Tested: Specialized Women’s Myth Saddle

In June this year we tested two popular women’s saddles from Specialized, the Jett and the Ariel Comp. In addition to reviewing the saddles themselves, we also looked at the comprehensive in store fitting processes and saddle test program that go hand in hand with the purchase of one of these products.

Our main criticism of the Jett was that we tended to get caught up on the wedge shaped cut out at the rear of the saddle when riding steep, technical terrain. We had to plug it with a saddle bag to stop baggy shorts and hydration pack straps getting wrapped around the back every now and then causing a few heart-in-mouth moments out on the trails.

One glance at the new Body Geometry Myth saddle and we were instantly excited. This saddle doesn’t look anything like other offerings from the big red S, indicating a fresh approach to design. And it’s filled in at the back.

The new design sheds mud easily.

The first thing most riders will notice about the new design is that the cut out in the middle of the saddle has been replaced with a long, wide groove instead. It looks a little odd at first with the widest part of the groove sitting much further forward than we’re used to seeing in women’s saddles.

Listening to the backstory behind the new Myth when we met with the doctors behind the Body Geometry revolution, we learned that previous saddle designs have been accommodating the vagina around a best guess scenario. Yep, you read that right. Despite all the other research that goes into saddle design, no one had actually measured where the vagina sits in relation to the pelvic bones. It turns out its much further forward than people (men?) thought. Shocked and surprised? We were too.

Once we got over the disbelief that women’s hoo-has have been an afterthought in saddle designs we started to look at this new one a little more closely. Placing the foo-foo cut out further forward means ladies are more comfortably cradled (as opposed to squished) when they lean forward into a more aggressive riding position.

Taking the opportunity to jump on a pressure testing mat at the afore mentioned Specialized Doctor Day, we were surprised to see that no pressure registered in this modified area. In fact, you can get the set up completely out of the ball park, and the saddle will still feel pretty good: We mapped the Myth with the seat post too high, the reach to the bars too long, and wearing jeans rather than a chamois, and still failed to produce unwanted pressure in the midsection of the saddle. Instead, pressure showed up on the nose and sides as we compensated for set up by reaching further for the pedals and bars.

The depression in the Myth (left) is much further forward than in the Jett (right).
The depression in the Myth (left) is much further forward than in the Jett (right).

This means that while the Myth excels with a perfect bike set up, it also relieves pressure from the va-jay-jay when your bike set up is way off the mark. We also watched a bunch of blokes test this saddle, also in jeans, and they also failed to register any pressure in the midsection of this saddle.

Jumping back on the Jett we realised that when making the transition from an upright to a more aggressive riding position, we tend to shift our position a little further backwards on the saddle. This places our soft tissue in the wider part of the cut out where it’s more comfortable. This keeps the Jett comfy on the trails, but means if you set up your bike while seated in a more relaxed position, the position of your knees in relation to the pedals and the bottom bracket will shift when using the bike in the wild.

The Myth saddle looks smooth and minimal from this angle.

The Myth is much better suited for other body movements off-road too. The lower friction finish makes it easier to slip off the back when descending. The new design allows the rider to move around on the saddle and remain comfortable: toward the nose on steep climbs, a little further forward for more power, a little further back during longer rides or if you tweak an injury. Three widths (143mm is now the narrowest size on offer with 155mm and 168mm catering for wider sit bones) accommodate different sized pelvic areas too.

Cr-Mo rails and a more recreational level of padding for 2015.

If we were to offer one gripe about the Myth it would be that we’re disappointed that it’s only available as an after market purchase at the comp level, with Cr-Mo rails. (A Ti railed version comes specced on the 2015 women’s S-Works level bikes . The soft padding was very comfortable on shorter rides but once we started using the Myth for rides of 3-5 hours, or multiple days in a row, we found our sit bones started to ache. While this reflects a personal preference for a denser level of padding, we’d expect the majority of its intended users to find the saddle more comfortable as is. In any case, the design principles underlying the development of the Myth will certainly influence a range of future women’s saddle designs from Specialized. We look forward to seeing some slightly firmer and racier options developed as a result.

The Myth represents a solid step forward for women’s saddle designs. It’s a welcome update to the Specialized range for technical trail riding and the versatile riding positions it supports makes it appropriate for a range of mountain biking disciplines. While detailed pressure tests and a medically informed design have led to its development, what we liked most is that, as a rider, you don’t need to know any of this stuff to experience its benefits.

Tested: Contour Roam 3 Camera

Contour are one of the older players in the wearable/helmet camera world, though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 2013 the brand closed its doors, but with new management and vision, they’re back to challenge for a bigger chunk of this incredibly competitive market.

Contour Roam 3-1

The Roam 3 isn’t a huge departure from previous Contour cameras. It has the same cylindrical shape as earlier models, making it very low profile, so it’s ideal for helmet mounting. Alignment is achieved via laser beams (good in low light, but hard to see in bright sun) with a rotatable lens to ensure a flat horizon. The Roam 3 also gets the trademark Contour slide-to-record button that’s easy to use with gloved hands.

Contour Roam 3-5
The lens barrel is rotatable to keep the horizon correct, with a laser pointer indicating where the camera is pointing.

Where it does represent an improvement over previous versions is that it’s now waterproof to 30 feet, and you can switch to photo mode on-the-fly. There are two default video modes (720p @ 60fps, or 1080p @ 30fps), and you can select other resolutions if you plug it into your computer (which is unlikely, as 720p/1080p are the standards). Battery life is a claimed 3.5hrs, which is fine, but the battery isn’t removable so once it’s flat your recording fun is done till you get to a charger.

Contour Roam 3-4
The large slide button is very easy to use. Basic LED indicators give information about battery life and card space.

The Roam uses Contours own mounting system, which is a kind of rail arrangement, with the camera sliding into place. For helmet mounting, this system is low profile. There are stacks of other mounts available (including for a gun barrel – yep) but no chest mount option.

Contour Roam 3-10
The flip-down rear panel gives you access to the Micro SD card, USB port, and the switch to toggle between different resolutions.

The simplicity of the Roam is both its strength and weakness. Upsides: The big slide button both powers up the camera and starts recording all in one motion and is really easy to operate in a hurry, and switching to photo mode is just a matter of holding down the rear button for a few seconds. Downsides: Without a screen or mobile connectivity, you can’t check the camera angle, review footage, or make adjustments to the settings without a computer. Picture quality is fine, especially given the price point, with a super wide 170 degree lens. It doesn’t do so well in dappled light at high speed, but few helmet cameras do. There’s no built in stabiliser (ala the Sony Action Cam) so we recommend running it through your stabilisation software of choice, which is something we do as a matter of course for all wearable camera footage.

All up, the Roam 3 is solid offering that plays to the strengths of its simple design and ease of use of the trail and won’t break the bank.

Our Travelling Partner: Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29

If you’re looking for a travelling mate, you want someone dependable. You want someone open to new experiences. Someone who can cope with situations that might be out of their comfort zone… like getting robbed by prostitutes while sleeping in car park.

The top-shelf Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29er is sure doing a lot of travel with us: this is one of the bikes we’ve picked to take along on our Flow Nation trips across Australia and New Zealand. In just the past three months, we’ve taken this bike to Alice Springs, Tasmania, the Victorian High Country, as well as spending plenty of time on our local trails too. So how’s it going as a travelling buddy?


 

Watch the Fuel EX 9.9 29 in action, in Alice Springs, Hobart and Falls Creek, below:


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The Fuel EX 9.9 with RockShox RS-1 in Hobart.

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The Fuel EX 9.9 29 is the top-shelf 29er trail bike in the Trek range, a flashy 120mm-travel steed that’s aimed at the rider who wants a no-compromise cross-country/trail bike. With a full carbon frame, XTR sprayed all over it, and plenty of Bontrager’s lightest components, it weighs three-tenths of bugger all. But while the feathery weight will rival most cross-country race bikes, it’s also decked out with the all the necessities for technical trail riding, like wide tyres and bars, and a dropper post. Hands down, this is one of the fastest and lightest trail bikes going. We’re going to get into the particulars of this bike’s handling down the track with another update, so for now we’ll stick to the changes we’ve made, and why, and how it’s all holding together.

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Locally made, the Noble Entities CB1 is a neat single-ring and bash guard in one.

We were also eager to further reduce the bike’s weight and cable clutter, so fitting a single front chain ring was the call. We went for the Australian-made Noble Entities CB-1 ring/guide, with 32 teeth. While the XTR setup with a single ring doesn’t offer the same gear range as a SRAM 1×11 system, for a bike this light, pushing the 32:36 low gear isn’t a hard ask. Without a front derailleur, the bike just looks great too – it’s so clean!

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No chain drops issues here.

The Noble Entities chain ring/guide has been flawless. We haven’t dropped a chain yet, and the extra protection of the integrated bash guard adds a little reassurance too when riding rocky terrain. It is a bit noisier than a narrow/wide ring (because the chain flicks against the bash guard), but it seems more secure overall.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 5
When the Reverb Stealth post is working, it’s great. But these guys do have occasional issues – we’ve had problems with two of them in recent months.

For us, riding without a dropper post is like eating a pizza without the cheese. The Fuel is equipped with a Rockshox Reverb Stealth, a very fine post indeed, but not when it doesn’t work. (Those with keen eyes may have noticed this bike was running a different post when we took it to Tasmania). Our post had to go back to SRAM, which was doubly a pain in the butt thanks to the Trek’s internal cable routing. Re-installing the post meant both removing the bottom bracket and the main suspension pivot axle in order to re-thread the hose. It’s now working perfectly, as we’d expect.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 12
Excuse the ugly tape! We taped the crank arm to protect it from damage on a bike trailer in Falls Creek recently. Reinstalling the Reverb Stealth post meant removing the bottom bracket and main pivot.

In terms of ongoing maintenance, we’ve had to give a little bit of love to the rear wheel. An occasional loose spoke has been bit of a surprise, but the wheels have still stayed nearly dead straight in spite of the hammering. The performance of the XR3 tyres has been top notch – no flats, no cuts, plenty of grip. We remember a time when Bontrager tyres would make us wince in anticipation of crashing, but now they’re some of the best on the market.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 22
Bontrager’s XR3 tyres are excellent all-rounders.

We’ve just received a set of Zelvy Carbon wheels to review, so we’ll be popping them onto the bike very soon. It’ll be interesting to see how the wider rim of the Zelvys (35mm) changes the bike’s performance.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 23
We’ve had some strange contamination issues with our XTR brakes.

The XTR brakes have also surprisingly needed some attention, with the pads seemingly to mysteriously become slightly contaminated if the bike goes unridden for a while. We’ve had this problem with XT brakes on previous test bikes, but never with XTR, and we imagine this is a pretty unusual occurrence. Giving the pads a quick once over with sand paper and regular riding seems to keep the problem at bay, and thankfully we haven’t heard other XTR users complain of the same issue.

RockShox RS-1 v2 22
We tested the RockShox RS-1 on the Fuel too. It’s a unique piece of kit. But is it better than a conventional fork?

We’ve run a couple of different forks on this bike over its short lifetime already; the stock FOX 32 Factory, and the super trick new RockShox RS-1. (Read our full review of the RockShox RS-1 here) We’re hard pressed to say which one we prefer…. The weight, looks and quiet operation of the RS-1 are magic, but the FOX is less cluttered (no remote lock out) and, we feel, a fraction stiffer. It’s also a lot cheaper! If money was no object, we’d run the RS-1.

Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 update 6
The Re:aktiv regressive damping system does work. It’s not a game changer, but it’s an improvement.

On the topic of suspension, the Fuel comes equipped with the new Re:aktiv DRCV shock, developed in conjunction with automotive suspension company Penske. This ‘regressive damping’ system was released to much fanfare earlier this year. Does it work? Yes, it does. It won’t blow your mind, but the Re:aktiv valving does offer more pedalling support and a smoother transition into the shock’s stroke than a standard FOX CTD shock. As a result, we’ve been running the rear shock in the Trail setting pretty much the exclusively.

We’ll bring you a final wrap up of this bike in a couple of months time, when we’ll focus more on the construction and handling aspects, and you can watch the bike in action over in the ‘Must-Rides’ section of the site for now

Get out of the way: Intense Carbine 29, First Impressions

What do you get if you combine 29″ wheels and 140mm of suspension travel? Momentum.

Add to that a big set of tyres, wide bars, a dropper post and a RockShox Pike and you’ve got a lot of bike in your hands, the Carbine 29 aint messing about. It’s not often we see 29″ wheels with this amount of suspension, as it can make for a cumbersome and isolating bike that is hard to manoeuvre around tight trails, but some brands have been doing it well lately with the development of carbon frames giving designers more freedom. Big travel 29ers are a blast to ride, and especially capable when the trails are mighty rough, or you are a rider with some height.

The benchmark of long travel 29ers could well be the Specialized Enduro 29 with its ridiculously short chain stay length and lack of weight, but the Carbine 29 comes with an air of Californian classic prestige and looks to die for, so let’s see how it goes.

Flow received the 2015 Carbine 29 Expert which retails for $7799, it’s positioned snugly below the Pro ($7999) and Factory ($11999) versions using the same frame with different kit. The Factory model is one seriously intense Intense! Check out the range of options here: http://intensecycles.com/portfolio-item/carbine-29-2015/

Intense’s have been frame-only options for quite some time, so we welcome complete bike options all the way over here, Down Under. It’s plain to see that the parts have been chosen carefully to give the rider the best possible experience, with compatibility and model specific choices paramount, with feedback from guys like Chris Kovarik and Brian Lopes lending their experience with spec choice input.

Intense Carbine 29 17

 

The Carbine is an all carbon frame with machined aluminium linkages that make up the VPP – Virtual Pivot Point suspension design. Intense use VPP across their wide range of suspension frames which gives the rear wheel a specific amount of vertical and rearward travel, all in an attempt to garner a terrain devouring machine that maintains pedal efficiency.

For 2015 a new carbon rear end makes its way on to the Carbine, with a very attractive and burly set of dropouts. The new rear section is said to be stiffer and more streamlined than the previous one, so far we certainly agree with the streamline call, it’s a real looker.

Intense Carbine 29 9

Intense Carbine 29 18

The Expert level build kit is pretty tidy, with a Shimano drivetrain and brakes, but an odd omission is the absence is an on-the-fly compression adjustment on the rear shock but we’ll see if we miss it.

Intense Carbine 29 16

 

It has to be said, that the colour matching is real class, accentuated by the striking pairing of orange and red, not often seen in the mountain bike world.

Intense appear to be on a roll at the moment, with new bike releases rumoured and the return of the big name of the sport Shaun Palmer into the family. We recently sat down with the new Intense CEO Andrew Herrick to ask about the past and future, read the interview here. http://flowmountainbike.com/features/interview-intense-cycles-andrew-herrick/

So it’s off to the trails we go to mow down some terrain in the name of testing, stay tuned for more.

 

The Slasher! First Impressions of the Trek Slash 9.8

Later this week, Flow’s boarding the big white budgie and heading to Queenstown, New Zealand, for a few days of exploring the trails of that famed adventure wonderland. Queenstown offers up a whopping mixed bag of trails, but the gravity riding is the real highlight, with gondola-accessed downhill tracks and mammoth heli-biking back-country epics.

IMG_2355

For this mission,we knew we wanted to take a bike that wouldn’t wring its hands when presented with some pretty full-on terrain. Our usual Flow Nation bikes, while superb trail bikes, just don’t have the travel for downhill work, so we had a look at some other options. This bike grabbed us by the lapels and screamed in our face: “PICK ME!”

Trek Slash first bite 3
The frame is carbon throughout, with the exception of the chain stays. Flipping the Mino Link at the top of the seat stay will switch the head angle between 65 and 65.5 degrees.

The Slash is Trek’s most aggressive platform before you leap into the full-on downhill realm with the Session. It’s a real gravity enduro machine – we’d shirk to call it an all-mountain bike, because its performance heavily skewed towards descending. Heavily skewed, but not heavy: this 160mm-travel beast weighs in at 12.7kg. Its angles are all about stability when it’s fast and steep, with a head angle that’s adjustable between 65.5 and a 65-degrees.

Trek Slash first bite 7
Fork travel is adjustable from 160-130mm on the fly.

Piloting a 65-degree head angle uphill is sometimes a bit like pushing a wheel barrow with a flat tyre full of water; it’s a pain in the arse to keep on track. So to sharpen climbing performance up, the Slash has a travel-adjustable Pike that lowers the bars and sharpens the steering a bit.

Trek Slash first bite 5
The Slash 9.8 runs a SRAM X1 11-speed, single-ring drivetrain, so the front derailleur mount gets this neat cover.

We’ve fallen in love with the performance of Bontrager’s XR4 tyres. These things hang on like a cat over water, especially when they’re mounted to a wide rim, like the Bontrager Maverick. We’re predicting a lot of grip!

A RockShox Monarch Plus in place of the usual Trek/FOX DRCV shock.
A RockShox Monarch Plus in place of the usual Trek/FOX DRCV shock.

It’s almost odd seeing a Trek dual suspension bike that’s not equipped with the FOX DRCV shock we’ve come to know so well. While we like the DRCV shock, we do think that the Rockshox Monarch Plus is a better option for this bike; it has a bigger air and oil volume, and more progressive spring rate than the proprietary FOX dual-chamber shock, so it’s better suited to hard, rough long runs.

With four days of EnZed’s finest coming our way, we think we should be able to give the Slash a pretty good shake down and get our head around its strengths and weaknesses. A review will be coming your way, maybe even before Santa arrives.

Cannondale Trigger Carbon 2: Long-Term Test Update

As we said in our First Bite, this is one good looking bike, but looks aren’t everything.  So to make sure the good looks are backed up by good manners, what better bike to lock in as one of our long term test fleet? The Trigger 2 has winged its way north from Flow HQ, to the dusty trails of Brisbane, where it’ll spend the next six or so months under Flow’s test pilot Pat Campbell.


 

Cannondale Trigger  4
The unique DYAD shock is a key element of the Trigger’s personality.

The 140mm-travel Trigger sits comfortably in the all-mountain category, or as Cannondale like to call it ‘Overmountain’. In an era where all-mountain bikes are increasingly starting to have similar basic suspension architecture, the Trigger standouts out. With its chunky Lefty Max strut and customer FOX-made DYAD RT2 pull-shock, it’s something a little different. The bike’s cool on-the-fly rear travel adjust system is a bit of a standout too – it has two modes (Elevate and Flow) with 85 and 140mm of travel respectively.

We’re happy to report that none of the capabilities that we loved about 2014 Trigger 29er have not been lost in the with the 27.5″ wheel size. Overall, it’s a compact feeling bike, but it still provides ample space in the cockpit with no sense of being squished into the bike.

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For the time being, the Trigger is running a 2×10 drivetrain, but this will soon be converted to a 1×10 setup.

 

The Trigger is still settling into its new home on the dusty trails of Brissy, and we had some initial teething problems with the KS dropper post not returning smoothly. It turns out the problem had a very simple solution; the seat post clamp was just a smidgen tight. After backing off the torque by .2Nm all is good!

Cannondale Trigger  3
The Bontrager XR3 tyres are a really good all-rounder. Unlike the Mavic rubber that came on the bike, which is all round, but far from good.

We have made one key change to the bike. Our uncertainty about the Mavic tyres proved to be quite justified – they proved difficult to seal up for tubeless, and the hard compound was too unpredictable for our liking. We’ve switched the rubber for some Bontrager XR3s in a 2.2, and we may even opt for something a bit bigger up front to get more bite again in the loose conditions.

Also in the pipeline is a conversion to a 1×10 drivetrain. We’ll be using the neat CB1 guide/ring from Aussie brand Noble Entities for this. Not only will this reduce complication and weight, but it’ll allow us to run the remote shock lever in a more accessible position which should encourage us to toggle between the ‘Elevate’ and ‘Flow’ modes more.

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Once we install the single ring up front, the shock remote lever will be flipped to the other side of the bar where it’ll take the place of the left-hand shifter. It’s cool that this lever can be flipped so easily.

Getting the suspension dialled has been more involved than usual, but we’ll delve into that a little more next time!

 

 

Trail Testing a Rocket: The GT Helion Carbon Pro

Gone are the days where you needed loads of suspension travel to let you go bloody fast off road. A bike with top quality short-travel suspension, dialled geometry in a stiff and responsive frame is so incredibly capable of a fast ride. The GT Helion is one bike that knows its place: it’s not a do-it-all, one-bike-wonder kinda thing, this is a cross country weapon.

[divider]Construction[/divider]

From afar, the Helion looks so simple with its straight carbon tubes creating a clean and angular looking frame, plus the way the top tube and chainstay both follow a parallel path gives the Helion an uncluttered and traditional appearance. But tucked away underneath out of sight is effective technology that’s far from traditional, more on that soon.

The Helion Carbon Pro is of course a carbon frame; all tubing is made from the fantastically stiff, responsive and lightweight wonder material. The wheels are 650B, which is not such a common sight in such a short travel machine – we would usually expect to see the bigger 29” wheels with shorter-travel bikes of around 100-120mm of travel.

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Set the trails on fire, on this rocket ship.

A new generation RockShox Maxle (found and loved on the Pike fork) fastens the rear wheel in tight, and all the cables are externally routed down the underside of the frame. External cable routing may not be the flavour of the times, with many brands boasting internal routing as a feature, but gear cable and brake line work is far easier like this. GT prove that routing externally can be as neat as internally routed frames, and the way the rear derailleur cable goes internal just towards the rear is a nice way of keeping the cable away from the slapping chain.

GT handle the task of directing the cables with real class, especially with the tricky task of navigating a clean path around the suspension linkage.

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That silver linkage delivers on what many bikes fail to do: offering great suspension, but with minimal drivetrain feedback.

 

GT use a suspension design called AOS, Angle Optimised Suspension. The whole idea behind this system is to have the rear suspension pivot around a very high main pivot – note how far above the bottom bracket the main pivot is. This all adds up to a rearward axle path that helps the rear wheel can move up and over impacts, helping maintain your momentum. Confused? Watch this video from GT.

But that’s not the end of it, having such a high pivot means that the chain length will grow dramatically as the suspension compresses, which creates hectic pedal feedback. The solution was to de-couple the cranks from the frame, isolating any tension added to the chain from the rear wheel moving away from the frame. The bottom bracket is housed in an independent section of frame, which retains the optimal location as everything compresses and rebounds.

GT Helion 10
From the drive side, the Helion hides all its trickery.

This system is not new, we’ve just seen it in many variations over the years, and even the old GT i-Drive from the 90s was achieving similar results. GT also uses the AOS system across their entire dual suspension range, from this short travel Helion up to the massive GT Fury which Gee Atherton rode to victory in the Cairns World Cup Downhill this year.

This all might sound like a lot of complication, but in fact there is no more moving parts than your typical Giant, Specialized or Santa Cruz. All the bearings are large, and held together with solid hardware and not once during our testing were any concerns of increased maintenance raised.

The rear shock is protected from any mud or debris from the rear tyre by a nifty guard, so that solves any of those issues nicely.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Geometry wise, the Helion errs on the sharp and racey side of things. Not only does the short travel lend itself to cross country, the frame’s geometry, too, is clear about its intentions. Our medium frame has a long 606mm top tube, a sharp 69.5-degree head angle, and behind you are long 438mm chain stays. These numbers combine to give the Helion a very stong personality, and a distinct place in the lineup of offerings from GT.

During our testing time aboard the Helion, we were also ripping around on a Trek Fuel EX 9.8 and a Specialized S-Works Enduro 650B, so when it came to throwing a leg over the Helion it sure felt racey! Setting up the suspension on the Helion is a little different to most bikes as the rear shock is hidden away out of view, making sag measuring the traditional way with the rubber o-ring a bit tricky. GT incorporate a sag indicator into the frame. Some bikes do sag meters better than others, and we found this one a bit hard to gauge precisely where we were at. We went out a couple times with not enough sag, eventually dropping the shock pressure to find that sweet spot, which just required a bit of trial and error.

Immediately we noticed the bike’s length: it’s a big one! The long top tube allows you to really get out of the saddle and put the hammer down with enough room to keep your hands away from your knees. And not having such a short rear end is a blessing on the climbs, you don’t need to put in any effort to keep the front wheel from lifting up uncontrollably like you do on your typical all-mountain bike.

The Helion really does fly up the climbs, it’s bloody fantastic at gaining traction and transferring your hard efforts into lightning fast motion.

When the trails get tight and twisty, the length is a bit of a handful, but we got used to it quickly, drawing wider lines and keeping a consistent pace rather then throwing ourselves into turns like we have been doing on the Enduro or Fuel EX. But as soon as the trails open up, you’ll be hard pressed finding a bike that takes off and holds its speed as much as this one.

If you’re into the new-school enduro bikes, or even take downhill racing seriously this style of bike would be the ultimate training tool to sharpen your handling skills and appreciate the feel of a razor sharp bike again.

GT Helion 4

It’s an engaging ride, the stout 110mm of travel is firm and supported, so you’re really able to work the terrain to your advantage, pulling on the handlebars out of turns and pumping it into undulations in the terrain. Add the light and fast wheels into the mix, and we found ourselves ripping through our local singletrack with less pedal stokes than we’d usually need to keep the bike moving.

Our medium frame came with a 80mm stem, and 740mm wide bars, and we appreciated the way that the wide-but-long cockpit helps to counteract the bike’s razor sharp head angle. We wouldn’t suggest going any shorter in stem length on the Helion, it may make the handling a touch too quick and quite a handful.

Where this bike doesn’t exactly shine is no surprise the area that you’d expect such a fast and efficient climber, steep and challenging descents.

It requires a composed pilot to make the most of the stiff and sturdy frame when the trails start turning up the pace and pointing down. Maybe the lack of dropper post that we are so used to using contributed to that nervous attitude on steeper trails, but it didn’t like to be jumped or lofted off drops. But in fairness to the Helion, this is simply just the trade off you pay for with a bike that is so strong in other areas.

GT Helion 11
The front end of the frame is long, and also incredibly precise when steered through twisty trails.

With remote lockouts on both fork and shock, you have immediate control of compression adjustment, and on this type of bike, the remote lock outs are a good fit. The FOX lever might be a little clunky in appearance, and adds cables into the mix, but at least the GT is without a front derailleur, so that’s a bonus. A little time and a pair of cable cutters would be worth it, trimming the cable a bit shorter would reduce the spaghetti mess. Activating the remote lever with one click puts both the fork and shock in ‘trail mode’, great for climbing trails, or when the terrain is buffed. One more click and both end lock out firmly for tarmac jaunts. If it wasn’t for the remote lever, a traditional lever on the shock would be a stretch to reach do to when riding, as it’s a long way down.

GT have nailed it, the balance between suppleness, comfort, control and traction is spot on.

Even without the use of the remote lever, the rear suspension remains firm and supportive under pedalling, resisting bob or unwanted compressions leading to energy loss. This is about as good as it gets, GT have nailed it, the balance between suppleness, comfort, control and traction is spot on. The FOX CTD shock is tuned to perfection, the 110mm travel is delivered in a plush yet efficient manner.

The whole AOS thing works a treat, the efficiency is really noticeable in reducing those mushy moments you don’t want from a dual suspension bike. We did notice the bottom bracket back and forth in relation to the main frame when the suspension was cycling through its motion, especially when seated, but only ever so slightly and didn’t bother us one bit.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

GT do it differently when it comes to speccing parts and they’re not afraid to mix it up – just take a look at the drivetrain for example. A Shimano XT 10 speed drivetrain is mixed with a RaceFace crankset with their take on the narrow/wide chainring, first pioneered and proven in SRAM’s single ring drivetrains.

To keep the gear range low enough, an e*Thirteen sprocket is retro fitted to the cassette by removing the 17 tooth sprocket and adding the large black 42 tooth cog.

To keep the gear range low enough, an e*Thirteen sprocket is retro fitted to the cassette – the  17 tooth sprocket has been ditched at the large black 42 tooth cog fitted. The range of gears is actually pretty good – whereas a single ring conversion with 10 speed Shimano loses a bit too much on one end of the range, the Helion’s e*Thirteen conversion works a treat. Shifting into the low gear is fine, perhaps not as seamless as with regular Shimano cassette, but it’s worth it for the extra climbing gear. A chain guide is fitted for extra security, though perhaps not really necessary, and we’d happily ride the bike without it.

GT Helion 23
Note the big black sprocket? That’s the e*Thirteen 42 tooth that gives the Shimano 10 speed drivetrain a lower range of gears. Nifty!

FOX take care of the bouncy bits in excellent fashion and we especially love the custom coloured decals on the forks. The fork felt smooth and supple, once again re-affirming that FOX are back on their game for 2015. All the cockpit parts are great, even if the Tundra saddle is a bit firm. Did we miss an adjustable seatpost? Yes, even on this type of bike an adjustable post would widen its abilities, the weight penalty is always worth it in our opinion!

The wheels were fine, and the refreshingly quiet DT rear hub was a nice change after riding some seriously noisy Specialized and Bontrager wheels. The tyres however were not tubeless ready, and are best suited to softer soils, so buyers beware. A tackier set of rubber sealed up with a tubeless valve would have taken the bike to the next level of awesomeness.

A highlight of the parts were the Shimano XT brakes, with 180mm rotors at both ends, they simply can’t do any wrong.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

The GT really grew on us! We really appreciate the way that its geometry and efficiency combines all the things we like about hardtails, but with what we love about a dually! The long and roomy frame puts you in a seriously powerful position to sprint through singletrack and fly up climbs, and the unique gear components and sharp appearance give the Helion that feeling of riding something special, and different.

A short travel dually of this quality in the hands of a skilled rider can really show up any slack trail bike or enduro weapon on calmer trails, or if you’re seeking a fast bike for marathon events or taking on a cross country race, you’ll be well served with this one.

Fresh Product: Drift Stealth 2, Smallest and Lightest Drift Camera

Drift Innovation announce their eighth generation camera, a tiny and lightweight version of their popular Drift Ghost camera, the Drift Stealth 2. At only 97 grams, this mini device answers the need for smaller and lighter cameras to further extend the usability of the wearable camera.

The addition of the Drift Stealth 2 expands their current range to three option, the small Stealth sits alongside the Drift HD Ghost and premium feature-packed Drift Ghost-S. In an effort to decrease weight and size, the Stealth’s list of features is reduced in comparison to it’s bigger brothers, but we believe the success of a good camera is not the amount of dazzling tech features, but the ease of use of capturing video and photos that we can actually use.

A colour coded LCD display indicates the shooting mode, and three small buttons navigate the menu with remarkable simplicity.

Read our earlier review of the bigger Ghost-S here. http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-drift-ghost-s-action-camera/

Drift Stealth 2 2
Tiny, yep.

Three hours of recording time, 60fps at 720p or 30fps at 1080p, 12MP still images, 135 degree view and a rotating lens are the standout features. A new Android and IOS app ‘Drift Connect’ is on the way too, to help you set up shots, record remotely and share via your mobile device. Wifi connectivity with these cameras is super handy, and can help eliminate those throw-away shots due to bad angles with camera pointing the wrong way.

What sets the Drift apart from the others is the rotating lens, with 300 degrees of rotation, you can mount it to anything, and roll the from element around to achieve a horizontal recording shot, too easy!

Drift Stealth 2 3
The Stealth on the right, next to the original HD Ghost.
Drift Stealth 2 6
The Stealth loses the live screen in favour of a back-lit LCD screen. Colour coded to communicate shooting modes, clever.

For a fair $329 the Stealth is also the cheapest of the Drift options, but if you’re after a completely waterproof camera with the highest frame rates and recording sizes, the Drift HD and Ghost-S is still available for $399 and $499 respectively.

Expect a full review of the Stealth 2 on Flow very soon!

 

Seismic Shift: XTR Di2 First Ride Impressions

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Flow was invited by Shimano to the recent Cape to Cape MTB stage race in the Margaret River region of Western Australia to sample the new XTR Di2 (Digital Intelligence Integrated) technology. Over a couple of race stages, and a few classroom sessions and some tasty beers, we got a great introduction to this new world order of intelligent, electronic shifting.

mmmmmmm. What more can we say.

The great debate begins

We humans love to debate; VB vs XXXX, Capitalism vs Communism, Apple vs Android, Justin Bieber vs Metallica – the list is endless. We mountain bikes are just the same, and we’ll fight tooth and nail over a technology that we either love or loathe. Since the advent of the 29” wheel, we can’t think of a product that will draw a line in the sand clearly as XTR Di2. And yes, we now know which side of that line we stand on.

We can’t think of a product that will draw a line in the sand clearly as XTR Di2. And yes, we now know which side of that line we stand on.

For some, the idea of electronic shifting seems unnecessary, but we see it as part of the evolution of our sport. We’re all for smart evolution and the introduction of electronic functions and intelligence into our ride experience is just part of that journey. You can close your eyes to the possibilities and stroke your beard as you ride your rigid singlespeed, or you can embrace this evolution. We’re going with the embracement, because who doesn’t love a hug, even if it’s from a robot derailleur.

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Back to the classroom

Before we were able to hit the trails, we hit the books – it was off to the classroom for a little lesson on all things new on XTR and Di2.

Sitting in the mobile Shimano showroom on the grounds of the Colonial Brewery were treated to all the background and technical details of the entire new XTR range. Overtime we will introduce you to that entire range, including new brakes, hubs, and carbon/aluminium wheels, however we’re going to focus our attention with this article on the Di2. It’s the sexy part after all.

Oh doggy, pictures cannot detail how good the new XTR hubs look.  (dribble, dribble, dribble).
Oh doggy, pictures cannot detail how good the new XTR hubs look. (dribble, dribble, dribble).
Our test Mach 4 is fitted with Shimano XTR XC/Race series parts and the smaller 160mm Freeza rotors are on both front and back. the new XTR also comes in a Trail/Enduro version wich gives you more stopping power. There have been some changes to the brakes themselves and heat management is still a priority for Shimano.
Our test Mach 4 is fitted with Shimano XTR XC/Race series parts and the smaller 160mm Freeza rotors are on both front and back. We’ll conduct a full review of the revised XTR brakes once the bike is back on our home turf.

Shimano have had half a dozen years experience with electronic shifting in the road world, but they haven’t just shoe-horned roadie tech onto our bikes. XTR Di2 has been engineered for our needs, so much so we can now thumb our noses at the road crew, as our version is a more advanced product. Not only has it been designed to handle the abuses of mountain biking in a physical sense, but it has greater functionality too; most notably, the addition of Syncro Shift (more on that later), a digital display unit, plus the capability to integrate with your FOX electronic suspension lockouts.

Shimano is still offering 2X and even 3X (and yes, you can get Di2 and mechanical in 1X).
Shimano is still offering 2X and even 3X (and yes, you can get Di2 and mechanical in 1X).

Shimano are firm in their assertion of the benefits of a multiple chain ring setup, as opposed to a single ring. A single-ring XTR option will exist,  but Shimano believe a 2x system is prime for most of the market, even at the high end. While SRAM are focused on a single ring coupled with a 10-42 tooth cassette, Shimano feel a closer ratio cassette of 11-40 teeth with multiple rings is a better arrangement and it delivers a larger overall range with a much closer ratios.

2015_XTR_C2C_Launch_new-18
The 11-speed cassette offers a 11-40 tooth spread.
The position of the clutch switch has been moved on both Di2 and mechanical derailleurs.
The position of the clutch switch has been moved on both Di2 and mechanical derailleurs.

What this means in reality is a much smaller difference in leg speed and/or power change at each shifting point. Big differences in gear ratios do impact upon your cadence meaning you have to rebuild power with each shift, while closer ratios enable a more constant pedalling speed and more consistent power output.

The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and Syncro Shift modes. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that's because you can hide the batterty in the steerer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is achieved by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.
The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and Syncro Shift modes. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that’s because you can hide the batterty in the steerer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is achieved by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.

We’ve seen some internet warriors disparaging of the system’s digital display (‘I don’t need a computer to tell me what gear I’m in… etc etc’) but in reality it’s a very neat addition. Aside from current gear information, it also allows you toggle between manual and Syncro Shift modes, plus view battery life, suspension mode and more. We noted that the display unit does sit in a position that should protect it from most crashes too. In the case of our bike, the display was made all the neater with the new Shimano Pro Tharsis bar and Di2 specific stem which neatly hides all the cables. The whole arrangement was so clean and simple, it was weird looking at our bike to start off with, like something was missing!

Another look at how neat the whole package looks. You do feel like something is missing!
Another look at how neat the whole package is. You do feel like something is missing!
And here's where the battery is hidden on the Mach 4. It mounts directly inside the frame and is easily accessed through a well sealed port. Battery and junction box location may not be as integrated with other manufacturers however with other locations including stem, seatpost, and bottle cage mounts you're going to see some different flavours on the market.
And here’s where the battery is hidden on the Mach 4. It mounts directly inside the frame and is easily accessed through a well sealed port. Battery and junction box location may not be as neat on all bikes; Shimano offer various options for batter mounting, including inside the seat post, steerer tube or on the bottle mounts.

It’s the possibility for clean integration that is another benefit of an electronic system. Because the wires can bend and twist in ways that a shift cable never could, the whole system can virtually disappear into the bike frame. In the case of our test bike, this was taken to a whole new level. The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon is one of the very first bikes to be specifically designed to work with Di2, with a port at the bottom of the down tube to house the battery, and cable routing ports for the thin wires.

Di2 will come OEM on a few bikes soon and how these accommodate the battery and cables will vary as there isn’t a single standard yet. Shimano does however offer a few different configurations including a seat post battery, head tube battery, and external battery housings. Di2 can also be retrofitted but that’s a job best suited for your local bike shop.

Ride time, baby

After school, we got to ride the bikes. Our first spin was in the Cape to Cape’s famous Red Bull Shootout.

The Cape-to-Cape is a super fun event and the local folk come out to support the riders.
The Cape-to-Cape is a super fun event and the local folk come out to support the riders.

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Our very first impression was just how much the shifters felt like a mechanical system. Unlike the road variety if Di2 (which we’ve ridden quite a lot), the shift feeling is strong and positive, with a real click. Shimano explained that a soft “electronic” feel wouldn’t work as the rough terrain and aggressive nature of our movement on the handlebars would introduce too many false, or accidental shifts. We loved that feel of a strong, positive shift and immediately it felt “normal”. The shifters also have all the multi-release functions of the mechanical brother (ie. two upshifts at once) but with a little more firepower; hold your thumb down and it will keep on shifting across the whole cassette.

We loved that feel of a strong, positive shift and immediately it felt “normal”

Our test bike post-race on display in the Shimano shipping container. It had been cleaned up at this stage but only a few moments before was covered in mud.
Our test bike post-race on display in the Shimano shipping container. It had been cleaned up at this stage but only a few moments before was covered in mud.

That evening there were a few minor changes we wanted to make to our shifting. We sat down with our friendly Shimano techs and watched as they connected a laptop with the free E-Tube software (PC only at the moment) to our bikes and made a few minor tweaks.

We got to see how adaptable and programmable the whole Di2 system is. From something simple like changing shifting paddle function, to more complicated operations like setting the Syncro Shift programs, it’s all as easy as sitting on a laptop and not a greasy finger was to be seen.

It can shift underwater

The next day saw us entered into Stage 3 of the Cape to Cape race, and the 57km stage from Xanadu Winery to the Colonial Brewery proved to be super fun and a great way to get a feel for the new Di2. With loads of undulating terrain we shifted thousands of times in those couple of hours and we never missed a shift.

Midway through stage 3 of the Cape-to-Cape and we're getting really comfortable with the new world of electronic shifting.
Midway through stage 3 of the Cape-to-Cape and we’re getting really comfortable with the new world of electronic shifting.

The crisp, firm, mechanical feel at the thumb is transferred to a sweet futuristic robot sound as the derailleur executes perfect shift after perfect shift. At no time did the feeling at the thumb ever change. Constant, instant, snappy, and comfortable. It was hard not to fall in love with it.

We also spent some time in the Syncro Shift mode and explored the automated front derailleur shifting. Syncro Shift is designed to give you the benefits of a multi-ring setup, but with only one shifter (ideal for people who want to run a dropper seat post, like us). It did take us a little while to get used to only using the right hand shifter to go up and down all 22 gears. Our brains are so wired against this automation that we were initially hesitant to trust the system but it proved to be more than trustworthy.

At no time did the feeling at the thumb ever change. Constant, instant, snappy, and comfortable. It was hard not to fall in love with it.

The Synro Shift mode is completely programmable and depending on your riding style, preferred cadence, and other factors, you might want to change the shifting points (at what gears you automatically shift from small to big front ring and visa versa). We found it a very interesting experience, and more time on the Di2 will enable us to put it through a longer test. We’re looking forward to getting this bike on home soil, removing the front shifter entirely, fitting a dropper post remote and seeing how Syncro Shift goes in the long term.

 

You can see the cable leave the shifter body and immediately run away and hide, never to be seen again! We hope to remove the left shifter and use Syncro Shift full-time.
You can see the cable leave the shifter body and immediately run away and hide, never to be seen again! We hope to remove the left shifter and use Syncro Shift full-time.

We also had a bit of a fun experiment planned with the new Di2. Electronics and water are times at enemies and we knew that there were a few water crossings along the way. Our plan was some submerged shifting! Even in the deepest-axle-high-rear-derailleur-competely-covered-in-muddy-smelly-water crossings we were still able to shift – literally underwater.

And what about other issues? Shimano have it covered, and probably have an answer for all of your questions. As an example, in order to protect your investment, the system has a safety mode where the rear derailleur can sense an impact and avoid further damaging shifting, such as over-shifting into the spokes. In this safety mode you can then re-adjust the shifting (without getting off your bike, of course) and get it back into tune.

That bit at the back, that's the motor that takes care off all the heavy lifting. Your thumb will always rest easy, not matter what the conditions.
That bit at the back, that’s the motor that takes care off all the heavy lifting. Your thumb will always rest easy, not matter what the conditions.

And yes, the battery can go flat, but the system is smart enough to shut down less important functionality first (like the front derailleur) in order to save power. Of course, once you’re done for power you are done for shifting, but with a worst-case scenario range of over 300km, we think you’ll be ok.

At the end of the 57km we were buzzing at how great the event was, and how perfect our first experience on Di2 had been. It shifted perfectly all day, it felt the same at our thumbs from shift number one through to shift one million, it took a dive in some pretty muddy water, and it held off a few sticks and rocks. And it made sweet robot noises, which didn’t lose their novelty!

Our first thoughts

Shimano XTR Di2 is not just an evolution that finally removes a cable system we’ve had for almost 200 years, it’s also a shift (pun intended) in how we think about changing gears. While the system is complex, its effect is to simplify the riding experience, and to open up new possibilities in bike design.

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What Shimano may sometimes lack with sexy marketing they more than make up with long lasting, well-built products of consistently excellent quality. And just like in the road world where Di2 has been a game changer, we’re sure the long-term implications for mountain biking will be huge.

The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon test bike with full XTR and Di2 is staying in our test shed for a little longer and over the next little while we’ll be going into more detail about the new technology. Until then here’s some answers to your questions you’ve posted already:

 

Your first questions from Flow social media:

 You: Now if they can make wireless brakes…

Us: http://www.gizmag.com/wireless-braking-for-bicycles/20150/

 

You: So u have to charge the battery before you canuse your mtb bike? If something breaks thats gonna be expensive to replace ouch. $600 of rear der.

Us: We haven’t been informed of the cost yet but we can pick few more parts for around that cost that are pretty damn easy to break too. Also, we’re all pretty accustomed to charging a phone, so one more battery every few weeks should be ok.

 

You: too much money we can have fun for far less money.

Us: True. We have actually found a pretty good way to have fun with some stickytape, a hamster, and a dollar coin, so it’s all relative really. We think that the technology is well worth the money and when compared to other expensive upgrades it stacks up well in the cost vs performance ratio.

 

You: Are you sponsoring me with this bike?

Us: Yes! Can you please send us your resume, with a large sum of money attached.

 

You: Tough job.

Us: But someone has to do it.

 

You: Had a squizz at this at the C2C in between beers at the Colonial Brewery. Didn’t know the Flow team was over here this year – enjoy yourselves?

Us: We dad a blast and highly recommend both the race and riding in the area.

 

You – It would be super nice to take it for a test ride in a place like Oregon.

Us- Yes, yes it would. Can you please purchase the tickets for us? And also make a booking at your most recommend Mexican restaurant too.

Spanish Fluro Fever: Orbea Rallon X30 First Impressions

This radioactive number is best viewed in person, wearing sunglasses. The bike arrived on a glorious summer’s day, but the superb sunshine was outdone by the Orbea’s unique paint job, these photos don’t do the bike justice, it’s seriously flouro.

Orbea Rallon 14

Orbea are a Spanish brand that was founded in 1840, so the Rallon comes with nearly two centuries of manufacturing know-how. Despite this, Orbea have only been producing noteworthy mountain bikes in recent years, with their older models riding like mountain bikes designed by weight conscious roadies – not a great combination.

The new Rallon is a serious looking beast, packing a burly 160mm of travel at both ends. The alloy tubing looks chunky and durable, the pivots are similarly robust looking and the cabling down the centre of the downtube with minimal internal routing is a smart and maintenance friendly option. One design aspect we especially appreciate for a bike likely to be bashed around ride after ride is abundant frame protection, and the Rallon delivers with a long downtube guard ending just under the bottom bracket and a chainstay guard that protects both sides of the chain stay – a sign that lots of thought has gone into the specific intentions of the bike.

Orbea Rallon 3

The component spec for the most part is smart and sensible for the Rallon’s early 3000 dollar price point. The RaceFace/SLX drivetrain combo ensures both durability and reliability whilst the FOX front and rear suspension combo is a proven winner for quality suspension on a budget.

Here at Flow we can live without the Formula brakes- we’d take a set of bulletproof Shimanos any day- but we feel this component choice is a nod to the bikes European heritage.

Orbea Rallon 4

The Mavic en321 wheel set are on the heavy side on first impressions but the true test will be how they handle unloving testing through rough terrain. The 2×10 drivetrain, whilst seemingly out of favour with the majority of riders enchanted by the wonders of 1x, is in our opinion an excellent decision for the Rallon due to its weighty nature in comparison with more expensive, 1x equipped models.

Finally, the RaceFace cockpit is a winner- short and wide- exactly what todays All-Mountain riding requires.

Geometry wise, the Rallon is already telling us that it’s ready to rally the descents. Short 420mm stays should make it a rocket through the corners, but the long 1172mm wheelbase will offer stability at high speeds. The X30 comes with slightly more stability oriented geometry than the more expensive models, which is a good thing for the bikes target audience.

There is a simple geometry adjustment option via a reversible chip at the front shock mount, something we are fond of, should we choose to experiment with slackening or sharpening the bike’s angles. All in all though, the setup looks ready to shreddy!

Orbea Rallon 12

Orbea Rallon 15

Look out for a full review soon, we’re really looking forward to seeing how a more budget orientated all –mountain bike handles all of the technical riding Sydney has to offer!

Oh, it’s also available in black and white coloured frame, which may be a better option if you have extra sensitive eyeballs.

While you’re waiting, check out our previous review of one of Orbea’s XC rigs, the Occam 29. http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-orbea-occam-29-s50/

Tested: Five Ten Impact VXi Clipless Shoes

Five Ten shoes are best known for their gummy soled flat pedal shoes, the brand also has a long history in rock climbing where grip is paramount to keeping you hanging on and your bones intact. Their first foray into clipless pedals was received with mixed reviews, criticised for being heavy and clunky. Fast forward to present, and their Impact VXi has become a popular shoe for the enduro, trail and downhill crowd.

Stepping away from the traditional triple velcro strap shoes that have saturated the market for most of mountain biking’s short life, we are seeing more casually styled shoes with a slightly less stiff sole. Best paired with a trail style pedal like the Shimano XT M785 or Crank Bros Mallet, a flat soled shoe can help your riding excel in more ways than just standing around off the bike.

Five Ten Impact Clipless 4
Stealth rubber with clipless compatibility.

First thing to note is the Five Ten’s slightly peculiar looks, a bit like shoes you buy from the chemist, but that seem to become less so obvious when worn and they grew on us over time. The solid black shape and big velcro strap sure make them look special but are important features to their high performance. The lack of perforated or mesh material helps keep water out, and the velcro serves to keep the laces out of the way and locks in the secure fit.

Laces may seem a bit old school with many high end shoes using velcro straps, ratchet buckles or the lightweight BOA dials, but in this case the laces pull a nice and even tension across the foot to create a snug fit without tight or loose spots. The laces are long, but kept out of harms way under the velcro strap. When wet they don’t become too heavy like we’ve been used to with the old Shimano DX shoes which must triple in weight when riding in the rain.

What we like most about the gummy sole, is that it boosts your confidence when tackling tricky sections of trails. If you need to dab a foot, or you don’t quite make it up or down a section of rocky, slippery trail you can rest assured that if you plant your foot down to regain balance your foot won’t slip, pretty much any surface these shoes feel stable and planted. That’s something you just don’t get with your typical clipless shoe with a spiky hard rubber sole.

During our first ride we attempted climbing up steep and rocky chutes with a little more confidence knowing that if we wouldn’t quite make it safely and had to unclip and step backwards off the bike, we wouldn’t fall.

Five Ten Impact Clipless 1

Flow’s local trails in Sydney require a bit of off-the-bike pushing, climbing up rocks and even swinging off ropes at times. There is no shoe better for this, they won’t send you sliding down a rock face with your bike making horrid metal scraping sounds, you’ll be glued to the earth nicely. The cleats aren’t as recessed into the sole as most shoes are though, so you’ll definitely hear them clicking along as you walk.

Fit wise they are pretty good. Up the front of the shoe there is a lot of room, so be warned if you have particular narrow feet, as there could well be too much room and you’ll be clenching your toes to stop your foot moving around inside the shoe which makes for tiring riding. The heel is snugly set into the shoe and didn’t pull up at all when pushing bikes or walking about. The mid foot is also quite snug which accentuates their feeling of being very wide up front, wider than anything we’ve used recently. We were able to slide the cleats a long way back in the slots, the generous range of fore and aft adjustment here is worth noting.

With the big cycling footwear brands like Shimano, Specialized and Bontrager for example really pushing footbed customisation and adjustable arch and metatarsal options, it’s a shame to see Five Ten not offering any fit customising options. So, if you’re one with high arches or flat feet you may need to BYO your own insoles, and from our experiences, they do feel fairly flat under the foot when riding.

Protection is excellent, in comparison to the softer sole Teva Links shoes we love and continue to wear, the protection especially around the front is a real toe saver. That moment when you plant your foot around a corner and kick a rock ain’t nice, so you don’t need to worry about that when you step into these guys.

Impact
Get rad, drop your foot, drag it in the dirt, stomp it down.

Stiffness is spot on for this type of shoe, we are all about ‘feeling’ the bike underneath you. A carbon soled cross country racing shoe has the tendency to isolate you from your bike, but these guys give you just the right amount of bend and allow you to turn and move the bike around with your feet.

We’d happily wear these all day, the balance between pedal efficiency, comfort on and off the bike, looks and protection make them a great alternative to the traditional cross country shoes we’re used to.

Other all-mountain style shoes we’ve tested:

Teva Pivot: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-teva-pivot-clipless-shoes/

Shimano M200, first impressions: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-shimanos-new-sh-m200-enduro-shoes/

Specialized S-Works Trail: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-specialized-s-works-trail-shoe/

 

Mr Consistent: SRAM Guide RSC Brakes Review

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “You build a bridge, does anyone remember you as John the Bridge Builder? You save a forest, does anyone remember you as John the Conservationist? You teach a child to read, does anyone remember you as John the Educator? ….But you f#%k just one goat and…”

The point being, people tend to remember the goats you screw, not the good deeds you do. And in the case of Avid brakes, unfortunately a few goats got screwed.


SRAM Guide RSC brake 5

Yes, countless sets of Avid Elixir brakes did, and continue to, work flawlessly, but there were some duds along the way and SRAM’s reputation with brakes definitely ended up a little tarnished. But now they’re looking to put things right, with the brand new SRAM Guide series of brakes, which were launched this year and have already found considerable spec on production bikes. These brakes have a wide appeal – from trail, through to Enduro and downhill – with multiple price points targeted too. There are three models of Guide brakes available (the basic Guide R, the Guide RS and Guide RSC), and since receiving these brakes in August (read our first impressions here) we’ve been trialling the RSC version across two different bikes – a Norco Range and Trek Fuel EX.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 2
The neat contact point adjuster is very effective.

The Guide brakes are a radical departure from the Elixir design (at least in the lever – the four-piston caliper is actually identical to the Elixir Trail brake). Gone is the Taperbore master cylinder design, replaced with a more conventional reservoir design that is reminiscent of the original Avid Juicy. The reach adjustment is easily accessible on the front of the lever blade, and in RSC brake, there’s contact point adjustment too, via a spinny dial on the lever body.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 9
On the RSC model, the lever pivot uses a sealed cartridge bearing.

In the the RS and RSC models, the Guide brakes also feature a new master piston actuation system called Swing-Link; the lever blade drives a small cam/link that in turn pushes the master piston. This system allows the for a variable rate of leverage throughout the lever stroke, moving the caliper’s four piston quickly at the outset of the stroke (to engage with the rotor nice and fast), then more slowly deeper in the stroke for better modulation. Unfortunately the lower-priced Guide R misses out on the Swing-Link doodad.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 10
The small reach adjustment dial is far easier to access than on earlier SRAM brakes. Note how the Match Maker clamp keeps the handlebar clean.

If the Swing-Link system sounds a little like Shimano’s Servo-Wave system, it’s because the principle is much the same. In fact, the lever feel is very similar to that of a Shimano SLX or XT brake, with that same reassuringly solid engagement where you can really feel the pads hit the rotor firmly. It’s very confidence-inspiring feeling with no uncertainty about when the power is going to come on, and more importantly, that feeling has remained completely consistent throughout our testing.

In every area, the Guide brakes are an improvement over the Elixirs. Bleeding the Guides is fast and easy with a dual syringe system, and even if you do a slightly shonky job (as we did when rushing out the door for our first ride on them), any air bubbles seem to migrate their way harmlessly up to the lever reservoir where they stay put. The seemingly random appearance and disappearance of air in the system was a nightmare with Elixirs, so it’s fantastic this seems to have been sorted.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 1
The Guide brakes use the same four-piston caliper as the Avid Trail series brakes, with its neat adjustable banjo fitting.

Getting the brakes positioned and operating how you’d like them is simple too; the reach adjuster isn’t as slick as the rest of the brake but it works perfectly. The contact point adjuster is a real highlight – it allows for really precise adjustment, so you can match the levers up perfectly.

SRAM Guide RSC brake 8
SRAM’s new Centreline rotors are quiet in the dry, but you’re not going to be sneaking up on anyone in the wet.

Of course, power is excellent, as you’d expect from the big four-piston caliper, and it’s easy to modulate too. The new Centreline rotors are significantly quieter than the old Elixir rotors in the dry, but get them wet and you’ll be getting noise complaints from the other side of the state, on a wet ride they howl like two cats fighting on hot summer night. As the caliper and brake pads are unchanged from the Elixir Trails, the pad life should be excellent, and we’ve had a number of miserable, grimy rides without any significant wear to date.

For the first time in a few years, we’re excited about SRAM’s brakes once again. Our confidence in their stoppers has returned, and that is kinda reassuring when you’re grabbing a fistful of brake at 45km/h. Bravo!

 

 

The King is Back: FOX 36 Float RC2 Review

Fox 36 Float RC2 6
Retro graphics just add to the appeal.

FOX knew they had to hit back hard this year with the relaunch of the 36; since the arrival of the RockShox Pike 18 months ago, riders had been leaving FOX in droves, clamouring to get a Pike onto the front of their all-mountain/enduro rig. It was time to stop the rot!

The vehicle FOX chose to launch their counter attack is the venerable 36 series. While there were other long-travel, single-crown forks before the 36 was released almost 10 years ago, it was this massive 36mm-legged beast from FOX that showed what was truly possible. For years, the 36 series set the standard of performance, stiffness, tuneability and versatility, and the fork’s status became legendary and legions of hardcore riders still regarded it as the leading single-crown fork… until the Pike arrived.

It’s no surprise that FOX want to reclaim their crown, and after a few weeks of riding the 2015 36 RC2, we think the King of All-Mountain might be back to regain his throne. Read our first impression of the FOX 36 here. 


FOX have thrown a lot of firepower at the 2015 36, and it really is an entirely new fork. Or we should say forks, plural, because there are variants galore, in 26, 27.5 or 29” wheel sizes, with Float or TALAS (travel adjustable) options, and travel from 140-170mm. Our test fork is a 160mm-travel Float RC2.

Fox 36 Float RC2 12
The new crown is slimmer, for a shorter axle-to-crown length, but has more overlap with the stanchions. FOX claim that creaking crowns are a thing of the past.

An obvious standout is the huge reduction in weight; the 36 Float now weighs about the same as the FOX 34 series (2.04kg for our fork) fork and is within 200g of an equivalent Pike. Not only is it lighter, but it’s also lower, with a the new crown assembly offering a shorter crown-to-axle length, so you can run a longer travel fork, without bumping up the ride height.

Other immediately noticeable differences include the absence of FOX’s CTD damper system, with an RC2 damper taking its place. This is a very good call. The CTD damper has never really found favour with the more high-performance end of the all-mountain market, where many riders come from a downhill background. It was felt that the CTD system lacked damping subtlety and control, and FOX have never managed to shake the stigma of their 2013 forks which were noticeably under-damped for hard impacts, forcing many riders to run their fork in the ‘Climb’ setting on descents in order to prevent the fork from diving. The new RC2 damper has external control of both high and low-speed compression, via big blue knobs, identical to the setup on the FOX 40 downhill fork.

Fox 36 Float RC2 9
The RC2 damper has independent high and low-speed compressions adjustment and offers greatly superior, incremental control when compared to a CTD damper.

There’s no quick-release axle system, instead FOX have gone for maximum stiffness, with a dedicated bolt-up axle system that uses a 5mm Allen key to lock your wheel in tight. Again, this is a wise call we feel – the stiffness of the 36 was one aspect that made this fork legendary, and it makes sense to reinforce this advantage. Ok, taking your wheel out is a pain, but it’s a trade-off that we can live with. The axle system can cleverly take 15mm or 20mm hubs too, with reducers to accommodate either setup.

Fox 36 Float RC2 10
No quick releases here. The 36’s axle is a true bolt-up system, just like on the FOX 40 downhill fork. Note the protective cover for the rebound knob too.

Less obvious changes are highlighted by an all-new air spring assembly, and FOX has ditched the steel negative spring of earlier forks, using a self-equalising air spring for the negative chamber. This change plays a key role in reducing the fork’s weight, as well as improving the fork’s performance, especially for riders at either end of the rider weight spectrum.

Fox 36 Float RC2 2
Glamorous in gold. The Kashima treated stanchions are part of the battle against friction.

Reducing friction was seen as a key battleground, and FOX have gone all-out to make the 36 as slippery as possible. Externally, the Kashima coated legs are now polished using a different process that apparently traps more oil particles in microscopic pores in the aluminium. Internally, two completely different styles of oil are now used for lubrication and damping purposes; the new Gold Oil fluid used for lubricating the lower legs/sliders is claimed to be more slippery than a jail house soap bar. A new seal head on the damper cartridge with reduced friction completes the package.

But how does it bloody well ride? We fitted our 36 Float to our Norco Range C7.2 long-term test bike, where it replaced a Pike RC. We were tempted to run the FOX at 170mm, but for the sake of a direct comparison with the Pike, we went for 160mm instead.

Norco Range 7.1 First Bite-1
Our Norco Range C7.2 long-term test bike, in its original format with a RockShox Pike.

Getting the fork setup for our weight was aided by FOX’s new recommended pressure guides, which are found on their website. You simply punch in the four digit code that’s marked on the fork, and the site will bring up the manuals, setup guide and such for your exact fork. For our 62kg test rider, the site recommended 58psi, and the sag and spring curve this pressure delivered felt 100% spot-on! If you did want to change the fork’s feel, FOX now gives you the option of fitting air volume reducers (just like you can do with their rear shocks, a similar system to the RockShox Bottomless Tokens). We followed FOX’s recommended mid-range settings for the high/low-speed compression too, and got down to it.

The notion of a bed-in period seems to be non-existent with the new 36; the almost complete absence of friction that this fork exhibits from the very outset is just amazing. From the first 100 metres of our very first ride, you could have sworn this fork already had 10 hours of riding on it, so good is the small bump response. It’s so supple, the displaced air from a passing magpie could make it move. This fork is as close to frictionless as we’ve ever felt in a single-crown fork, and because the chassis is so stiff, there’s never any hint of binding or increased friction when you start asking the tough questions.

Fox 36 Float RC2 7
The 36 won’t accept a 160mm front rotor – it’s a 180mm direct mount.

It didn’t take long to appreciate the benefits of a true low-speed compression damping system, rather than the CTD damper, either. Whereas the CTD system feels like a trade-off between bump response and support, a few clicks of low-speed compression made a huge difference, keeping the 36 supported under brakes, without losing any of its ridiculous bump response.

But it’s when things are really rough and rowdy that the 36 does its best work. Occasionally you ride a product that completely changes the way you see or ride a trail, and the 36 is one such product. It gave us a feeling that we’d normally only associate with a very well setup downhill bike; a sensation of having more time to react, as if the trail was coming at you 20% slower, when you’re actually riding faster than ever before. The feeling was that our front tyre was glued to the ground, affording us more braking traction and cornering bite, and the roughness of the terrain just did not translate to the bars, leaving us more relaxed and feeling more fluid on the bike.

Fox 36 Float RC2 3
Can you see the dropout reducers? Remove these guys and you can run the 36 with a 20mm front hub.

On our Norco, already a super stiff bike, the addition of the 36 just took it to the next level. Line choice became as irrelevant as an election promise. This fork simply does not flinch! That feeling of spiking, or twanging or imprecision… all gone. Basically, if you have the guts and the strength (or the cleat tension) to just run into something, the 36 will encourage you to do it. It’s like there’s a group of teenagers sitting by the side of the trail, heckling you until you try something really stupid.

So, is the 36 a better fork than the Pike? For general trail riding, the Pike has the edge with both weight and it’s more user-friendly in terms of damping controls, plus it has the Maxle quick-release system. But if the focus is on the descents, then we’d have to say that we’re in awe of the FOX 36, and we think it’s the new leader in this arena. The stiffness, the completely amazing smoothness, the way it gobbles up hits from the smallest pebble to the nastiest ledge drop – all these things and more make us very fond of the new 36. Welcome back, FOX.

Fox 36 Float RC2 13

 

 

 

Fresh from Italy, New Saddles and Shoes From fi’zi:k

Fine Italian fashion made into a quality range of ergonomic components, fi’zi:k focusses on providing for the contact points of your ride, like saddles, shoes and cockpit parts.

Flow had a chance to view the 2015 range from fi’zi:k, and this is what caught our attention.

[divider]M3B Uomo[/divider]

Fizik 18
The M3B UOMO is a real sleek pair of shoes.

Fizik 17

With such a supple leather material used in the upper of the shoe construction, the M3B UOMO can conform to the foot for a snug fit, whilst the BOA dial pulls even tension for security. Their first BOA shoe for mountain biking weighs an impressive 350 grams (size 43) and will set you back $349 Aussie bucks.

[divider]M1 Uomo[/divider]

Fizik 10
The flagship shoe from the Italians, the M1 Uomo uses their finest materials.

The M1 shoes are like no other shoe on the market, using unique materials and fine attention to detail, they also take fit to the next level with a heat foldable insole. For $449 they weigh a svelte 380g.

A carbon sole, kangaroo leather and sail cloth make up these shoes and we are dying to test them out.

Included with the M1 shoes are the customisable insoles from 3D Flex. Sold separately for around $110, these insoles use materials with names like: Transflux, Ortholite and Podiaflex to achieve conforming shapes arch support and vibration dampening. Click here for more info on the insoles. 

Fizik 14
The M1 shoes score the ultra technical 3D Flex mouldable insoles.
Fizik 12
Using heat to begin the custom fit process, the soles can be fitted to your foot at your fi’zi:k dealer.

[divider]The 29er specific saddle, f’izi:k Thar[/divider]

f’izi:k address the need for a different saddle position when riding 29er bikes, with the big wheels forcing the rider to sit more towards the back of the saddle. The THAR has rails with 95mm of fore/aft adjustment, 25mm longer than normal. The rail is longer towards the rear of the saddle to help you push it further forward.

The Thar 29″ will start at $139 and go up to $179 for lighter rails.

 

Fizik 2
The That 29″ on the left, with the traditional Gobi on the right. Not the short tail for clearance on longer travel 29ers with the seat down.
Fizik 1
Longer rails, toward the rear for more adjustment.

For more info jump to http://www.fizik.com/en/

All-Mountain Assassin: The Polygon Collosus N9

Polygon Collosus N9 9
Like something out of freakin’ Blade Runner.

Five years ago, we’d rather have shared a car ride to Melbourne with a pack of angry wasps than have ridden a Polygon. Clearly that ain’t so any longer. This brand has undergone a transformation more pronounced than Rene Zellweger’s face; and while we preferred the old Rene, the definitely prefer the new Polygon. Right here we’ve got the all-new Collosus N9, the very same bike the Hutchinson / United Riders teams have been racing in the Enduro World Series.

 


Polygon Collosus N9 12

“Holy Moses! Is that the new Polygon?” was the standard response from all who laid eyes on this savagely futuristic looking piece of kit, usually followed by the question, “what’s it like?” Well, we’ll tell you.

[divider]Build[/divider]

If the world suddenly starts to run low on carbon fibre, you can blame Polygon. The new Collosus N9 is has some of most incredibly complex, but perfectly executed, carbon frame shapes we’ve ever seen – Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher certainly didn’t envisage that bikes would ever look like this! It’s clear that Polygon have looked for opportunities to shape this frame is ways that would have been basically impossible in aluminium. While they’re at it, they’ve equipped the Polygon with some of the most intricate frame graphics out there. Look closely and you’ll see some incredibly detailed graphics subtly adorning the less visible parts of the frame – very cool.

Polygon Collosus N9 29
Beautiful, subtle graphics.

This 160mm-travel machine has a compact look about it, and the frame numbers reflect this, with the wheelbase a couple of centimetres shorter than many of its competitors. The chain stays are 430mm (fun), and the top tube is 590mm (a little short), while the head angle is 66.3 degrees (ideal). But numbers don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, and there’ll be plenty of time to chat about that later.

Polygon Collosus N9 11
The lower link sits snuggly over the bottom bracket shell.
Polygon Collosus N9 14
The shock is driven from both ends. Huge pivot axles are used to try keep the rear end as stiff as is possible with this design.

Polygon have employed their FS03 suspensions system, which is another variant of a four-bar linkage. The lower link arcs over the bottom bracket shell, driving the shock, which is also squished by the stubby upper link. (The design is actually a little similar to the Quad Link II arrangement previously used by Whyte bikes, but the Polygon’s lower link is located closer to the bottom bracket, which makes for less pedal feedback – winner.) The most striking aspect of the design is the extremely long ‘seat stay’; while most four-bar linkage designs have an upper link mounted off the seat tube, the Polygon’s upper link is way forward. This uninterrupted curve of the seat stay looks insane, but it does present design challenges in terms of keeping it all stiff. Giving the rear end a quick waggle reveals that even the use of huge pivot axles and an E-Thru 142x12mm axle can’t get rid of the inherent flex of this design. But as we’ve noted many times, a bit of wobble in the carpark doesn’t necessarily mean a thing on the trail.

Polygon Collosus N9 39
The cables are all kept clear of the head tube with neat internal routing.

With such a complicated looking frame, Polygon have managed to declutter things by routing all the cables internally, keeping them clear of the frame so there’s no rub at any point either. External routing options are in place for a dropper post, should you not get along with the Rockshox Reverb Stealth. We really don’t like remote fork lockouts on this style of bike (keep them for cross country racing, please) so we removed the CTD fork remote that came on the bike to further declutter its appearance. Speaking of lockouts, because of the orientation of the FOX Float X shock, getting access to the CTD lever is quite a stretch. Fortunately the Polygon pedals beautifully, so you’re not relying on the CTD lever to scoot it along at all.

Polygon Collosus N9 35
The CTD lever on the shock might be tough to reach on the fly, but we barely used it. For the most part, we left the bike in Trail(1) mode.
Polygon Collosus N9 31
You’re not fitting a bottle in there. Note the brace running from the chain stay up the top of the seat stay? It’s only on the non-driveside – on the driveside the need to keep a front derailleur means the bracing can’t be used.
Polygon Collosus N9 38
Downtube protection. Neato.

Few details have been overlooked; the down tube is protected from rock strikes by thick frame stickers, and the chain is silenced by a heavy duty moulded rubber guard. You can fit a front derailleur should you wish, or a chain guide with the ISCG tabs, but not a water bottle – it’s a pack only affair.

Tyre clearance out back is pretty tight, not width-wise, but you’re restricted by height/depth of the tyre. A Schwalbe Hans Dampf in 2.25 squeezes in with plenty of room on either side, but there’s minimal space between the tread and the chain stay junction, so fitting anything much bigger than the stock rubber is not advisable. We didn’t test the Polygon in the wet, but we can imagine this could get a bit gloopy in the mud.

Polygon Collosus N9 20
Tyre clearance is tight around the chain stays – the Hans Dampf 2.25 is about as big as you’d want to go.

[divider] Spec:[/divider]

While a price tag of $5799 isn’t exactly pocket change, what you get for your money is pretty fantastic. With the exception of a adding a carbon bar in place of the Spank Oozy alloy number, you’d be hard pressed to upgrade the N9 in any meaningful way.

Polygon Collosus N9 28
Carbon hub shells! With wheels this nice, we think the super loud freehub is justified.

 

We like the fact that Polygon have cherry-picked the components, rather than sticking with a SRAM or Shimano/FOX theme. The end result is a great mix of Shimano, SRAM, FOX and e13. Shimano provide the ever-reliable XT brakes (still the best on the market, we feel), SRAM deliver with the superb XX1 drivetrain and RockShox Reverb Stealth post, and e13 supply the stiff (and loud!) TRS Race wheelset. FOX handle front and rear suspension, with a Float X rear shock and 160mm-travel 34 TALAS fork. Spank provide the 740mm-wide bar and 50mm stem, and it’s really nicely finished kit. The anüss pleasing Fizik Gobi saddle is a safe call too.

Polygon Collosus N9 22
The N9 does come with a fork remote, but we preferred to run the bike without it, reducing the clutter. Besides, the fork already has travel adjustment, which we feel is more important than a lockout anyhow.
Polygon Collosus N9 24
The TALAS dial drops the fork travel from 160mm to 130mm for climbing.

Specific praise should be given to Polygon’s decision to add a travel-adjustable fork; dropping the front end by a few centimetres on climbs does wonders for bikes like this, which can be a handful to keep on track up loose, steep fireroad grinds. As we mentioned before, we ditched the fork’s remote CTD lever – we think the travel adjustment is far more important on this kind of bike than remote lockouts.

Polygon Collosus N9 17
The finish on the Spank cockpit is great.

Compared to many new all-mountain wheel offerings, the e13 TRS rims are a little bit narrower than we’re becoming accustomed too. But these wheels are certainly stiff, thanks to absolutely massive hub shells/flanges, and the rims come ready for tubeless use, just add valves and spooge. They’re also amongst the loudest wheels we’ve ever ridden, which is sure to divide riders into the ‘look at me, look at me’ crew and those who want to actually talk to their mates while riding!

Polygon Collosus N9 27

[divider]Ride: [/divider]

The Collusus N9 is the funnest thing to come out of Indonesia since those Gudang Garam clove cigarettes that gave us head spins back in year 8 at high school. (Smoking is bad, kids!) But seriously, this bike is incredibly playful, especially given its generous chunk of travel. With its relatively short wheel base, it wants to hop, flick about and manual, hiding its 160mm of bounce until you need it. The same can be said of the way this bike pedals – it’s stable and efficient under pedalling efforts, not wallowing about like some 160mm bikes.

Polygon Collosus N9 44

The bike’s immediate, first-pedal-stroke acceleration isn’t quite as good, which we put down to the frame’s rear end flex. It just seems to lose a bit of that initial snap when you first put down the power, when compared to a stiffer framed bike.

Carrying speed, however, is not an issue, as both fork and rear suspension do a fantastic job of getting the wheels moving out of the way of the bumps that want to slow you down. The suspension design is super active, delivering excellent traction under power. We’re certain the FOX Float X shock plays a big role too, as its arguably the most responsive and smoothest air shock on the market, handling fast, repeated hits beautifully.

Polygon Collosus N9 42
We couldn’t find fault with the FOX 34 TALAS fork.

Polygon Collosus N9 40

Getting the fork pressure dialled was easy thanks to the handy setup guide on the FOX website, and from the word go we were 100% happy with the fork’s feel, the rear end took a little more twiddling. We ultimately ended up running a tad less sag than usual for this style of bike (just on 25%), which delivered the balance that we wanted. If we dropped the pressures towards the 30% sag mark, we found the bike hitting the bottom of its travel a bit easily and not keeping in step with the fork. It’s always worth taking a shock pump out for your first few rides we think, and the Polygon proved this once again. Once we had the pressures dialled, the bike’s balance was impossible to fault.

Polygon Collosus N9 43
XT brakes have the best feel and positive engagement of any brake out there in our mind.

Descending is obviously the bike’s forte, and we loved how quiet and smooth the Polygon was. The fact that it’s such a playful, manoeuvrable machine makes it easy to manhandle around technical trails, putting the wheels exactly where you want them, and the grip is sensational (great tyres, supple suspension), letting you brake hard and late with the awesome Shimano stoppers. We wouldn’t say it’s a class leader in flat-out, super rough terrain – there are other longer and slacker 160mm bikes that will serve you better if you’re looking for downhill bike stability at speed – but 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.

Polygon Collosus N9 46
The N9 gets a full XX1 drivetrain, no shortcuts here!

The Polygon’s climbing prowess is fine on shorter inclines, where you can get out of the saddle and hit the climb nice and quickly. On long grinders we found ourselves wishing for a little bit more length – either a slightly longer stem or a longer top tube – as the upright seating position is hard on the lower back. As with every bike, it’s important to get a test ride if you can, and we wouldn’t be surprised if many riders go up a size over their usual, in the N9 in order to get the required top tube length.

Polygon Collosus N9 34
e13’s TRS Race rims aren’t super wide, but they are tough, light and very stiff.

[divider]Overall:[/divider]

In today’s market, and particularly in this rapidly-growning all-mountain segment, it takes a lot to standout. But the N9 really does; it looks amazing, is excellent value (yes, an expensive bike can still be good value), blends fun and confidence perfectly, and registers Polygon as a serious contender for the ‘most-improved’ award in the industry. Make sure you check the length of the bike before you buy, because some riders may want to size up, but otherwise you should have no reservations about handing over your hard-earned for this weapon and hitting those rowdy trails on a bike that quite clearly comes from the future.

Polygon Collosus N9 5

Tested: Dakine Bike Bag

When you fly with your bike, you never really know who you are trusting your prized possession with, and your bike needs serious protection when going way up in the sky on a big tin bird. A good old cardboard box from your local store does the trick, but will never come close to the ease of a well designed bike bag, especially when you’re running late for a flight, trust us.

Here at Flow we are so often on the road travelling with our bikes to new destinations, events and testing sweet bikes far away from home. A great bike rack for your car goes a long way in saving time and space, and protecting your precious ride, but when it comes to air travel we are even more diligent in assuring that when we get to the other end, we can be on the trails with our bikes in 100% shape as soon as possible.

Dakine Bike Bag 1

The Dakine Bike Bag is a nifty option for the savvy traveller, loaded with features that are clearly developed out of plenty of experience and real world research. It is a tight fit, but we have successfully had our Trek Fuel EX 27.5″ test bike in there, and also a Specialized Enduro 650B. Both bikes are fairly long and with big tyres, but in size medium, perhaps larger sizes would need a bit more coaxing to fit in without further dismantling. A downhill bike would be tough, but we’ve heard of them fitting fine with the fork legs removed.

The bag is made from a tough material with a thin layer of padding, it folds in half for storage and weighs 7.7kg.

With both wheels off, and packed in their bags all you need to do is whip off the handlebars and pedals, that’s all the disassembly required. We also undid the derailleur of the hanger and left it dangling on the cable, just for security sake, both disc brake rotors can stay on as the two wheel bags use sturdy padded doughnut sections to house the fragile disc rotors.

Two long straps secure bike inside the bag, and once both wheel bags are inside there is no moving around, creating a solid package.

In comparison to other bike bags we have been using, this one is very easy to manoeuvre around with one hand. Two wheels on one end, and big soft handles are on the other end. It doesn’t always stand up by itself, but you can drag it over pretty much anything. We’ve dragged it through grass, gravel roads, and up and down gutters.

Dakine Bike Bag 6
One big zipper opens to access the internals.
Dakine Bike Bag 10
A $10000 bike safe and sound.
Dakine Bike Bag 11
Two separate soft bags handle the drivetrain and handlebar/fork area.
Dakine Bike Bag 18
Your rotors are safe in this one. 180mm size discs fit nicely, a 200mm might be a little tight.

After a couple uses, we were packing and unpacking our bike in only a few minutes. We did however find that the white plastic feeling fabric is slightly abrasive to fragile carbon finishes, so we have been wrapping the main frame in a beach towel to add a soft layer, especially if the bike isn’t 100% clean before packing to reduce the risk of fine scratches in the delicate paintwork.

The Dakine Bike Bag is a real winner, it’s stable, manoeuvrable, protective and easy to use. Under 8kg is good for a bag with protection, and the quality of materials will ensure it will last many flights to come.

Another bag we rate highly is the PRO  – http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-pro-mega-bag/

This bag successfully manages to provide protection to a wide variety of bike shapes and sizes, we plan to keep using it, just with a couple extra pieces of foam here and there, but maybe that’s us being over cautious of other peoples bikes… The Dakine Bike Bag is well worth a look.

Battery Powered Dream Machine: XTR Di2 Pivot

Let us introduce the most advanced mountain bike we have ever tested – the Pivot Mach 4 Carbon with 2015 Shimano XTR Di2. Fitted with all kinds of new XTR goodies from Shimano, this 115mm travel 27.5” Mach 4 is designed specifically to accommodate the new Di2 electric shifting. The battery is hidden inside the frame, plus the wires are housed internally resulting in a remarkably smooth cockpit that serves a visual reminder of what the future may hold for the sport.

2015_XTR_C2C-13

The shifters and padels of the XTR Di2. Small, neat and not a little button as you might expect. Shifting still has a very manual feel, and it's a good thing as a little electric button may be too easy to accidently press MTB trails.
The shifter and paddles are small, neat and ergonomic, not just a little press button as you might expect so shifting still has a very manual feel.  This is a good thing as a little electric button may be too easy to accidently press on bumpy trails.

Neat, clean, precise, and efficient is what we see in this new world and Shimano have gone to great lengths ensuring that their first dip into electron and proton controlled shifting for mountain bikes is even better than our roadie friends have been enjoying for a couple of years. We literally just picked up the bike and rode it straight onto the amazing trails of Margaret River on stage 3 of the epic Cape to Cape MTB race. The bike and gear worked flawlessly and we also proved that you can still shift Di2 when the whole drivetrain is submerged in foul, brow, smelly, infested water.

The 11 speed (11-40)  is 10 speed feehub compatible and backward compatibilty is a nice touch. The  Di2 derailluer is bigger than it's mechanical cousin, and yes it will cost a bunch, but considering the technology and other part upgrades avaliable on the market it's all relevant to your needs.
The 11 speed (11-40) is 10 speed freehub compatible and backward compatibilty is a nice touch. The Di2 derailluer is bigger than its mechanical cousin, and yes it will cost a bunch, but considering the technology and other part upgrades avaliable on the market it’s all relevant to your needs.
The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and more intellgent "Syncro Shift". Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that's because you can hide the batterty in the stearer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is then controlled by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem. It's not the old threadless stearer, just a modern simplier twist.
Di2 displays information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and the intellgent “Syncro Shift” mode. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that’s because you can hide the battery in the fork stearer tube. Headset tightning is then controlled by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.
The new XC/Race brake has a carbon lever, new insulated piston construction, magnesiam caliper and master cylinder and Shimano report a 10% increase in heat resistance.
The new XC/Race brake has a carbon lever, new insulated piston construction, a magnesium caliper and master cylinder and Shimano report a 10% increase in heat resistance.

We expect Di2 to be polarising, but hey what new, potentially revolutionary technology to the mountain bike world, hasn’t been? We’ll have way more details on Pivot and the new XTR Di2 in the coming weeks as we give the bike a good going over, but until then we’ll leave you with a few images to drool over.

The setting of this photo is more than fitting as less than 24 hours after this snap was taken we finished a super fun 57km stage of the Cape to Cape MTB race at the Colonial Brewery in almost this very spot. More on those first ride impressions soon.
Less than 24 hours after this snap was taken we finished a super fun 57km stage of the Cape to Cape MTB race at the Colonial Brewery. More on those first ride impressions soon.

Fresh Product: Bell Super 2R, With Detachable Chin Guard

Bell are now in their 60th year of producing helmets, that’s a lot of brain saving! Also, Bell are coming back into mountain biking in a big way with a renewed sense of style and providing great helmets to the new-school enduro crowd.

Their Super was released to loads of oohs and aahs due to it’s feature packed function with a trendy, fresh look. It could integrate a GoPro nicely in to the vents, fitted goggles perfectly, and offered more protection than your standard mountain bike lid. The Super is now expanding, the new Super 2R with removable chin guard is coming soon, and new to Bell is the integration of the special scientific MIPS protection system on top end Super and Stoker models.

[divider]Bell Super 2R[/divider]

Starting at $299 (and $329 with MIPS) this new lid will ensure that you’re always carrying the right protection for the trails ahead. In comparison to a regular full face helmet, this one is far lighter and more open for great visibility and breathing.

Detachable chin guard helmets have come and gone over the years, with some unsafe and horrendously ugly designs, but the Bell Super 2R looks to be spot on.

Bell 2015 16
We take our helmets off to Bell for this one, successfully creating a safe, light and good looking helmet for the growing enduro racer market.

The Super 2R is a variation on the Super with a detachable chin guard, no more need to carry two helmets on a road trip or tied to your bag in an enduro event! Using clever buckle clasps like you would see on Snowboot bindings, the chin guard clips on so quickly and easily, without even the need to take the helmet off.

Bell also have helmets available with MIPS technology, the clever slip-plane system in the helmet that is designed to rotate inside the helmet to reduce the jarring energy of an impact.

Bell 2015 11

The Super and Super 2R is also available in the matte black and white.
The Super and Super 2R is also available in the matte black and white.

The whole Bell range looked amazing, loads of great colours, and killer value too.

#soenduro

 

Fresh Product: New 2015 Bikes From Cannondale

Cannondale are one of those brands that carry an air of prestige both in and out of the cycling world, you can bet that your mate at work who doesn’t ride will know of Cannondale as a premium brand. With a hole-proof line up of top end mountain and road bikes, these guys have a rich heritage in the race scene with their supremely lightweight frames.

With their proprietary suspension ‘fork’ the Lefty, and wild FOX rear shocks Cannondale don’t blend in with the rest, and aren’t afraid to show off their engineering talents. Cannondale may have been a bit quiet in terms of visibility in Australia, but with a recent move to the massive bicycle and motorcycle distributer, Monza, we’ll surely see more of these sweet bikes on shop floors and out on the trails in Oz.

We stuck our head into the Cannondale marquee at their recent 2015 range launch, and these are a few the bikes that caught our eye.

*click on the smaller thumbnail images to expand and more info.

[divider]Cannondale Jekyll 27.5[/divider]

The Jekyll has been around for a very long time, but the name is the only common component, it’s been reinventing itself over and over into a real all-mountain bike, with a whopping 160mm of travel front and back dressed in a parts kit that is clearly ready for some seriously hard riding. The top shelf Jekyll Carbon Team was the first bike that caught our eye in the whole room, it’s a mighty head turner and wherever you look there is impressive technology features and immaculate finished detail all over the frame.

Now only in 27.5″ wheels, the Jekyll is the biggest suspension bike in the Cannondale catalogue, and in Australia two carbon models and one alloy version is available starting at $4999.

Cannondale 2015 45
The Jekyll Team Carbon joins the elite sub 12kg 160mm travel bike club, but you need to spend $8999 to get it.

There are so many unique features to the Jekyll, but it’s the fork and shock in particular that really make up this unique ride. The new Lefty Max is a whopping big fork, with 36mm lowers that slide on a combination of concealed bushings and roller bearings inside its huge carbon chassis. The Lefty will always freak people out with its appearance, but they do ride great with category leading low weight and massive steering stiffness. We often wonder if Cannondale should spec more FOX or RockShox forks to simplify things for the new consumer, but with Cannondale being all about the system integration, maybe they just wouldn’t have that solid and light feel on the trails?

The Jekyll starts at $4999 in an aluminium frame, and up to the Team one we have here for $8999.

Cannondale 2015 19
The carbon Cannondale bikes are all about big, wide axles with minimal material. A huge 15mm axle on the upper linkage is super wide to keep the crazy light frame laterally rigid.

The FOX DYAD RT2 shock is also a pretty wild concept. Rather than compressing like we are used to, it pulls apart, and is actually two separate shocks in one unit. Using the remote lever on the bars, you can switch between ‘Flow’ (what a great name…) and ‘Elevate’ mode, this – to over simplify things – converts the bike into a descending and climbing mode with short (95mm) and long travel (160mm) modes. The adjustment subsequently has an impact on the bike’s geometry. We’ve seen Cannondale and Scott use this style of suspension to great effect, there is nothing like hitting that lever when the trails turn up, sharpening the angles and reducing the travel without locking it out for climbing efficiency and traction.

[divider]Cannondale Trigger[/divider]

The Trigger is Cannondale’s all round trail bike, two wheel size options 29″ (130mm travel) and 27.5″ (140mm) and geometry that aims to do-it-all in a lightweight frame. Looking a lot like a scaled down Jekyll, the Trigger also uses a FOX DYAD RT2  using the two shocks to give the rider choice of travel amounts to suit the terrain.

The Trigger starts at $3599 for the Trigger 29 Alloy 4, and goes right up to the Trigger 27.5″ Black Inc for a staggering $11999.

Cannondale 2015 53
The Trigger is available in the $11999 Black Inc model, which basically means that Cannondale have spared nothing in speccing the highest quality parts available on one bike… Whew.

We currently have the Trigger 27.5″ Carbon 2 on a long term test, so keep an eye out for our thoughts. Our first impressions of the red rocket are here:  http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-cannondale-trigger-carbon-2/

Cannondale-Trigger-27.5-12
Our long term test bike, the Trigger 27.5″ Carbon 2.

[divider]Cannondale F-Si[/divider]

The bike that Kiwi power house, Anton Cooper rode to Commonwealth Gold in Glasgow is now available to the public. The F-Si is their new 29er carbon hardtail with a funky offset rear end to allow a short chain stay for snappy handling but still have the ability to use a double chainring for a big range. Carbon engineering guru Peter Denk is also behind the design of the F-Si, and with a focus on integrating their Lefty fork, a new SAVE seat post and the Cannondale Si cranks to complete the package of a very clean and minimal bike.

Boasting to have the shortest chain stays in its category at 429mm, the F-Si uses new-school geometry and their lightest hardtail frame yet. 

Cannondale 2015 32

You can snag an entry level F-Si for $3999, with four models topping out at the Black Inc F-Si at $12999 with Shimano XTR Di2 electronic shifting.

[divider]Cannondale Scalpel[/divider]

Their sharpest dual suspension bike in the range, the Scalpel is a real marathon racer’s delight. 100mm of fine suspension in on hand to take the sting out of the rougher or longer cross country race tracks, and all the numbers point to a very quick handling bike for the experienced rider seeking ultimate efficiency.

No changes to the Scalpel for 2015. This featherlight carbon frame does away with a pivot on the rear end of the frame in favour of a slight amount of flex engineered into the tubing, one less pivot can keep weight down even further. This is about as close to a hardtail as you get.

Cannondale 2015 22
The second top end Scalpel, for a cool $9999.

We’ll be testing as many of the new Cannondale’s as possible, first up is the Trigger and then we plan to line up a Jekyll and F-Si for review, so keep an eye out for more from Cannondale on Flow.

 

 

Tested: Pyga Oneforty650

Pyga is the brainchild of Patrick Morewood (the man behind Morewood Bikes), and Mark Hopkins, the co-founder of protection company Leatt. That’s an interesting combination of talented minds! To be honest, we hadn’t encountered this South African brand until recently, when we received an email asking if we’d like to try one out. We’ve always had a soft spot for Morewood Bikes, so when we discovered that Patrick Morewood was at the helm, we jumped at the chance to get one on review.

Pyga 140650 selection 6
Flying the South African flag proudly, jah.

The pragmatically named ‘Oneforty650’ (the whole bike has a pragmatic bent actually), is aimed purely at the booming trail/all-mountain sector of riders, sporting a “do it all” 140mm of travel paired with 650b wheels. For now, the Oneforty sells as a frameset only, a feature that will turn away some potential buyers, however on the plus side, a naked frame allows a rider to completely customise their ride to their riding style and intended purpose. It’s definitely not a bike aimed at the novice rider, and that option to build from scratch will resonate with those more experienced.

Pyga 140650 selection 7
The ‘Pascoe’ tag is apparently in honour of a local trail building legend, Kevin Pascoe.

[divider]Build[/divider]

As this bike only comes as a frameset we won’t harp on about the parts spec, but it’s worth a mention as the bike was set up in a way we felt perfectly matched the intention of the frame design – tough trail abuse. SRAM’s X01 1×11 setup handled the drivetrain, the wheels used were Pyga branded carbon rims (nice and fat to match the bike’s rowdy intentions), and the suspension was looked after by RockShox with a Pike (in a 160mm format) and a Monarch Plus – perfecto. The tyre combo of a Maxxis Minion up front and speedy Ikon out back is a favourite of ours, and mounted to the wide rims, this rubber has a seriously grippy footprint. Rounding out our build was the exquisite Truvativ Jerome Clementz carbon handlebar and Avid Elixir Trail 9 brakes.

Pyga 140650 selection 23
Super cool head tube badge.

While our bike had a 160mm fork, PYGA say that anything from 140-160mm is suitable, so if you’d like to sharpen things a smidgen, you know that’s possible without interfering with the bike’s balance.

Back in his Morewood days, Patrick Morewood used to build claim his bikes were ‘The bikes that downhill built’, and it would seem this ethos has carried across to Pyga. This frameset exudes toughness. The choice of material alone – robust alloy, not carbon – sends a message that this bike’s meant for riders who don’t want to be concerned about their equipment if they take a tumble or two. Pivotal areas such as the stays and head tube feature plenty of reinforcement with some seriously sturdy looking welds, and double-row bearings at high-load areas of the suspension linkage should ensure years of rattle-free action.

Pyga 140650 selection 12
Putting a Pike up front is always a sensible way to start your all-mountain build!

The suspension system is worth closer examination. More than one observer pointed out that it “looks like a Trek”, and that is certainly true (and not a bad thing!). The shock floats between the upper linkage and the chain stay – it’s not not mounted to the mainframe at all – which opens up more possibilities for tuning the shock rate throughout the stroke. There are no funky axle-path claims going on here; it’s a straight up single pivot design, with a link driving the shock. The relatively low location of the main pivot point is designed to ensure that the suspension remains active under pedalling forces, with very little feedback when pedalling over the rough too.

Pyga 140650 selection 22
External cables mightn’t have the sex appeal, but they make life much easier!
Pyga 140650 selection 4
If you’re running a stealth dropper post, the cable enters here.

The practicality aspect of the bike is reinforced by the nearly entirely external cable routing. Whilst internal cable routing looks pretty on the showroom floor and has largely become de rigour on high end bikes, any home mechanic will know the pain of trying to route cabling through a frame, especially when the frame curves to any degree. As those who purchase this bike will have to BYO componentry, the external mounts will be a blessing for easy assembly and maintenance.  The sole exception to the external routing is a port on the  seat tube for a stealth routed dropper post, though you can run an externally cabled dropper too. In the context of all the other mechanic-friendly features, some might be surprised to find the bike uses a press-fit bottom bracket.

Pyga 140650 selection 10
The lower shock mount is asymmetric to allow room for a front derailleur.
Pyga 140650 selection 14
The linkage in side profile – the main pivot is just above the chain line with a 32-tooth ring. A direct mount front derailleur tab is there is you need it, along with ISCG tabs.

Geometry-wise the PYGA has the kind of numbers that are very reassuring; in a medium frame the top tube is 600mm (perfectly matched with a 50-70mm stem), and the head angle sits at 67-degrees, all reinforcing the idea that this bike lives to throw the rider confidently through tougher trails.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Pyga is a real rider’s bike; aggressive, responsive, stiff and tough. There are lighter, more polished looking machines out there, but out on the trail (particularly if it points downhill) this bike will leave you grinning. With excellent frame stiffness throughout, aided by the Syntace X12 axle out back, the Pyga is the kind of bike that loves to sprint, be thrown around and slapped into turns. There’s plenty of room through the top tube and cockpit so that you never feel trapped or crammed in, giving you space to let the bike work and move beneath you. Compared to the swoopier designs of many carbon frames, the Pyga is a little lacking in stand-over clearance, but this is only likely to be a consideration for short(er) riders and it didn’t impinge our riding.

Double row bearings on the rear pivot, along with an X12 axle, keep the rear end tight and wobble free.
Double row bearings on the rear pivot, along with an X12 axle, keep the rear end tight and wobble free.

You can lean on the Pike like an old friend through the roughest situations and the rear end will be there tracking through with equal aplomb – that sensation of connectedness between front and rear wheels is something often missing from lighter bikes. That feeling of trustworthiness is definitely reinforced by the Maxxis Minion rubber up front, which bites like a pitbulll, especially when mounted to wide rims like those on the Pyga.

Pyga 140650 selection 1

It’s a supple ride too, but without becoming isolating or wallowy like some bikes in this category can be. The buttery action of the Monarch Plus rear shock is testament once again to have far RockShox rear shocks have come; it has the kind of smoothness we’d have previously only associated with a FOX shock. Patrick Morewood has done a fantastic job of tuning the shock rate for bigger impacts (the man does love to ride fast – he’s a former downhill National Champ) and the Pyga has a real sense of bottomless suspension travel out back. Even though our bike was paired with a 160mm fork, the 140mm-travel rear end never felt out-gunned or unbalanced.

Pyga 140650 selection 20
Keep an eye out for cable rub where the rear gear housing slides through the chain stay – we should have added some protective stickers.

With its alloy construction and robust parts kit, the Oneforty is no lightweight, but it climbs quite well and handles flatter singletrack riding easily all the same. The seat angle is step enough to keep you nicely centred over the bottom bracket even with the seat at full height, so you never feel like you’re pushing a recumbent up hill. We found ourselves spending most of our ascending time with the Monarch switched into its blue compression lever in its middle setting – because the shock lever is easy to reach on the fly, we did toggle between compression settings quite a lot to get the most out of the bike.

If your riding predominantly involves a lot of tight, twisty trails, setting the Pyga up with a 140-150mm fork would probably be ideal for snappy handling, but even with a 160mm fork fitted we didn’t have any worries on slower, flatter terrain. Because the stays are a short 431mm, whipping the back end of the bike around those tighter turns, or popping the front end up pinchy, technical climbs was easily done.

The Maxxis Ikon played a part in keeping the Pyga quick on the flatter trails.
The Maxxis Ikon played a part in keeping the Pyga quick on the flatter trails.

Overall:

Admittedly the market for high-end aluminium bikes isn’t what it once was as carbon becomes increasingly prevalent, but the Pyga Oneforty 650 is targeted at a specific type of rider, not the mass market. 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. Its practical construction will keep you out of the workshop too, and on the trails more, which is always a plus. While the frame-only availability will be an obstacle for some, if you’ve got a dream all-mountain build in mind, the Pyga Oneforty is the ideal workhorse to make it happen.

Pyga 140650 selection 26

 Tester info:

Test riders: Chris Southwood / Will Shaw

Weight: 62kg / 74kg

Height: 172cm / 180cm

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Women’s Rumor Expert Evo 29

Mountain biking is undergoing an explosion at the moment. There are more bikes to chose from than ever before, and the number of riding destinations and trail types is growing faster than people can accrue the annual leave to ride them all. In terms of bike purchases versatility is becoming increasingly valued over things like race speed, weight and the amount of carbon squeezed into a single package.

The Specialized Women’s Rumor Expert Evo has versatility written all over it. With a long wheelbase, stable angles, 29” wheels and 120mm of plush travel it’s hard to find a trail out there that you can’t confidently descend. At 12.65kgs and built around Specialized’s FSR suspension platform it’s also hard to find a hill out there which you can’t climb when on board. Skills, of course, make a big difference as well, but these are a lot easier to develop when you’re not compensating for the pros and cons of the bike.

Specialized Rumor Evo 11
How’s this for low stand over height! And thoughtful spec saves riders a lot of extra cash adapting a unisex bike to fit.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time testing the Specialized Rumor Comp last year. The Expert Evo uses a modified linkage at the back to fit a 120mm custom tuned Fox Float CTD Factory rear shock (with Autosag), and runs the buttery smooth 120mm RockShox Pike RC fork up front. The longer fork slackens the angles a bit for improved handing in gnarly terrain. A higher performing parts list adorns this model as well.

The parts list is very similar to the no-nonsense 2014 model Camber Expert Carbon Evo, but with some necessary mods that we’ve seen other ladies make to this bike so it’s better matched to a women’s physique. These include a 30 tooth single ring up front (rather than the musclier 32), Shimano XT brakes (which are easier to dial in for small hands), slightly narrower bars, and a women’s specific seat. We’ve been testing Specialized’s new women’s Myth saddle separately recently, so keep an eye on Flow for a separate review on this too.

Specialized Rumor Evo 6
Incidentally, the 2015 Camber Expert Carbon Evo is specced with XT brakes and a 30T front chain ring as well, once again pointing to the value a lot of male riders are placing on versatility and tried and trusted components too.

The biggest downside of the Rumor is that it still isn’t available with a carbon frame. We’ve been riding the Camber Carbon Expert Evo a lot lately and are keen for the direct comparison this will allow for assessing the performance difference of the women’s specific alloy Rumor frame as a result.

Specialized Rumor Evo 9
The EVO badge stands for ‘Heck yes, lets rip!’

Our first impressions confirm that the different geometry makes for a more intuitive ride feel. We don’t have to push so hard to maintain an optimal ride position, we’re simply in it. The lower standover makes it easier to get on and off the bike but also allows us to squish down more on technical descents. In short, we don’t feel like we’re fighting the bike as much which makes us more confident in pushing it’s limits on all sorts of trails. In terms of set up, the only change we made was adding sealant to the tyres.

Specialized Rumor Evo 16

On our very first ride we were able to comfortably descend parts of the Smithfield World Cup downhill and cross-country tracks, and get there via a climb so steep it has been cemented. In order to really put the versatility of this rig to the test we’ve chosen it for riding the first two stages of the upcoming Crocodile Trophy while we’re up in Cairns as well. Sure, we could ride a whippety XC hardtail in this event, but the appeal of the Rumor Evo is the trail riding and holiday experiences it allows alongside the odd long ride and marathon as well. In any case, this upcoming adventure is sure to put the versatility of the Rumor to the test.

The Rumor Evo's first ride was a baptism of fire, down some of the roughest trails in Cairns at the final round of the Australia Gravity Enduro Series.
The Rumor Evo’s first ride was a baptism of fire, down some of the roughest trails in Cairns at the final round of the Australia Gravity Enduro Series.

Tested: 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. And it’s all thanks to one particular clever and well thought out element, the Twinloc. What is Twinloc and how can one feature it have such a positive impact on one bike?

Whilst the one reviewed here is a 2014 model, there is little change to the Genius for 2015, we previewed the 2015 range, check it out here. 

The Genius is available in both wheel sizes, we test the 27.5″ version.

Scott Genius 710 22

[divider]Build[/divider]

This is one seriously subtle and understated carbon bike, with the black on black finish, only very minimal glossy stickers separate the graphics from the matte black frame paint. From a distance the lack of graphics is both refreshing and stealthy. And in an age of brightly branded bikes, we welcome this murdered out stealth black ride.

Scott Genius 710 17
From some angles the frame looks nude, and void of any graphics. You need to look a little closer to see the subtle logos and branding.

A carbon mainframe is joined to an aluminium rear end, the cables are a mixture of internal and externally routed and included is a super neat rubber chain stay guard finishes off the impeccable frame.

At the heart of the Scott Genius (and integral to the shorter travel Scott Spark and longer Scott Genius LT) is a nifty handlebar mounted lever that controls the rear shock and fork, the Twinloc. It may just only be one of many features of this bike, but it impacts on multiple elements of the bike’s ride character via by changing both the suspension feel and geometry. Hitting the Twin-Loc lever on the bars engages Traction mode: the rear travel is reduced from 150mm to 100mm, stiffening the suspension rate and therefore the amount of suspension sag, to aid climbing. Push the lever to its second stop and the rear suspension is locked out entirely, along with the fork, making for a rock solid pedalling machine.

Yes, the Twinloc adds an extra two cables into the mix creating a very busy cockpit. Scott are also pretty experienced with this stuff, and they manage to keep any clutter to a minimum with clean routing, but with a little bit of time and care in the workshop you could trim the cables down in length, plus shortening the gear cables and brake lines a touch will lessen the birds nest of cables in front of the bars.

Scott Genius 710 16
The Twinloc is a perfectly effective system controlled via a neat and ergonomic lever.
A bit of time in the workshop will reduce the extra clutter of the cables.
A bit of time in the workshop will reduce the extra clutter of the cables.

A bike with 150mm of travel is fantastic if the trails are on the rougher and steeper side of things, but it’s still a fair bit of bounce to be lugging up the climbs or through flatter trails. With the Twinloc it felt like we were riding two bikes in one. Heard that before? Well, try one out and you’ll see.

Not only does the Twinloc lessen the suspension travel quantity, it also sharpens the bikes important angles in favour of climbing when in Traction Mode. So the Genius will never feel like too much bike, it cleans up in the versatility stakes. You could ride the Genius hard on the rough trails and still enter the odd 24 hour or marathon race without any penalty from a non-efficient or heavy bike to battle with.

Scott Genius 710 25
Check out that massive section of the frame, the beef is where you need it on this one. Providing a sweet balance of lateral rigidity, comfort and low weight.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Shimano XT score the majority of the business with the Genius 710, and we’re totally fine with that. Although our test bike had a slight issue with the brake calliper leaking a tiny amount of mineral oil onto the pads, making for a noisy action for a few stops before coming good again, most definitely a warranty issue that can be sorted quickly by your local bike shop. A shame, as XT brakes are usually a benchmark for reliability and consistency.

A double chainring setup gives the Genius a real ‘all mountain’ conquering range of gears. Some riders may be rushing out to single-ring their bikes but if you ride all day in steep terrain a gear range as wide as this is a real blessing! It’s silent in its operation, and we didn’t experience any dropped chains at all. The trendy conversion to a single ring would clean up the bars with one less cable and shifter, but we appreciate the useable range too much to consider that, long live the low gear range!

Scott Genius 710 13

Syncros components have been around for yonks, but a couple years ago they were snapped up by Scott and are now their in-house component brand. The benefits of the bigger brands having in-house components is boundless, with the big players able to match colour, spec and intended use of each component to the bikes models easier and cheaper. In this case with Syncros already having such a great reputation for quality prior to the merger with Scott, the perceived quality matches our positive impressions after testing. Even the saddle was a fave for all testers. A short stem and wide bars were faves too.

The wheels use Syncros hubs and rims with bladed spokes. With such a capable all mountain bike, we’d prefer the rims to be wider as some of the new generation of wide rims are really impressing us with the way they boost the tyre’s traction and low pressure abilities. They are tubeless ready though, and come with tubeless valves for quick and easy conversion.

Schwalbe handle the rubber bits with the Nobby Nic in a tacky triple compound and tubeless ready casing. We’d swap them out for a tyre more suited to our hard packed trails, perhaps a Hans Dampf on the front at least, but if your soils are softer these tyres are lightning fast and light for their size. The 2015 Genius 710 comes with the new generation Nobby Nic on the front, which we’ve been much happier with in a variety of conditions in comparison the the ones we find here.

Scott Genius 710 3
The FOX Float 32 fork led the way with a nice and supple action, but we couldn’t help wish for a fatter 34mm legged fork when things got hairy.

A RockShox Reverb adjustable seatpost with internal Stealth routing is always a welcome sight on any bike, aside from matching the paintwork like they were born together, its action is superb. Our had some leaking issues, with the hose adjoining the bottom of the post not quite tight enough, most probably our fault as we had to instal and bleed the post out of the box. Moments like these we miss external posts, or simply cable actuated ones.

FOX suspension front and back served up smooth and supple suspension as always, with the fork in particular being one of the smoother and progressive forks from the batch of 2014 forks from FOX.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Spinning to the trails on the tarmac with the Twinloc engaged, we roll along as if we’re riding a cross country hardtail with the fork and shock locked firm. Up and into the trails we engaged the traction mode which dropped the rear travel to a taut 100mm and also firmed up the compression setting in the fork. In traction mode we were able to stand up and crank ourselves up and over the pinch climbs without losing too much energy into the suspension, but still it was able to react to impacts helping maintain traction to the rear wheel, and avoid pinging our front wheel around. We like this!

Scott Genius 710 1

When the trails turn down, we release the Twinloc into open mode and let her rip, with the 150mm or FOX suspension taking more than just the sting out of the trails. Still with the Twinloc in full travel mode, the suspension feels firm under you, the trade off is when speeds get really high the rear end feels choppier and harsher than some of the other 150mm bikes that don’t climb as well as the Genius.

Geometry wise, the Genius uses a nice and roomy front end coupled with a short stem, giving the rider quick handling but plenty of room to move around when negotiating turns and wild terrain.

The Genius is a little different to the others in its category, it may have a generous 150mm of travel front and back but the whole bike rides so light and efficiently that we forget we were packing some serious firepower beneath us for when we needed it most. Riding more like a light trail bike with some backup saved up for the gnarlier descents, the Genius won’t be one for the rougher enduro race nuts out there, but will suit the rider seeking a classic trail bike with some added travel to get up and down any mountain you need to.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

It’s a well named bike, that’s for sure. The clever suspension adjustment and a nice balance between a lightweight all day riding bike and big hitting all mountain bike is achieved in true style and class. The subtle graphics and stealth image hides it’s racey attitude. On either side of the Genius sit the leaner Spark and burlier Genius LT, we don’t doubt that one of these three bikes would please the most demanding rider.

Tested: RockShox RS-1

RockShox RS-1 v2 11
Looks cool, right? The uninterrupted curve of the carbon crown doesn’t collect any mud either.

The RS-1 is an exceptionally ambitious undertaking. Over the course of the last two decades, the development of mountain bike suspension has followed the conventional train of thought that upside-down fork construction just wasn’t really the way to go for mountain biking. There have been relatively few attempts at developing inverted forks, and those forks that have been at least marginally successful have overwhelmingly been designed for downhill, where they have the benefit of dual crown construction and fewer weight constraints. Similarly, the use of carbon fibre has been largely limited to fork crowns and steerers, and attempts to use carbon in the lowers of a fork have commonly resulted in excessive stiction.

RockShox RS-1 v2 23
There are no leg guards on the RS-1, but it hasn’t been an issue… yet.

So the RS-1, with its inverted, largely carbon fibre construction certainly comes to the game with some serious stigmas to overcome! You get the feeling that RockShox have taken this one on as a real showpiece, to show what can actually be done when all the stops are pulled.

This clean slate approach sees a fork like no other. Carbon fibre is used for the bulk of the construction, and an entirely new axle/fork interface has been implemented to deal with the torsional flex that traditionally plagues inverted designs. With such a novel design, we naturally came into this test with a lot of questions; would the fork be stiff enough, would the unprotected stanchions prove to susceptible to damage, could the performance ever hope to justify the price? You can read all about our initial impressions of the fork here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/flows-first-bite-rockshox-rs-1/

Tasmania Flow Nation 154

Over the course of testing, our RS-1 has been fitted to the front of a Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29er (the RS-1 is only available in a 29er format for now) so we opted for an RS-1 with 120mm travel to match the bike’s rear end. The fork is available in 100mm and 80mm travel versions as well, and given its billing primarily as a cross country item, we’re sure the 100mm-travel version will be the most popular. Regardless, offering this fork in a 120mm version clearly sends the message that RockShox feel the RS-1 is up to the job of technical trail riding too.

RockShox RS-1 v2 7
‘Predictive Steering’ – the hub is a structural element of the fork as much as a part of the wheel.

We’re no engineers, but we can imagine the R&D and testing involved in creating this carbon beauty wasn’t exactly carried out over a sandwich or two on a Thursday arvo. Getting this thing right would have been a mammoth undertaking, and that’s reflected in the cost.

Let’s deal with the elephant on the trail first; the price tag. The RS-1 is very expensive, but take a look at it – this is not just another fork. We’re no engineers, but we can imagine the R&D involved in creating this carbon beauty wasn’t exactly carried out over a sandwich or two on a Thursday arvo. Getting this thing right would have been a mammoth undertaking, and that’s reflected in the cost.

With that behind us, onto the testing! Any initial questions we had about how RockShox would tame the matter of flex disappeared as soon as we got a proper look at the Torque Tube hub/axle system. The hub rotates around a massive axle supported by oversized bearings, all secured by a 15mm Maxle. There’s a huge amount of contact between the hub end caps and the fork dropouts too; the hub really isn’t just part of the wheel so much as a vital component of the fork (and therefore the bike’s steering) itself.

RockShox RS-1 v2 4
The Torque Tube hub uses a massive axle with huge, knurled end caps.

The catch (there’s always a catch) is that you’re currently tied to using either a SRAM or DT hub, though other manufacturers may come to the party soon. On the matter of the hub and dropouts, installing the wheel is a bit fiddly when compared to a conventional fork, as the legs can rotate/slide independently – we can imagine changing a front flat in the mania of a race could be frustrating!

RockShox RS-1 v2 5
The legs can move independently with the wheel out (exactly what the Torque Tube hub is there to eliminate!), which does make wheel installation more fiddly. Here you can see how the hub end caps really bite into the dropouts to gain more stiffness.

The gram counters out there will note that the RS-1 is actually a fraction heavier than RockShox’s lightest SID fork. There’s about 50g in it, but the RS-1 is still lighter than just about all its competitors, so this fork sits happily in the feathery realms demanded by racers. Racer types will also appreciate the handlebar-mounted XLoc remote lever which puts a lockout within easy reach of your thumb. For those less interested in racing, it’d be great to see this fork offered without the remote too for a cleaner cockpit.

RockShox RS-1 v2 13
For now, the RS-1 only comes with an X-Loc remote lockout.

RockShox have equipped the RS-1 with a new damper called the Accelerator, which follows the same sealed cartridge design principles utilised in the highly praised Charge damper now found in the Pike and BoXXer. It offers the Rapid Recovery dual stage rebound circuit as found on various other RockShox products, a system designed to get the fork back up its optimum ride height quickly after heavy impacts. Compression is managed by the new DIG valve, which is not externally adjustable. In fact, external adjustments are limited to just rebound and lockout threshold, which will appeal to many.

RockShox RS-1 v2 8
The Accelerator sealed damper uses Rapid Recovery technology for the rebound circuit, helping the fork resist getting caught low in its travel over big hits.

Over our first few rides, we struggled to find the right air pressure to give us the ride feel that we wanted. Running the fork at the recommended pressure felt too soft for us on the big hits, and we found ourselves blowing through the travel too easily. But adding more pressure to increase the firmness of the spring rate left us with almost zero sag and poor small-bump responsiveness. We found the sweet spot eventually by utilising the simple, effective Bottomless Tokens system which is also found on the Pike and BoXXer forks. These plastic threaded ‘tokens’ can be added to the air chamber to change the air volume and therefore the spring rate. Installation is super simple – just unscrew the top cap from of the air spring assembly air, screw in the token/s and you’re done. Adding two of these tokens (out of a possible three) gave us the perfect spring rate – we could now run the recommended pressure, obtain the correct amount of sag, and not worry about the fork riding too deep in its travel.

NB – We have since been advised by RockShox that the RS-1 in a 120mm version actually comes pre-fitted with two Bottomless Tokens. Our fork was an early release model.

Getting the ideal spring rate meant fitting two Bottomless Tokens. It's a five-minute job you can do at home, requiring no special tools.
Getting the ideal spring rate meant fitting two Bottomless Tokens. It’s a five-minute job you can do at home, requiring no special tools.

With the spring rate/pressures sorted, we were able to better appreciate the abilities of the Accelerator damper too, which does a fantastic job of unobtrusively dissipating hard landings, allowing you to hit full travel without any harsh spiking.

RockShox RS-1 v2 18
Production forks will be included with protective stickers to protect any cable rub damaging the lustrous finish on the precious carbon legs.

One of the theoretical advantages of an inverted fork is that gravity helps keep the seals bathed in lubricating fluid which should yield less friction, and all the chat/reviews out there about the RS-1 seemed to support this notion. On our test fork, it took a fair bit of riding to achieve the levels of smoothness we were expecting – unlike the RockShox Pike which is slipperier than a greased dolphin from the very first ride, the RS-1 took about five or six hours of riding to truly free up. Now, with a few weeks on board the fork, it’s a different story, and the RS-1 has a responsiveness that will rival the smoothest forks out there. Is it more responsive than a well-maintained conventional fork (for example, a FOX Kashima Float 120)? It’s hard to say objectively, but we’d definitely rate it as on par with the most supple cross-country forks we’ve ridden.

 There was no twanging or fore/aft wobbling going on, which we can only attribute to the extreme rigidity of the carbon steerer/crown.

RockShox RS-1 v2 15
Sag gradients make setup easier. The fork is also equipped with a recommended air pressure chart. As you can see by the sticker, the RS-1 is 29er only for now.

So, is the RS-1 stiff enough for hard trail riding? The short answer is yes; the Torque Tube axle design and massive carbon uppers ensure the RS-1 does not flex excessively. Of course there is some torsional flex, but we feel it’s in line with what you’d expect from a fork this light and designed for this style of riding, and we never found ourselves battling to keep the fork on line or fighting the bars when the going got rough. In all, we’d rate the torsional stiffness as being equivalent to a RockShox SID with a 15mm axle. Where the RS-1 felt superior to other lightweight 32mm-legged forks was when landing hard or slapping the front wheel down off a drop – there was no twanging or fore/aft wobbling going on, which we can only attribute to the extreme rigidity of the carbon steerer/crown.

Tasmania Flow Nation 177
Hooray for Hobart trails!

Our fears that the sliders would be easily damaged have not yet been realised. Admittedly, we’ve only had five or six weeks of riding on the RS-1 so far, but that has included a lot of rocky trails as well as two trips in a bike bag facing the mistreatment of budget airline baggage handlers, and we’ve not had an issue with the exposed lower legs. On the trail, we haven’t given a second thought to the sliders’ proximity to passing rocks, but overall we’d probably feel more comfortable if the fork did incorporate some kind of lightweight leg guards.

As an exercise in pushing the design envelope, it’s hard to think of a product in recent years that can out-do the the RS-1.

All up then, is the RS-1 a success? 100% yes. As an exercise in pushing the design envelope, it’s hard to think of a product in recent years that can out-do the the RS-1. It has achieved that previously elusive goal of creating a truly high-performance, lightweight, inverted single-crown fork, and RockShox deserve a lot of praise for managing this.

Tasmania Flow Nation 170

But is the RS-1 sufficiently superior to existing offerings to win over consumers and justify the price? That’s where things are less clear-cut, but we actually don’t think that’s the point. Why? The RS-1 is the kind of item that is only going to be bought by a very special kind of rider, the kind for whom having cutting-edge equipment is a priority. What makes the RS-1 so cool is that it delivers a product that succeeds where others have previously failed, offering a high-performance alternative to a conventional fork, without any of the usual compromises. Would we buy one? If we had the cash, yes, we would. But that’ll take a lot of saving!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Polygon Collosus N9

You ain’t seen curves until you’ve taken a good look at the new carbon monster from Polygon, the Collosus N9. As ridden by the strong Hutchinson UR team, this 27.5″ wheeled 160mm travel bike with the new FS3 floating suspension design is a seriously trippy looking machine, and it’s all ours for a little while for review.

Polygon bikes from Indonesia are growing rapidly into the higher end of the range here in Oz, with an effective online consumer-direct purchasing model from Bicycles Online, the impressive value and ease of availability of their huge range is a real standout feature. Sure, value is a good thing but most important importantly how do the high end bikes ride? We’ll find out soon enough, but to begin we deliver our first impressions in our Flow’s First Bite.

This is the same bike that Kiwi mad shredder, Jamie Nicoll won the mighty Trans Savoie big mountain enduro on, not a bad reference to begin with at all!

From Polygon so far we’ve reviewed their 2014 downhill bike and a budget dual suspension rig.

Tested: Polygon Collosus DHX 

Tested: Polygon Recon 4 

Polygon Collosus 6
If Batman was Indonesian, and rode mountain bikes, he’d surely choose the N9 to match his bad ass style.

To satisfy the needs of the Hutchinson UR enduro team as they take on the Enduro World Series, Polygon have come up with a seriously burly and hardy bike with many of the vital areas for serious shredding covered off; relaxed angles, a short rear end, meaty tyres and a wide and roomy cockpit. Just looking at the numbers, the N9 looks to err on the side of an agile long legged trail bike rather than a big steam roller, with its fairly sharp 66.5 degree head angle and a tight 431mm chain stay.

What makes the N9 appear to be so unique is the long and curvy seat stays and myriad of wild carbon shapes. Typically when you have long sections of carbon like we see here, there is the risk of unwanted lateral flex, but our first impressions when riding just around the block exhibit nothing to be worried about at all, it is solid. Looking down on the frame the crazy shapes of glisten and shine as they curve and weave all over the place, and closer inspections reveal some highly intricate graphics and very smart detail touches making this bike one of the most striking to ever grace our presence.

Polygon Collosus 25

 

Spec wise, Polygon have got it spot on with the N9, a mixture of SRAM, Shimano, e*thirteen, Spank and RockShox deck out this high end ride. A SRAM 11 speed single ring drivetrain and Shimano XT brakes represent what we believe is the best of both worlds from the two main players in the mountain bike game. The XT brakes are as tough, powerful and reliable as they come, and we have never found the limits of SRAM XX1 on any style of bike.

Flow fave’s the Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres find their way onto the N9, with a smaller casing one on the back wheel to keep weight down and the lower profile tyre helps the N9 to achieve such a short rear chain stay length as tyre clearance looks quiet tight. Mounted to  e*thirteen wheels with one of the loudest freehubs in existence, the wheels are sure to be up to serious abuse.

The lustrous gold coloured Kashima FOX Float X rear shock is sandwiched between two opposing aluminium linkages which compress it from both ends. The lower link is of the ‘floating’ type to give the rear wheel the Polygon engineers a specific axle path as it motions through its suspension range. A variation of the popular design seen in major brands like Santa Cruz and Giant, what makes the N9 different is the way the top shock mount also pivots, compressing the shock from the top. The FOX Float X CTD shock has three modes of compression adjustment via the blue lever on the drive side.

Whoa swoopy!
Whoa swoopy!

Polygon Collosus 8

There is no geometry or travel adjustment options, or any provisions for a water bottle on the bike, but that just gives us the opportunity to wear a brightly coloured hydration bag that matches our gloves in true enduro fashion.

So, off we go to the put the N9 through its paces, keep an eye out for our full review soon.

 

Flow’s First Bite: GT Helion Carbon Pro

GT fans out there with a penchant for cross country trails now can have access to a short travel bike with the trick new suspension design that has been receiving praise all over our singletrack riddled planet.

**UPDATED – read our final review here.

We have reviewed the 150mm travel GT Force X and the ‘in the middle’ 130mm GT Sensor, now the stout 110mm travel GT Helion will be put through the Flow wringer.

GT Force X review: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-gt-force-x-expert-carbon/

GT Sensor Review: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-gt-sensor-carbon-team/

Using GT’s fairly new AOS suspension design (Angle Optimised Suspension) with its super high main pivot and independent bottom bracket linkage, the Helion aims to hold momentum as the rear wheel encounters impacts on the trail. Watch the video below for a clearer understanding of the theory.

GT Helion 1

 

 

When unwrapping the Helion from its packaging we were quite surprised how beefy the carbon tubing is, it’s a fatter than a goanna hanging around a public BBQ area. Especially out the back, the large chunks of carbon give us real confidence that although the Helion is a short travel dually, it’s not going to be afraid of going hard on the trails. Front to back, this thing is about as carbon as it gets.

The dead straight top tube and chain stay give the Helion a sharp and precise look, where some bike are curvy and twisted, this bike is sharp and square.

We also love the way the shock sits so low and centred in the frame. In fact, if you take a look at the designs of rear suspension bikes over the last 10 years, you’ll see a real trend of rear shocks getting lower and lower in the bike’s architecture. The benefits of keeping any weighty sections of the frame like suspension linkages and shocks down low does wonders for your centre of gravity when riding, the GT’s must be one of the lowest and centred out there.

At 11.6kg the Helion is pretty spot on, and the dollar figure is also quite fair for what you get in the way of parts. A set of the powerful and reliable Shimano XT brakes plus an XT shifter and derailleur combo means you’ll be shifting gears for a very long time.

GT Helion 21

In true GT fashion, there are some interesting parts from the lesser-known brands on this Helion. RaceFace take care of the cockpit with a flat and wide bar, and a sleek CNCd stem and seat post. The RaceFace cranks aren’t something we see too often, but most interestingly it’s fitted with their ‘narrow wide’ chainring that aims to achieve what SRAM’s X-Sync rings do – ultimate chain retention with just one ring. An e*thirteeen chain guide is fitted for absolute security, but we’re sure that it can run without for that super trendy, clean and quite look.

Single ring drivetrains and Shimano don’t normally mix as a Shimano cassette with an 11-36t range doesn’t give you much when the trails turn steep. So GT have hacked it for you, with a big 42 tooth e*thirteen sprocket fitted to the cassette out back, to give you one more gear in the lower range. It’s cool to see a major brand like GT speccing bikes this way, with real foresight into how many people upgrade their rides over time, just like they’ve done here as per original catalogue spec.

A 32 tooth ring up front keeps the gear range low-ish and we like that. Gearing low is always there smarter option, as you will remember the climbs where you run out of gears more that that rare moment when you’re spinning out down a fire trail or on the road.

GT Helion 33
The black e*thirteen sprocket gives a Shimano 10 speed cassette a super low gear. The 17 tooth sprocket in the middle of the stack is removed, and the e*thirteen one takes up the space at the low end.
GT Helion 13
Hacked for you. How many clever Shimano riders out there have an aftermarket single chain ring fitted like this one?

No dropper posts on this GT, but for a 110mm bike, that’s not such an unusual sight. Its low weight, and minimal travel suggests it’s aimed for the marathon races, or buff singletracks out there. Both the fork and shock have remote lockout controls, with one lever locking both ends out with one thumb actuation. Love them or hate them, remote lockouts when used to their potential can seriously add some pace to your ride. With the ability to quickly stiffen your suspension for sprint efforts, climbs or tarmac sections with one swift motion of your left thumb. Perhaps the fact that it’s a long way down to the rear shock, a shock-mounted lockout lever would be a bit of a stretch to reach on the fly.

Numbers wise, a 69.5 degree head angle means business at the shaper end of the scale, an our medium size frame has a 606mm top tube and a 438mm chain stay, so we’re expecting this long trucker to set singletrack climbs on fire and munch down the miles on long rides.

No front derialleur neatens thing, but does the remote lockout undo that?
No front derailleur neatens things, but does the remote lockout undo that?
GT Helion 17
It’s a great looking bike, but won’t be clean for very long.

It’s off to the trails for us with the ‘marathon meets macho’ Helion. Lets see how it fares with its unique mixture of marathon race inspired geometry and its slightly aggressive component choices. It’s bigger brothers, the GT Sensor and GT Force X were firm and efficient rides that were never afraid of taking a hard hit, so let’s see how this 110mm fella handles the trails.

Read full review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/trail-testing-a-rocket-the-gt-helion-carbon-pro/

Tested: DHaRCO Gravity Shorts

A couple of months ago we introduced you to DHaRCO, a new Australian apparel company with a style the we really dig. Blending mountain biking tech with a bold surf aesthetic, their shorts and jerseys grabbed our attention straight away. You can read more about DHaRCO in our profile here.

DHaRCO shorts 2

For the past three months we’ve been trialling a number of items of DHaRCO kit, including their Gravity Shorts. Really, the ‘Gravity’ tag is a bit of a misnomer, and we’ve been using them for general trail riding an awful lot – we’ve been spending more time in these shorts than any other item of cycling apparel in the wardrobe. In fact we’ve run them through the washing machine so often that the once glaringly bright orange has begun to fade a little and become a tad peachy. We should have cold washed them…!

DHaRCO shorts 15

What we like about the DHaRCO Gravity Shorts is their simplicity – they aren’t covered in vents and zippers, and they’re sold liner-free so you can wear them with your favourite knicks. For us, this is a plus as it keeps the price down and we always end up riding with bib knicks under our baggies. DHaRCO are quick to emphasise that their shorts are built for Australian conditions (i.e. warm weather), and as such they’re much lighter, more breathable and feel far less bulky than a lot of baggy shorts. So often, baggies feel like something a commando would wear into battle, but these shorts feel more like a nice pair of boardies.

DHaRCO shorts 8

Storage is kept to a minimum, with just one leg pocket and a phone size pocket (unless you’re running the new MEGA iPhone) below the waist at the rear of the short. It’s a good place for a pocket actually, as you rarely crash onto that part of your body. Having only two small pockets means you don’t go loading your shorts up with all kinds of stuff that makes them heavy, saggy and hard to pedal in – keep your stuff in your pack instead.

DHaRCO shorts 14

The fabric is a flexible four-way stretch, and the cut isn’t too long, so pedalling freedom is a strong point (another reason why we think the Gravity name is a bit misleading). There’s an inch or two of waist adjustment via velcro tabs, which we found useful so we could keep the shorts in place and stop them moving around on our bib kicks. In fact, if there was one addition we’d like to see with these shorts, it would be little more friction at the waistband, just to stop them slipping if you do happen to be a bib knick wearer.

DHaRCO shorts 7

In addition to the orange here, the Gravity Short is available in a less #enduro black or navy blue. Simple, suitable for stinking hot weather, comfy, well-priced and local to boot – we give the DHaRCO Gravity Shorts two thumbs up.

Flow’s First Bite: Pro Tharsis XC Di2 Integrated Bar, Stem and Post

Shimano are introducing Di2 into mountain bikes at an age where riders are always looking to simplify and clean the look of their bike’s cockpit area.

Electronic shifting will allow bike and component manufacturers to attain new levels of freedom, without the restrictions inflicted by cable routing. The little wires are thinner, bendier and can squeeze through tighter and twisty places better than a gear cable and housing. What’s next? This.

Enter the Pro Tharsis XC cockpit, designed to play to the strengths of the Shimano XTR Di2 system, with an unprecedented level of minimal appearance. Pro is Shimano’s component arm, hence the collaboration to work with the two areas towards a great outcome. The Tharsis range is also available in non-Di2 specific variants, but here we look at the Tharsis XC with Di2 integration.

The Tharsis XC Flat Top Di2 handlebar uses special grooves and holes to hide internally the wires that come out of the Di2 shifters, the seat post has the capabilities of providing a home for the battery, and the stem does away with the star nut to allow the battery to be hidden inside the fork steerer. If you like your bar, stem, and seat post to match and you are lucky enough to have Di2 on order this will take neatness and a squeaky clean appearance to the next level.

The stem uses titanium bolts and Pro’s Headlock system, which allows a 100mm stem to weigh a low 135g.

Pro Tharsis Di2 9
Count the lack of cables.
Pro Tharsis Di2 4
Note the top cap, the Shimano Di2 battery is hidden inside the fork steer tube in place of a traditional headset star nut.

 

 

Pro Tharsis Di2 33
The 720mm wide Flat Top bar.
Pro Tharsis Di2 5
The wire doubles back on itself and travels inside the bar.
Pro Tharsis Di2 34
A threaded ring on the underside of the stem threads outwards, applying the pressure to the headset bearings to keep everything snug and tight.
Pro Tharsis Di2 2
The XTR Di2 shifter, super-minimal.

The next time we see the Shimano XTR Di2 stuff will be fitted to our own test bike, so stay tuned for our first ride impressions of Shimano’s future mid-October.

Tested: Merida One Twenty 7.900

Merida’s new trail bike, the One Twenty picks up some considerable revisions for 2015. This honest, no-frills ride skips all the mumbo jumbo marketing spiels, and delivers a fun and efficient ride, and for a very fair price.

This shiny blue Merida was our companion for a couple solid rides on the absolutely incredible trails of Alice Springs where the terrain around town is brimming with fun, scenic and challenging singletrack. Riding out in the red centre of our big continent is harsh on body and equipment, so if your bike is not up to the task you’ll know about it. Suffice to say, the Merida came out the other side with two big thumbs up.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 25
An honest and reliable trail bike, ready for anything.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Yep, as the name clearly suggests the One Twenty has 120mm of bounce out back, with a 130mm FOX fork leading the way up front. The number 7 denotes the 27.5″/650B wheel size, and this is all an attempt to simplify the names of the Merida models for 2015.

The aluminium welders had a field day with this one, there is plenty of neatly finished joints and shapes adorning the all-alloy frame, so there is no doubt the fans of the material or carbon skeptics will find their happy place with this one. New for 2015 is a completely re-designed rear suspension system. The big visible difference to its predecessor is the way the lower shock mount is of the same section of the frame as the chain stays, so when the rear shock compresses the whole shock shifts downwards. This is said to aid the process of tracking the desired suspension curve, for a supple but supportive ride.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 1

Merida One Twenty 7.900 18
The shock floats up and down as is compresses.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 27

A Shimano quick release rear axle holds the rear wheel in very nicely, and mirrors the fork’s super easy quick release axle system. When we see so many different axle systems on bikes these days, especially at the rear wheel, it’s nice to  find one that not only matches the quick release axles both front and rear, it’s also the easiest to use making wheel removal quick and painless.

The paintwork may be a little bit 90s with its sparkling dark blue, and the Merida decals not really attract many oohs and aahhs, but it’s clean and we like the way there isn’t 100 acronyms or fancy engineering names painted all over it.

 

Merida One Twenty 7.900 11
Sweeeeet.

With a refreshing lack of marketing gadgets and acronyms the Merida seems to skirt around the pressure to dazzle potential purchasers, instead they offer a bike with no proprietary suspension parts or specific components. Whether or not this was going to be a good or bad thing, we were to find out when the ride time came.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Merida took most of the Shimano XT on offer here, with a full kit of Shimano’s workhorse component group fitted to the One Twenty 7.900. We all know how much the mountain bike world loves a pair of Shimano XT brakes, more reliable than a Toyota Corolla and in this case with 180mm rotors, more powerful than a Toyota Hilux. Shifting is Shimano XT, too with a double chainring setup delivering 20 gear options in a huge range, wider than a 1×11 setup.

FSA handle the cockpit with a nicely finished handlebar in good width and a short stem for zippy handling. We were delighted to see the RockShox Reverb Stealth post fitted to a bike of this value, and the internally routed line for the seat post helps to reduce the already very cluttered bike. Mind you, our seat post wasn’t 100% bled properly, and whenever there is hydraulics involved, a quick fix is simply not that quick so we had to put up with a spongy feeling seat post during our testing period. We lamented the simplicity of a cable actuated seat post in Alice Springs.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 20
A RockShox Reverb push button lever controls the seat post, and the Shimano XT brake and shifter are integrated into one clamp on the bar.
Merida One Twenty 7.900 13
It may not a trendy single ring setup, rather a sensible and useable range that won’t leave you without enough gears in any situation.

FOX handle the suspension, front and back with both the fork and shock controlled remotely with one thumb lever. This will most certainly appeal to the rider who locks out their suspension a lot during climbs or on tarmac jaunts, but on the flip side it makes for a mighty busy bunch of cables up at the handlebars. With a bit of time and attention, you could certainly minimise the cable mess by trimming any excess length of cable down.

The stock wheels aren’t going to float if you drop them in the dam, they’re pretty weighty, but super tough and suit this bike’s sting vibe. There’s always going to be room for upgrades to a $4k bike, and perhaps a lighter set of wheels would be a good item for the Christmas gift list.

The real highlight of the One Twenty’s spec is the high level of gear you get for the bucks. The value in this one is high, and in true Merida style.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

It’s a calm and comfortable ride, with a nice and stretched out top tube to open up your position on the bike. With a fairly upright geometry you sit up and over the centre of the bike, creating a suitable body position for climbing and flowing through the singletrack. We quickly became comfortable on the Merida. After spending the days prior to testing on the Trek Fuel EX, the Merida felt a little firmer in the suspension tune and sharper/upright in it’s seating position.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 3
The Merida was a calm ride, settling into long open turns with a relaxed feeling.
Merida One Twenty 7.900 2
Running high tyre pressures to avoid pinch flats wasn’t ideal, so a proper tubeless conversion would be our first change.

We dropped the stem down as low as it could go on the fork steerer tube, but with the headset’s big cone shaped upper spacer, we couldn’t go as low as we would have liked to suit our aggressive riding style, but that’s an easy one to remedy with a raiding of a bike shop workshop parts box.

For a 120mm bike, the suspension felt super controlled and smooth with a firm feel that resisted wallowing and unwanted pedal bobbing. With a quick flick of the lever by your right thumb the FOX CTD (climb, trail and descend modes) fork and shock switches to Trail Mode, which is like a ‘half lock’, good for climbing or smoother trails. One more click to Climb Mode and both ends lock out almost like a rigid bike.

When the trails got faster and wilder we found the limits of the tyres, the tread pattern and compound were fine, it was because we couldn’t run low enough pressures at risk of a pinch flat on the super rocky trails of Alice Springs. If tubeless is not imperative to you, the tyres will be totally fine but we always strongly recommend a tubeless setup on any mountain bike.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 4
The 27.5″ wheels roll with a calm and confident manner.

Merida have matched the geometry to the suspension travel amount perfectly, when bigger travel bikes tend to be slacker and aimed at handling steeper terrain, and shorter travel bikes are for the cross country race track, this 120/130mm travel bike is all about just getting out on the trails and enjoying them in comfort and control.

The big range of gearing served up by the double chainring was a highlight, especially after riding a lot of bikes with SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain. This will appeal to the rider without years of riding in their legs, or steep climbs at their door. We found ourselves using gears in both the high and low range often, and after a few hours in the saddle those lower gears were a bloody blessing.

Merida One Twenty 7.900 1
Simple, solid and reliable.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

It’s not an overly flashy ride, with loads of over the top fancy talk, this Merida gets the job done in a calm and honest manner and we respect that. We flowed through the trails in Alice for hours on the One Twenty comfortably and carried great momentum up and down the steeper sections easily. We would have preferred to do away with the remote lockouts in favour of a less cluttered cockpit, but otherwise this well-handling bike is specced in a way that will have it last for years without any fuss or bother.

It’s pretty impressive how much you get for your dollars these days with an aluminium dual suspension bike from one of the biggest brands in the business, don’t look past this one as a genuine trail bike for summer and beyond.

Long-term test update: Norco Range 7.2

While Sydney has been doing its finest Scottish Highlands impression this past month, with more rain than The Weather Girls, we couldn’t ignore the urge to get to know our Norco Range 7.2 a little better. As you can see, we’ve even found time to make a couple of tweaks to this glorious machine. Read on for the first instalment of our long term test.

As we commented in our First Bite initial impressions piece, it’s uncommon to find a bike this battle-ready off the shelf. Normally we find at least a couple of items to fiddle with before hitting the trails (for example, stem length, tyres or chain ring size), but this was not the case with the Range. Converting the wheels for tubeless is the only must-do before rolling out the door. The Alex rims do say they’re tubeless ready, but this is pretty misleading, as all the label really means is that they can be run tubeless if you fit an appropriate kit. While the bike regrettably isn’t supplied with a tubeless kit, we were able to successfully seal it all up with Stan’s No Tubes tape/valves/sealant. The Maxxis High Roller II tyres are tubeless ready, so it all snapped into place and held air perfectly.

Norco Range Long Term Update-3
Oops! First ride too!

Getting the suspension dialled was step number two, which is made easy thanks to a pressure guide on the Pike RC fork and sag indicators on the Monarch Plus shock.

We’ve been running 65psi in the fork, which is right on the recommended pressure. We’ve had great experience in the past with the Pike’s Bottomless Token system, which alters the progressiveness of the fork, so we’ll be trying out lower pressures and adding a Token or two to see how this changes the ride. In the meantime, we’ve also just received the new FOX 36 to test, so we’ve duly fitted it up and we’ll be taking it out for it its maiden voyage next week. The 36 is 170g heavier than the Pike, but it looks sweeter than an Iced Vovo and we’re dying to ride it. You can read all about our first impressions here.

IMG_9378
Off goes the Pike, on goes the FOX 36.

At present we’re running around 167psi in the Monarch Plus rear shock, for just over 25% sag. We’ll experiment with slightly lower pressures too, as we’re yet to hit full travel with the current settings. We had initially thought that the Monarch could be a weak point in the bike’s performance, but that idea soon went out the window. The 2015 Monarch Plus is far and away the smoothest, most responsive rear air shock we’ve experienced from Rockshox – finally they have an trail/all-mountain shock that can match the performance on the Pike. We just hope it stays this good in the long-term.

 

Norco Range Long Term Update-5
Unfortunately we damaged the rear brake line, right where the line joins into the banjo fitting.

Unfortunately our first outing resulted in not one, but two mechanicals, the blame for which lies squarely at our feet. First, we collected a stick that had the audacity to be tougher than it looked, and we snapped out a spoke in the rear wheel. On the same outing, we also damaged the rear brake line. In our build process, we didn’t leave enough slack in the rear brake line to account for large degree of rotation at the bike’s dropout pivot. As such, on a large impact, the line has been pulled too tight and developed a small rupture right at the point where the line enters the caliper banjo fitting. Arguably, the line shouldn’t have suffered this damage, but it was yet another reminder for us to always check a bike’s brake/cable lines through the full range of suspension movement. Lucky for us, we’ve just recently received a set of SRAM Guide RSC brakes to review, so we’ve fitted them for the interim until we get a chance to put a new line on the original brake. Because the Range uses an internally routed rear brake line, fitting a new brake was a little more involved, but at least the ports for routing the line are of a decent size so threading the line isn’t as hard as some.

Norco Range Long Term Update-4
The rear brake line is internally routed, which made replacing the rear brake a bit more involved.

IMG_9387

While the original rear wheel is out of action, we’ve fitted the bike with a set of beautiful carbon SRAM Roam 60 wheels which we have previously reviewed. They’re far lighter than the original wheels (by some 400g!) and they’re stiff as a frozen fish finger. With the weight saved on the wheels, and the weight added with the FOX fork, the Range now weighs in at 13.4kg including a set of Time ATAC MX4 pedals.

IMG_9386

We’ll report back next month with a bit more information about how the Range rides, once we’ve had a chance to get it onto a wider variety of trails.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano’s New M200 Enduro Shoes

Shimano go full enduro with a completely new shoe, loaded with features that are aimed to please even the most enduro of enduro riders. Even if you’re not full enduro, all these features in this great shoe simply lend it to suit the average trail rider anyhow. Protection, efficiency and a balance of on and off the bike stability.

Shimano M200 8
Even though they kinda look like what Robocop would wear bowling, we like ’em.

The most obvious feature is the big flap that covers the top of the shoe, underneath is a drawstring style set of laces, that pulls tension across the foot. This will also help the shoe from soaking in too much water and mud, and keeps the laces in check too. In classic Shimano style, a slim and low profile buckle is the main source of closure giving the rider quick and on-the-fly adjustability. All Shimano ratchet-style buckles are replaceable, if you ever manage to damage one on the trail.

Shimano M200 1

The inside of the shoe is raised to offer your ankles protection from the sharp edges of your bike and crank, and the toe area is also quite tough. So feel free to ride with your foot out dragging through turns like Jared Graves, your toes will be safe from impending threat.

A new style of sole ‘Torbal’ is introduced into a few mountain bike shoes for 2015. As Shimano puts it “TORBAL allows the outsole to twist, allowing for lateral movement of the rider, while keeping the forefoot aligned with the pedal. This encourages a natural rider “flow” motion, improving control especially during technical downhills, and allowing aggressive trail riders to push their limits even further.”

We’ve got a set of these shoes lined up for dirt time, so stay tuned for our feet’s impressions on these new kicks from Shimano.

Flow’s First Bite: FOX 36 Float 2015

The FOX 36 was the original high-performance, long-travel single crown fork. When FOX first brought this beast to market in 2005 its 36mm-legged chassis seemed absurdly chunky, like some kind of cartoon drawing of a fork. But the 36 weighed far less than its looks would indicate, and it soon became the gold standard for hardcore all-mountain riding.

Fox 36 First Bite-7

Since then, this segment of mountain biking has blown up like a gouty toe, and performance of long-travel single crown forks has increased at a ridiculous rate; lighter, stiffer, more control on both the climbs and descents. Rockshox launched a huge salvo in the war for all-mountain dominance in 2013 with the Pike (which we’ve reviewed here), right at the same time as FOX were copping a bit of a battering as some riders found their forks under-damped and occasionally suffering from stiction issues.

But FOX have rallied the troops and resurrected that original no-holds-barred ethos of the 36 for 2015. While we haven’t got our new test fork onto the trails yet, at a glance, we’d have to say the results of their efforts are pretty damn impressive.

Fox 36 First Bite-5
The 36 uses an RC2 damper, not a CTD. While the CTD is a great system for trail riding, FOX recognise that 36 riders are after a more sophisticated level of damping control, so the RC2 offers independent high/low-speed compression adjustment.

The new 36 really is new, there’s an awful lot to talk about with this fork, so we’ll save the full discussion of all the features for our final verdict. But what stands out to us is how far FOX have gone in their efforts to combat friction with the 36 – each and every 36 that rolls off the production line is fitted to a dyno that checks the fork for bushing friction. The fork also runs the new FOX Gold Oil lubricating fluid, which is claimed to reduce friction by 33%, and the damper seal head is now a very expensive, very slippery SKF number. The polishing process for the legs has been changed too.

Fox 36 First Bite-3
It’s possible to run the 36 with either a 15 or 20mm axle. Remove the silver inserts, fit the supplied 20mm axle and you’re ready to roll with even more stiffness.

The weight of this fork is another highlight, FOX have scraped every excess gram out of the lowers and our test fork weighs in at 2044g. Part of the weight saving comes from a new air spring assembly; rather than running a coil for the negative spring, the 36 uses a negative air spring which automatically equalises with the positive chamber. This arrangement should not only be lighter, but should deliver the best possible ride quality, no matter what the rider weight (unlike the coil spring, which was optimised for a 75kg rider).

Fox 36 First Bite-4
Further adding to the fork’s tunability are these air-spring spacers. Much like the Rockshox Bottomless Token system, adding spacers will increase how progressive the spring curve is.

The 36 is available in a pretty impressive range of configurations, with options for 26, 27.5 and 29″ wheels, travel adjustable TALAS formats, and in 160mm or 170mm versions. Worth noting too, is that travel can be internally adjusted with the Float versions of the fork, right down to 11omm. Interestingly, the 36 can be run with either a 15mm or 20mm axle – that’s a unique option we didn’t expect. Next up, we’ll be fitting this fork to our new Norco Range Carbon 7.2 long-term test bike. It’ll be replacing a Rockshox Pike, so making a head to head comparison of the performance should be easy.

Fox 36 First Bite-8

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cannondale Trigger Carbon 2

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 12

Holy smokes that’s a good looking bike! The all-new 27.5″-wheeled, 140mm Trigger is drop dead gorgeous in the flesh. It’s hard to get past the finish and focus on some of the bike’s more unique aspects,  like the chunky new Lefty Supermax fork and the suspension-disguised-as-a-rocket-pack DYAD RT2 pull-shock.

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 16
Glossy!

We reviewed the 2014 Trigger 29 last year and we came away impressed with the precise steering, traction and the bike’s playfulness despite the larger wheel size. This year the trigger is available in both 27.5 and 29er versions, and as much as we liked the Trigger 29er, we think the snappier, smaller wheel size will be just the ticker and we’re frothing to determine the capabilities of this bike!

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 11
Even with the whopping shock, there’s a lot of room in the mainframe for a bottle. The nude carbon / gloss red finish is luscious.

One complaint we did have about the Trigger 29 1 was that the Lefty felt harsh through fast and repetitive impacts, so we’re looking forward to see how this year’s iteration of the Supermax feels by comparison; it comes equipped with “trail” tune, a damper that is somewhere between cross-country efficiency and all-mountain suppleness.

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 30

Continuing the theme of unique suspension, the Trigger retains the DYAD pull-shock. This multi chambered shock can be remotely switched between an 85mm-travel Elevate mode for climbing and the aptly named 140mm Flow mode for descents.

 

The multi-chambered shock has independent rebound speeds for the Elevate and Flow settings.
The multi-chambered shock has independent rebound speeds for the Elevate and Flow settings.
Cannondale Trigger 27.5 14
Mavic tyres? Yes sir. We have a feeling that Michelin may have a hand in the construction of these tyres. It’ll be interesting to see how they perform!

Another element worth a mention is the combination of Mavic tyres and wheels. On first examination, the compound of the tyres feels rather firm. As out first ride is going to be on some rooty, slippery singletrail, we’ll soon know if we have to switch these out for something with a softer compound. We’re looking forward to the ride, but we’ll be sad to get this glossy, classy finish all covered in mud!

Cannondale Trigger 27.5 1
Yep, there are a lot of cables going on, but they’re all routed neatly underneath the down tube.
Cannondale Trigger 27.5 10
With no quick-release axle front or rear (both axles use a 5mm Allen key) the bike’s profile at the dropouts is super slim. While some will lament the absence of quick release mechanisms, we appreciate the extra clearance.

 

Introducing Our Trek ‘Flow Nation’ Long-Term Test Bikes

Here at Flow, we spend a lot of time exploring trails far away from home as we scour Australasia looking for the best mountain biking the region has to offer. But when we head off on our Flow Nation trips, it’s always a bit of a gamble as to which bike to take with us – bringing a bike that’s too big or little can really hinder your enjoyment of the trails.

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test 2
The under-the-radar Fuel EX 9.9 29
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The look-at-me Fuel EX 9.8 27.5

For our latest Flow Nation trip to Alice Springs (video coming up soon!) we secured two long-term test bikes from the crew at Trek Australia, and we’re happy to have these exquisite machines on hand for all our upcoming travels: the Fuel EX 9.9 29er and the Fuel EX 9.8 27.5.

The Trek Fuel EX series is pretty much the ideal bike to cover you for 90% of the riding you’ll find across Australia. When we selected these bikes from the Trek range, we thought hard about the majority of riding we find ourselves doing when we travel. We needed a bike that was confident and tough enough to handle it when we found ourselves barreling into rock garden on a trail we’ve never ridden before, but that was light and efficient enough for spending the entire day on the bike.

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test Action 7
The fast-rolling 29er loved the open, high-speed trails of Alice Springs.

 

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test Action 2
No doubt about it, the 27.5″ wheels love a tight berm to hook into! Early morning on the Wallaby Track, Telegraph Station.
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With 120mm of front and rear travel and agile geometry, the Fuel is a spritely platform that’s well suited to the swoopy flow trails that are becoming increasingly popular across Australia and New Zealand – think Rotorua or Buller, these bikes would eat those trail up! But at the same time, the Fuel is comfortable fighting up a weight division – the Full Floater suspension system is magnificent, and the confident inspiring riding position them a more capable bike in the rough than you’d expect. The build kit on these bikes is ideal for our purposes too, with Reverb Stealth dropper posts to save our bacon when things unexpectedly point down, and tough wheels with great tyres. We place a lot of import on tyres, and the Bontrager range of rubber is amongst the best going now, especially the XR3 and XR4.

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test 30
We’ve sung the praises of Trek’s Full Floater / DRCV suspension system before many times. It’s super supportive the whole way through the stroke.
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Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test Action 14

Our other option when we were selecting bikes for our Flow Nation trips was the Remedy series, but we’ve found in recent years that the Fuel’s abilities are really starting to bur the line between these two bikes. We first noted this back in 2013 when we reviewed the last edition of the 26″ Fuel EX, which left us amazed at how good the Fuel really was in the rough.

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test Action 3

With the Fuel EX series now available in both 29 and 27.5″ wheels, we made the call to get one of each, so we could compare the two bikes back to back and assess their relative merits. Trek also offer wheel size variants of the Remedy; some may say two wheel sizes for one model of bike is confusing, but more choice is rarely a bad thing – the two wheel sizes definitely ride quite differently, so it’s cool to be able to pick the one that best suits you.

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test 27
The RE:aktiv damping system is designed to provide increased stability, but without the harshness encountered with some inertia valve systems.

For 2015 Trek have delved into the internals of the Fuel’s rear shock as well, working with motor sport legends Penske to develop RE:aktiv damping, which is regressive damping system that should greatly improve pedalling and body-weight movement related stability. We’re looking forward to spending more time on this shock and bringing you our thoughts.

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test Action 8

We’ll be taking these two bikes to Tasmania in just a couple of weeks time, to explore the new trail developments at Hollybank outside Launceston, and to ride Hobart’s vaunted North-South track too. From the dust of Alice, to the cool brown soils of Tassie, we’re certainly getting a good chance to see how these bikes handle a variety of trails in a short period of time!

Trek Fuel EX Long Term Test Action 13
The 9.9 rock clambering above Alice Springs on the Ridge Track.

Tested: 2015 Lapierre Zesty Trail 829

The French are not known for offering much leniency when it comes to their conceptions of what an item should be or how it should be used: “This is a croissant. It is made with butter.” “This is a baguette. It is eaten with ham and cheese.” And it’s fair enough – what the French do, in their very particular way, they do very well. Therefore, it seems particularly un-French, that Lapierre should now offer a choice of two variants of their vaunted Zesty.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 38

For many years, the Zesty’s formula has been bang on, so were as surprised as anyone when Lapierre brought out the Zesty in two completely different configurations for 2014. It seemed odd to us that Lapierre would muddy the Zesty’s identity, splitting the range into an AM (all-mountain series) with 150mm travel and 27.5” wheels, and the TR (trail series) with 120mm travel and 29” hoops. But as old mate said, “what’s in a name?” What really matters is how this rose smells on the trail.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 4
Alice Springs is one hell of a place to ride, and the ideal place to test a bike from our perspective as there’s so much trail so close to town.

We were fortunate enough to log a few hours on the 2014 version of this bike last year at the Lapierre launch, but we didn’t clock enough trail time for a full review. This time around we’ve grabbed the 2015 model and taken it on a holiday, far away from the depressing Sydney wet weather, out to Alice Springs in Central Australia.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Let’s start with the area that everyone always asks about first: the e:i Shock electronic suspension system. 2015 is the third year that Lapierre have implemented this brainy, automatically-adjusting suspension and we feel that the system has finally reached the level of refinement that will gain it broader acceptance. We’ve had reservations about the e:i system in the past (read about our experiences in our long-term review of the 2014 Zesty 927) but this year it’s a different kettle of fish.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 35
The Relay motor can adjust the shock’s compression settings in less than 0.01 seconds.

In a highly abbreviated version, the system works thus: a sensor on the fork and a sensor in the bottom bracket communicate with your rear shock to ensure that it’s using the ideal compression setting for any given situation. If it’s bumpy, the shock is fully open, if it’s smooth/smooth-ish then the shock is either locked out or uses a medium compression setting. If you want to learn more about the detail of the e:i system, watch this video.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 34
The e:i system’s battery has been shifted and has changed shape in order to make room for a water bottle. We do wish it was internal though!

What is great about the new version of the e:i system is how much more simple the interface is with the rider, and how much more cleanly it integrates with the bike. The battery (which last for around 24hrs riding) is now offset, meaning a water bottle cage can be fitted (hooray!), and the bulbous head unit is gone. In its place is a small receiver that is fitted with a single LED light to communicate to the rider which setting system is currently in. The sleek incorporation of the new receiver not only looks a lot neater, but it’s far less susceptible to damage too – last year, we unthinkingly flipped an e:i bike upside to fix a flat and broke the display, but that can’t happen now.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 32
The e:i head unit / receiver is now much smaller, neater and simpler. The whole display aspect has been ditched too.

As with previous versions of the system, you can opt to leave the suspension in automatic mode (which we highly recommend), or you can select to ‘fix’ it into a medium or locked out compression setting. You also have ability to set the sensitivity level of the automatic mode, which dictates how much bump force is required to disengage the medium/locked-out compression settings. We definitely preferred the most sensitive setting, which delivers the smoothest and most supple ride.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 20
The small accelerometer on the back of the fork leg communicates with the head unit to tell the rear shock what the terrain is doing beneath your wheels.
Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 24
The OST system is smooth and laterally stiff, dishing up 120mm of travel.

Looking beyond the electronics, this is a striking, bold machine that’s put together to an exceptionally high standard. The front triangle is carbon, the rear end alloy, which is a construction configuration we’re seeing a lot more of now. The Zesty TR 829 shares the same OST suspension design as is found on the Zesty AM; it’s a true four-bar configuration, with a double row of bearings used for the dropout pivot. The seat stays and chain stays are super robust and widely set, giving the 829 a level of rear end stiffness that evades most 29ers. The downside of this beefy construction is that some riders may experience a little heel rub (especially flat pedal users), but thankfully this wasn’t an issue for us. If you’ve got big feet, or your ride duck-footed, expect to clip your heels.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 21
While the rear end is very stiff, the downside is potential heel rub on the seat stays.

The pivot hardware uses massive fittings, and the rear shock doesn’t undergo any rotation at the DU bush, all of which should reduce the need for maintenance. The shock itself is a Rockshox Monarch – there are no FOX shocks currently compatible with the e:i system. Up until 12 months ago, we’d have regarded this as a downside, but Rockshox have truly lifted their game with their rear shocks of late and the stiction that plagued previous Monarch shocks is gone.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 27

While the cables are routed internally out of the box, the frame has a full complement of cable stops so you can run the brake and gear lines externally too if that’s your preference. There’s a high level of attention to detail as well, with nice touches like a sag indicator on seat stay, a quality chain slap guard and thick frame protection stickers fitted to the exposed areas of the frame. If we’re getting picky, we do feel that the rear axle is a bit average, as the cam mechanism became very hard to operate once it got gritty after a few days’ riding.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 17
While the gear/brake lines are internal, there are provisions for routing them externally should need be.
Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 14
We love the neat, tucked-away rear brake caliper positioning. The rear skewer we’re not fond of – it gets awfully hard to operate when gritty.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

As the second-highest model in the Zesty TR range, the 829 is kitted out with some of the finest offerings that SRAM can muster. Undoubtedly the highlight is the XX1/X01 drivetrain (using X0 carbon cranks), which never seems to miss a beat – not one dropped chain or missed shift, and the gear range is tremendous. The SRAM Roam 40 wheels were a pleasant surprise too; even though they’re SRAM’s more basic Roam wheel offering, they’re super light, tubeless ready and the freehub engagement is speedy.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 5

Suspension duties are handled by a Rockshox Monarch rear shock and a SID 120 fork with slick looking Fast Black coated legs.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 13
Four-piston Guide RS brakes bring it all to a stop.

The new Guide RS brakes and a Reverb Stealth post complete the picture. One the advantages of the full SRAM ensemble is that the Match Maker system can be enjoyed to full effect, with just two clamps on the bar for both brakes, the seatpost remote and shifter.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 12
SRAM’s Roam 40 wheels were a nice surprise! Fast rolling, light and tubeless.

Schwalbe’s new-look Nobby Nic in a 2.25” width handles the rubber duties. The tread pattern of these tyres is greatly improved, with far more stability available when cornering. We do still have some questions about their long-term durability as we did cut the sidewall of the rear tyre, though we were testing the bike in the notoriously tyre-slashing terrain of Alice Springs.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 11
Match Maker clamps keep the bars clutter free.
Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 36
Schwalbe’s new look Nobby Nic is far more predictable than in the past. Big thumbs up.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Zap, zap goes the Zesty’s brainy shock the moment you turn a pedal stroke and set off into the trail, instantly firming up the suspension when the terrain is smooth or opening it up when it’s bumpy.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 9
Woohoo! So much singletrack!

It takes just a few minutes of riding before you begin to ignore the noise of the little motor working away and you stop paying attention to the LED indicator telling you which mode the suspension is in. But after those few minutes you begin to realise something… You’re not thinking about your suspension, at all.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 23
With an XX1 drivetrain the bike is near silent, except for the zapping of the rear shock motor.

Reaching for a lock-out on the shock or hitting a lock-out lever on the bars has become such a standard part of riding a dual suspension bike (especially on longer-travel bikes) that it’s really refreshing to be able to forget about all that and concentrate on just riding, knowing that your bike is as efficient as is ever possible. And it IS far more efficient; there’s absolutely zero unwanted suspension movement.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 31
With the seat post remote located within easy access of your thumb, utilising the dropper post feels very intuitive.

Ignoring the e:i system, the Zesty TR is a fantastic handling bike in its own right. It’s a really solid frame, not in a boat anchor kind of way, but in a shove-it-int0-a-corner kind of way – the rear end is much stiffer than we’re accustomed to on a 120mm 29er and this brings lots of confidence to the ride overall. Confidence is everything as far as we’re concerned, and this bike has it in spades.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 19

With its 1×11 drivetrain, the Zesty’s seatpost remote lever is located where your front shifter would normally reside. This seemingly simple setup configuration actually adds tremendously to the ride of the bike. Because the seat post lever is so easy to hit (just as easy as hitting a shifter) we used it much more than usual, dropping the seat an inch for a fast corner, popping it back up for a pinch climb, slamming it all the way down for a jump… In conjunction with the suspension automatically working its magic, we found it really easy to ensure the bike was in the perfect mode for the terrain at any given moment.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 26
The Zesty’s cockpit is ideal. With a bit of creative taping/zip ties, you could just about make the wiring invisible too.

The top tube and cockpit are nice and roomy too, and our size medium fitted us perfectly. We’re big fans of the long top tube / short stem setup, and the 740mm bar and 80mm stem are ideal. You’re left in a really strong, confident position to really work the terrain or slot into a corner, which is one thing the Zesty does exceptionally well. Once we’d settled on tyre pressures of around 23/24psi, we found the Nobby Nics to be super consistent, with a predictable break-away point on the loose Alice Springs surfaces.

On the whole the SID 120 is well equipped for the job at hand. It’s simple setup and lightweight construction are a highlight, but we’re sure some riders will look to put on something a little more stout, like a FOX 34 or Pike 120mm, as the bike is not afraid of harder riding. In the extremely dusty, arid, gritty conditions of Alice Springs, the fork became a little dry and sticky over the small bumps. The occasional hard compression was needed to keep the seals and legs slippery and lubricated. Chatting with locals, it’s a common story – the dust in Alice is so fine that just about every fork will need more love than usual.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 2

Interestingly, we noticed that we rarely clipped a pedal onboard the Zesty, even though the bottom bracket height is right where you’d expect it. We put this down to the bike sitting a little higher in its travel as the e:i system kicks in as soon as you start pedalling, raising the bike’s sag point slightly.

If we had to find one area where we thought the e:i system interfered with our normal riding style, it would be in those instances where we put in a fast half pedal stroke to lift the front wheel. Normally when you jab at the pedals and lean back, the bike would sag into its travel a little in the rear, helping the front wheel to unweight. But with the e:i, because the suspension firms up as soon as you pedal, the bike doesn’t sag so much out back, meaning a bit more effort is needed to get the front wheel up. But that’s it, that’s the only instance we could perceive the e:i system as requiring any kind of adaptation from us.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 3

Overall:

After some slightly frustrating experiences with the e:i system in the past, we are absolutely thrilled with this bike and the advancements it represents. No, of course you don’t ‘need’ electronic suspension (and no-one’s forcing it upon you), but neither do you ‘need’ traction control in your car, or an electric toothbrush or a 6-megapixel camera on your phone.

Tested Lapierre Zesty Trail 829 37

The e:i system does add complexity to the bike, but what this test showed us, is that it actually simplifies the ride. The Zesty TR is a really fantastic bike, with great geometry, smooth suspension and well-thought out component choices, and even the non-e:i versions of this bike would be magnificent. But when you add the e:i system’s efficiency to a bike that’s already this good, you get an amazing machine. Nice work, Lapierre, it’s great to see this system reach a level we’re truly happy with (now, hurry up and make that battery pack internal too!).

 

Tested: Magellan Cyclo 505

It has now been over six months since we stepped into the world of GPS and fitted the Magellan Cyclo 505 to our mountain and road bikes, ready to track our riding with a level of detail that we’d never encountered before.

Magellan Cyclo 505-8
The Magellan 505’s home screen – big, colourful icons make for easy touchscreen use.

The 505 boasts an absolutely massive array of features, some of which we found very useful for our purposes, others less so. The highlights include clear touchscreen operation, seamless wireless uploading of your rides via Wifi, excellent turn-by-turn navigation and the ability to display a lot of information on the 75mm screen clearly at a glance. You can also configure the device for multiple profiles, which is perfect if you plan on using it on your road bike as well as your mountain bike.

Magellan Cyclo 505-27
You can configure one or multiple dashboard screens to display a huge amount of info if needed. We preferred to use just one dashboard screen, but you could conceivably split it up so one dashboard showed you live info, while the other showed you the average over your ride, or whatever permutation your heart desires.

A recent firmware update just released (which you currently need a PC to install, grrrrr!) enables to 505 to communicate with your smart phone via Bluetooth as well, so you can answer calls, read messages and even control your music from the head unit, all without taking your phone out! Also packaged into the latest update is Di2 connectivity via the new Di2 D-Fly system, which is timely with the release of XTR Di2, so you can easily view gear selection and Di2 battery level. Necessary? No, but tech geeks will swoon.

Magellan Cyclo 505-19
You can create multiple profiles for different bikes – road, mountain or city bike – and name them whatever you like.

The 505 also has the ability to track and display heart rate, power, calories burnt, elevation loss/gain, avergage and total distance, total and moving time, average and current speed and much more…In all, the 505 of is less of a GPS, and more of a NASA command station for your bike! Of course, you don’t have to have all this info on display and it’s easy to configure the dashboard to only display the information that’s important to you. We optimised our dashboard display to show us only the seven readings we really wanted to know while riding.

Magellan Cyclo 505-26
The most recent update gives allows Bluetooth connectivity with your phone, so you can answer calls, read an SMS or control your music from the Magellan head unit.

We found the 505 synced easily with our various sensors (heart rate and cadence), but just make sure you turn the search mode off if you’re not using them, or it’ll ask you to sync with the heart rate monitor of everyone who rides past!

Finding your way around the device is simple. Much like an iPhone, there’s one ‘home’ button that exits your current screen, while moving between the various menus or making selections is all done via the touch screen. Gloved operation was a little hit and miss, especially in colder weather, which was sometimes frustrating. We found that Specialized’s awesome Wire Tap gloves are the perfect option, enabling perfect touchscreen function even with your gloves on.

Magellan Cyclo 505-31
The route-following / turn-by-turn navigation aspect of the Magellan is a highlight. You can view all kinds of info about the route you’re taking (distance, route elevation profile etc), and the turn by turn navigation is super clear.

In terms of route finding functions, you can upload your own routes from GPX files, follow a bunch of pre-loaded rides (both mountain bike and road), and the device is pre-loaded with cycling specific points of interest too (like bike shops, cafes and such).

There’s also a pretty funky ‘surprise me’ function, which generates a random route based upon the parameters you set (time/distance, road/trail preferences), and a ‘shake and share’ function for sharing your route with other Magellan users. As cool as these functions are, the nightmare of Sydney traffic makes the ‘surprise me’ function a bit hit and miss, and we didn’t use it on the mountain bike. Perhaps if you did your road riding in a quieter part of the world it’d be more useful.

Magellan Cyclo 505-11
The Magellan comes preloaded with points of interest that are useful to cyclists (bike shops etc). To be honest, we didn’t use this aspect once.

For us, the most useful aspect of all the route-related functions was the ability to upload a route and follow it live. We found that the route is communicated clearly, with turn-by-turn navigation telling you when the next change of direction is coming up, or even what the gradient of the next climb is should you wish.

cSNNV
The Port to Port MTB stage race was a great test of the Magellan’s abilities, and it worked flawlessly.

We’ve used this function extensively, to best effect during the Port to Port MTB stage race; we found it really helped being able to quickly see the remaining distance and the elevation profile of each stage, as well as when we were going to enter/exit the singletrack. This race also highlighted how weather proof the unit is too, with rain and mud galore not troubling the 505.

aafDk
This was what the conditions were like on day 2 of Port to Port, and the Magellan didn’t falter in the mud and rain.
Magellan Cyclo 505-22
The dashboard layout editor is simple to use, so you’re not limited to any pre-set display configurations.

Unfortunately the mechanism for loading a route to the GPS is a clunky, especially for Mac users, and it involves digging into a series of folders. It seems like the Cyclo is really built with PC in mind, not Mac. The Magellan Cyclo web portal is fairly rudimentary too, especially when compared to say Garmin Connect and this is where the Magellan lags behind the competition. However, we’ve recently been told by Magellan Australia that the Cyclo web portal is receiving a total overhaul in the next few weeks and we look forward to seeing the improvements.

You can largely bypass the Magellan Cyclo portal entirely in day-to-day operation; because the device can be synced via Wifi, you don’t actually ever need to connect it to your computer. And the Magellan Cyclo portal can be configured to then automatically share your rides with other sites (such as Strava or Training Peaks), so it’s rare that you’d need to even need to visit the Magellan Cyclo portal at all.

Magellan Cyclo 505-6
You can bar-mount the Magellan, but we preferred to sit it over the stem. If you’re running a short stem, you’ll need to trim your fork steerer for clearance.

The Cyclo 505 is literally the big daddy of Magellan’s cycling specific GPS units, and its size is both a blessing and a curse. The whopping screen makes it very easy to navigate and view info while riding, but for mountain biking the size can make mounting options tricky. The device is supplied with both bar and ‘over-the-stem’ mounts, but in reality it looks like a TV if you strap it to your bars, and because of the device’s weight, the bar mount does have a tendency to rattle loose. The over-the-stem mount is nice and secure, but if you’re using a shorter stem, you’ll need to chop down your steerer tube so it’s flush with your stem (any spacers above the stem may interfere with the device). In reality, most folk using this unit will be on more cross country oriented bikes anyhow, and are likely to have an 80-100mm stem fitted.

Magellan Cyclo 505-1
Neat!

Battery life is fine – Magellan claim up to 12hrs from a full charge, but that will decrease depending on the number of sensors connected and display brightness settings. We made it through three of the four stages of the Port to Port MTB race (about eight hours of riding) before feeling compelled to pop it on the charger again.

In all, the Cyclo 505 is a serious beast of a device, with far more functions than we, or probably most other users, will ever need. Honestly, you could spend so much time looking at data that you’d run out of time to look where you’re going! For us, the turn-by-turn navigation is the star feature, along with the slick wireless uploading. In reality, this device will find more fans on the road for now, but as electronics become a more common aspect of mountain biking we’re sure that the culture of the sport will change too, and devices like the Magellan Cyclo 505 will soon be part of the sport in a bigger way. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my GPS is telling me my wife is calling….

Long-Term Test: Lapierre Zesty AM 927, with e:i Shock.

After countless trail hours, car miles, domestic flights and mountain bike events, it has come time to begrudgingly hand back our beloved Lapierre Zesty AM long term test bike.

We’ve made no mystery of the fact that we love Lapierre bikes here at Flow, they tear through singletrack like a pro and their e:i Shock gizmo takes efficiency to an unprecedented level. This one in particular – the Zesty AM729- with its top-tier spec and fancy electronics, attracted its fair share of attention on the trails. And in the end of our time aboard the Zesty we review our relationship as having been bitter-sweet, equal parts joy and frustration.

[divider]A bit of background on the e:i Shock[/divider]

All the big bike brands are frantically duking it against each other out for rear suspension supremacy by using tricky rear axle paths, proprietary shock valving, remote lockouts or, in Lapierre’s case, an automatically-adjusting and electronically-controlled rear suspension system. It’s a confusing time for the consumer, and even for us. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and the weaknesses in particular keep shrinking each year as the technologies develop. What the heck is going to be next? The future of mountain bike suspension is an unknown to us, where can it all go from here, will it plateau and calm down? Do we really need all this?

Lapierre’s unique electronic intelligent suspension system is not an easy concept to explain – it all makes a lot more sense when you actually ride a bike equipped with this system. Fortunately here at Flow we’ve had plenty of trail time on a wide range of e:i equipped bikes, take a look at our first review of  the 2013 Zesty 314. Lapierre use the e:i on three models of suspension bikes, the XR, Zesty and Spicy.

Lapierre have clearly realised that explaining the e:i system in mere words is a bit of a task, and so they’ve just released this great vid that does a really good job of explaining what it’s all about and how it works.

In the end, we most certainly appreciate what the e:i Shock does, whole heartedly. The best thing about it? You’re always in the best suspension setting for whatever riding you are doing. You don’t have to reach for a lever on a shock, or a switch on the handlebar, it’s all 100% automatic. You are always in the optimum shock setting, and you can’t fool it, trick it or be caught out.

Our test bike here is a 2014 model, but for 2015, Lapierre have greatly simplified the operation of the e:i system, ridding it of the unnecessary display unit and bar-mounted mode adjuster. We recently spent time on the new e:i system, and met the engineers behind the incredibly clever and effective system, whilst previewing the 2015 Lapierre range. We’re also currently testing the new 2015 Zesty TR 829, so come back soon!

[divider]Our Long Term Test[/divider]

The 2014 Zesty AM 927 is a gorgeous bike, immaculately finished, and specced with the finest parts possible for almost $10k. From the forests of Cairns, to the big mountains of Mount Buller, to the flowing trails of Orange and all over the trails of Sydney, the Zesty was that perfect ‘one bike’ that was up for anything. Exploring unknown trails is always a tricky one; what bike to take? Our Zesty always seemed to be the right choice, and we reached for it all the time. We raced it at Bike Buller, the multi-stage event in the big Victorian Alps, with its hour-long climbs and insanely fast descents, tight switchback corners and wide open fire roads. The Zesty was never too much, or not enough bike. We raced it at Enduro events, and wouldn’t hesitate to roll around a multi-lap endurance race either.

Sure, its high end parts make this bike very appealing, keeping the weight low and therefore requiring less effort to pedal around the trails, but the geometry and handing characteristic really lend itself to taking on a wide variety of trails too. 150mm of travel is a fair bit of bounce, but the electronic motors continually zapped away, making sure that you were always in the right setting for climbing, springing or descending. You never get that soggy, energy sapping feeling as your pedal power is absorbed into the the bike as the rear shock compresses, it is firm when you want it, but stop pedalling or hit a bump and it instantly becomes plush and active.

One thing we kept on wishing for, was a FOX shock in place of the RockShox Monarch. It’s no secret that a FOX rear shock in most cases feels smoother, more sensitive and reacts faster than a RockShox. This 2014 model Monarch is better than last year’s one, but still at high speeds and when the trails became choppy, those fast and repetitive impacts seem to choke up the shock. For 2015 however, the new Monarch’s have improved out of sight again, new model bikes we’ve ridden with 2015 Monarch shocks are far smoother and sensitive.

We chatted to Lapierre’s suspension engineer about the working relationship with RockShox, and why FOX was never used with the e:i Shock. It turns out that FOX simply weren’t that interested in working with the e:i Shock folks, and the current Shimano/FOX electronic systems were simply not fast enough to work with the e:i system. RockShox shocks may not be the smoothest, but their damping internals are able to be changed at 0.01 seconds, that’s the key to the operation.

LapierreZesty9272
When it all began, fresh out of the box.

But, for all our praises of this bike comes some disappointing negatives. At the risk of sounding a bit brutal we were not 100% stoked on the 2014 e:i Shock’s hardware durability or visual appearance. Due to a few niggling electronic component issue – all of which were swiftly rectified under warranty – our Zesty has spent a portion of its life in varying states of operation. At times these niggles dominated our thoughts when riding, and left us wondering if the bike would be better without the electronics.

LapierreZestyLongTerm-3
Pike fork, Maxxis tyres, Bontrager saddle, and a singletrack exploration adventure in Orange, NSW.

The issues we had lay in the connectivity of the electronic points, both at the head unit and at the main internal junction, suffering from the elements most likely. Inside the frame, above the bottom bracket is a little junction of wires, soldered together and waterproofed with heat shrink. Ours had issues, and the junction wires were replaced by our local Lapierre dealer. We also had problems with the display unit going blank intermittently, but Lapierre have just released an updated head unit has a more positive connection between the computer display and the housing. We know this technology is young, and these kind of early generation issues are inevitable, but it is frustrating nonetheless.

On a more positive note, the upcoming 2015 version of this bike with its refined and simpler e:i Shock ‘Auto’ system will blow the 2014 model out of the water. We’ve ridden the 2015 system extensively, and look forward to more users having a better experience with e:i on the new system. Improvements to the 2015 system include the connections between the wires inside the frame. Gone are the soldered and heat shrink-wrapped junctions of wires, in place are new durable and weatherproof plugs, like you would find inside the frame of a Shimano Di2 bike. The display head unit is gone entirely too, as is the remote buttons near the shifter. This is all good news as far as we’re concerned – the system is much simpler visually and in its user interface.

The head unit controls all the action, and also doubles as a regular cycle computer with some basic functions.
The head unit controls all the action, and also doubles as a regular cycle computer with some basic functions.

 

[divider]Upgrades[/divider]

We couldn’t help ourselves, a RockShox Pike had to happen. The 150mm travel 32mm FOX TALAS fork that came stock on the bike didn’t match the whole bike’s ready-for-action attitude. We opted for a 160mm Pike, which no only beefed up the front end with bigger diameter 35mm legs (in place of the FOX 32mm legs) but also lifted and slackened the front end. With a 160mm fork, the Zesty was beginning to look more like the Lapierre Spicy (which shares the exact same frame) which comes stock with a 160mm fork and a few more burly parts. Maybe we wanted really just wanted a Spicy all along?

LapierreZestyLongTerm-1-1
The RockShox Pike, nothing beats the smooth and controlled action. Since its inception, the Pike has become a real ‘must have’ part for mountain bikes all over the world. Do yourself a favour, give one a try.

The Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, like the skinny FOX fork are nice and light, but were holding back the Zesty’s true capabilities of going really, really fast. We’ve also not really been big fans of the Nobby Nic unless the soils are really soft; we find they ping and slide around on hard packed surfaces, which is quite scary at times.

A pair of gummy Maxxis 2.35 TLR 3C (tubeless ready, triple compound) were a good swap; the Minion front and High Roller II added weight and a bit of drag, but the traction trade-off was well and truly worth it. No flats, burping or cuts occurred, but the eye-poppingly good braking control from the High Roller on the rear was short lived as the tall and aggressive centre knobs shredded fairly quickly.

Long Term Test Zesty AM 19
Nothing bites like a Maxxis High Roller II when you grab the rear brake. Max control!

Everyone has a favourite seat, and the Bontrager Evoke is one of ours. In favour of the the Fizik Tundra, the Bontrager would save our buns on the longer rides.

We would typically muck around with the cockpit of a long term test bike, but in this case it remained unchanged. The length of the stem, ride and width of the bars was perfect. Even the grips stayed on the whole time.

Aside from the fork, the biggest change made to the Zesty was the ENVE M60 wheels. These lustrous hoops don’t need much of an introduction to road or mountain bike riders, they are the cream of the crop of carbon wheels. There is no better place on your bike to throw money at, the performance boost is huge. An excellent suspension fork is better than just a good one, but the differences with a top-notch set of wheels is night and day over a stock set.

What the ENVE wheels did to the bike was three-fold. Weight dropped significantly, the tyres were given a wider profile, and the bike’s direct and fast handling was lifted to the next level. The M60 rim is a fair bit wider than the stock Easton Havens, and in our opinion the wider the better. The tyres can be run at lower pressure to add major amounts of traction without experiencing a squirming or spongy ride. The contact patch of the tread was increased too as the casing of the tyre is set wider. But the best bit (not just the looks) is how they ride. The ENVE wheels know where you’re going, they feel stiff and strong without feeling harsh, and really encourage harder riding. Our ability to hold a rough line was noticeably more confident, and the rolling speed was wild, so damn fast.

Wanna go faster for around 3.5K? Just at Enve wheels.
Wanna go faster for around 3.5K? Just add Enve wheels.
Test_Lapierre Zesty LT006
Deep, wide, shiny and fast.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Zestys love speed, cornering and making light work out of the trickiest trails. They are a true all-mountain bike. They have a knack for hauling around a flat corner, and ripping through the tight and twisty sections. A short rear end is to thank for its nimble handling in tight terrain, and we love the way the Zesty pulls a manual or flicks around a switchback. Up front, a roomy top-tube gives the bike a nice dose of length. Pair that to a short stem, and you have a nice balance of room for stability, but also fast and responsive handling. Pretty much ideal for a lightweight 150mm bike.

The overall low weight was instantly evident on the first ride, not just getting up climbs with less effort, we found ourselves able to pop over sections of the trail, searching for smoother and faster lines like we had loads of energy. Lifting the bike and placing it down where you want it is super easy. And there is no doubt about it, the e:i Shock component (when it’s working) is superb. If you can put up with the noisy motor zapping away, you will quickly forget about the fact you’re carrying a battery, accelerometers, computers and cadence sensors on board and you’ll just leave the computer in auto mode, and just ride. It is perfect efficiency, and it’s completely automatic and intuitive and instant.

Long Term Test Zesty AM 1
Moments before disassembly to be returned to original spec, our beloved Zesty is moving on.
Long Term Test Zesty AM 2
ENVE M60 wheel set, after months of abuse, they are still worthy of the hype. Dead straight, air tight and fast.
All the cables are internally routed, but the hydraulic seat post cable would rattle inside the frame at times. Nothing a bit of foam squashed into the frame wouldn't fix.
All the cables are internally routed, but the hydraulic seat post cable would rattle inside the frame at times. Nothing a bit of foam squashed into the frame wouldn’t fix.
Long Term Test Zesty AM 23
The Relay motor adjusts the rear shock continually as instructed by the computer.
AQ5A7051
The Zesty nails that 150-160mm all mountain bike category. It’s always going to be high up on our list of favourite bikes.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

In comparison to a regular bike test, a long term test lets us delve deeper into how a bike performs over time, allowing elements like durability and different setup results factor in to the test. In this case, we did have durability issues with the electronics, but that was it. We made a couple spec changes, but aside from the tyres, nothing actually needed replacing.

We often hear people saying that they think mountain bikes ‘don’t need’ electronic suspension. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a positive development, and in reality it’s simply an evolution of what are already very advanced machines. Take a look at a high-end modern bike; carbon framed, carbon wheeled, hydraulically damped, amazing strength to weight ratios – these bikes are not simple any more. We’ve accepted electronics into just about every other aspect of out lives, from our timepieces to our toothbrushes to our cars, why not our bikes too?

If it wasn’t for the hardware issues we had with the electronics, we would have been 100% happy with this bike. We know there are countless Lapierre owners out there who have never had any troubles, so maybe we just had bad luck. We really enjoyed this bike, and we think that Lapierre is onto a great thing with e:i. Now we’re looking forward to the 2015 range resolving the niggling issues we had and reinstating the public’s belief in what we think is one of the leading suspension designs ever made.

Tested: PRO Mega Bag

Travelling with a bike kind of like travelling with a toddler, the only difference is that you’re the one chucking the tantrums. With a toddler, you can always sedate them, but when it comes to bikes, the best solution is a proper bike bag.

We’ve usually gone down the route of a cardboard bike box for travelling with a bike, purely because there are generally a few empty boxes lying around the office. But on our recent trip to Alice Springs, we were transporting some precious cargo – a $10,000 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 – so a cardboard box wasn’t going to cut it. We wanted something that offered lots of protection, but which wasn’t going to blow out our baggage allowance. Enter the Mega Bag.


Pro Mega Bag-4

The PRO Mega Bag weighs in at 7.75kg on our scales (surprisingly, almost a kilo less than PRO claim), which is a fraction lighter than both of the other bike bags we’ve used in the past 12 months (Evoc and Dakine, both 8kg). In terms of construction, it melds some aspects of a soft bag and a hard case, with an alloy frame reinforcing the the bottom of the bag, and it has four wheels, so you can use it as a skateboard. It’s all put together with quality materials, reinforced seams and robust-looking zippers and there are more handles than an octopus could use.

Pro Mega Bag-13
Here you can see the bag’s alloy frame with its sliding dropout mounts. Note the chunky foam pads on either side of where the dropouts affix. The mesh bag on the bottom can be taken out and filled with clothes, shoes etc.

With no instructions supplied, we thankfully didn’t have to think to hard about how to fit our bike. First, off come your handlebar/stem and pedals. Fit the triangular frame protection pad around the head tube area, then affix the bars vertically to the pad using the velcro straps. Stick the pedals in one of the bag’s interior pockets.

Next, both wheels come off, then it’s a matter of securing the bike’s dropouts into the resin dropout mounts/brackets using the bike’s own axles to hold it all in place. The resin brackets can be slid along the alloy frame to account for wheelbase variations, and there are upper and lower mounting positions to account for the height of your bike. With our 29er, we needed to extend the wheelbase adjustment almost to its limit – bikes with a wheelbase longer than 120cm will be a tight fit – and we used the lower mounting point for the fork dropout. The rear dropout bracket has a neat chain holder too, so your derailleur and chain are kept under tension and don’t flop around. There’s also an optional drivetrain cover, which is kind of like a shower cap for your chain, that we didn’t bother with, along with two more random foam blocks that can be fitted to the frame alongside the head tube and seat tube junctions for a little bit more cushiness.

Pro Mega Bag-22
There are two mounting positions on the dropout brackets – for a mountain bike, you need to use the lower one. The fork axle slides through the mount, holding your bike in tight. Check out the big foam pads, once again.
Pro Mega Bag-21
The rear dropout mount incorporates a chain guide to keep your chain under tension.
Pro Mega Bag-20
Much neater than a cardboard box, we’d say!

The sides of the bag are large zip-up compartments for the wheels, and they’re generously voluminous – our 29er wheels with 2.3″ tyres didn’t need to be deflated to fit. There are hard plastic panels to protect your rotors (or you could remove them) and thick padding prevents the hubs/cassette from digging through the interior panel and damaging your bike in the main compartment. Finally, there are a handful of zip-up pockets in the bag that can be stuffed with tools, tubes and jelly snakes, and also a large mesh bag that’s perfect for your hemet, shoes and hydration pack. The second time we used this bag, it genuinely took us about five minutes to completely pack the bike.

Pro Mega Bag-17
The side pockets / wheel compartments are large enough to accommodate a 29er wheel with a fairly large tyre. Inside the pockets you’ll find thick pads and plastic guards to protect your rotors.

Our only gripe with the PRO Mega Bag is that it’s a bit of a handful to wheel around. Because all four wheels can swivel, it’s actually really hard to keep the bag rolling in a straight line, kind of like trying to teach a puppy to walk on a lead! We think the bag would be better if one set of wheels were fixed and the other set swivelled, as this would give you all the manoeuvrability you need but without the bag occasionally flying out of control like a satellite that’s spun out of orbit.

Of course the high price is also a serious consideration. At almost seven hundred clams, this PRO Mega Bag is a lot more expensive than your average cardboard box (infinitely more expensive, actually, as cardboard boxes are normally free). Still, we’re sure they’ll be available for less than the ticket price, because this is a competitive part of the market. Regardless of the price, compared to the pain of cramming your bike into a cardboard box, jamming it with padding, fretting about the box getting wet or crushed, and then having to drag it around the airport with the handles tearing apart… well, let’s just say that we’re not going back to the old cardboard box, that’s for sure. If your bike is your baby, you travel often, or you can’t bear the idea of travel damage, then a bag like this is a no brain-brainer.

Tested: BH Lynx 6 27.5 Carbon

One of life’s most frustrating occurrences is gelato inconsistency; sometimes you get a generous soul who heaps it into the cup like a mad person, other times you leave holding an ice cream that befits a child on a diet. Lately, our relationship with BH bikes has been a little like our relationship with our favourite gelaterria.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-75
Lovely lines.

In most instances, the experience has been fulfilling and damn tasty (take for instance our time on board the BH Lynx 4.8 29 – superb!). But we’ve also had experiences that left us wanting just a little more, such as our test of the Lynx 6 Alloy 27.5; a fine bike, but just not as satisfying as we’d hoped.

But now the overly-generous staff member is back on shift, and the BH Lynx 6 27.5 Carbon has left us absolutely stuffed to the gills with tasty trail memories. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-45
6-inches travel, 27.5-inch wheels. Simple.

[divider]Build[/divider]
Don’t be fooled into assuming that the 627 Carbon is just a magic plastic version of the Lynx 6 Alloy we reviewed a month or so ago. The two bikes are chalk and cheese. Where the Lynx 6 Alloy felt a little rough around the edges, the 6 27.5 Carbon is sculpted beauty of a thing, its full carbon frame all curved lines, like someone has stuck 650B wheels onto a dolphin. (Now there’s an interesting concept…). The upper link and pivot hardware are just about the only alloy in the frame, with the bottom bracket shell and headset cups all carbon. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-66
But the differences run far deeper than its sleek carbon skin. Take a closer look at the rear end and you’ll notice the frame/suspension configuration is different too. Whereas the Lynx 6 alloy had a pierced seat tube with the shock located within the frame, the 6 27.5 Carbon is more conventional, with the FOX CTD Factory Series shock positioned in front of the seat tube. Unsurprisingly, the suspension kinematics are quite different on the trail too, but we’ll get into that later.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-80
The frame layout is quite different to the Lynx 4.8 29 or Lynx 6 we’ve tested previously – the shock does not pierce the seat tube.

Dave Weagle is kind of the secret evil genius of the mountain bike industry. He’s got his hands on the levers of many machines, and the Split Pivot suspension system the BH employs is one of his creations. The secret of the design is a concentric pivot around the rear axle which ensures the suspension is uninhibited by braking forces. The rear shock is ‘sandwiched’ between an upper link and the chain stays, so it’s actuated from both ends, and this floating arrangement means suspension forces are not transferred into the main frame. Rear travel is a buttery 150mm, matched with 150mm up front. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-31
Torx fittings for all the pivots ensure everything stays tight.

If you don’t own a full set of Torx keys, hopefully you got a Bunnings gift card for Christmas, as the BH will require a trip to the hardware store – all the suspension pivots use a variety of Torx fittings, rather than Allen keys. While this is a pain in the proverbial, Torx heads are actually a better solution as they’re harder to round out under high torque loads. While our test riding often got loose, the pivots all stayed tight. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-43
Yes, there are many cables. But they’re well managed. We used one single zip tie to keep them silent, and clean routing around the head tube prevents any cable rub.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-16With a remote lockout for the fork and shock, the Lynx 6 27.5 has more cable than Foxtel, but thankfully it’s all neatly managed, with rattle-free internal routing (hooray!) for the derailluers and KS dropper post. The rear brake line is external (double hooray! Overwhelming joy!), as is the rear shock remote cable. The rear shock’s lockout cable does slide backwards and forwards through the cable guides the suspension compresses, which does make us worry about potentially nasty cable rub in wet conditions.

In just about every regard, the BH keeps ticking boxes like a food safety inspector. There’s a press-fit bottom bracket, ISCG mounts, a neat low-stack head tube, and the super neat double-bolt seat post clamp even has a rubber sheath to keep grit out of the frame. You can fit a full-sized water bottle in there, but there’s a catch! Depending on your bottle cage, you may need to file out the cage’s bolt holes in order to sit it further forward; we found the shock’s rebound adjuster just caught on the end of our bottle, turning the rebound dial one click faster with every suspension compression! Thirty seconds with a round file to modify the bottle cage fixed it.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-27
Great lines and graphics.

[divider]Spec[/divider]
BH have listened to rider and media feedback and the 6 27.5 is specced with cockpit and fork that we felt were sorely missing from the Lynx 6 alloy. A 740mm bar and 50mm stem make for an aggressive front end, and the FOX 34 Float fork sweeps your poor line choices under the rug. We’re hoping that all new season FOX forks work as well as this one, because this fork has more sensitivity than an exposed nerve ending – it’s so smooth at the top of the stroke it felt like we had a slow leak in the front tyre. The Kashima coated shock is equally adept, as always.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-32
Almost frictionless performance.

The Stan’s Arch EX wheelset is an interesting choice, being very light, and the rims aren’t as wide as we’d normally see on a bike of this travel. Still, our past experiences with these wheels is that they punch well above their weight and they’re wisely wrapped in a pair of Hans Dampfs, which stick like a smashed moth to a windscreen.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-41
The Arch EX rims are a little narrow for the big Hans Dampf tyres, but these hoops are very tough for their weight.
BH Lynx Carbon 627-26
Confidence-inspiring grip.

Braking, shifting and fishing reel duties are all handled by Shimano, with an XT/XTR combo. A cheaper SLX cassette is also slipped into the mix, but cassettes wear out and you can replace it with a lighter XT cassette in year’s time. As a European brand, the BH is understandably equipped with a double ring drivetrain – the hills are just a lot bigger over there. Even though we’re big fans of a single ring setup, there were times we thankfully slipped into the granny ring on long climbs. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-33
XT brakes with 180mm rotors fore and aft.

Completing the menagerie of cables out front is a KS Lev dropper post, with its neat remote lever smoothly actuating 125mm of adjustment. Along with two shifters, two brakes and remote lock outs for the fork and shock, there are six cables off the bars, but BH have done an admirable job of taming the serpents’ nest and with the addition of just one zip tie we were able to prevent any cable rub. All the cables use a full-length housing too, which should reduce the need for regular maintenance to keep the lockouts, post and shifting working smoothly. With so many levers for your thumbs to hit, we’ll admit that it took us a good ride or two to stop pushing the wrong button occasionally, stiffening the suspension when we really wanted the big ring!

[divider]Ride[/divider]
When we rode the BH Lynx 6 Alloy a couple of weeks ago, we noted the bike’s excellent geometry and the fact that the suspension had the same super lively feel to it as its 29er brother, the Lynx 4.8 29. The genes are strong, and the 6 27.5 has that same ultra-supple, responsive and lively ride quality, but it’s also a far more capable bike when you start pushing harder. 

BH Lynx Carbon 627-64
It feels wrong to treat such a pretty bike so badly… but it loves it.

With the 34mm fork leading the charge, the 6 27.5 is a reckless beast. Thanks to the 50mm stem, your weight is naturally pushed back over the rear axle, encouraging you to keep the front end up and plough over all comers. The Lynx has a very short rear end too, which makes it very easy to pick the bike up, jump or pump through the trails – it’s just really playful.

While we found the Lynx 6 Alloy blew through its travel a little easily, the 6 27.5 offers a more progressive suspension feel. 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.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-48
The Lynx is equipped with a 2×10 drivetrain, which mightn’t be ‘on trend’ but will bring a smile to your face at the end of a big day’s riding.

The 50mm stem on the 6 27.5 definitely adds to the ‘get rad’ factor of the bike and makes it really easy to manoeuvre, but it won’t suit everyone. When climbing up ledges or steep pinches, the short stem does leave the bars right in your lap, so we tried going a little longer. With a 70mm stem fitted, we didn’t feel like the bike gave up much of its playfulness, but there was more front end grip in flat turns and the climbing position was better. It’s a horses for courses thing, and like during your teen years, a bit of experimentation is good.

BH Lynx Carbon 627-9
While we’ve ridden lighter all-mountain bikes (and many much heavier too) the 627 is a steady, grippy climber, preferring a conversational pace. We don’t like to rely on lockouts too much, and we often find them too firm and only suitable for the smoothest surfaces, but we actually found the light tune of the Trail and Climb modes on the 6 27.5 to be really usable. In Trail mode the suspension only stiffens marginally, and even when you push the lever further to engage Climb mode, the suspension becomes just firm enough to resist bobbing under heavy pedalling, but not so firm that you’ll be put through the wringer if you leave it engaged for a descent. 

[divider]Overall[/divider]

This is the all-mountain bike we knew BH had the potential to make, a glamorous (cable nest aside), wicked all-rounder. Those riders with Gravity Enduro aspirations will likely fit a single ring, and for our purposes that would be the only modification we’d likely make in the longer term. But we’re sure that most riders will be completely blown away with the bike as it stands. 

Long Term Tester: Norco Range Carbon 7.2

Only a couple of weeks ago, we got our first in-the-flesh look at the new Norco line up. You can read the detail here, but let’s just say that the Norco of today does not bear much of a resemblance to the Norco of six or seven years ago. It’s like watching a movie and it suddenly dawning that the hottie you’re looking at used to be the 12 year-old kid in Full House. Startling, slightly creepy, but a welcome surprise.

Merely sitting on the bike and admiring its finish through the camera lens was enough to make us say “yes, we want.”

Norco Range 7.1 First Bite-1 One of the stars of the 2015 line up is the Range Carbon 7.2. We didn’t see a lot of these bikes in Australia last year, which was a real bummer. But with the growth of the Gravity Enduro scene, the local distro is bringing in more Range models and in greater numbers for 2015. Most excellent. In truth, we didn’t get a chance to even take the Range 7.2 for a spin during the product launch at Old Hidden Vale. But we didn’t need to. Merely sitting on the bike and admiring its finish through the camera lens was enough to make us say “yes, we want.” The bike just felt perfect when we slung a leg over it, and the weight, spec and finish were brilliant.

Fast forward two weeks of persistent nagging and a big brown box full of carbon, rubber and f#ck-yeah turned up at Flow HQ. The Range 7.2 is a real stunner of a bike. Carbon throughout (chain stays aside), a build kit that challenges you to find something to upgrade, excellent suspension, trail-friendly weight and great angles.

 

Norco Range 7.1 First Bite-4
There’s no front derailleur mount on the Range C 7.2 – single ring only.

While 160mm is generally a little more travel than we’d opt for on our local trails, there are enough rocky, wild descents for us to give the Norco the kind of walloping that it yearns for. And it’ll be an interesting exercise to see how this long-travel machine handles the flatter trails too; we’d normally take a bike like this to the roughest trails in order to assess its abilities, so it’ll be good to have the time on our side to try the whole gamut of trail types and really get its measure as an all-rounder.

First up on the cards for us is to set the bike up tubeless (the Maxxis High Roller IIs are good to go for tubeless use) and maybe lop the bars down a smidgen – at 800mm, they’re maybe 20 or 30mm wider than we’re accustomed to.

Flow’s First Bite: Pyga OneForty650

Pyga 140 First Bite-1

Those familiar with the Australian taxation system will know all about PAYG. But you probably haven’t heard of the far less taxing PYGA!

Pyga are a South African brand, and at the helm is none other than Patrick Morewood, the founder of Morewood Bikes. While Pat and the brand that bears his name have parted ways, he’s put his considerable engineering talent (and knowledge as an elite level DH racer) into an all-new brand.

Pyga 140 First Bite-7

As you’d expect with a racer designing the bike (and if you know anything about Morewood’s heritage), the Pyga range is about function, not form. That’s not to say these aren’t good looking bikes, but there’s a real purposefulness about them – the dual suspension frames have full alloy construction, sensible cable routing, no window dressing. Given that some of the Flow team started riding Morewood bikes back in 2004, it’s fair to say we’ve got a soft spot for Patrick Morewood’s handiwork.

Pyga 140 First Bite-4

But while Morewood bikes were always built around a basic single pivot suspension system, the Pyga range uses a ‘floating shock’ style linkage, which has commonalities with the Trek Full Floater system or the BH bikes we’ve been riding lately. This system offers a lot of control over the shock rate, as well as reducing stresses on the mainframe. It all looks robust, especially the pivot nearest the brake mount, which uses double row bearings to add stiffness to this critical area which cops a lot of force under braking.

Pyga 140 First Bite-8

Pyga 140 First Bite-3

The same suspension configuration is found across the whole Pyga range which features the most logical naming system in the mountain bike world. The range consists of the OneTen29 (110mm travel, 29er), the OneTwenty650 and this bike, the OneForty650. $2 if you guess how much travel it has and what size wheels it uses.

Pyga 140 First Bite-2

Geometry is built around running a slightly longer travel fork (150-160mm), to provide the exact kind of numbers we like to see on this style of bike – 67-degree head angle, 600mm top tube (medium frame) and 430mm chain stays. Our test bike is the importer’s personal ride, so the spec is a mixed bag, but given the Pygas are only available as a frame only in Oz, we’re not going to worry about the parts too much. Safe to say, it’s built up just as we’d want it.

There’ll be a full review coming soon. In the meantime, have a read of a review we did recently of one of Patrick Morewood’s other creations, designed initially when he was still involved at Morewood bikes.

Flow’s First Bite: Rockshox RS-1

The US Air Force just called. They want their fork back.

It’s been a couple of months now since Rockshox lifted the lid on one of their most ambitious projects to date: the RS-1. And when Stan the friendly courier arrived bearing this SRAM fork and wheel box, it was all we could do not to hug him – we have been absolutely hanging to get our hands on this one!

Rockshox RS1-1

Those with a long memory may remember the original RS-1, first launched in 1989. In giving this new, inverted fork the same moniker as their very first mass-produced suspension fork, Rockshox is making a statement – they see this fork as another game changer. But just as it was in the early days of suspension, the RS-1 has attracted equal parts excitement and derision.

Rockshox RS1-10
There’s very little aluminium in the upper half of the RS-1 – the steerer and crown are one piece, with the legs bonded in.

One camp of Internet warriors is in a lather of froth, buzzing about the amazing looks, construction and performance prospects of the RS-1. The other camp are crying, pointing to the price, proprietary hub system and the flex/durability issues that have plagued previous attempts at inverted fork design. We cannot wait to find out the truth of the matter, which lies out there on the trails. But first, let’s take a look at the RS-1 in all its undisputable glory and answer some of the key questions about this unique fork.

Who is it for? With a largely carbon fibre construction, 29er specific design (for now! We’re sure a 27.5” version is in the works), and a weight of 1665g including axle on our scales, the RS-1 is squarely aimed at the cross-country racing and riding crowd. As such, you won’t find the RS-1 in a long travel guise; there are 80mm, 100mm and 120mm options. We opted for a 120mm version, to match the rear end of our Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29 test bike.

Rockshox RS1-19
So smooth! There’s nothing here for mud to cling to. The brake cable guides are neat too.

The gram counters out there will notice that the RS-1 is in fact heavier than the top-end Rockshox SID, by a not insubstantial 50g or so. So if the RS-1 is not all about making the lightest fork possible, what’s the rationale of the inverted design? Well, there are plenty of advantages, though up until now, no one has made a fork that has actually delivered on many of the theoretical up-sides to going upside-down.

Up until now, no one has made a fork that has actually delivered on many of the theoretical up-sides to going upside-down.

In the main, with an inverted design, there is the potential for superior suspension sensitivity. Gravity ensures that the fork seals are constantly bathed in lubricating fluid, which reduces stiction, and the fork bushings are located much closer to the hub axle, which theoretically should reduce suspension binding and friction too.

Rockshox RS1 2-8
The recesses for the axle end caps are huge, giving maximum surface contact.

There are other advantages too, including mud clearance, and the potential for a stiffer, more precise steering fork at a lower overall weight. We put an emphasis on the ‘potential’ because this is the area where inverted mountain bike forks traditionally suffer. Anyone remember the Marzocchi Shiver single-crown fork? It steered like it was made from wet newspaper…

Rockshox RS1 2-5
The Torque Tube is key to the RS-1 design. The whopping 27mm hub axle is locked into the fork with a 15mm Maxle.

 

Overcoming this issue (and the stigma about inverted construction that accompanies it) was one of the key battles that Rockshox faced with the RS-1. The answer they came up with was to make the front hub a more structural component of the fork than ever before. Rockshox term it Predictive Steering, and the RS-1 requires a proprietary hub (yes, we know – another standard). It’s all built around a massively stout 27mm axle that Rockshox have dubbed the Torque Tube. The huge axle slots into deep dropouts and there is a whopping amount of contact between the hub end caps and the fork itself. It’s all then locked in place by a conventional 15mm Maxle.

Rockshox RS1 2-4
Knurling on the axle end caps further aid in the fight against twisting.

We’ve got to say, it’s pretty impressive in the flesh, and it certainly gets us thinking that the hub/fork interface is an area where even conventional forks have room for improvement.

 

One issue that we have seen much discussion about on social media and the frontlines of the forums, is the potential for damage to the fork stanchions. Unlike other inverted designs such as the current Cannondale lefty, the RS-1 does not have a provision to fit any kind of fork guards to ward off rocks. This is one area that we too are worried about; on a conventional fork, the stanchions are fairly protected by your bars in the event of a crash whereas the RS-1’s sliders are much closer to the ground.

Rockshox RS1-5
We do worry about the stanchions being so exposed….

 

Although the fork’s inverted design is the obvious talking point, there’s plenty more that bears discussion. Controlling the fork’s action is a Solo Air spring, which uses the same Bottomless Token system to control the progressiveness of the spring curve as used in the Pike and BoXXer. Fitting more tokens to increase the ramp-up of the spring curve is a simple job and requires no special tools.

The damper is new too. Called the Accelerator, it’s a sealed cartridge damper, and it comes equipped with an XLoc remote lockout lever as standard. The damper doesn’t offer any external low-speed compression adjustment, just low-speed rebound. However, it does feature Rockshox’s excellent Rapid Recovery rebound damping circuit, which helps get the fork out of trouble on big hits that force it deep into its travel.

Rockshox RS1 2-3
Our fork was supplied with a Rise 60 wheel for testing, but SRAM and DT both offer Predictive Steering hubs too.

For our test, we were supplied a Roam 50 front wheel ($680) equipped with the requisite Predictive Steering hub, but SRAM Australia also have the more cross-country oriented Rise 60 wheel to suit ($1250). For those who’d build their own wheel, there’s a hub-only option in 28 and 32-hole drillings ($289). DT Swiss will also be making hubs to suit and we’ll track down pricing prior to our final review.

Trek Fuel Ex 9.9
Our Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29er just got even sexier.

It’s easy to be sceptical about an item like this, with all its hype, expense and fiddly non-standard hub issues. But this is THE leading edge of mountain bike technology, and the proof will be in the muddy pudding of Sydney’s winter trails. Now, we’re going riding.

Flow’s First Bite: BH Lynx 627 Carbon 2015

Now this is a welcome sight; here is the all-mountain bike we knew BH could make. The Lynx 627 carbon is a seriously appealing bike.

Read our final review of the Lynx here.

BH Lynx 627-4
No more pierced seat tube.

Having previously fallen in love with the BH Lynx 4.8 29er, we were a little underwhelmed with some aspects of the BH Lynx 6 which we tested recently. Yes, it rode very well, but when compared to the stunning, curvy construction we’d been treated to with the Lynx 4.8 29, the Lynx 6 felt a bit rough. This new bike more than makes amends in that department! The lines of this bike are seamless.

BH Lynx 627-3

BH Lynx 627-8
The Lynx 627 Carbon uses the Dave Weagle design Split Pivot system. Shimano XT dominates the spec, with an XTR rear mech.

The Lynx 627 is not just a carbon version of the Lynx 6, but features a completely revised suspension layout. Gone is the funky arrangement that saw the shock piercing the frame, with the shock now located vertically in front of the seat tube. Taking a look at the geometry chart, the slack head angle (67-degrees) and short stays (425mm) have instant appeal, but we’ll see how those figures translate to the trail.

BH have specced an appropriately aggressive cockpit and fork too, with a FOX 34 up front. The 627 carries over the remote front/rear lockouts we saw on the Lynx 6. Undoubtedly they’re a useful addition, but they do somewhat disrupt the bike’s clean look. We’re sure we’ll get used to them!

Expect a full review soon, we’re really looking forward to this one!

 

Flow’s First Bite: Scott 2015 Range Tested

After previewing the oh-so-lovely Scott 2015 range in Melbourne, it was time to lift the altitude to lung burning levels, throw in some relaxing chairlifts, endless dusty singletrack, a seven foot wild moose and the golden opportunity to test any 2015 Scott bike we wanted. We were in Deer Valley, Utah for some seriously intensive bike testing.

With singletrack galore at our glove tips, Flow’s Mick Ross took a hit for the team in the name of journalism and put time on both wheel size Scott Sparks, a 27.5″ Genius and its bigger brother the Genius LT, and lastly the all-new highly adjustable 27.5″ wheeled Gambler downhill bike.

Scott 2015 tested 1
Deer Valley, just out of Park City in Utah was a damn fine place to burn some brake pads and test the limits of the new Scott range.

[divider]Scott Spark[/divider]

Scott offer wheel size as an option, meaning the exact bike is available in either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels, which could be a headache for smaller markets like Australia, with bike stores and the distributors managing double options for the Scale, Spark and Genius models. This is an interesting moment for the bike industry – along with Scott, Specialized, Trek and Lapierre also offer the same bike in two wheel sizes, whilst some brands (like Giant) on the other hand have wholly adopted the 27.5″ wheel across their entire range of mountain bikes.

Regardless, rhe 29″ Sparks have slightly less suspension travel front and back (100mm) than the 27.5″ Spark (120mm) to play to the strengths the larger wheel  We are seeing it more and more these days, where brands are helping the consumer decide on the wheel size by relating the decision to frame size. Below is a graph that Scott use to communicate the ‘sizes for sizes’ concept – food for thought, anyhow.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.50.42 pm
Wheelsize as an option is confusing for some, but also adds more choice. Communicating the benefits to the consumer is the hard part.

Slight shock tune changes and new spec choices aside, next season’s Spark remains largely the same as the 2014 version but we were eager to spend time on them anyhow as we hold them very high on our list of preferred bikes for cross country . We seized the opportunity to take the Spark 700 Tuned and Spark 900 Tuned, the top level Spark identical in spec, size medium, in both wheel sizes out for a good old back-to-back wheel size comparison on a short and punchy test loop. Same tyres, same everything. Trying to forget any pre-existing opinions of the wheel size debate, we approached it like it was our first time.

Scott 2015 tested 13
High up above the tree line, where an adaptable and lightweight bike is a real joy.

Highlights of the 27.5″ Spark.

  • Heightened agility; The quick nature of the smaller diameter wheels translates perfectly into the Spark’s lightweight, flickable and spritely frame with crazy fast results.
  • Loves ripping around tight turns; Into and out of a slow corner, or tight squeeze between trees, the 27.5″ Spark jumps back up to speed with incredible responsiveness.
  • Promotes playful riding and jumping; Feeling a lot like the older 26″ wheeled Spark, this guy doesn’t mind a bit of airtime, manuals/wheelies or popping into the air and landing where you planned to with real predictability.
Scott 2015 tested 8
The 120mm 27.5″ wheel Spark.

Favourite aspects of the 29″ Spark.

  • Stable and comfortable; The bigger wheel – especially up front – gave us a reassuring feeling that there was more between us and the ground than with the 27.5″ Spark.
  • Loads of traction; When cornering, braking or turning the 29er exhibited more contact with the dirt, and hence increased traction.
  • Maintains speed like a perpetual motion machine; When you get moving, the Spark 29er stays moving. The bigger wheels love to be wound up and let go, maintaining speed is a real forte and very noticeable compared to its smaller wheel brother.
  • Scott 2015 tested 9
    The 100mm travel 29″ wheel Spark.

What would we choose, 27.5″ or 29″?

  • If your frame size is smaller, the 27.5″ makes sense regardless, and the same goes for a larger rider with the 29″ bike suiting best.
  • If you’re a medium size frame like we are, it’s time to give it real thought. Fun, or efficient? Not that either can’t be fun or efficient, they each have a strengths, not weaknesses.
  • Marathon or endurance races will be fantastic aboard a 29er, where the distance is gobbled up by the big rolling wheels. Also, for less-experienced riders, the confidence and sure-footedness of a bigger wheel is valuable.
  • If your trails are tighter, races shorter, or the reason you ride is pure fun, the smaller wheeled Spark won’t resist that hooligan within you coming out. It shall let you dart about the place pulling wheelies and pumping around the trails at crazy pace.

[divider]Genius[/divider]

It’s hard not to love the Scott Genius, with its category leading lightweight frame and the proven Twinloc system controlling an adaptable, supple and sensitive 150mm of rear suspension. It’s a real winner, plus since the move to FOX rear shocks last year, they just got more favourable in our books.

Like the shorter travel Spark, the Genius comes in two flavours, 27.5″ or 29″ with a few of models to choose from $3500 – $6300 in aluminium and carbon. We spent a great deal of time on the Genius 700 Tuned, the cream of the crop model, dripping in the finest components, and constructed from Scott’s HMX highest grade carbon magic material.

Scott 2015 34
The Genius. Smart.

On the trail, the Genius doesn’t ride like a lot of the other 150mm bikes, like the Trek Slash, Lapierre Zesty, or a Giant Trance SX for example. The Genius swings more toward the theme of a long legged trail bike, rather than a mega plush, slack ground-hugging bike, with a combination of sharper angles, upright seating position, and a suspension rate that feels firm and supported. Frame geometry is adjustable via a tiny and unobtrusive reversible chip at the bottom shock mount, which allows a little bit of an ‘attitude adjustment’; we ran it in the low/slack setting, but would opt for steeper head angled if the riding was to be dominated by tighter, slower trails or more climbing.

Scott insist on speccing a 32mm legged fork on the Genius, we’d love to see a 35mm leg RockShox Pike, or a FOX 34mm legged fork up front for a little bit more front end rigidity and confidence when turning the bike under brakes.

After spending time on the Spark and Genius LT we gravitated back to the 27.5″ Genius. It’s just so capable everywhere, up the climbs, down them and anything in between. It’s a true all-mountain bike, capable of letting you explore and ride anything. If you’re always travelling, or riding new trails, the Genius would be that perfect bike for arriving at a trail unseen, you will never be under gunned or over prepared.

Scott 2015 38
FOX and Scott have headquarters nearby each other in Switzerland, hence the collaboration with their proprietary rear shock, the Nude.
Scott 2015 tested 51
The Genius may not be the slackest 150mm bike in its category, but you could mix it up in a marathon race, as it is so efficient.

[divider]Genius LT[/divider]

Rejoice! The Scott Genius LT is coming to Australia. We’ll soon see three models ranging from $4799 for the Genius LT 720, up to the model we tested here, the Genius LT 700 Tuned for $8999.

The Genius LT, is a big rig. With a whopping 170mm of travel, big rubber and a healthy dose of burly components, this is the bike Scott’s enduro racers use. The Genius LT personifies enduro in every aspect, it’s a big rig capable of riding the roughest, steepest and fastest trails around the world. Be warned though, it needs real terrain and elevation to make the most of it. After seeking out the steepest and roughest black diamond trails in Deer Valley, we never got close to finding the upper limits of this mighty capable bike. But, we still got a very good idea what it is all about.

What the Genius LT does well is squashing a whole lot of gravity loving attitude and components into a super efficient riding bike. Just like the regular Genius and the Spark, it uses the Twinloc suspension, which does much more than lock out the suspension via a remote lever. The instant you hit that Twinloc lever, the bike jumps up, the suspension firms up and you get a real boost. It really feels like you’ve been given a push.

The frame geometry is also quite tuneable, an interchangeable headset is included with the Genius LT, and the lower rear shock mount is reversible too, to give the rider a healthy dose of options to tweak the bike to excel in the climbs, slower, faster or steeper terrain with some trial and error experimenting.

Scott 2015 tested 15
The big fella. Genius LT, which stands for long travel. 170mm of it.

[divider]Voltage[/divider]

Don’t get too excited yet, the Voltage ain’t coming to Australia. But maybe if we hassle the Scott distributor enough they may be able to put a special order in, or we’ll see them next year at least. Call it a freeride bike or a mini downhill bike, this guy would actually be a suitable choice for many downhill races at regional level.

Like a scaled down version of a downhill race bike, this chunky bike boasts a coil shock with a whopping 170-190mm of travel. It’s adjustable in its geometry and travel by reversing the lower shock mount, so it can be just as at home in the bike park throwing down tricks and jumps, or slacken it off for some higher speed downhill racing.

Scott 2015
Big improvements too the Voltage. Stiffer, adjustable, and compatible with 27.5″ and 26″ wheels.

[divider]Gambler[/divider]

The final test we did on the 2015 Scott rigs was the biggest, baddest bike in the range: the all-new Gambler. Up a wheel size for 2015 but that’s not all, with the frame completely different in almost every single aspect. The Gstaad-Scott team were racing these bikes at the Cairns World Cup in April this year, but went unnoticed as from a far looks a lot like the 26″ version.

Scott 2015 tested 31

The downhill tracks at Deer Valley were a pretty good test for the Gambler, with frightening rock gardens and heart stoppingly steep chutes everywhere. The Gambler loved it all, and confirmed our love for the 27.5″ wheel on a downhill bike. For example, take your average rock garden – just stay off the brakes, and you instantly notice that the wheels don’t get as hung up on the edges, or fall into holes. A bigger wheel is always going to help that, but when you put a big tyre on a 27.5″ wheel, you’re unstoppable.

We quickly became confident, and after a couple runs we were hitting the rock gardens at full pelt, smashing the bike into the sharpest, ugliest rocky straights we’ve ridden in ages. The Gambler is also dead quiet, the thud of the tyres is all you really hear when descending. That has always given us a little bit of a extra confidence boost, if the bike is silent the harder we will push.

Is big too big? With advice from the guys at Scott, we opted to run the Gambler in the shortest wheelbase setting, and highest bottom bracket mode. Then we lowered the fork crowns as low as possible, sharpening the head angle even further. Still, we found the Gambler to be a mighty stable, long and confident ride.

With a massive adjustability range from a 61° – 65° head angle and a chain stay length that is adjustable from 422 – 440mm, in the right hands it could be fine tuned to suit such a wide variety of terrain. Plus you can fit 26″ wheels into the frame, and then tweak the geometry to suit the smaller wheels, nifty!

The rear suspension is so incredibly supple off the top of the stroke, it helps the wheels glue to the dirt and the tyres maintain contact with the loose surface as you bounce around. Sure the tyres are great, but the traction that such a supple suspension feeling gives this bike is unreal.

Scott 2015 tested 48
Adaptability, traction and stability. The Gambler is a monster.
Scott 2015 tested 49
The high pivot (above the bottom bracket) is the key to the Gamblers rock-gobbling hunger.

 

 

In all, we found the revisions to the popular Spark, Genius and Genius LT to be a small but good step in the right direction. The Gambler is amazing, and is surely going to make for a capable and fast downhill bike for the gravity crowd. Fingers crossed the Voltage will land on our shores one day, as we’d love to hit up some freeride lines and big jumps on the downhill tracks over here.

Keep your eyes out for the full range on http://www.scott-sports.com soon.

Tested: Yeti 575 27.5

When Yeti’s 575 disappeared from the Colorado-based brand’s range a couple of year ago, the crew here at Flow were devastated. We rank it right up there with the disappearance of Scribbler ice blocks in the disappointment stakes. But then, like a leader in exile, the 575 made a glorious return, and while it was away it underwent a fantastic transformation.
Yeti 575 27-23
The 2014 575 is proof that a classic bike can be modernised, without damaging its original appeal – something that few remakes ever achieve (VW Beetle, we’re looking at you).
[divider]Build[/divider]
Yeti 575 27-18
Unmistakable.
The 575 retains its unmistakable profile and simple, effective suspension configuration, but the ‘old-school’ 26” wheels have been upsized to 27.5”, the spring curve has been changed to provide more mid-stroke support, the formerly carbon seat stays are now alloy, and there’s internal dropper post routing amongst a host of other tweaks.
Yeti 575 27-4
With the move to 27.5” wheels, the geometry was also brought in for a nip and tuck too; Yeti slackened the head angle (now 67 degrees) and slightly lengthened the front-centre measurement too, in line with the trend towards long top-tubes / short stems. But 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.
Yeti 575 27-3
Compared to the new-wave suspension designs that abound on the most modern Yetis (check out the new Infinity design here), the single pivot 575 is like a blast from the past. The seat stay drives a swing link, which deliver 5.75” /146mm travel from a FOX CTD damper. It’s a reliable, proven design. While there are some drawbacks to this simple system, it has the benefits of being easy to understand and maintain, it’s relatively lightweight, is cost effective to produce and works bloody well in most trail situations. Sometimes, with so much development emphasis and marketing directed at suspension configurations, it’s nice to ride a bike that reminds us there’s more to a good bike than a fancy wheel path.
Yeti 575 27-8
Lovely machine work! The swing link design is many years old now, but it just continues to work so well.
As we’ve always found with the 575, the sizing runs a little tall, with a long seat tube and fairly high handlebar position relative to the reach. For shorter riders, (especially with a 150mm fork fitted) the bar position may be a bit high, so switching to a headset with a lower stack height or running a negative rise stem might be the trick.
Yeti 575 27-14
The main pivot uses a double row of bearings. It’s not the stiffest Yeti we’ve ridden, but it’s more than up to the job.
As a bike that instantly appeals to the traditionalists, it’s nice to see that the 575 still fits a water bottle within the mainframe, a feature that is missing from the new crop of Yetis. Tyre clearance is a little tight but up to a 2.35” should clear with minimal rub in the corners. We were running the massive Schwalbe Hans Dampf on the rear and we did notice a bit of scuffing where the tyres had rubbed on the seat stays.
Yeti 575 27-16
Tyre clearance is a little tight, and under hard cornering the tyre did occasionally rub on the seat stays.

[divider] Spec[/divider]

Yeti 575 27-22
For a classic bike, our build kit was anything but, with a suite of sweet all-mountain components. 2014 will be remembered as the year that SRAM dominatde the all-mountain / Enduro segment, and the 575 gets a Reverb post, X01 drivetrain and superb Rockshox Pike fork, along with a set of Elixir brakes. We opted to encase the Easton wheels with meaty Schwalbe rubber, which may have done us no favours in terms of rolling speed but gave the 575 cornering and braking traction like a cat on a billiard table.
Yeti 575 27-12
Easton and Thomson finishing kit is a nice touch.
As befits such a nice bike, the cockpit gets a Thompson stem and carbon Easton bar. We’d prefer to see a headset with a lower stack height, just to give riders the option of getting lower up front.
The 575 is available with a range of different build kits, none of which we’d call low-end, so you can really make this bike as light and Gucci as your wallet will allow. Our bike clocked in at $5600 and 12.62kg.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Having spent a lot of time on previous versions of this bike, getting back onto the 575 was kind of like dropping by to visit grandma’s house…after she’d died and someone else has moved in. It smells the same, but the taffeta curtains are gone and there’s now a modern flat screen TV.
Yeti 575 27-20
It’s a seriously familiar feeling bike; the top tube length isn’t rangy like many new all-mountain bikes, there aren’t any funky on-the-fly shock adjusters on the bars, you’ve got a spot for your water bottle. It’s just so easy to get along with!
Getting the suspension balance right with the 575 has been a bit of challenge in years past; the suspension design tended to blow though the middle portion of the travel quite easily. For 2014, Yeti really focused on creating a more progressive ride, and for the most part they’ve succeeded, with the bike sitting higher in the suspension stroke and not bottoming out as readily. We did still ultimately end up running a tad less sag than usual (more like 20% than the usual 25%) in order to get the front and rear suspension to work as a team. Taking the time to get it right makes all the difference.
The 150mm travel Pike is pretty much cheating.
The 150mm travel Pike is pretty much cheating.
Putting a Pike on the front of a bike is like having four or five beers before you hit the disco – it imbues you with so much confidence you’d swear you were the best rider/dancer in existence. With a slacker head angle than previous versions, the monstrous contact patch of the Schwalbe front tyre AND the Pike, the 575 is now far more adept at running things over than in the past. The improved front/rear balance helps keep the bike on a more even keel too, when you get in too deep, the bike doesn’t find itself all bottomed-out and out of shape.
With an X01 drivetrain fitted, the 575 was deadly quiet.
With an X01 drivetrain fitted, the 575 was deadly quiet.
Unlike more modern suspension designs, the 575 doesn’t exactly rocket forward when you mash the pedals. Out of the saddle sprints can set the rear suspension bobbing unless you rely on the shock’s CTD lever to keep the monkey motion to a minimum. We were disinclined to use the Trail mode on the rear shock in most cases, finding it a bit firm, especially as the fork is so freakishly plush. It’s not really a ‘sprinty’ kind of bike, favouring a more consistent kind of pedalling. Spin and win.
Just like the Yeti man, you've got confidence to let it all hang out on the 575.
Just like the Yeti man, you’ve got confidence to let it all hang out on the 575.
For an alloy bike, the 575 is remarkably quiet. Partly this is due to the stable X01 drivetrain, but the clean, rattle-free cable routing plays a roll, as does the bike’s overall suspension smoothness. When it comes to eagerly slurping up the bumps, the effectiveness of the 575 does make you wonder how some more complicated designs really stack up in the complication/effectiveness ledger.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Yeti 575 27-1
With its full alloy construction, the 575 makes it more affordable than ever to own a Yeti full suspension bike – still, we’d shudder to use the term ‘price point’ with reference to this great machine. The 575 proves to us that a classic can be reinvented, reformed and evolved without losing any of its original vibe. The fact that this bike continues to be real performer does also subtly call into question how much development is actually genuine progress, versus mere sideways stepping. As a long-legged trail bike, or a mellow all-mountain steed, the 575 is still as relevant, capable and desirable as ever.

Tested: Stages Power Meter

If you’re an avid racer, tech head, or if you’re the kind of rider who’s fond of a shave down and a macchiato at the local café while talking about carbon and KOMs, then you’re also probably familiar with Watts, power-to-weight ratios and functional threshold power. But if you’re like most mountain bikers, the world of ‘power’ is probably something you’ve never delved into.

In part, the absence of knowledge about using power as a tool for training/racing in mountain biking has been due to a lack of real power meter options that are suitable for mountain bike use. But that may be about to change.

Stages Power Meter-3
From this side, the Stages sticker is the only inkling you’d have that the bike is running a power meter.

Unlike heart rate, your power output is not affected by heat, caffeine, sleep, illness, stress etc – therefore, it’s a far more ‘pure’ measure of effort.

Power is a proven and effective way of measuring your efficiency and strength on a bike. We’re all familiar with the concept of monitoring our heart rate as a way of training effectively, but power is a far better measure – knowing your heart rate zones (or spew threshold if you keep it old-school) is all well and good, but if you’re not moving the bike or draining the tank then knowing your heart rate doesn’t equate to much. Unlike heart rate, your power output is not affected by heat, caffeine, sleep, illness, stress etc – therefore, it’s a far more ‘pure’ measure of effort.

Roadies and serious mountain bike racers training on the road have been using power data and power specific training for a long time now. However with all the big name power companies so focused on road, the options for using power meters on mountain bikes have been few (not to mentioned incredibly expensive). In addition the focus on the road market has meant that the power meters available in the market have not always been suitable to the demands that mountain biking puts on equipment (mud, water, crashes etc).

Stages Power Meter-9

Enter stage left (get it…?) the Stages Power Meter crank, the first power meter solution that we feel is truly appropriate for mountain bikers.

We all know that the first component (in terms of leverage) in the transfer of leg power to rubber is the crank, so it makes perfect sense to use this as the point of power measurement. While other meters take their measurement either at the rear axle, pedal axle or crank spider, Stages have kept it simple and measure the strain/force applied to the non-drive side crank via a low-profile unit that is bonded to the crank arm and houses an array of sensors to measure crank flex (NB. You don’t attach the unit yourself – you purchase the whole crank arm assembly).The whole system adds about 20 grams to your bike, and because you’re simply replacing the crank arm, it takes about five minutes of your time to install, calibrate and sync with your bike computer. The meter itself seems bizarrely simple from the outside. It just looks like a plastic box, with a simple port to allow you to replace the battery.

Stages Power Meter-13
The Stages meter won’t work on a carbon crank arm, so if you’re an XX1 user you’ll need to use an X9 Stages meter.

The simplicity of using the non-drive crank provides multiple benefits, including the fact that the unit can easily be transferred between bikes. The Stages unit also serves to measure your cadence too, which isn’t so important on the mountain bike, but which is handy for the roadies. With the power meter running both ANT+ and Bluetooth communications you can sync it your GPS/head-unit or smart phone and if you have an iPhone you can run the Stages app, which also enables firmwear updates for the meter. There’s no Android app yet, but it’s on the way.

So, does it work? We fitted the Stages meter to our cross-country race bike to find out. Our test bike runs XX1, with carbon cranks. While carbon is light and stiff, it’s not predictable enough for use with the Stages system as it doesn’t flex in a uniform manner. This means that XX1 users will need to run an X9 Stages meter, with an alloy non-driveside crank. Much to our joy, this mismatched setup only adds 40g to the bike, which was a real surprise given the price premium for an XX1 crank over an X9 crank!

Stages Power Meter-5
The meter does protrude around 15mm off the crank arm which can cause clearance issues on some frames.

Having the ability to review our power output on the fly makes a huge difference for both training and racing.

We’ve been running a Stages X9 crank on the Flow rocket ship for a while now in preparation for the race season and the inaugural Port to Port and we can happily say that we have been mightily impressed. Having the ability to review our power output on the fly makes a huge difference for both training and racing. This was highlighted particularly during the Port to Port MTB stage race when our heart rate monitor stopped working, yet the power data meant that we could continue to monitor how much work was being done and how much effort could be sustained on the long flat sections of the race without blowing up.

Stages Power Meter-7

While there have been some reports of the Stages power meters faltering in wet weather, we can report that we have had zero problems. In fact, through all the mud, sand and salt water of Port to Port, the Stages power meter was one of the only elements on the bike that didn’t need attention. We’re talking near complete submersion in salt water here!

Port-to-Port-Day-2-411
The Port to Port stage race was a really good test of the Stages unit – mud and water galore!

In fact, the only attention that the Stages needs at all on a (semi) regular basis is periodic recalibration or ‘zeroing’ to ensure it remains 100% accurate, which is done via your head unit (in our case, a Garmin 510). This isn’t necessarily vital though, but it does ensure 100% accuracy of the power readings.

Suffice to say we have been mightily impressed with the Stages Power meter. Its strength is in its apparent simplicity and robust construction, allowing mountain bikers to finally have the same training and racing information that was once limited to the pros. We have the power!

 

Side note: While testing the Stages Power meter we did hear of other users having issues with battery life, however we did not come across this on our X9 crank. When discussing the issue with Stages, they informed us that they had addressed the problem via a firmware update that can be transferred over Bluetooth to your power meter via your iPhone Stages app. While this app is not presently available for Android, it’s in the works.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: 2015 Giant Reign Advanced 0

Giant has just re-birthed their much loved Reign and it’s a meaner beast than ever, a genetically enhanced freak of all-mountain awesomeness; 160mm-travel, 27.5″ wheels and carbon construction. It also looks good, with maybe the best graphics of any Giant mountain bike to date.

But what does it ride like? That’s the big question. As an executive summary – it’s really good.

At the recent 2015 launch of the Reign (and Glory) Flow got to spend a couple of days on the trails of Pemberton, Canada. It proved a great testing ground to develop some initial thoughts on the performance of the bike. Riding for two days isn’t long enough to a really get a good feel, but it is just long enough to get a taste of wanting more. And more we want.

[divider]The Bike[/divider]

Giant Reign in Pemberton, BC, July 2014

With the rise and rise of Enduro racing, long travel, slack angles, and aggressive geometry are the flavour of the year; with angles more akin to downhill rigs of yesteryear, you could easily excuse yourself for thinking that everything old is indeed new again. However what this new breed of aggressive bikes have when compared to their downhill ancestors is ride-ability, and more importantly, usability.

The Giant is no exception to that rule. With a 65 degree head angle and 160mm of travel it could be considered more suited to downhill shuttles than trail riding however we found the bike handled lengthy rides and all-mountain adventures with ease. We got to prove that very fact with one epic heli-drop adventure up, down and around the massive peaks of Pemberton.

At the core of the new Reign is an all-new frame and highly revised geometry. Longer, lower, slacker and shorter in the rear end is a quick summary of the new bike and the numbers add up to something that really is designed to go downhill. Even though the Reign now comes with larger wheels it’s shorter in the chainstays the the previous 26″ version, which makes it easier to move around corners and lift the now longer front end. That roomier cockpit and longer front-end can make any bike a slug to handle on flatter corners and Giant has attempted to alleviate this with a custom 46mm offset Pike. We actually found less “push” on the flatter turns than we expected.

The suspension design is the ever effective Maestro set up and Giant don’t look to be changing that platform any time soon. Adding to the performance of the system is the incorporation of a bearing on the upper shock mount which Giant says benefits small bump performance.

A big change, and it’s across the whole range, is the loss of Overdrive 2. Once marketed to us as the best-thing-since-sliced-bread to increase front end stiffness, it’s now gone.  Maybe it was true and the benefits where real, but the industry didn’t follow and Giant was left without a lot of choice given the absence of after market stems to suit the size.

The last point we’d like to mention is the aesthetics. The bike looks REALLY good. It has large, bold tubes and graphics, and really neat and functional internal cable routing. We just wish the prettiness of the cable routing was backed up by an absence of cable rattle, but unfortunately this isn’t the case (nothing that a piece of foam won’t fix thought!)

 

[divider]The Build[/divider]

Of course we were thrown the top of the range model! At such a high price point you’d expect some quality spec, and the Reign Advanced 0 Team won’t let you down. Suspension is taken care of by Rock Shox (no FOX out back, which is a surprise) with a custom 46mmm offset 160mm Pike handing the front end, and a Monarch Plus out back. Both performed really well during our riding and only after a 10km rocky and rough downhill on a hot day did we notice the rear shock starting to heat up and speed up a fraction.

The 50mm stem and 780mm bar combo was great and even though that bar length is a little wider than we normal run it was easy to get used to.  It is great to see a bike pretty much set-up how we’d run it, right out of the box. The only thing we didn’t like about the cockpit was the grips. We’ve never liked them, but that’s personal preference.

SRAM goodness takes care of all the shifting and we’ve written at length about how well the XX1 set-up works. No issues and great performance were experienced from the XX1 gear, but you wouldn’t expect any after only two days. The Reign does have a direct mount port for a front derailleur if you’re so inclined, but we’d love to have seen Giant ditch it as an option all together for supremely clean lines.

Our test bike had two differences from the OEM spec: the tyres and the brakes. The Giant Advanced 0 Team will come with the Schwable combo of Hans Dampf out back and Magic Mary front and from our experience they will be great. Our bikes also had Avid Codes but the final spec will be the new Guide brakes which we’re yet to experience and so can’t comment on their performance.

 

[divider]The Ride[/divider]

Giant in Pemberton, British Columbia, July 2014

Over two days we rode the bike on a mix of trails; from scree slopes straight out of any freeride film, to dry and loose soil, to baby head fields of doom – we rode it all. Our first impressions? It is a downhill beast. It sucks up the worst of it and gives confidence to let off the brakes a little more. We actually were able to ride the Reign side-by-side with the new Glory, and while it’s not quite up to the 200mm-travel performance of its bigger sibling it was just speed that was lost, not ability to navigate the terrain comfortably. We can easily say that this bike would be able to handle 99% of trails in Australia.

But all that downhill ability must come at a cost right? Well, we didn’t notice any.  Sure, it’s not World Cup XCO machine on the climbs but riding the Reign up hills never felt difficult and with the suspension adjustments front and back the geometry was easily changed to something a little more climb friendly. Just drop the Dual Position fork a little lower, and flick the easy-to-reach shock lever.

Cornering was great with a sub-340mm bottom bracket height really helped to keep traction through the turns. A few times we smashed our pedals,  but that was only when pushed through all the travel on trails littered with baby-heads. Any bike with a low bottom bracket will need more attention in that department.

Overall the ride was great, and the super descending abilities were’t to the detriment of an excellent all-mountain ride.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Giant in Pemberton, British Columbia, July 2014
The Reign Advanced 0 Team was a great bike and rode over and across anything. We can’t wait to see how it goes downunder.

We really need to spend more time on the Reign, and we expect that we will. So far it’s proved to be an amazing re-birth of an old workhorse and a bike that really starts to blur the lines between downhill and all-mountain when it comes to descending, but which somehow retains genuine all-round usability. Only a few negatives for us: for the price we’d love to have seen some carbon wheels on the Reign 0, we still don’t like Giant grip or the rattly cables, but that’s it. The price tag of the Reign Advanced 0 Team will keep it in the realms of impossibility for many, however the exact same platform extends down to lower spec and price levels. If you’re after a longer travel bike for all-mountain riding, Enduro racing or even as lightweight downhiller you can still take out all day, the Reign has to be on your shortlist. We’re adding it to ours.

 

Tested: Shimano CM-1000 Sport Camera

Shimano’s first foray into the world of wearable video cameras is the creatively named CM-1000 Sport Camera. You use it to film sports, apparently. Luckily, its name is just about the only criticism we’ve got of this excellent, petite and simple new entrant to this highly competitive arena. We’ve been using this little guy for two months now.

Shimano Sport Camera-4
The petite CM-1000, fitted here with a GoPro mount for on-helmet use.

The Sport Camera (jeeeeez….) is tiny, lightweight, low-profile and water-proof to a depth you’ll never need when mountain biking. With dimension no bigger than box of matches, its size is obviously one of its great attributes – at 86g you don’t notice the additional weight on your helmet, and if you’re creative with your mounts it’s miniature enough to fit just about anywhere. Speaking of mounts, the Sport Camera uses the same mounting standard as GoPro, which means there are dozens of accessories and aftermarket mounting options available. The camera’s size and shape also makes it easy to use handheld, which is cool if you want to use it off the bike.

Shimano Sport Camera-13
The LED lights on the top side of the camera indicate battery life and SD card memory upon start up, and then switch to indicating recording mode. Without a display, you’ll need to learn what the various LEDs mean.

The downside of this camera being so small is that there’s no display panel on the camera itself, just a pair of LED lights to inform you of battery life, SD card memory and filming mode. You can toggle between different filming resolutions simply by pressing the ‘Mode’ button, but for more fundamental adjustments (such as changing the filming width or viewing/deleting files) you’ll need to use the Sport Camera app which is available for Apple or Android devices.

You'll need to use the smart phone app to access all the camera's settings.
You’ll need to use the smart phone app to access all the camera’s settings.

Using the app is pretty simple – the camera creates a Wifi signal which you connect to with your phone.  The app then gives you a live view (perfect for making angle adjustments when the camera is helmet mounted) the ability to view recorded files, deleted unwanted clips, view remaining memory/battery life, make adjustments to the lens angle (135 or 170-degree), change the still image shooting size and much more.

Shimano camera menu

As easy as the app is to use, getting your phone out on the trail is a bit of a pain. We tended to use the app at the start of a ride to get the camera position dialled, then leave it well alone. Syncing the camera to the app will accelerate battery drain too, just another reason to set-and-forget.

The camera can be set to record with either a wide (135 degree) or super wide (170 degree) lens angle. They both deliver a good picture, but the 170 degree does obviously tend to give you a bit more of a fish-bowl effect with the action at the edge of screen appearing a bit distorted. Our preference was the 135 degree setting.

The lens can capture the action in either 135 or 170 degree modes.
The lens can capture the action in either 135 or 170 degree modes.

You also have the option of three different frame rates / resolutions; Full HD 1080p/3ofps, HD 720p/120fps, or a lower resolution 240fps. Our preference was for the Full HD mode (even though 30 fps is a little average), but those slow-mo addicts will love the 120fps at 720p. Those hell bent on the big screen will notice that there isn’t a 4K recording option, but given that most people are using these cameras for web-only films, we don’t see this as a negative. There is a still photo option too, which at 6 megapixels isn’t up to same resolution as offered by the category leading GoPro (12MP) and the Shimano camera does lack a burst mode for photos.

Along with its size, the simplicity of operation is a real strong point for this camera. The record button is easy to find with gloved hands, being right in the middle of the unit, and the recording start/stop is signalled clearly with a loud two beeps for recording, five beeps for stopping recording. If you’re the kind of person who likes to run multiple mounts (say, one on your helmet, one on your fork leg) the Shimano cam makes life easy by automatically rotating the image to suit the camera orientation as well.

TestShimanoCamera-7

In terms of recording, the camera uses a Micro SD card (not supplied), which is becoming more common nowadays and the files are .MOV, so no unusual software is needed for conversion. One point of note is that battery is non-removable, which is a bugger should you wish to use the camera for a longer period of time without access to a charger. Shimano claim the battery will deliver around two hours of recording time, and we’ve got no reason to doubt them. We’ve left the camera on in standby mode for longer than that while riding and we’re yet to run out of battery on the trail.

With the inexorable march of electronics into mountain biking, the CM-1000 is ahead of the curve. The camera can be synced with ANT+ sensors (cadence, speed, power etc) and will also hook up with a Shimano Di2 shifting system, so you can overlay all kinds of geeky information about your performance over your footage!

Shimano Sport Camera-16

All up, the Shimano Sport Camera is a really good option is this stacked, competitive market. The non-removable battery, reliance upon an external app for some adjustments and restricted still photo recording are all crosses, but the size, simplicity, ease of use and good picture quality are big ticks. Ultimately, it’s a very refined offering for Shimano’s first foray into this field.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Traverse SL Fattie Wheels

Specialized are the latest entrant into the growing market of wide-bodied carbon wheels, rolling a set of the new Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheels Flow’s way last week. These extra fat hoops are available in 29 and 27.5″ – we’ve got the smaller size on hard for review.

Specialized Traverse Fattie 2

When it comes to ‘in-house’ wheels, Specialized’s Roval wheel line up is really leading the way (along with Bontrager, who also have a seriously impressive range of in-house wheels for Trek), especially with regard to carbon mountain bike wheels. We’ve had very pleasant experiences with Roval wheels in the past, including the Roval Control 29 Carbon wheels. These new Fatties are the A380 of the Roval range – the biggest, baddest and widest hoops in the line-up, with an internal width of 30mm.

Why so wide? The concept of a wide rim has been growing in popularity steadily over the past few years (in mountain biking and road riding too). A wider rim offers more support to the tyre, allowing lower pressure and consequently more traction, with less of the negative effects of tyre roll that you’d encounter with a narrower rim. Here at Flow we’re also currently testing the Ibis 741 rims, which take this concept even further than the Rovals, with an internal width of 35mm.

Specialized Traverse Fattie 8

It goes without saying that the Traverse SL Fattie wheels are meant for aggressive riding and big rubber – they’re standard fare on Specialized’s S-Works Enduro models for 2015. Even still, the weight of these things is incredibly impressive. Our set, configured with a Shimano freehub body, valve stems and rim tape, weighs in at just 1571g!

Specialized Traverse Fattie 10

Taking a quick look at the other stand out features, the Fatties use a hookless bead construction (the rim does not have a traditional bead hook) which makes for a more impact resistant profile and also gives the tyre more volume. The freehub mechanism uses DT’s Star Ratchet system, while the front hub can be configured for 15mm or 20mm axles. Colour matchers out there will rejoice that the rims are supplied with three different sets of decals, so you can pimp your ride. Of course these wheels are also ready for tubeless use, fitted with a simple tape system to seal up the rim bed. Specialized Traverse Fattie 11

 

As well as coming a 29″ variant, the Fatties are also available in an lower-priced alloy version too which come in at around 160g heavier for the set. We’ll be fitting these rims to a variety of bikes in the coming weeks. We’ve also got a set of the new 27.5″ Specialized Purgatory tyres for review too, so we’ll be wrapping these hoops in Specialized rubber as well.

Tested: iTrack Suspension P3 All-Mountain Prototype

It’d be hard to find a brand or genre of mountain bikes that we haven’t ridden here at Flow. This one, on the other hand, is as unique as a vegetarian dog, a real one-off, a prototype. Handmade in a home garage in Adelaide, this wild and unique contraption of a bike deserves a nod of respect, and the man behind this concept deserves a beer.

Flow was fortunate to have the P3 in our possession for a couple weeks, riding it was fun, but what we loved the most about it was the way it made us really think.

Test i Track 14

The iTrack P3 All-Mountain we received at Flow is currently the only one in existence, ridden by the frame builder Hugh Mcleay himself. In the name of development, Hugh eagerly awaits feedback and opinions from anyone who rides it, every point is taken on board to add to the development of the next prototype. Derived from two earlier downhill bike prototypes, the recent availability of single ring drivetrains has allowed this concept to be applied to all-mountain bikes, like this guy.

[divider]Buid[/divider]

Wow, where do we start? Apart from being a chromoly steel frame, there are also obvious differences between the iTrack and your common mountain bike. The P3′s suspension system is centred around a four-bar linkage configuration with a rearward travelling rear axle, which isn’t that unique, just that it moves rearwards significantly more than most. But where the P3 really differs from similar ‘short-link’ four bar designs is the incorporation of an idler pulley.

We’ve seen pulleys used in mountain bikes before, with varying amounts of success. For example Redalp, a Swiss brand who use a similar frame design in their bikes, but fall far behind in looks, oh dear… In most other systems that use an idler, the pulley is typically static and is used as a way to reduce pedal kickback caused by dramatically rearward axle paths. But in the case of the P3 the idler moves moves upwards and rearwards as the suspension compresses, which allows the rate of chain growth, and therefore anti-squat, to be tuned throughout the suspension range.

As we mentioned in our first impression piece on the bike before testing, the main aim of all this is to create a bike that has a) has a rearward axle path for exceptional bump-eating b) doesn’t rely on excessive low-speed compression damping for pedalling efficiency c) doesn’t suffer from too much pedal feedback d) has an anti-squat profile that is variable throughout the suspension travel.

Test i Track 3

Single ring drivetrains, like SRAM's XX1 allow for this suspension system to be used on more bikes than just downhillers.
Single ring drivetrains, like SRAM’s XX1 allow for this suspension system to be used on more bikes than just downhillers.

Test i Track 21

Curious to know more of the technical details? Luckily their website is loaded with more information than most of us can possibly handle. Check it out.

Suspension travel is 150mm, but if you measure the distance the rear axle travels, and not just the vertical path, travel amount is closer to 158mm. The fork is 150mm, and all the frame geometry and important angles that depict the bike’s handling are very much in-line with the popular 150-160mm travel bikes that we know and love already. Think Santa Cruz Nomad, or a Yeti SB66. Wheels are 650B, and with big tyres like we have here, it’s ready to mow down the roughest trails.

Test i Track 11

[divider]Spec[/divider]

It’s a prototype, so the spec isn’t really the main point, but to credit to the frame builders – who obviously ride the bikes they build – the P3 is built up to best represent what the bike is all about. Big rubber, wide bars, short stem and powerful brakes allow the rider to let it hang out a bit, and hit terrain fast. A Formula fork is not something we see often, but its low weight and consistent feel is more than satisfactory, we reviewed one earlier this year.

Syntace wheels with wide rims and a ridiculously loud rear hub are another low weight but sturdy component choice for hard riding.

A Cane Creek Double Barrell shock is at the heart of the suspension, with a whole lot of adjustment to play with if you so desire, we left it as it came to us, but if we had the bike longer, some experimenting with the smorgasbord of compression and rebound settings would be an interesting process.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

All this fuss, all this technical talk, what does it all boil down to? It has to be worth something, right? This bike works, and it works very well with the claimed benefits of the suspension design doing just what they intend to.

Pedalling into the trail for the first time, the bike felt so normal, the seating position was nicely centred, and the head angle not too slack for solid all-mountain riding. It was just when we started to pedal along a fire trail littered with loose rubble and embedded rock that we noticed things were very smooth indeed. The rear shock was hyper active, reacting quickly and effectively to the terrain, even whilst pedal forces were applying tension to the chain.

Test i Track 28

We were heading into Red Hill, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, a long-loved testing ground for Flow’s test bikes. The washed out, rutted, stepped sandstone terrain was what we were after to push the iTrack hard. It loved very minute of it. With almost 160mm of rear wheel travel, the bike was always going to feel pretty capable.

But where it shines is hiding all that travel when pedalling. Despite its big and heavy tyres and overall mass, the iTrack didn’t feel too clumsy when winding through flatter singletrack, or climbing up pinch climbs on the trail.

We ignored the temptation to use the shock’s Climb Switch and found the iTrack worked a treat, resistant to getting bogged down but not stiffening so much as to sacrifice climbing grip. Sure, we’d still use the Climb Switch on a really smooth climb, but we didn’t feel it was needed off road.

Test i Track 25

To be expected with a good whack of travel, it’s not a poppy or playful bike, rather a trail bully, with real attitude. It’s a bike that begs you to plough down the trail, rather than dart all over the place searching for a smoother line. Given how much the bike cries out for abuse, we did feel that the suspension curve needs a little refining still, as it’s quite hard to get the last 20% of travel out of the shock which makes the bike a little ‘spiky’ when taking on a flat landing.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

We hope that these bikes make it into production. With a few refinements to the suspension curve and a lighter weight material used for the frame, this bike will be a fantastic machine.

Before we sign off this review let’s just clarify one thing. We’re not trying to sell you this bike as the latest and greatest, nor is iTrack Suspension aiming to steer you away from the big brands with claims that it’s better than anything else out there. This is simply a great and inspiring story, an act of passion for bikes, the engineering and design of mountain bike suspension and realising the dream of making something truly special that actually works.

They’ll be available for purchase one day soon, and that’s an opportunity to ride something different, with a story. So, before you say ‘why?’ try and think along the lines, of ‘ok, that made me think’.

We like it.

Tested: Norco Revolver 7.1

Stable in the air, rails the corners, switches directions faster than a PUP senator and loves the rough stuff – no this isn’t an another all-mountain bike, it’s Norco’s 650b cross-country race rig.

Tested Norco Revolver 22

[divider]Build[/divider]

Clean and smooth are the two words of choice when describing the build of this bike. The frame lines, the colour and the decals all combine to maintain the understated but eye-catching theme.

The matte finish to the Norco is alluring, the subtly of the black and gray decals draws your eye to look closer at this bike. You notice straight away the lack of cabling on the frame, the brake hoses and gear cable (just one, this bike runs XO1) disappear at the head tube and reappear on the chainstays. The internal routing of the brake line left a few questions around serviceability hovering in the air, however when we spoke with Norco Australia they confirmed that the routing is guided within the frame making replacement straight forward.

There's a spare port for a front derailleur cable should you want it.
There’s a spare port for a front derailleur cable should you want it.

The large head tube section of the frame is in distinct contrast with the thin seat stays; the head tube provides directional stiffness, while the seat stays are designed to flex, absorbing and smoothing out the small trail chatter.

A meaty down tube and chain stays, with supple and slender seat stays.
A meaty down tube and chain stays, with supple and slender seat stays.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Our first reaction was “Sweet XO1! Finally, a 1×11 setup on a bike that doesn’t cost $6,000!” We’re big fans of the 1×11 set-up and the XO1 setup on the Revolver only reinforced this. The XO1 comes with a 32-tooth chain ring (which we have previously swapped out to 34-tooth on other cross-country rigs), and we found the gearing range worked really well – we would only be considering swapping the size if the local trails required it. The Revolver came with the OEM-only aluminum XO1 cranks, super stiff, especially when combined with the PF30 bottom bracket.

The Revolver uses an oversized PF30 bottom bracket.
The Revolver uses an oversized PF30 bottom bracket.

Matching the race theme, the Revolver gets a Prologo Zero saddle and silicon grips, both of these are big favourites of ours here at Flow HQ. The silicon grips provide the rider with a direct connection with the bike and are super comfy even for our gloveless mitts. While a zero (i.e. flat) saddle may not be the first choice for most, it is one of the comfiest saddles we have come across yet.

XO1 offers all the performance of XX1 - we can't tell the difference out on trail.
XO1 offers all the performance of XX1 – we can’t tell the difference out on trail.
Tested Norco Revolver 7
Check out the supremely neat brake line routing.

The SRAM vibe continues with the anchors on the Revolver being Elixir 7 Trail brakes. While not the pick of the range the 7s did the job, though at times they did lack sheer stopping power. The Elixir 7 Trail brakes had the job of pulling up Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads on Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims laced to Kore Hubs. The wheels held up fine on the rocky test trails and race tracks we rode the Revolver on – we’d be interested to see how the wheels stand up to a full season.

The alloy bar, stem and seat post are to be expected on a bike in this price range, and they provide an opportunity to drop more weight. We were not overjoyed to see fairly basic RockShox Recon Gold fork on such a race-worthy rig. The absence of a remote lockout on a bike aimed for the XC racer was also noted.

The alloy bar, stem and post are all fine, but there are potential weight savings here.
The alloy bar, stem and post are all fine, but there are potential weight savings here.
We've never used the Stan's Rapid rims before. They are sleeved and pinned (rather than welded) but they are still light, fast and easily set up tubeless.
We’ve never used the Stan’s Rapid rims before. They are sleeved and pinned (rather than welded) but they are still light, fast and easily set up tubeless.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

This bike is extremely fun to ride, confident in the air and more than willing to follow you through a corner. While our experience with 650B hardtails has often been a nervous one, the Revolver was anything but, and felt right at home bombing through rock garden of death cookies. We found converting the bike to tubesless certainly helped with eliminating the trail chatter and this was made easy by the Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims.

The Recon fork is light and simple, but its damping is fairly rudimentary.
The Recon fork is light and simple, but its damping is fairly rudimentary.

Acceleration is the name of the game when it comes to winning cross country races, and the power transfer on board the Revolver is excellent. The chunky chain stays and big bottom bracket shell don’t give up an ounce of power, and the light weight wheels get moving on command.

Crowd favourites. The Racing Ralph treads are a good all-rounder. We prefer to run them at lower pressures so they don't feel skittish.
Crowd favourites. The Racing Ralph treads are a good all-rounder. We prefer to run them at lower pressures so they don’t feel skittish.

Only the Recon fork holds the bike back. It feels like you either need to set the fork up for small bump performance or big hits – there’s no real middle ground. If you want good control over the little impacts, you need to accept the fact you’ll be bottoming out often. We preferred to run the fork a little harder, sacrificing sensitivity for support when we really pushed the bike.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Revolver’s frame and groupset make a clear statement about this bike’s intention to inflict some pain (the good kind) on the race track. But it’s also a fun bike to ride, an element that’s often missing with cross-country race machines. We’d love to see a better fork (perhaps a SID) on the Revolver to match the rest of the bike’s abilities.

Tested Norco Revolver 15

We’re still undecided overall about whether we prefer a 650B or a 29er for our serious cross-country racing too. We still love the way a 29er eats up the bumps, but we’re certainly stoked with the flickability, fun and acceleration of this wheel size. Maybe this rig could win over some of the 29er diehards, including us.

 

Fresh Product: Five Ten Impact Vxi Clipless Shoes

Five Ten, known for their gooey, gluey, tacky and sticky soled shoes for flat pedal thundering also do clip less shoes, and good ones too. Their latest shoes have been spotted on the feet of Greg Minnaar, Bryn Atkinson, and our new buddy, Nico Vouilloz. Light enough for trail riding, and offering great foot protection when downhilling, these shoes look the goods.

Available also in a flat pedal, non-clipless sole, the Impact Vxi aims to drop weight out of their popular range. The Hellcat was Five Ten’s latest clip less shoe, but was criticised for its weight, so they’ve used lighter materials and less of it to produce these new shoes. These fast foot Ferrari’s are only 431 grams in size 42. 

The shoes fit, so we’ll be stomping around the trails on these fresh kicks from now on. Stay tuned for more.

Five Ten Freerider VXI  3

Tested: BH Lynx 6 27.5

BH Lynx 6 27.5-2

The Spanish have a reputation for being hot-blooded, passionate folk, who are very good at dancing. The Lynx, from ye olde Spanish bike brand BH, is also a fine dancer, performing a lively flamenco through the singletrack.

We’ve now ridden a number of bikes from BH, including a long-term review on the exquisite, curvy carbon Lynx 4.8 29er, and we’re starting to ‘get’ the theme of the way these bikes perform. These are fun, playful bikes.

[divider]Build[/divider]

BH Lynx 6 27.5-19
The Dave Weagle designed Split Pivot system offers a very lively and supple ride, with excellent control under braking.

The 150mm-travel Lynx 6 uses those new fandangled 650B wheels, a full aluminium frame, and a unique configurations with the rear shock piercing the seat tube. As with all the Lynx series bikes, the bike is assembled around a Dave Weagle designed Split Pivot suspension system. It’s a very effective suspension configuration, offering excellent performance both under pedalling and braking, with top-notch small bump sensitivity. The shock is not actually mounted to the mainframe, instead it’s sandwiched between the upper link and the chain stays. This offers BH more control over the suspension curve.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-5

If you like handlebar levers, you’ll like the BH Lynx 6. This bike comes configured with a remote lock-out for both the fork and rear shock. We’re almost glad there’s not a dropper post to add to the mix! Some people will love the remote activation, as it is handy particularly for the rear shock, others will prefer a cleaner look. Ideally, we’d keep the remote for the rear end, but not for the fork. You’ll notice in these shots that there is no remote fitted for the fork or the shock – we experimented with leaving the remote lockout levers both on and off the bike during testing.

This is the stock cockpit configuration with a longer stem, narrower bar and remote lockout levers.
This is the stock cockpit configuration with a longer stem, narrower bar and remote lockout levers.

We’ll be up front; compared to the sublime construction we found on the carbon Lynx 4.8 29 (one of the nicest finished bikes we’ve seen), the alloy Lynx 6 feels a little rough around the edges. For instance, with so many cables going on, it’s a pity more thought wasn’t given to keeping them all quiet! There is a lot of noise from the internally routed gear cables rattling around inside the top tube and down tube. We ultimately took the fork out of the bike and pushed some lightweight foam into the frame (something we’ve had to do on road bikes in the past) to keep the cables from pinging around so much.The absence of any chain slap protection is also downer – it’s such a simple addition and really should be standard fare on a bike of this price.

While the BH doesn’t come with a dropper post (it will for 2015) there’s cable routing in place. You’ve also got room for a full-sized water bottle and frame is up to date with a direct mount front mech, press-fit bottom bracket and a 142x12mm rear end, plus direct mount brake tabs. The pivot hardware is cool too, with a cassette lock-ring tool being used to keep many of the pivots tight – this is a great idea, allowing a solid fit for the tool that won’t round out.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

A $3999 asking price fetches you a suitably specced machine; Shimano XT and SLX throughout, with FOX Evolution series suspension. The Stan’s Arch EX wheelset is a highlight, contributing greatly to the bikes playful handling. Schwalbe Nobby Nics are a safe all-rounder, and they’re perfect for tubeless conversion.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-7
You can’t argue with the quality of Shimano XT!

The FOX fork is a 32mm version, rather than the stouter 34, which won’t faze lighter riders, but bigger dudes might lament this skinnier choice. Either way, both the fork and shock are as smooth and hassle-free as it gets, and very easy to setup.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-21
Stan’s Arch EX rims are an excellent choice for this bike.

Keen-eyed readers will notice that we’ve changed the bar and stem on the BH. The original cockpit on the BH was well out of step with current design trends, with a 90mm stem and 690mm bar, when a 60/70mm stem and 740mm+ bar is the industry norm for this style of bike.

Riding a bike like this without a dropper post is a little frustrating, you end up feeling a bit constrained, like you can’t unleash bike’s full fury. We’d encourage you to fit a dropper post ASAP. Whether or not you prefer a single-ring or double-ring drivetrain, you simply cannot fault the performance of Shimano XT. Superb shifting, with a crisp lever feel and we never dropped a chain either.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

While we weren’t 100% impressed by the BH’s construction, we had no qualms with the way it handles just about every situation on the trail.

The Lynx, once we’d fitted a more appropriate bar and stem, has ideal geometry. With a low bottom bracket and a slack head angle, you feel like you’re able to really attack every corner. It’s a bike that responds really well to a bit of aggressive body language too; give the rear wheel a bit of a shove as you enter a corner and it’ll fling its tail out wide and drift beautifully!

BH Lynx 6 27.5-4
Low in the bottom bracket, slack up front – the Lynx puts you in a position for reckless riding.

It’s happiest once you’re up to speed, changing direction faster than its slack head angle should allow. At slower speeds or on steep climbs the front wheel is a little wayward, but that’s always a trade off, and one we’re happy to live with.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-20
The Split Pivot suspension system works very well – this design remains active under braking.

A real highlight of the BH is just how smooth the suspension is. It has a very linear suspension feel, using its full travel easily. It just hoovers up rough trails brilliantly, regardless of whether you’re pedalling, on the brakes or out of the saddle just hanging on. Given the bike’s awesome appetite for choppy terrain, it’s a surprisingly good climber as well. The bike’s excellent small bump sensitivity means there’s traction aplenty and you never feel like you’re pedalling a recumbent.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Lynx 6 is a mixed bag. It’s a bike that is beautifully designed – the suspension system is great, the geometry ideal – but it’s just not quite as refined as we’d hoped in a construction sense. Perhaps it’s just that previous BHs we’ve ridden set the bar so high! The BH is a lively, buttery smooth ride, it just needs a bit of love to help it realise its full potential.

BH Lynx 6 27.5-18

 

Tested: Morewood Zula 27.5

Riding this single pivot, aluminium, 100mm travel bike was a refreshing experience, like it would be to ditch your iPhone and revert back to an old Nokia 5165 for a week. The Zula to us was a fun ride, and a whiz bang technology detox.

The simple, no-fuss nature of the Morewood Zula was the overarching element that captured us during our test. We couldn’t get the idea out of our heads that we are just too lucky these days, the fancy 150mm bikes we love are just so good that the trails are becoming too easy, we often feel a little isolated as we pedal along with all the bells and whistles of the latest kit.

Test Morewood Zula 45

So what happens when you grab a short travel bike with great trail geometry, plush suspension, and a confident cockpit? You get a bike that rides efficiently, confidently and feels bloody quick, like you’ve hit fast forward from the back seat.

Test Morewood Zula Action 7

[divider]Build[/divider]

Morewood, the South African frame builders with a rich heritage in downhill racing and trail riding, craft fine aluminium bikes with a emphasis on single pivot suspension designs. (Although recently a couple new models have appeared in the range using a linkage driven suspension system). When it comes to brands that utilise single pivot designs, they often seem to have a devoted following of fans that appreciate the benefits of simplicity.

There is just one point connecting the rear end to the front end, one set of bearings and one set of hardware to tie it all together. There is no heralded vertical wheel path, no fancy rearward part of the travel, no wild claims of suspension curves from a plethora of unique linkages; the rear wheel will simply follow one simple arc. How can this be a good thing? Well, if simplicity appeals to you, this bike will too.

Test Morewood Zula 33

SPI Lite (stable pivot interface) is Morewood’s take on using a big oversize axle and just two cartridge bearings as the pivot. The axle threads into itself, eliminating the need for any more fixing hardware or pinch bolts around it to fatten into place.

The frame’s finish and graphics are super smart, although to be fair we’ve seen neater welds on some of the original South African built Morewoods in the past. There’s no new-school internal cable routing here, nor provisions for an internally actuated dropper post, but it’s still a very clean and well-thought out frame nonetheless.

Test Morewood Zula 36
A large hydroformed plate ties the main pivot to the upper section of the rear end with nice shapes and a stout appearance.

Test Morewood Zula 14

Test Morewood Zula 37
Handmade bikes from South Africa.
Test Morewood Zula 38
Morewood use traditional South African names for their bikes. 

The aluminium framed bike rolls on 27.5″/650B wheels, and our test bike came fitted with a RockShox Revelation fork at 120mm of travel to slacken it off slightly. Out the back a Syntace X12 rear hub axle is a nice touch, with the flush axle removed with just one allen key. Water bottle mounts are also a good feature, rounding out this great looking bike.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Morewood, being quite the boutique brand, are more the frame builder type than a supplier of complete bikes, so that is where the Aussie distributor Pushie step in offering the Zula as a frame or a complete bike. You’ll find an Aussie specced Morewood using many of Pushie’s brands that they offer Australian distribution for, such as Loaded for the cockpit components and wheels, a cSIXX chain guide, and the well-loved KS LEV adjustable post.

Test Morewood Zula 9
The RockShox Revelation at 120mm of travel served the bike just fine. But we can’t wait for the Revelation range to receive the tender loving care that the RockShox Pike has had.

We swapped the handlebar in favour for one with greater sweep (rearward bend), and converted the wheels to tubeless via the simple, snap-in style Bontrager tubeless rim strip and a dash of Stans sealant. Otherwise all the spec was most excellent, especially the Shimano XT brakes and the LEV seat post.

The use of a 120mm fork helped slacken off the angles, but the more cross country race oriented rider may prefer to stick with 100mm front and back for a razor sharp climber and singletrack sprinter.

A FOX RP2 rear shock is certainly a simple unit, with two modes of compression adjustable via the easily reached magic little blue switch. The two modes did feel so very different to each other, far apart in their tune type. The locked mode was super firm, whilst the open setting was a bit too wallowy at times, perhaps a custom tune for the shock may be a good upgrade down the track.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

What we loved most about the way this bike rode was how fast everything felt, and that feeling of speed was only heightened by the fact that we felt confident to push the bike harder and stay off the brakes, but with only 100/120mm of travel we were seriously engaged with the terrain. The suspension may be small in quantity, but it makes up for it with it in quality.

The Zula is super keen to rail a turn, the low bottom bracket and short rear end help to let the rider tip the bike down onto the side of the tyres, biting in to the dirt and holding a tight line without wavering.

The Zula is a confident and entertaining trail bike, capable of pulling out of the other side of a fast section of technical trail without throwing the rider off, but at the same time giving an exciting ride.

Test Morewood Zula Action 5
Let it fly, the solid frame and capable geometry will have your back when the trails get speedy.
Test Morewood Zula Action 4
Tipping the Zula into a turn is a bucket load of fun, you never get bogged down with its stout 100mm of rear travel.

100mm of rear travel is as lean as bikes come these days, mated with a 120mm fork the Zula doesn’t bounce and float across the ground like longer travel bikes do, rather it takes the sting out of the trail just right. Stomping on the pedals exhibits just what short travel bikes do best, jump forward with almost hardtail-like efficiency. We found the FOX shock’s Propedal setting to be a bit too firm for our liking, only using it on the smoothest of climbs, wishing it to be slightly lighter to be used in more situations off road.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

A sturdy and playful bike like this with short travel can be a great accompaniment to a bigger enduro bike as a training tool. Or if your trails are tight, twisty and not too rough the Zula’s stout frame and poppy nature will be a great option.

Think of what the old ‘hardcore hardtails’ were like to ride with burly ling travel forks and tough components on rigid frames, they were responsive and exciting but capable in the right hands. We got that same vibe riding the Zula.

It’s not going to win over the more serious weight weenies, but on the flip side it will appeal to the aluminium fans amongst us. But in the end, if you love single pivot bikes for all the right reasons, or dig Morewood’s heritage and image, you won’t be disappointed in how it handles the singletrack.

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Genius 710

When the Scott Genius was launched, it really was a pioneering machine. Exceptionally lightweight, long travel, with a propriety rear shock that looked like a jetpack and which gave riders the ability to adjust the amount of rear wheel travel on-the-fly. Since then, this market segment has grown tremendously, but the Genius has remained an exceptionally popular bike. Taking a look at our latest test bike, the Genius 710, it’s easy to see why this bike still sits on top of the pile.

Scott Genius 710-2

There are now two variants of the Genius, with 29″ and 27.5″ wheels. We opted for the 27.5er, which has proven to be the more popular option in the Australian market. It has slightly more travel that the 29er version (150mm vs 130mm), and we’ve become big fans of the mid-size wheel in the past few months so we wanted to keep the 27.5 vibe running.

Scott Genius 710-11
The FOX made shock can be adjust on-the-fly to serve up 150 or 100mm of travel.

The whole suspension configuration has been changed since the original Genius. Gone is the funky DT-made pull-shock, with far more conventional single-pivot/swing-link system now used. The shock is manufactured by FOX, but it retains the on-the-fly travel adjustment that gives this bike its brainy versatility. Hitting the Twin-Loc lever on the bars engages Traction mode: the rear travel is reduced from 150mm to 100mm, stiffening the suspension rate and therefore the amount of suspension sag, to aid climbing. Push the lever to its second stop and the rear suspension is locked out entirely, along with the fork, making for a rock solid pedalling machine.

Scott Genius 710-5
The gloss on matte black finish is superb.

A by-product of the Twin-Loc system (along with a dropper post and the fact this bike has a left-hand shifter) is that the handlebars do look like a bowl of udon noodles – there are cables galore. Whether or not this will bug us in the long run remains to be seen, but we’re sure some will find it off-putting.

Scott Genius 710-17
The geometry is adjustable simply by reversing a chip on the rear shock mount.

While the Genius does feature adjustable geometry, even in its slackest setting the bike is definitely a lot sharper handling than most of the current crop of 150mm-travel machines, with the head angle at 67.9-degrees. In this respect, the Genius is more of a trail bike than an all-mountain / enduro machine, and this reflects the bike’s original intentions. It was always designed as the bike that could bring longer travel into a the realms of super low weights and meld this with geometry that was conducive to climbing performance. A lot of the spec choices also reinforce this aim – for example, the use of 32mm fork rather than a 34/35mm. Of course the question remains whether the Genius can really achieve this balancing act of cross-country-esque efficiency, weight and climbing performance without sacrificing too much on the descending front. There’s only one way to find out!

 

Flow’s First Bite: I-Track P3 all-mountain

You can read our full review of the itrack here. Go on!

Those of you out there in Flow Land who were readers of the magazine may recall an interview we did with Hugh McLeahy. Hugh has more engineering savvy than your typical bloke and he’d begun creating his own dual suspension frames, fabricating them right there in his own garage.

Test I-Track 19

Test I-Track 17
Woah!

His designs were built around a suspension system of his own creation, called I-Track, and he initially debuted the concept with a downhill bike that he built from chromoly steel. He’s now evolved the concept further, incorporating his new incarnation of I-Track into a 160mm all-mountain bike that we’ve been lucky enough to borrow for a few weeks.

Before you get your wallets out, this bike isn’t going to be available for sale in its current format. Like the earlier downhill bike, the P3 is currently built from steel, but Hugh is hoping to have a production version made from aluminium available for sale within the next 12 months.

Test I-Track 7
From this side, the P3 looks similar to other short-link four-bar designs.

It’s obviously a very unique bike, but what’s it all about? (TECH WARNING) The P3’s suspension system is centred around a four-bar linkage configuration with a significantly rearward axle path. But where the P3 differs from similar ‘short-link’ four bar designs is the incorporation of an idler pulley.Test I-Track 18

The idler moves moves upwards and rearwards as the suspension compresses, which allows the rate of chain growth, and therefore anti-squat, to be tuned throughout the suspension range.

Idler pulleys aren’t anything new (for example, look at Brooklyn Machine Works, K-9 Industries or many others), but this is the first time we’ve seen an idler which is mounted to the suspension linkage in this manner. In most other systems that use an idler, the pulley is typically static and is used as a way to reduce pedal kickback caused by dramatically rearward axle paths. But in the case of the P3 the idler moves moves upwards and rearwards as the suspension compresses, which allows the rate of chain growth, and therefore anti-squat, to be tuned throughout the suspension range.

The whole idea is to create a bike that: a) has a rearward axle path b) doesn’t rely on excessive low-speed compression damping for pedalling efficiency c) doesn’t suffer from too much pedal feedback d) has an anti-squat profile that is variable throughout the suspension travel.

Test I-Track 10
The P3 test bike is running the same Formula 35 fork we tested recently.

One notable aspect of the idler system is that the bike must be single ring only, so the P3 is decked out with SRAM xx1. The rest of the build kit is very ‘South Australian’ with loads of Syntace and Formula gear from Adelaide based EightyOne Spices. We’re particularly looking forward to riding the wide Syntace W35 wheels that the bike is equipped with.

Well now we know the theory, it’s time to take the I-Track P3 out for some trail time! Let’s see how one man’s project translates from the drawing board to the dirt.

Flow’s First Bite: Ibis 741 super-wide carbon wheels

Holy obesity epidemic, what have we got here?! Mountain bike rims have been trending wider and wider in recent years, but the new 650B Ibis 741 (and their 29er version, the 941) take things to a new level of phatness. Ibis aren’t known for their wheels, but we are super excited about testing these.

Ibis 741 wheels-2
Wide, deep and with under-the-radar graphics.

The width of these rims is not a gimmick or simple point of difference – there’s a perfectly sound basis for making mountain bike rims far wider than they have traditionally been. Ibis does a good job of explaining the theory in the video below, but in a nutshell, a wider rim should allow you to run a tyre at lower pressure, with greater stability and less tyre roll and, hence, less chance of burping air from a tubeless setup).

Of course, lower pressure equate to more grip and reduced rolling resistance on rough terrain, but dropping the pressures too far has traditionally meant a squirmy ride and a serious risk of a flat tyre or damaged rim – Ibis say their mega wide rims go a long way towards alleviating both of these problems.

Ibis 741 wheels-7
Very wide. Ibis includes a set of tubeless valves. Because the rim is so huge, the valves are a little longer than standard – worth noting if you’re packing a spare tube on a ride!

So just how wide are they? The 741s have an external with of 41mm and 35mm internal – that’s between 10-15mm wider than your standard cross-country or trail rim in both internal and external measurements. And believe it or not, the weight of these wheels actually puts them head-to-head with some seriously well regarded XC and trail wheelsets – the pair come in at just 1660g including tubeless valves.

Ibis 741 wheels-4
If you look closely, you can see that there’s no bead hook to secure the tyre. We were unsure of the concept when we first rode hookless rims a year ago, but we’ve since clocked up hundreds of kilometres on them without a single issue.

Other noteworthy elements? The rims use ‘hookless’ bead construction (similar to the Specialized Control wheels we tested last year) which gives the rim far greater impact strength and the tyre more volume. They’re also spoked in a very conventional manner, with 32 spokes front and rear in a two-cross pattern which will appeal to the mechanics out there.

Ibis 741 wheels-6
Available with Shimano or SRAM XD driver bodies. The conventional spokes and external nipples should make any maintenance much easier than some.

We’ll be fitting these wheels to a variety of bikes over the coming weeks and months. With the swathe of carbon wheels we’ve been riding lately (ENVE, Specialized and Bontrager amongst them) it will be very interesting to see how these unique offerings compare.

Long-term Test: Giant Trance Advanced SX

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 15

The Holy Grail of mountain bike ownership is finding the ‘one bike’. We all like to dream that it’s out there – a garage-decluttering, wallet-saving, partner-soothing super bike that can spin out a 50km cross country ride with the same ease as it will demolish your local downhill track.

Dream crushing time: it doesn’t exist yet. So what is most important is picking the bike that suits 90% of your riding, and in our case this SX most certainly achieves this – for how we ride, the Giant Trance Advanced SX comes very close to fulfilling the prophecy of ‘Uno Bicicletta’.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 9
Carbon out front, alloy out back. We like this, as it tends to be the rear end of the bike that slaps the ground hardest when you crash. That said, we’ve crashed this bike and gouged up the carbon but it just left superficial damage.

When we went looking for a long-term test bike, we made sure we didn’t lose sight of our backyard. The trails around Flow are rocky, technical, and our favourite descents aren’t too far shy of downhill bike territory. Local climbs tend to be done on fireroads, but they can still be long and steep, so an efficient and light bike is a must too. The Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5 just ticked too many of the boxes to look past, and so we welcomed it into the fold.

Over the course of the last five months, we’ve taken the SX all over the place; it’s been ridden in Rotorua, Mt Buller, Orange and countless places in between, racking up more trail time and road-trip miles than just about any test bike we’ve ever had. That fact alone tells you a lot about this bike – it’s ready for almost any situation or trail you stick in front of it.

Web_Test_Giant_Trance_27.5_riding_masthead-4-590x392
We tested the ‘regular’ Trance 1 27.5 in Rotorua late in 2013.

One of the influencing factors when choosing the SX as a long term test bike was our experience on board the regular (ie. aluminium and non-SX) Trance 27.5. We rode this bike for four days in New Zealand last year and we were extremely impressed. The SX shares the same bones as the regular Trance – the rear travel and frame geometry are identical ( 140mm out back ) – but gets souped up in all manner of ways, with better suspension, bigger rubber and more powerful brakes.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 5
Note the way the cables are all routed cleanly away from the head tube and fork crown.

Carbon out zee front, alloy out zee back and doused all over with a paint job that Batman would love, the SX is just a bad mother of a bike. Take a look at this thing; in side-profile it looks like a downhill bike from half a dozen years ago. You don’t need a protractor to work out that this bike is built to excel on the descents: The angles are raked out, the bottom bracket is lower than Eddie Obeid’s morals and there’s wheelbase aplenty out front. With the FOX TALAS 34 fork in its 160mm setting, the bike has a 66-degree head angle. Dropping the fork to 140mm sharpens the angles by half a degree or so.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 17
Even with the fork in its 140mm setting, the angles are very relaxed. We pushed the seat rails right forward in the post clamp to improve climbing performance on tight switchbacks.

But when you hoik it onto the scales, they tell a very different story to the picture painted by the bike’s downhill dress sense. Out of the box and set up tubeless, the Trance Advanced SX is just over 12kg, which is exceptional considering there are no corners cut with unsuitably light parts.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 14
The Maestro suspension system is bombproof and feels perfect too in terms of spring rate.

Giant have continued to utilise the Maestro II suspension system, and it delivers 140mm of outrageously smooth and reliable travel; over the course of the five months we’ve been testing this bike, we have not had to so much as tighten a pivot bolt. Finer details aren’t overlooked either, with zero cable rub, and thanks to full length internal cabling we haven’t even had to replace or lube the gear or seat post cable either. Down tube protection keeps your frame safe from rock strikes, and a chunky chain stay guard keeps the already quiet drivetrain hushed.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 11
The Overdrive 2 system uses a non-standard taper for the fork steerer. Yes, it’s very stiff, but it does cause hassles if you want to swap the fork or stem.

One of the more controversial elements of the Trance’s build is Giant’s Overdrive II steerer system. Rather than the industry standard tapered steerer, Giant employ an unusually large-diameter upper bearing (1.25″). It’s stupidly stiff, but it will cause a headache if you want to change your fork (you’ll need a new upper headset assembly and stem) and your stem choice is constrained significantly. At one stage during our review we fitted a different fork, so we got to experience these quirks first hand.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 22
Wow, this shock! The Float X turns rocks into toasted marshmallows.

The SX’s build kit is a gravity-enduro dream; 1×11 drivetrain, killer suspension, four-piston brakes, dropper post, Schwalbe tyres… once again the performance of just about all the components over the last five months has been nearly flawless. The only changes we made to the bike prior to testing were to swap the handlebar and grips. We wanted a slightly wider cockpit than the 730mm supplied, so we whacked on a 750mm-wide Truvativ Jerome Clementz bar, and we fitted some ODI grips – both of these changes are purely personal preference.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 23
We changed the bar and grips to suit our personal preferences.

We have dropped the chain on the SRAM X01 drivetrain a few times (three to be exact), but this is a minor irritation in the context of the overall performance. We did consider fitting a chain guide, but we opted not to ultimately, preferring the drag-free performance without a guide. In every other regard, the X01 was perfect, never missing a shift. The 32-tooth chain ring is ideal as well, offering the right spread of gears. Even in Mt Buller, with its grinding climbs and crazily fast descents, we never needed more gear range.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 4
Avid’s four-piston Elixir Trail 9 brakes. We’ve found them reliable, quiet and consistent, even if the lever feel is a bit so-so.

We were admittedly a little uncertain about how the Avid Trail 9 brakes would perform, given the inconsistencies of some Avids in recent times. Overall we’re very happy, and while the lever feel isn’t exactly snappy, the brakes haven’t needed a spot of maintenance and are still on their original pads as well. Power-wise, we’re more than satisfied too, with the funky 180/170mm rotor combo staying nice and cool.

Giant-Trance-Advanced-SX-5-710x473
The Giant P-TRX1 wheels come supplied with tape to seal them up for tubeless use.

Giant have expanded their range on in-house components hugely, and the SX gets Giant’s own wheels and dropper post too. At around 1650g, the P-TRX1 wheelset is nice and light, and once you fit the supplied tubeless tape, these hoops make for a fine set of wheels indeed. The rear hub internals use DT’s Star Ratchet system as well, which is just about the industry standard in terms of reliability.

Perhaps because they are so light, these aren’t the stiffest wheels we’ve used, and as the frame (especially the front end) is so rock solid, we did feel the wheels twisting a little. This would probably be the only area you could conceivably wish to upgrade this bike! We tested the SX with a couple of sets of chunky carbon rims as well (such as the Bontrager Rhythm Pros), and with super stiff wheels this bike is even better.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 21
The Fiziki Gobi will win fans, as will the consistent and smooth performance of the Contact Switch-R dropper post.

The Giant made Switch-R dropper post has 100mm of adjustment with internal cable activation and very neat remote lever. While the post has a slight rattly when you’re out of the saddle, the actual operation and reliability has been great to date. Unlike many dropper posts, this one has proven a real set and forget item.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 10
In terms of suspension setup, we spent 90% of our ride time with the fork at 140mm travel and in the Descend damper setting, with the rear shock primarily left in Trail mode.

Finally, Giant have flung some of the best suspension items in the business at this bike. The FOX Float X rear shock turns rock gardens into feather beds – the level of performance here is staggeringly high, and the rear suspension feel is more akin to a downhill bike than a trail bike. Up front, FOX provide the 34 TALAS CTD fork, which can be switched between 140mm and 160mm travel on the fly. We actually had some problems with the fork on this bike initially, with an occasional loss of rebound damping, and so we sent the fork back to FOX for some love under warranty. When it returned, the fork had a new TALAS cartridge and the performance was ludicrously smooth. Apparently FOX reassembled the fork using their new super-duper green oil, which is the slipperiest stuff going. Whatever they did, the fork has been incredible for the past three months.

 

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 1
The Trance SX on one of Flow’s home trails.

From the berms of Rotorua, to the insane speeds of Buller, to the rough and rocky trails here in Sydney, the SX has conquered the lot. As we said above, there’s no perfect ‘one bike’, but the Trance makes very few compromises!

For a bike that is so obviously at home on the descents, the SX’s ability to ride all day and climb efficiently is outstanding. Sure, it’s not the weapon of choice for a 100km race, but we rode this bike on some long days ( 7 hrs or more ) and never regretted it. The weight of the bike plays a large part in this, but the geometry with its roomy top tube is conducive to long rides too, and with the shock set to Trail mode (where we left it 90% of the time) the suspension is supportive and efficient.

Test Giant Trance SX 2
We took the Trance SX with us to explore the trails of Orange, NSW.

Tight, uphill switchbacks were just about the only area where we battled with the SX a little, with the front wheel wanting to lift. In the end, we pushed the seat rails quite a long way forward in the post clamp, putting more weight over the middle of the bike and this made all the difference.

As well as leaving the shock in trail mode, we also left the fork at 140mm for the vast majority of our riding, which was pretty surprising. When we first started riding the SX, we really thought we’d use the fork’s travel adjustment a lot and run it at 160mm for most descents, but this wasn’t the case. For most riding, we found the head angle too slack in the 160mm setting, and we only used this longer travel setting on the steepest of downhills. When the trails were flatter, the 140mm setting was far better, offering more front end grip and making the bike feel more balanced overall. If this were our own bike, we’d even consider changing the fork to something with the travel fixed at 150mm of travel, which would simplify and lighten the bike even more.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 3
The incredible suspension encourages you to just huck into the rocks and let the bike sort out those small issues like line choice.

On the subject of the suspension, the Trance’s ability to hug the ground is a real highlight. There’s something about the way this bike follows the terrain and keeps your tyres gripping that just blows us away. There’s zero hesitation, the bump response is seamless, and the fork and shock are perfectly balanced with just the right amount of progressiveness to the suspension stroke. For a bike with 140mm of travel, the Trance rolls through rocks like it as much longer legs. Perhaps it’s a product of the 27.5″ wheels, or maybe it’s that the long front-centre gives you confidence, but the Trance SX is happier running over the rough stuff than any other 140mm bike we’ve ridden.

Giant Trance Advanced Long Terms Update-5

Getting the most out of the Trance in the corners isn’t difficult, as it grips like crazy, but once you get the hang of turning hard off the rear wheel it really comes alive. Load the bike up into a berm, yank the front around and drive your heels down through the pedals and the bike rips around off the rear tyre. Railing a rut with your foot out like a moto feels particularly good on this bike too!

[divider]Overall[/divider]

From the moment we first saw this bike last year, we labelled it as the most desirable bike in the Giant range. It hasn’t disappointed, quite the opposite. The Trance Advanced SX is at the forefront of that quest to create the perfect ‘one-bike’. At $6000 it is beyond what most people will be willing to spend, but we’d argue it’s worth stretching the budget for. The weight, the ride quality and the versatility are such that this one bike could happily take the place of your downhill bike and your cross country bike in the garage, and two-for-one is a pretty good deal.

Test Giant Trance Advanced SX 25

Review: Rad Company, Brandon Semenuk’s New Film, is AMAZING!

After watching Rad Company here at Flow, we’re not entirely convinced Brandon Semenuk is human. Sure, after watching Life Behind Bars we generally come to the same conclusion, but Rad Company is on a whole other level. Teaming up with almost all of the best freeriders on the planet, Semenuk has created an epic tribute to just how far freeride mountain biking has come in its relatively short existence.

Before we go on, if you haven’t heard of Brandon Semenuk, here’s a brief run-down that pretty much sums up his talent: A Rampage win at 17, winning the FMB (Freeride Mountain Bike tour) back to back In 2011 and 2012, his own Red Bull series running three seasons and counting. Yes this young guy has pretty much done it all, at 22.

In order to get the time to create Rad Company, Brandon stopped competing in the Freeride world tour. This was time well spent in our opinion, as he has managed to create what could possibly be the most ‘progressive’ freeride film to date. Now we here at Flow don’t like to bandy around terms like that, so we thought we’d throw in some reasons why this is the case, and why you should be buying this film as fast as your little fingers can click on the link http://www.redbull.com/us/en/bike/stories/1331653380730/brandon-semenuk-rad-company-buy-film!

Why we love this film.

  1. These days in a freeride film athletes don’t just survive the craziest of lines, they make things even crazier by tricking the most technical of features. Brandon’s nose-bonk to no hander on a steep and loose line in Utah is a work of art.
  2. The massive nature of this terrain is seen in the opening shots of the film, with Semenuk, Graham Agassiz and Matty Miles shredding an absolutely huge line!
  3. The Soundtrack is killer. You’re going to have to watch the film for just how well the music has been decided upon to suit the riding, it’s a rocking soundtrack!
  4. We’d never heard of riding in Fiji before this film- because there wasn’t any we knew of. Brandon had trails purpose built for this film after seeing the landscape and deciding it was a good setting for filming.
  5. No matter what style of riding you’re into, when riders like Stevie Smith and Brendan Fairclough are absolutely pinning down trails, but also throwing in dialled whips and roosting everywhere, you’re going to get stoked
  6. Everyone loves a crash (well when there’s no injury), and if there’s one thing this film isn’t short on, its crashes that make you wonder how the rider walked away not only injury free, but still living and breathing

In summary, Rad Company is a more than satisfactory way to spend 49 minutes with your jaw dropped to the floor, so get amongst it!

 

Tested: Giant Women’s Lust 27.5 2

Liv/Giant are clearly committed to women’s bike design and innovation. In 2014 they were the only brand to manufacture a comprehensive range of alloy and carbon bikes exclusively built around the 27.5” or 650B wheel size.

In 2015 we’ll see these products launched under the name Liv (without the Giant). This designates a confident and purposeful step toward a section of the market that’s thankfully getting the attention it deserves.

The comfort and capabilities of this bike give riders the confidence to build up to tackling new things.
The comfort and capabilities of this bike give riders the confidence to build up to tackling new things.

The Giant Lust 27.5 2 is the latest in a growing number of women’s bike tests at Flow. With a minimal 100mm of front and rear suspension, it’s the obvious choice in the Liv/Giant range for women looking at making a serious jump into the world of mountain biking. It’s also an interesting opportunity to reflect on whether the Liv brand is heading in the right direction for the varying needs of female riders.

Test Giant Lust 36
Some riders will prefer the stability offered by larger wheels, or the different sizing and spec of bikes designed around them.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Our alloy test Lust features the same XC race geometry as the carbon Lust Advanced 27.5 0, but in a package that is $2,500 rather than $7K; a difference of quite a few dollars per gram, a ticket to Europe or a new Ikea kitchen (OK, maybe not the whole kitchen).

In comparison to the men’s counterpart, the Giant Anthem 27.5, the Lust geo has a few key changes to fem it up. These include a tighter wheelbase, lower standover, slightly shorter reach, and a taller head tube (the bit at the front of the bikes that the forks run through).

Most women will feel pretty comfortable and at one with this bike straight away, or with a lot less part swapping and set up issues than custom fitting an Anthem.
Most women will feel pretty comfortable and at one with this bike straight away, or with a lot less part swapping and set up issues than custom fitting an Anthem.

The idea behind these changes is that they reflect a generally shorter torso length in women, and add agility and confidence in smaller frame sizes. The Lust is only available in sizes XS-M. Giant have found a way to incorporate these features around their well-loved Maestro suspension and maintained enough clearance for a full size water bottle. Functionality through and through.

The ALUXX SL alloy frame uses the same ‘OverDrive 2’ head tube technology as Giant’s racier bikes. We can’t say we noticed the claimed extra stiffness or steering precision in a bike of this spec. What we did notice was that OverDrive2 system requires a stem with a different diameter to other popular bikes on the market. This means owners are more or less locked in to using Giant’s own stems.

We swapped the original 80mm stem for a 90mm one, which allowed us to get our weight further forward and improved handling in relation to our body shape.
We swapped the original 80mm stem for a 90mm one, which allowed us to get our weight further forward and improved handling in relation to our body shape.

While we appreciate that the Lust frame has a taller head tube to suit a broad number of women riders, we would have liked to be able to purchase a stem with a steeper angle to let longer torso-ed or racier minded users lower the height of the front end. Unfortunately Giant Australia don’t currently stock this. This forces local customers off-shore and into best guess set up scenarios, hopefully something that will change in the near future.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Wherever you stand in the wheel size debate it’s not hard to appreciate the benefits of 27.5 for smaller riders.

Riders we met during the test period were consistently quick to comment on the value for money the playful looking Lust 2 offers in terms of the spec. It’s basically a no nonsense build drawing on technology that top level racers were peeing themselves to use about five years ago, assembled around the latest craze in wheel size. Wherever you stand in the wheel size debate it’s not hard to appreciate the benefits of 27.5 for smaller riders. They offer some of the extra rolling ability of 29” hoops, without the so-called disadvantages in cornering and acceleration. More than that, they allow for XS-M frame designs that promote a very nimble and responsive ride feel.

The 27.5 wheels make the bike sit higher off the ground than your standard 26er. A lower standover makes it easier to swing your leg over the frame to get started too.
The 27.5 wheels make the bike sit higher off the ground than your standard 26er. A lower standover makes it easier to swing your leg over the frame to get started too.

At 13kgs this model isn’t particularly light and there’s obviously some weight that could be quickly shed by swapping out the Giant branded wheelset. But unlike a 29er at a similar price point, riders will be far less conscious of this weight slowing them down.

The Shimano and SRAM componentry are the other big brand names that turn heads on this blue and purple plaything. The 22×36 SRAM crankset offers slightly easier gearing than the 24×38 tooth chainrings you’ll see on the Anthem 27.2 2. The Shimano Deore Shadow Plus rear derailleur keeps everything quiet and secure at the rear. We never dropped a chain, nor did we wish for gears (or legs) we didn’t have.

Test Giant Lust 28
The Shimano brakes can be adjusted with a small allen key to fit small hands. Winner!

Test Giant Lust 12

Test Giant Lust 17

The Shimano brakes are in the identified-by-numerals-rather-than-words end of the range. We were surprised to discover that they weren’t very bitey when called into action. The positive side of this is that the brakes won’t grab too hard or fast, which can be irritating or disconcerting for developing riders. The negative is that once we got the bike up to speed we had to compensate for a lack of braking power by quickly exaggerating our body position to stop the bike shooting off into the bushes. This improved our riding dramatically, but if we were to buy this bike and ride it in this way regularly, we’d absolutely upgrade the brakes for increased control.

 Probably the best ‘stock’ grips we’ve used.
Probably the best ‘stock’ grips we’ve used.

Other contact points were taken care of nicely. The 690mm bars and the 170mm crank length were spot on. The Giant women’s saddle was a good shape, although the soft parts were a bit too soft, making the structural parts feel a little hard.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The 27.5” wheels make the Lust so playful and responsive that we quickly zoned in on the trails and completely lost track of time, the way all good rides should be

Whether you’re carefully thinking about buying your first serious mountain bike, or a hardened dirt shredder curious about the latest technology and a shiny new ride, the first thing that stands out about this Lust is how comfortable and agile it feels. It blew us away at what can be achieved at this price point. Satisfaction is even higher in this regard due to an out-of-the-box build that is so spot on we hardly changed a thing.

Smooth trails, endless fun.
Smooth trails, endless fun.

The 27.5” wheels make the Lust so playful and responsive that we quickly zoned in on the trails and completely lost track of time, the way all good rides should be. In comparison to bigger wheels we never had that feeling of being on board too much bike or having to think too hard about cornering position.

The rear suspension makes this bike almost limitless in it’s appeal too. It’s comfortable, capable and adds versatility to the types of trails, events and experiences it’s owner could consider.

We found ourselves throwing the Lust at everything from lumpy rock gardens in Sydney’s Northern Beaches to all-day rides linking together the best bits of Canberra’s Centenary Trail as we made our way from one trail network (and coffee shop detour) to the next.

Test Giant Lust 46
Quick, agile and easy to move around on.
Test Giant Lust 47
The Lust felt most stable with our weight forward over the front wheel.

With it’s XC race geometry the Lust feels most stable with an aggressive riding position: elbows out and weight over the front wheel. As new riders pick up their confidence on the trails it will reward them instantly. It provides an addictive feeling of playfulness and is incredibly capable at speed. This made us want to climb every climb just to experience it again on some well-loved descents. On technical climbs we found it quite hard to keep the front wheel tracking where we wanted it too. We imagine this is partly due to pushing the extra weight of this model up the hill, and also to do with not setting the front end up in a way that suited our personal preference and riding style.

We spoke to a couple of riders who had ridden the Lust 2 as well as the carbon Lust Advanced 0 team race bike. They confirmed that the carbon model, despite sharing the same geometry, feels more balanced and is much easier to climb on. The flipside of buying a bike at a cheaper price point is it does show you why some riders won’t question paying extra to build on the great things a such bike allows.

Test Giant Lust 50

Given the absence of a better specced alloy Lust in the range the $3499 Lust Advanced 27.5 2, featuring a carbon frame, much better brakes and more manoeuvrable weight, is arguably better value that upgrading the alloy model one part at a time. It will be far more nimble on climbs and allow its pilot to push it harder on the descents. If you’re more interested in building your skills and discovering the trails, we’d recommend leaving this one largely unchanged. Ride it, crash it, replace the odd part that isn’t going to break the bank, have a blast, have a holiday and push your skills on more trails still.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

 The biggest confidence vote the Lust 27.5 2 provides in this respect is that there’s not much we’d want to change

Liv/Giant’s range goes far beyond chick specific gimmicks and covers the bases for a variety of rider types. The biggest confidence vote the Lust 27.5 2 provides in this respect is that there’s not much we’d want to change to make this bike feel ‘more right’, provided an agile XC ride feel is what you’re after. Those wanting the extra stability of a trail bike might want to cross their fingers and hope that 2015 sees the Intrigue hit our shores (this one is more like the 5” travel Trance).

For someone thinking of giving mountain biking a crack, or simply choosing between a hardtail and a dually, the biggest benefit of the Lust is that it provides its owner with endless options. It forces her to develop a good riding position, rewards a thirst to explore and try new things and it doesn’t need a super human knowledge of bike components to make it fit and perform the way it should. Most of all, it is such a pleasure to ride it will make her feel fit, skilful and strong as a by-product of having a great time outside.

Test Giant Lust 2

[tabgroup][tab title=”Rider Details” ]Kath Bicknell, 164cm, 56kg[/tab][tab title=”Changes Made” ]Tubeless conversion, Longer 90mm stem[/tab][/tabgroup]

Flow’s First Bite: BH Lynx 6 27.5

Normally we’re filling you in on a new test bike the moment it lands in the office but the BH Lynx 6 is one we’ve had for a little while and we’ve already been shredding the trails from Cairns to Sydney. The BH Lynx 6 27.5 is a 150mm/160mm travel all-mountain machine, and coming with Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension system, we approached this one with high expectations.

BH Lynx 6 Alloy 27.5-5
The heart of the frame; a ‘floating’ shock driven by the Split Pivot suspension configuration. The FOX Evolution series shock has a remote CTD lever.

Click here to check out our full write up.

So what’s in the package? 150mm of FOX CTD damped travel front and rear with a handlebar remote for both, Shimano XT cranks and derailleurs, SLX brakes, Stan’s ZTR tubeless ready wheels (even though we’ve shot ours with DT Swiss), to name a few highlights. The 90mm stem and 680mm bars made us feel like we were back in the 90’s, so we swapped them out as soon as we could. The absence of a dropper post is a pity. We’ve since had a chat with the Australian BH distributor and we’re super pleased to hear that the 2015 version of this bike will come with 50/70mm stem options, a 740mm bar AND a dropper post too – it’s great to see that BH has taken that feedback on board.

The handlebar-mounted controls for the CTD fork and shock make for it easy to stiffen things up in a hurry for the long climbs or sprints. It’s a simultaneous lockout system – it’s either C, T, or D for front and back, at the same time – so you can’t just stiffen the rear and leave the fork fully open, which is a common setup choice.

BH Lynx 6 Alloy 27.5-10
In 1993 Guns and Roses released their 5th studio album called “the Spaghetti Incident”. Just like that album was a bit of a let down, the spaghetti “incident” of cables  is less than appealing. The brakes, however, are awesome.
BH Lynx 6 Alloy 27.5-7
“Floated Mount”? BH boasts that they’re the only company who uses a floating mount on split pivot suspension system. Simplistically, it means that the rear shock is not anchored to the actual mainframe, allowing more control over the shock rate.

The BH Lynx is all about the rear end and it has a list of slogans to describe the technology employed here that’s longer than most people’s weekly grocery list. However, it’s really the ride that matters and our initial impressions of the rear suspension are very good, especially on those square rocks and bumps that tend to hang up the rear end. The BH doesn’t seem to get caught up as much and thus momentum is easier to maintain over the really rough stuff.

With a different bar and stem fitted (as mentioned above), the bike has a neutral, familiar feel. The geometry feels perfect for a bike of this kind, with a head angle that instills confidence and a compact frame that lends itself to flicking about. We’re excited to have the bike for a bit longer, so look out for our full test soon.