Flow’s First Bite: Scott Spark 900 Premium

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29″ wheels, on-the-fly compression and travel adjust, and so, so light.

For the past few seasons, the Spark has been available in both 27.5 and 29er formats. We’ve opted to test the 29er version, which has slightly less travel than the 27.5″ model (100mm vs 120mm). In this category of bike we’re still inclined to prefer the larger wheel; when you’re hammering along a fireroad or hanging onto the bars at the end of a five hour marathon, we find the big wheels really help cover ground and cover up mistakes._LOW0635-2

 

24/34 dual rings.
24/34 dual rings.

Coming in at 10.3kg, the 900 Premium is lighter than an angel’s fart. Scarily enough, there are even lighter models in the Spark range – the frameset is one of the lightest on the market, which is part of the appeal these bikes possess for racing.

A full XTR drivetrain and brakes, super light Syncros carbon bar, post and stem, and some very racy Syncros wheels all help to keep this bike incredibly lean. Needless to say, we were diligent about using a torque wrench when it came to building this bike – a carbon stem is a weight saving we’d happily forego, tightening that sucker up is terrifying!

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The FOX Nude shock isn’t an item you’ll find on other brands’ bikes. The TwinLoc system lets you drop from 100mm to 70mm travel at the push of a button.

The TwinLoc suspension system is well-proven and extremely effective, giving you simultaneous control over the damping (and travel) of both fork and shock. The handlebar-mounted lever has three positions: open – the fork and shock are fully active; traction mode – the fork is toggled to a firmer damping setting and the rear travel drops to 70mm, which firms up the suspension and raises the bottom bracket slightly; lock out – the fork and shock are fully locked out. This system is incorporated into a FOX Nude shock, which you won’t find on any other brands’ bikes.

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Yes, there are lots of cables, but they’re all well managed.

Because the Spark 900 Premium has a twin chain ring in addition to the TwinLoc system, there are a lot of cables to keep an eye on! It’s executed very neatly all things considered, but we’d probably be inclined to run a single chain ring, then get a TwinLoc ‘Downside’ remote which positions the TwinLoc lever under the bar in place of the front shifter.

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The Spark gets a 32mm-legged fork and filthy light wheels. This is a proper XC bike, and the balance between weight and robustness is definitely tipped towards saving grams.

Set up has been simple – the TwinLoc system doesn’t require any funky shock pumps or use two rebound dials like the Cannondale Jekyll’s DYAD shock which also has travel adjustability. We’ve opted to leave the Spark’s geometry adjustment in the lower/slacker of the two settings, and we’ve gone tubeless with the wheels of course too. Now all that’s left is to go hunt down our mates and leave them in our dust!

24/34 dual rings.
24/34 dual rings.

Tested: GT Sensor Carbon Team

After a few weeks pounding the GT Sensor Carbon Team around our trails we’ve grown an appreciation for its finest attribute – its brawn.

The Sensor is eye-ball stingingly vibrant, the fluorescent and bold shapes are right in your face!
The Sensor is eye-ball stingingly vibrant, the fluorescent and bold shapes are right in your face!

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What is it, who’s it for?

GT label the Sensor as a trail bike, slotting in between their cross country suspension bike, the Helion, and the all-mountain Force,  the Sensor strikes a balance between short and long travel. GT have dressed it in some serious parts though, the big tyres, 150mm RockShox Pike and wide bars make this ‘trail bike’ look pretty badass.

So from our first impressions we’d label this bike as a hard-charging trail bike for blasting your local trails and having a good time doing so, but it won’t best serve you as a marathon race bike or gravity fuelled enduro rig.

We’ve reviewed both the Helion and Force X, check out those reviews here:

GT Helion Carbon Pro review.

GT Force X Expert Carbon review. 


The frame

When we talk about the properties of carbon versus aluminium we tend to use words like light, supple, smooth, svelte or lively. In the case of this bike we can only think of descriptions like burly, sturdy, solid and beefy. Its solid ride character really became a dominating feature, we’ll touch on that later.

There’s nothing svelte about this one, it’s built like a tank. Big shapes and wide-set pivot points give the Sensor real muscle.

The Sensor Carbon Team uses an all-carbon frame and we chuckled at the sticker stating that fluorescent colours will fade, a relief in some regard as the paint is bright!

No rubber on the chainstays means thunk, thunk, thunk!
No rubber on the chainstays means thunk, thunk, thunk!

Cables are routed externally with an exception for the RockShox Reverb hose entering into the seat tube and a section of the gear cable through the seat stays. A rubberised chainstay protector could have been a nice touch, without one the chain resonates loudly on the carbon.

Plenty of room for a full-sized water bottle, you could carry a flagon of sherry on there with that amount of space.

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How many ways can we say sturdy?

AOS suspension

Perhaps even more striking than the fluorescent paint is the mighty complicated and convoluted looking suspension linkage housed down low around the cranks. Stare at it for a minute and you’ll begin to understand how it works: the rear wheel goes up, pulls on that bit which pushes on that other bit, and presto – the shock compresses!

GT’s Angle Optimised Suspension system is a good one believe us. AOS is few years old now and is used across their entire range of duallies, right up to their World Championship winning Fury downhill bike. It’s designed to provide the benefits of a high-pivot suspension system but with fewer of the negatives (like brake jack and pedal feedback). With the main suspension pivot so high the rear wheel can move up and over objects in its way, but usually with some negative impacts on the drivetrain. This is where we say hello to the Path Link.

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The AOS suspension design. Like a 3D picture book, stare at it and all will be revealed.
The Path Link at the heart of it all manages the chain growth from such a high main pivot.

The bottom bracket is housed in the Path Link, which rotates slightly rearward from the main frame with the suspension compression so as to minimise the amount of chain growth.

Watch this video if you failed physics and your head hurts trying to figure it out.

It’s a tough task to pull off but we’re impressed by the execution, and attention to detail too. There’s a little plastic mudguard protecting the sensitive rear shock, and the rear brake and gear cables are guided around the moving parts securely. It may look a little busy down there but there aren’t actually any more individual moving parts than say a Giant, Trek or Specialized duallie.

It’s a fair bit to get your head around but is well executed in a sound and study manner, nothing came loose or got in the way of a good ride.


The parts

GT seem to have a thing with shopping around for parts, there’s an eclectic bunch of bits from a wide range of brands on this bike, but all the parts work well together, testament that whoever specs these bikes rides them too.

SRAM: A SRAM X01 drivetrain and Guide brakes do a great job as always, the RockShox Reverb was perfect and all these SRAM bits played nicely together making for a nice and tidy handlebar area. Our test bike did come with a spongy rear brake though, that never seemed bitey enough, but a bleed should fix that easily.

The RaceFace single-ring setup is sweet, and the e*Thirteen chainguide allays any doubts of chain security in a quiet and drag-free manner.

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150mm of perfection – the Pike RTC3.

Suspension: FOX out back and RockShox up front, the marrying of the two brands takes some getting used to. The variance of travel amount between is considerable, 130mm rear and 150mm in the fork. Perhaps GT are aiming to achieve slacker angles (the higher end model Sensors all come with 150mm forks) by using a taller fork? We’d suggest fitting the RockShox Bottomless Tokens (reducing the size of the air chamber for more progression in the spring rate) in the fork to help it ride higher in the latter portion of the travel to match the rear, as the 130mm out back is already super-progressive.

The Pike RTC3 is the top-shelf offering with the slow speed compression dial in addition to the three-stage climb lockout. We dialled the slow speed compression 3/4 of the way on when riding regular trails to help the fork match the firm rear end.

Wheels: Stan’s Flow (such a great name) wheels are a nice and reliable set of aluminium wheels, all ready to go with tubeless strips and valves.

Cockpit: Not an area we took much notice of, in a good way. The RaceFace Turbine bars are 760mm wide for a stable position and the GT grips clamp on super tight and the integrated aluminium end caps act as bash guards against tight trees and the ground at times.


The ride

When we rode the Sensor’s bigger brother the GT Force X a little while back we didn’t get along with it straight away, it felt big and bulky and slow to get going. The same goes with this bike to a degree. But we persisted and on our second ride we totally got its vibe! You don’t ride these bikes like your run-of-the-mill trail bike, you ride them hard and then reap the rewards from such a solid chassis and firm, supportive suspension.

Setup: There’s huge benefit to a bike’s handling in keeping the centre of gravity down low and centred in the frame, but the drawback on this bike is how the shock shaft is hidden from view, making for a trickier suspension sag setup procedure. GT have done a fair job of getting around this by equipping the bike with a nifty little sag guide. Instead of measuring the o-ring on the shock shaft, you need to watch the attached plastic needle line up with the inscriptions on the linkage. It’s tricky to see from where you sit on the bike, but better than nothing.

The tiny sag guide works well, but is hard to see from the riders point of view. Grab a mate to set the sag with you.
The tiny sag guide works well, but is hard to see from the riders point of view. Grab a mate to set the sag with you.

On the trail: Once up to speed it’s easy to keep it there and if you’re game, the key is to lay off the brakes and give it hell! It’ll hold lines through rocky sections and won’t lose momentum when it’s mighty rough, the rear end stiffness helps gobbles up big impacts transferring the energy of the impact into the shock rather than deflecting.

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Push the front and let the rear follow, the RockShox Pike and Maxxis High Roller lead the way with ultimate confidence.

Descending: The AOS suspension design is not especially smooth across rapid repeated impacts on the trail – riding quickly across braking ruts or rock gardens it tends to skip across them with the rear tyre thudding along behind you. Lucky there’s a chainguide fitted as standard, we didn’t ever worry about dropping a chain when the bike was thumping around behind us.

Rather than a ground hugging or offering a supple kind of ride, it’s more a firm and engaging one that responds instantly to your input. Jumping from one side of the trail to avoid a rut, or gapping over a hole and into a corner becomes a possibility when you’re not wallowing in a cushy and comfortable bike. This beast begs you to take control.

When seated, with your weight distribution shared between the cranks and the saddle, the suspension works effectively to smoothen the terrain. But if you’re out of the saddle, you’ll notice the suspension feels firmer when standing. This attribute is also a contributing factor to the bike’s excellent pedalling efficiency. So when you get up out of the saddle and jam your foot down on the cranks, the bike remains firm and doesn’t wallow.

Cornering: We found ourselves searching for the fastest lines through a corner, dismissing any potential obstacles, and ploughing straight through them instead. And we probably went for more gap jumps than we’d normally attempt too, pulling up hard and feeling sure the Sensor would ride it out even if we came up a little short.

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Get your weight forward and push it hard.

The Maxxis tyres had a big role to play in the corners, the High Roller II is always welcome here at Flow, its cornering bite and confidence-inspiring meatiness instantly promotes us to recklessly throw it around the place. The Ardent out the back is a good pairing for this bike, its lower profile tread and less-aggressive nature helps the rear end of the Sensor slide around a little and steer through corners with a little bit of a rear wheel drift.

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Trails for days.

The Sensor has pretty long chainstays when compared to many of our favourite bikes in the ‘trail’ category, we measured the rear centre at 445mm, so don’t expect it to flick around the tightest trails without a heavy hand. Chainstay length is a real buzzword in the industry right now, shorter is not always necessarily better though. As demonstrated in this case, you can really benefit from the stability of a longer stay, steering through the turns more aggressively.

With the aggressive front tyre and lower profile rear tyre we found ourselves taking wide lines into switchback turns, getting right over the front wheel and letting the rear end do whatever it liked, this seemed to be the fastest (and funnest) way around. On open and fast turns the stability we love about these bikes gave us confidence to hold our lines, stay off the brakes and keep it pinned all the way around.

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A long 445mm rear centre takes some coaxing around tight turns, but loves the open and fast ones.

Climbing: We know that the suspension works well, especially with hard impacts, but what about when climbing? The FOX Float shock is a long way away down there, reaching for the lockout lever takes more time and effort, so we ended up climbing all but tarmac in ‘trail mode’. Switch the FOX lever over to climb mode only for the tarmac, it almost locks out completely.

When you jump out of the saddle and crank down on the pedals the Sensor lunges forward, rewarding your effort. The AOS design does a good job of resisting compression from your downward force and torque on the chain. This makes it an excellent out of the saddle climber, with an aggressive approach it ascends super fast.

Spinning away up a climb in the saddle you’ll feel the cranks shifting forward and backwards with the suspension compression, a little off-putting at first but quickly forgotten. That’s just the AOS doing its thing.


Verdict

The GT Sensor is a prodigious bike that relishes hard riding. Where many bikes sacrifice robustness, the Sensor manages to keep its weight down to 13kg but still feels so solid beneath you. But it certainly isn’t a peppy and agile trail bike, so if you’re a lighter or gentle rider you may find it a bit heavy to get going.

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Out of the box the Sensor is specced ready to ride, we didn’t feel the need to change any parts at all, the value for money is pretty good too. And our inner old-school GT fan relished in the moment riding the Sensor.

Tested: Cannondale Slate CX1

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Hello, you freaky weird machine.

What is it and who is it for?

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Upon reflection, we love this bike.

The Slate is a… ummm…. gravel bike? Road-ish bike?… An almost CX bike? A mountain bike with drop bars? If you really want to break it down, the Slate takes its bars and slick tyres from the road world. It has the groupset and brakes you’d expect to find on a CX bike, but its wheel size means you can’t race it. The tyres are a broad 42mm like you’d usually find on a gravel grinder, but the wheels are a 650B diameter, a size that you’d normally associate with a mountain bike. Oh, and it has a Lefty with 30mm travel too.

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Great graphics and classic Cannondale frame finish quality.

So does this make the Slate a jack of all trades, or is it paralysed by indecision on all fronts? Or should we just shut the hell up, forget trying to pigeon hole it, and ride the damn thing?

If you really want us to come up with a label, we’d say the Slate is… a… shit load of fun. We rode this bike on everything from CX bunch rides, to 120km gravel and tarmac adventures, to punchy road training rides and a bit of singletrack too.


Frame and build

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Internal cables and smooth finished welds.

The Slate frame obviously stems from Cannondale’s venerable CAAD series road bikes, especially now that they also come in a disc braked version. The aluminium frame is lively, you can feel how thin and lightweight the tubes are just by giving them a gentle squeeze. (Not too hard!) The sleek anodised black finish is made even more slippery with those classic smooth-finished welds that have long been a hallmark of Cannondale alloy frames.

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The chunky axle just looks out of place.

Starting out back, the Slate’s 142x12mm rear axle setup is a bit ho-hum. Full marks for embracing the 142mm standard on this kind of bike, but this particular axle feels and looks clunky in comparison to the rest of the build.

While the big volume of the tyres will do most of the comfort enhancing, the chain stays and seat stays get Cannondale SAVE treatment and are flattened out to provide you a bit of give, and the 27.2mm post has a bit of flex about it too. Bung in a carbon post and you’ll have even more compliance. We’re happy to see there’s decent amounts of tyre clearance, so adding something with some side knobs is do-able.

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The Hologram SI cranks are very light, but our BB30 bottom bracket was a bit noisy when hammering out of the saddle.

Having a single ring drivetrain and losing all the faff normally associated with a front derailleur instantly makes a bike look cleaner, and Cannondale do a fine job of internally routing the gear and brake lines too. We did hear a tiny bit of cable rattle from the brake line inside the frame, but jamming a bit of foam in there will alleviate it.

Like a lot of Cannondales, the Slate gets a BB30. Unfortunately, ours developed an annoying ‘click’ after a few rides that would rear its irritating head on every left-hand pedal stroke when climbing out of the saddle. We didn’t have the tools handy to pull the whole assembly apart, and not many home mechanics would either.

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With the spacers atop the stem, the riding position wasn’t too upright for the road, but still felt great for our shorter test rider on the gravel and dirt too.

Even with the Lefty Oliver strut, the Slate’s riding position can be made relatively aggressive up front. With all the spacers removed, we were able to get the low enough that we didn’t feel at all awkward and upright on the road, with plenty of weight over the front wheel when cornering. If you’re going to be spending more time on the dirt, there’s enough steerer tube there to give you a more of an upright mountain bike-ish position if that’s what you prefer.


The Oliver

If there’s one element of this bike that really sets it apart from other gravel grinder style bikes, it’s the Lefty Oliver. Deriving its name from the fact it allows you to ride ‘All Over’, it has all the usual air spring and rebound adjustability and lockout stuff you’d find on any other Lefty, just chopped down to 30mm of travel.

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Not your average looking front end!

If you’re going to spend the vast majority of your time on the tarmac, then you could argue the Oliver is overkill, but as soon as the roads get rough or you hit the dirt, then the Oliver gives this bike a real edge. 30mm isn’t a lot of travel, but when you pair it up with the extra cushion of the big rubber you’ve suddenly got the ability to hammer, steer and brake where you’d simply be hanging on on a rigid gravel bike.

When you’re on the bitumen, you can hit the lockout too, so really the only penalty is the weight. Worth noting, is that if you’re on a smaller frame, or you’ve just got long legs, you might find yourself occasionally brushing your knee against the top of the Lefty.

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All the bits

CX1: If you’re approaching this bike from a road background, you might be irked by the idea of a 1×11 drivetrain, but it’s really one of this bike’s standout elements. A 44 tooth Spidering, with a SRAM X1 10-42 cassette gives you a huge spread. We never found ourselves wishing for more gears, at either end of the range! The jump when shifting between the two highest gears – going from a 13-tooth to a 10-tooth – is a large one, though you only ever really need the 10-tooth once you’re above 50km/h.

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A 44-tooth narrow/wide Spidering.

Cannondale have specced a petite chain guide too, and while we’d be happy enough running the bike without it (we don’t use a chain guide on other CX1 equipped bikes) it’s good to have the peace of mind especially if you’re off road.

Brakes: SRAM’s Force Hydro brakes with a 160/140mm rotor combo always had enough grunt. The rear caliper uses the new flat-mount standard, which looks super clean, but we found a bit fiddly to stop the brake dragging. As we’ve noted above, having so much rubber, especially when you’re on the road, lets you make the most of the brakes’ power.

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Big hoods give you plenty to hang onto!

Great contact points: We really like the Fabic Scoop saddle, it’s comfy whether you’re on the hoods or the drops, and the Cannondale branded bar tape is quite thick for a bit of cushion as well. The tough metal expanding bar plugs are a nice touch too.

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Fabric saddles are fast becoming a favourite at Flow.

Rolling gear: Cannondale’s own purple sealed-bearing hubs awaken the 90s revivalist in us, and while the rims are pretty bland looking they are tubeless ready. The tyres are made by Panaracer for Cannondale – they’re a proper 42mm wide, and tubeless compatible. They’re definitely designed for more on-road use than the dirt; there are no cornering knobs, and the sidewalls didn’t take long to show some signs of wear after a few rides on rockier terrain, which led to bit of air seepage. If you’re looking to spend serious time on the dirt and gravel, some tyres that are better suited are going to be your first upgrade, but if you’re on road solely they’re excellent.


Ride

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So, where does the Slate call home? We first began reviewing this bike right around the time we interviewed Jeremiah Boobar from Cannondale. His advice was ‘ride it everywhere you’d normally take your road bike.’ While you’re never going to win a criterium on this thing, it’s on-road performance is actually pretty decent, and for the average roadie or commuter racer, it’s really a good solution.

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Weee!

The diameter of the 650B wheels with 42mm rubber is only marginally smaller than a 700c rim with a 25c tyre, so it trundles along well. But, of course, you’ve got a lot more rubber on the road which means better braking and more grip overall. The kind of insignificant crap that can so easily spell disaster on roadie (like a cats eye, a grate, or a stick on the road) don’t present the same risks when you’ve got all this grip.

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If you’re thinking the big rubber means it’ll be a pig, you’ll be disappointed – it’s pretty quick! We surprised ourselves by setting some of our fastest Strava times on road segments that we’ve ridden dozens of times on ‘proper’ road bikes, an we rarely even bothered to hit the Lefty lock out. You’d probably get some evil looks from the well-groomed roadie folk if you turned up for a bunch ride on the Slate, but we doubt you’d get dropped in a hurry. And you’d definitely be able to huck more speed bumps.

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When the road turns to gravel or dirt, the Slate is only held back by its tyres. You can drop the pressures down in the 35psi range to get some more grip, but this bike is begging for something with cornering bite and some more climbing traction to make the most of its abilities and low gearing.

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At this stage, there aren’t a huge number of tyres in 650B diameter and a 40-45c width, but that’s changing. Schwalbe’s G-One, the Rock ‘n’ Road by Panaracer and the new Maxis Rambler (coming in a 650b soon) are all options, amongst others. Still, at this stage it’s unlikely you’ll be able to walk into a store and have many tyre options at your fingertips for some time yet.

In all other respects, the Slate is pretty much ideal for getting out onto country dirt roads where you’re not sure what you’re going to encounter. The riding position is really secure – even if you’re up on the hoods, the big reservior of the Force brake levers gives you plenty to hold onto, so you can barrel into things knowing you won’t blow your hands off the bars.

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Overall

It’s kind of hard to wrap this one up, because there’s just not a lot out there to compare the Slate to! As a road bike, the Slate makes a huge amount of sense to anyone who’s coming from a mountain bike background – the idea of big rubber at lower pressure, disc brakes and bolt-up axles just makes sense. It’s not even that heavy, maybe a kilo more than most roadies. If you’re a gravel rider, get some grippier tyres on this bike and you’ll be in love. If you think this bike is an answer to a question nobody asked, then clearly we’ve all been asking the wrong questions.

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Flow’s First Bite: Giro Montaro MIPS Helmet

This ain’t your average brain bucket, this sturdy helmet feels super-solid in your hands and has a deep fit with loads of coverage around the rear and sides of your head. There’s a removable mount for your camera or light, provisions for goggles with rubberised vents around the rear to grip the straps and the visor lifts all the way up for resting goggles off your face and onto the helmet. It ticks all the boxes in classic Giro style.

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Weight is up there at 375g for a medium. The TLD A1 is 350g and the Specialized Ambush weighs in at 240g. The Scott Stego with MIPS comes in at 340g and POC Trabec MIPS is also 350g. It’s certainly no featherweight.

All Montaro helmets are MIPS equipped, a system in-built into the helmet for added protection. MIPS is a plastic liner that helps reduce rotational forces transferred to you in the incident of impact.

The new Roc Loc Air retention system is adjustable with just one hand via small dial, and the visor is adjustable too. The straps and retention system are all very minimal, and should breathe well.

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There’s three colours coming to Australia, Matte/Gloss/Black pictured above. And a Matte/Blue/Lime and Matte/Flame/White/Titanium pictured below.

We’re big fans of Giro helmets, so we’ll be running this number a lot on the trails with confidence.


Features

P.O.V. Plus visor adjustment

Hydrophilic,anti-microbial padding

Full camera mount integration

Full goggle integration with strap grippers

MIPS equipped

Construction

Full wrap in-mold, In-mold polycarbonate shell with EPS liner, Roll-cage reinforcement

Fit System

Roc Loc® Air

Ventilation

16 vents with internal channeling


More on MIPS 

Tested: Öhlins RXF 34 Fork

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Öhlins haven’t rushed into the market open slather though, instead they’ve strategically partnered up with Specialized; initially it was their TTX coil shock that found its way onto the Specialized Demo, then the STX22 air shock graced the S-Works Enduro. In terms of forks, they have released a cartridge damper for the FOX 40, but up until now they hadn’t produced a complete fork. But here comes the RXF34 fork, which a 29er only item (at this stage) and comes in three travel variants,  designed specifically for the Specialized Camber (120mm), Stumpjumper (140mm) and the Enduro (160mm).

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We had the Camber Expert Carbon 29 on test recently and by a stroke of luck the Öhlins fork became available, so on it went, allowing us a great opportunity to directly compare the stock FOX 34 fork and the Öhlins.

See our review of the bike here – Camber Expert Carbon 29 tested.


Chassis construction.

Before we even delve into its guts, the Öhlins  has some unique construction features. Most obviously, the Unicrown, which means the steerer tube and crown are all one piece of aluminium, rather than having the steerer pressed/bonded into the crown. This setup promises more stiffness than a British upper lip and should deliver creak-free performance. The steerer is machined to integrate perfectly with the lower bearing used in Specialized’s headset, so there’s no need for a crown race. This confused the hell out of us when installing the fork at first! If your bike uses a different headset, at worst you’ll need to source a new lower headset cup/bearing to run the Öhlins fork. One downside of this arrangement is the absence of any rubber sealing to keep the crud away from the bearing, so using plenty of grease on installation is a good idea.

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Öhlins  claim the Unicrown makes the RXF 34, with its 34mm legs, is as stiff as the competition’s 36mm-legged forks. It’s a trail fork, not an XC fork, so it’s more of a welterweight on the scales. We clocked it at 2.07kg with an uncut steerer, which makes it around 200g heavier than the FOX 34 Performance fork originally fitted to the Camber. Interestingly, it’s actually a pretty similar weight to a FOX 36 Factory 29er fork too, so even though the RXF uses 34mm legs there’s no real weight saving benefit in doing so._LOW0061

If you’re a fan of clean lines, you’ll appreciate the RXF’s 15mm axle system. It requires the use of a 5mm Allen key for removal/installation, but it sits flush with the fork legs, which looks great. The Camber has a similarly neat rear axle system too, and with the RXF fitted it all looked nicely matched front and rear. For now the RXF has standard 100mm dropout spacing, there’s no Boost 110mm version yet.
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We’re not opposed to having to use an Allen key to remove the axle, and we like the stiffness of this setup, but we did find it was a bit of a pain to remove as the pinch bolts don’t fully release the axle and there’s nothing to grip when you’re pulling the smooth and slippery axle out of the fork.


Internals and adjustments.

The guts of the Öhlins RXF34 borrow from the company’s motorcross technology, with a TTX twin tube damper. In this configuration, the damping oil is under less pressure than a standard single-tube damper, which Ohlins claims allows for better sensitivity amongst other things. External damping adjustments include a five position high-speed compression dial, and low-speed compression and rebound, both of which have a huge adjustment range. If we had any concerns about this fork’s build, it was the compression adjuster assembly, which felt pretty loose and rattly compared to the likes of FOX or DVO. The adjuster dials work well, but they don’t feel as high quality as the rest of the fork._LOW0045_LOW0044

We found the range of low-speed compression adjustment to be very subtle, there’s not a huge difference between either extreme of the range. Conversely, the high-speed adjuster has a marked effect. Turning the dial to its firmest setting dramatically stiffens the fork, making it almost usable as a quasi on-the-fly pedalling platform.

Like many high-end forks, the RXF gives you control over the spring curve. Other brands, like the RockShox Pike for example, achieve this with spacers or ‘tokens’, but the RXF uses a third Ramp Up Chamber to give you this control. The main air spring determines your positive and negative air pressure, but the second valve on the bottom of the fork leg determines the progressiveness of the fork’s spring curve. We followed the recommend pressures from Ohlins for the main chamber (95psi), then opted to run the pressure to Ramp Up Chamber a little higher than recommended setting for our weight (150psi) to give the fork a nice progressive feel under big hits. The Ramp Up Chamber system is a winner, it’s a much more user friendly system than the spacers or tokens in FOX or RockShox forks, and it makes a noticeable difference with only small adjustments.


On the trail.

What was most appreciable about this fork on the trail was how incredibly and immediately smooth it was. Even before we’d done enough riding to properly break in the bushings and seals, the suppleness and responsiveness was perfect, the slightest murmur on the trail was enough to get the fork moving. As we’ve noted above, the low-speed compression adjustment is fairly unobtrusive, so we ran the adjuster about two-thirds of the way in to better match the supportive feel of the Camber’s Brain equipped rear suspension.

We rode the Öhlins pretty hard, and certainly noticed how well it’d hold itself up in the travel, resisting diving and wallowing. Descended with the front brake on and ploughing the front wheel through braking ruts left us impressed with the fork’s damping.

The progressiveness of the fork’s travel is a real highlight, we were able to tune the fork to our liking using the Ramp Up Chamber, resulting in a very useable 120mm of travel without harsh bottom-outs.

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In a perfect world, we’d loved to have tested this fork in a longer travel version on a Stumpjumper or Enduro. At 120mm-travel it’s harder to get a real appreciation of what a fork’s capabilities truly are – travel and geometry start to hold you back a bit before you can really put the fork through its paces. Still, that said, if you only have 120mm of travel available, then you want it to be working for you to the highest possible standards, and the RXF certainly does so._LOW1539

As it stands, we’d have no issue with saying that the RXF 34 performs at the same level (or even higher) as the very best, perfectly maintained 120mm forks we’ve ever ridden (including the Pike RCT3 and the FOX 34 Factory FIT4), but with the added bonus of having a more easily tuneable air spring and crown assembly that should stay silent and stiff forever.


Verdict.

The RXF 34 is just what you’d expect from a company such as Öhlins; a true performer that places real performance benefits ahead of flashy stickers, acronyms or fads. It’s not going to revolutionise the world of mountain bike forks, but it does serve notice to the dominant brands that they’d better stay on their toes and keep agile, because the Swedes are coming, and what they do, they do right._LOW0049

Tested: Polygon Collosus DH9 2016

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Lobbing on into a slippery chute. We were happy to have some of Schwalbe’s softest rubber on board!

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Shuttles the Indo way. We had the track to ourselves for a fantastic day of riding.

What is it and who is it for?

Since Polygon and the UR Team joined forces, we’ve seen a number of different prototypes of this bike doing the rounds at World Cups and the like over the past three years. Not long ago we chatted with Mick Hannah and he was full of praise for the Polygon product team and their receptiveness to his feedback – the bike you see here now is the end result of that dialogue. While this is a downhill race bike at its heart, it’s also a serious freeride beast – Kurt Sorge hucked and flipped his DH9 to victory in the 2015 Red Bull Rampage, so don’t pigeonhole it.

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It’s a sharp looker. Polygon have worked hard on their graphics, and the new range certainly doesn’t look or feel ‘budget’.

Back in 2014 we reviewed this bike’s predecessor too (you can check out the full write up here) and it’s fair to say the new DH9 is a much more refined machine. It still uses the same basic frame and suspension architecture, but it has been improved in just about every regard, especially the geometry and suspension rate.

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Syamsu is one of the core crew at Polygon, a super passionate rider and local racer.

It’s amongst the weekend downhill warriors and occasional racers that this bike is really going to resonate, in part, it must be said, because the pricing is so damn good. For $5499 it offers truly pro-level spec at second-tier pricing; it’s dripping with the finest components, and you’ll still have enough cash left over to take a couple of weekends at Thredbo.

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The FOX DHX2 shock is slung low, putting it in firing line for crud from the rear wheel.

Of course, this pricing is achievable because the bike is sold direct to the consumer and is delivered requiring some assembly. At this price point, that’s something we feel pretty comfortable with – we’d argue that a person buying this style of bike for this kind of money will generally have fairly sound knowledge about bike mechanics. The other downside is that this sales model makes it hard to secure a test ride before you buy, but Australian distributor Bicycles Online offer a no-questions-asked 14 day ‘test ride’ period. If you don’t like the bike after two weeks, they’ll refund your cash and pick the bike up at no cost to you.

The frame:

Polygon have gone for carbon out back, with alloy up front. While they’re not going to rule out a full carbon frame in the future, for now they feel the minimal weight savings they could achieve through a carbon front end don’t justify the increased costs, which would ultimately raise this bike’s unbelievable ticket price. Polygon also have some of the finest aluminium manufacturing facilities in the business, so we can appreciate that they’re eager to keep the construction in-house where possible. Having a lightweight carbon rear end does aid in suspension performance too, reducing the unsprung mass for more suspension sensitivity.

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Carbon out back, alloy up front, with a fantastic shock in between.

The two halves come together via the FS2 suspension linkage, which is a dual-link design that has variants throughout the Polygon dual suspension range. 203mm of travel (eight inches for the heathens) is dished out via a FOX DHX2 Factory shock (thumbs up for the colour matching of frame colour and shock spring, you tarts). Thanks to the location of the shock’s adjusters on the reservoir, it’s easy to make adjustments, and with independent low/high speed compression and rebound clickers, there’s plenty of tweaking to be done.

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The internal cables exit in front of the bottom bracket shell. It’s a simple, easily-maintained approach to internal routing.

Both gear and brake lines are routed internally through the mainframe, but unlike many bikes, it’s not a fiddly, mechanic’s nightmare; the lines enter neatly alongside the head tube and both emerge from a generous window in front of the bottom bracket shell, so there’s no fishing about trying to thread lines through tiny little cable ports. Another win for practicality is the use of a threaded 83mm bottom bracket, rather than a pressfit arrangement. Hooray!

There is some geometry adjustability incorporated into the frame, which Polygon says also allows the use of 26-inch wheels. While the completed bike is sold with 650B wheels, it’s also available as a frameset, and so Polygon give the 26-inch diehards some love with a reversible chip at the shock mount that slackens the bike’s angles a smidgen to better work with smaller diameter wheels. Before you mock this idea, it’s worth noting that Kurt Sorge does exactly that, preferring the strength and manoeuvrability of the little wheels for his riding. So there.

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650B or 26″ wheels, you choose. The UR Team obviously run 650B, but Kurt Sorge prefers 26″.

The suspension:

Polygon’s FS2 system has undergone a real revision since we last tested a Polygon downhill bike. We previously criticised the older DHX for having excessive pedal feedback, and Polygon have addressed this with the new DH9. There’s now considerably less chain growth in the early stages of the suspension stroke. The bike still has a rearward axle path in the initial travel to help it carry momentum (a bit of a must for a downhill bike we think) but it’s less pronounced than in year’s past. Pedalling performance out of corners is still one of this bike’s real highlights, and on the typically flatter courses of Australia that’s a big tick.

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Access to the shock’s damping adjustment is easy. The whole frame has a roomy look and feel to it too, that should shed mud easily.

Our medium-sized test bike came with a 350lb spring, which Polygon says is ideal for a 75kg rider. With our test rider weighing barely 65kg in full kit, we probably should have knocked the spring rate down by 50lbs to get a little more sag. Having said that, even with the 350lb spring we did still bottom out on a few occasions, seeing us reach for the high-speed compressions adjuster after a couple of runs. Interestingly, the Polygon UR team are often seen running BOS air shocks in their bikes, which would introduce some more progression into the end-stroke and help resist bottoming out.

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The linkages are machined out extensively to shave grams.

Setup:

In the complex arena of downhill suspension, we actually found the DH9 pretty easy to get come to grips with. This was our first experience with the FOX 40 Float Factory fork and it just rocked our world. Our initial setup was a little soft (around 45-50psi) and the front end became hung-up too easily on repeated roots. Upping the pressure to 55-57psi made all the difference, keeping us riding high, with more confidence to chuck the bike into corners or blind chutes.

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Easy setup and sensational performance, the air-sprung FOX Float 40.

The four clickers of the rear suspension took some more work to get sorted; the DHX2 shock is superbly sensitive, and just a click or two of any adjuster has a marked impact on the bike’s performance. This can work be a blessing or a curse, as it makes it easier to appreciate the effect of each adjustment, but it also means you can end up with a setting that’s not in the ballpark for your weight or riding style with only a few errant tweaks.  We ran minimal amounts of low-speed compression adjustment, but we found ourselves quite reliant on the high-speed compression clicker to keep the rear end matched to the fork’s stable performance under big hits.

The Parts:

We know a bike is much more than the sum of its components, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the DH9’s spec. The fork and shock, as discussed above, are truly top drawer, and quality suspension is unarguably the most important element for any serious race bike.

Shimano’s Saint groupset is used throughout, with the exclusion of the hubs, those come from e13. It’s bombproof stuff with a reputation for consistency – read our full review of the Saint grouppo here. The brakes and shift quality are superb, but it’s not nearly as quiet running as SRAM’s new X01 DH drivetrain we’d have to say, and we were quite surprised by the level of drivetrain noise. Still, a bit of chain rattle is no big deal.

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The E13 chain guide uses rubberised inserts, and the chain stay has extensive chain slap protection, to quieten things down. But the Shimano drivetrain isn’t as silent as we’d have liked.

The e13 LG1R wheelset is light and tight, at a claimed weight of sub 1900g. These wheels are seriously stiff, and they provide plenty of support to allow the Schwalbe Magic Mary rubber to do its thing, angrily tearing at whatever trail surface you roll them across. They are superb tyre, just don’t expect a long life out of the rear tread if your trails are rocky.

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There’s good reason these treads are called Magic Mary. They conjure up grip where it shouldn’t exist.

If we had to find something to gripe about, it would be the Kore seat post, which made it a pain to adjust the seat angle.

The Ride:

A good downhill bike needs to strike a balance between isolation and engagement, and that’s something we feel the DH9 does really well. It’s got enough bulldozer in it for just about any situation, but even a lightweight pilot like our test rider doesn’t feel like a passenger.

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Pacet is all lovely loam up top, with icy red clay down the bottom.

It’s partly a product of the bike’s low weight, in the mid-16kg range, which makes it simple to place where you want it. The wheels aren’t overly heavy either, helping it all to ‘ride light’, and the insanely fast and positive engagement on the rear hub means every stab at the pedals out of a corner tops your speed up instantly.

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This corner was just too inviting not to huck into!

Input from some of the fastest riders on the planet has ensured that the Polygon’s angles have evolved to be in line with the fastest bikes out there, whereas in the past we’d found it a tad upright and steep. The 63 degree head angle is pretty much standard now, and a wheebase of 1204mm in a size medium is on trend too. By way of comparison, it’s measurements are pretty much identical to a Trek Session, and a smidgen shorter than a Giant Glory, both of which are its logical opposition. Other brands, however, are starting to push the reach measurements a bit further and maybe it’s that we’ve become accustomed to the ever longer reach measurements on modern Enduro bikes, but we’d be tempted to jump up to a size large if this were our own bike.

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The FOX 40 leads the charge ferociously when it gets rough, but we’d still place the bike as more playful than plough-ful in the arena of downhill bikes. Maybe a size large with its additional wheelbase would be more at home when heading down the fall-line. Dropping 50lbs in spring weight to get the correct sag would definitely have helped too, encouraging the rear to settle in a bit more.

We can see why Kurt Sorge gets along with this bike so well too, as it’s an awesome bike to jump. The chain stays are a healthy 441mm, but this doesn’t dampen the DH9’s willingness to get off the ground. Again, a low weight and light wheels helps, but the suspension offers good support in the first part of the stroke, which is key to getting the most out of a lip.

Overall:

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The DH9 is a shining example of what can be done when a company truly listens to the input of their sponsored riders, and doesn’t just teach them the marketing spiel. Polygon have created a seriously good downhill bike here, and they’ve done it at a price that no one can touch right now. If the direct to consumer model feels ok for you, then we think you’d be silly not to put the DH9 on the shortlist when you’re looking for your next downhill bike.

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano XT M8020 Wheels

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A wider rim brings the new XT M8020 wheels closer into line with its competition, in terms of rim width.

The 27.5″ M8020 wheels we’ve got on test come from the ‘Trail’ line of XT components (most XT components are available in either Race or Trail variants), so they’re built tough and the design is quite a departure from XT wheels we’ve ridden in the past. If you’re a 29er rider, never fear, they come in a ‘size large’ too. Like all Shimano’s high-end wheels, these guys are hand built from start to finish.

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The rim has a tubeless tape now, rather than using a UST-style sealed rim bed.

First up, the M8020 rims get a welcome increase in width. They now measure up at 24mm internally, which should afford more stability to big tyres run at lower pressures. 24mm still puts them on the narrow end of the spectrum for a trail-specific wheelset, but it’s a good improvement over previous versions. The rim is offset too, which allows for more even spoke tensions between the drive and non-drive side spokes, ultimately making for a stronger wheel.

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Cup and cone bearings with a sturdy steel freehub body.

Previous versions of the XT wheels had a sealed rim bed, which required the use of a funky, threaded, screw-in spoke nipple, but this has been abandoned in favour of a tubeless rim tape to seal the spoke holes. Moving to a more conventional arrangement like this allows the use of regular spoke nipples for repairs, plus the rim can be made lighter too.

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Straight pull spokes.

The hubs retain Shimano’s user-friendly cup and cone bearing system. It can serviced with just a couple of cone spanners and a lick of grease by most home mechanics. They’re not light hubs, but anyone who has tried to remove a cassette from a chewed up a lightweight alloy freehub body will happily accept a few extra grams associated with the steel freehub found on the XT wheels. We clocked the pair in at 1910g on the Flow dream-crusher scales.

We’ve mounted these wheels to our Trek Fuel EX 9.8 long-term test bike, and fitted them with a set of Bontrager SE3 tyres, which have the same tread pattern as the XR3 just with slightly tougher sidewalls. It should be a good combo, and we’re looking forward to asking them some lumpy questions on our rocky home trails.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Stan’s No Tubes ZTR Bravo Wheels

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Available in 26, 27.5 and 29″ in Team and Pro variants the ZTR Bravo is their new all mountain/trail/enduro wheelset with 28 spokes, low profile hookless sidewalls and an internal width of 26mm. By the sounds of it, they’ve applied the mantra – wider and stiffer isn’t always better.

Stan’s motivation behind the BST (Bead Socket Technology) low profile rim sidewalls with no bead hook is to help prevent pinch flats, as the tyre won’t fold inward as far when compared to a traditional hooked bead rim. There’s also the benefit of increased air volume which is a no-brainer.

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Low sidewalls with no bead hook.
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26mm internal width.
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The rims look significantly lower in profile than regular rims.
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The carbon is designed to absorb impacts for a faster rolling wheel.

Opting for a 26mm internal (32mm external) width for greater tyre support than a narrower rim, these aren’t wide as some of the new breed of ‘wide rims’ (Ibis 35mm, Specialized 30mm etc) claiming that there’s a point where wide becomes too wide.

The Bravo wheels also come with Stan’s new NEO hubs, a completely new hub for them, available in Shimano and SRAM freehubs.

Another interesting feature is what Stan’s calls ‘RiACT’ a certain compliance is built into the rims via a dedicated carbon layup, said to help absorb impacts on the trail for faster rolling. More on that in the video below.

NEO hubs, new from Stan's.
NEO hubs, new from Stan’s.

Pro – $2990 – Neo Ultimate hubs with 5° engagement and Sapim Custom Force triple-butted spokes.

Team – $2528 – Neo hubs with 10° engagement and Sapim Race double-butted spokes.

We’ll be fitting these to our Trek Remedy long term test bike for a thrashing, currently the Remedy is running on Shimano XTR Trail wheels, this should be a good comparison for sure. Stay tuned.

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Long-Term Test Update: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

The Remedy comes in two wheels sizes, we went for the 27.5 one, it sits in between the 120mm travel Fuel EX and 160mm travel Slash. A real all-rounder with a buttery smooth rear suspension and relaxed geometry, it’s the type of bike that strikes a good balance between long and short travel. Perfect for travelling in search of new trails, not afraid of the rougher trails, and still efficient enough to keep up with the cross country bandits.

Coincidentally it’s the same bike that National Enduro Champion Chris Panozzo rides, although his goes much faster. Check out his unique build and setup here: Panozzo bike check.

We’ve been tinkering and modifying the Remedy from its stock spec, with a current weight of 12.6kg let’s take a look at what’s been going on under the hood of the ‘Pine Lime Express’.

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Hauling on Delatite, Mt Buller.

Front Suspension: 

The FOX Float 36 fork with its beefy legs is an uncommon sight at only 140mm travel, typically we’d see this travel category dominated by the FOX 34, with the 36 found on 160-180mm travel bikes. Not a bad thong at all though, it’s one of the stiffest steering front ends around, you really can put your weight over the forks and push them so, so, so hard.

The fork’s sensitivity isn’t the greatest though, especially when the rear suspension is smoother than butter melted on a silk tablecloth. A known trade for bigger diameter legs is increased surface area which often translates to more stiction, and being a non-Kashima level the fork on this bike does feel a little wooden when compared to the FOX 34 we reviewed recently.

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With a couple Air Volume Spacers fitted helps the fork feel more progressive.

We’ve fitted two air reducers in the spring side to add progressiveness to the stroke, the little plastic spacers are easily fitted but not supplied with the bike, we sourced them from FOX and popped them in to tune to our liking.

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Full Floater, fully plush.

Rear Suspension: 

Anyone who’s spent time on the Trek suspension bikes that use the Full Floater linkage system will agree, it’s one of the most sensitive and supple designs out there. After many years of Trek’s tight relationship with FOX they’ve been able to achieve the desired air spring that makes these bikes really tick without the need for their now superseded DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) rear shocks, the new large volume EVOL air cans on 2016 FOX Float rear shocks is exceptional.

The Remedy’s rear suspension is a system that certainly does require you to use the blue lever on the shock to your benefit, not in a bad way at all, it’s just so plush if you leave it open for anything but the descents it feels a little soft underneath you. To it’s credit, Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv rear shock damper works so well in ‘trail mode’ that we spend most of our time in that middle setting, it’s still more sensitive to small impacts than your regular rear shock thanks to their unique damping system.

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Dwarfed by big mountains, Bright.

Shimano XTR and Di2:

The Remedy was lucky enough to be chosen for the ongoing review of Shimano’s super XTR Di2 electronic shifting and M9020 groupset. With the wheels and brakes also badged with the three letters that spell ‘oooooh, fancy’, the Trail series of XTR with its powerful brakes and wider rim wheels have been ridden hard.

There’s no doubt we’ll see more electronics in the future of mountain biking, Shimano are bound to trickle down the technology to lower price points like on the road cycling domain with Dura Ace and Ultegra, and SRAM mustn’t be far off with a mountain bike version of their wireless road cycling drivetrain, Red E-Tap. Electronics enable things to happen at speeds that are unachievable with hand, and wires can travel places gear cables cannot.

The shifting on this bike is exceptional, super precise and never have we needed to tune the gears, the battery lasts for months and on those trails where you are shifting gears under load nothing compares to the precision and consistency of XTR Di2.

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The Pine Lime Express, as we like to call it. Strikes a good balance between ‘trail’ and ‘all mountain’.
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Electrics, totally from the future.
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The wires travel inside the handlebar, tricky.

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While the Remedy doesn’t have any specific integration for the Di2 wires like some of the latest high end cross country bikes (Trek Top Fuel, Pivot Mach 4 etc) it’s turned out quite nicely. By using a couple of the rubber grommets and plugs that are supplied with the Trek road bikes specced with Di2 Ultegra or Dura Ace we’ve been able to make it look neat and secure.

One long wire travels from the rear derailleur through the chainstay and pops into view under the rear shock, then its back into the down tube where it exits alongside the rear brake and Reverb line before connecting to the computer. The battery is inside the fork steerer, made possible by the Pro Tharsis Di2 bar and stem.

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At home on Sydney’s iconic sandstone.

PRO Tharsis Trail Di2 cockpit: 

Nothing is neater than Di2 with internal wiring, and with Shimano’s component line working so close with Shimano on the dedicated cockpit, the result is the cleanest bike possible.

Click here to read our full review of the Tharsis Trail gear.

The Tharsis bar and stem take the Di2 to the next level, providing internal routing of the wire in through the bar and the battery inside the fork’s steer tube.

The bars were trimmed down from a whopping 800mm wide to 760mm.

C’mon that’s pretty darn neat, right?
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The wires travel into the stem and inside the bars.

Schwalbe Procore:

Schwalbe have successfully produced a very effective dual air chamber system for your wheels, in an effort to increase traction while reducing wheel damage and risk of flat tyres.

While it added 420g to the existing tubeless setup we had already, it’s been a super interesting test of an impressive product. We’ve been running between 10-14psi in the outer chamber and 75 in the inner chamber with great results.

We talk about Procore a lot, discussing its strengths and weaknesses, what bike it suits and what type of rider it will appeal to most. We’ll be delivering our conclusion soon!

Read our initial impressions and installation log here: Schwalbe Procore.

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The inner core of the Procore system, with 85 psi.
Finding traction in the loam of Derby.
Finding traction in the loam of Derby.
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The special valve can select and inflate the two air chambers by switching between them.
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It makes for a heavier wheel, but it has serious appeal and benefit.

Absolute Black Oval Chainring:

With an in depth review coming to Flow shortly, we’ve fitted Absolute Black Oval rings to both our Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 and the Remedy.

It’s odd to ride at first, with a slightly lumpy feeling pedal stroke that is quickly forgotten about during the ride, but with more oval rings becoming popular, the benefits in the theory were worth exploring.

The chainring uses a narrow/wide tooth profile, and it’s all very secure, no dropped chains at all. But the XTR cranks don’t exactly match the black chainring so it’d better be worth it, or it won’t be on for long.

The word from Oval is: “Our Oval chainrings work because a rider does not produce power evenly through a pedal stroke; they maximise the part of the stroke where power is produced and minimise resistance where it isn’t. Oval rings make the spin cycle a lot smoother and are easier on legs while climbing. Believe it (or not), but a round chainring doesn’t transfer torque to your rear wheel as smoothly as an Oval one. You will actually feel your stroke to be more “round” with an Oval shape than with a round chainring.” – Oval.

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Chilling in the green room, Derby.

Ergon GE1 Slim Grips:

Left and right specific, and angled towards the edge to give your hands the best position for wider handlebars, the GE1 Slim Grip from Ergon is a real favourite here.

And the colours match.

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Stay tuned for more sightings of this great bike on Australia’s latest and greatest trails for many more months to come.

 

Tested: Norco Revolver 9.2 FS

On the other hand, if you’ve been conscious and paying attention for the past little while, you’d have been witness to an amazing transformation from Norco that has led to them producing one of the most cohesive and polished ranges on the market today, including this stunning cross-country machine you see here.


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What is it, and who is it for?

The Norco Revolver FS, first spotted a year ago at Sea Otter, is a dedicated cross-country flier. It’s everything you need to dominate a marathon race or XCO, and nothing you don’t.

It’s available in both 29er and 27.5″ formats, and we’ve got the bigger-wheeled version on test. A lightweight full-carbon frame houses 100mm of race-tuned travel with firm lockouts at both ends, and the geometry is all about motoring up the climbs and flicking you through speedy singletrack. The absence of a dropper post, coupled with the lightweight RockShox SID fork and narrow, quick-rolling tyres is a polite reminder of this bike’s boundaries. If you’re after a play bike, this ain’t it, unless you make some modifications.

The best looking Norco yet?
The best looking Norco yet?

The price point, at a bit over five grand, places it within reach of many keen racers. It’s not an elite-level race bike (there’s a $9999 XX1 and RockShox RS-1 equipped version for that) but if you’ve got visions of finishing towards the pointy end, then the Revolver can take you there.


The frame

When we first pointed a camera at the Revolver, we got some unholy kinds of feelings. It’s a freaking stunner, with a silky paint job and great lines that are well-preserved by the internal cable routing, carbon from tip to toe, including the linkage, and claimed frame weights are around the two-kilo mark (the complete bike is 11kg). The suspension configuration is kind of inverted from the standard Norco setup, which leaves loads of room in the front triangle for a water bottle, and there’s a second bottle mount under the down tube too, which will keep the marathon crew happy and watered. The other benefit of this configuration is that you can get at the shock’s lockout lever easily too.

Norco’s Gizmo internal cable system is really neat, and there are spare ports to allow you to run a dropper post too. You won’t be adding a front derailleur to this bike however, as it’s single ring only, but that’s the way we like it.

Bottle mounts on both sides of the down tube.
Bottle mounts on both sides of the down tube.

For such a race bike, the rear end has a burliness that is appreciated, if unexpected. The swing-link is a robust hunk of carbon, the pivots are sturdy with big axles, and overall the rear end is very stiff. It all makes for great power transfer, though the fork is left feeling pretty limp in comparison to the rigidity out back.

As with other Norco’s bigger frame sizes don’t just get longer up front, but the rear-centre measurement increases too. In a size medium like our test bike, the rear end is 439mm, whereas in an XL is 444mm.

The suspension layout is a little different to most Norco duallies.
The suspension layout is a little different to most Norco duallies.

The suspension

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The shock’s location makes it easy to hit the lockout on the fly. Check out how stout that seat stay / linkage junction is too.

Norco employ their ART suspension system throughout their whole range. It’s a tried and tested four-bar linkage, which Norco tweak extensively across the range. Comparing the Revolver with, say, the Sight C7.2 we recently reviewed, it’s easy to see the big differences in the suspension layout. On the Revolver, the axle path has less of a rearward path, leading to less pedal feedback when putting down the power, which is what you spend a lot of time doing on an XC race bike. Overall the 100mm of suspension travel is quite firm, especially as you move towards the end of the travel where it ramps up in a pretty pronounced way.

The dropout pivot is only marginally below the axle, leading to a more vertical wheel path than longer travel Norcos.
The dropout pivot is only marginally below the axle, leading to a more vertical wheel path than longer travel Norcos.

 Component report

Lightweight fork: Its weight figures would make Kate Moss pout, but the RockShox SID RL has some limitations. As we noted above, the stiffness of the rest of the bike makes the fork feel a bit undergunned in rougher trails. It’s well matched to the rear end in terms of the suspension action however, and the Solo Air spring is easy to set up. We can’t help but feel the SID platform is due for a refresh.

The RockShox SID RL is a real cross-country fork, all about keeping things lean.
The RockShox SID RL is a real cross-country fork, all about keeping things lean.

New-school cockpit: For what is essentially a race bike, Norco have gone with a pretty progressive cockpit setup, running a 740mm bar. The 70mm stem is a welcome change from the 90mm fishing rods that would’ve been specced on this kind of bike in the past.

Bullet-proof XT: Shimano’s butt-whipping XT drivetrain and brakes are the kind of components you’ll never have to think about. On our test bike, the 1×11 drivetrain was matched to a set of Raceface cranks but production bikes have XT cranks too. The braking and shifting is perfect.

Rims and tyres are future upgrades: The rims of DT’s X1900 wheelset are a narrow 21mm, out of place amongst the trend towards wider hoops. Something wider to offer a bit more support to the tyres would be ideal. As it stands, the Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads are pretty nervous – they’re the basic Performance version, and the side knobs are a firm compound that don’t inspire much confidence in fast corners. A tread with a stiffer sidewall and a stickier compound might add a couple of hundred grams to the bike, but it’s a tradeoff we’d be happy to live with.

Schwalbe's Performance level Racing Ralphs don't set our world on fire.
Schwalbe’s Performance level Racing Ralphs don’t set our world on fire.

Setup

The Revolver is an easy bike to get the most out of. First up, we went tubeless – the rims are taped and ready to roll. The tyres aren’t the best for tubeless use to be honest (the sidewalls leak a bit we found – another reason to swap them out when they’re worn) and we ran the tyre pressures a little higher than usual, to compensate for the narrow rims and lightweight construction.

No remote lockout levers to be seen. Clean as a freshly cleaned whistle.
No remote lockout levers to be seen. Clean as a freshly cleaned whistle.

Suspension-wise, the 90psi recommended by the pressure chart on the SID was perfect for our 63kg test rider, and the sag markings on the rear shock made it easy to dial in just over 25% sag (around 135psi).

After a bit of twiddling we set the suspension rebound one click faster at both front and rear than we’d generally opt for, which helped keep the suspension lively. With the suspension slowed down, the overall firm feel means the Revolver can easily start to feel a bit dull on the trail, and no one wants to ride a wet blanket.


Ride

The Revolver is a stealthy achiever. On a number of our test rides we were pleasantly surprised to see that our climbing times were right up there with our fastest ever efforts, but without feeling like we’d been really going for it. This is of course what you want in a cross-country race bike – it should make the climbs feel easier and shorter. Power delivery is superb, with the unobtrusive suspension letting you keep on the gas when it’s rough, and the stiff frame ensuring all your effort is fed directly into dropping your mates.

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It’s a stealthy ride in other regards too, with barely a whisper coming from the bike on the trails. The cables don’t rattle in the frame, and the suspension operates in almost total silence. Again, useful for launching surprise overtaking manoeuvres  on your mates right before the singletrack starts.

Descending, like on many cross country bikes, is smoothest when you keep it all rolling. Keep those 29″ wheels up to speed and it’ll silently gobble up the kind of terrain that you’ll find on most cr0ss-country race tracks, with the wide cockpit giving everything good stability. On technical slow speed descents, or when hard on the brakes, the twist in the fork is more apparent and the Revolver doesn’t feel as confident.

The Norco is happiest descending at speed.
The Norco is happiest descending at speed.

We’re big advocates of dropper posts, even on cross-country bikes, and we think a dropper would be a worthy consideration for the Revolver so you don’t feel quite so perched up there when pointed steeply downwards. Obviously it’s your choice as to whether or not your terrain and the weight penalty justify adding a dropper to the bike. The cable routing is there should you decide to do so.

The Revolver doesn’t have any remote lockout levers, but we didn’t miss them for moment. Without remotes, the whole bike looks and feels much cleaner, and we found it easy to lock it all out on the fly anyhow. The lockout force front and rear is well matched too, so hard sprints on the fireroads or tarmac don’t feel mushy or unbalanced.

Fully sick.
Fully sick.

We think the speed of this bike in the singletrack would be amplified with some new rubber. The handling is awesome and precise through the corners, but so often the tyres become the limiting factor, getting skatey before you’re properly tipped into a corner. Luckily, that’s an easy an inexpensive upgrade.


Overall

The Revolver FS 9.2 reminded us again that there’s definitely a difference between a trail bike and a proper cross-country machine. You might be almost as fast on the climbs on your trail bike, but almost doesn’t cut it at the races, so if that’s a focus for you then you need the right tool for the job.

Norco are on a roll!
Norco are on a roll!

All up, the Revolver FS proves once again that Norco are really charging hard across all categories of the mountain bike world. They’re really on a roll, taking the knowledge they might learn in one market segment and then applying it appropriately across their range.  Considering it’s a new addition to the Norco lineup, it’s truly impressive how polished this bike is – it’s ready for the race track, right out of the box._LOW1503

Tested: PRO Tharsis Trail Di2 Cockpit

Shimano’s revolutionary electronic shifting is more than just having great shifting gears with zero maintenance. It’s the first step we’ve seen in mountain bike development opening up all sorts of freedom in areas that cables dictate frame design, wires can go anywhere, bending and travelling where cables simply can’t.

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Now that is neat, is it not?

What is it?

Pro is Shimano’s component line, with a big range of bars, stems, saddles, wheels and any accessory you would ever need. Working alongside Shimano has its benefits, especially when integrating the XTR Di2 into a dedicated bar and stem, the Tharsis. Available in cross country and the ‘Trail’ series we have here, it’ll cater for any bike between an XC race bike and a big enduro rig.

– The Tharsis Trail series stem comes in four sizes from 35mm up to 65mm. Weights start at 95 grams.

– The Tharsis Trail series bar is available in Di2 specific or regular, 800mm wide with 20mm ride. Weighing 214 grams.

– The bar is available in a non-Di2 option too.

– Full details at PRO website here.

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The slim and attractive shifter and brake combo.
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The wires sneak into the stem, just under the faceplate there is a gap, designed just big enough for the wires.

How it works.

The whole idea behind the Di2 specific components is to accomodate and hide the electrical wiring for both or just one shifter/derailleur. The wires travel inside the bars, through the stem and into the fork steer tube where the Di2 battery is stored.

The typical star nut assembly that keeps the headset bearings tight is replaced with Pro’s Headlock system, a 32mm cone spanner winds down a threaded collar underneath the stem to preload the bearings. This frees up the inside of the steer tube for the battery to be stashed inside. The battery clips into a cradle that wedges itself securely inside, never a hint of movement is possible with this method.

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From the shifter to the computer, the wires travel inside the bar.
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Into the stem goes the wire to the battery.
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The tiny Di2 battery wedges itself inside the fork steerer tube.
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And up and over into the steer tube.
Holes and grooves in the carbon. Whoa.
Holes and grooves in the carbon. Whoa.
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Spot the wire?

Installation

The installation process is certainly quite fiddly and time consuming when compared to a regular old setup, in fact with all the latest bikes going with internal cable routing in some fashion we are forced to be spending a whole lot more time doing the tasks that were once quite quick and painless. But we all know how nice it is to have a neat bike once its all done, so we put up with it.

Shimano supply a little plastic cable guide tool which can help you guiding the wires through the bars and stem, but we found the best way to save swearing and cursing is using the Park Tools Internal Cable Routing Kit. This little life saving kit will save you so much time and frustration, a worthy investment if you’re often working on internally routed bikes.

The battery cradle that houses it inside the steer tube is a simple and effective, and there’s enough room around the battery to stuff any excess wire inside for extra neatness.

The bars are 800mm wide, unless you’re particularly broad and aren’t bothered by trees in tight singletrack, it’s best to trim them down to suit you best. We ended up at 760mm wide.

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Nifty little cap finishes off the clean setup.

We fitted the PRO Tharsis cockpit to a cross country bike too, the Pivot Mach 4. Read that review and see how neat we could make it too – Tested: Pivot Mach 4.


Riding Tharsis

We like the aesthetics of the bar and stem, it’s got a nice feel to it and is very stiff for its weight. The subtle black on black finish adds to the minimal nature of the internal wires to create a very understated look up the front of your bike.

The stem took us a little bit patience though. The Headlock system is a pretty straightforward system but finicky to setup, follow the instructions closely but do crank up the stem bolts slightly higher than the recommended 5NM torque, and we used friction paste on the steer tube for an extra secure grip, or the headset would come loose during rides. Frustrating to say the least early on during testing, but we’ve sorted that out now with the paste and extra torque and it’s remained tight since. We’d not go travelling without the supplied 32mm cone spanner provided though just in case, its not exactly your standard tool found on the everyday multi tool kit.

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Neat! And quiet.
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Sneaky little wires hiding away.

From your riding point of view its certainly very refreshing to have zero clutter, looking down at your bars you see only your brake and dropper post cables, very tidy indeed.

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Quiet bikes are fast bikes.

With rumours of Shimano trickling down their excellent Di2 electronic shifting to lower price points the Tharsis Trail gear will have even more appeal, it takes what we love about no gear cables to another level.

During our long-term review of the Di2, we’ve become accustomed to just set and forget and enjoy the ride, and now with the wires hidden away it’s easier than ever to forget what’s now out of sight.

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Slate Force CX1

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Pavé? All the Slate sees is smooth road.

While we’ve been dabbling in a bit of gravel riding for a while here at Flow, the Slate is the first gravel bike we’ve had a chance to review. It’s new ground for us, so why not get things started with a bike that’s breaking some new ground of its own?


What is it?

The Slate is truly unique in this category. Built around a gorgeous alloy frame, it eschews the usual 700c wheel size, running 650b rims instead, but with massively fat 42mm slick tyres which give roughly the same diameter as a 700c wheel with road treads. The big volume tyres are designed to be run at pretty low pressures (anywhere between 30-65psi, depending on the where you’re heading).


Lefty Oliver

And, of course, it has a Lefty. The new Lefty Oliver (all-over…. geddit?) has just 30mm travel, but is for all intents and purposes very similar to the strut you’d find on many Cannondales. It might weight more than a rigid fork, yet the overall bike is still only 8.9kg plus pedals. The air-sprung Oliver has a lockout too, so you can stiffen it up for pure road work.

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The Lefty Oliver has 30mm of air-sprung travel, with a lock out.

While the Slate does come in versions with a double ring, our CX1 version uses a 44-tooth single ring with the same 10-42 X1 cassette that mountain bikers will be familiar with. If you’re from a roadie background you might feel that the jumps between gears are pretty massive, but for mountain bikers it’s nothing new.

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Drop bars and a Lefty. Who’d have predicted it?!
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With a narrow/wide Spidering, plus a chain guide and clutch derailleur, the chain is going nowhere.

SRAM’s Force Hydro discs pull it all up, and with the fat rubber you’ve got the ability to slow down a lot faster than on a roadie with 25c tyres on the tarmac. Having said that, the limited tyre choice is a concern for us at the moment. In the few rides we’ve had on the Slate so far, we’ve certainly pushed it beyond the capabilities of the slick tyres, but finding semi-slick rubber in a 650b x 42mm size is tough.


Where to ride it?

While plenty of people are going to scoff at this thing, we certainly won’t be. A confused little beast, maybe, but it’s a great tool for exploring the wide blue yonder. We’ve racked up a fair few miles on this bike already, so expect a full write-up soon.

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Flow’s First Bite: GT Sensor Carbon Team

Slotted in between the short travel GT Helion and all-mountain GT Force is the all-rounder trail bike with 130mm of rear suspension travel, the GT Sensor. Available in four carbon and aluminium versions ranging from $2899 for the base aluminium Sensor Alloy Elite and topping out with the Carbon Team for $6299.

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The paint is fluorescent!

What is it?

For what is touted as a trail bike, the Sensor sits at the meaty end of the trail spectrum with some fairly burly components and a 150mm travel RockShox Pike. The fork travel has gone up since earlier models of the Sensor, the 150mm fork matched to 130mm or rear suspension travel helps kick the front end out for a slacker and more aggressive ride. This Carbon Team model is the only one with a 150mm fork, the rest of the Sensor range uses a 140mm travel option.

Taking a look at the geometry chart, the Sensor keeps it fairly neutral, exactly what we like to see with mid-travel trail bikes. Not too long, not too slack, it all looks good on paper. We’ll find out how it goes on dirt next!

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All the suspension bits are kept low and centred in the frame, great for the bike’s handling.

The frame:

In addition to the mighty bright paint, the Sensor also uses a pretty bright concept for a suspension design. The AOS suspension Path Link might promote a few puzzled looks, but it’s actually quite a clever and well-executed design.

The rear wheel pivots around a super high point, and all the other stuff below keeps the important drivetrain and suspension forces playing nicely together. We’ve ridden the AOS design many times, most recently with the GT Helion and we found it impressively effective, the rear suspension is quite efficient while still super active to hard impacts.

Read our review of the GT Helion here: GT Helion test.

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See how high that main pivot is?
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The cranks are housed in a two-piece aluminium linkage that pulls back and pushes on the shock.
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The GT Path Link, clever design, if a little complicated looking.

The parts:

The Sensor rolls on 27.5″ wheels and none of the fun bits are left off, its complete with tubeless wheels and tyres, a dropper post and a chain guide securing the single ring drivetrain.

The FOX Float rear shock is a real winner in our past experience, and the SRAM drivetrain and Guide brakes will also no doubt be excellent as always.

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SRAM’s Guide RS brakes are constantly impressing us with their smooth lever feel and consistent power.

_MG_7755Keep an eye out for our review, it’s time to throw some dirt on that bright paint!

Tested: Giro Chamber Shoes

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The Chamber sits right at the opposite end of the spectrum from the carbon soled cross country racing shoes, with a velcro strap and laces, flat sole and a skate shoe style.

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Casual clipless shoes are not exactly a new thing, but a we’ve seen a new breed of shoes that are both casual and high performance, like these. The sole is stiff enough for good power transfer, but still have enough softness and bend for comfort walking. The sole won’t isolate you from the pedal like a stiff shoe does, we loved the way that when riding you could ‘feel’ the bike with your feet.

Off the bike the flat and roomy fit is refreshing, and comfortable to wear for hours. The cleats do make contact with the ground when walking though, the click clack sound is a reminder that they are still mountain bike shoes.

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Laces for a snug fit, covered by a velcro strap to keep them away from your cranks.
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Thick heels for protection when landing back to earth.

The heel is also quite cushy, with a thick amount of padding, and around the front of the shoe is a good amount of protection from impacts if you tend to ride with your foot out a lot and kick rocks as a result.

They aren’t the lightest shoe, especially when wet from soaking up sweat of splashing through wet trails. But in our experience and shoe that goes for low weight loses out in style, that’s the tradeoff.

And if you run your cleats a long way back in the slots, you may need to look into that aspect first with these, the slots aren’t as long as some.

Making light work out of trails like this - the Spider loves eating rocks.
Making light work out of trails like this – the Spider loves eating rocks.

Giro also do the less casual Terraduro shoe, one step towards the cross country end of the spectrum, we’re fans of these too. Click for the review – Tested: Giro Terraduro.


Verdict:

Combining just the right amount of function, fit and form these styling shoes have stood up to plenty of travel and long rides with us at Flow, a great option for sure.

Tested: CamelBak Skyline 10LR pack

For yonks now, bikes have been getting closer to the ground. Head angles get slacker, bottom bracket heights lowered, dropper seat posts introduced, all in the name of getting a lower centre-of-gravity. Get the mass down low, you’ve got more stability, especially in the corners. So why, oh why, has it taken so long to apply this logic to our packs?!

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Get the mass down low.

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The Skyline 10LR is from the new Low Rider line of CamelBak packs, so called because it positions the weight of the pack down closer to your hips, rather than in the centre of your back. The new lumbar bladder is shorter, but wider, with kind of a ‘winged’ shape that spreads the load outwards rather than up. Inside the bladder there’s a baffle, that reduces the sloshing about of the water, making it more stable once again.

Finally, there are two bladder compression straps, which are the red toggles on the hip straps. The idea is that you pull these as the water level in the bladder drops, helping squish the bladder flat against your body, which makes it more secure and also helps get all the water out without sucking like a Hoover.

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pull these as the water level in the bladder drops, helping squish the bladder flat against your body.

In terms of features and storage, the stand out elements for us are: the inclusion of a tool roll, which keeps your spares and tools in one neat pack; the elasticised and zippered hip pockets which are ideal for stashing gels or snacks; and the quarter-turn bladder lid, that is easy to open with gloves on.

There’s a lot of external storage for a pack this size too, with compression straps for stashing a jacket and big external pouch which can hold up to four sweet potatoes.

If you’re accustomed to running your packs nice and tight so they don’t flop about, then you’ll notice the Skyline feels very different to wear. Rather than having the pressure of the pack pressing between your shoulder blades, it rests more in the small of your back, and it doesn’t press against you quite so hard. Resist the temptation to over-tighten the shoulder straps to position the pack higher on your back – it’s meant to hang a little lower. It might feel strange for a few minutes, but it’s a much more stable arrangement.

Even with a full three litres of water on board, the Skyline is a pleasure to wear.

It’s noticeably more stable than equivalent capacity non-Low Rider CamelBak packs, which were already very comfy.

For this particular tester, a notorious pack avoider, finding a pack that is this unobtrusive when riding rough trails is a big win.

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Stable and comfortable, a new favourite.

In terms of complaints, we can only point our finger at the magnetic hose holder. It’s tricky to slot the hose back into the narrow little clasp when you’re riding. We also needed to keep reminding ourselves to give the red bladder compression tabs a pull every so often to get the maximum pack stability.

If you’re looking for a high-capacity pack that doesn’t feel like you’ve got a duffel bag strapped to your back, then this is the one.

Our new favourite? Indeed.

While fast and wild riding is when you’ll most appreciate the performance of Skyline 10LR,  you don’t have to be riding super technical trails to appreciate the benefits either. It’s just a more comfy and exceptionally well-made pack, full-stop.

Flow’s First Bite: Whyte G-160 Works

From two models sharing the same frame comes the G-160 Works for $8550. The G-160 RS is also available for $6175.

Let’s have a look at this big rig then.

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Designed in the UK, a long way from here.
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Long and low, the Whyte is a real race bike.

The frame:

This bike it loooooooong, even longer than the Canyon Strive we recently tested. A horizontal top tube measurement of 636.6mm (size medium) is immense. With Easton making a 32mm stem (shortest possible with the 35mm clamp diameter) Whyte were able to go longer in the top tube with this new frame without changing the riding position too much.

The rear end is quite short though, the chainstays are only 425mm and throw a tiny 32mm stem in the mix and you have some very serious numbers that will no doubt make for a very stable bike at speed. 

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636.6mm top tube and a 32mm stem! We can’t wait to get this thing up to speed.

Made from 6061 aluminium the Whyte is like no other bike when you take a closer look, it’s a real individual. Unique tubing shapes and frame junctions give the Whyte a very distinct flavour.

From their SCR (Single Chain Ring) range there are no provisions for a front derailleur (yay!), this has freed the engineers to really maximise the use of the space around the centre of the frame, with wider suspension axles and bigger pivots all in the name of stiffness and lightweight.

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Wide hubs, 148mm rear and 110mm front. Wider is better.

The G-160 uses the new Boost hub spacing – a wider 148mm rear hub and 110mm front hub. More commonly seen in 29ers to date, we’re impressed Whyte have gone down that path for a 27.5″ bike. It’s another area that opens up possibilities for frame design.

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Sealed rubber cable guides for the internal routing. And a pair of bolts under the downtube for mounting a Crud Catcher. So British.
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The stout and stiff little linkage drives the rear shock for 160mm of travel.

The parts highlights:

The Works model is the team issue, so all the parts are chosen to withstand the highest grade of enduro racing, and by the looks of things they know what they need!

It’s a full SRAM show with suspension, wheels, brakes, drivetrain and seatpost from the red corner. The 2016 Pike RCT3 with Boost 110mm spacing also has Torque Cap compatibility too, but the SRAM Rail 40 wheels use standard end caps.

Keeping it British the G-160 works uses a Hope headset and bottom bracket.

There’s 800mm carbon bars too, it’s going to be a big rig to ride!

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Pike up front, with 110mm-wide Boost hub spacing.
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Those legs look a little wider than normal to you?
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32T chainring on X0 cranks.
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RockShox Maxle rear axle. Nice touch.

We’ll be putting some time on the G-160 over the next few weeks, with the Canyon Strive and Focus SAM also on test too we’ll have plenty of bikes to be comparing this one to.

Stay tuned!

Tested: Intense Spider 29C

Our time on the Spider 29c re-invigorated our love of 29ers, and with such descending confidence we took it to the rockiest trails we could find.

Making light work out of trails like this - the Spider loves eating rocks.
Making light work out of trails like this – the Spider loves eating rocks.
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Summer sun in Sydney with the Spider 29.

Don’t miss our review of the Intense Carbine 29 too, longer travel and seriously burly. Intense Carbine 29 review.


The frame:

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Everyone should own an Intense in their lifetime.

As colourful as a pair of new school shoes, the Spider is a very black and understated frame when viewed a distance, but give it a closer look and you’ll see fine attention to detail and a classy finish that you’d expect from this high end boutique brand. There is another colour option though if you prefer a little more colour to your ride; blue, silver, black.

The all-carbon frame uses the JS Tuned suspension design, named after the company founder Jeff Steber who is behind the kinematics and geometry of the frames. There’s no V.P.P. sticker on this 2016 Spider 29c, we’ll be seeing a departure from the V.P.P. floating suspension linkage system which for many years has been shared by Intense and Santa Cruz, with the time up on the V.P.P. patent.

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Shiny black carbon front and rear.

Travel is adjustable between 115mm and 130mm with a switch between the two lower shock mounts, we left in the longer travel during our test but it’s a great feature that widens the bike’s versatility. Drop it down in suspension travel for smoother terrain or even the odd marathon race and you’ll benefit from a firmer and more efficient ride.

There’s also provisions for a front derailleur if you wish to load up with more gears for steeper climbs.

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That lower link is the key to the Spider’s excellent suspension.
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That lump on the top tube is there for added head tube stiffness without reducing standover height.

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A mixture of internal and externally routed cables the Spider is a clean looking bike, and there’s also options for running the cables on either side of the head tube if your brakes are ‘backwards’ to how the Americans and Europeans do.


The parts:

There’s some pretty nice kit to play with here, the SRAM XO/X1 drivetrain and SRAM Guide RS brakes need no introduction and they worked a treat the whole time, the little 30T chainring was amazing when tackling rocky climbs the low range really suited this bike’s go anywhere attitude.

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SRAM X01 11-speed drivetrain, all good.
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SRAM Guide RS brakes are a pleasure to have under your finger.

The FOX suspension is superb, the new EVOL rear shock and FIT 4 damper in the fork have taken FOX’s suspension to the next level. The 34mm legged fork really helped the 29er steer through rough stuff and we could feel how stiff it was when dropping down rocky ledges with the brakes on, where the older 32mm version would squirm and flex.

With a great range of adjustability in the fork and shock, we were able to really dial the bike’s feel during each ride. Especially the slow speed compression, it would transform the bike into a supple and plush magic carpet ride into a firm and efficient pedalling bike with a flick of the lever.

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The superb FOX Float 34 forks.

The DT M1700 Spline wheels feel very light but also a little soft when pushed hard, perhaps only heavier riders would notice. A wrap of tubeless rim tape would turn then into tubeless wheels too, the tyres are good to go.

You wouldn’t usually associate the words Intense and value, and this is no exception, this bike costs a whole lot of coin at $9999 but you can bet that all the parts are up to scratch and have a bit of a hand picked feel more than the bigger brands.


The Ride:

Flow’s home trails are the ultimate testing ground for bikes like this, rocky, ledgy and unforgiving. Each ride on the Spider we couldn’t help but compare it to bigger travel 27.5″ bikes we’ve been testing lately, it really holds its own against bikes with bigger travel but smaller wheels. The Spider 29c is a rolling dream, munching its way through rocky trails, skipping across the top of holes and undulations instead of falling in them.

Descending: The riding position is quite high, you really feel above the bike, a common feeling with trail oriented 29ers. There was still room to go lower with the stem on the steer tube, but we loved how it felt when descending that we just got used to sitting up high and when it got steep we felt safe and confident.

Pointing the Spider down was quite relaxing, while it might isolate you from the terrain with the wide cockpit, supple suspension and big wheels it gives the rider a real confidence boost.

On our familiar trails we found ourselves descending the biggest ledges in a calm and confident manner.

As we mentioned before the wheels feel both light and a little soft, their low weight narrow rim profile would get a bit wobbly when things got real rowdy, so keep that in mind if you’re a heavy descender.

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Calm, confident and capable. Scared of ledges? The Spider could be the ticket.

Geometry: Looking at the frame geometry it’s quite a classic mid-travel 29er, long out the back and short up front, with a relatively sharp steering angle. So it’s no surprise that we weren’t jumping around or popping off objects on the trail as much, instead we were hammering over them pedalling easily as the suspension worked away furiously below us.

Floating linkage: The JS Tuned floating link suspension really did feel great. Not promising to break any records on the cross country race track, it’s more of a supple and plush ride as it gets through all of its travel throughout the ride. We relished in the active suspension when pedalling with the shock in descend mode, you could put power down on the cranks whilst still riding over rocks or steps, forward momentum was uninterrupted and there was little tugging on the chain as the rear suspension compressed.

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The little blue lever is key to making the most of the Spider’s plush suspension, open for descents and trail mode anywhere else. The lock it for the buff uphills.
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Yeo!

The trade off for this is be a slightly wallowing feel when mashing about on the cranks on smoother tracks, so we’d be quickly flicking the rear shock lever into trail mode with great results. The rear shock is close to the rider, easy to reach so we really found it easy to use.

Climbing: The Spider 29 is a handy climber too, with the low gear range, grippy tyres and a long rear end it would grind up to the top very well. Out of the saddle it did feel tall, so it was key to get those elbows out and let the bars come up to your chest when lifting up ledges.

It’s super light too, at 11.9kg so that’s always going to make it feel like a good climber!

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Up it goes, a great bike to climb on.

Cornering: It’s a big bike to get around the slower and tighter turns, to be expected with something that climbs and descends so easily. The Maxxis Ardent tyres are a great all-rounder but for a little more bite on drier trails perhaps swap the front tyre out for something with taller side knobs.


Verdict

The Spider 29c will make a calm type of trail rider very happy, it’s not an aggressive or rapid handling weapon, it is more about confidence and control and in a comfortable package that’s a pleasure to ride all day long.

There’s the smaller wheel Spider 275 for those looking to play around on the trails and get a little more wild if you wish, but you’ll miss out on the excellent traits of the bigger wheels.

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Pretty happy with the Spider 29c, it’s a nice ride.

 

Tested: Scott Scale 720 Plus

We’ve had a ball riding this thing, one of the few bikes that actually makes you laugh out loud as you blast about the trails with a grin on your face, so forgive us is we repeat ourselves here, we may be using the word ‘fun’ quite a bit.

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Big on bounce.
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Getting dirty on the Scale 720 Plus.

What’s Plus?

In a nutshell it’s just a 27.5″ wheel bike with bigger tyres, like this one with a voluminous 2.8″ of width. It’s not a fat bike as such, not even close, they handle more like regular bikes in our experience. The best plus bikes are a result of finding the sweet spot between all the wheel size factors like diameter, width, volume and tread and combining them into a great handling frame.

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2.8″ of rubber and air.
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Not really a hardtail with this much rubber beneath you.

Scott are well and truly at the forefront of the new plus thing, we’ve learnt that one already.

The outer diameter of the whole wheel is close to that of a 29er, but the actual rim diameter is a regular 27.5″. So the rolling benefits of the large diameter is apparent, but you still get a lively and agile feeling bike with loads of cushion and a tyre that conforms to the trail surface like nothing else. They aren’t here to win races, they are just a seriously good option for anyone who wants to enjoy riding trails, especially if they are loose and rocky.

The tyres are best run at low pressure, with a good tubeless setup we were running around 13-15 psi in the tyres, that may sound low, but with the super-wide 40mm rims the tyre doesn’t squirm around like you’d expect with low pressure.


Our experiences with Plus bikes:

Plus bikes are not new to us at Flow, we reviewed the Scott Genius Plus and bigger travel Genius LT Plus and the Scale 710 Plus hardtail (not an Australian model) last year. We LOVED them, why? Read this – Scott Genius and Scale Plus review.

We’ve tested a couple Specialized 6 Fattie bikes too, the Fuse hardtail is a comparable option to this Scale, an extra $700 but we loved riding it. Specialized Fuse Expert 6 Fattie review.

And the Stumpjumper 6 Fattie was one of the most fun tests we’ve ever done. Review here: Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 6 Fattie review.


The parts:

What’s with the alliteration here guys? Scott, Schwalbe, Syncros, Shimano, Suntour… Someone really likes the letter S.

Our first experience with the Suntour Raidon fork was pretty good, with 120mm of air sprung travel working with such a low pressure front tyre the fork felt more supple than it would be if fitted to a regular wheel bike. We found it best set up with less sag than usual to help it ride higher in the travel during descents, and never touched the remote lockout button. Their unique Q Loc quick release axle is a winner, fast and simple.

Syncros is Scott’s in house component brand, and it’s excellent kit. The rims may be 40mm wide, but they feel light and lively for their size. The saddle is a Flow favourite, and the cockpit is dialled. Just a set of lock-on grips would be handy when riding in the wet.

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Suntour, Syncros, Shimano, Schwalbe, Scott, Super, Sweet.
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Shimano brakes and shifters.

Shimano handle the brakes and drivetrain with stellar results. The brakes feel so light under the finger, the long levers do require you to slide them inboard on the handlebars for proper one-finger braking technique, but the power is ample for pulling up the big wheels at speed.

Drivetrain wise the double chainring and 10-speed cassette provide a wide range of gears so you can nail the steepest climbs, making the most out of the boundless quantity on traction available to you. We would have liked to see a Shadow + rear derailleur though, with the clutch mechanism it would stabilise the chain slap and also a conversion to a single ring drivetrain (everyone is doing it, a great upgrade) would require changing the rear derailleur too.

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Shimano XT rear derailleur, but the older non-clutch style version.

The Scale Plus comes in at $2299 which makes it one of those price points where you could go either way when choosing between a dual suspension or hardtail, so this hardtail has to be worth it. It’s all great kit, but for the dollars we do think it misses the mark slightly. Plus bikes need tubeless ready tyres to realise their full potential, and without a dropper post you’re just not able to let it fly. While we had zero issues or complaints with any of the parts during testing, we just hoped for a little more for the money.


The frame:

The Scale 720 is a tidy looking bike, with the smooth welds and a svelte matte finish dripping in bold green and blue graphics. There’s internally routed cables, and a neat set of dropouts with the Shimano direct mounting for the rear derailleur.

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Neat and smooth, the frame finish is classic Scott.
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Rad graphics.

There’s provisions for a dropper post and you can see how the engineers have been able to manage a short rear end despite having to fit such a big rear tyre in the frame, the chainstays and seat tube are very different in shape to any of the regular Scale frames.


The Ride:

We knew what we were in for with a plus hardtail, so it was off to the diciest trails for a good test. The Scale is simply fun, with so much traction you can ride like a complete idiot and it’s going to be ok.

Cruising along the flatter sections of trail with the whirring of the low pressure tyres requires patience, make the most of that time to relax and get ready for the fun bits. And when they came it was time to ride with reckless abandon, blasting through the rubble and mowing down the trails the Scale brought big smiles to our faces. We started riding hardtails, it’s where bikes began. They are grounding, engaging and just good fun.

The tyres grab ahold of the earth and don’t let go, it’s quite entertaining.

Sadly the Scale 720 is lacking in the only two areas that would make any bike that’s meant to be fun, really, really, really fun – tubeless tyres and a dropper post. With inner tubes in the tyres we couldn’t get the tyre pressure low enough for our liking, for fear of pinch flats, and couldn’t make the most of it. Schwalbe’s Performance range of tyres ride very well, but when converted to tubeless with sealant it’s not an ideal setup. We’d swap them out for a tubeless ready version for better air retention and protection if the bike were ours. And with a dropper post we would really be able to let it hang out there a lot more, so much more.

Where there is little traction you’ll find it, and when there is good traction you can lean it over until your elbows drag in the dirt.

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Wooohooooooo! Plus hardtails are a hoot.

Where the Scale 720 Plus shines. 

– Corners. Think about it, the number one deal breaker in a corner is traction. So if you take your regular bike and multiply its traction by five times you have this.

– Climbing up anything. It’s about traction again, so put a 2.8″ tyre on the back and go return to that tricky ascent that usually has you beat. You’ll win.

– Control. Double your skills, you’ve got this! The Scale won’t hit rocks and ping back at you or glance off roots. And there’s a whole lot less risk of crashing too, yay!

– Comfort. for a hardtail it’s not that hard, the big cushions below you do wonders in conforming to the uneven surfaces making the ride quite comfortable.

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Let 2.8″ of rubber lead you, it’s a very different feel.

Where it doesn’t. 

– Buff trails. You wouldn’t take your hopped up Susuki Sierra to the race track, this thing will only slow you down if you don’t need it.

– Keeping up with your mates on long travel bikes. When the speeds get high and the impacts grow in ferocity you need to remain calm and keep a lid on it, there’s only so many hard hits you can take before you begin to bounce off line. Catch up to your mates on 150mm travel bikes in the turns or when they can’t get up a climb.


Verdict:

Scott are really putting their weight behind plus bikes, for great reason. When we ride them we can’t help but wonder if these bikes had been around a lot longer, that the majority of trail bikes and especially hardtails would have big tyres too. It’s a no-brainer, the control that these bikes have makes mountain biking more accessible, and opens up more possibilities for riders that may only have steep or slippery trails available to them.

Our time testing the Scale was fun, throw in a dropper post and tubeless tyres and we’d keep it.

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Try one out for yourself.

The Scale 720 Plus is a great bike for the rider who simply wants to competently ride everything on the trail and have a good time doing it.

Tested: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29

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Hole in one.

Now a few seasons into its evolution, the Camber platform has seen some big changes for 2016; it’s now available in both 650B and 29er wheel sizes, with two different travel lengths (130mm for 650B, 120mm for 29″ wheels), and the frame and shock technology has leapt ahead massively. Our test bike is the 120mm-travel Expert Carbon 29er, worth a hefty $7999. The cheese smells good, but how does it taste?_LOW0260


 Other Specialized Camber reviews:

Read our review of the 2014 Camber S-Works for an interesting comparison of how the Camber series has evolved: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-s-works-camber-29-finished/

Or the Camber Expert Evo, the traits of which have been absorbed largely by the regular Camber series now: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-camber-expert-carbon-evo-29/

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Who is it for?

Good question. With 29″ wheels and a new version of the ultra-efficient Specialized Brain shock, you could easily think the Camber was designed for the cross-country racer who wanted a little more travel. But the Camber’s wide rims, big-arse rubber, dropper post and cockpit suggest it has other intentions for more rugged riding. The geometry is by no means slack or particularly long, so don’t mistake it for an all-mountain machine either.

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The heart of it all: the diminutive shock, joined to the Brain out back.  Look at the massive size of that down tube and bottom bracket area, too, it’s a seriously stiff front end.

And somehow, it all comes together to deliver a scintillating trail bike experience. It’ll conquer lofty climbs, it’ll rip fast descents, but it’s everything in between where the Camber really shines. And yes, we realise that’s a lot of terrain, but this bike is a great all-rounder.

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Part cross-country racer, part trail bike – the Camber borrows from the best of both worlds, with a Brain shock and a 125mm-travel dropper post.

The frame:

Hoolly doolly! The lines on this bike are some of the nicest going. We’ll touch more on the price tag later (cough) but the frame is gorgeous, and with the features this bike crams into such an outwardly simple appearance, you can see where the dollars have been invested.

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The concentric FSR link is very neat.

The Camber is carbon up front, but out back it’s alloy, and it’s sublimely clean all over. All the cables are managed brilliantly, and graphics are kept to a real minimum, leaving the frame cleaner than a dog’s bowl after brekky. Subtlety is underrated!

The mounting point for the Taco Blade front derailleur. Without a tradition front derailleur mount, the main frame is super clean.
The mounting point for the Taco Blade front derailleur. Without a tradition front derailleur mount, the main frame is super clean.

The sleek appearance is enhanced by the absence of a traditional front derailleur mount. Specialized launched the Taco Blade front derailleur mount, which mounts off the chain stay bridge, a couple of years ago on their Enduro 29, and it now carries over to the Camber meaning the mainframe is kept free of ugly mounting points, and the rear end of the bike can be made nice and short.

The Camber Expert is one of the selected Specialized models to score a glovebox. The SWAT Door (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) is a compartment INSIDE the down tube. In their quest to absolve riders of the need for backpacks on short adventures, Specialized have turned the bike into a tupperware container.

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What lies under the trap door?
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Inside the SWAT Door you’ll find two pouches, which you can stuff with whatever takes your fancy. They have little rubber tabs on the ends to make them easier to remove from the frame.

Leaving all jokes aside, the SWAT Door is fantastic. Undo the clip that secures the panel beneath the water bottle, and you’ll find enough room to stash a huge amount of gear – a tube, a CO2 or two, some food, you could even fit a lightweight jacket in there. We love riding without a backpack, especially in summer, and having the ability to still carry spares, food and more without feeling like there’s possum wriggling about about in your jersey pocket is awesome. Specialized go even further, to the point of including a chain tool underneath the top cap of the steerer tube and hiding a little multi-tool tucked within the forward shock mount. The tool is so well integrated that we didn’t notice it till our third or fourth ride!

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Beneath the top cap you’ll find a chain tool.

We’ll touch on the miniature shock more below, but one secondary benefit is just how much room there is within the front triangle for a bottle, even though the frame also provides very generous standover height. The shock’s Brain unit, down at the rear dropout, gave us pause – it does hang quite low, lower than the chain stay, and while we think it’d be very bad luck to whack it on a rock, we wouldn’t want to find out the cost of doing so.

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The cables are managed perfectly!

The suspension:

Run-of-the-mill this ain’t. Specialized have long worked closely with FOX to develop truly innovative suspension, and the Camber carries on this tradition. Travel is 120mm, but it’s probably the most efficient-pedalling 120mm you’ll ever ride. Just like the World-beating Epic, the Camber gets Specialized’s Mini-Brain shock technology, with a few tweaks to make it more suitable for trail riding rather than racing.

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The shock uses an inertia valve, located in the reservoir near the rear dropout, which keeps the suspension firm under pedalling forces but opens up when there are impacts from bump forces. You can tune the sensitivity of the Brain via a simple five-position dial – we settled on position 3 and left it there, which we’ll delve into more later. What’s also new about the Mini Brain is the introduction of position sensitivity, so that the Brain only engages at around the sag point (25% of the way into the travel) meaning that the shock remains supple and sensitive over the really small bumps.

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The Brain Fade dial has five positions. We ultimately preferred the middle one for our trails.

The usual hassles of suspension setup have been lessened with an Autosag rear shock too. You simply inflate the shock to 300psi, sit on the bike in all your kit and depress the red valve, and your sag is set! Of course you can go firmer or softer if you wish, but in this instance we didn’t feel the need to make any further pressure adjustments. With such a small shock body, we definitely have some concerns about heat on really long descents – will the shock get hot and and start rebounding like a pogo stick in the Alps? We haven’t got the hills to test it unfortunately.

Specialized Camber Expert-12
The red valve of the Autosag system. After inflating the shock, a quick press of this valve is all it takes to set your sag.

All this technology is fitted into an FSR four-bar suspension system. This configuration needs no introduction, but the latest incarnation is really something special, with a compact linkage that drives the shock directly, rather than having any pivoting at the rear shock eyelet. The FSR system is well known for its performance under braking; if 120mm is all you’ve got, you want it working for you all the time, especially when you’re on the anchors.


The parts:

While the Camber’s asking price should, in our mind, at least get you a carbon fibre handlebar and a few higher-end bits and bobs, Specialized have actually done a great job speccing the Camber. There are no weak points in the spec at all.

Specialized Camber Expert Details-1
A 34 fork means you’ve got a front end that’s ready for punishment.

34mm fork: Specialized did the wise thing and accepted the small weight penalty of larger diameter fork legs. The FOX 34 may be from the second-tier Performance range, but by Minnie Jessup’s beard it is a slick piece of kit – the small bump performance is sensational, even without the Kashima coated legs found on the high-end Factory series of forks. We like the way Specialized have gone the extra mile and had the fork painted a custom glossy black too. Small touches make big differences.

Specialized Camber Expert Details-2
The cockpit is all Specialized gear. We like the shape of the low-rise bar, and it’s very progressive of Specialized to spec a stout 60mm stem on 29er trail bike.

Specialized kit all over: Like a permaculture farmer, Specialized are pretty much self-sufficient. The drivetrain, suspension and brakes are just about the only components not from the Specialized farm. They provide the wheels, tyres, cockpit, grips, dropper post and saddle. And we love every single item of it.

Whopping rims: Who’d have thought we’d finally see the day that a 120mm-travel 29er trail bike came stock with super wide rims? We’ve been touting the benefits of wide rims for ages, but so few brands have been brave enough to spec girthy hoops as a stock item. Bravo to Specialized for doing so! The Travese rims are 29mm wide internally, which allows you to run much lower tyre pressures without fear of burping the tyre or any of that vagueness normally associated with low pressures.

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The 2.3 Purgatory is one of the best trail treads out there. With the wide 29mm rims, we ran the front tyre at around 18psi.

Great rubber: Maximising the benefits of the wider rims are the excellent Specialized Ground Control and Purgatory tyres, both in a 2.3″ width. This is an awesome combo. The bike is ready for tubeless use, naturally too.

Specialized Camber Expert-23
Specialized’d SRL (Single Ring Lever) is the best dropper post lever on the market. It’s perfectly positioned, and the long lever makes the cable pull very light.

Much improved dropper post: Specialized’s IRcc Command Post is a massive improvement over their previous Command Post, and the SRL under-the-bar lever is our favourite dropper lever. The action is very light.

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A 28-tooth chain ring may sound too small, but we were surprised how usable the whole range was in singletrack.

Tiny ring: SRAM’s X1/X01 drivetrain needs no introduction. We initially baulked at the miniature 28-tooth chain ring, but after half a dozen rides, we’re actually pretty happy with it! If your home trails are flat and fast, or you ride a lot of fireroad, then you could consider going up to a 30 or 32-tooth ring, but don’t rush to do so. Give the 28 a go first.


Setup:

The appeal of the Brain shock system is that you don’t have to worry about making any adjustments on the trail. You select the level of Brain sensitivity and then leave it alone – there’s no flipping levers for climbs etc. This does mean a bit of experimentation is needed to work out the best setting for you and your trails. We suggest finding a short loop that you’re familiar with, something with some climbs, some rough sections, some smoother pedally bits, and then do some laps! We rode the Brain shock in every setting before eventually settling on the middle of five positions and leaving it there. This provided more than enough pedalling efficiency for our tastes, but without making the Brain feel too choppy, or making the front and rear ends feel mismatched. We adjusted the fork to the middle compression setting too, as this was a better fit with the rear end.

Specialized Camber Expert-1-3
With the SWAT Door, all your spares can stay with the bike.

Our tyre pressures with the wide rims were just 18/19psi. Even with such low pressures, we only felt the rear rim bottom out with a clang once.

Finally, we stuffed the SWAT Door with a few spares – a tube, a CO2, some bars – so we knew we’d have all we needed for each ride. It’s nice being able to leave all that stuff with the bike, rather than having to hunt around for it all in the garage before each ride.


Ride:

Despite our initial misgivings about the Camber’s confused identity, we meshed with this bike well. From the moment we jumped behind the wide 750mm handlebar and grabbed a hold of the soft waffle-pattern Specialized grips, we knew we were going to get along well with the Camber. The cockpit is aggressive, the front tyre looks ready to bite deep into the dirt, everything feels very confident, sturdy and built for fun.

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We ran the fork exclusively in the middle compression setting.
We ran the fork exclusively in the middle compression setting. The fully open setting felt too different to the rear end.

It’s a real singletrack monster. Once you’ve mastered the riding position (get forward on it!) it becomes a matter of trying to find the limits of the Camber’s grip. We found that the Brain had a real effect on the bike’s cornering performance, which was interesting. In the fully open position, the Camber had a tendency to understeer, but with a few clicks of Brain adjustment added, more weight was naturally transferred to the front wheel as the rear suspension stayed up higher in its travel. This had the effect of greatly improving grip in flatter corners in particular.

Specialized Camber Expert Tyre-1
The wide contact patch of the Ground Control rear tyre helped us clamber up just about anything.

 

The acceleration benefits delivered by the Brain are obvious. Even with the rolling mass of big tyres and wide rims, the Camber gets up and running out of tight corners like a scared rabbit. If you happen to blow out a corner or take a dud line, your mates aren’t going to drop you.

Over the years we’ve found some Brain equipped bikes felt a little dead – they’d make bunny hopping or manualling/jumping a bit unpredictable. This is definitely not the case with the new Camber and we found it much easier to pre-load the suspension and play with the trail than we’d expected. The latest Brain shock does its job of increasing efficiency without intruding when it’s not welcome. It was only very occasionally, over fast, repeated hits, that we’d feel the suspension get a little harsh. But truly, it was rare that we detected any ‘negative’ impact of the Brain on the bike’s ability to soak up impacts.

Specialized Camber Expert-6
With the short stem, you’re not pulled over the front end. The travel might be on the cross-country end of the spectrum, but the riding position is not.

Going up! It may share the same suspension technology, but don’t expect the Camber to climb like the spritely Epic. With a short 60mm stem, you’re not in a very aggressive climbing position for hammering out of the saddle. That said, you won’t find many bikes that can tackle a technical scramble better than this. With loads of rubber on the ground at low pressures, gearing that delivers plenty of torque, and the Brain suspension keeping the power going to the rear wheel rather than the rear shock, the Camber absolutely devours tricky climbs. It’ll maintain climbing momentum where other bikes would stall out.

Specialized Camber Expert Details-1-3
If you haven’t tried a bike with wide rims, then it’s hard to believe how much of a difference they make to the ride quality.

On the descents, the Camber exemplifies just how much a stiff fork, good rubber and a wide cockpit can elevate a bike’s confidence beyond what its travel would suggest. It chews up rough terrain at high speeds. On those ugly, slow-speed descents that threaten to eject you over the bars, the Camber is super adept at just keeping the wheels rolling and not suddenly snagging and spitting you out the front door. The exceptional control available with the XT brakes plays a part here, offering perfect modulation. It’s only when things turn steeply down that you’re reminded that you’re still rocking a 68.5-degree head angle!_LOW0092


What we’d change:

The price? As incredible as this bike really is, $7999 is a large wedge. Maybe with the falling Aussie dollar we’re just going to have to get used to seeing big ticket prices. We’d also ask the bike shop to chuck in a spare chain ring, maybe a 32-tooth, just in case we had plans for a marathon race or two. Otherwise, we’d change nothing! The Camber is brilliantly well put together.


Overall:

Who’d have thunk it? Category-leading efficiency doesn’t have to be restricted to cross-country race bikes! The Camber’s innovative suspension saves you time and effort on the trails – less thinking, more riding, more efficiently. Mix that with good geometry and a truly progressive parts selection, and you’ve got a bike that is ideal for blasting singletrack. The clean design and brilliant incorporation practical storage is just the icing on the cake.

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We’ll be hanging onto this bike for a while longer now too, as it’s going to become the test vehicle for the new Ohlins RXF 34 fork as well.

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Tested: Giant Anthem Advanced 27.5 1

Coming from a five-strong lineup of Anthems, Advanced 1 is the second model from the top, one of two Advanced Anthems with the sexy carbon front end. There’s a women’s version too from Giant’s women’s specific range LIV – the LIV Lust is the Anthem’s sister, sharing the same appetite for fast cross country riding.

Also available in the Anthem family is the fun-loving SX range, a half step towards the bigger travel Giant Trance with a longer 120mm travel fork, a dropper post and a slightly more aggressive parts kit. We reviewed the 2015 Anthem Advanced SX 27.5 and had a ball riding it, check that one out here: Giant Anthem Advanced SX 27.5 review.

Before you read our full review, have a read of our first impressions of the Anthem (Flow’s First Bite – Anthem Advanced 27.5 1). Or for more on the whole 2016 Giant range, take a look at our highlights here: Best bits from the 2016 Giant show. And same from the latest LIV range: 2016 LIV.

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Buzzzzz.

The Frame

The Anthem is a lean, low and sharp bike with a minimal 100mm of suspension travel, 27.5″ wheels and race-ready frame geometry.

Big carbon shapes join slim aluminium lines out the back, tied together by two widely-set floating linkages. Giant are the kings of carbon (or composite) manufacturing, their Taiwanese facility is enormous, producing high grade carbon versions of all their performance mountain bikes, even the new Glory downhill bike comes in the light and lively Advanced carbon. And with a lifetime warranty on all Giants, they are a sure bet.

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The bold yellow and glossy finish is a nice change from the growing trend of matte black bikes lately.
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Aluminium triangle out the back.

Suspension: Giant have been running with their tried and proven Maestro floating link suspension design for quite some time across their entire range, and our experiences have always been fantastic. Providing a stable bike with just the right amount of suspension activity whilst pedalling, the Anthem doesn’t skip around when you’re hammering down hard on the cranks.

The lower shock pivot and main suspension pivot share the same axle, providing a wide and remarkably laterally rigid junction between the front and rear end. A heavy shove of the back wheel into a corner will show you that despite its low weight, it’s quite tough and feels super solid beneath you.

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The lower link of the Maestro Suspension, combining the shock mount and suspension pivot in one.

Geometry: We are talking about a race bike here, so it’s no surprise to see some pretty sharp numbers on the geometry chart. A 69.5 degree head angle when paired with the 100mm travel forks makes for a twitchy front end that wants for an experienced pilot, and the sharp 73 degree seating angle pitches you right over the front wheel.

Finish: Get up close to this Anthem and you’ll see yourself staring right back at you, the paint is smooth and glossy. The cables are housed internally through the front end of the frame for neatness sake, but they do enter the frame at an angle that makes them bow outwards, requiring a trim or they’ll rub your knees when pedalling out of the saddle.

Trim those cables pronto!
Trim down those cables pronto!

Wheel size: The 100mm travel suspension bike category is overwhelmingly dominated by 29ers, but Giant are firmly (very firm) devoted to 27.5″ wheels.

There are still a couple 29er Anthems in the Giant catalogue, one in carbon and one aluminium. But the Anthem X 29 uses the older style frame without internal cable routing and has an older frame design that looks dated. Surely there are riders out there who want the bigger wheels, and Giant aren’t catering for them at present with their best offerings.


The Parts.

For $4999 there is a lot to like about this bike, especially with the new 11-speed Shimano XT, premium FOX Suspension and Giant’s lightweight carbon wheels.

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Shimano XT single chain ring, clean, neat and stable.
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Shimano’s 11-speed drivetrain and brakes have garnered massive respect all over.

Shimano: Shimano’s new 11-speed groupset won us over last year when we put it on long term review, the wide range single ring drivetrain and snappy brakes are a big jump up from the previous XT group, performing on-par with Shimano’s mega light XTR kit. Read that Shimano XT review here – Shimano XT long term test.

While the absence of a front derailleur certainly removes a lot of clutter and extra complication, there is a penalty to pay in terms of gear range. But the new Shimano XT Rhythm Step cassette with the 11-42 tooth range paired with the 32 tooth ring up front, we found enough gears for the steep climbs and only used the 11 tooth sprocket on the roads.

Shifting through the gears is remarkably precise and positive, the thumb lever may feel a little harder to push than a SRAM or older XT did but you will know what gear you are in thanks to a loud click and the gear indicator window will take the guess work out of it all.

Power and predictable modulation from the XT brakes.

The brakes are amazing, up there with the best out there. A light squeeze of one finger will give you all the power you need, delivered in a very controllable and consistent manner. There’s nothing to worry about when these brakes are fitted to a bike.

The best from FOX. Seriously supple and supportive suspension.
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The tiny FOX Float rear shock with lustrous gold Kashima finish.

FOX: Straight from the first page in the FOX catalogue is the Factory level fork and shock, the top shelf kit in their category. With all the external adjustments and their finest dampers, the Anthem really is running the best on offer.

The Float 32 Factory fork uses a remote lever to control the three position compression dial, while we appreciate how well it works (and the ergonomic lever is a damn sight better than the older version) we just don’t go wild for remote fork lockouts. Considering how often we touch the rear shock settings, we’d prefer to have a remote going back to the rear shock rather than the fork, but that’s probably not the case for all riders. If it bothers you, an aftermarket conversion is available from FOX to ditch the remote and run the compression adjuster with a standard dial on top of the fork leg.

Out the back the tiny Float shock has a very useable range of adjustment that we would regularly take advantage of throughout the ride, it’s easy to find the right setting for the trails ahead with the flick of the blue lever. For such a tiny unit it packs some serious punch, taking the biggest hits without a worry and it is so insanely supple, working away quickly to absorb high frequency impacts effortlessly.

Giant PXCR 1C wheels: Giant are clearly investing serious time and brainpower into their in-house brand wheelsets, their road bike carbon wheels are gaining loads of space in the peleton, and these PXCR 1C hoops are a mighty hot addition to the Anthem.

The rim is certainly skinny, with a narrow 21mm internal width you can’t go too low on tyre pressure, but blimey they do roll fast! The 27.5″ Anthem with its light wheels and tyres accelerates from a standstill like a BMX race bike, getting you up to speed with little effort – this is one of the real positives of the smaller wheel in this category of bike, it just flies out of corners when you put the power down. Through the tighter singletrack where you’re constantly slowing and accelerating your legs will appreciate such a zippy set of wheels.

They even sound fast (in a good way), with that whooshing carbon sound echoing through them when you give them a nudge through a fast turn. They may be subtle in appearance, but know you’ve got lively carbon wheels on your bike when it’s time to pick up the pace.

Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph tyres use the Liteskin casing and Pacestar triple compound for a seriously light and tacky tyre, not amazing in the wet trails but certainly providing good traction on harder surfaces. Supplied with the bike is a tubeless kit, with valves and rim tape. Don’t go near trails without first fitting up the kit and ditching the tubes! Our test bike took a couple of rides before they really sealed up airtight, so keep an eye on them.


The Ride.

In one word – sharp. The Anthem knows its place on the trails and doesn’t give the rider any mixed messages, it’s a lightning quick handler and a rapid steering bike, that is best utilised in competent hands.

Climbing: Race you to the top! The Anthem is your express lift pass to the top of the mountain, a brilliant climber. It’s the combination of the roomy and low cockpit shape, overall lightweight, compression adjustable suspension and fast rolling wheels that blend a perfect concoction of efficiency to propel you up the climbs.

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Race time!

Don’t ignore the suspension settings, use them to your advantage. In the lighter compression setting the shock does bob about a little bit as your push on the pedals, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with what the little blue and black dials on the fork and shock do before hitting the trails. Your bike shop is handy for those face to face tutorials.

Climbing switchbacks is a real highlight on this bike, you can really get up and out of the saddle and yank on the bars as you crank on the pedals providing a strong position to use your whole body instead of just your legs. Where some of our test bikes get hung up and stall, we ripped around tight climbing turns without a worry on the Anthem.

Cornering: While the Anthem might fly around a worn-in purpose-built cross country race track, it’s no trail shredder and prefers to keep its tyres on the ground. Take it back country and off the beaten path and you’ll have to hold on tight and keep your wits about you, but cutting laps on a familiar and predictable loop of trail and it’ll match your hard efforts with speed in return.

While an experienced cross country rider will have no troubles, to others the Anthem could be a hand full to manage, the long and low cockpit tends to put you in a position that doesn’t exactly lend itself to tipping the bike over into a corner or helping you hook in with the side knobs of the tyres. It won’t respond so well to flamboyant or reckless riding like the Anthem SX or Trance does.

The 27.5″ wheels do great things to the bike’s agility, you can twist and weave through tight singletrack like crazy, and we were setting fast times through those stop-start trails with loads of tight turns.

Descending: The FOX suspension and the Maestro do a stellar job of gobbling up the rough trails, but if it gets steep, things get a bit nervous. The long stem gives the Anthem its top climbing marks, but it does put you right over the front when the trail points down, especially as there’s no dropper post to help you get your weight low. At the risk of sacrificing the bike’s ultimate climbing  performance, you could experiment with a shorter stem to bring you up and back a little towards the centre of the bike, especially if the trails you frequent are steep or loose.

The Shimano XT brakes are solid insurance when descending. If you do come in a bit hot, they’ll rein it all in quick smart. The lever fits so perfectly under a single index finger letting the rest of your hand grip the bars securely.

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The Anthem is at home on fast and buff trails rather than adventuring off the beaten path.
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Experiment with the stack height – low and fast, or higher for a more manageable ride.

What we’d change: The Anthem comes with a super-long rear brake and gear cable, and when we dropped the stem down on the steer tube they got even longer. When climbing out of the saddle our knees would knock the cables, so give it some TLC and lop a few inches off them.

If your trails are rough and loose, perhaps experiment with a shorter stem and a meatier front tyre for a little added confidence through the turns and down the hills.

Otherwise the Anthem is dialled and ready out of the box, Giant have done a great job dressing this one.


Verdict

After a few weeks of riding we got to understand what this bike lives for, and we learnt to love the Anthem on trails that suited its competitive streak. But you really need to understand what you’re getting into if considering one:  if you’re into racing, or riding buff trails you’ll love it, it’s an absolute rocket on fast race tracks. On the other hand if you’re less experienced and/or are keen for a bike that’ll be more confident on a variety of trail types or you want a rig to blast around for the fun of it, we’d suggest a test ride the Anthem SX or Trance too.

And the wheel size debate? Well, once on board, we soon forgot about the 29 vs 27.5 wheel size thing. Our time on the Anthem was spent ripping through singletrack so fast it was hard to believe we could have done it any faster, no matter what wheel size it had.

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Jekyll Carbon 2

On review we have the Jekyll Carbon 2, a bike that is so enduro from every angle.

We recently reviewed the all-new Cannondale Habit SE, the short travel trail ripper and we LOVED it. – Habit SE review.

Cannondale’s director of suspension technology, Jeremiah Boobar was in town recently and we grabbed him for a chat about mountain bike suspension, product testing, Cannondale, Lefty’s and setup. It’s worth a read for sure.  Interview: Turning Bumps Into Heat With Jeremiah Boobar.

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A Jekyll with a Pike!

The Frame

The Jekyll is about as unique as they come, with a wild looking suspension design and a pull shock at the heart of it all. The FOX DYAD rear shock looks more like an underwater breathing apparatus than a mountain bike part, but what it achieves is pretty cool.

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Two air chambers, two rebound dials.

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The FOX DYAD rear shock. Our first experience with the FOX DYAD rear shock was with the Jekyll’s kid brother, the shorter travel Cannondale Trigger which we’ve spent some time on – Trigger review.

The FOX DYAD RT2 shock is a pretty wild concept. Rather than compressing like we are used to it pulls apart, and is actually two separate shocks in one unit. Using the remote lever on the bars, you can switch between ‘Flow’ and ‘Elevate’ mode, with short (95mm) and long travel (160mm) modes.

The adjustment subsequently has an impact on the bike’s geometry. We’ve seen Cannondale and Scott use this style of suspension adjustability to great effect, there is nothing like hitting that lever when the trails turn up, sharpening the angles, lifting the bottom bracket height and reducing the travel for better climbing efficiency.

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The upper linkage plate is super-wide.

 

The remote lever for the DYAD rear shock can be mounted above or below the bar, we're experimenting with it like this.
The remote lever for the DYAD rear shock can be mounted above or below the bar, we’re experimenting with it like this.

Geometry: The Jekyll comes from Cannondale’s ‘Overmountain’ category, with a 67 degree head angle and a 592mm horizontal top tube measurement, it’s a long and slack bike, just how we like a 160mm travel bike to be. 

The chainstays are 440mm, that’s pretty long but will also translate to some serious high speed stability.


The Parts

First thing that stood out to us is the absence of a Lefty, and in its place is the more familiar RockShox Pike. Since the late nineties we have become used to seeing Cannondale’s distinctive Lefty up the front of their bikes but in our experience we’ve had mixed feelings with the unique single sided suspension ‘fork’, the Lefty has its benefits when it comes to weight and steering precision but also downsides when it comes to the damper when compared to modern FOX and RockShox forks.

The Lefty usually dominates our thoughts when reviewing a Cannondale, making this model Jekyll even more interesting, as everyone is familiar with the brilliant Pike by now.

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160mm travel Pike on a Jekyll, this should be interesting.
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The big 1.5″ head tube looks massive without a Lefty steer tube through it.

It’s a SRAM show with the drivetrain and brakes, but Cannondale handle the cranks with the trick looking HolloGram SI crank and SpideRing one-piece chainring and spider. The cranks run through the big BB30 bearings, the whole crank area looks very neat indeed.

The wheels will need to be converted to tubeless before we get going on it. The tubeless ready Schwalbe tyres should seal up fine, but the rims will need tape and valves that aren’t supplied.

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The distinctive 30 tooth SpideRing on the HolloGram SI cranks.
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Very nice brakes, the SRAM Guide RSC.

Righto then that’s the highlights, lets put it to the test.

Stay tuned for our review soon!

Flow’s First Bite: Intense Spider 29C

We’ve seen more and more carbon frames recently and the Spider 29c is their latest trail bike offering.

Let’s take a look at this black on black travel adjustable 29er, ahead of the upcoming review.

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There’s a lot of heritage behind that head badge.

The frame

The Spider 29C is a carbon framed 29er with adjustable rear travel and VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension.

Adjustable between 130mm and 115mm via the lower shock mount, the Spider 29C could serve as a trail bike one day, and a leaner cross country ride the next.

Geometry wise, it’s all very nice and relaxed and add in the 29″ wheels and this is looking to be a great all rounder, we’ll be putting it to test on the rocky singletrack around Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Nothing beats a 29er when it comes to rolling over stuff, and when they are built around a frame with relaxed geometry less aimed at racing, you have a seriously capable bike in your hands.

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Roller door photo for the Intense fans out there, pretty clever, eh?
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The head tube area is shaped to aid stiffness while retaining standover height.
The lower shock mount can be swapped between two fittings, with two travel amounts.
The lower shock mount can be swapped between two fittings, with two travel amounts.

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The parts

The Spider 29C is available in three build kit options; the Factory, Pro and Expert. We’ve chosen the mid-range Pro Build with FOX suspension, SRAM drivetrain and SRAM brakes.

Factory – $16,499

Pro – $9,999 (on test)

Expert – $8,799

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FOX 34 forks.
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SRAM X01/X1 drivetrain, in black of course.

We’ve got Maxxis Ardent tyres, a low range 11-speed drivetrain and a low stack cockpit, so we’ll be right as rain when it comes to climbing steep trails. And with the burly 34mm forks the descents should be great too.

So let’s hit the trails, stay tuned for more.

Flow’s First Bite: Fabric Scoop Saddle

Fabric Scoop Saddle-6

The Scoop is their most popular saddle. You can get it in three different shape profiles (flat, shallow and the more upright riding ‘radius’ shape) and in four different construction configurations. At the cheaper and heavier end, there’s a nylon body with chromo rails, while at the other end of the price spectrum you’ll find a carbon railed / carbon bodied version.

For our test saddle, we’ve gone with the shallow profile (which is the best option for mountain bikes) in a carbon/nylon construction – carbon rails with a nylon body. On the scales, it clocks in at 196g, which is pretty light.

Fabric Scoop Saddle-2

 

What stands out most about the Scoop is the seamless underside. The upper isn’t just glued, stitched or stapled to the base, but is vacuum bonded in some funky fashion that means there are no loose edges, stitching, grooves or pockets where mud can collect. Unlike other saddles that become scungy on their underside after a few wet rides, the Scoop simply wipes or hoses clean. One less place for mud to gum up the bike is a big plus in our mind.

There’s plenty of flex in the nylon shell, and coupled with a decent layer of padding, the Scoop is one of the easier saddles to get along with straight away. There’s no period of mutually ‘breaking in’ your arse or the saddle. The Scoop doesn’t feature a groove down the centre, which will rule it out for some riders who swear by saddles with a channel. Fabric do offer the Line saddle which has a channel, so that’s an option too.

Fabric Scoop Saddle-1

 

The upper is covered with waterproof microfirbe which doesn’t feature any reinforcing or scuff protection, so try not to crash it down the rocks. Like most carbon railed saddles, the rails are oval shaped and therefore won’t fit every seat post, so make sure you keep that in mind. If your post only takes round rails, go for the titanium railed version.

Fabric Scoop Saddle-7

We rate this saddle highly. It looks sharp, there are plenty of colour options, it’s comfortable and the construction makes it easier to keep your bike clean too. What’s not to like?

Tested: Canyon Strive CF 9.0 Race

On review we have the Strive CF 9.0 Race, an all-out beast of an enduro race bike with Canyon’s own clever Shapeshifter System designed with the help of mountain bike legend, Fabien Barel.

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This guy and the Strive he designed make an impressive combo of speed and efficiency. Fabien Barel, three-time World Downhill Champion.
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Hey handsome.

Canyon sell their bikes online, they ship Down Under to your door all the way from their headquarters in Germany, that is until an Australian warehousing system is put in place. Their direct-to-consumer model is a slick operation that’s been meticulously tested in Europe for many years before opening the floodgates to eager consumers in Australia and New Zealand.

Late last year we looked into how it’s all going to work, we unpacked this bike from the box, and explored what it will be like buying a Canyon from their website.

Here is our in-depth Canyon piece – Canyon Down Under.


What is it and who is it for?

Make no mistake the Strive ain’t no casual all-rounder, this is a dedicated enduro race bike. It’s super long, very slack and as we were to quickly find out it needs to be ridden hard or its capabilities will go to waste.

From the aggressive frame geometry to the generous travel to the beefy components the Strive is a whole lot of bike. Sitting in between the 140 or 130m travel Canyon Spectral (27.5″ or 29″) and the Canyon Torque DHX downhill bike, this big 160mm rig is the choice for the Canyon Factory Enduro Team who won the Enduro World Series overall as a team last year.

No, that's not us. We wish.
No, that’s not us. We wish.

The Frame.

Being our first review of a Canyon everything is fresh and exciting, and we’ve stared at it with loving eyes almost as long as we’ve actually spent riding it.

It’s always nice to review a bike from a brand which is new to us, and we agree with the countless people that stopped us on the trails for a look, it is quite a striking shape and a very smartly finished rig indeed.

Our test bike comes from the ‘Race Geometry’ range of Strives, which have a slightly longer front centre than the ‘Regular’ models, a requirement from the race team to meet the demands of top-level enduro racing. A longer bike coupled with a short stem will result in quick handling but with room for stability at speed.

It’s a full carbon affair front and back and wowzers it’s stiffer than an Eskimo’s nipples, there’s a serious lack of twisting or bending when you grab the rear wheel and flex it side-to-side. All the cables travel internally via nice little rubberised ports, and while we did hear some rattling at times from the rear brake line inside the frame we found it all pretty easy to work with when we had to shorten and re-route anthing through the frame.

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Big head tube, big down tube, big.
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Don’t get any more enduro than that… EWS Official Supporter.
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The aluminium linkage plate hides the subtle and mighty effective Shapeshifter unit in between the independent plates.

The Strive uses a four-bar suspension with a pivot on the chain stay, similar to a Horst Link bike like a Norco or a Specialized FSR. The main pivot is right down low just above the bottom bracket, and all the fastening hardware is super tough and solid feeling, never did we need to pay any attention to the linkages or pivots during our review. There is also plenty of water bottle space like a true race bike should have, thanks to the upward kink in the top tube.

But what really makes this thing tick is the Shapeshifter.


Shapeshifter System.

Canyon Enduro Factory Team rider Fabien Barel was seen testing and racing a secret prototype Strive for quite some time with what looked like an old wetsuit bootie covering the rear shock area from view, but we could still see a remote lever at the bars. What on earth were they working on, a hidden motor?

The Shapeshifter is a Canyon developed system that switches the rear shock between two positions via a button at the bars – climb and descend mode. The two distinctly different positions toggle the rear suspension travel between a super plush 163mm and a firmer 139mm while simultaneously having huge impact on the bike’s geometry. It’s very slack and low when descending and in climb mode the head angle sharpens 1.5 degrees and the bottom bracket sits 20mm higher.

The Shapeshifter sets the Strive apart from all the other brands in this hotly contested area of the market.

Canyon are going after the holy grail of ‘two bikes in one’. We’ve had great experiences from a couple notable brands that do a good job of this task, like Scott with their Genius and Cannondale with the Jekyll. These two very different bikes use multiple air chamber rear shocks from FOX that can be toggled on the fly to change suspension travel and also the bike’s position to suit climbing or descending.

Not taking anything away from these two excellent bikes, the Strive succeeds in this task using a standard shock. The Shapeshifter system is independent of the shock – you can run whatever you like, thought depending on the Strive model you purchase, a RockShox Monarch Plus or FOX Float X is standard spec.

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The thumb lever for the Shapeshifter. We ran ours flipped upside down on the right hand side above the shifter.

See the little air chamber behind the upper shock mount? It’s extended for climb mode, and compressed for descend mode. It’s just a tiny little air chamber – not a spring – that will compress if you put the right amount of weight on it whilst pressing the button at the same time. It’s simple, subtle and the concept seems so obvious!

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Fabien Barel demonstrates the simplicity and moving parts of the little Shapeshifter unit.
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Raked out in descend mode. Canyon should have called it beast mode.

How does it work? The Shapeshifter is essentially just a volume of air with a lockout button, lean your bodyweight back into the rear of the bike with the lever pressed and it’ll compress into descend mode with a faint clunking sound, increasing the leverage on the shock and dropping the bottom bracket height. To pop back to climb mode shift your bodyweight forward with the button pressed and it’ll extend open again.

It does take some time to get used to knowing what mode you are in. It wasn’t until we’d spent a few solid days on it that we intuitively knew without doubting and double checking by looking down at the green indicator whilst riding.

There’s a little green indicator on top of the linkage that lets you know when you’re in climb mode that disappears when it is fully engaged in descend mode, and can get quite hard to see when you’re riding in the wet. We can’t help but wish the indicator was more prominent, it wouldn’t take much for at least a larger indicator to clearly put your mind at ease when riding that you’re 100% in the right mode. But with a bit of practice it should become second nature.

We found that we generally would hit the RockShox Reverb lever and the Shapeshifter lever simultaneously, instantly turning the bike into a descending beast. Time to let the brakes off!

  • Descend Mode: 163mm travel, 66 degree head angle, 73.5 degree seat angle.
  • Climb Mode: 139mm travel, 67.5 degree head angle, 75 degree seat angle.

Setup.

Despite the additional elements that the Shapeshifter adds to the bike, we found setup to be a simple process and haven’t had the need to touch it since. Zip-tied to the bike in the box is a nifty quick setup guide to help find a base setting for air pressures and shock adjustments according to rider weight.

Inflating the Shapeshifter is made a little easier with a little L-bend adaptor supplied with the bike, we’d dare not lose it as getting a shock pump on there is a tight fit and may not work with all shock pump styles.

The air pressure needs to be right for your body weight, too much pressure and it’ll be too hard to compress into descend mode, and not enough and it won’t return open when you need it to. We followed their guide and found it to be spot on.

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Two Bottomless Tokens in the RockShox Pike to match the rear suspension as directed by Fabien.

Out of the box the Shapeshifter remote lever wasn’t in the ideal position for us, mainly due to the way we run our brakes the opposite way around to those in Germany, so a little fiddling and re-arranging of the lever and re-routing the cables accordingly made things a lot tidier up the front with the lever within reach of our right thumb.


The Parts.

Canyon went shopping in the enduro section to deck out this one in the best bits, all the parts are a top match for the bike’s intended use. The RockShox Pike RCT3 is ideal, and the SRAM Rail 50 wheels are a worthy set with 23mm internal width rims and a near silent freehub. A Maxxis High Roller front and Minion rear combo offers remarkable traction anywhere and are a Flow favourite, we especially like the way they bite in deep with the brakes on.

The SRAM X01 drivetrain and SRAM Guide RSC brakes with big 180mm rotors are also winners, but the RockShox Reverb post wasn’t 100% for us with about 10mm of play that you can feel when seated, so it’s back to SRAM for warranty with that one.

The 34T chainring is on the larger side of things, perhaps a spare 30T might be handy to travel with to the races if the mountains get steep and the legs aren’t ready.

We trimmed down the super-sweet 780mm Renthal FatBar Carbon handlebars to 760mm to suit our liking and tight trails, the matching 40mm Renthal stem (50mm on size large) adds a touch of new school class. And the Ergon Ge1 Slim grips are also a new fave at Flow, keeping in both the German national and blue colour themes nicely.

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SRAM X01 drivetrain, perfect.
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34 tooth chainring is race spec, so consider a smaller one if you are a mortal.

Looking back it’s not just the individual parts that make the Strive a seriously good bike, it’s also that you get so much for your money. $6K is very appealing for this level of components as standard.

What would we change? Nothing, it’s ready to rock.


How it Rides.

Now for the good bit, shred time!

Our love affair with the Strive began at the media launch hosted by the new Canyon Australia crew on the Mornington Peninsula, VIC. The trails of Red Hill proved to be an excellent testing ground, their fast and raw nature made up for the lack of elevation the Strive strives for (ha, we said strive twice then) and we punched out as many runs as possible. Following Fabien Barel was a wild and somewhat dangerous experience, certainly fun but was a bit of a distraction from testing the bike on hand, so naturally we begged to put the Strive on long term review on our local trails of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Cheers, Canyon we’ll give it back one day, maybe.

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How to ride.

Descending: The Strive is a beast of a bike that descends more like a downhill bike than any 160mm travel bike we’ve ever ridden. Our medium test bike with its mammoth 629mm horizontal top tube length makes the Strive’s ‘race’ geometry the longest medium sized bike we’ve reviewed. The Giant Reign is close at 619mm, the Santa Cruz Nomad and Yeti SB6C are around 609mm, and we thought the YT Capra was long but still that’s only 581mm!

The length of the frame promotes you to really push harder and faster, and the stability from such a long top tube gives us major courage to let the brakes off and really punch it harder. And with 160mm of such good travel front and back you’ll be hard pressed to find its limits. Through the turns you mustn’t forget you’re riding a true enduro race bike, it requires real body language to tip it down and whip it about but after a few runs of our local downhill track we changed tactic and came into the corners drifting sideways instead, foot out and totally pinned.

Under brakes the suspension remained nicely active, and the level of anti-squat was right on the money – not too firm – just right.

The front end might be long, but the chainstays are quite short at 423mm, much shorter than the bikes previously mentioned above but only 1mm longer than the chainstay length category leading Specialized Enduro 650b.

Like we said earlier this is one very stiff frame, and the SRAM Rail 50 wheels also feel quite rigid when pushed around, so if we were ever a little off line or ragged through a fast section of trail we had the confidence to grip on tight and ride it out.

We like to think of the frame’s length and rigidity as life insurance for those reckless moments on the trail.

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Get reckless, you’ll be fine.
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Yeoooo!

The tradeoff for the length is when the descents got slower and tighter, maybe that’s why Barel does such magnificent nose wheelies around tight switchbacks, because this thing can feel like a mini bus going through a drive through at times. But that is how you pay for the mega stability, fair is fair.

The RockShox Monarch rear shock with its Debonair extra volume air can feels incredible, the suspension’s sensitivity contributes to the Strive’s near silent ride as it rumbles through the chop. We’d love to try fitting air volume spacers to the rear shock to help it ride a little higher in the stroke. And we rode the bike 80% of the time in the middle compression setting, rarely did we feel the need for the extra plush open mode.

Climbing: Lucky the Strive has the Shapeshifter, because if you try and climb in descend mode you’ll be hating life, it’s a pig uphill raked out so slack. So when the climbs come it’s time to shift your weight forward and press the button, you’ll have a completely different bike beneath you! Climbing uphill, this bike makes you want to sell two bikes, and just buy this one.

It’s the combination of less travel, a firmer spring rate, higher bottom bracket and sharper head and seating angles that ties in together to really transform the Strive into a great climber.

The grippy tyres contribute to the Strive’s climbing ability, it’ll grind up anything if you have the legs. A 12.6kg weight is pretty impressive too, well and truly in the ballpark for a bike much smaller than this.


Alternative options.

We’ve been loving the latest batch of 160mm bikes recently, here’s a few comparible bikes to the Strive that we’ve tested.

YT Capra CF 1 – Review here.

Pivot Mach 6 – Review here.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b – Review here.

Giant Reign 27.5 1 – Review here.

Trek Slash 9.8 – Review here.

Norco Range C 7.2 – Review here.

Polygon Collosus N9 – Review here.


Verdict.

Canyon are onto a good thing with the Shapeshifter, in descend mode it hammers like a downhill bike and the position that the climb mode puts you in makes light work of the uphills. The Strive successfully achieves the ‘two bikes in one’ thing, but still it’s a big rig that needs gravity on its side and is wasted on buff trails. It might be worth looking at the shorter travel Spectral if you like the look of this thing but don’t have the rough trails to warrant it. Or if you’re not that fussed on racing your mates or the clock look the other way.

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Big thumbs up.

And who can look past the price, it’s a seriously good bike for the dollars, a testament to the modern sales method from this huge German bicycle company. Out of the box it is ready to shred, it’s a true modern enduro race bike.

But the tradeoff is like any online purchase unseen, it’s now up to Canyon to prove themselves in this country going forward, but we can at least vouch for the quality of this bike. It’s a serious winner.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Öhlins RXF34 Fork

Their distinctive gold and yellow rear shocks have been around for a while as stock items on big travel Specialized bikes, and for 2016 the collaboration between the Swedish suspension stars Öhlins and Specialized continues with the release of a new 29er trail fork – the RXF34 – soon to be available through Specialized dealers.

Öhlins are well-represented in the motorsport realm, famed for being the type of brand that don’t pay athletes to use their products but still see top Moto GP using their gear. Here’s a little more on the brand – Öhlins history.

There’s an air of ambiguity and respect around this brand due to their high reputation, hence we are floored to have one fork to review so let’s take a look at some of the unique features before fitting to our Specialized Camber 29er for a test run.

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Smart, understated and elegant, the RXF34 is an exquisite piece to look at.
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The subtle and smooth finish serves a refreshing take on a market dominated by RockShox and FOX.

From Specialized: “Partnering with a company like Öhlins – the world leader in motorsports suspension – means we get the pinnacle of shock design, tuned specifically for a Specialized bike, like a Demo or Enduro. These shocks have so much traction and control that they change the way you ride, while putting a bigger grin on your face – and a larger gap between you and your buddies. Over the past few years, Öhlins has been hard at work bringing their first trail fork to market, the RXF 34. The first trail fork to feature a twin-tube design, it has everything you love about their TTX rear shocks, only it now goes on the front of your bike.

We gave a helping hand to the development by testing and providing feedback on our Camber, Stumpjumper FSR, and Enduro platforms. The key to this amazing handling fork is having parallel and separated oil flow to control the pressure levels, ensuring initial smoothness while staying high in the travel with excellent bump absorption, traction, and stability – all hallmarks of the twin-tube design. The RXF also has three air chambers; two positive and one negative. This allows the shape of the spring force to be adjusted by the rider, such as increasing sensitivity without bottoming out.

Bringing it all together is a unique forged “unicrown” for the highest stiffness and tire control with less chassis flex. The result is a 34mm fork that’s more rigid than other brands’ 35mm forks, and it’s comparable with a 36mm fork.”


Features:

  • 120, 140 & 160mm travel options for 29-inch wheels
  • 34mm stanchion tubes
  • 15mm through axle
  • TTX Damping technology by Öhlins
  • Three air chamber system, two positive and one negative
  • External rebound adjustment
  • High and low speed external compression adjustment
  • Forged unicrown
  • Low friction seals and bushings

Highlights:

Chassis: The most striking feature of the chassis is the one-piece crown and steerer, not a common sight (X-Fusion are another MTB fork brand to do a similar one-piece assembly) and it’s said to offer comparable stiffness to a 36mm leg fork, even with its 34mm legs.

The RXF34 is 29er only at this stage but we bet a 27.5″ version won’t be too far off. The axle is 15mm with no quick release, rather it is secured via a 5mm allen key.

Fork weight is 2.07kg.

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The unicrown one piece aluminium crown and steerer.
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15mm axle fastened with a 5mm allen key.
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Batman would run these on his bike.
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Öhlins own sealing.

TTX Damping Technology: Since 2006 across all sorts of suspension products, Öhlins uses two individual tubes for each rebound and compression dampers to help reduce the oil pressure inside the fork. This is said to increase sensitivity whilst remaining supportive.

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Blue dial for low speed compression, black for high speed compression and on the bottom of the leg is the gold rebound dial.
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An air pressure guide located on the back of the fork leg.

Three air chamber spring control: The RXF34 uses three air chambers for a very tuneable ride feel. Two positive air chambers let you tune the progressiveness of the fork, similar to fitting a Bottomless Token into a RockShox fork.

Setup goes like this; start with inflating the main air chamber on top of the fork to your weight, and then inflate the third chamber on the bottom of the fork to your desired rate of progression and feel. Then you’re able to tune the two air chambers according to your bottom out preference and sensitivity.

High and low speed compression adjustments: There is external high and low speed compression adjustability, and rebound control.


We are yet to confirm Australian retail pricing, but if the USD $1150 is a guide they look to be in line with the top offerings from FOX, RockShox and DVO and available from Specialized dealers.

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The RXF34 is due to be fitted to our Specialized Camber 29 test bike soon.

 

Long-Term Test Update: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5

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Simple setup: As we recently remarked in our review of the new Fuel EX 29er (check out the full write up on the Fuel EX 8 29 here), the Full Floater suspension system found on the Fuel series is easier to setup than a Tinder date. After only two rides we settled on a suspension setting that worked for us, and it’s testimony to this bike’s abilities in a huge variety of situations that we haven’t found need to make so much as a single adjustment since, nor have we felt the need to do any suspension maintenance.

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A clean bike is a happy bike. We really admire the Fuel’s buttery suspension – it’s exceptional.
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Last light at Eagle Mountain Bike Park, Adelaide.

We tend to spend the bulk of our riding time in the Trail setting of the FOX DPS CTD shock. The RE:Aktiv damper technology which Trek introduced in late 2014 does a good job of moving smoothly into the travel, as well as giving you quite a firm pedalling platform. Putting the shock lever into the firmest Climb setting is rarely needed.

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Dropping in on Black Dragon in Blue Derby.

Teflon ain’t this smooth: It’s not until we hop on another 120mm-travel bike that we appreciate how superb the Fuel’s suspension performance really is. We can’t think of another 120mm-travel bike that we’ve ridden which matches this bike’s abilities to suck up the ugliest landings or feel so calm floating over big, chunky rocks. The fork and shock are really nice balanced too, with similarly progressive spring curves and a rebound range that’s precise enough to get them working nicely together.

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The Fuel’s soundtrack on the trail is little more than the buzz of the freehub and the runch of tyres on the dirt

Silent Assassin: Part and parcel of the Fuel’s buttery suspension performance is that it’s nice and quiet. In a single-ring configuration, without the rattle of a front derailleur, the Fuel’s soundtrack on the trail is little more than the buzz of the freehub and the runch of tyres on the dirt.

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Judging by the expression on Chris’s face, this is not a comfortable position for the Fuel, but it didn’t seem to mind.

Giving the Fuel more teeth: We couldn’t help but feel that the stock bar and stem put a bit of a leash on the Fuel. If you’re keen, it will happily push very hard! To help put us in a stronger position on the bike, we swapped the 80mm stem for a very chunky 70mm Pro Tharsis item and went wider on the bar, installing a Bontrager Rhythm Pro bar at about 765mm wide. The changed cockpit mightn’t be too dramatically different on paper, but the increased confidence was like down a couple of wines before hitting a wedding dance floor. One option worth considering, if you’re a more aggressive kind of rider, is going up a frame size then running a shorter stem. This is something we’d definitely think about if we were starting again with this bike.

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A 70mm stem and wider bar has made the Fuel even more playful.
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Time out on Dambusters, Blue Derby.

Bontrager rubber is a treat: We’ve commented on it often, but the performance of Bontrager tyres is really pretty exceptional. We did admittedly cut the sidewall on the rear tyre on one of our first rides, but we’ll cop that one on the chin as we clearly weren’t running enough pressure and it was a particularly cal-handed piece of riding to. We’ve had no issues since, and we reckon the grip and rolling-speed balance of the XR3 as an all-rounder tyre is very hard to look past.

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The XT drivetrain has been flawless, despite dragging the rear derailleur across the odd rock.
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Getting the Fuel’s feet wet on Stonefly, Mt Buller.

Shimano XT back on top: Shimano’s XT groupset is really helping the big S build a strong position in their battle with SRAM, who undoubtedly won a lot of market share in this sector with their X1 1×11 groupset. We decided to run a single chain ring instead of the stock double ring, and we haven’t regretted it. We’ve had one (maybe two?) instances of dropping the chain, but this is a minor consideration when you look at the performance of this drivetrain overall. We’ve just recently installed an oval-shaped chain ring from Absolute Black too, which should be an interesting experiment. Ovalised rings are becoming very popular overseas, so we’re really intrigued to see if the claimed benefits ring true to us on on the trails.

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We’ve just fitted an Absolute Black oval ring. Is it better than a round ring? Too early to say, but we’ll be doing some in-depth testing.

The XT brakes are likewise perfect, and are real contenders for the finest stoppers available right now.

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Hooking into the lower stretches of the Australian Alpine Epic.

We’ve got a lot more riding planned for this bike in the next few months, and a suite of new product to fit to it for testing, including some new wheels from Zelvy, which we’re excited about. You’ll be seeing lots more of this baby blue beast on Flow, and if you look closely I’m sure you’ll see a big grin on the face of the rider too.

Trek Fuel Long Term Update-12

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See? See how stoked this guy is?!

Tested: Focus Spine C 0.0

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They’ve long had a great all-mountain bike with the SAM, and the Raven is a killer race hardtail, but the ‘trail’ segment was pretty much neglected. But that will all change with the arrival of the Spine, a 120mm-travel 27.5″-wheeled shred machine, which on paper certainly ticks all the boxes which should make it a serious contender in this arena.


What is it and who is it for?

The Spine ain’t spineless. With 120mm of firmly damped suspension, relaxed frame geometry and an overall weight lower than an outback pub parmigiana, the top-of-the-line Spine C0.0 is like a crossbreed of a greyhound and a staffy. A greystaff? Or Staffhound? This bike embodies the notion that it’s not the quantity of travel, but how you use it, which matters.

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Fantastic lines and striking graphics.

While this particular model sits at the more ‘aspirational’ end of the price spectrum, the Spine range is broad, with models spanning from under $3000 up to $9999. If you’re considering this one, the C0.0, then you clearly put a premium on having a light, quick bike.

With dual remote lockouts and some of the lightest equipment on the market, this bike is more than capable of serving as a cross-country race bike as well as a weekend trail slayer.


The Frame:

Angular Merkel: The Spine is an angular, jagged machine, and with the cool ‘rib cage’ style paintwork it looks fantastic. The flared top tube and unique cable ports have a real stealth bomber aesthetic, tapering off to a lean and lightweight rear end. The beautiful shape of the inverted RS-1 fork blends well with this bike too.

The front end is carbon throughout, while the chain stays are aluminium.

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The roomy cable ports make threading internal lines as easy as it can be.

New-school geometry: the progression towards longer and slacker geometries on trail bikes is a great thing, and the Spine follows suit with a 68-degree head angle and a 444mm reach. A 70mm stem and 428mm stays ensure it doesn’t get ungainly.

Internally routed: Considering how many different cables/lines there are to manage on this bike, Focus have done well to accommodate them all internally! The shock’s lockout line emerges just in front of the forward shock mount, which is unobtrusive. We’d hate to be the person re-routing all these lines should a frame swap be required though.

Squeeze it in: On a size medium frame, fitting a bottle was a minor struggle, possible but tight. A side-loading bottle cage is definitely the go. At least the bike has bottle mounts, a must in this category in our opinion.

Focus Spine-22
A Maxle secures the rear end. It sticks out like a dog from a car window a bit, but it’s a fast and tool-free option.

Tight out back: Maybe it’s just the fact that the RS-1 fork is so roomy, but the clearance around the rear tyre seems a bit tight on the Spine. If you wanted to run the same Continental Mountain King 2.4″ tyre as found up front on the rear, it’d be a pretty close fit.


Suspension:

There’s nothing complicated about the Spine’s rear suspension – this single-pivot with a linkage-driven shock setup is meat and potatoes in the suspension buffet, and it works really well.

Focus point out that they go the extra mile and tweak the linkage to suit each of the different frame sizes; with this suspension layout, the angle at which the seat stays drive the link changes between frame sizes, so Focus engineer different links for each size to ensure that the spring curve is kept consistent.

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The Monarch XX HV shock can be locked out with the press of a button. The junction where the hydraulic line affixes to the shock makes fitting a bottle a bit tight without a side-loading bottle cage.

This isn’t a feather bed kind of ride, and the suspension is more oriented to laying down the power and keeping enough in the bag for taking a walloping – direct and speedy acceleration are the hallmarks of the Spine. It can get a bit loose under braking, but good tyres help disguise this to a degree.

Focus Spine-20
The suspension system is a single-pivot with a link-driven shock. Nothing that rewrites the design books, but a proven system.

Setup:

Getting the most out of the Spine C0.0 took a bit of work. Firstly, our test bike, which had done a few miles already, needed a new rear tyre. When possible, we set all of our test bikes up tubeless, so we can ride them harder without fear of endless flats. In this instance, the Continental RaceSport was looking a bit worse for wear, so we popped on a reliable Bontrager XR3 in its stead.

Focus Spine-17
The business end is a net a cables.

Quickly, pass the cable cutters before we accidentally entangle an albatross! The web hanging off the bars of the Spine is a real spaghettifest and will require some patience and planning to get it all neat and rattle free. The only actual cable in the bike is for the rear derailleur – the dropper post and the fork and shock lockouts are all hydraulic, so make sure you know what you’re doing before you embark on trimming it all down! We simply didn’t have enough time to do so during this test, and we cursed the rattling sound every ride!

Focus Spine-13
How good does that look? The RS-1 suits this bike perfectly.

The Spine also proved to be one of those bikes for which a carpark bounce around doesn’t translate to how the suspension behaves on the trail. Following the pressure guide on the RockShox RS-1 fork and running around 25% sag out back on the Monarch XX shock initially felt too firm, especially at slower speeds.

In our experience, we’ve found the best performance from the RS-1 involves dropping the pressure lower than is recommended and then adding a Bottomless Token or two internally to increase the progression of the spring curve.


Spec:

Good value, relatively speaking: Ok, a $9999 bike isn’t within the grasp of many, but when you compare the Focus to its competitors at the top end, then it actually represents pretty decent value. As the falling Aussie dollar pushes retail prices higher, the Focus goes against the trend with thing like the inclusion of an RS-1 fork, which is worth the better part of $3000 aftermarket, and little additions such as a carbon-railled Fizik Tundra saddle.

Focus Spine-10

Premium drivetrain: The full SRAM XX1 drivetrain is sweetened even further with the inclusion of a direct-mount Blackbox chain ring. The clean, kink-free nature of the cable routing ensures that the shifting action is incredibly light too, and the shifts hammer home perfectly every time.

Dual lockouts: The right side of the bar is where you’ll find a combined lockout for the fork and shock. Having the ability to stiffens both ends with the press of a button has a plenty go appeal if racing is your caper, but there are some drawbacks in terms of cable congestion.

You also can’t independently lock out the rear shock, but leave the fork open, which is a setting we like to use a lot as it helps keep the rear high in travel and still allows the front tyre to track well.

Focus Spine-18
The SRAM Guide RSC brakes are superb. With 180mm rotors are both ends, there’s stopping power to burn.

High-volume rubber: Big volume, low weight tyres are just the ticket for a bike like this. Up front, the enormous Continental Mountain King can be run at low pressures to provide a huge contact patch for grip over roots and other slippery surfaces.

Strong cockpit position: Focus’s in-house Concept brand produce the wide low-rise carbon bar. At 760mm wide, we’re sure some people will lop a little off, but make sure you ride it wide before you decide to trim, as the position it puts you in is very confident.


Ride:

This is a bike which makes sense at speed. Toodle about on the Spine C0.0 at lower speeds and you’ll find it feels very firm, like a shorter-travel cross country machine. This has its advantages on smoother trails or when climbing, as the bike never feels like it’s loafing in its travel, but if the terrain is choppy it can all feel a bit harsh, like you’ve got too much pressure in the suspension.

It’s once you begin to get those wheels turning a bit faster that the bike starts to float and fly properly.

Focus Spine-3

With a bit more momentum behind it, the Spine settles further into its travel, feel smoother and more planted, and you can really get the tyres hooking into the dirt like a champion. It’s still certainly not the style of bike that makes the bumps disappear, but if you do begin to push harder, you’ve got the strong riding position and travel there in reserve to handle a good walloping.

The RS-1 is far more resistant to flex than the inverted design would suggest, and with the huge front tyre clawing at the earth, it will happily hold a line up front. The short rear end with its smaller tyre is a bit more loose, but that’s a feeling we quite like – better that the rear end runs wide than the front!

Focus Spine-5
With the seat dropped, and behind such a sturdy cockpit, you feel confident rolling into just about anything.

It’s a great climber overall, even if the short stem does make the position a bit upright on really steep climbs. With such a low weight, it’s an easy machine to hop up tricky ledges, and on smoother climbs having lockouts under your thumb will keep you in touch with all the 29er hardtails in the bunch.


What we’d change:

If this were our personal bike, we’d probably swap the saddle for something a little less racy – the Tundra is firm, flat perch, which will suit many arses, but not ours. A side-loading bottle cage is another certain addition, and we’d replace the crappy, lightweight aluminium seat post clamp bolt too, as it rounded out in no time.

Finally, we’d set aside a few hours in the workshop and neaten up all those cables!

Focus Spine-19
A little too lightweight – the soft aluminium bolt in the seat post clamp has to go!

Overall:

Focus Spine-11

If you’ve got aspirations to roll your cross-country race bike and your trail bike into one, then the Spine C0.0 could be the answer. It is about as light as trail bikes come, and its efficient, taut ride will see it hang out happily with the lycra set on the climbs and drop them on the descents. As much as we love this bike, we’re very inclined to ask for a test ride on the model below, the Spine C Factory, which loses the remote lockouts and gets the buttery RockShox Pike fork in place of the RS-1.

Given how much we like this bike’s geometry and attitude, we can’t help but think we’ll like it even more with a cleaner cockpit too.

Focus Spine-1-2

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Scale 720 Plus

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2.8″ is a whole lot of rubber, in a really good way.

On review we have the $2299 Scott Scale 720 Plus, the only plus hardtail from Scott coming Down Under, let’s take a look at it before we get rowdy.

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She’s a real looker, with brilliant colours and finishing we’ve grown to love from Scott.

What’s Plus?

What is a ‘plus bike’ you’re asking? In a nutshell it’s just a 27.5″ wheel bike with bigger tyres, like this one with a voluminous 2.8″. No it’s not a fat bike, they ride more like regular bikes in our experience, and the best plus bikes are a result of finding the sweet spot between all the wheel size factors like diameter, width, volume and tread.

Scott are well and truly at the forefront of the new plus thing, we’ve learnt that one already.

The outer diameter of the wheel is close to that of a 29er, but the actual wheel is a regular 27.5″. So the rolling benefits of the large diameter is there, but you still get a lively and agile feeling bike. They aren’t here to win races, they are just a seriously good option for anyone who wants to enjoy riding trails, especially if they are loose and rocky.

The tyres are run at low pressure, with a good tubeless setup we were running around 13-15 psi in the tyres, that may sound low but with the super-wide rims the tyre doesn’t squirm around like you’d expect with low pressure, the support is ace.


Our experiences with Plus bikes. 

Plus bikes are not new to us at Flow, we reviewed the Scott Genius Plus and bigger travel Genius LT Plus and the Scale 710 Plus hardtail (not an Australian model) last year. We LOVED them, why? Read this – Scott Genius and Scale Plus review.

We’ve tested a couple Specialized 6 Fattie bikes too, the Fuse hardtail is a comparable option to this Scale, an extra $700 but we loved riding it. Specialized Fuse Expert 6 Fattie review.

And the Stumpjumper 6 Fattie was one of the most fun tests we’ve ever done. Review here: Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 6 Fattie review.

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Imagine what you could do with tread like this!?
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40mm wide rims, a key factor in supporting the low pressure tyres.

The frame.

This Swiss brand’s aluminium frames often look better than many brand’s expensive carbon ones, and this Scale 720 is no exception, it’s a real beauty.

Bold green and blue graphics drip all over the smooth matte black finish, with internally routed cables, smooth welds and a neat set of dropouts with the Shimano direct mounting for the rear derailleur.

There’s provisions for a dropper post (phew) and you can see how the engineers have been able to manage a short rear end despite having to fit such a big rear tyre in the frame, the chainstays and seat tube are very different in shape to any of the regular Scale frames.

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Stumpy little headtube, handy if you want to dump the stem down low.
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Internal cabling done nicely.

The parts.

The Scale 720 is the entry level Plus bike from Scott and the most affordable Plus bike we’ve ridden, at this price point the challenge is set to keep the bike’s weight down whilst still speccing it with the parts that will let it realise it potential on the trail.

Not here to win cross country races, the Plus bike just wants to have a good time, so the fork is 120mm, bars are wide and the stem is short, and of course the tyres are meaty. But there is no dropper post or tubeless ready rims or tyres.

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A Suntour fork Raidon fork is fitted up front with 32mm diameter legs, 120mm of travel and a remote handlebar lockout. We’ve not ridden any recent forks from Suntour, but from where we sit there seems to be plenty of development and high end riders on Suntour suspension, so we are very curious as to how they feel.

The Raidon is an air and coil sprung fork with adjustable rebound and their unique Q LOC quick release axle. We’ve seen RockShox and FOX master their take on the QR axle, but Manitou’s dismal attempt on the Specialized Fuse 6 Fattie drove us mad, so let’s hope this one goes ok.

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Shimano brakes and shifters.
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Shimano throughout.
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Shimano XT rear derailleur, but the older version without the clutch. Bugger.

Shimano take care of the brakes and drivetrain, with a mix of Deore and XT but there’s a distinct absence of a clutch mechanism on the rear derailleur. The clutch cuts down the noise and chain slap via a clever tension resistance switch on the derailleur cage. It’s not the biggest issue, but it’ll surely make the bike feel a little outdated in terms of noise and chain security.

The double chainring setup will ensure you’ll be able to climb anything and never run out of gears, and the gear cables are sealed and out of way from the elements so it’ll be a great all-weather bike for sure.

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Double chainring for maximum range!
Testing the Scale 710 in Dear Valley last year at the 2016 launch.
Testing the Scale 710 in Dear Valley last year at the 2016 launch. Now it’s time to test the Scale on home soil.

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Righto, let’s ride!

Stay tuned for our full review.

Tested: Specialized 2FO Cliplite shoes

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Lighter, stiffer, narrower, radder.

Actually, the weight saving isn’t all that huge to be honest, saving about 140g for the pair when compared to standard 2FO Clip shoe, but they are a much neater, nicer shoe overall in our opinion.

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Double BOA and one velcro strap.

While we really like the 2FO Clip shoes, we find the laces a bit finicky in muddy or gritty conditions. That’s why we’re stoked to see the increasingly popular Boa dial system on the Cliplites. It’s a very simple, fast and precise adjustment system, and it’s practically impervious to mud too. It’s easy to adjust on the fly as well.

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Dialling it in.

The fit isn’t as ‘glove-like’ as we’d hoped – the upper is pretty stiff around the ankle, and we did notice that if we had the top Boa dial done up quite firmly that this top edge of the shoe dug in a bit. We’ve heard other riders make the same remarks, so it’s not just our boney ankles! A little more padding, or use of a more flexible material in this area, wouldn’t go astray. Backing off the tension of the Boa dial a couple of clicks resolved it, but gave us more ‘float’ in the shoe than we like.

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The upper felt quite stiff around the ankles.

Leaving that issue aside, there’s a lot to like. The Cliplite has a grippy SlipNot sole that ensures you don’t end up on your arse if you have to hike the occasional section of trail, and the extended cleat slots (4mm longer than most Specialized shoes) lets you run your cleats further back, which is common amongst more aggressive riders.

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Clipping in and out is a snack.

Getting back into your pedals is made easier thanks to the Landing Strip, which is a deep, long cleat recess and which seems to work particularly well at catching and guiding your foot back into the pedals. If you’re the type of rider who likes to dangle a foot in loose corners, you’ll appreciate this.

To date, they’re proving to be nice and durable. The finish wipes clean easily and the tall rubber edging off toe box is tough. While the black and white versions here have a bit of ‘foot in a fairy penguin’ vibe to them, you can also get them in an understand black/grey or a lairy green/black too.

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Great shoes.

Try them out for fit first and make sure they play nicely with your ankles (remember, Specialized also do a range of great Body Geometry inner soles too), as they’re certainly a great shoe for the trail rider if they work with your leg-ends.

 

Tested: Polygon Siskiu D8

The Siksiu D8 is Polygon’s aluminium frame 27.5″ wheel dually with 120mm of suspension travel, purchased online from Bicycles Online and shipped to your door.

Buying a bike from a website isn’t a new thing, and it sure does comes with the typical drawbacks, but Bicycles Online do their best to ensure the process is as simple and easy as possible. There are systems in place like their 14 day returns policy, assembly video tutorials, sizing guide and the option of a $99 Pro Build where the bike is unpacked built at the Bicycles Online workshop in Sydney by a mechanic, then tested and tuned before re-packing for shipping.

It’s the consumer’s choice whether or not the valuable service of a bike store is needed – or going direct to save dollars – is worth it.

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Looks pretty good for only $2K we think!
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Testing the Siskiu D8 on the rocky trails of Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

The Siskiu is an all-new bike for 2016, previously called the Recon which we reviewed last year. Click here for our review of the 2015 Recon 4. We found the lower price point Recon 4 to be a great handling bike but lacked in a few areas of finishing detail like the cable routing and a couple spec areas. Fast forward to now, and the Siskiu D8 looks to have it all sorted and more.

For $1999 you’d be choosing between a mid-range front suspension hardtail, or an entry level dual suspension. Dual suspension bikes don’t usually come this far down in price, so it really opens up a lot of choice for potential buyers.


 

The Frame.

Polygon’s huge dual suspension catalogue is full of weird and wonderful looking bikes using advanced suspension designs and carbon frames (like this wild one), but the Siskiu keeps it pretty simple with a classic single-pivot suspension design and an aluminium frame.

The big changes to the frame for 2016 from the previous model is the hydro-formed (call it curvy) tube shapes, wider 142mm dropouts to keep up with current wheel standards and routing the gear cables internally through the frame.

The whole bike weighs only 13.3kg, we think that’s pretty good!

Polygon Siskiu-3
Nice shapes and hidden cables.
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The welded joints are neat enough and well finished.

Polygon Siskiu-6

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Nice rear.

 

The Parts.

Bikes have come SUCH a long way in a relatively short time. Not too long ago a dual suspension bike of this price would not be up to the task of real mountain biking, the brakes would certainly not have cut it on wet trails, the wheels would have bent out of shape easily and it probably would have weighed about 18kg. But fast forward to 2016 and we’re spoilt with all this performance!

The moment we first saw this bike we searched with a critical eye for a weak link – a component that could possibly let us down on the trails – but nothing was obvious at all.

And after a few solid weeks riding the Siskiu showed us the great quality mixture of Shimano, Mavic, RockShox and Polygon’s own components are up to the task.

Polygon Siskiu-17
120mm of RockShox suspension leading the way.

RockShox handle the suspension duties with a Recon Gold Air fork and Monarch RT rear shock, both are very decent pieces of kit in our experience. The fork uses an adjustable air spring which makes for easy setup for each individual rider, and the rebound speed is also adjustable.

A remote lockout button is fitted to the bars for quickly firming up the fork when climbing up steep hills or jaunts on the tarmac where you don’t need the suspension bobbing around.

Out back is the RockShox Monarch RT shock, with air adjustment and handy sag guides etched on the shaft helping to set your correct air pressure and sag height. We found the sweet spot at around 25% sag.

The little blue lever has two settings, open and closed. Locked out the suspension was still active to a degree, just right for smoother sections of trail and climbs.

The RockShox Monarch RT air rear shock with lockout and rebound control.

The Shimano’s hydraulic brakes on this bike are astonishing, the light and consistent lever feel when given a squeeze gives the Siskiu a high end feel.

While they don’t quite have the serious bite and power of the high end versions, they out-performed our expectations. In the mud and wet the braking remained powerful enough to keep the bike under control with only one finger on the lever, impressive.

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Superior Shimano hydraulic brakes.
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Schwalbe, Mavic, Shimano and RockShox. Thumbs up from us.

It’s a bit of a European affair with the hoops, with French rolling legends Mavic take care of the wheelset and German tyre guru’s Schwalbe with the rubber bits.

The wheels are the Mavic’s  27.5″ CrossRide, they felt both strong and fast to us, with no signs of any straightening needed after our test. Schwalbe’s Smart Sam tyres are a bit of an all-round type of tyre, with a close tread pattern in the centre for smooth rolling on hard surfaces, but sharp edges on the side knobs help traction in the corners. They aren’t the tubeless ready ones though, that’s something to look at as a future upgrade perhaps, going tubeless does wonders to a bike.

Shimano’s SLX/XT drivetrain is a real winner, with a very wide range of 20 gears to ensure you’ll never run out. The XT rear derailleur uses the clutch mechanism which provides stable and quiet chain retention with a flick of the switch, a big advancement in technology that’s happened to mountain bike gears in recent years.

Polygon Siskiu-27

 


The Ride.

If you’re spending $2K on a dually, it’d have to be worth it when compared to a hardtail.

Generally speaking you’d pay around $700-$1000 more for a dual suspension bike with a comparable level of components found on a hardtail. But the beauty of a good dual suspension bike is how it will easily trump a hardtail in terms of ride quality, and not only for rough trails. With rear suspension you’ll be able to ride faster in more control, and ride more tricky sections of the trail without getting off.

The classic penalties for a dual suspension bike comes in the shape of increased cost, weight, and the extra maintenance associated with more moving parts. Then there’s an element of efficiency that the rear suspension can rob you of if it’s not done well.

But hardtails are just so darn… hard!

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Giving the Siskiu a good razzing.

The Siskiu is a very comfortable bike to ride, the cockpit is quite tall and our large size test bike felt relaxed enough to ride all day long.

Polygon have done a good job in designing the frame geometry to suit its intended use for an entry level suspension bike, it isn’t too slack and nor is it too sharp, the angles feel just right for legitimate everyday mountain biking.

Descending: When the trails turned down we were really able to test out the suspension, and to its credit the Siskiu did a pretty good job! Sure, when compared to some of the top-shelf bikes we test here at Flow the Siskiu’s suspension wasn’t as composed or smooth when the speeds got higher, but it certainly took care of smoothening out the trails so we could let the brakes off and have a good time. 120mm of travel is a good amount for general trail riding, any more and it would feel too cumbersome on the climbs.

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The rear suspension worked best when unlocked for the roughest descents, and we ran the rebound speed slightly slower than normal. We found the limits of the fork when ridden extra hard, on the biggest impacts the fork would reach the end of its travel with a harsh clunk, so we upped the fork pressure an extra 10-20psi when we were riding rougher descents. The tyres are a bit of a dual-duty type, with a close and sharp tread pattern that rolls fast and grips well but consider a larger tyre down the track if you want a bit more cushion and flat tyre protection.

Upgrading to an adjustable seatpost would do wonders to the descending abilities of this bike, as would a tubeless tyre conversion.

Climbing: Getting back up to the top of the fun bits was also a fairly good experience, the bike’s 13.3kg was manageable and the rear suspension helped increase the traction at the rear wheel, letting us climb looser and rougher lines without slipping. The rear suspension is certainly not tuned for cross country racing, so it’ll bob around if you’re heavy on the pedals on a climb so it’s best to flick the switch when you know what’s coming up.

Out of the box the Siskiu’s stem is at full height, and that’s pretty high, great for cruising about the trails. But if you want a more aggressive climbing and cornering position we’d suggest dropping the stem down on the fork steerer (like in the pic below), and replace the headset spacers on top. Ask your local bike store for a hand if that sounds confusing.

With the double chainring up front and ten speeds out the back, you’ll be hard pressed to find a climb that’s too steep for the gears available.

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Fun to ride, the Siskiu is better at playing than racing.

Cornering: The Polygon isn’t an aggressive bike, so it responded best to a gentle hand when turning through singletrack corners. We always felt safe and secure when tipping the bike down through a bend, with the Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres hooking up nicely and biting into the dirt finding good traction.

Its 27.5″ wheels suit the bike’s feel, and let the bike be quite nimble and playful, we found it quite fun to punt off drops and play around on the trails.

Any issues? Our test bike developed a knocking feeling in the moving parts of the rear suspension, it rattled slightly when riding and we were not able to fix it by tightening all the bolts and rear shock hardware. After it returning to Bicycles Online they were able to get to the bottom of the issue pretty easily, a simple washer was missing from the rear shock mount. Polygon have since rectified the issue and as our test bike came from an earlier batch any new bikes will be correctly assembled.


 

Verdict.

Riding the Siskiu was more than just a case of ‘getting what you pay for’, it showed us how far mountain bike development has come and the ‘technology trickle down effect’ is certainly working.

Polygon’s are sold online, so unless you’re able to try before you by at the Bicycles Online headquarters in Sydney’s north you’ll face the challenges of online shopping, but that’s also why this bike is such killer value.

In the end we enjoyed this bike, with such solid performance and reliability from the components fitted to a sturdy and well-thought out frame, we’d take a Siskiu D8 over a hardtail any day.

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Until next time.

Flow’s First Bite – RockShox Lyrik RCT3

If you need between 160 and 180mm of travel the Lyrik will take care of you.

The Lyrik is more than just a longer travel Pike, let us take a brief look at the details before we fit it to our bike and get out there.

What is it?

At first glimpse the Lyrik looks a whole lot like a Pike, but a keen eye will note the differences in its shape, the arch is thicker and taller and the lower legs are tapered and asymmetrical with longer leg on the spring side.

Specifications:

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″+

Internals: The excellent Charger damper is shared with other forks but receives updated SKF seals to decrease friction. The negative air chamber is also larger than the Pike to give the fork a more supple and sensitive portion of travel at the beginning of the stroke, all in the aid of giving it a downhill fork feel.

Rebound tune ability: Riders on the heavier or lighter end of the spectrum can benefit from the ability to fine tune the rebound circuit via the shim stack inside the fork, just like you can with the BoXXer.

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Note the larger hub interface around the axle – that’s the Torque Cap contact area. More contact with the hub has lifted the fork’s stiffness.

Torque Caps: First introduced to us on the inverted RS-1 fork is the Torque Cap system, aiming to bolster the bond between fork dropout and hub. SRAM front wheels will be available with oversized Torque Caps to benefit from the increased stiffness, which isn’t ideal for those with existing wheels. Though compatibility isn’t an issue, any 15mmQR wheel sill still fit in the fork it’ll just take a little more concentration to line the axle up with the dropouts when fitting the wheel. 

Pricing: Australian pricing is the same as the 2016 Pike, RRP on the fork is the same as the 2016 Solo Air Pike in all wheel sizes – $1549.95.

And the Dual Position Air versions in all wheel sizes – $1649.95.

Alongside the RockShox Lyrik is the lower specced Yari, by using a their more basic Motion Control damper you save $500. Yari RC – $1099.95

We’ll be fitting the Lyrik RCT3 to our Canyon Strive to be more like Fabien Barel, check out his sweet setup below.

Stay tuned for our full review soon.

Flow’s First Bite – Giant Anthem Advanced 27.5 1

There’s a whopping nine versions of the Anthem available in both aluminium and carbon frames. There’s the Anthem X with 29″ wheels, the more aggressively specced Anthem SX (click here for our review of the SX) and the regular Anthem we have here.

We’ve also reviewed the Anthem’s bigger brother recently, the Trance Advanced 27.5 1. The Trance Advanced 27.5 1 uses 140mm of travel based around the same platform, and a similar build kit.

Flow has happily just taken delivery of the bold yellow and black Anthem Advanced 1, so let’s take a look at what we might expect during our upcoming test, it seems there’s quite a lot to like about it.

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Weighing only 11.04kg after the supplied tubeless conversion this is a very light bike for a fair price tag of $4999, we’d put the low weight down to the carbon frame, wheels and the single-ring Shimano XT drivetrain.

Travel is a trim 100mm and the head angle is a sharp 69.5 degrees, that means business. In the right hands this thing will be lightning fast through singletrack and will lap around a racetrack efficiently.

Giant are right into the 27.5″ wheel size, while the 100mm dually category is typically dominated by the bigger 29er wheels Giant stick with the thinking that a smaller wheeled bike can benefit from the reduced weight, faster acceleration and handling of 27.5″ than 29″. We’re eager to test it out on the trails to put that theory into action.

The frame.

A carbon (call it carbon, or composite) front end with an aluminium rear with the Maestro floating link suspension system is doused in glossy yellow and black paint, cables run internally and neatly though the front end and in classic Giant style the finish is busy yet striking.

A front derailleur mount is there if need be and also provisions for an internally routed dropper post (go on, do it!), and there’s loads of space for a full sized water bottle .

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The new look 2016 logo for Giant’s performance (higher end) bikes.

The parts.

For five gorillas you’d hope for a lot of good bits, and Giant don’t fail on delivering at every angle.

A full Shimano XT kit equips the Anthem with the brakes and the entire drivetrain. Since its unveiling earlier this year, Shimano’s second-tier groupset has won us over, the brakes are perfect and the single-ring drivetrain is crisp, smooth and durable. For our full review of the new Shimano XT click here – Shimano XT long term test.

Shimano’s new single-ring drivetrains may not match the wide range offered by SRAM but it’s close enough, here we have a 32 tooth chainring paired to a 11-42 tooth cassette out back.

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XT on XT. Right hand shifter and brake levers.

The combination of the new shape brake levers with reach and free stroke adjustment, longer shifter paddles and Giant grips make for a very ergonomic cockpit that will be easy to find a comfortable position for your hands.

FOX suspension front and back is a welcome sight, their latest 2016 range is absolutely killer and we’ve been loving all of it on a variety of bikes. Even better is that it’s top shelf stuff, both the fork and rear shock are the premium Factory models, with the extra smooth and stiction-free Kashima coating and all the adjustments you could ever want.

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Top of the line. FOX Float 32 Factory.
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That lustrous Kashima golden colour, the special smooth finish does wonders to the fork’s sensitivity.

The fork uses a handy handlebar remote lockout lever which does adds a little clutter with an extra cable but the way it loops around the back of the fork crown is pretty nifty and should be easy to work around.

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FOX Float DPS rear shock with all the right adjustments.
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A regular size air can (not the EVOL version) handles the stout 100mm of travel.

Out the back the FOX Float rear shock is also top of the line, a new Dual Piston System Float with all the excellent slow speed compression settings, and the little blue lever easily within reach when riding.

The Anthem uses Giant’s carbon rims laced to their own hubs, the narrow and stiff rims look at home on this bike, and included with the bike is the blue tubeless rim tape and valves for converting to tubeless. You’d be mad not to convert to tubeless, and surely the bike store can do the quick and simple job for you.

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Giant’s understated PXCR – 1C rims are 19mm wide (internal width).

Giant round out the rest of the parts with their own in-house components. The low-rise handlebar, stem, seatpost and their excellent new saddle ties it all together nicely and neatly.

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2016 sees more of Giant’s new saddle range, and our experiences so far have been fantastic.
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Contact SL cockpit, perfect match for the Anthem’s racey shape.

So there’s a quick roundup of what’s what with the new Anthem Advanced 27.5 1, now let’s hit the trails. Keep your eyes out for our review soon.

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To the trails!

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29

Let’s take a quick look at the new Camber before we get it real dirty. Full review coming soon.

The Camber is available in carbon and aluminium, ranging from $2799 up to the S-Works for $12999, check out the full range here: Specialized Camber.

Our review of the 2015 Camber Expert Carbon EVO: Camber EVO review.  

Read our review of the new 2016 Stumpjumper too, she’s a real beauty. Specialized Stumpjumper review. 

Seen the new 6Fattie range? Worth a look if you’re a fan of traction. Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie review. 

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The new-look 2016 Camber, subtle with its minimal graphics and lack of stickers.

Slotting in between the lean and mean Specialized Epic and longer legged Stumpjumper, the Camber has grown to be a mighty popular trail bike with its ability to suit just about any mountain bike rider with its neutral ‘just right’ on-trail character.

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The front end is a beautiful mixture of smooth lines and sleek shapes. It’s hard not to run your fingers over it and say “ooooh”.

Two wheel sizes: The Camber is now available in both wheel sizes (previously only 29″), 650b and 29er. 120mm travel for the 29er and 130mm for the smaller wheel 650b version. We’ve got the 29er on test, the Expert Carbon Comp 29.

Tighter numbers: It’s all the rage, shorter rear ends for a zippier ride. The new Camber 29er drops from a previous length of 450mm to a short and snappy 437mm. The head angle slackens off slightly to 68 degrees.

Internal routing: We really appreciate a clean bike, and this new Camber is so damn fine it’s just a dream. The cable routing is even neater than before, and everything just seems to be so tidy.

Internal cable routing done the good way.
Internal cable routing done the good way.
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Trimmed the rear centre down in length, and beefed it up in girth.

SWAT: What? Storage, Water, Air and Tools. The new Camber uses the SWAT Door, a storage compartment under the water bottle cage. It’s Specialized’s new thing that nobody else has even come close to, you’re able to mount small repair tools on the bike, there’s always space for a full size water bottle and now even a storage compartment INSIDE the down tube takes it to another level. Match that up with their excellent SWAT Bib (that we’ve reviewed and swear by) you can leave your hydration bag at home and carry all the essentials you need for shorter rides on your body or on/inside your bike.

In addition to the SWAT Door, there’s a nifty little allen key set hidden under the tup tube and a chain tool integrated into the headset top cap, now that is clever! We’ve used the SWAT Door plenty of times, and it is actually a really great feature executed very well.

Stiffer and lighter linkage: The new Camber is a lighter and stiffer frame than its predecessor, chiefly due to a new linkage that connects the rear shock directly to the seat stays, said to improve lateral rigidity whilst losing weight. The bike weighs a very impressive 12.34kg out of the box, not bad at all.

The tiny little FSR linkage.
The compact little FSR linkage.
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A reconfigured linkage drives the tiny Micro Brain rear shock.

Position-Sensitive Micro Brain: Specialized have used their Brain rear shocks for yonks, made in collaboration with FOX it uses an inertia valve housed down towards the rear hub which can differentiate between impacts from the ground and the rider’s inout pushing down. Over the years our relationship with this system has improved, earlier versions whilst very efficient they would lack feel.

The latest version of the Brain is said to be a vast improvement in this regard, with a greater range of adjustment with more sensitivity. This is of particular interest to us, we’re looking forward to testing it out on the dirt.

Wide Rims: YES! 29mm wide rims, winner. Specialized got the memo about wider rims are better rims a couple years ago, and now offer good width on so many of their bikes. The Roval Traverse wheels on this Camber have an internal width of 29mm. Thumbs up.

The classic tyre combo of a Specialized Purgatory up front and the Ground Control out the back is a real winner in our eyes, and they’re all set up tubeless.

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Glossy FOX forks.

34mm FOX: The new 2016 FOX Fit 4 forks are sweet, and with the 34mm legs leading the way everything is stiffer and more precise.

Shimano meets SRAM: In what Specialzed must call ‘best of both worlds’ the brakes are done by the Shimano with the new XT brakes that are winning everyone over with their light feel and heavy power, read our review on them here: Shimano M8000 XT tested.  And the drivetrain comes from the other corner, SRAM.

The SRAM 11-speed drivetrain uses a tiny 28 tooth chainring on carbon cranks up front, with the base level 10-42 tooth SRAM GX cassette out the back, that’s a nice and low range of gears.

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It’s all looking pretty good so far, but we couldn’t help but gasp at the price. $8799 is pretty massive, the prices of bikes just keep on going up, and it seems Specialized are particularly effected. Only a couple years ago the same version was closer to $6000, crazy.

We’ll be putting in the testing miles on the Camber this summer, so stay tuned for more.

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Let the testing begin!

Tested: Norco Sight C 7.2

For more on the 2016 bikes from Norco, check out our 2016 preview here: New 2016 bikes from Norco.

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 The Sight C7.2, and the rest of the Norco Sight range, are available from 99 Bikes at some pretty sharp, reduced prices. Take a look! 

[divider]What is it, and who is it for?[/divider]

The Norco Sight is a rowdy little bike, available in a big range of price points, in both alloy and carbon versions. It feels like a go-kart on the trails (albeit with monster-truck tyres), and it loves to pick apart your favourite sections of trail and encourage you to ride them in new ways. It really hits the sweet spot for hard riding; 140mm/150mm travel, with geometry that’s 100% built for playfulness on the trail. Our test bike is just one rung from the top in the Sight range with a pretty hefty $7249 price tag, but the same geometry and attitude flows all the way down to the alloy Sight A 7.2 for $3499.

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[divider]The frame[/divider]

This bike looks great, and the beauty of the carbon frame runs more than paint deep (and we really do like the colour).

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The Sight’s four-bar rear suspension delivers good efficiency and big hit performance.

Four-bar efficiency: The Sight’s four-bar linkage suspension delivers 140mm of efficient travel, using the Cane Creek Double Barrel In-Line shock. Norco incorporate a fair bit of anti-squat into their suspension design, with an axle path that’s noticeably rearward moving in the early part of the travel. This makes them pedal exceptionally well for a pretty plush overall ride, at the expense of a bit of pedal feedback when putting down the power in rougher situations.

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Only the linkage plate and chain stay are alloy, the rest is all carbon.

Size-specific geometry: Norco’s Gravity Tune geometry is seen throughout much of their range. In a nutshell, as the frame size increases, so to does the rear-centre measurement of the bike, whereas in traditional sizing only the front end of the bike gets longer in bigger sizes. It’s all about keeping the rider’s body weight in the right position relative to both wheels, and on our medium sized test bike the chain stay measures up at a short 427mm. The head angle is 66.9 degrees, which is fairly standard in this realm, and a reach measurement of 415mm is paired to a 65mm stem.

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Norco’s GIZMO cable grommets prevent cable rub around the head tube.

Cables and water bottle both get a tick: Having room for a full-sized water bottle is a big plus for those humid summer days when you start oozing sweat at the mere thought of wearing a pack. Norco have handled the internal cabling well, with rubber grommets keeping the cables tamed and ensuring clean, rub-free routing around the head tube. The ports into the frame are actually quite roomy too, which reduces head aches should you need to stuff around with the internal cables later.

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No one is likely to fit a front mech to this bike, so why not ditch the cable ports?

Why the front derailleur provisions? No one who buys this bike will be popping a front derailleur on it. It would’ve been classier if Norco had used an ISCG mounted chain guide, ditched the ugly mount and cable routing ports for a front mech on this version of the Sight.

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The Syntace X-12 rear axle is so neat. We’d happily live with needing a 5mm Allen key to remove the rear wheel for this kind of slim, clean appearance.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

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Our relationship with the Cane Creek Double Barrel In Line shock is complicated…

In 2015, the Sight had 140mm front and rear. But if lots is good, more must be better, and so in 2016 the Pike RC fork is bumped up to 150mm. The rear end doesn’t change, it still gets 140mm delivered via the potentially confounding Cane Creek DB Inline rear shock. We’ve got a funny relationship with this shock… there’s a lot of performance there, but getting the best out of it takes patience. Given that we normally only have a bike for a few weeks during testing, we often feel we like we’re always working on getting things ‘just right’.

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With high/low speed adjustments for both rebound and compression, this shock can be overwhelming for most trail riders, but there is a lot of performance there.

With independent control over high and low-speed compression and high and low-speed rebound (plus a Climb Switch) there’s huge potential to get the rear end feeling great with the CCDB, but it’s a long process, and we can imagine there are a lot of riders out there who either a) never use any of the adjustments or b) use the adjustments without the knowledge to do so and end up with a shock that’s set up poorly. Arguably the performance benefits are there, but are they comparatively enough versus say a FOX or RockShox which usually only takes a ride or two to get dialled? We’re not sure… That said, Norco do provide recommended baseline settings for the shock, so as long as you don’t vary too far from these, you’re likely to be pretty good.

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In contrast to the shock, the Pike RC fork is so easy to setup and works brilliantly right away.

In comparison, the fork is a joy to work with. The recommended pressure guide is usually quite accurate, the rebound rate is easy to adjust, and the bike is supplied with RockShox’s Bottomless Tokens which can be fitted in just a couple of minutes to get the suspension rate how you like it. We love the Pike.

[divider]Setup[/divider]

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Our Sight C 7.2 was built by the crew at 99 Bikes in Brookvale, leaving us with little to do except adjust the suspension and tyre pressures, then get into it!

Initially we adjusted the rear shock to the recommended settings (17mm sag), but we did find this left the bike riding a little low in its travel for our liking much of the time, so the pressure was bumped up a little to give us around 14mm sag. Based on our previous experience with the Pike, we fitted one Bottomless Token and ran the recommended air pressure for our weight.

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The Sight’s wheelset is great! DT 350 hubs laced to E512 rims make a light, but tough set of hoops.

The super-aggressive Schwalbe Magic Mary front tyre is a lot of rubber to push around most trails, but its grip levels will save your arse in so many situations it’s impossible not to love it. DT’s E512 rims needed tubeless rim strips and valves to set up as tubeless, neither of which were included with the bike, a shame. The rims are reasonably wide at 25mm internally, and we felt comfortable running the tyres in the low-mid twenties.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Some short cuts, given the price: With the drop in the Australian dollar, we’ve seen prices go up a fair bit across the industry, and Norco hasn’t been immune unfortunately. Even still, we’re surprised that the Sight doesn’t get the more expensive RCT3 version of the Pike, and we’d have expected a carbon bar for this price too.

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Raceface provide the bar, stem and cranks. For the money, we’d have liked to see a carbon bar.

Fantastic rubber: Schwalbe’s gummy tyres occasionally come under fire for being less than durable, but so far so good for the Nobby Nic / Magic Mary on the Sight. These tyres are a great combo – the Nic’s tread pattern is like a scaled back version of the absurdly aggressive Mary up front, and together they dig into just about anything. We did notice they felt a little slow on fireroad climbs, but that’s not why you buy this bike. We really like that Norco has specced the tougher Snake Skin version of these treads too.

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The new Schwalbe Nobby Nic is a good option for the front or rear. Norco have paired it with the super aggressive Magic Mary up front.

Great drivetrain with extra security: Adding a chain guide to SRAM X1 drivetrain mightn’t be necessary, but we still think it’s a good idea as it only takes one inopportune dropped chain to make your groin and stem awfully familiar. The shifting quality is perfect, every time. Blindfold us and we’d battle to tell the difference between X1 and the far more expensive XX1.

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Effective, if a little ugly. The Blackspire chain guide provides welcome security.
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Guide RS brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear. Perfect!

Top notch brakes with neat clamp integration: Using SRAM Match Maker clamps for the brakes/shifter/dropper means the cockpit is more orderly than North Korean military parade, and the stopping power and lever feel of the Guide RS brakes is hard to top.

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SRAM’s Match Maker clamps keep the cockpit looking clean and minimalist. The SDG grips are a favourite here at Flow.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

If you like to view the trail as a playground, rather than a route from A to B, then the Sight will appeal. This is a bike that makes you want to flick the rear wheel about like a cut snake, and generally go over, not through, whatever is in front of your wheels.

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Josh from For The Riders in Brisbane razzing turns, what the Sight lives for.

Dropping low down into a turn with the rear end sliding is how the Sight likes to approach every corner, and thanks to the crazy amounts of grip up front you’re pretty much guaranteed you won’t lose the front end. Short stays and an overall compact feel make it an easy one to pop into the air, or get on its back wheel with a stab on the pedals to tackle tricky climbs or ledges. While the bike itself is efficient in terms of pedalling, the way we found ourselves riding the Sight was anything but! It’s quite a light bike, and it doesn’t bog down under power so you’re always up out of the saddle sprinting at things, trying to drift, looking for the fun lines, not the fast ones – most of our rides on the Sight topped out at about an hour and a half, not through any fault of the bike’s, but because we spent so much energy just doing fun, stupid things.

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The low, compact frame just makes you want to chuck the bike about.

The Sight proved to be really comfortable and quiet when taking some big impacts too. We found ourselves remarking time and again just how solid and unflappable everything felt when touching down from some pretty decent six-foot plus drops. There’s a really reassuring, progressive feel to the suspension; the shock uses all its travel but doesn’t crash into the end of its stroke, and the Pike fork feels like it’ll munch up the big hits all day.

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At slower speeds, we initially didn’t feel as overwhelmed by the Sight’s suspension, but we feel that the recommended shock setup was to blame. Using the recommended baseline settings provided by Cane Creek, we felt like the rear end was getting a bit ‘stuck’ when trying to keep momentum on slower, lumpy sections of trail. Speeding up the low-speed rebound to keep the bike a little bit more lively and riding higher in its stroke helped.

Norco Sight C 7.2-15
The Climb Switch is a really effective adjustment and we always had good climbing traction.

The Sight is a reliable, steady climber, especially if you use the shock’s Climb Switch, which both stiffens the suspension and increases the damping on the low-speed rebound circuit too. It’s a super effective climbing setting, and with the big contact patch of the Schwalbe Nobby Nic climbing traction is excellent. It’s not a roomy bike to climb on, so we did push the seat back a little to lengthen the climbing position, as well as lowering the bars to put more weight over the axle and tame the tame the front wheel wandering.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Norco Sight Masthead-1

While the Norco Sight C7.2 isn’t the value-for-money front runner it was in years past, its performance certainly hasn’t dropped off one iota. This bike will bring a big grin to your face anytime the trail turns twisty or there’s potential to get into the air. If your budget won’t stretch to this model, there are three Sights at lower price points to choose from too, all of which keep the same playful geometry and vibe.

Flow’s First Bite: Mitas Textra Tyres

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The sidewalls are reinforced with a rubberised fabric that is super cut resistant.

We’ve got mixed feelings about this, especially when it comes to tyres. While the feeling of zippiness and responsiveness that you get from lightweight tyres is nice, we’ve seen far too many rides and races ruined through fragile tyres getting sliced to pieces. Consequently, we’re usually happy to carry around a bit of extra heft for the security and reliability of tougher treads.

The Textra series of tyres aims to mitigate this compromise, with new sidewall technology which adds a lot of protection with minimal weight gain.

The new Mitas (formerly Rubena) Textra series of tyres aims to mitigate this compromise, with new sidewall technology which adds a lot of protection with minimal weight gain. We’ve been running a pair of these treads on our 29er for the past couple of months; out back we’ve had the zippy 2.25″ Scylla Textra, and up front the more knobbly Kratos, also in a 2.25″.

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The Scylla is a fast-rolling tread. In race conditions, we’d be tempted to use this tyre front and back.

Mitas (nee Rubena) tyres have a strong following in cross country racing circles, where they’ve won a stack of National Championship and been raced by Australian Olympians. The cross country heritage is clear when you pop them on the scales –  even with the Textra sidewalls, these are quite a lightweight set of treads, especially the Scylla which is just over 620g. The Kratos with its more aggressive tread blocks is still only 750g.

Mitas clearly have a lot of faith in the technology as they’re offering a 100-day sidewall guarantee on a Textra tyres!

The Textra sidewalls are these tyres’ real point of difference. The sidewalls are hatched with the pattern of an ultra-tough rubberised fabric which greatly improves the tyre’s resistance to slashes, but without making the sidewalls overly stiff or thick, which can affect the ride quality. This is the genius of the Textra tyres – greater protection, but preserving the supple performance of the 127TPI casing. In fact, to touch, the Textra sidewalls don’t feel noticeably thicker than a regular Mitas tyre. But Mitas clearly have a lot of faith in the technology as they’re offering a 100-day sidewall guarantee on a Textra tyres! You can do a lot of riding in 100 days, so that kind of reassurance is gold, as anyone who’s had to bin a near-new tyres with a slashed sidewall will attest. And apparently, this faith in their product’s performance is justified – the local Mitas distributors promise us they haven’t had one report of a slashed sidewall on a Textra tyre yet, and we certainly didn’t experience any issues. Taking a look at the wording of sidewall guarantee, it’s a very honest, no bull-shit assurance – if your Textra tyre gets slashed in normal riding conditions, you’re covered. You can read more here.

_LOW0054
The Kratos has a more open tread pattern for looser conditions and great braking bite, but still rolls well too.

We set our Mitas tyres up on some Stan’s Crest rims, which suited the cross-country intentions of this rubber perfectly. They’re definitely a ‘true’ 2.25″ tyre – compared to the generous dimensions we’re used to from the likes of Schwalbe and Bontrager, the Mitas treads are a bit narrower. The compound on the Textra treads is also quite firm. For now, Mitas only do Textra rubber in their CRX compound, which is really designed for durability and rolling speed. There are plans to introduce their dual compound Greyline rubber to the Textra range in the future, which we’d welcome for the increased side knob grip.

We’ve probably logged about 100km on these tyres to date (which is as far as many people on these tyres will ride in a single race) so we can’t claim to have ridden these tyres into the ground, but we’ve certainly got our head around how they perform. They’re a very fast set of treads, but with good bite in hardpack and sandy conditions too. If we were racing, we’d be very tempted to run the Scylla front and back, as it has sensational straight line speed, but with enough bite that you don’t approach every fast corner with your heart in your mouth. If conditions are looser, using the Kratos up front is a good option. Even though it has a chunkier tread pattern, it’s surprisingly fast too as the centre blocks are quite low profile. We were particularly impressed with its braking performance.

_LOW0042

If you’re looking for new rubber, that won’t leave you stranded in a pool of tubeless sealant as everyone else rides away, then give the Mitas Textra tyres a crack.

Both tyres have a really compliant ride quality too, conforming nicely to the terrain when we ran our pressures in the 25-27PSI range. Given these tyres don’t have a huge air volume, that suppleness is really important, helping keep a good footprint on the trail rather than skipping around.

If you’re a cross country or trail rider, then the 100-day sidewall guarantee alone makes these tyres a sound investment, especially if you’ve gone through the wallet emptying pain of binning near-new tyres in the past. These are great cross country treads, with performance characteristics that will be ideal for dusty, sandy Australian race tracks this summer. If you’re looking for new rubber, that will definitely go the distance and won’t leave you stranded in a pool of tubeless sealant as everyone else rides away, then give the Mitas Textra tyres a crack.

Tested: Ergon GE1 Slim Grip

We’ve scored a set of the GE1 grips, available in a bunch of colours and two thicknesses, we went for the blue (to match our Trek Remedy of course) in the thinner version.

This new grip is aimed at the enduro crowd using wider handlebars that tend to hang their hands right towards the ends. With only one clamp, the rubber goes right to the outside of the grip, so you can really use all the length on offer, one of the design elements we like most.

Ergon Grip-1
Left and right specific, and contoured in every part.

There are two rubber compounds for cushioning and vibration dampening, that really help make use of the rubber without adding too much thickness or wearing out too quickly.

The texture is shaped and located where you need it most, a flat and smooth surface under the thumb for better access to the shifter is a nice touch, and where your finger tips rest there is a lot of texture to hold on to.

We’re not big on riding without gloves, but with these grips we loved it. The close feel from no gloves and the tacky texture go hand in hand…

Ergon Grip-6
The angled ends are to help save your skin when brushing against trees. Winner.

Like directional tyres, left and right socks, and saddles for different shapes have their benefits, we think these shaped grips do too. Sure they may be just grips, and while we fell in love during the first ride we certainly know that grips come with a very strong personal preference, so its best try them out in the bike shop first if you’re a traditional grip type of rider.

The GE1 grips let us ride with a more relaxed and looser grip without any less security. For more, let the guru Fabien Barel point out some features. Click for more.

Flow’s First Bite: CamelBak Skyline 10LR

Despite being so dominant that their brand name is often used to describe the whole category of hydration packs, CamelBak never rest on their laurels. Their new Skyline 10LR pack is a perfect example of how these guys keep on innovating their way ahead of the game.

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The whole pack sits quite low on your back.

The Skyline is part of CamelBak’s new Low Rider series of packs, which are designed to offer better stability for both rider and pack when you’re riding aggressively. It’s all about keeping the weight low and central on your body, so you get less of that top-heavy, floppy feeling when you’re hammering with a full load on your back.

The new lumbar bladder is key here; it is shorter and wider than a traditional CamelBak bladder, distributing the weight across your hips, rather than up and down your spine. There are further neat tricks too, like an internal baffle to reduce the effects of the water sloshing about, and bladder compressions straps than cinch the bladder closer to your body as you consume the water. The pack leaves a greater area of your upper back uncovered too, so not only is the Low Rider design more stable, it’s cooler on hot days.

_LOW0088
The lumbar bladder sits low and wide. It also features a quick-release hose and CamelBak’s easy-to-open reservoir cap.

From a size and features standpoint, the Skyline is well equipped for all day rides. The bladder holds three litres, and there’s a lot of external storage options in addition to a large central compartment. We really like the two hip pockets (one elasticised, one zippered) which are perfect for stashing food that you’ll want to get at without stopping. There’s also compression straps for holding jackets or protective gear, and strap hooks for your helmet.

We also really like the tool roll which is included with the Skyline. It’s a really simple way of keeping your tools, CO2 canisters, patches and the like in one spot that you can just roll out when it’s time for trailside repairs. There are more additional features than you can squirt a hose at, but we’ll touch on those in our full review in the coming months.

We’ve only had the one ride with this pack so far, but it was a good initial test, with a four-hour slog including some of the most technical trails Sydney has to offer. We were definitely impressed. We’ll be back with a full review once we’ve logged a full summer of trails with this bad boy.

_LOW0081

Tested: DVO Diamond

The new kids on the block are off to a running start, DVO have successfully done the un-thinkable – taken on RockShox and FOX and delivered products that do a whole lot more that just hold their own in the most hotly contested realm of mountain bike parts, suspension.

DVO are a new Californian suspension company with seriously experienced and credentialed staff, their fresh approach to mountain bike suspension is really turning heads. After what seemed like an age of prototyping, their first product was released, the wildly desirable inverted downhill fork – the Emerald. DVO began with the downhill fork, sending a message to the MTB world that they are cutting their teeth in the Formula One of mountain bike racing; downhill racing. Their Jade coil-sprung rear shock and Diamond (someone there must love geology) single crown fork would then follow, released to eager hoards of suspension-savvy folks.

Brisbane-based suspension sales and servicing and custom tuning experts NSDynamics have picked up Australian distribution for DVO, a fitting relationship no doubt.

DVO Diamond-9
The trademark colours of DVO – vibrant metallic green. Don’t worry, they also come in black.
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On the front of our Trek Remedy 27.5 9.8 in Derby, TAS.

On test we have the Diamond, the single crown enduro fork, travel is internally adjustable between 140-160mm, has 35mm diameter legs and a 15mm QR axle. The air sprung fork can be externally tuned easily in five ways, testament to the dedicated focus from DVO to offer professional level tuning at consumer level.

We chose the 150mm version for 27.5″ wheels, fitted it to our super-sweet Trek Remedy 27.5 9.8 and gave ’em hell.

DVO Diamond guard-5

[divider]Diamond Details[/divider]

– 27.5″ and 29″ wheel options.

– Black or green colour option (phew!).

– 15mm QR axle.

– Custom mudguard fender included.

– Air spring.

– Closed cartridge bladder system.

– On the fly low speed compression adjustment.

– High speed compression adjustment.

– OTT ‘off the top’ negative spring adjustment.

DVO Diamond-4
O.T.T. Sensitivity adjustment on the underside of the leg, unique to DVO.

[divider]Setup.[/divider]

Setting up the fork was super easy, and for the purpose of this review we followed each step of the online setup guides from the DVO website. With the recommended air pressure, rebound and compression settings done by the book we were very happy with the outcome. The base settings were ideal and made for a perfect starting point for fine tuning either side to our liking.

Each little adjustment you make is clearly noticeable, this is one fork that rewards the keen tuner. With a bit of trial and error it’s easy to find what works best, and if you have a good grasp of suspension fundamentals you can both benefit from and enjoy the process the excellent adjustments offer.

Once you have a good idea of how the fork feels out on the trail, you could take the setup even further and more technical with extra customising of the fork’s internals with assistance online. The DVO website is stacked with videos, step-by-step tutorials and it’s provided in a way that is all very clear to get your head around.

DVO Diamond-7
High and low speed compression adjustment on top of the right leg.

O.T.T. It’s this O.T.T. ‘off the top’ adjustment that sets the DVO Diamond apart from the overwhelming duopoly of RockShox and FOX. Especially handy for heavier riders, the O.T.T. is the allen key dial under the left side of the leg that will allow you to tune the ride height and sag via the negative air spring. Dialling it in will increase the softness and suppleness of the initial portion of the travel.

Typically with forks we use most the negative air spring would be factory set, and not adjustable like this. But be sure to have an understanding of what is going on with the O.T.T. adjustment, too much or too little will mess with the fork’s height.

DVO Diamond-18

We’ve become very familiar with the ‘token’ system used in the RockShox Pike and Fox 34 and 36 forks we’ve been using. The simple process of adding and removing plastic spacers from inside the fork to tune the progressiveness of the air spring has been widely accepted and understood, in the case of the DVO Diamond you can still do this, but it’s back to the old school way of adding a certain volume of oil to the air chamber.

That said, we were happy enough with how the air spring rate felt to not want to tweak air spring volumes. It’s aimed at the enduro crowd and is meant to be ridden hard and DVO seem to have nailed the right curves with this one.

[divider]Let’s ride.[/divider]

Let’s cut to the chase, these forks are bloody great.

We all know what a really nice fork feels like to push on and the Diamond’s are next level, their supremely supple action will provoke and endless quantity of ooohs and aaahs from anyone who asks to cop a feel. Straight out of the box, our experiences were always very positive, right until the day we reluctantly sent them back.

In a perfect world a good suspension fork should reduce fatigue (especially in the hands), maintain front wheel traction, break down harsh hits, resist wallowing or diving under brakes, ride high in its travel and recover from big impacts without rebounding uncontrollably.

Well, the Diamond gets top marks in all grades.

We were most impressed by the way the Diamond does such a magnificent job of being ultra-supple and sensitive, whilst remaining perfectly supportive. For instance you could be riding hard out of the saddle, really leaning over the bars with the forks compressed deep into its travel through a corner and it will still react rapidly to extra impacts. The damping feels incredibly effective.

DVO Diamond guard-2

Or you could be charging up a trail toward a set of rock ledges and the moment the front wheel makes contact it’s like the forks are ready for it, immediately absorbing the impact without a moment of stiction, binding or hesitation. When a fork can do this so well, less shock is transferred to your hands and your momentum is less interrupted by the terrain on the trail, keeping you up to speed without having to work hard for it.

With this fork on our bike we were riding our regular trails faster than before.

With a quick flick of the slow speed compression dial the fork will ride higher and resists any slow speed actions that you would deliver, like pedalling or lunging around over the bars during a climb. It took us a while to get right though, as it turns in the opposite direction to all forks we’ve had time on.

On the harder descents the Diamond really comes into its own. The chassis stiffness is ideal, not too stiff but never feeling flexy. With the fork feeling so sensitive we found ourselves cornering harder with increased confidence, it works so hard at keeping the front wheel in contact with the ground that the traction on hand is amazing.

Holding your line on off-camber and rocky surfaces was a snack with so much traction and control.

Flow-Nation-Derby-2015-152
Green room – Derby, Tasmania.

During our testing we learnt not to set up the Diamond like we would with a RockShox or FOX fork, it just didn’t work that way as they are really quite different. Our DVO fork – once setup how we liked – felt quite a lot softer than the others, but on the trail the damping would prevent it from bottoming out like we may have expected.

Same goes with the slow speed compression, a little bit goes a long way in reducing unwanted bobbing or diving.

DVO Diamond-3

DVO Diamond-12

[divider]Verdict.[/divider]

The Diamond certainly does live up to the hype. It’s a really impressive product that will reward a keen rider’s attention to tuning.

The way it reacts to impacts so effortlessly and rapidly will surely make you ride very fast with maintained momentum, and you’ll most certainly be able to hold your line on rough terrain very well.

So, is the Diamond better than a RockShox or a Fox fork? Tough question, during our test we did have an issue with the damper (a knocking feedback, rectified by a just a dab of grease, and the O.T.T. dial went a bit stiff on us) that was swiftly rectified by the guys at NSDynamics, and we had it back in a couple days. But otherwise our experiences were overwhelmingly positive.

They are really quite good value, albeit a little heavy.

We’d say that the Diamond we tested felt better than any stock fork we’ve ever ridden, but when compared to a perfectly maintained and meticulously adjusted fork from either RockShox or FOX it’s splitting hairs to differentiate.

Investing in a DVO Diamond for your bike is a seriously good idea, we’d buy one.

Flow’s First Bite: Focus Spine C 0.0

The Focus Spine slots right into the emergent sub-category of aggressive, short-travel trail bikes. Hard-hitting, exciting rigs that are capable in so many areas of riding, both up and down, unencumbered by either too much suspension or preoccupations with winning the climb.

It’s an important bike for Focus in Australia too. Up until this year, Focus lacked a trail bike platform for the masses. They had racy 29er hardtails, the all-mountain SAM (a very good bike in our opinion) or a small number of 29er duallies. But in that do-it-all trail bike segment, there was a hole. The Spine plugs it.

Focus Spine C 0.0-13

There’s a whopping five different models in the Spine line up coming to Australia, three in carbon and two in alloy. Our C 0.0 model, covered in SRAM’s finest, is the top dog and comes in at $9999. With a weight of only 10.2kg, it’s a very desirable piece of kit. That said, we actually think the model down, the Spine C Factory, would be our personal pick of the bunch – it’s just a little bit tougher, with a Pike fork, and cleaner looking too. The alloy framed Spine Evo looks like it’d be a very cool bike as well, with the cost-effective SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain on it and a great paint job.

Focus Spine C 0.0-19

So, said the chiropractor, let’s take a look at it then. The Spine has numbers that we like; in a medium frame the top tube is 602mm, which is paired with a 70mm stem and a head angle of 68 degrees. Blend that all in with the compact 428mm chain stay length, and you’ve got geometry that should be lively out back and roomy enough up front to encourage mischief.

The suspension uses a single-pivot / swing-link system to deliver 120mm of travel, with a RockShox Monarch XX shock. Our initial impression is that it’s a firm, efficient 120mm, not a cushy 120mm. The carpark ‘runch’ test reveals the rear end to be very stiff laterally, which is reassuring as we’re looking forward to putting this bike into some ugly bits of trail.

With remote lockouts for the fork and shock, plus a dropper post, there are a lot of cables on this bike. The internal cable routing on the Spine is really nicely done, so with a bit of patience and cable trimming you could certainly make it all a bit less tangled.

Focus Spine C 0.0-16

Speaking of  remotes, the shock remote lockout lever is also paired to the RS-1 fork. We’re not sure about this arrangement – it’s super efficient for the racers, or when you want to lock it all out for a sprint or a climb, but what about when you want the rear locked and the fork open?

Focus Spine C 0.0-14

We’ve got some high hopes for the Spine. After our experiences on the SAM and having spent a bit of time on a Focus road bike too, we know this German brand make some very fine bikes.

We’re going to put some good miles on this bike over summer, so hold tight for a review sometime in early 2016.

 

Flow’s First Bite: CamelBak Palos 4 LR Lumbar Pack

The bum bag is back, baby! Of course CamelBak doesn’t use that term – they call it a ‘lumbar pack’. We haven’t used one of these things since 1998 (genuinely, we promise) so we’re intrigued to see the Palos in CamelBak’s new Low Rider range.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-3

Now before you start making jokes about aerobics instructors or rollerblading, let’s take a moment acknowledge there are some practical, if not fashionable, advantages to the bumbar bag.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-9
Enough room for all the basics internally.
Camelbak Palos 4 LR-8
Smart fold-out mesh pockets. There are also small storage pouches on the waist straps too.

Firstly, it’s cooler (sorry, we mean, less sweaty) than a backpack, but it still allows you to carry a decent amount of water and gear, far more than in a bottle/jersey pocket. In this case, the Palos will hold up to 1.5 litres of water with 2.5 litres of storage capacity for a tube, CO2, multitool and some food. Secondly, it positions all the weight low on your hips which has obvious advantages for your centre of gravity and stability. That’s were the LR (Low Rider) comes from in the Palos’s name.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-10
The funky shaped lumbar reservoir spreads the weight low and wide.

CamelBak have taken this Low Rider approach with their new Skyline backpack too –  it also uses a lumbar reservoir to keep the weight of the water low of your body. We’re testing that one out as well.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-7
These small tabs pull the bladder in closer to your body as you drink.

The whole thing just clips around your waist with a big buckle, and there are little tabs to pull and cinch it down closer to your body as the water level drops in the bladder. The hose also runs across your waist, fastening in place with a magnetic clasp.

Camelbak Palos 4 LR-5
A magnetic clasp holds the hose in place.

We’ll be taking the Palos out for a few rides with some non-judgemental mates soon. We’ve definitely got some questions about how it will handle really rough terrain and jumps – will it spin around or move? And how tight do you need to crank the straps up to hold it in place? We’ll find out soon enough.

Who knows, perhaps we’ll all be rocking the bum bag again soon!

Tested: Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1

Choosing the right bike is a seriously tough decision. Ideally you would need at least six bikes to have it covered, right?

But we also know that often reality has other plans, so it’s back to the drawing board, and deciding on the perfect steed that will do all the things you wish. In the case of the Giant Trance, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’ll have most bases covered. Bikes like these are constantly blowing our minds with their versatility, and with such a wide range of ability you’re able to have more fun, go fast, ride efficiently and travel to more new trails.

We don’t casually throw around the phrase ‘quiver killer’ very often, but here we go.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-1Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-59

[divider]What is it and who’s it for?[/divider]

The immensely popular Giant Trance has been around for years, it hasn’t changed too much over recent times. It still sits proudly in the category of the real ‘mountain’ bike with its good dose of suspension travel and handling characteristics that will let you ride anything in your path, without lugging too much bike around.

Sitting in between the Anthem, Giant’s 100mm travel cross country dual suspension bike and the burly enduro rig, the 160mm Giant Reign, the Trance uses 140mm of travel front and back.

The meaty tyres with moderate width, a dropper seatpost and 740mm wide bars lets you know that even though it’s super-light at 11.5kg, there is no hiding its intentions as a go-anywhere all-mountain bike.

Read our first impressions piece here: Flow’s First Bite: Trance Advanced 27.5 1 And the 2016 range highlights from Giant here: 2016 range preview.

[divider]The frame.[/divider]

‘Advanced’ denotes a carbon frame (Giant like to use the term ‘composite’ which is probably more accurate, but we’ll just call it carbon for simplicity’s sake) for a lighter bike and a more lively ride. The carbon front end joins an aluminium rear end via their tried and tested Maestro suspension design. A thick rubber bumper protects the underside of the frame from debris impacts and the rear brake line, dropper post and gear cable are internally routed through the front end.

Take a close look at the frame and you’ll see the carbon material shimmering and winking back at you in the sunlight under a very glossy paint job. The finish is super sharp, with nice touches of details like the matching colours on the fork and shock, plus the new Giant logo gives the Trance and fresh look for 2016, we like staring at this bike a lot.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-48

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-26
The floating linkage plate at the heart of the Maestro Suspension.

[divider]The parts.[/divider]

Giant are well known for offering great bang for your buck, often cited as the benchmark in competitive pricing in Australia. In recent times where the of state Australian dollar has seen the prices of bikes steadily creep up, it’s the big guys like Giant Australia who have the power to keep their bikes affordable, and it shows with this bike.

The Trance is a very well-specced bike, and while we give utmost kudos to Giant for tying it all together, it’s the improvement of the new Shimano XT and FOX suspension that really adds serious value to this particular Trance.

Shimano XT: Shimano released their completely overhauled component group earlier this year to a very positive reception, they nailed it. Click here to read our Shimano XT M8000 review.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-33
The new Shimano XT M8000 cranks, no chain guide needed for chain retention. Smooth, clean and quiet.
Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-22
The new Shimano XT Shadow Plus rear derailleur has adjustable clutch tension, and a very positive shifting feel.

The single ring thing is right on trend at the moment, this 11-speed drivetrain operates like it is sent from a dream. The clean, quite and smooth operation of one derailleur and one shifter is a real pleasure to ride and now with the Shimano cassette ranging from 11-42t the wide range of gears on offer is excellent. While not quite as wide as a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain (SRAM cassettes go from 10-42t) the 11-42t XT cassette paired with a 32t chainring is still fair.

The tidy new XT brakes have taken what we already loved about them and provided a lighter lever feel in smaller overall unit. During our testing all the Shimano parts performed perfectly.

There is a black KMC chain fitted to the Trance, the hollow link and hollow pin chain must be light, but strong riders with a propensity for being hard on chains may want to seek a classic Shimano one for peace of mind, just in case.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-27
A wind up skewer in the rear wheel, and the Shimano XT brakes with a big 180mm Ice Tech rotor.

FOX Suspension: After a few fairly rough years of inconsistent performance and strong opposition from RockShox, FOX rebounded (boom!) back with some seriously good bouncy stuff for 2016. The new rear DPS EVOL rear shock is an especially good product, FOX have been able to achieve a more supple and sensitive shock action via careful tweaking of a larger air spring volume, every bike we have ridden with the new generation shocks feels 100% better than before.

The fork also uses the new FIT 4 damper unit, delivering a very supportive ride and category leading sensitivity.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-28

The suspension on the Trance are top of the line, FOX’s best.

With all the adjustments under the sun, you can really make what you want out of the bike. Open up all the compression settings and you’ll have a magic carpet ride of smoothness, or dial them in for a firmer ride that will still remain somewhat sensitive, reacting to impacts to keep your momentum un-interrupted and your wheels firmly tracking where you want them.

The impressive fork is from the 34 range, with beefy 34mm diameter legs for a really stiff and direct front end. Take our word for it, the robust fork lets you do the craziest things on the trail and get away with it.

Read our review of this exact FOX fork and shock here: FOX 2016 Suspension review.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-5
FOX Float 34 Factory forks, top of the line, seriously good.

Giant Carbon Wheels: Yep, carbon wheels. Probably something you’d find standard spec on a bike upwards of $7000, carbon hoops are a seriously good addition to any bike. It’s not just the weight saving but the ride quality you get when compared to your typical aluminium rim is excellent. While not all carbon rims are equal in performance, feel and strength, our experiences with the PTRX-1C wheels has always been quite good.

The wheels feel very light to wind up and stiff on the trail but when we look at how much potential this bike has on the descents – especially with the big 34mm leg forks leading the way – we found the rims just too narrow for our liking. We’ve been spending so much time on bikes with wider rims these last couple years, the way that a wider rim boosts ride quality by letting you run lower tyre pressures with more tyre stability is a sure bet. It’s not a deal breaker in this instance, but we will bet that over time wider rims will be trickling down to all mountain bikes for good reason. As it stands, the rims (21mm internal, 27mm external width) didn’t offer as much support for the tyres as we’d like, to allow us to run lower tyre pressures.

Giant have been pretty clever with the tyre choice, selecting a softer compound tyre for the front. The Schwalbe Nobby Nic’s are a great tyre with real bite just about anywhere, and remarkably low weight (mounted to wider rims they’d be even more awesome). Our rear tyre was showing signs of wear from our test, perhaps not ideal when they aren’t cheap to replace, but that’s the price you pay for excellent grip.

Giant Component Bits: Giant’s in-house components have been expanding into the high end bikes in the last couple years with serious quality, and new for 2016 we see a new range of saddles. The Contact SL saddle fitted to the Trance might be slim and quite firm but we really found good comfort during long and short rides.

The Contact SL Switch dropper post is also a real winner, we’d happily run it on any brand of bike. It requires very little force to drop, the remote thumb lever is light to push and could also be swapped over to the left side to tidy things up a little too.

[divider]On the trail.[/divider]

The Trance feels so light to ride, it takes very little effort to get up to speed and keep it there.

It’s not a long, slack ground-hugger type of bike, nor is it a rapid and twitchy bike. The Trance is all about striking a good balance, slotting in between the Reign and the Anthem to deliver a serious quiver killer, do-it-all bike. There, we said it ok!

The Trance is very sure about its role, the 140mm of travel is a perfect match for its geometry. The 67 degree head angle errs on the sharper side of things, but those moments on the trail where you might be wishing for a slacker head angle the excellent fork and great cockpit position will save your ass.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-61

Climbing: Going uphill on the Trance is what you’d expect from a 11.5kg trail bike with great lockout adjustments, you can really plan ahead and settle in for a long climb with a quick flick of the dials to firm up the FOX suspension, and up you’ll go with literally no unwanted suspension bobbing robbing your of energy.

The seating position is more ‘XC than enduro’ and once we dropped the stem down a couple spaces on the steer tube, the bars were in a great position for managing the steep and tight singletrack climbs. The Trance climbs excellently and efficiently.

Descending: In good hands, the Trance will not flinch when you really turn it up a notch, you can really trust us on that one. We handed the Trance to a visiting Flow friend, an ex-downhiller, certified manic descender and once an owner of the original Giant Trance. Watching him punish the Trance on the rockiest descents in Sydney’s Northern Beaches was like watching Man From Snowy River on fast forward. He had no idea where he was going, but he pushed the Trance so hard with only a ‘wow, this bike is so good!’

The stiff front end and remarkably controlled fork action will take big hits on the chin like a James Bond film villain, without a flinch. Thankfully though because it’s not too slack, the slower and tighter turns are able to be negotiated without feeling that floppy front end at low speeds. It’s a really good balance indeed.

The Trance achieves what many attempt in vain, it descends as well as it climbs.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-43
The Trance doesn’t rely on super-slack angles and massive fork travel, the stiff front end has a lot to do with the Trance’s confidence in the descents.

Our time on this Trance re-affirmed that notion of buying a bike for what you ride 90% of the time. Anyone considering a cross country bike like the Anthem for a couple events during the year should seriously consider trying a bike like this. The efficiency is there, the weight is amazing and the huge range of suspension adjustment will let you dial in the right feel for the moment.

[divider]What we would change[/divider]

If it were ours the first thing we’d change would have to be the rims. Get some wide (at least 27mm internal width) rims on there pronto, it’ll really let the Trance hug the ground and ride smoother.

The seatpost lever can be mounted anywhere, so we’d try and get it under the left hand side of the bar, that’d require routing it out of the opposing internal routing port.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

If you’re in the market for an upgrade to your 3-year-old dually but think 140mm of travel is too much, don’t rule a modern whiz bang bikes like this out of the equation. Suspension technology has come a long way, and with the best on offer on a $5499 carbon frame bike like this, you’ll be sure to appreciate how supportive yet forgiving they can be.

It’s been a very positive experience for us testing this bike. When we first saw the 2016 Giant range we predicted this one would be a real winner, with the trademark handling we expect from the Trance coupled with the great new kit from Shimano and FOX it was sure to be on point, and it is.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1-31

Tested: Cell Stromlo 2.1

A grand, one G, a thousand bucks. A gorilla. Whatever you call it, the $1000 price point is something of a barrier. For the first time mountain bike buyer busting over that figure can be a bit of a gut punch. Good thing then that you can get rolling on the Cell Stromlo 2.1 for less than 1000 clams.

Cell Stromlo -13


 Super bargain: For a limited time, Cell have the Stromlo 2.1 available for just $789. 

[divider]What is it, and who is it for?[/divider]

Cell Bikes are an Australian company offering direct-to-the-consumer sales – they make the bikes OS and then ship directly to the buyer (or you can purchase at one of their two stores). Shortening the supply lines means potentially lower prices, and the Cell Stromlo 2.1 aims directly at the budget conscious, first-time mountain bike buyer. Stromlo Forest Park in the ACT was the inspiration for the bike apparently. Seeing the numbers of new mountain bikers on the trails there was the motivator to make a bike that would be a reliable, stepping stone into the sport.

Cell Stromlo -10
We feel that 29ers definitely suit this price point.

It’s worth noting here that the direct sales model does mean some assembly is required before you hit the trails, but it’s pretty minimal (fitting of the front wheel, pedals and bar/stem). The other option is to pick it up in-store if you happen to live in Sydney or Melbourne.

The build on this aluminium hardtail is strictly practical, not flashy, but it is a genuinely capable off-road ready machine: 29″ wheels for confidence and good roll-over characteristics, hydraulic brakes for less maintenance, gears up the wahzoo, a properly damped fork with a lock-out for the inevitable commute. It’s all packaged up into a riding position that will suit the beginner. That said, Cell have stealthily integrated a number of features that may not be noticed immediately by a new rider, but which borrow from the experience they’ve garnered with their more expensive mountain bikes like the Awaba 2.0 (which we tested here).

[divider]The frame[/divider]

The hydro-formed alloy frame isn’t particularly light, but it has some very neat, appropriate features. The sizing feels good, not too cramped like some at this price point. The head tube is a highlight  – the hourglass shape looks great, and isn’t overly tall like you’ll find on some entry-level mountain bikes, which is good for shorter riders (like our test rider).

Cell Stromlo -2
The head tube area looks great, and all the cables are managed neatly, routed away from the frame so there’s no rubbing.

The use of full-length cables will reduce the need for maintenance, and is a thoughtful addition usually only found on more expensive mountain bikes. We lost the cable clips securing the rear gear housing, replacing them with a couple of zip-ties instead – problem solved, but keep an eye out for this. We liked the clean cable routing around the head tube area, there’s no issue with cable rub at all.

Cell Stromlo -18
Rack mounts for pannier carrying mid-week commutes.

Rack mounts are a sensible nod to the likelihood that many purchasers of this bike will do fair bit of commuting too. The quick-release seatpost clamp needs to be done up pretty firmly to prevent post slippage we discovered.

Cell Stromlo -11
A quick-release post clamp is handy for on-trail adjustments, but make sure it’s done up tight or the post will slip.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Surprisingly smooth fork: A 100mm-travel Suntour XCR-LO fork adorns the Stromlo and it’s surprisingly good too, with decent rebound damping and quite a smooth action. It’s coil-sprung, but the spring firmness is changed to suit the different frame sizes (small=soft, medium and large=medium, x-large=firm), and you can adjust the spring preload externally. Cell also stock the springs separately should you need to go harder or softer. There’s a lock-out, but it’s really there for tarmac use only, as it’s super firm. Rebound adjustability is a nice bonus too. The fork seals are pretty basic, so we’d advise keeping the seal area clean and free of grit with a quick wipe after each ride to preserve this fork’s longevity.

Cell Stromlo -5
The Suntour fork comes equipped with a lock out, plus rebound and preload adjustment.

Well-proportioned cockpit and good seat post: The Cell branded bar and stem are great. There’s plenty of width on the bar, and the 70mm stem is much more appropriate than the massive fishing poles sometimes found on cheaper bikes. Speaking of the cockpit area, it’s great to see lock-on grips too!  Another nice touch is the twin-bolt seat post, which shouldn’t suffer any accidental seat movement from heavy-butted riding, like some single-bolt posts can.

Cell Stromlo -17
We quite liked the hardpack performance of the Cell’s 2.1″-wide treads.

Decent rubber: No-name rubber is normally pretty average, but the Stromlo’s tyres aren’t too bad! The tread pattern is reminiscent of a Maxxix Ikon, and they’re fast rolling and reasonably grippy on hardpack soils. They’re not great for looser, rougher surfaces, but neither is that this bike’s intended terrain.

Gears aplenty: A huge spread of gears will give beginner mountain bikers a smile. With a 22-tooth small chain ring up front, and a 36-tooth out back, you can climb where others would abseil. A 44-tooth big ring will appeal to those who want to keep up with the traffic on the ride to work too.

Cell Stromlo -2-2
The SRAM 3×10 drivetrain has every situation covered.

Shimano brakes: Even these cheaper Shimano hydro discs are superb. The light lever action and lack of maintenance required with these brakes is great, and a 180mm rotor up front boosts power too.

[divider]Ride time[/divider]

29″ wheels really are a good option for the first-time mountain biker. Casting our mind way (way) back to the early days of our mountain biking, we can’t help but wish we’d been on 29ers then! When it comes to climbing up choppy, lumpy terrain or rolling down rock ledges, the Cell’s big wheels just make it all a little easier. We’d certainly have spent less time heading over the bars if our first mountain bikes had the Cell’s big wheels and short stem/wide bar setup.

Cell Stromlo -12
With a 70mm stem and wide bar, the riding position is confident.

Having a tonne of gears is a blessing too, as we re-discovered during a particularly hot, tiring afternoon on the trails – as much as we love a single-ring drivetrain, sometimes when you’re just completely stuffed it’s great to be able to just drop into the granny gear and spin.

Cell Stromlo -15
SRAM’s X5 shifters might have a ‘plasticky’ feel, but the shift quality is good.

The SRAM X5 drivetrain worked well for us. We didn’t drop the chain once, which was a pleasant surprise, and the rear shifting is clean and smooth. Without a chain-slap protector fitted, you do get a bit of chain noise – we’d be adding a protector to the chain stay pronto, just to quieten things down a bit.

Cell Stromlo -3-2
There’s even rebound speed adjustment on the fork.

While the Suntour fork works effectively in gobbling up moderately rough stuff, don’t expect an awful lot of forgiveness from the Cell’s rear end. With plenty of pressure in the rear tyre to ward off pinch flats, it’s a pretty bumpy ride, so getting out of the saddle and staying loose is key.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Cell Stromlo -4-2

As mountain biking becomes more and more mainstream, the entry-level market will become increasingly competitive, which is a great thing. If you’re after your first mountain bike, or you have a friend getting into it for the first time, the Stromlo 2.1 is a top option. With good frame geometry, a decent fork, excellent brakes and drivetrain, and a confidence-inspiring cockpit, it nails all the fundamentals for an enjoyable, reliable entry into the sport. If you can pick one up at the current sale pricing too, it’s a legitimate bargain.

 

Tested: Cannondale Habit Carbon SE

It was the second time that we found ourselves lying in the dirt laughing in pain that we decided we really liked the Cannondale Habit SE. Counterintuitive it may be, but often it’s the bikes we crash the most which we like the most. A bike which is digs you in the ribs and says ‘you know, you could probably double that up’, ‘there’s an inside line there’. A bike that’s the devil on your shoulder – that’s the Cannondale Habit SE all right.


Cannondale Habit SE -29

The Habit is a bike that excites us, and puts Cannondale back up where it ought to reside in our esteem. You see, we’ve always adored the raw racing aggression of the Scalpel, but when it comes to bikes for the larger trail-riding market, we don’t feel that Cannondale has been on their best game until now. The Trigger series which has filled this niche for C’dale over the past couple of years is certainly capable, but it never dunked our biscuit like we wanted. Nice bikes, but the weight and complication of the FOX DYAD shock seemed unnecessary, and the previous version of the Lefty was tough to get along with.

And now here’s the Habit, which on paper might read a lot like the Trigger, but on the trail it tells a different tale.

Cannondale Habit SE -28

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

The Habit is part of the new guard of aggressive trail bikes: 120mm of travel with 27.5″ wheels, slack geometry, a short chain stay. We’ve ridden a bunch of these recently (the Trek Fuel EX, the Focus Spine and more), all bikes which 27.5′ wheels and great suspension have enabled to absolutely shred.

Cannondale Habit SE -25
The Habit’s dropped top tube offers great standover height.

Being the ‘SE’ version, this bike takes the penchant for rough and tumble a little further than the rest of the Habit line, with a 130mm up front, which slackens the head angle to 67.5 degrees. Its target audience is the one-bike-rider, someone who doesn’t want a quiver in their garage, but needs a bike that’s light enough for the odd marathon race perhaps (and at just over 12kg, that’s certainly the case here) and is confident and burly enough for some over-enthusiastic play.

Cannondale Habit SE -13

As we’ll elaborate on more later, it’s a bike that respects authority. Don’t try and baby it, give it your best drill sergeant impression and torment it instead. As such, we feel it will be best in the hands of a fairly competent rider. Those looking for more cushiness or a bike that will soak up mistakes will be happier on the Trigger or perhaps the Jekyll.

[divider]The frame[/divider]

The presence of the Lefty is pretty overpowering, but ignoring this element, the Habit is a pretty traditional looking bike. It shares a lot in common with the lines and look of the Scalpel actually. The mainframe is built from Ballistec Carbon which is said be more resilient to abuse than Bob Hawke’s liver. The rear end is alloy, and you’ll probably notice there are no pivots out pack, the Habit uses a flex stay instead. Doing away with a pivot is lighter (tick), stiffer (tick) and there’s less complexity (tick!). On the downside, flex stay designs aren’t usually as smooth as a pivot-equipped rear end, and that’s the case here too.

Cannondale Habit SE -30

In between front and rear ends you’ll find a one-piece carbon swing link, and a RockShox Monarch shock. It’s nice and roomy, with muchos space for a proper sized water bottle too.

Plenty of space there for a bottle.
Plenty of space there for a bottle.

More stifferer: Cannondale pioneered the BB30 bottom bracket system found on the Habit back in the day, and it makes for a whoppingly stiff platform to bolt the SI cranks too. The head tube is similarly oversized, and the Lefty has a full 1.5-inch steerer. All the pivot hardware uses expanding collet style fittings, again ensuring a rock solid connection between front and rear ends.

Cannondale Habit SE -26
Cleanly done, and with no play or flex to be found. The Habit’s suspension is rock solid.

Clean cables: Four cables is a good number. Two for brakes, one for your rear mech, one for your dropper post. The Habit doesn’t need or use any remote lockouts, with both fork and shock lockouts easily accessible. Using a combo of internal and external cabling, the Habit is mechanic friendly, but still visually clean.

Cannondale Habit SE -19
SI cranks in a BB30 bottom bracket.

[divider]Is Lefty alrighty?[/divider]

The 130mm-travel Lefty PBR 2.0 is stiffer than a frozen kipper – you’ll not find another front end this precise outside of the realm of downhill forks. Internally, the fork now uses a hybrid bushing-bearing design, and the slider is square-shaped and runs on needle roller-bearings, which means it cannot twist like a regular fork. Point and shoot – it’s the main contributor to the Habit’s inclination to bite off more than you really ought to chew.

Cannondale Habit SE -22

The Lefty packs all this aggro potential into a light chassis too, at 1950g. Externally, your adjustments are limited to air pressure, rebound and lockout, the latter two of which are located atop the fork leg for easy access. You just push the green centre button to lock it out, and the external button to unlock it. You don’t need to be precise or grapple with a lever, which is ideal for those last second unlocks at the top of a descent.

Cannondale Habit SE -4
Green – push to climb. Red – push to descend. The red dial also adjusts rebound.
Cannondale Habit SE -17
The lower slider is protected by a neat guard.

There has been a bunch of internal twiddling to improve the Lefty’s ride quality, and it’s definitely much better than previous versions. Better, but definitely not as good as some of its competition, such as the FOX 34 or RockShox Pike. We still found the Lefty’s rebound circuit overdamped, so we needed to run it as fast as possible to get an adequate rebound speed. Admittedly, heavier riders who will be running more air pressure will likely use more of the rebound range. The initial stroke sensitivity is great now, so it’s good over the smaller rubble. Repeated fast impacts are also much better than in the past, but compared to the amazing reponsiveness of the RockShox Charge or the FOX FIT4 damper, the Lefty 2.0 has a way to go. Cannondale have some good minds on the job, so we’re hopeful.

In our mind, it looks bad ass. (Or just bad, according to some people.)

[divider]The package:[/divider]

Cannondale Habit SE -23

Flawless brakes and drivetrain: SRAM’s X1 1×11 setup is just so good. Not only is the gearing range whopping, but even after taking the derailleur on speed date with a large rock, the shifting remained perfect. The Guide RS brakes have an excellent lever feel and with 180mm rotors at both ends the power and control is on a level that even Putin would be impressed by.

Cannondale Habit SE -6

Fabric butt pleaser: Cannondale’s parent company Dorrell have acquired saddle brand Fabric recently, and their Scoop saddle is not only colour matched to Elton John standards, but it’s one of the comfiest saddles we’ve used.

Cannondale Habit SE -15
The WTB rims are tubeless compatible and seems strong so far, but we’d swap the tyres out.

Mediocre rubber: Schwalbe’s Nobby Nic is a good tyre, but the cheaper ‘Performance’ version found on the Habit isn’t on par with the rest of this bike. We really wish this bike had come with the gripper and more resilient SnakeSkin / Trailstar version of the Nic. The rims are tubeless ready, but past experience has proven the light sidewalls of these stock tyres aren’t really optimal for tubeless use.

Cannondale Habit SE -7
The lever for our KS LEV cracked unfortunately. We’d ideally run the KS Southpaw lever on the Habit.

Good dropper, but needs a different lever: The KS LEV dropper post is a favourite of ours, but the standard remote lever isn’t brilliant. Ours cracked, and it’s not the easiest to operate either, as the lever sits above the bar meaning you need to move your thumb a long way. Thankfully you can retrofit the KS Southpaw lever, which is a neat upgrade, putting the lever in a more reachable location.

Cannondale Habit SE -5

Great cockpit: Cannondale’s own stem and bar are stout, and the width/sweep of the bar felt perfect to us. The grips are unreal too, with a thin diameter that suits the bike

[divider]Ride time[/divider]

Grip it and rip it, baby: The Habit does its best work when you don’t hold back. On one test ride, we took this bike out after a long, tiring week, with a weary legs, and we couldn’t find our mojo. But when we rode the Habit feeling fresh, excited and pumped up, we had the time of our lives. You see, the shape and stiffness of the Habit is built to give you confidence. It’s a bike that derives its awesome abilities to hammer from its geometry, precision and drive, rather than grip or suspension performance. That means you must be prepared to work the trail if you want to get in the groove.

Cannondale Habit Action-2

Climbing: Hanging with the cross-country bikes won’t be an issue on the Habit. The shock lockout lever and Lefty button are within easy reach if you need to really stiffen things up, but it’ll climb efficiently without them. The overall weight of the bike is pretty impressive – it harkens back to the days when Cannondale’s were always the lightest bikes going (though in that era, they were often broken too…) and this is a big contributor to the way this bike goes up. With a 30-tooth chain ring, climbing gears aren’t an issue either.

Cannondale Habit Action-9

Cornering: It’s not a matter of whether the Habit will hold a line, it’s whether you can. This bike had us looking for off-camber inside lines everywhere. Even with loads of pressure in the tyres, we felt super confident chucking the Habit into dubious cornering situations, sometimes with less than upright outcomes. The frame and fork stiffness are the key here, and the Habit reinforced to us once again how often this area is compromised in other bikes. Would this bike be even better in the corners with more supple suspension and better, tubeless tyres? Yes, it probably would, but you’d also lose some of that engagement we enjoy so much.

Cannondale Habit Action-5

 

Descending: As they say, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. It’s the same on Habit – sometimes it needs finesse, sometimes it cries out for force. When the terrain is loose or sketchy, the less than supple ride of the Habit means you’re best off getting comfortable with the bike bouncing around and skating on the surface, keeping light. But on the opposite side, when things are rough, when there are big impacts or well-supported corners to hit, the Habit absolutely loves being driven straight into the fray with a firm hand. The relatively slack geometry is confident on steep rollers, and the Lefty doesn’t dive into its travel inopportunely so we never had any hint of getting chucked out the front door.

Cannondale Habit SE -1

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Not everyone is going to love the Habit SE. The presence of a Lefty alone is enough to put some people off. The colour is divisive. The suspension is far from perfect. But none of that matters to us, especially when we’re out on the trail grinning from ear to ear as we go back yet again to try and make that tricky inside gap line for the fifth time, or as the rear wheel sprays through a loose corner. This bike feels fast, it feels fun, it feels like Cannondales should. This is a good Habit to have.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cell Stromlo 2.1

It’s easy to forget what it was like to ride your first mountain bike, we’re talking about bone-jarring rigid forks, tiny little 26″ wheels (gasp, the horror!) lacklustre rim brakes and seriously awkward geometry. We all started somewhere, but right now stepping into this somewhat daunting sport is a whole lot easier than it used to be, thanks to bikes like these.

$1000 can get you a whole lot of bike, and not just in terms of spec, but how it all ties together as a package. Cell Bikes are designed in Australia by real riders, and we’re sure they won’t mind us saying that they have come a very long way since we first rode their earlier mountain bikes.

Cell Bikes are sold online direct to consumer, alongside brands like YT, Polygon and Canyon they aim to keep costs down by cutting out the middle man and shipping bikes to your door. Whether or not this is the future, and will suit everyone it’s worth a look. All Cell bikes can be seen in the flesh at one of their two stores in Sydney or Melbourne (free first service included if picked up from one of the two Cell stores) or shipped Australia wide at no extra charge.

It’s worth noting that each and every Cell is unpacked in the Sydney headquarters by a mechanic, tuned and tested before re-packing and couriered to the consumer. Minimal assembly is required, just the front wheel, handlebar, pedals and seatpost need installing.

We have the $999 Cell Stromlo 2.1 on test, the aluminium frame 29er hardtail with a bit of an all-rounder look to it. While not billing itself as a hardcore mountain bike, the Stromlo should be just enough to get you started and enjoying the trails. We reviewed the higher end $1599 Cell Awaba 2.0 29er hardtail recently, check out our review of that one here: Cell Awaba review

Cell Stromlo 2.0-25
Big 29″ wheels for speed and maximum confidence.

No the name isn’t a coincidence, the Stromlo takes its name from the immensely popular mountain bike park in Canberra – Stromlo Forest Park. See, told you they were designed in Australia.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes the bike tick.

The Stromlo rolls on larger diameter standard 29″ wheels, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and a SRAM X5 30 speed (triple ring) drivetrain, and up front a simple Suntour XCR suspension fork takes the sting out the trail. Alex rims with eyeleted spoke holes are a nice touch, the eyelets will help the spokes retain good tension and make servicing much easier than non-eyeleted rims.

Cell Stromlo 2.0-13
Designed in Australia, and it shows.

The fork has hydraulic lockout for commuting on tarmac and hydraulic rebound control to keep the coil spring under control when the trails are rough.

The SRAM X5 drivetrain is a good sight, especially for the money. Speccing the bike with such a wide range of gears will broaden the Stromlo’s usage, you won’t be running out of gears on the fastest roads or steepest off road climbs with 30 (so many gears these days!) gears to click through. The gear cables are concealed in full length outer casing too, keeping the mud out of the lines for longer lasting gear adjustment.

Cell Stromlo 2.0-10
Suntour fork with rebound and lockout.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-26
Nice and low cockpit for better handing off road.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-5
Three chainrings up front, ten out the back. A huge range of gears on offer.

Our experience with any of the entry level Shimano disc brakes has always been excellent, and even before hitting the dirt the brakes feel solid and powerful, the larger 180mm diameter disc rotor up the front should help keep things in check when the descents are long or steep.

The low profile tread on the tyres will most certainly not be too great at gripping into loose dirt, but the rubber compound feels quite tacky so they should at least be fine on drier and harder surface trails. Perhaps they are an area for upgrading later on, it really depends on what it’s intended for.

The low and flat bars give the Stromlo a real mountain bike feel. Where you’d typically see bikes around this price point with a tall front end for ‘comfort’ this sacrifices cornering ability, the flat double butted aluminium bar will keep your upper body in a good position for negotiating the fun stuff on the trail.

Cell Stromlo 2.0-33
Taking its name from the sweet mountain bike park in Canberra, Stromlo Forest Park.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-17
Shimano brakes and a SRAM drivetrain.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-27
SRAM X5 derailleurs.
Cell Stromlo 2.0-3
Time to get it dirty.

So that’s it for now, we’ll be back shortly for our review of this entry level hardtail.

Stay tuned.

Flow’s First Bite: Polygon Siskiu D8

Indonesian bike manufacturer Polygon offer a massive range of bikes to the Australian market with a direct to consumer sales model via Bicycles Online, though over the years we’ve become aware that there is a lot more to the Polygon bikes than just astonishing value.

Buying a bike from a website isn’t a new thing, and it sure does comes with the typical drawbacks, but Bicycles Online do their best to ensure the process is as simple and easy as possible. There are systems in place like their 14 day returns policy, assembly video tutorials, sizing guide and the option of a $99 Pro Build where the bike is unpacked built at the Bicycles Online workshop in Sydney by a mechanic, then tested and tuned before re-packing for shipping. It’s the consumer’s choice whether or not the valuable service of a bike store is needed, or going direct to save dollars is worth it.

We’ll get into the ins and outs of the purchasing process in more detail with our final review, but for now let’s take a quick look at the Polygon Siskiu DB, a sub $2K dually loaded with off road worthy features.

Polygon Siskiu 8-30
On test – the 2016 Polygon Siskiu D8.

The Siskiu is an all-new bike for 2016, previously called the Recon which we tested last year. Click here for our review of the 2015 Recon 4. We found the lower price point Recon 4 to be a great handling bike but lacked in a few areas of finishing detail like the cable routing and a couple spec areas. Fast forward to now, and the Siskiu D8 looks to have it all sorted and more.

The Polygon uses aluminium frame with RockShox suspension front and back, Mavic wheels with a Shimano drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes. It’s all very decent kit, and in our experiences there isn’t any obvious parts that wouldn’t be up for real mountain biking use.

Weighing under the 13.5kg mark is pretty sound, considering the price tag, we were impressed when we first put it on the scales.

Polygon Siskiu 8-23
Internally routed cable routing, a big change for 2016.
Polygon Siskiu 8-10
A RockShox Monarch rear shock with lockout adjustment.
Polygon Siskiu 8-12
The stout linkage plate controls the desired suspension feel.
Polygon Siskiu 8-20
A Shimano XT Shadow + rear derailleur with adjustable clutch, for a quiet and crisp drivetrain.
A RockShox Recon Gold fork, with remote lockout.
A RockShox Recon Gold fork, with remote lockout.

27.5″ is the wheel size, which should really let the Siskiu feel alive and playful on the trails, and 120mm of travel front and back puts it in the all-rounder category. The wide range of gears will also favour the beginner rider, low enough to climb hills without having to get off and push.

But a real mountain bike is more than just the sum of its parts, its credibility can be won or lost when the wheels start to roll in the dirt and the terrain turns up and down, so let’s see how it goes. Stay tuned for our full review soon.

Fresh Product: Lezyne GPS units

Lezyne, a company best known for pumps and tools so stylish they’d look at home in an Audi showroom, have branched out into the world of electronics lately. First it was with lights, and now they’ve released a range of three GPS units. We’ll be putting at least one of these to the test, so let’s have a gander and what they’re all about.

Lezyne GPS-4

[divider]Mini GPS: So small, you could eat it. $189.95[/divider]

First up, the Mini GPS. The appeal of course, is its size – it’s, well, very, very little. For mountain bikers, it makes a lot of sense as it’s = small enough to mount on top of even quite short stems (we fitted it to a 70mm stem without a worry) and it’s less of a target in the event of a crash. The weight is impressive too, at only 35g including the mount.

Lezyne GPS-1

In terms of functionality, the Mini doesn’t offer the same Bluetooth/ANT+ or smart phone connectivity as the bigger units, but it can still display a fair amount of information at a glance with up to four fields on show at a time. Because it’s not Bluetooth enabled, uploading the files must be done via USB. Run time is claimed to be 10 hours.

[divider]Power GPS: Get your texts and calls on your bars. $229.95[/divider]

Less easy to lose in the wash than the Mini, the Power GPS has a bigger display and longer run times (22hrs) and can also store twice as much data (200hrs).

Lezyne GPS-2

The Power GPS is all rigged up for Bluetooth connectivity, so it has the ability to be paired up with all your usual sensors (heart rate, cadence, power etc), which will appeal to those who are more serious about their training. It can also be paired with your phone, and will display incoming texts, emails and calls, so there’s no escaping your office/partner/responsibilities. You can also pair it with the Lezyne Ally app, for wireless uploading of your rides.

It’s still nice and light, especially considering its alloy construction, at just 76g.

[divider]Super GPS: Bells, whistles and ANTs. $269.95[/divider]

The Super is yet another step up in terms of data capture, with 400hrs of ride storage possible. It offers all the same functions as the Power GPS, but will also pair with ANT+ devices (. Again, it can display all the emails/texts you’re probably trying to avoid, and can upload your rides wireless via the Lezyne app.

All three units use a basic ‘X-Loc’ mount, which is affixed to the bike with o-rings. It’s a simple system, and you can get the ‘out-front’ style mounts aftermarket. It is a pity though, that the Lezyne units don’t work with Garmin, Magellan or Barfly mounts, which are all readily available.

We’ll be looking to test the Mini and Power GPS units over summer, so expect a full review soon. For the full stats on these units, head here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tested: Trek Fuel EX 8 29 2016

Everybody has a word which they chronically mis-type. For this reviewer, it’s the word ‘fuel’… about 30% of the time, my fingers will key in the spelling ‘feul’, pushed into another typo by some inexplicably entrenched neurological pathway. While we battle with typing the word, we sure as hell didn’t battle with this bike: the 2016 Trek Fuel (yay, got it first time!) EX8 29 is a solid trail companion, and showcases some excellent improvements from the previous iteration of this bike.

We’re well placed now to comment on this bike’s performance too, having spent a year on both a 2015 Fuel 29er, and 2015 and 2016 versions of the Fuel EX 9.8 27.5.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-2
At first we weren’t sure about the silver seat stays (they reminded us of a warranty replacement!) but the look grew on us.

[divider]What is it and who’s it for?[/divider]

While some brands are going all-in with 27.5, others like Trek still feel that 29″ hoops are going to remain popular and desirable beyond the realms of the XC race category. The confidence, traction and generally sure-footedness of a 29er with trail bike geometry does still make it the ideal platform for a lot of riders. Trek have reinforced this viewpoint by investing in reworking the 29er version of the Fuel frame.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-20
The satin finish is classy.

Coming in at under three and a half grand, the EX8 29 sits at a price point that makes it the first ‘serious’ mountain bike for a lot of riders, and as such it needs to be able to handle the demands of a rider who suddenly has equipment that will let them push their limits a lot further. We think it nails it, delivering with a mix of proven Trek tech (the ABP/Full Floater suspension for instance) and new innovations (like the Boost hub spacing) which have facilitated some welcomed improvements to this bike’s geometry and handling that make it even more confidence inspiring.

Aluminium trail bikes mightn’t be a sexy category, but they are the bread and butter of the mountain bike industry. And bread and butter is still freakin’ delicious, especially as a pudding.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-26

[divider]The frame: Big chop, less flop, more BB drop.[/divider]

Until you inspect closely or get out the tape measure (everybody does that, right?) you could easily overlook the changes that Trek have made to the Fuel 29er frame. First up, it gets Boost rear dropout spacing, with the rear hub a whopping 148mm wide. The extra width not only allows the rear wheel to be made stiffer, but because the chainline is shifted outward slightly too, it helps solve some of the tyre clearance issues that plague 29ers.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-6 Trek Fuel EX 8 29-5

Long, tech-nerd story cut short, Boost spacing has allowed Trek to chop a massive 18mm off the length of the Fuel 29er’s chain stays.

At the same time, the rear end is stiffer too, alleviating two of our main gripes with the previous Fuel 29er; we never really got comfy with the super long rear end on earlier versions of this bike, and the rear end ‘twang’ robbed it of confidence. In comparison, this bike is crazy solid out back, and feels a lot better balanced too, with more wheelbase out in front, and less trailing you.

The Fuel 29er gets some geometry adjustment too for 2016, via Trek’s simple Mino-Link system. In the slacker setting, the head angle is a stable 68.8-degrees, compared to 69.5 on the 2015 bike. The bottom bracket is 4mm lower too. Put all these ingredients – stiffer, slacker, lower, shorter stays – into the melting pot and you get tasty blend that gives riders more confidence. And as we stressed before, in this category and price point, that should be the performance priority.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-29
Cable routing is semi-internal. Not a lot of room for a bottle – a 500ml is a tight fit.

The only serious gripe we have with this frame (and we mention it in every Trek review) is the ABP skewer. It hangs out the back of the bike like some kind of anchor, smashing into rocks willy nilly. Please hire some smart engineer to fix this! Water bottle clearance is also super tight, and a 500ml bottle is a real squeeze.

[divider]All the right bits for a good time[/divider]

It’s not just the frame which contributes to the Fuel’s increased confidence, but a whole bunch of smart spec choices too. A 750mm-bar and 70mm stem combo is a real winner, giving you a strong position over the front end, and the Bontrager XR3 tyres are a proper 2.3″ width as well.

A great cockpit makes a big difference.
A great cockpit makes a big difference – 750mm bar, 70mm stem.

Of course a dropper post is a must on this kind of bike now, and the KS LEV on the Fuel works well. Being cable operated, it’s easy enough to maintain too.

Even though the Shimano 10-speed SLX shifters feel a little clunky (especially in comparison to the new 11-speed XT gear), the 2×10 drivetrain will suit most. In an ideal world, we’d go a single chain ring, and fit something like a Praxis 11-40 cassette, to simplify and lighten the bike a bit.

Shimano’s affordable Deore brakes feel a million bucks! They don’t have a huge amount of bite or raw power, but they’re super consistent and have a light, precise lever feel that’s easy to modulate.

Great tyres! Going tubeless is easy too.
Great tyres! Going tubeless is easy too.

[divider]Skinny legs[/divider]

Just like the rear end, the fork also gets Boost hub spacing, with 110mm-wide dropouts. The stance of the fork is noticeably wider, like it’s been riding a horse, but the legs are still only 32mm. With all the other tweaks that have been made to improve the bike’s stiffness and confidence, we’d have loved to see a 34mm-legged fork on this bike.

The Boost fork has a wider stance, but still only uses 32mm legs.
The Boost fork has a wider stance, but still only uses 32mm legs.

[divider]Instant gratification[/divider]

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-5

One hallmark of a quality bike is the length of time it takes to get comfortable and feel like you’ve got the setup dialled. With the Fuel EX8 29, it was seconds, not minutes or hours. Something about the Full Floater suspension system makes it incredibly easy to get right, or very close to it. While other bikes will punish you with a harsh or soggy ride if your suspension pressures are a little off, Trek’s system seems to handle a much bigger margin of error without issue. A quick check of the suspension sag and you’re 95% of the way there, with only fine tuning to do down the track. The same with the fork too, which might lack the more supportive damping of more expensive FOX offerings, but is very easy to get balanced with the rear end.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-24
The magnesium EVO link is super stout, contributing to the bike’s rock solid rear end.

The handling is similarly simple to live with, and a marked improvement over previous Fuel 29ers. We always found the long rear end of the older Fuel 29ers made the bike feel like it needed to be steered through corners, and leaning it over wasn’t so easy. The 2016 bike doesn’t have any of those negative traits.

Whether it be getting onto the tyre side knobs, jumping or manualling, the new geometry makes things much more fun.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-2

[divider]Buttery and gentle[/divider]

“Gentle” was a word that another rider used to describe the Fuel’s suspension, and it’s a pretty apt term for it. Both fork and shock are very smooth in the early stages of their travel, and  have a pretty linear feeling. More aggressive riders, or those who like really supportive suspension to work the terrain, might find things a bit too ‘plush’ or isolating, but we don’t really think that’s this bike’s intended rider. Most folk buying this bike will be blown away by how well this bike smoothes out the trail, and that’s what it’s suspension is optimised to do.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-1

[divider]Chuggy on the climbs[/divider]

Trek Fuel EX 8 29 action-3

Because it’s not a light bike, climbing isn’t the Fuel’s forte, and you’ll want to use the shock lockout lever too. We didn’t find time to convert the wheels over to tubeless, but it’s easily done using Bontrager’s rim strips (the tyres are tubeless ready) and that would have saved some rotating weight and likely improved climbing performance too. At least with the 2×10 gearing you have a good low-range gear should you need it.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We realise we’ve spent a lot of this review comparing this bike with its predecessor, but that’s only because we’re really impressed with how Trek have made what was already a good bike even better. Great handling, comfort and control galore, excellent suspension and a price point that won’t see you eating sardines and rice for a year either.

Trek Fuel EX 8 29-1

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Habit Carbon SE

Cannondale need no introduction, these guys are legends in all areas of cycling. Their innovative nature may polarise potential buyers with their quirky designs but behind each unique element is a perfectly good explanation.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new model from Cannondale so when we first heard of the trick new Habit we vowed to get on one as soon as possible, it looks like our type of thing.

Read for more on what the Habit is all about, where it fits in and our first impressions before we got it very dirty.


Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-2

[divider]What is it?[/divider]

Slotting in between the featherweight cross country dually – the Scalpel and the mid-travel Trigger, the Habit is an all-new 120mm dually with slightly more relaxed geometry than you’d expect. It’s rolling on 27.5″ wheels, 429mm chain stays and a with a lowly-slung tup tube it looks like a lot of fun straight away.

The ‘SE’ model we have on test is a bit of a half step towards a bigger bike, with a longer 130mm travel fork instead of a 120mm that the rest of the Habit range uses 120mm. This will lift the head angle out to a very trail-friendly 67.5 degrees (half a degree slacker than the regular Habit).

Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-31Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-17

The carbon front end joins an aluminium rear (carbon stays on the higher models) with a single pivot suspension design and a sweet little carbon moulded linkage, but take a closer look at the rear end and you’ll notice an absence of a suspension pivot near the rear hub. The ‘zero pivot stays’ rely on a certain amount of flex to make it all work, doing away with a pivot point and all the associated weight and moving parts.

[divider]The ‘Fork’.[/divider]

Let’s just call it a fork, the Lefty is probably the most striking element to any Cannondale, it’s single-sided design has been baffling onlookers sine the late 90s but there’s a bunch of very good reasons they are still around. The latest version ‘Lefty 2’ is on the Habit SE, with 130mm of air-sprung travel it is touted to be the best generation yet, with significant tweaks to the damper units aiming to increase the fork’s sensitivity and lively feel.

Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-24 Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-30

The dual crown fork weighs 1950g and slides up and down on a hybrid of needle roller bearings and bushes, eliminating any twisting or biding. For a more in depth breakdown of what makes the Lefty tick click through to the Cannondale link for more.

Our past experiences with the Lefty are a real mixed bag, while we can’t sing enough praise for the steering precision and lateral stiffness we have found some Leftys to feel a little heavy in the damper, with slow rebound and compression speeds. Let’s hope the new Lefty 2 has rectified some of this.

[divider]The Parts.[/divider]

First thing you’ll notice on the Habit is the seriously trick looking cranks. The Cannondale SI (System Integration) cranks use their Spidering SL setup, combining crank spider and chain ring into one unit. It makes for a light and clean looking crankset, and the low range 30 tooth narrow/wide chainring with no chain guide looks so damn good!

Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-14

A SRAM X1 drivetrain with the lovely Guide brakes will no doubt be great, and we’re always happy to see a KS LEV dropper post fitted as standard.

The WTB rims will need a conversion kit to make them tubeless, and you may get lucky with the Schwalbe Performance tyres but they aren’t too good at sealing up, perhaps the Evolution level Nobby Nics with the TLE (Tubeless Easy) casing would be a handy upgrade early on.

Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-12

So here we have the new Cannondale Habit Carbon SE, stay tuned for our full review very soon but for now here are some more pretty pictures of a very tidy looking bike.

Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-26Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-46

Cannondale Habit SE Flow Mountain Bike-50

Fresh Product: Rake N Bake – Adelaide Made Trail Tools

Born out of the frustration from too many tools bending and breaking, Adelaide trail design and construction company founder Garry Patterson set to make the toughest and versatile tools that they could rely on. Specifically aimed at building mountain bike trails, these are not your average rake hoe.

Rake N Bake 5
The right tool for the job, the Rake N Bake ain’t messing around.

“We could not accept that the current rakes were bending and breaking with their first use and that having to repair the tools after each work day was normal.”

The fire rake or rake hoe, is the number one tool for any trail builder and there’s no doubt it gets a workout, especially in rocky terrain so it didn’t make much sense that it was made from average quality steel. So after a few beers, the Rake N Bake and Half Baked were born on a scrap piece of paper.

Rake N Bake 12
Multi-purpose versatility with mountain biking trails in mind.

The aim was to design two tools:

  1. An incredibly versatile smaller tool that was easy to carry and suited for a range of tasks: Like doing the back cut, raking vegetation, chopping small roots, compacting, etc. It would end up being called the Half Baked and is the weapon of choice for trail maintenance.

Rake N Bake 14
The lighter and smaller trail maintenance tool – Half Baked.

  2. The toughest, ultimate trail building hand tool, perfect for cutting fresh trail, and shaping and compacting. This one has become the number one seller – the Rake N Bake.

Rake N Bake 13
The big one – Rake N Bake.

They’re supplied to some of the best professional trail building companies and trail builders around the world, volunteer groups, and anyone who likes to dig trails. They’ve also been popular with fire crews, landscapers and four-wheel drive enthusiasts.

[divider]Manufacturing Details[/divider]

We are very proud of the fact that our tools are entirely made in Australia of Australian materials.

The head is made of mining and military spec bisalloy steel (high strength steel) and the handle of Australian hardwood spotted gum.

Manufacturing anything in our country competitively is challenging but the belief that doing it any other way would compromise product quality. So here’s how these babies are made.

First, we buy the steel and have it laser-cut by the southern hemisphere’s biggest laser-cutter which is conveniently located in South Australia. 

Then it goes to the machinist, also in South Australia, who bevels the edges and who also happens to manufacture parts for some of the world’s leading motorsport teams despite operating out of an unsuspecting rusty tin shed. 

Rake N Bake 20
Welded in Adelaide.

The rake heads then travel to in-house welder and Australian free-riding legend Dean Modridge who does all the final welding and jigging.

The custom handles are made in Queensland of Australian hardwood spotted gum.

If shipping is required, quick assembly is all you need. Put the handle in the rake head and tighten the nut and supplied bolt.

The result, after 7 different versions of the Rake N Bake and 6 versions of the Half Baked; the toughest and best trail building tools the Trailscapes team had ever used. And it turns out they weren’t the only ones to think so, the word got out and are now shipping them all over the world, from Australia to Norway, Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland and Indonesia.

Both have an ‘in-built’ bottle opener too, perhaps this attribute is the main reason people buy them.

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Rail Helmet

New season, new look, new lid. Giant’s new Rail helmets have arrived Down Under and we’ve just picked one up. Time to get it sweaty!

Giant Rail Helmet-3
Clean styling for a cool head this summer.
Huge vents and an adjustable interior.
Huge vents and an adjustable interior.

First thing you’ll notice when you hold the Rail helmet is its serious lack of weight, it’s lighter than a pack of diet rice crackers. And the new-school styling is very on point, available in three colours (orange and black) plus a women’s styling option called the Liv Infinita.

Giant Rail Helmet-1
Good looking lid, we’re very impressed!

Aimed at the trail/enduro rider, the Rail has a bunch of cool features and more protection than your standard cross-country helmet.

There’s more of the helmet around the rear and sides of your head, there is plenty of flat surfaces to stick a helmet camera, and a nifty goggle strap clip to secure the straps of your goggles around the back.

Giant Rail Helmet-4
A little bungy strap and clip secures the goggles.

The visor has a huge range of adjustment, by tilting and lifting right up high your goggles sit off your face but can rest conveniently under the visor for quick access. A dial around the back adjusts tension, and the ‘Y’ straps are fused together, which fits us perfectly.

Killer value at $144, we’re impressed.

 

Flow’s First Bite – Trek Fuel EX 8 29

Trek’s incredibly popular Fuel EX range comes in both 29″ and 27.5″ flavours, and for 2016 the 29er goes under the knife to receive a very trendy facelift, scoring the updates we hoped and wished for. Tighter, zipper and adjustable whilst retaining that super-supple suspension we have grown to expect, the new Fuel EX 29 looks dialled.

Seven versions of the Fuel EX are on offer from Trek Australia, the large range priced between $3099 and $5999. A real testament to how well this type of bike caters to just about any type of mountain biker, the amount of travel, relaxed character and reliable components make it a real winner.

We snagged a Fuel EX 29 8 for a full review, until then here are our first impressions of this entry-level aluminium dually from the big T.

Trek Fuel EX 8 33

[divider]The Frame[/divider]

Dual suspension 29ers have come a long way, and are now better than ever across the board. We’re even at the point where we’re seeing die hard ‘small wheel’ riders finally appreciate the benefits of the larger wheels but without moaning that that can’t ride the bike exactly how they would like to.

29″ wheels are always going to be better at handling certain elements of off road riding than smaller 26″ and 27.5″ wheels, the rule that bigger is better just can’t be argued with in terms of rolling momentum or stability. Though there is a reason the Fuel EX is also available in 27.5″ wheels, it comes down to how you want to ride, where you ride and your personal preferences.

Trek Fuel EX 8 27

We’ve currently got two 27.5″ Treks on long term test – the Fuel EX 9.8 275 and the Remedy 9.8 27.5. Click the links to read our thoughts on those two sweet rides.

In the case of this bike the design team at Trek have been able to take advantage of the new Boost hub width standards to free up space and in return bring the rear end closer to the bikes centre, shortening the chainstays from 452mm to a snappy 437mm. We’ll get into more on how and why Boost is a good thing in our review. Yes it’s another standard that was pioneered by Trek, but there’s more to it than just more standards.

Trek Fuel EX 8 30

With 120mm of travel front and back, the Fuel EX is a semi-short travel dually that sits in between the bigger Remedy 29 and the amazing new cross country weapon, the Top Fuel. See more of the Top Fuel here.

When we reviewed the 2014 and 2015 Trek Fuel EX 29 the main gripe for us was the length, it got in the way of being the ideal go-anywhere bike, holding us back when corners got tight. We often wished for different geometry when we wanted to throw it around and play. So naturally we’re pumped to see that on paper it looks like that’s sorted for 2016, we can’t wait to see how it goes on the trails. To read our earlier reviews of the Fuel, read here: 2014 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29 and 2015 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29.

Trek Fuel EX 8 21
Boost 148 – a new hub and drivetrain standard that allows frame designs greater freedom to achieve better everything.
Trek Fuel EX 8 22
That bolt on the EVO Link and chain stay junction is the Mino Link. Swap the chips around for geometry adjustment.

[divider]The Parts[/divider]

With a good dose of Bontrager, FOX and Shimano the Fuel is well dressed for the dollars. In our experience the parts fitted to this bike will be up to the task, but we’ll deliver our verdict in the review.

Trek are all about a good range of gears, most of their Shimano drivetrain bikes are specced with a double chainring. With a 2×10 drivetrain, the low range is especially very useable and you won’t be running out of gears at either end.

Trek Fuel EX 8 9

FOX take care of the suspension with a Float 32 fork up front using the new FIT 4 damper that has brought FOX back into the game in a big way. Plus the addition of the EVOL large air volume air can this is surely going to be most excellent! The Fuel range was already a supple and smooth ride, with the new FOX parts it’s going to be off the charts! 

The rear shock uses Trek’s proprietary suspension damping system called the Re:aktiv damper designed in conjunction with FOX. It’s all about delivering better pedalling/climbing efficiency with a more seamless transition to bump absorption than other systems have been able to achieve. Read more about that here: RE:aktiv Shock Technology.

A RE:aktiv rear shock.
A RE:aktiv rear shock.

Bontrager handle the rest of the parts, which is good news to us. While the wheels may be a little weighty, we already love the tyres, saddle and cockpit.

The Fuel EX 8 29 looks pretty good to us! With a tubeless conversion it’d be perfect on our rocky trails, so we’ll be taping up the rims and sourcing some tubeless valves to make that happen, then we’ll be good to go. Let the testing begin, stay tuned for the full review soon.

Flow’s First Bite – Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1

Not an all-night dance party for really tall people, the Giant Trance could be the most popular all-mountain bike in Australia, and for good reason. Over the years we’ve seen the Trance move with the times, and for 2016 it is seriously on the ball.

We’ve just received the Trance Advanced 27.5 1, the middle of the three carbon (or composite, call it what you like) models of the Trance that uses 27.5″ wheels and 140mm of Maestro rear suspension.

We’ll be putting in some seriously miles on this new Trance so expect a full review soon, but for now here is what we think of this tidy number.

*UPDATED – Read our complete review here: Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 review.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 23

As we discovered when checking out the entire 2016 range from Giant at their new season launch, there hasn’t been too many changes made to the mountain bike range, frames remain the same for the Trance, the bigger Reign and the leaner brother – Anthem. But what we see here is a clever speccing of the kind of parts we all want to be riding for 2016.

[divider]The Frame[/divider]

In Giant language ‘Advanced’ denotes that the frame is made in house at their own composite manufacturing facility from raw carbon materials. It’s a composite front end mated with an aluminium rear end joined by the Maestro floating suspension linkage.

It’s a 140mm travel bike front and back, great for comfort and control in a wide variety of terrain, but not too much to handle if the trails aren’t requiring much suspension travel.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 30

All the frame’s finishing touches are absolutely spot on, it’s a very tidy package when you look front to back. The bold paintwork with the blue and orange works really well, and in the sunlight you’ll catch the glimmering composite material shining through.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 5

Cable routing is internal, you’ll fit one water bottle on the frame and there are still provisions to mount a front derailleur if you wish.

Geometry wise the Trance uses 440mm chain stays, a 67 degree head angle and a 73.5 degree seat angle.

[divider]The Parts[/divider]

The previous 2015 version of this same model shared the same frame but was specced with a SRAM X01 drivetrain, a RockShox Revelation fork and the RockShox Monarch rear shock. Going forward it’s a real Shimano and FOX show, making the most of the recent return to the forefront of performance for these two brands.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 29

Shimano’s new 11-speed XT grouppo is kick arse, we have spent plenty of time on it now, here’s our in-depth review.  The Trance is setup out of the box how we’d love it. A 32 tooth single ring with the super-wide 11-42 tooth cassette is an excellent setup, quiet, smooth and has enough of a gear range for just about anywhere.

We haven’t had much experience with the 11-speed KMC chains, this one is black and uses hollow pins and links, there’s not much to it!

And as far as suspension goes the Trance uses the best that FOX has on offer, their premium fork and shock. Up front its a Float 34 Float Factory with the silky smooth Kashima coating, with all the bonus adjustments and dials as standard. The bigger diameter 34mm legs will give the Trance a lot more confidence when steering and braking through rough terrain, we’re glad to be seeing less 32mm leg forks in this travel amount these days.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 20

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 21

It’s the rear shock however that has us very excited. In our experience the Trance has never been the most supple or sensitive suspension bike, with the earlier models using RockShox Monarch (gee they have come a long way, and much smoother than they used to be) or a FOX Float CTD shock. For 2016 we have the new Float DPS with the EVOL extra volume air spring.

Giant Trance Advanced 27.5 1 10There’s no doubt that the EVOL component of the rear shock alone will lift the suspension performance in a big way, the suppleness of the larger air can and the spring curve it delivers is excellent.

We loved the Trance Advanced SX with the FOX Float X – review here – so this will be a great comparison with the lighter and smaller Float shock.

Read our review of the exact fork and shock fitted to this bike here – FOX 2016 review.

Other spec highlights are the Giant carbon wheels, Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, the dialled Giant Contact SL Switch adjustable post and their new Contact SL saddle.

So that’s it for now, less typing and more riding. Stay tuned!

Tested: TomTom Bandit Camera

The wearable camera market might be more saturated than the mattress in a Wicked campervan, but that hasn’t deterred TomTom from entering the fray. Best know for their navigation equipment, they’ve have come out of left field with the new Bandit camera and produced something unique with genuine benefits over the competition.

While we admittedly haven’t used every single helmet camera on the market, of the half dozen or so that we have played with lately, the Bandit is the best. It’s crammed to bursting with features, but manages to keep the actual operation side of things simple, and that’s the key to a good product in our mind. There’s enough happening out on the trail already that you don’t want to have to dedicate too much thought to peripheral things, like helmet cameras.

TomTom Bandit 18

[divider]Size and mounting: Heavy, but secure.[/divider]

The TomTom Bandit’s cylindrical shape is bigger and weightier than much of the competition, and that’s perhaps its biggest drawback – you do notice the 191g when helmet mounted and you’ll want to tighten your helmet up a couple of notches to stop it moving about. That said, the stick-on mount is low-profile, so the weight is kept close to your melon, reducing the top-heaviness to a degree.

 

We never actually used the 360 pitch mount or the bar mount that came with the camera - we found the standard flat surface helmet mount was fine, and preferred a smaller bar mount which was actually designed for a GoPro.
We never actually used the 360 pitch mount or the bar mount that came with the camera – we found the standard flat surface helmet mount was fine, and preferred a smaller bar mount which was actually designed for a GoPro.

The Premium pack we reviewed comes with a whole motza of mounts, including a very large bar mount, flat surface mounts and versatile 360-degree pitch mount. You also get a GoPro mount adaptor, which is a smart move as there are hundreds of good GoPro mounts out there already. We regularly use some nice CNC mounts produced by PRO which are designed for the Shimano Sports Camera, and these worked well with the TomTom too.

TomTom Bandit 8
A GoPro mount adaptor lets you make use of the plethora of mounts on the market.

We had no worries running the camera on helmets, on the bars, under the seat rails and we used a GoPro chest mount too without any worry.

TomTom Bandit 12
The camera rotates in its mounting bracket so it can cope with off-centre mounting and keep a level horizon.

Rather than relying on software to auto-adjust the horizon line, the whole unit can be rotated in the mounting bracket, so you’ll always have a level horizon, even if you mount the camera off centre or you need to run it on a funky angle. (If you run the camera upside down, as we did on a chest mount, then you’ll still need to flip the footage in your editing program). We did find that it was possible to accidentally bump the camera and end up with a skewed horizon line. This was most apparent when running the camera under the seat rails, pointing backwards, as our legs would brush the camera and make it rotate in its bracket. Perhaps there needs to be some kind of locking mechanism for this rotating adjustment?

A unique spring loaded ‘jaw’ system attaches the camera to the mounts, and we experienced no footage ruining rattle or vibration, which we’ve encountered with other cameras that have less secure mounting hardware.

TomTom Bandit 16
The spring-loaded jaws secure the camera without any rattling.

[divider]Menu: Big icons, simple layout.[/divider]

If you’ve used any TomTom device before (we use their running watch too) then the menu operation will be familiar. Big icons make it clear what mode you’re in, so you could easily pick up this camera and start recording without ever consulting the instruction manual. The main screen also tells you at a glance if you’ve got wifi connectivity (for the app), a GPS signal, plus remaining battery/SD card life.

You navigate through the settings with a four-way button, and it’s fairly intuitive. There’s also no lag between pressing the button and the camera responding, which is an issue on some cams, particularly older GoPros.

[divider]Clever ‘Batt-Stick’: Cordfree charging and file capture[/divider]

Tom-Tom-Bandit-4
The Batt-stick also houses the Mirco SD card. You can plug it straight into a USB outlet for charging.

The Bandit’s battery will shoot for up to three hours at 1080p/60fps apparently, but if you need more juice, then you’ll appreciate the removable battery. In fact, the ‘Batt-stick’ is more than just a battery – it also houses the Micro SD card. You can plug it straight into any USB outlet to recharge or transfer the files too, which means you don’t need any extra cords or card readers, which is a boon in an era where everything in life needs an adaptor, charger or some kind of proprietary cord! We even charged it off a crappy phone cigarette lighter phone charger in the car without issue.

[divider]Shooting and modes: All the usuals, including 4K[/divider]

The battle of resolutions and frame rates rages on, ensuring you can watch your footage on any screen from your phone to the cinema. Slow-mo is taken care of with the option of recording as slow as 1/4 speed at 720p, while at the opposite end of the spectrum you can shoot 4K at 15fps. We’re happy to run 1080p/60fps for all of our shooting.

We think the quality of the footage is as good as we’ve seen. As with all helmet cameras, the size of the lens and sensor means that the conditions you’re shooting is have a huge bearing on the quality of the footage

You’ve also got burst photo mode, time lapse options or a standard photo mode (which you can trigger with your remote from the end of your selfie stick).

In terms of the optics and footage quality, it’s hard to give a completely objective assessment without a back to back comparison. Still, we think the quality of the footage is as good as we’ve seen. As with all helmet cameras, the size of the lens and sensor means that the conditions you’re shooting is have a huge bearing on the quality of the footage – lots of light helps, as do smoother trails or else you need to add lots of stabilisation in editing.

[divider]Operation: Separate buttons and remote[/divider]

Why don’t all helmet cameras have this? The Bandit uses two completely separate buttons to start/stop recording, so even if you don’t hear the beeps, you’ll know if you’ve just started or stopped the camera.

TomTom Bandit 11
The rear button starts filming (or marks highlights on the fly), while a button up front stops recording.

Even better is the neat remote, which is small enough to fit to the bars next to your grip. Like the camera itself, it has separate start/stop buttons, plus a flashing light to confirm when you’re recording. Unlike other cameras we’ve used with remotes, pairing it to the camera involved zero screwing about.

TomTom Bandit 6
Not only does the remote mean you can start/stop the camera without taking your hands off the bars, but a light lets you know when the camera is recording too.

The supplied straps didn’t offer a tight enough attachment for the remote on our handlebar, so we used a couple of zip-ties instead.

[divider]Sensors galore: GPS, automatic footage highlighting[/divider]

Part of the Bandit’s appeal is its GPS functionality and how this ties in with the seriously slick Bandit phone app. We found that the camera generally located a GPS signal quickly, even out in tree cover.

TomTom Bandit 5
The device pairs via Wifi for all the App related functions.

The camera takes all this GPS information, then combines it with input from other built-in sensors to automatically ‘highlight’ your footage using inputs like speed, acceleration, g-forces, deceleration, vertical distance, rotation and heart rate (if you’ve got a heart rate sensor). These highlighted bit of footage are then earmarked for speedy editing, which is explained more below.

[divider]Phone App: Very clever instant editing[/divider]

Much of TomTom’s marketing hoohah about this camera is based around its speedy in-App editing software. It’s very smart really. Connect the app to your phone via wifi and you can not only get a live view (and it is pretty much live, there’s also no lag at all from camera to phone) but you can create and export finished movies, with sound tracks and all, in just a couple of minutes.

TomTom Bandit 1
The camera will automatically ‘highlight’ sections of footage for a speedy editing process.

In its speediest form of editing, you select ‘create story’ from the menu then simply shake the phone and the camera will assemble all bits of footage it detects as being most noteworthy (e.g. when you’re going fastest, or when you have a big impact) into a little video sequence. You can then add music or an overlay (speed, g-forces or heart rate) and then save it for uploading to your Facetube account.

TomTom Bandit 4
You can manually select highlights too, by tapping the small star icon when watching back your footage.

In practice, we preferred to have a little more control over the process. While the automatic highlighting works well, we got better results when we manually selected our own highlights. This is an easy process too – you can watch the clips back and then when you see a section you want to include in your video, just tap the little star button. Once you’ve assembled your favourite moments, you can trim them to length and assemble them into a timeline.

Once we got the hang of the process, it took us about two or three minutes to assemble an edit. Sure, it’s not cinema ready, but for sharing the experience quickly it’s impressive!

[divider]Other drawbacks: Not waterproof, wind noise[/divider]

TomTom Bandit 9
The little goatee up front is an optional addition for cutting down wind noise.

If you’ve got the Basic pack, then the Bandit isn’t waterproof out of the box. It is splash proof, but you’ll need to fork out for the separate waterproof lens, or buy the Premium pack instead. With the waterproof lens fitted you can go take photos of all the pretty fish down to 40m. The only other issue is we found the microphone is badly affected by wind noise about a 20km/h. Luckily you get a funny little stick on ‘beard’ for the camera that goes over the microphone and makes the Bandit look like a distinguished old professor, removing most of the wind noise.

[divider]Final thoughts:[/divider]

TomTom Bandit video slide

The helmet camera market is a crowded arena to compete in, which makes it even more impressive that TomTom’s very first offering is so great. In this era of (over)sharing of our every experience, the Bandit is an amazing tool for not only recording your ride in more detail than ever, but getting it out to the world very fast. We’re clearly impressed!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Schwalbe Procore. Fitment and Initial Thoughts

The biggest thing to happen to your wheels since tubeless is the development of Schwalbe Procore. There is good reason this system comes at such a high price – the amount of research and development in getting it right would have been huge. In our review we aim to determine if it achieves all that it sets out to do, but most importantly ascertain what type of bike and rider will benefit from this technology the most.

Developed by German tyre gurus Schwalbe in conjunction with component and wheel manufacturer Syntace, Procore is a special dual chamber system that fits inside regular tyres and onto regular rims (some limitations do apply).

We’ll be putting Procore to a test over a couple months, here is our initial thoughts after fitment and a couple weeks riding.

[divider]What is it?[/divider]

Procore is a dual air chamber system that fits inside the tyre.  It’s compatible with any brand of tubeless compatible tyre, in three wheel sizes (26″, 27.5″/650B and 29″) and will fit any rim (even non-tubeless rims) with a minimal internal width of 23mm. You’ll need tyres at least 2.25″ (but we found out bigger is better) wide and rims with valve stem depth no more than 20mm.

It’ll add about 420 grams to an existing tubeless wheel set, and retails for around $400.

construction-gb
Double chamber: The small chamber runs very high pressure (around 85 psi) and the larger outer chamber very low, around 15 psi.

Schwalbe Procore 25

[divider]What does it aim to do? [/divider]

In a nutshell, Procore aims to reap all the traction and control benefits of running super-low tyre pressures, without the usual downsides. Motorcycles use a similar technology, the theory certainly stands up well on paper.

Less chance of tyre roll/burping: The inner chamber locks the tyre bead to the rim.

Reduced chance of rim damage: With the high-pressue inner chamber, your rim is protected from impacts.

Less chance of tyre pinching: The cushioning of the inner chamber makes it near impossible to pinch your tyre against the rim.

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

The way we like to think about it is not what type of bike it suits the best, but instead what type of rider. Procore aims to enhance ride quality and also reduce tyre failure, so anyone can benefit from these things.

Because it adds about 420 grams to you wheels, it’s certainly not one for the weight conscious cross country riders with narrow tyres, it’s more suited to gravity hungry riders, hard charging enduro riders and downhill racers. Or quite simply a rider who wants more traction and less flat tyres.

Enduro racers who ride hard on rough tracks on bikes that still need to light and efficient could really benefit, and downhillers that can’t afford to risk flats or tyres or rolling tyres off the rim will also appreciate the appeal of Procore.

[divider]Fitting Procore[/divider]

If the whole concept still confuses you, watch the video that Schwalbe made and then their fitment instructional video helps clear it up even further.

We fitted Procore to our Trek Remedy long term test bike, with Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.25″ tyres (which we found to be too narrow) and Shimano XTR Trail wheels.

The process was fairly straight forward, and armed with just the paper instruction manual we got it done with no problems at all.

Schwalbe Procore 3
The blue inner core, feels like a thin road bike tyre carcass.
Schwalbe Procore 2
The special inner tube to go inside the blue inner core.
Schwalbe Procore 1
Schwalbe Procore 6 Lining the hole in the blue carcass with the red clip to allow air to pass around the tube and into the larger chamber.
Schwalbe Procore 19
Presto! The inner core fitted.
Schwalbe Procore 21
Our 2.25″ Hans Dampf tyres were too small, a wider tyre will make the most of the system.
Schwalbe Procore 12
This is no ordinary valve, it can swap between the two chambers by threading it in and out.
Schwalbe Procore Trek
The Trek Remedy 27.5 no with Procore and Shimano XTR Di2. Talk about upgrades!

[divider]First ride.[/divider]

For a crystal clear comparison we drove the Trek Remedy out to the trails and blasted around a familiar loop of rocky, loose and tricky trails. We then fitted Procore in the carpark and headed straight back out on the same track.

With the two chambers set to 85 and 15 psi the bike was transformed into a traction generating machine. The low pressure tyre allowed the tyre tread to conform and mould around the terrain underneath you, which both made it feel smoother and grippier.

Then we turned our attention to the gutter, and repeatedly rode straight at the sharp concrete edge in an attempt to pinch the tyre, but there was no loud bang or any flats at all. The hard inner chamber guards the rim wall from hitting the terrain below you. Top marks in that area so far.

Schwalbe Procore 30

At the time of testing the Australian Schwalbe distributor didn’t have stock of a suitable tyre for the Trek Remedy over 2.25″ and while Schwalbe state that Procore can be used with tyres at least 2.25″ wide we found them not ideal at all. Whilst they fitted up fine and the traction was excellent on the trail we found the ride quite harsh on faster rough descents, with such a small volume of air in the main chamber of the tyre. Plus we noticed the inner Procore chamber actually bottoming out against the inside of the tyre when rolling along tarmac or hardpack trails, this led to a bit of a strange ‘self steering’ effect and it all just felt wrong.

Ideally we would have liked to test Procore with a bigger tyre. At least we found out why you need fairly big rubber to make the most of the system. On hand was a set of Bontrager XR4s in 2.35 so on they went. Whilst the XR4s don’t offer a massive difference in width, the overall volume of the tyre is bigger and that worked a treat giving a bigger space between the core and the top of the tyre.

That also gave us the chance to experience a tyre change, and in the aim of experimenting we changed the inner tube too, and wasn’t that a bit of a pain! With sealant all over the place, we were forced to use tyre levers to remove the blue core, and the whole process was a lot messier and very complex when compared to a regular tubeless setup. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that too often.

Schwalbe Procore 29

With the bigger tyres fitted we were able to really feel the benefits even more, and we’ve been very happy with the performance since.

Trying as hard as we could to roll the tyre off the rim or burp it by deliberately landing sideways, we just couldn’t do it. The high pressure chamber pushes outwards firmly on the tyre’s bead, locking it onto the rim with a level of security that no other tubeless system can give.

We plan to experiment a little more with the two tyre pressures, and will aim to try even bigger tyres to see if that helps with that harsh feeling on the really rocky descents.

[divider]Initial impressions.[/divider]

We couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Procore and the recent 27.5+ bikes we have been testing lately, like the Scott Genius Plus and Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie. Whilst Procore is something that you can fit to your existing bike, the new breed of ‘plus bikes’ are aiming to achieve similar things. Procore might well deliver the holy grail of increased traction without going for the massive 3″ tyres of plus bikes.

Schwalbe Procore 28

We’re very impressed so far at how well Procore rides, and even more impressed that Schwalbe have managed to make the system work. The way it fits easily regular wheels and tyres is impressive, and it’ll be a great solution for riders who want the best, or those who struggle with slippery terrain or irritating pinch flats.

But does it out-perform a regular tubeless setup? Is it worth the cash and hassle?

We’ll be delivering our final verdict soon.

Shimano XTR Di2 Synchro Shift Review

“Man, I don’t want my bike deciding for me when it’s time to shift!” That was our very first line of thought when we heard about Shimano XTR Di2’s Synchro Shift system. But like so many of the ranters out there in Internet land, we totally misunderstood what Di2 Synchro Shift was about and how it worked.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 3

[divider]What is Syncro Shift?[/divider]

In a nutshell, Syncro Shift is a function/mode found on Shimano’s new XTR Di2 groupset which allows you to have a drivetrain with multiple chain rings (i.e. 2×11 or 3×11), but only use one shifter. This has the advantage of allowing you to maintain the wider gear range of a mutli-ring drivetrain, but makes for a simpler, cleaner  and lighter cockpit, or allows you to run a dropper post lever in place of the second shift lever.

To be 100% clear, Syncro Shift is not an automatic shifting mode. It only shifts when you tell it to – it won’t go all Skynet on your arse and start deciding when it’s time to change gears autonomously!

[divider]How does it work?[/divider]

As you probably know, in a multiple chain ring drivetrain, there is significant overlap/duplication of gear ratios. Even in a 3×11 drivetrain, there are really only 15 or so unique gears (in a 2×11 drivetrain it’s even less, only 12 0r 13). What Syncro Shift allows you to do, is use every single one of these unique gears sequentially, without having to think about the front derailleur at all. This is because Syncro Shift mode handles the front shifting in order to maintain that sequential order of gear changes.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 1 3

As you move up or down the gear range, the front and rear derailleurs are shifted in tandem in order to maintain the logical progression of gear ratios. Because you don’t have to think about the front shifting, from a rider’s perspective, it’s like you’ve got a single chain ring, but with a 15 gears out back (or 13 if you’re using a 2×11 setup).

Confused? Watch the video below. It explains all the shift modes in detail – please note, this was shot months ago, early on in our testing.

[divider]No surprises[/divider]

Even once we understood what the system was all about, some reservations remained, mainly that we’d somehow be ‘surprised’ by the front shift occurring. Needless to say, that hasn’t been an issue. The system gives you a loud double beep to alert you that a front shift is about to occur, and even if it did not, the front shifts occur with such precision and so quickly that they’re really just as smooth and seamless as a rear shift.

[divider]Customising the system[/divider]

Shimano Shift Mapping
Shimano’s E-Tube software allows you customise just about all aspects of your Di2, including the shift patters for Synchro Shift. Unbelievably it’s not available for Mac yet, and it’s pretty clunky software, but workable.

Di2 actually has two Synchro Shift modes, designated by S1 and S2 on the display. Using Shimano’s E-Tube software (which is PC only!)  you can customise the shift patterns for each Synchro mode, in order to best serve different situations. For example, we configured S1 as our ‘trail’ mode, adjusting the shift mapping so that the chain dropped to the smaller chain ring earlier, weighting the gearing range towards the lower end, and maintaining a straighter chain line overall. S2 we configured as our ‘race’ setup, so the chain would remain in the large chain ring until we’d downshifted to the very lowest gear on the cassette, and only then would it drop the chain to the smaller ring. When shifting back up the range in S2, we configured the shift patterns to be more aggressive, with a larger jump in ratios between gears 3 and 4. Either way, as long as you know which of the two modes you’re in, the behaviour of the system is completely predictable.

[divider]No brainer front shifting[/divider]

Front shifting normally demands a fair bit of attention, even if it’s largely subconscious in more experienced riders – shifting under heavy pedalling load can lead to all kinds of dramas, like snapped chains, bent chain-ring teeth, dropped chains or ruined derailleurs. Then there’s the consideration of cross-chaining, running gear combos that cause premature wear of your drivetrain or sub-optimal performance.

Pivot-Mach-4-20
Synchro Shift won’t bungle a shift under heavy pedalling load like you might with a mechanical groupset.

Synchro Shift removes these issues from the ride experience entirely. You can shift under load whenever you want with total confidence that there’ll be no dramas, the chain slots into the next gear perfectly and won’t over-shift or drop off the chain ring. And because the front derailleur and rear derailleur work in tandem, you’ll never find yourself running really extreme chain lines inadvertently either.

In this regard, Synchro Shift really does deliver some of the aspects we like about 1×11 drivetrains, but with the benefit of multiple rings.

[divider]1×11 or Synchro Shift?[/divider]

Undeniably, Synchro Shift is better than using two separate shifters – we can’t imagine there will be many riders out there who’ll opt to run separate front/rear shifters once they’ve experimented with Synchro mode. But the million dollar question is:  Is Synchro Shift better than a 1×11 drivetrain?

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift Remedy 1 (1)
No doubt, 1×11 looks slick. But there are compromises.

And that IS a very good question. Do multiple chain rings combined with Synchro Shift offer sufficient benefits over a 1×11 system to justify the complexity? Or are you better off saving the weight, expense and battery life and just going for a 1×11?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on your priorities. We’ve configured our Di2 system with both all the possible variants: 1) 2×11 with two shifters 2) 2×11 with one shifter and Synchro Shift 3) 1×11. We straight up can’t see any benefit of option 1, but when it comes to options 2 and 3, there are pros and cons.

A significant factor is gear range. If you want a larger gear range, then a multiple ring system is better, hands down.

We raced our XTR Di2 equipped bike at the Convict 100 Marathon race, and we relished having a full gear range of a 2×11 drivetrain – it made a long, hard day in the saddle easier, both on the climbs and on the flat, fast road sections. We could have done it on a single-ring, but it would have been a tougher ask.

The chart below serves as good comparison of the relative gear range offered by Shimano 3×11, 2×11, 1×11 and, for comparison, SRAM 1×11.

Gear Chart XTR 2

[divider]Broader range cassettes:[/divider]

If the single chain ring option is your preference, then it’s possibly worth looking into other cassette options which offer a broader range of gearing than the standard XTR 11-40. The heavier (but much more afforadable) XT cassette is available in an 11-42 spread, or you could theoretically run a SRAM 10-42 as well (though Shimano would obviously say this was a no-no). The standard 11-40 XTR cassette offers a good spread, and the gear ratios are well spaced, but it is a bit constraining overall.

Shimano-XT-11-Speed-3
We prefer the wider 11-42 range of the XT cassette to the 11-40 of the XTR.

[divider]Weight savings:[/divider]

On the plus side of a single-ring set up is that there are decent weight savings to be had in ditching a front derailleur, chain ring and shifter – with XTR, those savings amount to approximately 290g. Going to a single ring is also quieter, and looks bad ass.

[divider]Chain retention: [/divider]

We have dropped the chain on our XTR drivetrain in both 2×11 and 1×11 configurations. This is no huge surprise – it’s not a Shimano issue, and we’ve thrown the chain on SRAM 1×11 setups many times too. The saving grace of a having a front derailleur, is that if the chain does come off, you’re more likely to be able to pedal it back on, whereas if it comes off a single-ring your only option to stop and put it back on. (Or, of course, you could run a chain guide if you’re using 1×11).

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift Remedy 2 (1)

[divider]Reduced battery life:[/divider]

Synchro Shift is much more demanding of your battery life than either manual shifting or 1×11 modes. The front derailleur uses the lion’s share of the battery juice, because it requires a lot more force to execute each shift, and Synchro Shift puts it to work more often. We also seemed to experience accelerated chain wear in Synchro Shift mode, though we’re reluctant to 100% attribute this to Synchro Shift, nor can we explain it other than to say that perhaps we didn’t have our Synchro Shift configured to deliver nice, straight chain lines.

[divider]So what would we do? [/divider]

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 6
For us, being able to position a dropper post lever where you’d normally find the left-hand shifter is a big plus.

If we had to make a choice between running a single-ring or running 2×11 Syncro Shift, what would we bolt to our bike? Once again, it would depend on what we wanted to do. We’re happy to admit that we’re suckers for the simplicity, ease of use/maintenance and clean lines of a single-ring drivetrain, and 90% of the time the gearing range it provides is fine. We’d be happy to live with the small compromises in gear range on our home trails, where the speeds are never that high, and the climbs aren’t that long.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 4
The front derailleur isn’t dead. Batteries recharged it.

But if we did more racing (of any sort; marathons, Enduro, cross country), or if we regularly rode in steeper, bigger terrain then we’d go for a 2×11 with Synchro Shift all the way. We’d also most likely pair it up with an 11-42 cassette as well, just to extend the gear range even further.

Interestingly, if the choice was to run 1×11 or 2×11 in a mechanical groupset (i.e. no option to have Synchro Shift), then we’d most likely opt for a single-ring. For us, being able to position a dropper seat post lever in place of the left-hand shifter is a really big deal – it makes using a dropper much, much easier, and when we’re able to use the dropper post quickly and easily, we enjoy the ride a lot more.

As we’ve outlined above, Synchro Shift makes the front derailleur desirable again. It allows you to have your cake and eat it – a bigger gear range, but with far fewer of the downsides you’d normally associate with a front derailleur and a left-hand shifter. Is it a revolution? No. Does it make us pause in our headlong rush towards single-rings on ever bike? Yes.


 

For more reviews and our experiences with XTR Di2 read on:

Our first impression of XTR Di2.

Fitting XTR to the Pivot Mach 4 Carbon with internal wiring.

Explaining the Di2 shift modes.

Flow’s First Bite: DVO Diamond fork

The world of mountain bike suspension has just about become a duopoly, with 90% of new bikes either specced with RockShox or FOX. We’re not bemoaning the quality of the current product one little bit, but it was cool a decade ago, back when Answer-Manitou and Marzocchi were competing head to head with RockShox and FOX.

**Updated – full review here: DVO Diamond review. 

DVO Diamond 6
Six position low-speed compression, with separate high-speed compression adjustment.

Clearly we’re not the only folk who think there is room in the mountain bike suspension market for more players, and we’ve seen a handful of more boutique manufacturer’s begin to nibble away at the dominance of the two largest brands. Companies like X-Fusion, Cane Creek, BOS, Elka and, the one we have on test here, DVO have already begun to attract more consumers, race results and market share.

DVO are the newest of these ‘alternative’ brands, and they’ve stormed onto the scene with some seriously credentialed staff, a great marketing approach and unique product. Their Emerald inverted downhill fork was their headlining first offering, but the new Diamond single-crown fork is where there’s the most potential for DVO to have some serious growth. With the brand now available in Australia through suspension tuning and service wizards NS Dynamics, we thought it was time to put the Diamond to the test. We’ll be running this fork on our new Trek Remedy 9.8 long-term test bike.

DVO Diamond 4
The Off The Top negative spring adjustment should allow you to get that initial part of stroke just perfect.

The Diamond is squarely pitched at the high-performance all-mountain/enduro market; with 35mm stanchions and 130-160mm travel (adjustable internally) it goes head-to-head with the RockShox Pike or FOX 36, both of which we’ve ridden extensively, which should give us a good benchmark for this fork’s performance.

DVO know they need to bring something unique to the table with the Diamond, and it offers an extensive but not unnecessarily complicated external tuning (with the option of internal tweaking via the shim stack).

DVO Diamond 3
The DVO Diamond is 15mm axle only.

There are independent high and low-speed compression adjusters, with the low-speed adjuster having a simple six positions so you can either set and forget, or easily toggle it on/off almost like a pedalling platform for climbing. Then there’s the Off The Top (OTT) negative spring adjustment which dictates the sensitivity of the initial stroke without impacting on the mid/end stroke. We think it’ll be ideal for maximising traction in loose, skatey conditions over summer without needing an overly-soft overall suspension feel. There’s also a cool integrated fender, which bolts to the fork arch and will keep crud away from the casting’s webbing and the fork seals.

DVO Diamond 2
A neat, bolt-on fender is included with the fork.

At 2136g on the Flow fruit shop scales, the Diamonds are heavier than their rivals, (around 100g more than the FOX 36 RC2, and almost 300g heavier than a Pike), but hopefully performance will trump grams. It’s also worth noting that you can get these forks in black too, if you’re not a fan of the signature green colour.

An in-depth review of the DVO Diamonds will be heading your way in the coming weeks, and we’ll make sure to keep you updated through our Instagram and Facebook too. This should be a great test!

Tested: Shimano Unzen Hydration Bags

Arriving in time for a summer full of shredding under the hot hot sun, Shimano have two new hydration bags with a suite of unique features to secure them snugly on your back.We’ve been testing the Unzen 2 for $109 and its bigger brother, the Unzen 4 Enduro for $129.

Both bags use Shimano’s new Rider Fit X-Harness where the shoulder straps join together with a clip above your sternum, creating a cross harness on your chest. Shimano say the design gives you more freedom of movement, and takes pressure of your (massive) pecs, so you can breathe more easily and feel less restricted. The two straps are held together with robust harness hook, rather than a clip. There’s still a waist strap too, for extra stabilisation and security.


Shimano Cycling Bag 13

[divider]Features up the wahzoo[/divider]

While the harness system is the most obvious point of difference, in Shimano fashion, the both bags are so feature packed you need a Powerpoint presentation to take it all in.


Unzen 2

Complete with a top quality two-litre Hydrapak bladder for $109, this is a seriously good bag for the bucks!

The first thing that struck us with this bag is the slim shape and very low weight (350g-ish). It sits close and low on your back and doesn’t occupy much space keeping a slim profile, we quickly forgot it was there. When we all spend so much time, effort and cash on making our bikes as light as possible, we often overlook the opportunity to save grams in what we carry on our bodies. We’ve been enjoying having such a light bag for quick local rides.

There’s not a lot of internal storage with this one – there’s the large main compartment which houses the bladder and has just enough space for a pump and tube, then there’s a smaller pocket out front for your multitool, keys and tooth brush. It’s best suited to shorter rides or racing where you’re aiming to keep the weight down. That said, you can still secure a jacket using the elasticised loops on the outside of the bag, and there are other neat storage inclusions like a fleece-lined pocket for your phone or glasses.

Unzen 4 Enduro

With more space for gear and water, Shimano’s Enduro Racepack is the go for all-day rides. It doesn’t come with a bladder, but the $129 pricepoint is fair and you can pick a three-litre bladder of your choosing. Weight-wise, it’s around 600g excluding a bladder.

The main compartment is accessible from both sides, there’s a huge external flap/pouch that’ll take a jacket, a spare bottle, your full-face helmet, or a large bunch of bananas. We’ve found it suitably roomy even when loaded it up with a full bladder, spares, tools, food, first aid and a wet weather jacket.

Like the smaller bag, you’ve got a fleece-lined pocket, glasses hanging loop and a billion other little storage solutions. The most handy is the small elasticised pocket on the chest harness, it’s the perfect size and location for a gel or two to dig you out of a hole.

[divider]About that harness[/divider]

Setting up the Rider Fit X-Harness is certainly a little more involved than with your standard bag, and we found it took some fiddling and trial and error to set it up correctly. You can’t just throw it on,  pull on the straps to tighten and go – we needed to take it on and off a few times until it was just right.

Because the length of the harness system is adjusted internally (like you’d find on a bigger hiking pack), you need to unpack the bag to make big adjustments to the fit too, which is time consuming because when the bag is full of stuff it fits differently to when it’s empty. You can then make smaller adjustments to the tightness of the fit on the fly with the big Velcro tabs. Shimano have good instructions on their site here to help get it all fitted correctly. If you don’t get the fit right, the harness will restrict your expanding chest as you breathe heavily during a climb or hard effort. We found this more noticeable with the Unzen 4 Enduro than with the smaller Unzen 2.

On the positive side, you do feel very unencumbered around your arms. The bags are both super stable too, though we’re not sure whether this is because of the harness system along or because they’re both low-profile and keep all the mass close to your body.

Shimano Cycling Bag 8

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

Great value, well-constructed and a little bit different from everyone else’s bags. Don’t be put off if the fit isn’t perfect in the shop, because getting the adjustment just right takes a bit more persistence than usual. the Unzen packs are good option for both short and long days in the saddle.

Tested: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp 6Fattie

Ok, you’re out having a great mountain bike ride, the feeling of going really fast is fantastic. Then you get a little bit carried away. All of a sudden the trail turns slippery and you’re going way too quick, but don’t worry you’re going to make it through: you’ve got 3” tyres.

Riding a bike with huge 3″ tyres is obviously going to be amazing, the large amount of traction on hand will let you do things you never thought could be possible.

It’s a new standard, everyone is doing it, we love it, it’s a tonne of fun to ride. But who will these bikes suit the most? And where do they work the best?

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Yeeehaaa!
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Specialized’s entry level 6Fattie dually.

For 2016 Specialized are going pretty deep with this new category of bikes. Coming to Australia is the Stumpjumper FSR like we have here, a women’s version called the Rhyme, as well as the hardtail Fuse with its women’s version, the Ruse. Jump on the Specialized site for all the models.

It’s all about the pros and cons with any bike or product. And in the case of this new standard of semi-fat tyres on mountain bikes, it’s more about balancing up the pros and cons for you than ever before.

This bike has capabilities far greater than a regular tyred one, but like anything it does come with drawbacks. Our best advice would be to weigh up the pros and cons before you rule them out.

[divider]What is it?[/divider]

New standard: The Stumpjumper 6Fattie boldly presents itself from an emerging new category of bikes using big tyres and wide rims. The 3″ wide tyres can be run at super-low pressures, and the wide rims help support the tyre from squirming around underneath you. In the case of this bike it uses an aluminium Specialized Stumpjumper 29er main frame, with a new dedicated rear end. With a 27.5″ wheel wrapped in big tyres, the outside diameter is really quite close to a 29er, perhaps only a centimetre’s difference in diameter. We took out the ‘callipers of truth’ recently, here’s what we found.

Because the tyres are so fat clearance issues arise trying to fit it all in the frame without the bike blowing out to unrideable lengths and widths. Hence the need for the new, wider ‘Boost’ standard components: the hubs are 110mm wide up front and 148mm wide out the back (regular hub widths on a comparable bike would be 100mm front and 142mm rear). The chain line is also shifted outboard with the new wider SRAM cranks putting the chainring only an extra 3mm further out to accommodate for a wider rear end.

Confused? All that doesn’t really matter to a degree, but it does mean that older parts won’t be compatible with a new generation plus sized bike like this one.

For more on the 6Fattie Stumpy, check out our initial impressions on them here: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie.

Our first experiences with these new breed of bikes was with the 6Fattie hardtail, the Fuse. Full review of that trail ripper here.

[divider]The Frame.[/divider]

There’s a lot to like about this frame. The construction, geometry, finishing detail and suspension design give us even more reason to respect the fine work that Specialized do. While is may only be the entry level Stumpjumper 6Fattie, its aluminium frame looks like it’s taken from the top of the catalogue. The welds are perfectly neat and the paint is lovely.

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Very neat welding joints.
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The compact and stout FSR linkage.

Essentially the 6Fattie uses the front end from a 29er Stumpjumper with a dedicated rear end to make space for the bigger tyres. The designers have worked hard to give the big tyres clearance while simultaneously avoiding the stays getting so wide that you rub your shoes or calves when pedalling, the result is a real mix bag of shapes and lines, no straight tubes to be seen.

The FSR suspension design is used across the whole range of bikes from Specialized, and is often regarded as the benchmark in pedalling efficiency and feel. Cables are a mixture of internal and externally routed, a good balance between quick and easy maintenance whilst still looking tidy.

Designing a bridge-less seat stay has allowed the length of the rear end to be shorter for snappy handling.
Designing a bridge-less seat stay has allowed the length of the rear end to be shorter for snappy handling.

In trademark fashion the Stumpjumper 6Fattie is very low to the ground and short in the rear end, which we found was to be awesome in most instances, but also at times not so much of a good thing. More on that later.

[divider]The Parts.[/divider]

$4499 gets you a very well thought out mixture of the best from both worlds of Shimano and SRAM while Specialized and FOX handle the rest. Over the years we’ve grown to not expect any crazy value from Specialized, especially with the Australian dollar not at its best. Given this bike uses a whole host of new technologies and is clearly not slapped together and rushed out the door we think the pricing is fair but not amazing.

They certainly have covered all the bases well though, nothing jumps out at you needing to be upgraded straight away. From the quality Specialized Command Post IRcc to the comfortable cockpit and saddle, this bike is pretty dialled and ready to shred.

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The drivetrain and brakes are amazing, for what is meant to be entry level stuff the performance is more akin to top shelf parts. The Shimano Deore brake levers feel light under the finger and offer very consistent power during testing, and the new SRAM GX drivetrain may be heavier than their other 11-speed offerings but it works so damn well we were quite blown away with the similarities with the expensive stuff.

A tiny 28 tooth chainring might seem a little absurd at first, whether such a low range of gears is needed everywhere is up to the user, but we loved using all the gears available.

Combining such a low gear range with the massive traction allows you to ride in a way that is simply not possible, even riding directly up a flight of stairs is a snack as we were to find out.

Wheels: These new plus sized bikes use wide rims to help support the big tyres at low pressure, but in fact Specialized have been using wide rims on their bigger travel bikes for a couple years already with their Roval Traverse Fattie wheels. We’ve ridden them on the Enduro, check it out here. Top end Fattie bikes will come specced with the carbon Roval wheels which measure 30mm in width, this bike uses the aluminium version at 29mm. An even wider 38mm Roval wheelset is soon to be available aftermarket.

While we’re on the wheels, our test bike needed a bit of spoke love, a few spokes were loosening off making a bit of noise. We doubt that it’ll happen on all bikes, but if you do hear something pinging away, that could be the issue.

Tyres: The Ground Control 6Fattie tyres are big and very rounded in shape and the tread is shallow in depth. At first we thought we’d never lean the bike over far enough to actually use the side knobs but you certainly do. Our test bike came from a batch of early release models with two Ground Control tyres, but we’re told 2016 stock will be specced with a more aggressive Purgatory up the front.

Suspension: The 6Fattie is another bike that has a little more travel up front than out back, something we’re seeing increasingly often. The rear end has 135mm travel, with 150mm up front. The FOX suspension feels very smooth to ride, and the wider fork crowns are quite a sight to behold when you first jump on. We did find the compression tune on the rear shock quite light, so we spent most of the time in the middle setting to keep it from wallowing into its travel when pedalling and pumping through the trails.

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The FOX 34 Float 150 forks at 110mm wide look HUGE!
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FOX Float out the back with Specialized’s nifty Autosag, a feature that takes the guesswork out of suspension sag setup.

[divider]The Ride.[/divider]

Ok, on to the most important bit.

The 6Fattie rides like mad, it’s capable of taking your mountain biking to an unprecedented level, you’ll corner much harder, launch down descents with reckless abandon and climb up things you never thought possible. It’s a blast.

This is only the second dual suspension 27.5+ bike we’ve ridden, the Scott Genius Plus being the first. Because these bikes are so new it reminds us of when we first started testing 29ers, where we would be comparing them to 26″ bikes in performance. In this case we find ourselves comparing it to non-plus bikes rather than other plus bikes.

Setup: After plenty of experimenting, we set the tubeless tyres up with 14 and 15 psi in front and rear, slowed the suspension rebound speeds and kept the sag as we’d normally do for a regular bike.

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Climbing: So much traction changes everything. Climbing takes focus and technique to maintain traction, if you don’t get the balance right you will expel too much energy and go nowhere. When we were testing the 6Fattie we picked fights with the ugliest of climbs and won, and found ourselves climbing out of the saddle more when we needed more power, with less care about weighting the rear wheel to help it find traction.

With a fairly sharp seating angle and a short reach the Stumpy was also quite comfortable to drop into a low gear and spin the legs up a climb.

The low bottom bracket height might be great for keeping your centre of gravity low for a great cornering position, but there was a frustrating amount of pedal striking going on around our regular testing trails. We be bashed our pedals on the ground more than any bike we have ever tested. Whilst it didn’t cause any crash it certainly would give you a little fright and interrupt your pedalling rhythm, but that’s the trade-off for great cornering performance.

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Put down enough power, and you’ll get up the ugliest of loose climbs. Don’t worry too much about good technique.

Cornering: If there was one element that the 6Fattie shines the brightest, it’s the corners.

Adding to the nearly infinite amount of traction is the Stumpjumper’s nimble and fun-loving frame geometry.

When ripping around a tight corner we found ourselves not worrying about washing out and crashing, instead we put all our effort into picking the faster line, braking less and getting back on the pedals sooner. After a few corners doing that, we really got the hang of it, then the speeds lifted whilst the energy output didn’t.

With such a wide and round tyre with low profile tread the 6Fattie does has a certain vague feeling to it, where on regular bikes you know when the side knobs are biting into the dirt through a corner. We’d love to have tried the Specialized Purgatory up the front, we’re sure that will add a certain degree of precision to the ride.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  108

Descending: It’s the added confidence of the big tyres that makes you feel safer when gravity is behind you giving you a push.

Our first ride was a clear indication that going downhill on this bike is a whole lot of fun, we yelled and laughed a lot.

It’s like riding a burly downhill bike at times, but where downhill bikes get their confidence from – being long, slack and with loads of suspension travel – it’s the huge tyres of this Stumpy that give you a new-found courage and confidence.

It will take a little getting used to the extra width tyres, they tend to tag more trail features off the side of your riding line. You’ll know about it too, the noise when the side of the tyre snags and pings off root or rock is pretty loud.

Flat tyres become less of a risk with such a large volume of air to cushion the rim from hard objects, but at the same time you tend to ride into more stuff harder than normal. While we didn’t flat during testing, these bikes won’t be immune to flats – it just takes more to create a pinch flat, but when you’re riding that much harder it is still possible.

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[divider]Where does it shine? [/divider]

– Loose surfaces are where we were most blown away by how much these tyres hang on.

– We cleaned tricky climbs and set faster times on descents.

– While there is extra weight on the wheels, it’s far less fatiguing to ride on rough terrain so the overall energy expenditure is low.

[divider]Where does it flounder? [/divider]

– The mushy low pressure tyre is certainly noticeable on the smoother trails, and on tarmac. If you don’t want to trade mad dirt performance for a little bit of drag at the wheels on the way to the trails, you may need to reconsider.

– The 3″ Ground Control tyres have a very round shape to them, we tested 2.8″ Schwalbe Nobby Nics on the Scott Genius and we appreciated the way they felt more like a normal tyre with side knobs and a less balloon shape.

– No matter how wide the rims, when we would push it hard into a banked berm or the face of a big jump there was often an uncertain feeling that the tyres were squirming beneath us. So it’s not one for the bike park riders with crazy g-forces, stick to the trails.

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[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

Whether the pros ride them or not, we’re not too fussed, we’re not as fast as them and our priorities are different. Buy this bike if you want to have more fun on the trail than you’ve ever have had before.

It makes mountain biking more manageable whilst also making it faster. Especially if you ride trails that are loose, rocky, ledgy and steep.

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We have no doubts that the 27.5+ bike will become more common over time, the more people that can try one out the better. Expect to see the vast majority of brands offering options for 2016, and component manufactures too.

Flow’s First Bite: TomTom Bandit Camera

“Turn right in 300 metres, then merge right for M1…” When you think TomTom, you most likely have images of a dashboard mounted screen purring navigation instructions to you in an accent of your choosing. But this giant of the GPS world also make equipment that’s built for the trails, not just avoiding toll roads, such as the new Bandit camera.

Tom Tom Bandit 8
The cylindrical barrel can be rotated to keep the correct horizon, regardless of mounting angle.

When it comes to wearable cameras, there seems to be two schools of thought. The first is to go minimalist, such as the Shimano Sports Camera (read our review here!) or the new GoPro Session.

This makes for a lighter, smaller unit but often sees a reduction in user-friendliness, for instance with non-removable batteries or an absence of a screen/menu system. The second is to make things a bit bigger, but generally gain a better lens, replaceable battery and usually some kind of LCD screen/menu.

TomTom’s Bandit takes the second approach: it looks like something a Stormtrooper would carry in their utility belt.

A chunky cylindrical piece of kit, it weighs in at 191g and feels robust enough to take on a low-hanging tree branch or two without a worry.

Tom Tom Bandit 4
The removable Batt Stick houses the Micro SD card too. You can charge the unit without taking this out, or you can plug it into any USB port to charge.

With technology in this area changing faster than Australian PMs, TomTom have sought to give the Bandit a full arsenal of features, some of which are entirely unique. There’s the usual swathe of frame rates, slow-motion settings, time lapse and photo burst modes, plus a remote button for triggering recording, and it also integrates with your external heart rate sensor.

There’s a mobile app, of course, which lets you set the angle, adjust settings, view the files and (more on this below) edit and export movies instantly.

Tom Tom Bandit 6
The LCD screen and four-directional button make for easy menu navigation.
Tom Tom Bandit 7
The red star button starts recording and can also be used to ‘highlight’ key moments in the footage. A separate button up front stops recording.

But what takes the TomTom Bandit to hyperspace is its integration of GPS and the ability to highlight (either manually or automatically) the most awesome moments of footage. We haven’t put these features to the test yet (this is just our first impressions, after all), but the Bandit will apparently use GPS inputs to automatically mark the most dramatic moments in the video file.

For instance, it KNOWS when you’re airborne, or when you’re pulling the most g-forces, or going super fast.

These moments are then ‘highlighted’ in the footage. Similarly, you can manually highlight a section by pushing a button on either the camera or the remote.

Use the app to set the angle or adjust modes.
Use the app to set the angle or adjust modes.

Finally, using the phone app, you can instantly create a video from the highlighted moments.

This is pretty crazy: simply shaking your phone creates a ‘story’ of the highlights, which you can then add a soundtrack to and export to your phone’s gallery and share to your Facebook page for many, many life-affirming likes.

Phew! This thing is a pretty in-depth piece of kit, but we’ve got to say it all feels very intuitive so far. From a practical standpoint, we love the replaceable battery, the separate start/stop buttons for recording, and there’s no rattle or play in the clever ‘jaw’ style mounting system.

The Premium Pack which we’re reviewing also comes with an adaptor for GoPro mounts, which is sensible call given the proliferation of mounting options this opens up.

Tom Tom Bandit 2
Here’s the camera on the 360-degree pitch mount, with the bar/roll-cage mount too.

We’re going to be doing a full video review of this unit soon, so navigate your way back to Flow in a few weeks for our verdict.

Fresh Product: Camelbak Kudu 12 with Impact Protection

Protection is serious business, and when it comes to combining protection and hydration you can bet on Camelbak for the right fit of both elements.

The Kudu 12 is a 3 litre capacity bag with built in back protection. Using a foam insert inside the bag, it’s able to absorb 94% of the impact from a crash. Wearing back protection makes it hard to then add in a hydration bag to the mix, this solves that problem nicely. Camelbak Kudu 12 16

In conjunction with Austrian snow protection company – Komperdell – Camelbak have integrated a layered foam plank that is made from three layers glued together to give a flexible yet supportive back protector that slides inside the bag.

The protector plate is removable for rides where you won’t be needing it, or for use as a regular backpack.

The Hydration side of things is handled in true Camelbak style and integrated perfectly, although in Australia the Kudu is sold without a bladder to keep cost down and allow the consumer to choose the desired size. Taking up to a 3 litre bladder, a Camelbak Antidote Bladder will set you back $69.95 and smaller and a touch less for the smallest 1.5 litre version. These are arguably the best bladders in the business too, and fit in the bags they are designed for perfectly even when filled to their max capacity.

Camelbak Kudu 12 6
The Impact Protector is supportive yet flexible. Also removable.

With the Kudu strapped up tight with it’s double chest and waist straps, it’s a super-secure bag. Upon close inspection of the bag, you’ll see a myriad of mesh and breathable sections to keep things cool and less sweaty.

Camelbak Kudu 12 1
Carries your helmet, too!

A larger version with 18 litre capacity is also available – Kudu 18 $349.95

It’s the type of protection that exceeds motorcycle standards, and for those riders who descend hard or crash a lot, this pack has your back.