim demolition, it’s our very own Destruction Dan here at Flow, so stay tuned.
What wheelsize options does it come in?
All of them! Huck Norris comes packaged in the 29” size, but to adapt the strips to 27.5” or 26” wheelsizes simply cut the inserts at the marked spots and strap them together with the attached Velcro- simple!
Huck Norris is also available in three different width sizes for different sized internal rim widths. See below for the available options:
Size S: 21-28mm internal rim width
Size M: 27-35mm internal rim width
Size L: 34-45mm internal rim width
As an added bonus, Huck Norris also comes packaged inside of a fender for your fork, a very inventive use of packaging indeed!
How do you install the Huck Norris?
The installation of the Huck Norris is pretty simple. If you’re putting the system into an existing wheel/tyre combination, you’ll need to take one side of the tyre off the rim and slip the Huck Norris in (you’ll have to cut it to size if you’re running 27.5” or 26” wheels).
Once the strip is pressed against the inside of the tyre, simply reinstall the tyre, add tubeless sealant (you’ll need to add a little more than usual as the strip will begin to absorb drips and drabs over time) and pump your tyre back up.
The inventors of Huck Norris claim that because the strip pushes the tyre outwards and therefore forces the bead into the side of the rim that only a track pump is required for installation, and in our experience this was the case, with our Bontrager tyres sealing up easily with a floor pump.
If you’re still struggling, or you just want to watch Huck Norris’ funky homemade installation tutorial, see below.
How much does it cost?
The Huck Norris retails for $99.95, which might seem a bit steep for what is essentially foam rubber, but if this system saves just one tyre or rim from destruction, it’s paid for itself already. If you’re rolling on an expensive set of carbon hoops, it would seem that Huck Norris is a total no-brainer – $99 seems like a very cheap insurance policy for a $2000 set of wheels!
Adding to this, Mountain Bikes Direct, who’re the exclusive distributors of Huck Norris in Australia are having a sale on Huck Norris products, making it an even more appealing purchase.
Where to now?
As we said at the outset, we have the perfect person in our team for testing the Huck Norris. He combines an apparent magnetism to solid objects on the trail with a fast riding style, and we’re looking forward to seeing if the system can hold up to the abuse he dishes out, so stay tuned!
We ride lots of different bikes on a regular basis here at Flow, and while we know what base settings we like on certain suspension models, things like differing travel amounts, geometry and suspension tunes mean that setting up suspension can become a bit of a headache.
Introducing the ShockWiz, originally a Kickstarter start up set up by Australian Nigel Wade before being sold to SRAM’s technological division Quarq, this nifty little device is designed to take the stress out of setting up and fine tuning your suspension.
How does the ShockWiz work?
The ShockWiz is a telemetry unit that’s designed for air sprung suspension. It works by attaching to and monitoring the behaviour of a fork or shock over the course of a ride by sampling the air pressure 100 times a second, and the information collected is then sent to the ShockWiz smartphone app at the end of the ride.
From the information gathered, the app offers suggestions on how to better setup your suspension- simple!
Is it simple to install?
The ShockWiz is very simple to install, but we would recommend watching Quarq’s installation video, as it has some helpful tips about the best way to go about installation that are better explained in video format- it’s worth being patient for eight minutes on this occasion!
What about if my suspension is already setup well?
ShockWiz founder Nigel Wade says that the ShockWiz identifies an ideal ‘window of performance’ for your suspension, which varies depending on what you’re looking for from your suspension as well as your riding style.
So, if your suspension is already setup well, the ShockWiz will identify that the component in question is setup within its ideal window of performance.
Despite this, the application can still offer slight adjustment recommendations, as well as changes to make the suspension characteristics more efficient, balanced, playful or aggressive depending on your preferences- there’s always room for more fine tuning!
The ShockWiz website does a good job of explaining what these different words mean in terms of the actual performance of a suspension component.
How does the app work?
Once you’ve got the app setup, it very straightforward to use, which we’ll discuss later. The initial setup however requires a couple more steps, which are once again explained clearly in Quarq’s app setup video below.
Do I need a fancy phone to use the ShockWiz app?
Not really- the ShockWiz app is compatible with IOS 9 or later for Apple users, and Jellybean 4.3 or newer for Android devices.
Does the ShockWiz work with fork and shock manufacturers other than RockShox?
It sure does! ShockWiz will work with the majority of offerings from the suspension duopoly of RockShox and Fox, and other lesser seen brands providing the component is a single air chamber offering.
Dual position travel adjustable forks, such as a RockShox Lyrik or Fox Talas fork aren’t strictly speaking compatible, but ShockWiz have approved them for use if they’re kept in the same travel setting for the entirety of the ride.
If the travel amount is changed, the ShockWiz will need to be recalibrated, which requires fully deflating the fork.
Suspension components with both positive and negative air chambers are not compatible with the ShockWiz, for example Öhlins’ RXF Fork range.
If all this compatibility talk is hurting your head, ShockWiz have a comprehensive list of what works and what doesn’t in their ShockWiz Manual, so head there if you’re in any doubt!
Now that we’ve set it up, do the suggested changes work?
We’ve only had a brief play with the ShockWiz so far, but it’s already told us to slow down our rebound, and that our shock pump was out by nearly 10psi!
You’ll need to go for a decent ride to get enough data for the ShockWiz to make legitimate recommendations though, as it tracks things such as the amount of times you bottom out in a ride, and how much the fork is diving under braking, so going for a ride that encompasses a variety of terrain is needed to get accurate recommendations.
How much does it cost?
The ShockWiz will retail in Australia for $529. A steep price, but if you’ve got a high-end bike and no idea about setting up your suspension, you’re missing out on a whole heap of potential benefits.
ShockWiz also have a direct mount offering specifically designed for inverted forks such as the RockShox RS1, which will retail for $579.
Another perspective is if you’re tossing up between two new bikes that’re relatively close in price, getting the slightly less expensive model and the ShockWiz could allow you to better setup the bike for the type of riding you want to do.
We think it could be worth sacrificing a couple of components that offer a negligible performance increase at a slightly reduced weight for having the ShockWiz at your disposal, as having properly tuned suspension is going to be far more valuable out on the trail.
Another option is for bike shops to jump on board and offer ShockWiz rentals, as over the course of a weekend you could definitely gather enough data for the ShockWiz to give you recommendations for how you should setup your suspension for your style of riding, at a fraction of the price.
Where to now?
As we said at the outset, we setup a lot of suspension here at Flow, so the ShockWiz has the potential to be a hugely positive asset in reducing the time we spend knob fiddling, and increasing our trail time- a win win in our minds!
We’re planning to run the ShockWiz on a few different bikes and suspension brands to see how it goes, so stay tuned!
Whilst the constant confusion around what to call this style of riding and the bikes it involves (aggressive trail, all-mountain, long travel trail, enduro) makes defining this category difficult, here are some of the bikes we’ve ridden in the past 12 months that fit the bill. The links below will take you straight through to the full reviews.
We’ve already done a ‘Trail Bikes of 2016’ piece, which summarised some of the best trail bikes we reviewed here at Flow last year, so this article moves one rung up the travel ladder.
Where in our Trail Bikes piece we discussed bikes that really nail the ‘jack of all trades’ moniker, this article will take a look at bikes with a bias towards descending fast, aggressively and most probably on the sphincter clenching limit at one point or another.
Before we get stuck into the bikes, we should clarify that all the bikes discussed fall within the rear travel boundaries of 130mm-170mm of travel. Savvy readers might remember that our trail bikes review covered bikes with more than 130mm of rear wheel travel, however this is a perfect example that the amount of travel doesn’t necessarily define ride qualities, and whilst some bikes don’t have huge amounts of travel, it’s perfectly clear that they’ve got very rowdy intentions when it comes time to get the tyres dirty.
On the flip side of the spectrum, we found that a bike like the Pivot Switchblade has 135mm or rear wheel travel and 150mm of travel up front, however it’s not an out an out descender like the bikes discussed in this article, and is better suited as a trail bike despite its longer travel.
In terms of price, just like our trail bikes round up there’s a fair variance between the models discussed. At the low end, the Merida One-Sixty 5000 retails for a shade under four and half thousand. The Pivot Firebird tops out the pricing, with its price approaching the five-figure mark.
Alright, enough disclaiming, let’s jump into some of the bikes we think you should be looking at if the ‘cruise to the top, descend till you drop’ motto is your cup of tea!
“What about if I had a bike with a slick carbon frame, carbon wheels, top of the line suspension and a wide range single-ring drivetrain for under six grand,” says the bike shop guy with a grin.”
We know that the link to this bike is for a First Bite, but we’ve spent plenty of trail time aboard this beast over the summer, and a full review is just around the corner.
With 140mm of rear wheel travel paired to 150mm of squish up front, the Trance doesn’t push the travel envelope, however some geometry redesigns make it an excellent option for Australian tracks, as our typically flatter and more pedally terrain means that 140mm of rear wheel travel in the hands of a skilled rider is pretty much bang on for technical riding across the country.
“The Trance platform received major updates to the frame this year, it’s longer in reach, lower in bottom bracket height, shorter in its chainstay length and fork travel is bumped up 10mm to 150mm. The 2017 model comes with a host of new and emerging technologies, such as boost hub spacing front and rear and a trunnion mounted rear shock.”
We summed up out first impressions of the Trance by discussing how a few changes for this year have got us really excited, and these changes have delivered in spades out on the trail.
The full review is yet to come, but rest assured we’re pretty content that the Giant Trance rolls together a bike that you can race on, but is also capable of general trail duties at the same time.
“A bike like the Trance Advanced 1 is probably going to have an owner that uses it for many things, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. From buff singletrack to downhill bike worthy terrain, we’re keen to see what this bike is capable of.”
“Merida is one of the largest bike companies in the world; their reach spans 77 countries, and they’re found on just about every trail and road down here too. So, it’s about time they cracked open the lucrative current enduro market with a genuinely competitive offering that may well be the cause of a few nervous, clammy hands amongst the big brands.”
We don’t think we’re being harsh to say that even at first glance, the Merida One Sixty 5000 is a far superior machine than its predecessor, which was very much due for a revamp. For a brand with such a big presence internationally in almost every cycling discipline, it’s exciting to see them finally step into the limelight of Enduro bikes with the all new One Sixty.
“The One-Sixty is a new all-mountain/enduro bike with those key components that are essential to the type of riding this segment is all about. We’re talking about 160mm (you picked it!) out the back and 170mm travel up front of RockShox travel, aggressive tyres, dropper post, wide bars, and a single-ring 11-speed drivetrain.”
In terms of the suspension, Merida have kept things simple with a proven design, allowing them to focus on getting the geometry and spec dialled.
“The all-new carbon/aluminium frame is built around their ‘Floating Link’ configuration. We received many comments that shape of the new One-Sixty resembles the vertical shock mount and kinked top tubes of bikes like the Giant Trance or Trek Remedy. But in all fairness, this is reflected across the whole industry, with bike designers from many brands seeing the benefit of mounting the rear shock low and central to the bike’s architecture.”
Out on the trails, despite the One Sixty’s beefy spec and ample amounts of travel, it didn’t have the monster truck-like feel of some other 160mm enduro bikes on the market.
The shorter reach numbers compared to other bikes in this category plays a big part, which we feel is an excellent character trait for the rider looking for a bike with long travel, but snappier handling out on the trail.
“The reach doesn’t feel as long as many of the racier 160mm bikes we’ve reviewed like the Canyon Strive or Whyte G-160. The new generations of 160mm travel bikes are becoming increasingly long, requiring trails with serious gravity on their side, certainly not for everyone’s capabilities or regular trail rides.”
In terms of the spec, for under $5000 we think the One Sixty 5000 is one of the best value for money enduro bikes out there, due to the sheer performance of the components for a fraction of the cost, and marginal gains in weight.
“Merida has chosen some new offerings from RockShox for this year, with a trunnion mount Super Deluxe rear shock and a 170mm travel Yari. The forks look massive with the Boost hub width and the front hub also uses the Torque Cap system, when in combination with the forks provide a more positive connection between fork and axle to lift front end rigidity.”
Despite not being the top of the line components, the kit on the One Sixty performed admirably on the trail.
We also appreciated the small details on the One-Sixty, details that truly showed this is an enduro-race ready machine.
“One of the details we appreciate is the adjustable MRP micro chain guide – a simple addition that removes the need for an expensive aftermarket purchase and just makes rides safer, quieter and hassle-free.”
The Merida One Sixty has us excited for the future, where performance will continue to trickle down to lower and lower price points, lowering the cost of entry for riders after a long travel machine to take their technical riding to the next level.
“If you are either looking to tap into the unlimited fun a long travel bike provides, or upgrade to something to take it even further, the One-Sixty 5000 is a legitimate contender in the competitive and rapidly growing segment of 160/170mm travel bikes.”
Some Enduro bikes have one focus, and one focus only. Bikes like the Whyte G-160 and the Pivot Firebird have been designed to go downhill as fast as possible, which makes them amazing for racing and flat out, knuckle clenching riding, but less exciting when you just want to go for a razz around some cruisy singletrack, or your regular descents aren’t overly steep or technical. Luckily, if this sounds like you, the Focus SAM C Team is a different sort of 160mm bike.
“Eagerness: the Focus SAM C Team has it in spades. Like an excited dog pulling its owner about as it charges to sniff every tree and post, this is a bike that’s always in a hurry.”
The SAM C Team is a bike that can handle the rough and tumble of ‘Enduro’ style riding, but still feels capable of keeping a relatively high pace on undulating and climbing terrain.
“The suspension is a simple linkage-driven single-pivot setup, handing out 160mm of very responsive, lively travel. It’s a buttery, supple suspension feel too, but with enough anti-squat it preserves the sprinty, excited performance under pedalling that we like about the SAM.”
If a bottle cage mounted inside the frame is a prerequisite for your next bike selection, unfortunately the SAM is a pack only ride.
“A RockShox Monarch Plus is housed centrally in the frame, which means no bottle mounts, so it’s a pack-only affair. Having the shock nestled there between your knees gives easy access to the compression lever, so you can quickly flick it into firmer setting on the climbs.”
In terms of spec, the SAM costs a pretty penny at $8999, however you get some quality kit for your money.
“It’s an attractively adorned bike, as it should be for the $8999 price tag. The premium SRAM XX1 drivetrain is a standout, with a 32-tooth chain ring. The drivetrain that started the single-ring revolution continues to impress us, its quiet, stable performance is brilliant. There’s no chain guide, but it’s possible to mount one off the ISCG tabs, which would be a good idea if you’re going racing. SRAM have been given the nod for the brakes too, with the premium Guide RSC stoppers. With a 200mm rotor up front, you’ll have all the braking confidence in the world.”
Summing up the SAM, it’s a bike that is well up for the rowdy descending Enduro racing demands, but also excels in tamer terrain in the way few 160mm bikes do.
“There’s a lot of urgency to the way this bike rides, even on flatter trails, it keeps shooting forward in a way that few Enduro bikes do. It sprints out of corners beautifully, feeling even lighter than it’s already impressive 12.8kg weight figure. We really came to love the way the SAM could pump speed out of trails, letting your work the bike, pumping into terrain that would see you simply holding on for dear life on board a lesser bike.”
What! A plus bike? I thought this was an article about Enduro bikes?!
Hold on with us for a second here. If you’ve ridden a plus bike, especially one with the right tyre and suspension settings for the conditions, you probably don’t think we’re crazy for including a plus bike in this list.
For many riders, the biggest hindrance to increasing their descending speed is traction and control in corners and technical terrain. With a well setup plus bike, your confidence will go through the roof in both of these areas, as the increased contact patch with the ground allows for huge amounts of traction, braking control and the ability to make your own line through choppy sections of trail that would have you bouncing all over the place aboard a regular bike.
Anyhow, enough on why we’re talking about a plus bike, let’s get into why we’ve chosen the Scott Genius Plus 710 for this wrap-up!
“The Genius platform is now available in three wheel sizes – 27.5, 29 and 27.5+. If you can’t find a version to suit you, you’re a very unique individual indeed. Visually, the three frames are similar, but there are travel and geometry differences. The 710 Plus shares the same travel as the 29er version, with 140mm up front and an adjustable 130/90mm out back, but the geometry is quite different. The 710 Plus is significantly slacker, a 67.5 degree head angle versus 68.9 degrees on the 29er, and the stays are a tad shorter.”
Whilst handlebar clutter is one of our pet hates here at Flow, we excuse Scott to an extent because their Twinloc system works bloody well, and they’re integrating it in a more aesthetically pleasing way every year. The Twinloc system on the Genius allows for on the fly adjustments, which are great for firming things up for climbs and flatter singletrack, then switching back to fully open as you get over the crest.
“As with all Scott duallies, the suspension system is built around Twinloc. The bar-mounted lever lets you select either 140mm or 90mm travel modes, or you can lock the rear end out completely. The fork’s compression is activated in tandem – open, firm or locked – completely changing the character of the bike at the push of a button.”
“Really the Twinloc system and Plus tyres are a perfect match – the extra compliance of the big volume rubber makes the shorter travel mode more usable in rough terrain.”
As we touched on earlier, tyre pressure is so critical to getting the most out of any plus bike, and here’s what we settled on with the Genius.
“Tyre pressure is critical with this much air volume. Too high, and you’re not going to get any advantages from the big tyres, just a bouncy, jumping castle kind of ride. Too low and you risk a vague, slow feel. For us, the sweet spot was about 14/15psi. A digital pressure gauge is essential, don’t trust your track pump.”
Once we set up the bike to suit the conditions, we began to consider if the plus bike option would be faster not only for a small minority, but the majority of riders riding the loose, techy sort of riding we experience daily on Flow’s home trails in Northern Sydney.
“We struggled to get our head around the cornering abilities of this bike. Even with its long rear end, the way it flings into a corner is ridiculous. On trails that we’ve ridden a hundred times, we needed to unlearn our usual braking points, and on corners where we’d usually unclip our inside foot, we could ride with both feet up. You just carry more speed through turns, and that makes for a faster ride overall.”
Okay, we’ve been pretty flattering of the Genius, but there are a couple of downsides as a trade-off for the many pluses (pardon the pun). Other than a small weight penalty however, we believe the Genius Plus has earned its place on this list as a bike that deserves consideration as a long travel, enduro race ready weapon!
“So what about downsides? Certainly, there are some. On smooth, flatter trails, there’s a small increase in rolling resistance, but it’s hardly perceptible. There’s also a little more weight to cart about, but again not a lot. When you compare the Genius 710 Plus to its 29er equivalent, there’s about 600-700g in it. But it’s not weight for weight’s sake, it comes with huge benefits in terms of traction. We know what we’d choose when it comes to trade-off between weight or grip.”
Resembling a prop from a Star Trek movie more than a bicycle with its futuristic frame design, the Polygon Colossus N9 is a bike that impressed with its fun and lively attitude, and it would suit a rider after the forgiveness of a longer travel machine, but more playfulness than an out and out enduro racer.
“It truly is one of the most spectacularly outlandish frame designs going, big scimitars of carbon out back, a collection of tube profiles that comes together in great style, a real demonstration of what’s possible with carbon and creativity. In an era of increasingly similar frame designs, it’s one of the few frames that look like they were approached with a truly blank slate. That attention to detail continues with other design features, like the smart cable ports and bonded chain slap protection.”
We can’t talk about a Polygon without talking about value for money. Of course, a bike is so much more than the parts attached to it, and without a good frame you’re not going to get very far, but the Polygon Colossus takes the dollars to bling ratio to the next level.
“The FOX 36 is just one highlight in a truly stacked spec sheet though. Polygon bikes are always incredibly well equipped, and when you consider the price tag, we can’t think of another bike which even comes close to matching the N9’s component offering. A full SRAM XX1 drivetrain, E13 TRS race wheels, XT brakes, a RockShox Reverb dropper… If you’re more of a Shimano fan, you can get a the N9 with an XTR double-ring drivetrain and XTR brakes for the same price! Ridiculous.”
Much like the Merida One Sixty and the Focus SAM, the Polygon Colossus prefers a variety of terrain, and a rider that can flick it around over ploughing technical descents at top speed.
“Playfulness and pedalling performance are two of the elements which stand out for us. This isn’t a 160mm bike that hugs the ground like a mini downhill bike. Rather it gives you the engagement you’d normally expect from a 140mm-travel bike, but with some more forgiveness when you need it. You’re not isolated from the trail, and even when already pushed deep into its travel, the N9 can be flicked to a new line easily.”
“This responsiveness is in part due to the supportive suspension which has a firm mid-stroke, and the responsive E13 wheels, but it’s also a product of the bike’s geometry. When you compare a medium-sized N9 to other medium-sized 160mm bikes, you’ll notice the wheelbase is shorter. The head angle is 66.3 degrees (which is pretty standard for this category of bike) and the stays are 430mm (again, pretty much the norm) but the top-tube/reach measurements are 15-20mm shorter than is common. This makes it an easier bike to flick about, at the expense of stability when it’s really steep and fast.”
Whilst we loved the nimbleness and fun loving nature of the Colossus, we do think that if Enduro racing is your focus, you might want to upsize your frame for a bit more stability when the pace is getting blurry.
“If you’re hoping to use your N9 for Enduro racing, we’d encourage you to consider ‘up-sizing’ to get more length in the front end. If you’re a trail rider looking for a bike that’ll give you the ability to descend harder, but without too many handling or performance compromises usually associated with a longer-travel bike, then make sure the N9 is on your shortlist.”
Rocking up to the top of a trailhead aboard the Whyte and dropping into anything but the most demanding and gnarly descent is bringing a bazooka to a knife fight.
This is the bike you want if you couldn’t give a hoot about riding tame singletrack or getting to the top in a hurry, but strapping on a race plate and waiting for hours at the bottom of descents for your mates is what gets you out of bed in the morning.
“UK brand Whyte are well-known for their high-quality frames with radical geometry, if you didn’t know that already take a look at this one – the Whyte G-160 Works is a real monster. We absolutely love the way it doesn’t aim to please everyone, its purpose is crystal clear, to dominate descents.”
Long, low and slack pretty much sums up the G-160s’s geometry, which is optimised for the rowdiest Enduro riding imaginable.
“The G-160 Works is a 13.2kg big-travel enduro bike with seriously aggressive geometry and 160mm of travel. It has the longest top tube measurement of any bike we’ve ever tested here, 636mm long for the medium size frame optimised for use with a super-short 32mm stem. Geometry aside the G-160 is built for speed and steep terrain with a burly parts spec and a single-ring specific frame design.”
As with all the Whytes we’ve tested here at Flow, the build quality and finishing touches on the G-160 are on another level, it’s quite clear this British brand have a great deal of pride in their products.
“Take a close look and you’ll certainly be impressed with the classy finish and the all the pivots and suspension linkages look stout, add in the fact that the suspension bearings are backed by a lifetime warranty, you’ll certainly have confidence in the construction and ability to handle all types of weather.”
One surprising attribute of the G-160 however was the lack of chainguide as standard- for a bike this aggressive, we’d be strapping one on before heading out for the first ride.
“With no chain guide fitted as standard, we were a little apprehensive when the trails turned ultra rough, and sure enough we dropped a chain when we really needed it most. We’d suggest fitting one, the weight and appearance sacrifice is worth it.”
Spec-wise, the G-160 doesn’t muck around with anything but the most meaty and aggressive components for the job at hand.
“A Pike RCT3 fork and Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair rear shock are a perfect match and suited this bike’s appetite for gravity-fed gnar. The combination of a meaty High Roller on the front and the low-profile Minion SS out the back is growing in popularity for the racers, the lighter rear tyre loses the tall centre knobs but retains plenty of chunky tread on the side for cornering traction. While we certainly appreciated its fast acceleration we’d be sure to keep a matching High Roller rear tyre on hand to match the front when the trails are steeper and the dirt is softer.”
As we continually stressed throughout the G-160 review, this is a bike with single minded intentions, and with that comes limitations in other areas.
“Our first ride on this bike began with a climb, and believe us we were not exactly singing the Whyte’s praises along the way up! With so much bike in front of you it takes great care to steer it where you want it to go when spinning up a climb. The short stem reacts quickly to your steering input, almost too quickly at times, we often found ourselves chasing the front wheel with little warning.”
Summing up, we think that for the money, if Enduro racing and descending are your out and out priorities, the G-160 should be right up there as an option for your next bike.
“The Whyte G-160 Works has massive appeal for a rider that knows what they want, can forego all-rounder capabilities and appreciates ultimate build quality.”
Well, despite only packing 130mm of travel in the rear, we thought that the aggressive, push me harder attitude of the Sensor makes it a worthy candidate on this list, particularly if you want to do some technical riding and Enduro racing, but you appreciate the flexibility a shorter travel bike provides.
“After a few weeks pounding the GT Sensor Carbon Team around our trails we’ve grown an appreciation for its finest attribute – its brawn. GT label the Sensor as a trail bike, but have dressed it in some serious parts. The big tyres, 150mm RockShox Pike and wide bars make this ‘trail bike’ look badass.”
Starting with the burly frame, the Sensor strikes a serious demeanour from the get go.
“There’s nothing svelte about this one, it’s built like a tank. Big shapes and wide-set pivot points give the Sensor real muscle.”
The spec shows real attention to detail, which really impressed us as it allows you to roll out of the shop content that you’ve got the best parts for the job at hand.
“GT seem to have a thing with shopping around for parts, there’s an eclectic bunch of bits from a wide range of brands on this bike, but all the parts work well together, testament that whoever specs these bikes rides them too.”
As we said earlier, despite its 130mm of travel, the Sensor doesn’t want to plod about the trails sedately, it wants its owner to take control and put the 150mm front end and stiff chassis to good use.
“Once up to speed it’s easy to keep it there and if you’re game, the key is to lay off the brakes and give it hell! It’ll hold lines through rocky sections and won’t lose momentum, the rear end stiffness helps gobbles up big impacts transferring the energy of the impact into the shock rather than deflecting. You don’t ride this bike like your run-of-the-mill trail bike, you ride it hard and then reap the rewards from such a solid chassis and firm, supportive suspension.”
Where a bike like the Pivot Firebird, with its 170mm of travel front and rear and ground hugging traction wants to plough through the meanest lines with careless disregard, the Sensor is a bike that would suit the rider who likes the challenge of moving around the trail, popping from one line to another and pumping undulations for speed.
“Rather than a ground hugging or offering a supple kind of ride, it’s more a firm and engaging one that responds instantly to your input. Jumping from one side of the trail to avoid a rut, or gapping over a hole and into a corner becomes a possibility when you’re not wallowing in a cushy and comfortable bike. This beast begs you to take control.”
Whilst GT went through a barren patch a few years ago, bikes like the Sensor get us excited about the future for this historic brand. If you’re after a bike that forces you to take control, rather than make the decisions out on the trail for you, the Sensor is worth a look.
“The GT Sensor is a prodigious bike that relishes hard riding. Where many bikes sacrifice robustness, the Sensor manages to keep its weight down to 13kg but still feels so solid beneath you. But it certainly isn’t a peppy and agile trail bike, so if you’re a lighter or gentle rider you may find it a bit heavy to get going.”
The word ‘Race’ in this bike’s title, combined with the fact Fabien Barel helped develop, and then piloted this bike to numerous EWS podiums tells you straightway this isn’t the bike to do a bit of everything on.
“Make no mistake the Strive ain’t no casual all-rounder, this is a dedicated enduro race bike. It’s super long, very slack and as we were to quickly find out it needs to be ridden hard or its capabilities will go to waste.”
“Our test bike comes from the ‘Race Geometry’ range of Strives, which have a slightly longer front centre than the ‘Regular’ models, a requirement from the race team to meet the demands of top-level enduro racing. A longer bike coupled with a short stem will result in quick handling but with room for stability at speed.”
At times, direct to consumer brands get a bad wrap as ‘cheap’ alternatives to the main players in the Australian market, but the Canyon Strive is a truly jaw-dropping bike, both in appearance, and engineering precision.
“It’s a full carbon affair front and back and wowzers it’s stiffer than an Eskimo’s nipples, there’s a serious lack of twisting or bending when you grab the rear wheel and flex it side-to-side. All the cables travel internally via nice little rubberised ports, and while we did hear some rattling at times from the rear brake line inside the frame we found it all pretty easy to work with.”
Whilst the Strive is a heavy hitting 160mm Enduro race bike, the very clever Shapeshifter technology promises the old ‘two bikes in one’ claim. Does it work out on the trails though? Hell yes!
“The Shapeshifter is a Canyon developed system that switches the rear shock between two positions via a button at the bars – climb and descend mode. The two distinctly different positions toggle the rear suspension travel between a super plush 163mm and a firmer 139mm while simultaneously having huge impact on the bike’s geometry. It’s very slack and low when descending and in climb mode the head angle sharpens 1.5 degrees and the bottom bracket sits 20mm higher.”
“The Shapeshifter is essentially just a volume of air with a lockout button, lean your bodyweight back into the rear of the bike with the lever pressed and it’ll compress into descend mode with a faint clunking sound, increasing the leverage on the shock and dropping the bottom bracket height. To pop back to climb mode shift your bodyweight forward with the button pressed and it’ll extend open again.”
In classic direct to consumer style, the Strive represents amazing value for money, so if Enduro racing on a budget is your priority, you’ll be very pleased with the bang for your buck the Strive presents.
“Canyon went shopping in the enduro section to deck out this one in the best bits. The RockShox Pike RCT3 is ideal, and the SRAM Rail 50 wheels are a worthy. A Maxxis High Roller front and Minion rear combo offers remarkable traction anywhere and are a Flow favourite, we especially like the way they bite in deep with the brakes on.”
Much like other bikes discussed in this article, such as the Whyte G-160 and the Pivot Firebird, the Canyon Strive requires an aggressive style and intent to get the most out of it, and ideally some pretty technical terrain.
“The length of the frame promotes you to really push harder and faster, and the stability from such a long top tube gives us major courage to let the brakes off and really punch it harder. Through the turns you mustn’t forget you’re riding a true enduro race bike, it requires real body language to tip it down and whip it about but after a few runs of our local downhill track we changed tactic and came into the corners drifting sideways instead, foot out and totally pinned.”
“The trade-off for the length is when the descents got slower and tighter, maybe that’s why Barel does such magnificent nose wheelies around tight switchbacks, because this thing can feel like a mini bus at times. But that is how you pay for the mega stability, fair is fair.”
All in all, the Strive is another bike to add to the list if you’re after a super capable Enduro race bike. And if your rides involve a lot of climbing, the Shapeshifter is a real game changer too.
“And who can look past the price, it’s a seriously good bike for the dollars, a testament to the modern sales method from this huge German bicycle company. Out of the box it is ready to shred, it’s a true modern enduro race bike.”
After spending time aboard bikes like the G-160, and the Canyon Strive last year, we didn’t think we’d get on a bike that was any more downhill oriented in its intent or performance than either of those descending brutes! We shouldn’t have assumed- the reinvigorated Pivot Firebird certainly made an ass out of us!
“Put simply the Firebird adheres to the long, low and slack formula that tends to be the standard for bikes with more than 150mm of travel in 2016. Pivot have combined a modern geometry with 170mm of travel front and rear, and even on our first ride, the plushness of 170mm of DW link suspension blew our minds.”
We spent a fair amount of time on the Firebird at Thredbo’s unforgiving, technical trails and in much the same vein as other Enduro-specific bikes out there, we found our own limits on the descents much quicker than the limits of the Firebird.
“In terms of ploughing through rock gardens, committing to loose, high speed sections and taking the gnarly lines, the Pivot never felt out of its depth- it was always the rider pulling the pin before the bike lost control.”
“On high speed sections, as well as wide open turns, of which Thredbo has about a million, the Pivot felt exceptionally stable thanks to its long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. Combined with a rear end that grips the trail like Velcro, we never felt like we were skipping around through braking bumps, or being taken off line in rough sections. If you point the Firebird in the general direction you want to go, it’ll get you there.”
With 170mm of travel, and the long, low and slack geometry, the Firebird isn’t similar to a bike like the GT Sensor where you can quickly change lines to stay smooth and pump the trail. Strap in and hold on, if you’re game!
“In the air the Firebird is very stable. Come up short or land awkwardly, it will save your bacon – we rolled out of some situations where other bikes might’ve bucked us off. In terms of using little hops or transfer lines in the singletrack however, the Firebird felt sluggish- this is a bike that much prefers to plough through disrespectfully than tiptoe its way along the trail.”
By now, you’re probably sick of reading that bikes with long wheelbases don’t corner amazingly when it’s tight and slow- but we should reiterate it, because we know that our home trails at Flow have lots of awkward, slow speed sections that required some real effort aboard the Firebird, so you really need the terrain to back up the Firebird’s capabilities.
“An area where we noticed the Pivot’s slackness and length was in tight turns. Getting the Pivot to corner tightly required either some serious body language to muscle the bike, or forethought about using an endo or cutty to whip the bike around.”
Getting back to the top wasn’t as arduous as you would expect aboard a 170mm bike, and the Firebird retains the classic pedalling efficiency Pivot have been renowned for over the years, which was pleasing.
“The Pivot climbs remarkably well considering it’s a 170mm bike. The low speed compression lever on the shock was excellent for firming the bike up not only on longer, smoother climbs, but almost all the time when the trail points up. As the Firebird is such a long travel machine, the shock does bob a fair bit when it’s left open on the climbs, so utilising the compression lever (which doesn’t lock the shock out completely, and still allows the suspension to maintain traction up technical climbs) gives a much more efficient pedalling platform for climbing.”
Much like the G-160 and Canyon Strive, the Pivot Firebird’s component selections have as much to do with its meaty performance as its design. Continuity within all the models in the range, consisting of solid suspension and wide, aggressive tyres means you’ll be able to get the most out of the bike straight out of the box, regardless of what model you buy.
“We discussed in the First Bite our approval for Pivot deciding to provide continuity within the Firebird models by speccing Fox suspension and Maxxis Minion tyres front and rear throughout the range, and this approval was warranted, as these critical components provide so much of the confidence the Firebird oozes out on the trails.”
The Firebird is another example of a bike with one mandate, to descend the stuff you’d normally have white knuckles and a tight sphincter through with careless disregard and a smile on your face. Whilst we love this sort of riding, and for racing the gnar we couldn’t think of many better bikes, you need to have some speed and technical terrain on your everyday rides to make the Firebird, and similar bikes worthwhile.
“If you place a high priority on descending fast, you’re an aspiring Enduro racer, or you want to boost your confidence on technical descents, the Pivot Firebird is a very worthy consideration. This bike has a clear mandate – to descend as fast as possible whilst still being able to ride to the top. It knows what it wants to do, and does it incredibly well.”
So, which of these bikes is the right one for me?
Luckily, we think that if you randomly picked any of these bikes, you wouldn’t be disappointed. That being said, despite belonging to a similar category, many of these bikes are real ‘horses for courses’ options. We see this as a real positive, as it allows the consumer to pick a bike that truly suits their goals and riding ambitions. With that in mind, we’re going to finish this piece by giving examples of what bikes would suit what situations, with questions we hear pretty often from people trying to decide on their next bike purchase.
I’m looking for a bike that I can improve my technical descending skills on, but still head out for faster paced trail rides on with my mates on the weekend?
I couldn’t care less about anything less than the rowdiest, most downhill-esque trails and riding them at KOM pace in preparation for raceday?
For ultimate downhill performance in a package that can still pedal back up the hill reasonably efficiently, we’d be looking at the Canyon Strive, Whyte G-160 and Pivot Firebird. The last two bikes especially really do require some serious pushing, or rigorous terrain to shine, but if you’ve got the conditions, they’re hard to go past!
We had an absolute blast riding long travel bikes in 2016, which has given us the bug to get amongst some more racing this year on these capable and grin inducing machines. If you’re in the market for a new rig, or just interested in what’s out there, we hope you’ve found this wrap up useful- keep an eye out for more comparative content in 2017!
The Levo is the first pedal assist bike we’ve had an opportunity to really ride for a long period of time. It’s also, in Australia at least, the bike that’s really at the centre of the e-biking debate, so it’s a good one for us to spend some quality time aboard.
Why do pedal-assist bikes get people mad?
Well, they do fundamentally change the nature of the sport, and if you’re passionate about cycling then that’s obviously going to ruffle you a little. Cycling has always been underpinned by the fundamental ‘effort=reward’ equation. Pedal-assist bikes change that, make it ‘effort x 0.5 = reward’. Maybe people just feel angry they’ve spent so much time slogging up hills, getting fit, and now someone less ‘deserving’ can crest the same hills with a lot less effort.
Trail access is the other big one. There’s the fear that blurring the lines of mountain biking, introducing assistance, might threaten our access to trails and undo decades of hard work. People worry that pedal assistance will bring more trail damage, more conflict with other users.
Why does this particular bike attract such debate?
Good question. Specialized’s Big Corporate image and slick marketing tend to divide people, and so it’s easy for people to jump on the bandwagon of claiming Specialized are ramming the Levo down our throats. We disagree with this. Other brands are profiting in this segment too; it’s just that Specialized are the one who is most visibly active at the coalface, both in marketing them and in trying to deal with the misconceptions and the governance issues around these bikes.
So, is it a motorbike?
No. No. No. Firstly, the motors’ output is capped at 250 Watts. (Compare that to a YZ450F, which has an output of 44 Kilowatts, or 176 times more power). Secondly, there is no throttle. The motor only provides assistance when you are pedalling – stop pedalling and the motor stops too. Thirdly, the speed is capped at 25km/h – once you hit that ceiling, the motor won’t provide assistance. Fourthly, the motor won’t kick in if it detects large amounts of torque already, so you can’t get out of the saddle and crank it and expect the motor to engage. This is all designed to stop you from being able to accelerate too fast or to spin the wheels.
It’s not a motorbike.
What makes the Specialized different other pedal assist bikes?
Given this is our first real experience on a pedal assist bike, we can’t make any comparisons other than visual differences. But in this regard, the Specialized is clearly miles ahead of the competition. The integration of the motor and battery is super clean, and the absence of any clunky handlebar display really appeals to us – it’s got a very sleek look to it for all the technology hidden within. In place of a display unit, you’ve simply got a series of LED indicators on the battery, plus three buttons, that show you battery life and allow you to toggle between three power output levels.
All other fine tuning is done via an App, which lets you do some pretty cool things. For instance, you can plug in your estimated ride time (or upload a previous ride) and the bike will monitor the battery life and power output to ensure you finish the ride with a little power left in the tank. In reality, we rarely used the App though – we preferred just to jump on and ride.
How long does the battery last?
How long is a piece of string? It all depends on how you use it. In our experience, a full charge would furnish us with enough battery life for at least a 2.5hr ride at full speed in normal conditions, or longer if we toggled down to lower power modes. If you’re heavy or riding steep hills, the battery life will be shorter.
It’s like having a tail wind, a tow, and the world’s strongest coffee all in one go.
Is it similar to other Specialized bikes?
The Levo’s closest ally in the Specialized range is the Stumpjumper. Like the Stumpy, it’s aimed at trail riders, with a 66.5-degree head angle. Travel is 120mm out back, 140mm up front. The Levo is available in a few spec variants, including an S-Works version with fancy carbon wheels, and with either 29er or 6Fattie (27.5+) wheels, but they all share the same motor and battery setup. The alloy Expert version we’ve been riding will set you back a casual $10K.
So what is it like to ride then?
Let’s start with the obvious one, the climbs. Point it uphill, and it’s like having a tail wind, a tow, and the world’s strongest coffee all in one go. You feel like you’ve got Lance’s legs, flying up climbs that were previously a grind, accompanied by a lot of grinning. If you stay in the saddle and keep spinning a lightish gear, you can get up some pretty ridiculous bits of trail, with the massive 3.0-inch tyres finding traction everywhere. If you jump out of the saddle, you’ll find the motor gets over-torqued and the assistance cuts out, leaving you suddenly trying to manhandle 24kg of bike up a slope. Sit and spin to win.
On flatter trails the Levo carries speed incredibly well – you get back up to pace after a corner instantly, and the momentum of the bike is impressive. On open flowing trails the weight of the bike becomes your friend, with its low centre of gravity helping it to really stick to the ground through sweeping turns.
But how does it descend?
Good question. After all, many of the people who buy this bike will be doing so because they hate climbing and live for the descents. In a nutshell, it descends well, albeit requiring a more physical riding style than a regular mountain bike. At almost 24kg, there’s a lot of bike to move about, and the 469mm stays certainly make it harder to get the front wheel up or to pop off jumps. But, that said, it still descends bloody quickly, just with a less playful style.
At almost 24kg, there’s a lot of bike to move about, and the 469mm stays certainly make it harder to get the front wheel up or to pop off jumps.
We found ourselves ploughing into things more than usual, which led to a pinched rear tyre and a couple of dropped chains. Perhaps we just need to do some push-ups and get a bit stronger to help flick this bike about!
The weight has its pluses too when it comes to descending. With the huge tyres and the weight down low, the Levo is remarkably stable for a bike that has just 120mm rear travel, and it will hang onto just about any stupid line you choose.
To help us feel more ‘at home’ on the descents, we experimented with turning the motor off when we had long, technical downhills. This was a good approach for us, removing any lingering uncertainty about whether the motor was going to kick in or not when we sprinted out of a corner for example.
There is nothing inherent in the Levo that will cause more trail damage than a regular bike.
Does it damage the trails?
There is nothing inherent in the Levo that will cause more trail damage than a regular bike. As we’ve noted above, the motor won’t apply power if you’re already torquing the drivetrain hard, so you rarely spin the rear wheel (no more so than a normal bike). The bike does weigh a little more, so there’s marginally more braking force required to pull it up, but in the context of an average 80-100kg bike/rider combo, the effect of an extra 10kg is negligible.
Is it a threat to other trail users?
Your average speeds on the Levo are definitely higher than on a regular bike, which does mean you might be approaching other trail users a bit faster. That said, most of the extra speed is on the climbs – you don’t descend any more quickly on the Levo, which is where you’re more likely to encounter a surprise run-in with other trail users.
Do you still get a workout?
Yes. We can’t quantify how much of a work out exactly, but if you’re going for it up a climb, you’ll still get your heart rate up and a sweat on! The same goes for descents, you’ve still got to work for it, just like a regular mountain bike.
How did we use the Levo?
We rode this thing a lot, both on our local loops and up in the big mountains of Falls Creek and Mount Buller too. The thing that blew us away most is just how much trail you’re able to cover off, your riding horizons are much broader. Not only are the climbs over in half the time, but you spend less time recovering, so you can just keep on riding.
Your riding horizons are much broader… You can just keep on riding.
It was in the Victorian Alps where this really became apparent – we spent three days riding in Buller, which would have ordinarily left us completely buckled, but we were able to tackle each day feeling fresh. In Falls Creek we rode from the village to the peak of the mountain, back down the new Flow Town descent and then rocketed back up the road climb again, before powering all the way up to the top of Mt Mackay to watch the sunset, all in just an hour and a bit of riding. Try that on a normal mountain bike!
Tight, super technical trails are not this bike’s friend, it needs speed to really feel at home.
Are there any areas where the Levo sucked?
Tight, super technical trails are not this bike’s friend, it needs speed to really feel at home. Navigating the uber-tech of some of Mt Beauty’s trails was tiresome, with the weight of the bike a drag. There’s certainly room for improvement with the way the power comes on at slow speeds as well. It tends to surge a little, which sometimes led to off-trail excursions when negotiating tight switchback climbs.
We also found the power suddenly cutting off if we didn’t shift cleanly. This is a deliberate protective mechanism, the power cuts to stop you ripping the rear mech off with a dud shift under heavy load, but it can catch you out too, leaving you suddenly straining to get back up to speed.
We’re surprised that Specialized didn’t opt for the e-bike specific 8-speed SRAM EX1 drivetrain on the Levo – we think the security of the thicker chain would have given us a good piece of mind because the shifts really do clang into place under the extra force of the motor! It pays to always maintain the drivetrain is in 100% order, a maladjusted derailleur will have the power cutting out way too often.
So who is it for?
The obvious candidates for the Levo are people who mightn’t otherwise be able to enjoy mountain biking – those with injuries or disabilities for instance – or perhaps for new riders who mightn’t otherwise be able to keep up. But the window of users is far broader than that, we feel.
If you simply detest climbing, you’re the perfect candidate for a Levo. Or if you’re time poor and just want to get in more trails before work, you’ll dig it too. We can see the Levo being a good training tool for downhillers too, allowing them to punch out multiple laps of a downhill track, without needing to worry about a shuttle vehicle, and with the added training benefit of tackling tough trails on a short-travel bike.
If you simply detest climbing, you’re the perfect candidate for a Levo.
Trail builders will love this thing. You can cart all your tools about and still have a bike to enjoy your craft. Same with photographers and videographers – we used the Levo on multiple video shoots, without having to compromise on how much equipment we carried.
There’s plenty of commercial scope for the Levo too, and we can see these things becoming part of the hire fleets in places like Falls Creek, Buller, Bright, Cairns and Thredbo quickly.
But where can I ride it?
The big question! Because the Levo is limited to 250 Watts and requires pedal assistance, it is classified as a bicycle. Which means you can legally ride it anywhere a bike is allowed to go unless specifically stated otherwise.
There have been some areas which have initially said no to pedal assist bikes (Stromlo Forest Park being one such notable destination) but this seems to be changing rapidly. Most other destinations we’ve heard from are opening their arms to pedal assist bikes.
So, would we buy one?
Live and let live, we say, and do your best to get a test ride on one before forming your opinion.
If we had obstacles that were otherwise preventing us from riding, and the Levo was the ticket to get us back in the game, we’d be on it in a flash. For the average mountain biker, you’ll have to decide whether or not pedal assist aligns with the reasons you mountain bike, and the way you ride. Obviously, we’re not here to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t embrace pedal assisted bikes; we were huge sceptics about the concept until we actually gave the Levo a proper try, and now we’re fans. Live and let live, we say, and do your best to get a test ride on one before forming your opinion.
Compared to almost every other product we test here at Flow, tubeless sealant only has a few performance indicators by which it can be judged, and often the less we have to say about sealant, the better it is. But (pardon the pun), what if they’re not actually all so similar after all?
Orange Seal aren’t a well know name in the Australian market yet, but that could all change considering the claimed benefits of their products over their competitors.
We’ve listed the key questions we ask ourselves about any sealant, followed by a description of how the Orange Seal offerings stack up.
How long does Orange Seal work for?
Across the board, most sealants claim to last for about 3-6 months before requiring replacement. Orange Seal differ here by offering two products in their line up- “Regular Sealant” and “Endurance Sealant”.
If, like we were, you’re a bit confused about what exactly would be different about the two sealants, see below for the word from Orange Seal:
“Orange Seal’s Endurance Sealant lasts 2-3 times longer, seals a little slower, and doesn’t seal quite as large a hole as regular sealant. Endurance Sealant is for the less technical rider looking for longer sealant time.”
“Orange Seal’s Regular Sealant is proven to seal large punctures up to 6.35mm. For riders that race, or check their tyres frequently, ride gnarly trails and want fast acting sealant.”
So, one lasts longer but apparently doesn’t seal as well, the other dries up faster but will hopefully seal a bigger hole. We’ve got to say, as riders who place a premium on reliability above all else, this Endurance Sealant better last a long time if it’s not going to seal holes up as effectively. Given how frequently we find ourselves changing tyres too, we might not be the exact target market. But if you’re the kind of rider who leaves their tyres on for 12 months at a time and doesn’t want to stuff about topping up sealant, it might be up your alley.
Despite being unnerved somewhat by Orange Seal’s disclaimer on their Endurance Sealant about its slower puncture sealing, we’re giving it the benefit of the doubt and currently testing it on several bikes, so keep an eye out for feedback in the near future.
The Regular Sealant, however, is a proven performer, and we’ve been using it in many of our demo bikes for some time now. Unlike other products, which dry up into a funky, snotlike ball after a few months, Orange Seal’s Regular Sealant remains in liquid form for many months, and has sealed some solid sized holes out on the trail. Check out the videos below to see the Regular Sealant in action.
2. How much sealant do I need to use?
Orange Seal recommend using between 90-120ml per 27.5” or 29” tyre, which is around what we would use with other products, regardless of the claims made by some manufacturers that you can use far less. Having the 118ml bottle with the injector makes installing the sealant very simple.
Can I top it up without unbeading the tyre?
Yes you can. One of the big benefits of the Orange Seal sealant is the very simple installation and top up system. The 118ml bottles come with an injector that attaches perfectly to the bottle and the valve with the valve core removed, allowing you to simple squeeze in the desired amount of sealant to your tyre without unbeading it, or to prepare the tyre for installation without the potential of spilling sealant all over yourself. The video below demonstrates the simplicity of the injector system.
What sizes does it come in?
Orange Seal (both Regular Sealant and Endurance Sealant) comes in a variety of sizes, from 118ml to 473ml (4-16 ounces). We would recommend buying the 118ml bottle with the injection system, and then buying the more economical larger bottles to refill the smaller bottle with.
Overall, we can strongly vouch for Orange Seal’s Regular Sealant as a solid performer in terms of installation, longevity and effectiveness at sealing punctures.
In terms of the Endurance Sealant, only time will tell if Orange Seal’s funky product description is simply a display of nerves after making the big claim of having a product that lasts twice as long as its competitors. Watch this space!
The direct-to-consumer brand released the Jeffsy mid last year amongst much fanfare with the 140mm trail bike being the first 29” offering from the gravity oriented Germans. Given the brand’s image, a 29er was certainly a surprise move, but YT acted fast to make sure everyone knew this was a bike that was still built to shred, by pumping out one of the best launch videos of the year. Watch it below.
What’s the YT Jeffsy all about?
Before releasing the Jeffsy, the YT line up consisted of the 27.5” Enduro focused Capra (read our review here) a couple of dirt jump bikes and the Tues downhill bike, so the Jeffsy filled the hole for the type of bike many riders are buying these days, a 140mm trail bike, something that shines on the climbs and descents equally. We’re pretty stoked about this also, as the 120-140mm travel range is also pretty spot on for most Australian conditions.
Despite being the bike with the least amount of travel in the YT line up, it’s clear the Jeffsy is a 140mm bike that wants to throw any stereotypes off a bridge. A burly frame is the first sign of this bike’s eager intentions, and geometry numbers like the slack 67.6 degree head angle and a long front centre tell you the Jeffsy doesn’t want to be treated gently out on the trail.
The Jeffsy has a flip-chip on the shock that allows the rider to switch between two head angle and bottom bracket options. We’re starting the review in the slacker head angle position, but will be alternating between the two positions throughout the course of testing to see how the geometry adjustments change the ride.
Is that a full carbon frame?
It sure is! YT are clearly confident in their carbon layup, as you see many brands going for aluminium rear triangles and chainstays in this travel bracket. The frame’s construction is beautifully finished, with smooth carbon lines throughout, chunky pivot points and well thought out frame protection. The frame is the only carbon you’ll find on this bike, but even still the complete bike weighs respectably smack on 13kg.
A regular shaped water bottle won’t fit in the frame, but YT offer their own “Thirstmaster 3000”, which is a custom water bottle and cage combo for the Jeffsy, with the bottle holding exactly one pint of liquid (an American Pint that is- 473ml). Whilst the inability to fit a regular sized drink bottle in the Jeffsy and the $100 price tag for the Thirstmaster 3000 is a slight annoyance, we believe every trail bike should have somewhere to put a bottle, so we appreciate YT giving riders the option rather than forcing them to wear a pack.
If I don’t pick up this bike assembled from a bike shop, is the bike easy to build out of the box?
We covered YT’s shipping process and what you can expect as a consumer in our review of the Capra last year, and building up the Jeffsy was very simple. As we covered in out article on the Capra, YT really do make the process fairly straightforward, and the boxing of the bike is excellent.
What’s the spec like?
Across their range of bikes, it’s clear that YT put a lot of time into speccing their bikes with parts that are up to the job. They don’t skimp on components in one area to bolster another, and the direct to consumer sales model keeps the pricing keen.
The Jeffsy CF Comp 2 is no exception, and the $5499 price tag represents a favourable dollars to shiny parts ratio. The suspension is handled by Rockshox front and rear, and the top of the line Monarch shock and Pike RCT3 fork are pretty hard to beat as far as suspension goes. The drivetrain is a normally a 2×11 XT arrangement with RaceFace Turbine cranks on this particular model, but we converted the bike to 1×11 before we’d even left the workshop.
Brakes are Shimano XT, with a whopping 200mm front rotor paired with a 180mm rotor out back.
The wheelset is DT Swiss’s M1700 Spline hoops in their narrow guise, coming in at 22.5mm internally. This is the only component we’re feeling a little dubious about, just because we’ve become such fans of wider hoops over the past 12 months.
The Onza Ibex tyres strongly resemble Maxxis’ Minion DHR II tyres, which are a great option for the aggressive trail rider, and they match the intentions of the Jeffsy perfectly. They’re a big 2.4″ front and rear.
It’s funny how the little things can really help a bike make a good first impression – the RaceFace grips instantly meshed with us, and the SDG saddle’s narrow nose works for us too.
How many models are there in the range?
YT bring three carbon Jeffsy models into Australia as well as three alloy models, so there’s plenty of choice. Prices range from $3299-7499, so there’s a good spread for a wide variety of budgets.
Where are we going to ride the YT Jeffsy?
We’ve just had a trip to some of Victoria’s finest trails, to get to know the Jeffsy, before returning to our home base of Sydney’s rocky, rugged trails. We know one particularly fast local shredder aboard a Jeffsy who pilots it around some technical trails pretty quickly, so we’re interested to see how far we can push the limits of the Jeffsy’s 140mm of travel.
Even though the Yeti SB5.5 is a brand-new model from the Colorado based company, it’s refreshing to see that despite its long travel, Yeti haven’t tried to compete in the ‘longest, lowest and slackest’ game some manufacturers seem to be playing.
What is the Yeti SB5.5 Turq?
The Yeti SB5.5 Turq is Yeti’s first long travel 29” model, combining 140mm of rear wheel travel with 160mm of squish up front.
Much like Santa Cruz’s C and CC carbon models, Yeti have now adopted a two-tier system for frames across their range, with the ‘Carbon’ title representing their budget offering, and the ‘Turq’ series offering a lighter overall frame weight by using higher quality carbon throughout.
Despite the claimed 250-350 gram saving on the Turq model framesets compared to the Carbon framesets depending on model and size, there’s no difference in strength or stiffness between the two.
How much more do I pay for a Turq model?
In Australia, there are a variety of options when purchasing a Yeti SB5.5. The Turq model comes as a frameset, retailing for a mighty $5350, but also comes in four build options (two Sram and two Shimano) ranging from $9890 for a 1×11 XT drivetrain build through to $10850 for the Eagle X01 model with the Fox suspension we’re testing.
The Carbon model comes in a full build only, retailing at $7390. Major differences include the Fox Performance line suspension in place of the Factory level suspension specced on the Turq models, and the XT/SLX drivetrain. Whilst these componentry changes are downgrades, the spec is ready to roll straight onto the trail, not to mention the fact that despite the slightly heavier frame than the Turq series, the Carbon frame is exactly the same. For those reasons, we’re very happy to see a lower price point option!
Enough about the Turq and Carbon series, how can we expect the SB5.5 to ride?
Simply having a roll around on the SB5.5 reaffirmed that Yeti haven’t redesigned the geometry textbook with the SB5.5. With numbers like a 66.5-degree head angle, 73.6-degree seat tube angle and an 1168mm wheelbase in a size medium, we don’t feel like we’re regurgitating the ‘jack of all trades’ tagline by saying that the SB5.5 is designed to do a bit of everything.
Equipped with the 160mm Float 36 fork up front, the SB5.5 will handle the burly descents, but the 140mm of Switch Infinity rear suspension pedals insanely well, so combined with the slightly more upright position than other long travel 29” bikes on the market, the SB5.5 should be more suited to all-day pedalling missions in varied terrain, rather than out and out descending.
What are you getting for $10850 for the model we’re testing?
As we mentioned before, the SB5.5 we’re testing is X01 Eagle build kit option with Fox suspension, which retails for $10850. This bike is out of the price range of most consumers; however, Yeti has always been, and will always be a boutique brand.
Obviously, the main attraction of this bike is the stunning frameset. Smooth, curvy lines encase the Switch Infinity suspension design, which uses a custom system provided by Fox to provide some of the best pedalling performance on the market.
We’ll go into the Switch Infinity design and its effectiveness on the SB5.5 more in the full review, however, to summarise the system uses two rails located directly above the bottom bracket to manipulate the bike’s axle path as it moves through its travel.
As the bike goes through its initial phase of travel, the carrier moves upwards on the two rails, creating a rearward axle path for improved pedalling performance. As the bike compresses further into its travel however, the rails move downwards (hence the ‘Switch’ part of the title), creating a vertical axle path and reducing chain tension for more supple suspension performance on bigger hits. The rails only move slightly in either direction, but in practice the system works excellently to provide both excellent pedalling performance and a supple stroke as the suspension moves deeper into its travel.
What about the build kit?
The build kit on the model we’re testing is excellent, as you would expect for the money. A Factory series Fox Float fork, with the three position Fit4 damper has low speed compression adjustment in the open position, but also a lockout, which adds to the bike’s ‘do it all’ intentions.
The Fox Float X in the rear also has three positions and can also be locked out- if the start of your rides typically involve a road pedal, being able to lock out your suspension guarantees you a few extra minutes on the trail!
The drivetrain is a full Eagle X01 arrangement, need we say more?
Brakes are also provided by Sram in the form of their Guide RSC brakes, and the dropper post is a RockShox Reverb.
In the wheels department, some will be disappointed not to see carbon at this price point, but DT Swiss’ 350 hubs are proven performers, and they’ve been laced to RaceFace ARC 30 rims, with a 30mm internal rim width that gives the Maxxis WT tyres an excellent shape.
Despite costing the big bucks, the SB5.5 is perfectly specced to cope with a huge variety of riding, from general trail duties to rowdier adventures you won’t be admitting to the partner about when you get home.
So, where will we be riding the SB5.5?
Bloody everywhere! We’re very excited to be testing the SB5.5 alongside the YT Jeffsy, another 140mm 29er, and we’ll be riding all sorts of terrain to see how the SB5.5 stacks up.
First up is a huge road trip through the Victorian High Country, we’ve chosen the Yeti to join us in Falls Creek, Bright, Mt Beauty, Yackandandah, Dinner Plain, Beechworth and Mt Buller. Stay tuned!
All wheels are pre-built for despatch and Zelvy also carry all spares for all the hub options available. For the maddest Zelvy fans, there is the Podium Elite Program, a membership rewards program that can include everything from discounts, to free crash replacements.
This isn’t our first experience with Zelvy Carbon wheels, though, we had a great set of 35mm wheels on our Trek Fuel EX 29 early last year, they gave that bike some serious grip and sturdiness that it needed to push it a little harder. Check out that review here – Zelvy Carbon 35 29er Pro wheelset.
Why the different width rims? And does it work?
The front rim’s internal width measures 36mm and rear is 30mm wide internally. The different internal rim widths allow for better tyre profiles (a wider, more aggressive tyre at the front paired with something slightly thinner and faster rolling on the rear). It sure makes a lot of sense to us and addresses a criticism we tend to have with wide rims – drag.
35mm of rim width up the front gives the bike a whole lot to lean on in the turns, with the front tyre taking a seriously broad shape with huge air volume. The effect is instant, traction in spades! With lower tyre pressures the tyre conforms to the ground more, the width of the rim allows the low pressure without it squirming or rolling around like it would on a traditional width rim (around 19-23mm). And out back the slightly narrower rim doesn’t feel as draggy on the tarmac as the front wheel, a very good thing when it comes to acceleration, it’s the rear wheel that you need to wind up to get moving, after all.
Narrower tyres on the rear are common place on bikes, so why no the rim too?
How’d they feel?
We talk about ‘feel’ a lot in reference to carbon wheels; it’s the way they feel lively and energetic underneath you that we like. There’s the low weight to high stiffness ratio of course, but carbon seems to absorb shock whilst remaining stiff better than aluminium rims.
The Zelvy’s use traditional spokes and nipples which is handy for whoever has to maintain them, the spoke tension felt quite light to us, coming off a set of SRAM and Wheelworks wheels with much higher tension. On the trail, they felt smooth and direct, a nice balance between too stiff and wobbly.
Absolutely, they are tough enough for us on a 160mm travel enduro bike on Sydney’s rocky trails, three days at Mt Buller (the Delatite was particularly hard on wheels during opening weekend) and hammering the Flow and All Mountain Track at Thredbo during the Cannonball Festival. The wheels remain straight and true to this day, without taking a spoke key to them at all. Thumbs up, Zelvy!
During one particularly frightening moment on the freshly updated Abom DH track in Mt Buller we got offline and totally wailed a microwave-sized rock with the rear wheel, it was quite ugly to say the least. The tyre stood no chance, pissing out sealant everywhere reducing us to a halt. To the wheel’s credit the tyre didn’t unseat itself from the bead, so we continued to ride gently down the track to the waiting shuttle, once at the top we repaired the tyre without taking it off the wheel with a couple Dynaplugs, and pumped it back up, made easier with the tyre still stuck to the rim wall. We were back riding again in no time, and despite the monumental impact the wheel is 100% fine, that’s confidence inspiring for sure.
Funn Fantom hubs ok?
More than ok, we found them to be stellar performers the whole time. The small brand Funn is best known for their bars and flat pedals that Sam Hill used for years, but we’ve not used their hubs until now. Firstly, they sound great! Not too loud it’s distracting or off-putting, but the rear wheel has a zinging freehub that changes pitch as the speed increases, everyone who heard or rode the bike was impressed (the important things in life…).
Secondly, the engagement is super quick and positive too with a 6-pawl design that engages every 3.5 degrees, adding to the fast reaction of the light rims, and hub bearings don’t show any signs of contamination or fatigue. We’re going to continue to use these wheels for a few more months as we have a BOX Components drivetrain to fit on the Canyon, the cassette uses a Shimano freehub body which is easily interchangeable with the SRAM XD Driver we have on now.
Zelvy offers three hub varieties with their MTB wheels, Funn, Industry 9 and ONYX. With Funn the lowest price option, perhaps not such a flashy name but we’re more than happy with them and are very competitive at 530 grams.
These wheels are sold online with international shipping; the process is pretty easy too with an option for each step of the way; choose wheel size, hub model, from rim width, front hub axle width, rear rim width, rear hub axle width and finally sticker options and colour.
We’d be daft not to mention the customisable stickers that are an option; they offer fifteen custom sticker sets on every wheel purchase. White and silver are the standard colours, but for twenty dollars extra you can buy any of the other thirteen options. We were pretty darn impressed with the job they did matching the wheels to the Canyon Strive, blue/orange fade and all!
Pretty impressed then?
These Zelvy wheels have been fantastic during our review, after two and a half months of pounding on our Canyon Strive, they’ve exceeded our expectations, and we’re happy to recommend them for someone looking to upgrade a vital part of their bike or add confidence to a race rig.
Okay, maybe nobody said that to us, and we certainly haven’t thrown the Spark sideways through the air like the Swiss wizard himself, but the all new 2017 Scott Spark has been filling our heads with thoughts that maybe we missed our calling in life as fit and powerful cross-country racers.
So, this is a brand-new Scott Spark for 2017?
Yep! We were lucky enough to attend the launch of the new Spark range earlier this year, and we won’t go into the incredible number of changes and new additions the 2017 frame features here, but check out our recap of the launch to see just why the new Spark is perhaps the most desirable cross-country bike on the planet right now!
It looks like there’s some top of the line kit on the Spark- is there anything on this bike that you can upgrade?
Our large sized Spark RC 900 World Cup weighs in at ten kilograms on the dot without pedals, and the only components that aren’t top of the line are FOX’s Performance Line suspension, a set of alloy Syncros wheels and SRAM’s XO1 Eagle groupset rather than the flagship XX1.
Despite this, we’re pretty much of the opinion that if you’re on this bike you instantly relinquish any bike/weight/equipment related excuse that you may have used in the past.
The Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup sits one model below the top of the line SL model, which comes decked out with factory level Fox suspension, a full complement of Syncros carbon finishing kit and some super light carbon wheels made for Syncros by DT Swiss.
What sort of geometry numbers are we looking at?
The Spark is an out and out cross-country race bike, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t received some of the ‘modern’ geometry touches that have increased the capabilities of bikes in all travel categories. The new Spark has moved from a 70-degree head angle to 68.5 degrees; the reach has been lengthened in every size (for example, our large sized bike has gone from 438mm to 456.8mm) and the chainstays have been shortened across the range by 13mm to a very snappy 435mm.
What’s the lever on the left hand side of the handlebar if there’s no front derailleur or dropper post?
Scott loves their bikes to be adjustable, and the new Spark is no exception. The bike features a Twin Loc remote that controls both front and rear suspension simultaneously. The system has three positions. Firstly, a fully open position that allows full travel, front and rear. One click of the black lever switches the rear shock to Traction mode, while the fork remains fully active and the shock is switched to a firmer setting. Click again and rear shock and fork both lockout fully. The silver lever returns the suspension to full travel.
On trail bikes, we’re not huge fans of lockout levers cluttering the handlebar and creating a bird’s nest of cables adorning the front of the bike, but the Twin Loc system on the Spark makes a lot of sense for cross-country racing and is well integrated. In a recent interview, Nino Schurter commented that he often finishes races with a sore thumb from using the Twin-Loc system continuously throughout a race!
What about if I don’t want to race cross-country World Cups?
We’ll point this out now after only a few rides on this rig- it’s not a trail bike. Every single element of the Spark has been engineered to optimise performance on the cross-country race track. You don’t have to be Nino Schurter to reap the benefits of this machine, but unless you’re racing, or your riding consists of flowing, non-technical trails, then perhaps this bike isn’t the right choice.
Despite this bike being a dedicated race bike, look out for a full review soon, where we’ll go into more detail about how the Spark handles the variety of riding we plan to throw at it.
We’ve been having a nostalgic look at all the shiny bikes that we’ve been lucky enough to review here at Flow this year, and we’ve put together a list of some of the bikes that stood out to us as trail bikes with a personality.
What we’re talking about is the sort of bike that’s a real all-rounder. We’d all love to own a bike for every sub-category and niche discipline of mountain biking, but the reality for most of us is that isn’t going to be the case, and having a bike that does lots of things well, with a slight focus on the priorities you have as a rider is a more realistic proposition.
Before we launch into the bikes, we should clarify that our definition of a ‘trail bike’ for the purposes of this article refers to a bike that is within the rear travel boundaries of 115mm-135mm of travel. More importantly than the travel numbers though are the subtleties and ride qualities that these bikes possess, the unmeasurable quantities that make them real standouts in our eyes for the rider looking to do a bit of everything.
There’s a pretty vast range of prices and specs across the bikes we’ve selected for this article, just like there’s a variety of consumers out there who’ll have vastly different budgets for a new mountain bike. If you’re in the market for a new trail bike, or just interested in the variety that’s out there, this isn’t a bad place to start!
“From the raw and steep hills of Laguna Beach, California, all the way back to our rocky and fast trails back at Flow HQ, we’ve spent many heavenly hours flogging this thing, it’s been a legitimate dream ride.”
It’s probably fair to say nobody is going to nominate us for a Walkley for uncovering that a $16500 bicycle is a dream to ride. That being said, the Spider 275C comes in four build kit options with a $10000 variance in price, and the outstanding frame and ride qualities remain the same throughout.
The Spider 275C has an adjustable 130mm or 115mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork, and we think this is an excellent feature for the trail rider looking for a bike that can head out for technical trail rides, and with some quick adjustments in the workstand be ready for a Cross-Country race the next day.
In its 130mm guise, with the frame’s balanced geometry, the Spider represents just how capable the modern trail bike is:
“The Spider is a lively little bugger, with the magical combination of super-short 419mm chain stays, a slack 67-degree head angle, roomy 445mm reach and a tiny 50mm stem we found ourselves throwing it around the trail with remarkable ease. Flicking around the tight turns with a spritely pop the Spider is a heap of fun to ride, we’ve enjoyed it so very much.”
Our final thoughts on the Spider 275C pretty much sum it up- if you’re after an aggressive trail bike with adjustment allowing for a more XC oriented ride, this bike is well worth a look!
“If you like to ride hard, shred turns, jump over things on the trail and pump and manual along throwing up roost then this is your bag. It’s hard to hide our love for riding this bike, and we can vouch that if you can manage the cost it’ll give you the same feeling on the trail.”
Not only were we lucky enough to get our hands on the Gucci spec Intense Spider 275C this year, but we also checked out the 29” model, which also comes with 130/115mm of rear travel paired with a 130mm fork.
“Flow’s home trails are the ultimate testing ground for bikes like this, rocky, ledgy and unforgiving. Each ride on the Spider we couldn’t help but compare it to bigger travel 27.5″ bikes we’ve been testing lately, it holds its own against bikes with bigger travel but smaller wheels. The Spider 29c is a rolling dream, munching its way through rocky trails, skipping across the top of holes and undulations instead of falling in them.”
We remarked throughout the review where the 29” Spider differed from 27.5” wheeled trail bikes on the market. It’s a traditional 29” trail bike in the sense that it prefers to stay grounded and munch terrain rather than flick, pump and jump through the trail.
“Looking at the frame geometry it’s quite a classic mid-travel 29er, long out the back and short up front, with a relatively sharp steering angle. So it’s no surprise that we weren’t jumping around or popping off objects on the trail as much, instead we were hammering over them pedalling easily as the suspension worked away furiously below us.”
Summing up, it’s a case of horses for courses if you’re looking at an Intense Spider, in either it’s 27.5” or 29” guise as your next trail bike. If you’re after a classic handling 29” trail bike- the Spider 29C could be the ticket:
“The Spider 29c will make a calm type of trail rider very happy, it’s not an aggressive or rapid handling weapon, it is more about confidence and control and in a comfortable package that’s a pleasure to ride all day long.”
The Pivot Switchblade sits on the threshold of being too much bike for this piece with 135mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork, however it was noted in the review that in either guise this bike is not an out an out enduro descender, with a tall and short geometry that leans more towards traditional trail bike geometry and ride qualities.
We tested the Switchblade in both 27.5+ and 29” form, and here’s what we thought:
“Riding both bikes back to back it was clear to feel the differences, the consensus going around the mountain bike community is that a regular 27.5″ bike will feel agile and fun, a plus bike will have loads of confidence and control and the big wheels of a 29er will be fast. That’s certainly the case here, the plus bike was eager to clamber up and down anything and take creative lines through tricky corners, while the 29er would get up to speed and want to stay there with fantastic rolling momentum and corner speed.”
Summing up the Switchblade, despite its long travel compared to other bikes in this review, we thought that it would be an excellent bike for the trail rider looking for more confidence in all aspects of their riding, or someone who would take advantage of the Switchblade’s ability to run two different wheelsizes on the same frame.
“Like we mentioned before we found the front end quite tall in comparison to many 150mm travel bikes we’ve ridden recently, which made for a less aggressive cornering bike. We believe the Switchblade is more suited to riding everything capably and confidently than setting personal best times on your enduro trail descents.”
The Whyte T-130 is a 27.5” 130mm bike that would suit an experienced rider who wants a bike that can be ridden more aggressively than its travel would suggest, and that begs for its owner to take creative control out on the trail.
“Whyte Bikes are a little different; they tend to circle the outside of the main pack waiting for someone to outgrow the norm, someone looking for more. One of our testers nailed it by stating Whyte provide bikes for experienced riders who can appreciate the finer details and get the most out of the progressive designs; that sums them up nicely. We like riding Whytes.”
Worried about maintenance? The T-130 takes sealing the frame from the outside world to another level.
“Born and bred in the UK, the T-130 is built to sustain wet weather like no bike we’ve seen before. The bike is sealed at every angle to prevent any muddy water entering the frame through the seat post and cable ports, and all the pivot bearings are protected by sealed caps too. On top of the sealing on the bearings, they are also backed by a lifetime warranty, that’s confidence!”
We really enjoyed the 27.5” wheeled T-130 in a section of the market that is increasingly dominated by 29” wheeled bikes. Why? Read on!
“Smaller things fit into smaller spaces, so it’s no secret that 27.5” wheels have a livelier and precise feel to them, they feel easier to jump and land on smaller transitions, drift sideways. And with stiffer wheels and the axles being lower to the ground a 27.5” bike tends to respond better to throwing down onto the sides of the tyres through a turn. Make sense? We know, the wheel size debate/topic is a headache.”
Overall, we think the Whyte T-130 is the perfect trail bike for lots of people, but perhaps it will appeal to this type of audience the most:
“If your trails are not especially rocky and rough, but they are fast this is your type of thing. Or if you’ve got a few years of riding experience behind you and find the new trend of 140-160mm travel bikes a little too easy to ride and numbing, then the zippy and capable T-130 will have you feeling the rush of speed while feeling the terrain and trails below.”
The Orbea Occam TR M30 is a 120mm 29” bike with an outstanding frame, but a couple of the spec choices held back this bike’s fantastic potential, namely a narrow and flexy Fox Float 32 fork and a lack of dropper seatpost.
The option to counter this however Is the custom ‘my Orbea’ program, which allows you to customise your Orbea build.
“This is a great looking bike, and the quality of the frame is the real stand out, giving you a magnificent base from which to build your dream machine. Orbea make it easy to go down this custom route too, using their My Orbea custom bike program, which lets you change certain components from the stock build to create a one-off bike to suit your style. To see what the options are, head to the Orbea website – on the spec listing for each bike, there are certain items you can change which are marked with a little dropdown menu, and the prices to make these modifications are clearly listed.”
With its stiff, direct frame and hard charging attitude, we feel that the Occam could cater for a variety of riders. In the setup we tested, with a narrow fork and no dropper post, the Occam could be a great bike for an owner who wants a fast trail bike that can double as a cross-country race bike.
We also believe that with a few changes to the spec, the Occam could be beefed up as a more aggressive trail bike. All of these potential changes are possible through the My Orbea program.
“The Occam TR M30 is a bit of a fence sitter, and this might make it perfect for you. If you’re a cross country rider looking for a glamorous steed to push a little harder, then this bike will really nail it for you; it’s efficient, very comfortable for big days in the saddle and packs some really confident geometry. If you’re looking for an aggressive trail bike, then we think there’s an absolute beast of a bike lurking here. The frameset is amongst the nicest we’ve seen, we love its simplicity, its clean looks and the stiffness it possesses. The Occam certainly has the bones, but you’ll need to flesh them out with a dropper post, possibly a stiffer fork and maybe a more aggressive rear tyre too, to take it to the next level.”
We’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Lapierre Zesty here at Flow. We’ve ridden many in the past that have made hitting the singletrack such a pleasure, and the Zesty XM 427 was no exception.
With 27.5” wheels, and 120mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 130mm fork, the Zesty definitely falls into the category of a hard charging trail bike that begs for aggressive use.
“The Zesty XM uses a 130mm travel fork on a 120mm travel rear end, there’s a massive gear range, dropper post and a robust aluminium frame to keep you riding anything in your path.”
We appreciated the Zesty’s stiff and burly frame when the going got rough, however we wouldn’t see the Zesty as a potential XC and trail bike all in one as much as the Focus Spine, Cannondale Habit or the Orbea Occam. The Zesty XM 427 is a bike that with a beefier fork and rubber could handle far more abuse than its 120mm of rear travel would initially suggest.
“We can’t get enough of these new breed of mid-travel trail bikes with dialled geometry, and the Zesty is one of them. It has a fun character from it’s vibrant paintwork, right down to the way it lights up the singletrack.”
The Habit is another 27.5” trail bike that falls into the category of a bike that loves to play with the trail and has a lively feel, but can also roll your trail bike and race bike into one.
“Its target audience is the one-bike-rider, someone who doesn’t want a quiver in their garage, but needs a bike that’s light enough for the odd marathon race perhaps (and at just over 12kg, that’s certainly the case here) and is confident and burly enough for some over-enthusiastic play.”
The Habit rolls on 27.5” wheels, and comes with 120mm of travel front and rear. Much like the Whyte T-130, the Cannondale Habit promotes lively and aggressive riding- we commented that it was often as we lay on the ground after a crash that we thought about how much we loved the Habit’s ability to make us want to double things up, or take the inside line.
“We feel it will be best in the hands of a fairly competent rider. Those looking for more cushiness or a bike that will soak up mistakes will be happier on the Trigger, or perhaps the Jekyll.”
Despite the Lefty fork feeling somewhat behind the latest offerings from Fox and Rockshox, its unparalleled stiffness was one of the attributes that makes the Habit so eager to find far more ambitious lines than you would usually seek aboard a 120mm trail bike.
“The colour is divisive. The suspension is far from perfect. But none of that matters to us, especially when we’re out on the trail grinning from ear to ear as we go back yet again to try and make that tricky inside gap line for the fifth time, or as the rear wheel sprays through a loose corner. This bike feels fast, it feels fun, it feels like Cannondales should.”
Despite having just 10mm less travel then the Whyte T-130 for example, the Focus Spine is a very different bike. The Spine is a 27.5”, 120mm travel front and rear trail bike that leans towards the XC side of trail riding through its suspension tune and spec decisions.
“This is a bike which makes sense at speed. Toodle about on the Spine C0.0 at lower speeds and you’ll find it feels very firm, like a shorter-travel cross country machine. This has its advantages on smoother trails or when climbing, as the bike never feels like it’s loafing in its travel, but if the terrain is choppy it can all feel a bit harsh, like you’ve got too much pressure in the suspension.”
The Spine is the sort of bike that with its firm, efficient suspension damping and lightweight spec encourages you to go fast to get the most out of it.
“If you’ve got aspirations to roll your cross-country race bike and your trail bike into one, then the Spine C0.0 could be the answer. It is about as light as trail bikes come, and its efficient, taut ride will see it hang out happily with the lycra set on the climbs and drop them on the descents.”
So, which of these bikes is the right one for me?
Any one of these bikes would make an excellent choice for the rider looking for the ‘quiver killer’ bike to do it all. Some of them lean towards the XC side of the spectrum, with lightweight specs and firm, race oriented suspension, whilst others have beefy componentry choices, confidence inspiring geometries and chunky frames built for abuse.
Budget is also a factor, but with bikes ranging from the high four thousand range to over sixteen thousand, and the fact that most of these bikes have a model range with a wide variety of prices, we hope that if you’re in the market for a new trail bike, this has at least inspired some thought about what might be the right rig for you, or at least what isn’t!
But one style of riding which isn’t going anywhere is the good ol’ ‘plod to the top, shred till you drop’ – it’s what we’ve all been doing for years, the difference now is we’ve got bikes and race formats specifically targeting this style of rider and riding.
You’re probably wondering where the hell we’re going with this? Well, the big, brash and bold reincarnation of the Pivot Firebird optimises the current ambitions of many trail riders out there- plodding along to the top having a yarn, and riding the descents hard and fast. Unlike Pokémon Go however, we don’t think bikes like the Firebird will fade into obscurity.
Heading to Thredbo? We’d suggest you give the Makin Trax Basecamp a try. They hosted us for our week in Thredbo, and it was the perfect setup for our crew of six riders. With five bedrooms, to sleep up to 12 riders, a huge kitchen, an open fire and plenty of space to store your bikes, it’s just bloody ideal. They’re doing some great accommodation and lift pass packages too. Take a look!
What’s the Pivot Firebird all about?
We covered off a few of the basics about the reinvigorated Firebird’s geometry and construction in our First Bite, but put simply the Firebird adheres to the long, low and slack formula that tends to be the standard for bikes with more than 150mm of travel in 2016. Pivot have combined a modern geometry with 170mm of travel front and rear, and even on our first ride, the plushness of 170mm of DW link suspension blew our minds. It’s got that same bottomless feel you’d normally associate with a full blown downhill bike.
Where does the Firebird shine?
It’s not going to surprise anyone that this bike is an absolute beast downhill. Most of this bike’s testing took place in Thredbo, and the Firebird was not afraid of the rocky, technical Cannonball DH track. We mused in the First Bite that the capabilities of the bike’s tester would be reached before the bike itself, and that was very much the case.
In terms of ploughing through rock gardens, committing to loose, high speed sections and taking the gnarly lines, the Pivot never felt out of its depth- it was always the rider pulling the pin before the bike lost control.
On high speed sections, as well as wide open turns, of which Thredbo has about a million, the Pivot felt exceptionally stable thanks to its long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. Combined with a rear end that grips the trail like Velcro, we never felt like we were skipping around through braking bumps, or being taken off line in rough sections. If you point the Firebird in the general direction you want to go, it’ll get you there.
This is a bike that much prefers to plough through disrespectfully than tiptoe its way along the trail.
What about jumping, and flicking the bike around on the trail?
In the air the Firebird is very stable. Come up short or land awkwardly, it will save your bacon – we definitely rolled out of some situations where other bikes might’ve bucked us off. In terms of using little hops or transfer lines in the singletrack however, the Firebird felt sluggish- this is a bike that much prefers to plough through disrespectfully than tiptoe its way along the trail.
The Firebird has a similar sluggishness when pulling the bike up into a manual. We don’t see these observations as criticisms however, a bike this long and with this much travel is never going to be a bike you can throw around like a shorter travel trail weapon.
If it’s fast and open the Firebird excels, but what about when the trail gets tight?
Another area where we noticed the Pivot’s slackness and length was in tight turns. Getting the Pivot to corner tightly required either some serious body language to muscle the bike, or forethought about using an endo or cutty to whip the bike around.
Whilst the Pivot didn’t love slow speed, tight turns, the bike had a remarkable ability to pull us through some terrible line choices in the corners. The long front centre, ample amounts of suspension and excellent rubber allowed us to move around the bike with the knowledge that there would be traction available almost all the time, and we could exaggerate our weight distribution to wrestle the bike through corners where we’d entered on some pretty poor lines.
What about climbing, or less technical singletrack?
The Pivot climbs remarkably well considering it’s a 170mm bike. The low speed compression lever on the shock was excellent for firming the bike up not only on longer, smoother climbs, but almost all the time when the trail points up. As the Firebird is such a long travel machine, the shock does bob a fair bit when it’s left open on the climbs, so utilising the compression lever (which doesn’t lock the shock out completely, and still allows the suspension to maintain traction up technical climbs) gives a much more efficient pedalling platform for climbing.
Climbing tight switchbacks and technical terrain will see you shuffling right forward in the saddle – you need to focus on putting weight over the front to stop the front wheel from wandering like a lost child. This is always going to be the price for a long, front centre and a stubby cockpit- you can’t have it all!
On less technical singletrack and undulating terrain the Pivot did an admirable job of hiding its 170mm of travel, but it would not be our preferred bike of choice for long days of meandering singletrack. The bike’s descending focused geometry and spec make razzing through flatter singletrack, pumping undulations for speed and putting sharp bursts of effort in on the trail noticeably more difficult than on a 140mm trail bike.
How did the spec perform?
We discussed in the First Bite our approval for Pivot deciding to provide continuity within the Firebird models by speccing Fox suspension and Maxxis Minion tyres front and rear throughout the range, and this approval was warranted, as these critical components provide so much of the confidence the Firebird oozes out on the trails.
The tuneability and dominant performance of the Factory level Fox suspension allowed us to dial in the ride qualities of the Firebird, and the beefy tyres mounted to wide rims gave us confidence in laying the bike over in all sorts of conditions. An aggressive intent is pivotal to getting the most out of the Pivot, as with so much bike underneath you you can really throw it around quite recklessly.
The 1×11 Shimano drivetrain, a mixture of XT with an XTR rear derailleur worked excellently, however we were confused at the lack of chainguide as standard considering the intentions of this bike, and the meticulous attention to detail in other areas of the spec.
The new DT Swiss M1700 wheels, with a 30mm internal rim width were strong and reliable, and other excellent touches included the Fox Transfer dropper post, and the stylish and ergonomic Pivot cockpit.
What other builds does the Firebird come in?
The Firebird comes in four build kit options, starting at $8189.9 for an XT level build, and heading all the way up to $12789.9 for the Gucci XTR build kit.
As mentioned above, the lack of chainguide confused us. If you’re riding this bike to its capabilities, the last thing you want to be worrying about is your chain.
The only other complaints we had was the lack of bottle cage mount inside the front triangle, despite there appearing to be space. There are bottle mounts under the down tube, which is great if you like dirt with your water. The low hanging loop of gear cable exiting to downtube and running under the bottom bracket is a little dicey too. On a bike like the Firebird, which is probably going to be exposed to some ragged, potentially off the trail moments, we feel the cable could’ve been routed above the bottom bracket to avoid snagging on trail debris.
So, who exactly is this bike for?
If you place a high priority on descending fast, you’re an aspiring Enduro racer, or you want to boost your confidence on technical descents, the Pivot Firebird is a very worthy consideration. This bike has a clear mandate – to descend as fast as possible whilst still being able to ride to the top. It knows what it wants to do, and does it incredibly well.
Firebird is another term for a Phoenix (or so Wikipedia tells us), which is why it’s not surprising that this rig has a lot in common with Pivot’s downhill bike, the Phoenix. Those similarities are going to be put to the test in Thredbo, where we’ll be spending a week smashing out laps of the awesome trails Thredders has to offer.
Heading to Thredbo? We’d suggest you give the Makin Trax Basecamp a try. They hosted us for our week in Thredbo, and it was the perfect setup for our crew of six riders. With five bedrooms, to sleep up to 12 riders, a huge kitchen, an open fire and plenty of space to store your bikes, it’s just bloody ideal. They’re doing some great accommodation and lift pass packages too. Take a look!
That’s a big looking bike- what are the numbers?
For a few years now, 160mm has been the accepted travel amount for bikes in the ‘enduro’ category. For 2017, many brands have bumped the fork travel up to 170mm matched with 160mm rear ends. Pivot decided that they could go one better, and the beefy Firebird sports 170mm of travel both front and rear.
On paper, it looks like the capabilities of our tester will be reached before the capabilities of the bike, with a very slack 65-degree head angle. While some folk have criticised Pivot’s earlier long-travel bikes for having reach measurements that were on the short side, the new Firebird is very roomy up front, the wheelbase being a massive 1228mm in a size large.
Pivot bikes are usually pretty, what’s the Firebird like in the flesh?
Gorgeous. We’re currently also testing a Mach 429 Trail (we know, we’re spoiled) and we described is as the sort of bicycle that begs for an owner who wants a classic trail bike that leaves the ‘aggressive, hard-charging, progressive,’ tags at home.
Despite both being Pivots, the Firebird’s construction couldn’t be further from the 429. The chunky tubing screams stiffness and strength, and the frame protection throughout further stresses the Pivot’s trail ploughing intentions.
That’s not to say the Firebird doesn’t have a subtle side as well – the bike still possesses the smooth, flowing frame design that Pivot is renowned for, and well thought out cable routing ensures a clean look.
How have Pivot specced the Firebird?
Our Firebird is the Pro XT/XTR 1x build. Highlights include Fox Factory suspension front and rear, with compression adjustment switches on both the fork and the shock to lock out that 170mm of squish when you need to, a Shimano XTR rear derailleur, and a Pivot cockpit with their nicely shaped carbon handlebar.
We really appreciate that, regardless of which of the four build kit options you choose, the bike retains a Fox Float 36 fork and the X2 rear shock, as well as a Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5” front tyre and a Minion DHR 2.4” on the rear mounted to wide rims. Not only does this ensure that throughout the range the bikes will ride relatively similarly, but it’s clear that whoever specced this bike rode one first, as these capable components are essential to bringing the best out of the Firebird.
170mm is a lot of travel, where would you ride this thing?
170mm is a lot of travel, but Pivots are renowned for pedalling efficiency through the DW linkage design, lightweight frames and spec decisions. Obviously, the Firebird is aimed at the rider who prioritises the descents, but that rider is still likely to have the occasional singletrack blast, so we’ll be seeing how the Firebird fares at all types of riding for our full review.
With the downhill track, flow trail, all-mountain trail and valley loop handy, we’ll certainly have a variety of riding to assess just what the Firebird is capable of. Keep your eyes peeled for a full review shortly!
This bike comes with a legendary reputation, way back in mid-2013 it emerged as one of the first 29ers to challenge perceptions of what a big wheeler was capable of. It’s received a major overhaul for 2017, and as we discussed in our initial impressions piece back in August, we like the changes Specialized have implemented.
So, what sort of changes are we talking about?
Heading to Thredbo? We’d suggest you give the Makin Trax Basecamp a try. They hosted us for our week in Thredbo, and it was the perfect setup for our crew of six riders. With five bedrooms, to sleep up to 12 riders, a huge kitchen, an open fire and plenty of space to store your bikes, it’s just bloody ideal. They’re doing some great accommodation and lift pass packages too. Take a look!
Firstly, a glance at the geometry chart for the Enduro tells you that Specialized has given this bike the ‘long, low and slack’ treatment. In our large 29” Enduro, a roomy 604mm top tube is paired with a 66-degree head angle and 432mm chainstays. For a bike that can also accept 27.5×3.00 tyres, that’s a pretty short rear end!
Speaking of 27.5×3.00 tyres, for our test we’re going to be alternating between the stock 29” wheels and tyres and a set of 650B+ wheels, to see exactly how the bike changes with wheel and tyre size.
How much travel is the Enduro 29/6Fattie equipped with?
The Enduro 29/6Fattie comes equipped with a 160mm fork and 165mm of rear-end travel, which is a smidgen less than you’ll find on the 650B version of this bike, which is 170mm front and rear. Even still, 165mm on a 29er is a hefty amount of travel. Will it prove too much?
Is that Öhlins suspension front and rear?
It sure is! We’ve reviewed the RXF 34 fork in the past, and we rated it highly, so we’re excited to get some riding in on the RXF 36, which as the name suggests comes with 36mm stanchions, as opposed to 34mm. In this longer travel format, we think we’ll be able to get a better idea of the performance on offer, which was a little tricky to appreciate in the shorter travel version we previously tested.
What about the frame itself?
Another big tick from us is the inclusion of the SWAT box in the Enduro’s downtube. We love sneaking in rides without a backpack whenever possible, so keeping the SWAT compartment packed with essential spares and room for a snack means that you can pop a bottle on the bike and you’re ready to head out for at least a couple of hours. With the riding this bike is aimed at, you’re going to appreciate not having weight on your back and being able to move around the bike freely!
Another change to the frame design is the cable routeing. All the internal routeing is guided by sleeves within the frame, which means fewer hassles when working on the bike. Adding to this, Specialized have moved the rear brake and derailleur cables from exiting underneath the bike to running through the chainstays, which eliminates the chance of them snagging and bashing into debris out on the trail.
There seems to be a lot of 170mm ‘enduro specific’ bikes cropping up, do I need one of these bikes if I’m not racing?
Whilst the emerging trend of 170mm ‘enduro’ bikes is perhaps overkill for a lot of riders, the bike still only weighs a hair over 13 kilograms, so if descending is your priority, then maybe this is the right bike for you, regardless of if you plan to race or not.
Anyhow, we’re off to do a few laps of the hill here at Thredbo – stay tuned for our detailed review shortly!
As is often the case, what starts on the road eventually makes its way to the mountain biking industry, and following in the same vein as the opinion dividing Giro Empire, the Scott MTB RC Lace shoe is a cross-country mountain bike shoe that forgoes the fancy closure systems we’ve become so accustomed to in favour of trusty laces.
Hold on, this is a cross-country shoe with laces?
Indeed! Despite most cross-country shoes relying on ratchets and BOA dial closure systems, which undoubtedly have their place, Scott believe there is a market for laced cross-country shoes. Benefits of laced shoes include increased contact points, increased aerodynamics, and most importantly increased comfort.
How do the laces compare to ratchets, or BOA dials?
As mentioned above, laces offer increased points of contact over the more commonly seen ratchet or BOA systems, which in theory should result in a more comfortable fit. The Scott MTB RC Lace shoes feel comfortable out of the box, although setting them up did take longer than a ratchet or BOA system, as we took our time tightening and adjusting the laces to ensure optimal pressure across the whole foot. Once you’ve done the laces up, they tuck away neatly into a strap located in the centre of the shoe.
Who is the Scott MTB RC Lace Shoe for?
With a rating of nine on Scott’s stiffness index, which means very stiff, and a lightweight design (a US 8.5 weighs in at 350 grams), the RC Lace shoes lean towards the XC side of the mountain biking spectrum. Despite their low weight however, the shoes feature nods to durability and adjustability though reinforced toe and heel boxes, provisions for mounting studs and long cleat grooves. Despite the shoes having mounting points for studs, they don’t ship with them as standard.
How’s the fit?
The fit was comfortable out of the box, but should you find the shoes uncomfortable, the insoles feature removable metatarsal buttons and arch inserts. Like the studs, these inserts are additional purchases, but they’re a nice touch to allow you to customise your fit.
Are there other colour options?
The Scott MTB RC Lace shoes only come in black, however the shoe ships with two lace options. We’re big fans of the poppy red laces, but if you prefer a more modest look you can swap them to black out of the box.
What sort of money are we talking?
The Scott MTB RC Lace shoes retail for $289.95, which we think is a fair price for a carbon soled, lightweight shoe with additional features such as the adjustable insoles. In comparison, Giro Empire VR90’s retail for $349.
That’s it for now, it’s time to see how these fresh kicks go out on the trail!
When Trek decided to create a bike in the ‘plus hardtail’ category, they developed the Stache from the ground up using 29″ diameter wheels, instead of jumping on the existing 27.5+ wheel (27.5″ diameter with 2.8-3″ tyres) size bandwagon.
Essentially, Trek developed the Stache around 29+ wheels due to the increased contact patch of the tyre when compared to 27.5+, but it wasn’t going to be so simple. 29+ wheels are huge, too big to fit into a normal shaped frame, hence the wildly asymmetrical rear end of the bike and its elevated chainstay arrangement. There have only ever been one other 29+ bike make its way to the masses, we reviewed the Surly Krampus a few years ago, while we loved its endless traction it was hard work to manoeuvre through any form of a tight corner and was a boat to try and rip through singletrack.
With the elevated chain stay design and a boost spacing hub, Trek can tuck the chainstays to a length adjustable between 405-420mm (the bike ships with the length at 420mm) in the world of 29ers that is incredibly short!
An increased contact patch is beneficial in two main ways. Firstly, with a bigger contact patch you’ve got more grip on the ground in virtually any condition than a goanna scaling a tree. The second advantage of 29+ tyres is the small bump sensitivity that can be achieved by running the voluminous tyres at lower pressures. While the Stache is never going to feel like a dual suspension bike in choppy terrain, setting up the monstrous Chupacabra tyres tubeless and with the pressures low the bike has excellent small bump compliance.
We were lucky to chat with Trek’s Travis Brown where we discussed the Stache, and he summed up the decision to go with 29+ wheels by saying ‘if you’re the type of rider willing to take a small weight penalty for a lot of extra control and traction, and the ability to run low pressures, we came out with the 29+ to be superior.’
29+ wheels with 3” tyres must be heavy right?
At first glance, you would presume that the Bontrager Chupacabra tyres would weigh significantly more than regular tyres, however, one of the key aims of the Stache project (which was entitled ‘project weird’) was to create a lightweight 29×3.00 tyre.
The result of the project was the Bontrager Chupacabra, a 3” tyre that weighs just 860 grams! Despite the light weight, the Chupacabra is tubeless ready, and the sidewall protection was high. We know this because with a 3” tyre you’ll be scraping the sidewalls of the tyre against lots of stuff on the trail, but despite this, the Chupacabra remained intact throughout the review.
The tread pattern of the Chupacabra sits somewhere between a Bontrager XR2 and XR3 which we found struck an excellent balance between rolling efficiency, sidewall stability and traction.
The only negatives we have with Chupacabra tyre is that once you really get to know how the Stache handles, a beefier front tyre to allow the rear to break traction into a slide or drift before the front tyre does might let us ride more aggressively, as we found that when the bike is tipped over and losing traction (far later than any other bike we’ve ever ridden), both the tyres slid together, a sensation that unnerved us somewhat.
Another point to mention is that there is no alternative to the Chupacabra than from Bontrager, and a replacement is going to set you back a mega $169 each!
You can run 27.5+ or 29” wheels instead of the 29+ due to the Stranglehold dropouts, should you be considering changing wheels?
No! At least not to begin with. Throughout testing, what we continually discussed was just how well the 29+ wheels worked with the short rear end, as well as the bike’s stubby cockpit. Being able to throw the bike around easily in combination with the insane traction and rollover of the 29+ wheels was a great match.
As we’ve discussed, the contact patch and subsequent traction afforded by the 29+ tyres is crazy. What we found with the bike’s tight geometry was that despite the massive wheels, if you tip the Stache over enough it’ll negotiate pretty much any corner- as long as the pilot holds their nerve!
Is it easy to jump the big hoops?
It’s different. Getting the Stache off the ground to manoeuvre between lines isn’t really the Stache’s forte, it prefers to barge through trails rather than creep delicately. Whilst subtle line changes of the aerial variety are off the menu, when you need to get airborne, other than having to work the bike initially to get in the air, once it’s up there the short rear end is easy to work into a landing, and the big rubber feels very cushy if you go further than intended.
Many of the trails near Flow HQ feature jumps and drops that often result in the bike landing pretty much pancake flat, and the with low tyre pressures (we settled on as low as 13psi in the front and 15psi in the rear for a 78kg rider), the Stache doesn’t feel like a conventional hardtail when it’s time to come down.
When do you get reminded that you’re still riding a hardtail?
While the Stache happily ploughs through most terrain, when the going gets really rough, or you’re coming into a square edge hit, the ability to plough through or jump the obstacle as you might on a dual suspension bike is not really an option. We found ourselves coming into sections like these too fast at times considering the low pressures you run on the Stache, which make a square edge or very rocky terrain the perfect place for a puncture – and a potential $169 visit to the bike shop!
What’s the spec like?
Despite having truly enjoyed riding the Stache, the spec is somewhat underwhelming considering the $3299 price tag.
Firstly, it’s understandable in a way that this bike is dearer than it should be because this is a one of a kind bike and the frame is quite involved. If you read our interview with Travis Brown, you’ll see the time and resources not only Trek and Bontrager, but companies such as SUN Ringle and Manitou invested to make this bike a possibility.
That being said, the battleground of mountain bike sales is a vicious one, and there are many bikes around the $3000 price point with very nice specs indeed; dropper posts, quality suspension front and rear and high-end drivetrains.
For $3299 with the Stache, you get a Sram GX groupset (with X1 cranks), Sram’s Level Trail brakes and relatively unheard of SUNringle Duroc rims, which create an excellent profile for the Chupacabra, but are on the soft side for a bike with hard-riding intentions like the Stache.
None of these products are bad- in fact, it’s unbelievable how good 11-speed drivetrains of all levels are these days – our SRAM GX/X1 bundle was flawless, and the Level brakes were excellent for general trail riding, although they were untested this time around on particularly long descents.
Bontrager products have always been a favourite at Flow for their efficiency, robustness and understated graphics, and the Bontrager products on the Stache such as the stem, handlebar and saddle were no different.
Two parts we weren’t fussed on however were the push-on grips, which we would change to a set of lock-ons immediately, and the non-dropper seatpost.
The Stache is pleading like a child at a candy store for a dropper. If there were ever a bike that would truly benefit from a dropper, it would be the Stache. Further to this, the rigid seatpost doesn’t actually move that far within the frame, as the seat tube is flattened and curved to accommodate the 29+ wheels, so dropping the seat at the top of a descent still doesn’t get the seat as low as you would with a dropper.
Okay, so what about the model above, or below in the range?
We believe this is a situation where the model below, or above are worthy of consideration for potential buyers.
The Stache 5 retails for $2399, and features the same frame, wheels and tyres as the 7. Regarding the drivetrain, it’s a 1×10 system, however, the 11-36 spread isn’t too bad regarding range. The another significant downgrade is going from the Manitou Magnum with 34mm stanchions to the Manitou Machete with thinner 32mm stanchions.
While these are downgrades, in the fork department plus bikes tend to mask inefficiencies in dampening, as the small bump sensitivity from the tyres allows the rider to run more pressure if the fork is very linear. This was the case with the Manitou Magnum. Despite feeling linear in comparison to a comparable Fox or RockShox product, the Magnum performed well on the Stache, as we ran it slightly firmer and faster than we would on a regular bike, allowing the tyres to give small bump sensitivity, and saving the travel for bigger hits.
For the $900 saving the Stache 5 offers, and the fact that the $2399 price point is somewhere where the Stache competes with entry level dual suspension bikes that perhaps come with entry-level suspension components, the 3” tyres would potentially work more efficiently at dampening the terrain, as well as giving the rider more traction and control.
Another option we would consider is spending $1200 more and purchasing the Stache 9.6. The Stache 9.6 comes with all the upgrades we wanted! A dropper post for starters, as well as a RockShox Yari fork, and a gorgeous carbon frame. We featured the Stache 9.6 in our Trek World wrap up from earlier this year, so go and have a look!
Is the Stache an alternative to a $3000 duallie?
The concept around this bike and the way it behaves on the trail is remarkable. Consider this: you’re coming hot into a corner, tagging the inside a bit more than you should be. Where you would normally be about to lose the rear (and possibly the front too) and you get pretty ragged, with the Stache you keep those feet up, pull as tight as you want, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay glued to the ground.
Here’s another one: it’s been a long day out on the bike, and you’re coming up the final loose, rock-strewn climb. You want to get out of the saddle and power those last few pedal strokes, but you’re losing traction. You end up admitting defeat, hopping off and walking the rest of the hill. Aboard the Stache, unless you’re putting out the horsepower of Nino Schurter, those tyres are staying right where you want them, in or out of the saddle.
So is this bike better than a $3000 duallie? It’s hard to say because it’s just so god damn different!
Alright, let’s cut to the chase, who is this bike for?
The Stache is for a rider who appreciates traction, braking control and simplicity. You’re unlikely to get record times on your local XC loop, but the Stache can tackle much, much more than the humble hardtail of yesteryear, and you’ll amaze your mates with the new line options it opens up.
The Stache reminded us that sometimes riding isn’t about who has the most dialled, out and out speed machine, that sometimes popping a manual or a wheelie, or taking a silly line through a corner is what brings the biggest grins.
As Travis Brown told us when we were asking him how the bike rode, until you ride a Stache, you just simply won’t understand what these quirky little things are all about!
Maxxis bill the Aggressor as an Enduro tyre. It’s interesting to see tyres being designed specifically for this segment now. It’s only available in one width, 2.3″, which is big enough for hard riding, but not so wide that it’ll create a lot of drag or weigh too much. 2.3″ is definitely a popular size amongst the Enduro race crowd. You can get it in 27.5″ or 29″, but it’s too new school for 26″.
Are there any options in compound or construction?
The Aggressor is of a few select treads in the Maxxis range that you can get in their new Double Down (DD for short) casing. This mid-weight casing is tougher than their excellent EXO tyres, but not so heavy as a full blown downhill casing. In a 27.5″ size, the Aggressor weighs 1048g, which is indeed weighty for a trail bike tyre.
We did most of out testing of these tyres over in Italy, in Finale Ligure. With limited knowledge of the terrain, going for the DD casing was the obvious choice – we wanted to spend our time riding, not fixing flats, so the extra weight was worth it.
The Aggressor is a dual compound tyre; you can’t get it in the 3C triple compound of Maxxis’ high-end gravity tyres.
What did you fit it to?
We’ve been running the Aggressor on our Canyon Strive CF test bike (check it out here – it’s also the test sled for our Shimano XT Di2 groupset), which is theoretically exactly the style of bike this tyre is designed for. We’ve run these tyres on two different sets of wheels now: the Wheel Works FLITE Wide Carbon and Shimano’s more traditional XT Trail wheels.
Because it’s not a super wide tyre, running it on the 35mm Wheel Works rims gave the Aggressor a very square shape, while it was more rounded on the XT rims with their narrow 24mm internal width.
Front or rear?
Maxxis don’t list the Aggressor as being front or rear specific, and we ran a matching pair, front and back. If we had our time again, we keep it on the back but use something else up front (perhaps a Minion). Out back, the relatively closely spaced tread means it rolls quickly for a burly tyre, and it brakes well too, with the tread blocks holding their shape and not deteriorating on their leading edge too much. The robust construction of the sidewalls and casing, plus the rigid tread blocks, fill you with confidence to let the rear wheel clang through rock gardens or take inside lines over pointy rocks that’d chop a lesser tyre to pieces.
On hard packed trails, the Aggressor does quite well as a front tyre, but when things get loose or dusty, the Aggressor’s doesn’t get the penetration needed to inspire total confidence and we had a few sphincter pinching moments while we waited for the front tyre to bite! Once you’ve got it onto the side knobs, the soft compound has decent grip, but it’s vague in transition. That said, the tyre never completely let go either, and we never lost the front wheel or washed out, so maybe it’s not too bad after all.
Did you get any flats or damage?
None at all, and we had very little air loss over the course of some pretty hard riding! Over seven days of hectic trails, we only needed to top up the pressure in the Aggressors twice, a testament to their quality bead and tough sidewalls. They seem to be wearing quite well too, with some degradation of the knobs, but no tearing or ripping off the treads blocks.
Would you recommend them?
As a rear tyre for hard riding, these are great. The DD sidewalls might be overkill for some (you can save almost 200g per end by opting for the lighter EXO version), but if you’re hard on the rear end, or you’re sick of getting flats, then we’d encourage you to give the Aggressor DD a close look.
Where can I get them?
Maxxis tyres are available across Australia at a number of preferred dealers. Take a look below to find a dealer in your state.
But 2017 is a new season, and look what has turned up – a new one, even better than the old one! Well, not entirely new, it’s the same frame as before, but there are a couple of upgrades to the spec that we thought were lacking in the outgoing version. So now it’s time for us to move on and forget the love that is now lost and look forward to spending proper time on this absolute beauty.
For a more in-depth first impressions piece on the 429 Trail where we go into more detail of the frame construction click through to our article from earlier this year.
Pivot have a few 29ers in their stable, their all-mountain ready Switchblade and the carbon hardtail LES which both accept 27.5” wheels too. Then there are the two 429 series options, with the SL and Trail. The SL is their super-light 100mm travel lean machine, for marathon racers and those looking for absolute efficiency, that frame alone is over $4600. And then the Trail model which we have here which takes a step to the back of the race grid with a more relaxed outlook on the trail. Click here for their full range.
See our review of the Switchblade, Mach 4 Carbon and LES here:
When compared to the SL model, the 429 Trail longer in travel, shorter in reach, shorter in the chainstay length, slacker in the head angle and higher in the bottom bracket. Why? Pivot have designed the 429 Trail to cruise the trails in a comfortable and confident manner and have a bit of fun doing it.
Changes from the last model you say?
Dropper post and wider gear range, excellent! No bike with ‘trail’ in its model description should be without these two things, so were happy to see them on this 2017 spec model. With a KS dropper and Shimano 11-46T mega wide range cassette, this thing is set!
Riding, lots of it. The 429 Trail is motivating us to seek out some super-long trail rides, all-day missions and backcountry days out.
This lesser-known brand from the UK does some very unique things with their bikes, and it seems every time we review one we always want to buy it afterwards. What are they all about? Well, from afar the T-130C RS may just look like any classic dual suspension mountain bike with its four-bar suspension and shock placement, but we encourage you to look a little closer than that, it’s all in the details.
Is T-130C RS a secret code, or does it correlate to something?
We have Whyte’s highly regarded trail bike on review, the T-130C RS, T stands for trail, C is for carbon and 130 denote the amount of suspension travel. RS is the spec level; maybe RS stands for ‘really sweet’.
It uses 27.5” wheels with Boost spacing hubs and is finished with a few very subtle details of quality craftsmanship.
What are all these details we talk about then?
The frame is a real beauty, carbon up front and aluminium out the back with a smart matte black finish and big thick shapes.
Born and bred in the UK, the T-130 is built to sustain wet weather like no bike we’ve seen before. The bike is sealed at each and every angle to prevent any muddy water entering the frame through the seat post and cable ports, and all the pivot bearings are protected by sealed caps too. On top of the sealing on the bearings, they are also backed by a lifetime warranty, that’s confience!
The seatpost fastener is a nice touch, rarely seen too. But make sure you use carbon paste to stop it twisting, it’s not quite as tight as it could be.
Looking at the current trend wouldn’t a 130mm travel bike be best suited to 29” wheels?
Did we just open a can of wheel size worms here? Well, this bike bucks the trend a little in this sense, where the current 100-140mm travel segment of the market is overwhelmingly becoming dominated by 29ers, this one keeps it fun with the smaller 27.5” wheels. Why? The T-130C is here for a good time, not strictly just for a fast lap time. Not saying that it isn’t fast – because it is – we’re saying that while we’d certainly think 130mm travel would be best suited to the fast rolling and confident 29” wheels, the smaller ones give this bike a lot of its flair and lively character.
Smaller things fit into smaller spaces, so it’s no secret that 27.5” wheels have a livelier and precise feel to them, they feel easier to jump and land on smaller transitions, drift sideways. And with stiffer wheels and the axles being lower to the ground a 27.5” bike tends to respond better to throwing down onto the sides of the tyres through a turn. Make sense? We know, the wheel size debate/topic is a headache.
Where do I fit my front derailleur?
Sorry, single-ring drivetrains only here. Should we be sorry, though? Whyte and SRAM are clearly pretty tight as you can see from the amount of SRAM and RockShox spec on the bikes, so they’ve no doubt seen the future and accepted that front derailleurs could well become redundant in mountain biking, indeed from SRAM. Whyte have made the most of this and constructed their frames to fully benefit from restriction-free designs around where the front derailleur would usually take up space.
The main pivot is really, really wide, take a look at how close it comes to the chainring, it goes all the way across and has about one million cartridge bearings inside it to create a super-stiff and torsionally rigid rear end.
Then note how the stays are symmetrical, another area that a single-ring specific bike can have more to work with. The combination of the single-ring specific designs and Boost hub spacing is responsible for allowing the rear end to be shortened up so much; 420mm is an excellent number for a bike like this.
So, how did it ride?
The T-130C is a blast. During our first ride on the fast and rough trails we usually reserve for big-travel all-mountain or enduro bikes, the Whyte got stuck right in, and it was a tonne of fun! We loved its zippy feel through the singletrack and the way it encouraged us to push harder, jump further, pull manuals and horse around like kids to a punk rock soundtrack.
In a way, it feels like Whyte has taken the confidence traits from a big travel bike and crammed it into a lighter and more engaging one. The position that the cockpit puts you in feels very ready for hard hits, and steep stuff, but you don’t get that feeling of isolation from that comes with loads of suspension.
130mm of travel is neither short or long, does it even know?
The 130mm of travel does feel short for how much confidence the bike has, for sure. We’d often be reminded of just that when we’re riding full-steam at a rocky chute and the limits of the suspension amount are discovered with a clenching of every muscle in the body as the impacts find the last portion of 130mm.
So could it be too big, or too small?
If you think it’s too big or you’re not especially fussed about how playful it is, check out the T-129, the 120mm travel 29er that will please those who prefer to stay closer to the ground and wind the big wheels up to speed. We’ve had great experiences on one, read an older review here. The new version looks mighty fine too.
And if you’re worried the T-130RC might be too small for the big stuff, you won’t possibly feel that way on the G-160. Whyte’s big travel enduro race bike is still the longest, slackest most badass 160mm travel bike we’ve ridden, it’s an absolute monster, check out our review of it here.
It’s a combination of many things that have been tweaked for this current 2017 model, in our minds what makes the T-130RS feel the way it does comes down to part frame geometry and part spec.
Amongst its peers the T-130C frame is long in its reach paired with a short stem and high stack height, and rear centre is very short with a chainstay length of only 420mm. Mix the very modern and progressive geometry numbers with a meaty/less-meaty tyre combination and a sturdy set of wide rims, and you’ve got a bike that doesn’t mind the odd ‘Scandinavian Flick’ into a corner or roosting loamy turns with the foot out, flat out.
Head angle is at 66 degrees, very slack for a bike in this category, but with a short stem, the steering is still very responsive despite the raked-out front end.
A nice mix of parts.
We won’t tell you what is specced on the bike, hit up the Whyte site for the full breakdown, but here are some pretty pictures of the parts we like best.
Suggestions or spec changes?
Hmmm, tough question. The team at Whyte HQ are clearly in touch with their customers as the spec is mint. The rims are wide (yay yay!).
We did find the brakes a little under-gunned on the long descents, perhaps trying metal sintered pads, and larger rotors would lift the power on long descents. And if you’re after a little more braking control try a meatier tyre on the rear, or if you’re mad for drifting through turns leave it as it is.
It can’t surely but just us, but we found the rear brake a bit of a drag to adjust correctly and stop brake rub. Fitting a larger rotor with the cup/moon washers would certainly give more scope to adjusting drag-free. And our RockShox Reverb post was super slow to rebound back up, a quick bleed of the hydraulic line should fix that, but it still annoyed us on the trail.
While we loved the concept of the sealed rubber grommet cable posts, they are carried over from the aluminium frame version and didn’t match well to the thicker carbon walled frame, so they kept falling out. We were well-assured that a revised rubber grommet system is coming very soon, but it’s still a shame that a finishing touch that they pride themselves on – for a good reason – is yet to be complete.
Who’d want one?
This question is easy, someone who wants to blast trails, drift turns, jump gaps, pull wheelies and hammer singletrack!
If your trails are not especially rocky and rough, but they are fast this is your type of thing. Or if you’ve got a few years of riding experience behind you and find the new trend of 140-160mm travel bikes a little too easy to ride and numbing, then the zippy and capable T-130 will have you feeling the rush of speed while feeling the terrain and trails below.
27.5” fans are going to appreciate this too; we know you’re out there. 29” wheels are pretty big!
That’s it then?
Enough from us, yes we did rate this bike alot like we said earlier Whyte design bikes for experienced riders and their boutique nature and relatively small size allows them to push the envelope a little regarding frame geometry and can ignore the masses and bigger market trends.
The T-130RS is a unique bike that serves a real purpose, we loved our time on it and wished we could have kept it.
Try one out, pull a wheelie, nose it into a transition and you’ll see what we mean.
As we’ve learned over the past few weeks, however, first impressions aren’t everything, but we certainly have done a lot of laughing whilst riding this thing, it’s a whole lot of fun!
Ahead of our review, here is a little preview of this very unique bike.
Oh, and does anyone know what a Chupacabra actually is?
What is 29+?
The Trek Stache is a quirky beast, an aluminium hardtail from Trek that rolls on with ginormous 29+ wheels, that’s a 29″ wheel with 3″ tyres. Mounted to 40mm wide rims the wheels look huge and could probably float if we dropped it into the lake while taking pretty photos, we didn’t though, promise.
If you want to know more about why Trek decided on 29+ wheels, rather than the more common ‘plus size’ industry standard of 27.5+, check out our interview with Trek’s Travis Brown about the development process for the Stache.
What on earth for?
The Trek Stache 7 is designed to be an alternative to a dual suspension trail bike in the 110-130mm travel range. Whilst the Stache is a hardtail, its unique 29+ tyres with massive volume are paired with slacker geometry angles than you would regularly see on a hardtail, such as a 68.4-degree head angle, as well as crazy short 420mm chain stays (which are adjustable depending on wheel size and rider preference).
The Stache also runs a 120mm Manitou Magnum fork with beefy 34mm stanchions, further signaling the disorderly intentions of this bike.
Can 29+ wheels give this bike a degree of suspension?
This is a question we’ll answer more in-depth in the review, however, what we’ve learned in our time on the Stache so far is that asking if the bike replicates the abilities of a dual suspension trail bike is not the right question to be asking.
The Stache’s strengths include insane levels of traction and a geometry aimed at being able to throw those big hoops around at will. These attributes mean that the riding style required to get the most out of the Stache is different to how you would ride a standard dual-suspension trail bike.
Is this even possible? Could Trek be onto something here? Stay tuned for the review where we’ll discuss this further.
Is there an option to swap wheel sizes if I don’t like the 29+ wheels?
Yes! The Stache’s ‘Stranglehold’ dropouts allow for the bike to be configured in 29+, 27.5+, regular 29”, and even as a singlespeed!
Despite the Stache being more open to change that Donald Trump’s policies, we would definitely recommend giving the Stache a good crack in its original 29+ guise, as the benefits of the 29+ tyres are really what make this bike shine.
What advantages do the 29+ wheels provide?
The huge contact patch of the tyres, which can be run at very low pressures when setup tubeless (the Stache ships with rim tape installed as well as tubeless valves) gives insane cornering grip as well as small bump sensitivity to compensate somewhat for the rigid rear end.
Tyre pressure setup on the Stache is more critical than for most other bikes, so we’ve been experimenting with different setups to get the best combination of traction, tyre stability and rolling efficiency.
What about the spec?
The aluminium Stache 7 retails for $3299, and includes a Manitou Magnum fork with 34mm stanchions and 120mm of travel, a Sram groupset consisting of 1×11 GX gearing and Level Trail brakes and most of the finishing kit is handled by Bontrager.
The Bontrager Chupacabra tyres have a tread pattern that sits somewhere between a Bontrager XR2 and XR3, and are a good fit out of the box for the Stache. Trek have specced the Stache with SUNringle DUROC rims- we’re interested to see how they perform throughout the review.
Out of the box, the only issues we’ve identified are the befuddling Manitou fork axle, which takes the humble thru-axle to a perplexing level of complexity, and the non-lock-on Bontrager Race grips, which feel very squirmy underhand.
This bike begs for a dropper post! For a bike with such reckless and fun riding capabilities like the Stache, a dropper post is a no-brainer in our eyes.
You shouldn’t have to complete a degree in engineering to secure your fork axle.
Where are we going to ride it?
Everywhere! We’ll be riding this bike on all the trails we would normally ride with test bikes, to see if it’s a realistic alternative to a dual-suspension trail bike, so watch out for a full review soon.
So much of what makes a good set of tyres comes down to tread pattern and profile. The Kratos in 2.45″ width is on the more aggressive spectrum of all-mountain tyres, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t roll AND rail at the same time. The fairly close centre knobs do a great job of finding a happy medium between rolling resistance, braking performance and durability – sitting comfortably between say, a Maxxis Minion SS and a Schwalbe Nobby Nic. The mid and outer knobs then are spaced far further part and in a far more aggressive shape, giving superb grip on a range of surfaces. We found the outer knobs really clever; close pairs of knobs spaced out between each other still lets the rails roll smoother, but under pressure digs in deep. This eliminates that sensation you may get from big-knobbed tyres on off-camber rock slabs where riding on the side knobs suddenly feels like a set of stairs (well, not that bumpy but you get the idea).
Mitas, despite having a fairly small range of models, show almost no weakness in their line-up. The Kratos is designed as a versatile second in command to its more aggressive counterpart, the Highlander. Despite the difference in size, these two tyres complement each other incredibly well.
Not only do they have similar aggressive patterns and amazing side rails, but they work great as a front-back weight-saving combo – the compromise in knobs for rolling resistance in the rear doesn’t mean a lack of cornering or braking grip. You also won’t have to worry about having a ‘weaker’ rear tyre either – with the same innovative TEXTRA casing as the Highlander.
TEXTRA is Mitas’ premium sidewalls – a compound of ultra-tough rubberised fabric weaved into the layers of rubber, which greatly improves the tyre’s slash resistance without adding extra plies of rubber and weight. This allows the sidewalls to still retain the perfect, supple feel and performance of a 127TPI casing and not over-stiffen them.
Mitas really back their TEXTRA casings, so much in fact that they offer a 100-day sidewall guarantee! That’s a lot of riding time; if you haven’t cut them within 100 days, that’s a pretty solid indicator of a great tyre. If you do in normal riding conditions? Mitas have you covered.
A cracking tread pattern isn’t anything without a dialled rubber compound, right? The TEXTRA model of Kratos comes with their Mitas’s Enduro Trail Dual Compound rubber. The centre tread is their CRX (Carbon Race Extremely light) Compound –aA low-density rubber compound infused with what they call carbon graphite, which is said to enhance the abrasion resistance without compromising on grip, and increasing its strength. The side knobs are a softer compound, the same as found on the Mitas Highlander we reviewed.
We found the tread blocks to feel soft enough to not slide off hardpack or slick rock, yet not too soft that the wheels felt slow to roll. A good indication that the different compounds are doing their thing, playing to their strength of being softer and harder where needed.
We had the most expensive CRX compound tyre with the TEXTRA sidewalls to test, but for a lower price you can also get two other compounds without the (T)extra protection – the Grey Line and Standard compounds. The Grey Line is a mix of their harder CRX compound for the base and centre while utilising a softer compound on the side knobs. This has been a long-standing feature on Mitas’ former tyres under the ‘Rubena’ banner – with their signature grey side knobs. This gives you the best of both worlds for grip in corners and high rolling resistance and low tyre wear.
If you are a do-it all rider that needs some extra meat in the front end for light trail riding, a great pair of all mountain rubbers, or a fast-rolling rear end to supercharge your enduro bike, have a serious look at these tyres. Tubeless ready and super easy to seat on your wheels, comprehensive sidewall protection and superior feel, as well as a well thought out tread pattern for the all-round rider, the Kratos is a tyre we will be keeping in the stable for quite a while.
With an all-new carbon frame, wide carbon rims, FOX Factory level suspension and a full Shimano XT groupset the Trance Advanced 1 comes in just shy of six gorillas at $5799. And if its predecessor is anything to go by, we’ll certainly enjoy this review.
FOX, Shimano and Giant’s own components make up the bulk of the spec. We’re most impressed with the way the Trance Advanced 1 (and last years version too) comes with the absolute best from FOX suspension, the cream of the crop fork and shock with Kashima-coated sliding bits and all the external adjustments we love.
Shimano’s XT is always a winner in our minds, but new for this year the 11-46 tooth cassette that widens the range significantly from last year’s 11-42 cassette, to sweeten the deal Shimano’s new chainring is here too, a new teeth profile promises to cut down on noise, increase lifetime and maintain chain retention without the need of a chain guide.
This will be our first experience with Giant’s new TRX 1 wheels, which claim to be only 1680g and the rims a generous 27mm internal width (33mm external). We like these numbers a lot!
As always, there’s much more to a bike than its components, but in terms of value for money and deciding how to spec a bike, Giant are off to a running start.
What’s the Giant Trance Advanced 1 all about?
The Trance Advanced 1 is a long travel trail/all-mountain bike that’s designed to cover a wide range of needs. It sits in the middle of Giant’s shorter travel Anthem and burly Reign, so its intended use is to fill that large segment of the market that is made up of riders that are not fussed on racing, those that are prepared to pedal all day and could do with a generous amount of suspension travel for control on rough trails and comfort on long rides.
The 2017 Trance frame looks similar but is vastly different to the 2016 one, what has changed?
The Trance platform received major updates to the frame this year, it’s longer in reach, lower in bottom bracket height, shorter in its chainstay length and fork travel is bumped up 10mm to 150mm. The 2017 model comes with a host of new and emerging technologies, such as boost hub spacing front and rear, a trunnion mounted rear shock and a flush Kabolt (not a quick release) axle on the fork and Giant’s allen key axle on the rear.
How much travel is the Trance packing, and what about the wheel size?
Built around 27.5” wheels, the Trance range comes equipped with 140mm of rear travel mated to a 150mm travel fork up front. Giant have colour-matched their frame and wheelset with custom stickers from Fox, and the bike looks gorgeous in the flesh.
Where to now?
A bike like the Trance Advanced 1 is probably going to have an owner that uses it for many things, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. From buff singletrack to downhill bike worthy terrain, we’re keen to see what this bike is capable of. Even just looking at the 2016 model of this bike, one of the major gripes we had was its narrow rims holding back the bike’s performance on rougher trails, with this rectified and with a host of other improvements this is sure to be a hot bike for 2017.
We’ll be putting a full review up in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!
Merida is one of the largest bike companies in the world; their reach spans 77 countries, and due to decades of presence in Australia, they’re found on just about every trail and road down here too. So, it’s about time they cracked open the lucrative current enduro market with a genuinely competitive offering that may well be the cause of a few sweaty brows and nervous, clammy hands amongst the big brands.
Seriously, there’s not too much to fault with Merida’s new One-Sixty 5000, especially after seeing the dramatic improvement and updates from the outgoing model.
We have spent a few fun months putting it through its paces on our local – here’s what we thought.
What is it?
The One-Sixty is a new all-mountain/enduro bike with those key components that are essential to the type riding in the fast-growing segment of big-mountain/enduro. We’re talking about 160mm (you picked it!) out the back and 170mm travel up front of RockShox travel, aggressive tyres, dropper post, wide bars, and a single-ring 11-speed drivetrain.
A total re-think from the Merida brains trust has happened since they discontinued the previously clunky-looking and old fashioned One-Sixty. The result is an all-new carbon/aluminium frame built around their ‘Floating Link’ configuration, allowing for ample water bottle space and some very sexy and clean looking lines. We received many comments that shape of the new One-Sixty resembles the vertical shock mount and kinked top tubes of bikes like the Giant Trance or Trek Remedy. But in all fairness, this is reflected across the whole industry, with bike designers from many brands seeing the benefit of mounting the rear shock down low and central to the bike’s architecture. We’re fans of the new shape.
On-trend geometry, you say?
It’s all here, don’t you worry. A 65.3-degree head angle keeps things slack and modern on this near-2.5kg frameset, and a 68.5-degree seat tube angle helps provide a seated climbing position that’s not too far behind the centre of the bike. A nice and short chainstay of 430mm keeps it laterally stiff to push sideways, precise to jump and playful through the turns.
The reach doesn’t feel as long as many of the racier 160mm bikes we’ve reviewed like the Canyon Strive or Whyte G160; the silver lining on the cloud, in this case, is that for riders who don’t necessarily race the trails flat-out a slightly shorter reach prefer to ride them cleanly and confidently. The new generations of 160mm travel bikes are becoming increasingly long, requiring trails with serious gravity on their side, certainly not for everyone’s capabilities.
Complimenting this is the new RockShox Super Deluxe with the new Trunnion Linkage mounts, allowing for extra air capacity without extra eye-to-eye length. We also can’t go past the beautifully finished graphics in a shiny candy red colour, as well as the clean little pinch sockets for the internal routing – little details that prove this isn’t any old budget frame.
Merida has jumped on the Boost hub width train, aligning itself with many other high-end brands adopting the new wider hub size standard.
What do you get for $4.5k?
Off the showroom floor, the Carbon One-Sixty 5000 comes specced with a satisfyingly sound build kit, undeniably ready to go straight off the bat. It is exceptionally good value once all aspects are taken into account.
Merida has chosen some new offerings from RockShox for this year with a trunnion mount Super Deluxe rear shock and a 170mm travel Yari. The forks look massive with the Boost hub width and the front hub also uses the Torque Cap system, when in combination with the forks provide a more positive connection between fork and axle to lift front end rigidity in a straightforward and unobtrusive way.
These both have blown us away with their performance and feel, providing smooth and supple travel, taking colossal impacts in its stride.
Shimano brakes, SRAM drivetrain.
Brakes and drivetrain are well suited to the cause, utilising SRAM’s new budget-but-almost-as-good NX 1×11 groupset and a set of Shimano 477 hydraulic brakes on massive disc rotors, both doing well to stand up to the performance of higher end gear for marginal weight gain over the parts triple the price.
While the Shimano 477 brakes do feel great and consistent under the finger, they don’t quite have the power on the long descents like the slightly more expensive Shimano SLX, perhaps an area worthy of an upgrade if your hills are big.
Seatpost, cockpit, and grips are all covered by some impressive stock in-house Merida parts delivering no-nonsense function and strength. While we had initial interest about the Merida branded Tranz-X dropper post, as it was our first experience with one, but it held up to a month of hard riding just fine. And the wheels held up to solid abuse too.
The inclusion of a genuine SRAM XD driver and cassette, as well as an NX cranks, proves quality doesn’t have to be cut with the cost in a perfect example of technology trickling down the range.
Tyres are usually something that gets under-specced on new bikes – but not this one. Maxxis Minion DHR II’s front and back mean full-on downhill reliability and grip straight away. The bike came to us with inner tubes; we’d suggest a tubeless conversion before going anywhere.
Anything we’d change before riding?
Nope, just ditch the tubes in favour of a tubeless setup.
What about the model up from this one?
There are only two One-Sixty models available in Australia, the 5000 at $4500 and the model above – the 7000 – for $5999.
Spend an extra $1500 on the model above and the major upgrades come in the way of a RockShox Lyrik fork which uses their fantastic Charger Damper for a more controlled suspension performance, the rear shock gets a climbing lockout too. Brakes jump up to the Shimano XTs, and drivetrain to SRAM’s XO. Wheels are from DT-Swiss and the dropper post is a RockShox Reverb too.
But from a distance the vitals of the 5000 and 7000 are pretty close; the suspension adjustability, XT brakes and lighter wheels are the key differences.
How did it handle on the trail?
The One-Sixty hits its mark beautifully, providing everything you would want from a long travel trail bike; It’s slack and stable, responsive to steer quickly and playful to jump around on.
Throwing it into rough stuff wasn’t anywhere near as hard as it should have been, with the indestructible RockShox Yari and wide bars letting you drive the bike hard into G-outs and through rough sections. The rear end held its own too superbly; the linkage system felt laterally rigid, and the suspension action was very supple. The fork and shock do forgo the low-speed compression adjustment and the rear shock any lockout control, so be warned it is a little bouncy on the climbs.
The bike stayed surprisingly quiet almost the whole time, which makes a huge difference in the ride quality of the Merida, a quiet riding bike just feels more polished in our opinion.
What does it have, that others don’t at this price?
The best part is that you won’t be missing out on just about anything with the amount of all the trickle-down tech on this bike. With the beefy forks leading the way, a sturdy and lively feeling composite frame, piggyback Super Deluxe shock, wide aluminium rims and robust tyres you shouldn’t have much in the way of excuses when the trails become fast and rough.
One big defining factor is how much you get for such a price. It was not too long ago that you had to spend 150% more than the One-Sixty to get all the same features – dropper post, big RockShox fork, 1×11 drivetrain, tubeless tyres, wide rims – it’s all there.
Is it ‘Enduro’ enough?
Does a bear s%&t in the woods? Of course, it is enduro enough. Every aspect of the structure of this bike is ready to take on the toughest riding you could throw at it. With the beefy forks leading the way, a sturdy and lively feeling composite frame, piggyback Super Deluxe shock, wide aluminium rims and robust tyres you shouldn’t have much in the way of excuses when the trails become fast and rough.
One of the best little details we appreciate is the adjustable MRP micro chain guide – a simple addition that denotes the need for an expensive aftermarket purchase and just makes rides safer, quieter and hassle-free and certainly a must have item for enduro racing.
Would we recommend it?
If you are either looking to tap into the unlimited fun a long travel bike provides, or upgrade to something to take it even further, the One-Sixty 5000 is a legitimate contender in the competitive and rapidly growing segment of 160/170mm travel bikes where the needs of descending and climbing abilities need to meet in a light and durable package.
It’s a bike that wouldn’t be afraid of all racing gravity enduro or even the odd downhill with enough travel and beefy spec and construction.
With a huge global brand like Merida joining the Knights of the Enduro Table, it’s easier now than ever to pick up yourself a top performing ride at a price point that would not usually have all the necessary bases covered.
Way back when we first began testing and falling in love with wide rims like the Ibis 741 or Roval Fattie, we always presumed tyre manufacturers would catch on and provide tyres that will especially suit wide rims. And here we have it!
The tread pattern and compounds are the same, it’s the shape of the whole casing that is different.
How wide do your rims need to be for WT tyres?
The WT tyres are shaped in a way that when mounted on rims up to and around 35mm in internal width, they will retain the shape that the tyre was initially designed to have when 21-24mm was considered ‘wide’.
We fitted the pair of WT tyres to two different wheels on our Canyon Strive long term test bike from WheelWorks Flite and Zelvy, a perfect match for with rim width around 30-35mm.
It’s no deal breaker, everything we mention here works in any combination, a regular tyre will fit 35mm wide rims, and a WT tyre will work just fine on regular rims too, and so on.
To prove a point we mounted the 2.5″ Minion DHF to a SRAM Rail 40 wheelset with 23mm internal rims, and it looked only marginally more round in its profile.
It looks like a downhill tyre!
The 2.5″ WT Minion on the front looks a lot like a downhill tyre, well, that’s because 2.5″ width tyres are very commonly used on the race bikes we see on the World Cup circuit. The 2.5″ WT is downhill size but rides much lighter without the heavy casing required for downhill racing.
Narrower out the back though, why?
Generally speaking, a narrower tyre rolls faster than a wider one with less mass to get moving, so going narrower on the rear will provide a faster feeling bike. Paired to the 2.5″ WT Minion on the front is the 2.4″ WT Minion on the rear.
Yes, grippy but also very cushy. With such a large volume of air beneath you, the bike rides a lot smoother and quieter over the rubble and rock-strewn trails. We dropped our tyres pressures down to around 18-22psi, which allows the tyre to conform to small rocks, sharp edges, roots and steps on the trail, letting the wheels roll over them without deflecting. This is huge benefit up and down the trail, traction in spades.
And when it comes to cornering there’s a lot of rubber to put your confidence behind when you tip it in. And in classic Maxxis fashion, the triple compound rubber strikes a perfect balance of tacky rubber to stick to hard surfaces yet supportive under load and tough enough to wear at an acceptable rate. It’s no secret that the Minion is the benchmark when it comes to meaty tyres.
The double compound version is $64.95 and triple compound goes for $79.95.
Isn’t it just a ‘plus size’ tyre then?
Well, no not really, but it’s getting close. Plus bikes typically use tyres with width ranging between 2.8″ and 3″ and what comes with the added width is also a larger tyre overall, the bag size is much greater and thus the volume of air too. The Minion WT tyres feel much more like a big trail tyre than a small plus tyre.
We’ll be seeing more big brands going down this path with tyres for wider rims, already from Bontrager with their SE range on the Remedy and Slash, Specialized with the new 2.6″ tyres found on the new 650b Enduro for example.
Up front the 2.5″ WT Minion DHF is 980g, and the rear 2.4″ WT Minion DHR II is 900g.
That’s a lot of mass to put on your wheels, while it is quite light for its size you must be sure that you’ll be making the most of it or pushing all that rotating weight on smoother and flatter trails will be a drain on your energy and rolling speed.
Worth a look then?
For a big travel bike on rowdy terrain wide rims and tyres are a must, stop worrying about weight, let those brakes off and relish in traction amounts previously only found on downhill bikes.
Where can I get them?
Maxxis tyres are available across Australia at a number of preferred dealers. Take a look below to find a dealer in your state.
The Cannondale Scalpel is a bike that has always polarised with its weird and whacky frame and ‘fork’ designs since way back. It’s always been a platform to showcase Cannondale’s latest designs and material technologies. The Scalpel was an early adopter of a carbon ‘flex stay’ arrangement, at one point had plastic chain stays, super minimal and light nylon bushing pivots in the linkages, remote lockouts and always with either bold or ultra subtle graphics. Fast forward to today and the latest incarnation of the Scalpel is a beautifully finished bike with attractive and sleek lines.
A Scalpel is what you’d want underneath you when it comes time to race, its long-standing reputation for one of the finest elite cross country racing bikes made it even more exciting to hear that Cannondale had announced a refresh for 2017. But they didn’t just make small improvements to an already light bike; they totally went to town on it. So when we secured the top model for review we were in for something extra special, here is what we thought of the new sub-10.5kg Scalpel.
For our first impressions and some saucy photos of the lush Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team click here for our Flow’s First Bite.
Sharp name, what’s it all about?
The Scalpel is a purebred racer; there are no two ways about it. Razor sharp in its frame geometry, minimal in suspension amount and built with some of the lightest kit you’ll ever see gracing a bike shop showroom. The Hi-Mod Team is the top option, the highest spec of all the Scalpel models available in Australia comes in at a mighty $11999, but you can see where the dollars lie, with its complete premium parts kit from SRAM, ENVE and FSA.
We weighed our medium sized bike at 10.47kg after tubeless conversion and without pedals that alone is enough to make the thirstiest XC racer salivate.
Are they all $11999?
Thankfully not! Available in Australia in five models, the one we have on review is the top of the top. Starting at $4399 you get an aluminium frame version, and then there are carbon models starting at $6599 and the premium Hi-Mod carbon starts at $8799. Hit up the Cannondale site for more on the range.
Who needs – or wants – a Cannondale Scalpel?
The Scalpel is the type of bike you would choose over an XC race hardtail if your race courses are rougher, more technical and longer – and they seem to be progressing that way – a dual suspension will always be a safer option. They handle rougher surfaces with more composure, provide more traction on the climbs and turns, and of course, they are a whole lot less fatiguing on the body.
Just because it’s a dual suspension bike the Scalpel is not the type of bike you could simply fit a bigger front tyre and a riser bar and throw down some reckless trail riding, though, it demands way more respect than that. If you want to race short course cross country, Olympic format, marathon, multi-day or your trails are simply buff, and fast then this is your ticket.
So what we’re trying to say here is – buyers beware, this bike sits right on top of the pointy end, and you need to be that type of rider to enjoy and make the most of it. Sitting one step to the left is the Cannondale Habit, similar in construction but far more relaxed and ready for fun trail rides. We’ve ridden and rated the Habit, and it’s rad. Check out our review here: Cannondale Habit SE Review.
What’s new with the frame?
A lot. It’s lighter, slacker, stiffer, longer out the front and shorter out the back. The whole structure is wildly asymmetrical too, what Cannondale call AI (asymmetric Integration), with the drivetrain shifted outwards by 6mm. To achieve a straight bike, the rear wheel is 6mm back the other way. The asymmetry then allows a zero dish rear wheel with even spoke length for a stiff wheel and more clearance for the tyre and front derailleur.
The new frame is now Shimano Di2 compatible (and the FSA bars have provisions for internal wiring) with specific ports for the wires and a cradle for the battery inside the frame. And they’ve also managed to retain mounts for two water bottles on the frame, excellent stuff for marathon events or multi-day racing.
Compatible with a front derailleur the Scalpel doesn’t rule anyone out with the option, by using the S2 style mount you can still have a clean frame free from the unsightly front derailleur tab on the seat tube, a nice touch. We’re also very stoked to see Cannondale accommodating for a dropper post with the provisions for internal routing, as the race courses on the World Cup are becoming progressively rougher more of the top riders are using them, we are 100% supportive of this movement!
We’ll be repeating ourselves if we delve into fine details of the new frame anymore, so for a lot more head over to our feature on the 2017 Scalpel here: Cannondale Announces New Scalpel Si.
Nope, this medium size one rolls on 29″ wheels, but the small and extra small frames use 27.5″ wheels.
What makes this new Lefty so unique?
This is our first ride on a Cannondale Lefty with the new ‘2Spring’ internals, a small internal part that has taken a lot of development but smacks previous models right out of the park. While the Lefty is very light and incredibly stiff to ride we traditionally had a gripe with the spring rate, it always felt a little harsh when compared to competitors from FOX or RockShox. That has all changed, and this is the nicest feeling Lefty we’ve ridden.
More on how it performs in the ride section below.
2Spring is named for its self-balancing positive and negative air springs a completely new part developed by the team at Cannondale that can be retrofitted to 2014-2017 model Lefty forks and fitted as standard going forward with 2017 bikes.
Want more details on the 2Spring in the new Lefty? Click here.
The Lefty uses the less seen 1.5″ steer tube size, which limits stem options somewhat, but Cannondale Australia keep a vast range of lengths and gradients, and they’re only $50. And we’re told other notable brands like Syncros, RaceFace, Easton, Thompson and Truvativ also make stems for 1.5″ steer tubes so if you want to go higher, shorter or longer you have options.
How’d it go?
Amazing to say the least, this is an unquestionably fast handling bike! Though it did take some getting used to as we expected, like hopping out of a Subaru Forrester and into the driver’s seat of a Formula 1 race car, it requires focus, or it can become hard to hold onto when the trails get angrier and faster.
We took the Scalpel to a variety of trails, race tracks and got a good feel for where it is most comfortable. One particular ride on the most buff and twistiest singletrack racecourse around, we walloped it, lap after lap we got faster and faster holding great speed through the undulating climbs and finding the limits of how hard you could push the Scalpel in the turns and descents.
The cockpit and geometry put you in a position that lends itself to an aggressive attacking style of riding, and when you put in the effort, the reward is immediate. No wonder here, but it’s a very fast and efficient climber! Stand out of the saddle and crank down hard on the pedals, it flies up the hills, with plenty of room for you to move forward over the front end without banging your knees on the bars when gradients are steep and the legs begin to burn. We lowered the stem down on the steer tube for a slightly lower front end; there’s plenty of adjustment range and aftermarket stems
A sub 10.5kg bike will no doubt be a pleasure to climb but coupled with the stout 100mm of travel and a laterally stiff frame; there’s no unwanted loss of energy at all.
Lock it out and unleash the sprint.
The Team model uses the RockShox hydraulic button on the bars, which simultaneously locks out the fork and shock. The rear shock lockout hydraulic is quite impressive the way it travels through the top tube, you never see it. While it’s an excellent feature for quickly locking out for sprints or tarmac, we did find the on/off nature of the lockout a little restricting. We tend to appreciate suspension designs when in their firmest setting can still react to quick impacts to help the wheels from skipping around. The suspension at both ends lacks adjustability, while there is only 100mm we found ourselves wishing for some degree of slow speed compression tuning options, and air spring volume adjustment.
With the lockout so easily accessed at any time with just one press of the thumb lever the bike transforms into a sprinting rocket, and because it is so quick to press we used it to milk every piece of performance on short pieces of trail that we knew suspension would be obsolete.
Descending at speed, woohoo!
The first thing we noticed when we turned the Scalpel down the trails was how well the fork was coping with the quick and repetitive impacts, we mentioned it before, but the new 2Spring internals has done wonders to the Lefty. We were hitting rocky straights off the brakes and could feel how well the fork was working away beneath us, reacting quickly to each impact with little force required to get it moving into its suspension stroke.
The Lefty, dropping into a sharp corner under brakes it feels super stiff and direct, it doesn’t dive backward like a lightweight 32mm legged fork typically would.
For such a light frame, the rear end feels very laterally stiff when you push it through corners; it doesn’t wobble on hard landings or chatter across the dirt when the rear brake is locked like we might expect. And with the Lefty leading the way with a 69.5-degree head angle and a long top tube reach there is a lot of bike in front of you, but it still steers so quickly and lightly. It’s quite impressive how far steering geometry has progressed over the years!
The new Scalpel is dubbed ‘XXC,’ not just XC; the extra ‘X’ is for extreme. With more progressive geometry numbers like a longer reach, shorter stem, and shorter chain stays, Cannondale wanted to widen the bike’s versatility to appeal to more than just the racers. While these improvements to make it handle hard impacts and twisting singletrack very well, it wouldn’t necessarily be our go-to bike for fun blasts around with mates on a Sunday arvo; it is still a race bike at heart.
Big bucks, are the parts worth the spend?
You won’t find many bikes with a spec like this out of the box, but you can always trust the folks at Cannondale to do so. The Hi-Mod Team is dressed in the ultimate parts, the lightest and hottest.
It’s a 100% SRAM bike with brakes, drivetrain, and suspension from the fast moving brand. Most notably is the SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain with its massive 50T cassette; the range altogether denotes the need for a front derailleur, but the whole system operates on another level from their premium 11-speed offerings. The shift action is crisp and light, the drivetrain glides along so smoothly, and the tension on the chain and derailleur cuts out the noise and helps it shift through the wide range even when the trails are extra bumpy.
You won’t find many bikes with a spec like this out of the box, but you can always trust the folks at Cannondale to do so.
Released last year is SRAM’s new cross country specific brakes, the Level, with a single piston caliper and a minimal lever body without the reach adjustments to cut weight down.
The brakes respond very nicely under the finger with a smooth and consistent feel, and the power is bitey but easy to modulate.
Those wheels though…
The ENVE wheels are a real advantage when you’re pushing the bike around, they strike a perfect balance of weight, rolling speed, compliance, and stiffness. It is no wonder that ENVE is held in such high regard when it comes to carbon wheels across the entire world of cycling.
Would we change anything?
We’d have to be pretty damn snobby to want to change anything on a $11999 bike, wouldn’t we? In our minds, the original parts are well picked, thoughtful, and spot on.
Just a few little niggles with this one, but nothing major. The front brake is a bit of a headache to setup drag-free, in place of a regular brake mount are two black spacers which add additional amounts of movement, and we battled to get the brake to spin freely despite many efforts.
We also noticed that while the tester of this bike may be toward the upper end of a size medium at 180cm tall, we were surprised to see the seatpost was a maximum height, definitely worth keeping an eye on during a fitment assessment. There’s no protection on the chainstay from a slapping chain, while the Eagle drivetrain puts loads of tension on the chain to reduce slapping we did still manage to chip the beautiful paint, so if it were ours we’d look into some form of rubber strip for noise and paint protection. And lastly we did hear the brake hose rattling around inside the frame, nothing a little bit of attention to the cable length and internal housing ports couldn’t sort out.
Enough waffle, verdict, please!
Cannondale has made their fastest bike ride faster, not just by dropping weight out of the frame, but by improving on the Lefty suspension action, tweaking the frame geometry and increasing frame stiffness too. The Scalpel maintains its position in the elite pack of dual suspension bikes that you’d see raced at professional level where weight and efficiency are paramount.
If you are 100% certain you know what you want, then rest assured the Scalpel will reward even the most earnest racer with ultimate speed.
Zelvy has sent a wheelset that incorporates two different rims. The front rim’s internal width measures 36mm and rear is slightly thinner internally at 30mm wide. Zelvy told us that the different internal rim widths allow for better tyre profiles (a wider, more aggressive tyre at the front paired with something slightly thinner and faster rolling on the rear).
What do you get for your money?
The wheelset we’re testing features Zelvy’s PDL rim, which is their most commonly used rim. The rims are laced onto Funn Fantom hubs.
Funn Fantom Hubs?
We don’t see many Funn products here at Flow, but the Fantom hubs look to be great value for money. They incorporate a 6-pawl design that engages every 3.5 degrees, which feels very snappy in the work stand. High quality sealed bearings should make for many smooth miles.
What sort of tyres suit these wheels?
Due to the wide internal rim widths of these wheels, we’re running the new ‘wide trail’ tyres from Maxxis, which are specifically designed for wider internal rim widths. The 2.4 Maxxis Minion DHF up front has an extremely beefy profile, whilst the Minion DHR II on the rear is also chunky, but the slightly thinner internal rim width noticeably reduces the tyre profile.
What about the warranty?
This is probably the number one question we hear about carbon wheelsets, and Zelvy gets the tick of approval by offering a five-year warranty on all their wheelsets. Zelvy sell rims separately, which also have a warranty of five years providing the wheel was assembled professionally.
What happens if I crash?
Accidents suck even more than usual when you’ve got a nice set of wheels strapped to your bike. For this reason, Zelvy offers a lifetime fifty percent discount off the retail price for either a complete wheelset or damaged rim due to a crash.
Will these wheels match my bike?
Zelvy offer fifteen (yes you read that correctly) custom sticker sets on every wheel purchase. White and silver are the standard colours, but for twenty dollars extra you can purchase any of the other thirteen options, which should cater for most riders. We couldn’t believe how well our wheelset matched our Canyon Strive, but unfortunately, the stickers are showing signs of a little peeling on the sharp edges and corners of the logo. When we contacted Zelvy about this issue, however, we were told that they had already identified the problem and new wheels would ship with stickers that no longer have this issue.
We enjoy testing new wheels; they have such a significant role to play in how a bike rides, and are an area always worth upgrading, especially with wider rims becoming more available.
So we will be giving these wheels a thrashing to see if they’re good enough for your steed, so stay tuned!
It’s nice when you feel at home on a bike, while we can’t exactly call it our own it feels like it, we’ve grown quite attached indeed. The Strive could almost have been purpose built for our favourite local trails, but we doubt the German designers at Canyon have ever ridden this far abroad. The rocky, steep and raw nature of Sydney’s Northern Beaches (we are not just talking about Manly Dam here) begs for a bike that’s capable of getting rowdy, just take a look at the locals and what they are riding and more importantly how their bikes are setup.
Around here it’s all about meaty rubber, powerful brakes and wide gear ranges and quality travel. While some riders set up bikes like they’re racing the Enduro World Series we don’t go quite that far, the speeds are never that high or descents for too long, and of course there aren’t any clocks waiting for us to cross a line at the bottom.
So we’ve found the Strive a great bike for the rugged rides we love, and are still enjoying playing with setup and the parts spec to see what happens when we do.
Let’s have a look at what it’s looking like right now ahead of another summer of excellent riding. Get ready for some serious tech talk!
The number one question we are asked on the trails is how the Shapeshifter is holding up to the test of time, and if we’ve had issues like they, unfortunately, were originally plagued with. The bike arrived with a Shapeshifter that wasn’t 100% we believe it was due to incorrect setup, inflating the chamber while it was closed which damaged the unit. That was during the first ride, since then it has never skipped a beat, and has worked perfectly.
Canyon will surely come up with a better solution for the remote lever, though, it has never found a perfect home on the bars, we’re running it upside down on the opposite side and is relatively straightforward to actuate with a right thumb.
Do we use the Shapeshifter much on the trail?
Yes, a lot. In fact, if we didn’t use it and left the Shapeshifter in ‘descend’ mode it would climb like a sack of wet potatoes, it’s not ideal, to say the least. But if you utilise it to your advantage, practice activating it so it is quick and easy, the advantage is great.
As we mentioned in our initial review of the Strive we found the Shapeshifter system required a bit of practice to become fully acquainted with it. The system works by shifting the position of the upper shock mount back and forward which has a dramatic effect on the suspension travel amount, feel and geometry of the bike. By pressing and holding the lever it opens the lock on a small air chamber, then as you unweight the rear end of the bike it’ll open, pushing the shock forward into climb mode. To drop it back to descend mode you hit the lever and lean back into the bike and it’ll compress the air chamber, pulling the upper shock mount back.
Our gripe with the system is that it is not exactly 100% clear to determine which mode the bike is in when you’re hammering down the trail, there is a tiny little green indicator on the linkage, but it’s hard to see at the best of times. Practice is key, it is easy for us now.
The Strive originally came with a 160mm travel Pike, but we reviewed the Lyrik RCT3 and it’s stayed put since. We appreciate the increased sturdiness of the Lyrik with its beefy chassis when were yanking on the brakes or pinning through rock-strewn ugliness, and it seriously feels more like a BoXXer downhill fork in its spring curve, so damn plush. It is setup with 25% sag.
While we clearly rate its impact gobbling abilities on the descents, it is a fork we also find quite efficient when climbing too (sounds crazy, we know). With such a supple and low-friction breakaway action, you’re able to hold a line and maintain momentum when climbing rough surfaces, the fork gobbles up mid-sized bumps while you focus on putting down the power in what position you feel comfortable in.
We’ve fitted two Bottomless Tokens in the fork to add progression, helping the bike ride a little ‘poppier’, with a firmer end to the suspension stroke you have a little more to push off when preloading the bike to jump it around the trail onto different lines or to pop a little easier off the lip of a jumps.
And out the back?
The Monarch RCT3 has been totally sweet, super smooth and the three-stage compression control is something that we use a lot during any ride. We select open mode only for the fastest pedal-free descents, the middle setting for pretty much 80% of riding and the third firmest setting saved for only the smoothest and longest climbs. We set it to around 35-40% sag in descend mode which sounds like a lot and was suggested to by Fabien Barel but we’ve found that although it is a lot of sag it works best this way.
We were curious though to see how the bike would react to fitting Bottomless Rings in the air chamber of the rear shock, a very simple process like the fork. After fitting the spacers we found the bike to not wallow so deep under rider input and weight shifts, it resisted bottom-out a little more and we would use the open mode of compression adjustment more without it feeling too soggy underneath us. It also reacted better to hopping, jumping and preloading the lips of jumps helping us move the bike around a little easier.
The hybrid anchors.
Yes, the rider of this bike is particularly sensitive to brakes, often succumbing to bad arm pump and hand pain on even the tamest descents, maybe a result of breaking both arms 12 years ago. Thankfully brakes are improving rapidly, and thus we’re happier! The Strive was originally specced with the SRAM Guide RSC, they were nice feeling brakes with a very consistent lever feel and fair amounts of power, especially with the organic pads swapped for metal sintered.
The next brakes on trial were the SRAM Guide Ultimate, which used the same lever but with an upgraded calliper that was built to manage heat better and utilised a cleaner bleeding process.
Ultimately, we found the Guide Ultimates still not what we needed for the long and steep descents that really tested our strength, no matter how we bled and maintained the system we found fading braking power from heat and heavy usage on the longer descents.
So then we wanted more, and like we’ve seen on many pro’s bikes at the EWS and World Cup DH circuit, many riders are reverting to the old Avid CODE brakes, or at least the CODE calliper and Guide lever.
The CODE is a few years old, still carrying the Avid label where all the modern brakes from the brand carry the SRAM label. We chose to combine the Code calliper and Guide lever to keep the weight down, the CODE levers are mighty tough but perhaps a little overkill for this purpose.
The hard rubber chainstay protector doesn’t do too much in the way of silencing chain noise against the frame, so we gave it a bit of extra dampening with a wrap of Frameskin the Australian brand well-known for their bike protection, much quieter indeed. Check them out here.
Up and down, sit down.
This is the third post we’ve had fitted to the Strive, initially specced with a RockShox Reverb which was plagued with squishy play and was never 100%. The second was the latest version of the Reverb with its new internals and it performed flawlessly for many months of hard riding, RockShox knew they had work to do for consumers to put their faith in a product that for the most part has had a rough ride, and they’ve nailed it. The new one feels the same but works perfectly.
The third post was the long-awaited FOX Transfer, and we’re huge fans. We’re confident in calling it the best post that we’ve ever tried with its simple installation, ergonomic thumb remote and consistent performance.
What’s driving the Strive?
One part of the bike that has demanded very little attention from us is the drivetrain, in fact, all we’ve done is upgrade to the lighter direct mount chainring and drop down from 34T to 32T for a lower range. And we also changed the gear cable, other than that this drivetrain is unstoppable. Original chain, cassette and it’s still super quiet and smooth.
Cranks are 170mm in length, shorter than usual but 5mm of clearance from the trail below can go a long way at times.
How Enduro of you.
What’s better, weight on your body or your bike?
Carrying spares and water on the bike instead of on the body is a good thing for a few reasons, we find taking weight off your back helps you move around easier, but more importantly you don’t forget it if it’s always there. We carry a tube zip-tied under the seat, and the nifty Syncros Matchbox Tailor Cage HV 1.5 combines a bottle cage, pump and multi-tool kit in one.
We’ve been carrying the new mountain bike tubeless specific Dynaplug Micro around with us lately, and so far it’s saved us from having to perform the messy job of fitting a tube on the trail when a puncture occurs. The plug system has successfully sealed three punctures without a hiccup, and so we don’t leave home without it we’ taped it to the bottom of the bottle cage. Click here to heck out more on that little lifesaver.
Big rubber, wide rims, loads of air.
It’s more than just the big and meaty tyres that gives this bike so much grip, it’s also the whopping 35mm wide carbon rims, custom built by Kiwi brand Wheelworks. You can read all about the Wheelworks wheel building process and just why they feel confident in offering such a warranty here, in our interview with Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas. We recommend you have a read, as there are some pretty interesting aspects to the process and Tristan does a great job of dispelling some popular myths about wheels.
Replacing the 23mm wide SRAM wheels wit the 35mm Derby rims was a revelation, the width allowed us to drop tyre pressures to below 20psi and what that did to the bike’s traction was phenomenal.
E*Thirteen’s first foray into the tyre market, the TRS range incorporates a number of exciting features that draw upon recent advances in wheel and tyre technologies.
What is the E*Thirteen TRS?
There are two versions of the TRS tyre, the TRS Race and the TRS Plus. We’ll be testing the TRS Plus, which uses slightly harder rubber compounds than the Race, however out of the box the compound feels very soft, similar to Maxxis’ 3C tyres, which is impressive considering this is the entry level tyre in the range. The Plus retails for $99.95, and the Race retails for 114.95, and both tyres are available in 27.5″ and 29″ options.
The tyre profile is aggressive, with wide knob spacing, but the profiling of the centre knobs is quite low, and the compound of the centre tread is slightly firmer, which should assist in decreasing rolling resistance.
In the pivotal cornering department, the TRS uses meaty, angled knobs. The knobs have additional support at the base, which should assist in preventing knobs from collapsing or tearing during hard cornering. The compound of the cornering knobs is very soft, so it will be interesting to assess the TRS’s durability throughout testing.
Will they work with my rims if they have wide internal widths?
Due to the advent of wider internal rim widths, E*Thirteen designed the TRS range to work specifically with 24-31mm internals. The test wheelset they are currently mounted to is a SRAM Roam wheelset boasting a 30mm internal rim width, and the tyre profile looks spot on.
How heavy are they?
In terms of weight, the TRS Plus comes in at a very respectable 870 grams. Considering the aggressive tread pattern and reinforced sidewalls, and that an alternative like a 2.3 Maxxis Minion DHF in the comparable Double Down sidewall protection comes in at over 1000 grams, we’re impressed. It will be interesting to see if the lighter weight comes at the cost of puncture protection considering the style of riding these tyres are aimed at.
Where would you use this tyre?
The open spacing of the TRS and tall cornering knobs will provide excellent traction in a variety of trail conditions. We will be running the tyre front and rear, however if you were to pair this tyre we would recommend using it as a front tyre with something faster rolling out back.
Our first impressions of the TRS Plus are positive, so we’re excited to see how they perform out on the trail.
Whyte’s offering in this hotly contested sector is the T-130. Based around 27.5″ wheels, a long and slack geometry and the usual forward thinking from this progressive brand, we’re excited to get pedalling!
So who is this bike for?
The Whyte T-130 will suit a variety of riders, but this bike is screaming ‘pick me!’ to riders with an aggressive style. Attributes such as 27.5″ wheels, short 420mm chainstays and a 67 degree head angle mean the T-130 can be thrown around, and also punch above its weight in more technical terrain. We’ll be taking this bike on some trails normally reserved for longer travel steeds to see just how capable it is.
What do I get for my money?
Whyte place priority in their customers knowing their bikes are for riders, by riders. This is reflected in the T-130C RS’s specifications. For $6999, the bike represents a well rounded, premium offering.
The build on the T-130C RS is almost exclusively SRAM. The drivetrain is the new Eagle XO 12 speed group, which we applaud as Eagle’s huge range should mean that the bike having no front derailleur mount shouldn’t be an issue.
The suspension is handled by RockShox with the proven Pike/Monarch combo (Pike RC and Monarch RT3), and the brakes are Guide RS’s. The stealth routed RockShox Reverb rounds out the SRAM cockpit, which allows for the use of matchmaker clamps throughout and a very uncluttered handlebar.
The wheels are Raceface ARC-30’s with, you guessed it, 30mm internal width. Whyte have stocked the bike with a beefy Maxxis High Roller II on the front in the super-grippy 3C compound, and a faster rolling Maxxis Crossmark II out the back.
What are some unique features of the bike?
Whyte’s UK heritage shines through when you take a closer look at this bike. Rubber grommets seal the internally routed cables, a rubber stopper is used at the seatpost to avoid water getting into the frame and the bearings are all weather-sealed with bearing caps. Whyte are so confident in the bearings they offer a lifetime bearing replacement. Built to be ridden in soggy British winters, the bike also features fender mounts on the underside of the downtube.
Another well-thought out feature of this bike is the brakes, which are not mounted directly into the frame in case the thread becomes rounded, but attached via a barrel thread that inserts into slots on the brake mounts.
We’re excited to get out on the trail and see if this bike lives up to expectations, so stay tuned for the full review!
It’s now been two years since Shimano first brought their Di2 electronic shifting to the mountain bike universe, during which time we’ve all become more accustomed to the presence of battery power on our bikes – electronic suspension lockouts and dropper seat posts, plus power meters and of course GPS units, plus other gadgets, are improving the mountain bike experience.
We’ve been riding Shimano’s new XT Di2 groupset for a few weeks now, including for seven days of non-stop riding in Finale Ligure, Italy, where it got a serious work out on some of the most superb trails on the planet. You can read our initial report on our XT Di2 test bike here, including the build process, or get all the details about the different chain ring and cassette options available for XT Di2 here.
Do we need electronic shifting in mountain bikes though?
When low cost, mechanical shifting (like the new SLX groupset we reviewed here) works so well, we appreciate it is hard to justify the extra complexity of electronics. There’ll always be the ‘don’t need it, don’t want it camp’, but we’re not in it.
The instantaneousness and the precision. Every shift happens lightning fast, and because there’s no cable friction, each shift is perfectly accurate too.
Di2 has been well proven on road bikes since 2009, and while road racing is different to mountain biking, in many regards it’s in the dirt were Di2 makes even more sense. And with XT bringing the cost of Di2 down a long way, electronic shifting is now far more relevant than in the past.
Explain please. Why does Di2 make sense for mountain bikes?
Maintenance is a big one. The quality of mechanical shifting on a mountain bike tends to degrade much faster than it does on the road, and Di2 totally removes this issue, as there are no cables to get gummed up or kinked, so your shifting stays consistent and effortless.
Consistency of shifting, no mater what the circumstances, is another big plus. On a mountain bike, panic shifting under heavy load tends to happen frequently, whereas on the road things tend to be done more smoothly. With Di2 on your bike, it doesn’t matter if you hit the button desperately as you strain on the pedals mid-way up a steep pinch, the shift will still be perfect and smooth.
So what makes electronic shifting superior to mechanical shifting?
The instantaneousness and the precision. Every shift happens lightning fast, and because there’s no cable friction, each shift is perfectly accurate too.
Chain retention is improved as well, not just because the shifts are crisp, but because you can crank up the tension in the derailleur clutch without any issue, greatly reducing chain slap. (The new XT derailleurs allow you to do this very easily using a 2mm Allen key). On a mechanical system, loading up the derailleur with heaps of tension would result in a very heavy shift action, but on Di2 you don’t need to worry about this as the motors do the work for your thumbs.
The end result is more chain security and a quieter ride, and despite blindly riding down some of the roughest trails we’ve ever encountered in Finale Ligure, we didn’t ever drop a chain.
So are there any downsides?
Compared to the mechanical cable systems that most home mechanics are familiar with, installing a Di2 system takes a little more time. You’ll need to decide where you want to store the battery firstly, plus work out the lengths of the various wires required to link it all up, because they can’t be cut to length later like a cable system.
As we’ve discussed below, installing the battery in the fork steerer tube can present some dramas. We’d recommend you put it in the top tube, or in the down tube. Wrap it securely in some kind of foam or padding to wedge it safely inside the frame and prevent it rattling.
It took us a small period of adapting to the feel and location of the shifter paddles. You can adjust the paddle positions, but they never felt quite as natural to us as the mechanical shifters we’ve been using for decades.
One issue, which isn’t a problem with Di2 per se, is related to the PRO Tharsis stem we used with our Di2 test bike. The Tharsis stem is designed to work seamlessly with Di2, and it allows you to store your battery in the fork steerer tube. To do this, it does away with a regular headset star nut and uses a threaded collar system to preload the headset bearings. It’s a finicky system that is prone to coming loose on really rough trails. Until the system is improved, we’d recommend using a regular star nut and running the battery inside your frame.
Is water an issue?
Unless you’re taking your bike to the bottom of the harbour, you’re not going to have any water related dramas. You can wash your bike as normal, and river crossings or any of the usual water you encounter in mountain biking aren’t a problem.
How about battery life?
‘What happens if I run out of batteries?’ is one of the questions we get asked the most. Basically, if you run out of batteries, you should give yourself an uppercut. Can you remember to charge your phone every day? Then you can surely remember to charge your bike every few weeks.
The display very clearly shows you how much battery life remains, and the charge lasts for ages – in a week where we rode approximately 20 hours, the battery indicator dropped by one bar. If you’re running a front derailleur, the battery will drain more quickly because a front mech uses more juice, but still a few weeks of normal riding is what you can expect from a charge.
Does it operate any differently to XTR Di2?
Riding XT and XTR Di2 back to back, you can definitely pick up some small differences – the XTR shifting action is lighter, and the motor in the rear mech a tiny bit faster too. But then XT has some benefits over XTR too, such as the Bluetooth connectivity via the new display unit, which allows you to customise the operation of the shifting via Shimano’s iOS app.
When it comes to functionality, the XT Di2 system has all the same options as XTR, including the Synchro Shift mode (learn more about it here), so you’re talking seriously marginal differences overall.
So would you recommend it?
If you’re looking at a new bike, put Di2 down as a big positive. We’ve already started to see a number of manufacturers speccing this drivetrain on their 2017 offerings, and the performance would be enough to sway us in the direction of Di2-equipped bike versus a mechanical bike.
If we were looking to upgrade to Di2 on an existing 11-speed bike, then you’ll need to decide if the performance improvements are worth the cash. If you’re running a Shimano 1×11 drivetrain already, upgrading to Di2 (a shifter, rear derailleur, battery, display units and wiring) will cost you about $1200, but it will improve your ride and reduce ongoing maintenance. Weigh it up! There really are no downsides, so it’s simply a matter of whether you can justify the expense.
What’s the deal with them then? And where’s the grey tread colours of yester-year gone!?
Here’s a quick look at what has us so eager to blow some berms and blast some turns on our enduro bike right now!
Beefy Tread Pattern
The tell-tale sign of a good downhill tyre is a no-nonsense, aggressive and openly spaced tread pattern with a meaty shape and 2.45″ width. The Highlander is not dissimilar to other tyres in its class, but has a more symmetric and uniformly angled pattern than most – which is claimed give the Highlander better grip in mud and softer soils.
Enduro Trail Dual Compound
Mitas’ dual compound configuration provides a simple and effective solution to the problem of decent tire wear vs traction performance; a harder, more wear resistant rubber makes up the base and centre knobs of the tread, while a softer, slower rebound compound is used on the side knobs.
DH SUPRA MAXX & TEXTRA
WHY THE YELLING? Don’t be put off by more buzzwords – these tyres pack an impressive construction in the form of 4ply sidewalls embedded with a rubberised fabric to try and eliminate any chance of cuts or flats. What is even more impressive, is that each tyre weighs in at 1000 grams each – almost exactly the same as comparable 2 and 3 ply offerings from Maxxis.
The Textra models in the Mitas tyre range are backed by a 100 day sidewall guarantee, that’s what we call confidence!
Along with its $90 price tag, sidewall guarantee and cool unique graphics, the Mitas Highlanders are enticing enough to raise the eyebrows of even the deepest of Maxxis fans. We are looking forward to putting this tread through every kind of trail torture in the coming weeks.
Fresh to our shores, they will come in a blue/black, matte black, and a limited edition orange/black in small quantities. We got our hands on the blue, which is clean and well balanced; nicely designed and good looking.
After a quick wear around they are feeling nice and snug, with quite solid adjustability from the ratchet strap and a stiff but comfortable feel from the thick rubber soles. The tread on the sole looks thick and aggressive with tacky rubber over the composite section, which we hope will give it some superior traction in slippery or steep conditions.
With this fresh pair on long term review, we are interested to see how they fare on and off the bike.
Motion Efficency System (MES) combines a stiff and highly efficient pedaling platform with just enough torsional flex to allow for natural foot, ankle and knee movements during the pedal stroke
ExoFlex built-in flex zone allows the toe area of the shoe to move independently of the main sole to optimize the natural flex of the toes, reduce heel slip, and improve overall traction
Stiff composite ExoBeam outsole is protected by a full-cover rubber tread to provide outstanding traction
Seamless upper provides protection and ventilation while the toe box area helps protect against obstacles on the trail
QuickFit upper with a single ratchet buckle system and two hook-and-loop straps for simple on-the-fly adjustments
On review we have the cream of the crop, the top of the shelf race bike from prestigious brand Cannondale, the Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team. The highest spec of all the Scalpel models available in Australia comes in at a mighty $11999, but is dressed accordingly in an absolute premium parts kit from SRAM, ENVE and FSA.
Our medium sized bike tipped the scales at 10.47kg after tubeless conversion and without pedals, top that!
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the review, here is what we are looking at.
Who is the Cannondale Scalpel for?
The Scalpel has been around for many, many years and has always catered for the cross-country and marathon racing crowd with its lean and lightweight frame and minimal suspension travel. It rolls on 29″ wheels, but the size small frame uses 27.5″ wheels.
It’s not for the faint hearted though, this is a seriously fast handling race bike. There is the Cannondale Habit for anyone looking for a more fun and confident trail bike on a variety of terrain, read our review of that one here: Cannondale Habit review.
Check out the numbers on this one.
It’s a new frame for 2017, what has been changed?
Lighter, stiffer, slacker, shorter, longer etc. The new Scalpel is ‘Built For XXC’ by adding another ‘x’ to ‘xc’ they want the message to be that this is an XC bike that can handle the rougher race courses out there. Shorter chain stays, slacker head angle, increased fork offset, and Cannondale’s new OutFront Geometry. We’ll have more to say on that in our final review.
There’s not a lot of symmetry going on here, aside from the obvious – single sided fork – the rear end and wheel is also wildly offset to help achieve shorter chain stays with good tyre clearance. It’s a trippy bike to look at!
There’s also a new internal cable routing and provisions for Shimano Di2, and the rear shock remote lockout cable is the neatest we’ve ever seen, travelling inside the top tube to the shock.
Si stands for System Integration, where many of the components of the bike are closely integrated into the frame like the cranks, fork, stem etc. Cannondale take this a few steps further than most with their proprietary front suspension ‘fork’, the Lefty.
So what’s new about this new Lefty then?
We have ridden and rated dozens of Cannondale Leftys since 1998 when it was introduced to the world, but they’ve always polarised with their obvious appearance and performance when up against the likes of FOX and RockShox. While we’ve always had plenty of great things to say about the light weight and steering precision of the single sided fork we’ve had just as many unhappy opinions on the plushness and sensitivity of the air spring and damper. At a time where the suspension market is making huge improvements with air spring curves we wanted more from the Lefty, we wanted it to be more supple off the top of the stroke and lighter in the compression tune.
Enter 2Spring, a completely new part developed by the team at Cannondale that can be retrofitted to 2014-2017 model Lefty forks and fitted as standard going forward with 2017 bikes. After one short ride we can certainly say that this is the best Lefty we’ve ever felt, far more sensitive and supple over the small bumps and it remains that way when the impacts become faster and harder. So far we’re very, very impressed.
Here’s the word from Cannondale on 2Spring:
“2Spring is named for its self-balancing positive and negative air springs, which are controlled by two coil valve and top-out springs that deliver significant improvements in performance and dependability.”
“First, the coil top-out spring reduces friction, allowing Lefty to move more freely at the top of the travel, which provides increased traction. Second, the simple design combines multiple parts into one and reduces part count by 17% which increases reliability. Third, softer material and reduced surface area at contact points create a soft touch, further removing feedback to the rider. Fourth, the air piston geometry was changed to hold more oil against the seal which keeps the fork moving more smoothly.”
“Finally, 2Spring’s valve and top-out springs have been designed to last the lifetime of the fork, unlike previous systems that required servicing every 100 hours.”
Pretty high spec, is it worth the cash?
It’d be hard to find a bike with such a high spec as this one, especially with SRAM Eagle and ENVE wheels. Then there’s the premium stuff from FSA with the bars and post, and Schwalbe tyres all ready for tubeless. So, yes it is mega bucks, but mega high-end too.
We’ve already had one quick ride on this thing and holy moly it is quick. We were very well acquainted with the older Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate after a few weeks testing and racing it at the Cape to Cape, and already this feels like a very different beast. Once we got the suspension setup and tyre pressures sorted we began to put huge confidence in this bike and really let it gallop on fast singletrack, we were absolutely flying. For such a rapid handling front end, there was also a lot of stability on the descents, not what we’d expect from a racey 100mm travel 29er.
As we gear up for a few more solid test rides we’re going to get to know the details behind the 2Spring part in the new Lefty, and investigate what tuning capabilities there are with the front and rear suspension. We’ll also look into stem configurations too, we may want to get those bars down a little lower and we also noticed our medium frame had us nearing the limit of the seat post maximum height out of the frame.
Stay tuned, we’re going to love sinking our teeth into this one!
The bike that got the nod for this build is a Canyon Strive CF 8.9, which we got as a frame only and built up from there. We went for the burly Strive as we wanted something with some serious travel – the first place we’re taking this test bike is Finale Ligure in Italy, home to the last round of the EWS series, so a bike that could take the big hits was mandatory!
Yes. In its long-travel mode, the Strive CF has 163mm travel out back, and 170mm up front. But Canyon’s Shapes Shifter geometry/suspension adjustment system allows you to totally flip the bike’s character on-the-fly to make it more climb friendly. Hit the button and the rear travel goes to 139mm, with less sag, higher bottom bracket and the geometry is steepened. It’s one of the features that makes this bike a bit of a favourite of ours, giving it more versatility than other big travel Enduro rigs.
What was the build process like?
A little complicated. The first time you build up a Di2 bike, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve, especially if the bike isn’t designed for Di2 specifically (which the Strive is not).
Firstly, you need to decide where you’re going to stash the battery. Normally, you’d need to install it in the frame somewhere, but because we’re using the PRO Tharsis Trail bar and stem (read about it here) which lets you run the wiring all internally in the cockpit, we were able to install the battery in the fork steerer tube using Shimano’s neat expanding battery holder.
Because we opted for a 1×11 drivetrain too, we didn’t need to muck around with a separate junction box to wire up a front derailleur, meaning all the wiring junctions are up front at the display unit and easily accessed should any maintenance be needed.
The wiring with a 1×11 setup is minimal – one wire goes from the shifter to the display, a second wire runs from the battery to the display, and then one final long wire from the display to the rear derailleur. Running the wiring through the frame for the rear mech required a little bit of gentle modification, where we drilled out one of the gear cable ports to allow the wiring to pass through (shhh, don’t tell Canyon).
Have you customised the Di2 setup?
Not yet, but we will. One of the cool features of Di2 is that you can customise the shifting speed and controls to suit your preferences – previously this was something that had to be done with a PC, but Shimano now have a iOS app that connects to the Di2 via Bluetooth, making it a less arduous process!
What about the rest of the build?
FOX Factory suspension got the nod for this one, including the superb FOX 36 RC2 fork in a beefy 170mm version. We debated about putting a Float X2 rear shock into the bike, but decided the Float X with its three position compression control was the go.
The bike we’re taking to Finale Ligure is fitted out with a full XT groupset (including wheels, not the Wheelworks wheels seen in these pics), and PRO componentry – Tharsis carbon bars, a 45mm stem, and a Turnix saddle.
Reliable rubber is a must if you’re travelling, so we went for Maxxis Aggressors in the new Double Down casing, which are tougher than the usual EXO casings with about a 100g weight penalty.
We’ll be bringing you a lot more on this bike in the coming weeks, with a full review on the performance of XT Di2. Now, it’s into a bike bag and onto the plane it goes! Next stop, Italy.
Coming from the automotive industry, this technology isn’t exactly new, but Dynaplug have adapted it for the purpose of tubeless mountain bike tyres, and we have a kit to review.
Before we wait for a puncture to happen or sacrifice a tyre to create one ourselves, let’s take a look at what it is, and what it does.
The Dynaplug Micro Pro is engineered to repair leaks in the tread and side wall of a tubeless mountain bike tyre. Using a sticky rubber plug on the end of a pointy insertion tube, you push it into a puncture hole and leave the rubber in place to block the hole and seal the tyre. Multiple plugs can be used, and in conjunction with tubeless sealant it’s sure to help loss of air and is said to be a permanent repair.
The repair plug, spare plugs and associated accessories are stowed inside a machined aluminium container.
It’s no secret that Specialized are putting a lot of weight behind these bikes and helping to drive the acceptance of e-bike culture here in Australia, and their global visibility in the internationally booming market is mighty as always. Their message ‘the power to ride more trails’ is being cast far and wide, and it makes a whole lot of sense to many people, we aren’t arguing with anyone who chooses to ride one. Since whisperings of e-bikes began echoing around the internet, we cannot recall one thing in all our years that attracts such a wide variety of feedback, and especially negative attention, than the topic of these bikes. Thankfully we’ve got pretty tough skin! But when it comes down our involvement in the segment, we are all about it. We’ll be reviewing the bikes for what they are, and supporting the communication channels and discussions as we see the benefits for those who would make the most of one, and that is that.
Before we get into looking at what the 2017 Specialized Turbo Levo FSR is, we’ll recall a couple of our recent posts on the topic of electrically pedal assist mountain bikes.
Specialized have been developing electric bikes for a while – their Turbo electric assisted commuter bike is an impressive piece of work – but e-mountain bikes are a different kettle of fish, and the hub-drive motors found on many commuter bikes aren’t appropriate off road. Instead the Levo uses a centre-mounted motor, that has been custom built exclusively for Specialized.
In the last few months, we’ve had a couple of discussions about electric assisted mountain bikes which have really captured the essence of the debate over the place of this technology in mountain biking. We have recalled both of these interactions here, without bias.
What is the Turbo Levo FSR?
Specialized don’t do things by halves, when they set out to make an e-bike they were not going to settle for anything less than the best, so we’re not surprised at all to see how much has gone in to the development of this bike. The Turbo Levo FSR is a proper off-road bike with an M4 aluminium frame, 140mm travel forks, 135mm travel out the back and all the same components that you’ll find on a real mountain bike. The wheels are regular too, and removing them for transport or changing a flat tyre is just as you would with a normal bike.
The Turbo range is huge, with Specialized bringing in a whopping eight versions to the Australian market, two hardtails, five dual suspension FSR and one women’s specific FSR, all using the 6Fattie wheels. And being a Specialized the focus on frame geometry was paramount, so the chain stay length is as short as possible, and the steering angles slack and stable for proper shredding.
The FSR rear suspension is based around the same design that you would find on their entire dual suspension range which uses their Autosag rear shock pressure setup system for guess-free setup, and of course they’ve even managed to fit a full-size water bottle in there and keep the cable routing internally despite the added complications of a battery and motor.
How does it work?
There is no throttle to twist or button to push to get moving, the Levo delivers power to the cranks in assistance to yours. What makes e-bikes ride naturally and well off-road on varying terrain and surfaces is the way that the power is delivered in an intuitive manner, in this case it’s quite complicated to explain when the power comes, stops and how much is delivered as it is sensitive to torque and speed. We’ll delve into more of the working of the system in our final review, but in short the battery power is delivered to the cranks when the bike is moving and torque on the cranks is detected. It rewards your smooth and steady pedal stroke with a high cadence, and the power cuts out at 25 km/hr.
Where are all the buttons and displays?
There’s nothing on the bars, no computer in sight, save for a three button pad on the side of the down tube which turns the system on and off and adjust between the three power modes; eco, trail and turbo. All the rest is done via your smartphone, and the Specialized Mission Control App.
What does the mobile app let you do?
The app has loads of functionality and provides you with all the information and enables complete control. Via a Bluetooth connection you can see information about the bike, the motor, battery life and will let you tune the motor to how you prefer it to react.
The app allows you to see huge amounts of information about your bike, the battery, the motor and your ride times and intensities, sent from the bike to your phone via a bluetooth connection. Delving deeper into the functions of the Mission Control app the ‘tune’ modes allow you to tweak how your bike performs in each of its three settings and how quickly the motor kicks in on each pedal strokes. And then there are nice features like the ability to tell the battery how long you intend on riding for, allowing it to dish out the power evenly and tailored for your ride duration.
What type of motor is in there?
You won’t find any third party brands on the Levo, Specialized have developed their own motor, and do all the development from their e-bike dedicated facility in Switzerland. More on that in our upcoming review.
Why the 3″ 6Fattie wheels?
Aside from powerful brakes, the tyres are a component that we’d expect to be up to the task of keeping a 25kg bike under control, and in this case it makes complete sense that the Levo FSR should use plus sized wheels. The 650b (27.5″) diameter wheels and wide 38mm rims are wrapped in huge 3″ tyres. Our first ride on the Levo FSR was on one with regular 29″ wheels and we’re way more impressed with how the bigger tyres with lower pressure play to the strength of an e-bike. There’s a lot less wheel-spinning with this huge footprint too, certainly a factor worth considering with e-bikes under debate in regards to trail damage.
We’ve ridden and rated two of the 6Fattie bikes from Specialized, the Fuse hardtail and the Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie. Check out those reviews here for more on the concept of the wheel size. Fuse review, Stumpjumper review.
How’s the spec on the Expert model?
The Expert level spec is very high end stuff, for $9999 you’ll end up with a parts spec comparable to the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon 6Fattie which retails for $7200. There is massive 200mm rotors (usually found on big travel enduro and downhill bikes) at both ends to deliver gobs of braking power, and the drivetrain is SRAM’s Xo1 with Praxis cranks and stainless narrow/wide chainring. A neat little chainguide provides added security.
We’re going to ride it, a lot. We want to be able to fully understand how it works, where it shines and where it doesn’t. We don’t need to get into the debate of who they will suit, or where they belong, we’re getting pretty tired of that chat already. But in our upcoming review we’ll hopefully have a whole lot to say about the performance of this bike, just like any other bike review we do at Flow.
Before we fit it up and get bouncing, lets take a quick look at what’s new with the new SID.
Hot off the heels of the release of FOX’s crazy-light 32 SC fork (read our full review here) the big guns at RockShox fired back with a fork we hoped for, it may look very similar but there’s multiple weight saving features and now uses the Charger Damper on the RLC and World Cup models. The SID follows the release of RockShox’s inverted fork, the RS-1 (review here) which saw many World Cup racers using, but the SID was still a lighter fork.
Who is it for?
RockShox are taking the SID back to its XC roots – there will be no more 120mm version of the SID, it’s 100mm only. RockShox are letting the Revelation and Pike handle the 120mm market now. Smart move – people are riding 120mm bikes very hard now, and the SID isn’t built for that kind of flogging, we are certainly not adversed to running a Pike on a 120mm trail bike nowadays. Removing travel variants allows RockShox to optimise the air spring specifically for this this travel too, and they say it’s more linear than before, which is good for lighter riders. Heavier or more front heavy riders can still add Bottomless Tokens to increase progressiveness.
There are four SID forks in the range, all available in 27.5 and 29″, with Boost or regular hub spacing: the World Cup, XX, RLC and RCT3, we have the RL to ride, and then we’ll upgrade the damper to the Charger for testing.
A charger damper upgrade is $499 on its own, and the allen key only, non Maxle QR can be purchased aftermarket for $59.
Moving to a 100mm-only platform allows RockShox to create a lighter fork. In the past, the 120mm and 100m versions shared the same chassis, and so naturally it had to be on the beefier side to accommodate the harder riding demands of those riders on the 120mm fork. Now, as 100mm-only offering, the whole fork can be made a little leaner. The new SID is on average 100g lighter across each of the four models than in the past. The carbon crown/steerer equipped World Cup fork is 1366g, in a 27.5″ version, about 10g heavier than FOX’s new 32SC fork.
RockShox are making the claim that the new SID is stiffer than its predecessors, but that’s on the proviso that you’re running one of their Torque Cap hubs, which gives you a much bigger contact area between the hub and fork dropouts. Of course normal 15mm hubs are compatible too, but you lose the increased hub/fork contact and its stiffen gains.
The Charger damper.
The RLC and World Cup versions of the SID get a new damper too; the Charger damper has external compression adjustment plus a two-position lockout (it’s either open, or has a very firm lockout). Beginning stroke rebound is adjustable, but deep stroke rebound is factory set with the excellent Rapid Recovery system. The new damper is complemented by lower-friction seals as well.
We’ll be fitting the SID up to a suitable XC bike soon, first we’ll ride it with the Motion Control damper, and then we’ll fit the Charger damper to feel the difference between the two systems.
With the new SID on review, it inspired us to give a polish and shine to an old fave, the Judy SL from 20 years ago.
Yes, we said ALDI, that eclectic marketplace where you find drop saws and vacuum cleaners alongside chickpeas and gingerbread. They could hardly begrudge us for saying they’re not renowned as a proprietor of fine cycles. We deliberately used the phrase mountain bike, not just ‘bike’. Because this hardtail, unlike the buttery soft boat anchors with fold-o-matic wheels that are usually sold at department stores, is a true entry-level mountain bike.
For our in-depth discussion about what a $350 bike in a box means for mountain biking click here – $350 bike in a box.
What is it?
The un-branded bike is an aluminium frame 29″ wheeled mountain bike with Tektro mechanical disc brakes, 9-speed Shimano drivetrain and a Suntour suspension fork. The 29″ wheels are aluminium with double wall rims and quick release skewers. On the cardboard box it comes in there is branding from Crane, an established brand name bike that caters for the entry level market.
The frame is manufactured and assembled in the same factory as Polygon bikes, so you can bet that it’s one of the cheapest bikes that the excellent brand produces, a far better arrangement than if it were a top-end product from a less-experienced factory.
The frame is built from aluminium with surprisingly good looking welding, upon close inspection we found the the paint to be very smooth and well-finished.
A nice touch is the way the brake and gear cables travel internally through the frame, something many high end bikes are still implementing today.
The Performance 29er is sold for $349 and available from Aldi stores around Australia. Available in red or grey colour options, and in medium or large frame sizes.
Are the parts any good?
You’ll always get what you pay for with any product, in this case the spec is very reasonable for $350. Highlights are the Shimano 9-speed drivetrain on a cassette style rear hub, Shimano cranks and the Tektro mechanical disc brakes. The bars are a decent width and the stem a length that will provide good handling when ridden.
How about the wheels?
The wheels tick the boxes for riding off road, double wall aluminium with stainless steel spokes and Joytech hubs. You’d easily find wheels of this level on bikes twice the price. The dual-duty style tyres are not going to be too grippy on technical trails with loose surfaces, but feel fast and smooth to roll around on the tarmac.
How does it ride?
While we didn’t go hammering down our favourite technical descents, we did hit the singletrack to see how it went. The large 29″ wheels and tall front end give the bike plenty of confidence to steer it down the trail. The disc brakes also instill a degree of security, knowing that the brakes will work consistently in the dry or wet trails.
Can the parts handle actual off road riding?
In all our years of working in retail and then going on to test bikes and product we learnt that there was always a starting price point that went along with a level of components that was essential to actually riding a bike off road. You absolutely needed double wall aluminium wheels or they’d go out of true in an instant, the bars couldn’t be steel as they would bend too easily, and the rear hub had to be a cassette style and not a screw-on freehub one or you’d break the axle whenever you did any form of jump. A suspension fork would be a no-brainer for increasing comfort and control, and disc brakes were a luxury that boosted braking power on long descents and on muddy trails.
So when we look at this bike that has all of these absolute necessary components mentioned above, we’re confident that it’ll do the trick.
Can I upgrade components in the future?
Sure you can, there’s nothing that will prevent you from upgrading parts as your riding progresses, perhaps the fork’s straight steer tube (standard for anything decent uses a tapered steer tube with a larger diameter lower headset bearing) will limit fork upgrade options but the rest of the bike uses very easily sourced standard parts. We’d look first to the tyres for an upgrade.
How is it delivered?
Here comes the touchy bit, this bike is sold in a box off the shelf at an Aldi supermarket. No sales staff will help you assemble it, set it up, point you in the direction of trails or provide local advice. That’s part of the reason this bike costs as little as it does, it’s up to you to see the value here.
Would we recommend it?
If you have only this amount of money to spend, or you’re simply dipping a toe in the water ahead of this summer for some gentle off road riding this is a very fair option.
Provided only you’re mechanically proficient in unpacking the bike, installing the bars, pedals and pumping up the tyres. We’ve had a very close look at this bike and there’s nothing that will stop you from having a good time outdoors.
If you’re looking to get started in the world of mountain biking, then you can’t go wrong with this bike – it’s an awesome deal.
2017 sees the incredibly popular Giant Anthem take a chill pill and a tentative step towards the larger Trance with a real change in its vibe.
For more on the 2017 Giant Anthem, Trance, Reign and XTC jump over to our range overview here: 2017 bikes from Giant.
What makes the new Anthem so different to the 2016 one?
In the past there was the lean and mean 100mm travel Anthem (read our review of one here), and the Anthem SX (no longer for 2017) which used the Anthem frame with 120mm travel forks and more aggressive parts. The new 2017 Anthem is even more aggressive than the outgoing Anthem SX and we love it.
The new Anthem has a dropper post (shock, horror!), 120mm travel big diameter 34mm legged forks, a knobby front tyre and a cockpit we’d expect to see on the longer travel Trance.
Tell me about the frame.
Giant gave the Anthem’s construction a complete overhaul for the upcoming year model, it now uses Boost hub spacing, a one-piece carbon linkage (on all 27.5″ Anthems, nice!) and the trunnion mount rear shock. Frame geometry also scores a modern update with longer reach, lower bottom bracket height and shorter chain stay length.
The finish is glossy, and quite busy in Giant’s iconic bold styling.
Where does it sit in the Anthem range?
The $3499 Anthem 2 is the second model in the range, with the base model Anthem 3 sitting below it at $2499 and the Anthem 1 above for $4999.
If you want more awesomeness there is the Anthem Advanced version with a composite/carbon main frame and higher spec starting at $5499 for the Anthem Advanced 1 and then the top of the line Anthem Advanced 0 for $8299 which will get you carbon wheels, and the incredible SRAM Eagle drivetrain.
What does an extra 1.5K earn you with the Anthem 1?
Sharing the exact same frame, stepping up to the Anthem 1 you’ll get wheels with carbon rims and tubeless ready tyres, the superb single-ring Shimano XT drivetrain and a higher quality damper in the fork amongst a few other things.
The carbon wheels are the big one for us, tubeless lifts the traction and ride quality immensely and the fork will certainly feel smoother and more composed on the rough trails.
Or could I buy the cheaper Anthem 3 and upgrade a few bits?
The brakes, and drivetrain are fine on the Anthem 3 but you do lose the dropper post and step down to a RockShox 30 Gold fork which will feel under-gunned in the fast and rougher trails in comparison to the FOX. If the Anthem 3 is your best bet, at least invest in a dropper post to open up more shred-ability.
How does it go?
Throwing a leg over the Anthem 2 we quickly found it to be more inclined to shred fast trails than lap around the groomed race track, the forks are raked out in front of you and the seating position is nice and relaxed.
Instantly we began popping wheelies, manualling sections of trails and jumping off trail features for the fun of it.
It’s a lively ride, with the stout 110mm of rear travel feeling quite progressive, never wallowing or bogging down the way longer travel bikes can. Combine the short travel and fun geometry and we loved how fast the bike felt on our regular trails.
It’s the kind of bike that doesn’t rely on generous suspension to get you through the rough and tight stuff, rather the confident riding position puts you in great control of where you want to go with quick and safe handling.
Is it too laid back?
If you love the Anthem from the last few years for racing cross country this new version may feel a little laid back for buff cross country race tracks, but it’ll light up the singletrack and rip descents with a whole lot more speed and flair.
It won’t take a detective to notice that the repositioning of the Anthem leaves a big hole in the catalogue for a dual suspension cross country race bike, we can only guess what may fill the gap in the future. Will Giant re-enter the 29er market with a new model soon? What will the cross country riders in the Giant Factory Off Road Team race? Rumours, rumours…
Shimano’s impressive new SLX drivetrain.
Shimano’s new SLX drivetrain has everyone very impressed, along with SRAM’s GX and NX we are now in an era that the entry level priced drivetrain components are so close to performance to the top stuff that at times the only obvious difference is feel and weight. The single-ring is going to be popular too, the 30T chain paired to an 11-42T cassette was more than enough range for us during testing. The bike will still accept a front derailleur if you live in the alps.
New FOX Rhythm 34 fork and trunnion mount rear shock.
There’s a reason you won’t have seen many of these forks yet, they are new for 2017 model bikes and OEM spec only (not sold separately). The Rhythm line signals a move into the lower spec levels for the high end suspension brand, by using a lower grade 6000 series aluminium and grey anodised stanchions the construction costs can be cut down, and the GRIP damper is a more basic and slightly heavier system than the one found in higher level FIT4 forks. It may be cheaper but we loved the feeling and quality, especially compared to forks on bikes this price only a couple years ago.
Out the back Giant have specced a new trunnion mount rear shock, same same but different. Mounting on the side of the shock instead of on the end the frame designers are able to position the shock lower in the frame, freeing up space for a longer stroke shock and thus requiring less air pressure. All the details sound a little dull? It’s a marginal gain for sure, but expect to see the trunnion mount become more common over the next few years.
Would we change any parts?
The tyres need to go, it’s not the brand, size or tread pattern we don’t like, it is the compound and non-tubeless compatibility that lets them down. Schwalbe’s Performance line of tyres are not all bad but a set of tubeless tyres would unleash the Anthem’s traction on rocky terrain by allowing you to run lower pressures with less risk of punctures or a squirming tyre.
Other than that we would suggest poking the internal dropper post cable out the right side of the frame for a neater cable arrangement, a super quick and easy job to do, we’d not even change the grips, this thing is dialled..
Would we recommend it?
Hell yes we would, this is a seriously great bike! The suspension is balanced and efficient, the geometry is playful and fun, and in singletrack and fast descents it feels alive and confident and it’s not $5000.
We can expect to see many of the big brands making the most of the emergence of great quality entry level components to build bikes that ride really great, for an affordable price. With things like the Shimano SLX, FOX Rhythm forks and home brand dropper posts, we’re more than satisfied with the performance.
The value is impressive, and with only the tyres turning our noses up, we would certainly recommend it for someone who is keen to shred trails for the fun of it, and a hardtail is too hard and the bigger travel Trance overkill.
The High Roller II and Minion SS are two popular treads from Maxxis. As the name implies, this is the second generation of High Roller. The Minion was the downhill tyre that was a serious ‘must-have’ for a number of years (cheers to Sam Hill for cementing its popularity), and the SS is a semi-slick version of the tread. It scores the same cornering knobs as the regular Minion DHF, just shaved down in the middle.
Compounds and construction details?
EXO is Maxxis’s lightweight sidewall reinforcement. 3C stands for triple compound, naturally. It’s soft on the sides (42a durometer), firmer in the centre and firmer still underneath, for good rolling speed and excellent grip. The Minion SS is dual compound, not 3C, which is why it’s a little cheaper too.
How do the weights and prices stack up?
Pretty well. Maxxis tend to be good value, and at $64.95 for the Minion SS and $79.95 for the High Roller II, they’re much cheaper than an equivalent from Schwalbe, and in line with what you’d pay for a Specialized or Bontrager tyre. Weights are quite reasonable, 850g for the High Roller and 773g for the Minion SS.
What bike did you fit these to?
Our Maxxis High Roller II / Minion SS combo has found a home on our Giant Trance test sled (the same bike we’ve been using to review Shimano’s SLX groupset).
This bike is going to play host to plenty of test parts, so we want a set of reliable tyres that are up to the job – we don’t want to be worrying about flats when we’re trying to concentrate on the performance of other products.
Will they fit my wheels?
Yes, you can get both of these tyres in 26, 27.5 and 29” versions. The Minion SS is 2.30” only, while the High Roller II comes in 2.30” plus 2.40” in the 27.5”diameter.
Mixing and matching:
On paper, these tyres looked like the perfect combo for this bike – we wanted something fast and whippy out back, to get a little loose, but with bite we could trust up front.
Mixing and matching tyres is nothing new, and we do it a lot. Other grippy front / rippy rear combos that we’re very fond of include the Schwalbe Rock Razor/Hans Dampf, the Specialized Slaughter/Butcher and the Bontrager XR3/XR4.
How have they gone?
They’re quick! We hoped these would roll well, but they’ve surpassed expectations in that regard. At the same time, they’re great in the corners, in a wide range of trail conditions. The High Roller excels on hardpack and or slightly sandy corners, or in the loamy stuff too. In fact, it’s an awesome all-rounder. For such a speedy tyre it handles hard braking brilliantly, which is good because the Minion SS does not.
Not cuts, flats, tubeless leaks or other worries have arisen either, and Maxxis are traditionally rather indestructible.
For a 2.30” they feel a little skinny. Maybe it’s just the relatively narrow Shimano XT rims they’re mounted to, but Schwalbes and Bontragers in the ‘same’ size look a fair bit bigger. The smaller volume makes them less impressive in really wild conditions with lots of loose rock.
As you’d expect too, there’s not a huge amount of rear braking traction, so the line between braking and skidding is easy to overstep.
Would we recommend them, and why?
100%. If you like the ride feel of a rear tyre that encourages a bit of fishtailing, but you still want the front end grip to stop you crashing onto your face, then this is a great combo. The value for money and reliable construction is just the icing on the performance cake. These tyres mightn’t be new in the market, but they still deliver.
Where can I get them?
Maxxis tyres are available across Australia at a number of preferred dealers. Take a look below to find a dealer in your state.
Yes! The wait is over. This one has been a long time coming, but given the notorious reliability issues with dropper posts (they’re very difficult to engineer by all accounts), we’re happy that FOX have taken the time needed to get it right.
It looks sensational, especially in the Kashima coated version we have here, with excellent build quality. The twin-bolt post head is very Thomson-esque and the finish is perfect.
How is it different to the old FOX D.O.S.S. post?
In just about every way. The DOSS was externally routed only and had a two-step height adjustment (1-inch drop, and fully dropped), while the Transfer comes in both internally or externally routed options and has infinite adjustment. The rate of return on the new post is also a lot more mellow than the DOSS, which rocketed back up.
The lever is significantly smaller too – the old DOSS post looked like you had two tyre levers strapped to your bar, which was a real gripe for a lot of users.
One thing we hope hasn’t changed is the reliability, because the old DOSS post was one of the most bombproof posts on the market.
So it’s cable actuated, not hydraulic?
Correct, and we’d rate that as a positive. Sure, a hydraulic system doesn’t suffer from contamination in the same way as a cable, but we’ve spent way too much time bleeding the hydraulic lines on RockShox Reverb posts for our liking!
Does it come in all the usual sizes?
There are three drop options (100, 125 and 150mm) and two diameters (30.9 and 31.6) available, which will suit most bikes. Ours is the 150mm drop, it’ll be going in our Canyon Strive test bike.
Both, the Transfer still caters for bikes without internal cable routing provisions by offering an externally actuated version. But the cable fixes to the lower section of the post not underneath the clamp like the DOSS, so the cable doesn’t move when the post goes up and down.
I need to purchase the lever separately?
Yes. If you run a front shifter, you’ll need the shifter compatible version which puts the lever above the bar, or there’s a 1x specific lever (which we’re testing) that puts the lever in prime position under the bar.
How does it stack up in terms of price and weight?
We weighed the Transfer is at 535g for the 150mm post, plus 50g for the lever and cable, so it’s comparable to a RockShox Reverb and a little lighter than a KS Integra.
There are two price points for the Transfer, depending on whether you want the Factory versions with the gold low-friction Kashima coat or not. You’ll pay $527 for the Factory post, or $459 for the Performance post, plus another $72 for the lever. The Kashima finish is the only difference between the two posts.
Is it a pain to fit?
Not at all. The cable has a quick release mechanism that makes it quite easy to install and remove the post, and the lever has a degree of adjustability so you can get the position where you want it easily. Because it’s a cable system too, the only tools you need are some cable cutters and an Allen key. In comparison to a KS post for example which has the cable end at the lever requires careful adjustment and trial error at the seatpost end, far more involved than the way FOX has approached the setup procedure.
Would you recommend it?
Based on our first impressions, 100%. Despite the weight and somewhat clunky lever of the old FOX DOSS post, it has always been one our favourites, and the new Transfer looks to a huge improvement on what was already a good product. The weight and pricing are on par with the competition, and we love the look, so hopefully that same reliability of the DOSS carries through to the Transfer to round out the package.
The Ultix SAS Bike Travel Case (lets just go with Ultix SAS) is a bike bag designed for a rider who is looking for a minimalistic, protective bike bag. The Ultix SAS is the smallest bike bag currently on the market, measuring just 115cm x 80cm x 30cm.
What makes the Ultix SAS different?
Other than being quite compact in comparison with other offerings on the market, such as the Pro Mega Bag that we tested a couple of years ago (http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-pro-mega-bag/), the Ultix SAS offers another innovative feature with its solution to protecting your precious cargo through two inflatable frame pads.
The pads are inserted on each side of the bag, and provide a solid cushion between the outside of the bag and the bike within. We think this is an excellent solution for protecting your bike during transit, however it’s quite heavy, weighing in at 9.8 kilograms for the bag with padding.
How easy is it to pack your bike?
For the purpose of this review, we were planning to pack a large sized Mondraker Dune into the Ultix SAS.
The first thing that you’ll need to do is whip off the wheels and pop them away in their individual slots on each side of the bag. The reinforced plastic where the rotors and cassette sit are a nice touch.
From there, you would normally place the forks onto the fork mount at the front of the bag (the bag comes with different adaptors to accommodate 9mm, 15mm and 20mm axles), however we weren’t able to fit our Mondraker Dune into the Ultix SAS. Yes, the Dune is one of the longer bikes on the market, but the SAS wouldn’t have accommodated our medium sized Canyon Strive either.
So despite the Ultix SAS’s well thought-out features such as extra protection throughout, multiple pockets for spare parts and luggage as well as high quality finishing touches like large zippers, swivelling wheels and eight handles, this is not a bike bag that will fit every bike.
So if this bag doesn’t fit every type of bike, who is the Ultix SAS really for?
Despite having constraints on the type of bikes that it will fit, for hardtail riders or people with small frame sizes the Ultix SAS is a well thought-out, adaptable product. We think the inflatable padding is a great idea, and the overall quality is top notch.
If you’ve got a hardtail, a road bike or a smaller dual-suspension mountain bike, this bag is certainly worth a look. We’d would love to see a slightly bigger Ultix SAS in the future, so hopefully it’s in the pipeline.