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?

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  117
Yeeehaaa!
Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  40
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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  85
Very neat welding joints.
Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  92
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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  20

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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  54
The FOX 34 Float 150 forks at 110mm wide look HUGE!
Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  65
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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  109

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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  122
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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  118

[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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  101

[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.

Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie  111

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.

Flow’s First Bite: 2016 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

The best travel companions are fun, interesting and relaxed. But when it comes to bikes and not people to travel with it pays to be light, smooth and versatile, right?

It’s our pleasure to introduce to you our new Pine Lime Express – the 2016 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5.

The second half of our Flow Nation fleet that joins the Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5, this 140mm travel carbon beauty is winning us over already after one week of enthusiastic ‘new bike frothing’ riding. We’ll be throwing this on the back of the car, and packing it in a box to fly and drive around as we feature our next season of must ride destinations.

Check out our Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 first impressions here: Flow’s First Bite: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5.

We’ll be putting in a lot of miles on this rig, and it’ll be used to test a lot of parts but in the meantime let’s take a look at how it came out of the box.

Trek Remedy  26
Remedy 9.8 27.5 for $6099.

Where does it fit in? With 140mm travel and fairly modest geometry, the Remedy sits just below the realm of the super-slack ‘enduro race bike’. It’s aimed to be ridden hard, but also isn’t going to shy away from flatter terrain, so to put the Remedy in a category we’d call it a big all-mountain bike.

There’s a near mirror of this bike with 29″ wheels available, same price, nearly the same spec just with 29″ wheels. We went 27.5″ for the fun of it, sure the 29″ may be faster but we’re not racing anyone.

It’s a well thought out bike, with nice features like a thinner rear tyre for less weight and faster rolling, the Mino Link little reversible chip in the rocker arm for geometry adjustment and frame protection underneath the down tube an on the sides of the seat stays.

Trek Remedy  2

Trek Remedy  4

FOX and Shimano. It’s a FOX and Shimano show here (with a RockShox Reverb seatpost sneaking in there) and the new 11-speed Shimano XT gives the Remedy an enormous range of gears, via the new wide range cassette and double chainring setup. We can’t sing louder praise for this new groupset, hear our thoughts in our full review here: Shimano M8000 11-speed tested. 

The new XT is closer in performance to the premium Shimano XTR stuff than ever before, the brakes are so dialled and light under the finger and shifting is even more precise and solid to engage gears.

It does have a double chainring and front derailleur, we’ll be swapping to a single ring as we like the neater and less cluttered loop

A FOX 36 fork is not exactly a common sight on a bike of this travel amount, typically reserved for bigger 150mm+ bikes the big legged 36mm diameter legs look huge on the front of this bike and sitting down at 140mm travel its going to be amazingly stout when ploughed into rocks, woohooo! We reviewed the older version of the FOX 36 at 160mm on the front of a Norco Range, check that review out here. FOX 36 review. But with the new FIT 4 damper and a regular 15mm quick release axle, the new version is more user friendly and feels extra supple.

RE:aktiv: Out the back the FOX rear shock uses Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv with a 3-position damper. But the DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) dual air spring system has gone from the 2016 range due to the new FOX EVOL large volume air can giving the bike its targeted spring rate curves and suppleness.

We’ve ridden the RE:aktiv damper a few times, and it sure does remain active and supple whilst in trail and climb mode, breaking away the instant a bump hits the rear wheel. We find ourselves riding in the middle rear shock setting a lot, which keeps the shock riding high in its travel and with less wallowing, but thanks to the fancy damper it still takes a hit without spiking harshly.

Trek Remedy  10
The FOX/Trek RE:aktiv damper keeps things firm yet sensitive.
Trek Remedy  22
Chunky legs up front! A FOX 36 fork at only 140mm.

The other bits. Bontrager make up the majority of the cockpit components and the tyres. A big 2.4″ XR4 up front is a great sight, we’ve been huge fans of this exact tyre for a couple years now, the big volume and tacky tread wins us over every corner.

You could dress it up, or down. The Remedy is the bike we want for exploring new trails, it blurs the lines between an all-round trail bike and a hard hitting enduro machine with the ability to go either side really well.

If only the Remedy was available from their cool Project One custom paint job and spec program, this is a bike that we’d love to have as our own but we’d probably just select this colour and build with Shimano XTR Di2 anyhow… Did we say Di2? Stay tuned.

Tested: Pivot Mach 4 Carbon

If you’re going to hang a Picasso, you don’t do it in a chicken shed. You pick somewhere grand, with security guards and marble floors. And when you’ve got a new Shimano XTR Di2 groupset to play with you, you don’t fit it to any old shitter. You pick something sensational, something that will perform at the same level as the grouppo.

Pivot Mach 4 17

When Shimano gave us a new XTR Di2 groupset to review, our very first inclination was to secure the new Pivot Mach 4 Carbon as the test sled. This bike has the kind of performance pedigree that Bart Cummings (rest in peace) would appreciate, and also had the benefit of being one of the very first Di2 optimised bikes on the market.

Pivot-Di2-build-1-1
We built our Mach 4 Carbon from scratch. The frame weight is a little over 2.5kg.




 

You can read more about why we picked the Mach 4 here, and the build process of installing Di2 onto this remarkably sexy frame. We’ve now had a number of months on this bike; we’ve raced it, razzed it and experimented with a number of different setups, so we feel like we’ve got a great handle on what it’s all about.


Pivot Mach 4 6
The standover height of this frame is remarkable.

[divider]A classy evolution[/divider]

We’ve ridden (and owned) earlier versions of the Mach 4, back when it was an alloy, 26-inch wheeled bike, and we’ve also spent a lot of time on board the 29er version, the Mach 429. While our time on both those bikes is remembered with fondness, a brief look is all it takes to realise the Mach 4 Carbon sits at a completely different level of refinement. This is one sophisticated lady.

But let’s not confuse sophistication with beauty. We’re clearing the air here: we dig this bike, but it has looks that only mother could love. Of course, every swoopy, bulgey bit has a purpose – Pivot’s head honch Chris Cocalis is not the kind of man who will ever sacrifice performance for appearance sakes. Pivot build their bikes to uncompromising standards.

Pivot Mach 4 3
Cleaner than bleach.

The Mach 4 Carbon is really a cross-country machine, but not in your traditional lycra and calf definition kinda way. The geometry is definitely cross-country oriented, but it has a little more travel, and while the XC sector is still largely dominated by 29ers, it runs 27.5″ wheels.

Because of these traits, it has a pretty broad scope of use.

A light build with a 100mm fork could make it a razor sharp race bike for technical conditions, but you could also build it with the ability to act tough (we’ve seen some riders put a 140mm fork up front, with a 60mm stem).

Pivot Mach 4 14

In our mind, the bike’s sweet spot is somewhere in in the middle, equally happy on a buff racetrack or scampering through rocky descents. Our build played to the bike’s strengths, running the recommended 120mm fork, an 80mm stem and, of course, the delectable XTR Di2 grouppo. Basically, we built it up as the nicest bike on the planet.

[divider]The frame[/divider]

We received our Mach 4 as a bare frame set, which gave us a chance to really appreciate its construction. It’s a super compact frameset, with one of the lowest standover heights we’ve ever seen. The shock is slotted up close to the top tube, leaving just enough room for a bottle.

Pivot-Di2-build-2
The DW Link. Stiff as! Note the little port for the Di2 wiring.
Pivot Mach 4 Convict 42
A bottle will fit, but not without the bottle lid rubbing a mark on the frame. You can experiment with different shaped bottles, or reverse the orientation of the shock too, to make more room.

Reducing unwanted frame flex is a guiding principle for Chris Cocalis, and the Mach 4 is stiffer out back than your legs that time you woke up sleeping in a hotel shower. But let’s not go there.

The links are chunky little hunks machined alloy, and the stays are stoutly bound together with a DT 142mm axle. The wide, press-fit bottom bracket laughs in the face of your attempts to induce flex.

Pivot Mach 4 9

For us, part of the Pivot’s appeal was its Di2-ready construction. The frame comes supplied with rubber grommets to house and guide the wiring, and there’s a battery compartment in the down tube too, stashing it away from harm. It’s neater than a military haircut. Building the bike took us a while because it was our first experience with building a Di2 bike from scratch, but at least that gave us plenty of time to enjoy the process!

Pivot Mach 4 8
The Di2 wiring runs inside the Pro Tharsis bars.

If you’re building up a Mach 4 with cables and not electric wires, you’ll be happy to hear that the cable routing is 1000% better than on the older generations of Pivots. The bike is supplied with a variety of plugs and port covers, so you can run all kinds of permutations of cabling and keep it tidy and rub free.

Protecting your investment from chain slap and rocks are pleather down tube and chain stay protectors, but keep the high pressure hoses away from their adhesive undersides if you want to keep them.

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 26
Chain slap protection aplenty makes it a quiet ride, even with a front derailleur.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

Suspension performance is at the heart of every Pivot’s design, and Dave Weagle (holy grand Sharman of mountain bike suspension, hallowed be his name) works closely with Pivot’s engineers on the development of each new frame.

The Mach 4 gets 115mm of travel, which seems like an unusual number, like inviting people for dinner a 7:19pm…. Whatever, the DW-Link system is at the top of the pyramid of suspension systems. You need to be quite precise with the sag setup to extract the most out of this bike – if you’re of the XC mindset of just pumping the hell out of your shock to firm it up, then you’re absolutely wasting your time and this bike’s abilities here.

When set up with the correct sag, it’s one of the most stable pedalling bikes out there, with nary a murmur of unwanted suspension bobbing.

Pivot Mach 4 7
115mm of travel, optimised for your pleasure. The bike comes with a neat sag guide to get the suspension setup nailed.

Controlling the motion of the ocean is the superlative FOX CTD Factory shock, tuned specifically for the Pivot with very low compression damping settings. 

[divider]Build highlights[/divider]

As we’ve said above, our Pivot was dressed to impress with a full Shimano XTR Di2 groupset. Pivot offer the Mach 4 in more build kit options than Mormons have kids, including two XTR variants, but ours was a custom build using Shimano all over. Over the course of our testing, we ran the Pivot in both a 2×11 and 1×11 drivetrain configuration. We also ran it with/without a dropper post, and mucked about with tyre size too.

Pivot Mach 4 1
For a 120mm bike, the FOX 32 is up to the task. It did a worthy job of matching the rear end’s performance.

Our favourite setup was a 2×11 drivetrain, but using Shimano’s amazing single-shifter Synchro Shift mode. Synchro Shift operates both front and rear derailleurs with just a single right-hand shifter, freeing up your left hand for a dropper post remote. You can read more about Syncro Shift in our full XTR Di2 review here.

[divider]Setup[/divider]

As we’ve stressed above, you need to get the rear suspension sag right. At 30%, some people may well feel it’s a little soggy when they first swing a leg over, but from the first pedal stroke you’ll know it’s perfect, the suggested setup guide speaks truth.

Pivot Mach 4 4
Good rubber on stiff wheels. The Specialized Purgatory is a really good all-rounder and we use it a lot on test bikes.

While it might be tempting to run skinny little cross country tyres on the Mach 4, we’d suggest going something with a bit more volume to it, in order to totally maximise the climbing traction available from the super active rear suspension. We ran a Specialized Ground Control / Purgatory combo in a 2.3″ in the end, after initially using a set of Schwalbe Rocket Rons which didn’t have enough bite on the front end for our liking.

The Pivot is pretty low up front (good if you do want to get in a racy position), but on steep descents it’s quite front heavy. With the flat bar and negative rise stem we were using, we ended up running about 15mm of spacers underneath the stem so we weren’t too low when things got rough. A shorter head tube is a good thing overall, we feel, as you can run a taller fork without jacking up the bars too high, or get lower than shortie if you’re a hammerhead racer.

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 36
A short head tube and flat bar meant we opted to use a 10mm spacer under the stem. Time to charge the battery too!

Because we were using PRO’s Di2 compatible Tharsis cockpit (with internal wiring for the shifters) we were a bit limited in terms of the stem/bar options. Our 80mm stem / 720mm bar cockpit was pretty much spot on. We wouldn’t want to go any longer on the stem, as it’s a fairly rangy top tube already, but going a smidge wider on the bar would be a good idea, just to help muscle the bike out of situations when you push its limited travel to the limit.

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 35
A dropper post is a must on this bike, we feel. Embrace the freedom!

We took advantage of the Pivot’s internal dropper post routing and ran Specialized dropper. We’d encourage you to do the same, even if you’re only interested in strictly cross country riding – it just frees this bike up so much! You’re in a pretty front heavy position on the Pivot, so being able to lower your centre of gravity is a blessing.

To all the cross-country crew: don’t be a luddite, don’t let #xcpride get in the way of fun, use a dropper post!

[divider] Singletrack manners[/divider]

Like a Depression-era grandma, nothing goes to waste with this bike – you pedal, it responds. The chassis is twist-free and the suspension stability doesn’t get upset by the kind of floppy, random pedalling that generally accompanies cresting a massive climb. Being such a roomy bike, thanks to the super low top tube, you can really sprint it about, chucking the bike from side-to-side freely and even then it stays calm and won’t wallow.

Pivot Mach 4 16

The Mach 4 gets up to speed fast, whether you’re seated or out of the saddle. Sure, it doesn’t match obscenely snappy acceleration of a hardtail or something like the Specialized Epic, but unlike either a hardtail or an Epic, the suspension works all the time. You’re not constantly flipping shock levers, or worrying about what mode you’re in, and there aren’t the usual compromises between pedalling and bump-eating performance.

On paper, the Mach 4’s bottom bracket height is pretty low, but we didn’t find ourselves smashing up the lovely finish of the XTR cranks as often as we feared. We did however appreciate the low bottom bracket height in the corners; combined with the low front end, your centre of gravity is low, right in the bike so you can tip in nicely.

[divider]Going up![/divider]

Long, steady, steep, loose – these are the climbs the Pivot loves. Anywhere you can get into a rhythm and tap out a tempo is where you’ll fly past your mates (or competitors). For a smaller wheeled bike it motors up the ascents beautifully, where a 29er would ordinarily have the advantage. The very low weight of our test bike helped too, of course, but the fact the Mach 4 finds traction where others skip out and yet doesn’t get stuck in a quagmire of syrupy travel is where the real gains are.

Pivot Mach 4 20

As we’ve noted before, using a dropper post has its advantages on a climb too. With a regular post, it’s common to run the saddle a tiny bit lower than is ideal, so you can get a bit more clearance on the descents, but with a dropper you can get the correct extension on the climbs while slaughtering the descents too.

[divider]Get excited, but not too excited[/divider]

When things get rapid and downhill, the Mach 4 has the edge over other bikes of its ilk. When compared to something like the Scott Spark – a highly comparable 120mm 27.5″ bike – the remarkably stiff frame and buttery suspension of the Pivot are leagues ahead when you’re looking to hold a rough line.

Pivot Mach 4 17

But push too far, and you do get reminded that the Mach 4 is still a cross country bike, and therefore requires a steadier hand and a bit more attentiveness than a slacker, longer bike would allow. The wheelbase is pretty compact and the suspension is tuned for traction rather than swallowing up your mistakes, so you find the bottom of 115mm relatively fast when you start trying.

Pivot Mach 4 Convict 10
Veteran racer Mick Ross piloted the Mach 4 Carbon at the Convict 100.

[divider]Other options[/divider]

If you’re considering a Mach 4 Carbon, you’re obviously a bit of an afficiando as it sits pretty high in the pricing stakes. The Scott Spark in a 27.5″ is a very racy alternative; light as hell, savagely efficient, but not nearly so smooth as the Pivot. You could also look at Treks Fuel EX series, which are more of a trail bike than a race bike, but in the higher end models are pretty damn light. The GT Helion we tested a while bike is a funky alternative too, with its unique spec.

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

This is a really, really nice bike. While the price is fairly stratospheric, you can actually see the value here in the superb finish and zero-compromise performance. It’s lightweight yet anything but flimsy, efficient but magnificently smooth, precise without being unmanagably sharp, and it defies being pigeon holed on the trail.Pivot Mach 4 Convict 17

While you don’t have to build a Mach 4 Carbon with an XTR Di2 groupset to enjoy it, it has been an amazing experience having this bike in the fleet for the past few months. This bike doesn’t just continue Pivot’s legacy, it pushes the brand even further ahead of most of the pack.

There are few bikes that can match this one in our opinion.

Flow’s First Bite: Norco Revolver 9.2 FS

Created for the sole purpose of racing, the new Norco Revolver FS is the lightest dual suspension frame the Canadian mob has ever produced.  After three years or development and testing the outcome is a no holds barred all-out cross country racer with sharp geometry, 29″ wheels and a beautifully crafted full carbon frame.

It certainly appears good on paper, and after a quick spin on the trails we do rate it’s performance, but holy s*#t this has to be the BEST looking Norco we’ve ever seen, fact.

Take a look at the rest of the sweet range of bikes for 2016 from Norco here: Fresh 2016 Norco froth.

Norco Revolver FS 29
The Revolver 9.2 FS. What’s going on over there at Norco, all the 2016 bikes are looking so damn fresh!
Norco Revolver FS Action 2
Pat the Porpoise gives the Revolver FS 9.2 a quick razz on the trails at Gap Creek, Brisbane.

We’ll see two versions of the Revolver FS for 2016, the 9.2 FS (purple one pictured here) for $5499 with a Shimano XT build and the 9.1 FS for $6999 (below in orange) with a SRAM X01 build kit. The 9.1 FS weighs 9.5kg.

Built in two wheel sizes (29″ and 27.5″) the Revolver FS will only come to Australia in the 29er version, playing to the strengths of the faster and bigger diameter wheels that really suits this bike.

With 100mm of suspension up front and out back, the Revolver FS is a lean as they come. You won’t find a dropper post as standard spec (although the provisions are there for mounting one if you wish) and all the parts are specced for maximum efficiency and lowest weight possible. There’s narrow 2.25″ Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres, a slim SDG saddle, a long and low cockpit and lockout front and rear suspension.

Four sizes will be available, S, M, L and XL.

Norco Revolver FS 10
No front derailleur mounting here, looks neat though, doesn’t it?
Norco Revolver FS 22
Space for a full sized water bottle, and a second one underneath the down tube, too.

You won’t find a front derailleur either, it’s a single ring only affair. The absence of any provisions for a front derailleur won’t bother the racer with good legs, or just about any keen rider especially now with Shimano finally joining SRAM in offering excellent single ring versions of the Shimano XT and XTR drivetrains.

Plus we are seriously spoilt for choices when it comes to aftermarket options (like RaceFace that we see here) with huge gear range solutions, and swapping chainrings to suit the terrain is a snack. So nowadays a single ring only frame is not at all a limiting feature.

The Revolver 9.2 FS uses a Shimano XT 11-speed drivetrain with a RaceFace crank and chainring.

Norco Revolver FS 23

The frame gets a lot of its slick and smooth appearance by housing all the cables internally with their new tight fitting Gizmo cable system, with rubber ports that seal the frame from water and mud whilst keeping the cables secure and rattle free. Four ports are found on either side of the head tube area, fill all four with a rear shock remote cable, dropper post, rear brake and rear derailleur, or cover the holes with the neat little plugs.

Having four entry ports for cables is handy for us down under, where we typically have our brakes run the opposing way around to the USA/Canadian guys, you’ll be able to swap it around so the rear brake can neatly be routed from the left hand side and around the head tube to enter on the opposite side, that way the cable won’t touch the frame of fork crowns at all. Clever, and neat indeed.

Using Norco’s A.R.T. four-bar rear suspension design, with a pivot below and forward from the rear axle on the chain stay.

The Revolver’s rear shock is mounted underneath the underside of the top tube, with a swing link driving the shock in a horizontal plane, this is said to be the lightest shock configuration that Norco could come up with, and rear shock remote cables will plug in the front of the rear shock body easily.

Norco Revolver FS 8

Norco Revolver FS 7

Note the chainstay measurement in the chart below, it grows in length as the frame size increases. Like all Norco duallies, their Gravity Tune system is also found on the Revolver FS. The theory goes in saying that the whole bike grows with the bigger size, not only just the length and hight of the front end.

Norco Revolver 29 FS geometry chart:

Size S M L XL
Top tube horiz. 574 mm 601 mm 628 mm 655 mm
Chainstays 437 mm 439 mm 442 mm 444 mm
Steering angle 70,25° 70,5° 70,75° 71°
Seating angle 74,75° 74,5° 74,25° 74°
BB drop 38 mm 38 mm 38 mm 38 mm
Seattube 410mm 445mm 485mm 530mm
Reach 415 mm 435 mm 455 mm 475 mm
Stack 604 mm 622 mm 636 mm 650 mm

 

[divider]Riding the Revolver[/divider]

With a quick lap of the Gap Creek trails in Brisbane on the Revolver 9.2 FS, Flow’s resident tester Pat the Porpoise was able to get a pretty good feel for what the Revolver is all about.

Norco Revolver FS Action 1
Nothing beats the speed of a short travel 29er dually on fast trails.

For a 100mm travel race bike that makes no mistake about wanting to be raced it felt quite confident and stable when ridden casually, giving the rider more room to move about and play around on than we had expected. With a nod to what makes the bigger travel Norco Sight and Range so popular amongst aggressive riders, the angles might be sharp but still manageable for serious riders just out of the circle of top elite racers.

The DT Swiss X1900 wheels felt very light underneath us, but perhaps could be a good area for upgrading to give the bike a stiffness boost, as they did feel a little soft under the hard sideways loads of pedalling and cornering.

We appreciated the generous width 740mm bars, and paired with a short 70mm stem, the cockpit felt relaxed and lively for a cross country race oriented bike.

Under hard accelerating efforts, the 100mm of rear travel remained stable, resisting bobbing nicely. The bike really pedalled well, and having a lockout lever on the rear shock will give riders that extra bit of control depending on how smooth or bumpy the trail surface is.

Upgrades to the aluminium bar, stem and post to something carbon would surely help further drop weight from the bike, at least we would have liked to see a carbon bar at this price point.

The top-tier Norco Revolver 9.1 FS shares the same frame but upgrades its parts to SRAM X01 for $6999. 

We’ll be getting our hands on one soon for a longer test, so keep your channels locked for more. The Revolver will be a fantastic option for the marathon racer or endurance racer that will still like to take it trail riding without feeling too nervous. Oh, and did we mention that we like the new look? It’s a real stunner.

Long Term Test Update: 35mm Wide Ibis 741 Wheels

We knew wide rims were going to catch on, since we reviewed these wheels almost 12 months ago the mountain biking fraternity has seen the rise and reality of more than just wide rims, we now have 27.5+ bikes. All this time we’ve been rolling around on what was pretty much a plus bike, it just wasn’t called one as such.

The 27.5″ Ibis 741 wheels are 35mm wide (internal width), we fitted them to our Trek Fuel EX with 2.4″ Bontrager XR4 tyres. These are not ‘plus’ size wheels, they use standard width hubs, on 27.5″ diameter rims. So if you’re interested in the benefits that a plus bike has, but already have a nice bike a set of these wheels would bring it pretty close in performance to the new breed of ‘semi fat’ plus bikes.

The Ibis wheels on the right, next to a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie with 3" tyres.
The Ibis wheels on the right, next to a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 6Fattie with 3″ tyres.

More on plus bikes here: Tested – Specialized Fuse 6Fattie and Tested – Scott Genius Plus and Scale Plus.

It was riding these wheels which has started our affinity for bigger bagged rubber on trail bikes, the way they transformed our bike into a traction machine was unmistakable. But as you would read in the review below, the set of wheels we were using developed cracks around a few of the spoke nipple holes. The wheels were swiftly replaced, and we sent them back to Ibis HQ in Santa Cruz, CA for inspection. Here was the official word from Ibis:

Regarding the spoke hole problem, that’s unusual (1 time) and would have been covered under our warranty.

The carbon is reinforced at each spoke hole so that the rim pull through strength is more than 2x the strength of the spoke. So the spoke will normally break long before the rim will crack. It looks like the spoke hole reinforcement material was not lined up with the spoke hole drilling, or did not mould correctly. Currently there are specific places for the reinforcements in the tooling to keep everything lined up, so this should not be a reoccurring problem.

So that was that, the replacement set of wheels are still fitted to the Trek Fuel to this day, and we still love them to bits.

The Ibis wheels took a break from the Fuel EX, and came over to Queenstown, NZ with us fitted to a Trek Remedy for some big mountain shredding. And we mean SHREDDING! There has been not one sign of any repeat issue in the carbon.

IBIS

Going forward, they will now come with a DT 350 rear hub.

Read below for our initial review on the wheels.


Wider rims on bikes are inevitable, there is no doubt it’s going to be the next big thing. We’re so confident that the trend of wide rims will spread into all genres of mountain bikes, that we’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long?

Ibis are best known for making curvy and fluid carbon bikes like the Mojo or Tranny, but a few sets of wide rimmed wheel sets have appeared in their catalogue recently. These new Ibis 741 wheels are carbon, subtle in appearance and have an internal width of 35mm, now that is really bloody wide. Using pretty standard looking hubs with Enduro sealed bearings (new wheels will now ship with a DT Swiss 350 rear hub) these wheels don’t cry out ‘look at me!’ like many carbon hoops around, they almost make it look like you’re riding a fat bike, but what they do to your ability on the trails is astounding.

Many of you may remember riding rims with such width in the early days of mountain biking, most likely steel or heavy aluminium. Now it appears history is repeating itself now that carbon technology has advanced so far. These wheels are available in a 650B/27.5″ size, and the Ibis 941 set for 29ers.

Test Ibis 741 Wheels 13
The 741’s made our Bontrager XR4 tyres look far bigger than when fitted to the original wheels.

It’s all about traction, and it’s that connection with the dirt that us mountain bikers seek. When there is no traction we hit the deck and that hurts, so imagine if you could add traction to your bike without adding weight to a place on your bike like your wheels? Well, you can.

Wider rim gives your existing tyre a greater contact surface with the ground. Taking the exact same tyre and fitting it to a wheel with a wider rim clearly shows the tyre looking visibly bigger and having more volume. The tyre also has a stronger stance, and withstands rolling around on the rim. With a 35mm internal width, these are a whole lot wider than your average mountain bike rim. Most traditional all-mountain rims are around 21-23mm, but we’ve seen brands like Specialized and ENVE pushing for a wider width. Specialized’s Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels are also a beefy 30mm wide.

Ibis-741-wheels-4
The 741 wheels use tape to seal up for a tubeless set up. Simple, easy and perfect during testing.

It took us about three minutes on the trail to make up our minds, and another three to completely confirm that wide rims are the way forward. You know that feeling when you get a flat tyre, but before it loses all the air you have that fleeting moment of magic traction? Well imagine that all the time, but without the tyre squirming, or dragging along or stopping to fix it.

We used the Ibis 741 wheels on two bikes, a Giant Trance Advanced SX and a Trek Fuel EX 9.8. Switching between the standard wheels and the Ibis felt like you suddenly had the bike handling skills of Sam Hill. We were literally throwing our bikes into the turns, harder than usual, and with new-found confidence. Rolling resistance on the trail is reduced too, with lower tyre pressures, the bike rumbles over the rougher surface with less resistance, and without pinging back off rocks or roots.

Test Ibis 741 Wheels 4
No flashy decals at this stage, just stealth black.

We didn’t drop the pressures enough on the first ride, and we kept going lower and lower until our tyres were running less that 20 psi. Dropping the pressures down unlocked the full potential of the wide rims, aiding the traction in corners, climbs and slippery roots like mad. With such low pressure, we never rolled a tyre off the rim or burped air from the tubeless system. 

The Ibis wheels made our 120mm travel Trek Fuel feel like it had 130mm, that may sound silly, but that is exactly how it felt. Rocky terrain seemed less intimidating, and climbing up the steepest single tracks all of a sudden became a reality. We walked less climbs, hit corners harder and rode our bikes looser and more relaxed than before. Terrain was opened up to us, we felt like cheats. The trade off is increased drag on the ground, you can hear and feel your tyre’s knobs rumbling over the trail surface. But we were so happy with these wheels where it mattered the most, that we found the trade off to be perfectly acceptable.

They are really going to suit the trail bike rider with an all mountain attitude, they are light enough to drop weight out of stock bikes, and stiff enough to not feel like you’re riding a traditional lightweight set of wheels.

After a few good months of testing, the wheels stayed true and the hubs spinning fast and smooth, but we did notice a slight amount of carbon cracking around one of the nipples on the rear wheel, and two more showing a signs of stress. We immediately let the Ibis folks in Australia know, and their response was – “We haven’t seen or heard of this happening since the release of the wheels, and are confident that it was an anomaly. Ibis will be giving comment upon inspection of the fault by their engineers at Ibis HQ”. Ibis are going to take a look at our set of wheels, and also send out another set for a longer term test, so stay tuned.

In the end, we’re happy to be continuing a test on the 741s. They allow you to ride harder and in more control as if you are magically riding on ‘hero dirt’ all the time, and that is a very good thing.

So, this set is going back to Ibis, and we’ll keep on flogging the replacement set all summer long.

Tested: Exposure Toro Mk6 Light

Is it just our ageing bones, or is winter colder than it used to be?! Shame on us, we haven’t braved the chilly evening air very often this past few months, and we’ve not done nearly enough night riding.

But on the infrequent night rides we have done, we find ourselves remembering just how much fun it is, and noting just how far light technology has come. No piece of kit reminds us of these advancements more than this awesome light from UK company Exposure.


 

Exposure Toro 13
Worth every one of its 440 dollars.

Just like the petite Exposure Diablo we reviewed a few weeks back, the Toro is a magnificently built piece of kit, using the same all-in-one cordless design principles that free your riding experience up from failing, snagging cords. To be honest, we’re going to struggle to go back to using a light with an external battery, it’s just so simple and easy with this all-in-one design… No strapping battery packs to your bike, no stuffing things in backpacks or jersey pockets. Pop a bottle in the cage, some spares in your jersey pockets and hit the night trails unencumbered.

While it’s not really a heavy unit  at 235g (really quite light considering this includes the battery too), the Toro’s size means it a handlebar only item. We paired it up with the Diablo on our helmet. The actual mounting bracket itself is a highlight; it’s CNC machined, with a hinged clamp design and the quick-release interface between the bracket and light is completely wobble/rattle free, and it’s small enough to leave on the bike between rides if you wish.

Exposure Toro 10
There are ten programs/modes to choose from, including three which use the automatically adjusting Reflex Technology.

[divider]Feature packed[/divider]

There are almost too many features to talk about. The unit has several pre-configured lighting programs which will give you a choice of two or three output levels with various burn times for each. Alternatively you can run the light in one of the…(wait for it)… automatic modes! Yes, in the quest for MORE FEATURES Exposure have equipped the Toro with Reflex Technology. Essentially this is a bunch of accelerometers that automatically determine what output mode is best for whatever the hell it is you’re doing at any given moment. Smooth climb? It’ll lower the output. Rough, twisty descent? Engage max brightness! All without lifting a finger from the bar.

Look, this level of tech wizardry isn’t necessarily a must-have in our book, but it is fairly absurd that we’re now reaching that level of advancement in a light. For our purposes, we were happy to leave the light in Program 7, which has just two output levels and more than enough burn time for our normal night ride loop.

[divider]Excellent display[/divider]

Speaking of burn time, the Toro has the best ‘battery gauge’ system we’ve encountered on a light, with a real-time countdown of remaining run time displayed on the back of the light. When the light is plugged into the charger, this same display clearly tells you what percentage of charge has been obtained so far too. It also communicates which program you’re in upon start up or when you’re changing the program mode, which makes navigating the system a lot easier than we found it with the Diablo light which has no display.

Exposure Toro 9
Fully juiced up, ready to rumble.

Rather than a traditional on/off/mode button, the Toro uses Capacitive Switching, which is a touch sensitive panel on the rear of the light. While this system is apparently less susceptible to damage or malfunction than a normal button, we missed the tactile ‘click’ of pushing a nice big button, and found the touch panel a bit vague.

Combined with the Diablo up top pointed further down the trail, we’d run out of skill well before we’d run out of ligh

We’ve spent plenty of time waffling about the features, which is really a reflection of just how jammed to the gills this light is with high tech gizmoisms, and we’ve not even yet mentioned how well it actually works for the purpose of lighting up the trail. Rest assured, it does that very well too. Rated at 1800 lumens, the beam is a nice natural colour (not blue-ish) and has a great beam spread for handlebar use too. Combined with the Diablo up top pointed further down the trail, we’d run out of skill well before we’d run out of light.

[divider]We’re sold[/divider]

Exposure Toro 12

The Toro and Diablo combo is the best night riding setup we’ve used to date, for our purposes. Yes, this cord-free set up might have some compromises when it comes to overall output and run times, but we love it all the same. Our new Flow favourite!

 

Flow’s First Bite: 2016 Merida Ninety-Six

Merida’s sharpest tool in the shed makes a strong comeback for 2016, with all the mod cons, and category leading weight. The new Ninety-Six is about as dedicated to racing cross country as they come.

Recognising the recent trend to match wheelsize for frame size, the new Ninety-Six will be available in both 27.5″ and 29″ wheels, depending on the frame size. In Australia, the small size Ninety-Six will use 27.5″ wheels, and the medium, large and extra large will come with 29″ wheels. We’ve seen Trek, Liteville and Yeti take a similar approach, and we’re all about it.

At the recent launch of the 2016 Merida range we took a closer look at this new race bike, there was no chance to ride it at this stage, a full ride review is in the pipeline.

Merida Ninety-Six A 2
Jay from Taylor Cycles tips it in on the Ninety-Six.
Merida Ninety-Six 24
Multivan Merida team’s new whip.

With a claimed frame weight of 1900g for the Team frame, the Ninety-Six uses a minimal 96mm of travel on the 29″, and 108mm on the 27.5″ to get the best ride quality out of the different wheel sizes.

With a minimal suspension system that nods in favour of lightweight, this Merida is all about creating a quick accelerating bike with the stiffest frame possible. It’s a single pivot design, a swing link drives the shock with a suspension curve that is best paired with a remote lockout lever.

Many short travel race bikes opt for a suspension rate and tune that feels firm all the way through stroke to give the rider maximum pedalling efficiency, this can be to the sacrifice of suspension feel and resulting in a harsh ride.

In the case of this bike, a suspension design optimised for the use with a remote lockout can benefit from a small amount of travel that is very supple and active, but can be quickly changed with a flick of your thumb to counteract unwanted suspension bob.

The new shock mounting position under the top tube lets the remote lever connect to a fixed point at the rear shock, where the older Ninety-Six frame design used a much longer cable (or hose) that moved with the suspension.

Merida Ninety-Six 20
The $9999 Ninety-Six Team uses the RockShox RS1 inverted fork to really look fast.
Merida Ninety-Six 12
The main suspension pivot sits directly inline with the chainring.

The new frame is also optimised around single ring drivetrains, the main pivot has moved to be in line with the chainring. Back in the glory days of the triple ring on cross country bikes, we’d see designs lining the pivot up with the middle chainring, which was used the most. Now with single ring drivetrains it’s easier to find that sweet spot, it allows the rear suspension to be unaffected by chain length, as the distance between the top of the chainring and rear axle doesn’t change as the suspension compresses.

The cable routing on the new Ninety-Six is really neat thanks to the new Smart Entry System cable port, acting as a clamp securing and silencing the cables inside the frame. No rattling noises here!

With the new cable ports, the bike will also be Shimano Di2 compatible, with the wires travelling internally and snugly.

Merida Ninety-Six 14
The Merida Smart Entry System clamps and secures the cables to eliminate clashing, noise and moving internal cables.
Merida Ninety-Six A 1
Doing what the Ninety-Six loves, laying down the power.

For 2016 the frame geometry sharpens up to meet the demands set by the formidable Multivan Merida World Cup race team, a lower bottom bracket, and shorter overall in length.

Three versions of the Merida Ninety-Six in two wheel sizes will make it to Australia, with size small frames using 27.5″ wheels.

27.5″

Ninety-Six 7 Team – $9999

Ninety-Six 7 XT – $4799

Ninety-Six 7 800 – $3099

29″

Ninety-Six 9 Team – $9999

Ninety-Six 9 XT – $4799

Ninety-Six 9 800 – $3099

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Fuel 9.8 27.5 2016

Our love affair over the years with Trek’s Fuel series has been a passionate, torrid and deep. We know the Fuel series like the back of our hand, having spent the past 12 months on board both the 29″ and 27.5″ versions of this bike as the steeds of choice for all our Flow Nation road trips.


 

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 8

For the new season, we’re incredibly happy to welcome the 2016 version of the Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 into the Flow stable. While the 29er version of the Fuel has been reworked in a big way, the 27.5 is not a radically different machine to last year’s bike. The frame remains the same as 2015, but there have been some excellent spec changes to add some junk to its trunk. Notably too, the rear shock no longer has the bulbous ‘knob’ of the DRCV chamber – more on that later.

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 16
720mm OCVL carbon bar and one of the neatest, stiffest stems in the business.

Stiffer: Finally the Fuel comes with a fork which can match the bike’s abilities. The new FOX 34 series is a much sturdier number than the 32mm fork which came on the 2015 model. Combined with a wider bar (still only 720mm unfortunately, but that’s better than last year’s skinny 690mm bar) this should give the bike a much more direct feel up front.

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 11
Excellent rubber. Bontrager’s tyres are sensational.

DT wheels: Given how good Trek’s own in-house Bontrager wheels are, we’re surprised to see DT hoops on the Fuel 9.8 for 2016. They’re shod with the versatile Bontrager XR3 rubber, which sealed up tubeless perfectly. They should be a good set of wheels, though we may opt to run a more aggressive XR4 up front (our favourite rubber from Bonty).

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 15
The end of DRCV.

Goodbye DRCV: The Trek/FOX DRCV shock, which used a twin chamber design, has been a consistent feature of the Fuel and Remedy series for the past few years, but for 2016 Trek have decided to move away from this proprietary shock design. Instead, they’re running the new large-volume FOX EVOL shock. Apparently Trek were able to obtain the same ride characteristics with the EVOL shock as they’d been seeking with the DRCV design, namely a more linear spring rate. To be honest, we’re happy to see DRCV phased out. We’ve always liked the ultra smooth performance of DRCV, but it did have a tendency to bottom out pretty hard when really pushed to the limit, and the easy serviceability of a ‘standard’ shock is a real plus.

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 13

The rear shock also has the RE:aktiv damping that was debuted last year. This ‘regressive’ damping system is designed to offer a firmer platform when the shock’s ProPedal is engaged, but with a faster, smoother transition into the shock stroke. While the system wasn’t without its bugs last year (a batch of shocks had a nasty ‘clunk’) it is a very effective damper, allowing you to run bike in a firmer compression setting without sacrificing sensitivity too much.

No Mino Link: While the new Fuel EX 29er is graced with Trek’s Mino Link geometry adjustment system, unfortunately this neat feature hasn’t been carried over to the 27.5″ bikes… yet. Hopefully it does get introduced down the track, as we’d love to have the option of slackening the Fuel’s head angle by half a degree.

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 7
We’ll swap the double chain rings out for a 32-tooth single ring.

XT all over: Shimano’s exceptional new XT 11-speed drivetrain and brakes get the nod. Read more about our experiences with XT’s newest incarnation here. It’s superb kit. We’ll likely be converting this bike to run a single ring, which is as simple as swapping out the chain ring.

This bike will be with us for the long haul now. Tomorrow we’ll take it for its maiden voyage on our home trails – we cannot wait!

Tested: Scott Genius Plus & Scott Scale Plus

Scott make no mistakes when it comes to picking trends, the industry giant has put their weight behind emerging wheel sizes in the past and haven’t looked back. The same thing couldn’t be said for many other big players.

27.5+ is the next big thing in the development of mountain bikes, and we can guarantee that over the next short while we’ll see just about every bike brand, tyre and wheel manufacturer getting behind it too.

We weren’t without frustration when the news of a new standard broke, and are happy to admit that initially we didn’t give a toss for all this fuss. But looking back we can safely put all that behind us now. It’s a hard story to tell in words, you need to ride one to make it crystal.

Scott Plus 2

Genius Plus
Mick taking on ‘The Spine’, a remarkably intimidating line of pure jagged rock.

We spent a few days in Deer Valley, Utah on new bikes from the 2016 Plus bikes – Genius and Scale – we wanted to know exactly where these ‘diet fat’ bikes fit in and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. For more on 2016 Scotts, take a peek at our quick look at the range here – Scott 2016 bikes.


What’s it all about, what the hell is a ‘Plus bike’?

It’s all about really big tyres. To benefit the experience of mountain biking by enhancing the control of the rider through increased traction and stability, Plus bikes use 27.5″ diameter wheels with wider rims and bigger tyres.

– The Scott Plus bikes are from the new category of 27.5+ bikes.

– 27.5+ will use a 40mm wide (internal width) rim and a specifically developed Schwalbe 2.8″ width tyre. Typically the average trail bike uses a rim between 21-27mm wide and a tyre between 2.0″ and 2.4″.

– Scott and Schwalbe worked to develop the best tyre size for the job, initially beginning testing with a 3″ width prototype, then down to a 2.8″ and ultimately residing with a 2.8″ with lower profile tread. The third generation tyre wasn’t ready for our media launch, all the bikes we rode and are pictured here with the second version with taller tread.

– Scott will have the 2.8″ Schwalbe Plus tyres to themselves for one year before other brands can spec them.

– The tyres will weigh around 800-850 grams.

– Genius Plus is 250g heavier than a comparable spec Genius 29er.

– All the main tyre manufacturers will have 27.5 Plus tyres soon.

– Genius Plus uses the new standard Boost 148mm wide rear hubs and 110mm front hubs.

– The Scott Genius Plus uses a 29er front triangle, with a new aluminium rear end to compensate for extra tyre clearance.

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40mm wide rims on the Plus bike.
less-air-diagram-121497_original_2
It must be like having really big feet, harder to fall over right?

– The bigger tyre gives you a larger contact patch on the ground, for a huge increase in traction.

– The rider can run low tyre pressure without the tyre rolling around on the rim.

– With such a large air volume, the risk of flat tyres is significantly reduced.

– Scott’s Plus bike range will consist of three bikes for 2016 in various models. The Genius with 140mm travel, it’s bigger brother the 160mm travel Genius LT (unfortunately not a model distributed into Australia for 2016) and the Scale Plus hardtail. More details on the range here – Scott 2016 bikes.


How does it ride?

Our first impressions were not clear, nor was our mind after a numbing flight to Utah from Sydney. In all honesty we were a little unsure whether we liked it or not, the Genius Plus felt so different to anything we’ve ever ridden here at Flow. The closest we’d ridden was testing the Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie hardtail, but this was our first time on a dually.

The sheer amount of traction on offer really does take some getting used to. But in this case it wasn’t just the foreign bike that threw us into a spin, being at altitude in Deer Valley the trail conditions were a world apart from a cold and wet Sydney, the bike park trails were open, super-fast, loose, rough and bone dry. We found the tyres to sit on top of the trail surfaces, rather than biting into it and on loose gravel the big bag would swim across the surface somewhat, we can only imagine that this is how it would feel in deep mud.

It was at that point after a couple laps of the trails that we couldn’t help but suspect this could have been an over-hyped and unnecessary new fad, but we were wrong.

To paint a clearer picture in our minds, we swapped back to the standard 27.5″ wheel Genius with 2.35″ width tyres for a few laps. After a whole day riding the chunky Plus bike switching back gave us the feeling like we’d just thrown a leg over a skinny cyclocross bike! The ‘tiny’ 2.35″ tyres were certainly very zippy and quick, but felt too sketchy and nervous on the trails we were only just getting the feel for. We’d grown used to the feeling of the Plus bike without really knowing it. So it was time to jump back onto the big 2.8er, really give it some and open the throttle wide open. Our ambitious riding went to another level and we loved every minute of it!

When pushed harder and harder, the big tyres held on to the ground like nothing we’ve ever ridden. We braked later coming into turns, and generally braked less across the board, holding more speed and blasting around the trails with a brave sense of renewed ambition.

We’ve spent plenty of time on downhill bikes over the years, but to find the limits of traction on big DH bikes you need to be going really, really fast. The Genius Plus was so much more agile than that, and twice as playful.

You do notice the bigger tyres when making quick direction changes, the added weight on the outer of the wheels creates a gyroscopic effect, and it’s hard to ignore. Throwing the bike around the bike felt slightly slower to react, like you were riding a 29er with heavy wheels. Dropping the bike down onto the side knobs of the tyres into a corner, or quickly smashing a berm required a bit more body language. We did get used to it, and intuitively adapted our riding style.

We found ourselves taking wider lines into turns and staying off the brakes, putting unprecedented faith in the traction of the big tyres. Grabbing a handful of brakes would almost send you over the bars as the bike would bite down into the dirt rather than skimming across the top. And the noise the tyres make is pretty crazy, so much rubber amplifies the sound of the tread grabbing the trail, in a group of riders on Plus bikes it sounds like a traction party at happy hour!

For the fun of it you could also ignore the best line through a berm and go right through the inside, with a confident trust in the big treads. With 445mm chain stays the bike does feel quite long, making super tight corners and popping a manual a bit harder than we’d like, but at speed the stability from the length is well and truly worth a little compromise.

Climbing loose trails is another area that the Plus shines, with more grip under your rear wheel you don’t need to hunt for the best line nearly as much. You’re able to really put more effort into the pedals, rather than dividing your attention between finding traction and laying down strong pedal strokes.

At slow speed the big tyres really conform to the terrain underneath you resisting slipping around, we could ride the steepest sections of trail, controlling your speed easily with one finger on the brakes.

Scott Plus 14
Don’t be scared, stay off the brakes and the massive quantity of traction will reward you, and double your skills.
Scott Plus 15
It’s fun, so let it hang out and enjoy the fun feeling without crashing on your face for a change.

Setup.

With such a massive volume of air in the tyres, setting your tyre pressure becomes more important than ever. Too high and you won’t benefit from the potential traction, and too low and it’ll feel like pedalling through wet sand. After much experimenting with tyre pressure by going too high, then too low and resting at the sweet spot of 13 and 15 psi for the front and rear tyre. Mick weighs 70kg plus gear and would increase pressure when carrying more gear and water etc.

Scott Plus 8
Tyre pressure setup is critical, it’s all about low pressure, but not too low. Experiment and you’ll find the right number.
Scott Plus 6
Wind out the compression dials and slow down the rebound of your suspension.

Next up was suspension, we chatted to Rene Krattinger the head of mountain bike engineering at Scott about how suggested we go about it. With a lighter compression setting and slower rebound the tyre won’t squash underneath your weight as much, and/or bounce and oscillate from repeated impacts like braking bumps or hardpacked ruts.


Genius Plus.

The Genius has been a Flow favourite forever. Lightweight frames, stable geometry and a category leading suspension efficiency via their long serving TwinLoc system. 

TwinLoc is a thumb actuated remote lever that allows you to toggle between three modes offering simultaneous control of rear shock travel and fork lockout. 

There’s less travel than the regular Genius line, with a 14omm travel FOX Float fork, and 130mm of travel out back via Scott’s proprietary FOX Nude shock. The open position allows full travel, front and rear. One click switches the rear shock to Traction mode, while the fork receives a light compression setting. One more click and rear shock and fork lock at the same time.

Scott Scale Plus 1 (1)
The new FOX Nude shock with the EVOL air can, next level suppleness.

For 2016 the Scott Genius will benefit from the FOX EVOL air can, with the extra air volume the suppleness in the suspension is magnificent. With what is effectively a single pivot suspension design, the Genius isn’t known for being the most supple and grounded bike, yet it has always been very efficient under pedalling action. With the EVOL rear shock the new bikes feel significantly more supple and plush.

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The Genius Plus uses a Genius 29er front end, and is also compatible with 29″ wheels using Boost hubs (148mm rear and 110mm front). The Plus uses a 445mm long chain stay and a 67.5 degree head angle. For 2016 Australian consumers will have the choice of two Genius Plus bikes. The Genius 710 Plus for $5999 and the Genius 720 Plus for $4599.

Sheppards-2016-33
The Scott Genius 710 Plus.

Scott Plus 17


 Scale Plus.

Scott Scale Plus
Putting the fun back into hardtails, the Scale Plus is our type of thing.

If in the worst case scenario and none of this Plus takes off with dual suspension bikes, you can bet it will with a hardtail. It makes absolute sense, if you’re a hardtail fan or don’t have at least $4k to spend, a Scale Plus would be a seriously good prospect for real mountain biking.

We cut some hard and fast laps on the Scale 710 Plus and had a really good time. Where having no rear suspension would usually make the bike skip around harshly, the low pressure tyres did more than just take the sting out the trail, it really felt like we were riding a short travel dually at times.

The first thing we’d do it it were ours would be to fit a dropper post.

The Scale 720 Plus is coming to Australia and will retail for $2299.

Scott Plus 18
Traction, control, fun!

Verdict.

We weren’t into it at first, we really thought that with a standard 27.5″ bike and big tyres we’d be able to have just as much fun without the distraction and introduction of a new wheel standard, but the Scott Plus bikes are a whole lot more than we’d anticipated.

With all the stability and traction you could ever wish for in a package that ride and handles a lot more like a regular bike it’ll let both newcomers and more experienced riders do more. You can go faster and in more control, climb steeper sections, and negotiate steeper descents.

There is less risk of pesky flat tyres, and that’s always a good thing.

Is this progression? Will it replace whole categories of mountain bikes or remain a niche? Time will tell, but our bet is that it will catch on, and if a beginner can benefit from increased control so can a pro.

Scott Plus 7

Flow’s First Bite: Pivot Mach 429 Trail

Like a Russian gymnast from the 1980s, Pivot Cycles seems to be growing bigger and stronger and at rate that beggars belief. In the last few months this Arizonan company has released an all-new Mach 4 (which we’ve had on long-term test), the lightweight Mach 429SL and now a gorgeous do-it-all 29er with the 429 Trail. That’s a lot of new platforms for a small operator.


From the moment we caught wind of this bike, we made it our mission to secure some saddle time with extreme urgency, and we grabbed this early release air-freighted demo bike practically straight out of the Fedex cargo hold so we could get it onto the trails ASAP.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 31

The 429 Trail is not just 429SL with a longer fork bolted on (it’s designed around 130mm up front), but is a very different machine entirely. Geometry-wise, Pivot have added a bit of tiger to the tank, by slackening the head angle to 67.5 degrees and shortening the stays to 437mm. Rear wheel travel goes up a bit too, to a very precise 116mm.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 19

It’s the first 29er we’ve ridden that employs the full suite of new Boost hub spacings, with a 148x12mm rear axle and an 110x15mm front. It’s all in the name of increasing stiffness and clearance, two issues that still plague 29ers in the trail/all-mountain category where hard riding and big tyres often don’t play nicely.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 5
Wider hub spacing allows for a wider hub flanges, for stiffer wheels, and a wider chainline, which increases clearance and allows shorter stays. The rear axle is a bolt-up affair – we like its clean simplicity.

While the 429 Trail isn’t a grand departure in design style for Pivot, it takes things in a slightly new direction. We have to admit, as much as we admire these bikes, Pivots have traditionally ranked pretty highly on the ugly’o’meter. Function over form, perhaps? Whatever the case, the 429 Trail is the best-looking dual suspension bike in Pivot’s range. The lines are clean, and the simple under the down tube cable routing is much neater than in years past, and keeping it external also saves construction costs, which makes this bike more attainable than Pivots have traditionally been.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 6
A mid-travel specific DW link arrangement.

The linkage arrangement is new too. It takes inspiration from the Phoenix Carbon downhill bike, and in conjunction with the wide hub spacing we can tell you the rear end of this bike is stiffer than an old dog in winter.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 15
The cable routing is mainly external, with plenty of cable guides to allow you to run the cables pretty much however you like.

There are a swathe of build kit options for the 429 Trail, and ours uses a mix of XT/XTR in a 1×11 setup. Most Pivot builds will be coming with an XT 2×11 drivetrain, which we think is sensible – converting to a 1×11 setup is simply a matter of installing a chain ring with the new Shimano 11-speed stuff, so it’s an easy modification should you not want to run a front mech.

On obvious blight on the otherwise excellent build kit is the absence of a dropper post! Our carbon post is already a scuffed up mess from raising/lowering it during a couple of wet rides – hopefully future bikes will be shipped with a dropper.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 13
The Answer carbon bar is 750mm wide, the stem is 60mm. Perfect!

Tragically (and that’s not overstating it – it’s a goddamn tragedy), we need to return this bike shortly so it can do the rounds of local dealers, but we’ll be bringing you a full review of this machine as soon as a new shipment lands. We won’t divulge too much about the ride just yet, we’ll save that for the main review, but our time on this bike so far has left us feeling like this.

Pivot Mach 429 Trail 32

Enduro Bike Comparison: Norco Range vs Trek Slash vs YT Capra vs Giant Reign

Enduro, all-mountain, aggressive trail… call it what you will (our new personal favourite is ‘down-country’). Bikes with long legs for soaking up gnarly terrain, and then striding back up the climbs again.

Over the last 12 months we’ve been fortunate enough to sling a knee-padded leg over a lot of these kinda bikes. Looking back, four of these bikes share a lot of similarities in terms of pricing and component spec, so we’ve decided to compile a comparative overview of them here.

There’s the Giant Reign 1, YT Capra CF Comp 1, Norco Range C7.2 and Trek Slash 9.8. All four have an Australian retail price between $5599 and $6299, all have largely equivalent component spec, and all four have very similar amounts of travel.

[divider]Pricing[/divider]

All four of the bikes here are close enough in price that, assuming they’re not on sale at a reduced amount, the price is not likely to be the sole determining factor in choosing which bike is for you. The Trek is the most expensive, at $6299 (previously $5999 before the dollar tanked). The Norco sneaks in at $5999. The Giant comes in a bit cheaper at $5699 – given it uses an alloy frame, rather than carbon, we had thought it might be a little less expensive. The YT, with its direct to consumer sales model, has the lowest price tag of $5599, BUT you do need to add $200 in shipping to this price if you’re in Australia, so its real price tag is $5799 . Not such a huge price advantage then at all.

[divider]Construction[/divider]

Of the four bikes, three are predominantly carbon, while the Giant is alloy throughout (there is a carbon version of the Reign available, but it’s a big price jump up to $7699). The Norco, YT and Trek all run an entirely carbon front end, with an aluminium chain stay assembly. Internal cabling is standard on all the bikes, though the Slash has an external rear brake line, which can be an advantage from a maintenance standpoint, even if it’s not so nice to look at. All bikes use an internally routed RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post too.


 

Highlights:

Trek: A flawless paint job, down tube protection and neatly integrated chain slap protection are all nice touches on the Trek. The removable front derailleur mount lets you keep the look super clean too. It’s also the only bike to incorporate geometry adjustability. Water bottle friendly as well.

Norco: The Norco has great standover height, while still keeping room for a water bottle. The use of a Syntace rear axle makes for a super clean drop out area, and the inclusion of a spare derailleur hanger bolt is a neat addition. The Norco is the only bike that has no provision for a front derailleur and we admire its commitment to the single-ring setup.

Giant: We particularly like the Giant’s use of a bearing at the shock mount, to provide a more supple bump response and reduced wear and tear on the shock bushing. As is usual with Giant, the pivot hardware is rock solid, and the frame stiffness is sensational.

YT: The frame shapes of the YT are super trick – it has a very different vibe to the swoopy lines of the other bikes here. We like the neat, narrow assembly of its linkage too, which keeps the bike’s front-on profile very slim.

Lowlights:

Trek: The Trek’s ABP rear axle is super ugly and clunky – it protrudes a long way from the bike, snagging and scrapping on things a lot.

Norco: Tyre clearance isn’t as good as the competition. We think the dropout pivot is a little undercooked too – it could definitely be beefed up a little.

Giant: We experienced some cable rattling from the Reverb Stealth post cable inside the frame.

YT: The lack of a water bottle mount is a downer. If you’re pedalling any real distance, you’ll need to run a pack.

 

[divider]Geometry[/divider]

While all four of these bikes have similar geometry on paper, there a plenty of subtle differences that have a pronounced effect on the trail. All measurements are a for a size medium. Click to view the full geometry table.

Trek: The Trek is the only bike here with adjustable geometry. Its slacker setting has more in common with the other bikes here. The head angle is pretty laid back, but its balanced out by reasonably long stays. The top tube is on the shorter side, but a 60mm stem keeps things roomy enough.

Head angle: 65 degrees
Effective top tube: 587mm
Wheelbase: 1179mm
Chain stay: 435mm

Norco: The Norco runs the sharpest geometry on test, which translates into its more lively ride on flatter trails. Short chain stays add to this whippy feel.

Head angle: 66 degrees
Effective top tube: 598mm
Wheelbase: 1153mm
Chain stay: 426mm

Giant: Slack, long and low. The Reign’s geometry numbers are very downhill oriented. It has the longest top tube by a good 20mm, and the longest wheelbase too for excellent stability.

Head angle: 65 degrees
Effective top tube: 620mm
Wheelbase: 1191mm
Chain stay: 434mm

YT: The Capra’s geometry is on the short side in the top tube, but with a slack head angle to balance it out. With a short stem, it definitely feels quite small in terms of reach, and we can envisage some riders will want to size up.

Head angle: 65.2 degrees
Effective top tube: 582mm
Wheelbase: 1169mm
Chain stay: 430mm

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

All four of these bikes use RockShox front and rear – all have a Monarch Plus rear shock, paired with some variant of the Pike up front. At first glance the Norco, Giant and Trek are visually similar, but each bike has its own take on how to deliver 160mm of travel. The Capra uses a different arrangement, and has 5mm more travel, at 165mm rear.

Trek: Trek’s ABP (Active Braking Pivot) and Full Floater suspension system is a big favourite of ours. It delivers a very neutral, calm suspension feel. It’s unusual to see a Trek without the brand’s proprietary DRCV shock, and with a conventional shock like the Monarch. The system does best when you use the shock’s compression lever on climbs as it doesn’t have a lot of inherent anti-squat.

The Trek’s Pike fork is travel adjustable, from 160-130mm, which is a feature we used a lot. It’s not the bells-and-whistles version, but the more basic RC.

Norco: The Norco runs a four-bar / Horst link setup. The system has great anti-squat properties and pedals very well, but there is noticeable pedal feedback when stomping over rough terrain. It performs well under braking, maintaining responsiveness when you’re on the anchors.

The fork is the simple Pike RC. We recommend experimenting with the Bottomless Token system to tune the spring rate – we’ve had great success adding tokens and lowering the air pressure.

Giant: The Giant’s Maestro II rear suspension system is a dual-link arrangement and delivers a very smooth 160mm travel. It’s a very plush system, a real ground-hugger, and it ramps up nicely on big hits. It’s sheer smoothness means you’ll be using the compression lever on climbs.

Like the Trek, the Giant scores a travel adjustable fork, which we used to great effect on climbs and flatter trails. It also runs the more sophisticated RCT3 damper, with independent high and low speed compression adjustment.

YT: The Capra’s VL4 suspension system is another four-bar system, but the shock is driven by the seat stay, rather than the link. Given the bike’s travel, it’s a fantastically efficient climber – the Norco offers similar efficiency, but the Capra has less pedal feedback. The shock has markedly progressive in the latter portions of the bike’s travel, for excellent resistance to bottoming out.

The fork gets the premium RCT3 damper, but is not travel adjustable, which saves a little weight.

[divider]Weight[/divider]

There’s barely a fart between the weights of the Norco, YT and Giant (which is impressive from the Reign, considering its alloy frame), but the Slash is a significantly lighter bike overall, by more than 700g. A light frame and carbon bar help keep its weight low. Note – all weights are without pedals and converted to tubeless.

Trek: 12.70kg
Giant: 13.46kg
Norco: 13.40kg
YT: 13.52kg

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Beyond the similarities in suspension items noted above, these four bikes share nearly identical drivetrains and a smattering of other components too. The dominance on SRAMs X1 drivetrain in this segment is well deserved, though we may see that challenged now that Shimano have released XT 1×11 with a 42-tooth cassette.

Spec Highlights:

Trek: The wide-bodied Maverick wheelset on the Slash is a very big plus. We’re seeing more and more riders upgrading to wider hoops, so to get them stock is a real bonus. Bontrager’s XR4 tyres are sensational too. We’re also firm fans of the Shimano XT brakes, and the Bontrager Rhythm carbon bar.

Trek-Slash-13
The 35mm Maverick rims offer excellent tyre stability.

Norco: A 30-tooth chain ring may sound small, but it’s an intelligent choice on this bike – the Norco has the gear range to climb just about anything. The massively stiff Raceface Atlas bar/stem combo is a winner too. We also like the addition of the bash guard to protect the chain ring.

Norco-Range-15
With a 30-tooth ring, you can climb anything.

Giant: Giant have specced the Reign with both an upper chain guide and a bash guard, for great security. The Pike RCT3 dual-position fork is a highlight too, a true performer both climbing and descending.

Giant-Reign-14
An upper guide provides welcome security for when it gets rowdy.

YT: A 150mm-travel dropper post lets you get the saddle right the hell out of the way on the Capra. The E13 wheels are both a highlight and a potential low light – they’re light and stiff, but quite narrow. A small item maybe, but we really like the Sensus grips, and the E13 upper chain guide.

YT-Ind-Capra-CF-Comp-24
A 150mm-travel dropper post on the YT.

Spec Lowlights:

Trek: While we like the XT brakes, they mesh poorly with the SRAM shifter and Reverb dropper lever.

Norco: The Norco’s wheels are its weakest area – especially the cheap front hub. There’s lots of weight to be saved here, without sacrificing durability.

Giant: You’ll want to lop a bit off the Giant’s 800mm bar!

YT: The E13 wheels are narrow by today’s and the hub is super, super loud. 

Flow-Mountain-Bike-Queenstown-and-Wanaka-63

[divider]Ride[/divider]

First up, all of these bikes are superb to ride. They all fulfil the Enduro mandate of grinding out the climbs with minimal fuss then hammering the descents. That said, their abilities aren’t equally weighted, and some bikes really standout in some areas.

Ride Highlights:

Trek: The Trek is the probably the best all-rounder in this company. With its low weight and travel adjustable fork, it manages to do a good job in a huge range of situations. We often rode this bike with the fork dropped down and the rear compression in its firmest setting and it performed pretty damn well on flatter, smoother trails. On the descents it was a bomber too – a 65 degree head angle keeps it all very stable and the tyres/wheels make the most of the grip on offer with the supple suspension.

The Slash in Queenstown.
The Slash in Queenstown.

Norco: A lively, fun and inspiring ride. The Norco requires no suspension fiddling to rule the singletrack, it accelerates nicely and can ascend without a lot of lever flipping.  It’s very responsive for a bike with this much travel and it lends itself to a rider who likes to pick lines and play with the trail.

Norco-Range-3
Playing around on the Norco on local trails.

 

Giant: A supremely planted, stable and confident ride, the Reign will give a lot of downhill bikes a serious run for their money in many situations. The long wheelbase and buttery rear suspension keep the tyres on the ground. It straight up charges.

Giant-Reign-2
The Reign rumbling on over it all.

YT: A good blend of the downhill smasher and efficient climber. The YT has the angles and travel that encourage you to wallop it into some rough situations, especially as it’s so hard to upset the rear suspension. On the pedal back up, it’s very resistant and bobbing, even if the climbing position is a bit cramped.

YT-Capra-CF-Comp-16
The Capra getting into it.

Ride Lowlights:

Trek: The Trek’s rear suspension isn’t an inherently efficient design, so it’ll always be a tradeoff between suppleness and pedalling performance as you need to use the shock’s compression lever a lot.

Norco: With its short stays the Norco requires a bit more rider input at high speed to keep the wheels down. We also threw the chain on the Norco a handful of times, which wasn’t an issue on any other bike.

Giant: The Giant typifies the tradeoff between climbing and descending performance. With the fork dropped and the shock in its firmest compression setting, it’s a decent trail bike, but it still feels big in tighter situations.

YT: The YT’s short top tube demands a very upright climbing position. This bike really needs you to get right over the front wheel too, to keep it biting in flatter trails, especially when compared to the Norco or the Trek with its fork dropped down.

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[divider]Full reviews[/divider]

For a more in-depth look at each of these bikes, make sure check out the full reviews here on Flow.

Trek Slash 9.8: Click here. 

Norco Range C7.2: Click here.

Giant Reign 1: Click here. 

YT Capra CF Comp 1: Click here. 

Tested: Yeti SB5c

“Ooooh, a Yeti,” said pretty much every mountain biker, ever. These beautiful mountain bikes from Colorado are at the cutting edge of frame design, steeped in racing heritage, and look hotter’n Georgia asphalt.

Their latest suspension design –  the Switch Infinity – is as unique as they come, developed in collaboration with FOX Racing it turns some heads and perplexes others. We were lucky enough to spend a good amount of time on the Yeti SB5c and during that time (though knowing we had to return it) we tried our best not to, but we fell deeply, deeply in love.

Yeti SB5 C 15
It’s hard not to love a Yeti, they are wonderful machines.

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

The SB5c sits proudly in a category that caters for the majority of mountain bikers out there, trail riding. With 127mm of rear suspension travel, it’s not pretending to be a cross country race bike, or a hard hitting enduro machine, but more aimed to please the classic mountain bike rider looking to just have a good time out on the trails on a capable yet efficient bike.

The frame is wildly lightweight at 2.3kg, so you’ll have the ability to build it into a sub-12kg bike if you throw the money wand at it hard enough, opening it up to more possibilities than just a trail bike. You could probably dabble in marathon or endurance racing with a tricked out SB5c if you spent all your dough on only one bike and not a quiver of them.

Yeti SB5 C 2
For going up and down all day, this is an efficient and light bike.

It’s a flashy piece of kit, with the frame trading for around $4490, a Yeti owner is sure to know what they’re in for if that amount of cash is being exchanged. A Yeti is available from the Australian distributor as a bare frame, or one of the locally hand picked build kits ranging from $7930 up to $11485.

[divider]The frame[/divider]

The fluidly shaped SB5c comes in two colours – matte black and this lustrous glossy turquoise one, which is synonymous with Yeti. It is an all-carbon affair with a very unique suspension design at the heart of it all. Let’s get right into it and try to explain Switch Infinity.

Yeti SB5C 9
Immaculate attention to detail.

Switch Infinity:

After a few good years of so many mountain bikers loving Yeti’s funky rotating eccentric Switch Pivot design (found on bikes like the SB95, SB75 and SB66) things got a little hot in relation to design patents between Yeti and other big brands, so the updated Switch Infinity was born. A product of the tight relationships between FOX and Yeti, it is a very fine concept.

It’s all about giving the rear suspension terrain-gobbling properties whilst maintaining pedal efficiency. Sound familiar? Well, it’s the holy grail of the mountain bike suspension world. Whether its with speed sensitive damping, fancy sensors and electronics, wheel paths, linkages, or persuasion through loads of marketing, the world of mountain biking is hungry for the best suspension system. Some get closer to the mark than others, whilst some flounder.  In our opinion the Yeti’s Switch Infinity comes very close to perfection.

Yeti SB5C 22
The engine room of the rear suspension, The Switch Infinity.
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How does it work?

What looks like two Kashima coated FOX shock bodies inside the centre of the frame are actually sliders that carry the main suspension pivot up and down in a vertical plane as the rear suspension does its thing.

Watch Switch Infinity in action in this little video, accompanied by a very dramatic soundtrack for maximum feel:

Why?

It might look complicated at first glance, but in truth it’s pretty simple in operation. There are less pivoting points than your typical suspension bike, and with grease ports on the Switch Infinity sliders, maintenance is a real snack to do at home (or at least in the kitchen). And without a floating pivot design – for example a DW-Link, Maestro or VPP – the Yeti is able to do away with a link and have a one-piece rear end, which no doubt contributes to boosting rear end lateral stiffness and retaining low frame weight.

Yeti have been producing bikes with vertical rear travel paths for many years now.

The Switch Infinity concept is an evolution of previous Yeti suspension concepts, specifically the ‘rail’ design that was first seen on their original 303 downhill bike. It was revolutionary and a very unique experience to ride, the early versions would eat anything in its path but were not exactly agile to ride. Instead of pivoting around a couple points, the rear end would actually slide up and down on two rail tracks, and while the design has since been simplified their current downhill bike still uses a rail concept, and thus the SB6 and SB5 are products of this Yeti technology.

Execution:

This Yeti was with us for three months, and it sure did cop some bad weather. Upon inspection of the frame’s moving parts, we noticed a few of the sealed cartridge bearings had been affected by the conditions and had become rough, which we didn’t expect in this short timeframe.

The sealed cartridge bearings that sit on either side of the Switch Infinity sliders don’t have a large range of rotation in their role of the suspension action, which is what makes them prone to getting sticky. Bearings are smoothest and resist noise best when they’re moving, lubricating themselves, so we’d suggest whipping the rear end off the bike and giving all the bearings a spin every now and then to get the balls rolling and coated in grease, it’ll help avoid them going stiff like ours did from lots of wet weather riding. This is something we’d advise with just about all suspension bikes (especially those designs where the bearings only have a few degrees of rotation). After a few rotations, they were back to spinning freely, problem solved.

Yeti SB5 C 13
The whole rear end is one-piece, no pivots on the seatstay or chainstay as you’d find on most bikes.

The Switch sliders each have a grease nipple, so pumping in some fresh grease and the pushing the old stuff out is a quick and easy job with a grease gun.

That said, the bike never made a noise from the suspension parts, we had no loose hardware and with readily available rebuild kits, the maintenance of this system is really quite simple if you are up for it.

[divider]Geometry[/divider]

The SB5c isn’t a long and slack number, it strikes a good balance between all-round agility and stability with some sharp but sensible angles.

We used the SB5c with a 140mm fork, whilst most of these bikes are specced with a 150mm fork as standard. Fitted with a 150mm travel fork, the head angle is said to be 66.5 degrees which puts it in the middle ground between a cross country and enduro race bike. With a 140mm fork however, it’ll sharpen the angle to 67 degrees and quicken the steering a touch. Did we regret going 140mm instead on 150mm? Only in some extreme descending situations, but 99% of the time we thought the angles with the 140mm fork were awesome.

Interestingly, Yeti’s EWS racers Jared Graves and Richie Rude have both raced the SB5 with up to a 160mm fork on it, so it’s obviously a bike that’s comfortable with some serious firepower up front.

Yeti SB5C 6
Sensible and well-thought out frame geometry won us over.

The other important numbers are; 442mm chainstays, 72.3 degree seat tube angle, and a 599mm top tube length in a medium.

The bottle cage mounting is a bit tricky, with the two bolts right underneath the downtube making for a big reach to get your water bottle which has been covered in roost from your front tyre. It’s really a hydration backpack type of bike, the price you pay for having the rear shock and moving parts in the middle of the frame, unfortunately.

Yeti SB5 C 16
HOT.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Our SB5c is a real mutt, we built it from a bare frame using a Shimano XT 11-speed kit, and new 2016 FOX suspension. From the Australian Yeti distributer – Rowney Sports – you can pick and choose from a variety of build kits using SRAM or Shimano, and RockShox or FOX.

You’re also be able to choose fork travel, between 140 and 150mm. It’s a good option to have, 10mm more travel might not sound like much, but the slightly higher or lower front end will help you tune the setup to your trails.

Yeti SB5C 19
Rear shock of the century award goes to, this one. The FOX Float DPS with EVOL air can.

We did wish we had ridden this bike with a standard 2015 FOX rear shock, as the new DPS shock with the EVOL extra volume air can is a pretty special piece of kit. We can only imagine that part of our praise for this bike’s performance can be attributed to the new rear shock’s abilities. Luckily, if you’re running the standard non DPS shock, you can look at upgrading it with an aftermarket EVOL air sleeve to bring it up to speed. We’d highly recommend it.

[divider]Ride Impressions[/divider]

On our local Sydney trails the SB5c felt as perfectly suited to the rocky and challenging terrain as any bike we’ve ever ridden. Every ounce of effort and input we had translated into fast handling through corners and efficient speed across rough terrain, riding the Yeti feels very rewarding.

Singletrack manners:

Most often are we finding ourselves riding bikes that shine on only some sections of the trail, and have only acceptable performance in others. The Yeti however was just as at home blasting steep descents, laying smooth power down through the singletrack or popping up and over the rocky ledges. It just didn’t feel compromised in any area.

The way it would rapidly change direction and somewhat intuitively know where you want to go had us twisting our way through turns with less effort than we’d become used to on such familiar trails.

Yeti SB5 C 9
The Yeti loves to corner. It has the quick handling where you want it to, but won’t feel too twitchy.

The Easton handlebars were on the narrow side – at 740mm – so our hands were pushed right out towards the end of the grips when riding. While they did feel a little small when it got rough, the positive traits of a narrower bar really matched the Yeti’s vibe. Quick, light direction changes and the increased clearance in tight trails was very obvious, plus tipping the bike down side-to-side onto the side knobs of the tyres would create a super aggressive position to really bite into the dirt and rip around a turn with pace.

The rear shock has a wide range of compression tuning, adjustable on the fly via the little blue lever. We spent 90% of our time in the Trail mode, and only let it open on the roughest of descents, and firmed it up for a tarmac climb. Even in the Trail mode, the suspension flowed over the terrain like melting butter in a Teflon pan. As we mentioned above, maybe the new EVOL air can on the shock had a hand in this, but the way it responds to the bumps is just eerily smooth.

Descending:

Yetis and descending go together like Vita Wheats and cheese. For a bike with only five-inches of rear wheel travel, this thing is a hammer. In fact, it was onboard the SB5 that we set our fastest ever times down some very rough descents, even though we regularly ride these trails on 150-160mm bikes.

The sharper head angle as a result of the 140mm fork meant the SB5 would sometimes find its limits when rolling down the backsides of big rocks, and into more rough terrain. With the beefy 34mm fork legs, though, we were able to muscle our way out of situations that may have been over the Yeti’s head. But we were generally very, very happy with what it was capable of handling when pointed down.

As we’ve noted above, we’ve seen Jared Graves racing enduro on this frame with a 160mm travel fork – we wonder how that would go?

Yeti SB5 C 8
Ride the SB5c hard, it’s ok with it.

The rear suspension handles hard square-edge impacts much better than its SB75 or SB66 predecessor. It takes a lot of pounding for the SB5c to lose momentum, you’ll be able to keep the power on and pedal hard over the rockiest trails without slowing down.

It’s quick to get up to speed, and the portion of vertical wheel travel really lets the rear wheel move up and away from the path of impacts.

Yeti SB5 C 6
Low and narrow cockpit won’t suit the heavy handed enduro crowd, but tipping the bike into quick turns was a real highlight.

Climbing:

The SB5c hides its travel really well, the way you can mash away on the pedals without the bike bouncing around beneath you is testament to the well-executed rear axle path design. Tension on the chain helps to keep the rear suspension from squatting, and that’s what stops the rear shock absorbing your pedalling efforts.

Yeti SB5 C 1
You’ll notice the rear shock remaining calm when you’re stomping on the pedals, it won’t rob you of effort.

There’s also plenty of room to get up and out of the saddle and crank down on the pedals without bashing your knees on the bars.

On trails where you have to lift the bike up and over obstacles, we found the SB5 to be quite amazing. Whether it was the light rear end, roomy top tube or supportive rear suspension, we think it all has a lot to do with why we found ourselves hopping up bigger steps with much less effort than we had expected. Is this cheating?

Final thoughts:

This is a really, really nice bike to ride. We found it very poppy and agile, super-efficient and so light to ride.

By striking a perfect balance between what you want out of a bike going up, and going down, this Yeti succeeds in confirming its place as one of the finest trail bikes you’ll ever find.

The frame geometry and supple suspension won us over, if we were to manufacture our own bike from scratch, we’d probably try and base the design around the figures that shape this bike. Or we could just save up and buy one…

Yeti SB5C 15
The stamp of a Yeti.

You could dress it with some meatier parts and you’ll have a light enduro race bike, or keep it trim and it would serve you well as a superbly capable and comfortable all-day trail bike. And yes, it’s expensive but if you know what you want out of a high end mountain bike, the SB5c will love you back like you’d always dreamt.

Tested: Serfas TSL-2500 Light

Why bring a knife to a knife fight when you can bring a gun instead? That seems to be the thinking behind the Serfas TSL-2500 light, which pumps out enough lumens to give you tan through your clothes.


Serfas TSL 2500 8
The TSL-2500 is exceptionally well vented, and the construction quality is robust too.

With 2500 lumens blasting from atop our helmets, we felt totally comfortable tackling the rough trails around Flow HQ with just this light, rather than supplementing it with an additional handlebar-mounted light too. Because the four LED arrangement casts a broad spread, you’ve got plenty of peripheral vision, whilst still getting plenty of light down the trail as well.

The mounting system uses a single strap. It's easy to install, but not as stable as a two-strap arrangement.
The mounting system uses a single strap. It’s easy to install, but not as stable as a two-strap arrangement.

You can extend that burn time up to a missing-persons-report-inducing seven and a half hours

It’ll keep this kind of performance up for almost two-hours at full power, which is more than long enough for us to stay out past when we’d normally be eating dessert and settling in to watch Q&A. Toggle it back to to one of the three lower settings and you can extend that burn time up to a missing-persons-report-inducing seven and a half hours. LED indicators on both the battery and light itself keep you informed about remaining charge.

Serfas TSL 2500 6

The downside all this output and longevity is the light’s size and weight. Weighing in at 550g, the TSL 2500 is a fair lump to carry around. The head unit comes in just over 180g, which is far from the heaviest out there, but when you consider that something like the Exposure Equinox weighs 50g less including a self-contained battery, the TSL 2500 feels pretty hefty. At 370g-ish, the battery is weighty enough that you’d probably want to pop it in a backpack, rather than a jersey pocket too. Securing the light to your helmet is a pretty basic mount, which uses just a single strap. We prefer mounts that have two separate straps, as they allow you to anchor the light with a wider stance for more stability. Room for improvement there. In contrast to our quibbles with the helmet mount, the weather sealing and quality of the cords and connections is great.

Call us luddites, but we kind of like that simplicity – charge it up, bolt in on, blind the shit out of a mate, no fuss.

Of course you could bar mount the light, where weight is less of an issue. If you do go down the bar-mount route, you’ll find the latch-style fastening is easy to use, the battery is rubberised in all the right spots so it won’t damage your bike, and a broad strap holds it in place. Commuters, who are most likely to mount it on the bars, will also like the fact you can plug a Serfas tail light into the same battery too, as well as charge USB powered devices (seriously!) like your phone, so you never have to stop playing Angry Birds.

Serfas TSL 2500 2
If you run the TSL-2500 on your bars, you can take advantage of the optional thumb switch too.

Unlike some lights we’ve used recently (such as the Exposure Diablo and Toro) there’s no programmability with the Serfas. Call us luddites, but we kind of like that simplicity – charge it up, bolt it on, blind the shit out of a mate, no fuss. Serfas include a remote switch with the light, which you can mount on your bars within easy reach of your thumb. We never saw a need to use it as it just added faff to the setup and the only time we changed light output modes was on smooth climbs or tarmac anyhow, otherwise it was full power. Again, for commuters or people who are going to leave the light in place for winter, the remote is a good idea.

There's no programmability with this light - just one simple button and four output levels. The button is illuminated and operates as a fuel gauge too, flashing red when you're running out of charge.
There’s no programmability with this light – just one simple button and four output levels. The button is illuminated and operates as a fuel gauge too, flashing red when you’re running out of charge.

[divider]Final thoughts?[/divider]

The light market is a crowded place now, full of dire, cheaply-made house fires in waiting, and the Serfas is obviously in a different league of quality to those cheapies. But that means it’s up against some stiff competition in the ‘serious’ light market. We’d like to see the helmet mount improved, and some weight shed from the battery ultimately, but if output, simplicity and obviously high-quality construction are your priorities in a light, then the Serfas TSL-2500 is a fine choice.

 

Tested: Bell Super 2R Helmet

The Bell Super 2R is the Enduro inspired cousin of the hugely popular Bell Super trail helmet.

The simple design, with a removable chin guard that attaches via three hinged clasps, has been embraced by Enduro racers and trail riders alike, giving riders two helmets in one.

Bell Super 2R 1

You’ve got the option either running it as an open-face, as a full-face, or carrying the chin guard with you in your pack so you can change it up mid-ride.

Without the chin guard, the Super 2R works like a normal Super.

The fit offers lots of protection down the back of your head, where traditional cross-country style helmets leave you more exposed.

With 23 vents plus four brow ports and a reasonable weight of 360g, it’s a comfy helmet on warmer days too.

Bell Super 2R 2

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Bell Super 2R 14

The chin guard has adjustable cheek pad thickness (via simple removable inserts) and we found it pretty comfortable overall. That being said, the chinguard does sit a little closer to your mouth than with either a traditional full-face or the MET Parachute that we tested recently. But unlike a traditional full-face, of course, you can whip the chin guard off for the climbs and restore all the breathing space you need. Even with the chin guard fitted, the helmet still weighs under 700g in a size medium, making it even lighter than the MET Parachute.

In terms of certifications, the Super 2R doesn’t attain the same levels of certification as Bell’s dedicated full-faces (or the MET Parachute). However, under MTBA rules it is certified for downhill competition use in MTBA sanctioned events in Australia under standard EN1078 / AU2063. That said, if we were racing downhill solely, we’d probably still opt for a meatier helmet. It’s worth noting too, that there is a MIPS version of this helmet available, for just a little more cash.

Removing the chinguard:

Attaching and removing the chin guard is completely tool-free, with three hinged clasps, that lock it into place. We’ve seen some riders attach their Super 2R guards in a couple of seconds, and while we’re not that speedy, the process is simple enough to do with your gloves on and without removing the helmet.

A few practice sessions on the couch and you’ll have it down! It doesn’t feel gimmicky or flimsy at all – the chin guard feels nice and robust, and the attachment is solid. It’s also light and small enough that carrying it around on a ride is actually viable.

Bell Super 2R Black 5

Bell Super 2R 15

When climbing, or not using the chinguard, the chinguard can be tightened down nicely onto the back of a hydration pack through its ventilation holes. Compared to a half-face or full-face lid strapped onto your back, there’s a lot less bulk, reducing the chance of something getting snagged out on the trail.

The top end Super 2R also features high grade safety features like MIPS and ICEdot.

Bell Super 2R Black 4

Bell Super 2R Black 1

Overall, the Bell Super 2R is a worthy of consideration for a variety of riders, regardless of whether you’re a keen Enduro racer looking for that extra security on the descents, or just someone looking for more protection to ride more technical trails.

We wouldn’t go as far as to throw away our full-faces yet, but if you don’t do downhill runs or need/want that much protection, the Super 2R is sensational both in terms of performance and value for money.

Tested: YT Industries Capra CF Comp 1

Like some kind of rampaging viking ship from across the seas, the YT Capra comes to Australia with a reputation for slaying its competitors in media and magazine reviews worldwide.

The 165mm travel Capra is one of only three frames in the YT catalogue, sitting in between their dirt jump hardtail and the monster Tues downhill bike. You may have seen the dirt hardtail flipping and spinning around wildly in the hands of the French Slopestyle madman Yannik Granieri. Or the Tues blowing up the internet underneath the heavyweights of the big mountain spectrum of the sport, Andreau Lacondeguy, Kelly McGarry and Cam Zink.

[divider]Who is YT?[/divider]

This German company is one of the world’s biggest direct-to-consumer bike brands, a concept which has certainly seen more popularity in Europe than in Australia so far. The allure of this shortened supply chain is its capability to really lower prices, and the Capra CF Comp 1 certainly delivers here. We asked YT Oceania a few questions about supply, warranty etc – jump to the bottom of this review for their response.

But there’s a lot more to a bike than what derailleur you get for your dollars – it’s how it rides that really matters.

YT Capra CF Comp 12
A whole new world, this is our first ever experience with the direct to consumer brand from Germany.
YT Capra CF Comp 5
The new kid on the block, and keen to make a good impression.

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

This bike grabs you round the throat and screams “ENDURO”, right in your face.

With a meaty 165mm of rear travel and geometry that puts you right ‘in’ the bike, the Capra really is targeted at your knee-pad-wearing rider who lives for the descents. Or at least that’s what appearances would have you believe – as we found out, the suspension is more efficient than an iPhone assembly worker when the boss is in town, so it’s pretty handy on the climbs too.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 1

[divider]The frame[/divider]

The Capra is available in both aluminium and carbon versions, with Australian pricing kicking off at $4099 for the base model, up to $6699 for the CF Race, which looks darn near un-upgradable. Interestingly, the two top tier models which run BOS suspension both score a few mills more travel, with 170mm, versus the 160mm found throughout the rest of the range.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 3
Fresh looks, clean lines and finished with a neat paint job.

YT claim a weight of 2400g (without shock) for their beautifully formed carbon monocoque frame, and aside from the fact there’s no bottle mounts, you’d be a very fussy prick to find fault with it. The chain stays are the only aluminium frame member, with the remainder of the frame formed in chunky, Robocop kind of carbon shapes.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 34

Cables are whisked away out of site like a drunk uncle at a kids’ birthday party –it’s all handled very neatly, with an internally routed Reverb dropper. The bottom bracket is of the press-fit variety, and it remained thankfully creak-free during our testing.

While we doubt anyone will do so, you can actually fit a front derailleur to the Capra, just bolt on the removable derailleur mount. The rear brake mount will only accept 180mm rotors or larger, ideal for slowing this German sled down when you get too excited (which is going to happen).

[divider]Geometry[/divider]

The Capra’s side profile carries plenty of menace, with the head angle laid back at 65.5 degrees. Restoring the balance, so to speak, is a steep 75 degree seat angle, which feels just perfect once the bike is at its sag point. YT say it’s ‘an ideal climbing position’. Look, yes and no. You are right over the bottom bracket, which is great for a bunch of reasons, but you still can’t hide a 65.5 degree head angle and 50mm stem!

YT Capra CF Comp 14
With so much traction and slack angles, it’s not afraid of the faster but rougher line options.

The common theme with bikes in this category is to match a long front end with a tight little behind. With chain stays of 430mm, the Capra follows suit, which keeps things lively and prevents the bike from feeling too stuck to the ground.

[divider]Suspension[/divider]

YT call their take on the four-bar linkage ‘V4L’, or Virtual 4 Link (hooray for TLAs). It’s a really well tuned four-bar system that does everything on paper that you could ask for; the spring curve is aggressively supple off the top, with a very linear mid-stroke and then a pretty pronounced ramp-up right at the end.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 36
The V4L linkage gives the Capra its ultra progressive last portion of travel.

It all happily translates from paper to the trail too. It took a few rides to get the setup just right; the firmness of the end-stroke was a little too much until we dropped the pressures to give us just over 30% sag.

The RockShox Monarch Plus has three very useable compression adjustments, we spent the majority of the time riding in the softer setting, and would use the middle option on flatter trails while the firmest was only used on the smoothest climbs or the road. The suspension really is very efficient under pedalling indeed.

The arrangement of the suspension linkage is unconventional. Normally we see brands going for wider and wider spaced bearing placement with their linkages, but the Capra tucks the shock link inside the frame. It keeps it all away from your knees, and it certainly isn’t to the detriment of the bike’s stiffness.

[divider]Spec highlights and lowlights[/divider]

Wheels:

The E13 wheels look a bit under-gunned in this bike, but they’re built very well and must be up the job as our set are still 100% true. Something wider could be an option as an upgrade down the line.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 33
The e*thirteen rear hub is super loud, love it or loathe it.

You’re going to love or hate the rear hub, depending on which side of the ‘listen to how expensive my hub is’ argument you sit on. It’s very, very loud.

Drivetrain:

SRAM’s X1 drivetrain is just perfect. On the Capra it’s matched to Raceface cranks, and an E13 top-mount chain guide is added for extra security, which we commend.

Comfy contact points:

Extra-long Sensus grips provide plenty of friction in the wet, and the shape of the SDG Duster saddle is really comfy too.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 31
Big fans of the Sensus grips.

Maximum drop:

YT have opted for the 150mm-travel version of the RockShox Reverb. On the positive side, you can get your saddle miles out of the way. However, for riders with shorter legs, it might be impossible to get the saddle low enough when the post is at maximum extension. Shorter test riders had the post just about as far down as it would go in the frame. Some were borderline needing a smaller frame size, but the top tube length on the medium was perfect.

It’s not a frame sizing issue, just a potential consideration with the overall seatpost length.

Big rotors:

200mm rotors front and back! Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for whiplash baby, not even many downhill bikes run big frisbees like this at both ends. There’s a heap of power, and you won’t ever cook them, but 180mm rotors would save a bit of weight and add some clearance if that’s your thing.

Pike:

YT specced the Capra with the top-end version of the Pike, and it feels to us like they’ve even had it custom tuned to suit the bike’s rear suspension too. We didn’t pull the top cap off the fork, but it felt super progressive, which meant we ran less pressure than usual.

YT Ind Capra CF Comp 35
Top spec RockShox Pike, with slow speed compression adjustment, and three-stage lockout.

[divider]Ride impressions[/divider]

Singletrack manners:

Getting over the front and showing those tyre side-knobs just who’s the commander of the ship is the way to get the most out of the Capra, especially when the trails are mellow. It’s easy to become a passenger on a bike like this, so getting over the bars is the way to ride or you’ll find the front wheel doing its own thing.

YT Capra CF Comp 18
Woooohooooo!

For a big bike, it’s still pretty zippy. The wheels are light, the tyres fast rolling, and the rear hub engages really quickly. Keeping the rear shock in its middle compression setting in the singletrack just adds to the liveliness too.

Climbing: 

Plenty has been written about the surprising efficiency of the Capra when climbing and we have to agree. You’ve got to be a real masher and have your weight right over the back before you’ll get the Capra to squat and sag like some other long-travel bikes do routinely.

If you’re relaxed and concentrate on keeping that front wheel from wandering, then it climbs pretty damn nicely.

If your riding involves a lot of tighter, technical climbs, having 10mm more length on the stem could help. Either that, or a travel-adjustable fork, but that’s a big investment.

A flick of the RockShox Monarch’s switch, and you’ll be able to firm the rear suspension up to your liking, and where the shock is positioned in the frame reaching for the lever is quick and easy.

Descending: 

The Capra charges the descents hard. Every aspect of the Capra aligns to make it feel stable and confident, its super-slack angles and massive cockpit promote you to stay off the brakes and to pin it.

YT Capra CF Comp 15
The faster the better.

For riders like us, who’ve largely stayed away from pure downhill bikes these past few years, the Capra has descending performance that is akin to (or better than) the full-on downhill bikes we regularly rode just a few years ago. Accordingly you need to ride it hard and keep the speeds high for it to really shine – to make the most of its intentions you really need to give it some curry.

It took a few rides to get into the swing of it. Muscle it, get on the front, slam it. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself being taken for a ride, rather than doing the riding yourself!

The suspension is built to keep the bike stable at downhill speeds, and it takes a lot to get to the bottom of the travel in general riding. It was only on the hardest of impacts that we felt it bottom out, both the front and rear suspension are mighty progressive!

[divider]Alternate options[/divider]

It’s a good time for these 160mm-ish bikes. The highly competitive market is booming with great options, and the enduro thing is very on trend right now. We’ve ridden and rated many great options lately, from Specialized, Trek, Norco, Giant, Polygon and Pivot.

[divider]Delivery[/divider]

The Capra landed on our doorstep in a box, but not your typical bike box at all. Inside was a bike that had been assembled fully, and then partially disassembled to reduce the steps needed before riding. Wheels on, handlebars on, pedals in, set up the suspension and you’re good to go.

IMG_0251
Bike in box, not from a showroom.

YT make it pretty easy for you, with detailed instructions like the sample below, so depending on your competency level with mechanical ability, this could be a blessing or a real headache.

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 4.32.49 pm

Shipping is an additional $200 for Australia and $100 for NZ on top of the bike price, which isn’t a small sum, but the overall value of these bikes is pretty bloody good all the same. At the end of the day, it’s about weighing up the pros and cons of buying a bike from a shop or not.

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

If you’ve got the pace, the Capra will have your back. Really, the Capra is about as good as it gets in the hands of a capable rider; it’ll descend like mad and won’t rob you up climb, and they’ve nailed the balance of efficiency to bombing ability nicely.

But, the geometry is very slack, and you will need to ride the front end a lot when you’re not up to much speed, but you can get used to that. We wouldn’t call it a single-minded bike, because it climbs too well, but it does require the right attitude. Aggro, fast, unafraid – eyes down the trail, not worrying about what’s happening directly beneath your wheels.

The direct-to-consumer model could be a stumbling block for some consumers, particularly those who aren’t all that savvy with bike setup. Having said that it’d certainly proven and successful in the US and European markets, and if YT can nail the support side of things locally we think it’ll take off.

YT Capra CF Comp 16 YT Capra CF Comp 7

 


 

[divider]How does the direct to consumer model work?[/divider]

You won’t find a YT on bike shop showroom floors, you’ll need to click to the internet to buy one online. The upsides of the direct to consumer model are pretty obvious, the bike bypasses an Australian wholesaler, and a retailer and lands on your doorstep. The price is great, but there are certainly upsides and downsides to all this.

We asked YT Industries Oceania’s Solon Payne a few of the questions that we’d ask if considering a purchase.

– Where are they shipped from?

For our market (Australia & New Zealand) and the United States bikes are assembled in Taiwan. For the European market YT’s are assembled in Germany. The quality of assemble in Taiwan is excellent and YT have their own staff on site to ensure the highest quality standards are met on every assembly run.

All our YT bikes are fully assembled and tuned as you would expect from any professional retail outlet, the bikes are than partly disassembled and packed into a custom YT bike box. – YT Oceania

As a customer all parts of the re-assembly are labelled and the process is straight forward, essentially a YT is ready to ride in 10 minutes out of the box. In our start-up year for Oceania all our bikes are warehoused in Auckland, New Zealand, and dis-patched to customers throughout New Zealand and Australia. This is by no means economic for us but is an essential starting point for the introduction of YT into Oceania. Plans are now well under-way for us to establish warehousing in Australia as well.

– Warranty terms.

YT provide a 3 year warranty.

– Where can a consumer take a YT for a warranty inspection?

For OEM parts we now have a great network of independent service technicians and bike shops throughout both countries that we direct customers to.

If there is a suspected issue with the frame our customers only need to box the frame and we arrange collection. – YT Oceania

In Australia our first warranty partner is in Brisbane and in New Zealand the frame would be sent to us in Taupo. Both warranty centres hold spare parts and although we are yet to be tested we feel our turn around time and service to customers is un-questionable.

– Is there plans for a demo fleet, tour, or any try before you buy program?

Absolutely, we will have a full demo fleet early 2016 and we have been and still are scoping venues for demo days. As we are online and direct displaying bikes and giving people the opportunity to experience how great YT’s are, is essential. Our only challenge is…. Australia is so “flamin” huge, New Zealand is easy in comparison.

– Will there be recommended service centres?

We already have a great network of independent service technicians and bike shops throughout both countries that we direct customers to. We are also working on a new website for Day Zero that will list our service centres and provide more regional specific information.


 

Tested: Pivot Mach 6 Carbon

The best laid plans of mice and men. Our original plan for this gorgeous Pivot Mach 6 was to race it at the first round of this year’s EWS  series in Rotorua; we had the frame kitted out with Shimano’s finest, we’d done the training, we’d colour matched our gloves and helmet… but it wasn’t to be.

Some rather ordinary riding during the very first day of practice led to a free trip in an ambulance to Rotorua ER, a busted wrist, wounded pride and the world’s cheapest paracetamol.


Pivot Mach 6 48
Hubba hubba, a carbon Pivot!
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With our original plan out the window, the test had to wait. Long weeks passed as the curvaceous beauty sat immaculately at Flow HQ, begging to be ridden, but when the time came, the Pivot didn’t disappoint.

We make no apologies for our ongoing love affair with Pivot bikes. Ever since the original release of the Mach 4, we’ve been impressed by the brand’s singleminded commitment to excellent engineering. Chris Cocalis, the brand’s founder, is an uncompromising kind of guy, and it shows in the bikes.

Pivot Mach 6 33
Fast and rocky terrain, for days.

[divider]Who is it for?[/divider]

The Mach 6 is a true all-mountain bike, big on travel, but equally big on efficiency. There are some stellar XC/trail bikes in the Pivot range, so if you’re looking for a cross-country bike then the extraordinary Mach 4 Carbon or Mach 429SL are going to be a better all-round option. That said, the Mach 6 must be one of the most easy-to-live-with long-travel bikes out there. Yes all that travel is a bit isolating on smoother trails, but the bike’s ability to turn your efforts into forward motion are near unparalleled in this category, which gives it excellent versatility.

Given the bike’s price, it’s fair to say that it’s aimed at a rider who knows what they’re after and appreciates the finer points of its construction and performance. And it takes a rider who knows a thing or two about setup to get the most out of the bike.

Pivot Mach 6 45
155mm of DW-Link travel, about as smooth and efficient as they come.

[divider]The Frame[/divider]

When you look at the Pivot lineup, there’s a real mix of bikes that have recently been overhauled and are totally up to speed with modern trends (such as the 429SL, 429 Trail and Phoenix Carbon) and others that are definitely due for a refresh (like the 26″ Mach 5.7 and the Firebird).

The Mach 6 kind of sits in the middle – it’s been in its current format for a couple of years, and is up-t0-date in terms of it 27.5″ wheel size and other frame features, but we’re sure a refresh is in the pipeline to give it the same flawless cable routing and other improvements we’ve recently seen on other Pivot bikes.

Pivot make a lot of noise about their high compression carbon construction techniques, which they say delivers class leading strength to weight ratios and a flawless internal finish to their frames. We can’t really comment on this as we didn’t think hacksawing the bike into pieces would do down well, but we can tell you that it’s a beautifully presented bike. The logos are a little overdone, but the paintwork is splendid.

The semi-internal cables are the only blight on the bike’s otherwise luscious appearance; given the level of thought that has gone into the rest of the bike, they seem poorly executed. Where the cables exit above the shock, they bow considerably when the suspension compresses. The Mach 6 did comes with a fastener to secure the cables to the linkage and away from the frame, but it proved fragile and when this broke off mid-ride there was no way to stop the cable rubbing the seat tube leaving a nasty gouge in just one ride.

Riders will need to be careful to ensure cables and carbon do not meet.

Riders will be divided about water bottle mount placement under the downtube. You can run a bottle, but expect a mouth full of grit, otherwise use a pack, which is what most riders will do.

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Geometry:

Pivot have taken an approach to the Mach 6’s geometry that is not common in mountain biking – the head angle of their frame actually varies across the frame sizes, getting steeper in the bigger sizes. Our large test bike has a 66.25 degree head angle, while the seat tube is a very relaxed 72.3 degrees, a couple of degrees slacker than many bikes in this category. We needed to shunt the seat rails right forward in the post clamp to get a comfy climbing position.

At 607mm, the top tube length is shorter than the most recent crop of bikes in this category. By way of comparison the Giant Reign measures up a full 33mm longer, the Norco Range 13mm longer.

All these figures paint the picture of a bike that is much more of an all-round trail machine than an hell for leather Enduro descending machine.

Suspension:

This is an area where Pivots have always shone, and the Mach 6 doesn’t so much react to the terrain as float above it.

The DW Link system found on the Mach 6 is used on all Pivot dual suspension bikes, and its hallmark pedalling efficiency really shines in a longer travel application like this.

Suspension setup is aided by a sag indicator that comes zip-tied to the shock air can, and as with all Pivots the bike is highly sensitive to getting the sag just right – they stipulate a strict 30% sag for the Mach 6. Get it right and you’re rewarded with a remarkably stable, buttery, predictable suspension feel.

If you’re coming from a cross-country background this might seem a little soft, but with the excellent pedalling traits the Pivot possesses, it’s perfect. We did play with firming the suspension up, but we think that Pivot have it spot on with their recommendation.

Pivot Mach 6 8
Two short linkages join the front and rear ends of the frame. The DW-Link is superb in all areas.
Pivot Mach 6 19
The short and stout aluminium lower link.

The shock is a custom tuned FOX Float X and it delivers 155mm of travel. As we’ve noted in the past, getting at the rebound dial on this shock requires fingers like a 3 year old or the use of an Allen key / stick, but it’s an insane performer.

Using the shock’s CTD lever was more a matter of habit that necessity, as the bike pedals beautifully. Few bikes with this supple, forgiving, magic-cloud kind of a ride can give you efficiency like this. Pivot have nailed the ‘bottomless’ suspension feel that so many brands preach about too, and you get all of it 155mm without feeling like it’s falling towards a nasty bottom out.

Pivot Mach 6 23
Flow favourite, the FOX Float X rear shock.

[divider]Build Kit[/divider]

Our bike was assembled with a custom build kit provided by Shimano Australia, so it’s a little different to what you’d get off the shelf.

Slick, crisp drivetrain:

The all-new, mechanical, 11 speed XTR, with an 11-40 cassette proved to be an excellent setup for aggressive trail riding. Paired with the RaceFace cranks and 30 tooth narrow/wide chainring we were geared up for just about anything.

With the bike’s very low travel to weight ratio and efficient suspension, the low gear range made even the biggest of fire road drags manageable, whilst the slightly smaller gaps between 11-40 as opposed to SRAM’s 10-42 cassette meant shifting up or down a gear didn’t affect cadence quite as much. We found this particularly useful when out of the saddle, reacting to slight ups and downs out on the trail, as we were able to maintain the required power at the right cadence, with less of that clunky feeling you can get when you shift into a gear that’s either marginally too low or too high.

Balanced suspension:

The 150mm RockShox Pike up front worked an absolute treat. It’s become the norm here at Flow (for the chubbier riders among us anyway) to slip in an extra volume spacer and then drop the air pressure a smidge. This benefits the fork’s (and in turn, the bike’s) performance enormously, as the fork is incredibly supple off the top and into mid-stroke, before ramping up dramatically. After we’d set up the rear end, and applied our usual settings to the Pike, the bike felt well balanced despite the rear end having slightly more travel.

Skinny wheels:

As circumstances had it, the only wheels on hand for the Pivot build were Shimano XT in their slimmer cross country guise. Given the walloping this bike can take, that wasn’t the best choice. The narrow and light rims aren’t the best choice for a bike like this and the rear wheel did come away looking a little worse for wear with a wobble like sailor a port.

You can read more about the bike’s build in our preview article, which you can find here: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/flows-rotorua-ews-dreambike-pivot-mach-6/

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Corners, skids and singletrack:

The way the Pivot plays with the trail makes it a real standout in this category. Short chain stays and suspension that doesn’t suck your pedalling efforts away make it a responsive ride, easy to flick the front end about, something that was aided on our bike by the light wheels.

Pivot Mach 6 30
Giving the rocky trails of Sydney a good nudge.

Because of the DW Link’s supple, active ride under power, the Pivot encourages you to get on the gas more, pedalling through terrain that would have other bikes skipping about. In these instances we really appreciated the 1×11 drivetrain, as we were less worried about the chain jumping off than we’d have been with twin rings.

Descending:

The Pivot is smooth, pacy, but not rowdy descender, more float like a butterfly than sting like a bee.

The way the suspension is configured, it stays lively and light, not simply steamrolling the trail.

Super aggressive riders will notice the shorter reach and wheelbase of the Mach 6, and it has less high-speed ploughing confidence than a pure Enduro bike, but you can put it where you want to – you’re the pilot, not a passenger on this bike.

You could opt to run a 160mm fork instead of the stock 150mm, for a slacker head angle, but we think that wouldn’t be playing to this bike’s strengths.

Pivot Mach 6 35
Getting on the gas during descents is a real highlight.

The rear suspension is really a standout, carrying momentum like crazy. If anything, its performance encourages you to ride the rear wheel harder than normal, which could have been a factor in our wobbly rim! Speaking of the rear end, the Mach 6 definitely exhibits a bit more flex out back than we’re accustomed to seeing from Pivot. It’s not enough to make the bike nervous, but giving it a shunt into a corner produces a bit of twang.

Climbing: 

The Pivot loves the descents, but pedalling is where the bike really shines. Even with 30% sag, unless we were climbing on the tarmac or a prolonged fire road, we didn’t change the shock settings at all. Mashing away out of the saddle the Pivot would bob to a small degree, but for regular seated climbing the suspension was incredibly efficient.

Pivot Mach 6 28
No sacrifices, the Mach 6’s climbing ability is too good.

The climbing traction is pretty sensational too. On loose, technical climbs, it’ll just keep gripping and powering up – the High Roller II tyres didn’t hurt in this regard either, they’ll find grip just about anywhere.

[divider]Alternatives[/divider]

While the Pivot is a bit of a unique proposition in many regards, the Norco Range offers a pretty similar kind of ride quality. Both bikes are big on travel and suspension performance, but don’t go to the same extremes of geometry and descending focus as some others in this category. Compared to the Norco, the Pivot does have the edge in terms of efficiency and suspension performance. On the other hand, the Norco is considerably cheaper and it’s a seriously polished machine for the money.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Pivot is an absolute animal of an all-mountain bike. For a bike that is so light, and can be ridden all day no problems, it does a good job if you’re going out to do some shuttles or hammer through a technical Enduro. Despite this, as the test went on we felt more and more like the Pivot was a long travel trail bike, rather than an out and out Enduro race bike.

Bikes like the YT Capra or the Giant Reign are going to be better if serious Enduro is your bag, whereas The Pivot feels more like it embraces all situations on the trail, with no favouring of any particular riding style.

Pivot Mach 6 37
All-mountain, anywhere you want. The Mach 6 will efficiently take you there.

For the type of terrain we see a lot of in Australia, and particularly our local Sydney trails, the Pivot is absolutely perfect. It’s a bike that you can take out on almost any type of trail and have a good time. It’s a bike that you could race cross country on one day, and enter an Enduro on the next.

For these reasons, we see the Pivot as one of the premier all-mountain bikes available on the market today. Yes, we have some quibbles (like the cable routing) but it’s a bike that could potentially replace multiple other bikes in the garage, and still give you just as much enjoyment out on the trail.

Pivot Mach 6 49
Hot.

Tested: MET Parachute

The original MET Parachute can lay claim to being one of the first ‘Enduro’ specific helmets on the market, with its detachable chin guard. For better or worse, these helmets were barely seen in Australia (thanks to our perplexing helmet standards regulations), but the latest iteration of the Parachute is here and it’s ready to rumble with the new school Enduro crowd.


 

MET Parachute 1

Unlike the original Parachute, which took a two-helmets-in one approach to protection (just like the Bell Super 2R), the new Parachute is an ultra-minimalist full face – the chin guard is not removable despite appearing as if it is – with an emphasis on ventilation and low weight. In the world of Enduro racing and technical all-mountain riding, there’s definitely a need to maximise protection, but wearing a full-blown full-face helmet is too much of a hindrance for many to live with. The Parachute aims to make full-face protection possible without all the usual downsides.

What’s truly impressive is that the Parachute passes all the same standards/certifications as every other ‘regular’ full-face approved for downhill riding on the market

MET call it a ‘utopian dream’ which sounds a bit bat-shit mental, but what’s truly impressive is that the Parachute passes all the same standards/certifications as every other ‘regular’ full-face approved for downhill riding on the market! So, from a safety perspective, it all hunky-dory, yet it weighs 400g less.

MET Parachute 10
At only 700g, the Parachute is around 400g lighter than most full-face helmets.

At just 700g, it’s about twice the weight of the type of all-mountain open-face helmets that are popular with Enduro riders, but around 400g lighter than an average ‘regular’ full-face helmet. But it’s not just lightweight, it’s also exceptionally well ventilated, both around the mouth and over the top of the head – you definitely never get that ‘head in a sauna feeling’ of a conventional full face. We found the breathability of the Parachute to be sensational. All the padding is removable, which is not only good from a stink perspective, but the cheek pads clip in/out using simple press-studs, so it’s really easy to remove them on long climbs to improve the ventilation even more.

The goggle strap clip is a handy addition, and the adjustable retention system is easy to use and gave us a really secure fit. As we noted in our piece a few weeks back, the D-ring closure for the chin strap seems at odds with the convenience of the helmet overall – in operation it wasn’t a problem, but we’d still prefer a standard chin strap buckle. The styling definitely has a touch of Batman about it and won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but once it’s on you can’t see it anyhow.

MET Parachute 6
Goggle strap. Man ponytail not included.

Is it a versatile enough helmet for us to consider trading in our open-face lids? Not for us personally, but we think that many people will, particularly if their riding involves taking it easy on the climbs and smashing the descents. For some people, the risk of damaging their teeth or face is too big to ignore, and that’s a fair call to make. The Parachute gives those riders an option to feel protected without having to ride with their head in a world of sweaty claustrophobia.

Overall, the MET Parachute is an option worthy of consideration for the keen Enduro racer or even the trail rider looking for a little bit more protection.

Tested: Exposure Diablo Mk6 Light

When we were getting into mountain biking, back in the nineties, we used to do the occasional night ride with a guy who would literally carry a torch in his mouth. We are not making this shit up.

To the best of our knowledge he dodged a bullet, and the Darwin Award-worthy disaster that would’ve followed a faceplant never eventuated. We only mention this story because the mouth-mounted torch system, like the Diablo Mk6 we’re testing here, was totally self-contained without an external battery. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end.


Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 7

[divider]What’s it all about?[/divider]

As the name suggests, this is the sixth iteration of the Diablo, and it’s a highly evolved piece of kit now. Weighing just 140g, and around the same size as your average Toad Fish (uninflated), the Diablo is remarkable small given it contains all the battery power and circuitry need to pump out 1300 lumens for an hour and the impressive number of features it boasts.

Cord-free design… no cords to snag on low-flying fruit bats, no saggy pockets, and no need for a pack.

The unit comes with both bar and helmet mounts; it’s a super popular light with roadies as a bar-mount, using a simple o-ring and bracket to affix it,  but for us the real appeal of this light is whacking it on your melon. On of the accepted annoyances of night riding is that a helmet mounted light will leave you with a cord dangling down your back, and that you have to cart the battery around in either a jersey pocket (often leading to Saggy Pocket Syndrome) or in a hydration pack. The Diablo, with its Cord Free design, rids you of these issues; no cords to snag on low-flying fruit bats, no saggy pockets, and no need for a pack.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 6
The helmet mount slots into a vent, with two halves secured by a plastic bolt. Care needs to be taken not to over tighten it.

The helmet mount is neat, with a ball joint offering stacks of adjustment to get the beam angle right. The mount is formed from two halves, which slot into a helmet vent. A plastic bolt secures the two halves, and you need to be careful not to over-tighten it as the thread can be easily damaged. While a plastic thread is a bit poxy,  we understand why it’s used – you wouldn’t want a steel bolt pointing directly at your skull in the event of a crash. Helmets which have vents running down the centre work best, otherwise you’ll need to mount the light off centre, which is less than ideal.

[divider]I’d TAP that[/divider]

Simply tap the light anywhere and a bunch of accelerometers and magic voodoo changes the mode.

Exposure have used the Diablo to debut their new TAP system (Tap Activated Power). Essentially, you don’t need to find the button to toggle between output modes, you simply tap the light anywhere and a bunch of accelerometers and magic voodoo changes the mode. On our first ride, the system drove us crazy. We didn’t read the instructions (especially the bit about TAP mode not being suitable for bar-mounted use) and so every time we hit a bump the light output changed! We subsequently read up and realised that TAP mode is meant for you helmet (fewer violent bumps) and that you can adjust the sensitivity so that a more forceful tap is required to trigger a change in mode. You can also turn the TAP system off entirely.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 1
Small, and highly programmable. The list of program options is displayed on the light body.

[divider]Many (maybe too many) modes[/divider]

Choosing our preferred program proved involved more button clicking, flashing lights and confusion than we’d have liked.

Speaking of modes, the light offers considerable customisation; in its stock form you have three output settings which will give you one, three and six hours of burn time respectively. But all up there are eight separate programs to choose from each offering you different combos of output/burn times, which is more than most people will ever need, but will be appreciated by those who need longer burn times, such as at a 24hr race. In general, we like to keep things simple, and our night rides rarely last for more than an hour and a half. With that in mind, we decided we want to use program number four, which has just two modes, offering one and three hours of burn time.

It may just be that we lack patience, but choosing our preferred program proved involved more button clicking, flashing lights and confusion than we’d have liked. The same goes for setting up the TAP sensitivities – there’s a fair bit of button pressing, holding and flash counting involved. We needed to run through the programming process a number of times too for some reason.

Options for customisation are a positive, but make sure you’re not distracted or in a hurry when you sit down to get your light set up to your preferences. Thankfully there are good video tutorials on the Exposure site and we think most people will never even bother to play with all the program options, or they’ll just set and forget.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 2
The bar mount is a simple bracket secured with an o-ring. We think this light’s wasted on a bar, and prefer it on our heads.

[divider]Convenience vs burn times[/divider]

We don’t want to bang on about the light’s size too much (though it really is a highlight) but we love the fact this light is small enough to stick in your pocket as a just-in-case light. In the shorter winter months, it’s easy to find yourself inadvertently finishing a ride in the dark, and with the light barely bigger than a 32g CO2 canister you can throw it in a jersey pocket as a precaution.

The ultimate setup, we think, would be two Diablos – bugger all weight, no cords and 2600 lumens of juice.

With the light’s size there are some understandable compromises with burn time and output. At full juice (1300 lumens) you’ll get an hour of run time. As such, you need to get into the habit of toggling down the power when it’s not needed. Thankfully you can keep an eye on the remaining power – the function/mode button glows green/orange/red to let you know how much is left in the tank. In terms of the output, perhaps we’ve just become accustomed to the plethora of bazillion-lumen bike-mounted suns that are on the market now, because even at full power we still preferred to pair the Diablo with a second, bar-mounted for riding technical trails fast. The ultimate setup, we think, would be two Diablos – bugger all weight, no cords and 2600 lumens of juice.

Flow Exposure Diablo Mk6 5
The function button also serves as a battery life indicator.

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

If you’re happy with trading burn-time and sheer power for convenience, size and super lightweight night riding, then the Diablo really is the cat’s pyjamas. As we’ve stated, it’s probably over featured for most people, but the technology involved in fitting such impressive performance into this little fellas is astounding. And the pricing is pretty damn keen too. For riders like us, who tend to ride for shorter periods at night and who love being free of pack, the Diablo is a dream.

 

Tested: Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie

3″ tyres on mountain bikes. Yes, ‘semi fat’ is now officially a thing. Get used to it, we’ll be seeing ‘semi fat’ bikes popping up a lot as we roll toward 2016. The new standard will surely provoke heated discussions and much throwing of hands in the air. But for now we’ll cast all opinions aside, and get to the bottom of it all the only way we know how. Let’s ride.

Specialized made their semi-fat intentions pretty clear, getting behind the 27.5+ new wheel standard earlier than most of the big guns, by announcing that both a men’s and women’s range of dual suspension and hardtail 6Fatties will be available soon.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 14
When you have this much traction, nothing holds you back.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 11
Doesn’t look too odd from afar, but riding one is certainly a different story.

[divider]What is 6Fattie?[/divider]

Put simply, a 6Fattie bike uses whopping 3″ tyres on 650b diameter wheels with extra wide rims.

Some current 29″ bikes with enough tyre clearance may be able to accept 6Fattie wheels, but a bike built specifically around the massive tyres will work best. Because of the chunky rubber, there are many other width related constraints that bike designers need to get around – things like wider fork crowns and chain line clearance. What comes with all this width is the need for a wider hub spacing; on the Fuse the front hub width goes from the usual 100 to 110mm and the rear hub from 142 to 148mm. Part of the industry calls it ‘Boost’ hub spacing (originally introduced by Trek to stiffen up 29″ rear wheels) and will be widely adopted by these new semi fat and 29″ bikes in 2016 and major component manufactures too.

Such big tyres give you a larger contact patch with the ground, and the massive volume lets you run lower tyre pressures. All this does is lift the traction to unheard of levels.

Keep the pressures low to make the most of the mighty tyre volume.
Keep the pressures low to make the most of the mighty tyre volume.

[divider]Who is this bike for? [/divider]

If we forget all the tech mumbo jumbo and controversy, 6Fattie is just a new twist on the mountain bike, not designed to make it race faster or longer, but to make it more fun. And take a look at this thing – it does look fun; massive rubber, a relatively long-travel fork (120mm, big for a hardtail), wide bars, tiny 45mm stem and a dropper post. It’s pretty clear that this bike is not designed to climb anything in a hurry, but is all about grip, control, and confidence when most hardtails would be ejecting you out the front door.

At just under $3000, it’s not an entry-level price point, and you could of course buy a dual suspension bike for the same kind of money. Who then is the bike designed for? Someone who isn’t interested in racing (except maybe in the desert), someone who doesn’t want the complications of a dual suspension bike, and someone who is looking for something a little bit different. It would make the perfect second bike to accompany either an XC race machine or long-travel all-mountain bike, as it’s a far cry from either of these categories.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 2
The new Diamond Stay Design.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 22
Wheel removal is by Allen key only, but it is very tidy back there.
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[divider]The frame[/divider]

This aluminium frame, covered in glossy bright paint, is a sleek and clean number with a few key features to accommodate 6Fattie wheels, with the most obvious being the chainstay. To give adequate tyre and chainring clearance, without resorting to an overly long chain stay, the drive side chain stay splits into two. It’s dubbed the ‘Diamond Stay Design’ and with it. Specialized are able to bring the rear end to a tight and zippy 430mm.

One of the nicest butts in the business, the Fuse borrows its mighty fine dropouts from the Stumpjumper hardtail line, with no quick release skewer in favour of a flush Allen key-only axle. The rear brake is also tucked away cleanly, mounting on the inside of the rear triangle.

[divider]Spec highlights[/divider]

The Fuse Expert 6Fattie uses a bit of an odd mix of components in its burly build kit. We actually struggled to decide whether or not it represents good value; some of the components do seem a bit basic, but we guess they’re kind of offset by the wheels/tyres which are still super rare. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts.

Drivetrain: The drivetrain is funky mix, with Specialized Stout cranks with a 30-tooth narrow-wide chain ring matched to a Sun Race 11-40 10-speed cassette. It’s all hooked up to a new SRAM GX derailleur and X9 shifter. The gear range is fine, even if the jumps between gears are fairly large. We didn’t drop the chain, but it did make a lot of noise as the chain runs super close to the chain stay.

Rolling gear: WTB’s Scraper i45 rims are tubeless ready, and their massive 45mm wide rims gave the 3″ tyres the support they needed to be ridden hard at low pressure. The tyres themselves are lighter than you’d expect, at just under a kilogram each – a lot lighter than 3″ tyres of yesteryear! The wheels are responsible for a lot of this bike’s weight, so we’d naturally suggest they would be worth upgrading in the future to drop grams, but obviously that’s an expensive proposition and not an easy one as this kind of gear is still very unique.

SRAM Guide R brakes: For a base model brake, the SRAM Guide R stoppers felt like we’d just taken them off a high end bike. They’re powerful and smooth under the finger, good work SRAM.
Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 44

Manitou Magnum fork: The Manitou Magnum Comp fork was just ok.  Whilst not really holding the bike back too much, its somewhat clunky feel was fortunately hidden by the low pressure/big tyre volume nature of the wheels which smooth out the smaller bumps the fork missed. But to get your front wheel on and off, you’ll need to have a lot of patience – this fork axle is the dumbest system we’ve ever encountered, more intelligence test than bike feature!

The Manitou fork’s quick release axle however was remarkably frustrating, we challenge anyone to figure it out, without swearing.

[divider]Ride impressions[/divider]

This was our very first ride on a 27.5+ bike, and it sure did feel different to anything we’ve had on test before. The closest we can relate this to would be the 29+ Surly Krampus with 29×3″ tyres. But the Surly was a bit of a boat on the trails, and quite hefty, whereas the Fuse is a fair bit more lively.

Singletrack manners: With so much rubber on the ground we expected a fairly sedate ride in the singletrack, but the experience was less of a drag than we expected (Get it? Drag?). Besides the obvious effort required to accelerate the wheels and the occasional rotational effects on the steering, the weight of the wheels wasn’t too much of a handful.

One of the reasons the bike feels surprisingly quick is because you don’t have to actually slow down too often – there’s so much cornering grip that you can carry great speed in the turns. Aiding this is the low bottom bracket (very low, crank bashingly low), which helps with cornering even more. Imagine sprinting at a loose corner, staying off the brakes and making the turn with your feet up – it’s a possibility with such a massive contact patch, the grip is inconceivable. Cornering on grass was like nothing else, you could almost scrub your bars when tearing around on a football field!

Tyre pressure choice is vital and running around 15 psi in the tyres (perhaps a little less in the front, and firmer out the back) we found that sweet spot for our 70kg rider weight. We tried to roll the tyres around on the rim by deliberately pushing it hard sideways, but there was no squirming or burping whatsoever. Our rear wheel was a little out of dish though, and rubbed on the drive side chainstay when cranking hard on the pedals, though a few minutes with a spoke key could pull it over to the other side a few millimeters and stop the buzzing.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 15
SO MUCH GRIP! What do do with it all?

We expected it to have shit loads of grip, and it sure did. With so much traction, we could go anywhere we wanted to!

Descending and bombing about: The Fuse is built only for fun, and it makes no secret that is why it exists. Why else would you have a hardtail with a 120mm fork, dropper post and a short stem? It’s aimed to rip, not to race.

It loves to wheelie, manual and bomb through rough trails with a certain amount of exuberance and courage, really helped by the short 430mm rear end. And being a hard tail, the lack of rear suspension adds to the excitement and engages you with the trail, but the massive tubeless tyres let you do so without the risk of a flat tyre or unpredicted wash out.

With the seatpost dropped you can really let it hang out on the descents. We bombed our way down some lines that we’ve looked at twice on 150mm-travel duallies! It lands hard from big drops like any rigid rear ended bike would, but the big tyre takes the sting out of impacts and you land with more of a manageable thud.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 8Climbing: The Fuse is obviously not built for long, draggy climbs, but on technical or loose pinches it’s pretty inspiring! Rough and loose lines became achievable, and without any rear suspension to squat and rob you of pedal power, it would lurch forward and claw its way up rocky ledges like no other bike out there. A lighter version of this bike would kick some butt on those loose, scrappy climbs.

Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie 19
Bombing rocky trails on the Fuse was great. All the excitement of a hardtail, but with less crashing!

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

During our time aboard the Fuse, we had a ball. It’s not a light bike, and keeping on top of the gears spinning along the trails requires more effort than your typical bike so there’s no way we’d want to ever ride one very far or for too long. It’s evident when riding with others on traditional bikes, they’ll pull away from you when there’s a lot of pedalling going on, the resistance is quite obvious.

But we loved it!

Who would want one? We would. It’s nice to get back to riding a hardtail and blasting about the place, solely in the name of fun, but without so many of the drawbacks we’ve come to traditionally associate with a hardtail (like flat tyres, sore ankles and shitloads of crashing). We would have hoped it’d be a bit cheaper considering the entry level drivetrain and basic Manitou fork, but there would have been some costs tied up in developing a whole new bike and tyres.

Loads of rubber.
Loads of rubber.

We’re not afraid to admit that we were highly sceptical about this new wheel size, predominantly from an industry standpoint, and the questions of whether we really needed it. But after time on the trail that question couldn’t have been further from our mind. Of course we don’t need it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a cool alternative. We can honestly say we enjoyed our time on the Fuse, bombing through rough stuff and roosting turns like we used to, but keeping more skin on our bodies.

Tested: iSSi Trail Pedals

Shimano are the big gorilla in the clipless pedal zoo, so perhaps it’s a sign of animal respect that iSSi’s new Trail pedals look, feel and perform just like Shimano equivalent. But iSSi, a small manufacturer out of Minneapolis, do have a few points of difference that may sway riders away from ubiquity of Shimano.


ISSI 8

The nearest equivalent pedal in the Shimano range is the XT Trail – the similarities between the XT and iSSi Trail pedals are obvious – so throughout this review we’ll be drawing a lot of comparisons between these two pedals, apologies in advance if you’re not a Shimano user! The size and weight is practically the same (both around 420g/pair) and getting Shimano riders to give the iSSi pedals a go is simple too, because they will work fine with a Shimano cleat. We didn’t ever bother to install the iSSi cleats, because the Shimano cleats already bolted to all our shoes worked perfectly. The entry/release of the pedals is close to identical too, so there’s no adaptation needed there.

[divider]What makes these pedals different?[/divider]

So what are the differences? Most obvious is the colour – you can get both iSSi’s Trail and XC pedals in a rainbow of colours to match or clash with your bike. The downside with a painted pedal is that they become a bit tattered looking pretty quickly if you ride in rocky terrain. Our red pedals look a bit less Ferrari and a bit more pizza delivery Corolla now. Perhaps the polished silver colour option is the best if you’re worried about your bike looking scuffed up.

ISSI Pedals 2
A 6mm Allen key gives you access to the guts of the pedal.

From a functional perspective, you can get iSSi pedals in two bearing/bushing options; the more expensive ‘Triple’ option runs three sealed bearing, whereas ours has a bearing and bushing combo (like a Shimano). To the pedal’s credit, we’ve had no play develop yet in the bearing/bushing assembly, but servicing is simple with just a 6mm Allen key and 9mm socket needed to take them apart. Riders with massive feet or those with clearance issues (like your heels rubbing on the frame) will appreciate that iSSi offers their pedals in three axle lengths too, with variants that are 6mm or 12mm longer than the 52.2mm standard axle.

ISSI Pedals 3
The cleat tension indicator is big and obvious, making it easy to ensure even tension on both pedals.

But for us the most important difference is in the pedal’s cleat tension adjustment. The iSSi pedals use a 3mm Allen key for adjustment (which we prefer to the Shimano’s 2.5mm) and allow you to ratchet up a higher level of entry/release tension than with a Shimano. This is good if you’re the kind of rider who often pulls out of a pedal, either under power or while throwing the bike about. While we personally don’t run our pedals that tight, we know some people do, and so it’s good to have that option of cranking them up. We also really appreciate the clear tension indicator of the iSSi pedals, which makes it really easy to ensure you’ve got the same tension across both sides of both pedals. In this regard, the iSSi pedals have the edge.

Where Shimano continue to have an edge is in the support stakes. We’ve just received a set of Shimano’s newest XT pedals this past week, and once again Shimano have increased the contact patch between your shoe and pedal to increase foot stability. It’ll be interesting to see if iSSi follow suit in the near future.

 

[divider]Final Thoughts[/divider]

All up, we’re impressed. We’re not sure if the iSSi Trail pedals are necessarily better than a Shimano XT, but the performance is so similar that we’d struggle to tell the difference underfoot. The colours, cleat tension adjustment range and axle length options will be enough reason for many riders to give them a try, and having such a close competitor to Shimano’s performance can only be a good thing.

Tested – 2016 Shimano XT 11 Speed

The new Shimano XT looks, feels and works so damn nice that it’s hard to believe this isn’t Shimano’s top tier offering.

Shimano’s workhorse component group has gone under the knife in a big way. Front to back, everything has received some love, with the most notable change that it’s now an 11-speed drivetrain. Highlights of 2016 Shimano Deore XT M8000 include:

– 11-42 wider range cassette. Previously only going as low as a 36 tooth sprocket, Shimano’s 11 speed XT now has 11-40 and 11-42 tooth cassette options, giving riders a huge useable range of gears.

– Single, double or triple chain ring options.  XT retains a wide range of options for all riders, and is still available a triple and double chainring setup, as well as single-ring options.

– Crisp new shifters.  The new shifters look a lot like the premium XTR models and feel lighter and crisper under the thumb than before.

– Derailleurs.  More options for the front derailleur (including the new side cable pull version, for bikes with tyre clearance issues) and a sleeker, tougher rear derailleur with an adjustable clutch tension.

– Refined brakes. Dropping a few grams, the new XT brakes also look a lot more like XTR in their shape.

– Pedals. Revised pedals offer more support around the cleat area in both Race and Trail configurations.

For more background info on the new XT, read our first impressions piece here: XT First Impressions.

Shimano XT (1)

Shimano XT 11 Speed 11
Shimano’s Shadow + derailleurs do a great job of hiding away out of harm, tucked underneath the dropout. In comparison to SRAM they certainly look a lot slimmer from the side profile.

Riding XT

We’ve had the new 11-speed XT drivetrain fitted to our Yeti SB-5 for a few weeks now. Previously this bike was fitted with a SRAM X01 drivetrain, so we opted to run the nearest XT equivalent, a 1×11 setup with 32-tooth ring. Here are our early impressions.

Drivetrain:

The single-ring drivetrain we fitted was equipped with the 32-tooth DCE (Dynamic Chain Engagement) chainring and the super-wide range Rhythm Step 11-42 tooth cassette out the back. The two big questions that we brought to the this test were: would the 11-42 cassette provide an adequate spread of gears for 1×11 use (especially compared to SRAM’s 10-42 offering)? And would the chain stay on without a chain guide?

The second question is easy to answer. Did the chain drop off the chain ring? No, not once. During our testing we didn’t experience any dropped chains, not even a hint of it. And after a few rides bedding in the system, the chainring and chain were a quiet and smooth duo, gliding along with zero noise or feedback.

Did the chain drop off the chain ring? No, not once.

The SRAM narrow/wide chain ring system has proven to be near flawless – we’ve only dropped chains with narrow/wide rings a handful of times or in muddy conditions – so effective chain retention was always going to be vital in ensuring uptake of Shimano’s 1×11 system. Many other chain ring manufacturers have been jumping aboard with the alternating teeth thickness design (Race Face, Wolftooth and E13 are just a few), Shimano’s take on the single ring design however is very different. The teeth are consistent in shape/width but they are much taller and squarer than on traditional rings. Said to increase chain retension by 150%, the new teeth profile has us convinced.

Shimano XT 11 Speed 1
The new DCE (Dynamic Chain Engagement) ring, available in 30, 32 and 34 tooth options.

Even still, the old debate applies: would you run a chain guide for added security and peace of mind? You only need to drop the chain once for it to become a problem… It’s up to you to decide. Thankfully there are many neat, lighter upper guides coming out that do a great job of making sure the chain won’t wander off the teeth when you don’t want it to.

Shimano XT 11 Speed 3
The Rhythm Step cassette. Steel construction on an aluminium spider, and a dark grey aluminium 42 tooth cog.

Changing gears with the new shifters is so very precise; they have a much more positive and solid feel to the click, but with such a resounding click does not come increased effort, the action is really very light. In many respects, the new shifters feel like the perfect mix between the solid of Shimano’s beefy gravity group, Saint and the lightness of XTR.

Shimano claim shifting action to be 20% lighter overall, and with a new OPTISLICK coated gear cable, the effort to shift is reflected in the way the derailleur unmistakably selects gears, providing you with a very easy system to use.

Our test kit uses a 32 tooth front chainring and the super-wide 11-42 tooth cassette. We found the range to be highly effective, and at the low range we could ride up steep pinches without wishing for any lower gears. If you’re particularly keen to gear your bike lower or taller, you can opt for a 30 or 34-tooth ring, or of course XT is also available with a double or triple ring. In comparison, SRAM’s single rings are available in a much wider range of sizes (even going as low as a 26-tooth), but the most popular size is a 32-tooth.

As many have noted, SRAM’s XD Driver allows for a wider range cassette than Shimano (10-42 vs 11-42), but in our opinion we never missed the slightly higher gearing at the top end – we think having adequately low climbing gears is much more important than a higher top gear. Admittedly, we aren’t exactly cross country racers, but our thoughts are that if you’re going that fast you’re likely to be on tarmac, so just chill and watch out for cars.

The Rhythm Step cassette comes in two variants: 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-27-31-35-40 (optimal for 2×11 or 3×11 use) and 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-37-42 (for use with a single front chainring).

Shimano XT

Brakes:

It’s safe to say Shimano’s hydraulic brakes are known as being the most reliable and consistent options over the last few years. But no brakes are perfect, and we’ve had our fair share of issues from both the SRAM and Shimano parties – SRAM have often proven inconsistent and requiring frequent bleeding, while some Shimano’s have had weeping piston seals.

Like the rest of the groupset, the XT brakes have had a complete overhaul. Looking more like XTR brakes than ever before, the slim shape and stumpy lever takes up very little space on the bars, and with the I-Spec mounting option, combining the brake and shifter to neaten your cockpit even further is a possibility.

What we look for in a good brake is a consistent lever feel at all times and powerful bite that can be modulated with one finger on the lever. The XT stoppers score top marks in this regard, they feel absolutely fantastic under the finger. In many regards they are on par, if not better feeling, than the more expensive XTR brakes.

The two external adjustments let you decide exactly where you want the lever to sit and how far you want it to pull into the bar before the pads contact, and they work a treat.

These brakes provided perfect modulation and power whilst never feeling grabby, delivering a sweet amount of power consistent with how hard you squeeze the lever.

Shimano place a real emphasis on heat management, using a variety of technologies to ensure heat doesn’t become an issue. A trick aluminium rotor with a steel braking surface makes the most of the best properties of both materials, dissipating heat whilst proving a durable braking surface. We had no chance in heating up these brakes to a significant degree on our usual test grounds around Sydney, but we tried our best with no sign of fade or power loss. Top marks once again.

The new brake levers are slimmer in shape and look and feel a lot more like their expensive brother, XTR.
The new brake levers are slimmer in shape and look and feel a lot more like their expensive brother, XTR.

Verdict:

Shimano had definitely lost some ground to SRAM over the past couple of years as single chain ring drivetrains have become more and more popular, but with the new XT we’re seeing a turning of the tide. Shimano now have an affordable 11-speed option, and with XT’s 11-42 cassette, they can offer a viable 1×11 drivetrain for the masses as an alternative to SRAM. Because XT 11-speed will fit just fine on a standard Shimano freehub body, we also think it’s going to be incredibly popular with riders who’d been holding out on going to 11-speed because they didn’t want to have to purchase a new rear hub/freehub/wheel.

We don’t have any set-in-stone pricing for the new XT drivetrain yet unfortunately, but Shimano have indicated that prices will be within 5% of current XT.

This makes the new 11-speed XT considerably less expensive than SRAM’s X01 drivetrain, which we’d pick as being an equivalent item in terms of placement and performance.

If you’ve been thinking it was about time to give your bike a drivetrain upgrade, or if you’ve sitting on the fence of going for a 1×11 drivetrain, we can highly recommend the new XT group, or if you’re eyeing off a new 2016 bike that is specced with the 11 speed XT, snap it up.

Shimano XT 11 Speed 25

Long-Term Test: Norco Range C7.2

The notion of picking a 160mm bike as a suitable long-term test sled for riding on our home trails would’ve seemed fanciful up until the last couple of years. Travel in these meaty portions traditionally has brought with it too many compromises – floppy singletrack handling, ploddy climbing, sogginess like a tomato sandwich.

But lighter frames, 27.5” wheels, more balanced geometries and better suspension have all come together to deliver a delicious cocktail of all-round abilities that have made 160mm+ bikes a viable do-it-all machine. And the latest incarnations of the Norco Range exemplifies this.

Even sicker caption
Go anywhere, do anything… and love it.

The Black Beauty caught our eye almost 12 months ago at the Australian Norco launch. Like a schoolboy too shy to ask for a dance, we didn’t give the Range c7.2 a whirl immediately, but admired it from afar. And so arrangements were made for an extended test ride. We’ve now had a little over eights months of fun on this beast. – here’s what we’ve learnt.

[divider] Build[/divider]

Norco have sky-rocketed in our esteem these past few years; they now produce some of the best looking, best featured carbon bikes on the market. Take a squiz at the Range; full carbon (excluding the chain stay), internally cabled, new-school single-ring-only construction, size-specific geometry, gorgeous gloss-on-matte graphics.

Finer details just emphasise the refinement; the flush Syntace rear axle won’t snag on rocks and roots, the internal cables don’t rub or rattle, and they’ve even managed to make room for both a piggy-back shock and a full-size water bottle.

On the point of the cables, we are a little circumspect about the need for an internal rear brake line. We damaged the line on the SRAM Guide RS rear brake early in the piece and the internal-only routing definitely makes this kind of repair work a little more arduous. But, it does look great. One improvement could be the addition of internal guide tubes too, to make threading the brake line and rear housing a simpler task.

The neglect test is a good way of establishing how well a bike has been assembled, and so we didn’t check the suspension pivots for the use of Loctite or even check the bolt tensions when assembling the Range. They came loose eventually, but it took a lot of riding. The main rocker pivot was the first to wiggle loose, followed by the dropout pivot. Since tightening them both back up, there haven’t been any repeat issues, so that’s a big tick in our books.

The drop out is like some massive carbon shark fin. Please note with appreciation the Syntace X12 axle.
The drop out is like some massive carbon shark fin. Please note with appreciation the Syntace X12 axle.

Norco have a unique take on bike sizing; the different sizes aren’t just longer in the seat tube / top tube, but the rear end correspondingly is longer or shorter too. In a size medium, the chain stays are just 428mm long. Ditching the front derailleur certainly helps free up some space, and there’s plenty of tyre clearance. During our testing we’ve run up to 2.4” rubber and clearance has never been a concern.

One point of note is that while the Range does come with a bash guard, your choice of chain guides is a little bit limited unless you fit a larger chain ring. The Range comes stock with a 30-tooth ring, which we really like, but you can’t run a D-mount style chain guide (no front derailleur tab) and there aren’t many ISCG-mounted guides that’ll accommodate a small ring like this. This is especially relevant to racers, and given that we’ve dropped the chain a handful of times, it something worth considering.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

The Range’s build kit is sensible, robust and very, very black. This is not the kind of bike you want to leave outside your tent at night – it’s invisible. During our testing, we did change a few components on the Range, including the wheels and fork. Both of these changes were in the name of product testing, though the wheels are one item we would consider upgrading on this bike.

 

SRAM’s super popular Pike and X1 drivetrain need no introduction, but the Guide RS brakes with 180mm rotors weren’t a known quantity when began riding this bike. It didn’t take us long to appreciate that they’re a much better brake than the Elixirs and a huge leap forward for SRAM on this front, which a snappy, positive lever feel and shit tonnes of power. We’ve had zero issues with these stoppers, other than some wet weather howling.

Unless you're deadset focused on weight saving, we can see few reasons to buy the more expensive X01 or XX1 groupsets, when regular X1 works so well.
Unless you’re deadset focused on weight saving, we can see few reasons to buy the more expensive X01 or XX1 groupsets, when regular X1 works so well.

The fork and shock have likewise been great, though it must be said the Pike has been sharing the workload with a FOX 36, which we also tested on the Range. We didn’t feel the need to add any volume reducers to the Pike to get the spring rate right for our lightweight test rider (63kg) though some heavier riders might opt to run a spacer or two. As we’ve noted before, it’s an easy fork to get along with, with buttery performance from the get go.

Everyone likes waffles. The grips on Range have a cool half-waffle pattern to them, but if you've got big hand you might find them a little thin.
Everyone likes waffles. The grips on the Range have a cool half-waffle pattern to them, but if you’ve got big hands you might find them a little thin.

We experimented a little with the rear shock pressures, before settling on more sag, rather than less. With 30% sag, we were able to get full travel on the trails where we’d like to, and then we judiciously used the shock’s compression lever to tackle the climbs. Norco have got it right with the Range’s rear suspension feel too – it’s nicely and lively, and it always seems to be shooting you forward.

We didn’t run the Norco’s stock wheelset for very long. After busting a spoke on an early ride, we took the opportunity to pop on some other wheels we were reviewing. While the Range’s stock Sun/DT wheelset is solid, it does have a fair bit of heft to it, especially compared to some of the wider, carbon-rimmed wheels that are becoming more popular and cheaper by the minute. During our testing we’ve run SRAM Roam 60 wheels (too narrow by current standards, and which have since cracked) and more recently Mavic’s Crossmax SX wheels, which are fantastic. Dropping weight out of the wheels brought even more liveliness to the bike, and really improved the climbing performance too. We know wheels aren’t a cheap upgrade, but it’s really the only obvious avenue to extract any more meaningful performance out of this bike.

There's 125mm of ride-freeing travel with the Reverb Stealth post.
There’s 125mm of ride-freeing travel with the Reverb Stealth post.

The reliability of the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post has been pleasing too. We’ve had some issues over the years with the Reverb’s reliability, but this particular one was put together right and hasn’t missed a beat. We also really like the way Norco have used Match Maker clamps on the brakes/shifter/dropper – it makes for a super clean handlebar.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

In the current #soenduro market, there has been a real push towards some pretty downhill geometries – bikes have been getting pretty darn slack and low in this 160mm segment. The Norco doesn’t dive into the trend quite as eagerly as some, and that’s real part of the appeal for us. It’s a long-travel bike that doesn’t feel like a pig if you’re riding it on less than long-travel trails.

Feeling very at home, on our home trails.
Feeling very at home, on our home trails.

The Norco’s head angle is 66 degrees. Compare this to some of its direct competitors; YT Capra – 65.2; Specialized Enduro – 65.5; Trek Slash; 65.0; Giant Reign – 65.0 degrees. The difference isn’t huge on paper, but it is enough to be noticeable on the trail, keeping the front end on track when the trails are flatter or pointing up. The relatively slim and fast-rolling tyres that come on the Range (Maxxis High Rollers in a 2.35”) help too.

Tight corners are less arduous on the Range than on many 160mm bikes.
Tight corners are less arduous on the Range than on many 160mm bikes.

Norco have their own take on the four-bar FSR suspension configuration, using a longer Horst link than some other brands that run the same system (for instance, Specialized). This gives the Range a notably rearward axle path early in the travel, resulting in more chain growth, which is designed to make for more efficient pedalling. And it is efficient, especially if you’re spinning that little 30-tooth chain ring up a climb. The responsiveness of the Range to quick stabs at the pedals is a highlight too; with the short chain stays and sensible use of chain tension, you can easily pop up the front wheel. You do notice a bit of chain tug back through the pedals when sprinting, especially over rougher terrain, but the power definitely gets to the ground in a nice and direct fashion.

It's all good fun until somebody loses an eye.
It’s all good fun until somebody loses an eye.

On the other side of the equation, those times when you’re pointing straight down the hill and pedalling is far from your mind, the Range is a balanced, precise and fast machine. Getting the front and rear suspension working in harmony is simple with the matched RockShox fork/shock, and we actually found the Norco’s overall balance was better when we had the Pike up front, rather than the FOX 36. We do think the FOX is better fork on the whole, but it didn’t mesh quite so nicely with the Monarch Plus shock.

For a bike with 160mm travel, the Range possesses a serious ability to change lines or take to the air. It doesn’t hug the ground quite like some other bikes in this segment, but rewards riders who like to find ways over, rather than through, the nastiest bits of trail. That said, when you do need to muscle the Range, it’s not lacking; there’s a ton of steering precision and confidence with the massive 35mm diameter Raceface bar and stem.

[divider] Other options[/divider]

With the rise in popularity of Enduro racing, plus the huge improvements in weight and efficiency we discussed earlier, the Australian market is now full of great 160mm-travel bike options that weren’t available in previous years. In the last few months alone, we’ve tested a whole swathe of them.

There’s the unique Breezer Repack Team, which is really more of a long-travel trail bike than a radical all-mountain bike. Trek’s Slash 9.8 is a superb offering, and offers very similar value to the Norco Range. We especially like the wheels on the Slash, plus the fact that Trek opted not to use their DRCV shock. Giant’s Reign 1 will appeal to those who like an alloy bike, rather than carbon. This mango coloured beast is pretty much a mini downhill bike in terms of the way it rides. The Specialized Enduro is a superb platform, and even though we were underwhelmed by the rear shock on the S-Works model we reviewed, we rate the Enduro from the big S very highly. Finally, we’re in the midst of reviewing the YT Capra, which seems to be extremely good value and a potential firestarter in the market.

[divider]Conclusion[/divider]

The Range has been a brilliant addition to the Flow stables over the past eight months. Swapping out the wheels for lighter, more responsive hoops is a nice way to compliment the Range’s abilities as an all-rounder, and would be the only upgrade that we could recommend.

Norco Range 9
Thanks for the good times.

We do have plenty of rough riding on our local loops, but we were nonetheless a bit concerned that the Range was going to be overkill for most situations, and we worried that perhaps the shorter travel Sight would have been a better choice. This wasn’t the case, and we’ve found ourselves reaching for this bike far more often than anticipated. The Range may be big on travel, but its efficient riding position and suspension, and sensible geometry mean it refuses to be pigeon holed.

Tested: 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 29 & 650B

Old name, new game. The 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR is hotter than the surface of the sun, and boasts some pretty cool features. It is hard to believe that a bike that we’re so fond of could be improved, but here goes.

For 2016, the Stumpjumper FSR tightens up its geometry numbers with an even shorter rear end for snappier handling on the trail, it scores some classy aesthetic improvements and at a complete surprise to us, an internal SWAT Door compartment storage system on the carbon models.

Internal SWAT Door? Yep, it’s like a glovebox in your downtube, with enough space for an inner tube, mini pump, Vegemite sandwich and a couple Space Food Sticks. Specialized’s plot to rid us of the need to ride with a backpack steps it up a notch.

Gone are the ‘in the middle’ Stumpjumper EVO models for 2016, just the three wheel size options with the 650b taking over the slightly more aggressive role on the trails.

Flow was lucky to take part in a super-secret testing session on the new Stumpjumper in Rotorua, NZ. We rode the hell out of the bikes, and made the most of the opportunity to to chat in detail with the actual designers behind them.

Stumpjumper 2016 15
Playing around on the Stumpy 29er.
Stumpjumper 2016 9
The mouth watering Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 29

Before we get to the SWAT bit, let’s take a look at the highlights to the new 2016 Stumpjumper’s chassis.

 – Now in three wheel sizes, yes, three. 650b, 6Fattie and 29″ (or in non-Specialized terms – 27.5″, 27.5+ and 29″)

 – The Stumpjumper 650b receives its own dedicated frame. The 2015 model was effectively a 29″ Stumpjumper main frame adapted for 650B wheels.

 – No more Specialized Brain Shocks on Stumpjumpers. The special inertia valved Brain shock will stay on bikes like the Epic and Era.

 – The women’s specific version – The Rhyme – in 650b wheel size only receives all the sweet updates as the Stumpjumper FSR. The sizes available are able to fit rides from 4’10” up to 6″ tall.

 – Internal cable routing on carbon models, done very nicely indeed, with full carbon tube-style cable guides.

 – A shorter chain stay length. This is achieved by a combination of a few things, most notably the use of their Taco Blade front derailleur mounting design (debuted on the Enduro, with its category leading short rear end) and by removing the bridge between the seat stays (yep, no seat stay bridge!). 

 – There’s a new proprietary RX tune on FOX rear shocks, supplied to FOX by Specialized’s suspension testing department to help the shock suit the frame’s kinematics even further. 

– Dropper posts and wide rims on ALL Stumpjumpers, too good!

Stumpjumper 2016 4
The Danny Devito of chainstays, short and kinda portly.
Stumpjumper 2016 3
Internal cable routing done well.

SWAT Door

If you’ve ever lived in a small apartment you would know how important storage is. Finding any unused space for stashing your stuff is a real challenge, there is only so much crap you can jam under your bed!

Specialized are calling it a groundbreaking feature and we’re certainly with them on that one. When we walked into the room to see the new bikes nothing would have prepared us for what we saw on the downtube; a glove box.

By manufacturing the frame in a way that a large opening can be moulded into its down tube, Specialized were able to open up a whole lot of space inside the largest part of the frame, for the sole purpose of storage. Crazy, clever and mighty handy! It’s all part of their Storage Water Air Tools (SWAT) concept. The whole system is seriously well done, and we can only begin to imagine how much would have been involved in interrupting the shape of the largest tube in the frame without sacrificing strength or rigidity. Specialized say the SWAT Door took nearly five years to develop.

Stumpjumper 2016 1
Stumpjumper 2016 2

You could put whatever you want in there (perhaps a pigeon?), but demonstrated here is the S-Works SWAT kit.

Stumpjumper 2016 3
plenty of space, our iPhone even fit inside. Just watch your prawn salad or pork bun, don’t forget you’ve left it in there!

The water bottle cage screws into a flat and wide plastic door on a hinge, and the door clips positively into place with no hint of a rattle when riding. Inside the frame the carbon is immaculately smooth, the internal cables are housed inside moulded piping, and a little plastic net clips into place at the bottom to stop anything from dropping down too far towards the bottom bracket.

SWAT Door, used in conjunction with a water bottle cage, Specialized SWAT clothing items (liner shorts with loads of pockets, and a vest for the ladies) and the clever chain tool headset nut, and allen key set clipped into place above the rear shock, you have enough storage and tools for a ride. It might not suit longer epic rides where more water or clothing is needed, but if you like that feeling of riding with nothing on your back, this will make you happier than ever.

At Flow we are divided: some of us are devoted Camelbak wearers, and some can’t ride any bike without a bottle cage. You have certain limits with just carrying water in a bottle on your bike or in your SWAT bib shorts, so perhaps the SWAT concept is best suited for short blasts in the woods rather than epic rides.

As long as the weather didn’t change too much, or we ran out of water, it was a free, refreshing and lightweight feeling to ride without a backpack, no doubt about it.


Riding the Stumpjumper FSR 29

With the horrid task of testing the new season bikes on Rotorua’s dreamy trails, we took out both the S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 650b and 29 for a rip around.

First up we straddled the 29, with the bigger wheels the travel a little shorter than the 150mm travel 650B version, with 135mm in the rear and 140mm up front. We’ve been huge fans of the Stumpy 29 over the last few years, it pretty much sums up what we like about a trail bike and manages to reap the benefits of 29″ wheels without the downsides. Click here to see our review of the 2013 version. 

Stumpjumper 2016 12
Supple suspension, tacky tyres and a sweet balance of slack and sharp – the Stumpy rules the trails.

Skimming through the fast and flowing trails in the Redwoods, the Stumpy 29 instilled confidence and efficiently handled anything in its path, no surprises there. What did amaze us though was when the trails turned into jump lines, with table tops, doubles, and fast berms as far as the eye can see, we forgot we were on a 29er and nailed the lot. Nosing into landings, popping off the lips and railing turns on the edge of the tyres the Stumpy 29 really had us pleasantly surprised.

The 29er really shone when the trail surfaces weren’t exactly friendly. Slippery roots, loose surfaces, and rough braking ruts were handled easier than on its 650B brother.

We would even go as far to say that if we were racing the Enduro World Series race on the same trails we were testing, the 29er would be our pick. The 29er delivers real confidence on the trails.

The new Stumpjumper 29 is slacker than its predecessors (the 2015 version had 69 degree head angle, while it is now 67.5 degrees), and the chain stays are a whole lot shorter too, dropping from 450mm to 437mm across all sizes. The bottom bracket also drops a couple millimetres.

For a 29er those are some pretty slack numbers, and with the leaner Specialized Camber and burly Enduro on either side of the Stumpjumper, it seems to really have found its place in the lineup as a go anywhere bike with a playful nature.


Riding the Stumpjumper FSR 650b

Smaller wheels, wider eyes, the 650b Stumpjumper was what we really wanted to spend time on while we had the chance. We were mighty curious about this one.

Specialized had a bit of a wobbly start with the whole 650b wheel size thing, hanging onto the ‘one wheel size is best’ mantra for a very long time, focussing whole heartedly on the 29″ wheel for the majority of their range. In fairness though the excellent 29ers they were producing when the debate was running hot were just how you would want a great bike to ride, so perhaps they weren’t in such a hurry as most brands were. As you’d have it, consumer demand for 650b increased, and Specialized released a 650b Stumpjumper that rode well but still felt a little like a half measure, with an obvious compromise in its construction – a spacer under the headset to adapt what was essentially a 29″ front end with a new rear end.

What they’ve done for 2016 is give the Stumpjumper a real leg up into the new school world, and it charges a whole lot harder than before. With 150mm of travel front and back, a very short rear end, slack head angle, long top tube/short stem and the new Rx tuned rear shock this bike seriously rips. And we absolutely loved riding it!

Stumpjumper 2016 1
The S-Works 650b. RAD!

Stumpjumper 2016 14

Jumping off the S-Works 29er onto the S-Works 650B the trails felt very different to ride indeed, not so much easier or faster, we were just able to ‘let it hang out’ a bit more and that’s more our style, but of course not everyone’s.

We laid the bike right over onto the sides of the tyres, spent more time drifting with a foot off the pedals and the smaller wheels made those tight turns and quick decisions happen with a real snappy action.

150mm of travel is a fair bit, and only a few years ago this amount of travel was one stop short of a downhill bike. But we’ve come a long, long way and what you can do with a bike with this amount of bounce is crazy, but even crazier when you don’t feel like it is holding you back one bit when you don’t need it. On the buff and smooth trails in the Rotorua forest the FSR’s efficient suspension came into its own, and switching the FOX rear shock’s little magic blue lever would help us make light work of tough climbs.

Geometry wise the Stumpy 650b runs a 67 degree head angle, one notch slacker than the 2015 model and the chainstays trim off a whopping 15mm down to 420mm. A criticism we had with the 2015 Stumpjumper 650b was the super-low bottom bracket, it turned on a dime with such a low centre of gravity, but we had to take too much care to avoid bashing our pedals on the trail below. The new version lifts the bottom bracket up from 327 to a more acceptable 335mm.

With the removal of the EVO models from the Stumpjumper line, the message is simpler to the consumers, and the 650b fills the space nicely with its hard-charging attitude and beefier appearance.

Stumpjumper 2016 13


Verdict

When we heard that Specialized was releasing a new Stumpjumper we hoped we’d see at least two things – a shorter rear end using construction methods like the Enduro, and a dedicated 650b version. Well, that happened and more. The SWAT Door feature is really clever and could be very useful, and the internal cable routing finishes off a stunning bike in a classy fashion. They ride like a dream, come in a variety of price points, and are pretty hard to fault.

While the two variants of the Stumpjumer are aimed at one thing – trail riding – having a choice of wheel sizes is excellent, as not everyone wants to ride the same trails the same way.

Alongside the Stumpjumper came the release of the women’s specific Rhyme (read about it here) and the semi-fat Stumpjumper 6Fattie (here for more). For pricing and availability, wander in to your local Specialized dealer, they’ll know what’s up. The guy below sure knows what’s up.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 1.13.23 pm

Tested: Shimano M200 Shoes

Shimano are old hands at making cycling shoes and now in the 25th year of the SPD, we are privy to a very complete lineup of great options. From quality entry level shoes, carbon cross country racing shoes, and now a trio of all-mountain/enduro shoes – the whole enchilada.

The M200 certainly doesn’t have a cool name but it packs features aimed squarely at the cool school, the growing all mountain/enduro segment. This type of riding isn’t exactly new, it’s simply just riding everything in your path and hammering descents, but lately we’ve been lucky enough to see bikes, gear, accessories and even fashion to cater for these new needs.

Tested - Shimano M200 8

The ingredients for a good shoe in this segment? Riders want protection, support, pedalling efficiency, walking and traction capabilities, mud and water resistance and of course, casual looks. Getting the balance of all those aspects is the challenge, the M200 does a great job, with a focus on protection and creating a supportive and efficient shoe while still maintaining a certain level of ‘feel’ between you and the bike.

Where a cross country shoe aims to be as stiff as possible, the M200 uses Shimano’s new Torbal sole which allows the rear section of the shoe to flex and twist sideways a little, whilst still remaining supportive when your energy is pushing downwards up the front of the shoe.

Tested - Shimano M200 2
The inside of the shoe is raised at the heel, protecting your ankles from banging the cranks or frame.
Tested - Shimano M200 6
The buckle copped it a few times, but never showed signs of letting the shoe’s structure down.
Tested - Shimano M200 5
Those deep grooves in the mid sole give the sole its natural feeling flex. The cleat positions are also a lot longer than other Shimano shoes, we ran ours a long way back.

On the trail we found the Torbal sole which initially sounded like a gimmick to really let our feet move in a natural way when pedalling and as the bike moved beneath you, there is a degree of freedom with a strong connection.

We’re all about pairing a less-racey shoe with a trail style pedal (like the XT or XTR Trail pedal), in this case the balance of pedal efficiency was just right. It sounds silly how Shimano describes Torbal on their product description, but that’s just Shimano and their way with words, the shoes feel great when pedalling and descending.

The shoe gets its odd looks from the protective flap that covers the laces, it does two jobs really well, keeping the laces from snagging anything whilst providing a shield from mud and water. The green colour with orange highlights will polarise, but we got used to it.

Fit wise it was a close and tight fit, the laces provide a sturdy enclosure for the shoe, but at the same time quick tension adjustments during rides isn’t as fast as a traditional velcro strap or BOA dial. In true Shimano fashion, the ratchet buckle is easy to use, slim in its shape and always functioned perfectly. They are also replaceable, if you manage to tear one off.

The sole is nice and tacky and we were able to clamber up rocks without slipping, but we did notice some of the softer orange coloured rubber coming away on one shoe, disappointing, but surely a warranty case from Shimano if it became an issue. All around the shoe there are sections of tough armour, these shoes should stay looking pretty clean after some time, no fragile fabric is vulnerable at all.

Tested - Shimano M200 4
Thin laces provide the front foot with an even and secure tension, and kept clean and dry by the broad velcro flap.

Tested - Shimano M200 1

Tested - Shimano M200 (1)

Check out some other similar shoes that we’ve tested recently:

Giro Terraduro

Five Ten Impact VXi Clipless 

Specialized 2FO Clip

Shimano M163

In a competitive segment, the M200 brings a lot to the table. It’s a shoe that you forget you’re wearing, the slim and secure fit and lightweight shoe is protective where you need it and we love the way that when you’re clipped in to the bike, you gain a real feeling of the way it moves beneath you, with no noticeable sacrifice in pedal efficiency. It might look odd with the big flap, but your feet will stay drier and cleaner longer, and with the added support and scuff protection your feet will love you when you bash them into rocks on Sunday.

Tested: Schwalbe Rocket Ron

If you’re like us, and the sight of the original Rocket Ron tyre from Schwalbe conjures up scary memories of tyre that was great on soft soils, but quite frightening on anything else, rest assured the updated version we have here is roughly 745,955 times better than before.

The German tyre folks at Schwalbe have a catalogue that is impressively complete and constantly evolving, offering up a myriad of tread patterns, compounds and sizes. You can bet that there is a tyre in there that will suit your riding style and terrain, you just need to make that match happen.

We tested the Rocket Ron EVO TLE – Evolution, Tubeless Easy. A triple compound tyre with a reinforced casing dubbed ‘Snakeskin’, the TLE will do a better job of retaining air and reduce the risk of casing tears. A TLR (Tubeless Ready) version is available for the super weight conscious, saving around 60 grams per tyre via a thinner casing but would best only be in the hands of racers.

The Rocket Ron is a lightweight cross country tyre with openly spaced and spiky tread, a style that suits softer trail surfaces where the spikes bite through the dirt, penetrating the surface for a solid hold. And right now as we head into winter, it makes a lot of sense to choose tyres to suit the conditions. We’ve been riding these on our 27.5″ wheeled Pivot Mach 4 with the futuristic electronic Shimano Di2, and with 120/100mm travel, the 2.25″ Rocket Ron is a great match for the sharp handling singletrack racer.

What makes the new Rocket Ron so much more appealing than it’s predecessor is the way it holds its own on surfaces that it’s not specifically aimed at, making it a pretty good all-rounder if you still spend the majority of time on softer trails.

The tacky and slow rebounding rubber compound with increased support around the tread knobs helps it find friction on hard pack or rock, and in a 2.25″ size we were running fairly low pressures and that helped it from pinging off roots and rocks.

Tubeless wise, it sealed up to the Shimano wheels without a hint of any leaking, the gummy and supple bead creates a nice and tight lock, and holds air just fine. We did have one puncture (climbing a rocky embedded fire trail, oddly enough) through the top of the tyre, we lost a bit of Stans Sealant, but the hole clogged up and we were able to continue on our ride with no further worries. It’s a risk with such an openly spaced tyre, sharp rocks can easily find a weak spot in between the knobs, but that’s a price to pay for less weight.

Tested- Rocket Ron 3

The Rocket Ron is a mighty fast rolling tyre, the low weight and low tread mass gives your wheels a zippy and quick feeling. They would make a great upgrade to your cross country bike if you’re looking to reduce weight, and bang for your buck this is a great way to do it. It’s not a tyre to ride with a heavy hand though, if you’re going to benefit from low weight you won’t get the best results if you muscle it around and lean it over too far, it’s not an enduro tyre, it’s a cross country tyre. Check out the burlier Nobby Nic or meaty Hans Dampf if you’re in need of a tyre to suit a wild riding style, or if your trails are dry and hard, the Racing Ralph is another old favourite of ours, see, told you Schwalbe have all bases covered.

Tested- Rocket Ron 5
Tall and spiky knobs, spaced apart to help it from clogging up with sticky mud.

Tested- Rocket Ron 6 Tested- Rocket Ron 1

Available in 2.10″ or 2.25″ widths and a super light, or with a reinforced casing (Snake Skin), the Rocket Ron is worth a look if you’re looking for a fast tyre to match your tyres to the upcoming winter months.

The Build Begins: Shimano XT 11 Speed On Test

It’s time to unbox all the goodies and build up our Yeti 5C test bike with the all-new Shimano XT groupset. Oh dear, this is going to be fun.

Take a peek at our first impressions of the whole XT group here: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/shimano-xt-11-speed-with-new-11-42-cassette/

The Yeti 5C has been mighty impressive, on a recent trip to Rotorua we fell in love with the grounded and hard-charging bike that loved the flowing singletrack.

For the XT test we will begin with the double chainring version of the new groupset, opting for a 36/26 tooth crank with the 11-40 tooth cassette out the back. And in a few weeks when the single chainring and super low range cassette arrives we’ll be fitting that up too.  The single ring variant has made us most excited about the new XT, and could be Shimano’s answer to the super popular SRAM 1×11 drivetrains.

The new brakes will go onto a 180mm front, and 160mm rear disc rotor and will bolt via Shimano’s centrelock mounts to the super hot XTR Trail wheels.  The wheels are 24mm wide internally, and use Shimano’s mouth wateringly attractive and tough carbon/aluminium construction. More on those later.

New FOX suspension front and back add to this bike’s ‘out of the future’ spec, with all these parts still a few months away. We tested the FOX fork and shock recently, review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-2016-fox-34-fork-and-float-dps-shock/

So stay tuned for an update from the trail as we put the highly anticipated Shimano XT to test.

_Q5A0214
11 Speed, double chainring, that is a lot of gears!
_Q5A0213
Are we missing anything?
_Q5A0220
The new cassette comes in two variants, 11-40 and 11-42. We’ve got the 40t option here, for use with the double chainring.
_Q5A0225
The new FOX DPS shock with EVOL air can, next level stuff.
_Q5A0227
Expect to see the FOX 34 fork on many bikes next season, it has taken what we love about FOX forks and thrown aside what we didn’t. Longer service intervals, more support in the air spring and all in a remarkably light package.
_Q5A0228
22 speeds should be enough.
_Q5A0229
Shimano XTR Trail wheels, wide and tough.
_Q5A0231
Rolling on the 650B treads from Specialized, a Butcher up front, Purgatory out the back.
_Q5A0235
The brakes shave a few grams from the current version, but will take up less space on the bars with a new slimmer clamp.
_Q5A0236
Shifter windows are back! We’ll try them out for a while at lease, but they are easily removed if you wish.
_Q5A0237
The XT rear mech goes under the knife in a big way, looking a lot like the new XTR one with an adjustable and hidden clutch lever.
_Q5A0238
Shimano are all about being cool, with their aluminium brake rotors sandwiched by a steel tracking surface. Ice-Tech, good name for it.
_Q5A0239
The Yeti 5C is a real dreamy bike, and deserves any fine test product that walks through the doors here at Flow.

Build time!

Tested: Specialized Command Post IRcc

The best thing to happen to mountain bikes since tubeless tyres is the adjustable seatpost. It’s one part that we can’t do without, and seeing them become a standard part on most dual suspension bikes from 120mm and up is a wonderful thing indeed!

We scratch our heads when we’re told by fellow riders that they don’t use them, especially without trying one out first. Sure there is a weight penalty over a fixed seatpost, and extra fuss with a cable etc but the benefits to your riding is so well worth it. Do yourself a favour and try one.

Specialized Command Post IRcc 12
Looks identical to the Command Post IR we’ve seen on bikes this year, but with more adjustable positions.

Specialized have used their in-house seatposts as a stock item on their bikes for years, they’ve always been popular and we’ve seen them improve in quality and user-friendliness over time. We reviewed one of the earlier Command Posts with the external cable here. – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-command-post-blacklite-adjustable-seat-post/

The Command Post is based around a purely mechanical system with a good old gear cable actuated remote lever. The majority of posts use a hydraulically adjusted mechanism (RockShox, KS, Giant, FOX, Thomson etc.). There is a lot to be said about the reliability and simplicity of a mechanical system versus hydraulic, and we’ve certainly had our share of mixed experiences and heard of many more too.

The post we have here is the latest from Specialized, the Command Post IRcc (internally routed, cruise control). It’s an updated version of the IR post with its three height positions, it looks the same on the outside but the new cc now has 10 incremental positions that are located towards the middle of the seatpost’s motion range.

Specialized Command Post IRcc 6
Drop the post down to find one of the ten 5mm incremental positions.
Specialized Command Post IRcc 7
Dumped.

If you loved the original Command Posts, but found it hard to locate that ‘dropped, but not quite dropped exactly where you wanted it’ position like us, you’ll love this one.

The Command IRcc is not infinitely adjusted as such, the 10 positions are pre-determined and when you press the lever with weight on the post, you can let the lever go where you want the post, and it’ll positively engage into place.

The Command Post’s are well known to return back to full extension with mighty force, but with the air valve easily accessed under the front side of the seat clamp, you’ll be able to fine tune the post for the desired speed. We like ours to return super fast though, it might scare your nether regions with the thought of it rocketing upwards, but when you’re riding that feared impact never happens.

The remote lever comes in two flavours, the new SRL (single ring lever) which takes place of the left hand shifter if you’re running a single chainring setup, or the original thumb lever on top of the bar. The SRL is about as easy as it gets, perfectly ergonomic but will require you to find a SRAM shifter clamp first.

Specialized Command Post IRcc 2
The SRL, simple and ergonomic.
Specialized Command Post IRcc 1
Taking place of the left hand shifter, the SRL lever is minimal and out of the way.

The Command IRcc comes in both 31.6 and 30.9mm diameters, and for smaller bikes a shorter drop 100mm post is available. We tested the 125mm version.

[divider]Installation[/divider]

No, internally routed seatposts are nowhere as simple and fast to install as the older style external ones, but they are much neater once fitted so it’s worth the extra time and swearing for the first time, so we sucked it up and got it done.

Our Pivot Mach 4 has all the provisions for internal cable routing, even for the Shimano Di2 that is fitted. It takes a bit of trial and error to find the right length outer cable so the cockpit still looks neat and tidy, but following the manual is easy, and clear.

With the help of our brilliant new Park Tool Internal Routing Kit, the job was much easier. Seriously worth the investment if you’re doing these things a lot like us.

Being a cable system there was no complicated bleeding needed and if you messed up the cable it’s just a standard gear cable found at any bike shop.

[divider]On the Trail[/divider]

We spent a few days in Rotorua on the Command Post IRCC recently in horrendously wet and muddy conditions, and the post was always doing its thing just right. The mud and grime from the trails will test a seatposts mechanism and sealing, and where some become slow to return or drop, this one never faltered during our testing time.

Back home and fitted to our Pivot Mach 4, we’ve been enjoying the post’s snappy action and intuitive adjustability, happy days.

We did find the previous version of this seatpost a bit frustrating at times with only one ‘dropped’ position, so this one has cleared up any misgiving we had. The positions were easily found when both dropping and returning, the post made a bit of noise and sent a little shudder into your backside at times, but nothing worth worrying about.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

With the increased positions of adjustment, and using the SRL lever the updates to this popular post make it a worthy option, fitted to a Specialized or not.

Specialized Command Post IRcc 10
The clamp is also very easily adjusted for a wide range of seating angles. Creak free for us too.
Specialized Command Post IRcc 3
A Schrader valve under the saddle can be adjusted to determine the desired return speed and resistance.

Specialized Command Post IRcc 9

Pricing is still yet to be advised, and mid-year availability but keep an eye out for the new post on new season Specialized’s coming to dealers very soon.

Tested: Avanti Torrent CS 7.2

New Zealand is home to some of the best trails in the world, don’t we all know that, but how many know it is also home to a well accomplished bike brand we’ve grown fond of over the years, Avanti. Their latest range of carbon suspension bikes have impressed us, the Ridgeline we reviewed last year was excellent so we eagerly hit the trails with its bigger 150mm travel brother, the Torrent.

We tested the Torrent’s slimmer brother, the Avanti Ridgeline 2 with a carbon framed 100mm travel 29er recently and loved it. (review here)

Catering for the growing segment of the market, the Torrent with 150mm of travel, carbon frame, stiff FOX forks and a wide range drivetrain, ticks lots of boxes. How’d it go on the trails?

Avanti Torrent 18

[divider]Build[/divider]

Avanti have built their dual suspension bikes around the classic four-bar linkage system since the late 90s, and they stick to it for 2015. The proven design may not be specifically unique to Avanti but they do a great job of incorporating what makes the four-bar system so popular into a solid and reliable package. Laterally the Avanti feels very sturdy when given the good old rear end flex test, and whilst we had a few bolts shake loose during our first ride the hardware and massive one-piece rocker arm gave us confidence that it will last the distance.

Avanti Torrent 2
A squarely shaped carbon front end meets an aluminium rear, tied together with a massive one-piece rocker arm.

A carbon front end is mated with an aluminium rear end, giving the bike the best of both worlds. The carbon gives the Torrent a very direct, sharply snappy handling ride frame, whilst aluminium out back is impact resistant and a less expensive to manufacture. At 13.4kg though it’s not a featherweight.

Avanti Torrent 29

With a matte black finish and vivid green highlights, you catch a glimpse of the shimmering carbon glinting in the sunlight. It’s a beautifully finished frame, and while it may not have all the colour matching components like some of the big brands, it makes up for it with nicely subtle branding and lack of silly in your face acronyms plastered over the place.

Avanti Torrent 11

There was a noticeable lack of a chainstay protector, whilst the e*thirteen chainguide roller and Shimano Shadow+ derailleur keep the chain from slapping around too much, we’d still appreciate one for cleanliness sake.

Cable routing is internal for the front and rear derailleurs, while the seatpost and rear brake lines run down the underside of the frame. The cables up an the handlebars are in desperate need of a little grooming and organisation to neaten things up a little, we’d re-route the rear brake around the other side of the head tube, too, end definitely trim a few inches off all the cables and brake lines.

Avanti Torrent 14

Our medium size frame had provisions for one bottle, but no regular sized bottles would fit in the tight space without rubbing the frame, so it was a Camelbak only bike for us.

The geometry chart displays pretty neutral and modern numbers for a 150mm travel bike; a 66.5 degree head angle, 438mm chain stay length, and a 595mm top tube (medium size).

Avanti Torrent 31
Note the carbon material shining in the sunlight, nice nice!

[divider]Spec[/divider]

The Torrent is a real mixed bag of great components from all sorts of brands, while they do have their in-house component line, Zero, they don’t extend to much high end kit, so it’s only Zero grips that make it on to this high end model. From Shimano, Easton, DT Swiss, FOX, Kenda, Prologo and X-Fusion the Torrent almost has a custom build feel to it, the designers behind the bike must know what components would suit the frame’s nature, rather than shopping from just one catalogue.

Avanti Torrent 9

The new DT Swiss Spline X1700 wheels with fancy straight pull spokes felt light and fast to ride, although we did dent and put a wobble in the rear wheel, luckily they use conventional spoke nipples for easy maintenance. Perhaps keep in mind they aren’t touted as an enduro ready wheelset, so if you’re keen to race it hard, take a spoke key along too. Tubeless ready though, tick!

The Star Ratchet system in the freehub is a real winner, simple to maintain and provides a quick and solid engagement when you put the power down into the pedals. Our first ride on the Kenda Honey Badger tyres was not exactly on their ideal terrain to be fair, so they lacked bite in loose surfaces but on hardpack or slick rock surfaces they really held on nicely. Their low-profile and sparsely set tread combined with a big volume would be ideal for drier and more consistently hard packed terrain. We did slice a hole in the rear tyre during the violent rim denting incident, and the Stan’s sealant we used wasn’t enough to seal the hole, so in went one of those old school inner tubes for the remainder of the day.

Avanti Torrent 23 Avanti Torrent 8

The Shimano XT drivetrain paired with a double chainring and chainguide setup will please those who haven’t fallen victim of the single ring fashion and actually appreciate a wide range of gears. Single ring setups are definitely increasingly popular, but with a Shimano setup it will take some aftermarket conversion parts to turn this bike into a single ring setup with a gear range that isn’t too hard. The added clutter that comes with a double ring if offset by the excellent range of gears on hand, we loved dropping down to the small chainring and cleaning the steepest trails without grinding our teeth of blowing our knees apart. Double rings still have a place!

Avanti Torrent 32

Our test bike needed a bit of setup tweaking to remove the chain from dragging on the inner plate of the guide, but the bottom roller did a great job of silencing and securing the chain when trails got super rough. It’s a double chainring setup without the noise or any unwelcome surprise of a dropped chain.

While we welcome the sight of any adjustable seatpost on pretty much any dual suspension mountain bike these days, the X-Fusion HILO STRATE post with 125 of infinitely adjustable travel lacked the speedy and slick action that we’ve become used to with a the popular offerings; RockShox Reverb, Specialized Command Post or KS LEV. The cable tension was a little finicky to, finding the exact tension in the cable was vital to stop either the remote lever rattling noisily, or alternatively the seatpost dropping in height as you sat on it. We eventually got used to its lazy action, learning to allow a little extra time for it to drop or return. But without an adjustable post the Torrent wouldn’t have descended as well.

We set up the X-Fusion post’s remote lever inboard from the brake levers, and it was always within reach with the left thumb, it is quite an ergonomic lever that can also be mounted underside the bar in place of a left hand shifter if a single chainring conversion happened.

Avanti Torrent 26 Avanti Torrent 6

We love Shimano SLX brakes, they feel like the higher level XT brakes just without the pad contact adjustment which we rarely touch anyhow. The power and control was what we’d come to expect from these reliable and mighty stoppers. Our set required a top up of the mineral oil levels, but that’s a simple job that can be done at home.

Avanti Torrent 15 Avanti Torrent 7

It’s a full FOX affair with the suspension, and it’s great to see the beefy legged Float CTD 34 leading the charge, and the steering rigidity that you gain over a 32mm FOX fork is stellar. Our fork felt a bit lumpy when in climb mode, but felt nice and supple on the whole.

Avanti Torrent 17

For $5499 the spec list is fair, not particularly amazing value but you can see the worth in the hand-picked nature of the spec.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Torrent’s heart is set on singletrack, it’s a bloody lot of fun to let fly in the tight and twisties. The super-short 50mm stem makes for lightning fast handling when weaving through turns and making quick direction changes, and takes very little time to get used to. Punching down rough lines with the big FOX 34 fork up front was plain sailing, and once we knew how hard we could push the front wheel into the rough stuff, we rode the Torrent harder and harder (until we flatted…) and loved it.

Avanti Torrent 5

The four bar suspension offered more of a tight and efficient ride than a super plush one, the top of the stroke felt firm and allowed us to really spin on the pedals hard without the suspension sucking away our energy. The CTD (Climb, Trail, Descend) rear shock might lack some of the suppleness of the high end versions, but the three adjustments were perfectly effective and we found the middle Trail mode to suit the Torrent’s suspension system until the roughest descents where we’d flick it over to descend.

Avanti Torrent 13

The short 50mm stem on our medium bike would normally be found on bigger travel and downhill bikes, while it really lifted its descending and fast handling it did made climbing a bit of a chore at times. The front end was challenging to keep trained in a straight line when we were searching for traction up steep gradients. The bar and stem is from Easton’s new over-oversize standard with a unique 35mm bar clamp diameter in place of a 31.8mm that is found on the vast majority of bikes these days. Sure the oversize cockpit is stiff and solid to steer with, but switching stems for a different sizes will require hunting down an Easton one, or perhaps other brands will jump on board and make 35mm cockpits too?

We would have been keen to try a longer stem, and perhaps pushing the seat forward at the same time too, just to put the rider in a more aggressive position for climbing and aggressive pedalling.

Avanti Torrent 30

On flatter terrain the Torrent wasn’t the type of bike that we found ourselves jumping up out of the saddle and sprinting all over the place on, perhaps it was the short reach, low gear range and slack seat angle that made us spend a lot of time spinning around pushed back into the saddle. But when trails turned on their heads, we were popping off drops and launching blindly into rocky chutes with real confidence.

With such a wide and useable gear range, the Torrent made light work of long rides. Steep pinches at the end of the day became achievable without hopping off and pushing, nothing good about pushing.

[divider]What are your alternatives?[/divider]

There are more options than ever in the long travel trail bike or all-mountain category (or whatever it is called) these days, you can thank the increased popularity of the enduro racing scene for that.

At 150mm travel, the Scott Genius blurs the lines of an all day trail bike with adjustable travel and category leading lightweight (review here). Trek’s Remedy comes in two wheels sizes and its supple and balanced suspension is a real highlight (review here). Cannondale’s Trigger 275 Carbon is worth a look if you’re after an all day adventure bike with a unique take on suspension (review here). A Flow favourite, the Lapierre Zesty AM uses electronically adjusted suspension, and that is so cool! (review here). For killer geometry and Spanish flair, the BH Lynx is a great and close option to the Torrent (review here). For some classic Colorado craft, the Yeti 575 remains in the catalogue for 2015 for good reason, check it out (review here). Giant’s Trance SX Advanced was a real winner with us, and would make for a great race bike for the enduro nut, (review here). Or a GT will please the heavy handed rider with its efficient feel and unique suspension linkage system (review here).

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

Our time aboard the Torrent was certainly a good one. We enjoyed the chance to ride a bike from a local (well, close enough) brand which presents itself without all the hype and mumbo jumbo of some of the bigger brands. The finish and appearance is sweet, the components has been well-picked to suit the bike’s vibe and the suspension performed really well.

If you ride on looser terrain, we’d recommend seeking out some tyres with more bite, and perhaps a single ring conversion to clean things up if you have the legs to push a bit harder. Perhaps seek out a stem length option too.

We’d happily take a local enduro race on with the Torrent, or pack a bag and ride all day. It’s been great, cheers, Avanti.

 

 

Tested: Giant Reign 27.5 1

Giant have really stepped it up a notch with the latest Reign, everything about it speaks the right lingo to the booming new-school crew of hard trail riding and enduro racers. From the bike’s geometry, to the choice of the most popular components, confirming to us that the folks at Giant have their ears to the ground about what riders really want.

The $5699 aluminium framed 27.5 1 (27.5 denotes the use of 27.5” size wheels) is one of four Reign models available here in Oz. They start at $3499 for the base version and top out at the Advanced 27.5 Team 0 with the composite frame for $7699 (click here for our first impressions of the flagship model).

Giant Reign 2

Giant Reign 21
How’s the length on this one!

[divider]Build[/divider]

The first thing you’ll notice is the wild mango explosion paint, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen from Giant in the past, actually we like all the 2015 Reign paint jobs they seem to talk to the new crew with a touch of retro flair. Especially with the colour matching highlights on the rear shock, fork and hubs, it’s very on-trend.

The frame is made from Giant’s ALUXX 6061 aluminium, with a wide array of tubing shapes and well thought out cable routing. Up close the finish is very neat, the welds and details are absolutely perfect, no surprises though coming from the well established industry giants.

Giant Reign 17
Beautifully crafted aluminium with a lick of bright paint.
Giant Reign 25
27.5″ wheels compliment the bike’s near downhill performance.
Giant Reign 27
Giant’s Maestro suspension uses a floating pivot system, and it strikes a balance between all the crucial areas that determine its burly but still very versatile attitude.
Giant Reign 22
The rear shock is offset in the frame, making space for the drivetrain and a solid lower linkage.

The cable routing is neatly carried inside the front end, but we experienced a tough rattling noise from the RockShox Reverb hose inside the frame when riding along, nothing that can’t be silenced with a bit of foam stuffed into the frame.

Their Maestro floating pivot suspension is used across the whole Giant range, and for good reason – it allows the engineers behind the bike to really nail the balance of pedalling performance, suspension suppleness and active rear braking. All the hardware stayed tight the frame displays stellar lateral rigidity, which greatly boosts confidence when riding hard.

Interestingly the shock sits off-centre in the frame away from the drivetrain, creating more space for the drivetrain and the lower linkage and the top shock mount pivots on a sealed bearing in place of a bushing, further reducing any unwanted stiction in the rear shock’s stroke.

Giant Reign 5
A cartridge bearing keeps the upper shock mount feeling smooth and stiction free.

The Reign is from the long top tube, short stem club with a medium size frame stretching you out over a 62cm top tube. The rear chainstay length is on par with many bikes of this suspension travel size at 434mm.

And of course keeping in the theme of the Giant brand, the wheels are 27.5”, with no 29er option. Simple to understand from a consumer point of view across the board, and thankfully Giant are sticking to it.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

What Giant have done really well here is dressing the frame in the most suitable components around, so you could pull it out of the box and ride it hard, straight away, or race it competitively without making one single modification to the parts. It’s so well rounded and complete that we struggled to find a spec choice that we’d rush out to make, if we did have to pick something perhaps a handlebar with greater back-sweep would be a nice upgrade down the track, but that modification is not going to change your life.

The bars are also a whopping 800mm wide, so unless super wide bars are your thing or your shoulders are so broad you turn sideways to walk through doors, you may want to look at trimming a couple centimetres off the ends for quicker handling and clearance from those trees that don’t move out of your way. Bar width is certainly worth customising, it’s a quick modification and can make a lot of difference.

Giant Reign 24
Yes, 800mm bars. Too wide for some, but at least you can cut them down easily. We ran ours at 760 to suit the tighter trails.
Giant Reign 16
SRAM X1, seriously feels a lot like the premium XX1, but without the price tag.
Giant Reign 26
200mm rotors for SRAM Guide brakes, that translates to a LOT of stopping power.
Giant Reign 14
An upper chain guide and bash guard is fitted for ultimate security and peace of mind, no dropping of chains will be possible on this rig. No drag or extra noise at all.

The tyres are ideal for this bike and a crowd favourite. Essentially downsized downhill tyres, the Maxxis Minion/Highroller combo is also set up tubeless with the supplied rim strips and valves. This excellent rubber is responsible for much of the Reign’s confident cornering ability.

Giant Reign 10
A Maxxis Minion, popular on downhill bikes and in a smaller 2.3″ size they are ideal for the Reign, and love to be leant over on a variety of surfaces. Riiiiiiiiip!

It may only be the second tier price point option in the Reign line, but it features the premium fork and shock from RockShox, a nod towards the priority of quality suspension from Giant. The RockShox Pike uses the two-stage air spring system that allows you to toggle between two travel modes, on this one you can drop the fork down from 160mm to 130mm of travel. We’ll come back to this later, but it had a very positive impact on the bike’s versatility.

A RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost keeps in the SRAM theme and worked perfectly during testing, they really are the industry standard right now. And the SRAM 11 speed drivetrain completes the package with category dominating performance.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

No doubt about it, the Reign 27.5 is a whole lot of bike. The bike’s overall length and slack angles are about as subtle as a train smash; just standing still it looks huge and with the forks so raked out in front of you it feels like you’ve just sat on a regular downhill bike.

Taking a quick look at the frame geometry, with a 65-degree head angle, 620mm top tube and 434mm chain stay we were sure to expect big things when descending but notice a trade off everywhere else. Well, we were pleasantly surprised and after a couple rides we were absolutely flying on the trail.

Giant Reign 1
The Reign rewards riding with the brakes OFF!

The notion of short rear ends on bikes is a real buzz topic in the scene right now, a shorter chain stay (the measurement taken between the bottom bracket and rear axle) will bring the rear wheel closer to the bike’s centre, helping with the agility and snappiness of the handling, especially in tight turns. The Reign won’t make any promises of a category leading geometry, rather it aims to make the most of the generous travel, meaty tyres and stable cockpit to give the rider maximum confidence when the time comes.

You’ll need a fair bit of gravity and rough terrain to make the most of the Reign, and even on our roughest trails we were nowhere near the limits of such a burly bike.

Descending was a blast, letting the brakes off and attacking rocky sections we found ourselves letting it really hang out, wildly hammering over anything in our path with less care for line choice. We began to focus less on seeking smoother lines, or areas of traction and just going for the fastest and most direct line, trusting the bike with real confidence. Such a long top tube would let the bike move around underneath you like a mechanical bull at your 21st party, but with a strong and open stance and determination we were able ride out the loosest riding we’ve done in a long time.

Giant Reign 29
A sturdy frame, and 160mm of travel will let you punch it down terrain like this, confidently.

Sure, the trade off to such impressive descending is that you have a big bike to get back up the climbs, but what made it all so much easier was the fork’s Dual Position adjustment via the dial on the top left of the crown, dropping the fork down to 130mm of travel lowered the bars, sharpened the head angle and allowed us to really get up out of the saddle and right over the bars for an efficient climbing position. Combine that with a flick of the rear shock’s compression switch and in all honesty, it didn’t climb too badly at all!

Whilst the Dual Position feature in the RockShox Pike really takes the bike’s versatility to the next level, you do lose a certain amount of goodness that makes the non-adjustable Solo Air forks so impressive. The Solo Air fork can be tuned with the Bottomless Tokens to achieve the right level of progressiveness you’re after, whilst the Dual Position is not adjustable that way. The fork was a little soft under the brakes and would dive a little more, so we ran a few extra clicks of the slow speed compression to let the damping hold the fork up in its travel. In saying that, what the Dual Position brings to the table in terms of the lower climbing position is well and truly worth it unless you’re after the best descending fork option a Solo Air Spring can be sourced from a RockShox dealer.

Weaving through flat and tight singletrack (once we cut the bars down) required a bit of muscle to keep momentum, but the meaty tyres and supple suspension meant you didn’t have to exercise much finesse or caution to find rear wheel traction on loose terrain, just can engage the legs and power your way up anything.

The bike’s overall weight is pretty good too, considering its burliness!

As an enduro race bike, the Reign would be a killer option, especially with such a hardy and reliable parts kit fitted as standard. We’d also happily pop some 2.5″ tyres and race this thing downhill, it’s certainly up for it.

Adam Craig
Giant Factory Racing’s Adam Craig getting buck wild in the Rotorua EWS on the Reign Advanced.
tim-1
Giant Australia rider Tim Eaton often chooses to race the Reign over his DH specific Glory, that’s saying a lot about the bike’s descending ability!

Giant Reign MAsthead

[divider]What are your alternatives?[/divider]

The 150-160mm travel category is loaded with exciting new bikes right now, the mountain bike market is experiencing a massive boom off the back of the rise of the whole enduro thing. The Reign sits at the burly end of the spectrum, for an alternate option there is the Specialized Enduro, Trek Slash, a Norco Range Intense Carbine 29, Polygon Collosus N9, a BH Lynx or the Orbea Occam to name just a few…

The Specialized Enduro in both 29″ and 650B wheel sizes is a fan of the tighter trails and its super-short rear end is a real trademark trait (S-Works 650B review). Norco’s Range is available in a carbon frame for $6000 and we’ve been doing a long term test on the one (Norco Range 7.2 review). Trek’s Slash is one that borderlines trail riding with enduro racing (review here), and the Orbea Rallon is a from lesser known brand with a unique twist, and on a budget (review here). For a real steamroller bike, the 29″ wheeled Intense Carbine 29 is a pretty burly ride (review here).  How about the alien-like all mountain assassin from Polygon (review here) or the swoopy BH Lynx (review here), so many options.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

If you’ve got the terrain, the will to let the brakes off and don’t mind lugging a bit of extra meat around the trails, the Reign is up for anything. It gobbles up hard riding like a starved sumo wrestler with a sushi roll.

The Reign certainly sits proudly at the robust end of the all mountain/enduro bike spectrum, it may be worth looking at the more do-it-all Trance if you are seeking a bike to have more of an equality between the ups and downs.

We’ve loved our time on the Reign, it’s a bloody courageous steed that fears very little, it just needs a pilot with the same attitude to make the most of it, who’s up for it?

 

Tested: KS LEV Ti Dropper Post

The KS LEV is is a cable-actuated dropper post available with either external or internal ‘stealth’ cable routings. While we love the clean looks of an internally routed post, many older (and some newer) frames aren’t compatible with internally routed posts. And, even if your frame is compatible, sometimes the hassle of threading bits of housing through your frame packs all the enjoyment of stubbing your toe on the way to taking a piss at 2:00am. For this reason, when we wanted to fit a dropper post to our Yeti SB5 test bike, the external version of the LEV got the nod. Just for kicks, we also went for the Ti version of the post, which has a carbon lower seat clamp and titanium hardware and saves a few grams.

A tidy solution; no other cable actuated post uses this clever system.
A tidy solution; no other cable actuated post uses this clever system.

The usual issue with an externally routed post is that the cable is normally affixed to the top of the post. This means, when you drop the seat, you end up with a dirty big loop of cable dangling about your rear wheel, buzzing your tyre and generally being a pest. The LEV avoids this problem with its unique actuation system. The post’s mechanics are all located mid-way down the post, closer to your frame’s seat collar, on the non-moving portion of the post. No Flapping Cable Syndrome.

Measure up before ordering your post to determine which length/travel will fit your seat height and desired degree of radness.
Measure up before ordering your post to determine which length/travel will fit your seat height and desired degree of radness.

The post’s minimum insertion mark doesn’t leave you with a lot of room to manoeuvre, so it’s handy to know your seat-to-bottom bracket measurement before you order. We went for the 125mm travel version, but there’s a 100mm version, or a 150mm drop for people who really want their seat out of the gouchal vicinity.

The standard KS LEV kit comes with a small, unobtrusive lever that can be mounted in place of one of the lockrings of an ODI lock-on grip. But with our test bike running a 1×11 drivetrain, we opted to use KS’s Southpaw lever instead. The Southpaw lever might be a tiny bit heavier than the usual lever, but it sits where your left shifter would have traditionally been located, which is the best location for a dropper post lever as you barely need to move your thumb to activate it.

KS LEV post 6
The Southpaw puts your dropper lever right where you want it. You’ve also got control over the lever rotation/angle too, so even the most pedantic thumbs will be satisfied.
If you're using a single-ring drivetrain, the Southpaw is a sensible idea.
If you’re using a single-ring drivetrain, the Southpaw is a sensible idea.

Installation is reasonably straightforward. The only real complexity comes when you’re trimming the cable – it needs to chopped very precisely. If you chop the cable too short, the post’s locking mechanism won’t properly engage meaning the seatpost height won’t stay put. Too long as it either won’t fit into the little cable compartment, or you’ll need to wind on a ton of barrel adjustment to take up the slack. The classic twin-bolt seatpost head is zero fuss, unlike so many of the completely useless single-bolt post heads out there.

The only fiddly aspect of the LEV's setup involves trimming the cable to just the right length - there's not a lot of margin for error in this tight little compartment.
The only fiddly aspect of the LEV’s setup involves trimming the cable to just the right length – there’s not a lot of margin for error in this tight little compartment – and getting the cable tension right.

After only a few rides, we’re overwhelmingly happy with this post. It’s an infinitely adjustable system – there are no preset steps in the drop (unlike the FOX DOSS air Specialized Command Post), and we prefer this. Sometimes it’s nice to run the saddle just a centimetre lower, and posts with preset levels of drop don’t allow this. The lever is super light to operate and has superb ergonomics, especially compared to the relatively heavy push needed for a RockShox Reverb post. And because it’s so little effort to quickly bump the post down or up, you use it more than you otherwise would with a less user-friendly post. The rebound speed can be adjusted via the schrader valve under the seat post head, but out of the box the rebound is at a sensible rate which won’t inadvertently neuter you, unlike Specialized’s Command post.

KS LEV post 4
The Ti version of the post which we reviewed comes with titanium seat clamp hardware and a carbon lower clamp.

Our only criticism is we found the post is very sensitive to having the cable tension correct. There’s a fine line between having the Southpaw lever feel floppy and vague, or having too much tension and the post therefore not locking into place when you release the lever. We can see this being a potential concern, as a gummed up cable/housing could hinder the precise nature of the operation. Still without many months of riding this product under out belt, it’s impossible to comment. We’d love to secure a longer-term review on this post to see how it performs after a winter of neglect.

KS LEV post 2

All up, we think this post will answer the prayers of plenty of riders. Admittedly, it does also come at a price that will make you pray a bit too. If your frame doesn’t have the provisions for an internally actuated post, or if you simply can’t stomach the arse ache of internal cables, then the KS LEV is the best option on the market, hands down. It gives you all the pluses of an externally cabled post, but without the flappy cable downsides, and works effortlessly too.

Read some other dropper seat post reviews while you’re here!

FOX DOSS vs Crank Bros Kronolog vs RockShox Reverb – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/adjustable-seatposts-three-way-test-crankbrothers-kronolog-fox-d-o-s-s-rockshox-reverb/

Specialized Command Post – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-command-post-blacklite-adjustable-seat-post/

 

Tested: New SRAM Guide Ultimate Brakes

When it comes to the business of slowing you down, it has been a great year for SRAM and their new Guide series of brakes.

They’ve shrugged off the horrendous 1980s-Alfa Romeo-style consistency issues of the Elixir and delivered a brake with power, feel, great adjustability and, very importantly, reliability. You can read our full review of the SRAM Guide RSC brake here. 

But the wheel of progress must roll on, and SRAM have added another layer of glitz to the Guide lineup, brining back the ‘Ultimate’ moniker.

The new Guide Ultimate is more than just a lighter, shinier version of the Guide RSC brake, it boasts a bunch of all new innovations, predominantly at the caliper end.

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New caliper. Lighter, cooler, smoother and easier to bleed.
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An ultimate bike for the new Ultimate brake.

As Nelly once said, “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.” While the new Guide Ultimate doesn’t encourage nudity, heat management is a real focus in the brake’s development. This is interesting, as heat is usually the battleground on which Shimano brakes have lead the way (with their Ice-Tech pads and rotors), but in this instance SRAM are going all out in the quest to keep things cool.

New Caliper

While the Ultimate uses the same brake pad as the other Guide brakes, and is still a four-piston design, the new S4 caliper features a longer, wider pad ‘pocket’ which exposes more of the pad to the passing air. The aluminium pistons are new too, with a layer of insulating material at the pad end of the piston, to reduce heat transfer into the fluid/caliper.

SRAM Guide Ultimate 5
The new pistons are aluminium for a more consistent contact with the new moulded rubber seals. But with a composite core, for greater cooling properties.
SRAM Guide Ultimate 6
Four pistons, for modulation and power.

There’s also a new Heat Shield, which is a novel approach to preventing heat transfer; it’s literally an aluminium chip, which lives between the pad and caliper body. SRAM claim it reduces fluid temperatures by up to 20 degrees celsius.

SRAM Guide Ultimate 3
The new heat shield in position.
SRAM Guide Ultimate 4
Simple, but should be effective in shielding the brake fluid from the heat off the pads.
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The new S4 caliper is visibly different, with less material and a larger pad pocket.
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The more air that can flow around the brake pads, the cooler your brakes will operate. Heat is your enemy.

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New Bleed process

Bleeding an Avid brake was usually enough to make you want to squirt the whole syringe of brake fluid into your eyes, so the new bleeding system will bring a smile to mechanics’ faces. The Bleeding Edge (very clever, SRAM marketing people) system ditches the fiddly screw-in fittings that have been part of the Avid/SRAM bleed system for years. Instead, the bleed fittings now push/clip into place, for far cleaner connection which should reduce the instance of fluid loss or air creeping in. The bleed path for fluid within the caliper has been changed too, to make it easier to flush out any pesky air bubbles.

SRAM Guide Ultimate 2
The bleed hose clicks into the port with one clean action, rather than removing a little screw and threading it in like the current brakes.
SRAM Guide Ultimate 1
No loss of fluid no chance of letting air in or fluid out. Simple, and so clever!

SRAM haven’t made any drastic changes to the lever, aside from adding a fancy carbon lever blade which was only available on some high end bikes, so you still get reach and pad contact adjustment. The rotors, however, are different to a standard Guide – the Centreline X rotors are a two-piece design, with the stainless steel braking track riveted to an aluminium carrier. This saves a few grams, and looks bad ass.

MY16_SR_Rotor_CLX_180

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Contact Point adjustment is easy, and effective in setting up the brake levers just right, to your taste.
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Reach adjustment remain, for custom setup.

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Finally, titanium hardware is employed throughout, to help keep the weights down and give you bragging rights. Complete weights are impressively low, at just 360g for a front brake with a 160mm rotor, including all hardware.


It was on the dreamy trails of Rotorua when we first squeezed our fingers around these new brakes, fitted to a brand new Santa Cruz Nomad, we set out to garner an impression on the trail.

The first thing we all noticed was the silky smooth lever feel, it’s not day and night between the current Guide range, but it sure does feel that little bit nicer in the hands. Most of the new performance features of the S4 caliper are in aid of durability, and cooling so time will tell.

AM_Guide_Ultimate-Media2-150325-348
Testing the air brake, on Corridor Trail, Rotorua.

Braking power also felt much the same, we didn’t really get the chance to ride the Ultimates in conditions which will really put their cool-as-a-cucumber technologies to the test yet (and our home trails certainly lack the vertical to do s0), but perhaps we’ll have to take them to somewhere like Mt Buller, where we can really cook them!

There was zero drag, and the pistons retreated back into the caliper with a snappy action.

We look forward to giving them a bleed, that may sound stupid but the new ‘loss-less’ style of bleed port will make the process super quick, and very tidy.

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One of Rotorua’s finest new trails, K2.
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Hard on the brakes on K2.

That’s all for now, we can expect these hot stoppers to be in stock around July/August, but for now keep squeezing your current brakes until the SRAM Ultimates arrive.

TESTED: 2016 FOX 34 fork and Float DPS shock

The hot new concept in the mountain biking for 2016 is…. trail riding! Yes, the kind of mountain biking that most of us do every day is exactly where we’re seeing the development focus across the industry, and this can only be a good thing.

FOX have aimed their heavy development artillery at two of the most important trail riding products in their line up; the 34 fork and the Float rear shock. We’ve been riding production versions of FOX’s 2016 34 and Float DPS shock for a few weeks now, and it feels good to be able to come clean with the details.

FOX 2016 22
34mm stanchions are just about all this fork has in common with its predecessor.
FOX 2016 14
The chubby waist immediately tell you that the new Float DPS / EVOL shock is a different beast to the previous Float CTD shock.

Putting it simply, these new products are shit hot. Ride transformingly good. Like you’ve taken the trail to a dry cleaner and asked ‘excuse me, but can you kindly press the living hell out of this, so the bumps disappear?’ But let’s take a look at what makes them work.


A couple of weeks ago FOX released their first tidbit of 2016 product info, with their new 27.5+ specific 34 fork. Hidden in amongst all the blabbing about new axle widths and the rise of fattish tyres (oh gawd) were a handful of references to new technologies that underpin the completely updated 34 fork.

When we say completely updated, we mean it. Barely a scrap of this fork is the same as its predecessor. Chassis, damper, air spring – all new. FOX have also done away with long-travel versions of the 32 fork. The 32 now tops out at 120mm-travel, with the 34 covering 120-160mm, and the 36 taking care of the 160-180mm segment. Clean, easy, makes sense.

FOX 2016 2

The new 34 is filthy light. A 150mm-travel version of the new 34 is lighter than an equivalent 32 series fork. Notably, it’s also a fair chunk lighter than a Rockshox Pike too. The biggest weight saving has been made in the air spring, with 90g shaved, by using an air negative spring, rather than the steel coil found on earlier versions – a change we saw pioneered on the 36 RC2 fork last year (read our full review here). The air spring is also more tuneable too, with volume spacers that can be fitted under the top cap to provide a more progressive or linear stroke. We’ve seen this concept on both the 36 and the RockShox Pike too, and it’s a useful feature for the more involved suspension tweakers.

FOX 2016 19
Hey there, Goldielegs.

The only downside to the new air spring is that the travel of the fork can’t be so easily adjusted. Previous versions could simply be spaced down, but the new 34 requires a different air spring assembly to change the travel.

34 air spring
The negative coil-spring assembly has been ditched for a lighter air assembly.
FOX 2016 6
In addition to three compressions modes (open, medium, firm) you can also adjust the low-speed compression setting in the open mode. Kinda like the RLC dampers from years ago! What do they say about fashion? It all comes back around.

Over on the damper side, the big news is that the CTD system has been axed in favour of the FIT4 damper. We could delve into a deep and brow-furrowing discussion of oil paths and damper shaft diameters here, but there are two main changes from a usability standpoint. The first is the new adjuster configuration; there are three main compression settings (much like CTD, with open, medium and firm), but there’s also a completely independent low-speed compression adjustment. The central black dial has 22 points of adjustment, giving you a much broader and precise range of control over low speed compression, similar to the 36’s RC2 damper.

FOX 2016 18
CTD is out, FIT4 is in.

The second big damper change that users will notice is an all new rebound assembly, which is designed keep the fork riding higher in its travel, particularly after big impacts. Beginning stroke rebound (i.e. for smaller impacts) can be set quite slow, for a more stable and planted ride feel. But on bigger impacts the fork will rebound more quickly to recover from heavy compressions, helping avoid getting bogged down deep in its travel.

FOX 2016 10

Finally, FOX have made some huge leaps in terms of service requirements for their forks. Through better sealing and more advanced lubricants (especially the new Gold Oil), service intervals are now 120 hours of riding, which is far cry more manageable than the 30-hour intervals of yesteryear!

FOX 2016 9
The extra volume of the negative air spring has a stack of benefits. We’re happy to hear the EVOL air sleeve can be retrofitted to older Float shocks too.

But it’s not just the front end that gets the love this year, and FOX have also made some big changes to the Float and Float X rear shocks too. Most obvious change is the new EVOL (extra volume) air sleeve, which will be retrofittable to older FOX shocks too. This is more than just an extra volume air can, as we’ve seen in the past. The EVOL air sleeve is all about increasing the volume of the shock’s negative air spring. This has a number of positive effects.

FOX 2016 16

Firstly, there’s improved bump sensitivity in the initial parts of the stroke. Secondly, the EVOL air sleeve provides an overall flatter spring curve, with more support in the mid-stroke (helping alleviate that wallowing feeling that can afflict some longer-travel air sprung bikes). Finally, the EVOL air sleeve helps slow down the shock’s rebound as it nears full extension, which should reduce the likelihood of getting ‘bucked’ over the bars after heavy compressions, particularly off the lip of a jump.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 12.51.58 pm
See, this graph proves it! The EVOL can flattens the spring curve, with a more supple beginning stroke, and more support in the mid-stroke.

 

There has also been a huge re-think of the shock’s damping, which has led to the new Dual Piston System design and the ditching of the Boost Valve system. Again, we’ll avoid teching you out too much here, and stick to what’s actually noticeable for the user.

While the external damping adjustments are the same (CTD lever, with three position Trail Adjust), the firmness of the lockout (or Climb mode) has been increased significantly. At the same time as making this setting firmer, the level of damping control provided once your blow through the lockout has also been improved. On Boost Valve shocks, there was often inadequate compression control once you’d pushed past the initial lockout platform, but this has been rectified. If, like many cross country racers, you like to run your shock in Climb mode a lot, this change will definitely be appreciated.

FOX 2016 7
There are still three main compression modes, with the middle setting have three levels of fine adjustment.

Ride time! Our 34 fork and DFP shock were fitted to a Yeti SB5. We selected this bike as our test beast, not just because it has been on our must-ride list for a while, but because its Switch Infinity suspension system was designed in conjunction with FOX. With 127mm rear travel, the SB5 can be run with a 130-160mm travel fork. Given the choice, we opted for a 140mm, to keep the bike more in the realm of a trail bike, and not push it into Enduro territory (Jared Graves has been racing an SB5 with a 160mm fork).

Following FOX’s setup guide, we ran 63psi in the fork, and set the rebound 9 clicks from fully closed. Ultimately we slowed the fork down even more, running it 7 clicks from full slow. We dialled in a few token clicks of low-speed compression too, though we’re not certain we really needed it. The shock was set up with just shy of 30% sag.

FOX 2016 12
A low-profile crown lets you get away with more travel up front (as is the trend nowadays), without jacking the bar height up too much.

Any brand new fork and shock will always feel good, but the way the wheels of our Yeti tracked the terrain from the very first ride was pretty insane. Both fork and shock are as close to frictionless as we’ve ever experienced – constantly in motion.

Interestingly, this responsiveness was probably appreciated even more in the shock than it was in the fork. On rolling and moderately rough terrain, the shock offered no discernible transition from compression to rebound either – it sounds ridiculous, but the sensation was hover-esque.

FOX 2016 8
The three position compression lever is as simple to use as ever.

We rarely find ourselves utilising the Climb mode on FOX rear shocks around our home trails, as they’re generally pretty rough. But what little experimentation we did certainly revealed a very firm level of lockout, so that should satisfy the hammerheads out there.

For suspension testing, the most challenging trail in our region is one that we affectionately call the ‘Milkshake’. It’s noted for having long, fast straights of rough sandstone, filled with holes that are just perfectly distanced to bottom out both fork and shock simultaneously. The kind of trail where you do a fair bit of teeth clenching and praying.

FOX 2016 1
Our favourite rocky testing ground.

It was here that the new 34 and DFP shock really shone, delivering the kind of stability you don’t normally expect for a bike with just 127mm of rear travel. We’re accustomed to that awful bucking feeling of running out of front travel right at the exact moment your rear shock starts to reach full extension, but our SB5 kept things bizarrely composed.

Yes, it’s a kick arse bike, but we feel a lot of credit must go the rebound control of both fork and shock. The way the fork quickly digs itself back out of trouble after a solid wallop, combined with the rear shock’s more gradual rebound as it nears full extension, gave us more confidence to wallop square edged hits. And the sheer smoothness and responsiveness of both fork and shock is pretty amazeballs too.

We can see a lot of riders opting to fit the EVOL can to their existing Float shocks, and the 34 fork is a huge improvement over the CTD equipped forks of the past couple of years. Obviously long-term testing will reveal more, but at this early stage FOX appear to have hit the trail-riding nail on the head with a freaking big hammer.

Tested: POC Index Air Glove

Remember the days when mountain bike gloves were all about having the thickest gel pads on the palms for comfort? Now look how things have changed.

The POC Index Air is a full fingered glove with a close fit and a very thin palm. The theory behind a thinner palm is that your hand can gain a greater ‘feel’ of the bike by the way feedback is transferred to your handlebar, but sacrifice a degree of protection when you hit the deck.

POC Glove 2
Minimal palm for a close feel.

With properly functioning suspension and the combination of new technologies like: tubeless tyres, carbon frames, carbon bars and wider rims all contribute to cutting down harsh feedback to your hands. So you don’t necessarily need a thick glove for comfort. There will still be the individual need for protection over sensitive nerves and arteries in the centre of the hand, like what the Specialized Grail Glove achieves, but that isn’t for everyone.

The Index Air Glove slips on to the hand remarkably snugly, at first we thought we may have opted for a size too small, but during the first ride we found the tight and close fit to be absolutely perfect when your hand wraps around the handlebar. Where many gloves bunch up when gripping the bars, the POC’s don’t at all and after hours of riding we didn’t experience that typical soreness that comes with a glove with a folded and creased material against your skin.

The ventilation is a highlight (rendering them pretty impractical in cold weather), keeping your hands cool whilst wicking sweat, and are also quite stretchy in areas where you need good flexibility.

You can keep the gloves on when using your phone too, no excuses for not answering your mum’s phone calls when riding. And there are subtle little rubber pads on the finger tips for a bit more grip on the brake lever.

After a few weeks testing, we’ll happily say that these would have to be the amongst snuggest and most comfortable going. If you’re prone to crashing, or often bash your knuckles into stuff on the trails you, may want to find a pair with more protection. But for $80 you get what you pay for; unsurpassed fit, comfort and feel.

POC Glove 11

Tested: Giro Terraduro Shoes

Buckling your feet into these shoes gives that feeling of hopping into the passenger seat of your parent’s old 90s Volvo, solid and very secure.

The Terraduro is a new-school shoe aimed squarely at the feet of the enduro/all-mountain rider, or simply someone who typically finds themselves kicking the ground foot-dragging through turns, climbing rocks to scout sick lines or just pushing their bikes back up the hill to hit a line again.

There is no carbon material to make the sole stiffer than a frozen house brick, or any fancy lightweight materials used in space exploration, just a classic styled shoe with a few key points of difference. It’s also quite subtle and traditional in its appearance, aside from the deep orange colour they don’t look too dissimilar to your traditional mountain bike shoe.

Giro Terraduro 1

At first these shoes felt quite bulky when on, but by the second and third ride the upper material around the shoe softened up nicely conforming to the foot with a more supple feel. The overall fit is slightly more relaxed than your classic cross country shoe, but not as roomy as the Specialized 2FO or Five Ten Impact XVI. The Giros will please riders with slightly narrower feet.

The buckle is an especially effective item, cranking up the plastic clip is very easy and pulls a good amount of tension around the whole foot rather than squashing it straight downwards. And the velcro straps pull tension across a metal clip, ensuring that mud doesn’t clog up their range of movement too much.

The rubber out sole is really quite soft and tacky, and branded proudly with the Vibram badge of approval. The shoes stick to rock really very well, but with a few areas on either side of the cleat already showing wear a couple months in, we might have to accept increased wear as a trade for great grip. But saying that, we do spend a lot of time in riding shoes, and plenty of time off the bike with a camera in hand, probably more than most.

We used the shoes with Shimano XTR Trail pedals, which have a bigger contact area around the pedal to support the shoe. Initial rides found us restricted in our pedal float, it took a couple rides for the shoes and pedals to fit best and the rubber sole wasn’t making too much contact with the pedal cage.

Giro Terraduro 10
No toe studs or deep plasticky spiked soles here.
Giro Terraduro 12
Note the way the sole curves upwards at the toe. Makes for great walking and clambering up un-rideable trails.

What we liked most about the sole was the way the toe area curled up, great for pushing your bike in. Your foot rolls forward on the sole as you walk, rather than bending the front of the shoe up and cramping down on your toes.

On the bike the shoes certainly do feel super sturdy and secure, the toe area provides loads of protection via a stiffer section of material up front, defending you from debris impacts. They do feel heavy when wet though, the soft mesh material under the tongue and around the inner heel area soaks up sweat and water from the trail, and doesn’t dry out as fast as some lighter cross country shoes or the Specialized 2FO shoes. Not our pick for wet weather riding as such.

Sole stiffness is pretty good, too. You can feel the sole bend around the pedal slightly when really giving it some, they aren’t trying to be an XC racer shoe, so what you do gain from a little give is a good feel of what’s going on down there, not that isolated feeling you get with super-stiff soled shoes.

Giant Reign 28
Pretty neat colour matching, right?

So, if you’re like us and appreciate a shoe that isn’t so stiff that you lose feeling of the bike below, you spend a bit of time dragging feet through turns and clambering around the bush looking for sick #enduro trails, these tangelo Terraduros are a killer option. Bolt some on and see for yourself.

Yeti SB5 Carbon First Impressions

Over the last few years, Yeti Cycles have been kicking goals with both feet. First the SB66 and SB95 pushed all our feel good buttons, and then came a new version of the legendary 575 which nailed the balance of nostalgia and progression perfectly.

The SB75 was good too, if not quite to the same standard as the 66 or 95.

We’ve since published our final review of this bike here – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-yeti-sb5c/

yeti sb5 4
Gorgeous. We have a dropper post coming to complete the picture soon. And some less blurry suspension.

And now it looks like Yeti’s their form is holding, with the new SB5 Carbon. Jared Graves and Richie Rude have already demonstrated in no uncertain fashion what this bike is capable of in the right hands, so let’s see how it goes in the wrong hands then.


Read our other recent Yeti reviews:

Yeti SB95 http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/yeti-sb95/

Yeti SB66 Carbon http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/long-term-test-and-video-yeti-sb66-carbon/

Yeti 575 http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-yeti-575-27-5/

Yeti SB75 http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-yeti-sb75/


At the heart of the SB5 Carbon lies the new Switch Infinity suspension system, which was developed in conjunction with FOX. It’s unlike any other suspension design on the market – a kind of mash-up of the original Switch design and the rail system which has been a feature of Yeti’s downhill bikes in recent times.

Describing its operation in words is like trying to explain iMessage to your elderly mother, so take a look at Yeti’s excellent video below to get a feel for the system’s mojo.

The frameset is filthy light, coming in at 2.3kg including shock, which helps keep our test bike to just 11.46kg. (That figure will increase by a couple of hundred grams once we add a dropper post, but it’s still very impressive).

yeti sb5

On of the talking points of the SB5 is the adaptability of frame to take on a wide range of riding styles and an equally wide range of fork travels. Our bike is set up with a 140mm fork (compared to 127mm out back), but Yeti are planning on speccing this bike with a 150mm fork. Jared Graves has been racing his SB5 with a 160mm-travel FOX 36 up front too, which seems like a fair travel disparity, but it clearly works!

You may have noticed that we’ve given the fork and shock the ol’ swirly treatment in the pics above too. There’s a good reason for that – all will be revealed soon. To the trails!

 

Mavic Crossmax XL WTS Wheelset

Mavic’s Crossmax wheels have quite the reputation. Mavic, the French gods of rolling gear, have long made the rims and wheels that other manufacturers aspire to equal, and the Crossmax line has been at the pinnacle – le summet, if you will.

Mavic Crossmax XL 10

 

Mavic Crossmax XL 2

Their are four flavours of Crossmax wheels available, and we’re taking a look at the newest version of the XL wheelset in a 650B format (26″ and 29″ are available too), which is right in the sweet spot with the popularity of enduro-style riding/racing. Mavic bill these wheels as the “adventurer’s choice”;  I once ate a sea urchin, that’s pretty adventurous, so hopefully we make the cut.

Mavic Crossmax XL 1

First thing, these wheels come pre-dressed with some excellent looking tyres! Mavic have been developing rubber for both mountain and road bikes over the past few years, and this will be our first experience on their treads. The Quest tyres are a 2.4″ width, with a generous bag to them, nice and soft compound, with a lowish-profile centre tread. The claimed weight for them is 780g in 650B, and of course they’re tubeless ready too.

Mavic Crossmax XL 8
The 2.4″ Quest tyres are a soft compound, with a tread pattern we definitely like the look of.

The wheels themselves are a pleasant evolution, rather than a blank-sheet re-design. Mavic have bumped the internal width of the rims up to 23mm, for more tyre stability, as well as changing the rim profile to make it more dent resistant. The milling on both the hub and rim is something pretty special, giving the wheels that gorgeous ‘carved from a hunk of aluminium’ industrial chic that we really like. 24 massive Zircal spokes hold each wheel together, with radial lacing on the rear driveside.

Mavic Crossmax XL 9
The four-pawl freehub body feels light and crisp in action. Easy serviceability has always been a feature of Mavic hubs too.

We haven’t yet removed the tyres to weigh the wheels on their own, but the claimed figure is 1710g. With tyres and tubes fitted, the complete weight of our 650B wheels is just on 3.6kg, which will drop significantly once we go tubeless (valves are supplied).

Mavic Crossmax XL 3
With a 23mm internal width, the Crossmax XL rims aren’t as wide as many we’ve tested lately – will there be enough support?

We’re genuinely looking forward to riding some Mavic wheels again. With the trends towards super-wide rims we’ve been seeing in the all-mountain category, it’ll be good see how some high-quality not-so-wide wheels perform in comparison. These will be finding their way onto our Norco Range long-term test bike very shortly. NB. Our wheels are fitted with an XD Driver body, not a Shimano driver as is standard.

Shimano XTR Di2 – Shift Modes Explained

We’ve now logged about three weeks on board Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed drivetrain on our Pivot Mach 4 carbon test bike, happily zapping, beeping and whirring away through the trails. We’re conducting a long-term test on this remarkable new groupset; our aim is to find out what it’s really like to live with electronic shifting on a mountain bike. You can read all about the installation process and some of the questions we hope to answer in the coming months, here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/shimano-xtr-di2-long-term-test-installation/

Shimano XTR Di2 9
A whole stack of gears. The 11-40 cassette is broad enough that we’re spending most of our riding time in the big chain ring.

One of the most unique features of the Di2 drivetrain, is that it offers you a variety of different shift modes (all of which can also be customised, which is an aspect we’re yet to really explore). Our drivetrain is a 2×11 configuration, and as such we have three different shift modes to choose from.

Shimano XTR Di2 10
Ultimately, we’d like to just run the right hand shifter and use Syncro Shift mode full time.

 

There’s a ‘conventional’ manual shift mode, using both left and right shifters which control separate derailleurs, just as with a regular cable-actuated shift system. The big difference between a cable system and the Di2 system is that the shifts are completely instantaneous, and you can hold down the shifter button to shift across the entire cassette in one go.

The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next.

Then there are two Syncro Shift modes, which allow you to use just one shifter, with the system automatically shifting the chain between the chain rings. The two Syncro modes can be programed to offer different shift patterns; for example, you might set one mode up for racing and and configure it to keep the chain in the big-ring most of the time, only using small chain ring as a bailout gear. Then you could set the other mode up to use more lower range gears, staying in the small ring for longer. Again, we’re yet to delve into customising these modes, and so far we’ve been sticking to the pre-programed settings.

Shimano XTR Di2 21
The display is not intrusive. In fact, the only time we’ve been distracted by it is when riding in very low light, when it’s actually quite bright!
Shimano XTR Di2 8
The front shifts are powerful and crisp. The little servo motor that drives the front derailleur packs a punch, so much so that it carries a warning to keep your fingers out of the way!

Any fears we had that the Syncro Shift mode would prove somehow disconcerting or unpredictable have already evaporated. The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next. The shifts between chain rings are conducted with a corresponding shift at the rear derailleur (i.e. it downshifts the rear at the same time as upshifting the front), so that the ratio changes are kept even, and you don’t have that same huge jump in gear ratios that you normally associate with a front shift.

Shimano XTR Di2 6
The rear derailleur is bulkier than a standard Shimano mech, but we haven’t had any impacts yet.

Our preference is to eventually remove the left hand shifter and install a dropper seatpost remote lever in its place, and our experience with the Syncro Shift mode thus far definitely gives us the confidence to do so. We’re going to be revisiting our XTR Di2 drivetrain plenty more in the coming months, so we’ll leave it there for now. Stay tuned. Zeeeeeep!

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Reign 1

Holy mango explosion! We’ve finally got our hands on the spectacular Giant Reign, and we’re itching to give it an absolute bollocking. Somehow, we think it’s looking forward to it, too.

Giant Reign 1 6

We got our first taste of Giant’s updated Reign last year, when we attended the launch over in Pemberton, Canada. Have a read all about it here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-2015-giant-reign-advanced-0/

At the launch, we were lucky enough to spend all of our riding time on board the $7700 Reign Advanced 0. But this time we’re on the slightly more attainable alloy-framed Reign 1, which is dressed with a pragmatic yet performance-focused parts kit and is priced at $5699.

Giant Reign 1 3
If you’ve got eagle eyes, you’ll notice the top shock mount rotates on cartridge bearings for supple performance.

There’s no mistaking the Reign’s intentions, this bike is as #enduro as it gets. One glance at this bike in side profile gives you the full picture: it’s slacker than a pair of the Kepper Jeans in 1998 – the static head angle is 65-degrees, which becomes more like 63 once it’s at 30% sag. In contrast the seat angle is a climbing-friendly 73-degrees, and the keen eyed will notice that the RockShox Pike fork has travel adjustment too, which will help keep it on the straight and narrow on the climbs as well.

Giant Reign 1 7
We approve of the addition of a top guide and bash guard for the SRAM X1 crankset. The small weight penalty is worth it for the extra security.

Travel is 160mm front and rear and we’re well versed in the mannerisms of the Maestro II suspension, which we know works superbly with a high-volume shock such as Monarch Plus. Four-piston Guide brakes with big rotors, excellent Maxis rubber, and 800mm-wide handlebar all remind you that this is not a trail bike. The weight, however, is more like you’d expect from a trail bike, coming in at 13.46kg (before tubeless conversion) – we’ve got to say, this figure was a pleasant surprise when we lobbed it onto the scales.

Giant Reign 1 2
Pike fork, Minion tyre. Win.

Prior to the release of the new Reign, the nearest equivalent bike in Giant lineup was the Trance SX, which was actually one of our long-term test bikes. We absolutely loved that bike (you can read the full review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/long-term-test-giant-trance-advanced-sx/) which bodes well for the Reign.

 

Tested: Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B

You won’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that any S-Works is going to an absolute pleasure to ride, Specialized stop at nothing when dressing their flagship model bikes in the most ridiculously fine components money can buy. But when you wave the S-Works wand at a big travel Enduro, we found you end up with a bike that hides its brawn like magic, but knows exactly when to show its cards when you need it the most.

Click below to watch our video review.


The Enduro sits proudly in the increasingly competitive category of its namesake – enduro. That buzz word has grown rapidly in popularity all over the world, and  is responsible for the birth of a new and fashionable way of riding. In short, going enduro riding is what we’ve always done, hitting the descents as hard as you can and riding back up the other side again. But going enduro racing is about getting every possible inch of performance out of your body and bike, when both climbing and descending. It’s tough, so ideally you need a lightweight downhill bike with lots of gears and efficient pedalling performance. Simple, right?

As a side note, the Enduro is now available in both 29″ and 650B wheels (Specialized prefer the measurement 650B rather than 27.5″, as the exact measurement is not 27.5″), giving riders a choice that we don’t usually see in this long travel and high end category. Hopefully we can line up a review on the 29er version soon too.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 3

[divider]Build[/divider]

This Enduro uses a carbon front end mated with an aluminium rear end, and it’s Specialized’s finest FACT 11m carbon material that allows the impressive lack of mass. Sitting on the Enduro you look down at a very burly frame, all the tubing and shapes are huge, giving you the confidence that this bike ain’t mucking around. The cables run externally down the underside of the down tube in a remarkably neat and easily accessible way, Specialized know how to route cables that’s for sure. Another neat touch is at the chainstay with a tidy and effective rubberised guard to silence the ride from the slapping chain. No downtube protector though like we’ve seen a lot of lately on carbon mountain bikes, perhaps the three cables will provide the frame with enough protection from debris impacts.

In classic Specialized style, this is a boldly finished bike. Making no secret that it’s an S-Works there is big red lettering and a beautifully detailed matte and gloss hybrid paint job and all the colours match up to perfection, even the custom stickers on the RockShox fork look just so neat, it’s a real head turner.

Specialized’s suspension bikes use variants of the long-standing FSR design, it’s their own design and a very popular one indeed with anyone who appreciates a supple and grounded feeling suspension bike. The suspension pivot that sits just below and in front of the rear wheel axle allows the FSR system to benefit from a certain amount of vertical wheel travel as it compresses. The FSR is a suspension design that doesn’t give the rider too much feedback through the pedals, and also remains active enough when the rear brake is actuated.

An FSR suspension bike is a winner in just about every area, but in more recent times with the advent of bigger wheels used in longer travel bikes the compact configuration of the FSR has fortunately allowed Specialized bikes to keep the rear ends of their bikes super short in the name of enhancing the bike’s on-trail agility.

When the Enduro 29er was first announced there was a whole lot of hype around the promise of a big wheeled bike that would reap the benefits of a bigger wheel, but maintain quicker handling that a we’re used to with 26″ and 650B bikes.

In the case of this 650B Enduro, the chainstay length is an astounding 422mm (and 430mm in the 29er). We’ll elaborate on what a short chainstay does to a bike’s handling later.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 35
The Enduro’s impressively stiff frame with the distinctive X-Wing shape will confidently go wherever you point the front wheel.
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 6
The top shock mount hides inside a wide and beefy section of carbon.
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 41
The tight and compact FSR linkage is partly responsible for allowing the Enduro’s rear wheel to come so close to the centre of the bike without compromising on tyre clearance or lateral rigidity.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Yes, it’s a very high end bike. For $10500 you’d want to expect really, really #*%$*@! great parts, but don’t worry the S-Works Enduro won’t disappoint. Interestingly it’s only the fork, shock, shifter, cassette, chain, derailleur, brakes and stem that isn’t a Specialized branded component. Even the cranks and wheels are from Specialized’s catalogue and we stand by all their gear as some of the best available. Tyres are a particularly hard one to get right, and they succeed with flying colours with the tacky and lightweight combo of the Slaughter and Butcher.

The SRAM XX1 drivetrain is flawless in its operation, and we especially appreciate the small 32 tooth chainring giving the Enduro a nice and low gear range. Give us a lower range of gears any day! If you’re spinning out of a 32 tooth chainring, you’re probably on a road so just chill out and enjoy the fresh air. We never felt the gear range was too low, this test bike travelled with us to Roturoa, Mt Buller and all over Sydney’s Northern Beaches, it’s fair to say that it had a solid and varied amount of terrain to be tested against.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 25
Hard to beat, the SRAM XX1 drivetrain is the duck’s nuts.
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 46
A rotor size that we’d typically see on downhill bikes, 200mm. Extra power!
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 8
Specialized’s new Slaughter tyre, bite in the corners but low profile in the centre for speed.

A whopping 200mm rotor up the front gives the SRAM Guide RC brakes with its silky smooth carbon lever a powerful amount of braking bite, and keeping in theme of real enduro a RockShox Pike with 160mm of buttery smooth handles the ugliest of trails with its trademark composure.

Out the back the Cane Creek DB Inline shock has a lot more adjustability than a typical RockShox or FOX shock, and you’d hope the type of rider who’d be interested in buying such a high end bike to be at least a bit savvy with shock tuning. There’s lots to fiddle with: you have air pressure, high and low speed rebound, high and low speed compression and a Climb Switch. Cane Creek make it simple and clear to understand what adjustment does what and their website is excellent, and to simplify the setup even further Specialized supply their recommended ‘base setting’ to help get you in the right ball park to get started. Only the Climb Switch is adjustable on the fly, the other four adjustments require a small Allen key. Air volume is also adjustable via a simple process of fitting spacers inside the air can to achieve a more linear or progressive spring rate. It’s a highly tuneable shock, so to get the most out of  it the trial and error testing period is imperative.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 27
The Cane Creek DB Inline shock is new to the market, and offers a massive range of tuning options.

It’s the Cane Creek shock that we didn’t exactly get along with though. Our first ride became a frustrating one, with the shock losing all its rebound control making the bike ride like a noisy pogo stick. A replacement shock was swiftly sent and we headed out for round two, but disappointingly we never got to a point where we felt comfortable with the rebound control. Although better than the first shock, it still wasn’t right.

Specialized assured us this was only a teething issue with a batch of shocks on the early release pre-production bike that we had (previously used in the Test The Best demo fleet) but in truth we’d heard whisperings around the place that we were certainly not the only ones having issues with this new shock. Third time lucky and we were running a shock which seemed to function correctly, but it still failed to impress us like we’d hoped. It’s a shame, as we have certainly had good experiences with the Cane Creek shocks before.

Despite plenty of tuning, resetting the sag, and using the base settings that Specialized suggest, we still didn’t feel any benefit of this shock over say a RockShox Monarch Plus or a FOX Float X. We struggled to find a point where the spring rate was progressive enough to resist blowing through the travel – increasing compression damping just reduced the sensitivity and the disparity between the supple fork and shock was too great. The overall feeling was one of uncertainty, like we were never certain where we were in the rear travel .Maybe we’re just used to a FOX or RockShox shock?

On a more positive note, we appreciate the Climb Switch adjustment (gold lever) and how it puts the shock into a perfect climbing mode. We just wish the other adjustments could also be made so easily.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 9
The Specialized Henge saddle is nice to sit on, and the new slippery finish is great for pedalling in baggy shorts.
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 20
30mm wide internal, (35mm wide external) rims are a move in the right direction. Try some, you’ll never go back.
Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 23
This is ergonomic perfection – the remote lever for the adjustable seatpost.

Whilst we love the new Slaughter tyre used on the rear of this bike (the low profile centre knobs do wonders in boosting the rolling and acceleration speed of the bike) we’d suggest keeping a meatier tyre in your possession for backup if the conditions get rougher or looser. And perhaps a set of tyres with stiffer sidewalls would let you make the most of the wide rims and drop tyre pressure further without squirming on extra heavy sections of trail.

The seatpost is also a Specialized number, with a cable actuated lever that connects to the post internally. The remote lever is absolute ergonomic perfection, and so simple! Hitting the seatpost with your left thumb is so very easy, and it controls the three-stage seatpost height without needing to move your hand position on the bar. It’s just at times we struggled to locate the desired height, even after a few rides we often took longer than we’d liked to lock it into place. A slight amount of knocking developed in the post too, and was noticeable when riding, not a deal breaker for us but still something you’d prefer not to have when with such a high price tag.

The Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels are a seriously good addition to a bike like this. The mega 30mm wide carbon rims give the tyre a massive footing allowing you to run lower tyre pressures, which in turn boosts traction in every situation and there is none of that uncertain squirming that comes with low tyres. There is no foreseeable drawback in our minds with wide carbon rims, it’s the future and the Roval Fatties strike a perfect balance of width, weight and stiffness. Definitely our most favourite wheels in this category right now.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We took the Enduro everywhere and anywhere we could, which says a lot about a bike with such a big amount of travel. We found it to be the 160mm travel bike that we climbed as easily as we descended. That is not a easy task to get right, no matter how hard bike companies try as it requires a considered balance of key elements, and low weight doesn’t hurt the cause either.

A 12kg bike will never be a drag to climb hills on, but it’s really the combination of the geometry and suspension efficiency that make the Enduro such a snack when you’re settling into a long slog to the top. It’s a short bike overall mated with a slack head angle, so it favours a light steering input on the bars to help keep the front wheel pointing up the trail without wandering about. With the Climb Switch engaged the suspension was as firm as you’d want it, but still allowed the suspension to remain active enough to track up and over loose surfaces.

During our trip to Mt Buller in the big mountains of Victoria, we took the Enduro on The Australian Alpine Epic Trail, a monster of a ride only 40km in length but it’s a real undertaking. We relished in the way the Enduro had the firepower to really let the brakes off and hammer through the turns on the descents, but still never got in the way of climbing all the myriad of steep and tricky pinches and tight uphill corners you find there.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 4

And for a trip to Rotorua it was the biggest travel bike we’d taken over to NZ where the fairly smooth terrain typically favours a 120-150mm travel bike, but the Enduro lapped it up with its well-rounded capability. All day rides were comfortable, and on trips to the bike park with gondola-accessed runs the Enduro tackled all the features with the confidence of a bigger or downhill specific bike, jumping doubles, tall table tops and simply playing about with ease and confidence.

It’s the type of bike you can rely on to save your skin when a trail tries to bite, if you make an error or come too hot into a section of trail where you might reach the limits of traction and suspension capabilities, you’ll be sure not to get bucked off.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 1

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B (1)

The short rear end comes into play in many aspects of the ride character, the most obvious is when the trails are tight. A bike with 160mm of travel should not normally be able to flick around a switchback turn, or make quick direction changes like this. Climbing up a tight corner in the trail requires much less effort than you’d expect, and winding through flatter singletrack is also remarkably easy with far less heavy handed effort to make such a long travel bike go where you want it to.

The reduced length out the back takes a fair bit of getting used to, especially for us when we are jumping around between so many test bikes all the time. In the big bermed corners of Rotorua we struggled to find a position where our weight was evenly distributed over both wheels, and our upper body was in a position to steer effectively. We’re sure a bit more time on the Enduro and experimenting with handlebar height we would find a position we are happy with.

Also the short rear end takes getting used to when climbing up ledges, where your timig to lift the rear wheel is quicker than normal, but again nothing we’d not become more comfortable with over time. You’ll want to be be careful the first few times you go to pull a big manual too, as you’ll may loop out onto your arse like we almost did a number of times!

Overall, the short rear end and shock do mean it’s a bike that will take a little bit of getting used to. But once you’ve got your head in the game, the Enduro lets you charge very hard, it’s stiff and solid beneath you, so you’ll naturally put a lot of confidence in it when you need it the most.

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 2

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

Our misgivings over the rear shock couldn’t dampen our love of the Enduro, it’s a seriously capable bike that performs like its name implies, a real enduro bike. The rougher the terrain the better, and the more determined you are to ride everything in front of you, better still.

It’s a lot of dough, but there are models below it in the massive Specialized catalogue that have the same geometry and efficiency just without the super high end bits and a few added grams, but those who want this bike probably already know what they are in for as it says S-Works on it. Enough said.

Tested: Zelvy Carbon 35 29er Pro Wheelset

No doubt about it, carbon wheels are the new dropper seatpost. They’re the upgrade everyone is emptying their wallets for, and we’ve been spoiled lately with a stack of carbon wheels to test. The most recent of these is from Queensland-based Zelvy Carbon, who sent us a set of their 35 29er Pro wheels.

Zelvy, unbeknownst to many, have been quietly slipping their wheels under some of the fastest and hardest riders on the planet, and have had their hoops raced at the highest levels of World Cup and World Champs competition. For a little company, they have impressive credentials.

Zelvy Wheels 2

There’s a good reason carbon is becoming the material of choice for mountain bike wheels. The strength to weight (and stiffness) of carbon opens up a world of possibilities for rim design, most notably the ability to add width to rim without ending up with a heavy set of hoops. The benefits of a wider rim is something we’ve harped on about plenty of times, but it’s worth noting again; a wider rim gives your tyre more stability, which in turn facilitates lower pressures with reduced tyre roll, giving you more grip in every situation, from cornering to braking to climbing.

Over the past few months we’ve seen a massive surge in the proliferation of wide rims, and we’ve reviewed wheelsets with rims up to 41mm wide. While Zelvy do offer 40mm-wide rims, we opted for the slightly narrower and lighter 35mm rim option (430g rim). Zelvy have a 30mm-wide rim too, which is ideal for frames with tighter tyre clearance or if you prefer a more traditional looking wheelset, but for us the 35mm was the ideal match to our test bike.


Other carbon wheelsets we’ve recently reviewed:

Ibis 741 – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-35mm-wide-ibis-741-wheels/
Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR Carbon – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-bontrager-rhythm-pro-wheels/
SRAM Roam 60 – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-sram-roam-60-carbon-wheels/
Specialized Fattie SL – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-specialized-traverse-sl-fattie-wheels/
Enve M60 Forty wheels – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-enve-m60-forty-wheels/


Along with rim options, Zelvy offer their wheelset in a number of build levels, which dictates the hub and spokes used. Pricing on a 35mm 29er wheelset starts with the Race build at $1350, which will get you the same rims laced with DT Competition spokes to Hope Tech hubs. Our primo Pro build was assembled with DT’s exemplary Aerolite spokes and gorgeous Chris King hubs in a lairy mango colour, with rim decals to match.

Zelvy Wheels 9
Pretty little things, those Chris King hubs!

The test machine for our review was Trek’s Fuel EX 9.9 29er, which already comes equipped with a high-end set of wheels, so we were incredibly surprised to find that the Zelvy wheelset weighed in 80g lighter than the stock Bontrager Rhythm Elite wheels (both wheelsets were weighed with rim tape fitted). This is especially impressive when you consider the rim profile of these two wheelsets, with the Zelvys measuring up a full 6.5mm wider than the Bontragers – the Bontys have an 22.5mm internal width, while the Zelvys are 29mm.

Our Zelvy wheels arrived ready to rock for tubeless use. The rims are sealed with a heavy duty Gorilla tape (or something very similar), which may sounds hokey but it’s the same stuff as used to seal up ENVE wheels and it works a treat, and the valves are pre-fitted. The Zelvy rims are a hookless design, with no bead hook in the rim’s sidewall. We first saw this technology in mountain bike wheels a couple of years ago, and while it initially made us nervous about the potential of rolling off a tyre, our fears have long since been blown away. Without a bead hook, the rim can made stronger through the sidewall, with less material needed.

We fitted the same tyres to the Zelvy rims as we’d been running on the Bonty wheels, a set of Bontrager XR3s in a 2.2″ size. The shape of the tyre on the wider rim was noticeably different, a lot squarer across the top, and about 4mm wider by our reckoning through the body of the tyre. This mightn’t sound like a lot on paper, but it’s immediately apparent in the flesh, and coupled with the much deeper profile of the carbon rims, your wheels suddenly take on an air of invincibility.

Zelvy Wheels 5
The rims has no bead hook, meaning a stronger sidewall. The rim bed is sealed with what appears to be Gorilla tape.

In terms of build quality, we rate the assembly of the Zelvy wheels very highly. Traditional three-cross 32-spoke lacing is still the gold standard for us, the Zelvys are built tight and true. Of course the Chris King hubs are beautiful chunks of revolving eye candy, and if you’ve got the coin to throw at them, then do so. They look and sound fantastic, and experience tells us they’ll run for years without a lifted finger. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to hang onto these wheels for as long as we’d like, so we can’t draw any long-term conclusions about their durability, but given the quality of the hubs and spokes, and the perfectly balanced build, it all bodes very well.

What we can comment on is how these wheels immediately gave our Trek a new level of performance. We dropped the pressures in our tyres down to 21psi (for a lightweight rider admittedly) and hit our favourite trails faster than we’d ever ridden them on the Fuel EX before. Grip appeared like magic, and confidence followed in spades.

The need to brake before corners was reduced instantly, but when we did need to slow things up, you could jam on the front brake much harder without risk of skidding the front wheel. Comfort and compliance was boosted too, almost like the Fuel had suddenly been given another 10mm of suspension travel.

There was so much grip and stiffness available at the wheels, in fact, that we became conscious of flex in other areas of the bike that had never worried us before. By the end of even our first ride, we knew that if we were going to extract the full potential of the new wheels, we were going to have to hunt down a stiffer fork and handlebar for our Trek! Quite simply, the addition of these wheels was giving our bike abilities that hadn’t been in the game plan when it was specced.

Zelvy Wheels 7
With three rim widths, three build level options and plenty of graphics choices, you can build yourself a pretty unique wheelset!

Acceleration over rough terrain was another area of massive improvement too. Not so much due to the wheel set’s low weight and amazing Chris King freehub engagement, but because the lower pressures allowed the tyre to dig in, not skip or bounce, so your efforts don’t go to waste.

Aside from the fact that you may find yourself in an upgrade spiral, are there any downsides to these wheels? A slight increase in drag on the tarmac due to the tyres’  larger contact patch is about all we can come up with. Some people mightn’t like the big graphics either, but Zelvy offer you a huge range of colour options here too, so you should be able to find a look that you like.

With pricing that is extremely competitive, a wide range of build options, a variety of rim widths and the reassurance of a local support, there is a lot going for these wheels. We rate them very highly in this competitive sector of the market.

Shimano XTR Di2 Long Term Test – Installation

After an agonisingly long wait, we’re finally embarking on our long-term test of Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed groupset! Over the coming months, we’ll be putting the most high-tech mountain bike groupset on the market to the test. Hold onto your butts.

We’ve previewed (and ridden) the XTR Di2 groupset extensively last year at the product launch in October. Make sure you read all about it in our XTR First Ride Impressions piece: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/seismic-shift-xtr-di2-first-ride-impressions/

But what we’re interested to learn now in our long-term review, is what it’s like to actually live with this groupset: what the installation process is like; what it all weighs; how hard is it to setup and maintain; how does it perform in different conditions; how useful are all the programmable shifting modes; is a double or single-ring our preference; is the twin-ring / single-shifter option any good; how useful is the Syncro Shift mode….?

These questions, and many more, are what we hope to answer. But for now, let’s look at our bike of choice for the build, and what the installation process was like for a Di2 newbie.

Pivot Di2 build 1
The Mach 4 Carbon weighs in at 2.68kg, with 115mm rear travel.

For this long-term test, we chose the 2015 Pivot Mach 4 Carbon as the frame for our XTR build. Why? Well, it’s freaking gorgeous. We have a real fondness for Pivot bikes, and we’d have to rank them as one of the best engineered bikes on the market. They’re amazing performers.

The new Mach 4 Carbon hits the sweet spot in terms of usage too; with 115mm of DW Link rear travel and geometry designed around a 120mm fork, it’s just a banging trail bike, and ideal for the bulk of trails we ride around home and on our travels.

Pivot Di2 build 9
The Di2 battery is housed inside the frame, accessible through this port, which also gives you the access needed to make wiring it all up a little easier.
Pivot Di2 build 2
See the little plugs near above the the linkage? Those are ports for Di2 wiring.

But there’s another reason we picked this bike too, and that’s because it’s the first Di2 optimised frame on the market. The frame features a battery port, and the cable port covers are interchangeable to accept either regular gear cables/housings or Di2 electric wires. Pivot are leading the way for Di2 compatibility.


Getting started with a Di2 installation requires more forethought than your standard build. You can’t just install all the components and then bung the housing/cables in at the end – you need to be a little more strategic than that. Our XTR Di2 system included two shifters (you can run just one, even if you’re using multiple chain rings), front and rear derailleurs, a display, two junction boxes, battery and a bunch of wires in varied lengths (1 x 250mm, 2 x 300mm, 2 x 500mm, 1 x 750mm and 1 x 1000mm) – now we just had to connect the whole web.

Before we delve into the detail, it’s worth mentioning a few things. Firstly, we’re only going to be focusing on the Di2-specific elements of this bike build now – the other elements (brakes, cranks etc) we’ll touch on in later pieces.

Secondly, there are no concrete rules around how you have to wire up a Di2 bike – we could have done things in a variety of ways – the parts don’t have to be wired up in some precise sequence. All that matters is that all the elements of the system are connected in some fashion. As long as they’re joined up, it’ll all talk to each other and work fine.

The third point worth mentioning is that it’d be bloody handy to have a proper internal cabling kit/tool before tackling a Di2 installation. Compared to regular internal cables, the flexible wires of a Di2 system can be a menace to manipulate through the labyrinth of a carbon dual suspension frame – we used every trick in the book, especially when installing the wiring for the rear derailleur. Get the right tools and you’ll swear a lot less than us.

Pivot Di2 build 23
In addition to a Di2 compatible frame, we also opted to use latest Di2 compatible cockpit from PRO. These components really make a huge difference in terms of giving you the cleanest possible integration.

The shifters and handlebar were the first port of call. For the same reasons that we chose the Pivot frame, we opted to run the new Tharsis XC bar and stem from PRO. This equipment is Di2 optimised, with provisions for running all the wiring largely internally, making for an exceptionally neat build.

The PRO Tharsis XC bar has three small holes in it – one in the rear-centre and towards each end of the bar – so you can run the Di2 wires from the shifters through the bar and back into the stem. Threading them through was initially a nightmare, until we realised we’d accidentally chucked out the special tool to aid this process. After digging it out of the bin and watching this incredibly helpful video, things became much easier.

Pivot Di2 build 16

The shifters themselves are one of the neatest elements in the whole groupset. They have sturdy highly-textured paddles, which have a really positive mechanical click to them (unlike road bike Di2 shifting, that kind of feels like pushing a Nintendo controller). For now, we’re running both left and right shifters, though later we’ll experiment with running just the one using the Syncro Shift mode.

Pivot Di2 build 17

The final element of the cockpit area is the display unit which mounts alongside the stem. We’ve heard plenty of mutterings from people saying it’s one element of the system they could do without, but it’s very unobtrusive in fact, and carries all kinds of good info about battery life, shift mode as well as facilitating adjustment of the derailleurs.

Pivot Di2 build 25

We used the two 500m wires to run from each of the shifters and back out the port in the centre of the bars, and into a junction box. The junction box would then be housed inside the body of the stem. Our experience is that the 500mm wires are only just long enough for the job – in this configuration they’re pulled quite tight. Ideally, we’d have gone with slightly longer wires to make threading them easier. As it stands, if we ever wanted to swap the current 720mm bar for the 740mm version, then we’ll need to install some longer wires to make it work.

Pivot Di2 build 13
The PRO Tharsis XC stem uses a rotating sleeve to pre-load the headset. You fasten up the top stem bolt, then tighten the headset by turning the threaded sleeve with the supplied 32mm spanner, before tighten the lower stem bolt to hold it all in place.

Next up we installed the fork and stem. The stem is a little different – it uses a threaded collar/insert to preload the headset, which removes the need to run a star nut. Without a star nut, you’re able to  install the Di2 battery into the fork steerer, a feature that we didn’t take advantage of as the Pivot already has its neat battery port. If you did want to go down the route of a steerer-mounted battery, it’s worth noting that the PRO Tharsis stem is not available in lengths shorter than 80mm.

Pivot Di2 build 41
No star nut means you can run the Di2 battery inside the fork steerer if you wish.

From the junction box we ran two wires – a 250mm wire to the display unit, and the 1000mm wire to the battery – with both wires exiting from inside the stem on the lower edge of the face plate. Although super neat, mounting the junction box inside the stem was a super tight fit – the cables had to be bent pretty severely to get it all in. If you were hoping to run a shorter stem, you’ll need to find a different location for the junction box – either inside the handlebar (yes, that’s an option), or externally somewhere.

Pivot Di2 build 34
The junction box is housed inside the stem for super clean lines. It’s a very tight fit though, with an 80mm stem.
Pivot Di2 build 39
Here you can see the wires exiting the junction box via the underside of the stem faceplate, with one wire leading to the display unit, and the other heading back inside the frame towards the battery.

The longer 1000mm wire was then routed inside the down tube to another junction box, which we were able to easily install via the battery port. Into this second junction box, we also plugged the wires for the front derailleur (300mm wire), rear derailleur (750mm wire) and battery pack (300mm wire).

Pivot Di2 build 37
The second junction box is housed inside the frame, down near the bottom bracket, and accessed by the battery port. From this junction box run wires to the battery, front derailleur and rear derailleur.
Pivot Di2 build 38
The long, slim Di2 battery fits neatly into the Pivot’s frame. We took the precaution of securing it with a zip tie around its base to help prevent rattling.

It was here that the Pivot’s Di2 port system came into its own. While threading the cables through the swingarm for the rear derailleur was enough to make us weep (read our point above about using a proper internal cabling tool/kit), the end result is exceptionally clean. The battery port tucks the whole hoohah up inside the seat tube perfectly too, and because all the battery charging is done via the display unit, there’s no need to ever actually take it out of the frame again.

Pivot Di2 build 36
The tiny section of wire spanning from the seat tube to the rear triangle is almost all you see of the wiring for the rear mech.
Pivot Di2 build 28
The Pivot’s Di2 ports secure the wiring neatly, but we’ll probably tape or zip tie this small section of exposed wiring to the frame so it won’t snag.
The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon comes with a bunch of these flush cable port covers so you can seal up any unused ports.
The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon comes with a bunch of these flush cable port covers so you can seal up any unused ports.

Installing the derailleurs is a damn sight easier with Di2 than with non-electric shifting. There’s no trimming cable housings, fitting cable crimps or fiddling with barrel adjusters. You just bolt the derailleurs on in the regular fashion and plug in the wires and they come alive like magic.

Pivot Di2 build 10
Don’t bash this on a rock. Please. The rear derailleur is a work of art. It actually features a ‘safety’ mode that disables it temporarily if it detects an impact, preventing you from then overshifting into your spokes with a bent hanger.

Setting the derailleurs up is a largely a plug and play affair too. You simply set the limits up limit for the for rear derailleur, shift to the gear number five, then change the computer to ‘adjustment mode’ which allows you to make tiny tweaks to the derailleur position using the shift paddles to get it perfectly aligned. You then set the lower limit and b-tension and you’re done. The front mech is even easier, as the lower limit is all you need to worry about.

Pivot Di2 build-3
The front derailleur features neat rubber pads to reduce chain rattle.

Pivot Di2 build-2

The final step is to charge the battery, which is done via a port on the side of the display unit. A full charge takes about an hour and a half. Shimano are reluctant to put a figure on how many shifts a fully charged battery will give you, but if it’s anything like their road Di2 shifting, a few weeks of regular riding wouldn’t be out of the question.


Overall, the installation process did take us longer than what we’d usually expect with mechanical drivetrain, but we put that down to inexperience – this was our very first Di2 build, while we’ve been building bikes with cables for decades. And having said that, some recent bike builds we’ve had to contend with, in this era of internally cabled everything, have been equally as tricky.

Pivot Di2 build complete 2
11.06kg of super bike!

Knowing what we do know about how it all goes together and what length cables should be used where, we’d love to have another go at building a Di2 bike from scratch, as we think the whole process would be quite fast and smooth. The actual adjustment element once all the components and wiring were in place was far easier than with mechanical shifting, and hopefully it’ll require a lot less maintenance in the long term too.

Feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section below too, and we’ll do our best to answer them.

 

 

 

Tested: Intense Carbine 29

Everything about the Intense Carbine 29 is big. Large tyres wrap big diameter 29″ wheels, a tall 160mm travel fork up front leads the way for a generous 140mm of travel out the back. Who would need such a big bike, and what type of trails will such a unique monster feel at home on? We found out.

Intense Carbine 29 27

The Carbine has been around in various incarnations over the last few years, it’s well-known as quite an adaptable bike with the 27.5″ Carbine and older 26″ Carbine using special dropouts that would let you adapt between two wheel sizes, we tested one in 2013. For 2015 the Carbine 29 receives a sleek new carbon rear end dedicated to the use of 29″ wheels.

With Intense now offering complete bikes rather than just frames, the components are carefully selected to play to the strength of the bike’s unique intended use.

Also you can read our review on the 130mm travel 2016 Intense Spider 29c here: Intense Spider 29c review.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The Carbine is all about carbon and the VPP suspension linkage, carbon is the lustrous material that gives the frame its light weight and responsive stiff frame, and the Virtual Pivot Point delivers Intense’s trademark pedal efficiency. VPP suspension is found on both Santa Cruz and Intense, and also many other ‘non-patent infringing versions’ of the design can also found on a Giant, Pivot, BMC, Ibis and many more. In short the rear suspension gets its efficiency from the way that the rear end of the bike moves away from the bike’s front end when the rear suspension compresses, adding tension to the chain. So when you’re pedalling and applying your own tension to the chain, the suspension has a firmer feel and allows your pedalling effort to not get lost in unwanted compression of the suspension.

Intense Carbine 29 18
The upper linkage is a delicately CNCd piece of aluminium, and note the second hole to mount the shock, that drops it from 140 to 125mm of rear travel.
Intense Carbine 29 6
Two grease ports will allow quick and frequent maintenance to the lower linkage, handy as it’s always in the worst place imaginable, catching any mud and water you’re riding over.

Two CNCd aluminium linkages make up the VPP, and you’ll find nifty grease ports on the lower linkage to make maintenance a snack, with the bearings so close to the dirt and in direct firing line of any debris shooting off the front tyre, it’s well worth keeping the moving parts full of fresh and clean grease.

Rear travel is adjustable between 125 and 140mm by swapping the mounting of the lower shock mount to the other hole. It’s a big jump in travel, and we’d only imagine that running the bike in 125mm with the fork still at 160 would make for an awkward and unbalanced ride with such a difference in travel amount, so we left it at 140mm. Perhaps with a 140mm fork setting you’d effectively have two bikes in one.

Intense have run most of the cables internally through the frame, it’s only the seatpost that runs outside the frame. Love it or hate it, the use of internal cables sure does make for a tidy and neat frame, but when it comes to maintenance directing the cables in one end and out the other can more painful than picking a lock with a piece of cooked spaghetti. We would have voted for externalyl routed cables done right.

But most importantly, how GOOD does this frame look? Intense have taken a bit of a risk with this fairly unconventional frame paint job, and we bloody love it. The red, orange, black and white colours combine to make a bike look like nothing we’ve seen before. All the decals and graphics are also so nice to look at, neatly finished and cleverly placed to highlight the creative shapes of the lovely carbon frame.

Intense Carbine 29 28

Intense Carbine 29 14

[divider]Spec[/divider]

In recent times Intense made a move to offer their delicious frames to consumers as complete bikes, whereas for many years you were predominantly faced with a daunting and costly process of building one up from a bare frame. Each Intense is available in a few different build kits, and we tested the Carbine $7799 Expert model. The $7999 Pro build and a top shelf $11999 Factory build are also available here in Oz. Frame only price is $4199 with a Cane Creek Inline rear shock, so no, these bikes aren’t cheap. A real mixture of parts made their way onto this Carbine 29; with Renthal bars, a Thompson stem, a KS seatpost, Stans wheels and a Shimano drivetrain and brakes. We appreciate the way smaller boutique brands like Intense can pick on-trend parts that we rarely see come stock on bikes, it adds to the fact that you’re buying something different and a little bit exotic.

Intense Carbine 29 10
From moto to mtb, Renthal bars are not a common sight on a stock bike. We love the feel and shape, but some may find the bike’s front end tall, and seek a flatter handlebar.
Intense Carbine 29 7
A nice bit of jewellery from Thomson to hold your handlebars in place. Short in length, low on rise, just perfect.
Intense Carbine 29 22
A KS LEV seatpost is actuated by this tiny little lever.
Intense Carbine 29 5
Biting trails harder than a shark with a surfer in its mouth, the Maxxis High Roller II is a mighty tyre in any terrain.

Front to back all the spec worked a treat during our test duration. The wheels with meaty Maxxis High Roller II tyres felt light enough to get rolling – especially considering their size – and can easily be set up tubeless with a couple valves and a good squirt of sealant. The cockpit suited the bike nicely, but we’d love to try the bike with a flatter handlebar to help counteract the tall feeling front end a 160mm travel fork gives you.

The drivetrain is a classic Shimano 2×10 setup, with two small chainrings up the front. This may not please those riders who are falling over themselves to simplify their bikes with a single-ring drivetrain conversion or SRAM setup, but the gear range that you have on offer here is fantastic. Nothing beats that feeling of dropping down to the small ring and spinning lightly on the cranks to get you back up to the top of the trails. A burly 29er like this one takes a lot more to get moving, so a low and wide range of gears is nothing but a blessing in this instance.

Brakes from Shimano are a real Flow favourite, and we aren’t the only ones who call the Shimano XT brakes the best out there, we’d just like to have seen the Shimano i-Spec system used to combine the brake lever and shifter into one handlebar clamp in the name of neatness.

Do we need to comment on the RockShox Pike? What more can be said about this magically smooth, supportive and controlled fork that we haven’t already? Although, to match the adjustable rear end travel amount the Carbine could have benefited from the Dual Position Pike (travel adjustable on the fly) version. This would have widened the bike’s abilities, especially as a more general trail bike with less travel. The RockShox Monarch Plus on the other hand is a fairly simple version with only air pressure and rebound speed adjustments, it is factory set with a fairly firm compression tune. The plushness is there, but at times we wished for a more supple ride when the speeds turned up, and the three position version of the Monarch Plus would have been sweet.

Intense Carbine 29 8
Leading the charge is a 160mm travel RockShox Pike, superb.
Intense Carbine 29 16
With only a rebound dial, the RockShox Monarch Plus is a basic version. We wished we could increase the sensitivity at times, but we did like the supportive tune when pedalling.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We knew the Carbine 29 was going to ride like a monster truck, and we weren’t at all surprised when we took it to the trails when started running over stuff. It’s a real point and shoot type of bike, it’s all about finding hard terrain and mowing it down with reckless abandon. Line choices became less important, ledges on the trail felt smaller and steep roll-downs were significantly less intimidating. But is that what you really want from a bike? Did it just make things too easy?

There is always going to be a tradeoff of a bike with this much confidence in the rough, but in this case, the Carbine as been able to minimise two particular drawbacks that would normally come with such a burly ride; weight and efficiency. The high end parts build and lightweight carbon frame help keep the weight down, and the firm rear shock tune combined with the VPP makes sure the 140mm of travel doesn’t bog you down when you need to get moving.

Intense Carbine 29 31
A real rock eater.
Intense Carbine 29 32
Steep rollers don’t feel as daunting on a bike like this.

But take a look at some of the numbers in the geometry chart. The chainstays are 451mm in length, that makes for a lot of bike trailing behind the bottom bracket. What comes with a long rear end is a bike that is less flickable in tighter terrain, and also a chore to lift the front end on when climbing up steps and ledges. Add to the fact that as the rear suspension compresses the rear end moves away from the bottom bracket to a degree, lengthening the bike even further. It takes some getting used to, but even after a few good rides we found it a hard task to duck and weave through tight singletrack. We even battled to pop a wheelie, or manual the Carbine, it’s really quite long.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.12.52 pm
Geometry for a size medium that we tested.

Of course on the positive flip side of all this is there advantage to having a long rear end? Yes, of course. You just need to let the brakes off and seek out more open terrain to ride. We took the Carbine to a rough old fire road littered with ruts and loose rock, and it was time for it to shine, in its element the Carbine was as stable and confident as your average downhill bike. With a big 29″ wheel, a short and wide cockpit and the venerable RockShox Pike leading the way, you felt unstoppable.

The 67 degree head angle is on the slack side of things, and with such a tall fork the whole front end felt tall and a little sluggish at slower speeds, so climbing out of the saddle the bars feel quite high. We’d love to try the Carbine 29 with a travel adjustable fork to drop the front end down with the flick of a switch when climbing, and even a flatter handlebar if you’re not over 6 foot in height could be a good option.

Laterally the Carbine isn’t the stiffest of frames we’ve ridden lately, the rear end doesn’t quite match the front end stiffness, and when pushed hard the rear wheel can chatter sideways. And it didn’t get the best marks in the classic carpark rear wheel flex test, the tradeoff for low frame weight.

The VPP suspension does a great job of keeping your hard pedal power from getting lost in translation, the pedal efficiency is right on the money. In the small chainring you’ll feel the rear chain tugging on the pedals as the rear shock compresses, it’s a bit lumpy but something that you eventually forget about after a few rides.

Intense Carbine 29 30
For tall or heavy riders who aren’t afraid of steep and rocky terrain, the Carbine is a bit of a weapon.
Intense Carbine 29 33
It’s a unique ride, at home on rough trails in the hands of a strong pilot.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

The Carbine 29 is a very specific bike that is best suited for a specific type of trail. If you’re a rider who cares less for choosing the smoothest lines, and don’t mind lugging a bigger bike through the slower trails in search of the toughest technical trails around, the Carbine 29 is your guy. But if you’re a lighter rider and under 175cm the height and length of the bike might be a bit much to handle unless you’re lucky enough to have massive mountains within range.

It’d even make for a fast enduro race bike if you don’t mind a 29″ wheel beneath you.

Tested: Specialized 2FO Clip Shoes, Flashy Red Foot Ferraris

Specialized’s 2FO Clip shoes aim to fill the gap between racey shoes that look like football boots, and regular joe skate shoes.

Many shoes have tried and failed when it comes to balancing performance, relaxed fit and a casual appearance, but we feel Specialized have landed on their feet with these feature-packed kicks.

2FO 1
Clambering around the trails with these on your feet assure you won’t slip an inch.

After a few solid months riding in these flashy foot Ferraris we take our hats off to the designers of this clever shoe, we love the slim shape, relaxed fit and low weight. They are available in both clipless and flat style and thankfully a couple colour options if these bright red numbers are a bit too much. In keeping with Specialized’s Body Geometry systems a Specialized dealer can help you customise the shoes with the right arch support via interchangeable insoles that fit all Specialized shoes. We popped down to a Specialized dealer, the process was quick, we popped our feet on the Arch-O-Meter mapping plate, and were recommended an insole to support higher than average arches.  Off we went, they retail for an extra $49.95. However you may find that the original insoles are fine for the shape of your foot.

 

2FO 12
A flat sole with deep cushion and a narrow profile.
2FO 11
We were suggested the blue coloured Body Geometry insoles with a higher arch support by a Specialized dealer staff member.

The 2FO name comes from the saying ‘foot out, flat out’ which in essence suits the style of riding loose, letting it all hang out. Luckily if you do drag your feet along the ground in the name of getting rad and happen to kick a rock, a stump or a solid member of wildlife you’ll be sure to benefit from the shoe’s stiff toe box. Plus, if you’re getting rad going uphill and committed to a technical climb and need dab your foot you’ll be glad the sole is a bit tackier than most, helping you regain your control as you firmly play your foot on the ground, instead of slipping and doing horrible leg tearing splits whilst uncontrollably rolling backwards.

Specialized have used materials that we’ve not seen before in mountain bike shoes. The outer has an almost plastic look and feel to it, and inside the shoe the padding is not a soft foam like we’ve become accustomed to, rather you’ll find a web of springy plastic material that gives you both the soft cushion feel and breathing benefits, but won’t soak up water like a sponge. In truth it’s not something we’ve ever really given that much thought to, but you really don’t want extra weight on your feet whether it’s sweat, rain or a splash back from stinky mud puddle that adds extra mass to what’s essentially a rotating mass, it pays to reduce any additional effort to your pedal stroke.

The material of the sole is comprised of two rubber densities, a slightly less sticky rubber is used around the cleat area to help avoid any unwanted snagging on the pedal as you clip in and out. This has been a criticism of many flat soled clipless shoes with soft soles, and can cause some heartbeat-skipping incidents when tying to clip in, but these ones do it just right. The two compounds will also help the lifespan of the sole, sticky where you want it, and tough where you need to resist wear and tear.

The laces on the other hand are of a material that actually doesn’t work as well, when they are clean and dry they slide through the lace holes and pull tension evenly and easliy but once a few rides worth of dirt land on the laces they seem to jam up slightly. It can become a bit tricky then to pull on the laces to achieve even tension over the foot. Plus while we are having a bit of a grumble, we found that if we jammed our feet into the shoe without completely backing off the laces, the rear section of padding inside the heel would fold over and we’d need to manipulate it back again into shape, not a real biggie but we’re sure that we aren’t the only ones who rush when putting on shoes before a ride.

2FO 2
The red coloured rubber is a touch harder in its compound to avoid any unwanted snagging on the pedal when clipping in and out. The black rubber it softer and tacky for a firm grip on the earth.
2FO 10
The red perforated material across the top of the toes feels like a hard rubber, almost like plastic.
Note the webbed mesh under the tongue and all through the inside of the shoe. Light, soft and non water absorbent. Clever!
Note the webbed mesh under the tongue and all through the inside of the shoe. Light, soft and non water absorbent. Clever!
2FO 21
Specialized love number like these, claiming the 2FO shoes to be only 18% heavier when wet. We tried it, and after submerging, the shoe really doesn’t hold much water. Believe the hype, 18%.

The shape of the shoe is also quite slim, there is no extra material around the side of the sole that would get in the way of a clean entry and exit of the pedal, and a slightly higher cuff on the inside to help protect your ankles from hard edges of your cranks and frame.

Fit wise, the 2FO is relaxed with more room than your typical clipless shoe, and at the end of a long day riding you don’t let out a sigh of relief when you take your shoes off. Walking about is pretty much perfect, the cleat is recessed enough that it doesn’t make too much noise, slip on rocks, or damage your lovely timber floors. Sole stiffness is great, too, they do work best with a pedal with some sort of added support like the Shimano Trail, Time ATAC MX4 or Crank Brothers Mallet. A slight amount of flex in the sole gives you a better feel of what is going on with the bike beneath you, where a stiff shoe can often isolate you. Specialized also do a great shoe with a super stiff sole but a slightly relaxed fit and a rubbery grip, the S-Works Trail which we reviewed too.

The shoe laces tuck neatly away from harm under a little rubber loop, but without a lace cover as such (like a Shimano M200) water does get into the shoe pretty easily, but as mentioned before, water drains and dries out nice and fast.

2FO 24

Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B 4

 

2FO
The 2FO sits at the more ‘casual’ end of the spectrum of these four shoes we are currently testing. The Shimano M200, Giro Terranduro, Five Ten Impact XVI and Specialzed 2FO Clip.

It’s clear that Specialized’s 2FO shoes are a product born out of a clever team of designers and the need for a shoe that they have always wanted. Plus Troy Brosnan uses them, he’s fast.

Tested: Giant Anthem Advanced SX

Take a dedicated XC racer, corrupt them with hamburgers, air-time and baggy shorts, and introduce them to the Anthem Advanced SX – the perfect bike for a cross country racer gone a little wild.

The Anthem Advanced SX takes Giant’s incredibly popular Anthem platform, then gives it a bit of a shake up with the addition of a swathe of more aggressive components. The aim is take create a bike that will tackle descents, jumps and berms with a bit more vigour than the standard Anthem, but without slowing your lap times down too much. Mission accomplished.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Bursting onto the trail with more vibrant colour than a toucan vomiting up a packet of Skittles, the Anthem Advanced SX is a real head turner. There’s a lot to admire; the frame mates a beautifully finished carbon front end with an aluminium rear, and in the middle is Giant’s longstanding Maestro II suspension system, delivering 100mm of very efficient travel.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-1

As is the norm with Giant, the attention to detail is top notch. The cabling is neater than a military haircut, and there’s not a rattle to be heard, a feat rarely accomplished with internally cabled bikes. All the racers will be happy to find that there’s room galore for a water bottle so getting a drink on the fly isn’t a dexterity challenge, and the shock’s lockout lever is easy to access.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-6
Great colours, clean cabling, and a head tube length that lets you get low if you like it that way.

 

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-21
The Maestro II suspension system drives a short-stroke Monarch RL shock. In a 29er format, the lower Maestro link led to a long rear end, but this isn’t a worry with the 27.5″ wheels. Note the press-fit bottom bracket and clean cabling too.

Giant have been a real driving force in the industry for the rapid normalisation of 27.5″ wheels, and this is the first Anthem we’ve ridden with this wheel size. The Anthem 29er was noted for having a rather ungainly long chain stay, but with the smaller wheels, the Anthem SX has the attributes for a much more fun ride, with the stays just over 430mm long.

Despite the extra heft associated with a dropper post and bigger-bagged tyres, the Anthem SX weighs in at just over 11.25kg once set up tubeless, which is certainly in the healthy BMI range for this style of bike.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-3
The right mix of light and burly! With the longer fork pushing the head and seat angle back a degree, you can see how we’ve had to push the seat right forward to get the desired position over the bottom bracket.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

We often find ourselves adding a wider bar or bigger tyres to cross country bikes, but Giant have done all the hard work for us this time. Most notably, the bike comes with a confidence-boosting 120mm fork, rather than an Anthem’s usual 100mm, which kicks out the head angle a degree. The cockpit of a 70mm stem and 740mm bar puts you in the right frame of mind for razzing too.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-10
The 120mm-travel RockShox Revelation is the key component in transforming this bike from a regular Anthem to the playful animal you see here.

 

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-14
Giant have ditched their controversial OverDrive 2 steerer system for 2015, which means you can now run a regular stem should you wish to swap out the length or rise. We found the 70mm stem to be perfect.

Carbon wheels add a little spice and strength, and are an unexpected bonus at this price point. The wheels are from Giant’s own range; the P-TRX1 rims are 27mm wide, which isn’t massive, but is a step up in width from those on the regular Anthem Advanced. The tyres are also slightly beefed up, with a Maxxis Ardent up front, and the ‘Race’ version of the same tyre out back. The bike comes supplied with valves and rim tape too. We went tubeless, and even though the front tyre isn’t specifically a tubeless-ready item, it held air fine.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-11
The rims don’t scream ‘carbon’ at first glance, and it wasn’t until we went to convert the wheels for tubeless use that we even noticed that they weren’t alloy. These hoops are a great addition at this price. The bike comes with rim tape and valves, and the rims hold onto the bead nice and tight.

The soggy saddle feels like some has jammed a piece of white bread into your knicks, and for a bike that has this kind of performance on offer, something firmer and less prone to snagging your shorts is needed. The handlebar sweep isn’t our cup of tea, but that’s personal, so you may love it.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-28
We’re not a fan of the saddle, but we do like the Giant dropper post it’s attached to.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-27
The neat thumb lever for the dropper post is unobtrusive and has a light feel. We’ve used the Giant Switch-R dropper post on a number of bikes now and we think it’s a quality performer.

On the positive side of the ledger are the SRAM drivetrain and brakes; finally SRAM have some stoppers which are a worthy accompaniment to their excellent 1×11 drivetrain offerings. We’ve raved often enough about the quite, simple performance of SRAM’s single-ring drivetrains, so we won’t bore you again.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-18
No dropped chains and no missed shifts. The SRAM X01 drivetrain was flawless. Do you like the black KMC chain?

The Anthem’s fork and shock are mid-range RockShox items. On the plus side, both the fork and shock are reliable, have effective lock-outs and are so simple to setup that even the least suspension savvy rider will get them working properly. The Revelation RL fork has been round for years, well-loved for its sheer reliability. It’s smooth over the small hits, but with repeated big impacts the basic Motion Control damper feels less controlled than the more sophisticated RTC3 or Charge dampers found in more recently updated RockShox forks. Out back, the rear suspension is similarly matched. It too has good sensitivity to the small impacts, but the overall feel is quite firm though, with a supportiveness that rarely necessitates hitting the lockout lever.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

This bike isn’t really designed to hug the ground, so the firmer overall suspension feel suits the way it’s meant to be ridden – no wallowy suspension robbing it of responsiveness, saving the bulk of the travel for when it’s really needed, to handle the big hits that are coming its way. And they are coming, because the Anthem SX cries out to be chucked in the deep end.


Giant Anthem Advanced SX 3

While the Anthem’s firm suspension mightn’t isolating you from the rough terrain beneath your wheels like some bikes, it puts you in an excellent position to use every bit of vocab in your body language arsenal and to really play with the trail and stay loose. The slacker head angle and short cockpit encourage you to lift the front wheel more, or to roll into steeper descents, and with the dropper seat post getting the saddle out of the way, you’re left with room to move, to use all that suspension in your arms and legs to get the bike through whatever line you’ve picked.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 4

Of course the Anthem best known for its cross country abilities, and the SX version doesn’t forget its roots as a great climber. The Maestro II suspension system is efficient in our out of the saddle, and the bike’s weight isn’t going to cause you to break a sweat. It did take us a bit of time to get the saddle position dialled though – because the frame is built around a 100mm travel fork, the use of a 120mm on the SX version makes the seat angle quite slack, which is further emphasised by the 25mm offset in the dropper post. We ultimately jammed the seat right forward on its rails to get a position that felt good over the cranks for long climbs or in-the-saddle accelerations.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 21

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Giant Anthem Advanced SX review-31

We’ve said it before, but you should always pick the bike that suits 90% of the riding you do. For many riders out there, who may dabble in a few Marathon or XCO races each year, the temptation is to buy a full-blown cross country race bike. But that’s a mistake in our opinion – why sacrifice the fun factor on your day-to-day rides just to knock twenty minutes off your next 100km race? A bike like the Anthem SX lets you have the best bits of both worlds.

 

 

Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 First Impressions

The Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 is a bike for riders who believe that awesome descents have to be earned. For 2015, the Torrent is available with a carbon front end for the first time and with componentry that make it an outstanding bike in its category.

Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 5

The clean-looking Torrent has aggressive geometry, and 150mm of FOX-perfected suspension with a 34mm stanchion-fork (a welcome upgrade from last year’s 32mm fork). The bike is kept nice and slack – a 66.5-degree head angle – without pushing into the realms of slackness that’ll make it handle like a ride-on lawn mower on the climbs.

Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 7

Straight out of the box, the bike weighs in at 13.5kg (before converting it to tubeless – valves are included), which does put it on the slightly heavy side for an all-mountain bike with a carbon front end. The Torrent comes equipped with an aggressive-style cockpit, running super wide Easton 750mm bars and a 35mm stem. The drivetrain is a 2×10 setup, using an XT derailleur on the rear, but with a chain guide to keep things secure. The e*thirteen TRS 2 crankset isn’t one we see often, but these are a tough set of cranks. The DT wheelset is a very tidy affair, with a crisp sounding Star Ratchet equipped rear hub, even if the rims aren’t as wide as we’re getting accustomed to on this style of bike. We’re interested to see how the Kenda tyres go too, as we’ve only ridden the Honey Badger tyre once before, and then on the rear only.

Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 8

Avanti have focused on eliminating frame flex to give maximum handling precision and confidence. The rear end is stiff as frozen arthritis, with a welded rocker link combined with the Syntax X12 thru-axle system. This frame ain’t twisting.

Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 3

At $5,499.95, this bike is appropriately priced, especially given the carbon front end and quality running gear, while preserving the scope for weight-saving upgrades down the track. The Avanti Torrent CS 7.2 definitely looks like a great evolution from previous versions we’ve ridden over the years.

So Enduro: Trek Slash 9.8 Review

Changing the recipe can be a disaster for an established brand – remember what happened to VB when they dropped the alcohol volume, and seriously, why did Vegemite ever make Cheeseymite anyway? Trek knows this well. After countless design variants in the early 2000s, half a dozen years ago they hit a winning formula with their full suspension bike design. And they’ve stuck with it, because the flavour is just right.

Trek Slash 9


[divider]Build[/divider]

The Slash doesn’t buck the Trek system, it’s not a wild new look or layout for the trendy enduro mob, but it is a slick application of their proven design to the all-mountain category.

Trek Slash 20
Trek’s ABP system does a good job of keeping things smooth when under brakes. We just wish that rear skewer wasn’t such a blight on this good looking bike.

The demands of this discipline are pretty much a bike designer’s worst nightmare; create a bike that allows for reckless, downhill bike speeds on the descents, but make it light and efficient enough to clamber to the summit again. The Slash takes its best shot at this task with 160mm of travel, a lightweight, predominantly carbon frame (all but the chain stays and Evo link), and a suspension package that gives you a great degree of on-the-fly control over the compression settings and geometry too.

Where the Slash is a little different to the Fuel or Remedy, is the use of conventional shock – the excellent Rockshox Monarch Plus – opposed to Trek’s usual proprietary FOX DRCV shock

Like the Fuel and Remedy series of bikes, the Slash is built around the formidable ABP/Full Floater suspension system. With its floating shock mounting arrangement and concentric pivot around the rear axle, the system gives Trek a lot of control over the suspension rate and reduces the effect of braking on suspension performance.

Trek Slash 24

Where the Slash is a little different to the Fuel or Remedy, is the use of conventional shock – the excellent Rockshox Monarch Plus – opposed to Trek’s usual proprietary FOX DRCV shock. The oil volume of the Monarch Plus is definitely more suitable for this style of riding than a DRCV shock; while we like the DRCV system, it has quite a linear rate, which doesn’t necessarily suit the hard riding a bike like this is built for.

Trek Slash 27
The combination of the Full Floater linkage and Monarch Plus shock makes for a seriously bottomless suspension feel.

Treks don’t always have the cleanest lines, but the Slash, without a front derailleur, semi-internal cabling and angsty-looking graphics job, is the prettiest Trek we’ve seen in a while. The only blight is the rear axle, which sticks out like a broken finger, and with the beefy SRAM X1 derailleur too, the rear end of the bike is very wide and snags like a fisherman on a weed bank.

Flow Mountain Bike - Queenstown and Wanaka 22

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Trek have taken the shopping trolley straight to the Enduro aisle at Woolies and picked out all the favourites, then topped it all off with a few tasty bits and pieces from the Bontrager pantry.

Trek Slash 12
The Pike RC Dual Position.

SRAM’s 11-speed X1 drivetrain might theoretically be a lower-end offering than their X01 or XX1, but it works so well there’s almost no difference on the trail. We didn’t drop the chain during testing, but if we were racing, we’d probably still add a top guide, just for security.

These obese hoops offer superb support to the aggressive Bontrager XR4 tyres

The venerable Pike RC up front, in a Dual Position format, can be toggled between 160-130mm travel, for better climbing performance. Like James Bond, this fork’s reputation precedes it, and it’ll churn through the rocks like 007 dispatches with bad guys.

Trek Slash 15
XT brakes make us smile. The only downer with Shimano stoppers is that the Reverb dropper lever can’t be neatly integrated into the one clamp with the brake.

SRAM’s stranglehold on the spec is broken by Shimano XT brakes, with a big ol’ 203mm rotor up front too. We’re firm fans on the new SRAM Guide brakes, but Shimano still have the edge we think.

Trek Slash 13
Fat rims make a better bike. The Maverick wheelset is a top addition to the Slash.

Wide rims are the next frontier of wheel development, and Bontrager are on the program with their new 35mm-wide Maverick Pro TLR wheelset. These obese hoops offer superb support to the aggressive Bontrager XR4 tyres, which also happen to be our favourite tyres at the moment. This combo offers more grip than Sylvester Stalone in Cliff Hanger in any conditions.

Trek Slash 18
There is bugger all performance difference between SRAM’s X1, X01 and XX1 shifting.

Trek Slash 17

[divider]Ride[/divider]

According to ‘Back to the Future’ we were meant to all be riding hoverboards by 2015. That hasn’t happened, but the Slash does give you the experience of riding a hoverbike – this beast is smooth in the extreme.

Flow Mountain Bike - Queenstown and Wanaka 106

A combination of big, low-pressure tyres, suspension that’s supple off the top, and great damping properties of the carbon frame and bar, make this bike just float along. There’s incredible fluidity to the way the latest generation of Treks ride, and with the Pike and Monarch suspension combo, the Slash takes this smoothness to a new level.

Trek Slash 16
Making good use of the rear shock’s compression lever will help get the most out of the Slash.

As we’ve found with other Treks, getting the most out of the bike can involve judicious use of the rear shock’s compression adjustment. There’s precious little anti-squat built into the suspension design, so using the shock lever and a smooth pedalling action are key to extracting the most efficient ride.

Riding the Slash with its fork dropped and the suspension firmed up is like eating diet ice cream, kinda missing the point

The fork’s travel adjustment got a workout too, and we quickly got into the routine of dropping the front end and hitting the lockout lever at the base of every climb.

Trek Slash 2 (1)
With the fork dropped and the rear shock in its firmest setting, the Slash does a decent job as a trail bike on smoother trails.

In fact, on smoother trails, we often left the Trek in that setting – with the fork dropped and the rear suspension firmed up. In this mode, the Slash actually adopted the guise of trail bike pretty well. The downside is that with the fork in its 130mm setting, the bike’s bottom bracket height is super low, so you need to be very conscious of clipping pedals.

But riding the Slash with its fork dropped and the suspension firmed up is like eating diet ice cream, kinda missing the point. This bike is happiest in situations where the suspension is fully open, when you’re letting all that grip and damping do the work, you’re not pedalling, off the brakes, and looking ahead for the next potential down ramp to launch onto.

Flow Mountain Bike - Queenstown and Wanaka 18
The Slash at home, on Rude Rock high above Queenstown.

Trek have obviously been eager to position this machine as a very different bike to the slightly shorter travel Remedy series, and so the Slash’s geometry is more relaxed than a sloth on Valium. It’s built for rolling into the steepest lines and keeping its composure at speeds that would normally require a motor.

Using the neat Mino Link system, you can set the Slash to have a head angle of 65-65.5 degrees. For us, the 65.5-degree setting was already a bit of a handful on flatter or slower trails, pushing the front wheel a bit in spite of the huge amounts of grip, and we think it’d take some pretty serious terrain and high speeds to get us to use the 65-degree option. Still, it’s good to have that option of going slacker, and we’re sure plenty of riders will use this setting once the Slash replaces their downhill bike.

Trek Slash 3 (1)
The Slash making easy work of the trails at Derby, Tasmania.

 

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Magic stuff. All up, we think the Slash is pretty damn good value too. A ticket price of $5999 is still a lot of dough, but the Slash is as fully featured for this style of riding as you could ever hope, especially given it comes with new-school wide rims out of the box.

Trek Slash 10

A rider considering the Slash needs to be aware that this isn’t a heavy-duty trail bike – it’s a proper gravity enduro machine. If all-day trails are your thing, take a look at the Remedy, it’ll give you a zippier singletrack experience. But if you’ve got descent KOMs (or podiums) in your sights or you’re looking to roll your downhill bike and trail bikes into one butt-whipping machine, this is where you want to be.

 

Attainable All-Mountain: Orbea Rallon X30 Review

Holy seared eyeballs! Say hello to the new Orbea Rallon XR30, the brightest star in this Spanish company’s mountain bike line up, and the only bike that’s visible from space.

_Q5A0126
Orbea have traditionally been renowned for their excellent road and triathlon bikes, and in years past their dual suspension mountain bikes have had all the appeal of a haggis breakfast. But the Rallon signals a new era for this prestigious brand – this bike is right on the money and right on trend.

Orbea Rallon 4
[divider]Build[/divider]
The Rallon is another addition to the so-hot-right-now all-mountain/enduro category; 160mm-travel, 27.5” wheels, geometry that’s happiest when the earth slopes down, but with the gearing and suspension efficiency needed to methodically gobble up the climbs too.
Orbea Rallon 24

The suspension design is a neat faux-bar arrangement, with a concentric dropout pivot, similar to that found on Trek’s ABP system. This setup helps negate the effect of braking forces on the suspension, meaning more grip and a more settled ride when you jam on the anchors after you get blinded by your own top tube and overshoot a corner. FOX’s CTD shock (2.5” stroke) takes care of business with simplicity and reliability galore. It’s well located for easy access to the CTD lever too, which is handy on the climbs.

The suspension uses a concentric dropout pivot. Note the post-mount 180mm brake mount? Sweet as.
The suspension uses a concentric dropout pivot, but it all rotates around a piddly little rear skewer. Note the post-mount 180mm brake mount? Sweet as.

It’s disappointing that Orbea spec this model of Rallon with a skinny quick-release rear skewer. The dropouts have inserts that allow you to run a 142x12mm through-axle hub, but this really should be out-of-the-box equipment on a bike like this. Similarly, it’d be nice to see more robust bearings at the dropout pivot too; this area is under a lot of stress, and the slim bearings look a little under-gunned.

The dropped top tube means loads of standover for a relatively big bike.
The dropped top tube means loads of standover for a relatively big bike.

We like the Rallon’s excellent standover height. While it’s a fairly large bike overall, the dropped top tube keeps it feeling unobtrusive between your knees, like wearing a sarong when you’re used to jeans. Given the frame’s front triangle design, it’s odd that there’s no bottle mounts, meaning you’ll need to run a backpack, or put up with an amazing dehydration head ache.

The Orbea uses a very neat mix of internal and external cable routing. It's all rattle-free and easy to work on.
The Orbea uses a very neat mix of internal and external cable routing. It’s all rattle-free and easy to work on.

Orbea have hit all the right numbers with the Rallon’s geometry. Short 420mm chain stays make for a lively ride, and the head angle / bottom bracket height can be tweaked to suit your tastes via the simple, clean offset forward shock mount.

The forward shock mount has a offset insert that gives you a choice of slacker/lower or steeper/higher.
The forward shock mount has a offset insert that gives you a choice of slacker/lower or steeper/higher.

[divider]Spec[/divider]
The Rallon’s spec is designed to hit a competitive price point, and on the whole it succeeds in giving riders who don’t have a squillion dollar budget a great all-mountain experience.

The FOX 34 160mm fork is a pearler.
The FOX 34 160mm fork is a pearler.

If we had to pick a highlight, it’d be the suspension; the FOX fork and shock are excellent. Both items are easy to setup, and work with the zen-like harmony of a good dragon boat crew. The other fundamentals which have a huge impact on the ride are also nailed, with a great RaceFace cockpit and top-notch Maxxis rubber. With a confident cockpit, good rubber and great suspension, you’ve got a solid foundation that won’t hold you back in any situation.

No dropper! Upgrade numero uno.
No dropper! Upgrade numero uno.

Of course, we’d have loved to have seen a dropper post on this bike, but that would push up the price. Still, a dropper would be the first upgrade we’d make (the frame has cable routing provisions for an internal post). Second on the list would be the wheels; the Mavic 321 rims are rather narrow, and aren’t tubeless friendly, plus the rear hub is a cheapy with poor sealing. We’d suggest riding these wheels until they turn into octagons in a year or two’s time, then upgrading to something wider and tubeless ready.

The Formula C1 brakes don't offer much adjustment and have quite a wooden lever feel, but there's plenty of power there.
The Formula C1 brakes don’t offer much adjustment and have quite a wooden lever feel, but there’s plenty of power there.
You'll never hear us whinge about the performance of an SLX derailleur. Perfect shifting, with great chain retention.
You’ll never hear us whinge about the performance of an SLX derailleur. Perfect shifting, with great chain retention.

[divider]Ride[/divider]
The Rallon, by virtue of its great geometry and suspension, is an easy bike to trust. With a hefty 14.65kg weight and heavy wheels, momentum is your best friend; stay off the brakes, let the suspension and tyres work their magic. If you get bogged down, it takes a bit of muscle to get thing back up to speed.

Ganhia Track 12

A solid, precise front end rewards bold line choices, though sometimes we did a feel bit of a wag in the tail – the difference in stiffness between the front 15mm axle and the quick release rear is obvious on rough corners.

Some good quality rubber is perhaps the single simplest performance enhancement you can make to a bike.
Colour matching rims from Mavic.
Some good quality rubber is perhaps the single simplest performance enhancement you can make to a bike.
Some good quality rubber is perhaps the single simplest performance enhancement you can make to a bike.

In spite of its weight, the Rallon manages to remain pretty playful in the tight stuff. A tall-ish front end and the short stays make it easy to get the front end in the air, and the Rallon surprised us with its agility and perfectly composed little drifts through singletrack corners. The bitey Maxxis High Roller up front holds tight, letting the rear scoot on through with grin-inducing slides.

With a 36/22 double ring crankset, you'll always have the gears, even if you don't have the legs.
With a 36/22 double ring crankset, you’ll always have the gears, even if you don’t have the legs.

Climbing is what it is. The Rallon will get it done, but you’ll sweat a bit along the way. Make use of the CTD lever and settle in for a spin to the top. Without a dropper post, you invariably end up running the seat a centimetre or two lower than optimum height (or else you’re constantly hopping on and off to adjust it for every descent) so just chill out on the climbs – this bike’s all about the descents anyhow.

Ganhia Track 11

[divider]Overall[/divider]
As an entry-level all-mountain machine, the Rallon passes with flying fluro colours. The fundamentals are all there; geometry, suspension, confidence-inspiring components – a few simple upgrades down the track, like a dropper post and tubeless wheels, will make this bike really sing.

 

Tested: Shimano M163 Shoes

Shimano shoes are fantastic pieces of kit, with particularly legendary durability. But while Shimano have always made great cross-country shoes, and some great downhill shoes, the brand hasn’t really had an offering that was aimed specifically at the trail rider; you could choose either a stiff-soled cross country shoe, or a softer, but much bulkier, downhill shoe and not much in between.

Shimano M163 2

We ran the M163 shoes for the entirety of our recent trip to Queenstown and loved them.
We ran the M163 shoes for the entirety of our recent trip to Queenstown and loved them.

But now Shimano have filled that void, with two new shoes aimed at the trail/all-mountain market (ie. the kind of riding that most of us do day to day). One of these new shoes is the M163 (the other is the M200 – previewed here) – well-priced, understated and beautifully fitted shoes that we’ve been sullying with our stinky leg ends for the last couple of months.

While it’s too early to comment on whether or not this shoe lives up to Shimano’s usual standards of durability, we can definitely deliver a verdict on how this shoe fits and performs.

Shimano M163 (1)
Just riding along.
Shimano M163 5
TORBAL is all about longitudinal flex where it counts.

The M163 uses Shimano’s new TORBAL (Torsional Balance) system, which basically allows the shoes to offer a good degree of longitudinal flex through the midsole so you can roll your foot side to side and get better pedal feel, but retain pedalling stiffness under the ball of your foot. TORBAL, despite sounding like the name of a robotic dog, works like a charm and there’s great support on offer where it counts, but without any of that isolating woodenness that can come from a really stiff shoe.

Shimano M163 7
The opposing direction and offset positioning of the Cross X Strap system is designed to more evenly distribute pressure from the upper across your foot.

The Cross X-Strap and ratchet buckle closure provides a supple and secure fit, which ensures that your foot never feels like its floating or squirming in the shoe – as you roll your foot around in a corner, the upper moves with it, rather than your foot simply slipping about inside the shoe.

Shimano M163 6
The sole is grippy the whole way through, from toe to heel, and the longer cleat slots allow more positions than your standard Shimano shoe.

We particularly appreciate the longer-than-normal cleat positioning slot thingos, which allow you to run the cleat a long way back. Normally on a Shimano shoe, we have the cleat at the very back of its adjustment range, but on the M163s we’re closer to the middle. Having a more rearward cleat position puts less leverage on your ankles if you’re riding aggressively and landing hard. A handy little insert is also provided to plug up the large cleat holes and stop excessive mud or water getting in.

Shimano M163 4
Shimano’s ratchet buckles are strong and don’t get easily clogged like some brands’ buckles. On the M163, the leading edge of the buckle has a protective lip, to deflect impacts that could potentially damage the ratchet.

The M163 is built for a bit of rock scrambling too, with a fully rubberised sole – a blessing if you miss a pedal entry – and slim armouring around the generous toe box as well. Its big tread blocks aren’t super tacky like on some shoes (such as the Five Ten shoes we recently tested), but they are malleable and grippy all the same.

These are really ideal shoes for the masses, and exactly what we’ve been looking for from the big S; put ’em on, ride ’em up, ride ’em down, kick ’em about and repeat for many years.

 

Shred-ette: Specialized Rumor Expert Evo 29 Reviewed

The empowerment theme is a big one in women’s cycling at the moment. Done well, the range of women’s riding desires and experiences gain visibility, traction and respect. Done badly, conversations descend into debates about product names, colour choices and whether ‘women’s specific’ products are really necessary.

In comparison to some products that boast divisive graphics or product names, the Rumor Evo simply oozes respect.
In comparison to some products that boast divisive graphics or product names, the Rumor Evo simply oozes respect.

The Specialized Rumor Evo 29 rises above debates about what women’s riding should or shouldn’t be and lets ladies’ actions do the talking instead. Besides, anyone shelling out nearly $6K for a bike is likely to be more interested in how it rides than how it looks. If you were to rank the Rumor’s success on an empowerment scale of 1-10, it sends the measuring system through the roof and into outer space.

For starters, the mysterious black finish prompts conversations that put its owner on the front foot regarding her choices in bikes, equipment and experiences. The ensuing discussions demonstrate she clearly knows a thing or two about bikes, and takes riding just as seriously as anyone else. In the absence of said conversation, the shred-ready spec gives her away otherwise.

Bicknell-Rumor Evo-16

First impressions are important. The Rumor Expert Evo 29 sends a trail loving, singletrack shredding, confident performing message that is loud and clear. Given our experiences on the Rumor Comp, and the parts drizzled all over its big sister, we were always going to be impressed.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The Rumor Evo 29 is a beefed up, higher end model of the Rumor Comp we tested last year. Wheel size is one thing, but frame innovations accommodating this is are where the design gets more exciting.

The standover is low through the range. 707mm in the small size, 711mm in the large.
The standover is low through the range. 707mm in the small size, 711mm in the large.

A combination of aluminium forging techniques allow for the low top tube height. This not only reduces frame weight, it provides an opportunity for shorter riders to experience the ride benefits of 29” wheels. Some riders, who have never had an issue with a standard size bike fitting pretty well, tend to comment negatively on the appearance of this frame. Jump over to our previous review for more detail on why we find it such a winner.  A full size biddon still fits neatly in the cage. We preferred biddons with a shorter, flatter top, as longer designs meant we sometimes knocked the CTD lever on the shock.

While the geometry has been carefully researched to provide an exceptionally balanced ride feel for women, its low fuss appearance also means the bike shells any negative connotations associated with overly ‘girly’ aesthetics that makes some riders groan about women’s specific marketing. In fact, Specialized’s women’s mountain bikes also provide a solid option for smaller framed men.

The new Myth saddle reduces soft tissue pressure by placing this critical depression further forward.
The new Myth saddle reduces soft tissue pressure by placing this critical depression further forward.

The Rumor Expert Evo comes in a higher spec than the rest of the Rumor range, a spec so good it feels like we hand picked it ourselves. Shimano XT brakes offer a crisp and reliable ride feel and, in our opinion are the best performing brakes on the market for the price. SRAM X01 is quiet and classy, with a well-chosen 30T chain ring on the front. A Specialized Command dropper post says, ‘Shit yes, let’s shred!’ The dropper lever replaces the absent left hand shifter making it the easiest to operate of any dropper we’ve used previously. The new Myth saddle fills a gap in the Specialized range for women’s mountain biking too.

 

My what big wheels you have.
My what big wheels you have.

Specialized’s Evo line uses a modified linkage to bump the rear travel up 10mm, without having to produce a separate range of bikes. In this case, the Evo treatment means 120mm Custom Fox Float CTD shock out the back. A 120mm RockShox Pike, a front-runner in this year’s competition for the most lusted over fork, slackens the angles a bit for more stability on the descents.

This grip-brake combo works great with small hands.
This grip-brake combo works great with small hands.
Pike perfection.
Pike perfection.

The componentry was not only well chosen, but we couldn’t fault its performance throughout the test period, something we don’t get to say often. In terms of upgrades, a light carbon wheelset is the most obvious investment. It would add some extra compliance to the alloy frame and help push the bike below the 12kg mark.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We spent a solid month on the Rumor Evo, and were even more impressed by its versatility after that time than on the day we first laid eyes on it.

Reilly Hurst-RideCairns-Rumor Evo-2
First stop for the Rumor was a round of the Australian Gravity Enduro series in Cairns. Straight into the deep end for this bike!

We didn’t so much as even test ride it before throwing it in a bike bag and taking it to the gnarly jungle trails of Smithfield, Cairns for the final round of the Australian Gravity Enduro Series. Feeling a little apprehensive about riding sections of the World Cup downhill track on an unfamiliar bike, we took things fairly easily. Yet, every time we pushed this rig into a new obstacle or a long technical section, the feedback through the bike kept seeming to say, ‘Is that all you’ve got?’

The stock Butcher/Ground Control tyre combo offered great grip in loam and mud, but still rolled well on the hard stuff.
The stock Butcher/Ground Control tyre combo offered great grip in loam and mud, but still rolled well on the hard stuff.
Bicknell-Rumor Evo-22
A big 2.3″ front tyre added even more forgiveness, making it feel as if the Rumor had more than its 120mm up front.

The combination of big wheels, a long wheelbase, high performing suspension and the 2.3” Butcher front tyre make this bike feel like it has a lot more than 120mm of travel. We were immediately struck by how plush the suspension felt on big drops, a sign of custom tuning making a noticeable difference for light weight riders; riders who often wait until the first service to get full awesomination from their suspension.

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-13

The dialled geometry really came into play on steep, loose, rooty descents as well. Our position felt instinctual, rather than forced. We buzzed our bum on the rear tyre once, rather than several times. We took bad lines, thought we were going to hit the ground hard, and yet the bike took care of us again and again. The longer we rode, the more jumps we tried, the more speed we applied, the more we felt like twice the rider we are on a bike that never fits or feels quite right.

 

This is almost as low as we could get the 100m travel Command Post. The small frame is specced with a 75mm post instead. Some riders might want to swap out the stock post for a different length option at the time of purchase.
This is almost as low as we could get the 100m travel Command Post. The small frame is specced with a 75mm post instead. Some riders might want to swap out the stock post for a different length option at the time of purchase.
The Rumor got to see a good chunk of Queensland trails, including Atherton, pictured here.
The Rumor got to see a good chunk of Queensland trails, including Atherton, pictured here.

Then there were the climbs. Most riders in Cairns describe every climb as something you have to walk up. That’s a fair call if you’re more downhill oriented, so we forgave them as we continually cleared sections of trail so steep we weren’t sure how people’s shoes were gripping the ground as they walked.

No flowers or ‘girly’ colours here.
No flowers or ‘girly’ colours here.

A week later riding a 96km stage of the Crocodile Trophy, we were surprised to see a whole lot of cross-country and marathon riders walking their XC bikes up hills as well. The stable handling and excellent suspension of the Rumor meant the steeper and looser the terrain got uphill, the more this rig held traction when other bikes fired their distress beacon. A trail bike wouldn’t normally be our pick for a marathon, but the Rumor Evo’s ‘can do’ attitude saw us make huge gains on the longer, looser climbs and the fast, never-seen-before descents.

The Evo linkage and the red Autosag valve: it's Specialized's way of encouraging riders to get more out of their rear suspension.
The Evo linkage and the red Autosag valve: it’s Specialized’s way of encouraging riders to get more out of their rear suspension.

Our next stop was Rotorua. Once again we found the instinctual handling let us push our skills over the steepest and most playful trails we could find, even in slippery, tree rooty mud. The bike’s all day riding ability made day-long group rides exploring old growth forests equally pleasurable allowing us to tick off a full hit list of mountain bike tourism experiences.

The XO1 drivetrain never missed a beat, whatever the weather.
The XO1 drivetrain never missed a beat, whatever the weather.

In short, you’d be hard pressed to find another bike that is as at home on a downhill track as it is on an all-day mission. If your budget is after one bike for a diverse number of riding experiences, this is a bike that is hard to pass up.

A small Allen Key set is tucked away under the biddon cage. Even the small size frame fits a full size bottle.
A small Allen Key set is tucked away under the biddon cage. Even the small size frame fits a full size bottle.
A spare link is hidden away under the headset cap.
A spare link is hidden away under the headset cap.
Valves, sealant and air: all that was needed to tubleless the Roval Control 29 wheelset.
Valves, sealant and air: all that was needed to tubleless the Roval Control 29 wheelset.

The sticking point for most riders wanting to push the Rumor ride experience to the next level is that a carbon model doesn’t exist yet. While we loved the robust properties of the aluminium when riding really technical terrain, on longer rides we missed the extra softness that a carbon frame provides. In fact, we ended up leaving the rear shock in descend mode in these situations as it softened out bumpy trails more, and was more comfortable for our lower back.

Jumping on the Specialized Camber Expert Carbon Evo, a bike with a near identical spec, but a carbon frame and a geometry more suited to men, the extra lightness and flickability that comes with carbon was apparent. To our surprise though, the biggest difference between to two bikes is best summed up by the inner monologue we experienced on board.

Wade Lewis-Rumor Evo-11

When riding the Camber, even with chick mods such as narrower bars and a women’s seat, we’re constantly reminding ourselves about body position in order to feel in control at speed: “Elbows out and over the bars,” said the voice. “Steer with your hips,” “Look around the corner.” The Camber feels like a lot of bike and if we got complacent we quickly felt like a passenger on board.

 

Where to next? The Rumor Evo is a great ride-all-day machine.
Where to next? The Rumor Evo is a great ride-all-day machine, happy on just about any trails,

This voice went quiet on the Rumor Evo. Slight differences in the angles, tube lengths and the lower standover meant we felt centred, ambitious, ready to respond. The inner monologue became focused on things other than body position. We’d notice different lines more, attempt bigger jumps, hold more speed in and out of corners.

Reilly Hurst-RideCairns-Rumor Evo-4
Instant confidence, on the ups and the downs.

Some riders might gravitate toward a bike at a lower price point to save more cash for holidays and other experiences. Or some might prefer a rig with 650B wheels to trade supreme stability for a little more playfulness or sprightliness. But if it’s the ability to take on several trail types, sight unseen, with gusto, the Rumor Expert Evo is hard to beat. It’s incredibly hard to make this bike feel like it’s losing control. Given it rolls over just about anything, you can ride just about anything on board.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Rumor Expert Evo is one of most capable, versatile women’s bikes we’ve had the pleasure of riding. This is in part due to the spec, but also the dialled geometry and fit, which doesn’t need hundreds of dollars of customisation before leaving the shop. Given the experiences we had on board, we’re biting our nails as we wait to see how long it takes for a carbon edition, or a longer travel women’s trail bike, to complement Specialized’s fast growing range.

Specialized’s systematic research into bikes for women makes the empowering experiences that come with them feel genuine rather than forced. As a result, the Rumor Expert Evo will make you feel controlled, confident and keen to take on a variety of new things. This will come through time and time again in the way you share the experience of riding with others, too. This made us enjoy our time on the Rumor even more as a result.

XC on ‘Roids: Giant Anthem Advanced SX First Impressions

‘Souping up’ a cross country bike to make it a little more capable in tricky terrain is usually an undertaking that requires significant investment and post-purchase twiddling, but Giant have done the hard work for you with the new Anthem Advanced SX.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 1

Giant have taken the same frame as the regular Anthem Advanced 27.5 then dressed it with all the parts to make it go faster when the trails get rougher. A 120mm-travel Rockshox Revelation (instead of the usual 100mm) slackens things up, and a shorter stem and wider bar puts you in a more aggressive position. The tyres are a little meatier too, with an Ardent up front and an Ardent Race out back.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 11
A wide bar and relatively short stem give the ideal ergonomics to push harder than you’d normally do on a cross country bike.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX 12
The addition of a 120mm fork slackens the head angle and gives you a little more encouragement to cut loose.

Seeing SRAM’s X01 drivetrain on this bike gives us a smile even wider than the gearing range, and the absence of a left-hand shifter frees us space for the clean integration of a dropper post, which is the icing on the cake. In short, Giant have made all the changes that we would make if an Anthem were our personal bike.

Giant Anthem Advanced SX 3
A dropper post on a bike with this much travel makes a world of sense, freeing up your body position to let the bike move beneath you.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX 13
With only a single ring, the cockpit isn’t cluttered, and the tiny lever of the Contact Switch’r dropper post fits in nicely.
Giant Anthem Advanced SX 15
SRAM’s X01 drivetrain with carbon crank arms.

We’re big advocates for this style of bike; the improvements in suspension and tyres, and the proliferation of dropper posts, now allow you to ride a relatively short-travel bike very aggressively. As soon as we’ve converted the wheels to tubeless we’ll be hitting the trails and exploring where this machine’s boundaries lie.

 

Five Unique 650B All-Mountain Bikes Tested

There are many ways to skin a cat! Over the past few months we’ve had the pleasure of riding some great new-season all-mountain bikes. While these bikes share a few commonalities – 140-160mm travel and 27.5″ wheels for instance – they demonstrate that there’s more than one way to build a great bike. Alloy, carbon, steep, slack, single-pivot, four-bar, firm, soft…. take a closer look at this eclectic bunch.

BH-Lynx-Carbon-627-9 BH Lynx 6 27.5 Carbon 

 When you really slam it, you’ll find plenty of support to the ride, so it’s still responsive when other bikes would be feeling bogged down by the rough riding. Basically, go ahead and treat the bike like it insulted your sister, it’ll take it.

Read the full review here.


Polygon-Collosus-N9-9 Polygon Collosus N9

For the kind of steep, techy descending that most riders will be doing, the N9 is brilliant. It’s a fun bike in corners too, making easy work of tighter trails that would bog a lot of other bikes in this category down.

Read the full review here.


Pyga-140650-selection-26 Pyga OneForty 650

With its robust build, perfect all-mountain geometry and suspension that just gets better the harder you ride, it’s a bike for those who prioritise confidence and downhill performance over low weight and glitz.

Read the full review here.


Scott-Genius-710-1 Scott Genius 710

The Scott Genius is one of the few bikes that for many years has successfully blurred the lines of the genres that define bike styles. Its versatility bends the rules, and manages to do what a true all mountain bike should – open up possibilities and options to the rider, begging for adventure.

Read the full review here.


Yeti-575-27-20 Yeti 575

The overall fit and feel of the 575 hasn’t changed one bit – think your favourite track suit pants; instantly comfortable. It has a relaxed, slightly upright position that is best suited to big days in the saddle and which takes absolutely no effort to get used to.

Read the full review here.

Living the Enduro Dream: Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B First Impressions

We are bloody excited to have taken delivery of the S-Works Enduro 650B, their appropriately named big mountain gravity enduro bike. The Enduro is available in both 29″ and 650B wheel sizes (29″ with slightly less travel) and of course a few models at lower price points, plus there is also an EVO variant (a coil shock model with gravity focussed components). While we put some quality time in aboard the Enduro to establish our final review, we deliver some initial thoughts on this dreamy ride.

But first let’s just take a moment to recognise any Specialized with the badge ‘S-Works’ is going to be a dream ride by default; you’ll find a froth inducing S-Works badge in most of the high end frame offerings, from hardtails to women’s specific models, right up from cross country Epic to their downhill race bike, the Demo. An S-Works model is simply as good as it gets, Specialized spare nothing in speccing their flagship bikes with the best kit available to them, built onto the lightest frame configurations. Sure a $10499 bike is going to be amazing, but the potential buyer of a bike in this category is a tough crowd to please.

What really stood out about the Enduro, when it first came out in 29″ wheeled version, was the way Specialized focused on making a big travel 29er with a chain stay length of just 430mm, all in an aim to eliminate those preconceptions that big-travel, big-wheeedl bike couldn’t corner like a 26er. Read all about that here.  Specialized have long been quite hard nosed about the 29″ wheel being the optimum wheel for all bikes and all riders. But, in our experience, not everyone wants a 29er! When it comes to this category of bike, many riders prefer a smaller wheel, so we’re very happy that the Enduro know lets us enjoy all those things we love about Specialized bikes, but with 650B wheels. Bravo, Specialized this is the bike we’ve been waiting for.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 31
Ahead of the game with that name, the Enduro has been around long before the word became a thing.

There are a few standout components on the Enduro that we really like. It’s easy to forget that aside from the brakes, suspension and gear set it’s a completely Specialized bike, their in-house components are seriously top notch and assimilate into the bike cleanly. The wheels are especially worth a note, the new super-wide 30mm carbon Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels take our appreciation for fat carbon rims to the next level, more on those in the final review. The Command Post scores the SRL, a new incredibly neat and ergonomic lever found where a left hand shifter could be, and the new Slaughter tyre with its low profile centre flanked with aggressive side knobs is sure to aid in acceleration without detracting from cornering control.

From the new slippery finish on the Henge saddle, to the nifty top-mounted chain guard, to the ideal cable routing the whole bike is polished to perfection. The frame finish is gorgeous to see, and also quite resilient, not looking tatty at all despite the muddy riding it’s seen so far.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 32

Our first assignment for the Enduro was to Rotorua for five days riding, while we expected it be a little too much bike for the buff and flowing singletrack there, we hoped that the low weight and fast wheels would help keep it rolling fast, and it sure did. Unfortunately for us the Cane Creek DB AIR Inline shock lost most of its rebound damping, and proceeded to get worse during our time in NZ. The replacement shock also seemed to have rebound problems, so it also had to go back to Specialized. We’re currently riding the third shock, and so far so good. Word from Specialized was that our bike was an early release from their Test The Best demo fleet, hence teething problems with the new Cane Creek shock.

First impressions of the bike are mighty positive, we’ve never found a 165mm bike to feel as capable in such a wide variety of trails as this. Usually in this big enduro/all-mountain category we find the bikes to be a real handful, especially to climb on, or to maintain good speed through flatter trails. The Enduro feels like it would happily mix it up with any 130-140mm trail bike but when it comes to higher speeds and steeper, rougher tracks the Enduro rides into its own with real flair.

We’ll delve into the full ride characteristics later, but for now one standout aspect is how the super short chain stays affect the ride:  pulling a manual in the carpark on our first ride we almost flipped right over on to our arses! Stay length is 422mm, compared to the Norco Range we’re currently testing at 426mm in the rear (medium size), or a Santa Cruz Nomad at 433mm.

Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 35
What can be said that hasn’t already about the RockShox Pike? It’s the most welcome addition to any bike, especially at 160mm travel, it’s perfectly capable of tackling the roughest riding you can point it at. A 200mm rotor is a great sight too, burly!
Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 2
Specialized bars, stem and grips. The rise in the bar helps set it apart from the 29er Enduro (with a flat bar) but maybe a bit tall for those who spend most time in flatter terrain, we’ve been running the stem as low as possible.
Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 27
Specialized S-Works carbon cranks with a 34 tooth SRAM ring, we’d take a 32 or 30 tooth ring any day, gearing low makes more sense to us mortal beings. A neat upper guide adds chain security without drag, noise or fuss.
Specialized Enduro S-Works 650b 29
What took companies so long to do this? This must go down in the books for the best component of the year, the Command Post’s SRL (Single Ring Lever) remote is perfect.
Enduro 2
The Enduro knee deep in the amazing trail of Rotorua.
Enduro 3
Lapping up the shores of Lake Taupo.
Enduro 1
Tipping into a bowl in the Redwoods Forest, Rotorua.

So we’ll be back shortly with our final review of the Enduro, now we’ve been able to spend some quality time with the rear shock working perfectly. Stay tuned!