Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Scalpel Si Hi-Mod Team

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!


UPDATED – Final review is now live, click through to that here.


Greener than a mossy log under a lush canopy deep in the Awaba MTB Park.
Greener than a mossy log under a lush canopy deep in the Awaba MTB Park.
Take a moment to admire the Scalpel's unique asymmetrical shape.
Take a moment to admire the Scalpel’s unique asymmetrical shape.

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.

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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!cannondale-scalpel-si-hi-mod-team-9735

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.

The upper shock mount sits inside the top tube, so neat!
The upper shock mount sits inside the top tube, so neat!

For more on the frame details head over to our feature on the release of the 2017 Scalpel here: CANNONDALE’S NEW SCALPEL SI


What is ‘Si’ that Cannondale harp on about?

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.

Si - System Integration.
Si – System Integration.

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.

MASSIVE improvements to the Lefty with 2Spring.
MASSIVE improvements to the Lefty with a new 2Spring – the new two coil valve and top-out springs.

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.

ENVE M50 rims, there's a lot of the dollars.
ENVE M50 rims, there’s a lot of the dollars.

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!

Shimano XT Di2 Long Term Test Bike

What bike have you slung it on?


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!

The unmistakable sight that gives away the fact that this bike has electronic shifting.
The unmistakable sight that gives away the fact that this bike has electronic shifting.
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From a bare frame grew this dream machine, seriously desirable stuff.

We’ve spent a lot of time on the CF 9.0 Race version of this bike, which you can read about here.

Does that have the Shape Shifter system?


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.

The Shapeshifter remote lever, hit the lever and the bike changes between climbing and descending modes.
The Shapeshifter remote lever, hit the lever and the bike changes between climbing and descending modes.
The cable travels up the upper shock area where the Shapeshifter unit hides out of sight.
The cable travels up the upper shock area where the Shapeshifter unit hides out of sight.
From above you can see the adjustable air chamber for the Shapeshifter unit. A tight fit for most shock pumps, so we don't misplace the hose adaptor supplied with the bike!
From above you can see the adjustable air chamber for the Shapeshifter unit. A tight fit for most shock pumps, so we don’t misplace the hose adaptor supplied with the bike!

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).

With building a Di2 bike it's all about the wiring, the battery, and where it all goes inside the bike and parts.
With building a Di2 bike it’s all about the wiring, the battery, and where it all goes inside the bike and parts.

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.

PRO Tharsis Di2 specific cockpit.
PRO Tharsis Di2 specific cockpit.

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).

The thin but tough Di2 wire only sees a few inches of daylight.
The thin but tough Di2 wire only sees a few inches of daylight.
No front mech for this bike.
No front mech for this bike, 32 tooth chainring.

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!

Yes, we know...
Yes, we know…

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.

FOX 36 with 170mm of travel.
FOX 36 RC2 with 170mm of travel.
FOX Float X
FOX Float X out the back, superb stuff.

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.

Shimano XT brakes with the IceTech finned brake pads.
Shimano XT brakes with the IceTech finned brake pads.
PRO Tharsis bars come standard at a whopping 800mm wide, we trimmed them down a touch.
PRO Tharsis Trail bars come standard at a whopping 800mm wide, we trimmed them down a touch.

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.

Maxxis Aggressor tyres, tough and reliable rubber.
Maxxis Aggressor tyres, tough and reliable rubber.

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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.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Dynaplug Micro Pro – Tubeless Tyre Repair Kit

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.

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Small insurance.
Small and light, handy!
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Extra Dynaplug tyre repair plugs are available.
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Everything you need, housed in a little aluminium container.
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Push it in, plug it up.

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._LOW7143

The repair plug, spare plugs and associated accessories are stowed inside a machined aluminium container.

Stay tuned as we try this thing out!

Dynaplug Micro Pro Kit includes: 2 insertion tubes, 5 tubeless tire repair plugs, 1 Knife, 1 clearing attachment, 1 pipe cleaner.


Watch how it works here:

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert 6Fattie

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.

It's alive!
It’s alive!

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.

Read about our impressions of the Levo when we first heard about it.

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.

Connect with some of our queries of the system and experiences after our first ride, we explored trail damage issues, weight, danger to others, setup, how they ride and more.

We want to deliver, without bias or prejudice, the answers to a few of the questions that we had prior to our first e-xperience.

We write about two opposing sides of the debate of acceptance.

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.

A 140mm travel RockShox Pike, no doubt it is up for the task.
A 140mm travel RockShox Pike, no doubt it is up for the task.

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.

From a distance it looks a lot more 'normal' than many of the common e-MTBs out there.
From a distance it looks a lot more ‘normal’ than many of the common e-MTBs out there, quite streamlined considering what is involved.

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.

Simple and unobtrusive control, the rest is done from your phone.
Simple and unobtrusive control, the rest is done from your phone.

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 smartphone app is loaded with information and tuning features.
The smartphone app is loaded with information and tuning features.

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.

It's all in there, the power.
It’s all in there, the power.

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.

6Fattie tyres are a no-brainer for this bike.
6Fattie tyres are a no-brainer for this bike.

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.

The little chainguide will provide the security you need when there's that much power going through the drivetrain.
The little chainguide will provide the security you need when there’s that much power going through the drivetrain.

What’s next?

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.

Time to spend some hours on this thing, we're really looking forward to it.
Time to spend some hours on this thing, we’re really looking forward to it.

Flow’s First Bite: New RockShox SID

Before we fit it up and get bouncing, lets take a quick look at what’s new with the new SID.

We have the new SID on review, with the original Motion Control damper, and the Charger Upgrade to try.
We have the new SID on review, with the original Motion Control damper, and the Charger Upgrade to fit after a few rides to compare performance.
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Retaining the SID name, but revamping every single part.

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.

It's easy to see weight saving construction all over this new fork.
It’s easy to see weight saving construction all over this new fork.

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.

A cassette tool fitting to access the air chamber side.
A cassette tool fitting to access the air chamber side.

How light?

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.

The SID uses a new tool-free cable guide, hope we see this on more forks in the range one day.
The SID uses a new tool-free cable guide, hope we see this on more forks in the range one day.
Plenty of material shaven from the lower legs to save grams.
Plenty of material shaven from the lower legs to save grams.

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.

The excellent Charger damper finally makes its way to the SID.
The excellent Charger damper finally makes its way to the SID.
The expandable bladder seals the oil and moving parts of the damper.
The expandable bladder seals the oil and moving parts of the damper.

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.

Stay tuned!


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.

Look at those legs!
Look at those legs!

Flow’s First Bite: Performance 29er

aldi-mountain-bike-8423
As cheap as they come, but in this case it’s actually a legitimate bike to ride off road.

No matter how you look at it, this is a great bike for the money. $350 is not a price you’d typically be able to find a bike with this amount of quality components and frame construction.

This bike is purchased in a box, from Aldi. Click here for more: Purchasing the Performance 29er.


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.

No branding, just a small 29er graphic on the top tube.
No branding, just a small 29er graphic on the top tube.

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.

Shimano Acera 9-speed Shadow rear derailleur.
Shimano Acera 9-speed Shadow rear derailleur.

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.

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Tall and confident, with plenty of bike between you and the ground it is a confident, relaxed and easy bike to ride.

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.

Four-bolt stem, wide bars and aluminium construction.
Four-bolt stem, wide bars and aluminium construction.
Basic Suntour XCM fork with 63mm of travel works, but feels very softly sprung.
Basic Suntour XCM fork with 63mm of travel works well, but feels very softly sprung.
Cable actuated disc brakes from Tektro, powerful braking in the dry or wet.
Cable actuated disc brakes from Tektro, more consistent braking in the dry or wet than rim brakes.

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.aldi-mountain-bike-8447

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.

Tested: Giant Anthem 2

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?

giant-anthem-2-8493
Slacker, longer, lower, better. Heard that before? It’s the way forward, not only for long travel bikes.

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 2017 Anthem feels so different they could almost have given it a new name.
The 2017 Anthem feels so different they could almost have given it a new name.

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.

428mm chain stays on the new bike, you'll feel that when you pull a wheelie.
428mm chain stays on the new bike, you’ll feel that when you pull a wheelie.

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.

Getting the Anthem dirty on our home trails.
Getting the Anthem dirty on our home trails.

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.

$3499 gets you a very solid parts spec and a modern handling bike.
$3499 gets you a very solid parts spec and a modern handling bike.

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 fun, lively to ride. A lot more fun than a hardtail and more engaging than longer travel bikes.
It’s fun, lively to ride. A lot more fun than a hardtail and more engaging than longer travel bikes.

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.

Probably too laid back for our liking to take it racing, perhaps there's something more coming from Giant for the racers.
Probably too laid back for our liking to take it racing, perhaps there’s something more coming from Giant for the racers.

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.

Shimano's new 11-speed SLX drivetrain, so similar to performance of XT we are massive fans.
Shimano’s new 11-speed SLX drivetrain, so similar to performance of XT we are massive fans.
No chain guide, no dropped chain. The new tooth profile on the SLX chainrings is quite and smooth too!
No chain guide, no dropped chain. The new tooth profile on the SLX chainrings is quite and smooth too!

Testing this bike was our second experience with the new SLX drivetrain, check out our full review here: Shimano SLX 11-speed review. 

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.

The new FOX Rhythm 34 fork, a FOX fork that will reach a lower price point.
The new FOX Rhythm 34 fork, a FOX fork that aims reach a lower price point, it feels great on the trail.

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.

The FOX shock with a new trunnion side mount on the upper end.
The FOX shock with a new trunnion side mount on the upper end.

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.

Put this bike in a time machine, and send it back three years. It'll blow minds for only $3500.
Put this bike in a time machine, and send it back three years. It’ll blow minds for only $3500.

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.

Maxxis High Roller II / Minion SS Tyre Combo

What have we got here?

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?

Maxxis Tyres-4597
3C = triple compound. EXO = reinforced sidewall.

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.

These tyres have found a home on our Giant Trance.
These tyres have found a home on our Giant Trance.

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.

Maxxis Tyres-4591

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.

Maxxis Tyres-4600

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.

Maxxis Tyres-4588

Any drawbacks?

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.

Maxxis Tyres-4593

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.

Queensland: 

FOR THE RIDERS / (o7) 3891 7561 www.fortheriders.com.au

CRANK’D CYCLES PH / (07) 4728 5838 https://www.facebook.com/crankdcycles/?rf=790415367668940

New South Wales/ACT  

SUMMIT CYCLES / (02) 9661 4245 http://www.summitcycles.bike/

STEEL CITY CYCLES (02) 4267 1747 www.summitcycles.bike

FLOW BIKES  www.flowbikes.com.au

Victoria:

MY MOUNTAIN / (03) 9388 8678 http://www.mymountain.com.au/

LIFE OF BIKES / (03) 5940 2299 http://www.lifeofbikes.com.au/

Western Australia:

TBE / (08) 9277 9181 https://www.tbe.com.au/search.asp?mc=5&sc=951&b=25&slf=1

South Australia:

BICYCLE EXPRESS /(08) 8232 7277 http://www.bicycleexpress.com.au/

Northern Territory:

SPOKES NT  / (08) 8931 3111 http://spokesnt.com.au/

Tasmania:

SPRUNG / (03) 6334 5419 http://sprungmtb.com.au/

FOX Transfer Dropper Post: Flow’s First Bite

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.

FOX have successfully made the humble dropper post look quite alluring. Damn fine looking!
FOX have successfully made the humble dropper post look quite alluring. Damn fine looking!

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.

The under bar remote lever is perfectly ergonomic. About 100000 more so than the old one.
The under bar remote lever is perfectly ergonomic. About 100000 more so than the old one.

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.

Internal only?

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.

The 150mm drop
The longest Transfer, 150mm drop.

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.

FOX's low friction Kashima coating, adds dollars, reduces drag, looks amazing.
FOX’s low friction Kashima coating, adds dollars, reduces drag, looks amazing.

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.

fox-transfer-post-8250
Quick and easy fitting too.

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.

Tested: Ultix SAS Bike Travel Case

The Ultix SAS goes for the clean, understated look.
The Ultix SAS Bike Travel Case goes for the clean, understated look.

What is the Ultix SAS Bike Travel Case?


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.

The Ultix SAS has eight handles, and oversized zippers that are very user friendly.
The Ultix SAS has eight handles, and oversized zippers throughout that are very user friendly.

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.

No, this isn't a boogie-board for your vacation. This is Ultix's solution to keeping your bike protected from impacts.
No, this isn’t a boogie-board for your vacation. This is Ultix’s solution to keeping your bike protected from impacts.

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.

The protective padding slides simply into both sides of the bag.
The protective padding slides simply into both sides of the bag.

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.

Will this fit?
Will this fit?

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.

You may need to de-inflate your tyres if you're running beefy rubber.
You may need to de-inflate your tyres if you’re running beefy rubber.

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.

The fork mount locks into place with a small key.
The fork mount locks into place with a small key.

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.

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Anthem 2

The Anthem 2 is one up in the range from the base model at $3499, the middle of three aluminium frame Anthems with a $2499 and $4999 model on either side. Spend more and there is the Anthem Advanced range, with a composite/carbon front end and a higher spec. There is also a 29er Anthem still in the range that uses the older 2016 frame with current components.

For more on the 2017 Giant range including the new Trance, Reign, women’s specific LIV and XTC hardtail check out our overview here: Giant and LIV 2017 highlights.

Giant Anthem 2-8095
The glossy black and green Anthem 2, a trail bike with well-thought out parts spec.

While the Anthem has been around many years, the 2017 takes a slight shift in direction away from the cross country category it’s known for, taking a step into the trail bike category with more suspension travel, dropper post and slacker angles.

Visibly different is the new carbon one-piece rocker link above the rear shock, and the new side mounting (called a trunnion mount) shock. The introduction of the trunnion mount has allowed Giant to use a longer stroke rear shock and at the same time positioning it lower in the frame.Giant Anthem 2-8135

The carbon link found on all 27.5" Anthems.
The carbon link found on all 27.5″ Anthems.
Giant Anthem 2-8099
FOX 34 forks look visibly chunkier than the 32mm forks we’re used to seeing on an Anthem.
FOX EVOL rear shock with lockout and rebound control.
FOX EVOL rear shock with three-stage compression and rebound control.

Fork travel is 120mm with the new FOX Rhythm 34 fork using the new GRIP Damper. With boost hub spacing at both ends the fork looks especially beefy and wide, and a meaty tread Schwalbe Nobby Nic front tyre confirms the new Anthem is going to love hard riding.

Giant’s dropper post is a sight for sore eyes, we’re over the moon to see dropper posts gaining spec on a shorter travel and lower price bike like this, excellent stuff!

Yay! Dropper post!
Yay! Dropper post!

We’re pleased to see Shimano’s new SLX 11-speed drivetrain as standard, no front derailleur necessary with the great range delivered by a 11-42t cassette and 30t chainring. We have recently reviewed the incredibly great value SLX groupset here – Shimano SLX review.

Single ring for the win, Shimano SLX.
Single ring for the win, Shimano SLX.
Spring is here, let's ride.
Spring is here, let’s ride.

Time to get it dirty, stay tuned for our review over the next few weeks.

Tested: Reid Vice 3.0


What is a 27.5+ (plus) hardtail?

The Vice is Reid’s new plus bike, using 27.5″ diameter wheels and huge 2.8″ tyres. Riding the wave of the fast-growing category of plus bikes, Reid could well be on to a winner with this thing, big tyres with loads of grip and cushion really makes sense for bikes in this price point.

Wanna ride trails for the fun of it?
Wanna ride trails for the fun of it?
Reid Vice -4719
27.5″ diameter wheels in 2.8″ width, mounted to 40mm wide rims, there is a lot of air to sit on!

Who for?

This bike is for anyone wanting to ride proper off road trails for the fun of it, or if the trails are tricky and challenging the big tyres will open up possibilities. The Vice is a very capable bike for the dollars.

Taking a $1399 bike where we'd not normally go.
Taking a $1399 bike where we’d not normally go.

Is it suitable for newbies?

Newcomers to the mountain biking are likely to gain the most from a bike with loads of confidence inspiring control, but we also think that if a beginner can benefit, an experienced rider should also.

What about the model below, or above?

The Vice is available in three levels that share the same frame, the 1.0 for $699, 2.0 for $999 and 3.0 for $1399. The 3.0 is the only one with a suspension fork, two models below are rigid. The 2.0 is very similar in the components to the 3.0 with Shimano hydraulic brakes and the same wheels, while the 1.0 drops down to cable actuated disc brakes and a lower component spec across the board.

Good hardworking components, nothing flash, nothing missing either.
Good hardworking components, nothing flash, nothing missing either.

Could I buy the model below and upgrade it a little?

For a $400 saving for the model below we’d certainly lament the lack of a suspension fork, the 3.0 is worth the stretch if it’s possible.

How well is it built?

The aluminium frame is made tough to suit the inherent rugged nature of a plus bike, with chunky welds and loads of clearance for the big tyres. The bold orange colour and minimal graphics create a clean and simple appearance but in comparison to many of the larger brands it’s certainly no style king.

While we’re not adverse to rack mounts as it could make for a good bike packing rig over challenging terrain, they aren’t exactly the finest looking part of the frame, looking like an afterthought welded on at the last minute.

Rack mounts are handy, but these are a bit of an eyesore.
Rack mounts are handy, but these are a bit of an eyesore.

It uses boost spacing at the rear hub with a solid quick release thru-axle clamping everything nice and tight. There’s removable cable guides for an externally routed dropper post, and the rear derailleur cable runs inside the frame for a clean appearance.

The frame geometry?

We found the Vice to have really great geometry, and once you get it up to speed it is confident and begs for more. Where a traditional cross country hardtail would normally feel twitchy, sharp and nervous when the terrain gets rowdy, the Vice is slack and laid back in its geometry.

How is it specced?

This is a large part of what makes the Reid so appealing, the parts are really great for the money. The brakes, and drivetrain are excellent and suit the bike’s intended use. The FSA single chainring cranks give the bike a clean and quiet ride, and the use of a SunRace 11-40 tooth cassette out the back gives the Vice a wider gear range than a standard Shimano drivetrain, a nice touch.

The tyres are tubeless compatible, the expensive part of going tubeless, another great spec choice! While the bike doesn’t come with tubeless rim tape or valves, it’s worth buying some tubeless tape for the rims and a pair of valves to set the bike up tubeless. It’ll take it to the next level.

The Suntour suspension fork

While it’s no FOX or RockShox the Suntour Raidon is still a very capable fork. The thing with plus bikes, is that a basic fork’s shortcomings in sensitivity and plushness are hidden by the huge volume of air in the tyres. The fork has lockout, air spring adjustability and the chassis is stiff enough when you need it to be.

Suntour Raidon fork held its own during the review.
Suntour Raidon fork held its own during the review.

What would we change?

Just converting the tyres to tubeless tyres at first, and definitely a future dropper post upgrade would let you hang it out even more on the descents.

Let’s ride!

We love plus hardtails, they are just a tonne of fun, they promote you to get wild and launch yourself off anything in sight. While the lack of rear suspension is certainly noticed on hard landings the 2.8” WTB tyres make up for it by delivering immense traction and smoothening out the terrain nicely.

Reid Vice -4652
Yeeehaaa, no brakes no worries!

The Vice is all for popping wheelies, hitting jumps, skidding through corners and generally having a good time out there.

Would we recommend it?

Too often we see riders entering the sport on a cross country style hardtail, with long stems, narrow tyres, sharp handling and one million gears. If you’re not out to set lap times around a race track or dabble on the road too, a plus bikes makes so much sense. There’s no doubt that a plus bike like the Vice has more ability to ride more trails per dollar spent.

Merida One-Sixty 5000: Flow’s First Bite

Seriously, who can fault their new One-Sixty 9.700, after seeing what a dramatic improvement and update it is over the old model. With a beautiful carbon front end, enduro-spec right out of the box and an all-new aura of performance, we are not opposed to throwing our all at this bike!

Merida One Sixty-7713
Full credit to the team behind this new bike, it looks the goods.

What’s New?

Everything. An all-new frame roughly resembling their OneTwenty models of 2016 (with their Float Link suspension design), Merida have stepped it up with an up to date carbon/alloy frame that rivals the most elite of brands. We haven’t got out the tape measure, but the One-Sixty looks to have nice tight chain stays, and a nice slack head angle, though the overall reach does feel quite short.

New rear end with floating lower shock mount.
New rear end with floating lower shock mount.

Boost hub spacing, internal routing, Trunnion shock mounts and full-size pivot bolts are just some of the exciting features that will no doubt get many people’s eager nod of approval.

One quick ride and a good looking over and we're impressed, killer value too.
One quick ride and a good looking over and we’re impressed, killer value too.

One hell of a parts spec, for $4490

Merida have managed to present one of the most cost effective Gravity Enduro build kit of recent times, ticking almost every box.

Merida One Sixty-7714
The big and burly RockShox Yari.
Merida One Sixty-7696
Our first experience with the new RockShox Deluxe rear shock.

Suspension needs are covered by a RockShox Yari and Super Deluxe – new and exciting options from RS we haven’t had a chance to sample yet… Stay tuned to hear what we make of these in the coming weeks.

Merida has you covered with something you won’t get with most new bikes – a good chain guide. The MRP adjustable top guide sits upon a full SRAM NX 11 speed drivetrain. SRAM’s new entry-level wide range drivetrain brings you all the benefits of X1 and X01, arguably the most widely loved all-mountain drivetrains of recent times, but at a fraction of the cost.

Is that a Merida dropper post?

This is one intriguing feature that has appeared on this bike. Merida-branded and made by Trans-X the cable-actuated post is a new model to us, it is certainly not the top of the line, however initial tinkering with it prove quite promising. Time will tell the reliability of this post as we give it a proper run.

The 160mm travel segment is stacked with amazing bikes, Merida's new entry is promising.
The 160mm travel segment is stacked with amazing bikes, Merida’s new entry is promising.

A super short stem and wide alloy bars, wide alloy rims and downhill casing tyres round out a truly modern offering from a brand that looks to be coming to its full potential as an industry leader in the enduro/gravity arena.

Oh, did we mention its $4490? Yeah, that’s seriously hot price tag. Make sure you keep an eye out for our in-depth review of this one, and expect to see a lot more of them on your weekends.

Flow’s First Bite: Osprey Raptor 10L Hydration Pack

The Raptor 10 Hydration Pack is not their biggest pack in the range, but is the perfect all-day endurance riding companion. With an enticing combination of handy features, ample storage, 3L of water, light weight and comfort, we can’t wait to put it through its paces on local marathon trail rides this summer, especially when one drink bottle is nowhere near enough water.


Features

After just opening up the pack after arrival and playing around with it for a while, you realise just how many awesome features this thing has. The labyrinth of zippers, pull-outs, clips and pouches will have taken you on an adventure before you have even left home!

Despite being on the larger size of the hydration pack market, the Raptor 10 comes as a very light package. Utilising lightweight Nylon fabric and foam, the user comfort is definitely satisfied – comfy shoulder straps, super-breathable back mesh and foam, as well as a hip hugging lower strap. A large mesh panel lets the pack sit off your back to offer a degree of suspension on bouncy terrain and air flow between your back and the pack.Osprey Raptor-6344

Large, but still very light and compact.
Large, but still very light and compact.

The main compartment of this pack is quite generous for a 10L pack; however, filled with 3L of water, the space you have to work with is whittled down quite a bit. Despite this, Osprey have worked around this really well, giving you loose pouches for tubes, a pump and some snacks. Of course though, there’s enough space to squeeze in a rain jacket, pads or even a small camera.

As with many of these higher quality packs, the Osprey also has your mobile, keys and valuables sorted with a small top Stash Pocket, complete with two zip compartments and a plastic keyring, just to keep them extra secure. If you want even easier access, there is two great little zip pockets on the hip straps – within perfect reach for keys, tyre plugs, jelly snakes or a small water gun to piss your mates off with – the possibilities are near endless.

Pockets galore, the internal storage is very well thought out.
Pockets galore, the internal storage is very well thought out.

On the exterior, there seems to be a lot going on, with layers of fabric, straps and clips all over. However, they work out to be a stretchy jacket compartment, rear light mount and one for the enduro specialists; the LidLock Helmet Attachment. This handy plastic clip slots easily through the vents of your helmet, pulling it tight to your back and out of the way. Time will tell how well it holds your half face on long enduro stages – it is looking promising.

Helmet carrying solution. Handy for carrying a full face or chin guard on rides.
Helmet carrying solution. Handy for carrying a full face or chin guard on rides.
External hip pockets for easy access while riding.
External hip pockets for easy access while riding.

One of the best features of this pack is the roll out tool pouch. Sitting comfortably at the bottom of the bag and separated from the main compartment, it comes into its own when you can just throw your bag off, lay it flat and just roll out the tools ready to go without digging through your snacks, jacket, spare undies or the two-week old banana in the main compartment.

The roll out tool pouch.
The roll out tool pouch.

With all the things you can carry with this bag, the 3 Liters of water storage is a welcome and needed feature for all those backcountry trail rides you are going to want to be doing – enough water to last a good few hours without needing to hunt down a tap on someone’s private property in the middle of nowhere.

We’re looking forward to put this swiss-army-knife of a pack to the test out on the trails – with enough space to keep us set for whole-day adventures, I think this is as good reason as any to head out and test ourselves on the longer days of spring! For more information on Osprey’s range, check out – www.ospreypacks.com

Quick Ride Review: 2017 Trek Remedy 9.8

Ryan Walsch from Trek gives the stiffer and longer Remedy a good old shove trough a bermed turn.
Ryan Walsch from Trek gives the stiffer and longer Remedy 9.8 a good old shove trough a bermed turn.
Trek Remedy 9.8_LOW7339
One our favourite bikes that we took all over the country this year is all-new again, the 2017 model is bigger and burlier.

The frame

For 2017 suspension bumps up to 150mm of travel and slackens off the head angle, now adjustable between 66.5 and 66-degrees. Reach has been pushed out quite a lot as well, by 11mm on a size 19″ (large) frame, and short 50mm stems are employed across the range.

With more travel and such aggressive geometry, the Remedy can be ridden harder, so Trek needed to make the bike stiffer. The Remedy and the Fuel us the new Straight Shot down tube, the massive, boxy down tube shaves a few grams and gives the front serious stiffness. But with the wide fork crowns of boost spacing forks they ran into clearance issues so to stop the crowns impacting the frame when the wheel turns right around, they came up with a headset that stops the rotation, ‘Knock Block’. In addition to the headset there are bumpers underneath the head tube area to further protect the frame.

The Knock Block headset prevents frame damage in a crash from bars and forks spinning around.
The Knock Block headset prevents frame damage in a crash from bars and forks spinning around.
Stiff front end for maximum rowdiness.
Stiff front end for maximum rowdiness.
Great tyres, suspension and a sturdy frame gives loads of confidence in the rough.
Great tyres, suspension and a sturdy frame gives loads of confidence in the rough.
Mino Link geometry adjustability.
Mino Link geometry adjustability.

The parts

The wide Bontrager Line rims, grippy XR4 tyres and big 35mm stem clamp give the Remedy a far tougher appearance than the 2016 model, these were the areas we upgraded our long term test bike last year, Trek are onto it!

A complete Shimano XT groupset is always a good sight, the 9.8 is covered in the stuff. The brakes are especially nice and Trek are using the I-Spec single handlebar clamp for the brake and shifter to keep the cockpit as neat as it can be.

RockShox Pike with 150mm of travel.
RockShox Pike with 150mm of travel.
Trek Remedy 9.8_LOW7332
One our most favourite tyres just got a whole lot better, the new XR4.

The 9.8 does have a double chainring, which isn’t our cup of tea but sure can come in handy on the longer climbs out there.


Riding

We spent a whole year aboard the hot green/yellow 2016 model 9.8 and after just a quick ride on this one we’re very impressed. It feels a whole lot more robust and the rear suspension feels more planted, and with the wide rims and insanely good XR4 tyres it feels great at speed.

Trek Remedy 9.8_LOW7530
The 150mm Remedy is a fun bike to ride, the 27.5″ wheels are happily thrown about and tipped into a corner.

With 29ers on either side of the Remedy in the Trek range with the 130mm Fuel and 160mm Slash, the 150mm travel Remedy is a bike that will enjoy a jump, drop, drift and a tight line on the trail.

Stay tuned for more as we get our hands on a Trek Remedy for a proper review.

Tested: Shimano SLX 11-Speed M7000 Groupset

Shimano SLX-4555
Bringing 11-speed to the masses. We opted for a 1×11 SLX setup.

Well, weight savings are one reason, and certainly XT or XTR will last a little longer and ride a little smoother than SLX. Or perhaps you just prefer the feel and operation of SRAM over Shimano. But when get down to the nitty gritty of performance and price, the new SLX groupset smashes the ball out of the damn park. It’s insanely good for the price.

 From a features and performance standpoint, SLX isn’t far shy of the XTR of three years ago.

The trickledown effect might be dubiously truthful in economics, but Shimano bring it to bear in their drivetrains with sensational results. From a features and performance standpoint, SLX isn’t far shy of the XTR of two years ago. Fortunately for Shimano, there are plenty of people who simply must have the latest and greatest right away, because savvy consumers know that if they’re patient enough it’s only a matter of months till Shimano’s top-end features are available at a fraction of the price.

Shimano SLX-4538
The SLX groupset is a good match for unflappable Giant Trance.

We popped our SLX groupset onto an alloy Giant Trance 2015 frame – a sturdy, workhorse frame for a similarly themed groupset. Before we get into the specifics, let’s do a quick weigh in… Now this surprised us: with a 1×11 setup, including brakes, the weight difference between XT and SLX is a paltry 151g! Here’s the breakdown:

Weights

Crankset, 1×11 with 32-tooth ring (no bottom bracket): XT 694g vs SLX 715g

Right hand shifter: XT 127g vs SLX 135g

Cassette, 11-42: XT 434g vs SLX 476g

Brakes, pair with 160mm rotors and 800mm line: XT 804g vs SLX 836g


Drivetrain

Like XTR and XT, the new SLX groupset is available in a few variants, with 1×11 or 2×11 options. We opted to test the 1×11 version, pairing a 32-tooth ring to the 11-42 cassette out back. Riding with a front derailleur feels like going back in time. We’ll happily accept the reduced range in exchange for lower weights and increased simplicity (though after riding SRAM’s 1×12 Eagle setup, you can see the appeal of that extra low gear!). The ratios are nicely spaced across the range, and the shifting is typically Shimano smooth.

Shimano SLX-4551
The SLX mech is low profile and shifts superbly, with great chain stability too. We haven’t dropped a chain yet.

Shimano have used SLX to debut a new chain ring design, with a narrow/wide tooth profile and more rounded tooth shape. Coupled with the stability of the rear mech, it clearly does the job, as we haven’t yet dropped a chain.

The new chain ring profile is quieter and smoother running than the previous version,

The main benefit of the new chain ring profile is that it’s quieter and smoother running than the previous version, which had square-shaped teeth. It’s noticeably less ‘grindy’ in the wet or when in the largest cog out back. We do still feel that SRAM has the edge in terms of quiet running though, overall.

Shimano SLX-4542
Clean and simple.

The SLX rear derailleur may cop a weight penalty when compared to its more expensive friends, but the operation is 90% as good. The clutch mechanism keeps the chain on, and quiet, and the low-profile design is tucked up nicely away from trail debris, especially when compared to SRAM’s derailleurs.

Take care to tighten the pinch bolts that secure the left-hand crankarm nice and tight.

One of the most eye-catching elements of the new SLX grouppo are the cranks, which look simply sensational, even better than XTR in our opinion. SLX uses the same crank arm for 1×11 or 2×11 configurations (unlike XTR).

Shimano SLX-4562
Shimano’s 11-speed cassettes are far from light, but that’s no biggie we feel. The SLX cassette comes in 11-40 or 1-24 sizes.

Anyone who has ridden Shimano’s cranks knows just reliable and foolproof they are, but take care to tighten the pinch bolts that secure the left-hand crankarm nice and tight. We stuffed up badly, not torqueing them enough, and off a particularly harsh landing we actually rounded out the splines of the crankarm / axle interface. We stress though that this was our fault entirely, so we say this as a warning to others not to replicate our mistake, not as a criticism! (We said they were foolproof cranks, not Flow-foolproof!)

Shimano SLX-4572
The feel of the shifter under your thumb is really the only immediate giveaway that you’re riding SLX and not a more expensive groupset.

In terms of functional differences between XT and SLX, there’s bugger all in it – only the shifter gives up any obvious ground to XT. It feels a little more clunky under your thumb than XT, but the build quality still is far nicer than SRAM NX, which is the closest equivalent to SLX. We did miss the ‘dual-release’ function that you get with XT shifters – having that ability to fire off two upshifts in one push of the lever is great when accelerating out of a corner.

Shimano SLX-4564
The SLX calipers deliver the consistent, powerful braking we expect from Shimano.

Brakes

Shimano’s flawless reputation for amazing brakes (how sweet the sound…) took a bit of a hit in recent times, and there have been some running changes made to the master cylinders on some XT and XTR brakes to alleviate a few consistency concerns. The new SLX brakes benefit from the lessons learned, and we cannot find fault with them. Resin pads are fitted out of the box, and they have a nice gentle engagement that makes it easy to modulate the power. If you want more bite, we suggest fitting the sintered metal pads. Both the rotors and pads are Ice Tech items, with fins to cool the pads and an aluminium/steel sandwich design for the rotors, to dissipate heat. None of our riding has been steep enough to so much as raise a sweat from the brakes.

Shimano SLX-4570
Finned pads for heat dissipation. While the stock resin pads offer a nice braking feel, we prefer the bite and power of the sintered metal pads overall.

As we said at the start of this review, the quality of SLX 11-speed is going to leave a lot of people struggling to justify the leap to XT, let alone XTR. Still, that’s Shimano’s problem to worry about, not ours, and if the new SLX helps get more people onto 11-speed (particularly 1×11) then that’s a good thing! A seriously great product at a great price.

 

 

Fresh Product: Thule VeloCompact 927

We’ve just received the latest tow-ball mounted bike carrier from Thule for a long term review, the VeloCompact 927. We are more than qualified for this review as the previous EuroWay rack has been with us for four years with countless bikes and driving hours under its belt.

We’ll be back in a few months time for our full review, in the meantime take a look at the features of this very nice rack.

THULE-7622
The three bikes do sit close together, our only gripe with the system, especially with wider set bikes with Boost spacing hubs.

For $899 the VeloCompact 927 is top of the line and loaded with features; it can carry up to three bikes (a fourth can be carried with an adaptor for $295), complies to road standards with lights and number plate display, and can tilt back to access car boot.

THULE-7634
It’s not light but can compact down to a reasonable size, stash it in the boot or hang it in the garage.

The VeloCompact range is all about its compatible size, the wheel cradles and tail lights slide inwards to reduce overall size for storage.

Tilting the rack even with three bikes on there is a seriously good feature.
Tilting the rack even with three bikes on there is a seriously good feature.

All the bikes can also be locked on the rack, and the whole rack locked to the towball too, we leave it locked on to the car most of the time.

Lockable onto the towball.
Lockable onto the towball.
Long ratchet straps secure the wheels, long enough for long wheelbase bikes, no worries.
Long ratchet straps secure the wheels, long enough for long wheelbase bikes, no worries.

Three independent clamping arms can be arranged to grip the bike securely but never too tight it’ll damage fragile carbon frames, the rubber is soft and grippy.

Three bikes safe and sound.
Three different bikes, safe and sound and ready for exploring.

Stay tuned as we put it through its paces, but for now we can definitely recommend this three-bike carrier to carry bikes securely and safely.


Features:

Easy mounting and adjustment of the carrier before closing the tightening handle thanks to the tow bar coupling’s initial stability.

Possible to increase the load capacity to four bikes by adding a 4th bike adapter, with 9261 4th bike adapter, RRP $295.00.

Easy mounting of bikes through detachable bike arms.

Carries bikes with large wheelbases thanks to single action extendable wheel holders.

Easy boot access even with bikes mounted thanks to smart foot pedal tilt.

Simple to fold flat and store – fits most car boots.

Lock your bikes to the bike carrier and your carrier to the tow bar (locks included).

Fulfils the City Crash norm.

Pre-assembled, no tools required.

Avoid heavy lifting. Simply roll the bike in place into the carrier by using the loading ramp 9152, RRP $99.00.


Wheelworks FLITE Wide Carbon Wheels – Flow’s First Bite

Wheelworks Flite Wide Carbon Wheels_LOW6118

Wide rims are the way forward, there’s no doubt about it. A wider, more stable, platform for your tyre lets you run lower pressures for more grip and control. We don’t need to harp on again about it in detail, but we’re not overstating it when we say that wider rims can transform your ride experience in a way that few equipment changes will.

Wheelworks Flite Wide Carbon Wheels_LOW6143
35 internal width, taped and ready for action!

We’ve recently received a set of pretty special wheels from New Zealand custom wheel builders, Wheelworks. These guys are well regarded as the godfathers of Kiwi wheel building – they’re the only crew we’ve ever encountered to offer a lifetime warranty on their wheel builds, including impact damage and spoke breakage, which is pretty exceptional.

Wheelworks Flite Wide Carbon Wheels_LOW6134
Each set of Wheelworks wheels gets custom graphics. DT Aerolites are the spoke of choice.

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 really 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.

The Flite Wide Carbon wheels are, as the name implies, very wide and very carbon. The rims measure up 40mm externally, and 34mm internally, which makes them just about wide as the Ibis 741 rims we tested last year, which opened our eyes to the potential of truly wide rims.

Spokes are the bladed DT Aerolites, and they’re laced in a two-cross pattern, which reduces the angle of entry of the spoke into the rim, with a nice touch being the two powder-coated white spokes on the either side of the valve stem. It’s all in the details!

DT provide the hubs too, which have been given the Wheelworks touch, with custom decals to match the rims. One of the perks of buying a custom set of wheels is that you can pimp them out as you like, so we went with silver and blue decals to offset the silver/black finish of our Canyon Strive test bike. In another nice touch, the Wheelworks guys even up-specced the DT Star Ratchet freehub, to the 54-tooth version for super fast engagement. The weight is pretty impressive, at 1720g for the pair.

Wheelworks Flite Wide Carbon Wheels_LOW6101

The rims come taped and ready for tubeless use with valves already installed to, so we were able to get them setup to ride quick smart. For rubber, we’ve opted to run the new Maxxis Aggressor DD (Double Down, with a stiffer sidewall) in a 2.3″ size. With the stiff tyre sidewall and wide rim, they were a bit of battle to fit, but we’re certainly never going to worry about rolling them off the rim! We think that with the wide rim, coupled to a stiff and robust tyre like the Aggressor, we’re going to have plenty of confidence at low pressures.

_LOW6587

We’ve fitted these gorgeous hoops to our Canyon Strive / XT Di2 test bike, and all that remains is to see how fast we can go! Giddyup!

For more details and Australian pricing visit Wheel Works.

_LOW6456

 

 

Tested: Merida Ninety-Six XT

Merida Ninety Six XT-6276
Cross country racer delight, a carbon 29er with great suspension and fast character.
Hammering out the miles, relishing in the efficient climbing position.
Hammering out the miles, relishing in the efficient climbing position of the long and low cockpit.
Merida-Ninety-Six-24
The XT’s big bro, the Team model with full carbon frame, fancy bits and a $9999 price tag. Yikes!

Our Ninety-Six XT test bike is the middle of three models in the range, the base Ninety-Six 800 version with an all aluminium frame is $3099 and the top-level Ninety-Six Team with a full carbon frame and ultra premium spec is $9999. The full range can be found here: Merida Ninety-Six range.

For more on the Ninety-Six Team take a peak at our first impressions piece of the high end racer here: Flow’s First Bite: Merida Ninety-Six Team.


Frame

With an all-new frame for 2016, as well as a great value package for the every-day racer and cross country rider, the Merida Ninety-Six XT is light, clean and smooth. The new Ninety-Six range will be available in both 27.5” and 29”, letting smaller riders utilise the smaller wheel size in small, while bigger riders get 29″ wagon wheels in medium, large and extra large sizes.

Suspension travel is 100mm travel at both ends, the standard amount for serious cross country bikes with a racer edge.

Merida Ninety Six XT-6304
Carbon up front, aluminium out back. Merida’s carbon mountain bikes are always super light.

Distancing themselves from the old vertical rocker link setup of last year’s models, Merida have instead chosen a far more aesthetically pleasing and slim single pivot/swing link setup – which Merida believe to be the most optimised position for both weight savings and shock actuation. Pair that with a beautiful matte carbon/black finish, short head tube and internal cable routing, Merida have made one of the best looking bikes we’ve seen from them so far.

Look at that lovely carbon shimmering in the sun, fine stuff indeed!
Look at that lovely carbon shimmering in the sun, fine stuff indeed!
Merida Ninety Six XT-6290
Carbon swing link and titanium hardware, fine work indeed.

The new frame’s suspension kinematics are far more in tune with 1×11 setups with the positioning of the main suspension pivot in relation to the chainring – though the XT model is specced with a 2x front derailleur setup. Equipped with 720mm wide bars, Shimano Deore brakes and the XT 2×11 drivetrain, the Ninety-Six is easily adjusted to suit riders on the hunt for a trail or race steed.

The new Shimano side swing front derailleur with the cable entering through the side.
The new Shimano side swing front derailleur with the cable entering through the side.

Merida have also employed a direct mount front derailleur, to allow them to shorten the chainstays and re-route the cable straight up the downtube, instead of having to go up into the seat tube – allowing for the potential of a dropper post.

Internal routing sucks sometimes. That’s why Merida have worked hard to integrate the new Internal routing and keep it all very functional and clean; utilising clever end clamps at each entry and exit to secure the cable from moving or slapping. It also comes with clever inserts to make it all DI2 compatible – for when you want to upgrade and fully trick your drivetrain with electric shifting. Another great touch is a large bottom bracket port for all the internal cables to exit the frame. This makes internally routing a very stress free task in all the Ninety-Sixes.

Merida Ninety Six XT-6293
Clamped cable ports for silence and security.
Merida Ninety Six XT-6306
Large exit port underneath the frame.

 

Other neat features of the frame include a quick release 142x12mm rear Axle and large swing arm bearings and bolts – boosting the rear stiffness significantly – as well as a clean internally mounted rear brake mount, which sits snug in between the seatstay and chainstay.


The parts

As the name suggests, there’s a good dose of Shimano XT on this bike, with the drivetrain and hubs. The double-ring gives the rider a great range of gears, but we’d lean more towards a single ring setup.

A carbon post adds a little class to the kit, and the long stem and flat bars are a nod to the cross country racer.

Suspension: FOX at both ends is quite a good find at this price point, the smooth and supple performance makes the most of only 100mm of travel.

FOX 32 up front, smooth and controlled as always.
FOX 32 up front, smooth and controlled as always.

Tyres: Right out of the shop, we would definitely recommend swapping out the Continental rubber – they are spikey, hard and unfortunately not tubeless compatible. We found them to be decent performers on grass and soft dirt, but really slippery and loose on sandstone slabs and hardpacked surfaces. A quick swap to a Bontrager XR series set, or a pair of Schwalbe Rocket Rons would more than do the trick if your trails are drier.

Continental tyres.
Continental tyres.

Wheels: If you have upgrading in mind, the wheelset is a great place to start. A new set of carbon hoops and premium hubs would up the stiffness and reliability tenfold – in our experience the stock Shimano Deore hubs are prone to higher maintenance, while the DT Swiss Rims are narrow even for today’s cross country standards. Keep an eye out for some new hoops as an upgrade and you will be throwing yourself down rough sections in no time.

Remote Lock out: Lockout is a must have for many cross country riders, to squeeze every last drop of efficiency motoring along to another KOM. The Ninety-Six comes with a cable actuated 3-stage lockout remote, which adjusts both shocks in sync by means of two separate cables and a cable splitter. Though this pushes the cable count and spaghetti factor right up with a very cluttered handlebar region, we found it to be really functional whenever you want to put road miles down or on climbs. The Fox Float DPS responds incredibly well to the lockout – giving a seriously rigid ride when you’re all about laying down maximum pedal power.

FOX remote lockout controls both fork and shock with one lever.
FOX remote lockout controls both fork and shock with one lever.

The Ride

Comfort is an adjective that comes to mind when describing this new Merida! Comfy foam grips, buttery smooth Fox suspension and a forgiving seat make for one attractive do-it-all cross country whip to anyone. Hard days out training, long marathon races or slogging it on a multi-lap race is this bike’s home turf, far more comfortable over time than a hardtail.

Merida Ninety Six XT-6220
Confident at speed, especially on the race track.

Testing the Ninety-Six XT out on a range of different style trails – from woody singletrack, to sandstone slabs and grass circuits – we found Merida’s new Ninety-Six XT’s new suspension platform to have a balanced, effective feel out on the trail. This gives a fairly controlled ride, even at high speed. The wider bars bridle the stealth horse nicely through corners and technical features, inspiring a bit more confidence than what is normally the case on race-ready machines.

Short but sweet, the FOX rear shock handles the 100mm of travel very well.
Short but sweet, the FOX rear shock handles the 100mm of travel very well.

Chainstay length on the Merida is definitely spot on for this category – a short 435mm. Keeping the rear end so short gives the Ninety-Six XT really comfortable cornering and descending abilities. For a 29er, being short and manoeuvrable is key to making the most of larger diameter wheels without detracting from the bike’s agility at slower speed. Out of the saddle climbing the body position is excellent, there’s a real racing pedigree in Merida’s history and it becomes quite clear that they know how to design a race bike’s geometry, it climbs hard and efficiently.Merida Ninety Six XT-6248

However, it wouldn’t be a cross country bike without a great deal of chain slap and rattle. The front derailleur is largely to blame; converting this bike to a 32 or 36 tooth narrow wide single ring setup would have a huge impact on the feel of the bike.


The Verdict

For someone not looking to race all the time, the Ninety-Six XT comes stock as a great trail bike. The geometry, cockpit and wheelset leans nicely towards light trail and cross country riding, giving anyone suitable gearing range, grip and control for everyday riding.

Steep climbs and open trails are the Merida's forte, a classic marathon racer.
Steep climbs and open trails are the Merida’s forte, a classic marathon racer.

With a load of new developments, Merida have put themselves up in the mix with the most popular XC bikes around, developing a frame that stands up to the best. And with a build kit with good potential, the Ninety-Six XT is a silent achiever and definitely one to seriously consider – whether for the race circuit or the local trails.

Tested: Pivot Switchblade

The Switchblade is Pivot’s first frame compatible with both 29″ and 27.5+ wheels, the two wheel sizes have inherently very different ride attributes, so effectively two different bikes can be built from one frame. Two wheel sizes in one model of bike is not a new concept (like the Trek Fuel, Specialzed Stumpjumper, Scott Genius and more) but two wheel sizes with one frame is. What’s most interesting is how two Switchblades can built with the different wheels resulting in nearly identical geometry, leaving the different ride characterise to be determined by the wheels only.

The two wheel sizes have inherently very different ride attributes, so effectively two different bikes can be built from one frame.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5149
Not ridden a plus bike yet? Oh that’s a real shame…
LOW4493
27.5 x 2.8″ on the left and 29 x 2.35″ on the right.

For an in-depth discussion of where we see the wheel size trend possibly going, read our opinion piece ‘The Middle Power’ here.

For our review of the Switchblade we were fortunate to secure two bikes with the same build to ride at the same time, a rare opportunity to garner a crystal clear impression of the two bikes’ different attitudes.


The frame

There’s no hiding we are big fans of Pivot’s superbly built frames, over the years we’ve witnessed this relatively young brand go from strength to strength. From their unique approach to geometry and suspension, to the pioneering and immediate adoption of the latest technological trends and standards, Pivot are up there with the best of them. But it’s the suspension performance that receives most adoration from us, the way the DW Link suspension is executed into the frame is brilliant. The distinguished DW Link suspension is instantly noticeable on the trail with ultra-smooth and supple action matched with stable pedalling, any bike using DW Link suspension deserves instant credit. For an explanation of the whole DW Link biz, click here.

There’s 150mm of travel up front and 135mm out the back of this thing, quite a variance in travel amounts but not uncommon amongst modern long travel 29ers and plus bikes where a bigger wheel/tyre seems to make up for less rear wheel travel on the trail.

Pivot Switchblade FLOW3914
Attractive from a distance, and curious upon closer inspection, there is a lot to know about the Switchblade.

The Switchblade is a damn fine piece of expensive stuff, the type of bike that you can stare at for some time, we sure did. The carbon shapes are robust and the compact and stout aluminium linkage is shaped much like the Phoenix downhill bike and Pivot’s enduro racer, the Mach 6. Cables are all housed internally, with very effective cable ports that clamp in place as well as holding the cables tightly to reduce creeping or rattling inside the frame.

Nicest looking Pivot yet?
Nicest looking Pivot yet?
Pivot Switchblade_LOW5186
Clamped internal cable ports are a very nice touch.

Shimano Di2 integration: Pivot have always been pretty tight with Shimano, Pivot Cycles founder, Chris Cocalis worked at Shimano for many years. So you’ll certainly notice the way a few of their systems neatly integrate into the frame like the side swing front derailleur (co-developed with Shimano and Pivot) and ultimate integration of Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting components with a specific set of port fittings for wires and a specific cradle for the Di2 battery in the down tube.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5170

Thinking of Di2 in a Pivot? Check out our Shimano XTR Di2 build of a Pivot Mach 4 we did recently: Pivot and Shimano Di2 integration. And our review of the fantastic Mach 4 here: Pivot Mach 4 Carbon review.

Front derailleur compatible: There is provisions for a front derailleur (new side swing style), which in our opinion is both a blessing and a curse. Fans of the Shimano double chainring gear range will be happy with the option, but we also can’t help but wonder how the frame would look and hot it could benefit without the restrictions of the space required for a front mech in the region around the main linkage. Either way, more options is a good thing and the frame certainly doesn’t lack in lateral rigidity or strength at all, so we’ll live with it for now.

The 17mm stack headset cup: The only difference between the two frames is in the headset, included with every frameset is two lower cups; a zero stack and a 17mm stack. The 27.5+ wheels with the supplied Maxxis Recon 2.8″ tyres have a slightly smaller diameter than the 29er wheels with Maxxis High Roller 2.35″  which will give the 27.5+ bike a lower bottom bracket height. Fitting the 17mm headset cup lifts the 27.5+ bike in the bottom bracket and also corrects the head angle at the same time.Pivot Switchblade_LOW5184

Pivot are quite open to the fact that the 17mm cup is not mandatory, if you prefer a lower bottom bracket height just run the zero stack cup in either wheel size.

Super Boost 157mm rear hub: None of what the Switchblade achieves in regards to geometry would have been possible without pushing a few things outwards, starting with the rear hub and the chain line associated with it. As Pivot put it; “Super Boost Plus 157 uses the existing chain line developed for DH bikes but uses standard trail bike BB widths and crank combinations to take 29” and plus bike performance to the next level.”

While we’re still getting our heads around the new-ish Boost 148mm rear hub spacing which pushes chain lines outboard by 3mm, this Super Boost takes it further with a 157mm spacing that pushes out chain line 6mm. That extra chain line width has allowed the Switchblade to go shorter in the chain stays (428mm), provide generous tyre clearance, front derailleur compatibility, and still maintain a stiff and strong wheel and frame. The wider hub flanges reduce the dish on the rear wheel, which is a bonus for wheel strength too.

Super Boost 157mm rear hub spacing, not necessarily a new standard (used in DH bikes) but Pivot and DT have brought it to 29er and 27.5+ use.
Regular 142, Boost 148 and Super Boost 157.
Regular 142, Boost 148 and Super Boost 157.

 

Water Bottle ready: Two water bottle mounts are at the ready, the usual place inside the main triangle and the second mount underneath the down tube. We found clearance pretty tight with our setup, so a smaller size water bottle was the best fit. The shock can also be rotated to move the adjustment dials on top to allow more room for a larger bottle.


The parts

Pivot bikes are available as a frame only or frame and build kit, with the same frame available in a variation of configurations dressed in hand-picked components by Pivot themselves. Their build kits have a unique flavour, a real mixture of brands. Take a look at the build kits on offer here: Switchblade build kits. The frame alone will set you back $4609.95 and build kits range from $4824.95 to $10689.95 for the ultimate Shimano XTR Di2 build.

Shimano: The two bikes we have on review use the base model (yeah, hardly entry level we know) spec with a 1×11 Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain, RaceFace cranks and Shimano XT brakes. The cassette is modified with a One Up 45 tooth sprocket upgrade for a 12.5% larger gear range, a small but impressive detail as standard.

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Hey, that’s not a Shimano sprocket! Pivot spec One Up’s 45T sprocket on the Shimano XT cassette.

Wheels and tyres: DT Swiss make the custom hub for the 157mm spacing, and also supply the rims. The plus set uses 40mm internal width rims, and the 29er uses 25mm rims. We’re seeing a lot more Maxxis plus size tyres creeping into the market now, the early adopters of plus tyres like Specialized, Schwalbe and WTB are now joined by the big players in tyres, Maxxis and we’re glad for it. Of all the plus tyres we’ve ridden so far these would have to be our pick of the bunch, the tyre profile and tread shape strikes a nice balance of rolling speed and bite in a reasonable weight of 780 grams. While we did slice one small hole in the rear tyre (launching off massive granite boulders in Beechworth) it sealed up with Stan’s No Tubes sealant and didn’t interrupt our day.

Suspension: Like there is a lot of Shimano in the range from Pivot, the same goes for FOX, with the forks and rear shocks all coming from the high-end brand. Interesting to note though, is that in all the build kits the fork and shock remains the same, with the FOX 36 Factory 150 Kashima Boost 110QR fork, and out the back is the superb FOX Float Factory DPS EVOL Kashima. Both fork and shock have all the adjustments you could wish for, including the incredibly effective low speed compression adjustment which we use a lot.

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135mm of absolute gold.
Pivot Switchblade FLOW3920
FOX 36 Factory 150mm forks up front, seriously good stuff.
FOX Float DPS EVOL rear shock with the classic Pivot sag meter zip tied on for simple sag setup.

Riding both Switchblades

Setup: Setting up the suspension on two identical Pivots in two wheel sizes was quite a unique experience especially when it came to tuning rebound speed and compression adjustment, on the plus bike particularly. With such a large volume of air in your tyres it can act like an undamped spring at times, we found running slightly lower rebound speed in the fork and shock would help the bike from bouncing or oscillating on the undulating surfaces of the trail.

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The plus bike requires a very different suspension and tyre pressure setup than the 29er, take the time to get it sorted or the benefits will go to waste.
Pivot Switchblade_LOW5201
Big air volume requires a slightly different approach to suspension setup.

Tyre pressure: The key to making the most of the plus tyres is to nail the right tyre pressure, too much and the tyre won’t conform to the terrain like it should, wasting the benefits of the plus size, and too little and the tyre will squirm around and bottom out on the rim and you’ll risk a deflating pinch. We ran between 13-16 PSI in the front tyre, and 15-18 PSI out the back, we’d suggest experimenting to find the right pressure to suit your riding weight, and make sure the pressure gauge is accurate.

29 x 2.3" tyres on 25mm wide rims are more familiar to setup than the 2.8" plus tyres.
29 x 2.3″ tyres on 25mm wide rims are more familiar to setup than the 2.8″ plus tyres.

Cockpit: The cockpit took some getting used to, our first impressions were that it felt quite high up the front on our medium size test bike, the 29er especially. Flipping the stem did help provide a lower position when climbing out of the saddle and helped us weight the front tyre through the corners.

Pivot Switchblade FLOW3958
High up front, the Switchblade with 29″ wheels feels high with the tall wheels and 150mm travel fork.

DW Link: The DW Link suspension is known for its smooth and active action and when you’re mashing down on the cranks, the stability of the system is great. The Switchblade is one of the rare types of bike that you can run the FOX ProPedal lever all the way open, even during the climbs where you really benefit from the insane grip this bike has on the dirt.


Riding both Switchblades

Riding both bikes back to back it was clear to feel the differences, the general 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.

Climbing: Both bikes are fantastically grippy climbers, though the front end feels quite tall and the bottom bracket very low, there is gobs of traction letting you care less about finding the best line up the trail, leaving you to focus on putting good pedal strokes down. The Plus bike is especially unstoppable on technical climbs, once you get comfortable on the thing you begin seeing the trail differently, impossible climbs become a reality.

The Switchblade is seriously low in the bottom bracket, noticeable most when you’re climbing. We bashed the pedals into the ground quite often prompting us to experiment with increasing the rear shock pressure, in the hope it might ride a little higher when spinning up a climb. Some testers found it off-putting that the pedals would constantly bash the rocks, but of course the tradeoff is that a low bottom bracket is a good thing when you want to lean the bike over into a turn. Of course with the low bottom bracket, it was in the corners that the bike (especially the Plus version) scores top marks for, railing turns aggressively and confidently.

Unstoppable traction, the Switchblade in plus mode climbs anything.
Unstoppable traction, the Switchblade in plus mode climbs anything.

Descending: The powerful Shimano XT brakes, grippy rubber, burly 36mm leg forks and great suspension had us quite excited at the top of each descent. There were moments where the trail would get so nasty we’d expect to bottom out and feel the shockwaves through our body but instead the Switchblade remained composed and maintained speed very well.

We may have not gotten 100% comfortable at race pace like we would on a 160mm travel enduro bike but at slower speed and on technical trails the agility of the Switchblade out-shone the bigger and longer race bikes.

The confident ride will bring out the hooligan within you.
The confident ride will bring out the hooligan within you.

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’d love to try out the new Pivot Mach 6 to see how they handle fast descents, but we do get the feeling the Switchblade is more suited to riding everything capably and confidently than setting personal best times on your enduro trail descents.

The 27.5+ Switchblade is almost un-crashable in a corner, seriously.

Pivot Switchblade_LOW5026
Throwing the 27.5+ configured Switchblade into a corner, so much fun!

Cornering: Definitely a strong point, on loose and sketchy turns the Switchblade holds on tight, tyres aside the supple suspension, low bottom bracket and sturdy frame instills the confidence you need when tipping the bike into a loose turn. The 27.5+ Switchblade is almost un-crashable in a corner, seriously.

It doesn’t feel like a big bike at all when you’re flicking your way through the singletrack, while the 29er will naturally feel a little taller than the plus version, this is one very agile bike considering all the others in the category. Tight turns don’t feel awkward, and in fast turns you feel confidently glued to the dirt, a real winner here.

We rode the Pivots on a wide variety of trails and it always seemed to get along with the trail surface, it’s the type of bike that would be happy travelling and exploring new and unfamiliar trails confidently and safely.

Itching to get rowdy.
Itching to get rowdy.
Technical trails, no worries.
Technical trails, no worries.

Verdict

The Switchblade’s one frame two wheel size concept is an interesting one, we’re still not 100% sure if there will be people out there who would buy this bike and swap the between 29″ and 27.5″ wheels (and lower headset cup) to suit the trail or task, but if you were keen you’d have two bikes with enough distinction that it’d be worth it. Either way Pivot have produced one impressive bike than can be configured in two very different ways rather than making two bikes – sounds like a sensible way to do things to us!

While the price may seem a real turnoff it does compare to the likes of other American fancy brans like Yeti, Intense and Santa Cruz. Yes, we know, big dollars indeed!

Who’s it for then? Well, we are admittedly getting pretty tired about talking about wheel size so often, but here goes a bit more for you. The Switchblade configured to 29″ wheels would make a great all-mountain bike for powering through trails at speed, while the 27.5+ configuration makes for a seriously grippy and confident bike that will make light work of the slipperiest surfaces.

Sell your car, choose your poison.

Flow’s First Bite: Reid Vice 3.0

Both the 360 and Vice sit at the top of their range populated mainly of entry level and city bikes, but after reviewing the 360 earlier this year we really got the feeling that there’s real thought and consideration going into this new push into the mountain bike market.

Check out our review of the Reid Solo 360 here: Reid Solo 360 review.

The Vice is Reid’s new plus bike, using 27.5″ diameter wheels and huge 2.8″ tyres available in three levels, the 1.0 for $699, 2.0 for $999 and 3.0 for $1399. Riding the wave of the fast-growing category of plus bikes, Reid could well be on to a winner with this thing, big tyres with loads of grip and cushion really makes sense to us for bikes in this price point. Newcomers to the sport are the ones to benefit from a bike with loads of confidence inspiring control, it’s a no-brainer that plus bikes suit this segment.

Before we get too far on the review, let’s take a quick look at the Vice as we go for a quick spin around our local trails.

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120mm travel forks head up a very robust front end.

The frame

Perhaps not the most stylish bike we’ve seen, but at least it’s clean and simple without being covered in three-letter acronyms and technology features. The unsightly rack mounts are a bit of an odd one though, we’re not too sure that this would be the best commuter bike or touring bike, we sure won’t be fitting panniers to the Vice in a hurry, there’s a whole host of great city bikes from Reid for that.

Upon closer inspection the aluminium frame construction is actually pretty impressive, it uses boost spacing at the rear hub, with a solid thru-axle clamping everything nice and tight. There’s removable cable guides for an externally routed dropper post, and the rear derailleur cable runs inside the frame for added neatness.

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Boost hub spacing, and a thru-axle, impressed!
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Frame finish is neat with chunky welds and a big reinforcement gusset under the head tube.
Ok, not our favourite part of the bike, the Vice graphic are a bit 1999.
Ok, not our favourite part of the bike. The graphic style is like that MASH TV show crossed with an old 24hr event t-shirt from 1999.

Parts

Single ring drivetrain: There’s a real neatness about the spec on the Vice, the single-ring drivetrain gives the bike a modern look and an uncluttered cockpit and drivetrain area. The FSA cranks feel super tight to spin and didn’t loosen up during our first ride, the bottom bracket bearings are overloaded with tension, we’ll look into that before riding again

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FSA single-ring cranks with a narrow/wide chainring. Superb!

Plus wheel: WTB’s Trailblazer tyres in 2.8″ size are well-known to us here, they strike a good balance of tacky-ness, bite and rolling speed with low profile tread and small knobs that can conform to the trail surface. They are tubeless ready, with the rims taped up, tubeless valves fitted and a couple cups of sealant the Vice will be taken to the next level. Shame the valves don’t come with the bike as standard, but at least a common bike shop stock item.

2.8" of grippy low pressure rubber.
2.8″ of grippy low pressure rubber.

The 40mm Alex rims are on the wide side for a plus bike, typically between 30-40mm the wide rim gives the tyre a strong footing, and when running low pressure they won’t squirm and roll over like they would on a narrow rim.

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The heart of the Vice, 2.8″ tyres. Yeahhhhhhhh!

Suntour fork: The Suntour Raidon fork may not be from the RockShox or FOX stable, but we’ve had plenty of good experience with it before. Not overly supple and plush in comparison to the big guns, but it’s certainly no pogo-stick with good control, air tune-ability, lockout, rebound control and an excellent quick release axle system.

Suntour Raidon fork, 120mm of decent bounce.
Suntour Raidon fork, 120mm of decent bounce.

Seatpost: We know, we know… You can’t have everything in life, but riding a bike with no dropper post makes it even clearer that every mountain bike under the sun should have one. Either get used to stopping and flipping the quick release lever to drop and lift the seat on the trails, or fit a dropper and fully unleash the potential of this thing.

Maybe a bit too much to ask for at this price, but we can only imagine how much more fun you'd have with a dropper post.
Maybe a bit too much to ask for at this price, but we can only imagine how much more fun you’d have with a dropper post.

First ride impressions

Considering the last bike we were riding was around four times the price as this one, we were a little sceptical of how we’d enjoy the first ride on the Vice. But there’s something about plus hardtails that promotes hooligan riding, the areas a bike is specced to reach a $1399 price point, the big volume tyres makes up for it on the trail. Grip is amazing, the ride is comfortable and the control under brakes is excellent.

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Plus hardtails bring out the hooligan within, jumping off things, climbing challenging terrain, and generally playing around is inevitable.

The cockpit is quite high to begin with, giving the Vice a real tall and laid-back feeling. That translates to pretty relaxed cornering, but when the trials turn it up you’re ready for it. We ended up blasting the descents off the brakes, bouncing around and loving it, but never with that feeling of crashing or being thrown over the bars.

Jumping off rock ledges and popping wheelies with the Vice was a hoot, this bike is not built for cross country racing, it’s here for a good time. So far it looks like they have the vital ingredients of a fun hardtail covered, good tyres, geometry and brakes. That’s all you need to have a good time.


Over the years we’ve had plenty of experience with all sorts of bikes in this price range that miss the mark when it comes to proper mountain bike riding, and there is often some compatibility issue. But if you’ve got someone in the design team with good experience that actually rides, you’re off to a good start. The Vice is a solid example of this, it’s a well-rounded bike that so far holds its own on the trail. _LOW5998

We’ll be putting it through its paces a lot over the next few weeks, but we won’t be hitting the trails again without fitting tubeless valves and sealant.

Stay tuned for our full video review of this fun-loving entry level plus bike soon.

Tested: Trek Procaliber 9.8 SL

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Stealth black, the understated look is quite menacing, it means business on the race track!

What is it?

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The Gary Fisher Procaliber was one of the hot race bikes of yesteryear, the name returns with a fresh face.

The Procaliber 9.8 SL comes from a three-tiered lineup of carbon hardtails, Trek’s premium cross country race bike. Used by the Trek Factory team including Aussie champs Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell this frame has been widely accepted in the racing community.

The Procaliber uses Trek’s Smart Wheel Size arrangement, meaning the small 15.5″ frames use 27.5″ wheels and 17.5″ and upwards use 29″ wheels.  It’s a Boost compatible bike with front and rear hubs using the new standard width, and keeping in theme with Trek 29ers this one also uses the custom fork offset and tweaked geometry they call G2. So there’s a fair bit of new technology going on here.

At the heart of the Procaliber frame is the IsoSpeed decoupler first championed in Trek’s road bike range, a system to give the bike a more compliant ride. When seated the Procaliber is said to be up to 70% more compliant than the Trek Superfly SL (regular carbon hardtail).


The IsoSpeed decoupler

IsoSpeed was initially introduced in the Domane road bike followed by their Boone cyclocross bike, and is already onto its second configuration in the latest Domane. It essentially uses a bushing and axle arrangement at the junction of the seat tube and top tube to allow the seat post to bend backwards independently from the top tube, adding comfort when seated. The top tube and down tube are completely seperate parts, joined by the decoupler unit.

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Quite a simple system, you’re clearly able to see what moves and what doesn’t.
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The seat tube rocks back and forward to numb some of the forces initiated at the rear wheel by the trail surface.

Slim seat stays and beefy chain stays keeping in trend with the popular cross country hardtails out there.

The Procaliber SL frame weighs 1012g around 100g heavier than the outgoing Superfly SL. While that figure makes it notably heavier than some of the competition, especially since Scott recently blew up the segment with their crazy light new Scale RC SL hardtail frame.

The Procaliber also scores the new internal cable housing system dubbed ‘Control Freak’. It’s Di2 compatible if you’ve got the good stuff, and a large port under the down tube means you’ll able to access and tie the internal cables together inside the frame to reduce unwanted rattling.

Supplied with the Procailber is an assortment of cable port plug shapes to swap out depending on the arrangement you’re using, whether it be double ring, dropper post, Shimano Di2 or any other combination it will support the configuration neatly.


The parts

Aside from being impressively colour matched, the parts on the 9.8 SL model are well suited to the task of smashing lap times at the race track or munching miles on marathon epic rides.

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RockShox SID RL with remote lockout, a solid performer and looks quite large with wide crowns thanks to the Boost spacing.
A remote lockout for the RockShox SID fork, some love them, we're not that fussed with them.
The remote lockout for the RockShox SID fork, some love them, we’re not that fussed with them.

Suspension: Up front the Boost spacing gives the RockShox SID an even wider set crown, pushing the legs further apart. Taking little time to get used to the wide fork, we relished the added security it gives, with only 100mm of travel the front end still feels very secure. It uses a 51mm crown offset too (readily available), a critical part of Trek’s G2 geometry concept for great handling 29ers. So take that into consideration if a fork upgrade is on the horizon.

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Minimal and effective. The single-ring 11-speed drivetrain has a huge range of smooth and quiet gears.

Drivetrain: The 9.8 SL uses a full SRAM drivetrain with Shimano brakes, mixing brands this way is common sight in many of the big bike companies motivated by dealers and consumers to find the most reliable and best performance regardless of brand. The SRAM 11-speed drivetrain was flawless as usual during our testing, and also gives the Procaliber a very clean and un-cluttered appearance with no front derailleur. The 32 tooth chainring strikes a good balance between high and low range gears, we found it to be just the right size.

While performance is excellent there is weight to be saved in future upgrades with the pinned X1 cassette and aluminium cranks, keep that in mind come Christmas or birthday shopping times, there’s always something you can buy, right?

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SRAM X01 rear derailleur, these things last for yonks and provide crisp and consistent gear changes provided the cable is running clean and slick.
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One clamp on the left, three on the right.

Braking: The Shimano XT brakes are undisputed favourites at Flow, the power and control under one finger is outstanding and the light wheels take little effort to pull up from speed. The mis-matched shifters and brake levers do give up the advantage of combining them with one handlebar clamp though, and add the remote fork lockout lever in the mix and there is a bit going on up a the bars.

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So much carbon, so little room for upgrading! The 9.8 is specced very well, this Bontrager XXX post is a real piece of art.

Carbon cockpit: Our test bike came with a very nice carbon bar and seatpost from Bontrager, different to the spec listed on the Trek website, we were told things like that happen through the year. The carbon components from Bontrager are always nice, leaving less room for tempting upgrades down the track.

You don't get much more XC than lightweight silicone grips, and these are our favourites, ESI.
You don’t get much more XC than lightweight silicone grips, and these are our favourites, ESI.

Tyres: Bontrager tyres are now some of the highest regarded treads around, we’re massive fans of their trail and enduro tyres. Their considered tread patterns, tacky compounds and tubeless compatibility makes them a sure bet. The XR1 Team Issue tyres are as good as it gets if racing is your thing, on dry and fast trails they provide great friction to the surfaces and the low profile block-shaped tread with a slight angle give them serious rolling speed. But don’t expect much from them on looser or damper surfaces, these guys are for experienced racers only! Perhaps keep a set of the Bontrager XR2 tyres on hand if the surfaces become more challenging.

Bontrager XR1Team Issue tyres, FASSSSST.
Bontrager XR1Team Issue tyres, FASSSSST.

On the trail

We hear it all at Flow, the percentile gains from all possible features under the sun, mountain biking is loaded with marketing talk to give a brand or bike a point of difference for the consumer. To be frank when we first saw IsoSpeed there was plenty of doubt in our minds, sure it may work but is it worth the cost, weight, complications etc?_LOW5267

Setting up the Procaliber for its maiden ride we whipped out the inner tubes, fitted the supplied tubeless valves and with a cup of Stan’s Sealant the Bontrager tyres went up and stayed up without a glitch. The RockShox SID fork was easy to setup with an air pressure guide on the rear of the leg helping us reach a good base setting, and we were good to go.

Just sitting on the saddle and placing a finger on the IsoSpeed joint you can clearly feel the movement between the seat tube and top tube, there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of movement going on in that region. Start bouncing on the seat you’ll really feel the seatpost rocking gently underneath you. Well, that confirmed our first hesitation at least, then it was off to the trails to get it dirty.

Humming along the Procaliber feels incredibly light, the DT Swiss wheels and super-low profile Bontrager tyres give the bike a real zippy feeling and it takes very little energy to keep it rolling fast. We set the bars up quite low, with the stem a few spacers down on the steer tube and the low front end was amazing on the climbs, we were stomping on the pedals and flying through the uphill singletrack.

When the surfaces became rougher we turned our attention to the IsoSpeed feature, and were clearly able to feel contrast between seated and standing. Standing on the pedals the Procaliber feels solid, sit down and there’s a definite numbing effect as the shock is dissipated through the movement in the seat tube, and there’s significantly less sting in the trail.

It’s no suspension bike though, it still kicks you in the back side if you stay seated as you hit impacts, but with about 11mm of movement in the IsoSpeed thing, there’s certainly benefit in terms of fatigue during longer rides and the ability to remain seated on the technical climbs for maximum power output and traction.

We’ve always enjoyed riding Trek 29er hardtails, they always feel agile and make light work of singletrack, perhaps its the G2 geometry coming into play with the quick steering feel.


Verdict

Yes, it works. The Procaliber with its fancy IsoSpeed is a clever approach to providing comfort in the otherwise harsh world of racing hardtails.

The weight penalty for the ability to offer some respite for your back on long rides, or enabling you to remain in the saddle longer on rougher sections of the trail will no doubt be worth it for the weight conscious racer, especially those who shy away from the astronomical prices of a dual suspension bike of the similar weight.

It’ll also blur the lines between choosing a dually or hardtail, because when it comes down to it, if the terrain suits a hardtail nothing beats a carbon 29er when you’re really hammering on the pedals. _LOW5332

Tested: FOX 32 SC

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Cross country courses are becoming more technically challenging, you simply can’t make a light fork without addressing performance any longer.

Well those days are over, put behind you the fear of attempting to steer a bike down a trail with two pieces of wet spaghetti as fork legs, the two big names of suspension have seriously upped the stakes in the weight game. RockShox and FOX both released new versions of their flagship short travel race forks, within a few grams of each other but vastly different in their unique ways of achieving low weight.

Testing the new Scott Spark RC with the FOX SC fork. Photo - Martin Bisseg/Scott.
Testing the new Scott Spark RC with the FOX SC fork on the Lenzerheide World Cup track. Photo – Martin Bisseg/Scott.

What is it?

FOX have the edge over the top players in the suspension game with their new 32 Step Cast fork, the 100mm travel specific fork that uses a narrower crown bringing the 32mm diameter legs closer together. The Step Cast lower legs provide necessary clearance for the spokes and disc rotor, and the arch is heavily sculpted to still allow clearance for up to 2.3″ tyres.

The internals have also been re-worked to drop a few precious grams, this fork must have kept the engineers at FOX very busy indeed!

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No your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, the 29er version of the fork looks even taller due to the narrow shape.

-15QR x 110 Boost and 15QR x 100 Kabolt axle options
-27.5” and 29” wheel options
-100mm travel
-FIT4 and FIT GRIP three position damper for improved control
-Lockout for increased efficiency
-Factory Series models feature Genuine Kashima Coat
-Gloss Orange, Matte Black, Gloss White

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Check out that distinct Step Cast section of the lower leg, it provides clearance with the narrow legs for the disc rotor and spokes.

AUD RRP – $1449

For the details, construction and more click through to our initial impressions piece on the 32 SC fork here: Flow’s First Bite – FOX 32 Step Cast Fork.


Setup

Setting up a FOX fork is pretty simple, set your sag and then the rebound speed, tune the low speed compression and get riding.

FOX provide a pretty simple setup guide on their website to help find your base settings, find that one here.

The little black dial is low speed compression, in effect in 'open mode' on the blue dial.
The little black dial is low speed compression, in effect in ‘open mode’ on the blue dial.

Further suspension tuning in the way of volume spacers can be fitted to achieve a more progressive feel with increased bottom out resistance. We’ve done this with FOX 34 and 36 forks quite a bit, and is worth experimenting with to arrive at a setting you’re absolutely happy with.


The ride

With all this weight saving FOX also claimed to lose no performance on the trail in terms of steering and handling precision and suspension performance. That’s a bold statement, so we set out to discover for ourselves.

Choosing a stealth black Trek Procaliber 9.8 SL to fit the forks to was an excellent choice, the new carbon 29er is a real cross country race weapon, and so is the fork. Bouncing around at the trail head on the Trek with the FOX fork fitted our initial impressions were a little mixed, while the action felt buttery smooth straight away, the forks look diminutive from the riders point of view. The narrow crowns paired with the inherent long legs of a 29er fork just looked odd.

But like any good part if it works well, we’ll get used to the different appearance pretty quickly and we certainly did.

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Skinny!

On the trail the 32 SC fork felt like any of the Factory level FOX forks should, incredibly smooth and sensitive, controlled and supportive. The open mode adjustment of low speed compression is a feature we use a lot, a few clicks of the little black dial would hold the fork up in its stroke, resisting bouncing from our pedalling actions whilst remaining sensitive to any impact. And the three-stage lockout gives us a very useable adjustment for racing situations.

The damping feels highly sophisticated, when you’re really hammering along the minimal 100mm of travel feels a whole lot more than it should. Reacting to the slightest bump at any time, no matter if its at the top of the stoke or deep into the travel the fork still seems to be able to do its job of isolating the rider from the terrain.

In comparison to the regular 32 the air spring feels very linear and very plush, and with the right amount of sag set for your riding weight it is easy to use all of the travel. Heavier riders on rougher trails may want to experiment with fitting air volume spacers for a more progressive feel and add low speed compression to add support, but we’d certainly not recommend over-inflating the air spring to give a firmer ride before experimenting with these two tuning options first.

It’s all too often we feel a cross country racer’s bike setup super hard with loads of air pressure for a more ‘efficient’ ride. With the FIT 4 damper and its associated adjustments you’ll be able to set up the fork with your correct sag and attain the desired firmness and race-ready performance by tuning the compression adjustment. With the fork sagging at its correct height the bike will handle the way it is designed too, and you’ll still have a fork that doesn’t rob you of any efficiency.

That glorious Kashima coating, smoother than a hairy nipple on wax day.

With such a sensitive action we really found the Trek Procaliber to have traction in spades, putting loads of confidence in the front tyre as we leant it over in the turns, instead of skipping about over the choppy surfaces the suspension worked overtime in keeping the front wheel composed and in contact with the dirt. _LOW4520

It was the chassis rigidity and overall stiffness that really had us curious though, we have such faith in FOX’s Factory level forks in terms of suspension performance we were not surprised with its superb feel and support, but was this light fork going to feel too light when we rode it hard?

No, in all honesty we were not able to make any firm conclusion whether it is either less or more stiff than the regular FOX 32 fork. A lightweight 29er fork at 100mm from any brand will scare off the gravity crowd, but we were more than satisfied with the way this featherweight fork handled all twisting, diving and heavy braking we could throw its way.


How light? Here’s some 100mm 29er fork weight comparisons:

– FOX – 32 SC, 1360g

– RockShox – 2017 SID XX World Cup, 1366g

– DT Swiss – OPM O.D.L 100 RACE, 1485g

– SR Suntour – Axon Werx F-29, 1570g

– FOX – Float 32 100, 1615g

– Cannondale – Lefty 2.0 Carbon, 1600g

– RockShox – RS1, 1666g

– MRP – Loop SL, 1769g

– X Fusion – Slide RL2, 1814g


Verdict

FOX have nailed this one, successfully creating the lightest fork amongst the big players with excellent performance and sturdiness that would have traditionally been unheard of with such a light product.

For those looking to build a super light race bike, or there’s a bike with one as standard spec you can’t possibly go wrong with the 32 SC.
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Tested: Pacenti TL28 Wheels

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Eyelet rims for resilience under high spoke tensions.

But building up a wheelset lets you get exactly the product you want, generally with the added bonus of easy serviceability should something need replacing. The Pacenti TL28 wheels we’ve been riding lately are a ‘classic’ set of hoops, built up the traditional way: 32 J-bend spokes, lacing an aluminium rim to a hub that’ll last a lifetime.

Pacenti isn’t a name that many riders are familiar with, which is odd given how influential the man behind this brand has been in mountain bike development. Kirk Pacenti was one of the pioneering proponents of the 650B wheel and he continues to be a very influential thinker in the world of bike design. He was also one of the folk to first grasp the benefits of a wider rim (for both mountain bikes and road bikes) and we’ve been riding one his creations, the TL28 rim in a 29″ size, for the past couple of months.

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The rims aren’t taped for tubeless, but once set up with some tubeless tape they sealed up well and didn’t burp easily.

If you’re looking for category redefining features, you won’t find them here. The TL28 doesn’t push the boundaries of width – a 23mm-internal width is in line with most other trail riding rims. A weight of 445g puts them at lighter end of the spectrum, but again not setting any records.

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But what this rim does offer is top quality construction and a sensible blend of weight and strength. The rim join is welded for strength, the spoke holes are all eyeleted to withstand higher spoke tensions, and the bead hook is secure for tubeless use. It’s the kind of rim that has appeal for people who appreciate classic, quality design – people who want serviceability, reliability and practicality.

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Our Pacenti TL28 rims came laced to a gorgeous set of Chris King’s new ISO Boost hubs (110/148mm spacing). King hubs don’t need any introduction, their in-house bearings will spin forever, and the 72-point RingDrive system offers the best freehub engagement in the business. A pair of King hubs is a sizeable investment, but you can be guaranteed they’ll be the one part of your bike you’re never going to worry about, year after year.

Combine the Pacenti rims and King hubs and you have a pair of wheels that traditionalists will love. They’re not a particularly light wheelset, at 1862g, but then that’s not the aim. These are wheels that are all about hassle-free reliability, not winning cross-country races.

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Hubs for a life time.

The rims don’t come taped for tubeless use, but a couple of loops of Orange Seal tape and valves was all that was needed. We ran Continental rubber on the wheels, and found the rim width and profile suitable for the tyres’ roughly 2.25″ size. The 23mm width gives the tyres a rounder profile, which many people appreciate. If you were looking to run bigger rubber or you want to run lower pressures, we’d suggest going to the wider DL31 rim, which would offer more support for bigger tyres.

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A 23mm internal width gives a nice rounded profile to 2.25″ tyres.

After two months of use on our Norco Optic C9.2, there’s little to report, and when you’re talking about wheels, that’s a positive. The smallest of wavers has emerged in the rear wheel, but with regular spoke nipples, giving them a quick true is within the skill set of most home mechanics. We also did put a slight ding the rear rim, not enough to worry about however, and we didn’t lose any pressure or burp the tyre with the impact either. Again, the beauty of an alloy rim is that dents can be straightened out too, with some gentle manipulation. Another tick for serviceability.

There’s much to be said for doing the basics well, and while the Pacenti TL28s aren’t flashy, build them onto a set of reliable hubs and you have wheelset that will likely follow you from bike to bike and won’t give you spare parts nightmares or workshop downtime along the way.

Long Term Test: RockShox Lyrik

The RockShox Lyrik is the all-new big travel single crown fork for the enduro crowd, from 150mm and stretching up to 180mm travel and available in both 27.5″ and 29er wheel size.

For more details on what’s inside the Lyrik and what it is all about head to our First Bite piece here – Flow’s First Bite: RockShox Lyrik.

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Fit a Lyrik up the front and the rest will follow.

The Canyon Strive was a perfect bike to test the 160mm travel Lyrik RCT3 on, not only due to its appropriate travel amount and race-ready attitude but the fact that it replaced the comparative level Pike. Swapping from the Pike to the Lyrik gave us a clear comparison to how the burlier fork will go. Read more of our thoughts on the very impressive Canyon Strive here – Tested: Canyon Strive CF Race.


Details

TRAVEL – 160/170/180mm – 27.5″ , 150/160mm – 29″
WHEELS – 27.5″, 29″l
WEIGHT – 2005g – 27.5″ , 2032g – 29″/27.5″+
DAMPING – Charger Damper (RCT3)
AVAILABLE SPRINGS – Dual Position Air, Solo Air
ADJUSTMENTS – External rebound, low speed compression, 3-position compression (Open/Pedal/Lock)
UPPER TUBES – 35mm tapered wall aluminium, Fast Black
OPTIONS – BOOST 110 compatible option in 27.5″ and 29″/27.5″+

RRP – $1549 or $1649 for Dual Position version.


Setup

Air pressure: RockShox’s Solo Air forks are a snack to setup and their Bottomless Token tuning system is a real winner. We followed the air pressure guide on the rear of the lowers to find a base setting and fine tuned it on either side of that to find our desired sag using the inscriptions and red rubber o-ring on the right leg.

After a few test rides we decided on two Bottomless Tokens fitted into the air chamber to create a more progressive spring curve by reducing the overall size of the air spring volume. This may be a little too progressive for lighter riders on calmer trails, and we found two Tokens fitted inside a Pike quite a significant change. But with two Tokens in the Lyrik and the air pressures lowered slightly in tandem we found the fork not only incredibly hard to bottom out, the whole bike actually settled into its travel really well, and even on climbs standing up out of the saddle the fork sagged a touch further into its travel for a lower front end.

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Take the time to experiment with installing and removing the Bottomless Tokens inside the fork, it’s a quick and easy process and has huge impact on the ride character.
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Grrrrrrr.

Rebound: Once we were happy with the air pressure, it was on to the compression and rebound adjustment. The rebound was easy, we like our forks to rebound slightly faster than the rear shock, and via the big red dial we were able to find a good setting in the wide range available. Never did we have to run slower rebound to accomodate for the damper heating up during long descents and the rebound speed becoming faster, it handles heat and fade very well (at least on any trails we took them to).

Compression: The compression adjustment range is fantastic and very user friendly. We only ever used the three-stage pedal control on the smoothest of climbs or longer stints on tarmac to cancel out the action when really hauling on the bars, but we often toyed with the low speed compression dial (smaller one in the centre). We urge riders to experiment with this adjustment, with a good understanding of what it does, you’ll really be able to make the most out of the fork.

The 15-clicks of low speed compression has a dramatic effect on the way the fork holds itself up in the stroke, while some riders overlook this function as it may not have an obvious impact when pushing on the fork in the carpark, it is really quite profound on the trail. During a ride the compression damping is essentially what holds the suspension up, while the air spring is what extends the fork after an impact.

We experimented with lowering the air pressure at the same time adding low speed compression to gauge how effective it was, and we settled on a sweet point where the fork resisted diving under brakes and rode high in its stroke through the turns but would still remain active enough to the high frequency chatter on faster surfaces.

With the low speed compression backed all the way off the stroke is impressively supple and sensitive, but will bounce around more under your weight shifts during a climb or heavy braking.

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Our favourite little dial found on the premium RCT3 models; low speed compression.

Ride

If you want to know more on the blood and guts inside the Lyrik click here – Lyrik details please!  But after riding the Lyrik for six months we’re really able to make comment on its performance on the trail, and it rules.

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Beefy legs with a longer left side for the larger air spring.

Swapping the Pike to Lyrik didn’t turn any heads, the extra beef in the chassis is quite subtle to the eye and they both use 35mm black stanchions, graphics wise they are also similar in appearance. The larger air spring of the Lyrik does cause the left leg extend down further under the axle than the Pike, and the crown and arch are certainly chunkier upon closer inspection but otherwise they look alike at a quick glance. But there’s a whole lot more to it that the mighty Lyrik than just chassis stiffness, it’s ability to swallow up massive impacts is just absurd.

Impacts large and small all start with a the fork breaking through its static stiction point to get moving, and with a fork as smooth at this one the activity is immediate. The feedback from the trail transferred to your hands is minimal and when the biggest impacts are thrown at you the fork remains calm and controlled over and over again.

Feeling more like its big brother the BoXXer like any fork we’ve ridden, the fork is a burly descender.

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Enduro racers will love the descending prowess of this thing.
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Slick and smooth, the Fast Black coating and low friction seals make for a super-smooth action.

The Charger Damper won massive praise when the Pike first emerged, and the Lyrik also uses the impressive system. The way the fork remains composed in the roughest of situations is testament to the sophisticated and effective damper, you can feel the way it reacts to the impacts even when deep into its travel while remaining supportive and controlled. It’s dead quiet too, confirming that the Lyrik won’t get over its head no matter what you throw at it.

While we didn’t get our hands on a SRAM front wheel that uses the Torque Cap system, we still relished in the impressive rigidity and steering precision that the bike has with these forks bolted on the front. Some big forks can be too big sometimes, creating a slightly harsher ride as the front end can ping and glance off trail objects with little compliance, and we’ve noticed this with some of the Performance level FOX 36 forks we’ve ridden, the Lyrik doesn’t suffer from this at all, it’s just too sensitive.


Verdict

The Lyrik is a seriously impressive piece of kit, the buttery smooth and composed suspension action won us over on those long and rough descents, and even cranking our bike up rough climbs it was always keeping us moving in the right direction with its immediate reaction to impacts. In comparison to other forks we’ve tried and tested the 2017 FOX 36 Factory fork is also up there with it, while distinctively different in feel they are both leagues ahead in the 160-180mm category in our opinion. The new FOX damper does allow seperate tuning of high and low speed compression and is available with a 20mm axle, but we never felt the Lyrik was underdone in strength or adjustment in the slightest.

RockShox also produce the Yari, same chassis and air spring with a down specced damper for a saving of $500, a good option for sure.

For about a 100-120g weight gain over the Pike there’s a serious amount of appeal for the rider who charges trails harder and needs a longer travel to suit the bike it is fitted to. And after six months of as much riding as we can throw at it, the fork is running just as well as it was in the beginning. No creaking, loss of sensitivity or signs of wear.

Top marks for the single crown fork that rides damn hard.

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Here’s a 20 year throwback, the original RockShox Judy DH. Single crown forks have come a LONG way!

Tested: Continental Pure Grip X-King and Mountain King Tyres

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818g in a 29×2.4″ size. The Mountain King is great mid-weight, loose conditions trail tyre.

We had two different tyres to review – the X-King and the Mountain King – and in both we opted for a 29×2.4″ size. The X-King is probably the one that most riders will reach for first, it fulfils that classic fast-rolling, trail tyre role, with low tread blocks that are closely spaced. The second tyre we had to test is the Mountain King, which is a unique looking tyre with lots of open space between the centre tread blocks, and staggered side knobs. It’s a more aggressive tread than the X-King, but it’s still aimed at the trail bike market.

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With low-profile tread blocks, the X-King is a fast mover. 802g in a 29×2.4″.

All the Pure Grip treads are tubeless ready tyre (which is exceptional at this price point) and we initially fitted them to two different bikes. After a few rides we decided that the X-King and Mountain King actually make a pretty mean combo, so we popped the X-King out back and the Mountain King up front on our Norco Optic C9.2 (read the bike review here!). Running a tyre combo that’s fast out back and bitey up front is something we often do, particularly if we’re riding on trails that don’t require a lot of hard rear braking.

If we lived where the trails were predominantly hard-packed, we’d go an X-King front and rear. Or if the trails tended to have a bit of loose rock, like Buller for instance, a pair of Mountain Kings would be killer. But for the varied conditions near us, mixing and matching worked well.

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We ran the X-King out back, and the more aggressive Mountain King up front on our Norco Optic.

29×2.4 might sound like a massive pair of tyres, but compared to most nominally sized 2.4-inch tyres, the Contis are on the narrow side. Busting out the vernier calipers revealed the Mountain King to be 57mm across, or 2.25-inches, when mounted to a set of Pacenti TL28 rims. Keep that in mind when you’re choosing your size – if your inclination is to go for a 2.2-inch, we’d encourage you to upsize to the 2.4.

If you are rough on rubber or live in a particularly slicey kind of area, perhaps the ProTection version is the way to go.

Most of our previous experience with Conti tyres has been on their ProTection series, which are little heavier and more expensive, but are indestructible. The Pure Grip range gets a lighter sidewall, and unfortunately we did put a small cut into our rear X-King tyre after slamming the sidewall into the edge of a sandstone block. Rider error? Certainly, but it still does prove to us that there’s a reason you pay more for the ProTection versions of this tyre. We wouldn’t say the Pure Grip tyres are fragile, but if you are rough on rubber or live in a particularly slicey kind of area, perhaps the ProTection version is the way to go.

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The open centre tread pattern does well in softer, looser soils. It’s not a big tread for a 2.4″ – it measures up closer to a 2.25″.

The combo of X-King and Mountain King is a winner. These tyres move quickly in a straight line, and thanks to the open, blocky design of the Mountain King there’s still plenty front end braking and cornering bite in loose soils. The fast-rolling X-King will break traction before the Mountain King too, which makes for some killer speedway style drifts with a dab of rear brake, if that’s your thing.

 A pair of these costs less than a single tyre from many of the competition, you’ve really got to give these a look in.

In terms of overall grip, the performance of these tyres is varied, and really depends on the trail surface. The compound is pretty firm, and so they don’t have that gummy adhesion to roots and rocks you experience with some other super soft tyres, especially in the wet. As you’d expect from the X-King’s tread pattern, it does best in hardpack or other fast surfaces, whereas the Mountain King prefers softer conditions that let it bite in hard. On hardpack the Mountain King is claws noisily at the trail, but it’s still quite confident as the side knobs are well supported and don’t ‘walk’ or squirm.

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The X-King is best on the rear if you ride loose conditions, or good front and back if your trails are more hardpacked.

The plus side of the firm compound is the durability of the tread blocks. After a bunch of rides in rocky terrain, the tyres have still got the little ‘hairs’ from the rubber moulds and we’ve only noticed minimal wear on the rear X-King tyre. Compared to the wear we’ve come to accept as normal from soft compound tyres, these guys look like they’ll last for ages.

Yes, there are plenty of tyres out there with compounds that provide more grip in more varied conditions, or which have tougher sidewalls. But when you consider that these are tubeless-ready, they come in a variety of tread patterns, and that a pair of these costs less than a single tyre from many of the competition, you’ve really got to give these a look in. All up, the Pure Grip range represents excellent value for money with options to suit most riders and trails. We think there’ll be a lot more Continental on the trails in the future.


Bargain: Pushy’s currently have these tyres on sale for $34.99. Take a look! 


 

Flow’s First Bite: Exposure Race Mk10 and Equinox Mk2

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Throw 3700 lumens ahead of you down the trail and you’ll be flying!

Exposure Lights are a small all-British company making some very innovative products right there in the UK. We have been spending time out in the dark testing their premium off-road offerings; the RACE Mk10 bar mounted LED light, and the EQUINOX Mk2 LED headlamp. With a wide range of strong and effective mounting options, some serious luminescence, super long battery life and incredibly well thought out functionality, these lights seem like a sweet addition to our winter rides and endurance race kit.

Coming in two different kits, the Endurance Lights are two separate systems that complement each other superbly on the trail. Even after the first rides, we can tell they can both outlast almost any casual night expedition, and even had us pushing harder than we probably should have!


The RACE Mk10 bar unit

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The 10th version of Exposure’s all-in-one bar mounted light.

Bar mounted light units come in many different shapes and sizes. The Exposure RACE is on the larger side, sticking up off the bar like a small bottle. However, functionality over form reigns; the RACE Mk10 is a strong and good looking light. The RACE bar-mounted unit utilises up to 1700 Lumens, with Low, Medium and High settings. On the lowest setting, you can get 36 hours of constant glow off a single charge!

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No guessing with an accurate digital display on the rear of the light body.

If that isn’t enough, it comes with an inbuilt LCD display, showing its battery percentage and predicted runtime left, as well as ‘Reflex Technology’, which uses inbuilt sensors to automatically control the light’s strength depending on gradient and cornering forces, giving you more juice on the descents and less on the climbs.

These innovative features, as well as a rain-and-mud-proof unit free of cables and external batteries, simple hinged bar mount and easy-press single button make the RACE mk10 a seriously cool light to show off on a night ride.


The EQUINOX Mk2 helmet unit

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The clever plug and clip system finds a good secure hold on a wide variety of helmet shapes.

The Equinox headlamp unit isn’t in any way inferior either, delivering a whopping 2000 lumens and 24 hours on its lowest glow. Don’t even be put off by the ‘low’ label – it is still really bright!

Helmet units are often one of the hardest to find useful mounting solutions that will suit the endless designs of helmets out there, but Exposure has done well with their EQUINOX kit. The light itself clicks into a ball joint at the top of the mount, which is just two plastic discs inside and outside of the helmet bolted through a vent. However, one of the best parts of the package is the bar-mounted remote control – a simple wireless remote with endless battery life and a convenient control over the head light. Once synced, it is incredibly easy to turn the light on, off, and change strength.

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Riding boring trails at night can be fun again!
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Don’t let the dark hours rob you of ride time, a good set of light can extend the play.

The Endurance Light kits are certainly not cheap however, the build quality and support from Exposure gives us a lot of confidence that these lights can outlast a lot of its competitors. Now to just hit the trails in the cold and just suck it up!

Tested: fi’zi:k M6B Uomo Shoes

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BOA and two Velcro straps. With our narrow feet, the straps were a little long, but that’s better than too short, and nothing a sharp pair of scissors can’t neaten up.
The M6B Uomo is one three shoes in Fizik’s mountain bike line, at $239 they sit at mid-to-upper spot on the price spectrum, and their features are competitive. We think they’re a great looking shoe too, but what else would you expect from the Italians?
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The BOA dial makes adjusting the fit very fast, and the system doesn’t collect mud either. The dial’s position is a bit vulnerable to being popped open we found. Note the chunky rubber on the outer edge of the mid-sole, perfect safety for those times you miss a pedal.
You’ll notice the BOA dial. This system has become incredibly popular lately, thanks to its ease of use, ability to make precise fit adjustments, and its clean styling. Turn the dial to tighten, pull it out away from the shoe to undo and release the tension on the ‘laces’. It’s good system and easy to adjust on the fly, but we found the placement of the dial meant we occasionally snagged it in scrub (particularly if we had to hike-a-bike) which would pop the BOA release open and leave the shoe undone.
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Simple Velrco straps provide the rest of the closure. Our tester has quite narrow feet, and the straps had no problems accommodating this, though we eventually trimmed them the straps a little just to stop the ends from dangling.
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Reinforced Microtex is used for much of the upper.
Construction wise, these are certainly a trail shoe, but they’re also quite lightweight at 385g for a size 42.5. There’s a plenty of grip provided all round, including across the mid-sole, which helps prevent disaster if you accidentally miss a clip-in. Provisions are there for toe spikes as well, which is cool if you’re going to use these shoes for a bit of CX work. The toe box doesn’t have a lot of external protection, which might deter some who ride hard in rocky terrain, but the reinforced Microtex material isn’t displaying any signs of wear or damage so far.
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With Shimano XT pedals, the connection between pedal and shoe was tight at first, but soon wore in to provide an ideal amount of friction.
 We ran these shoes with Shimano XT Trail pedals, and initially there was a lot of friction between the chunky tread blocks and pedal body. Luckily over the course of a few rides, the rubber wore down a smidge making for consistent entry/exit into the pedals.
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We had no dramas getting our cleat position where we wanted it, and found the sole provided a good blend of stiffness, comfort and grip.
The nylon sole is carbon reinforced, but stiffness isn’t the main objective of this shoe (look at the M3B Uomo with carbon soles if stiffness is your priority) and they’ve got just enough flex to be comfy when you need to walk, without feeling floppy when you’re on the gas. Around the heel, the fit is super secure, and we didn’t feel any heel slippage at all. If you’ve got high arches, you might want to consider a different in-sole, as the foot bed shape is pretty flat, otherwise we found the fit to be very comfortable.
All up, we think these are a great option for trail riders, and a fine alternative from some of the more mainstream shoe brands. With a good blend of weight, stiffness, grip and inoffensive styling, we’re a fan!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Pivot Switchblade

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A tale of two Switchblades.
In the black corner we have the Switchblade configured with 29″ wheels.
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Chubby vs tall.

Having two wheel size options for the one model of bike is nothing new (just take a look that Scott Spark, Specialized Camber, Trek Fuel or many others), but an interesting recent development is the appearance of frames which can accept multiple wheel formats without compromise. For an in-depth discussion of where we see this trend going, read our opinion piece ‘The Middle Power’ here.

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Pivot has developed an even wider hub than regular Boost. Introducing the Super Boost spacing.
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The superbly manufactured and incredibly smooth suspension we love from Pivot.
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DW Link suspension delivering buttery smooth 135mm of travel.

The Pivot Switchblade is one such bike. Thanks to a unique rear hub and drivetrain configuration, the Switchblade can happily take either 29er or 27.5+ wheels and massive tyres (up to 3.25″) all while maintaining some of the shortest chain stays on the market, at just 428mm. We’ll look at the rear hub more in our full review, but in a nutshell it uses very wide 157mm hub spacing, Pivot call it Super Boost Plus 157, to enable the rear wheel to be tucked in very close to the frame. Yes, it’s another new hub ‘standard’, but let’s not dwell on that now – there’s been plenty of internet hand wringing about it before, and this is how bike development progresses, get used to it!

So what type of bike is it? Regardless of which wheel format you opt for, the Switchblade falls into the trail/all-mountain category. Rear travel is 135mm, designed to be paired with a longer 150mm fork up front (this longer travel up front trend is something Pivot do a lot). The geometry falls mid-way between the Enduro-ready Mach 6 and the Mach 4 Carbon. Pivot have equipped the Switchblade with a FOX 36, so you know this bike means business!

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150mm FOX 36 forks up front, 135mm travel out the back.
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Frame finish and attention to detail is premium quality.

Pivot’s bikes are always superbly built, and their DW Link suspension is legendary for its amazing pedalling performance and grip. We’re looking forward to seeing what the combination of DW suspension and Plus sized rubber can deliver in loose corners and scrappy climbs!

The Switchblade frame blends elements from the full spectrum of Pivot’s range; the robust linkage is clearly inspired by the Phoenix downhill bike, while the lines of the front end reflect the Mach 4 Carbon. We like where Pivot is going with their bikes – they’re seriously sophisticated frames, nothing is ‘just good enough’.

If you’re looking at this bike and toying with the notion of having two wheel sets to change between (one in 29er for lighter XC duties, one in 27.5+ for burly trail work) then you might be disappointed. Because 27.5+ wheels are a little smaller in diameter than 29″ wheels, Pivot install a taller lower headset cup on the 27.5+ version of this bike to give the correct geometry, so you can’t just chuck in different wheels for different trails.

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The 27.5+ configuration requires a taller lower headset cup to retain the desired head angle with a 150mm travel fork.

We’ve been lucky enough to get both a 29er and Plus version of the Switchblade to review. They are identical, with the exception of the wheelset, so making a comparison is going to be easy as wheel size is the sole differentiation. We can tell you right now that neither bike is ‘better’ – our first short ride confirmed that – but they are certainly different in the way they address the trail.

The Switchblade can be purchased from Pivot Cycles retailers as a frame plus a build kit, the frame kit alone will set you back $4609.95 and build kits range from $4824.95 to $10689.95 for the ultimate Shimano XTR Di2 build.

On review we have the Switchblade 27.5+ XTR/XT PRO 1X build kit, which totals to a complete bike of $9433. Certainly not a cheap bike by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll have more to comment on the value and pricing in our final review.

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A pivot is about as good as it gets, their suspension frames are absolutely top notch.

Stay tuned for our full review soon, it’s time to put them both to the test.

Tested: Cell Brunswick 2.0

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Ride a bike on dirt, and we’re all about it. Bring it on!

We love reviewing a bike with a good story behind it, it makes our job that little bit easier when a bike is more than just a frame with parts and there’s a genuine tale to tell. The Brunswick is the result of a small design team’s passion for a tiny and niche segment of the Australian market; cyclocross. While the market for a bike like this may be small it’s certainly on the rise, and for good reason, we urge people to give them a try. Showing commitment to the scene of CX racing, Cell have even launched a grass-roots racing team, Get Rad Racing, and they’re racing the Brunswick all over the place.

Why would Flow ‘Mountain Bike’ get involved with testing a bike with no bouncy bits like this you might say? We are drawn to these bikes as mountain bikers because we enjoy riding them, on dirt, the road or cyclocross race track. Roads are frightening at times, especially in Sydney, and trails within riding distance from home can become a little same-same after time and you need a break, or they can be off limits to riders when the weather turns sour. _LOW4090

While we won’t profess to having loads of experience with these type of bikes at Flow, our time spent riding and reviewing the Cannondale Slate was bloody awesome and our personal rides here include the Niner BSB. These bikes are often called a mountain biker’s road bike, so why not?


What is it, who’s it for?

This may be the toughest part of the whole review – describing exactly what type of rider this bike will suit. Who’s it for? Well, in short summary, it’s for just about anyone!

Use it as a road bike, a commuter bike, a gravel bike, a cyclocross bike, a touring bike, bike-packing bike, a bike bike.

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Not one car, bus, taxi or truck in sight, you beauty!

While Cell’s second iteration of their Brunswick has its heart firmly set in the gravel and cyclocross scene, there are many elements that widen its options for other styles of riding. Things like its massive tyre clearance for a variety of tread sizes, rack mounts for panniers, mounts for full-length fenders and plenty of length in the steer tube for an adjustable ride height position.

Two models of the Brunswick are available, via their direct-to-consumer website ordering system (with free shipping), or from their Melbourne CBD or Sydney CBD showrooms. We spent most of our time on the top-tier Brunswick 2.0 ripping about on gravel roads, tarmac and the odd bit of singletrack, and it took it all in its stride.

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Versatility defined.

Frame and build

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The big front junction of the frame gives the Brunswick massive front end rigidity.

There’s a lot going on with the frame detail, the Brunswick has been designed from the ground up with the experience and feedback gained from the original Brunswick frame a couple years ago. The frame is constructed from triple butted 6061 aluminium, with a full-carbon fork and both wheels are secured with thru-axles.

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The underside of the top tube is flattened in shape for shouldering the bike at the CX races.

The big chainstays are a contrast to the thin and flattened seat stays, shaped that way for increased ride compliance, an area where aluminium frames usually lack in comparison to the more expensive carbon frames out there.

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Provisions for rack mounts are all in the right places. Adventure or commuter ready.

There are mounts galore, accommodating just about any rack or fender you could wish for, turning this thing into an all-weather super-commuter or trekking workhorse wouldn’t take much at all. It’ll carry three water bottle cages, or two cages and a tool/pump bracket under the downtube.

And adding to the user-friendly nature of the bike is its full length and completely external cable routing. Full length housing keeps the rear derailleur more protected from the elements and the external routing makes maintenance much easier. Sure hiding the cables inside the frame is aesthetically pleasing but it can also be a monumental headache when changing cables or brake lines. Cell have managed the particularly tricky task of cable routing very cleanly, good stuff.

Full length housing, all external. Take that, mud!
Full length housing, all external. Take that, mud!

Up front the full-carbon fork is a real standout feature, the carbon material takes a little sting out of the ride and its burly structure feels seriously robust on rougher surfaces. Grabbing a big handful of front brake will confirm that the fork and whole front end is super strong, it feels like you could run over anything with a front end this tough.

Seriously burly fork, carbon steerer too.
Seriously burly fork, carbon steerer too.

The thru-axles at both wheels take the sturdiness of the ride to the next level, we’re seeing more cyclocross and gravel bikes going down the path of thru-axles and we’re all about it. There’s a lot that this segment can learn from mountain bike design, the security and solidarity of thru-axles can make a lightweight bike feel confident and tough. Wheel removal is quick and easy and the levers on the axles are tidy and effective.

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Thru-axles at the front and rear wheels, solid and secure.
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The rear disc brake calliper mounts neatly inside the rear triangle, but the kick stand mounts are a bit of an eye sore.

Tyre size is a real point of contention on a cyclocross bike, there are restrictions in place for racing competitions at different levels, for example an official event in Australia a tyre up to 35mm is permitted, and an international UCI event the widest is 33mm. While it is specced with 33mm tyres, there’s enough tyre clearance on the Brunswick to allow up to a 42mm tyre, bigger tyres will lift the bike’s abilities off road, allowing more traction, control, comfort and less risk of punctures. If this were ours we’d be experimenting with bigger tyres with deeper tread to get a little more crazy on the dirt, and perhaps keeping a thinner and smoother tyre on hand for longer rides on the road or extended stints commuting.

Tyre clearance galore.
Tyre clearance galore, you’ll be able to fit a tyre up to 42mm in there giving plenty of options.

The parts highlights

Cell Bikes have a reputation for great bang for your buck, and the Brunswick 2.0 sure doesn’t disappoint for a wallet friendly $2299. Not only do the parts represent decent value, they also confirm the amount of consideration that has gone into the core usage of this bike.

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The distinctive shape of the SRAM hydraulic brake levers. Grab a hold of them and you’re in total control.

The SRAM Rival 1 single-ring drivetrain and hydraulic brakes are at the heart of a modest and solid parts kit, and a big reason why the bike rides so well. Rival 1 is SRAM’s second level single-ring cyclocross/gravel component group, one step below Force 1 which we’ve had plenty of good experience with, on and off the road. Mountain bikers will notice strong similarities between the Rival 1 parts and the SRAM mountain bike drivetrain; it uses a the narrow/wide X-SYNC chainring and 11-speed clutch rear derailleur. The shifting is only on the right hand side and is crisp and positive. The SRAM Double-Tap shifters take a little getting used to if you’re a long time Shimano shifter, but works well, the clutch rear derailleur keeps the chain nice and secure, never did we feel any fear of dropping a chain on the bumpier rides.

The 11-36t cassette provides a pretty good range when mated with the 40t chainring, it’s on the low side of the spectrum, but we’re all about gearing low. If you’re spinning out of gears at the higher end of the range just relax or get into an aero tuck for more speed.

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Through the thickest mud and the driest roads, the single-ring drivetrain never missed a beat.
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The clutch rear derailleur keeping chain slap at bay and securely in gear.

The tubeless ready wheels are from AClass (the complete wheel division of well known Alex Rims) and tyres are the Vittoria Cross XG Pro in folding bead and 33mm width. We set up our wheels tubeless and never looked back.

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A decent balance of tread for grip and rolling speed is reached with the 33mm Vittoria tyres.
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A good all-rounder but master at none, this bike will respond well to you selecting the tyres for intended use.
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The key to these bikes is tyre size selection and of course tyre pressure management. Spend the time to get the balance right or keep a few options in the garage.

The SRAM Rival disc brakes with 160mm rotors gave the Brunswick reliable and consistent braking control on long descents, rain and mud. We’re big fans of disc brakes on road bikes, and it’s plain to see how they can benefit more than just mountain bikes. While the lever feel is not as snappy and positive as some of Shimano’s road hydraulic disc brakes, the braking power is always there. Our test bike could probably do with a brake bleed now after a few months of riding.

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160mm rotors and tiny brake callipers deliver loads of stopping power in the dry, wet and mud. Spot on.
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The Rival levers don’t have the same snappy consistency that Shimano hydraulic levers do, but there’s boat-loads of power.

Cell’s own brand components make up the rest of the bike with a nice carbon 27.2mm seatpost, bar, stem and saddle. The thick Cell bar tape is nice and cushy, and the drop in the bars is not too far, so riding in the drops off road was easy and great for heavy braking moments. Our saddle did rattle in its rails after a few rides though, a warranty issue that should be quickly sorted out by Cell.

Cell's own cockpit components and very neat cable routing.
Cell’s own cockpit components and very tidy cable routing.

Riding the Brunswick

We rode this thing all over the place, from our regular road rides to frantic cyclocross laps with the crew, gravel grinds and even pushed its limits through singletrack. While we realise it’s no mountain bike, we certainly had it working like one at times!

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Get down on the drops and let is slide!

The riding position is quite relaxed when compared to a typical road bike, the bars sit quite high and the steering feels slacker and far less twitchy. This laid-back body position had us feeling super confident to ride the Brunswick on slippery surfaces and push the limits of the tyres, we quickly began throwing it around the place, jumping holes in the road and up and down gutters with a light spring in our stride.

On the road amongst the bustling traffic we felt safe, the riding position lets you react to changes in traffic flow with confidence, and the combination of bigger tyres with tread and powerful disc brakes made our road bikes feel dangerous in comparison.

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Boring dirt roads reinvigorated, the Brunswick had us exploring and riding with renewed enthusiasm.

Hopping the odd obstacle or cyclocross barrier may not be something that we’re used to doing on curly wurly bars and narrow tyres, but soon after giving it a try we were mixing it up with the cyclocross folk in no time. With solid thru-axles and burly rigid forks, landing nose heavy holding the brake hoods never felt so secure.

Hitting the dirt roads was an absolute hoot. While we are used to riding mountain bikes with meaty treads, this fast rig feels wild and alive in your hands, but once we got the hang of it we channelled our inner CX racer and just kept on mashing on the pedals motoring through sketchy sandy sections and slippery mud with a grin and a laugh. _LOW4113

Setting the tyre pressure just right for the ride ahead is vital, we ran between 40-50 psi on the rougher and looser surfaces and up to 70-80 psi on roads and faster rides. Being setup tubeless with Stan’s No Tubes sealant, valves and rim tape made so much difference to the ride, at times we’d be gripping the tops of the bars and ploughing through rock-strewn cobbled roads without a care in the world.

There were even times where bad line choice sent us hurtling into baby-head sized rocks loose on the surface of the fire trail, hitting the rim so hard it sounded like a steel drum band at full volume – PING PANG DANG DING BONGGGG!

We didn’t lose any pressure though, even the rims didn’t show any signs of damage. From that day on we put more trust in the wheels and rode harder and harder.

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Drop the pressures for dirt, crank them up for tarmac.

Verdict

The Brunswick 2.0 would be a sure bet for a first time foray into the world of cyclocross racing. The CX scene is fun, growing and a fresh change from the world of mountain biking and road riding. With more CX events popping up in regional areas you’d be well served giving one a try on a bike like this.

Or the Brunswick would be a safe commuter bike with more confidence in traffic than a skinny road bike. Mount racks to carry your gear and fenders to keep you dry, and the disc brakes are far safer than rim brakes on wet and crappy roads. And no doubt it would also prove to be a solid and reliable touring bike with such a comfortable riding position, sturdy parts kit and mighty tough wheels.

We loved our time on this thing, it opened up possibilities and had us exploring trails we’d not consider on a mountain bike, so we’re all about it.

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Fuel EX and Remedy 9.9

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Ah, Canada…

There’s no chairlift or gondola in Squamish, which rules it out for most of the Whistler crowd instantly. You climb to the best bits, and you’re rewarded with loamy, fast, rooty, flowy, singletrack descending, some of the very best we’ve ever ridden.

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Perfect trail bike territory.

In short, it’s perfect trail/all-mountain bike territory, which made it the ideal testing ground for two of Trek’s newest offerings, the Fuel EX 9.9 and Remedy 9.9. We only had two days on the trails, but we made the most of them, giving us plenty of fodder to formulate solid initial impressions about the performance of these two rigs. We’ll be locking in some proper review time on board both the Fuel and Remedy on our home trails too.

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If you haven’t read our in-depth article about the new Fuel and Remedy, please check it out here.


Fuel EX 9.9

Our first day of riding Squamish was aboard the Fuel EX 9.9. This 11.3kg weapon is the top model in the new Fuel line-up; there’s more bling here than a Kanye West film clip, with SRAM Eagle, DT XMC1200 wheels, SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes and premium FOX suspension all round.

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Highly evolved.

The loop we had planned took in a couple of decent climbs, so we opted to leave the Fuel is its steeper 67.7 degree head angle setting. We long admired the grippy manner in which the Fuel ascends, and the new version takes this to another level. With the wide DT rims and the supple Bontrager tyres, there’s a huge amount of rear wheel traction. The SRAM Eagle drivetrain delivers on all its promises too – if you’ve got lower gears available you’ll always use them, and we found ourselves clicking down to the massive 50-tooth low gear more than we expected to use it.

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Don’t be surprised if later versions of this bike come with Bontrager’s XXX Kovee wheels, rather than the DTs seen here.

Looking around the group of riders, we did notice that a few people had their seat post right on the minimum insertion line. Because of the new kinked seat tube on the Fuel, the amount of seat post adjustment is a little limited. Careful consideration of frame size will be important – measure up your inseam and make sure you can get sufficient seat post height when choosing your frame size.

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The Fuel has a bit more menace about it now, with slacker angles and long legs. Note the kinked seat tube – it does mean you need to pay close attention when picking your frame size.
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Not a bad spot for a park up! The section of trail immediately after this certainly put the Fuel’s braking grip to the test.

We discovered before long that a cross country ride in Squamish is decidedly more gnarly than what you’ll find in most Australian trail centres! Launching blindly off ladder drops and granite rollers on a trail called Rupert, we quickly came to appreciate the 10mm of additional travel and stiff 34mm fork found on the new Fuel. On our second run down the same trail, we felt incredibly comfortable on the bike – that confidence building mix of buttery suspension, a roomy reach measurement and the wide 760mm bars had us pushing things much harder than is advisable when jet lagged! After a few seriously hard landings, we checked the o-ring on the fork and shock; we’d used full travel on both ends, but without ever being aware of hitting bottom out, full marks here.

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The Fuel’s shock is travel-reduced, so the o-ring doesn’t make it to the very end of the shock shaft at bottom out. We had no worries getting full travel, but without being aware of any bottom outs.

The final portion of the ride included some of those amazing, long rock slabs that are so iconic to this area of BC. If you ever need to get a feel for how a bike handles under heavy braking, this is the spot! Once again, the sensitivity of the Fuel’s suspension and the grip levels it attains blew us away.

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Dropping in on the Fuel.

For the afternoon session we dropped the bike into its slacker setting. On the climb back up into the dense wooded hills, we could certainly feel that the slacker angles required a little more attentiveness to keep the front end on line. The tradeoff is the stability and confidence that comes with the slacker angles, which was really highlighted to us on a couple of super-steep rock rollers and chutes, where it’s nice to have plenty of wheelbase out front.

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A 60mm stem on our size medium test bike. We noticed some riders opted to go up a frame size with a 50mm stem – not a bad idea, if you’re a particularly hard rider.

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Squamish isn’t all hand-built technical singletrack, there’s also a good chunk of flat-out flow trail, with monster berms. It was here that we gained the most insight into how much stiffer the Fuel’s frame is than its predecessor. We’ve spent a lot of time on the 2016 Fuel, and ridden plenty of these kinds of flow trails on it, so it was easy to detect just how rock solid the new Fuel is. Diving hard into deep bowls of berms, the was never an inkling of the front end twisting or sketching out under heavy load.


Remedy 9.9

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The Remedy 9.9 RSL.

We awoke for our second day of riding to the sound of rain, which is pretty standard for this part of the world, where the Howe Sound funnels moisture up from the Pacific and dumps it onto the mountains. We were heading out on the Remedy 9.9, and on the advice of locals, we dropped a few PSI from our tyres to help find some grip on the wet roots.

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The Eagle spreads its wings.

The Remedy’s legs have been lengthened a little, with 150mm travel out back and 160mm up front on the 9.9 RSL (Race Shop Limited) we were riding, and in order to get as much descending time in as possible, we shuttled part way up into the trail network before embarking on a long, steady ascent up the Legacy Climb. The sentiment we heard again and again from our fellow riders, and which we felt too, was that the Remedy climbed like a demon, way beyond expectations. Even with the ground made heavy by the rain, it made light work of the long climbs – the RockShox Monarch with the RE:aktiv damper is impressively stable under pedalling. On the Remedy 9.9, the Lyrik fork is travel adjustable too, though the climbs we were on weren’t steep enough to require its use.

Trek Launch in Squamish, BC, Canada, June 2016
Even on the heavy ground of our test trails, the Remedy was an impressive climber, in or out of the saddle.
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The Remedy 9.9 has a travel adjustable fork, but we never felt compelled to use it – it climbs superbly without it.

Before we had begun our ride that morning, we’d spent some time with the crew from SRAM, getting our suspension setup. Our initial worry was that the bike felt a little too soft, and we worried we’d be wallowing in the travel. But once we hit the descents, we realised that the setup was ideal, especially in the slippery conditions. On rooty trails like Angry Midget, the Remedy felt outrageously planted.

Trek Launch in Squamish, BC, Canada, June 2016
Wet conditions didn’t faze the Remedy – its supple suspension and grip under brakes meant we felt very confident to ride the trails like it was dry.
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Bonty’s rubber is top notch.

Again, the grip was sensational; with the wide Bontrager Line Elite rims and SE4 tyres just hanging on like crazy! That old ‘ride it like it’s dry’ line of Sam Hill’s popped into our heads, there was so much traction that we could forget about the mud that glazed the roots and rocks.

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We like the Drop Line post, but its performance became a little gritty in the wet conditions.

The wet and gritty conditions eventually began to have an impact on the Bontrager Drop Line seat post, however, so during our break for lunch, we pulled the post down to give it a quick clean out. Thankfully the job only takes a few minutes and requires just two Allen keys, but we think Bonty might need to do some more development work on the sealing.

Trek Launch in Squamish, BC, Canada, June 2016

With the sun rapidly drying out the trails, we headed out again for a second rip. The standout trail for the afternoon had to be Hoods in the Woods, a super fast, traversing singletrack descent that had amazing natural rhythm. Even with the Remedy in its steeper setting, the stability is sensational, happily carrying us through some seriously mis-timed jumps over root sections.

Trek Launch in Squamish, BC, Canada, June 2016
Bombing out of blue skies.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano XT Di2

What’s the difference between XT and XTR Di2? Not much – a bit of weight and a lot of dollars. XT actually gets some features that makes it an even more attractive offering than XTR in many respects.

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The XT Di2 head unit communicates with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth to let you operate the E-Tube app. XTR Di2 users can add the new head unit to their existing system.

Read all about our experience with XTR Di2 here: XTR Di2 Long-Term Test 

Watch a video XTR Di2 in operation with an explanation of the shift modes here: Di2 Shift Modes Explained


XTR is a racer’s product; it’s all about the incremental gains that most of us wouldn’t really even notice. A few grams shaved here, a few Watts saved there. XT on the other hand, is aimed directly at the trail rider – the person who wants a tough, reliable but still high-performance groupset. So what is the weight penalty? Well, if we look at a 1×11 XTR vs XT setup (excluding brakes), then the weight penalty is about 290g. If you want to run an 11-42 cassette with your XTR 1×11, then the weight difference drops to just 180g. Yep, that’s it. Take a look at the spreadsheet below for the full weight comparison of XT and XTR Di2.

Shimano-XT-vs-XTR-Di2-weights-

From a features perspective, XT Di2 misses out on the multi-release shifting found on XTR (the ability to fire off two shifts with one push of the lever), but frankly, that feature is kind of redundant, given you can simply hold down the shift button and shift through multiple gears anyway.

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The XT shifter doesn’t have the multi-release functionality of XTR.

Otherwise, it essentially mirrors the features found on XTR. It has all the programmable Syncro Shift modes, customisable shifter paddle functions and adjustable shift speed features, and like XTR you can get it in 1x, 2x or 3x configurations.

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An 11-42 cassette gives you broad range, or there’s an 11-46 option too.

What makes XT even more appealing than XTR, in our mind, is two things; a broader cassette range and an improved user interface.

Unlike XTR, which only comes with an 11-40 cassette, XT gives you an 11-42 and even an 11-46 option as well. With this extended range out back, we’re sure to see a lot of people going down the 1×11 route with XT Di2, which reduces the expense of the system a lot too.

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The new E-Tube App is a huge improvement over the previous PC-based software.

Finally the Di2 E-Tube interface (the software which allows you to customise the performance of your Di2, or to run diagnostics should a problem arise) gets brought into the 21st century. The previous version of this software was PC only, and required you to physically plug your Di2 system into a computer. It was clunky at best. XT sees the introduction of Bluetooth to the world of Di2, with all new E-Tube App for both iOS and Android devices, allowing you to customise your Di2 from your phone or tablet. Admittedly, once the system is configured how you like it, you’re not likely to use the E-Tube software very often, but it’s still a great improvement. XTR Di2 users can ‘upgrade’ to XT Bluetooth system by purchasing the XT display/head unit.

XT has built its reputation on reliability, that’s what’s made it the go-to for weekend warriors who can’t afford unnecessary trips to the local workshop. Does the introduction of electronics risk undermining this reliability? Based on our experiences, no. We’ve had well over a year of riding XTR Di2 now, and reliability hasn’t been a concern. In fact, with no cables or housing to get gummed up or damaged, we’ve had to spend far less time making shifting adjustments than we would have with a mechanical system.

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Our XT Di2 test sled is a Giant Reign Advanced. It weighs in at 13.1kg including XT pedals.

We’ll be getting our hands on an XT Di2 groupset for a proper long-term test in the near future. For now, we’ve nabbed one of Shimano’s demo fleet, a Giant Reign Advanced, setup with a 1×11 drivetrain. Unlike an increasing number of frames, it’s not specifically optimised for Di2 use, but even still the Di2 integrates into the bike very cleanly, especially as the bike has the PRO Tharsis bar and stem which facilitates internal wiring of the cockpit.

We’ll bring you more on XT Di2’s performance on the trail in coming weeks.

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Flow’s First Bite: 2017 Scott Scale

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The Scale RC SL is the flagship model in the Scale lineup, the challenge to find a lighter bike off the shelf is set.

Check out the Scott Spark too, and our first impressions of the dual suspension brother to the Scale here: 2017 Scott Spark.


New Scott Scale

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This thing is incredibly fast, the responsiveness is superb.

Dropping weight at the same time improving the comfort and handling of a new bike must be quite a tall task to pull off, but from what we’ve seen it’s all about the small gains from every section of the frame, adding up to a final product that leaves the big name brands behind in the race of the lightest hardtail frame.

Nino Schurter raced this bike at the Albstadt World Cup.
Nino Schurter raced this bike at the Albstadt World Cup, he won it too.

“In today’s market it’s getting easier for anyone to go to Asia and release a mediocre carbon hardtail frame and call it good. That’s where we are different. Focussing passionately on every little detail, no matter how small the gain is really sets us apart from everybody else, and puts the new Scale firmly ahead of the competition.” Dan Roberts, Scott Scale Engineer.

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Skinny and bow-legged like an old salty cowboy.

Using a new carbon layup procedure in the frame Scott’s carbon engineers are able to make the most of their latest HMX-SL composite material (found on their high end road bikes) to reduce mass around the larger sections of the frame. Boost hub spacing comes into the Scott range for 2017 allowing for more freedom to push sections of the frame outwards, the wider hub, chain line and the single-ring specific drivetrain version and use of the new Shimano side swing front derailleur arrangement lets the Scale engineers get serious on creating big shapes where they need them. But its the rear end of the frame that most of the weight loss is, er, gained.

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Slenderness meets brawn. The down tube are beefy but the top tube and seat stays are slim.
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Good looking stuff.

SDS2 Shock Damping System: The Scale even looks comfortable just standing there with its wafer-thin seat stays and curvy seat tube, can’t say that we’ve haven’t seen such a slender rear on a mountain bike before. Claiming a 35% increase in seated comfort than the previous Scale, and 27% more comfort when standing, there’s a lot of focus on this area for the new frame. The new frame shapes are said to allow 6mm of flex in the frame at the seat tub and the dropouts can move 2.5mm in the event of a hard impact.

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Two distinct regions of the frame give the Scale its comfort and stiffness.
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The beefy downtube swoops into fat chain stays, while the upper part of the frame remains reactive to impacts.

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Brake Mount: The new Scott Spark and Scale share the clever new brake mount which attaches to the chain stay and rear hub axle, this allows the seat stays to flex more freely, and results in a cleaner and lighter dropout on that side.Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 3.19.32 PM

Note how the brake mount doesn't attach to the seat stays.
Note how the brake mount doesn’t attach to the seat stays.

SW Dropout: The new sandwich dropout is also an area of weight saving, on the Spark also. Available for both Shimano Direct Mount and SRAM it integrates into the thu-axle for a leaner and stiffer section.

New vs old dropouts.
New vs old dropouts.

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Geometry: You may have seen on RedBull TV that the World Cup courses are becoming increasingly gnarly, the technicality of racing has come a long way in the last few years and it is more than just a climbers race. Hence the evolution of frame geometry, and the changes in the new Scale. The 29er is 13mm shorter in the stays on 29er and combines that with a steeper seat angle and a longer reach.

Longer reach, shorter stays and slacker head angles on the new Scale.
Longer reach, shorter stays and slacker head angles on the new Scale.

Three versions of the Scale

Scale RC 700 / Scale 700:

The bike of choice of World Champ Nino Schurter, the 27.5″ wheel version of the Spark is the lightest in the whole class, and combine that with the inherently quick acceleration from the smaller wheels you have a race bike for the punchier and faster courses, or simply a more lively and agile race bike than its bigger wheel brother in the 900 series.

SCALE RC 700 / SCALE 700
Scale RC 700 / Scale 700

Scale RC 900 / Scale 900:

29er hardtail for the longer races, or for riders enjoying the confidence and stability of a 29er wheel. We may even see Nino racing the Rio Olympics on this bike, as the rolling course favours a 29″ wheel.

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Scale RC 900 / Scale 900
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This is the ultimate race bike, no stone left unturned in the quest for the lightest and most efficient bike in the XC/marathon scene.

Scale Plus:

While it may not score all the delicious carbon details of the bikes above, the aluminium frame Scale Plus is the only hardtail you should ride if racing is not on the agenda. This thing is so capable, with laid-back geometry, 120mm travel forks, a dropper post and monster 2.8″ tyres it can handle anything you throw at it.

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Scale Plus
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The new Scale Plus is right on the money with spec for 2017, we’d love to have this bike on test again.

We’ll be getting our grubby mitts on these bikes for a proper review as soon as possible, stay tuned for more ridiculously light carbon from Scott.

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Flow’s First Bite: 2017 Scott Spark

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The insanely light Spark RC 900 SL. 29er frame weight is just 1779g including shock, that is absolutely bonkers. Building up to a sub-10kg complete bike!
Climbing the impossible climbs on the traction machine – Spark Plus.

“Engineers don’t like design compromises. Splitting the Spark family into three models allowed us to create bikes with a shared DNA and distinct purpose. The Spark RC is a 100% race dedicated full suspension bike – by designing a 1x specific platform and using HMX-SL fibres for the first time on MTB we’ve set a new benchmark in terms of weight. The final bike is the result of hundreds of careful design decisions which combine to create the perfect racing tool for our racers to keep on winning.” – Joe Higgins, Chief of MTB Engineering.


Check out the insanely light 2017 Scott Scale hardtail in our first impressions piece here: 2017 Scott Scale.


The New Spark

First spotted in the hands of World Champion Nino Schurter, the new Spark sent the internet forums into a whirlwind. What was this crazy looking thing, visibly so different to the current Spark!? Let alone that it was in fact a 29er (sorry 27.5″ fans, Nino will choose to race a 29er Spark or Scale at Rio).

Well, firstly the lightest configuration of the new Spark SL frame is a ridiculous 1779g for the 29er and 1749g for 27.5″. Taking 217 grams out of the already category leading 2016 frame was a result of hundreds of marginal gains. For 2017 the R&D gurus at Scott drew upon a deep wealth of expertise in carbon, and especially road bike technology to take their Spark and Scale frames to the next level.

The weight loss comes down to more intelligent shapes for the new carbon composite layers, simplifying the frame with 1X and 2X drivetrains, a new pivot-free rear triangle, a new brake mount, and a lighter rocker link. And a lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of a few new standards, like Boost hub spacing and the new Trunnion Mount rear shock.

Frame geometry and suspension curves also score an overhaul, bringing it up to speed with the modern demands. Scott’s excellent Twin-Loc suspension adjustment system carries forward, the tw0-position air volume adjustment controlled at the handlebar is key to the Scott range’s impressive versatility choose between Descend Mode, Traction Mode and locked out.

New Rear Triangle: The new pivotless swingarm allows the rear triangle to be moulded in just two continuos carbon parts, where the older version was made up from 18 seperate parts. The 130g saving is where most of the weight has been taken from the frame. The rear end will now give a few degrees of flex to allow the suspension to do its thing, instead of a bushing pivot and all its hardware.

Old vs new. Now that's what we call simplifying!
Old vs new. Now that’s what we call simplifying!

To allow the frame to flex freely a new brake mount was designed, anchored around the axle and chain stay, this allows the seat stay to move the way it needs to. A 160mm and 180mm disc rotor size mount is available.

New vs old brake mount area.
New vs old brake mount area.

Metric Trunnion Shock Mount: Two new standards of the rear shock is found on the new Spark, metric shock sizing and the shorter sized Trunnion Mounting arrangement. The stout and short shock allows greater freedom for the frame design, sitting lower and wider in the frame, and also more stroke length with the same eye-to-eye length.

The new downward pointing rear shock allows freedom with frame sizes too, removing the shock from fixing to the top tube (which grows as the sizes do) is an obvious benefit and more economical.

New vs old, the Trunnion Mount is wider and allows for a very compact shock arrangement.
New vs old, the Trunnion Mount is wider and allows for a very compact shock arrangement.
Old vs new Spark BB area. Note the wide and central Trunnion rear shock mount.
Old vs new Spark BB area. Note the wide and central Trunnion rear shock mount.

New Sandwich Dropout: The new dropout is also an area of weight saving, on the Scale hardtail also. Available for both Shimano Direct Mount and SRAM it integrates into the thu-axle for a leaner and stiffer section.

New vs old, the new pivotless rear end saves a huge 130g.
New vs old, the new SW dropout clamps onto the axle and allows a one-piece moulded carbon section for both stays.

Suspension and Geometry: A criticism we had with our review of the 2016 Scott Spark 900 Premium recently was the frame geometry was a little out-dated, we wanted shorter stays, and slacker angles to let the bike ride better. So we’re stoked that the new Spark is all that and more.

For the 29er the chain stays are 13mm shorter than before, now a respectable 435mm. Reach is longer, head angle slackens off 1.3 degrees and the whole standover is a huge 28mm lower.

Scott have worked on developing a more sensitive suspension curve too, and coupled with the Twin-Loc dual air chamber of the rear shock, this is one seriously adaptable bike.


Three Sparks.

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Taking the Scott Spark Plus to places 120mm bikes wouldn’t normally go.

While we are sure to admit the Scott range is overwhelming and a little confusing at times, the result is excellent choice and options for the rider. Here’s a quick overview of the Spark range coming to Australia.

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The Spark range is divided three ways, in multiple wheel sizes.

The new Spark platform comes with three different wheel sizes and different travel options. The frame of the 27.5″ wheel Spark RC 700 SL weighs in at only 1749 g (including shock and hardware). The frame of the 29″ frame Spark RC 900 SL weighs in at only 1779g (including shock and hardware).


Spark RC 900 / Spark 900: The all-out 29er race bike.Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.31.07 AM

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Hitting the ‘A-line’ on the Lenzerheide XCO race loop on the Spark 900 RC SL.

First impressions: You want to race? This is your weapon, there are few bikes as successful on the race circuit as the new Spark, and the new version cements itself at the top by shaving serious weight. Hitting the trails on the Spark 900 RC was quite an experience, the acceleration and rolling speed is outstanding. Your power goes straight to the rear wheel, and the perfectly ergonomic Twin-Loc lever is there for the sprints and climbs, lock it or switch to climb mode and you’re so well supported to mash on the pedals in anger.


Spark RC 700 / Spark 700: Lightweight 27.5″ wheel race bike.Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.30.55 AM_LOW3519The 120mm trail-ready version of the Spark.

First Impressions: This is the Spark for the trail rider, with both wheel size options, the ‘regular’ spark feels so much more neutral than it’s racey RC brother. With meatier tyres, dropper posts, 34mm leg forks this is a seriously progressive bike from Scott.

We spent a lot of time on this bike, and we can see massive appeal for the trail rider that races a few times a year._LOW3708


Spark 700 Plus: Super fun and capable trail bike. So much traction!Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.31.18 AM

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Big rubber, short travel, light frame, a seriously good combo!

The Plus is a 130/12omm travel bike with 2.8″ Maxxis tyres for a completely different character to the racey Spark range but sharing the same incredibly light frame.
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First Impressions: For those who are yet to experience a plus bike, we urge you to try one. This Spark Plus is a completely different bike, while it shares the same lightweight frame, the extra fork travel and 2.8″ Maxxis plus tyres transform it into a capable and fun bike to blast through trails in confidence. 2.8″ tyres can climb up harder, steeper and looser ascents, and turn the bike into a descent and you’ve got control in spades.

Maxxis make an appearance on the new Scott range, previously very involved with Schwalbe, testing proved them not to be durable enough, and Maxxis are much more affordable too, all good from our end.

We could bang on about plus bikes for ages, they really are great fun to ride. Check out review of the Scott Genius Plus here: Scott Genius Plus review.

New the concept of plus? What’s it all about? Click here for a little more on Plus. 


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Comfortably laying over the Spark Plus.

Tested: Orbea Occam TR M30

FLOW2833Given the huge global presence of Orbea, it might surprise you to learn that the bikes are still made in Spain. This is a brand with real heritage and which takes pride in its roots in the mountains of the Basque region.


Check out our review of the Orbea Rallon, the Occam’s big brother, right here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/attainable-all-mountain-orbea-rallon-x30-review/


The Occam now comes in two flavours; the long-travel/little-wheels Occam AM, and the 120mm-travel 29er Occam TR which we’re reviewing. This 29er trail bike category has some real momentum at the moment. It’s an ideal platform for for riders who might’ve traditionally gravitated towards a strictly cross-country machine, but who now want something to broaden their horizons without going all long-travel and #endurbro.

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Lovely lines. We really like the aesthetic of this frame.

Frame and Construction

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.

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Massive chain stays ensure a precise, direct rear end.

The frame definitely gives off an air of trail bike toughness, even if some of the components don’t quite match this posturing. Previous generations of Orbeas have tended to twist like a yoga instructor, and they’ve gone out of their way to lose that reputation with the Occam. The chain stays are deep and stiff, with Boost rear hub spacing adding to the rigidity too. The front end is equally imposing, especially across the top tube, which is very broad to accommodate the shock nestled up inside it. All the linkage hardware is fat and solid – frame flex won’t hold this bike back.

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No pivots out here! The flex-stay suspension system is light, stiff and reduces complexity.

Occam’s Razor, from which the bike derives its name, is a philosophy for problem solving. Broadly stated Occam’s theory tells us that the simplest approach is best. The original Orbea Occam had a basic single-pivot suspension, which would have made old man Ockham smile, but somewhere along the line, Orbea have decided it’s ok to add a bit of complexity for the sake of suspension performance!

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Orbea calls their flex stay system UFO. Unidentified flexing object? We’re not sure!

The latest Occam uses a very clean looking flex-stay suspension arrangement to deliver 120mm of travel. This approach is more commonly seen in pure cross country bikes where weight reduction is paramount, but it’s not unheard of in this mid-travel segment either (the Cannondale Habit SE we tested recently is another 120mm bike with a flex stay). Getting rid of pivot point like this has a number of advantages; fewer bearing means lower weights, less maintenance and potentially stiffer frame construction. The shock is a user-friendly, no-nonsense FOX DPS number, tucked neatly up inside the top tube where it’s easy to access on the fly and allowing for plenty of room in the frame for a full-sized water bottle.

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If you’re running a front mech, it has gotta be neat, and the integration and cable routing for the Shimano side-swing front derailleur is perfect.

The Occam’s fantastic cable routing demonstrates just how neatly the new Shimano Side-Swing front derailleurs can be incorporated into frame design. Sadly, the bike’s provisions for an internally-routed dropper post are un-utilised, which is at odds with the Occam’s billing as a trail bike.

Geometry-wise, Orbea have followed the trends towards longer front ends, paired with shorter stems. It’s all about confidence and changing the distribution of the wheel base, so that when you’re pointed into nasty terrain, you’ve got more bike up front. There are only three frame sizes for the Occam – they don’t offer this bike in a small – so if you’re a shorty you’ll be on 27.5″ wheels.

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The rear mech is a direct mount number, for a stiffer, solid connection.

There is sensational attention to detail to be found across the frame, with nice touches like a direct mount rear derailleur, effective down tube protection and neat chain slap guards all reinforcing the notion that it’s the frame where the quality counts.

Components

When it comes to the way the Occam has been specced, the components are a super reliable blend of proven FOX, Shimano and Raceface kit. Solid choices, if not flashy. Still, we do have a few quibbles from a value and intended use perspective.

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Dropper post cable routing. Sadly unused on this model of Occam.

As with other boutique brands, you pay a premium for the frame, and so the Orbea’s components seem a little uninspiring if you’re compare them pound for pound with some of the other large brands. The SLX/XT 10-speed drivetrain is a bit ho-hum – the SLX shifters feel like they belong at lower price point, and being 10-speed your options are limited if you do want to convert this bike to a single ring setup too.

Our bigger gripe is the absence of a dropper post. We understand that this bike does still sit on the cusp of the cross-country category, but it’s mandatory in our mind to have a dropper post at this travel and this price.

You can add a dropper to the bike (a Rockshox Reverb) using the My Orbea custom options, which adds another $428 to the price. Admittedly, we were surprised at how well this bike handled without a dropper, but it’s a pity to have to fork out a few hundred dollars extra to bring this bike up to speed with other trail bikes.

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32mm forks are better reserved for cross-country bikes we feel – a 34mm fork would have been a great addition to this bike.

The FOX 32 Float is typically smooth, easy to setup and maintain, but overall we’d have preferred to see a FOX 34, which would have been more in keeping with the stiffness of the bike. In the world of 29ers, larger diameter stanchions make a big difference, especially for bigger riders.

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The 35mm Raceface Aeffect bar and stem is a reassuring cockpit.

More positively, the wheelset is excellent. The DT rims shod in proper tubeless Maxxis rubber feel alive and responsive. The Ardent / Ardent Race tyre combo is fun, the rear wheel breaks traction first and predictably, setting up some awesome drifts in tighter turns. However, if your trails are loose, it’s worth considering upgrading the rear tyre too – you can do so for just another $13 using the My Orbea custom options.

The new 35mm diameter Raceface bar and stem feel great. You might think a 50mm stem is an odd choice on a trail bike, but it balances out the long reach perfectly.


Ride

The Occam kind of straddles the divide between cross country and trail bike performance; you could dress it up to serve either role, or maybe the blend it offers will suit you perfectly from the get-go.

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A little bit XC, a little bit trail bike.

Descending: We hate stopping to adjust the height of our seat post (too many years of droppers have spoiled us!) so we rode the Orbea with the seat at full height and we came away pleasantly surprised. Even with the seat up, it’s a pretty good descender – the short stem places your weight in a stable centred position that makes for confident handling on the downhills.

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The Orbea’s linkage is stout and uses a direct ‘block’ style mount to drive the shock, rather than a bushing.

The suspension is geared around moderately rough terrain, with a suspension rate that uses all its travel quite frequently. This is ideal from a comfort and fatigue perspective, keeping the wheels on the ground and isolating you nicely from the terrain. However, if you’re looking to push a little harder, you’ll want to add some volume spacers to both the fork and shock in order to gain a little more progression. Again, this is an option with the My Orbea custom spec program, and you can add volume spacers to the shock for less than $50.

 The laterally stiff rear end, light wheels and fast rear tyre all help ensure it gets up and going quickly out of a turn.

Singletrack manners: With the rear suspension set in the middle compression position, the Occam is a pleasure in the singletrack, efficient and composed. The laterally stiff rear end, light wheels and fast rear tyre all help ensure it gets up and going quickly out of a turn. Popping the shock into the open compression setting yielded a noticeably smoother ride, but at the expense of some pedalling efficiency, so we spent most of our time in the middle setting.

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The voluminous Ardent in a 2.4″ is an under-rated tyre in our opinion.

On flat, twisty trails, it threaded through the corners really nicely. There’s good bite from the Ardent in its large 2.4″ size up front and in the dry test conditions we rode in we really like the way this bike cornered, with the rear wheel breaking traction first. When a bike has a tendency to let go at the rear wheel first, you’ve got more confidence to weight the front end and attack flat turns.

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The Ardent Race is one of our favourite cross-country tyres and on the Orbea it delivered excellent climbing grip. For some trail riders, more grip will be in order.

Climbing: On the whole, the Orbea is a good climber. The suspension strikes a nice balance between firmness and grip, helping keep the relatively low-profile knobs of the Ardent Race rear tyre hooking in. The climbing position is comfortable, and quite upright thanks to the stubby stem, encouraging you to look ahead and pick your line. We made up plenty of climbs on the Orbea that have seen us walking on other bikes – it does a great job of delivering power to the ground when it’s loose.

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The Shimano cranks have a 36/22 chain ring combo, which is a 29er specific crank. We found the 14-tooth jump between rings too big.

We found the gearing a little awkward on terrain that included a lot of steep pinches. Our inclination is to stay in the big ring where possible, but on the instances when we had to drop to the small ring the big jump in ring size (22 vs 36) this tended to leave us spinning wildly, so it became important to look ahead and downshift early.

The frameset is amongst the nicest we’ve seen, we love its simplicity, its clean looks and the stiffness it possesses.

Overall

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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.

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

If you’re in the market for an Occam, we’d encourage you to either seriously look at the model up (the M10) which comes with a dropper and 11-speed XT drivetrain, or check out the options on the My Orbea custom program to tweak this bike to get the most out of its brilliant frameset.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano SLX M7000 1×11 Groupset

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Sleek.

Without a doubt, this is best looking version of SLX yet. In many respects, at least visually, we prefer it to XT, especially the new crank arm. It’s a stunner.

While Shimano do offer the SLX in multiple chain ring options, we opted to go for a 1×11 setup. For the trails we ride, a single chain ring paired to an 11-42 cassette is all the range we need.

Upon receiving our SLX grouppo, we were both surprised and pleased to see that there have been some major changes to the Shimano 1×11 chain rings. Gone are the blocky, square-topped teeth that we saw on XT and XTR single rings. Instead, you’ll find an adaption of the narrow/wide tooth profile that has been utilised by SRAM and so many aftermarket chain ring manufacturers. Shimano call the new profile Direct Chain Engagement +.

The tooth profile change is a positive move. We always found that the previous square tooth profile was rather noisy when riding in the lowest gear out back, and we had suspicions this was causing premature chain wear too. Shimano claim the new profile is both quieter running and harder wearing, and it will be introduced as a running change to XT and XTR as well. We’re yet to ride this bike in anger, but in the work stand at least, the chain seems to run noticeably more smoothly with this new chain ring, when compared to our XT test groupset which has the old tooth profile.

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11-42 tooth cassette.

Just like with XT, the SLX grouppo has a number of cassette options, with 11-40 or 11-42 sizes in 11-speed. There’s also an 11-40 ten-speed option, which is designed for use with a triple chain ring – it’s purely intended for touring, towing trailers up Kosciusko and the like.

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The 11-42 cassette we opted for is rather hefty, at just over 460g (about 50g heavier than XT). When it comes to 11-speed cassette weights, Shimano have some ground to make up. SRAM’s GX 11775 11-speed cassette, which we’d say is roughly equivalent to SLX in market positioning, is a sizeable 140g lighter.

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SLX brakes get the same finned pads as were originally pioneered on XTR brakes.

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Externally, the SLX brakes are basically unchanged, excluding the new new black finish. But internally, there has been some tweaking to the master cylinder shape to ensure even more lever feel consistency. The pads get the F1-esque Ice Tech fins, and the rotors are Ice Tech numbers too, with a two-piece design for better heat dissipation. The actual braking surface itself is stainless steel, but the inner core of the rotor is aluminium, which further aids heat management.

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The SLX mech gets all the same features as XT, including a super slim profile.

We’ve fitted our groupset to a Giant Trance 1 frame. A real workhorse of a trail bike, perfect for testing out this workhorse groupset we feel. Built up with XT wheels (tubeless), a FOX 34 and PRO Koryak alloy bar/stem and XTR Trail pedals, the complete bike weighs in at 13.14kg.

$600 to upgrade your whole drivetrain to 1x11 SLX? That's chicken feed.
$650 to upgrade your whole drivetrain to 1×11 SLX? That’s chicken feed.

Pricing on SLX is pretty damn hot, and we’re sure it’ll inspire a lot of fence sitters to make the jump from their old 10-speed groupset and go to 1×11. Shimano don’t set RRPs, but based on our estimates a 1×11 conversion (an SLX shifter, cassette, derailleur, chain and 1×11 crankset) will set you back about $650. Adding brakes into the mix will make it about $1000. Now that is seriously affordable, especially as you don’t need to swap out a freehub body too.

We’ll be riding SLX consistently over the next few weeks to see how it performs, so check back soon for more.

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Focus O1E and Focus JAM

Two new bikes are on their way ; the O1E (one) a new 100mm travel 29er and the 140mm travel JAM. Both use the new F.O.L.D. suspension design. The two new bikes are also totally fresh platforms, filling the gaps between the existing Focus Raven, Spine and SAM introduced in 2015 to provide great choice from a now very complete range. From cross-country race hardtail, through to Enduro weapon, Focus have an option to suit now.

The all-new 140mm travel JAM. YES!
The all-new 140mm travel JAM. YES!
Cross country racing has a new star, the Focus O1E.
Cross country racing has a new star, the Focus O1E.

What’s it all about then?


F.O.L.D. Suspension

Both the O1E and the JAM use Focus’s all-new F.O.L.D. system (Focus Optimised Linkage Design, yes it’s a better acronym than most, we hand it to them) which allows the bike to have a two-phase suspension curve. The initial part of the travel is regressive, falling quickly into its sag point for maximum suppleness, before becoming more progressive as you move into the stroke.

We know what you are thinking: any linkage bike has the ability to be tuned for the desired kinematic, right? Well yes, but what is neat is the way Focus have achieved this, trading the usual arrangement of a pivot point on the rear triangle and a rocker link, for a single-piece rear end and a compact folding linkage.

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The F.O.L.D link on the JAM.

There are numerous advantages to the Focus system. It’s very compact and central in the bike’s architecture, keeping all the weight in the middle of the bike, and because it doesn’t rely on long linkage plates or pivots on the rear triangle, it’s very stiff too.

The short travel O1E uses tiny carbon F.O.L.D. links.
The short travel O1E uses tiny carbon F.O.L.D. links.

Another advantage of this design, is that different frame sizes have no impact on the desired suspension curve. Compare this with, for example, the Focus Spine – on the Spine, the way the rear shock attaches to the top tube, means that as the frame sizes grow the linkage needs to be changed to keep the same suspension kinematics. With the F.O.L.D. concept, Focus are able to produce all different frames sizes far more economically and simply. With the shock mounted vertically, a whole lot of space in the frame is also freed up for a water bottle and the whole bike appears so clean too.

Whilst the frame size changes, the suspension arrangement remains unchanged.
Whilst the frame size changes, the suspension arrangement remains unchanged.

There’s no doubt that a one-piece rear end is a sure way to reduce weight of the bike without compromising stiffness. Any weight taken from the rear wheel area is a bonus, it helps to remove restriction from the suspension with less un-sprung weight. That’s a good thing.

Aside from the immediate benefits highlighted above, we sense that the motivation for this new arrangement extended to future projects. Possibilities for frame designs are opened up more than before – we think all Focus suspension bikes could use this platform one day soon – and the design is certainly more conducive to e-bikes, which are surely on the Focus radar.

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Early prototypes of the Guide Link, finding the sweet spot between stiff and too stiff.
Early prototypes of the Guide Link, finding the sweet spot between stiff and too stiff.

Focus O1E

It’s finally time for Focus to let their secret cat out of the bag, and for Florian Vogel to reveal what he’s been hiding underneath a neoprene cloak at the races since the 2015 World Champs: the O1E. Focus offer the insanely light Raven Max 29er hardtail and now this lean and mean 100mm travel dually to the racer crowd, and with the World Cup courses becoming increasingly technical and setting the benchmark for race track design we’re seeing more and more full suspension bikes on the start line.

We all know that the number one motivation for the top racers is weight, but light bikes are no good if there are compromises to a stiff chassis or effective suspension. Welcome to current day bike design, where weight and ride quality are now given equal importance.. And the more we chat with the engineers behind these bikes the more we appreciate their motivation for a bike that exhibits the best ride quality, not only just the best numbers in a stiffness analysis or the lightest on the scales.

Fast looking bike, no? The O1E is a purebred cross country racing weapon.
Fast looking bike, no? The O1E is a purebred cross country racing weapon.
The O1E retains the sharp and straight aesthetic that Focus are renown for, and we love it.
The O1E retains the sharp and straight aesthetic that Focus are renowned for, and we love it.
Florian Vogel's latest ride.
Florian Vogel’s latest ride, ready for the Rio Olympics.

Detail highlights:

  • The O1E will come in three frame sizes.
  • Boost 148 rear hub.
  • 29″ wheels.
  • 69.2° head angle.
  • 74.5° seat angle.
  • 448mm chain stay length.
  • Full size water bottle provisions.
  • 100% internal cables and dropper post compatible.Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 10.56.18 AM

Frame weight is 1830g including all hardware, dropout, paint etc, minus shock. That’s right up there with the lightest in the category. The O1E uses Focus’s clever fast-changing R.A.T. rear axle system, providing a super quick rear removal and installation (crucial for fast wheel changes in a race situation). If you like to run a front mech, you’ll be happy about the very clever and detachable front derailleur mount dubbed the Burrito Bridge (think about it… can you remember a Mexican food reference from another fairly large brand recently?) is there for the use of a side swing Shimano front derailleur.

The O1E retains the classic Focus aesthetic that we first fell in love with when reviewing our first encounter with one of their dual suspension bikes, the SAM. The straight and angular lines are classically Focus, and the quality of the finishing touches and paintwork is supreme.

How does it go?

During a couple quick rides on the O1E we got a fairly good idea what this bike is all about. Ahead of our full review (which we’ll bring you when these bikes land in Australia) here are a few preliminary thoughts.

Throw a leg over the O1E and you’ll feel its racey vibe straight away. It’s a sharp, low, long and lean bike that makes light work of climbs with the best body position. Standing up and mashing down on the pedals you feel the long 448mm chainstays pushing the rear wheel into the dirt with the right amount of weight distribution and the bike launches forward nicely. Our test bike in the team spec just snuck under 10kg, no kidding! That’s absurdly light.

Considering the abysmal conditions for the Focus launch, this purebred race bike took it on the chin. The suspension is remarkably supple, and combined with the 29″ wheels this bike is very controllable when you’d normally be stressing about keeping upright.

Look at this thing!! Agggh, so nice.
Look at this thing!! Agggh, so nice.

The classic conundrum of cross country racers is choosing between a hardtail of a dually, and in this case the decision may just be an easier one for you to make. The benefits of a suspension bike on a rougher course is obvious, but there’s the trade for weight and loss of efficiency through the suspension. But take our word for it, the Focus O1E represents the upper echelon of cross country race bikes, so if you’re riding on anything remotely challenging we’d take this over a hardtail any day. There will be three models of the O1E using identical frames coming to Australia, but we don’t have confirmed pricing or spec details yet.

Seeking and finding traction on slippery trails. 29ers win that battle hands down.
Seeking and finding traction on slippery trails. 29ers win that battle hands down.

Focus JAM

Oh yes, this is the bike we’ve been waiting for from the brilliant engineering brains at Focus! Slotting in between the existing 120mm-Spine trail bike and the burly 160mm travel enduro racing SAM, right now it’s all about the new JAM. The factory spec version we rode is a ridiculously light 11.9kg.

This category of bikes is really full of exciting options nowadays. The mid-travel, go-anywhere, all-mountain category can certainly be a ‘one bike does all’ kinda thing, if it’s executed properly. If the geometry is right, the suspension curve dialled and the frame stiffness hits the sweet spot we’re sold. Considering the JAM was the brainchild of Focus engineer Fabian Shultz, who just so happens to hold the German Enduro title, you can bet that the pieces of the puzzle for creating a great bike will all be in their right places with this one.

On paper the JAM ticks all the boxes for an excellent trail bike, the carbon frame is super-light, the geometry is well thought out and right amongst the popular modern numbers, the spec suits the purpose and travel amount, and there’s the stunning Focus design aesthetic and understated appearance.

The all-new 140mm travel JAM. YES!
The all-new 140mm travel JAM Team. YES!
One-piece rear end, the driving motivation behind the F.O.L.D. suspension design.
One-piece rear end. One of the driving motivations behind the F.O.L.D. suspension design was to do away with pivots out back.

Detail highlights:

  • The JAM will come in four frame sizes.
  • Boost 148 rear hub.
  • 27.5″ wheels.
  • 66.8° head angle.
  • 74.5° seat angle.
  • 425mm chain stay length.
  • Full size water bottle provisions.
  • Front derailleur compatible.
  • 100% internal cables.

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A quick shred on the JAM.

We aren’t possibly going to be able to hide our appreciation of this bike, and we’re frothing for it to make its way Down Under so more people can experience it too. The JAM is a beauty to ride, the suspension feels so supple beneath you, rapidly working away to take the edge off the fastest and smallest impacts, but give it a good nudge and the progressiveness of the second phase of travel kicks in and offers great support.

While the benefits of the F.O.L.D. suspension arrangement in terms of suspension curve might not really be anything a linkage bike can’t necessarily do, the way it gathers the moving parts right into the centre of the frame is very noticeable indeed, the light rear end is fantastic on the trail._LOW2289

When we talk about un-sprung weight in suspension design (like the inverted RS1 fork) there’s a lot to be said about how it benefits the way suspension can operate – a moving part can react quicker if there is less mass to move along with it.

Pick up the the bike in your hands and you’ll what we mean, where most bikes feel much heavier in the rear, the JAM is very centred and balanced. Turning the bike through tight corners was a real blast, and had us smiling from ear to ear.

Skipping across the world’s slipperiest roots in the Morzine Bike Park we tentatively began to test our boundaries of safety, beginning to ride faster and faster into the iconic rowdy and wild singletrack as we became more confident. The JAM had our back when we had to make lightening fast direction changes, the agile and light bike could be picked up and put where we wanted it to go. For just 140mm of travel it’s a ground-hugging ride, and didn’t mind ploughing really hard through a deep rut or field of loose rocks. Boosting table-top jumps and popping over rain-ruts on the trails had us feeling nice and comfortable in the air, great for a sub-12kg bike, we felt like we’d been riding it for months.

The o-ring on the rear shock made no secret that we used all the travel quite often during the ride, but we never noticed a harsh bottom out. With a big set of grippy tyres (the Continental Baron was fitted at the last minute as the rain came pelting down) the JAM will feel like a bike with way more travel than 140mm, a testament that Focus have done well to work on good suspension curve. Nice work indeed.

There's a real playful feeling to this bike, and when you want to move it around the trails it's ready.There’s a real playful feeling to this bike, when you want to move it around the trails it’s more than ready to react.

The JAM can be spread in four flavours, two carbon frame (top end carbon frame with carbon rear end also) and two aluminium options.


What’s next?

Stay tuned for more Australian pricing and availability on Flow from these 2017 Focus models, we’ll also be getting the bikes to review on our home trails, so keep your eyes open for more.

For the full specs and options check out the Focus site here.

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Tested: Lapierre Zesty XM 427

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On the trail in autumn sun with the Zesty XM 427.

Well known for e:I Shock bikes, their electronically adjusted suspension design that senses the terrain and rider input to make constant adjustments to the rear shock, it is time to try out a Zesty without any batteries or wires. And an aluminium frame too, sitting at a more affordable price point of $4799.

We’ve had plenty of experience with the Zesty range over the years, click here to check out some of our reviews and long term review of a great bike: http://flowmountainbike.com/?s=lapierre

For a closer look at the 2016 Zesty range from Lapierre check out our range preview here: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/new-2016-lapierre-zesty-am-xm-first-look/


What’s Zesty?

The Zesty range has been a great option for mountain bikers for years, the name Zesty is synonymous with ‘real’ mountain biking, always specced for serious riding and constantly moving with the times to keep up with the latest trends in frame geometry. For 2016 the Zesty range is split in two, the Zesty AM and Zesty XM. The AM is the bigger brother to the XM with longer travel and more aggressive components and hard-charging character.

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.

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Ripper of a ride.
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You won’t lose this one in the dark, its paint is bright!

The frame

The aluminium frame uses their excellent OST+ suspension design, a true four bar design with a pivot on the chainstay to give the rear wheel an axle path for pedalling efficiency and active suspension. The cables are externally routed under the down tube which makes for quick and easy maintenance, and to help with suspension setup a nifty little sag meter is provided on the frame.

The rear wheel is bolted firmly in the rear end with a thu-axle and a regular 142x12mm hub spacing keeps it simple. You’ll notice a few random unused holes in the frame, they are to accomodate for the e:I Shock system found on other Zesty models with the same frame.

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Fat tubes! This bike is very robust.

Geometry wise the Zesty is fairly neutral, making it a bit of an all-rounder trail bike. Where the Zesty AM gets slacker angles and longer reach, the more sensible XM reigns it in a fraction to help the rider get good performance on a wider variety of trails. The number chart tells us the Zesty XM has a 67 degree head angle, 430mm chain stays and a medium size frame has a 442mm reach.

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The body position from the Zesty is relaxed and comfortable.

The parts

Dressed for a bit of anything the Zesty’s component spec is a mixture of Shimano, FOX, RockShox, RaceFace and Lapierre’s own bits.

Suspension:

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The fork was a winner. Sure, we’d have liked a 34mm fork, but the supple performance won us over.

A brilliant FOX 32 fork uses their buttery smooth and active FIT 4 damper system with a three-stage lockout, we found the fork a real highlight of the bike providing excellent control in the rough terrain, especially navigating the steep trails where you rely so much on a good fork not to spit you off when the big hits happen under heavy front braking. Gold star for the fork!

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The compression lever is easy to hit on the fly.

The RockShox Monarch rear shock is one of the most supple and plush units we’ve tested, the Monarch range just seems to keep getting better and better. The two-stage compression control lets you firm the suspension up for the climbs, but it still remained somewhat active to make it suitable for climbing rough singletrack, keeping the traction in check._LOW1610

Drivetrain:

Lapierre are huge in Europe and it shows in the way they spec their mid-range bikes, hence a double chainring drivetrain. We’d not normally harp on about double chainrings on test bikes this much, but in this case there’s more to it. While the gear range of a double chainring setup comes in handy on the climbs, the growth of wider range drivetrains make single-ring bikes more common and we’re all about it.

The Zesty XM 427 uses a Shimano 10 speed drivetrain, which holds it back a little in our minds. 11 speed is trickling down the range from the expensive stuff, a little slower in the case of Shimano though, SRAM already have a wide range single drivetrain for bikes in this price point. While the gears shift crisply and cleanly and we never had one issue during testing, we’d typically recommend converting the bike to a single-ring setup by the simple process of removing the left hand shifter, front derailleur and fitting a narrow/wide chainring. But being 10-speed the options for cassettes don’t quite give you a low enough range that the 11-speed products do, and upgrading to 11-speed would not be as cheap an exercise as it could have been.

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The 10-speed drivetrain is fine, but limits your upgrading options if you want to go for a single-ring setup. The neat carbon shield is there to deflect impacts.
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Plenty of gear range with a 2×10 drivetrain.

Shimano have just released 11-speed SLX which would have been perfect for this bike.

Brakes:

Shimano is there to slow you down with a nice set of brakes. The levers feel really great with a consistent lever feel at all times. Our test bike arrived with a contaminated set of brake pads in the rear, and they never came good. Perhaps the brake calliper was leaking fluid onto the pads, we’re not 100% sure.

Wheels:

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Where’d all the tread go? The Kenda Slant Six tyres don’t suit this bike’s nature.
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Wire bead and no good for tubeless. Swap these out, stat.

Rolling on 27.5″ wheels the Zesty also hits a bit of a wall in terms of spec, the narrow Kenda Slant Six tyres have to go, not only are they underdone in terms of meatiness and size, they are wire bead (not kevlar/folding) and are about as tubeless compatible as cotton socks. Don’t leave the shop without swapping them out for wider tyres with meatier tread or at least tubeless ready.

The wheels however feel great, stiff and fast, the rear hub is super-positive and gives the bike a snappy and quality touch.


On the trail

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.

We did however not exactly get along with it at first, the narrow, low-profile and hard compound tyres were a real drag, it all felt wrong. So we swapped out the wheels to a set with good rubber set up tubeless and we were happy again, very happy.FLOW5691

Setting up the suspension is helped by the little sag indicator on the seat stays that lines up with the rubber marker on the seat tube when you sit on the bike, Lapierre were one of the early adopters of this setup tool and we love it. Sag is so important to get right, this helps you keep an eye on it.

120mm of rear travel is enough to keep you in control but not too much that the bike feels heavy and numb on the slower and tighter trails. It’s super-efficient too, we left the shock in open mode at all times except for the smoothest of climbs. Jump on the pedals and the Zesty responds in eagerness with great acceleration.FLOW5682

We quickly forgot the un-cool double chainring setup, and got along with the drivetrain just fine, the bike was also quite quiet considering the front derailleur arrangements are typically noisier. A good low-range of gears is a blessing for this go-anywhere bike, we hardly got off it even on the steepest pinch climbs the Zesty would get up it with ease.

Point the Zesty into the descents and it’s a whole lot of fun, for a short-ish travel bike we really enjoyed taking it to the trails where we ride a lot of 150-160mm travel bikes. The fork really shines, the 32mm legs may be too thin for some, but the solid frame takes up the slack and delivers a sturdy steering bike with fantastic big-hit capabilities.


Verdict:

While we may have been a bit hard on the tyres and drivetrain considering the price of the bike, we still really enjoyed how the Zesty rips on the trails. Sort out the tyres at least and you’ll be happy too.

Our love for the range of Zesty’s continues, even without the super impressive e:i Shock system the bike holds its own and lets you have a tonne of fun on the dirt._LOW1613

 

Tested: Norco Torrent 7.1

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We aren’t joking, this hardtail is a serious trail bike. Why? Huge amounts of grip, slack and incredibly comfortable geometry and a spot-on stock build. This is a bike every mountain biker will enjoy and appreciate.

Originally a staple in the Hardtail Category of your local DH races, the early versions of the Norco Torrent were a do-it-all bike, built to survive everything you could throw at it. For 2016, Norco have reinvigorated this legacy in the best way possible, utilising the new 27.5+ format running whopping 3.0″ tyres to create a hardtail that’ll baulk at nothing.

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Get ready to do things a hard tail shouldn’t be willing to try!

With a hydroformed aluminium frame, Norco have been able to create funky lines and shapes that are not winning awards for aesthetics, but are guaranteed to survive forever. With an internally-mounted rear brake, quick-release 12x142mm rear axle, external cabling and routing for stealth dropper posts, the Torrent truly is the best combination of functionality and durability.

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The alloy frame won’t win any design awards, but it’s sturdy as an ox.

From a geometry standpoint, this frame is exceptional. Built around 130mm of travel, the 67-degree head angle is a great medium between a full-blown enduro rig, and a light trail bike. The reach for each size is also nice and comparable to a well-sized full suspension bike, giving a comfortable and relatable fit for any rider. One of the standout elements are the super short chain stays. Even with the huge tyres, Norco have been able to keep the rear end to just 422.5mm on a size medium (5mm longer on a size x-large). No wonder this thing is playful!

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A combination of Boost hub spacing and asymmetric stays has allowed Norco to open up enough space to chop the chain stays to just 422mm.

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Check out our recent reviews of some other 27.5+ hardtails

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie

Scott Scale 720 Plus


Component Check

The Torrent is kitted out with an almost bulletproof list of reliable components while still maintaining a pretty great value for money. With the rise of semi-fat wheels, more and more brands are embracing the new format which has made them both reliable and affordable.

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Whopping rims for monster rubber. We beefed up the tubeless tape, as we were initially experiencing some air loss.

The Wheels

It’s hard to not talk about the wheels first, shod with their big rubber. The wide tyres give far greater confidence and control to the rider, through a more stable feeling over rough, off camber or rocky terrain. We highly recommend having a test ride and seeing the magic for yourself; the Plus format will have you cornering harder than you ever thought you could.

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Nobby Nics in a 3.0″ size front and rear. More friction than a velcro covered turd.

While nowhere near as light as your current 29er race wheels with 2.0 tyres, the WTB Scraper 27.5+ wheelset paired with the new Schwalbe Nobby Nic TrailStar 27.5 x 3.0″ tyres are strong and reliable setup. The Scraper rims’ 45mm width give a great tire profile and keeps them stiff. The Nobby Nics are a great performer in all situations where grip is needed and don’t roll around too badly under cornering.

However, don’t plan on changing your tires too often – they are a more challenging set of tyres to get on and off. We recommend taking the time to set them up tubeless too with better rim tape than what is provided, as this will keep the weight down and almost completely eliminate the chance of flats.

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Ping! We did put a couple of dents in the rear rim, a casualty of low pressures and geometry that says ‘GO FOR IT!’

Our wheels copped a beating throwing the bike down some rough rock drops – the kind that usually bottom out full suspension bikes – and they stayed straight and true. However, we did manage to dint them in testing but never lost any pressure in the tubeless setup.

The Groupset

The Torrent is fitted with a mix of SRAM GX and RaceFace components, both of which are a solid choice for this kind of do-it all budget trail bike.

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SRAM’s GX drivetrain is magnificent.

We noticed little to no loss in performance compared to X01 or even XX1 with this entry-level 1×11 drivetrain, with SRAM’s tried-and-true capable feel. The shifting is quick and precise, with absolutely no play in the shift lever, it’s quality kit.

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The GX shifter feels solid given its relatively affordable price point. The grips, however, are a squirmy pain – we’d recommend swapping them out.

Norco has also continued their insightful component spec with a RaceFace bottom bracket and Aeffect crankset with the Cinch System chainring setup. An extremely good looking and functional system, the Cinch System works similar to Shimano Centrelock Discs, which allows for a fully flexible mounting system to allow for any sized chainring, as well as adaptability for any chainring standards you may want to use. We never dropped a chain or had any annoying creaks, even under large stresses.

Cockpit

Some bikes take a little while to get used to, and some just need a whole new stem and bar just to get going. Not the Torrent. Despite being a Norco-branded stem and handlebar, you will feel right at home straight away. With a great width and rise, these bars will surely be a favourite for most average sized people. At 780mm wide, there’s plenty of room to cut down to a size of personal preference, or just run as is.

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The Norco’s cockpit was perfect! The bike runs a KS dropper post – a neat potential upgrade would be the addition of the slick KS Southpaw dropper lever.

They aren’t flexy either, utilizing the newer 35mm standard bar diameter to give increased stiffness. We loved this cockpit, as the numbers almost exactly matched our usual go-to bar-and-stem combos.

Suspension

Norco have definitely gotten their choice of fork right. The new RockShox Yari is an awesome mid travel fork using the chassis of the Lyrik with a Motion Control damper (not the Charger damper in the Lyrik), perfect for the bike’s style of riding. These are the new Boost standard width to accommodate the extra rubber, expanding the hub spacing an extra 10mm. This doesn’t seem to take away any lateral or torsional stiffness, instead just looking and feeling like a beefy pair of Pikes. The Yari runs a simple Solo Air spring, making it super easy to set up. It’s everything you need to thoroughly enjoy the bike without ever feeling like there is too much flex, or ever bottoming out.

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The 130mm-travel Yari looks and feels just like a Lyrik, which is a good thing.
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Boost hub spacing gives the fork a super wide, tough stance.

The Ride:

From the get go, we had the Torrent doing wheelies down the street, despite a bit of extra drag from the oversized tyres. On the trails, this thing punched far above what ‘old’ hardtails could do.

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The fit and sizing of the Torrent is quite similar to any other Norco mountain bike, with a good length in the front and just enough seat tube to get you up in a comfortable riding position for climbing. Our test bike was a medium, which is a good fit for anyone up to about 185cm tall. Hardtail suspension setup is simple and super straight forward – put in your desired PSI, set your usual rebound click, and you are away. We had ours set to 60 PSI and a very central rebound.

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The climbing ability of this new wheel standard is unrivalled, with a great mix of agility, grip and stability. The Torrent will always have your back – up slippery gravel, wet rock, awkward turns and bumpy chutes. The 28 tooth chainring gives a really great range for all terrain, giving you a really nice low range for steep stuff while never spinning out on normal descents. With the addition of nice wide bars, the control you have at your disposal on the ups is just fantastic.

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The extra fat width and tyre volume keeps a huge contact patch on the ground, giving you around double the surface area than a high pressure cross country tire. This also helps keeps you really rolling over tough and challenging sections of trail; they are far less prone to being shaken about by roots and rocks, keeping you upright and giving you the confidence to go even faster.

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Forget what you previously thought hardtails could descend, because the Torrent can handle much more. It tears through any kind of corner far harder than you will be prepared to at first riding it, letting you reduce the braking and barrel into everything. We found the fat tyres to be incredibly reliable in off-camber corners and sections, where you can just lean in and grip without feeling like skating out. The extra weight in the wheels is really not even noticed once you are having a ball of a time, throwing the cushiony rubber into anything you want.

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Running low, grippy pressures is obviously a great time, but if you go too low you’ll find they tyres really swab out through banked, tight corners and they’re far more prone to rim dents. This is what got us; just a touch too much confidence in sending the Torrent into a few awkward rocks left the rear wheel with a few dings – however no flats in sight!

The RockShox Yari performed superbly, like an out-and-out enduro fork. They are up to absolutely anything you can throw their way – paired with the Torrent frame you have an unstoppable and unbreakable tool of trail destruction.

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What we would change:

Despite an almost-bulletproof components list, we wouldn’t hesitate to swap the grips for something more substantial. We found the single-sided lock-on grips too flimsy and they squrimed on the bar. We would recommend trading them out for grips of your preference.

Who wouldn’t want it?

There is no denying the fact that these tyres are BIG. Hence an inherent hindrance to rolling speed, which is more noticeable on hard pack trail or tarmac. The tyres also do feel as they roll and squirm through hardpack berms at low pressures more so than your standard tyre, which may put off those that regularly push hard through smooth, machined trails. It’s not going to be the best tool for flatter cross country applications either, but will make them a lot more fun.

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The wide bars, large forks and 1×11 drivetrain will also not be everyone’s favourite, as they are far more suited to having a great time on the descents instead of climbing or high speeds.

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Verdict

Where would we all be without our first hardtail? The one you rode till it broke, fixed it, then snapped in two? The Torrent is a higher-end reincarnation of that trusty old do-it-all hardtail, just with better geometry, more reliable componentry and modern standards that can take your riding the next step further. The Torrent is a great application of the new 27.5+ wheel size; this a new standard is breathing fresh life into longer travel hardtails. If you still haven’t tried it out, we definitely recommend having some fun on some.

If you like challenging yourself with technical features, want to get the most out of a trail and enjoy the simplicity of the lack of rear suspension, the Torrent may just fill that little hole in your heart that wants to send skinny wood features and rock roll downs. This is by no measure an ‘entry level hardtail’ but is a far cheaper option than its full-suspension cousins with comparable componentry, and you’ll be surprised how close it comes to the performance of a duallie in the rough too.

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Flow’s First Bite: Orbea Occam TR M30

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In the case of Orbea, we’re sure they regret some of their early attempts at dual suspension mountain bikes. Their hardtails have always been tidy, but their past holds some rather nervous, floppy duallies, clearly built with a roadie at the design helm.

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The rear end uses a flex stay, with really deep chain stays too, for a stiffer build.

But full credit to this Basque brand, they’ve completely flipped that situation, and their recent dual suspension bikes have been solid, winning a lot of acclaim. They’ve also launched the innovate My Orbea program, which allows buyers to customise the spec of their bikes. Needless to say, our attitude towards Orbea is now sunny as a Spanish spring.

Tucking the shock up inside the top tube makes room for a full-sized water bottle.
Tucking the shock up inside the top tube makes room for a full-sized water bottle.

The latest Orbea to roll into our lives is the Occam TR M30, a progressive looking, carbon, trail-oriented 29er. The Occam range is now split into two families; there’s the AM series with 140mm of travel and 27.5″ wheels, or the 120mm travel 29er TR (trail) series. The M30 is one of five bikes in the Occam TR series (three with carbon frames, two in alloy), and it’ll set you back 5599 pesos.

The fork uses 32mm legs, while 34mm is now the standard on this style of bike.
The fork uses 32mm legs, while 34mm is now the standard on this style of bike.

Immediately we’re drawn to the robust rear end of this bike. The dropout spacing is Boost 148mm, and it uses a flex stay arrangement, rather than dropout pivot, which saves weight and removes a point of potential flex. Couple all this with some of the deepest chain stays we’ve seen in a while, and it’s a very robust looking setup. For an interesting comparison of how far Orbea’s design philosophies have progressed, quick Google Orbea Oiz 2012…

Clean cabling! With the side swing front derailleur, the cable routing is very smooth indeed.
Clean cabling! With the side swing front derailleur, the cable routing is very smooth indeed.

Up front the frame is equally inspired, with the shock mounted into the wide top tube, a massive down tube and modern geometry numbers, a long reach paired to a chunky 50mm stem and wide bar. That ethos of stiffness and solidity hasn’t been extended to the fork, which looks comparatively underdone with its 32mm legs. The lack of a dropper post is another cause for pause. We’ll likely fit a dropper post for the test period, as it’s hard to really ride and test a bike in challenging terrain without doing so.

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We’re yet to hit the dirt in anger on this bike, but it’s clear to see there’s a very capable platform here. It looks and feels like a fiery, exciting bike to ride – this mid-travel 29er segment is very appropriate for most trail riders, so it’ll be great to try something new is this category. Let’s get to it!

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Tested: Scott Genius 710 Plus

Like any gate crasher, some just wanted it to go away. But then others were happy to have this rowdy new character join the crowd, with its unconventional approach. A year on from its arrival, the mountain bike party is still divided about the intrusion of Plus (or 6Fattie, Mid Fat, or 27+, or whatever the hell you’d like to call it), with ongoing murmuring about whether it can stay, or if everyone should chuck it back out into the cold night.

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As far as we’re concerned, we’d like it to stay. And our time on board the new Scott Genius 710 Plus just reinforced that feeling for us once again.

The Plus format is an option. No one is forcing you to ride it.

Before we get into the guts of the review, let’s touch quickly on what should be an obvious point. The Plus format is an option. No one is forcing you to ride it. It’s clearly not going to be ideal for every rider, or every trail. That said, in the world of hardtails, we do think it has the potential to really take over. It makes perfect sense: Unless you’re looking for a full-blown cross-country racing machine, you’re better off on a hardtail with 27.5+ wheels/tyres. You’ll crash less, get fewer flats, have more fun. When it comes to dual suspension bikes, then the matter is a bit murkier and it becomes more of a horses for courses kind of issue.

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The success (or failure) of the Plus sized format is going to depend entirely on two things: working out which markets (right down to a regional level) are best suited to this format, and then getting people to try the damn things. Test fleets are going to be essential, because there are a lot of incorrect assumptions about this format that can only be corrected with a test ride. But let’s leave that all to one side for now, and take a look at this bike.


Frame and Build

Robust pivot hardware. The rear shock mount incorporated a small amount of geometry adjustment.
Robust pivot hardware. The rear shock mount incorporated a small amount of geometry adjustment.

As a fellow rider said to us when we had this bike out for a test ride, “Scott do know how to make them look good.” This carbon stealth blade is so sharp, we felt compelled to have a haircut and shave before we took it out. Given the extra cabling faff associated with Twinloc, Scott have managed to make this whole bike look surprisingly clean, and the fluro and black finish is like lightning for your eyeballs.

Given the number of cables up front, it's all neatly managed.
Given the number of cables up front, it’s all neatly managed.

The Genius platform is now available in three wheel sizes – 27.5, 29 and 27.5+.

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 obviously. 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. That said, the rear-centre is still a bit of a handful, at 445mm, which is close to 10mm longer than most of the competition.

Wide, curvy stays make room for big rubber.
Wide, curvy stays make room for big rubber.

The dramatic curving of the seat stays opens up huge amounts of tyre clearance, so there’s masses of space to spare, even with 2.8″ rubber. Heel clearance wasn’t an issue for us either.

Good looker!
Good looker!
Can you see the Twinloc cabling? Just barely, it's very neatly done.
Can you see the Twinloc cabling? Just barely, it’s very neatly done.

The extra compliance of the big volume rubber makes the shorter travel mode more usable in rough terrain

As with all Scott duallies, the suspension system is built around Twinloc, Scott’s unique on-the-fly travel adjustment system. 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.

The rear brake caliper is tucked away, making adjustment a bit fiddly.
The rear brake caliper is tucked away, making adjustment a bit fiddly.

There’s loads of room for a water bottle, thanks in part to the slick integration of the Twinloc cable routing, and we welcome the mechanic friendly external gear and brake lines. Both gear and brake lines do hang low beneath the bottom bracket though, which could be a clearance/damage issue on scrappy trails. The placement of the rear brake calliper tucked in close between the stays is fiddly to adjust, but looks neat.

Believe us, stiffness is important on this bike, as you can put plenty of force through the rear end with so much grip on hand!

Scott give you the option to tweak the geometry, with a flip chip style adjustment at the rear shock mount. We left it in the slacker position, as we’re sure most people will. The rest of the suspension construction is neatly done, with large pivot axles that keep the rear end nice and rigid. And believe us, stiffness is important on this bike, as you can put plenty of force through the rear end with so much grip on hand!

The Suspension

The neat Twinloc lever puts the bike's personality at your finger tips.
The neat Twinloc lever puts the bike’s personality at your finger tips.

The single pivot with a linkage driven shock is the Toyota Camry of suspension layouts, but it’s given an new layer of interest by the Twinloc system. In Open mode, the suspension feel is super buttery, with a really lively feel, that ramps up nicely. There’s no pedalling platform, and with very little anti-squat in the suspension configuration, it’s very responsive.

The FOX 34 just works like a charm, hence the fact we've neglected to talk about it in this review. It just plain works!
The FOX 34 just works like a charm, hence the fact we’ve neglected to talk about it in this review. It just plain works!

Hit the lever and engage Climb mode, and the feeling is very different – the bike sits up higher in its travel, raising the bottom bracket, and the suspension becomes much firmer. As we’ve noted above, the Plus tyres still take the edge off, so the ride is surpisingly smooth even with only 90mm of travel. The full lock-out is really only useful on the road, so we rarely utilised it.
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Setup

Tyre pressure is critical with this much air volume at play. 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, or even a smidgen lower. A digital pressure gauge is essential, don’t trust your track pump. Of course, you’ll want to go tubeless too, and this process is no different to with a regular tyre.

With such high volume tyres, getting the air pressure right is more critical than ever.
With such high volume tyres, getting the air pressure right is more critical than ever.

We’re still getting our heads around how Plus sized tyres affect suspension setup, or whether it really does at all. There’s definitely a bit more bounciness to the bike, with all that extra undamped suspension from the bigger tyres, so we added an extra click more of rebound damping than usual.


The Bits and Pieces

It’s still early days for Plus tyres, so there’s no real consensus yet on what is the optimum rim/tyre width ratio. The Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie we tested not long ago had 29mm rims, with 3″ tyres. In comparison, the Genius Plus has 40mm rims and 2.8″ tyres. As a result, both have quite different tyre profiles, the Specialized being more rounded, with the Genius’s tyres having a more square shape. The super wide Syncros X-40 rims give the tyre a huge amount of support, which is reassuring when you start dropping the pressures to the low teens.

The low-profile Rocket Ron scoots along very quickly. Increased drag is such a minor issue that we'd happily overlook it.
The low-profile Rocket Ron scoots along very quickly. Increased drag is such a minor issue that we’d happily overlook it.

The tyre combo of a Rocket Ron and Nobby Nic works amazingly well. The beauty of such a big contact patch is that you can run a firmer compound without losing much in the way of grip, so both tyres are the quick-rolling Pace Star compound.

A 30-tooth ring and chain guide is ideal. Low gears for the climbs, some security when things get rowdy.
A 30-tooth ring and chain guide is ideal. Low gears for the climbs, some security when things get rowdy.

SRAM’s GX drivetrain is a giant slayer. Honestly, there’s so little performance difference between GX and the more expensive SRAM 1×11 groupsets, we’re sure SRAM are kicking themselves! The 30-tooth chain ring is a good idea; the grip on this bike is like a trials moto, so it makes sense to give it the gearing to climb up a wall.

Our bike's post was very slow to return.
Our bike’s post was very slow to return.
Shimano's SLX brakes have a light, accurate lever feel.
Shimano’s SLX brakes have a light, accurate lever feel.

Shimano’s SLX brakes aren’t glamorous, but they never miss a beat and work brilliantly. Less awesome was the Rockshox Reverb, which seemed like it was damped with golden syrup and returned back to full extension with all the enthusiasm of a teenager on a Saturday morning.


The Ride

Surely we’re grappling with a boat here, a real pig of a bike, right? Incorrect. The Genius Plus is fun, fast and will change the way you look at the trail. Confidence is the key attribute, the feeling is akin to the first time we rode a dual suspension bike, there’s an air of invincibility. Less regard needs to be given, to anything.

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We’re lucky in that many of our regular test trails are ideally suited to the Genius Plus, littered with rubble and loose sandy surfaces. It’s here that the Genius shines, it floats over sand, it refuses to get skittish when the trails turn to loose rock.

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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.

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We did clip a lot of pedals on the Genius, but that’s because we were pedalling more – the extra compliance and grip means you can continue to lay down the power where it just wouldn’t have been viable before.

Rubble, no trouble.
Rubble, no trouble.

Climbing on the Genius is not about how fast you get up, but what you can get up. If you enjoy a technical climbing challenge, then the Genius is almost cheating. With the Climb mode engaged, it doesn’t get bogged down, and there’s unreal amounts of traction, so you can just keep churning away at the pedals.

Instant confidence.
Instant confidence.

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.

A rather long rear-centre measurement doesn't dampen the Genius's enthusiasm for cornering.
A rather long rear-centre measurement doesn’t dampen the Genius’s enthusiasm for cornering.

Perhaps the most noticeable drawback is the occasional feeling of increased ‘bounciness’. At high speeds, or upon a really heavy landing or compression, or a fork bottom out, you can feel the tyres ‘ping’ back, with an extra fast rebound that can be hard to tame. It caught us unawares more than once. We’re also not sure how this format would perform in the mud, but we so rarely get to experience those conditions on our trails, that we’re not willing to really comment on this.


Overall

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We’ve talked a lot about this bike’s performance in terms of how the tyres impact it, rather than the bike as a whole, so we apologise. But the reality is, the Plus wheels/tyres just dominate this bike’s behaviour on the trail – if it had regular rubber, it would be a completely different experience. The Genius 710 Plus is supremely good fun, it’ll make you laugh out loud as you blast through corners that once felt awkward or sketchy, and as you hammer into rocky chutes with all the confidence of being on a downhill bike.

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This isn’t a bike for every trail surface or every rider, but if you’d dismissed this bike out of hand because of its wheel size, then pull your head out of the sand and line up a test ride. It might suit you, it might not, but you’d be silly not to give it a try.

Tested: Suplest Edge/3 Pro Shoes

Haven’t heard of Suplest? We forgive you, neither had we until Suplest Australia launched supplying the range of shoes via their website, and began work on establishing a network or retail stores around the country. Hailing from Bern, Switzerland, Suplest are a young company solely focussed on one thing, high end cycling shoes.

Stand out from the crowd with these high end shoes from Swiss cycling shoemakers.
Performance and Pro versions, save $100 with the single BOA dial option.
Performance and Pro versions, save $100 with the single BOA dial option.

On test we have the $495 Edge/3 Performance and the $395 Edge/3 Pro, but it was the Pro that we spent most time wearing them on our cross country racing bikes, trail bikes and cyclocross bikes.


The shoes

Weighing only 330g in size 42, the Edge/3 keeps mass down with the use of a double BOA Closure System and fancy Japanese microfibre material. Used on many of their shoes is what they call Carbon Shield, a thin layer of carbon fibre across the top of the foot to distribute tension from the BOA laces and also provides great protection from sharp and dangerous trail debris.

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BOA laces over the Carbon Shield.
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No velcro or laces here, it’s a dual BOA affair.

The shoe wraps around your foot when you fasten it up, the outside edge folds right across and over the tongue with plenty of room for overlap to accommodate for varying shapes individual feet.

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A finely patterned and rubber mid-sole prevents that nasty pedal slip you get from exposed carbon soled shoes.

The sole is seriously stiff, with very little amount of flex noticeable in the shoe on and off the bike, it’s all about 100% power transfer to the pedal with these guys. Both mountain bike models of Suplest shoes use Solestar insoles, a cycling specific inner sole company from Germany who have some of the biggest names in cycling using them. They feel stiff and supportive under the feet with a fairly neutral arch height.

Toe studs are included if you’re after a little extra bite when off the bike and running, handy for sloppy cyclocross racing. The heel cup is lined with grippy material and dotted with rubberised grippers, but with such a stiff sole there’s no bending and flexing as you walk so you’ll always notice a degree of heel lifting out of the shoe when walking up steep gradients.

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Solestar footbeds as standard, nice.

The fit

At first the feeling of slipping your feet into these shoes is like stepping a wooden box with so many hard edges and stiff materials, but once you do up the BOA dials the shoe wraps around your foot tightly and securely. Because of the wrap-around style of the shoe you really need to crank up the BOA dials a long way for the tension to settle in the sweet spot.

The fit is on the narrow side, with a fairly roomy toe box. We never felt our feet move around inside the shoes at all, and were able to relax our feet during long descents.FLOW5595

We wouldn’t exactly refer to these shoes as ‘snug’ rather they feel stiff and very solid on. The upper material and heel cup feel very rigid, and combined with the carbon sole these are seriously sturdy shoes.


The ride

We’re big users of Shimano SPD pedals here at Flow, so we fitted a pair of Shimano cleats and used them with both the XTR Race and Trail pedals.

The cleat position is very cross country style, with the cleat slots a long way forward in the sole, we ended up running our cleats as far back as they could go, but there’s no doubt some riders with a preference of a rearward cleat position will find the range of adjustability not long enough.

The deep sole needed a few millimetres trimmed off around the cleat area, the hard rubberised tread protrudes just a fraction too far proud of the cleat, so we ground it down a little for a crisper cleat engagement and free float in the pedal.

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Spin the dials to tension, and pop them open to release. Simple, effective, light and secure.

After a few rides in all sorts of conditions these shoes felt as robust as the first ride, they only seemed to ‘bed in’ and soften a fraction, a sign that the materials are super-high quality and should last a good amount of time. Swapping between the Bontrager XXX MTB shoes, Specialized 2FO ClipLites, and Giro Privateers the Suplest Edge/3 Pro shoes stood out from the crowd for being ultra-stiff in both the sole and upper. Laying down the power to the pedals in these shoes is rewarding, nothing goes to waste.
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Verdict

Cross country racers will benefit from the maximum power transfer and efficiency that these shoes offer, as will the cyclocross crew with stiffness that rivals the best road shoes, just with loads of grip. The open sole will help you gain traction with the dirt during hike-a-bike sections of a CX race, but their rigid and unforgiving feel won’t suit casual all-day rides or all-mountain missions.

There’s a cheaper version for $395 with just one BOA dial, but they still are premium shoes with a premium price tag, but the cost is backed by excellent performance and durability.

These shoes are certainly worth a look if you like a bit of carbon in your diet.

Flow’s First Bite: Continental Pure Grip Tyres

The Mountain King is aimed at the dual-suspension trail bike market.
Conti position the Mountain King as an all-rounder for the dual-suspension trail bike market. We’re running it on a Norco Optic C9.2.

The Pure Grip range offers up Conti’s traditionally high-quality construction and compounds but at a seriously good price. We’ve seen them going for as low as $34.99 through some Australian online retails. That’s pretty hard to ignore, when you consider that it’s easy to pay up to three times that amount for tubeless rubber.

The tread pattern is rather unique, very open, allowing good penetration in loose surfaces.
The tread pattern is rather unique, very open, allowing good penetration in loose surfaces.

We’ve lined up two sets of Pure Grip tyres to review; the X-King and the Mountain King, both in a 29×2.4″ size. Both of these treads are available in a narrower 2.2″ width if that’s your thing (in both 29 and 27.5″ too), but we prefer the extra volume of the larger tyre.

Low-profile tread blocks on the X-King.
Low-profile tread blocks on the X-King.

The X-King is a tread we’ve used many times in the past. With closely spaced, low-profile knobs, spread evenly across the tread, it’s your classic fast-rolling trail tyre. We’re hoping that the speedy tread pattern combined with the large volume 2.4″ size, run low pressures, gives us that perfect combo of pace, grip and control. For a 2.4″ tread, the weight is reasonable, at 802g on our scales.

With a more open and blocky tread pattern, the Mountain King is aimed at looser riding surfaces or generally more aggressive riding too. The spacing of the tread blocks across the centre should deliver a lot of braking and climbing bite. Its side knobs are well supported, and far more pronounced than the X-King. We weighed the Mountain King at 818g, which is pretty good for an aggressive tyre like this.

The sidewalls are two-ply, with three layers under the tread.
The sidewalls are two-ply, with three layers under the tread.

Looking at the tyres’ features, perhaps most importantly, these are a proper tubeless-ready tyre with Conti’s Revolution Tubeless Ready bead. This alone makes these tyres exceptional at this price point, tubeless rubber for under $40 is pretty much unheard of.

The casings are quite lightweight. Most Continental tyres we’ve ridden in recent years have been the super-tough ProTection versions, which have some fairly heavy duty four-ply construction. These Pure Grip treads have three-ply construction under the tread area, and two-ply in the sidewalls. The lighter casings of the Pure Grip tyres save about 70-90g over the equivalent ProTection version, but hopefully they’re still resilient. Time will tell!

Closely spaced centre tread should keep the X-King rolling quickly, even in the 2.4" size.
Closely spaced centre tread should keep the X-King rolling quickly, even in the 2.4″ size.

Conti’s compounding technologies are some of the mot advanced in the business; their Black Chili compound has legions of devoted fans, who praise its balance durability and grip. The Pure Grip compound found on our test tyres, claim Conti, sits just below Black Chili in the performance stakes.

We’ve fitted these tyres to two very different 29ers – time to go find out if these treads can deliver premium performance at a bargain price.

 

Tested: Stan’s Not Tubes ZTR Bravo Wheels

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Stan’s No Tubes may have cut their teeth in leading the charge in the early days of tubeless tyre conversions, they reinvented themselves as manufacturers of some of the lightest and most advanced rims and hubs, and are very highly regarded by riders in the know.

Who is Stan? Check out our interview with the man named Stan here: Interview: Stan ‘No Tubes’ Koziatek.

The ZTR Bravo is their latest all-mountain/enduro wheelset, used by the likes of Martin Maes on the Enduro World Series circuit. There’s a lot going on in these wheels, aside from their low weight the rim profile and construction is designed to reduce likelihood of pinch flats and improve compliance for a faster rolling wheel.

The BST (Bead Socket Technology) refers to the low profile rim sidewalls with no bead hook, this is said to help prevent pinch flats as the tyre won’t fold inward as far when compressed to the limit, when compared to a traditional hooked bead rim. There’s also the benefit of increased air volume to let the tyre conform to the terrain with greater ease.

The rims are 26.6mm wide inside, which might not sound as wide as many of the current trend of wheels coming out, but they claim there’s a point where too wide is not ideal.

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For more background on the features, check out this video from Stan’s No Tubes:


On the trail

The Bravo wheels went onto our Trek Remedy 27.5 test bike with a pair of WTB Trail Boss 2.4″ tyres, they sealed up with a cup of Stan’s Sealant and with only a track pump they went up just fine.

Whether it was the WTB tyres or the wheels, it was quite a tight fit but with a bit of elbow grease and tyre levers we got them on and lit up the trails straight away.

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These wheels certainly do feel very fast there’s no doubt about it, the low rolling weight is clear as day when you get on the pedals, the bike responds to your braking and pedalling energy instantly. Get the bike up to speed and it’s easy to keep it there, quite the ideal scenario really.

They don’t have that harsh stiffness that some carbon wheels have, kick the bike out sideways and the rear wheel doesn’t skip across the surface of the trail with a chattering sound, they feel slightly softer in this instance and maintain contact with the dirt nicely.

In the name of testing we put these wheels through absolute hell, there was never a tentative moment on the rocky trails, we wanted to see if we could pinch flat the tyres, dent the rims, put them out of true or worse. But despite our trying we never had one issue, nothing.

The rear hub is a rear loud one, whilst some love the noise of a loud freehub we’re divided. _LOW7359

The ZTR Bravo’s are not cheap, but we rate these wheels very highly, they have massive appeal to the rider looking to upgrade from classic narrow aluminium wheels, these will lift your ride to the next level.

Flow’s First Bite: fi’zi:k M6B Uomo Shoes

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The M6B UOMO is the entry level shoe from a three-strong lineup of mens (Uomo) shoes. The classic styled shoe uses a double-velcro and a single Boa dial enclosure, the sole is ‘carbon reinforced’ so they are stiff but not too stiff. A quick flex test shoes they have a nice amount of flex around the heel and toe which will make them easier to stand around in and the odd hike-a-bike moment on the trail._LOW7170

Weight is 385 grams, very reasonable for a shoe that doesn’t look like a neon plastic football boot, and price is fair at $239.

We’ll be back shortly for our review.

 

Tested: WTB Trail Boss TCS Light Tyre

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The boss.
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Predictability comes from its low and consistent tread pattern.

The Trail Boss is WTB’s fast-rolling dry conditions tyre available in 29″ and 27.5″ and a few different compounds and casing configurations. We’ve reviewed the TCS Light, the 844g version. It’s a fairly square shape with low side knobs and a very supple sidewall casing.

TCS: WTB’s TCS system is given to a select range of rims and tyres that is Mavic UST certified, requires the use of tubeless sealant and is designed to be inflated easily without the need of a compressor.

Installation: Fitting the tyres was a bit of a painful task, paired with the Stan’s No Tubes Bravo wheels we were reaching for the tyre levers to get them on, it’s a tight fit, but that sure helps contribute to the remarkable easy inflation. A couple of cups of sealant and up they went with just a few quick strokes from the track pump.

On the trail: Almost straight away we were able to feel the rolling speed and quick acceleration compared to the bulky Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres that we previously had fitted on the trek Remedy. With a closely packed bunch of knobs across the centre of the tyre they zip along with little resistance.

Just by looking at this tyre we expected it to feel quite predictable in the corners – low-profile tyres tend to be that way – and we were not surprised at all when we really got the hang of its strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly. Rather than serving up loads of ‘bite’ the Trail Boss makes up for it with loads of ‘friction’ on the trail surfaces, and when it did break free it wasn’t sudden. Cornering hard with the bike leant over on to the sides of the tyre on wet trails or softer soils isn’t an area that the Trail Boss is most comfortable, but on hardpack trails and bare rock its tacky compound really sticks.

After a few months of solid riding in dry conditions the rear tyre was showing signs of wear, but nothing out of the ordinary for a soft compound tyre. We never had one flat tyre, despite many likely incidents, and never did we burp or lose any pressure on the trails._LOW7264-2

_LOW7269-2Used as a pair the Trail Boss’s big air volume creates a smooth ride, we’d love to try it paired to the WTB Vigilante tyre on the front for extra bite on softer soils through the wetter winter months. As a rear tyre the Trail Boss will please just about anyone that shreds hard and appreciates fast and tacky tyres.

Flow’s First Bite: Pacenti TL28 Rims

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Stainless steel eyelets allow loads of spoke tension.

Firstly, improvements in the way the tyre and rim interface has meant that going tubeless is easy and secure, making tubeless now the norm. And secondly, we’ve seen construction evolve towards wider rim profiles, which brings with it a host of benefits, the foremost of which is better tyre stability at lower pressures (and therefore, more grip). These two changes alone have probably had more of an impact in terms of improving genuine on-trail performance than all the suspension tweaks combined in the past few years.

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Built onto King hubs, they’re not a featherweight wheelset, but these should be ride year-in, year-out kind of wheels.

While carbon rims get a lot of attention at the moment, the truth is that carbon hoops just aren’t practical for most people. They cost a bomb, which means a big outlay both to buy them initially, and to replace one should you manage to crunch it. For the bulk of us, a good quality alloy rim is still the most sensible, practical choice. The new L Series rims from Pacenti fall into this camp – high quality, sensibly priced, beautifully made, alloy rims. We’ve got a set of Pacenti’s new TL28 hoops built up onto exquisite Chris King hubs

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23mm internal width.

The name Pacenti might be vaguely familiar to many readers; Kirk Pacenti is one of the industry’s best regarded innovators, with more than 20 years experience. In recent years, he was one of the leading agitators for the introduction of the 650b format – a quick Google will bring up many references to Pacenti as the ‘Godfather of 650b’. In the spirit of early pioneers like Tom Ritchey or Gary Fisher he’s also constantly challenging the industry to re-think the way we approach mountain bike geometry.

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Chris King are now making Boost hubs. They’re just such superb bits of kit!

The TL28 rims are available in 27.5 or 29er sizes, with 28 or 32 hole drillings, and Pacenti bill them as their do-it-all rim, covering everything from XC to all-mountain. If you’re after an Enduro or downhill rim, they’ve also got the beefier DL31 in their range. As you might have guessed from the name, the rims are 28mm wide (external width), with a tubeless ready bead. Internally, they measure up at 23mm, which is more on the cross-country end of the rim-width spectrum nowadays. They’re a classic, good looking rim; reinforced stainless steel eyelets, with a welded join and subtle removable graphics too. The rims don’t come pre-taped, but a strip of high-pressure tubeless rim tape is all you need to go tubeless.

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110mm spacing.

Given his reputation as Mr 650b it’s perhaps odd that we’ve decided to test a set of Pacenti’s 29er hoops! The rim weight for a 29er hoop is 444g, and built up onto some gorgeous King Boost hubs, the complete wheelset is 1862g, which is a sturdy but not overly heavy figure. They’ve built up rock solid, with heaps of spoke tension, making them feel immediately reassuringly strong and stiff. To test the rim’s claims of offering good tyre support, we’ve fitted some large rubber – Continental’s Mountain King tyres in 2.4″ width. The whole lot has been fitted to our Norco Optic C9.2 test bike.

We’ll be giving these rims a hiding over the coming weeks, so tune back in for a full review soon.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Lapierre Zesty XM 427

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Little ports in the frame are to accomodate the electronic e:i system found on other Zesty models. We’re fans, but this time it’s battery free.

We’ve spent plenty of time aboard many bikes from the Zesty range, more commonly from the high end with its super-light frames and electronically adjusted suspension system. But this time around we’ve chosen a Zesty from the middle of the pack, a more wallet-friendly $4799 aluminium frame model to try. The Zesty comes in two flavours and multiple models for 2016, the AM and XM now both use 27.5″ wheels (no more 29er in the Zesty line), and the AM is the bigger travel version with 150mm and more aggressive geometry. This particular 427 model is available in both AM and XM versions, with a similar price and spec but very different character. It’s nice that Lapierre give so much choice.

For a more in-depth look at the 2016 Zesty AM and Zesty XM range, check out our overview, click here: 2016 Lapierre Zesty.

Before we get testing, let’s have a quick look at what is in store.


The frame

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Bold and proud, the Zesty is here.

The Zesty XM 427 uses a Supreme 6 aluminium frame, 27.5″ wheels, 120mm of rear travel paired with a 130mm fork. A quick glance at the geometry chart tells us this thing is fairly neutral and relaxed, with an all-rounder character.

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The four-bar OST suspension will no doubt be a winner on the new 2016 Zesty.

The suspension design is from Lapierre’s long time tried and tested OST four bar linkage which in our experience is seriously good.

It’s certainly a bold looking thing, with a fluorescent yellow paint job and curvy shapes that really stand out from the crowd. Lapierre know how to make bikes look good, this one is no exception. Take a close look at the finish and you’ll see what we mean, the stickers, paint and welding are immaculate.


The parts highlights

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A FOX 32mm leg fork up front.

For the dollars there’s plenty of good kit to serve you well. A 130mm travel Fox 32 fork up front with three-stage lockout is sure to be a good performer (the Zesty AM 427 uses the bigger FOX 34 fork) whilst it’s been a while since we’ve ridden a 32mm leg FOX fork on a bike with more than 120mm of travel.

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Excellent rear suspension indeed, the OST design is mighty plush and stable.

A dual-position RockShox Monarch RT rear shock uses the Debonair extra volume air spring, and it already feels super nice and supple.

The drivetrain is from Shimano with a double chainring up front and an 11-36T 10-speed range out the back. While we certainly prefer a single-ring drivetrain on just about every bike these days, Lapierre are no strangers to the big gear range, with their European market still asking for double chainrings as standard we don’t get much of a say down under unfortunately. Still, there’s plenty to like about more gears, less pushing!

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Skinny wire bead tyres, no thanks!

Wheels come from RaceFace which we’ve not seen before, the 23mm wide rims and nicely machined hub shells look the part but the skinny width and wire bead Kenda Slant Six tyres are certainly no good for a tubeless conversion, we expect this to be a weak point of the bike.

A KS dropper post and Shimano brakes are proven performers, we’re sure glad to see them.

We’ll be cutting some laps on this rig over the next couple weeks, so stay tuned for our full review. Au revoir for now.

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High end class at a mid range price, typical Lapierre.

 

Flow’s First Bite: fi’zi:k Gobi M5 VS Saddle

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Deep.

The Gobi is a classic rounded shaped saddle that has become super-popular in the mountain bike crowd due to its tough materials and slim shape. The roundness and slim-ness is a blessing when you’re moving around off the back of the bike on a steep descent, resisting getting snagged on your shorts or pointy bits jabbing you where you’d rather not be jabbed.

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The VS version of the Gobi takes the comfort even further, with a deep central relief channel to alleviate pressure where there’s important blood flow. Instead of using a hole, the 7mm-deep channel is said to remain stronger and retain the saddle’s shape over longer time.

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Groovy channel.

The Gobi uses a flexible shell around the tail for and mid-section to provide a bit of give, and the aluminium rails help keep the price and weight down.

Let’s ride!

TESTED: Focus SAM C Team


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After testing this bike’s alloy predecessor some years ago, we’ve been waiting impatiently for the inevitable carbon version to arrive. And here it is; an uncompromising, stripped back, pure Enduro machine, itching to tear your favourite descent a new one.

What a killer looking front end!
What a killer looking front end!

Construction

This is a fantastic looking bike. From a humungous diamond shaped top tube, it tapers down to a lean point out back, carbon throughout. With a sophisticated internal cabling system, the clean lines are uninterrupted, especially on this model with a single-ring drivetrain.

All the cables enter the left side of the head tube. We didn't hear any cable rattle inside the frame.
All the cables enter the left side of the head tube. We didn’t hear any cable rattle inside the frame.

There’s a kind of essentials-only approach with the Focus that is going to hold plenty of appeal for many riders: the suspension layout is easy to understand – this pushes that– there are no geometry adjustments, and the travel is fixed at 160mm too. The suspension is from RockShox, top-of-the-line stuff, but without resorting to exotic, lesser-known manufacturers or super complicated dampers.

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Basically, it has everything you need to win, and nothing you don’t. That’s not to say there aren’t some nice embellishments – the neat chain slap and down tube protection for instance – but it’s a bike that puts low-weight, geometry and suspension performance ahead of frame features.


Suspension

The suspension is a simple linkage-driven single-pivot. Easy to understand and maintain.
The suspension is a simple linkage-driven single-pivot. Easy to understand and maintain.

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 preserve the sprinty, excited performance under pedalling that we like about the SAM.

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The RockShox Monarch is easily tuned – just one rebound dial and a three-position compression lever keeps it simple. It’s a winner.

Compared to the whopping pivot axles we see on some bikes, the SAM’s pivot points are quite petite, with a pinch-bolt arrangement on the linkage that’s not common. Despite appearances, it’s actually robust and stiff, with double row bearings at rear pivot to handle all the huge forces there. Make sure you keep an eye on the bolt tensions as we experienced a small amount of play from the lower linkage pivot, which was easily sorted and didn’t recur.

Keep an eye on the pinch bolts and axles - they need to be properly torqued to ensure no play develops.
Keep an eye on the pinch bolts and axles – they need to be properly torqued to ensure no play develops.

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.

Double row bearing in the drop out pivot keep things steady in this high load area.
Double row bearing in the drop out pivot keep things steady in this high load area.

Components

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.

XX1. Still ruling the single-ring world.
XX1. Still ruling the single-ring world.

SRAM have been given the nod for the brakes too, with the premium Guide RSC stoppers. The ease of adjustment and robust lever construction are icing on the cake for these very powerful brakes. With a 200mm rotor up front, you’ll have all the braking confidence in the world.

 

The balanced suspension package is RockShox front and rear: Pike and Monarch, a pair that work superbly together, ironing out the roughest terrain, with perfectly matched rebound feel. You really get the feeling front and rear suspension are in sync.

We think the cockpit is the only area some riders may want to make some changes - maybe slightly shorter on the stem, and a carbon bar would be a nice touch.
We think the cockpit is the only area some riders may want to make some changes – maybe slightly shorter on the stem, and a carbon bar would be a nice touch.

We think the cockpit is one area some riders may look to tweak. The stem length is a smidge on the long side; given the bike’s sub-66 degree head angle, knocking the stem back to maybe 40mm would add a bit more snappiness to the slow-speed steering.

The DT/Continental wheel combo is worth comment too. The wheels have a taut, stiff precision about them, there’s no spokes pinging or complaining, even in the grisliest situations. The rims mightn’t be that wide, but the super stiff Conti tyres don’t need wide rims to help them hold their shape – they’ve got very firm sidewalls. Our bike had the aggressive Kaiser 2.4 up front and a Mountain King 2.4 out back. We love the confidence the robust construction of these tyres brings, but we did find the inflexibility of the sidewall and bead makes them prone to burping at lower pressures, the bead just doesn’t slide back into place like a more supple tyre.


Setup

Setup was straightforward. The sag gradients on fork and shock take the guesswork out of setting sag (20% up front, 30% our back), and the wheels are tubeless ready too of course. With the neat MatchMaker clamps for the brakes, shifter and dropper post, there’s only two bolts to worry about when dialling in your cockpit too.

MatchMaker clamps clean up the cockpit.
MatchMaker clamps clean up the cockpit.

Ride

The SAM is built for the kind of riding where you’re expected to hit unfamiliar terrain at warp-speeds, where you might find yourself in a white knuckled rock garden one second, and then having to muscle through tight switchbacks the next. It’s a big ask, but that SAM has it covered.

Long up front, short out back. Perfect really.
Long up front, short out back. Perfect really.

With slack angles and roomy length offset by the short rear end, the SAM nails that stability/agility blend that’s the holy grail of Enduro bikes nowadays. Magic numbers, putting you in a confident position to bomb into dicey looking chutes, but not bogging you down when the trails turn twisty.

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.

The gearing range with a 32-tooth ring suited our trails well.
The gearing range with a 32-tooth ring suited our trails well.

The liveliness of the bike is its standout attribute for us. It skims and floats over the chunder, but not in a skittish or unstable way. Rather it just holds excellent speed, and the buttery smoothness of the suspension seems to prevent the rocks from tugging at the tyres and holding you back. 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.

We certainly used all the travel, but we never felt the shock slam into the end of its stroke.
We certainly used all the travel, but we never felt the shock slam into the end of its stroke.

When you get a bit wild, the progression in the SAM’s suspension is a life saver, and while we certainly used all the bike’s travel, we never had any awareness of bottoming out – it nestles up smoothly to those last millimetres of travel, rather than smashing through to bottom out.

Cornering grip is superb too. The same liveliness we’ve noted above keeps the tyres tracking the dirt in loose corners beautifully, and the bitey Continental Kaiser front tyre will dig deep. Long, seated, foot-out corners are a specialty of this bike too – it’s got that ‘moto’ cornering balance dialled!

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The low pivot point doesn’t have a lot of anti-squat, but with the shock in its middle compression setting, the climbing performance is still excellent.

The SAM isn’t a ‘steady’ ascender like most Enduro bikes, it’s a genuinely enthusiastic and very capable climber. The low weigh is part of the equation, but the suspension nails a good balance of stability and traction when you flip the shock into its middle compression setting. The bike doesn’t use any proprietary travel adjustments or shock technologies, it gets the job done simply with a good balance of weight, central riding position and great suspension kinematics.


Overall:

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A triumphant follow up to the original SAM we loved so much, the new SAM C Team is a superb Enduro machine. It might not be pushing the envelope in terms of frame features or suspension technologies, but that hardly matters when a bike rides so well. Indeed, it’s a perfect exemplar of why nailing the fundamentals of geometry and suspension kinematics should be the first priority. Light and agile, smooth and confident, the SAM is a class act on the Enduro scene.

Tested: MRP Stage Fork

All MRP forks are hand-assembled in Grand Junction, Colorado using entirely metal internals and an extra large oil volume to give the Stage a whopping 200 hour service interval. MRP may be better known for their excellent chain guides, but after licensing the suspension brand White Brothers many years ago and more recently purchasing the Canadian rear shock manufacturers Elka, MRP have rebranding all their suspension components under the MRP moniker and they’ve been gaining momentum at a rapid rate with availability in Australia too.

The Stage comes in many flavours, from 140-170mm of travel, in both wheel sizes, attached with an Australian price tag of $1495 from your local bike shop. Built for the enduro and all-mountain crowd who might appreciate something a little different from the duopoly of FOX and RockShox, it uses 34mm diameter glossy black legs, a 15mm quick release axle, an understated matte black chassis with different colour graphic sticker kits supplied to individually match your ride. Weight is 1990g, a touch heavier than the comparable RockShox Pike and FOX 34.

Inside the Stage is what really matters, there’s magnets in the compression and rebound damping units and the external Ramp Up dial is super-trick.

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What adjustments

Air pressure setup is via a valve on the underside of the left leg, rebound speed dial on the other side, a compression/lockout dial up the top of the right leg but more interesting is the ‘ramp-up’ or air spring pressure adjustment on the upper left side.

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The Ramp Up adjustment gives you a level of accessible tune-ability that typically requires the use of tools and the installation of air volume spacers (like a RockShox Bottomless Tokens for example) but in this case the adjustment can even be made whilst riding.

By dialling in the adjuster the air spring will be reduced in size, and with a smaller air chamber comes a more progressive spring rate that will make it harder for the fork to bottom-out. Master the use of this in tandem with the air pressure and compression and you’ll really be able to make the most of the fork to your liking.

The little black button in the centre of the ramp-up dial is an air bleed valve, giving the rider quick and easy access to the spring by letting air out to reach the desired sag height. This is a nifty feature as the air valve is out of reach from the rider on the underside of the fork, and depressing it runs the risk of spurting out some of the lubricant fluid that resides in the air spring chamber.

But be sure to not accidentally press it during a ride, it doesn’t take much for all the air to be lost and you get a totally deflated feeling.

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Compression is a single adjustment controlled by a large sweaty hand and glove friendly 8-position dial on the top of the right leg. Where high end forks from RockShox or FOX have two independent and individually adjusted compression circuits, the Stage uses just one adjuster that manages its dual chamber air spring with a unique magnetic blow-off valve allowing the fork to react from fast impacts even when dialled in.


Getting set

Provided with the fork is a small cheat sheet card that’s crammed with setup advice and base settings to help with personalising the fork’s feel, and they’ve done a pretty good job with it indeed, we certainly found it quite accurate. Whilst the Stage is quite simple in terms of adjustability, it’s worth taking the time to fully understand how the air pressure setup procedure works, and to follow the steps closely.

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First you inflate the air chamber higher than you need to, then manually extend the fork (by holding the wheel down and pulling up on the bars) to fill the negative air chamber. To set the desired sag you simply start with higher pressure and by pressing the little black air bleed button you let air out until the desired pressure is reached.

The Ramp Up adjustment can be tuned any time, and is quite obvious when played with. Our best advice would be to get out on the trail and ride a short 30 second section repeatedly with a different setting to find your match. We also found we could run slightly less pressure when counteracted with increased Ramp Up and a couple extra clicks of compression, for a plusher initial portion of travel.


On the trail

Once we were happy with the setup we hit the dirt to get a feel for it, it wasn’t until our second ride we felt entirely sure it was bedded-in and working as smoothly as it should. It needs a good bounce to get its juices flowing if it’s been sitting still for at least a couple days.

The Stage feels nice and supple and sensitive on the trail, reacting to the slightest impacts well. The chassis certainly felt amply rigid and stiff, we quickly got used to it on the front of our Trek Remedy and we began to ride it harder and harder with good confidence.

The first portion of travel is very supple and takes very little force to begin compression.

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Fine tuning the Ramp Up on the trail was as easy as changing gears, and remarkably effective. A few turns of the big silver dial makes the latter portion of the travel significantly harder to get to, and we found ourselves changing it a few times during each ride to suit the trail. With less Ramp Up the fork feels ultra supple and plush, suited to flatter terrain, but when the trails got steeper and impacts grew in force we’d benefit from dialling it in to help the fork ride higher in its travel, especially under front wheel braking.

The single compression dial was effective in cancelling out dive and bob on the climbs, even when cranked on there’s no harsh spiking if you happen to hit an unexpected impact. We lamented the lack of slow speed compression adjustments seperate to lockout though, we’re big fans of using plenty of compression to hold the fork up rather than a hard spring.

On the longer descents the Stage remained composed at all times and very predictable, you always knew where you were in the stroke, and never did a loud bottom out or harsh spike disrupt our flow.


How does it compare to the FOX 34 or RockShox Pike?

It’s a tall task taking on the big dogs of the industry, but in our opinion MRP do a pretty good job. In terms of value and long proposed maintenance interval maintenance the Stage is very impressive, and its on-the-fly Ramp Up adjustment has serious appeal to the type of rider who appreciates easy and obvious tuning.

Chassis stiffness is on-par, but weighs more than the competition. Wheel removal isn’t as simple as the FOX QR15 or RockShox Maxle, the MRP’s skewer system just takes some getting used to.

It’s the damping that sets the MRP apart from the best in the business. We’ve seen the FOX FIT 4 forks and RockShox forks with the Charger damper really take the support and control of mountain bike suspension to amazing levels, and new players DVO have also really stepped it up but we feel that the MRP Stage isn’t quite up there with the best. It simply lacks the mid-stroke support and rapid reaction to impacts while already into the travel. We spent plenty of time tinkering with all the adjustments to make the fork ride high in its travel, but never without sacrifice to bump sensitivity.


Verdict

Put an MRP stage on the front of your bike and you’ve got a premium piece of kit leading you into the trail, that won’t let you down. This quality product hand assembled in Colorado might not have the highest performing damper in the business, but it certainly stands out in terms of maintenance and ease of adjustment and never faltered once during our testing period.

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Flow’s First Bite: Scott Genius 710 Plus

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 Read our interview with Scott’s International Sales Manager, here, for a full discussion of Scott’s decision to embrace 27.5+


Is it wise to have invested so much, so early? Or is 27.5+ going to float on by? We think the success of 27.5+ is going to depend on one thing: getting people to try this format. One ride, and you can feel and see what the fuss is all about! Our prediction is that many brands will be following Scott and Specialized’s lead in 2017.

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The Genius Plus 710 is described by Scott as a ‘fun hog’. Don’t confuse the implication – it’s not a pig/hog of a bike (it weighs only just over 13kg), but it does looks like it might take more than its fair share of good times on the trail! With 130/140mm travel and 2.8″ tyres mounted to 40mm rims, the Genius 710 Plus is a beast.

Like the regular Genius, the 710 Plus is equipped with Scott TwinLoc suspension system, so you can drop the rear travel from 130mm to just 90mm, or lock the whole bike out completely, with the push of a button. We imagine this feature will be even more beneficial than usual with this bike, not because it’ll need any more climbing assistance, but because the larger tyre volume should mean that just 90mm travel is a viable option for more situations.

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It’s nice to see a 1×11 drivetrain on this bike. With the TwinLoc system, the bars are already pretty busy, so we can do without the faff of a front derailleur too.

Like we’ve said above, the entire bike weighs just over 13kg once you’ve converted it to tubeless, and if you remove the wheels from the bike you’ll be pleasantly surprised how light they actually are. The 2.8″ Schwalbe rubber sealed up tubeless just as easily as a regular tyre, and on the wide 40mm they look to be very nicely supported. If we take the front tyre, a Nobby Nic, as an example, compared to the equivalent tyre in a 2.35″ size, the weight penalty for the much bigger rubber is only 140g! For our first ride, we ran about 17psi out back and 15psi up front.

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40mm Syncros rims.
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Even on the big rims, the 2.8″ tyres keep a good profile.

Geometry-wise, the Genius Plus’s chain stay measurement immediately jumps out at us – at 445mm, they’re long indeed. A small flip-chip gives you some geometry adjustment, and we’ll be leaving it in the lower, slacker position for a 67.5 degree head angle.

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Hold on tight for our full review soon, we think this bike is going to be fast and very fun!

Tested: Norco Optic C9.2

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The Optic series is an important project from Norco – a new trail bike, filling a vital hole in their range, and available in two wheel sizes. This in itself is not remarkable, there are many brands that offer popular trail bike models in both 27.5 and 29er formats (for example, the Trek Fuel EX or Specialized Camber). But what makes the Optic unique is Norco’s commitment to making the handling of both wheel size options as close to identical as possible. You can read all the details about how Norco achieved this in our in-depth piece here, or our interview with the bike’s designer, Owen Pemberton. The notion of having the benefits of a 29″ wheel and still retaining the playful handling of a 27.5″ bike had us intrigued, so when presented with the choice of review bikes, we opted for the 29er.

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The build:

There’s nothing immediately apparent about the Optic C9.2 that gives you insight into the bike’s complex development. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like a Norco Sight with a smaller shock – carbon up front, alloy out back, unremarkable really. But the devil is in the detail here, and it’s the clever mix of geometry numbers that make this bike sing.

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The cross-bolted linkage is tough, but does look a little out of place at this price point. The front triangle has loads of room for a bottle. The side-swing front derailleur mounts off a unique plate that is affixed to the ISCG tabs.

For many people, 29″ wheels means cross-country, wheels on the ground, fast but dull. The Optic 29 is out to overturn this notion.  In general, long chain stays make a bike harder to hop, manual, jump or carve round a tight turn, so the Optic’s short 430mm stays are a big step in the right direction. Like most Norco dual suspension bikes, the frame employs Gravity Tune, so the length of the rear centre changes with the frame size. An Optic 29 in a size small has stays of 425mm, which is tiny. These kinds of short lengths are possible thanks to the use of Boost rear hub spacing, which affords an extra 3mm of chain line, allowing Norco to squeeze the rear wheel in close but still maintain gobs of space for big rubber and a front derailleur. All these machinations make the Optic super easy to get onto its rear wheel. It sure doesn’t manual like your average 29er cross country bike!

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The Optic doesn’t have that ‘squashed nose’ look associated with some 29ers – it has generous reach, and the head angle is 68.5 degrees.

Up front, the bike gets a generous reach, putting plenty of room between you and the front axle. Norco have avoided the usual 29er trend of running a steep hand angle – at 68.5 degrees its only half a degree steeper than the 27.5″ bike – and the bike is equipped with a 50mm stem. All those numbers tell you this bike is built for ripping. They’re fun figures, and thankfully they translate perfectly from the spreadsheet to the trails.

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Boost rear hub spacing has allowed Norco to obtain shorter chain stay lengths than would have been possible in the past.
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The new Gizmo cable port system lets you run up to five cables internally.

Popping geometry to one side, the Optic displays all of those things that Norco have been doing so well in recent years, with clean cable routing, solid suspension hardware and good access for a water bottle. If we’re nitpicking, we do think the rear brake hose clamps are a bit cheap looking, and the cross bolted linkage seems out of step with the smooth finish of the carbon front end. Given the bike’s price tag, those two elements seem a bit half baked.

A removable front derailleur mount is bolted to the ISCG tabs, which means that if you opt to run a single-ring drivetrain, you can get rid of all traces of the front derailleur entirely. It’s a neat solution that preserves the clean lines of the frame.

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While functionally fine, the rear brake hose clamps are pretty ugly.

Suspension:

The Optic presents an interesting conundrum: the geometry makes you want to  push the bike hard, but the suspension travel is only limited, with 110mm out back. To balance out these competing forces Norco have given the Optic a a very progressive suspension rate, so you’ve got to give it a real hiding to get to the bottom of the travel. We’re sure some people will wish it were a little more linear, but we like it – you can really open up it up on the descents without bottoming out. Up front, you’ve got a little more travel, 120mm. The FOX 34 Float is one of the new Boost equipped models too, with 110mm dropout spacing, and the extra wide stance of the fork legs looks so burly.

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With 110mm axle spacing, the Boost fork has a super wide stance that adds real beef to the front end.

When it comes to the way the suspension operates, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on making the travel work for you, in all situations. While many short travel bikes are all about super-efficient power delivery, the Optic is all about traction. There’s very little anti-squat in the suspension configuration, so it doesn’t exactly rocket forward in the same way as say the Pivot Mach 429 or Specialized Camber. On the flipside, the suspension isn’t impeded by chain tension, which is most noticeable when you’re climbing in a low gear – you’ve got excellent grip and you don’t feel any tugging of the chain through your pedals.

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The fork’s tune is well matched with the rear end. Most 120mm forks from FOX come with a firmer tune, but Norco had FOX give the Optic’s fork a lighter, more supple compression tune to match the rear end.

Components:

With the exception of the wheels and tyres, which we found sub-par, the Optic is robustly fitted out with an eclectic mix of components from Shimano, FOX, RockShox, Raceface and SRAM. We wouldn’t call it stellar value, but none of the components are the kind of items you’d turn you nose up at.

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With a spare narrow-wide ring included in the box, it’s easy to convert the bike to a 1×11 drivetrain.

Shimano XT 2×11 or 1×11 drivetrain: The Optic C9.2 and C7.2 are the only models in the Optic range which come with a double-ring drivetrain. While our early release bike didn’t come with one, production bikes will also ship with a Raceface narrow-wide chainring in the box too, so you can simply whip the derailleur, shifter and rings off, and pop the single ring on without spending another cent. It’s cool that Norco are covering both bases, and keeping the single and double ring fans happy. As usual, the XT shifting is superb.

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The 50mm stem uses the new 35mm bar diameter standard.

35mm cockpit: If big is good, bigger is better. That’s the thinking behind the immensely stiff Raceface 35mm-diameter bar/stem, and it does look very tough. The 50mm stem and 760mm wide bar feel  Of course if you’re hoping to swap bars or stems, then your options are limited, as the 35mm-diameter standard is far from common.

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If you want to go tubeless (and you do) then you’ll need to add some proper tubeless rim tape to the Easton rims.

Tubeless woes: The Optic C9.2’s wheelset is a bit disappointing. Firstly, the Easton rims aren’t pre-taped for tubeless, which seems silly on a bike of this caliber as everyone is going to want to go tubeless. Even once we’d taped the rims, we found the seal between the tyre and rim was fairly poor and we experienced air loss over the course of a ride from both seepage and burping until we swapped the tyres.

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We didn’t feel that the stock tyres really let us ride the Norco as it’s intended, so we swapped them for some WTB Trail Boss rubber.

Fast, but skatey tyres: Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph / Nobby Nic combo is a fast set of tyres, but we didn’t like the firm Pace Star compound and we didn’t find them terribly supportive. Given this bike’s desire to shred corners, we’d have much preferred a tyre with a softer compound and stiffer sidewalls. In the end, we decided to swap out the tyres for something more solid and grippier (WTB Trail Boss in a 2.25″) to let us really ride the bike how it’s intended to be ridden. We don’t often swap tyres for testing, but we just didn’t feel we could really get the most out of the bike with the stock tyres.

Ride:

If you just haven’t clicked with 29ers in the past, you really need to throw a leg over the Optic. The notion that 29ers are awkward, ground-bound mile-eaters is blown away by this bike.

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Cornering: Once we’d fitted some sturdier rubber, we really got to discover what the Optic is all about, and the twisty stuff is one area in which this bike really comes alive. It dives into corners with plenty of commitment, the stiff fork will hold a line like crazy, and with the 760mm bar you never feel like the front wheel is going to be yanked out from under you. Thanks to the tight rear end, you can really pull out of a corner off your rear wheel, which is not how many 29ers like to be ridden. Once we’d gone tubeless and lowered the pressures a bit, there was a stacks of grip available in flat turns, with the supple suspension working overtime. It’s hard to beat a 29″ wheel for grip, that’s for sure.

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The stiff fork won’t be bounced off line easily.

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Climbing: If you’re coming at the Optic from a purely cross-country background, you might feel a bit underwhelmed by the Optic’s steady, patient climbing style. As we’ve noted above, the suspension is more about grip than sheer acceleration, and the riding position is very ‘trail-ey’, so it’s not an aggressive climber. On the flipside, you’ve got excellent traction and you can continue pedalling smoothly up some pretty loose and ugly climbs without the rear wheel spinning. The short stays make it easy to pop the front wheel up over ledges or keep the front wheel up when laying the power down over roots or stepped climbs too, so it’s an awesome ascender when there are these kind of obstacles to deal with. For the most part, we left the shock in its open setting too, preferring to make the most of the grip available.

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We rarely used the shock’s compression lever, preferring to take full advantage of the traction on offer.

Descending:  While the Optic’s 110/120mm of travel isn’t a lot, it’s all about quality, not quantity. The balanced front and rear suspension never seems to clatter through its travel, keeping up in the mid-stroke nicely so there’s always a bit in reserve for when you wallop it into an unexpected hole. Bigger wheels carry speed over the small and mid-sized bumps better than a 27.5″ will too, which gives the illusion of having more travel than you’ve actually got on hand, which in turn feeds back into encouraging you to tackle things faster and harder. It’s a vicious loop of awesomeness.

Overall:

Get some grippy rubber onto this bike ASAP and discover how much fun a 29er can be when it’s done well. The Optic lives up to its promise of delivering a ride that’s just as fun and lively as a 27.5″ bike, but also giving you the grip and roll-over benefits of a 29″ wheel. While we’re sure plenty of people will still opt for the 27.5″ version of this bike with its slightly longer travel, we’re struggling to find many reasons why we’d consider going the smaller wheel instead.

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We think this bike can cover a lot of the riding spectrum too. Sure, it’s never going to be a cross-country or Enduro race bike, but for everything in between it’s got the situation well in hand. Trail riding should be about having fun, and if you can’t have fun on this bike, then get to a doctor because you’re probably dead.

Tested: Polygon Collosus N9 2016

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The N9 on top of Mt Bromo, Indonesia. This is where the N9 was developed and tested, the home trails of the Polygon crew.

The N9 is pitched as Polygon’s Enduro machine, and it has performed admirably on the Enduro World Series under the UR Team, so a three-hour descent with new challenges around every corner was the ideal way to get re-acquanted with the N9. We say re-acquainted because we’ve ridden the N9 before (read our review here) but the bike has been given a freshen up since, including a tangerine paint job that we dig: a bike with frame shapes this wild is always going to attract attention, so embrace it!

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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. It’s easy to be struck by the bold colour and shape, but when you inspect more closely you see all kinds of batik inspired graphic details hidden in the most unlikely nooks and crannies too. That attention to detail continues with other design features, like the smart cable ports and bonded chain slap protection.

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Neat cable ports.
Neat cable ports.

Travel is 160mm at both ends, and the rear suspension layout is a variant of the FS03 system found throughout the Polygon dual suspension range (excluding the Siskiu – reviewed here). A FOX Float X shock right is sandwiched right in the centre of the frame (no water bottle, sorry), compressed between a stout lower link that curves over the bottom bracket, and short upper link that also has very wide bearing placement and is driven by the dramatic, long, sweeping seat stay. The challenge of this particular design is maintaining rear-end stiffness, hence the huge pivot axles found on the upper and lower links to try and remove unwanted wavering.

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On the subject of stiffness, one of the key improvements with this new N9 is the addition of a FOX 36 TALAS fork, which gives the front end plenty of menace. The 36 saved our bacon on more than a few occasions when we blindly screamed over a crest only to be presented with a mass of motorcycle ruts. There’s so much support and stiffness, that finessing the front end is nonsense – lean on the bars and traction just appears like magic, whereas a lesser fork would dive and twist. The chunky Schwalbe Hans Dampf rubber helps too, of course!

Point. Shoot. Smile. The FOX 36 is brilliant.
Point. Shoot. Smile. The FOX 36 is brilliant.

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.

The pricing is made possible through a direct sales model, so your bike is shipped to you in a box. If the idea of buying a bike unseen irks you, it’s worth noting that distributor Bicycles Online offer a 14-day test ride period during which you can return the bike for a full refund if you’re not happy. That’s pretty good peace of mind we feel.

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SRAM XX1. At this price?!

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.

Light wheels aid with quick line changes.
Light wheels aid with quick line changes.

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. The option is of course to ride a size up if you want more stability, but make sure the seat tube isn’t too long if this is your plan.

The dropout is another area where Polygon have taken a unique approach.

Pedalling performance is excellent, and while the N9 has all the usual compression adjustments you’ll find on FOX shock and a travel-adjustable fork, we didn’t utilise them. Admittedly, most of our ride was spent descending, but having the ability to drop the front end for long climbs is a bonus (the fork drops from 160-130mm). There’s just the right amount of anti-squat in the FS03 suspension design, giving the N9 very stable pedalling and snappy acceleration without too much intrusive pedal feedback when on the gas over rough terrain. It’s the kind of bike that won’t rob you of energy unnecessarily over a long day in the saddle, which again feeds back into the N9’s abilities as a trail bike, rather than just a full-blown Enduro descender.

A happy, dirty N9.
A happy, dirty N9.

Getting back on the N9 was a real pleasure, and the end of an incredibly varied ride, we were reminded again just what a fun bike it really is. The addition of a FOX 36 is certainly welcomed, adding a bit more aggression on the descents, and making an incredibly good value-for-money bike even more impressive. 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.

 

Tested: Canyon Spectral CF EX9.0

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The EX in this bike’s name lets you know it’s a slightly different machine to the rest of the Spectral range, with 10mm more travel up front, at 150mm. The rear end is still 140mm, but the longer travel fork kicks the head angle back to a lazy 67-degrees, which is the kind of geometry that, like Barack Obama, says to you “YES WE CAN.” On descents which we’ve ridden dozens of times, we found ourselves spotting new gaps, playing with lines that just looked foolish or dangerous in the past. We don’t know if we were going any faster, but we did a lot of grinning.

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12.1kg of trail blitzing.

Ensuring the ride doesn’t become all plough and no play, the chain stays are a tight 425mm, so it still rips around on the rear wheel like crazy. It’s all too happy to manual out of a corner and pre-jumping into every downside is second nature. You can pretty much disregard the landing ramp too, as the RockShox Pike will handle it all. We popped two Bottomless Tokens into the fork and fell in love with the Pike once again.

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The Pike might share a name with a type of fish, but that’s where the similarities end. One is a fish, the other is ridiculously smooth and supple suspension fork for a bike.

 The Spectral comes setup with Cane Creek’s recommended tune out of the box

The Cane Creek DB InLine shock tends to divide riders. There are those who love its tunability and the way it devours all you throw at it like footy team at a Sizzler, but on the other hand it’s a complicated shock to adjust and it doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability. The Spectral comes setup with Cane Creek’s recommended tune out of the box, and we’d advise you not to make any changes at least initially. Ride it, get a feel for the shock, and then if you want to tweak, do so in small amounts keeping track of the changes you make. We added half a turn of high-speed compression above the baseline setting, just to give it a bit more support on the big hits to match the fork’s performance.

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The shock’s Climb Switch stiffens the low-speed compression and also the low-speed rebound, dramatically changing the rear end feel.

Climbing on the Spectral is made easier by the bike’s low weight, but you’ll still want to use the shock Climb Switch regularly. It creates a stable pedalling platform but the shock definitely feels a bit ‘dead’ with the switch engaged, especially when compared to a FOX shock which is firmer when locked out but still has a bit of liveliness about it.

 

Hooking into a grippy turn on the Spectral is the kind of experience that makes you wee a bit, with joy. The cockpit and fork just encourage you to lean on the front wheel, and the tyres grip like they’re made from warmed-up chewing gum. Don’t get too accustomed to the grip of these treads though – they don’t feel like they’ll last long, the compound wears down fast. The Mavic CrossMax rims mightn’t be the widest going, but we didn’t have any issues with tyre support and the wheels look and sound awesome.

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An E13 chain guide in conjunction with the already stable and secure X01 drivetrain means rock-solid drivetrain performance.

If your shifting and braking don’t have a conscious place in your ride, that’s a good thing. Thanks to the addition of an E13 chain guide, we never even considered the chain on the Spectral, and the 1×11 SRAM X01 drivetrain never left us wanting at either end of the gear spectrum. With 180mm rotors at both ends, a featherlight touch is all that’s needed and you’ll feel those soft tyres clawing into dirt to slow you down.

When a bike gets the little things right, it all has a way of compounding into a bigger, better experience

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The rear brake mounts are for a 180mm rotor.

When a bike gets the little things right, it all has a way of compounding into a bigger, better experience and the Spectral sure nails all the finer details. The cable routing is great and silent, there’s comprehensive protection from chain slap and down tube impacts, and you can fit a water bottle with ease. We especially like the Impact Protection headset that stops your bars spinning in a crash as well. And that colour! We think it’s brilliant – it certainly is bold and unique, and depending on the light you view it in, it can appear anything from fluorescent green to metallic gold. If it’s all too much for you, you can get the bike in black as well, but if we owned this bike we’d want people to notice it.

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If a bike can make you look at trails you’ve ridden countless times in a new light, then it’s doing something right, and the Spectral certainly achieves this. It’s fun as hell, has a kind of polished construction that you’d hope for in a German brand, and it comes in it a price that (while admittedly still a lot of money) is very competitive as well.

 

 

 

Tested: Reid Solo 360 27.5″

We’re beginning to see a real shift in how we understand value-for-money in the bike industry. For the last couple of years we’ve witnessed the prices of bikes begin to creep up, driven by the falling Australian dollar and rising material costs. At the same time, these prices rises have been made even more stark by the proliferation of direct-to-the-consumer brands in Australia (such as Reid, Cell, Polygon, Canyon and YT), most of whom have seen less dramatic price increases than their traditional retail counterparts. So on one hand, traditional retail offerings have become more expensive, and on the other, there are now more ‘direct’ brands than ever offering pricing that is relatively cheaper. Interesting times indeed!

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Industry analysis aside, we’re very impressed by what Reid have served up with the Solo 360. Sound geometry coupled with attractive construction, all complimented by the performance of its great components, make it a bike you must consider if you’re looking for a good hardtail without spending a fortune.

The triple-butted alloy frame is sleek, with its understated gloss on matte black graphics, it hits all the right chords with us. If a bike doesn’t have the instant name recognition of a more established brand, then looking good is important, and the Reid ticks this box. It’s clearly a pretty light frameset, with the whole bike weighing in at 12.05kg, and the smooth finish of the tube junctions is what you’d expect at a much higher price point.

 

The clean lines are enhanced by the internal cable routing. We did experience some cable rattle though, which made the bike a bit noisy when it got rough. (You can alleviate this by jamming some light foam rubber into the frame – sounds hokey, but it works.) You only get one water bottle mount, which is unusual on a hardtail, but it’s only an issue on longer rides when you might want to take a pack instead.

Quality components set this bike apart from most at this price. With the exception of the handlebar (which is too narrow for our tastes) this bike is equipped for serious riding and all the components are solid choices.

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The FOX Float 32 is a real boost to this bike’s performance.

The FOX fork is the standout item – it’s rare to see a fork of this quality at this price. With the FIT 4 damper, the 100mm-travel Float 32 offers plenty of grip and control. It’s sensitive for the little stuff, progressive for the big hits, and it’s a simple fork to tune and understand. The three-position compression adjustment makes sense to the less technically inclined rider, and so it’s a real set-and-forget item.

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Shimano’s XT brakes and drivetrain need no introduction. The control and power of the brakes are real confidence boosters, and the crisp and reliable XT shifting is hard to fault. Reid have saved a few dollars and specced a derailleur without a clutch mechanism; we understand the importance of hitting a price point, but we’d love to see a clutch derailleur on this bike, just to add some chain security and make it all a bit quieter on the trail. Still, we didn’t drop a chain or miss a shift once during our testing. The gearing range with twin chain rings and an 11-34 cassette is more than adequate, especially if you think you might use the bike for the occasional commute too.

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A double ring crankset is a sensible choice for this price point and style of bike.

We opted to pop on a wider handlebar for our testing – 660mm was too narrow for us, and with a 720mm bar fitted the bike immediately felt more confident and the riding position was stronger. We’d suggest you do the same if you buy this bike, as it’s definitely capable of some fast and aggressive riding, and the wider bar makes it all the more stable.

Even though we didn’t opt to convert this bike to tubeless, we still found there was plenty of grip on offer with the Continental X-King tyres, and they’re a fast rolling set of treads too. Reid have paid attention to the smaller details too; good lock-on grips, a twin-bolt seat post, a stiff and secure four-bolt stem… it’s all really good stuff, and shows that they’ve considered every item from a serious mountain biking standpoint.

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The stem length is great, but we found we needed a wider bar than the stock item to get the most out of the bike’s capabilities.
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Continental X-King tyres are a sensible choice. They’re fast and well-suited to hard packed trails.

Geometry wise, Reid haven’t taken any risks, picking frame numbers that are playful and agile, but not nervous. The 69-degree head angle is a good balance between confidence and speedy steering, and once we’d swapped the bar, we found that the relatively short stem, good tyres and excellent brakes gave us all the confidence we needed to tackle steeper descents. On the climbs, the 430mm stays are short enough to keep plenty of weight in the rear tyre too, so you’ve got good grip when you put down the power.

Reid definitely surprised us here, and the Solo is the kind of bike that’ll open up a whole new world of riding to a lot of fresh mountain bikers. It forms an awesome platform for progressing your riding and it’s the kind of machine that you can upgrade and tweak to suit your style and trails. Upgrades like going tubeless, adding a clutch derailleur, maybe a dropper seat post, are all worthy considerations down the line, and the bike is definitely good enough to justify these investments in time.

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The Solo 360 mightn’t offer the same cred as some of the brands that have traditionally played in the mountain bike world, but none of that matters when you hit the trail – it’s a good-looking, great handling, superb value machine that’ll leave you with plenty of coin in your pockets to spend on all the other mountain bike essentials.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cell Brunswick 2.0

** Updated – read our final review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-cell-brunswick-2-0/


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Forest green? British racing green? Not another black bike green?
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We really like the neat graphics details on the fork with the inverted logo colours.

The very reasonable price tag of $2299 alone is going to make the Brunswick an appealing option for plenty of riders eager to try their hand at this kind of riding, but the bike is also extremely well featured, price aside. On the performance front, the alloy frame and carbon fork both run 12mm through axles which is a welcome addition given the power of the SRAM Rival discs, and the BB86 bottom bracket provides a rock solid core to the construction. CX racers will also appreciate the flattened top tube and the down tube routed cables, both of which make it easy to shoulder the bike.

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EPO – Endurance Performance Optimisation.

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A wide BB86 shell.

From a practicality standpoint, it’s good to see a full compliment of rack mounts too, should you want to either head bush for a few days, do some touring, or use the bike for commutes. Tyre clearance is roomy as well, so you can easily beef up the rubber from the stock 33c Vittoria rubber – up to a 45c should fit (do it!). The externally routed cables will appeal to the home mechanic, as will the use of a full length housing for the rear mech.

We’ve been riding SRAM Force CX1 groupset for a while now, and the new Rival CX1 1×11 grouppo looks to be virtually identical. It certainly feels the same to shift! Cell have specced a 40-tooth ring with an 11-36 cassette, which is a surprisingly usable spread for both dirt and tarmac.

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SRAM’s new Rival CX1: 1×11, with an 11-36 spread.
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The big hoods of the SRAM hydro discs give you a great hand hold in the rough.

We’ve converted our Brunswick to tubeless using high-pressure rim tape, but otherwise we’ll be leaving it completely stock for the remainder of our review. Expect a full write up on the Brunswick in just a few weeks!

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142x12mm out back.
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Vittoria Cross XG rubber, set up tubeless.

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Flow’s First Bite: Suplest Edge/3, Swiss Cycling Shoes

Suplest are little-known to us here in Australia, for good reason. The relatively young company based in Bern does only cycling shoes, catering solely for the high end of the market and they certainly have an eye for stylish design with all their shoes, road and mountain bike.

We have the Edge/3 Performance and Edge/3 Pro from their cross country range to get accustomed to, with a super-light construction and a carbon sole stiffer than a frozen Swiss cheese these guys are built for XC racing, there’s no doubt about it.

Performance on the left, and Pro on the right.
Performance on the left, and Pro on the right.

BOA dials, carbon shields, lightweight mesh, grippy heel material and a reinforced toe box make these shoes quite unique in construction and the fancy triangular shaped upper material gives them an appearance like no other.

Pricing is what you may expect from a tiny boutique shoe manufacturer, $395 for the grey Performance model and $495 for the Pro. Certainly not cheap, but even after one ride we’re sure they’ll stack up with performance to back the dollars.

The Pro scores a full carbon shield under double BOA laces for even tension over the upper part of the foot, otherwise the Pro and Performance models are very similar in features.

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330g for the Pro. Good weight for a solid and stiff shoe.

Stay tuned for our full review once we put some miles on these snazzy Swiss numbers.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Norco Optic C9.2

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When Norco first let slip a few details about the Optic, we didn’t actually even know that they’d be offering the bike in both a 29er and 650b format, so when a 650b test bike arrived we were happy to get into it. However, once we learnt a bit more about the 29er version of this bike, we decided quickly that it was the more intriguing model and we made moves to get a 29er out from Canada quick smart! The bike that Norco sent our way is the Optic C9.2, and we’ve been getting a few early miles in on board this subtly clever (if not subtly coloured) machine.

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Most 29er trail bikes are significantly longer out back than their 650b counterparts, but not the Optic.

When you first clap eyes on the Optic C9.2 it’s easy spot the muscular stance of the FOX 34 fork with Boost spacing, or the 50mm stem and 760mm handlebar, and make the assumption that it’s an all-mountain machine. But you’d be wrong – the Optic’s place in the market is true trail bike, or even an aggressively positioned cross-country bike. Travel is a short 110mm out back and 120mm up front. That said, by virtue of its geometry, suspension rate, dropper post and aggressive cockpit, it is still capable of being thrown into situations that would make most bikes (particularly most 29ers) of this travel crap a shade of green to match the Optic’s paint job.

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Generous reach stops things for being cramped on the climbs, despite running a 50mm stem.

The C9.2 is carbon up front, with styling that is consistent with Norco’s approach in the Sight and Range models too. The rear end is alloy, and with Boost rear hub spacing Norco have managed to keep the rear-centre measurement to 430mm on our size medium. In a size small, the 29er’s stays are just 425mm, which is remarkably short. Keeping the rear end lengths identical to what you’ll find on the 650b version of the Optic is one of the key elements in making the 29er handle just as well as the smaller wheeled bike.

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A 50mm stem is a strange sight on 29er trail bike, but it certainly works!

Norco are keen to point out that even though the stays are so short, they’ve managed to retain front derailleur compatibility. Our test bike is running a double-ring drivetrain, but the Optic C9.2 will apparently ship with a RaceFace narrow/wide chain ring in the box too, in case you’d prefer to run a single ring. Full praise to Norco for giving riders both options from stock!

Setting up the Optic for our first ride presented some tubeless dramas. The rim tape on the Alex rims looks like it’s ok for tubeless use but we soon found otherwise as sealant sprayed over our whole workshop and onto the jeans we’d promised our wife we wouldn’t wear while working on bikes. It’s annoying that a bike at this price doesn’t come out of the box ready to go tubeless, because no one likes tubes expect people who sell patch kits.

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The Nobby Nic 2.25″ treads are a good all-rounder, but we’d prefer something in a softer compound and with a slightly tougher sidewall to extract the most out of this bike’s front end.

We’ll save all the ride details for later, but we’re happy to tell you the Optic just feels perfect as soon as you swing a leg over it. Looking down over that tiny 50mm stem and chunky 35mm-diameter bar, you instantly know that it’s going to be incredibly playful and precise. The suspension is similarly reassuring, a few bounces instantly conveys a feeling of both suppleness and support/progression for when it gets a little crazy out there.

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The Optics low bottom bracket means stable cornering at the expense of the odd pedal strike.

We think we’re going to really get along with this bike very well. There’s something about the blending of short travel, confidence inspiring frame numbers and quality suspension which just makes us smile, and this bike seems to have that mix pretty much nailed. Hold tight for a full review in the coming weeks.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Canyon Spectral CF 9.0 EX

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Bicycle retail is following the same pattern in part; online purchasing has grabbed an increasing share of sales through both overseas and local operations, but traditional bike shops certainly aren’t going to disappear. What is interesting about online sales is the shift from purely low-cost parts and accessories sales, to complete and increasingly high-end bikes too. The arrival of Canyon to Australia last year was a big shift in gear for online bike sales in Australia. Canyon’s direct sales operation is huge in Europe, and few people doubted that Canyon would have an impact on the local market.

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Adrian Smith is normally the man on other end of Canyon’s live chat service.

When we lined up a new test bike with Canyon, the Spectral CF 9.0 EX, we thought it’d be good to drop by their local Melbourne HQ and get a better idea of how their operation actually worked – what happens when you push the ‘buy’ button on their website, and who is on the ground in Australia helping things go smoothly? It was also a good opportunity to take the Spectral for a razz on the Canyon crew’s home turf at the Red Hill trails on the Mornington Peninsula.

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The Red Hill trails just south of Canyon HQ are unreal fun. A great location by the bay, with good elevation, a shuttle road, plus an awesome bakery and bike shop at the base of the hill. Ideal really!
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Fresh from Germany, with love.

 

What we found out was that Canyon Australia in many respects operates pretty similarly to a conventional bike shop, the fundamental difference of course is that they don’t carry the stock (when you make a purchase it come direct from Germany, for now, local warehousing is in the pipeline) and you don’t have to wear pants to shop there. Let us explain; On the wall of the office, the Canyon team have a screen with live analytics from their website running constantly, it tells them straight away how many people are ‘in the shop’. Just like a normal bike shop, the staff can see who is looking at which bike and how long they’ve been there too. They can also see where the potential customer is located, and how they’ve ended up on the Canyon store (for instance, from a Facebook link or via a bike review).

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Sabine Niederwieser is from Canyon Germany, and has been helping integrate the local operations into the global Canyon network.

If a customer has a question about a bike, to get the attention of a staff member they can pick up the phone, or more commonly they’ll click the ‘chat’ button on the side of the web page and that’ll put them through directly to a member of the Canyon team in Australia. This is how most questions are answered, and the Canyon crew can be helping out many customers at once this way.  What’s funny to see is how many people are clearly browsing and asking questions while they’re meant to be at work, often a chat will break off inexplicably for a while, before coming back online 15 minutes later with the explanation that the boss just walked by!

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Analytics let the Canyon crew see in real time how many people are in the ‘shop’.

If a customer decides to make a purchase, they’re able to see straight away if the bike they’re after is in stock (in which case it ships within 10 days from Germany and then usually takes another 10-14 days to arrive at your door), or they’re able to see the window in which the bike will ship in the future if the model, size or colour you want isn’t in stock at that moment. While this delay might be a deal breaker for some potential purchasers, Darryl from Canyon points out that having to wait for a high-end bike is pretty standard fare.

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Tech service guru Dominic Fitt.

Just like any bike shop, the workshop is crucial too. Canyon carry all the spares needed to keep a customer’s bike running, and they have a full-time mechanic in house to handle any servicing, or Canyon can send any spares to your local workshop of choice too. But that’s enough about that, let’s take a look at the bike!


 

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Our test bike, the Spectral CF 9.0 EX, came directly from Germany just as would any customer’s bike. All Canyons are are assembled in their German factory, and every bike is actually physically test ridden before being boxed and shipped. A little sticker on the box promises the bike has been Umgebaut (rebuilt or converted) which means the brakes are already setup for Australian riders, handy. Getting the bike rolling is really just a matter of putting the bars and front wheel on, inserting the seat post, inflating the tyres and suspension and hitting the trail. If you find yourself struggling with any part of the process, the War and Peace sized manual should be able to help!

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Mavic Crossmax are a nice touch.

So far our experience with Canyon bikes has been limited to the Strive CF, an all-out Enduro bike with EWS pedigree and a design team which includes former World Champion Fabien Barel. You can read our impressions of the Strive here. It’s a real weapon, with the fastest descents in mind, and for most trails and riders it’s going to be overkill. The Spectral on the other hand sits right in the trail bike category; the EX version we’re reviewing has 140mm rear travel and 150mm up front, while the standard or non-EX versions come with a 140mm fork too. Our test bike weighs in just over 12kg setup tubeless, which is an all-day friendly figure indeed.

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Clean lines!

The geometry is on the slack side of the trail segment, new-school: a 67-degree head angle and 425mm stays, and a generous reach that facilitates a 50mm stem without it getting all cramped. The frame has a compact look to it, with masses of standover height as well. You can’t fail to mention the colour either, it’s one of those finishes that’s hard to define – kind of a greeny, goldy, yellow? In some situations it’s just about fluro, in others it comes across almost olive.

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The neat bump-stop system is such a today solution to prevent frame damage from your brake levers / shifters in a crash.

Almost devoid of logos and with full internal cabling, it’s certainly a sleek frame. One frame feature that grabbed our eye immediately is the integrated bump-stop/headset assembly which prevents your bars from spinning in a crash, potentially saving your top tube and your brake lines too.

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Sehr German.

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Canyon’s direct model of course lets them keep the prices down, and for $6299 the Spectral is kitted out magnificently with a SRAM X01 drivetrain and RockShox’s top-end Pike RTC3. Mavic’s CrossMax XL Pro wheelset is the kind of item you don’t often find on many stock bikes, adding a real bit of flash to the build. The tyres are Mavic’s ultra-sticky Quest rubber as well.

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Canyon’s Big Daz, on home soil and loving it.
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The Cane Creek DB InLine shock is a tuner’s dream, but you do want to have a good idea of what you’re doing before delving into the adjustments.
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Mavic’s tyres are softer than liquorice. Grippy, but maybe not too durable.

Canyon supply a card with a recommended baseline tune for the Cane Creek DB In-Line rear shock, to help you navigate the myriad settings available. We’ve found ourselves frustrated with this shock in the past, so we’re hoping for a good experience this time around as the bike clearly has some serious potential to shred. A full review will be coming your way soon!

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If you’re in the region, make sure you drop into Red Hill, the trails are ace.