Tested: Specialized Women’s Riata and Cascade Shoes

I remember my first set of mountain bike shoes. I picked a ‘best guess’ size and special ordered them from my local bike shop. There were a men’s design, fitted well enough, and worked well in the face of no other wildly different options that small or at that price point. I’ve had knee niggles ever since, a likely outcome given over training, under stretching and my feet swimming around in my shoes.

Specialized have developed research, training and design systems that eliminate experiences for female riders like the one above. Like the women’s saddles we tested recently , our women’s shoe test also began by meeting with Lyndell van de Walle at Cyclery Northside, getting fitted for two new offerings from Specialized: The Riata MTB shoes and the Cascade XC shoes.

[divider]Finding your fit[/divider]

The fit process for a pair of Specialized shoes takes into account two important measurements. The first is a rider’s size, the second is the amount of contact their foot has with the sole of the shoe.

A heat sensitive device measures the two in one go. This limits the fussing around with special ordering and multiple shop visits if the first size isn’t right. (Although, due to brand’s reputation for excellent fitting women’s shoes most shops stock a good range of sizes and styles.)

Behold, the arch-o-meter.
Behold, the arch-o-meter.

Our foot contact measurement indicated a high arch. This signalled that extra support inside the shoe would provide additional stability, an improved pedal stroke and better power transfer.

Three different innersoles, or footbeds, are available as an add-on to a shoe purchase for riders who want to address this area of fit and performance. In our case, we were supplied with innersoles that support a higher arch, which stopped our foot collapsing during the pedal stroke.

The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.

The built up footbeds have led to much better tracking of our hips and knees, to the point where knee pain on the bike and was far more responsive to stretching and maintenance off the bike. The difference is so pronounced we want to put these in our regular shoes as well – except that they’re carefully designed for a pedal stroke, not a foot step.

With size and arch support taken care of, what would the shoes offer on top of this?

[divider]Specialized Women’s Riata MTB Shoe[/divider]

The Riata MTB shoe is an entry level mountain bike shoe. At $129.95 it retails at a price you’d expect to pay for a reasonably supportive running shoe.

Like a similar level of running shoe, the Riata is constructed out of well-researched features delivering fit and performance without going over the top with bells and whistles.

We can't say enough good things about the Riatas - especially for riders new to the sport or who don't want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.
We can’t say enough good things about the Riatas – especially for riders new to the sport or who don’t want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.

The sole provides reasonable traction. There are no studs or softer compound materials to add extra grip, but we didn’t miss this. In fact, we preferred the durability of the more basic sole that is less affected by walking on scratchy surfaces.

Specialized shoes are built up a little along the inside middle of the foot. Whether you buy additional inner soles or not, riders will also benefit from the ‘metatarsal button’ which helps to keep the toes feeling relaxed and ‘longitudinal arch’ support. Again, great for the demands of long rides and a cycling pedal stroke.

The sole of the Riata has a ‘stiffness factor’ of six. This means it’s stiff-ish without being so light, hard and power transfer-y that Specialized would want to use similar materials for Tony Martin’s next time trial bike.

The more basic sole provides ample traction.
The more basic sole provides ample traction.

Of the two pairs of shoes we tested we preferred these for trail riding and gravity enduro – ride days where we valued the flexibility of the sole for extra pedal feel and subtle manoeuvres through the feet. We also preferred the Riatas for these rides as we’re more off and on the bike as they’re better suited for walking. Our heel tended to slip a little but not in a deal breaker way.

We were very impressed by the fit, feel and value for money of these shoes. They offer new riders an affordable, stylish and very functional package.

We were blown away by how far they’ve come from heavy, ‘unisex’, box-like designs of the past.

[divider]Specialized Women’s Cascade XC Shoes[/divider]

There aren’t many companies offering a high end women’s specific XC shoe. The carbon soled, fancy-strapped, shiny, pro-looking Cascades are in fact a model down from the even more blinged out Specialized Women’s S-Works race shoes.

We were excited about testing them, but then devastated when they didn’t seem to fit. They’re so snug, stiff and efficient that, at first, matched to our broad feet they just seemed to cause blisters and cramps.

The women's Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.
The women’s Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.

We were surprised about this given our success with other models in the Specialized range, but soon realised it wasn’t the shoe that was causing the problem, but the shoe combined with our broad, high arched feet and the extra bulk of the add-on green footbeds we’d inserted.

After a month of breaking in the shoe with the original, less built up footbeds we were able to switch back to the support of the green inserts and have blissfully remained blister and cramp free since. In fact, the Cascades now feel akin to a pair of stylish, powerful slippers. Cinderella eat your heart out.

The Cascades do away with some of the extra material that adds room and bulk in the Riatas. Two Velcro straps and a replaceable ‘Boa S2 Snap’ dial pull the top in nice and close.

The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.
The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.

Test Specialized WMNS Shoes 3

A carbon sole adds stiffness and shaves weight. The sole also has more traction than earlier women’s shoe designs from Specialized, a welcome addition given they are made for mountain biking after all. Like the Riatas, we were really pleased to see these shoes come in a practical black.

With a stiffness index of 11, five more stiffness-es than the Riatas, these shoes are the pick for transferring power to the pedals. They hold the feet in place well eliminating extra movement and energy loss, but are still as comfortable at the end of an all day ride as they are at the beginning (after that initial breaking in period for our test feet).

A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.
A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.

Like the name suggests, they’re best suited to XC and marathon. We also used them a lot on the road bike during the test period. They’re light, efficient and we prefer the extra float on MTB pedals compared to some road brands. Plus, if we were to spend $350 on a pair of shoes, we’d want to be using them every chance we could!

The Cascades are more than twice the price of the Riatas. In the absence of many competitors on the market, they’re a worthwhile investment for women wanting a high performing, injury reducing, snug fitting pair of kicks.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We were obviously impressed by these two women’s offerings from Specialized. While some brands still only make a token effort in the women’s shoe department, it’s impressive to see such a comprehensive, innovative and extensive range coming out of this company for female riders at both ends of the sport.

Specialized's womens Riata MTB and Cascade XC shoes.

The fit process reflects the research findings from the design team and adds to the pleasurable ride experience both shoes provide. The impact of a good fitting pair of shoes on injury reduction is something we can’t emphasise enough making either pair a valuable investment if you find yourself riding regularly.

We were surprised by the initial tightness of the Cascades, but it was in fact the fit process that made us think it was worthwhile trying them a little longer – and given how comfortable they became, we’re certainly glad we did.

 

Tested: Pivot LES 29

You can almost envision the meeting at Pivot HQ, amongst the rocky mesas of Arizona:

“Guys, I really think we should make a hardtail.”

“Whaddaya mean a hardtail? We’re called Pivot – can you tell me where the pivot is on a hardtail? And what the hell would we call it anyhow, this pivot-less Pivot of yours? Hey…. wait a minute.” And so the Pivot Les was born. Well, at least that’s how we like to imagine it.

Tested Pivot LES 3

The crew at Flow have long been fans of Pivot Cycles, and over the years we’ve had plenty of their superbly engineered bikes either in our own personal quiver or on test. Mr Pivot, Chris Cocalis, possesses one of the finest design brains in mountain bikes, and his expertise resonates through the brand and all the way to the trail.

But one of the aspects that generally makes Pivot bikes so appealing is their rear suspension performance. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Les ain’t got no rear suspension. We’ve seen many a brand come up short when they try to step outside their area of expertise; would the Les live up to our usual lofty Pivot expectations?

[tabgroup][tab title=”Rider details” ]Chris Southwood, 62kg, 172cm[/tab][tab title=”Changes made for testing” ]Fitted Maxxis Ardent Race tyres (tubeless), fitted 730mm Thomson bar, 80mm stem[/tab][/tabgroup]

Tested Pivot LES 9
Note the slight bend in the seat tube.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Hardtails aren’t our bread and butter at Flow. The trails around our HQ are rocky and rough, and riding them on a hardtail is kind of like watching subtitled television – less fun and requiring too much concentration. But the perfect opportunity to give the Pivot a real test was on the horizon, with the four-day Port to Port MTB stage race coming up. Having already checked out much of the course, we knew that it was well suited to a hardtail, and within moments of clapping eyes on the Pivot it got the nod for the job.

Pivot Les Test-17
The Swinger system allows single speed dropouts to be bolted on in seconds.

The Pivot has a look about it that we loved from the very outset; it’s a carbon hardtail without fear, with pin-striping that wouldn’t be out of place on a souped-up Valiant. The front/centre measurement is long, the rear end is very short, the head angle a little slacker than most cross country hardtails, and it’s equipped with wheels that can take a beating. It’s a bike that eases the hardtail learning curve and doesn’t punish you too much when you forget you don’t have five-inches of travel. In sum, the Les is exactly the kind of hardtail you want if you usually ride a dual-suspension!

Power transfer and direct, confident handling are two hallmarks of Pivot bikes, and the Les frame reflects this: the head tube area is whopping, and it’s mirrored by a tremendously stiff 92mm press-fit bottom bracket junction. In comparison, the more flattened profiles of the top tube and seat stays look rather svelte, but it’s all about factoring a little bit of compliance into the ride.

Tested Pivot LES 1
The LES 29 in stock format.

While we weren’t masochistic enough to do so, the Les can be easily converted into a single speed too. The Swinger dropouts have  a unique, indexed chain-tension adjustment system, allowing for single speed use without the need for a chain tensioner. Out of the box though, the frame is set up for geared use, and the single speed dropouts are available separately. One the topic of dropouts, the Les comes with a lovely DT-made 142x12mm rear axle, which is a nice touch.

Pivot Les Test-5
Neat front derailleur mount cap.

Keeping the rear end short is absolutely key to good 29er handling, and at 434mm the Les is fairly compact in the chain stay department. Widely bowed seat stays and a slight curve to the seat tube (and the added fact that our bike had no front derailleur) ensure that there’s still plenty of tyre clearance, which would certainly become a boon during the incredible mud we encountered on Day 2 of the Port to Port MTB stage race.

Internal gear cable routing is kept hassle free with a large access port under the bottom bracket shell, while the rear brake is kept external for simplicity and ease-of-maintenance.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Pivot Les Test-2
The LES, as we raced it at Port to Port.

With a $7000+ price tag, it’s no surprise that the Les has components that leave very little room for upgrading. SRAM’s formidable XX1 groupset is a highlight, as are the Stan’s Arch EX wheels and FOX Float Factory fork. Still, we did make a few changes to the bike before race day – in a stage race environment, the reliability of your bike is so important and the last thing you want is to be carrying out undue maintenance each night when you’re shagged. Some of the tweaks we made were about confidence, some were about comfort.

Tested Pivot LES 15

The Magura MT-8 brakes were removed in favour of a well-loved set of Avid XO Trail brakes. While this change added weight to the bike, we didn’t have any spare parts for the Maguras available, and previous experience with some temperamental Magura stoppers left us wary. The tyres also had to go. While the Stan’s wheels are tubeless-ready, the Kenda tyres seal up about as well as flyscreen! We opted for the new Maxxis Ardent Race in a 2.2″, and they ended up being the perfect tyre for the job, with a robust casing and fantastic grip.

We also swapped out the cockpit. The Les has a long top tube and with the stock 100mm stem and 740mm bar, it was too much of a stretch for our test rider. It’s unlike us to go narrower on a handlebar, but in the end we settled on a 730mm Thomson bar combined with an 80mm stem. With the stem flipped and lowered as far as it would go, the riding position was perfect! With all these changes made, the Les weighed in at just over 10.3kg,

A 30-tooth chain ring sounds small, but we were the envy of other riders on the climbs!
A 30-tooth chain ring sounds small, but we were the envy of other riders on the climbs!

Back on the subject of the drivetrain, the Les came equipped with a 30-tooth chain ring. Our initial thought was to change it for something a little bigger, but we ultimately left it in place and we’re incredibly happy we did! We lost count of how many times riders asked if they could borrow the Pivot’s tiny chain ring as we spun by on the climbs – gear your bike for the climbs, not the descents, especially when there’s four days of racing to be done.

Pivot Les Test-24

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Looking back, we really cannot fault the Pivot’s performance during Port to Port. Aside from about 15 minutes during the lumpy third stage when our back lamented not having a full suspension bike, the Les truly was the ultimate tool for the job. Nothing reinforces this fact more than the complete lack of thought we gave to the bike during the actual racing – not a niggle, not a squeak, not one moment of uncertainty.

Tested Pivot LES 2 6
Grubby.

This is what a great bike achieves, it allows you to worry about your own performance, not the bike’s. But a truly excellent bike goes one step further, compensating for you when your brain and body is too rooted to ride properly. There were plenty of instances when the Pivot carried us through situations that could have ended up very badly on a more nervous bike; the insanely fast and muddy descent from the Pokolbin State Forest on stage 2, or blindly bombing into rocky Glenrock singletrack on stage 4 for instance. But in each case, the stability of the Pivot carried us through.

Tested Pivot LES 2 22
Three days in to the race and the pilot’s still smiling. Must be a nice bike then.

For a bike that still weighs so little and climbs so well, the Pivot’s frame stiffness and refusal to get thrown off line is pretty impressive. The wide Stans rims give plenty of stability to the tyres, but it’s the feeling of connectedness between the front wheel, your hands, your feet and the rear wheel that really makes this bike shine.

Tested Pivot LES 23

The XX1 drivetrain never missed a shift, even when the derailleur was literally a solid block of mud. At one stage during the race, the sheer amount of mud on the chain ring meant the chain just wouldn’t stay on, forcing an impromptu bike wash in the nearest puddle. The super-fine chain ring/chain tolerances just couldn’t cope with that much mud, but we’re talking about so much crud that the wheels wouldn’t even turn, so we’re not going to hold this against the Pivot!

Tested Pivot LES 2 5
When conditions are filthy like this, a bike that you don’t have to even think about makes all the difference.

The FOX Float 32 Factory fork was stellar. It exemplifies set-and-forget performance – we left the fork in the intermediate Trail mode for the entire four days of racing, from the roughest descents to the smoothest tarmac sections. Despite absolutely zero maintenance being administered, the fork’s performance didn’t deteriorate at all, and we couldn’t have asked for a better balance of sensitivity and support.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Tested Pivot LES 2 21

Pivot have nailed it. With their first carbon hardtail, they’ve managed to capture all the important aspects that have traditionally made Pivot bikes so great, just minus the rear suspension. The added versatility of simple single speed conversion will appeal to some, but for us it’s the way this bike blends the best of a high-performance race hardtail with the confidence of a much burlier bike that has won us over.

Tested Pivot LES 24

 

 

Tested: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels

Stiffer than your legs after a 100km race and packing a freehub that engages faster than Christian high school sweethearts, the new Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels are amongst the finest trail / all-mountain hoops we’ve seen.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -3

We’ve been running these glamorous wheels on our Giant Trance SX long-term test bike since March, and while the Giant’s stock wheelset is certainly not to be sneered at, the Bontrager Rhythm Pros are a very desirable upgrade.

Carbon wheels are admittedly still expensive, but they’re no longer a pro-only item as once was the case. When they’re built right, carbon wheels can really change a bike’s performance. And Trek, Bontrager’s parent company, have long been a leader the carbon game; their OCLV carbon road frames redefined performance and that experience has all been brought to bear in the mountain bike world now too.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -5
We feel that Bonty missed an opportunity to do something really wild with the graphics on these wheels. They’re special wheels – draw attention to it!

The Rhythm Pro TLR wheels use Trek’s OCLV (optimum compaction, low void) carbon to form the very stiff rims which are at the core of this wheelset’s performance. Trek haven’t gone down the super-wide route that we’re starting to see from a number of specialist carbon rim manufacturers – the Rhythm rims measure up at an external width of 29mm and just shy of 23mm internally. While wider rims do have some benefits, we think that the Rhythm Pro hoops strike a pretty good balance between width and weight, tipping the scales at 1620g.

We have been running 2.35″ and 2.4″ rubber at very low pressure on these rims and enjoying mountains of grip. Even with the tyres in the low 20 psi range, burping or tyre roll hasn’t been an issue. Such low pressures aren’t going to be suitable for all riders (our test rider is not a large unit), but we felt happy running the Bontrager XR4 rubber in this pressure range.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -11
The rim profile is offset in order to provide more consistent spoke length and tension across drive/non-drive side spokes.

Our confidence to hammer these wheels at low pressures stems from a couple of areas. Firstly, the Bontrager tubeless rim strips hold onto the tyre bead tenaciously, so it’s very hard to roll the tyre off the rim or burp any air. The flip side is that changing tyres requires hands like a Bulgarian coal miner. Secondly, the rims seem to be completely bombproof – even when we’ve felt the rim smack into a rock, the sound is more of a muted thud than a ‘ping’ like you get with an alloy rim, and when we’ve inspected the rim for wobbles or signs of the impact, there’s never been a mark. We’ve done some serious damage to alloy rims (including Bontragers) before with this kind of treatment, but we can’t draw a whimper from these guys.

With 54 engagement points, the take up under power is rapid and positive. Every quick stab at the pedals, be it mid-way up a techy climb or getting a half pedal stroke in between corners, results in forward drive. Shimano and XD freehub bodies are available, and pulling the freehub off for a quick clean or preventative lubing is easy – just give it a tug. For what it’s worth, these wheels do sound good too – like someone is chasing you down the trail ripping up a bed sheet!

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -12
The freehub can simply be slid off the axle. Good from an ease of maintenance perspective. Less good from a sealing perspective.

We’re incredibly impressed with the stiffness of these wheels too. This perhaps the area where we noticed the biggest and most immediate difference when compared to the stock wheelset on our Giant. The offset spoke design means there’s more consistent tension across both sides of the wheel, and the spoke tension is very high out of the box. Couple this with the robust rims themselves you’ve got a wheel that goes exactly where you tell it and which allows your suspension and tyres to work their magic effectively.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -16

On the durability front, we’d recommend regular cleaning and lubing of the freehub pawls and drive ring. The freehub mechanism isn’t as well sealed as some, so after really wet rides, a 30-second wipe out and re-lube wouldn’t hurt. In terms of rim/spoke/truing maintenance, we’ve not needed to so much as look at a spoke key yet. These wheels are straighter than an accountancy convention and still packing more tension than a hostage negotiation.

With an ever increasing number of options for riders looking for carbon trail/all-mountain wheels, we feel that the Bontrager Rhythm Pro rims are much more than just ‘me t00’ wheelset. Whether or not these wheels can steal some glory from the likes of Enve will have to be seen over the longer term, but our initial three months would suggest these hoops could be a serious contender. We’ll endeavour to keep these wheels in the family for another six months or so and report back again.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -1

 

Flow’s First Bite: Morewood Zula 27.5

Rightly or wrongly, South Africans do have a reputation for getting straight to the point. So we will too: This bike looks like more fun than nude sky-diving and we simply cannot wait to razz the bejeezus out of it.

Morewood Zula -18

Morewood bikes hail from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Greg Minnaar’s home town. The founder of Morewood Bikes is a fella named Patrick Morewood, a former South African National DH Champ, and while Patrick is no longer involved in the brand, his legacy of building fun, simple, fast and great-descending bikes lives on.

Morewood Zula -20

Morewood Bikes were constructed around the ethos that Less is More(wood) – the idea that a light, simple, single-pivot design with good geometry could out perform a complicated machine. The new Zula 27.5 typifies this belief.It’s a refreshingly simple design, executed well.

The 100mm-travel frame is constructed from aluminium, and is designed for use with a 120mm fork. It’s not a cross country race bike, but it just has a look about it that lets you know it wants to savage some twisty singletrack. The bottom bracket is low, the stays are short, and our test bike is set up with a cockpit that gives you confidence.

Morewood Zula -14

Nowadays, single pivot bikes like this are few and far between. The question will be whether such a simple design can hang with the modern crop of four-bar linkage bikes. We get the feeling that whatever this bike might lack in suspension suppleness, it will make up for in can-do attitude.

Morewood Zula -16

The build on our test bike has a swathe of parts from Morewood’s importer Pushie Enterprises, including Loaded wheels (which we’ve converted to tubeless with Bontrager rim strips), a KS Lev dropper post and a cSixx chain guide with a 1×10 drivetrain. We’ve taken this opportunity to also test out a 42-tooth Giant Cog from Wolf Tooth Components, which adds dramatically to the gear range of the 10-speed single-ring setup.

 

Tested: Cell Awaba 2.0

We recently found out that we’ve been mispronouncing Awaba. Apparently it’s not ‘A-wah-ba’. It’s actually more of on ‘o’ sound: ‘A-wob-a’. We might have been saying it wrong, but the bike of the same name gets it right where it counts.

Test Cell Awaba 25
Understated.

The Cell Awaba 2.0 ushers in a new era for wallet-friendly Sydney-based brand Cell Bikes. It’s what we’d deem to be Cell’s first serious mountain bike offering in quite some time, and it a really nice bike for a very reasonable sum. Test Cell Awaba 22 Cell have taken aim directly at a super receptive target market – the wallet conscious weekend warrior and occasional racer – and they’ve opened fire with a $1699 29er hardtail that must be one of the best value bikes around. [divider]Build[/divider] An aluminium hardtail frame at this price point rarely gives much cause for comment, but there are actually some quite notable and well-considered features on the Awaba. Firstly, the understated paint job comes across as stealthy, rather than half baked, with some nice details the closer you look.

Test Cell Awaba 13
Positioning the brake caliper on the chain stay looks great and allows for a lighter and more compliant seat stay.

The rear end is built for maximising comfort; just because it’s a hardtail, doesn’t mean it has to be rock hard. Positioning the brake caliper on the chain stay allows for the use of a very light seat stay, which works in tandem with the slender 27.2mm carbon post and curved, triple-butted seat tube to deliver more compliance. An easy-to-use Maxle binds the 142x12mm dropouts together tightly (and matches the fork’s axle too).

The rear end is built for maximising comfort; just because it’s a hardtail, doesn’t mean it has to be rock hard.

In a nod to commuters or tourers, there’s rack mounts, and also (the only blight on this otherwise very nice frame) a mount for kickstand. Yes. A kickstand.

Full length cable housing is used too, to reduce the need for ongoing maintenance, and it’s all routed under the down tube rather than internally, which will please home mechanics. A low-stack head tube facilitates a more aggressive position than you’d usually expect to see on many bikes at this price point too, which will please those  coming to mountain biking from a road background, shorties, or riders who want the front end low. An easily overlooked but very cool feature is the use of a custom offset fork, much like the G2 geometry found on Trek’s 29ers. Cell calls it Pro 29 Geo, and essentially the fork crown is offset further forward than is standard. The benefits of this greater offset include increased foot/tyre clearance without resorting to a super long top tube. It also allows for a reduction in ‘trail’ (the offset between the steering angle and the tyre’s actual contact patch with the ground) without having to jack the head angle up super steep.

Test Cell Awaba 10
The fork uses a custom offset crown, which Cell term Pro 29 Geo.

[divider]Spec[/divider] In a world where many buyers shop on rear derailleur spec, not ride quality, Cell have to be competitive for the money and they’ve succeeded in cramming a lot of high-performance componentry into a relatively meagre price tag. We don’t normally like to focus on spec overly, but it’s a big part of the appeal of this bike, and it’s important to the folk who are likely to buy this bike.

Brilliantly, the Awaba comes primed for tubeless conversion.

Test Cell Awaba 14
The Rockshox Reba fork isn’t the most supple fork out there, but it’s light, stiff, easy to set up and right for the job at hand. Note the meaty Continental X-King 2.4″ tyre.

The Shimano running gear and brakes are all fantastic and it’s a pleasure to see so much XT in the mix, with the rear mech, double ring crankset and shifters all brandishing the XT name. A Deore level cassette is the only obvious nod to dollar saving, but that’s a wear item anyhow and can be upgraded down the line.

Tough Alex rims with 32 conventional spokes makes for simple repairs should you pop a spoke and the hubs use sealed bearings throughout. The tyre choice is sensible too, with a faster rolling Continental Race King out back and a large volume X-King 2.4″ up front. Brilliantly, the Awaba comes primed for tubeless conversion. There’s tubeless tape and valves in the box, and while the Conti tyres aren’t really designed for tubeless use, we had no problems getting them to seal up with the addition of some Stan’s No Tubes sealant. We did have the benefit of an air compressor to get the tyres to seat properly. The Cell branded seat post is a highlight. Its made from uni-directional carbon fibre and has a surprising amount of ‘give’. Even bouncing around the carpark you can see the post flexing ever so slightly. A racy Prologo saddle (which made our arse smile), 90mm stem and 700mm-wide flat bar round out the contact points nicely.

Test Cell Awaba 20
The slender 27.2mm carbon post noticeably reduces the trail chatter.

100mm of bounce is taking care of by the lightweight Rockshox Reba RL with a 15mm Maxle axle. The Solo Air spring is easy to set up, though we did find it necessary to run more air pressure than the pressure chart recommended in order to keep the fork from bottoming out. There’s a lockout on top of the right leg and we’re glad the Cell resisted the temptation to fit a handlebar-mounted remote lockout – it’s just more faff to break.

Test Cell Awaba 4
A lock out is on hand for tarmac work.

[divider]Ride[/divider] We rarely get the opportunity to ride hardtails here at Flow, especially with the proliferation of do-it-all 140-160mm trail bikes that seem to roll through our door a lot lately. When knew it would take us a couple of hours to get back in the groove or riding a hardtail, so our first ride on the Cell was a long fire road bash. In reality, this is probably the kind of riding a bike like this will spend most of its life doing, so it was an appropriate place to kick off.

Test Cell Awaba2 2
Loving the Awaba on the berms of James Estate.

Getting comfortable was not problem, we found the ergonomics to be spot on. Our initial inclination had been to go 10mm shorter on the stem and 20mm wider with the bar, but we’re actually glad that we didn’t. The lengths felt fantastic, and the position gave the front wheel plenty of bite in the corners. Our first ride taught us that the fork needed more air than Rockshox claimed. So before our second ride, we upped the fork pressure, dropped the tyre pressure to around 27psi and found the bike’s sweet spot. With the presures dialled, we found far more front end grip than we’d expected, especially when braking hard and late. The big contact patch of the Conti 2.4″ front tyre lets you make the most of the awesome power on tap from the SLX brakes. Seriously, these brakes upstage other stoppers that are three times the price – how does Shimano do it?

Test Cell Awaba2 5
James Estate once again. Smooth singletrack like this is the Awaba’s ideal turf.

We found it easy to get our weight distributed to the rear of the bike when tackling rocky sections, rollers or drops, and with quite short stays hopping the bike was not a worry.

The Awaba didn’t disappoint on the climbs. On long drags we did notice that there’s a bit of weight to the wheels, so staying on top of the gear is important, but the climbing position is ideal, especially with the stem slammed low. The front wheel doesn’t lift or wander on steep, seated grinds. It was on the awesome trails around James Estate where we really found our mojo onboard the Awaba and once again came to appreciate the joy of riding a hardtail fast in singletrack. The handling is speedy, precise and playful. With 435mm stays and 69.5 degree head angle, the balance of the Awaba felt ideal to us. We found it easy to get our weight distributed to the rear of the bike when tackling rocky sections, rollers or drops, and with quite short stays hopping the bike was not a worry.

Test Cell Awaba 33
Leech dodging.

As accustomed as we are to dropper seat posts, we were surprised that we didn’t  feel ‘locked in’ by running our seat post at full height. It was easy to tip the Awaba around underneath us and get behind the saddle when we needed to, and we found ourselves working the terrain and riding in a more engaged way than we’d expected. Simply put, the ride was fun and confident, which translates directly into a willingness to go faster. Once we’d added some Frameskin to the chain stay to quieten any chain slap, the Awaba was a surprisingly quiet bike too. Careful consideration of the cable routing means there’s no cables slapping against the frame or fork crown.

Test Cell Awaba2 6
We found it very easy to move around on the Awaba. Getting off the back of the bike for drops like this was not a worry.

Over the course of our riding, we did begin to find the shifting becoming quite heavy. This friction can be the downside of full length cable housing; it’s important to ensure the cables are well-lubed when the bike is built. Fitting some Shimano housing and filling it with a thickish chain lube is the solution, which is a $20-$30 exercise at most. [divider]Overall[/divider] It probably sounds like we’ve been overly effusive for what is ultimately a fairly basic bike. But the Awaba exceeded our expectations well and truly, not just in terms of the way it rode, but through the obvious level of thought that has been put into the component selection and frame design. Over time, it’d be an easy task to make some simple upgrades to push this bike closer to the 11kg mark, but even as it stands, we’d have no problems popping a number plate on this bike and tackling a 50km marathon or four-hour cross country race. And at less than $1700 you’ll have plenty of cash left over to buy enough gels to keep you riding or racing for yonks. Test Cell Awaba 29

 

Tested by: Chris Southwood

Rider height: 172cm

Rider weight: 62kg

Tested at: James Estate Winery, St Ives, Terry Hills, Wollombi.

Changes made: Converted to tubeless with supplied strips and valves, added Frameskin Framewrap to protect and silence chain stay.

 

Tested: Trek Remedy 9 29

We’ve developed a real fondness for the Trek Remedy series of bikes over the past half dozen years. Like watching a teenage boy growing into a man, we’ve seen them change, get stronger, find their way in the world, make some bad decisions (like the DRCV fork) and learn from them.

But now the Remedy is all grown up. So grown up in fact that it’s sprung some 29″ wheels. Say hello to the Trek Remedy in its burly 29er format!

Trek Remedy 9 29-12

Of course this isn’t the only shape you can get your Trek Remedy in nowadays. For 2014, Trek offered two wheel size variants of the Remedy. The wagon-wheeler you see here, and a 650B version which we actually reviewed only a few months ago. While that experience was still fresh-ish in our minds, we thought we’d give the 29er a run too, and see which bike sizzled our steak more.

[divider]Build[/divider]

Trek Remedy 9 29-21
The Full Floater has been integral to the Remedy’s performance for years now.

At the heart of the bike you’ll find the well regarded Full Floater / ABP suspension system, which looks like a four-bar but places a pivot directly around the rear axle. This Active Braking Pivot retains suspension activity under braking, while the Full Floater aspect refers to the fact the shock is not mounted to the mainframe at all, but ‘floats’ between the upper link and a shock mount on the chain stays. It’s all about controlling the shock rate. The third card in the deck of the Remedy’s suspension is the DRCV Fox shock.

This system, like a good lover, knows when to give a little and when to give a lot.

The Dual Rate Control Valve shock has two air chambers, relying on the the smaller one to keep a firm feel for the initial travel and activating a second larger chamber to provide a more linear feel deeper in the suspension stroke. This system, like a good lover, knows when to give a little and when to give a lot.

Trek Remedy 9 29-28
The DRCV shock has evolved into a fantastic performer. Supportive when you need it, plush when you want it.

Geometry is adjustable, from a 68-67.5 degree head angle, via the simple Mino Link on the seat stays. We left it in the slacker setting but if you’re after a sharper ride it’s nice to have that option. Other noteworthy features include room for a full-size water bottle, an internally-routed ‘stealth’ style dropper post, and ISCG tabs. We’re not sure about the mix of internal and external cable routing – it all looks a bit messy, especially with both a front derailleur and a dropper post.

Trek Remedy 9 29-23
Choose your angles.
Down tube protection is a nice touch!
Down tube protection is a nice touch!
Trek Remedy 9 29-14
Room for a water bottle. Win.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Just like its 650B-wheeled brother, the Remedy 9 29er has a component spec that’s so reliable you’d swear it was Swiss made. The only blemish is the narrow handle bar, but that’s an easy swap, so swap it we did for a 730mm Thompson bar. Otherwise you’d be foolish to make any changes to this bike – the blend of Shimano XT and excellent Bontrager components is hard to top.

Trek Remedy 9 29-27
Converting the Bontrager Rhythm Elite wheels to tubeless is easy with Bonty’s own rim strips.

The gearing range provided by the 2×10 XT drivetrain is spot on, and the brakes have more power than a dinosaur’s fart. It’s a bit of pity that Trek didn’t use Shimano’s I-Spec shifter/brake lever mounting system, as the bars are a mess with so many separate clamps.

After almost finding ourselves stranded in the middle of the jungle after one too many flat tyres, we made the switch to tubeless. We used Bontrager’s own tubeless rim strips for the job. These strips simply snap into place, and we think they’re the neatest tubeless conversion system available, so good that we regularly use them on other types of rims, not just Bontys.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

We were lucky enough to take the Remedy to a wide range of trails during our testing, from the groomed singletrack of Smithfield in Cairns, to muddy rainforest in the Cassowary Coast and then back to the rough sandstone of Flow’s home trails in Sydney. The Remedy took it all in its stride; if you’re looking for a versatile bike to tackle just about anything that comes your way, then this fella is worth consideration.

WEB_Flow_Nation_Cairns_DB-73

Before we actually rode this bike, we’d kind of mentally pigeon holed it. We’d made the assumption it was going to be monster truck, the kind of bike that just ran shit over but which handled singletrack like a barge. We were wrong.

The Remedy remains responsive and lively, which is always a challenge to achieve with 29″ wheels and this much travel.

Yes, the Remedy is jogs rather than sprints about, but this bike also climbs well and flicks through the trails far better than we’d ever envisaged. A lot of this can be attributed to the Remedy’s suspension and the way the DRCV shock offers a plenty of support in the early stages of the suspension travel. This firm feel in the initial stages of the travel ensures the Remedy remains responsive and lively, which is always a challenge to achieve with 29″ wheels and this much travel.

Trek Remedy 9 29-4
We think Bontrager’s XR3 tyres are some of the finest all-round treads out there.

With a 140mm travel fork, we felt compelled to get the bars down low, to keep weight on the front wheel and prevent too much lifting on the climbs. Trek have played it smart, using a tiny 100mm head tube, that ensures it’s possible to keep the cockpit to reasonable height. With the stem slammed, the Remedy did a great job of carving up singletrack turns. The Bontrager XR3 tyres are still one of our favourites, and for fast-rolling rubber they hook in beautifully on just about all trail surfaces giving the Remedy real consistency in the corners.

Trek Remedy 9 29-16
Stiff front end = goes where you tell it.

Like a number of Fox forks we’ve tested lately, we found the fork took a while to reach the smoothness we’d hoped for. It did improve with riding, and lubing the stanchions with some Finish Line Max Suspension Spray before each ride definitely helped. The rear suspension had no such issues; it seamlessly blends a supportive feel in the early stages of the travel with a bottomless and controlled feel on the bigger hits.

Does not come with rayon Hawaiian shirt.
Does not come with rayon Hawaiian shirt.

In terms of sheer smashability, the Remedy was happy to hammer, but still wasn’t quite the bump-eater we’d expected. Strangely, we feel that some of this actually comes down to frame sizing.  Because the Remedy has quite long chain stays ( 445mm ), in the smaller frame sizes (like the 17.5″ we tested) there is proportionally a lot of the bike behind the rider, rather than in front of them. This makes it harder to get your weight over the rear axle or to keep the front end up over holes. We think that the longer front-centre measurement found on the 19″ frame size and up would feel more balanced. Perhaps the Remedy is one bike that adds credence to the idea that shorter riders should consider a 27.5″ wheel, rather than a 29″.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way the Remedy disguises its travel on the climbs.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way the Remedy disguises its travel on the climbs.  While it’s not the lightest rig out there, the way it grapples up long climbs is excellent. In the small chain ring, you do notice a bit of pedal feedback, but not enough to disturb your rhythm. When the climbs become super steep or technical, you’ll want to shuffle right forward to stop the front end from popping up, but even when your weight is moved onto the nose of the saddle there never seems to be a loss of traction out back.

Trek Remedy 9 29-19

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We said at the outset that we wanted to pick a favourite; did we prefer the 27.5 or 29er Remedy? For us, the 27.5″ is the one. But that’s just us and our preference – the 29er certainly has advantages in many areas, particularly when it comes to climbing traction or rolling out long kays. We’re confident that many taller riders will gravitate towards the 29er too, as in the larger frame sizes we think this bike would mow down all comers. Whatever your choice – 27.5 or 29 – the Remedy has evolved in a seriously sophisticated and capable all-rounder, and if we had to pick a bike that we’d like on hand to tackle whatever came our way, then the Trek Remedy 9 would definitely be one of our top picks.

Trek Remedy 9 29-25

Tested by: Chris Southwood

Rider height: 172cm

Rider weight: 62kg

Tested at: Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Cassowary Coast, Red Hill (Sydney) and other sneaky trails.

Changes made: Wider bar (730mm) and converted to tubeless.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Pivot Les 29er

What do you get when a high end suspension frame manufacturer releases a hardtail? The Pivot Les. Pun intended, this aptly named carbon hardtail is a unique take on a 29er cross country hardtail with its convertible dropouts to allow for a single speed setup if you wish.

Pivot Les -33

1.13kg for the frame puts it squarely in that category of the elite racer, and a complete build of around 10-11kg is most certainly achievable with appropriate high end components. Our test bike with XX1 drivetrain, Stans ARCH EX wheels and Magura brakes tipped the scales at 10.3kg. Ditching the inner tubes and converting to tubeless would not only improve the ride in many ways, but would drop weight even further.

We can only begin to imagine how light one of these bikes would be set as a single speed, if pushing one gear around the trails if your thing, there would be few lighter than this guy.

The Swinger dropout system sets it apart from most carbon hardtails. We received a geared LES, but for around $300 a special dropout can be fitted with an integrated chain tension system, both neat and effective.

It’s a long bike, especially with such a long stem, top tube and wide bars. We’ll experiment a little with finding a shorter stem length to find a sweet balance between comfort and agility.

Pivot also do the LES in a 27.5″ wheeled version, but the smaller wheeled option loses the Swinger convertible dropouts.

Pivot Les -27
The way the tup tube sits flush with the headset top cap is super slick.

Pivot Les -13 Pivot Les -29

Spec wise, this orange beauty came to us with the top-tier spec. SRAM XX1, a Kashima FOX fork, and the super light Magura brakes. If there was one element of the kit that concerns us, it would be the brakes, sure they are light but we’d happily trade a few grams for a Shimano or SRAM brake that exhibits a more solid feel and positive bite. But we’ll give a proper assessment after a proper testing term.

The LES is ready to rock, and our choice of race bike for the Port to Port MTB in a couple weeks. With a tubeless conversion, some tougher rubber and a shorter stem this bike will surely be fair game for the big climbs and speedy trails to come.

Stay tuned for more!

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano Sport Camera

This one’s more out of left field than Clive Palmer grabbing senate seats! Shimano, the world’s biggest bike component manufacturer have entered the helmet / wearable camera market.

TestShimanoCamera 3

Click here to read our full review.

With the experience in electronics Shimano has developed over the last half dozen years with their Di2 battery-powered shifting, we guess the Japanese giant has been laying the ground work on this move for a long time.

But can Shimano be a serious challenger in this incredibly competitive market? We’ve seen a number of brands throw themselves up against the might GoPro and come away second best. What gives the Shimano Sport Camera a fighting chance? Certainly not the name… Sport Camera?

TestShimanoCamera 4

We previewed the Sport Camera couple of months ago and finally received a test unit in the mail today. After half an hour or so of tooling around with it, we’ve got to say it really does seem to be very good. You can read all the tech specs here, but below are our initial impressions.

First up, it’s absolutely tiny. At just 86g and not much bigger than a box of matches, it’s impressively petite – a child could swallow it – as it doesn’t rely on a waterproof casing to protect the innards. The whole unit is waterproof to a depth of 10 metres apparently (no surprise really, given Shimano also push this unit as a product for their fishing market too).

TestShimanoCamera 1

There’s no live display or menu on the camera – instead it relies on a basic series of coloured LEDs to let you know what mode the camera is in. BUT this rather basic on-camera information is supplemented by a fantastic smart phone App. So far, we’re confident in saying the interface between phone and camera is the best we’ve used. You can change modes, resolutions, replay and delete clips, format the card, switch the lens angle from 135-180 degrees and more from your phone. There also seems to be very little lag from the camera to the phone display.

TestShimanoCamera 2 (1)

In the box there’s a couple of mounting options, namely a stick-on flat surface mount and a vented helmet mount. As we’ve found in the past, the success or failure of a camera like this can really rest on the quality and availability of good mounting options, so we’re super happy to see that the Shimano camera works with all GoPro mounts, as well as a range of Shimano’s own mounts.

TestShimanoCamera 7 TestShimanoCamera 8

Unfortunately you’ll need to shell out for a micro SD card before you can actually record anything, but that’s fair enough as the $449 price tag seems quite reasonable to us thus far.

Incredibly, the camera is also ANT+ enabled, meaning it can record information from your GPS and incorporate that into the video file. And if you’re a roadie you’ll be pleased to know that the camera can talk to your Shimano Di2 shifting (providing you’ve got the new Di2 D-Fly transmitter) and incorporate all kinds of nerdy info about your shifting too. Welcome to #thefuture.

TestShimanoCamera 1 (1)

We’re really looking forward to reviewing this one!

 

Tested: Breezer Repack Team

Here in Australia, the name ‘Breezer’ is most commonly associated with an alcoholic beverage favoured by 17 year old girls. There’s nothing fizzy about this Breezer, though just like the alco-pop, it is pretty sweet.

TestBreezerRepack 39

Joe Breeze is the man behind Breezer bikes. Widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, with a place in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame to match, Breeze has a lot to say about bike design. While he’s been pretty quiet on the mountain bike front for a while, recently Breeze teamed up with the Sotto Group (the design team behind some of the industry’s best loved suspension designs) to launch two new bikes. There’s the 120mm-travel Supercell 29er and the bike we’ve been testing, the 160mm-travel 27.5″ wheeled Repack.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The Repack draws its name from the famous Repack downhill, a dirt road descent in Marin County, California that was the site of some the sport’s first legendary downhill races. The bikes’ coaster brake hubs would get so hot racing this famous descent, that they’d need to be ‘repacked’ with whale fat and moss to keep them from catching fire. Or something like that. Needless to say, the Repack Team has a penchant for the downward sloping stuff.

TestBreezerRepack 35

The full aluminium frame is a tough number and it comes fully featured with all the bells and whistles you’d expect, except for internal cable routing for a dropper post – there’s a press fit bottom bracket, 142x12mm rear dropouts (using a superb Shimano-made axle), low-stack internal headset. The cabling is all external for easy maintenance, running neatly tucked under the down tube. There are no water bottle mounts to be seen, so it’s pack-only.

There’s next to no flex detectable through the rear end, thanks to oversize axles and the whopping swing link securing the seat stay, and this robust construction is one of the real highlights. A waggly rear end is fine on a dog or a snake, not a trail bike.

TestBreezerRepack 34

Rear wheel travel is 160mm, and the system that controls all the motion in the ocean is called the M-Link. It’s a very unique suspension arrangement – it’s a four bar system using a pivot midway along the chain stay, in contrast to a ‘short link’ system (such as Giant Maestro or Santa Cruz VPP) or a Horst link (for example, a Norco or Specialized).

TestBreezerRepack 19

The geometry is quite unique too with a 68-degree head angle. That’s a full degree and a half steeper than is common on most bikes of this travel, but Breezer feel there’s a sound rationale behind this decision (see the graphic from the Breezer site below). The aspect that Breezer don’t mention in their explanation above is that a steeper head angle does tend to reduce stability at high speeds and confidence on steep descents. Can the Breezer hit the right balance?

pop_up_design_02

Our test bike was a size 17″, which Breezer classifies as a size small. We’d normally run a medium but this was the only test bike available, plus the top tube measurement is rather generous – looking at the sizing chart, it seems like the Repack runs on the long side across the entire size range. One immediate hitch we encountered was that the seat post was too short (understandable as it IS a size small), and getting the right seat height required some reckless disregard for the post’s minimum insertion mark. We ended up fitting a longer post, but because of the curve in the seat tube, there was only a small amount of adjustability available to lower the seat on descents. The easy answer would be to fit a dropper post straight away. Obviously this adds a few hundred gram, but it’s worth it.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Absence of a dropper seat post aside, the Repack is an incredibly well specced bike for its sub-$4000 price tag. The fork is a stunner, with a range-topping 160mm FOX 34 Factory CTD w/ Trail Adjust up front. Once we’d converted the WTB rims for tubeless (using Bontrager rim strips and sealant) the bike was pretty much perfectly equipped for its intended life on rough trails. On the subject of tubeless, this is an absolute MUST for this bike, as you’ll read more about in our Ride section below.

The Shimano XT drivetrain, brakes and hubs are just flawless workhorse items. While the Ritchey stem is infuriating to actually do up the bolts on, the bar/stem combo is stiff and perfect for the job. We didn’t feel compelled to make any other changes to get the most of the bike. As a lot of our testing occurred in damp conditions, the Nobby Nic tyres worked well. If the terrain had been drier, a tyre with a softer compound would’ve been fitted.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Breezer is definitely more of a long-travel trail bike, than a balls-to-the-wall hard descending all-mountain bike. This is not a criticism at all – rather this bike has a versatility that most 160mm bikes lack, especially when it’s time to get back up the hill.

 

We’re truly impressed by the climbing abilities of the Repack it doesn’t feel like you’re pushing so much travel uphill. The slightly steeper head angle plays a part here, preventing the steering from flopping around as it does on most long-travel bikes, even without a travel adjustable fork.

TestBreezerRepack 8

But the seated pedalling efficiency of this bike is the real drawcard when climbing – the suspension system has just the right amount of anti-squat, and it feels very supportive and resists bobbing. In the big ring or small ring, the Repack will tractor up the climbs without wallowing or wandering. We never felt the need to touch the shock’s CTD lever, not once. It’s fortunate that the Repack climbs so efficiently, as it’s not a particularly light bike. A dropper post will add more weight, and there aren’t many obvious areas for weight saving unfortunately. Most of that mass resides in the frame.

There's plenty of metal here, hence the Breezer's heft. But it does all feel incredibly solid and stiff on the trail.
There’s plenty of metal here, hence the Breezer’s heft. But it does all feel incredibly solid and stiff on the trail.

As well as being supportive on the climbs, the Repack is buttery on the descents. The FOX fork was typically sticky for the first couple of hours on the trail, and initially couldn’t match the smoothness of the rear end – the bed-in time on new FOX forks seems to be longer than in the past.

As mentioned above, the Repack doesn’t have the same predilection for reckless riding as some other all-mountain bikes, and this is partly due to the suspension action of the M-Link design. The spring curve is very linear, meaning the bike tends to use the last two-thirds of its suspension travel readily. There’s no real progressiveness to the suspension, and we found ourselves using the bike’s full travel very frequently.We didn’t notice any violent bottom-outs, but when we checked the shock after each moderately rough section of trail, we’d regularly note the o-ring had been pushed right off the end of the shock shaft.

TestBreezerRepack 6

The advantage of this very flat suspension curve is that the get the full advantages of having 160mm of travel, even if you’re not really hammering the downhills. This means loads of traction, and a real feeling of ironing out the terrain. The tendency to run deep in the rear travel also helps slacken the bike out on the steeper stuff, which does offset the potential for ejecting out the front door. Disadvantages? The rear wheel takes a pounding! Our first ride end with a long walk after three flat tyres in a couple of hours. Technique may have played a role, but so to did the bike’s suspension curve. This is why we feel tubeless is an absolute MUST with this bike. Fortunately the tyres are tubeless ready, so simply fit your preferred rim strip and forget out pinch flats.

The WTB rims claim to be tubeless ready, but you'll still need to fit a rim strip before you go tubeless.
The WTB rims claim to be tubeless ready, but you’ll still need to fit a rim strip before you go tubeless.

After flicking the Repack through some fast, flat singletrack, we could appreciate Joe Breeze’s opinions about geometry. The Breezer doesn’t push the front wheel at slower speeds like a lot of long-travel bikes. But then again, it doesn’t encourage you to point-and-shoot either. It’s horses for courses, so think about what matters most to you.

TestBreezerRepack 3

 

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Breezer Repack was a really great bike to review, if only for the fact that it has its own identity, its own take on all-mountain geometry and a whole new approach to the four-bar suspension system. It does a great job of making longer-travel bikes relevant to riders who aren’t interested in piloting a boat around the trails, and it will certainly appeal to those who prioritise control, traction and comfort over flat-out descending. Set the wheels up tubeless and get yourself a dropper post – at this price you’ll likely have the cash left to spend – then hit the trails.

 

Testing notes:

Test rider: Chris Southwood

Weight: 62kg

Height: 172cm

Tested at: Sydney’s Red Hill, Manly Dam and various other sneaky trails.

Changes made: Longer seatpost. Converted wheels to tubeless with Bontrager rim strips.

 

 

TESTED: Specialized SWAT bib knicks

We’ll admit it. When we first saw these things, we shook our heads… bib knicks with pockets? It just seemed, well, like a product that we didn’t really need.

We’ve changed our minds, completely and utterly. The new Specialized SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) bibs work very, very well and we’re huge fans.

Where's all your gear for the ride, Chris?
“Where’s all your gear for the ride, Chris?”  “I’m wearing it.”

Like a lot of riders, we love riding without a pack when possible. On shorter rides, the comfort and feeling of freedom that comes from riding without a bag on your back is unreal – lighter, cooler, faster and more manoeuvrable.

We also prefer the feel and look of looser fitting jerseys and baggy trail shorts for most of our riding too. Unfortunately, most loose-fitting jerseys don’t have any pockets (and even if they do, they sag and flap around if you use them) and putting bulky items in your shorts pockets can make pedalling awkward.

This leaves you with the problem of your spares and food. Do you strap your tube, pump and multitool to your bike? Do you leave them behind and risk a mechanical? Or stick them in your pockets so your shorts and jersey sag all over the show?

OR, do you get a set of Specialized SWAT bibs?

The SWAT bibs are a seriously useful way to carry your gear, without a pack. Right now, Chris has a tube, food and pump under his jersey. Like magic, only better.
The SWAT bibs are a seriously useful way to carry your gear, without a pack. Right now, Chris has a tube, food and pump under his jersey. Like magic, only better.

The whole idea of these bibs is that you can ride without a pack while still carrying your spares and food in a way that keeps them secure and close to your body so they don’t flap around. There’s a pocket on each leg, and then three pockets across the middle of your back.

We’ve taken to keeping our phone in one leg pocket, a small multitool and car key in the other, then a tube, CO2 canister/head and some food in the three pockets across our back. Combine this with a 750mL bottle in your bottle cage on the bike and you’ve got everything you need for a couple of hours on the trails.

There are three pockets across the lower back, giving you the storage you'd normally only get with a tight-fitting roadie-style jersey.
There are three pockets across the lower back, giving you the storage you’d normally only get with a tight-fitting roadie-style jersey.

If your bike doesn’t have a bottle cage, then Specialized suggests that you use the pocket in middle of your back for a water bottle. We don’t like that idea. Do you really want a massive water bottle sticking out under your jersey like the hunchback of Notre Dame?

In practice, this is a very comfortable and practical way of carrying your stuff. Everthing is secure, close to your body, and remarkably unobtrusive. We didn’t notice the food/tube/canister in the pockets on our back at all. Admittedly, we don’t like the idea of crashing with all those spares strapped so close to our body, so try to keep it upright! Importantly, the chamois is good too, definitely up to scratch for a few hours in the saddle.

There are pockets on both thighs. Because these pockets are tight-fitting and hold the contents close against your legs, they don't flap around or feel awkward when you're pedalling.
There are pockets on both thighs. Because these pockets are tight-fitting and hold the contents close against your legs, they don’t flap around or feel awkward when you’re pedalling.

We can understand why some people are dubious about these things, but if you’re the target rider (ie. wears baggy clothes, has a bike with a bottle mount and likes to ride pack-free) then these bibs are just unreal.

Tested: Specialized Women’s Ariel and Jett Saddles

From in-store body measurements, to saddle selection, to the trails; testing two popular women’s saddles from Specialized extends far beyond picking a model off the shelf.

There’s no right answer when it comes to blindly recommending someone a saddle. A product one person swears by, may just make another person swear.

Specialized take the angst out of new saddle decisions with a comprehensive design and fit program. We put two of the company’s popular women’s saddles to the test: the Aerial Comp and the Jett Comp.

[divider]Finding your fit[/divider]

Specialized is a brand that sees the process of fitting a customer to a product as just as important as the product itself. In order to ensure a comprehensive review of their saddles, Specialized Australia arranged for us to meet with Lyndell van de Walle, a trained ‘Body Geometry Fit Technician’ who works at Cyclery Northside in Chatswood, Sydney.

Specialized’s comprehensive approach to design and fit takes the confusion out of choosing a new saddle. We put two women’s saddles to the test.
Specialized’s comprehensive approach to design and fit takes the confusion out of choosing a new saddle. We put two women’s saddles to the test.

After chatting with Lyndell about saddles, and women’s riding more generally, she invited us to have a sit on the ‘ass-o-meter’. This is the official name of Specialized’s sit bone measuring device.

Depressions in the foam section of the ass-o-meter allow a Body Geometry Fit Technician to measure the width of your sit bones (or, ischial tuberosity width). A good saddle supports your sit bones rather than the soft tissue, so this important measurement signals optimal saddle width.

One of the key differences between Specialized saddles and many other brands, is that they typically come in three different widths. The numbers produced by the ass-o-meter, alongside discussion about riding style and preferences, are critical in allowing retail staff to recommend saddles that will suit the goals and shape of the rider in question.

We prefer a flatter shaped saddle, rather than one that forces us into a more aggressive, racy riding position, so this was taken into account as well.

Before committing to purchasing said seat, a test program allows customers to take different saddles for a few rides in order to finalise their choice.

Get fitted, get riding.
Get fitted, get riding.

Our test arse was borderline between a medium, or 143mm width, saddle and the wider 155mm. We took home the popular Jett Comp saddle and the more recreational looking Aerial Comp in both sizes. The opportunity to try two widths had us sold on the test saddle program before we even left the shop.

[divider]Specialized Ariel Comp Saddle [/divider]

The Ariel Comp is the more recreational looking of our two test saddles. It felt soft to push on and sat higher off the rails than our current saddle; so much so we had to lower our seat height by about an inch.

A lot of women new to cycling are turned off by the idea of a rock hard bike seat and lean toward something with softer support, such as the Ariel. What we liked most about the Ariel Comp is that it matches dense padding to a design well suited to the movement demands of mountain biking.

Despite it’s chunky size, compared to racier looking alternatives, the padding inside the Aerial is quite light. Carbon reinforcing in the shell keeps its overall shape appropriately stiff and comfortable while riding.
Despite it’s chunky size, compared to racier looking alternatives, the padding inside the Aerial is quite light. Carbon reinforcing in the shell keeps its overall shape appropriately stiff and comfortable while riding.

While the Ariel Comp offers a good amount of cushioning, the silhouette of the saddle reflects the design principles of some higher end options. As a result, it’s easy to get behind the rear of the Ariel in technical sections of trail and it’s comfortable for steep climbs. In comparison to a much wider recreational looking saddle, the shape of the Aerial allows good, confident riding habits to develop from day one.

The denseness of the design means it absorbs some feedback from the trail. It also offers additional support for the thighs during standing descents.

We are used to much harder saddles, so were surprised by how much we appreciated the comfort and fit of the Ariel Comp. So much so, that we also used it on our commuter bike during the test period. The design and padding made it ideal for 20-30 minute rides to work in jeans or dress pants. Water sheds quickly from the ‘Micromatrix’ cover too, meaning dry rides home despite locking our bike up in the rain (sorry bike!). At $80, it’s a solid option for your latest commuter bike project too.

On rides of over two hours, we found our sit bones started to ache due to the extra cushioning. This is our standard response to a softer saddle, and one that keenly points to a personal preference for the Jett. Having said that, there are women who claim the Aerial remains comfortable for all day rides, showing that personal preference, and the ability to try before you buy, are important considerations as well.

[divider]Specialized Jett Comp Saddle[/divider]

We know the Jett well. We’ve used an older model on one of our regular bikes for the last six years. This was also the saddle that was specced on the Specialized S-Works Fate Carbon 29 and Rumor Comp bikes we tested last year.

The Jett is similar in shape to the Ariel but sits closer to the Cr-Mo rails. It is still quite soft to push on but its lower profile gives it a racier appearance. A larger ‘V’ cutout at the rear allows flex, which adds to the comfortable riding experience it provides.

One downside of the Jett was that the ‘V’ shaped rear of the saddle tended to catch on baggy shorts or hydration pack straps on very steep technical descents. This is not so much of a problem for XC racers or riders with dropper posts. We bought a Specialized saddle bag by coincidence during the test period, and were surprised to find it plugged this gap.
One downside of the Jett was that the ‘V’ shaped rear of the saddle tended to catch on baggy shorts or hydration pack straps on very steep technical descents. This is not so much of a problem for XC racers or riders with dropper posts. We bought a Specialized saddle bag by coincidence during the test period, and were surprised to find it plugged this gap.

Like the Ariel, the Jett uses a Micromatrix outer, which never appears to age. The texture of the outer stopped us slipping on steep uphill terrain. The cutout in the middle relieves pressure on sensitive areas and avoids pinching. The weight difference between these two ‘Comp’ level models is about 20 grams.

We tried both the 155mm and 143mm options in the Jett given our borderline ass-o-meter measurement. While the 155mm became more comfortable with time, the 143mm simply felt ‘more right’.

Be careful not to wear white knicks when using the red test saddles.
Be careful not to wear white knicks when using the red test saddles.

For us, this saddle had properties of forgetableness, which for a saddle is a sign of a good fit indeed. The base felt neither too soft nor too hard, and we liked that the fairly flat top side of the saddle allowed us to move our position on the bike in response to the terrain, different bikes (we’ve used this one on the road a lot too), and different riding styles (short and punchy, long and enduring).

While these are our preferences, other women may prefer something else entirely. The Oura, for instance, supports a pelvis that is rotated forward in a more aggressive looking riding position. The Ruby has a harder shell with less obvious padding. These ‘Pro’ options are significantly lighter too.

[divider]Overall [/divider]

There is no easy answer to which saddle will work best for any one person. In testing the Specialized Jett Comp and Aerial Comp saddles we were impressed with Specialized’s ability to narrow down our options from a wall full of choice.

As a result, both options suited us well anatomically taking the trial and error out of this important first step in saddle selection. The Aerial offers increased padding without inhibiting good technique on rough terrain. The Jett proved more versatile for riders seeking a saddle that can support a broader range of recreational and competitive aims.

 

Tested: Shimano XC90 shoes

Shimano XC90 shoes-1Shimano’s latest top-end cross-country shoes definitely makes you look and feel faster. We reckon that the metallic blue finish, while being a little out there, is pretty damn cool and it certainly helps draw attention to the fact that these are an absolutely awesome pair of shoes.

Shimano XC90 shoes-4

We’ve been running these guys for almost four months now. When we first picked them up, we made sure to take advantage of the Custom Fit system; the shoes and insoles are heated in a special oven by a qualified Shimano dealer before being ‘vacuum wrapped’ to your feet. We’d highly encourage you to do the same if you have a Custom Fit Shimano shoe, as the comfort is superb. The insoles also come with two sets of arch inserts, allowing you to raise the in-step of the shoe.

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Hands down, the Custom Fit combined with the low weight, great breathability and quick drying construction of these shoes, makes them the most comfortable ‘race’ shoe we’ve ever ridden in. This is extremely impressive given there has been zero compromise made in the performance stakes too; the full carbon sole is stiffer than a British upper lip and transfers power stupendously and the three-strap closure grasps your foot like a scared spider monkey.

Shimano XC90 shoes-3

We’re appreciative that Shimano has added a little some extra rubber to the sole of the shoe when compared to previous versions, making a poorly aimed pedal entry incident less of a problem. That said, clipping in seems incredibly intuitive with these shoes, especially when combined with a Shimano pedal. There’s a large window of adjustment for cleat positioning as well, allowing us to achieve the quite rearward cleat positioning we prefer.

Our previous experiences with Shimano shoes have often revealed the ratchet strap buckle to be a bit vulnerable. On the XC90s, Shimano have added a little plastic guard to deflect impacts and save the buckle itself, but the strap itself is showing evidence of have caught a lot of rocks. We’ll be trimming the excess 10mm or so off the end of the ratchet strap in the future to neaten it all up a bit.

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As these are a ‘race worthy’ item, it goes without saying that they’re not really intended for much hike-a-bike work or scampering about the bush on foot. Unfortunately we’ve had to do rather a lot of this kind of stuff during video shoots, and as such the soles are starting to show a fair bit of wear. The toe studs have almost completely worn down (one has left the building completely), but they can be replaced. If you do plan on doing a lot of walking or rock scrambling, we’d encourage you to check out some of the other shoes in the range.

We’re over the moon with how these shoes have performed so far and we hope the sole rubber lasts a few years yet, as the quality of Shimano’s carbon soles and the manufacturing of the shoe upper is superb. And they’re metallic blue. Which is awesome.

Shimano XC90 shoes-2

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: ENVE M60 Forty Wheels

We know, we know, at times working at Flow really sucks. When a courier stands at your door holding a big black cardboard box with ENVE written on it, you just want to throw the towel in and go home and sulk.

But there are times when we force ourselves to look at the positives, and accept the reality that fitting these wheels to our test bike will make it look totally sizzling hot, to the envy of our mates, but most importantly the riding performance of the bike they adorn will shoot through the roof.

ENVE60Forty 8

ENVE60Forty 1
Oh dear, they do look good.

ENVE wheels are the cream of the crop, and also freaking expensive. The set we’ve got here are worth $3499, about as pricey as wheels come. BUT, we’ve had many stellar experiences with these carbon wheels and as we all know, wheels are one area of the bike that is always worth upgrading. So much of the bikes riding performance lies in its wheels.

ENVE60Forty 4

ENVE60Forty 3
Note the square profile of the inner walls? No more bead hook for the tyre to sit into. New technology for ENVE but we’ve seen it on wheels before, and it makes a lot of sense. It further increases the internal volume, plus it is a lighter and stronger section, all good things.

Recently ENVE expanded and remodelled their entire mountain bike lineup. Now you can spend mega bucks on four wheel types, in various diameters to suit four levels of riding. 50 Fifty for cross country, 60 Forty for trail, 70 Thirty for more gravity oriented trail riding, and the downhill specific 90 Ten wheel set.

Tape and valves, is all you need for the perfect tubeless conversion. Simple, and proven.
Tape and valves, is all you need for the perfect tubeless conversion. Simple, and proven.

We’ve just fitted the 60 Forty set in 27.5″ (650B) to our Lapierre Zesty long term test bike. We weighed our pair at 1540g with the tubeless strips and valves fitted, which is pretty damn amazing for a rim with 23mm internal width. The 1650g Easton Haven wheels (no valves) they replace had an internal width of 21mm, that may not sound like much, but the whole internal section of the big carbon rims is also larger in the ENVE wheels allowing for a greater air volume. A greater air volume maximises the benefit of the tyre, effectively giving the bike more cushion and dampening without adding the weight a larger tyre would. The tyres also look bigger.

Carbon wheels also aren’t just about weight though. These guys are known for taking a beating for far longer than a comparable weight set of aluminium wheels, and have a very direct and fast feel on the trail.

DT Swiss 240 hubs, top shelf stuff.
DT Swiss 240 hubs, top shelf stuff.

So, they are fitted to our already incredible bike, and we’ll be giving them hell, so stay tuned for more.

AQ5A7055-1

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So dreamy…

 

Flow’s First Bite: Cell Awaba 2.0

The Cell Awaba 2.0 29er hardtail, which we first previewed around a month ago, is all set for its first outing! But before we begin skidding up those nice fresh tyres, here our our first impressions of this bargain-priced and well-considered cross country machine.

Cell Awaba logo

For what is essentially a meat-and-potatoes kind of bike, there’s a surprising amount to talk about here; the Awaba is bristling with features that could easily be overlooked but which we came to appreciate during the build.

We’re big fans of anything that cuts down on maintenance, and the runs full-length gear cable housing for the front and rear derailleurs. Similarly, the brake and gear line are routed to keep any chance of cable rub around the head tube area to a minimum.

Stiffness is boosted with a 142x12mm Maxle rear axle and wide press fit bottom bracket, while a skinny carbon seat post and lightweight triple-butted seat tube should help take some of the sting out of the trail.

The tyre combo is cool too; a fast-rolling Conti Race King out back, with a big-bagged X-King up front in a 2.4″ size. While these tyres aren’t technical a tubeless tyre, Cell supplies the Awaba with tubeless rim tape and valves, so we decided to go down the tubeless route. We’re happy to report that it all sealed up nicely! We did use a compressor rather than a track pump, as the tyres didn’t have a super tight fit on the rims and so the extra oomph of the compressor was handy.

The brake caliper is mounted on the chain stay, allowing for a light, more compliant chain stay.
The brake caliper is mounted on the chain stay, allowing for a light, more compliant seat stay.

For a mid-range bike, it’s nice to see that a low and racy riding position can be easily achieved. The head tube is short with a low-stack headset which, combined with a negative rise stem,  allows you to keep the front end height down for an efficient and aggressive position if you desire.

The spec is extremely good for the money too, with supremely reliable Shimano XT and SLX taking care of the drivetrain and braking business. At 11.7kg, the whole package is nice and light too, with the further possibilities for some easy, inexpensive weight savings (such as the cassette).

We’l be heading out for some long fire road rides and smooth singletrack sessions on the Awaba this weekend, so hold tight for a full review in the coming weeks.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Breezer Repack Team

Hands up if you know who Joe Breeze is? No, he’s not a cartoon figure promoting a ceiling fan company. Mr Joe Breeze is in fact a mountain bike guru, a hall-of-famer, and one of the fellas who built the scene and made it all happen way back in the day. He’s been designing, building and racing mountain bikes since Adam was a glimmer in a grasshopper’s eye.

Test_BreezerRepack009
There’s only a few degrees of movement from the chain stay pivot as the suspension compresses.

Joe Breeze is back in the mountain bike game in a big way with some very unique looking bikes, including the one we’re currently reviewing, the 160mm-travel, 27.5″-wheeled, all-mountain Repack Team.

It only takes a quick glance to see that the Breezer Repack has a distinctive rear suspension system. It’s called the M-Link, and the unusual mid-chain stay pivot is said to offer the benefits of a four-bar system, without some of the shortcomings Breeze perceives in more traditional ‘short link’ four-bar designs (such as stiffness). While the system does look a bit funky at first, it’s no more convoluted than any other four-bar system; it’s essentially like a Horst link, just with the chain stay pivot moved 150mm forward.

Test_BreezerRepack014
Big, burly pivots!

Leaving the suspension aside for now, let’s take a moment to consider the price. At under $4000 there is a lot of value in this bike (assuming it rides well too), with a complete Shimano XT groupset, FOX Factory series CTD 34mm fork and quality Ritchey componentry. The only item clearly missing is a dropper post, but to hit such a competitive price there have to be some concessions.

Test_BreezerRepack018
Shimano XT all over! Tres impressife!

Keeping the weight down has taken a back seat to some degree, in the name of building a reliable and robust frame. The pivot hardware is rock solid and the rear end stiffness is tremendous. Geometry wise, the Breezer is hair steeper than we’re used to seeing amongst all-mountain bikes, with a 68 degree head angle. Breeze’s theory is that with a bigger wheel (27.5″) the head angle can be little steeper than an equivalent 26″ bike, preserving slow speed handling.

We’re intrigued. It’s going to be great to get this bike out onto our local loops and see how all that design experience of a mind like Breeze’s translates to the trail.

TestBreezerRepack 10
Keep those tyres clean, Chris.

Flow’s First Bite: Norco Revolver 7.1

The new Norco Revolver series caught our eye at the 2014 Norco launch and since then we’ve been regularly dropping an email to Norco Australia to find out when they would have a model in Australia. So we were frothing when got word that a Revolver 7.1 had arrived, even more froth was produced when we were offered a chance to review it.

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 5

Norco are embracing the matte carbon finish on their bikes for 2014 and we are big fans, the Revolver with its dark grey frame, black decals and black componentry just looks bad ass, the sort of bike that would give other bikes the nerves at the starting grid.

The Revolver hasn’t missed a beat with the inclusion of a 142×12 rear axle, forward mounted rear brake calliper and Press Fit BB30 cranks.

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 2

We are big fans of the 1×11 technology from SRAM and it’s great to see the XO1 variant on a race bike, providing riders access to this hot technology at a decent price point.

Just from a quick glance at the tech data for this bike and seeing it in the flesh you can tell that the geometry has one purpose in mind, cross country racing or riding cross country trails like you are racing. Thin is an efficient race rig, but a few spec choices and geometry numbers are telling use that it is also won’t be too scared of letting its hair down on the trails and having a good time.

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 6

 

With a 70 degree head angle we were certain that this bike would provide a  format to play on the trails with, and so far we haven’t been proven wrong. There is something magical about cross country race bikes born in Canada that makes them ride like no other race bike.

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 7

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 8

NorcoRevolverFirstBite 1

Our first impressions are rosy and sweet so far, now let’s get it dirty and deliver a proper review soon. Stay tuned.

Tested: Avanti Torrent 2

The Avanti Torrent 2 is an excellent all-mountain machine. It’s stiff, strong, has good angles, and rides aggressively and with just a few little touches it can become even better.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-44
The Avanti Torrent 2 in all its glory.

This 140mm 27.5″ all-mountain machine is a breath of fresh air from a local manufacturer (well, NZ anyway) and really sets the scene for Avanti to increase its trail presence. You can really trust this bike to hold up to the serious trail shredding.

[divider]Build[/divider]

The NZ bike manufacturer has a long history in our region (Nathan Rennie was with them back in his beginnings) but up until recently their bikes lacked that competitive look, performance, and design to match it with the big players in the market. All that has changed now and the Torrent is a worthy looking and performing competitor. To quote a fellow rider, “That’s an Avanti? I though they were average. That looks the goods.”

The Torrent looks and feels strong with large aluminium tubing, a tapered head tube and full cartridge bearings throughout the rear end. Its hydroformed sloping and squarish shaped tubes are reminiscent of a Giant Trance however its very different rear end sets it apart.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C2
Even if the head tube decals are something from the Transformers we still think the bike looks good from all angles.

The suspension platform is a 4-bar system and taking the words from Avanti: “The Tru4 4-bar mechanism positions the rear axle on the isolated seat stay. This optimises the “virtual pivot point” so the suspension system operates efficiently and independently of rider effects.” We found the performance of the suspension pretty good overall however you will see in our “Ride” notes that we did have few little set-up issues.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-31
The Avanti has another variants of a 4-bar linkage, with a Horst Link system.
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C7
Just like the rest of the bike, the rear end and suspension is all strong and well made.

The geometry of the Torrent is great (if you like your bikes slack), and even greater that you can adjust it (if you like them less slack). The Torrrent ranges from a 67-65.5 degree head angle and up to a 5mm drop in the bottom bracket height. The chainstays are in the mid range however the bike was easy to manoeuvre and lifting the front wheel a breeze. We preferred the slacker setting, so that’s how we left it for the majority of our testing on the faster trails of Stromlo Forest Park.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

At a smidge over $3500 the Torrent 2 is very well priced, though there are some spec sacrifices to meet that mark. We’re not saying it has a bad spec, it’s just that it’s spec weaknesses are for a reason – to keep costs down.

Suspension is handled by FOX. Up front is a 32mm, 140mm-travel Float CTD fork and out back the 140mm travel is handled by an Float Evolution Series CTD shock. Both performed well for their lower end of the suspension chart and having the CTD is always a nice addition for on-trail adjustability. We did have some issues setting up the rear though and you will read later in this review.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C1
Simple, yet effective. Like a number of FOX forks we’ve tested lately, we felt these forks could have used a strip and re-lube.
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-14
This is what makes the magic happen and if it’s not right you’re in for a bad ride. We found it hard to get the right balance between too soft (sucks for climbs) and too hard (sucks for the downhills) and ended up on the soft side. A little sacrifice on the climbs for a bit more fun.

The 2×10 drivetrain is taken care of with a mix of SRAM X9 and X7 components. The X9 Type 2 (clutch) rear derailuer is a must on trail bikes and matched with the e*thirteen TRS dual chain device was relatively quiet and secure. The e*thirteen crankest was an interesting (but great) OEM spec and the big burly cranks add to the feel of strength in the bike.

We did get some bottom bracket creaking pretty quickly but as with many a bike it probably came out of the factory with a little less grease than needed.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-35

Big strong cranks and 2x chain device worked well. We still prefer a single on the front and with ISCG tabs that’s an easy upgrade to the Torrent.

The stopping is taken care of by Shimano and even though Deore is a lower spec, the 180mm rotors on the front and 160mm on the rear did a great job of stopping us. They worked well and are easily adjustable, what more could you want?

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C3
As always Shimano offers great stopping power.

The wheels were a nice touch and Mavic have always been favourites of ours. The wheels are strong and the 142mm rear axle made the bike that much stiffer. Our only gripe with the wheels is lack of tubeless compatibility however we converted them using some tape and they held air without a problem. We noted no issues with the true of the wheels during our testing.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C6
A view of the Mavic hubs. We have always like Mavic and these hoops didn’t let us down. No quick release either – perfect.

The Kenda Honey Badger tyres are a good fast rolling opten however we changed them to something more aggressive from Maxxis as they were better suited to the type of riding the Torrent 2 was designed for (we also needed some tubeless tyres for the conversion).

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-C5
The Kenda Honey Badger is probably better suited to a XC machine.

We would have just loved to see a dropper seat post squeezed into the spec of this bike – getting off a bike to adjust the seat post quick release is so 2010. The bike has cable routing for a dropper so we recommend you go an add one ASAP.

 

[divider]Ride[/divider]

The Torrent preferred being pointed down. We ran the Torrent 2 in the slackest setting for the whole test period as we found it suited the strengths of the frame design better and more matched the target market. We did play on the steeper setting for a little but but quickly went back to slack.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-1

A shorter stem and wide bars gave us a more upright riding position – ready for more aggressive riding. This is a bike that wanted us to play a little more; 27.5″ is the new 26! The Torrent did take a little more work than expected to get off the ground, but that’s more a product of weight than it being an energy sapping design.

In a famous story, Goldilocks found one bed too soft, one bed too hard, and one bed just right and that’s how we felt about the suspension on the Torrent. We found it a little harder to get that “just right” feel and after some playing we actually ended up running the bike a little softer than recommended, which improved the handling on descents, however did add an extra log to drag up the hills. Not a worry though – we just used the CTD lever a little more to stop the bike sagging too much on the climbs.

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The stiff frame and rear end made the Torrent a cornering machine and when pushed hard in the bends the bike help up well. This is one reason why we changed the tyres. The Honey Badgers, while being great at straight line speed, just couldn’t hold the corners the bike wanted to. Once some more aggressive rubber was added the bike was able to corner superbly.

Big hits were comfortable on the Torrent and even though we were running the bike on the soft side bottoming out was never a harsh experience. We did tend to keep the bike in the “descend” mode most of the time when the trail was pointed down as the “trail” mode felt a little too harsh.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-3

Overall the spec of the Torrent worked well and we had no issues with anything other than previously mentioned. The brakes worked well and the larger 180mm rotor on the front was a great help. The e*thirteen device did its job however our test rider would prefer a 1 x setup. As mentioned previously our only testing issue was some noise from the bottom bracket under load and that would be just a simple re-greese to fix.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-4

[divider]Overall[/divider]

Overall the Torrent 2 is a great all-mountain trail bike. It rides well, has great geometry, handles well in corners, and takes the bit hits. It did lack a little on the climbs though and we think the bike is best suited to the person who prefers the descents (isn’t that all of us?). We also found it a little harder to set-up with the suspension and feel that you should ensure your local bike shop helps you out in the department. Also, we’d love to see a dropper post and a 1x set-up however you can always add them easily as there routing for there cables and ISCG mounts.

At $3649 it’s a great mid-level trail bike with an excellent frame that is worth of component upgrades down the line.

WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-39
Even from far away the bike looks slack – that’s a good thing for the aggressive rider.

 

[divider]Test[/divider]

Test rider: Damian Breach

Rider weight: 72kg

Rider height: 172cm

Size tested: Medium

Changes made prior to testing: Grips, Tyres, Tubeless

Test location: Stromlo Forest Park

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Trek Remedy 9 29

Check out our full review here.

It’s nice to be able to get away with mistakes. You know, maybe give someone’s car a nudge on a tricky reverse park, but they don’t see and there’s no damage. Or looping out during a wheelie but getting your feet unclipped just in time to save your coccyx.

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Impressive.

The Remedy 9 29 is a bike that let’s you get away with a lot mistakes. It’s big on bigness – big wheels, big travel (140mm at both ends), big tyres – and it uses all this traction and travel to full effect out on the trails.

For us, this is a very interesting bike to test. It wasn’t long ago that we reviewed the Remedy 9 27.5, which is nearly identical with the exception of having smaller wheels. You can read all our thoughts about the 27.5″ version here. We don’t want to spoil the party already, but there’s a lot more uniting these bikes than dividing them, so all our thoughts regarding frame construction and spec on the Remedy 27.5 can pretty much be extrapolated to the 29er. Same same, but different.

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Looks like fun, especially when you’re on a bike with this much traction.

So far we’ve spent four days on the Remedy 9 29, riding in and around the Cairns region. After putting on a wider bar, it took us approximately seven seconds to feel comfortable on the Remedy. Partly this is due to our familiarity with the bike’s suspension design and components, but it’s also because you know that few trail obstacles are going to be a problem on board this beast – “Big rock up ahead. I’ll just run that over then, I guess.”

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Yes. This bike was tested in paradise.

Now we’re back on home turf, we’re going to ditch the tubes and spend some more time getting the fork dialled as it’s riding a little harsh up front. We plan on taking this bike to the same trails where we did most of our riding on the Remedy 27.5, to really get a feel for how the two bikes compare.

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High up on a soon-to-be-opened trail in Atherton Mountain Bike Park, Qld.

 

 

 

Long Term Test Update: Lapierre Zesty AM 927, Giving it a Boost

You can read the full review of the Zesty here.

Just over two months in, two major spec changes and the Zesty is running very well, thanks. We had to do it; we had to put Pike on it. The FOX Float was not in any way under par, we simply can not get enough of the amazingly smooth and composed action of the RockShox wonder fork.

LapierreZestyLongTerm 3

Also, sitting a touch taller at 160mm of travel (FOX fork was 150mm) the Zesty is now a bit more like it’s bigger brother – the Lapierre Spicy.

Maxxis have also come to the upgrade party, with a Minion up front and a High Roller II out the back. They sealed up with a dash of Stan’s sealant in one go with zero leaking, so clean and easy we could have done the conversion on the carpet in grandma’s dining room. The new tyres are heavier then the Schwalbe Nobby Nic’s they replace, but this is grams well spent in our mind. The Minion is 830g and High Roller 879g.

A Maxxis Minion, triple comound and an EXO reinforced sidewall. Buryl, weighty but well spent.
A Maxxis Minion, triple compound and an EXO reinforced sidewall. Burly, weighty, but well spent.

Adding the Pike and meatier rubber has really boosted the bike’s performance in an area that we found it to suffer. The pervious Nobby Nic tyres were simply holding the Zesty back, when chucking it around. And the skinny 32mm legged fork felt underdone when steering it into the wilder parts of the trail.

Since the tyre upgrade, we’ve been rejoicing in that reckless, hooligan riding. Throwing the bike into a corner harder, or keeping off the brakes longer without that nervous feeling. This is a classic situation where lighter, is not necessarily better.

 

LapierreZestyLongTerm 1 (1)
We had to do it. There was no way we couldn’t, we had to put a Pike on it.

But still, the most notable element of this bike is the e:I suspension, electronically controlled and automatically adjusting. To best explain our thoughts on the system would be to say that we’ve been leaving it in ‘automatic mode’ 99% of the time, and loving it. Only at times when the noisy electronic motor is off putting, do we switch to manual mode and toggle the settings as if it were simply a remotely adjustable, three setting rear shock.

We’d love more people to try this system out, it’s very underrated. It works exactly like it should, and for us to leave it in the automatic setting more and more says something.

If the head unit wasn’t so clunky and obtrusive, the actuation quitter and the battery internally stored this would be a perfect system.

What’s next for the Zesty? A wheel upgrade, we need stiffer wheels. And many more kilometers of sweet trails.

Tested: Polygon Recon 4

Polygon Recon 4 -1

Champagne and caviar are grand, but what if your budget only extends to beer (non-imported) and bar snacks? And maybe a bowl of wedges…. Mmmm…wedges…

Polygon are a brand looking out for that beer drinker, offering some truly exceptional value bikes. Not long ago we tested their flagship downhill bike, the Collosus, and now we’ve had a chance to test the 27.5″ wheeled Recon 4. It’s a 120mm-travel trail bike, and it’s a lot of fun for just $1400.

[divider]Build[/divider]:

Built from 6061 aluminium, the Recon is a pretty smart looking frameset. While it doesn’t have all bells and whistle of a more expensive bike (such as internal cabling or 142x12mm dropouts), there’s still a tapered head tube for front end stiffness, and very importantly the suspension pivots are all easy-to-service cartridge bearings.

Polygon Recon 4 -4

The suspension configuration is a simple arrangement – the main pivot is low and close to the bottom bracket, with a link to stiffen the rear end and tune the shock rate. Without any prior experience on the Epicon RL rear shock, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of suspension performance; the shock has rebound adjustment and a basic lockout function too.

Tyre clearance is fine for the kind of rubber this bike’s riders are likely to use, and the sizing for medium-sized frame felt perfect for our test rider. The overall wheelbase of the bike is pretty compact, but the top tube and cockpit don’t feel cramped, thanks in part to the sensible decision to run a 720mm-wide handlebar.

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Our only gripe is the cable routing on this frame, which forces the brake and gear lines to bend as the suspension compresses, leading to problems with cable rub. Make sure you have frame protection stickers in place on the seat tube, or you’ll damage your frame in no time on a muddy ride.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

For many buyers, the Recon will be their first ‘serious’ mountain bike, for whom $1400 is pretty good-sized investment. They’re looking for a bike that isn’t going to cost a lot to maintain, and reliability is vital. In this regard, the Recon is perfectly specced and with a little preventative maintenance, this should be a hassle-free bike.

Polygon Recon 4 -13

Shimano has been given the nod to keep the Recon shifting, braking and rolling smoothly – the 10-speed Deore drivetrain is matched up to a basic Octalink crankset. This older Octalink bottom bracket / crankset system mightn’t be a light or stiff as newer outboard bearing systems, but it’s always proven reliable in our experience. A triple chain ring is the right choice for this bike too, offering riders a huge gearing range to climb out of any valley they’ve inadvertently found themselves in! Polygon opted for the cheaper non-clutch Deore derailleur and this is an oversight in our opinion; the Shadow Plus clutch-equipped derailleur would deliver a quieter ride with superior chain retention too.

Polygon Recon 4 -8

For an entry-level hydraulic disc, the brakes are fantastic. They’re easy to setup, the lever feel is solid with decent power too. We’re not sure how they’d go over a super long descent, but for generally punting about the trails they’re great.

Throughout our testing, the Shimano wheels remained true, and they’re an easy item to service as well. In terms of rubber, the Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres are ok – skid them into oblivion over a few months riding and look for something with more support as your riding improves and you start pushing the bike harder.

It has been a while since we rode a fork as skinny as the Rockshox 30 TK Gold, with its 30mm legs and quick release axle. As expected, it’s not a particularly stiff item, but it is properly damped, the air spring is easy to setup and it responds to the bumps with surprising smoothness. We don’t think it holds the bike back in any way.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

All of our testing of this bike was conducted at Sydney’s Manly Dam. Being Sydney’s best known riding location for newbie mountain bikers, this is exactly the kind of place we’d expect many Recons to be ridden. This bike quickly reminded us that, as nice as a $8000 carbon duallie might be, you can have a lot fun – and ride pretty fast – on a bike that costs far, far less.

Polygon Recon 4 -3

Geometry is the most important element of any bike, and the Recon has a fun, flickable and responsive ride. It’s a super easy bike to pop up onto its back wheel (it’ll wheelie forever) and changing lines is done as quickly as thinking about it. It’s not a bike for ploughing over the rough, as the lightweight fork is not built for that kind of hammering, but the Recon is adept and hopping over, or picking a line through, the ugly terrain.

One of our pre-ride concerns with the Recon was how the rear shock would perform, but we needn’t have worried. We were genuinely surprised by how well the rear suspension worked overall. There’s a little bit of suspension movement under pedalling forces, but no more than many other bikes of similar travel. You could use the lockout, but it’s very firm and pretty much redundant except for the tarmac. The fork’s rebound adjustment is fairly imprecise (it goes from super slow to very fast with only three clicks in between). While this doesn’t sound overly sophisticated, it actually makes setting up the suspension very simple.

Polygon Recon 4 -13

Without any chain slap protection, the Polygon sounds rougher than it really is. Putting on a Shadow Plus derailleur with a clutch mechanism to reduce chain slap is a simple upgrade that we’d consider when the original derailleur meets its maker. A clutch derailleur would make the bike feel much smoother.

Ergonomics make a huge difference to a bike’s confidence, and Polygon got it right here. The 80mm stem and 720mm bar are a welcome, confidence inspiring addition, giving you a strong riding position to tame the bike if it does get a little loose. While the tyres are ok, we think some rubber with more supportive side knobs would help to give riders a bit more reassurance.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

The Polygon is a really good bike, especially at $1400. It’s surprisingly comfortable and agile, reasonably light, with a component spec that places emphasis on reliability. Upgrading the tyres and rear derailleur down the line are ways to sweeten an already great package, but even completely stock, this bike will keep a new mountain biker stoked for a many, many rides.

Test rider: Chris Southwood
Rider weight: 62kg
Rider height: 172cm
Size tested: Medium
Changes made prior to testing: Nil

Flow’s First Bite: Avanti Torrent 2

Despite being somewhat a local brand (New Zealand) you don’t see too many Avanti bikes on the local trails. We think the 140mm Torrent may change that.

 

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The Torrent 2 is a good looking, stiff, and very capable 27.5″ all-mountain machine. The 140mm travel market is pretty well saturated and you have to be a good bike to stand out in that crowd and on paper the new Torrent 2 really does stand out as a viable option against some of the bigger brands.

The all aluminium bike has striking looks and a good relaxed stance. Not that you’ll see it advertised anywhere but the geometry of the bike is adjustable via a little chip at the bottom of the shock. We love this little tune-ability and the aggressive angles of the Torrrent range from a 67-65.5 degree head angle and up to a 5mm drop in the bottom bracket height.

The standout features of the Torrent 2 are a Fox CTD fork and shock, Mavic Crossride wheels, e*thirteen cranks, and a mix of SRAM X7 and X9 components.  There’s even porting for an internally routed adjustable seat post should you want an upgrade.

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e*thirteen crankset matched with a 2x chain device makes for a pretty strong and secure drivetrain.
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“The Tru4 4-bar mechanism positions the rear axle on the isolated seat stay. This optimises the “virtual pivot point” so the suspension system operates efficiently and independently of rider effects.” – Avanti
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-4
Mavic wheels are nice touch and something you see less of as original stock items these days. We’ve always had good experiences with Mavic and we’re hoping the same.  Not tubeless out of the box though so that’s a downer.
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-5
FOX CTD front and rear gives some excellent on-trail tunability. We’ll see how much we need it, especially for climbing.
WEB_TEST_Avanti_Torrent_2-6
The rear end of the bike is really stiff and our initial testing (one ride) showed it to work very well on the bigger hits and held well in corners.

So far we’re loving the whole package and with a few minor changes (the grips suck and we’ll be going tubeless) this bike is ready to be ridden hard.

We’ll be blasting the Torrent 2 up an down our local trails over the next few weeks and give you a full run down soon. On our first rides we found the Torrent pretty lively so we’re looking forward to see how much fun we can have with it.

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Flow’s First Bite: Giant Lust 27.5 2

Lusting for a full review? Click here.

When multiple 24-Hour champion, Jess Douglas, opted for the alloy Lust for the World Endurance Mountain Bike Organisation 24 Hour World Champs, we were a little surprised. The carbon frame didn’t arrive in time to build the bike up and bed everything in, so Jess went with the alloy frame instead.

Lust-4
If we were keeping the Lust for a while we’d definitely experiment with a steeper stem and cut down the cables to personalise the ride experience more to our tastes.

Jess was so much more confident and comfortable on this new model compared to her previous, blinged out Giant 29ers, that she chose this one for her biggest race of the year.

Keeping an element of novelty in 24-hour racing is important too, and the new frame, built around a 650B wheel size, saw Jess outride her competition once again. We’ve been itching to test the Lust ever since. It obviously meets the desired mix of comfort and efficiency for a full weekend in the saddle, but how versatile is it for other types of riders, with different riding aims?

Lust-1
The Giant Lust. We can’t help but wonder if there were no men present at the marketing meeting about the name.

The Lust 27.5 2 is uses the same alloy frame as the 24-hour Douglas-mobile, but specced with parts that meet its $2500 price point. With 100mm front and rear travel, and a tweaked frame geometry, it’s a women’s version of the popular 650B Giant Anthem.

Lust-10

Spec-wise, a nice collection of tried and tested componentry and design ideas, trickled down from lighter and more expensive innovations, adorn our test model Lust: a Shimano Deore clutch rear derailleur (this keeps the chain quiet), a 2×10 drive train (the gears you need without the ones you don’t), the Maestro suspension system (you’ll see this on all Giant duallies), Fox suspension, Shimano hydraulic brakes. It’s a tidy package that enables capable, confident and enjoyable riding.

Lust-2

Lust-5

Lust-6

Ride

We’ve had the chance to hit the trails a couple of times on the Lust already. We’ve been riding a lot of 29ers lately, so it was nice to experience the agile ride feel of this small sized frame built around 650B wheels.

The standout difference was the ride experience that comes from being able to move our bodies around the bike more easily due to its smaller overall size. Confidence comes from agility with this design, compared to the confidence that comes from getting away with being more of a passenger on a 29er.

Setup

There are a few basic set up things that we want to play with over the test period as we find out more about the Lust’s strengths, capabilities and the experiences it offers.

With a lot of spacers to play with under the stem, and a wide set of riser bars, the front end feels high. This is good for confidence building for riders new to the sport, but we found we’re not putting enough weight through the front wheel to stop it wandering on flats and climbs.

Lust-7
We tend to knock the gear cables with our knees when climbing out of the saddle. They’re set like this so as not to scratch the frame, and also to allow riders to run a longer stem.

We tubelessed the wheels immediately, too. We were pleased to see that the Schwalbe Racing Ralph Performance tyres and non-tubeless specific Giant branded rims were easily converted with some tape, valves and sealant – light and cheap.

Lust-8

Despite the mouthful of name, the Lust 27.5 2 is a no nonsense offering from Giant equipping an entry- to mid-level women’s market with a versatile and robust bike.

Keeping this market in mind the obvious questions to explore over the review period are: how does it compare to 29” competitors, and what does it offer in comparison to a similarly specced hardtail. We have no intention of riding it for 24 hours in one go, but we’re looking forward to lots of shorter, more playful, and far less painful rides instead.

Flow’s First Bite: We ride the 2015 RockShox BoXXer

In our opinion, the release of the RockShox Pike last year was a huge milestone in suspension fork development. It simply blew us away, and quickly became a highly desirable item all around the world due to its remarkably smooth and controlled action, simplicity and low weight. Now the downhill crowd will have a taste of what makes the Pike so sweet, in the BoXXer fork.

Flow’s recent trip to Queenstown was to test out the new BoXXer as well as the new downhill specific SRAM drivetrain, SRAM X01DH. The trails were steep, fast and Flow’s Mick Ross is particularly fussy about fork performance, especially due to his diminutive hands and arms, resembling more like an underdeveloped T-rex than a powerful downhiller.

The new BoXXer has not received a complete overhaul – aside from some stickers and new black legs, it looks predominately the same from a distance. But RockShox have managed to both lift the fork’s performance dramatically and dropped a little weight too, all without changing the proven external chassis so as to maintain backwards compatibility (more on that later).

RockShox_BoXXer_275_Quarter_White_M

Simply put, the new BoXXer World Cup and Team models both score the excellent Charger Damper previously only seen in the Pike, Rapid Recovery Rebound, new air and coil springs, Fast Black stanchions and, of course, a 27.5”/650B size option.

Ready, set…. Charge!

What makes the Charger Damper so damn fine then? It’s a sealed unit, with all the damping bits, shims, oil flow ports and suspension oil housed in an expandable rubber bladder. This ensures there will be no interruption in the consistency of the compression and rebound control, sealed from external elements such as air or dirt.

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Jeremiah Boobar from RockShox and 2013 World Cup Champion Stevie Smith talk BoXXer.
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Fast, black. Better.

Along with the Charger Damper comes a simplification of the whole damper adjustment system. In the current (2013-2014) BoXXer World Cup fork, there are both two compression and rebound adjustments. These allow the user to adjust the beginning and ending portion of the fork’s rebound action, and both high speed and low speed compression, too. That, my friends, is a whole heap of adjustment that we don’t want or need.

And so RockShox made the call to move from four to two just adjustments – you’ll find just one rebound, and one compression dial on the new BoXXer.

Bottomless….

The BoXXer air spring also scores some Pike-inspired love. Gone is the externally adjustable air spring dial, and in its place comes the Bottomless Token system. Simply install one, two or three plastic tokens to reduce the air volume and change the spring rate. It’s lighter, simpler and just as effective as the previous system.

Backwards….

The whole system is backwards compatible too, meaning any 35mm legged BoXXer (from 2010 up) can accept either the new Charge damper, air spring or both as an upgrade. These will set you back just $489 and $239 AUD respectively. We’d say that fitting a Charge damper to an older BoXXer would lift its performance significantly – a bit of a bargain in our reckoning.

We expect to see the new fork available in April/May, and Australian RRPs are below.

  • BoXXer 26″ RC – Coil 200 Maxle DH Black MotionControlIS (includes tall and short crowns 2 tuning springs) $ 1,099.95
  • BoXXer 26″ Team – Coil 200 Maxle DH Black Charger DH RC,(includes tall and short crowns 2 tuning springs) $ 1,599.95
  • BoXXer 26″ World Cup – SoloAir 200 Maxle DH Black Charger DH RC, (includes tall and short crowns)  $ 2,149.95
  • BoXXer 26″ World Cup – SoloAir 200 Maxle DH White Charger DH RC, (includes tall and short crowns) $ 2,149.95
  • BoXXer 27.5″ RC – Coil 200 Maxle DH Black MotionControlIS (includes tall and short crowns 2 tuning springs) $ 1,149.95
  • BoXXer 27.5″ Team – Coil 200 Maxle DH Black Charger DH RC, (includes tall and short crowns 2 tuning springs) $ 1,649.95
  • BoXXer 27.5″ World Cup – SoloAir 200 Maxle DH Black Charger DH RC, (includes tall and short crowns) $ 2,199.95
  • BoXXer 27.5″ World Cup – SoloAir 200 Maxle DH White Charger DH RC, (includes tall and short crowns) $ 2,199.95

RIDE

Now, we are very happy with how the current BoXXer rides, but the difference between the old and new fork… well, it’s crystal clear.

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Dropping in to the rough with 2014 BoXXer internals.

Our first day of testing started off on a new bike, new trails and with new riding companions. To familiarise ourselves with this new environment we started laps of the Skyline trails of Queenstown with the current 2014 BoXXer World Cup fitted to our Devinci Wilson Carbon bikes. Sags were set, rear shock coils were swapped out and ergonomics were dialed in.

Four solid runs were knocked out like this, and then we wheeled our bikes into the hands of a waiting SRAM mechanic to swap out the guts of the fork, installing only the new air spring and Charge damper in a matter of minutes.

SRAM mechanic, swapping out the air spring and damper to the new guts.
SRAM mechanic, swapping out the air spring and damper to the new guts.

Riding back down the same trail we went, same bike, same tyres, same everything, but with the new fork damper and spring installed. It proved to be one of the clearest comparisons of product ever. Instantly we noticed a difference. Not just a little one either – the updated guts made the forks action feel a lot more composed, and that first run with the new guts was smoother, with significantly less hand fatigue.

We also had the opportunity to try a 27.5″/650B wheeled Intense 951 with the new fork. For us, the wheel size really wasn’t what stood out however – the fork’s performance made a far greater difference to the way the bike rode than a centimetre and a half of wheel size ever could.

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Up a wheel size on the Intense 951 with the 27.5″/650B BoXXer fitted.

It was then time to lift the pace a bit, holding tighter and higher lines, and hitting holes with less care. We felt just like Stevie Smith – ploughing through braking ruts and moderating the front brake easily where in previous runs we were being compressed into the bike with buckling arms.

We are not alone when it comes to one of biggest challenges in downhill racing; fatigue, it gets in the way of a good run every time. Unless you’re constantly training for such a strenuous activity, there’s only so many runs of a downhill track that you can do before fatigue sets in and performance drops. We’re not talking smack here, but we relished in the forks ability to reduce feedback to our hands, just as we’d found when riding the Pike for the first time. With the new BoXXer, we could ride for far longer and much faster, than our measly amounts of downhill riding back home should have allowed.

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A few runs out of the bike park on a rougher trail in Queenstown, in the foothills of the Remarkables.

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Tuning the fork beyond simple rebound and compression was a snack; to experiment, we dropped the fork pressure by five psi, and installed a Bottomless Token. The fork felt no different off the top of the stoke, still soft and supple, but when we pushed the bike into the face of a jump we popped a little higher. When we braked heavily into a blown out corner, the fork to be held itself a little higher in its stroke. We then tried two tokens, with less pressure again and relished in the suppleness and support. This tuneabilty is superb – two riders of the same weight can have different styles, one may ride smoother, and calmer, so a more linear spring curve will give a great effect, but a harder rider hitting things on the trail can benefit from a more progressive spring feel.

Verdict:

The new BoXXer guts have taken the fork to the next level. RockShox have succeeded in taking what we all know works so well in the Pike and applied it to the BoXXer, dropping weight and keeping it all backwards compatible. For us, this is the real kicker – allowing riders to take the fork they know and love to a whole new level without having shell out for an entirely new item is pure genius. See you on the shuttle?

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Primo.

TESTED: Formula 35 fork

Getting your hands on a product with which you’ve had no previous experience is always enjoyable: will it open your eyes to a whole new product line, or it will reaffirm why you’ve generally stuck with an offering from the better known brands?

Formula 35 fork v2-10
Without any of the glittering finishes we’re accustomed to seeing on fork legs, the Formula 35 does look a little bland – the performance is anything but.

The Formula 35 is definitely one of those products. We didn’t even know that Formula made suspension forks! So it was with a little bit of excitement and a little bit of trepidation that we removed the FOX fork from our bike and fitted up the Formula 35 before heading to Mt Buller for three days at the Kona Bike Buller and then to Rotorua for five days of riding.

Our test fork was the 650B version, but Formula also make the 35 to suit 29ers.

Features and setup:

As we noted in our first impressions piece, it’s a very light fork, coming in at 1750g. This is a class leading figure, over 100g lighter than a FOX or RockShox with equivalent features. That alone is reason enough for many riders to give the Formula a go, but there’s much, much more to like about this fork. Part of the weight saving comes from the axle which does not have a quick-release function, requiring a 5mm Allen key for removal. Overall, the finish quality of the 35 is pretty good, though not quite in the same super slick league as FOX.

Formula 35 fork v2-5
You can actually get the Formula 35 with a quick release axle too, but the low weight and clean looks of the tooled axle are appealing.

The unique arrangement of damping adjusters on the right fork leg control the low-speed compression, lockout and lockout threshold adjustment, while rebound is at the bottom of the leg. For our riding, the only dials we touched were rebound and low-speed compression, both of which have a very usable range.

The fork’s air spring runs at a lower pressure than most, and for our scrawny 63kg rider just 53-55psi was all that was needed to provide the ideal sag and spring rate.

Formula 35 fork v2-4
We found the pressure guide to be quite accurate – the pressures required are far lower than many other forks.

Travel is adjustable internally, from 160mm down to 120mm; the fork is supplied with two 20mm spacers and two 10mm spacers, so you can add these in combination to select your desired travel. We fitted one 10mm spacer, bringing the fork down to 150mm which felt like a good fit for our Giant Trance Advanced SX test bike (140mm rear travel). The process is pretty easy, just pull the lower legs off, remove the air spring assembly and clip the plastic spacer onto the air spring rod. Refitting the coil spring onto its little retaining perch is the only fiddly element.

Formula 35 travel adjust-5
Plastic spacers clip onto the spring rod to reduce the travel from 160 – 120mm in 10mm increments.

Rather than standard fork oil, the Formula 35 is lubricated with Jagermeister. Ok, that’s not true – the fork’s splash oil and air-spring lubricant is actually a product called Ballistol, which smells like a herb-based liquor! We’d never seen this stuff before, and a bit of searching revealed that it’s usually used for lubricating gun mechanisms. Hopefully it’s easily sourced locally.

Formula 35 travel adjust-7
Smells like liquor, keeps things smooth. We’d probably prefer it if the fork just used regular fork oil though.

Ride:

To help overcome any initial friction in the fork’s stroke (as is sometimes associated with air springs) and to provide maximum small bump sensitivity, the 35 actually relies on a coil spring for the initial part of its travel. Coil-sprung forks are a bit of a rarity in this style of riding now, but by combining a coil with an air spring as well, the fork is able to deliver an ‘old school’ plushness while keeping the weight and tuneability benefits of an air spring.

The feel this configuration delivers is one of the defining characteristics of the fork – it has a very lively, responsive and plush feel in the beginning and mid-stroke. Over roots, loose rocks and repeated medium sized impacts, the fork chomps up the bumps. Or more accurately, we should say ‘slurps’, as you can hear the damping working away with every hit, making little sucking noises.

Formula 35 fork v2-1
Blue = low speed compression. Gold = lockout. Black = lockout threshold.

Occasionally there’s also a little bit of noise from the coil spring, a slight metallic clunk sound, particularly over hard repeated hits, but this doesn’t seem to be accompanied any decrease in performance.

Because of the very plush beginning stroke, there is a tendency for the fork to bob when climbing out of the saddle. More low-speed compression helps, but comes at the expense of that buttery smooth bump response. Like most fork lockouts, we found this feature of limited use; we dialled the lockout threshold right back to minimum and only used the lockout on the road.

Formula 35 fork v2-3
The hollowed out fork arch is fairly minimal and we did feel that the Formula was a fraction less direct and stiff than some of its competitors.

On our first couple of rides we found it quite difficult to use the last two centimetres of travel. A quick call to the distributor (Eighty One Spices) and we were advised to reduce the amount of oil we were running in the fork’s air spring chamber. Adding or reducing the oil volume that rests on top of the air piston allows users to tube the spring curve. Formula are also producing future versions of the fork with a slightly shorter air piston rod to deliver a more linear spring curve as standard. After removing a few mills of oil and dropping the pressure by two or three psi, we found the sweet spot.

This is a fork in which small setup changes can make a real difference, so be prepared to experiment for the first few rides. Once we had it all dialled in, the fork’s spring rate felt absolutely perfect, happily using the mid-stroke and ramping up neatly as it approached full travel. Checking the o-ring revealed we were getting full travel, but not once during testing did we feel the fork bottom out harshly.

On the whole, we’d rate the Formula’s sensitivity and spring curve as being as good as any other offering on the market. In fact, the only area in which we could mark the Formula down a smidgen is its performance on sudden, super-harsh impacts, such as launching into a corner full of braking bumps. In this instance, the fork seemed to make the rider work a little harder than with a Pike or FOX. This sensation didn’t feel like a damping spike, more a product of the fork’s lightweight construction sending a bit more lateral twist through to the bars. Hey, we’re being picky here!

Formula 35 fork v2-7

With around 50 hours of ride time on the fork so far, we have noticed a very small amount of oil seepage from the seals. It’s certainly not a blown seal (we’re talking a couple of millilitres here) but it’s enough to indicate that perhaps the seal tolerances are a little on the loose side in the name of reducing friction. Keeping up the regular oil changes and topping up the lubricating oil will be important in the long run to keep stiction at bay. As noted before, stripping down the fork requires an Allen key and 10 minutes of your time, so this kind of maintenance isn’t really a headache.

Overall:

We’ve got to say, we’re very impressed. We definitely didn’t expect this level of performance from a such small player in the suspension arena. The weight, the lively and plush ride quality and the ease of service/tuning are all big ticks for the Formula 35, and there are precious few negatives to complain about. It’s always nice to see a little bit of Italian exotica too.

Tested: GT Force X Expert Carbon

“I want that for sex!”

“Excuse me?”

“I said; I want that Force X!”

“Oh, yes, of course. It is a nice bike, thank you.”

The GT For Sex, I mean, Force X, is a serious piece of artillery in GT’s fight to re-establish themselves, after a few fairly quiet years on the development front. It’s a big-hitter, a gravity enduro bike with real guts, developed with input from Dan Atherton and the rest of the Atherton clan.

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GT’s recent reinvention has won them a lot of fans, or perhaps more correctly rekindled a love that had simply faded a bit, as GT is one of those brands that everyone seems to have a soft spot for.

There are three key models in the range now: the Sensor (130mm), the Force (150mm) and the Fury DH. The Force X (of which there are two variants with different spec) sandwiches in between the regular Force and the Fury. It uses the same frameset as the Force, but with a number of component choices such as a longer travel fork that push its descending credentials a bit harder.

 

Build:

Like a pair of white jeans, the GT screams look at me. The frame has a bulbous well-fed python look to it, and you get the feeling that GT opted for carbon not for its weight saving properties, but its strength and the opportunities for creative frame shapes it provides. The lines are muscular to say the least.

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Carbon lets GT create some very involved frame shapes, including the pierced seat tube.

It’s tricked up with all the features too, like an internally activated seat post, a sag indicator to aid suspension setup, a Maxle 142x12mm rear end, and Shimano’s new direct mount rear derailleur system. There are ISCG tabs as well, a feature that is becoming increasingly irrelevant with this new era of single-ring chain guide-free drivetrains.

Test_GT ForceX 29
Behold, the AOS (Angle Optimised Suspension).

The new 150mm-travel Angle Optimised Suspension system is one of the more involved out there. Have a look at video below to see it in action. It’s designed to provide the benefits of a high-pivot suspension system but without fewer negative (brake jack and pedal feedback). The bottom bracket is housed in the Path Link, which rotates slightly rearward with the suspension compression so as to minimise the amount of chain growth. It’s a fair bit to get your head around!

A FOX Float X shock handles the damping duties, sitting low in the frame. There’s a neat mud guard slipped in behind the shock too, to offer some well considered protection for the shock shaft. On the topic of protection, you’ll want to wrap the chain stay with some Framewrap to both protect the bike and silence any chain slap, as the bike makes a racket in the rough.

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Neat cabling… until it all hits the Path Link, at which point it all gets a bit complicated! With a single-ring drivetrain, it’d be much neater.

By virtue of the cramped front derailleur / shock mount junction, the cabling is little convoluted. This is one bike that would’ve been far easier to design without having to consider front shifting, but having a good complement of gears doesn’t seem like such a bad option once you point this beast uphill.

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There are some similarities between the AOS system and the iDrive suspension system of years past (namely, the rearward movement of the bottom bracket of the suspension compresses), but the new system is far superior.

This brings us to an issue that can’t be ignored; the GT has a weight problem. Out of the box, the GT is 15kg. Add some pedals and you’re getting into the territory of some downhill bikes. It’s simply too heavy. Fortunately there are a couple of easy tweaks to bring the bike back to a more acceptable figure.

 

Spec:

With the scales showing 16.1kg once we’d fitted pedals and a full water bottle, we had to work out where the weight resided in the GT. It didn’t take long to work out that the problem is predominantly in the wheels, more specifically the tyres and cassette.

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Some cable trimming is needed! The KS LEV seat post and GT themed saddle are both great! We’d definitely opt for lighter, fast and more supple rubber than these Continental Trail King tyres.

The Continental Trail King rubber is massive with very stiff sidewalls, but just far too heavy, at a kilogram per tyre. Our first move would be to fit something like a Schwalbe Hans Dampf or Maxxis High Roller 2, both of which would save you 200g per wheel. Then we’d go tubeless (another 100g saving per wheel). GT have done the dodgy with a crappy steel cassette – the HG50 Deore-level cassette is close to 400g. Swapping it for an XT cassette would save 110g and shift better. Finally, we’d go for a single chain ring drivetrain. Fitting a 32 or 34 tooth Raceface, e13 or Wolf Tooth chain ring and removing the front shifter, derailleur, the bash guard and associated cabling will save you at least another 200g.

All up, that’s close to a kilo saved right away, without huge expense, whilst simultaneously simplifying and improving the performance of the bike. Easy!

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WTB’s Tubeless Compatible Rims really aren’t all that tubeless compatible – they don’t come ready for tubeless use, you’ll still need to install rim strips or tape/valves.

The rest of the componentry is all good stuff. We’re especially fond of the KS LEV seat post, and the Kore bar/stem combo is great as well, with the huge 760mm bars making you feel like a viking! As with a number of FOX forks we’ve ridden in the past 12 months, the FOX 34 160mm fork was a little sticky in its performance. It only takes 10 minutes to pull the lowers off the fork and we highly recommend you do so in order to lube the seals and change the splash oil. It makes a world of difference.

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Formula’s RX brakes are a little on/off at slow speed, but modulate well once you’re up to pace. The tiny remote lever for the KS LEV seat post is the best out there.

Ride:

Our first ride on the GT was what we’d classify as ‘ok’. It felt big – very confident once gravity was on your side – but hard to get moving and not as responsive as many other gravity enduro / all-mountain bikes. Sure the riding position was solid and the frame relished a hard impact, but the bike felt a bit dead.

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We knew there was a more exciting, lively and versatile bike in there. Softening the suspension a little (30% rear sag vs 25% on our first ride) and speeding up the rebound was the first move; suddenly the ride went from being choppy to delivering the kind of control we’d expect from a high-pivot design and the FOX Float X shock.

We also changed out the wheels, although simply swapping to lighter tyres would have had the same effect. With less rotating weight the GT was much easier to get up to speed or to change direction. The bike’s low centre of gravity suddenly shone, as it became easy to flick the bike from turn to turn. Reducing the unsprung weight (i.e. the wheels) also assisted the suspension’s responsiveness to small bumps. Overall, the bike was suddenly one we could appreciate!

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The GT catalogue claims that the Force X has a 67.2 degree head angle, but we’re certain it feels slacker. Either that, or the bike’s willingness to run blindly into the roughest trails just convinces you it must have a more relaxed head angle. With a 760mm bar and a 50mm stem, you’re in a very strong, stable position on the bike and so keeping it on track in the rough is made easy.

This is bike that really likes big hits. The high pivot suspension design is particularly adept at smoothing out sudden harsh, square impacts (rock ledges etc). As you’d have guessed, the frame is robust in the extreme, and it doesn’t give a stuff if you wedge it into situations that would twist or upset a lesser beast. It’s only if you really concentrate in it that you become aware of the bottom bracket moving backward and forward as the suspension moves – it’s certainly not enough movement to upset your rhythm.

Despite its weight, the GT is a reasonable climber. The seat angle is sufficiently steep to keep the front tyre on the ground when grinding up climbs, and rear wheel tracks well under power, rarely breaking traction. In the granny ring, despite the Path Link’s best intentions, you can notice a bit of chain tug though the pedals as the rear suspension works. If your regular riding does include a lot of climbing, the 50mm stem might prove to be a little too short as well, as the riding position does become pretty cramped when you shuffle forward onto the nose of the saddle.

Overall:

Whereas some all-mountain bikes have a fairly even split in terms of descending and climbing performance, the Force X unreservedly leans towards the descending end of the spectrum, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a ride that can handle the odd day shuttling the local downhill track. Make the changes we’ve recommended in this review to drop some weight and get most out of this bike, because it has some savage potential as a gravity enduro / all-mountain bike. Of course, you could also look at the Force X Pro, which already comes with lighter, tubeless wheels and a single-ring drivetrain!

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Tested: 2014 Scott Gambler 20

Take a gamble on our full review here.

Country and Western star Kenny Rogers has a very famous song about The Gambler. Essentially the song is a metaphor for life; dealing with what you have been dealt, and knowing when to walk way from trouble. It has nothing to do with this bike as you can change what you’ve been dealt and should never need to be walking away from anything that may trouble you on the trail.

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The Scott Gambler is a very slack, very capable and adjustable downhill race machine that can be easily dialled to suit you and/or the terrain you’re riding. Add to that a pretty good suspension platform, and some pretty capable spec, and you have a downhill machine that fits very nicely in its price-point.

Thredbo was the perfect testing track for the Gambler, especially as it was nearing the end of the bike season and the downhill track was at its best (roughest). Also, the rain gods sprinkled the hill with water the night prior so we had that ultimate testing environment to sink our tyres into.

Build.

The Scott is a beautifully built and solid bike that stands out amongst the crowd. A full aluminium bike with welds and neat hydroformed tubing with almost a carbon look to it.  Everything is beefy and burly with large pivots and hardware, the whole rear end is obviously very stiff.

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The Gambler was at home at Thredbo.
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No matter how you look at it, we think it looks great.

The suspension is what stands out. Scott call their design a “Floating Link” and to paraphrase of their own marketing: “There is a subtle dual progressive curve to achieve the goals, but not too exaggerated to avoid shock tuning limitations. The floating link creates a progressive feeling suspension with an almost direct compression of the shock, minimizing DU bushing rotation. This increases shock bushing life and improves small bump sensitivity.”

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The engine room of the Scott. Don’t let all this links and pivots fool you, it’s pretty simple and really stiff.

Basically all those links and pivots are there to support the suspension curves and feel, for what is a single pivot bike; which pivots on the seat stay, directly above and in-line with the bottom bracket. The Gambler uses a long 3.5″ shock stroke that ramps up progressively (slightly rising rate) as the shock compresses. Given that the travel of the bike is 210mm this also means a leverage ratio of around 2.3-2:5:1 (leverage ratio can change through the stroke). That’s a low number and the advantages of low leverage ratios are increased small bump performance and a wider range of shock tunability. The downside can be too much bob and action on the rear-end when you don’t want it but seeing as the Gambler is designed for super steep downhilsl then this should be less of an issue.

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Everything pivots on the one main pivot just above the bottom bracket (on the right), The rest helps maintain the curve the to the shock.

The Gambler’s geometry is super adjustable. The head angle can be adjusted in two different ways, the first is with the adjustable bottom bracket height. This little chip near the bottom of the shock can be flipped to raise the height of the bike (from 345mm to 354.5m) also sharpening the head angle by +0.7°. The second method to adjust the head angle was to play with the Syncros headset (either integrated or via a separate cup) for a change of either +/- 1°, or +/- 2°. The permutations of headset adjustably were massive however we left ours at the factory default of 62° – pretty damn slack already.

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By playing with these three elements you can really adjust the Gambler for all your needs.

The other bit of adjustably was the bike’s overall length, which you can adjust by 15mm via another chip around the rear wheel axle.  At the stock length of 425mm the Gambler is nice and short with an overall wheelbase of 1185mm (size tested). We did push the rear-end out to the longest setting but it did feel a little too long for us, especially considering the slack head angle. We also think there’s a chance to fit in a 27.5″ wheel at the longer setting however we didn’t try this ourselves.

The Gambler is also full of other neat and nice design features. Bumps stops on the down tube to prevent denting from the forks in a crash is a nice touch, as to is the rubber protection at the bottom of the down tube to protect against those hard rocks flinging up at the frame. The cable routing is also quite neat and we loved the little trick of routing the shifting cable through the chain stay. You will however need a few zip-ties when it comes time to change the cables.

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A little peek at the rear shifting cable before it disappears again. And a nice simple and nice touch – a bump stop to protect the frame from the forks .

Finally, you’re either going to love or hate the bright green colour of the Gambler 20 but but the looks and the questions we got when riding it sure made us feel popular.

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Yep, it’s bright green (and blue).
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Some additional rubber to reduce chain slap noise.

Spec.

The Gambler sits at the lower end of downhill bikes when it comes to price. The $4499 price tag does net you a very decent build kit though, with highlights being FOX 40 fork, a FOX Van RC rear shock and a Shimano Zee drivetrain.

The drivetrain is taken care of with all Shimano Zee parts. The Zee is the more affordable cousin to Shimano Saint. The rear derailleur uses a clutch mechanism to reduce the whole thing flapping around and worked perfectly, it’s just that it looked a bit plastically and we wonder how well it would hold up to a few hits. Chain retention is taken care of with a E.thirteen chain device (with bash guard) and during our test we noted no issues with shifting or chain loss.

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Shimano ZEE, weird name, great solid kit.

The FOX 40 is a good entry level fork from FOX, however basic pre-load and rebound (and spring changes) are your only options for tuning. During our testing we found the fork to be fine, we only having issues with spring noise. The rear shock is also the more basic unit; FOX VAN RC with adjustable rebound and low-speed compression. The rear shock felt pretty good for us and the spring was pretty much spot on for our weight. It would be great again to have a little more adjustability but the lack of it is the norm at the this price-point.

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Preload and rebound up front.
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Low-speed compression and rebound dials out back.

The brakes are a lower spec single piston stoppers, Shimano Deore with big 203mm rotors. This would probably have been the low-light of the spec. Sure, the brakes did work well, but at Thredbo we were wishing for a little more. By the end of such a long run you were wishing for something with a bit more bite when your hands were tiring. A great upgrade to the bike would be a set of ZEE brakes.

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Probably the only really big let-down was the brakes. Sure they worked, but the Gambler is made for high speed so you need high speed stoppers.

Syncros rims with Formula hubs were all fine, and held up well to our testing. The Schwalbe Magic Marys are a great tyre and when Thredbo was a little wet they are exceptional. We actually ran tubes in the test (which is almost unheard of for us) and didn’t flat once. That’s a good sign but of we had the bike for the long term we would have converted it to tubeless.

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If you read the fine print the rims are actually made by Alex.
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Big hubs with sealed bearings.
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We like the Magic Mary.

The cock pit was comfortable and the 800mm Syncros bars were actually wider than we would normally run, however we got used to them pretty quickly. The quick release on the seat post clamp was a weird one as a downhill bike is a set-and-forget type of thing when it comes to seat height.

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800mm is pretty wide but we got used to it.
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??? Not sure if this is needed.

Ride.

The Gambler is stable, and even more stable at speed. The slack head angle, low bottom bracket, and long front end all add up a very stable bike at speed, especially on the steeper sections of the track. The bike really does want you to go faster.

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The other notable was the bike felt better when ridden a little further back, with your weight over the rear wheel. This would let the rear suspension shine as the rear suspension was a highlight, small bump performance was great and we never felt like we were bottoming out at all. If you see Scott world cup downhiller Brendan Fairclough ride you will see he is often hanging right off the back, and we can see why this bike suits him.

While the Gambler was really good at high speed and rough straight lines, it was a little harder to get around the tight stuff. We also found it a little harder to jump than other downhill bikes we had ridden.

All that slackness and lowness though does have its downside and it’s when the trails get a little less steep. If it’s flat, or you have to work a little more for your speed, the Gambler is a bit more of a slug. If you’re thinking about buying this bike, really think about how steep your riding will be. The steeper the better your experience will be.

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The bike also rode pretty quiet, which is a nice thing. Some people have mentioned noise issues however we noted none.

Just like the FOX 40 on the Giant Glory 1 test, we had issues with the spring clanging around inside the fork. While where on the subject of the forks, the price you pay (or don’t pay) for a lower spec fork is lack of adjustability. The FOX 40 was good at it’s designed job, it’s just that we feel a better fork would have made the riding package a whole lot better as the rear did outshine the front.

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Verdict.

We liked the Gambler and think you will too. It’s a bike that makes you feel very comfortable at speed and across the tough and rough stuff – as long as the terrain is steep and fast. We did find it a little harder to manoeuvre on the tight stuff, and it was a little harder to be playful and jump about on. However, we’re pretty confident that if we had more time to get more aggressive  and comfortable with this beast it would have taught us a different way to ride.

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Even brighter than moss.

We also dug the adjustably of the Gambler. 60 degrees is probably too slack for most Australian riding but if you’re heading off to the steeps of Europe then this beast can be pointed straight off Mt Blanc without any fear. The Gambler does 20 weighs in at 17.8kg, which is admittedly a smidge heavier than some of its competitors, but this is a bike designed to have plenty of gravity on its side.

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Kenny Rogers didn’t sing about this Gambler bike but maybe if he had of ridden it he would have changed the words to his most famous song to: “You’ve got to know when to smash it, know when to jump it, know when to let off the brakes, and know when to have fun…”.

Tested: Giant Glory 1

In 2011 Danny Hart won the UCI World Championships on the Giant Glory. However, at that time he was on a bike that was a little different from what us consumers could buy off the shop floor. “World Cup” angles, changed geometry and a slimmer weight was what Danny needed to get on the podium.

Lucky for us soon after Danny’s rainbow striped win Giant released the same bike to the world and the 2014 Glory’s have continued with that same winning formula. A slacker head angle, longer wheel base, lower bottom bracket, and lighter bike all add up to a package that’s world cup race ready.

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We took the Glory 1 to Thredbo for some testing to see if we could channel Danny Hart a little, and ride like a World Champion.

Build.

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The Glory 1 is based on the same Maestro suspension platform you’ll find on the entire Giant range however this beast gets 203mm/8″ of travel. This suspension design has been proven on their entire range and its liner spring curve means a nice even stroke. Maestro utilizes four pivot points and two linkages (upper and lower) that all work to create a single floating pivot point.

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The business end of the rear end. The Maestro suspension design has been with Giant since 2006.

The Glory 1 frame is made from Giant’s ALUXX SL aluminium and is essentially the same frame as the top of the line model. Giant have an extensive line of carbon bikes now however at this stage they have chosen not to include it in their downhill offerings. On the graphics and look side, there’s no missing that the bike is either a Giant or Glory as the styling and colours really mean you wear your brand with some pride.

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There’s no hiding what bike you’re riding.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph Giant have stuck with the same new angles as released after Danny Hart’s World Championship win. The head angle is 63.5°, seat angle 61.8°, bottom bracket height at around 330mm, chain stay length 444.5mm and overall wheelbase 1211.5mm (on the size Medium). If you look at the stats of the older Glory you will see the wheelbase has really been extended from the bottom bracket to the front wheel – the from-centre measurement. This lets the bike stay playful at the rear but adds stability to the front to the bike.

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The Glory angles.

There is no adjustability with the frame however a shortish head tubes means you have some flexibility in the set-up and can change the head angle a little.

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You can play with the head angle slightly by raising and lowering the forks and a smaller head tube lets you have that little bit of room to move.

The cable routing is neat but we’re a little puzzled with running the cables on the underside of the downtube. As downhilling tends to be a little more extreme we’d be a little concerned about damage to cables, especially brake cables.

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One little sharp rock could mean no rear brake.

Spec.

Any Giant is always excellent value for money and their OEM sometimes leaves you wondering off which truck did they steal the components. At $4299 off the rack, the Glory 1 is kitted out with a full Shimano Zee group set, FOX suspension and DT Swiss wheels.

The Zee is the more affordable cousin to the Shimano Saint and the biggest noticeable difference is the more “plastically” looking rear mech. Performance wise the Zee group worked really well. It shifted well and chain bounce and security was great with a clutch derailleur matched with a MRP G3 chain device.

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Zee cranks and chainring matched with the MRP G3 chainguide were a perfect combo.
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Even though the Zee has a little more plastic that the Saint it still did the job of shifting and holding the gears more than adequately.

The Zee brakes share the same twin-piston design as their more expensive cousin – Saint – and over all the Zee’s still did a good job. Thredbo has always known to be brutal on brakes and it’s really only going to be the top-of-the-line models that can handle it best. That being said, the Zee’s still had power at the end of the run, it’s just that you needed to pull them just that little harder and at no time did we ever feel like we didn’t have enough to stop us. Our experience with the Shimano Saint maybe has made us a little lazy in the braking department.

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Large 200mm front and 180omm rear rotors add up to some good stopping power.
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The twin-piston Zee’s worked well and with just a little power issues at the end of a long Thredbo run. Reach adjustment was simple and easy too.

You’re also treated to FOX front and rear, with an Performance series 40R fork and RC2 shock. These items don’t offer the same adjustability as the more expensive Factory series fork and or RC4 shock, but that’s a tradeoff we’re certain many will be willing to make. We found it took a little while to get the suspension dialled and we felt the rear of the bike a little under-sprung for our 72Kg tester.  Once set-up though the bike handled really well and most noticeably in corners, jumping through rock gardens and hitting the big jumps. You have to appreciate that the price point of this bike means a little less adjustability and you really need a few extra fork and shock springs to swap around to get that perfect performance.

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The DHX RC2 give you low speed compression and rebound adjustment. If you need anything more then we suggest you choose a different spring. Our test bike had a 400lb spring.
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Overall the performance of the rear shock was good however the last few mm’s of travel were a little hard.
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The FOX 40 R Performance fork has only the two adjustments, preload (basically compresses the spring) and rebound. We recommend you (or your bike shop) take out the spring, re-apply some kind of shrink-wrap and put a bunch of lube on it.

The wheels are a mix of Giant hubs, DT hubs, and DT rims. We noted no problems with rims and they stayed straight during our testing period. The Schwable Magic Mary tyres were great when you were able to get them to dig into the soil, really great actually, and especially after a little bit of rain and ensuing hero soil. However we think they’re probably a little less suited to really hard-packed terrain as the knobs won’t be able to dig in and you can feel them move under cornerning.

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Good strong rims from DT Swiss matched with DT Swiss (rear) and Giant (front) hubs.
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The Magic Mary’s were excellent tyres and gripped best when able to really dig into the soil. Here they are after one day of runs.

The cockpit is comfortably equipped with a 750mm Giant Contact bar, Giant grips and Truvativ stem. We would have like the bars to be a tad wider and sorry Giant, you have to get a better grip designer, we ditched ours straight away.

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The cockpit was comfortable and so was the Fi’zi:k Tundra saddle (although you hardly used it on a downhill bike).

Ride.

The Giant Glory comes with proven World Cup pedigree and the ride felt like a winning Danny Hart run. Fast, a bit loose, and ready to jump all over the place.

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The strength of the Giant is its ability to move around the trail quickly as you pop in and out of corners and across rock gardens with ease.  It’s more a bike that prefers to be gently lifted and placed on the trail rather than ploughed through the rough stuff. Think of it as doubling through a rough section more than pointing and hoping. The Glory also felt better when ridden more centred on the bike with your body weight pretty much over the bottom bracket.

If you’re lacking a little confidence in your jumping then the Glory may be the bike for you.  We found it super easy to jump and at times we found ourselves jumping a little too far.  The Glory even made the big double at Thredbo feel like a breeze.

When bottoming out the Glory does feel a little harsh right at the end of its travel and you will hear it screaming back at you with a bit of a “thud”. There was never an issue with performance it was a little harder than the rest of the stroke. We think our Glory was under-sprung for us as we pushed the bike to that point a bit too often. A few turns to pre-load the spring would help this but that’s reality never a recommended way to adjust the suspension. A new spring would be the answer.

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The only real negative was the rattling spring in the FOX fork. It’s a common fault with the  lower spec. FOX 40 as the plastic wrap on the spring works its way down the length of the spring, thus enabling the spring to rattle inside the fork under low speed compression. It’s an easy fix though and we recommend you ditch the standard wrap and add a full length one of your own.

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Verdict.

The Giant Glory 1 is a great downhill race machine – straight out of the box.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better value bike that has been race proven at the world level. It’s best ridden with a lighter more playful style and if you channel Danny Hart before you begin your run it will actually let you pull an amazing whip. Just fix the forks and you have a bike that’s quietly ready for anything.

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Testing Stats

Location: Thredbo, NSW.
Conditions: Dry to a little moist. Cool with a high around 18 degrees.
Tester Weight: 72kgs.
Tester Height: 172cm.
Bike Size Tested: Medium.
Changes made: Grips.
Issues during test: Fox 40 spring rattle.

Tested: FOX Float X CTD w/Trail Adjust

Gravity enduro is so hot right now. So hot. But when it comes to suspension, all that hotness is the enemy! Heat build-up decreases suspension performance, and that’s one of the biggest challenges facing suspension manufacturers today; how can suspension be kept light and efficient enough for the climbs but still deliver the control and consistency needed for serious gravity enduro use?

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The Float X is FOX’s answer to this question. We’ve now run the Float X CTD with Trail Adjust on two bikes (a Yeti SB66c and a Giant Trance Advanced SX), over the course of almost eight months, and we’re convinced it’s a winner.

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Our long term test bike – Giant Trance Advanced SX

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The Float X may have the same bones as the regular Float shock, but the large piggyback reservoir clearly marks it as a different beast. The larger oil volume the piggyback affords is key; more oil equates to less heat, better damping performance and more control over long descents. There are other obvious external differences too, with the CTD lever located on the side of the shock reservoir, and the rebound adjuster in-line with the damping shaft.

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While we’re on the topic of the rebound adjuster – what the hell? We don’t know whose fingers the rebound adjust dial is designed for, but it’s practically impossible to adjust without an Allen key or small stick (a bloody stick!). Thankfully rebound is largely a set-and-forget element once you’ve established your baseline settings/pressures, but this aspect was very annoying during the first half a dozen rides when we were still making tweaks to the suspension setup.

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Teeny fingers, a stick or an allen key is the only way you’ll adjust the red coloured rebound dial.

So does it all work as planned? Can I get a ‘hell yeah’? If you’re accustomed to the feel of a regular Fox Float shock, you’ll immediately appreciate the on-trail differences of the Float X. For lack of a better term, the Float X just feels ‘plusher’, much more like a coil shock than the standard Float. On our Giant test bike in particular, the bottomless feel had us re-checking our suspension sag, convinced that we must be running things too soft, but it wasn’t the case –  the shock is just superbly smooth throughout the whole stroke.

The buttery responsiveness of the shock on small and medium sized hits is amazing. In our experience, FOX still has the edge over Rockshox when it comes to pure smoothness and suppleness. Whether it’s a product of better sealing tolerances, the new five-piece shock hardware, shaft coatings or lubricants, we’re not sure – we just know that the Float X has better small bump response than any Monarch Plus shock we’ve ridden.

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FOX’s five piece hardware in the shock’s mounts are a vast improvements over the DU bushes we’ve known for many years, reducing friction allowing the shock to pivot slightly when motioning.

When we pushed hard, the Float X always had the answer, and longer runs we didn’t notice any spiking or inconsistency that we’d usually associate with an air shock being taken beyond its limits. For us, the ultimate vindication of the Float X as a serious piece of descending equipment came when Jared Graves raced on this very shock at the Pietermarizburg World Champs… and almost bloody won.

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The CTD system is effective and easy to operate. With the lever on the side of the shock, it’s very easy to access. The three positions are clearly defined, and the Trail mode is a great compromise for adding some welcomed efficiency to a longer-travel bike. We did find that the lever could get a little jammed up in very sandy or dusty conditions though, so cleaning and lubing around the lever junction isn’t a bad idea occasionally.

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Would we consider upgrading from a standard Float shock to the Float X? That’s a tough one. The performance benefits are there, and the weight difference is minimal, so it’s really a matter of justifying the spend. From our standpoint, we’d probably be more inclined to look for the Float X as desirable feature when considering a new bike purchase, rather than dole out the cash to upgrade an existing bike.

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We’ll be running this shock for another six or so months and we’ll update this review should anything new and noteworthy emerge, but for now we’re very impressed!

Tested: Troy Lee Designs Women’s Skyline Kit

Fact: Bright clothing stands out on the trails (and on your computer screen when looking at photos of yourself afterwards). Troy Lee Designs Women’s Skyline shorts and jersey we tested are certainly bright, making us sold on this kit from the get go.

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It’s also designed to look bold and mean business on the trails. This fits with the branding of rest of the Troy Lee Designs range. It provides women who prefer this image to a girlier one with kit that fits the different curves of the female form.

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The Skyline shorts use a light and stretchy fabric. We found this kept us nice and cool while riding, a definite plus, particularly for Australian riding conditions.
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The soft collar and raglan sleeves sat nicely on the body and were soft against the skin.
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We didn’t miss the triple pocket storage of tighter fitting jerseys as we often ride with a hydration pack. A small, hidden pocket keeps quick access items safe, a nice and thoughtful touch.
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The waistband is quite tight and narrow. This keeps the shorts positioned most comfortably above the waist and prevents the lower back from being exposed while riding. The elastic back panel keeps these baggies moving well with your body on tech terrain. Loops on the inside of the waistband allow you to BYO knicks.

The Women’s Skyline kit is comfortable and functional, particularly in summer. It made us feel good and stand out on the trails. The fit of the shorts could be improved at the waist, but we’d still choose them over some other designs simply because they’re airy and bright.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Lapierre Zesty AM 927

You can read the full review of this bike here.

This is quite an edgy, funky and futuristic bike. With 27.5″ wheels, a gorgeous carbon frame, 1×11 speed drivetrain and wait for it… electronic suspension! Zap!

Hey, there!
Hey, there!
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Mmmmm, SRAM XX1.
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Strange to see a slim 32mm legged fork on a bike capable of such burly riding, we’ll see how it holds up.
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The future, baby.
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The top level Zesty scores a carbon main frame, and seat stays. The tubing is big and widely set.

We’ve had a few Zesty’s between our legs over the years, check out our roundup of this year’s range, and last year’s 26″ model, the latest version of this popular trail/all-mountain bike steps it up a level. Rolling on the 27.5″ wheels, and the most delicious parts spec we could dream of, the 927 is Lapierre’s top shelf Zesty.

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The cable routing, and frame finish is super cool. Everywhere you look there is something to go “oooooh” at.

150mm of travel front and back, the Zesty AM uses the ei Shock system. This trick new technology is into its second season now, with really quite a good reception across the board. In short, the sensors and computer on the bike can detect what’s going on under your tyres and will adjust the rear shock accordingly.

So, if your pedalling along hard and your fork isn’t encountering any bumps, the rear shock will be firm. Then, if you hit something, presto, your rear shock will change its setting accordingly faster than the blink of an eye. It knows…

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The control centre sits neatly above the stem. Doubling as a standard computer with all the usual functions too.
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A wheel sensor to determine speed, giving information to the computer constantly.

We are pretty much at the stage where we get this system, we like it and know what it’s good for. It’s definitely a major feature of the bike, but there is more to this Zesty than the beeping bits.

Let’s find out how it goes. First stop for this understated number is the Bike Buller MTB Festival, with a range of events from 50km epics to gravity runs down the finest trails around.

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The thumb lever is right there for you to toggle between modes, or hit auto. Zappp.
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That box on top of the rear shock is the motor that controls the rear shock’s compression tune at the speed of light, almost.
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Happy to see the Avid XO Trail brakes.
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The wide rear end has caused a bit of heel rubbing when pedalling for us before, let’s see how this one goes.
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That gold colour says ‘smooooooth’.
So stay tuned for our review of this Zesty little shredder.
So stay tuned for our review of this Zesty little shredder.

 

Best charge up the batteries, it’s Buller time!

 

Flow’s First Bite: We ride the SRAM 7-speed downhill drivetrain

SRAM’s first downhill specific complete drivetrain drops it down a few gears, to 7.

To address the needs of the faster descenders out there, SRAM have taken elements and technology from their wildly successful and game changing 1×11 drivetrains XX1 and XO1 and created their very first downhill specific drivetrain; the 7-speed dedicated X01 DH. Using only the gears that you really need, when pointed downhill.

 

Flow hopped over to Queenstown, NZ recently to join select media to take a first look at this very specific system with the people that designed it, then flog it down the sweet trails on offer to see how it performed.

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When we first saw XX1 in the flesh a couple years ago, we learned that this slight, but very clever twist to the modern derailleur concept was actually first intended as a downhill prototype ten years ago. SRAM was aiming for the most stable rear derailleur possible, hence the X-Horizon system was hatched. All these years later, SRAM drop a DH specific, compact, light and precise drivetrain in our laps.

This stability we talk about is the key element to consistent chain retention, durability, a quieter bike and the luxury to shift gears whenever you need to. The X-Horizon derailleur (seen in XX1 and X01), use pivots that are horizontal to the ground, and not on a slant. This means that if the bike takes an impact, the derailleur will be forced to bounce up or down, X-Horizon keeps it from moving side to side causing unwanted ‘ghost shifting’.

If this doesn’t make sense, next time you see a SRAM X01 or XX1 derailleur, push the front section of the derailleur straight down with your hands, it won’t travel side to side at all, just up and down. And then do the same with a regular 10 speed or older derailleur, the downward motion will see it travelling sideways towards the wheel and back again, which can cause an unwanted gear change. That is exactly what you don’t need when you’re putting all of your power into the pedals.

Why DH specific?

One of the first things we thought was, why would SRAM release a downhill drivetrain before a lower price point version of the sweet 11-speed stuff that we love so much? SRAM’s external drivetrain manager Chris Hilton stated that while their single ring specific 11-speed system was hugely successful, it still has the perception of being elite spec to consumers, hence the step sideways into downhill rather than tricking down to X9 or X7 price points to cater for many more bikes.

We realise that a downhill specific drivetrain won’t set the Australian market on fire, but we do believe that it’s a step in a good direction, and solves a couple key issues that come along with the high demands on drivetrains that hang off the back of a downhill bike.

Mick giving the X01 DH a pounding under the Skyline Gondola, Queenstown.
Mick giving the X01 DH a pounding under the Skyline Gondola, Queenstown.

We’ve seen tech-savvy downhillers using road cassettes instead of mountain bike cassettes for years to gain a lighter, more compact and simpler drivetrain, this results in having a very close ratio set of gears and can be used in conjunction with a shorter cage derailleur. The most popular road cassettes for DH would usually be 11-26 teeth, whilst this X01 DH cassette’s range is from 10-24. The ratio is spread apart more this way, giving you very close to the same range as a 10 speed road cassette, but in only seven gears. Specialized were also a brand that offered their own custom 7-speed X0 drivetrain on their flagship S-Works Demo downhill bike.

Having a slightly bigger jump between gears was intended to improve the efficiency of downhill racers. As that super fast guy, Stevie Smith puts it, “I don’t double-shift any more”. One click of that shift lever now takes you to the next gear you need, solidly engaging into place with real confirmation and purpose.

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X01 DH Mini Block 7-Speed Cassette

Using only the gears that downhillers need, this cassette uses the exact ratio 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24. A tiny 10 tooth cog gives the drivetrain a very high and useable gear, which in turn allows the rider to use a smaller front chainring, increasing ground clearance. It’s also SRAM’s lightest cassette ever made, at a svelte 136 grams, lighter than the top level SRAM Red road bike cassette, (sucked in roadies, we have a lighter part to play with now). It does mount to SRAM’s XD driver body, which now hundreds of wheel manufacturers are offering as an option. It’s no longer an issue as it was in the very early days of XX1 to find a wheel, compatible with this technology.

Standing with a view from the rear of the bike, you will see a large gap between the lowest gear and the spokes of the wheel, where four more cogs would usually be if an 11-speed cassette. A correctly adjusted derailleur won’t let the chain drop off the large cog and into the spokes, but it still made us wonder if a downhill specific freehub body, shorter in length for only 7-speeds could have allowed for a wider-spaced hub flange, effectively making a stronger wheel. But, that’d mean another standard and what we can see here is SRAM making more than one system work well, on one standard of freehub.

X01 DH X-Horizon Rear Derailleur.

The fundamental difference between this 7-speed derailleur and the 11-speed ones is two parts. A short and medium cage is available as it doesn’t have to deal with the huge 10-42 range of the 11-speed system, and the actual range of lateral movement range has been restricted to only seven gears worth of travel via longer limit screws, and the internal architecture of the derailleur maximised for less throw.

Otherwise it uses the same clutch technology, X-Sync jockey wheels that interlock into the chain’s alternating links for added security and of course the horizontal mechanism that keeps it from ghost shifting when the bike takes impacts when pedalling. It’s still quite a bulky looking unit hanging off the back of the bike though, and at a juicy $369 it’s not going to be a nice experience if encountered with a rock going quickly in the opposite direction. In fairness though, we’ve yet to find the size of the detailers with our 11-speed drivetrains an issue, as we first thought with XX1.

The reason for the two cage length options – medium and short – is that some modern downhill bikes have such extreme chain growth that the medium cage derailleur is needed to deal with the growth of the effective chain length when the suspension compresses into its travel.

X01 DH Trigger Shifter.

An 11-speed shifter will work on this system, as it’s simply less clicks for your thumb that separates 11 and 7-speed shifters apart. But SRAM have developed a dedicated shifter, with only the gear indexes you need to drive the derailleur in its full range.

Looks a lot like the 11-speed X01 shifter? The difference is inside, less clicks for more good.
Looks a lot like the 11-speed X01 shifter? The difference is inside, less clicks for more good.

X01 DH Carbon Crankset

No major changes here, SRAM have offered a DH specific version of the carbon X0 crank for a little while now, in a short 165, 170 and 175mm lengths. It still uses the aluminium insert for the pedal threads, but now comes with the X-Sync chainrings with a large range of options; 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38 teeth. Choosing the right chainring will be related to how steep the trails you ride are. It’s an easy system to change, and carrying a couple chainring sizes in your toolbox will make sure you’re never geared too high or low when practicing on new race tracks.

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Possibly the coolest factor about all this new stuff, is that you can pick and choose each component separately and it’s all either available in a 10-speed variant, or compatible with existing 10-speed drivetrains. Considering the high cost of the cassette, this will raise many eyebrows, we’re sure.

With the vast majority of downhillers currently running a SRAM 10-speed setup could simply grab a derailleur and a chainring to bring their current setup very close to the performance of the complete 7-speed kit. This will negate the need for a new cassette, freehub and chain. This is a very nice feature in our minds, the wide compatibility of X01 DH doesn’t leave the current SRAM user feeling left out of this good gear.

You could also still use Grip Shift with the 10-speed option if you wish.

Ride

Yes, we rode this drivetrain, a lot. Fitted to a Devinci Wilson Carbon and an Intense 951, we ploughed these sweet bikes down a number of seriously amazing trails. In two days we knocked out 19 laps of the Queenstown runs under the Skyline Gondola, half a dozen shuttles in the Remarkables, and then one mega helicopter assisted run from the very top of Coronet, down into Rude Rock and Skippers Canyon. Plenty of gear shifting, and rowdy riding occurred.

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First thing we all noticed was the silence. The bikes were dead quiet, all you heard was that comforting thud of the rear tyre belting the dirt, and the occasional crack of the chain as it engaged into gear with impressive clarity.

If anything, a quieter bike is a faster bike to us. We were practically sold on this drivetrain from that one concept alone! Riding amongst other riders bashing through the trees, there was just none of that clanging and smashing sounds of the chain slapping about, giving you that harrowing feeling your bike is being pushed too far. We were very happy indeed.

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Thud, thud, thud. Not clang, bang, smash.
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The wildly varied terrain of Queenstown had us shifting gears heavily to keep the power on, the drivetrain was always answering with the right gear, engaging rapidly, all the time.

Stability was stellar. The X0 chainguide, with a top guide and lower roller worked flawlessly, we of course never dropped a chain. A few of the SRAM staff were knocking around on their own bikes, actually using only a top guide, with no roller. Without the roller underneath the chainring you would decrease drag even further, we would not hesitate to go this path either as our faith in the X-Sync system is enough for us.

When it came to shifting, we honestly forgot about it pretty quickly. The gear changes were less-frequent, positive and very light to actuate with a light push of the thumb. What Stevie Smith was saying about the lack of double or triple shifting became very apparent, the jumps between gears just seemed right.

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Following SRAM’s Duncan Riffle, now retired from about 100 years on the World Cup downhill circuit. It shows.

We can’t quite vouch for durability too much, but during our three days of riding our system never missed a shift, made a sound or even caught our attention in any negative way.

SRAM seem to be moving quite rapidly in developing new products these last couple years, and with the success of the 1×11 technology now available to downhillers with its high performance and compatibility with existing 10-speed drivetrain, we are more than impressed. Let’s go downhilling!

Tested: Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-34

FACT: There are almost as many bikes in the Avanti range as there are sheep in New Zealand. This well-regarded Kiwi brand has options from some of the sweetest beach cruisers going, through to triathlon, road and of course mountain biking. They’re very much the big little brand.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-2

The Ridgeline Carbon 2 is Avanti’s peak cross-country dual suspension offering; a taut and efficient 100mm-travel carbon main-framed machine. With a few long days on the trails planned scouting out the Port to Port MTB course, we thought the Ridgeline would be just the ticket.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-16

Build:

Magic plastic out front, metal out back. The carbon/alloy construction combo of the Ridgeline is a sensible choice, making for a light yet robust frame. That’s really the gist of the entire frame build – light enough, but built for the real world, where crashes and cack-handed riding happens.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-4
Alloy out back, carbon out front, and a FOX shock in between.

From the stout head tube, to the oversized PF30 bottom bracket shell and compact dimensions of the front triangle, this is a frame that is built to resist twist. The rear end keeps that theme running, with what Avanti call their Integrated Rocker, which is really just a massive welded rocker link. This link drives a FOX CTD Evolve shock, for 100mm of suspension travel.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-8
The beefy, welded rocker link is a the heart of the rear end stiffness. Note the cable routing for the rear shock remote lockout.

There are no undersized pivots, just large diameter bearings, all culminating in a Syntace X12 rear axle which ties the whole rear end together ferociously. Wibble wobble like jelly on a plate, she does not.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-6
Both gear cables are internally routed, while the brake and shock remote run underneath the down tube.

Lockout cables have the potential to ruin a bike’s clean lines like bird crap on a freshly polished Benz, but Avanti have done a decent job of preserving the bike’s aesthetics, with the shock lockout looping up to launch a surprise attack from behind the seat tube. The gear lines are internal through the front triangle too.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-18
With a short seat post and seat tube, we were forced to run the seat post just beyond the minimum insertion mark. Not advisable.

One element of the compact front triangle is the short seat tube, which is bizarrely paired with an overly short seat post. Our medium sized test bike was so low slung in this area that we had to run the seat post just beyond the minimum insertion point (DON’T DO THIS) in order to get the right seat height. As as many will attest, our test rider for this review is quite a stunted fellow. Taller riders will need to buy a longer post or opt for the more stretched-out ride and taller seat tube of a size large.

Spec:

Shimano XT is a truly ace groupset. When you say ‘shift’, its only answer is ‘how fast, sir?’ The brakes still have the best lever feel of any offering on the market (in this reviewer’s opinion anyhow) and while 2×10 drivetrains aren’t as hip and happening as the latest 1×11 setups, the gear range is much appreciated.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-24
Shimano XT all over.

Wheels are one of the most important items on a 29er, and they can really make or break the way a bike rides, so it’s fortunate the Avanti have gone high-end with the rolling gear. The DT X1600 wheels are light and the hubs have the hassle free performance you want, especially if you plan on tackling longer events or stage races on this beast.

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A good set of wheels is critical to keep a 29er feeling lively. The DT 1600s are up to the task.

Unfortunately the Kenda Slant Six tyres are an overall poor choice. Too narrow, too heavy for their meagre tread, and frustratingly stubborn in their refusal to be converted to tubeless. We wasted a lot of sealant trying to get these buggers to seal up before reinstalling the tubes.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-14
We don’t mind the tread pattern of the Kenda Slant Six tyres, but they’re very narrow and can’t be run tubeless, which lets the bike down.

Some will love the dual remote lockout, made by Shimano for Fox. It allows you to simultaneously toggle the fork and shock between the three compression settings: Climb, Trail or Descend. On the whole, we think it’s a great system, though occasionally we did wish we could just adjust the rear shock to Trail or Climb mode while leaving the fork in Descend. It’s the kind of feature that racers will undoubtedly love.

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This neat junction box allows both fork and shock lockouts to be actuated with a single lever.

For the price tag, we do think it’s a little disappointing that the Ridgeline misses out on a carbon bar or seat post. It’s still a good value bike, but some carbon in the cockpit would’ve been a nice touch.

Ride:

This bike oozes reliability on the trail. Despite some horrendously dusty riding, the Avanti never so much as murmured during our testing, remaining tight, true and quiet. That’s the exact traits you want if you’re planning on racing this bike, so you can just concentrate on the pain you’re in, rather than worrying about the bike!

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-1

With 100mm travel, you shouldn’t expect a plush ride, and the Avanti is certainly on the firmer side when it comes to suspension feel. Even though we had no troubles extracting full travel when needed, that upper half of the suspension stroke is fairly stiff. It kind of suits the bike’s style though, and we embraced the notion of switching the fork and shock into Trail mode and getting out of the saddle to attack climbs. With the firm suspension and stiff frame, it really responds well to hard efforts. We think that changing the tyres to a tubeless setup with slightly more volume would make a lot of difference to this bike’s compliance over the small bumps. We also diligently cleaned and sprayed fork legs with Finish Line Max Suspension spray before every ride, as we did find the fork had a tendency to get a little sticky in dry, dusty conditions.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-10
In dusty conditions, we found it important to keep the fork legs and seals clean and lightly lubricated.

Speaking of compliance, the saddle on this bike treated our undercarriage like we had just insulted its family. Damaging stuff. But anatomy is personal, so maybe it will suit you better!

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In terms of handling, Avanti have the numbers spot on for cross country riding. The 70-degree head angle is stable enough for all but the roughest, fastest riding and still sharp enough to slot into a single track corner nicely. With 447mm chain stays, it’s not overly ‘flickable’ but it settles into long turns well, and the climbing position is nice and neutral as well, so there’s not a lot of weight shifting needed to maintain traction. With some tyres that deliver a bit more bite, we’d like the Avanti’s handling even more.

Overall:

This is a very solid offering from Avanti, both figuratively and literally. As a cross country machine, it feels a damn sight more reassuring beneath you than many others, but without becoming too hefty. It’s a great overall package, and one we’d happily put in the same league as bikes like the Giant Anthem or Trek Superfly as a ready-to-roll marathon, cross-country or all-day machine. With a new set of tubeless rubber, and perhaps a carbon bar or post, the Avanti would reach another level too, so keep some change aside for these little upgrades down the line.

Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2-33

Flow’s First Bite: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR 27.5 carbon wheels

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One of two all-new carbon mountain bike wheels in the Bontrager line-up, the Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels have just found their way into the dropouts of our long-term test Giant Trance Advanced SX all-mountain machine. And all of a sudden our bike just got a whole lot sexier.

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Built from Trek’s OCLV carbon, these are a tasty set of hoops. While the 1670g weight for the pair won’t necessarily sizzle your sausage, these wheels are built for bombing, not mincing around the trails, so weight alone isn’t the driving design consideration. Our initial impressions of these wheels’ stiffness after just the one ride is very positive; they come out the box with a whopping amount of spoke tension which, when combined with the stiffness of the carbon rim, makes for a rock-solid set of rolling gear.

The rim is offset, to reduce wheel dish and allow more consistent spoke tension.
The rim is offset, to reduce wheel dish and allow more consistent spoke tension.
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Unlike increasing numbers of wheels which use a tape to seal up the rim bed, the Bonty wheels use these plastic rim strips.

As with other Bontrager rims, converting to tubeless is incredibly clean and simple; Bontrager rim strips snap into place, providing a rock solid seal that won’t lose air over time like some tubeless tapes can. With an internal width of 22.9mm, they’re wide enough to offer good support for 2.3″+ tyres (though not as wide as some other similar offerings, such as Enve’s AM or Specialized’s Traverse rims). To complete the Bontrager setup, we’ve fitted a set of chunky XR4 tyres in a 2.35″ width and we think they’ll totally dominate in loose conditions.

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Snap the rim strip in place, fit the valves and you’ve got one seriously bombproof tubeless setup.

With the tight tubeless seal and obviously robust nature of the rim construction, we’ve already begun playing with lower tyre pressures than usual, dropping down to around 22psi in the rear and even lower up front. Unlike alloy wheels, you don’t feel compelled to wince every time the rim bottoms out against the tyre – they just feel tough!

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One of the other highlights of these wheels is the new Rapid Drive freebub, which has exceptionally quick pick-up, thanks to 54 engagement points. Of course, they sound bloody great too. We’ll be running these wheels for the next few months and we’re looking forward to seeing just how hard they can go.

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Meaty. Will the XR4s prove a worthy replacement for the Schwalbe Hans Dampfs we like so much?

Tested: Felt Edict Nine 2

Choosing a bike isn’t as easy as one, two or three. It’s tricky, with a market loaded with brands and options. And then there is the wheel size thing, a painstakingly irritating mess of conflicting opinions and bold marketing hype. What wheel size is best? There is no best. But when it comes down to a short travel dually like this one, 100mm of travel and 29” wheels go hand in hand like your first marathon and a sore arse.

 

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Build.

This frame is unmistakably carbon, it looks more like a carbon bike than many bikes out there with its lustrous woven carbon finish under a glossy clear coat, and swoopy curves. The Edict is a lovely bike to look at, glistening and shining in the sunlight like a swimwear model in a sun shower, we do like its appearance.

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Long and low up the front, built for race day.

To us, the most unique element of the frame construction is the suspension pivot layout, look closely and you won’t see a pivot near the rear wheel like you would normally expect. The frame’s suspension design relies on a slight amount of flex in the carbon material on place of a pivot.

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Look Ma, no pivot!

This system has been around for years in short travel bikes, and makes sense, as those little pivots on the seat or chain stay near the rear wheel really only rotate a couple of degrees as the suspension compresses. So if replacing a bearing, pivot casing, hardware in a frame join can be possible, the result is a lightweight and simple solution to a moving part.

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Nice internal cable routing, nice carbon weaving.

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The cable routing adds to the smart finish with the gear cables disappearing inside the frame, hiding and simplifying the look. The rear brake however still runs down above the down tube quite loosely, rattling against the frame, we’d recommend silencing it with another zip tie or tape.

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We did have a fairly prominent issue with the Felt’s linkage hardware unfortunately, where the rocker arm joins the rear end the pivot axles floated side to side. We checked the pivot bolts for the correct tension, but that was not the issue, it didn’t clamp up tight. It appears that the whole pivot axle is floating in the pivot.

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These two pivots would not clamp up tight, resulting in a lot of side-to-side play.

We couldn’t say that we noticed this when riding, but any play in the suspension linkages will only ever worsen over time. We contacted Felt to see what could be the issue, we plan on updating this review with any feedback we receive.

Spec

A full Shimano XT/Deore kit with decent Mavic wheels and Rockshox shockies deck out the Edict, and after a few good long rides we found ourselves very happy with the parts used and the way they suited the bike’s nature. We loved the Shimano brakes, the solid lever feel and decent power are winners.

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Shimano brakes, mated neatly with a Shimano XT shifter, bonus points for cleanliness and consistent performance.
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Full XT, fully good.

The Shimano XT double chainring setup gives a huge gear range for grinding up steep pinches and tapping out on fast open trails, we never felt short on gears when trails turned upwards. We would have preferred to see a Shimano XT Shadow + derailleur instead of the non-clutch XT version, the clutch derailleurs help silence the bike and secure the chain on the chainrings for a minute weight penalty, its odd that the Edict is without one.

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Why no clutch deraileur? A Shimano Shadow + is a must, don’t leave the shop without a little upgrade to boost chain retention and keep chain slap noises down.
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Soft soils only, these classic Euro tyres are a bit wild on hard packed trails.

The wheels look hot, and rolled along nicely, but make sure you don’t hang onto the Continental X-King tyres if you plan on riding only hardpack-surfaced trails as they prefer to spike softer ground rather than sticking to rock or hard, drier dirt.

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Carbon bars, and post. Bingo.

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A carbon seat post and handlebar make for a nice touch, and there aren’t many grips that say lightweight like ESI silicone ones, favourites of ours too. We’d also be happy to sit on the stock saddle all day long, it’s a comfy and slim number and easy to move around on.

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Our main spec woe was the fork, and it actually became quite a dominating element of the ride quality. The Rockshox Reba feels nice and supple, with a very user-friendly remote lockout but we found it to bottom out harshly way too often.

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A bit of a let down, the fork dived and bottomed out too much. And a mis-match to the stout and firm rear end.

Even with more than the correct air pressure, the fork blows through the travel, falling to the bottom under mid-size impacts and even under front braking. The rear shock however was quite the opposite; the spring rate is very progressive, ramping up hard towards the end of the stroke, making it difficult to gain full travel.

Ride

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Long, low and sharp is the order of the day, in true marathon racing style. The Edict hums along a racetrack, or fire road like a race bike should. It means business, and handles the trails at a consistent pace, maintaining speed up and over climbs. It’s not a play bike, nor does is like to be pointed down steep and rocky trails, it’s all about covering ground efficiently.

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The new generation of Rockshox Monarch shocks are much more sensitive and supple than in previous years.

The 100mm of rear travel feels quite firm, but not in a harsh way, you don’t seem to feel the rear shock motion up and down at all, even when you bounce on it. But it simply does its job, using a small amount of travel to take the sting out of the trail, without bobbing about or robbing you of energy.

The length of the bike is one geometry trait that boosts climbing and long fast trails. Feeling very stretched out and low the Edict will claw its way up a climb quite easily without the front end lifting and wandering around in your hands. We love the way it finds traction up a climb; it’s a very capable ascender.

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Descending confidence is in line with what you would expect from a bike that rolls so fast and climbs so easily, the compromise is totally fine with us. It prefers to take long and gentle lines into corners when up to speed, don’t expect to be drifting turns or jumping obstacles on the Edict, it’s a mature ride.

Verdict

When it comes to selecting a bike for marathon racing, carbon 100mm 29ers are pretty hard to beat. They fit that category nicely, with low weight and with minimum suspension to reduce fatigue.

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The Felt Edict would be a fantastic tool for the 100km events, 24 hour events, or if you’re that type of rider that races your mates or the clock each time you ride. We’d recommend seeking a bigger travel bike if you plan on riding steeper terrain, or wilder singletrack though, this thing has a strict purpose. Racing, fast and munching down miles of trails washed down with electrolytes and energy gels.

 

 

Tested: Giant Trance Advanced SX long-term test update

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We’re a little over a month into our long term test of the 2014 Giant Trance Advanced SX now and things are going swimmingly, literally in the last couple of weeks as the trails have been a bit swampy.

Straight up, this bike is a riot. A blacked-out package of confidence and playfulness, a 12kg piece of weaponry that turns every rock into a kicker or a landing ramp. It’s everything we’d hoped. We’ll get into the way the bike rides a little more in later updates, but for now here’s a few observations about the suspension and drivetrain.

Slyly edging her way out the office door, to sneak off to the trails.
Slyly edging her way out the office door, trying to sneak off to the trails.

Suspension: Man, the rear end of this thing is smooth. FOX have really done their best work with the new Float X. It’s like butter, poured over Teflon. It’s a true pain in the arse to adjust the rebound speed, as the dial is really hidden very deep underneath the shock eyelet, but that’s the only gripe.

More control than NASA.
More control than NASA.
Can you spot the rebound adjuster in there? Adjusting the rebound speed out on the trail is thankfully a rare occurrence as you need an Allen key, small stick or the tiniest fingers in the universe.
Can you spot the rebound adjuster in there? Adjusting the rebound speed out on the trail is thankfully a rare occurrence as you need an Allen key, small stick or the tiniest fingers in the universe.

The 34 TALAS fork has spent most of its time in the 140mm setting so far, only being bumped out to its full 160mm travel for the descents. Unfortunately our fork had a damper problem (sporadic topping out, seemingly at random) and so it went back to FOX. They had it back in less than a week, with a brand new damper installed. While in the workshop, they popped in some new seals and the fork is near frictionless now.

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Less than 1750g is pretty amazing for a 160mm fork. Let’s hope there’s more to this fork’s performance than just low weight. We’ll find out soon!

While our fork was back with FOX, a new test fork arrived from Formula – the Formula 35 with 160mm travel. Because the Trance uses Giant’s proprietary Overdrive 2 headset standard (with a 1.25″ upper bearing, instead of the standard 1.125″ bearing) we needed to order a new upper headset assembly to suit. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as just swapping out the upper headset bearing, you need a new headset cup as well. FSA make the whole assembly. You’ll also need a different stem too, which we thankfully had on hand.

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Knock out the old upper headset assembly and pop in the new (left).

With the Formula fork fitted, the entire bike has dropped a bit of weight too, now clocking in at a seriously impressive 11.85kg (without pedals fitted)!

Drivetrain: Any fears we had about the 32-tooth chainring being too small have gone out the window. Even with 27.5″ wheels, we rarely find ourselves in the highest gear. This bike has once again reinforced the idea that it’s important to gear your bike around the climbs, more so than the descents.

We're happy with a 32-tooth chain ring so far and while we've dropped the chain the once, we're not going to fit a chain guide just yet.
We’re happy with a 32-tooth chain ring so far and while we’ve dropped the chain the once, we’re not going to fit a chain guide just yet.

The X01 drivetrain is quiet and stable as a sedated Buddhist, though we have thrown the chain once when pedalling out of a very rough, drifty sandstone corner. If it was ever going to happen, this is exactly where you’d expect the chain to drop. We’re not going to fit a chain guide at this stage as we don’t think chain drop will be a regular occurrence.

Tested: Yakima HoldUp 2 bike rack

The HoldUp 2 has been one of Yakima most successful products, selling as soon as it lands on the docks. Lucky for us, the crew at Yakima Australia were able to track down a HoldUp 2 in October last year, and the rack has never left the back of the car since.

With the bar set extremely high for Yakima products after our experiences with the Front Loader roof-mounted bike carrier, we were expecting the HoldUp 2 to carry the frothing Yakima torch forward.

The HoldUp 2, holding up two bikes.
The HoldUp 2, holding up two bikes.

One of the features that we liked about the Front Loader was how it doesn’t clamp onto the bike’s frame, meaning there’s no risk of scuffing your frame finish and that the rack will work with absolutely any frame design. Yakima has kept this approach with the HoldUp; a flip up arm with a ratcheting clamp secures your front wheel into robust cradle, then a simple strap restrains the rear wheel into a smaller, pivoting mount.

No frame clamping here.
No frame clamping here.

The wheel cradles are a solid piece of engineering and are deep enough to almost cup your wheel through its radius. This system is able to accommodate 14-29” wheel sizes, and if it really necessary, up to a 48” wheel (for those of us with novelty bikes).

To help avoid clashes between bars/frames etc, the actual cross pieces to which each cradle is mounted can be shifted laterally, so there’s never a need to remove a seat post or turn the bars.

A simple ratchet strap secures the rear wheel. The rear wheel cradle tilts to accommodate different wheelbase lengths.
A simple ratchet strap secures the rear wheel. The rear wheel cradle tilts to accommodate different wheelbase lengths.

The HoldUp 2 utilises a hitch tow bar receiver, so there’s no doubting it can take the weight. Additionally it ensures that there is no vertical or horizontal movement of the carrier (make sure you tighten the stabilising bolt on the bottom of your hitch to stop any vertical movement). Additionally, the hitch system allows the Holdup 2 to be secured to your vehicle via a nifty locking bolt that is supplied with the rack.

For a bike rack that can accommodate two bikes the HoldUp 2 is surprisingly compact. The clamp arms fold flat, and the whole rack folds up vertically too, so you can drive around with the rack mounted and not have worry about knee-capping pedestrians or denting the boss’s Porsche Cayenne.

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Stashed away neatly, for all your reverse parking convenience.

When you do have bikes on the rack, the entire assembly can be tilted down, away from the car too. This means you can still get to your boot, even with two bikes loaded up. The system is strong enough to tilt like this even when loaded up with burly downhill rigs.

The whole rack tilts down to allow you access to the boot.
The whole rack tilts down to allow you access to the boot.

We’re happy to say that the HoldUp 2 is definitely a contender for the best bike rack on the market. Its ability to carry any bike regardless of wheel size or frame configuration, the simplicity of the clamping mechanism, the way it folds away so neatly and how it lets you to access the boot even when fully loaded, all make this a fantastic rack.

Flow’s First Bite: Avanti Ridgeline Carbon 2

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Avanti is a brand we’ve somewhat neglected here at Flow. Despite the popularity of the bikes both here in Australia and in New Zealand, this is the first Avanti we’ve actually had on test! Shame on us.

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The lines of the carbon front end are very sharp, as in looks-nice-in-a-suit sharp.

Avanti’s dual suspension range has three bike lines to suit your flavour of riding. There’s the all-mountain 27.5″-wheeled Torrent, the longer-travel 29er trail machine Coppermine and the racy 100mm-travel Ridgeline series too.

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Real world sized pivots and welded linkage plate. It’s all nice and robust.

With a two-day mission to film the trails that will be used for the upcoming Port to Port MTB stage race, we thought we’d opt for a lightweight, race-ready bike and selected the Ridgeline Carbon 2. With front and rear remote lockouts, narrow rubber and a geometry chart that is unmistakably cross-country oriented, this bike sure fits the bill for long days reeling in distant finish lines.

XT all over.
XT all over.

With a carbon front end and an alloy rear, the construction looks and feels robust – the frame is mighty stiff, especially out the back with sturdy 142x12mm dropouts using a Syntace axle. The bottom bracket shell is a solid looking PF30 affair too.

Internal gear cable routing keeps things clean (though we don’t know why the bike wasn’t configured so that the cables entered on the opposite side of frame from their respective shifters – this would have prevented cable rub). Faffing about with the remote lockouts took less time than expected, and the novel routing for the rear lockout works nicely. The Shimano-made lever actuates both fork and shock lockouts simultaneously, which is really ideal.

Tubeless ready rims, non-tubless ready tyres. This does not compute.
Tubeless ready rims, non-tubless ready tyres. This does not compute.

Interestingly, while the wheels are tubeless ready, the tyres are not. We wasted plenty of time (and sealant!) trying to get the Kenda Slant Six tyres to seal up, but it wasn’t happening. Our first move would be to get some new rubber on there. Setting up the Shimano XT brakes was a pleasure as usual, same with the XT 2×10 shifting.

We’ll be taking the Ridgeline to our favourite cross country trails over the coming weeks, but our impressions so far are positive enough that we’re already looking to test other bikes in the Avanti range soon.

Tested: Norco Sight Carbon 7.1

Norco’s bikes haven’t just come on a little bit in the past four or five years. No, they’ve improved astronomically and the Sight range is really indicative of all that progress. A couple of years ago, Norco launched the Sight in a 26” wheeled variant, but for 2014 it undergoes the shift to 27.5” wheels whilst retaining that trail-friendly 140mm of bounce.

We picked up a Sight Carbon 7.1 and took it to singletrack Nirvana, Rotorua, for five days of guess what?

Build.

The Sight’s the best looking Norco we’ve ever seen; clean shapes, the contrasting matte and flourescent colours and the smart little finishing touches had us drooling over the Sight at first sight.

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Hot looking rig, fast just standing there.
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High contrast colours, and groovy shapes.

With the move to a carbon front end, 25% of the grams are gone. Like a number of manufacturers, Norco have opted for a carbon front end and aluminium chain stays out back. We like this method of construction, as the rear end is the part of the frame most susceptible to crash damage, while the front end is largely protected by the bars and cranks.

Norco have taken a step in the right direction with internal cable routing, including some neat rubber grommets do prevent dirt or water accessing the frame. But during our testing the rubber cable grommets occasionally pulled loose, making making a bit of a mess, and requiring us to stop and wedge them back in periodically.

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Internally routed cables are a good concept, but in this case let down by the execution.

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A ‘true’ four-bar suspension design makes it all happen out the back, with Norco’s A.R.T. take on the well-proven system. The placement of the suspension pivot on the chain stay allows for a little rearward rear wheel movement at the start of the suspension travel. This rearward axle path wheel also adds tension to the chain, so if you’re cranking down hard the rear suspension will display a certain amount of anti-squat and the bike jumps forward nicely.

We had some dramas with the pivot hardware coming loose during testing, and because the two main pivots use a spanner and not just Allen keys, it wasn’t something we could fix out on the trail. A spot of Loctite resolved it.

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An aluminium back end ties to the carbon front end with quality hardware, just be sure to keep an eye on the pivot bolts during the first few rides.

Norco don’t settle for the standard one-size-fits-all approach in regard to the frame’s rear end. As the frame sizes go up, it’s both the front end and chain stays that grow in length to keep the rider’s position centred.

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SRAM X01, we couldn’t ask for anything more, it’s supreme.

Spec.

Meaty rubber, four-piston brakes and an adjustable post tells us the Sight is ready for some action, and definitely sways it’s attitude towards the more aggressive side of the scale. The big tyres did feel a bit slow on the flatter trails, but of course the big shoulder knobs held on tight. Still we’d probably opt for some slightly faster-rolling rubber for general trail riding.

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Burly tyres are great in gravity assisted instances, but a bit hefty on flatter trails.
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The whole cockpit and ergonomics are fantastic, we wouldn’t change a thing. Some rider taking on gnarlier trails may wish for a slightly shorter stem though.
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We never dropped a chain, not once.

We battled with the Rockshox Revelation during our testing, the fork’s action just felt uncharacteristically choppy and harsh, not like the usual Revelations we’ve tried. It all came to head when the main seal on the air-spring side came free from the lowers with a loud POP. We think that air had seeped from the negative air chamber into the lower, resulting in a build up of pressure that ultimately popped seal out. We pulled the lowers off, reset the seal back in place and changed the lubricating oil and the result was immediate improvement. Still, the fork was never quite all we’d hoped for.

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We have had better experiences with the Rockshox Revelation, this one had a few niggles that needed more than your average mechanical experience to sort.

SRAM’s X01 gear is simply spot on, but the brakes are a bit weak on bite, especially in the wet. We’d recommend swapping out the original resin brake pads for some metal sintered ones.

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Some love them, some hate them. But these Ergo grips do serve a purpose, protecting your little finger from the odd tree that may come too close.

Ride.

The Sight left us with mixed feelings. The efficiency of the bike is great. It pedals brilliantly, even with the heavy rubber fitted, and in spite of its slack angles it’s easy to keep it on track up a steep climb.

Low weight and a very stiff frame give the Sight a precise feel; it never seems to doubt the direction you take. The lowly slung top tube and wide bars really allow you to tip the bike right over beneath you too, adding to the agility of the ride.

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A very direct and precise feeling ride, the Sight always knew where it was going.

We were less impressed by the suspension feel overall. Perhaps our impression was influenced overly by the fork’s problems, but the ride never felt ‘alive’. The Norco prioritises stability on the big hits over suppleness. Some riders will revel in this firm feel, but when compared to some of the other bikes we were reviewing alongside the Norco, the suspension just felt a bit lacking.

This was admittedly a very big surprise, as most new-generation Norcos we’ve ridden have been incredible – it does make us wonder if there wasn’t some issue (like the wrong shock tune) with our bike that could have been resolved with a longer testing window.

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A lowly slung top tube, wide bars and dialled geometry meant tipping the Sight into a turn was a blast. And very confident.
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You won’t find any unwanted suspension bobbing or squat, this thing jumps forward when you put the power through the pedals.
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140mm of travel, in a light frame makes for a bike that is comfortable and capable to ride all day.

Verdict.

Our short time aboard the Norco may have brought a couple of teething issues, but sorting them out would not have been to much of an issue and we’re certainly positive about the overall potential of this bike. The frame, geometry and component selection are all excellent and with a lighter set of tyres set up tubeless the Sight could hit an impressively low weight. Although we didn’t entirely mesh with the bike’s suspension,  the geometry, looks and ability to hold a line on the roughest trails all make for a great platform to build a dreamy trail bike.

Flow’s First Bite: Polygon Recon 4.0

Click here to check out our final thoughts.

We do test a lot of pretty high-end bikes here at Flow. We admit it – we’re nasty little gear-whores. But what if you can’t afford a $5000 carbon bike? What if your budget is less than a third of that?

Turns out that you can still get quite a lot of machine for under $1400. The new Polygon Recon 4.0 is a 27.5″-wheeled, 120mm-travel cross country bike with some really impressive features for such a relatively meagre price tag.
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Popping the Recon onto the scales was a real surprise, weighing in at just 13.6kg (or around $1 for every 10g of bike). That’s a LOT lighter than we expected.

The frame won’t win any beauty contests, but it looks perfect sound from a practicality, reliability and construction standpoint, and obviously the frame weight isn’t excessive. With Shimano from head to toe we’ve got no issue with the component selection. Sure, the Octalink cranks are a little outdated, but we used this system for many years without worry.

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With Shimano brakes and shifting expect consistent performance.

 

Top marks to Polygon for including the Rockshox Recon TK Gold fork, which is considerably lighter and smoother than the Recon TK Silver fork (which uses steel legs). We’ll put a question mark alongside the Suntour Epicon rear shock for now. Hopefully it can handle the jandle out on the trails.

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The Suntour shock feels firm bouncing around the workshop, but it may bed-in out on the trails.

It sounds strange to say, but we’re actually really looking forward to putting the glitzy bikes aside for a while and testing this bike. We think it’ll be pleasantly refreshing to remind ourselves that you can still have a hell of a lot of fun on a bike that’s doesn’t have a dollar value higher than Craig Thomson’s credit card bill.

Long Term Test: Thomson Elite Dropper seatpost

After six months of going up and down, the high quality adjustable post from the classy folk at Thomson has never missed a beat.

Sure, it has an external cable but that is not always such a big deal for us. An externally routed cable can be a bit of a pain with some bikes, especially if a direct route isn’t possible due to a rear shock placement or convoluted frame shapes. We tested the post on a Yeti SB66 Carbon and it was nice and neat, it did mark the frame a little as the cable moved up and down with the seat, requiring some protective stickers on the nice carbon finish.

If you’ve ever experienced setup and fitment woes with an internally routed seat post, you’ll understand why it was a nice experience fitting this post, taking only about 20 minutes. But there’s definitely merit in the cleanliness and simplicity of the internally routed posts.

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What matters the most is how the actuation of the lever works, a good slick action, and durability in the bushings. And that’s where the Elite Dropper shines.

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The clamp is both aesthetic and functional. The finest quality machine work around, and what Thomson is best known for.

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Many posts over the years have battled with the development of side to side play, twisting, rattling and a knocking feedback when pedalling. It’s a tricky challenge to overcome, for sure. We’ve been more than happy with how this particular dropper has only slightly developed a very acceptable amount of wear, after a good amount of use. And it’s definitely not something you notice when riding.

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The tiny thumb lever is slim enough to fit anywhere, but make sure the cable it long enough so that it exits the lever without bending, perhaps a V-brake noodle guide would work well here.

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We never once encountered a moment when the seat post didn’t actuate either up or down, in wet or dry conditions. Our only gripe we found was the threaded collar that threads the seal down on the post body would unwind each ride, we tried a touch of thread locking solution, but it still crept up. Looking for a better solution we cleaned the threads, dried them and cranked it down harder with thread lock and it seems to have stopped it from unwinding.

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Keep an eye on that collar, ours wound unwind when riding, not ideal but fixable.

The price has dropped too (dropped, ha), from $590 to $440 which is very fair, and also if purchased from a Thomson dealer in Australia, a free first service is included.

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Thomson show the collaboration with those who helped with the internals, great names with solid reputations to associate with in the moving parts and hydraulics department.

Thomson are soon to release an internally routed post with an improved thumb lever, due in Oz in April, that could just be our favourite post ever.

 

Flow’s First Bite: GT Force X-Carbon Expert

You can find our full write-up here.

There’s a bit of a GT fan in every mountain biker whose early years were in the nineties, when GT had a firm grasp on what was rad, cool and desirable. They’ve been through ups and downs, and can be quiet for years at a time but holy moly have they come out the background with guns blazing this year. The 150mm Force, the 130mm Sensor and the wild downhill bike, The Fury are amazing feats of engineering.

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We loved the GT Sensor for its direct and efficient ride plus its crazy appearance is so very unique. And now we have gotten our hands on the GT Force-X Expert, a slightly more aggressive version of the GT Force. The original Force never really made it to our shores, so when GT’s mid-season release of the Force-X came around, the Australian GT importers snagged the opportunity. And we made sure we got our hands on one.

The ‘X’ label essentially means bigger tyres, wider bars, a Float X rear shock, and a double chainring drivetrain.

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The Force-X was thrown in the deep end for this test, we practically set the suspension, ditched the tubes and set the seat height and we were racing. The first Rollercoaster Gravity Enduro race was going to be a great place to break it in.

There's a lot of material making up the burly frame.
There’s a lot of material making up the burly frame.
Race day, baptism by fire.
Race day, baptism by fire.

After a solid day of riding, we made a few quick stern judgements; Formula Brakes are still not our favourites and they take a long time to bed in, the FOX Evolution Series fork was assembled with cous cous instead of lubricant, and the tyres are mighty heavy. But, on the upside we found ourselves hanging on the Force-X down a proper downhill track, jumping gaps, ploughing rocks like mad. The Force-X is a burly bike.

The FOX Float-X is a long way away from your hands, right down in the middle of the frame, if you wish to toggle the little blue Propedal lever when moving it’s a stretch, but believe us, this is one seriously efficient bike. We left the lever in the open setting even when climbing; it’s fantastic how little the suspension bobs when pedalling.

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See how high the main suspension pivot is, this allows the rear wheel to move up in a more vertical plane when encountering impacts.
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A FOX Float X CTD shock handles the bounce.
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GT’s COR – Centered On Rider system is all about keeping the bikes mass centred and low, and they’ve certainly managed that. All the beef is contained in one area.

Note how high the main pivot is, and then think about what happens when a rock comes along and pushes the rear wheel upwards, the rear wheel can track in a very vertical path compared to bikes with pivots behind the chainrings. So, we experimented, and yes it takes fast impacts like a champion.

We’ll lighten the wheels up, slicken the fork seals (a 25 minute job) and probably ditch the brakes to boost the Force-X to the next level. Keep in touch, for a full review soon.

 

 

Tested: Avid Elixir 9 Trail Brake

The Avid Elixir 9 Trail brake is a powerful stopper that’s simple to set-up and has loads of modulation. We’ve had great success with the XO Trail brake (read our review here) and the Elixir 9 Trail has many of the same features in a more wallet-friendly package.

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The Elixir 9 Trail brake. A little more beef for more stopping power.

The Elixir 9 is aimed at the all-mountain crowd but it’s no boat anchor – you still get carbon fiber levers (on an aluminium body) to help keep the weight at 350g per end with a 160 mm rotor. At the  business end you get a two-piece, four-piston caliper with easy to access pads. Adjustment wise the Elixir 9 has both reach and pad contact adjustments to get your ideal lever feel.

On a maintenance side changing pads is easy and only requires an allen key and maybe some small pliers to remove the split washer on the pad retaining bolt.

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Four pistons of fury.

Installing the brakes was simple, even with the pain-in-the-arse-ness of internal routing on our test bike. We did have to cut the cables to install, however re-bleeding them was easy, as per these instructions. We matched them with an Avid HS1 180mm rotor on the front and a 160mm on the rear. There was no need for any bed in time as they worked perfectly with super bite straight out of the box. How do some brakes do this, while others seem to take days of riding to come good? Baffling, batman.

Avid market the Elixir 9 Trails feel as having “Deep Stroke Modulation”. Kinky. Away from the marketing and in the real world we found the modulation both good and bad. Good: Avoiding unwanted lock-ups is easy, there’s lots of control and the power comes on more gradually than some other brands of brakes. Bad: Our tester has small hands (enough with the jokes) and we found that if you adjust the levers in too close the lever would pull to the bars before reaching full power. The simple fix was to run the lever reach and contact point adjustment out a little further, ensuring the brakes hit their full power earlier in the lever stroke.

If you’re coming off Shimano brakes the modulation will take some time getting used to as it can feel like you’re lacking power at the same point in the stroke. Brake feel is personal, however, so you may love the more gradual feel of the power of the Elixirs.

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Modulated, like your local FM radio channel.

The Elixir has both reach and pad contact adjustment, both tool-free. As with the issues noted above, for some it can take a little longer to get that perfect set-up but seeing as it’s so simple it can all be done on the trail. We found a little ongoing fine-tuning was needed to keep the feel entirely consistent, perhaps related to pad wear.

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The small dial (close to the bars) sets your reach.
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A twist of the barrel adjusts the pad contact point.

During our test period we noted no issues with the performance of the brakes (once the set-up was corrected) and found them to be very powerful and predictable. The modulation meant we were dragging the brakes a little more than usual but the added heat from this didn’t impact performance. The only slight issue we noted was a slight sense of “pulsing” when they were super hot, or under hard braking. This was only noted infrequently and a change of front rotor and pad seemed to have fixed the issue. Also, embarrassingly, they do get a bit noisy when they get wet (most brakes do).

Overall we think these are great brakes. Their ease of adjustment, power and modulation was top class and they sure got us out of trouble on more than a few occasions. They’re perfect for your all-mountain bike.

Long term test: BH Lynx 4.8 29

Back in September we took delivery of the BH Lynx 4.8 29 as a bare frameset. Nude. Curvy. We built it up with a stack of high end parts for a long-term test, and now over four months later it’s time to deliver the report card.

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The BH might strike you as an obscure choice – why not opt for a frame from some of the better known manufacturers? While the brand is still on the rise in the mountain bike world, after testing the complete bike in mid 2013 we were quickly convinced that this machine had the cred to hang with the big boys. The bike has simply wonderful geometry and impressive attention to detail that is not normally found in the first generation of a bike.

The combination of very low weight, 120mm of very supple travel, a slack head angle and the shortest chain stays we’ve found on dual suspension 29er make for an amazingly fun ride. It climbs with the best of them but simply floats in the rough incredibly well.

We’re not going to dwell on the ride of the bike too much here – as it’s normally available as a complete bike only – but we’ll focus more on what it’s like living with the BH long term and any quirks or real highlights we uncovered.

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The headset bearings sit directly in the frame – Lighty Mclight.

Our frame was supplied without a shock and we opted to run a Rockshox Monarch RT3, rather than a FOX CTD that comes standard on the complete bikes. With shock, hanger, rear axle and seat post collar fitted, the frame weighed in at 2.35kg. If you’re not the kind who keeps a track of comparative frame weights, this is a seriously impressive figure, only a couple of hundred grams more than the industry leaders.

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The only significant bits of metal in the whole frame are the aluminium rocker links.

The only frame element that is not made from carbon is the upper suspension links (and pivot hardware, obviously). Even the headset bearings sit directly on carbon and the bottom bracket is a press-fit too, so there’s no need for a threaded alloy insert, saving weight.

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Let’s Torx about it. The pivot hardware is all alloy with Torx fittings, excluding the upper shock bolt which is steel.

All the pivots and shock bolts use Torx head fittings in a variety of sizes which required the purchase of a few extra Torx bits of for our ratchet set! A tender hand is needed as much of the pivot hardware is alloy – don’t over-tighten it.

It’s interesting to note the offset of the rear end. In order to squeeze in the front derailleur with short stays, the rear shock has asymmetrical mounting hardware. Crafty. We never fitted a front mech, running SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain instead.

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The shock is rather exposed to debris, sitting in close to the rear wheel. As you can see, it’s not actually mounted to the mainframe, ‘floating’ between the chain stay and the upper link.

The shock is situated very close to the rear wheel and this does raise concerns about durability and potential damage to the shock shaft from rocks or lumps of wet clay etc. We toyed with the idea of fashioning some kind of guard to protect it, but it proved too tricky. So far our fears have been unfounded, but we’d recommend giving this area around the shock shaft a regular clean to prevent build up of mud. The shock itself is only a little fella too, with a 1.75-inch stroke (44mm) to help fit everything into the constricted space.

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There are external cables mounts for the rear brake and the shock lockout, while the gear cables are all internal.

All the cabling, save for the rear brake, is internal routed with guides inside the frame so threading the housings is easy. There are also external cable stops for a remote shock lockout if that’s your bag. We like the fact the cables and brake lines are routed right over the main pivot, minimising the amount of bending the lines undergo during suspension compression.

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Internal cable routing for the dropper post exits the underside of the top tube, making for quite a tight bend.

Like other interrupted seat tube frame designs, the BH is not compatible with ‘stealth’ style internally routed dropper posts. Instead, the dropper post cable ducks in on the left side of the head tube and pops out about three quarters of the way along the top tube. This works ok, but it does force the cable into a pretty tight bend which adds friction at the lever. Keep the cable well lubed for slick running, or run a hydraulic post instead.

One area where the frame is underdone is protection. There is no chain slap protector included and the fat down tube is awfully exposed to rock strikes – fit a Frame Skin kit at a minimum to give the bike some protection.

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The rear shock pierces the seat tube. This arrangement allows for a compact overall bike, while still providing room for a water bottle.

To get the most out of the BH on the trail, set up is important. With the relatively slack head angle (for a 120mm 29er) a short stem is best to keep the handling nice and responsive. We went for 70mm stem. The slack seat angle can potentially cause problems too if you need to run a lot of seat post extension, pushing you back behind the bottom bracket. Look for a post without any offset, so you’re not too far off the back, or you’ll be running the saddle rails right forward in the post.

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Dave Weagle is the man behind the Split Pivot suspension design. It uses a pivot around the rear axle, identical to Trek’s ABP system.

Our frame was a pre-production model and we did notice the rear end had loosened up a little after a few months, with some flex evident at the Split Pivot assembly. There have been revisions to the carbon layup on production bikes with a little more beef added here (and in the seat tube / top tube junction). Because of the rear end’s feather light construction, this will never be the stiffest frame out back and heavy riders will want to keep an eye on the Split Pivot hardware which is secured with a 12mm Allen key – solid stuff!

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Keep the Split Pivot hardware tight! We found this to be the only real area of significant flex in the bike.
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Swoopy, like a porpoise.

After four months of riding, we’re still as impressed by the BH 4.8 29 as we were on that very first outing. Living with the bike day in, day out we’ve found precious few niggles with the bike that could dampen our enthusiasm for the way it rides. With the weight of a cross country race bike, the geometry of an all-mountain beast and a level of attention to detail that isn’t often seen, it’s a real standout.

Tested: Drift Ghost-S Action Camera

If you’re not GoPro then it’s a tough action camera market to get attention in to. However, the Drift Ghost-S is a fresh camera with a different approach on life and we think it’s definitely worth consideration. It’s water-proof, without the need of extra casing; has an in-built LCD, so you can review your shots and get an instant replay of the action; has heaps of battery power; and it’s got a rotating lens so you can line up your shots perfectly.

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The Ghost-S is a little different from the others.
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What’s in the box (audio cable and remote were a little camera shy).

Out-of-the-box the camera comes with two flat surface one-time-use sticky mounts, audio-in cable, wrist strap, wrist remote control, USB cable, goggle strap mount, dry weather rear door, 1700mAh replaceable battery, and 16GB micro SD memory card. Pretty much everything you need.

The Ghost-S is a forward facing camera, like the Sony Action Cam and now defunct Contour. Being so it’s a little different to mount chest mount it pretty much out. It’s also a little bigger than it’s competitors but that’s because of the LCD and toughened exterior. However, seeing as it doesn’t need an extra housing, when compared to others (once in their housing) it’s not too bad.

The top of the camera has all the menu buttons and mode indictor light. The rear of the camera has a water-proof door that hides and protects the memory card, battery, microphone input, HDMI output and USB port. If you’re never going to get the camera wet you can change the water-proof rear cover with a cover that lets you access the ports without removing said cover. The right side has the 2” LCD display and the left a standard tripod mount – which we loved as we could easily attach the camera to other assessories.

The Ghost-S is a killer on paper with all the technical spec’s you’re looking for: Up to 1080p @ 60fps, super slow motion @ 240 fps (only at small WVGA though), 3.5 hours of recording life, a 2 inch LCD display, water-proof (to 3m), rotating lens with Gorilla glass, standard tripod mount, Wifi connectivity, 4 shooting modes (video, stills, timelapse, burst), 90-160 degree Field-of-View settings, digital zoom (for stills), and optional manual exposure.

Overall the image quality was good (as good as you can get for any action cam). Even though the Ghost uses a Sony sensor we think it’s not quite up there with Sony on image quality. Colours and quality are best in full light and being that most people will be uploading their footage to the web then the image quality is more than acceptable.  Image stabilisation wasn’t industry leading but acceptable  (we’re still waiting on someone to come up with something that’s good enough for mountain biking anyway).

Most people get caught up in the megapixels, frame rates, and all the technical guff, but in reality it’s the easy of use, mount-ability and durability that really matters. We’ve been playing with the Ghost-S for a few weeks now and here’s the lowdown on what we think of it as a real-world mountain bike action cam.

The Good Stuff

No case. That’s right, there’s no extra case to mess with. The Ghost-S has a toughened exterior and can take a pretty good pounding as is.

It’s water proof right out of the box (without the need for an extra case). Whilst it’s only to 3m we don’t expect anyone to be riding their mountain bike below that depth anyway so it’s a winner.

It has an LCD. This is fantastic for lining up your shots and reviewing your footage. Sure you can get this review function on other cameras with a wifi connection to your smart phone but being in-built saves time and battery power. Viewing the LCD screen was good in shaded or darker situations but in direct sun it’s a little harder to see. The LCD also displays all the important information (resolution, Field-of-View, battery level) in an easy to read manner.

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We loved having an LCD screen, especially for shooting off bike stuff where we could line up that perfect shot.

Bright colours to indicate shooting modes. The front of the Ghost has a bright light that changes colour to indicate what mode you’re in. So simple.

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Super simple idea. A big bright light to indicate what mode you’re shooting in.

Simple menu system. Navigation was simple and intuitive and with the added bonus of the LCD to navigate with.

A 300 degree rotating lens. Sometimes you just can’t mount an action camera exactly where you want and rather than messing around with re-aligning the shot in post (in software – which will mean some cropping and loss of resolution) you can get the shot perfect no matter what angle it’s at.

Standard tripod mount. The Ghost uses an industry standard ¼” threaded tripod mount for attaching the Ghost to other accessories. No propriety adaptor needed. The mount is also directly on the camera with no case needed for mounting.

Simple small remote. The wrist remote is small and very easy to use, with bright lights to indicate what mode you’re shooting in.

16GB Card in the box. We love a big card that comes standard.

Battery life. It lasts for ages. In one test session we used the camera for about 2 hours, using the LCD and fiddling a little more than normal and only got to 50% battery life. That’s pretty good in our books.

The Less Than Good Stuff

It’s probably a bit heavy. All the hardening, LCD and big battery means a camera that’s a little heavy, but still only 173g (as tested). When mounted on the side of a helmet it’s weight is notacable and a counter weight on the opposite side would be preferable for balancing.

Remote range. Yes, we loved the remote, but without getting out the measuring tape and being overly accurate we found that it wouldn’t work too well past about 5 meters from the camera. Not a problem when shooting on body or bike, but if you’re into off bike selfie movies then don’t expect to be able to trigger the camera from the start of your 100 meter run-in for that huge gap.

Goggle Strap. The goggle strap (which comes in the box as a standard accessory) isn’t the best. As we’ve said before, the only way to get the best out of an action cam is by being able to tighten the camera down firmly to minimise camera movement. It’s probably more marketed to the smoother snow world but on a mountain bike the harshness of the terrain was just too much.

Dynamic range. We though the dynamic range (the ability to see details in the dark areas of a mixed light scene) was a little on the low side. We also found that when riding in dappled light it was a little slow in adjusting exposure.

Audio. Like every single action cam, get over 10kms and it sucks.

Helmet Mount. The one-time-use helmet mounts worked great but seeing as they need a solid surface to mount to it’s a little hard to mount them on most mountain bike helmets. This would be the biggest mounting issue we see with the Ghost-S.

No case. (yep, this is a good and bad). While it’s a great thing not to have the case we’d be worried about the long-term durability of the lens and LCD. While the lens cover can be replaced we’re not sure what a huge rock would do to the LCD (which probably isn’t as easily replaced). Plus, the LCD may get pretty scratched over time making it harder to see the action.

No “lock” function. It’s pretty hard to knock the buttons on the top of the camera for accidental operation, however there’s still not ability to lock off the camera buttons.

As we’ve stated before, action cams are really only was good as where you can mount them and a tick in the box for Ghost for their list of accessories, which seem good for mountain biking (apart from a good helmet mount). Add the standard tripod mount, and rotating lens, and you can mount this camera anywhere (except probably your chest).

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The universal clip for connecting camera to Ghost accessories.

The Final Word

As a mountain bike action camera the Ghost-S is great. It’s simple to use, strong, goes forever and has a usable LCD screen. It’s different and we think that it’s the difference which makes it a great camera and well worth your consideration.

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It’s even super easy to see what you’re doing with the supplied wearable wrist remote. (photographed here less the wrist strap).

Tested: Specialized Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29

This bike was never intended to be a review item for us here at Flow, but after a three-day love-in with the Camber Evo whilst filming for our next Flow Nation video in Mt Buller, we had to let you in on this bike’s dirty little secrets. A gentleman always tells.

When planning our trip to Mt Buller, the conversation soon turned to selecting the best tool for the job. A bike worthy of tackling Buller’s rocky, steep and fast trails, something that wouldn’t flinch at three back-to-back eight-hour days in the saddle. Given that Specialized have close ties to Mt Buller, a bike from the big S made sense. But which one?

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If you’d asked us the same question three months ago, we probably would have opted for a Stumpjumper FSR 29er. But having recently spent some time on the Camber series, we weren’t so sure. The Camber truly exceeded our expectations as an all-rounder. In the end, we decided on a middle ground and chose to ride the 2014 Camber Expert Carbon Evo 29.

Build:

We won’t dwell on the build too much, as this bike shares many of the same construction features we noted in our review of the S-Works Camber here. It’s a truly awesome piece of work. What makes this bike different from the regular Camber line up is the Evo tag.

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The Evo framset uses a different rear shock mount/link to the regular Camber frame, which slackens the frame by a degree and delivers 10mm more travel.

Essentially the Evo label means that Specialized have given the bike some muscle, some grunt. The geometry is a degree slacker than the regular Camber, with 10mm more travel (120mm front and rear), there’s a beefier fork, and the bars are and tyres are wider too. In other words, it reflects the kind of tweaks that an advanced rider might make to the bike in order to boost its performance in technical terrain. And with Buller’s mix of tough climbs and ludicrously fast descents (think the Delatite River Trail… 60km/h easy), this bike really ticks the boxes.

Spec:

When a bike leads with the Rockshox Pike, it’s starting on the right foot. Chopped down to stocky 120mm, this is a seriously stout fork and we can’t think of a better option up front at the moment. It’s even relatively light in spite of its 35mm legs. Rear bounce in handled by a lustrous FOX Float CTD Factory shock that is further enhanced with the foolproof Auto Sag system.

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The best suspension product of the last 12 months? Yes.

The SRAM theme continues with a XO1 drivetrain, the 11-speed 10-42 tooth cassette paired with a 32 tooth ring. This gear range was enough to get us up the steepest Buller climbs while carrying heavy packs and gave enough top-end speed for the fastest fire road descents too. We didn’t drop the chain once or miss a single shift.

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An X01 drivetrain running with custom SRAM carbon cranks,

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo rolls on a set of hoops that even Serena Williams would be envious of. Wide Roval Traverse rims are fat enough to keep the whopping 2.3 Butcher and Ground Control tyres stable in the corners and the bike comes ready for tubeless conversion – just add sealant and atmosphere.

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Formula’s T1 brakes are light and stayed quiet in the dusty conditions.

Formula’s T1S brakes wouldn’t be our first choice, but they wouldn’t be our last either. Their feel takes a bit of getting used to, as the engagement is more vague than a Shimano or Avid brake, and they do seem to heat up a bit. That said, they look fantastic and are very light, and the effortless lever action is really nice.

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Clockwise from top left: The XO1 mech is big, but we’ve never damaged one. A Formula made clamp combines the shifter and brake lever neatly. Specialized’s own Command Post has a very effective little lever that actually forms the clamp for the lock on grip. You have control over both lever reach and brake engagement point with the Formula T1S levers.

Ride:

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo hunts out grip like a boozer searches for a kebab. In the dust of Buller it was pretty inspiring really; just lean it on in and the Camber would worry about all that pesky traction stuff. A combination of excellent big-volume tubeless tyres and near frictionless suspension gives the Camber the kind of stickiness that you expected from bikes with more travel.

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The IR (internal routing) version of the Command Post is significantly lighter to operate than the previous version of Command Post.

After a few hours on the trail we noticed that we hadn’t yet used full travel on either the fork or shock. This came as surprise as the bike certainly didn’t feel too stiff. We dropped the fork pressure 15psi and reset the rear shock’s Auto Sag a couple of times and the transformation was immediate. Suddenly the Camber went from ‘very smooth’ to ‘buttered Teflon’. Both the fork and shock have a progressive spring rate that lets you really use every millimetre of the bike’s travel without smacking the bottom-out bumpers. Charge hard and the Camber won’t make excuses.

We’ve mentioned the bike’s great cornering abilities above, but we do think a small setup change could make it even better.  With its large amount of back-sweep, we found the Camber’s handlebar a bit too lethargic for such a confident bike. We’d have preferred a bar that pulled us over the front a bit more to really drive that Butcher tyre into the ground even harder.

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The stem feels perfect at 65mm, but for our tastes the back-sweep on the 750mm bar is too extreme.

When compared to the non-Evo Camber, the climbing position is a smidge more relaxed and upright. You tend to go at the climbs one gear lower, with confidence that the huge amounts of traction, as opposed to sheer momentum, will get you up the steepest and loosest pinches. On tight switch backs, the slacker head angle and rather long chain stays (451mm) ask that you take a wide entry or you risk the front wheel pushing or lifting. Of course the upside of the overall bike length is stability when you’re bombing the descents.

Overall:

The Camber Expert Carbon Evo was a perfect choice for Mt Buller’s trails. This bike makes line selection and cornering technique an afterthought, without punishing your legs the way a longer-travel bike would. For long days or rides into the unknown, the Camber Evo’s ability to fill in that gap where the unexpected happens or the talent evaporates makes it a fine steed indeed. Grippingly good stuff.

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Test rider: Chris Southwood

Height: 172cm

Weight: 63kg

Tested at: Mt Buller, Victoria

Setup changes made: None, completely stock bike. 

Tested: Focus SAM 1.0

A 160mm travel bike with 650B wheels is nudging the upper ceiling of what we’ve come to expect from an all-mountain bike. Would the Focus SAM be too much to lump around the trails while out searching for that ultimate totally gnarly descent?

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SAM in the spirit of all-mountain.
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Clean lines, subtly arranged graphics, a stealth black paint job and parts kit make SAM a hot date for the steamy trails.

Build:

The SAM is a brand new model from the German folks at Focus in 2014, one of two suspension bikes in their fairly tight mountain bike range. Their Super Bud 29er – with it’s equally kitsch name – will cater for the rider seeking a leaner, racier and sharper ride. The SAM, however, is certainly keen and ready for more partying than racing.

Our new great mate, SAM (Super All Mountain) has impressed us with its refreshingly humble approach to hard all-mountain riding. An aluminium frame, simple suspension and a fairly classic frame finish and colour. The linkage driven shock and its single pivot design claims no crazy axle paths, or acronym riddled chain feedback reducing promises, it is about as old school as it comes.

And tipping the scales at under 13kg is a big bonus, that sub 13kg mark is hard to reach when bikes have more than 150mm travel. Sure it is specced well, but this low figure is also testament to the frame weight, long live quality aluminium!

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A single pivot actuated linkage design, with a pivot above the axle like this, is not going to claim to do any fandangled axle path things or change your life, it just works fine.

It may be basic, but in our opinion the perfect execution of this simple design is its strength. The rear end’s lean looking pivot points are secured using a mixture of axles with pinch clamps and the more common threaded variety. And all these fixtures use torx key fittings too. The pivots may be small but the frame receives a nod of approval from us in terms of lateral rigidity and durability.

It really does tick all the construction department boxes, with really big ticks. The internal routing of all three cables; the rear derailleur, rear brake and adjustable seat post disappears into the head tube, as neatly as it gets creating a very clean, clutter-free and smart appearance. A front derailleur mount is present, as are ISCG tabs to keep front shifting options open. The 12mm x 142mm rear axle by Shimano is quick release and one of our favourite methods of keeping the rear wheel secure at all times.

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ISCG mounts are there if you’re bang up for a proper chain guide.
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Neat inputs for your cables. Plus one hole spare for a front derailleur.

It’s also the frame’s stealth finish that turns heads, matte black with subtly located graphics that don’t scream at you. And those classic big welds on the joints will satisfy the aluminium fans out there, no doubt.

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There is no geometry adjustability on the SAM, at least the forks drop down in travel via a switch to sharpen the shape for climbs.

Spec:

Nothing says all mountain like a phat set of rubber, tall and beefy forks and a super-wide handlebar. We could have loved the bike enough without riding it at all, because it had some of our most favourite standout parts fitted to it, like the superb Rockshox Pike, Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres and Avid Trail brakes to name just a few.

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We clicked with these wheels, a real spec highlight that aids not only just weight but compliance and positive direction.
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Our most favourite product at the moment, the ground breaking Rockshox Pike. Haven’t tried one yet? That’s a shame…
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Avid XO Trail brakes on a whopping downhill bike worthy front 200mm rotor, now that is stopping power!
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Needing no introduction is the super superb SRAM XX1.
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We’d love to test these hoops out for a longer time, they were sweet. And on a bike for $6K? Crazy…

Flawless SRAM XX1, Rockshox Stealth post, and carbon – yes 1620g CARBON – wheels from Reynolds with a generous 23mm internal width were an absolute delight to use. How could we argue with such great kit? But the best thing is that for the dollars, this bike is a really outstanding value. For $6k, it’s a real winner in the parts department.

The little 32 tooth XX1 front chainring was unreal, the lower the better for a bike like this. If you’re concerned about spinning out of gears, keep an eye out for cars, or weirdos on cyclocross bikes as you’re probably on a road or fast fire trail. Save the low range for the real technical climbs that such a grippy bike will allow you to tractor up. We didn’t ever drop a chain either, love this stuff.

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Show us your CEX stem… Awkward name for a stem?

Ride:

One of our first rides on the SAM was three days on a big mountain named Thredbo, beginning with a big backcountry mission on fire roads with climbs that burned like a dragon with hiccups. We felt very comfortable climbing though, the short headtube, flat handlebar and travel adjustability on the forks enabled us to sit or stand comfortably without that awkward tall or too-slack shape that bikes with over 150mm forks can have.

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Let her rrrrrip!

With many bikes actually seeing a reduction in travel with the advent of 27.5″ wheels (for example, the Trek Remedy), it’s great to see Focus catering for the rider who needs more cushy to go harder. And it sure does go hard. The SAM can attack a turn with real confidence, and promotes you to stay off the brakes with its stable position (bolstered by the mega 777mm bars), amazing traction and aggressive geometry. It’s a real slacker, too – with a claimed 65 degree head angle (!!) the forks are raked out way in front of you.  With the Pike delivering such a supple and incredibly controlled action, when we pushed the SAM into big holes and deep rocky sections we received no argument, just speed and sure-footed confidence.

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The Rockshox Monarch Plus bettered our expectations – this isn’t a shock that normally  get us too excited. Many say that the shock is only as good as the frame it sits in, and perhaps this case it applies, the rear end’s action was supple enough to maintain comfort and traction, but also managed the deep impacts with no worries. Switching the three simple modes of compression adjustment is a snack, and we found ourselves riding all but only the tarmac climbs and roughest descents in the middle setting. Just imagine if it was all black, like the Pike, you’d lose this bike in the dark.

Verdict:

Mr. SAM will appeal to more than just bargain hunting aluminium fans, it’s also a bike for the rider who simply can’t get into 29ers but want something that can run the worst terrain down. The sweet balance of low weight and high volume of travel and traction will also make the SAM a killer option for a spot of gravity enduro racing, or all day riding on sections of trail that a downhill bike would normally be required for.

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German made and designed.

It’s a real tenacious ride, finds traction where most can’t and survives the roughest of corners by holding onto the craziest lines you can throw at it. We lerrrrve this bike.

Rider: Mick Ross
Height: 180cm
Weight: 70kg
Tested at: Thredbo, Manly Dam, Oxford Falls, Red Hill NSW
Mick and SAM. No trail, or destination is too challenging for SAM, rest assured that it is a true all-mountain ride.
Mick and SAM. No trail, or destination is too challenging for SAM, rest assured that it is a true all-mountain ride.

Tested: Six 2014 model 27.5″ bikes

Still wondering if this whole 650B/27.5/fence-sitter hoohah is worth a look? We’ve tested a whole bunch of 27.5-wheeled bikes of late. Maybe these reviews will help you make up your mind!

Giant Trance 1 27.5 

Click here for the full review.

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Giant’s overhaul of the Trance range this year went the whole nine yards. This was no quick botox and collagen, oh no, Giant booked the Trance in for the works: nip and tuck, implants, hair extensions and more. Diana Ross would be in awe.

Yeti SB75

Click here for the full review.

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Many people have been hanging out expectantly, waiting to see what Yeti would do with 27.5″ wheels after this core Colorado-based brand arguably came to the mid-wheel market a year late. Some were betting on 27.5″ version of the SB66, but instead Yeti unveiled two new 27.5″ machines. One was a remake of the classic 575 (which we hope to test soon), the other is the gorgeous yellow machine you see here; the SB75.

Pivot Mach 6 Carbon

Click here for the full review.

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All carbon and all glorious, the Mach 6 is only a small step up in the travel stakes from the legendary Mach 5.7, but it’s quite a different beast. First of all, the wheels are a little bigger – it’s one of three new 27.5″ bikes in the Pivot lineup. Secondly, it shuffles towards the descending end of the spectrum a bit, with slacker angles, a lower bottom bracket and FOX’s premium Float X shock. Pivot built this bike with Gravity Enduro racing in mind, you know.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5

Click here for the full review.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-2

The Remedy has been Trek’s all-mountain / trail bike for a number of years now, and it’s always been an impressive machine, well noted for its excellent suspension and spritely feel. For 2014, Trek have made two big changes to the Remedy. There’s the wheel size, obviously, with the Remedy now packing 27.5″ hoops, but they’ve also reduced the travel, back to 140mm from 150mm in previous generations.

Merida One Forty B

Click here for the full review. 

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When we ripped open the box containing the new Merida One Forty B, we immediately knew that this was a big step in our preferred direction. Fortunately for us, we had a five-hour ride planned the next day on the exact style of trails this bike’s designed for. Let’s get acquainted!

GT Sensor Carbon Team

Click here for the full review.

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What GT has aimed to do is build upon their Independent Drive system which we’ve known for many years, and improve on it. And with the new bigger (but not that much bigger) 650B wheels and a wild looking carbon frame thrown in the mix, the 2014 Sensor gives you a real sense that GT have stepped it up, reaffirming their heritage rich reputation, big time.

Tested: Trek Remedy 9 27.5

About a year ago, we put the question to some Trek staff: “What are you guys doing with 27.5?” Their response? “Why would we do 27.5 when we’ve got the best 29ers on the market?” Very cagey! Six months later, and out come two new lines of 27.5″ bikes from Trek, including the one you see here, the Remedy 9 27.5. By the way, it’s very orange. Had you noticed?

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-1

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-31

Build:

The Remedy has been Trek’s all-mountain / trail bike for a number of years now, and it’s always been an impressive machine, well noted for its excellent suspension and spritely feel. For 2014, Trek have made two big changes to the Remedy. There’s the wheel size, obviously, with the Remedy now packing 27.5″ hoops, but they’ve also reduced the travel, back to 140mm from 150mm in previous generations.

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Well finished. Small things, like the way the fork crown sits so perfectly flush with the head tube, are very appealing.

It’s extremely rare to see a bike’s travel reduced from year to year. Ordinarily, advances in suspension technologies and efficiencies result in travel increases, so to see a reduction was a surprise.

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The Full Floater suspension system. The rear shock is not mounted to the mainframe, but floats between the upper link and a lower mount on the chain stay. Keeping it independent of the front triangle removes stress from the main frame and allows complete control over the shock rate.

There are two main reasons for the move, as we see it. The first is to create a logical progression in the Trek range. There’s the 120mm-travel Fuel EX, the 160mm-travel Slash enduro bike, and now the Remedy slots neatly in the middle at 140mm. The second reason relates to wheel size. With a larger diameter wheel, you can get away with a little bit less travel somewhat, especially in terms of sheer ability to roll over obstacles.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5 studio-29
The Active Braking Pivot system uses a concentric pivot around the rear axle which keeps the suspension largely unencumbered by braking forces. It also make chaining the derailleur hanger a pain in the butt.

In other respects, the Remedy is largely unchanged from previous years. It still uses Trek’s lively, active and smooth ABP / Full Floater suspension system and large-volume, twin-chambered DRCV shock. The frame is constructed Trek’s Alpha aluminium, with plenty of nice touches, including integrated down tube and chain slap protection, and internal cabling for the front and rear derailleurs. In spite of the internal shift cabling, somehow the cables do look cluttered and a bit messy overall, especially when compared to other bikes like the Focus SAM or Giant Trance which we’ve been riding lately.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-18
Down tube armouring and chain slap protection help keep the ride quiet and protect the bike in the long run too.
Trek Remedy 9 27.5-20
Looks much neater than an old tube, huh? We like this kind of attention to detail!

The Remedy continues to run the Mino Link geometry adjustment system. Flipping the small chip/insert located the junction of the seat stay and EVO Link gives you a little over half a degree of head angle adjustment and lowers or raises the bottom bracket by 8mm. Given that the Remedy’s angles are already quite sharp by today’s standards, we left the bike in the slacker setting, for a 67.5-degree head angle. It’s really interesting to note that the Remedy’s head angle is actually steeper for 2014 than it was for 2013 (67.5 vs 67 degrees).

Trek Remedy 9 27.5 studio-11
Swapping this chip around will move the head angle from 67.5 to 68.2 degrees.

Spec:

We’ll say it now and get it off our chest. The Remedy’s handlebar is too narrow – it constricts this bike, and feels about five years out of date. In Trek’s defence, the only reason they supply the bike with this bar is because of some outdated Australian standards that stipulate a bike can’t have a bar over 700mm wide! So actually, every other brand is technically in the wrong from a legality perspective. Whatever the case, we fitted a 745mm bar to the very neat 70mm Bontrager Rhythm stem and felt much better.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-22
The Bontrager Rhythm stem is gorgeous. The bar should be swapped for something wider. Keep the original under your bed to ward off home invasions.

Trek kicked their product development team into overdrive and managed to develop new Bontrager 27.5″ wheels and tyres for the Remedy, and both items are really top notch. The Bontrager Rhythm wheelset and XR3 tyre combo is great. The tyres a massive for a claimed 2.35″ width and we rate their consistently grippy and fast-rolling tread pattern as one of our favourites. Our test bike was set up tubeless with Bontrager’s own plastic rim strips installed. These don’t come with the bike ordinarily, but Trek dealers can supply them. Other standout Bontrager items are the Evoke saddle (this tester’s favourite) and Rhythm grips.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-16
‘AWESOME,’ say our arses. The Bontrager Evoke saddle is tops.
Trek Remedy 9 27.5-5
Bontrager’s tyre program keeps on kicking goals. Read more about the development of these tyres here in our interview with tyre designer Frank Stacy.

Shimano’s XT drivetrain and brakes are the pick for the Remedy 9. The 2×10 drivetrain and clutch derailleur is precise, quiet and gave us mercifully low gears when climbing big hills with a heavy pack in the Snowy Mountains. Of course, there are ISCG mounts if you’d rather a single ring.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5 studio-12
The 2×10 drivetrain uses a direct mount front mech. With an XT Shadow Plus clutch rear derailleur, we didn’t drop a chain once during testing.

We had a weird recurring issue with the brakes on our test bike; the pads would appear contaminated (lacking power and making lots of noise) when we first hopped on the bike after not riding it for a week or so. After a couple of minutes of riding, they had come good again and the power was back to normal… Strange! We can only assume it was either some minor oil seepage, salt air or ghosts. Probably the latter. Regardless, Trek and Shimano assure us they’ve not had it happen on any other 2014 model bikes and the XT brakes are generally amongst the best out there.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-15
One, two, three clamps on the left hand side of the bar. Compared to the elegant solution of SRAM’s Match Maker all-in-one mount (with combines shifter, brake and seat post remote levers) this setup is messy.

 Rounding out the package is a RockShox Reverb Stealth post with 125mm of adjustability. The handlebar is rather cluttered – it would’ve been nice touch if Trek had opted to utilise Shimano’s I-Spec combined shifter/brake mounts to tidy up the cockpit.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5 studio-17
The Reverb Stealth post has been getting huge amounts of OEM spec this year, and we’re happy about that. It delivers 125mm of adjustability smoothy and with little lateral play that can affect some adjustable posts.

Ride:

The Remedy is engaging, fun and lively ride. That’s a feeling that we’ve always found with Trek’s Remedy range, and we’re glad the addition of slightly bigger wheels haven’t dumbed down this playfulness at all. In fact, the bigger wheel size really slipped out of view on the trail. This isn’t to say that there aren’t benefits to be found with the slightly larger 27.5″ wheel when compared to a 26er, just that there aren’t any obvious negative traits to leave us wishing for a smaller wheel once again.

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Trek’s ABP / Full Floater suspension is one of the best. It’s a superbly responsive system, it just ripples over the terrain, soaking up the little bumps like they’re not even there. Factor in the large volume tyres and you’ve got one very smooth ride indeed. The FOX 34 fork is a worth accompaniment as well, though we did find the rear suspension outshone the front in terms of sheer sensitivity. In the dusty test conditions, we liked to apply a small amount of suspension Teflon spray to the fork legs before each ride to help keep the fork slick and smooth like the rear end.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-11
The DRCV shock is made by FOX purely for Trek bikes. It features two air chambers, the second of which is only opened once the shock moves deeper into its travel. The idea is to provide support in the initial stroke, while delivering a more linear spring curve later in the travel for better big hit performance.

There’s very little anti-squat built into the Trek’s suspension curve, which does mean it’s prone to suspension bobbing if you mash the pedals and it can wallow a little on steeper, technical climbs. The upside to this is that the Trek has negligible pedal feedback when pedalling over rough terrain, making it easy to stay on the gas, and there is mountain of rear wheel grip because the chain isn’t causing the suspension to stiffen. Of course, there’s always the shock’s CTD adjustment if you want to firm things up for more efficiency, and running the FOX shock in its middle Trail setting goes a long way to removing all pedal induced bob at the slight expense of some of that silky small bump compliance.

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What you looking at, Chris? On long climbs, we used to shock Trail setting to firm up the rear end and pedal bob.

One of the clear areas that demonstrates Trek have listened to the public and the media’s feedback is the fork choice on the new Remedy. In 2013, the Remedy had a FOX 32 fork which lacked the stiffness to really make the most of the bike’s descending potential. For 2014, Trek have gone for FOX 34 it makes a world of difference. What is pretty amazing, is that even though the 2014 Remedy has both steeper geometry and less travel than it did in 2013, it descends even better. The fork stiffness, along with the bigger wheels, surely play a part in the this. We particularly appreciated the beefier fork on the really big hits; the stiffer chassis helps avoid any binding or spiking and allows the fork to keep up with the bottomless rear suspension feel delivered by the DRCV rear shock.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-4
There’s nothing wrong with fat legs. The FOX 34 adds welcomed precision and directness to the Remedy’s handling.

We felt really comfortable descending on the Remedy from the very outset. One of our favourite test trails features some steep, swooping chutes/gullies, the bottom of which is littered with loose, sliding pieces of rock. We have a standout memory of just how composed the Remedy felt tackling this bit of trail; even when hard on the brakes, with both wheels sliding around, the Remedy left us feeling like we were in total control, with time up our sleeve to negotiate the next drop or corner.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-27
Watch that sucker on rocks! The ABP skewer sticks out a mighty long way.

On less extreme terrain, the Remedy doesn’t feel like overkill. In fact, we were distinctly reminded of our time on board the Fuel EX 9.8 26er (still one of our favourite all-time bikes). It feels flickable and fun, pouncing on the next bit of trail rather than flopping from corner to corner, and the low slung top tube encourages you to move the bike about.

Overall:Trek Remedy 9 27.5-30Trek’s new Remedy 9 is a worthy successor in this prestigious line of bikes. While the reduced travel and steeper geometry had the potential to take a bit of the fire out of this bike, we don’t feel like it really has, and the bike’s abilities as a do-it-all machine are as strong as ever. As a package, this is definitely one of the most appealing trail machines on the market and you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to drop your four and half(ish) gees if technical trail riding is your kettle of fish.

Trek Remedy 9 27.5-2

Rider: Chris Southwood
Height: 174cm
Weight: 63kg
Tested at: Thredbo, Glenrock and Red Hill NSW

Tested: SRAM ROAM 60 Carbon Wheels

We’re not into blowing smoke up people’s arses. But if these rims were a person we’d be lighting fires with old truck tyres and getting a jumbo jet to blow the plumes right up there. The ROAM 60 simply is one of the best wheelsets we have ridden.

We honestly cannot fault them and after a month of solid abuse they’re still kicking like the day they came out of the box. Straight as an arrow and solid as a rock.

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If you have a red, white and black bike, these will match.
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Straight pull spokes, high flanges and a deeper dish helps keep the spoke length shorter and the whole package stronger.

The ROAM 60 are a 2nd generation carbon wheel (rim is carbon, hub is alloy) from SRAM and are designed for more aggressive trail and all-mountain riding.  At 28mm wide they’re not the widest on the market but they’re still pretty beefy and their strength is second-to-none. They’re also not the lightest either (still pretty damn good at 1570g for our test 27.5″ offerings) but they’re made for aggressive riding so weight weenies need to think beyond the tale of the scales.

Inside the ROAM 60 box there’s all manner of spacers and adaptors to fit the wheels to any mountain bike you can imagine. Standard QR, 15mm, 20mm – they will fit them all. Speaking of which, the hubs are large with high flanges, strange pull spokes and the rear hub comes spec’d with a SRAM XD driver body for 11 speed. The rear freehub isn’t so loud as to stop conversations but it makes enough noise to keep you smiling.

And (hallelujah) they now come 100% tubeless ready. We slapped some Maxxis tyres on ours, threw in some Stan’s sealant, and they sealed up with a track pump.

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We liked how the wheels made life a little easier in the rough stuff.

In terms of improving performance, a set of great wheels is probably one of the best upgrades you can give your ride. Whether it’s to save weight, add strength, or both, you will always feel the benefits of better wheels and the SRAM ROAM 60 ticks both of those boxes. All up we saved around 200-300g (give or take a few millilitres of Stans) on our Giant Trance SX test bike, and whilst that’s nothing to scribe onto the walls of your local public toilet, it’s a pretty big improvement on what were pretty light OEM wheels.

The improvements in acceleration and braking that come from saving rotating mass are obvious, but it was the way these wheels improved our ability to hold a line that really grabbed us. The SRAM ROAM 60s just loved the really tough rock gardens or rough corners. Rather than being deflected from our chosen path, we immediately felt an increased ability to hold some pretty tight lines. Just point and go. We can hear the sceptics out there, but we’re 100% serious, the difference is marked.

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Point and shoot. Rock gardens are one area where these wheels show their colours.

We tested these wheels on the rocky loamy trails of Mt Buller and the loose dry soils of Stromlo Forest Park. If you’ve ridden at Mt Buller you will know that rocks seem to appear from nowhere and ping your wheels unexpectedly. We heard that harsh ping though the spokes as the rim squarely hit a rock or two but post ride inspections yielded not a single bend or dent in the rims. On a deliberate test at Stromlo we let our tyres down to around 20 psi and went and hit a few rock gardens. There was a bit of noise from the spokes as the tyres squashed against the rims but not a single problem was noted. They are still straight.

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Even when the rims did hit the rocks it didn’t matter.

Pedal engagement was positive and the wheels accelerated with ease. We didn’t witness any burping or loss of sealant from the Maxxis tyres but the rear tyre did frequently loose some pressure during our testing. We’re unsure if it was the tyre or the rim that was loosing the air however and as the front was holding pressure we’re pretty sure it was the fault of the tyre.

If you’re looking for an upgrade then you should consider adding these carbon hoops to your dream machine. Sure $2500 isn’t cheap, but you’d pay that for a big screen TV and the TV isn’t going to make you anything other than fat and lazy. These wheels will make you faster and happier…and that’s priceless.

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Jumping for joy on the SRAM ROAM 60.

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Long Term Test: Giant Trance Advanced SX First Impressions

This week we happily welcome a brand new addition to our long-term test fleet – Giant’s 2014 Trance Advanced SX. So fresh, you can almost still smell Taiwan. We’ve just finished assembling this beast, here are our first impressions.

We put the aluminium framed Trance 1 to the test over a week of riding in Rotorua not long ago, and it really exceeded our expectations. It was that experience that got us thinking we’d like to get our hands on Trance for a longer period of time and after more investigation we came to realise that SX version was the one for us. Naturally, we opted for the Advanced carbon version, rather than an alloy-framed mode (Gucci, baby).

Giant Trance Advanced SX -51

The SX designation indicates there are a number of elements to this bike that make it rather different beast to the standard Trance range. Essentially, Giant have taken the Trance Advanced and souped it up a little for more aggressive riding, kind of like Specialized do with their EVO models.

The main point of difference is the suspension. The SX gets a travel adjustable fork (140-160mm), allowing you to kick the head angle back to a lazy 66 degrees, along with the Float X rear shock, which is famed for its performance in tough conditions. More aggressive rubber, 180mm front/rear brake rotors and 1×11 SRAM x01 drivetrain also add bolster the ‘extreme’ credibility of this bike.

Giant supply tubeless tape so going tubeless takes about 10 minutes. All you need it sealant.
Giant supply tubeless tape so going tubeless takes about 10 minutes. All you need it sealant.
A spare derailleur hanger and tubeless valves are all part of the deal.
A spare derailleur hanger and tubeless valves are all part of the deal.

Building the Trance up was an enjoyable affair for the most part. Giant are kind enough to supply you with tubeless rim tape and valves, so losing the tubes is easy. We added a healthy dose of Bontrager sealant. The Schwalbe Hans Dampf and Razor Rock tyres aren’t particularly tight fitting on the rims, so we used a compressor to seat the tyres, rather than fighting with a track pump.

 

Never scrimp on sealant. We regularly use much more than the recommended amount.
Never scrimp on sealant. We regularly use much more than the recommended amount.
The post's internal cabling comes already routed. Good. We've spent too many hours of our lives swearing as we thread internal cables!
The post’s internal cabling comes already routed. Good. We’ve spent too many hours of our lives swearing as we thread internal cables!

Giant’s new Contact Switch-R adjustable seat post uses internal ‘stealth’ cable routing, which looks brilliant but does add some complexities when building the bike. The housing comes pre-routed through the frame, thank god, but it does need to be trimmed to the right length. This is where some care and thought is needed as you must first set your seat height, before trimming the housing to length. Cut it too short, and you risk not being able to raise the seat post in the frame (which isn’t a likely situation, but worth accounting for nonetheless).

All the cables, including the rear brake line, are internally routed through the main frame, with big rubber plugs where they exit. Down the track, we’re going to undo our rear brake line and re-route it to enter on the other side of the down tube. In its current format, entering on the left hand side, there is a risk of cable rub on the fork crown. Luckily the rear brake uses a quick-release line connector, so this shouldn’t necessitate a brake bleed.

The rear brake cable enters the down tube on the left. We'd prefer it to go in on the right, which would create a smoother arc for the brake line with less cable rub.
The rear brake cable enters the down tube on the left. We’d prefer it to go in on the right, which would create a smoother arc for the brake line with less cable rub.

 

We fitted a wider bar (750mm vs 730mm), opting for Truvativ's carbon Jerome Clementz hangers.
We fitted a wider bar (750mm vs 730mm), opting for Truvativ’s carbon Jerome Clementz hangers.

Finally, before hitting the trails, we made a couple of quick personal preference swaps. Although the 730mm-wide Giant Connect bar will suit many, we prefer something a little bit wider. We fitted a Truvativ Jerome Clementz BlackBox carbon bar, which is a 750mm across. We also changed the grips, again purely out of personal preference, as we’ve found the Giant grips to be a little squirmy in the wet for our taste. On went a set of SDG/ODI Hansolo lock ons.

We changed grips too, again just out of personal preference.
We changed grips too, again just out of personal preference.

One of the things that we really appreciate with the Trance SX is the ability to fit a water bottle. The fit is tight however, so a cage that allows you to slip the bottle in from the side is handy. Even still, some full size 750ml bottles won’t fit in a medium sized frame. A Camelbak Podium bottle just squeezes in, but we’ll still be modifying our bottle cage mounting holes to allow the cage to sit slightly further rearward, giving more clearance for the bottle. Absolutely last of all, we popped on a Mucky Nutz Bender Fender as there has been a bit of rain of late! Perfect. Onto the scales  – 12.3kg, not bad! Let’s go ride this thing!

It's a tight fit, but a full sized bottle will squeeze in. We also fitted a lightweight fender too. It's unobtrusive enough to leave on there full time.
It’s a tight fit, but a full sized bottle will squeeze in. We also fitted a lightweight fender too. It’s unobtrusive enough to leave on there full time.

Tested: Rockshox Monarch RT3 rear shock

We won’t lie – in the realm of short travel air shocks, Rockshox have done it tough over the past few years. The FOX RP23 and CTD rear shocks are very good, and Rockshox just haven’t been able to keep up. So when we went looking for a shock to fit our new BH Lynx  4.8 29er frame, our first inclination was FOX.

Rockshox RCT3 rear shock-7

 

As it turned out, the BH uses a fairly obscure shock size, and while we couldn’t get a FOX to suit, we were able to get the new Monarch RT3 from Rockshox in the correct length. ‘What the hell,’ we though, ‘let’s give it a run!’ Turns out we’re very thankful that we did, as Rockshox seem to have really upped their game.

The new Monarch is, in a word, excellent. Compared to the previous iterations of Monarch shocks we’ve used, the most noticeable improvement is in its small bump sensitivity. This shock is as supple off the top of the stroke as any short travel air shock we’ve used, coming very close to the sensitivity of a Kashima coated FOX shock.

Getting your setup dialled is easy with sag markings on the shock shaft.
Getting your setup dialled is easy with sag markings on the shock shaft.

Setup is very easy, thanks to the sag markings on the shock shaft, particularly appreciated on the BH where the shock is quite tricky to access. The rebound damping range is suitably wide; there seems to be a rather large jump between each click of rebound adjustment once you get towards the slower end of the rebound range, but that is our only gripe.

Rapid Recovery. Won't help your lungs get over that last climb, will keep your suspension in the sweet spot.
Rapid Recovery. Won’t help your lungs get over that last climb, will keep your suspension in the sweet spot.

The Rapid Recovery damping is a new inclusion for this shock and it seems to work very well. Essentially, the rebound circuit is valved to ‘recover’ quickly from big impacts, allowing the shock to ride higher in its travel rather than becoming bogged down. It’s not the kind of thing you’re actively aware of on the trail, but on a shorter travel bikes it makes good sense, as you want to make the most of the bike’s available suspension travel.

 

Similarly to a FOX CTD shock, there are three compression damping positions; open, platform and a ‘locked’ setting. We rarely use the locked setting, but the middle platform setting is ideal on our test bike, and we’ll regularly go for a whole ride with the shock in this setting if the terrain is smooth and grippy. We particularly like the way the lever operates to toggle between the different modes. Whereas on a FOX CTD shock, the lever only moves approximately  30 or 40-degrees between each setting, with the Monarch there is a full 120-degrees between each setting. Simply put, you’re never in any doubt about which setting the shock is in.

Three clearly defined, easy to use compression settings: open, platform and locked.
Three clearly defined, easy to use compression settings: open, platform and locked.

Rockshox have some catching up to do when it comes to their shock mounting hardware. Compared to the new five-piece FOX hardware, there is a lot more friction with the Rockshox bushings. Fortunately, you can actually use FOX hardware in a Rockshox shock, although neither manufacturer would recommend it! (We did, running it on the end of the shock that encountered the most bushing rotation, and there have been no problems.)

We ran a combo of FOX and Rockshox hardware. It's not recommended, but it works.
We ran a combo of FOX and Rockshox hardware. It’s not recommended, but it works.

All up, we’re really pleasantly surprised by the new Monarch RT3 and we’ll be sticking with this shock for the long term.

Tested: Sony Action Cam

First-person video cameras, point-of-view action cameras, small wearable cameras – whatever you call them – have become infinitely popular in the last few years.  One search on YouTube will yield enough MTB first-person footage to keep you viewing for a lifetime.

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The Sony Action Cam with the Live-View remote. If you’re small, the remote is big.

GoPro led that charge and over the past few years others have followed, Sony included. The Sony Action Cam is Sony’s aggressive attempt at the first person market and when it’s a market that’s pretty saturated already you have to come up with a good point of difference for the masses to be converted.  We think Sony is an industry leader for image quality and stabilisation (and that’s a point of difference), but lacks a little in the accessory and MTB usability departments.

We are reviewing this camera as a mountain bike accessory and while the camera has many other uses and functions we will focus on how useful it is on the trail. Also, let’s be honest, most people don’t buy these cameras in the hope of winning the next Academy Award for cinematography, so we’ve reviewed the camera from a real-world perspective – is it good enough for what the majority of people want and how they’ll actually use it.

Let’s begin with the physical unit. The Sony Action Cam is long and slim and very light.  Its “orientation” is opposite to that of GoPro with the lens at the front of the body and more in a “pointed” stance, which in theory is more aerodynamic (but more of pain to chest mount). On the side of the camera is a small LCD screen and two control buttons.  The rear of the camera has a start/stop button, a lock button (to prevent accidental operation the camera), a hinged door which opens to reveal the memory card (a 4GB micro SD is include in the box) and the replaceable battery. At the bottom of the camera is another compartment which hides the various ports used for USB (data transfer and charging), HDMI out, Sony accessories, and external microphone port. The ports are great and add functionality to the camera however in reality they cannot be used when operating the camera as you cannot mount the camera without the door being shut.  On that point, the only way to mount the camera to anything is with the waterproof case. [Flow has seen some early photos of the next generation of the Action Cam and this issue seems to be resolved.]

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As you can see the only mounting point is at the bottom of the waterproof housing. This has been fixed in the next generation model.

Setting up and operating the Action Cam was very simple. The on-camera menu system is easy and intuitive and the information displayed, as to settings and mode, is very clear.  Turning the camera on/off is a simple single button push with some audio feedback (although a little muted inside the waterproof case).

We also received the additional wrist-watch accessory that enables you to operate the camera from your wrist. This was great as you can see, in real-time, where the camera is pointing – no more guessing.  It is however a little big and looks a little awkward on the wrist.

There is also a smart-phone application that connects to the Action Cam via WiFi and lets you see both the live view and control the camera. We did have some issues with the connectivity of the smart-phone app and our connection rate was about 20%.  A very handy function once they get it a little more stable.

Both the watch and phone connection do chew through the battery (due to the WiFi connection) so it’s best used very sparingly. We only got about an hour of use when we were abusing the Wifi connectivity, so only switch it on when really necessary. The Action Cam also has GPS capabilities, however, we did not test this function.

Now to the guts of the camera – it has all the numbers to impress any camera nerd.  The Action Cam has several different video modes: 1080p @ 30fps, 720p @30fps, 720p @60fps, and 720P @120fps, just what you need for the slow motion action. There is also a flexible and very handy time-lapse mode that’s great for shooting your standard “moving clouds” video intro. The lens is very wide angled with two different field-of-view options: 120-degrees and 170-degrees (that’s super wide.)

Image quality is clean, very colourful and great for such small lens and sensor. We’re not going to kid ourselves and say it’s DSLR quality, as no little camera like this is, but it is more than good enough to produce excellent web edits. Dynamic range is very good and the details between shadows and light are great which is important when filming in filtered light (like trees on a sunny day).

The camera does of course take still images and at 11.9 megapixels they’re pretty big and usable for all of your Internet posting needs. As with any camera with a small lens and sensor you’re not going to get magically good photos and it’s more akin the smart phone quality and use (without any zoom though).

Audio quality is what you expect; like other wearable cameras, once you get over a walking pace the audio is pretty useless. Great for sounds bites, parties and lifestyle stuff, but on a bike they just get too much wind noise.

The real strength in the Sony Action Cam is the image stabilisation.  Sony has a long history with their “Steady Shot” technology and this shows with the Action Cam. We think that the Sony is the steadiest of all the point-of-view crowd but even with the greatest of image stabilisation there is still the need to fix the camera securely to an object, as all the technology in the world is useless if the camera moves too much.

This is where the supplied handlebar/bike mount disappointed us. It was awkwardly too tall and also introduced too much movement and thus the Sony technology was unable to fix that vomit-inducing image shake. The one-time-use stick-on mounts were great, and very solid, but only if you have an unvented patch of helmet you can stick the mount to. We battled to find a spot on our helmet to secure the mount, but obviously you won’t have this problem with a full-face helmet.

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The handlebar mount is a little too high (once you mount the camera on it) and moves fore and aft too much.

The main point, and fun, of point-of-view cameras is the ability to mount them everywhere and anywhere. GoPro has this nailed and looking at the list of available Sony mounts we’re unsure if Sony is targeting the MTB sector as hard as other cameras. If you think about all the popular locations you will want to mount the camera Sony’s lacks capability (the handlebar mount is about it and we’ve covered that).

Interestingly they do have a GoPro mount adaptor (allowing you to run the Sony camera with GoPro’s superior mounts). We do think it is questionable when a company relies on another company’s products for the best mounting options…

One very cool accessory the we received with our Sony was the Handy Cam convertor that allows you to use the same camera as mini Handy Cam, complete with a flip out view finder / display. This is super cool for all your holiday footage.

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This was pretty cool. You can turn your Action Cam into a really usable Handy Cam.

So what is it actually like to use? (That was the “real-word” testing we talked about at the start of the review.).  From a technology perspective it’s a great camera. It takes pretty good videos, has great stabilisation, takes a good hit or two from crashing and dropping, is super easy to operate, and connects to the computer with ease. All the things you want in a camera.  But what about a mountain bike camera?  That’s where we found a few issues.

Maybe we’ve been a little harsh, but with years of experience with a GoPro it’s always going to be tough for a newcomer to compete. The Sony Action Cam is (we want to emphasise this) fantastic, with all the nerdy technical stuff, image quality and stabilisation. But ultimately it falls a little short in the mounting and usability departments. For us, that fun of inventing new places to mount the camera and capture different angles is part of the appeal, and the Sony isn’t yet up to speed in this area. Hopefully this aspect of the camera is improved as it has the image and construction quality to be a real contender.

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Glory 1

Find our full review here.

The Giant Glory was once all over the downhill scene, like sesame seeds on a Big Mac. In the past few years, the value proposition of some of the Glory’s competitors has improved – bikes like the Specialized Demo, Norco Aurum, Trek Session have risen to challenge Giant’s dominance.

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The Glory retains the Maestro linkage which has underpinned Giant’s dual suspension range for many years now.

At the same time, the Glory was perhaps 12 months behind in terms of geometry development too. It was a little steep and short when compared to some of the opposition, and in the trend-driven world of downhill, this was enough to dampen the enthusiasm for the Glory a bit as well.

But Giant have fought back, not only improving the value of the Glory once again, but  completely revising the geometry too, slackening the bike out to 63-degrees up front and lengthening the front-centre measurement markedly.

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Cranks, brakes and shifting are all Shimano Zee.

At $4299 off the rack, the Glory 1 is kitted out with a full Shimano Zee groupset. This will be our first experience riding Zee, but early impressions are that it’s incredibly Saint-like (the rear derailleur is noticeably cheaper looking, but everything else is very similar). You’re also treated to FOX front and rear, with an Performance series 40R fork and RC2 shock. These items don’t offer the same adjustability as the more expensive Factory series fork and or RC4 shock, but that’s a tradeoff we’re certain many will be willing to make.

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The rear shock is FOX RC2, offering low-speed compression and rebound adjustability. The FOX 40 fork is similarly simple to adjust, with preload and rebound.

Alongside the Scott Gambler we’ve also got on test, there’s plenty of downhill riding to be done!

 

Tested: Fox Ventilator Short

This time of year it’s hot, very hot and the last thing you need is some sweaty swamp-arse action spoiling your ride. Step in the Fox Ventilator, a super light-weight and very cool-wearing mountain bike short that will keep everything downstairs at the correct operating temperature.

The Ventilator feels more like a pair of board-shorts than a traditional heavier mountain bike short with the outer made from Fox’s very light Q4 4-way stretchable fabric. The fit is a little tighter across the thighs than other shorts in their line but the flexibility of the Q4 fabric means no noticeable restriction in movement. They also sit just below the knee cap when standing, so they are neither too short nor too long.

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It’s the vents combined with the fabric that make these shorts super cool.

Out on the trail the shorts feel very light and cool and we could feel air passing through the shorts with 8 air vents added to that cooling factor. This is the greatest strength of the Ventilator and they are a great short for the warmer months – and even a swim mid or post ride.

The Ventilaor also feature an EVO breathable detachable liner (we like the Fox liners), internal waist band adjustments, a double clasp to hold in that Xmas belly, and a small zippered pocket.

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Two buttons to hold in that Xmas expansion.
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Good for keys, but not much else.
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Internal adjustment stops the velcro grabbing your jersey.

The only downside of the shorts is the lack of pockets. There’s a small side pocket that can hold your keys but if you absolutely need to capture Instragram moments then you’d better grab a jersey with rear pockets as there’s no way you will shoehorn your 4″ smartphone into these puppies.

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Unlike this patch of dry, hot, dead grass, the Ventilator will keep you cool.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Scott Gambler 20

With a head angle slacker than a yokel’s jaw, the Gambler 20 is a serious gravity beast.

Scott Gambler 20-14

This is the first time we’ve been up close and personal with the new Gambler and it’s a pretty heavy duty piece of machinery. The Floating Link suspension system dominates the frame; the whopping 3.5″-stroke shock is housed centrally, in an arrangement that compresses the shock very directly, with a minimum of rotation at the DU bush that should increase durability and small bump compliance.

Scott Gambler 20-1

Adjustability was always a hallmark of the old Gambler platform and that trait continues with the new version too. Chain stay length, bottom bracket height and head angle are all independently adjustable – you can drop the head angle to an absurdly slack 60-degrees should you want to ride down a cliff.

gambler frames

The $4499 price tag nets you a very decent build kit, including FOX 40s and Van RC rear shock (dishing up 210mm travel), a Shimano Zee drivetrain and Shimano brakes. The Gambler 20 weighs in at 17.8kg, which is admittedly a smidge heavier than some of its competitors, but this is a bike designed to have plenty of gravity on its side.

We’ll be logging some summer shuttle runs on the Gambler soon.

Tested: Adidas Eyewear Terrex Fast

In order to test the multi-function Adidas Eyewear Terrex Fast we abseiled, climbed and raced bike events in the every weather condition we could find.

When it comes to sports sunglasses, Adidas Eyewear are a premium, zero-compromise brand.  Of the broad range available, the Terrex Fast are the most versatile.

Designed for mountaineering, they’re also one to grab off the shelf for snowboarding, cross-country skiing, climbing, abseiling or mountain biking. Given their multi-purpose appeal, it was a nice to see that they make a good looking piece of street wear as well.

With good quality lenses and a fine fitting frame, picking lines is effortless.
With good quality lenses and a fine fitting frame, picking lines is effortless.

At $315 they’re not a product to be bought on a whim. They are one to recommend if you’re someone who wants the high-performance and versatility of multiple pairs of shades in one.

Key to their versatility is customisable, and swap-out-able, parts. A piece of foam clips inside the main frame to block wind, sweat and the elements. The arms clip off at the hinges and can be replaced with a goggle strap.  Depending on which combination of parts you run, they weigh between 27-43gms.

A prescription insert attaches to either the frame or the foam insert.
A prescription insert attaches to either the frame or the foam insert.

They also share several features with the popular Evil Eye Halfrim Pros which many elite Australian mountain bikers are racing in at the moment: two sets of easy to change lenses, adjustable nose piece, three angles of adjustment at the temples, materials that are strong, flexible, durable and light.

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Individual parts are replaceable and the hinges allow the arms to detach rather than break. Good if you’re the sort to ruin nice things by sitting on them.

Our test frames came with the Light Stabalizing Technology (LST) Bluelightfilter lens and the LST Bright orange antifog lens. We also tested a clear set of lenses (sold separately for $90).

The Bluelightfilter lens was great on really bright days and provided comfortable contrast and clear definition. It was sometimes a little too dark and is best suited to snowy conditions.

The lenses are easy to clean and quick to change.
The lenses are easy to clean and quick to change.

If you’re looking at the Terrex Fast primarily for mountain biking it’s worth ordering the grey coloured frame that comes with the pinker LST Active Silver lens, or ordering it as an add on. This lens colour also reduces glare and enhances contrast on the widest variety of mountain bike trails.

We opted for the orange lens most of the time. It made the terrain ‘pop’ and kept glare to a minimum even when in direct sun. The depth and width of the frames make for uninterrupted vision, which we really appreciated out on the trails.

The clear lens made our vision sharper than riding without, which is testament to the technology that goes into the windows alone. They also meant we could take advantage of the protection provided by these shades for night riding, early road rides and commutes. This increased their versatility further still.

When running these shades as goggles, we found they still tended to fog in predicable scenarios, like waiting or slowing at the top of a hill climb in warm or humid weather. Once we got moving again the fog shifted quicker than we’ve experienced with other eyewear. The only exception to this was the cold, drizzly weather at the CamelBak Highland Fling, but we haven’t heard of a product that performed better in those conditions.

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The Terrex Fast are as close as you can get to goggles while still using a set of sunglasses.
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We showed these to a mountaineering friend and he was off to order a pair that afternoon. The lens colours provide excellent definition in snow and the security of the strap reduces the need to pack multiple sets of shades. Losing sunglasses up there is akin to riding a gnarly downhill trail with no brakes.

One other area where the Terrex Fast excels is for eyes that are sensitive to wind.  We used them during an extended recovery period from laser eye surgery, during which time the wind that funnelled through other shades made our eyes dry out and blur.

The Terrex enabled clear stable vision and was the difference between being able to see the trails in high-definition and not being able to ride at all. As our eyes healed we were able to drop back to using the standard arms rather than the goggle strap.

All gear, no idea. At least we looked the part.
All gear, no idea. At least we looked the part.
Stop squinting, get shredding.
Stop squinting, get shredding.

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If you’re after a high-quality product that can handle just about any activity you can do outdoors, the Terrex Fast are hard to beat. The ease of swapping between the goggle strap and the regular arms also makes them well suited to gravity enduro racing.

If you’re the type to leave your glasses on the roof of the car and drive off, then these are probably not for you (and, given how nice they are, you don’t deserve them anyway).

Flow’s First Bite: Magellan Cyclo 505 GPS

A couple of months ago we attended the unveiling of some pretty trick GPS gear from Magellan, including their new Cyclo 505 (and the slightly cheaper Cyclo 500), a unit designed to go head-to-head with the most premium cycling GPS items on the market. We’ve now received a pre-production version of the unit to put through its paces.

The 505 is much bigger than the 105 we've been using previously, and around three quarters of the size of an iPhone 4S.
The 505 is much bigger than the 105 we’ve been using previously, at around three quarters of the size of an iPhone 4S.

It’s a large unit (a fellow rider asked us in all seriousness if it was an iPhone), dominated by a huge colour touch screen display. There’s only the one button, so the look is very sleek and the included bar mount allows you position the item over your stem, rather than sticking out the front. The size of the unit is well justified once you begin to explore just how much information you can display at one time on this device should you choose (you can display up to eight fields at once), and the maps are big and easy to follow.

The supplied mount allows you to position the unit either out in front of your bars, or flip it around to sit above your stem.
The supplied mount allows you to position the 505 either out in front of your bars, or flip it around to sit above your stem.

To date, we’ve primarily used the Cyclo 500 on the road bike and only a couple of times on the mountain bike – we have to admit we don’t like the idea of crashing with this item on the bars.

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You can configure multiple dashboard display pages, with the primary page showing up to eight fields. This is where the large screen really helps – allowing you to see more info, clearly without toggling between pages.
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The Surprise Me function generates three route options based upon your preferences of time or distance, and your parameters around road types to use or avoid.

On the roadie we’ve quickly come to appreciate the size and clarity of the display, and it synced instantly with our ANT+ sensors and heart rate monitor. We’ve just begun dabbling with the very cool ‘Surprise Me’ function as well – you can set the parameters (ie. avoid major roads, distance or time to be ridden etc) and the unit then generates a recommended ride or loop for you to explore. Sounds like a good way to discover some new training rides.

The 500 series units come preloaded with dozens of popular rides, both mountain bike and road bike, plus it's preloaded with cycling specific points of interest (like bike shops and cafes).
The 500 series units come preloaded with dozens of popular rides, both mountain bike and road bike, plus it’s preloaded with cycling specific points of interest (like bike shops and cafes).

Uploading data is done wirelessly, to the Magellan Cyclo portal (www.magellancyclo.com); whenever you’ve got a wifi signal, simply hit the wifi sync button and your rides are uploaded in a few seconds. At present the Magellan portal doesn’t export to Strava or other external sites directly, but we’re glad to hear that this functionality will be completed very soon. UPDATE: The Magellan Cyclo portal now exports automatically to Strava if desired, with other third party sites in the pipeline for early 2014.

Over the coming months we plan on using this device a lot. In terms of sheer features, it appears to be a serious competitor for items like the Garmin 810, especially given the Magellan’s price tag is considerably lower.

Flow’s First Bite: Focus SAM 1.0

Click here for the full review. Boom!

SAM is a military abbreviation for Surface to Air Missile, which we guess means this bike is good at jumping and blowing stuff up.

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We first clapped eyes on the SAM 1.0 at the 2014 Focus Bikes presentation two months ago. In a room full of road bikes and 29ers, it looked like one mean bastard of a bike – matte black, angry looking geometry and plenty of travel. We knew right away that we had to get this one in for a full review.

The cables are all internal, popping out just fore of the bottom bracket shell.
The cables are all internal, popping out just fore of the bottom bracket shell.

The SAM is an alloy framed 160mm-travel all-mountain weapon, yet it weighs in at less than most similarly positioned carbon bikes, tipping the scales at just 12.91kg. Admittedly the XX1 drivetrain and Reynolds carbon wheels help keep the bike svelte, but when you consider the Pike fork, Reverb stealth post and big Schwalbe rubber it’s an impressive figure.

The 160mm-travel Pike feels very, very nice. It's actually a dual position model, so you can drop the front end for climbing.
The 160mm-travel Pike feels very, very nice. It’s actually a dual position model, so you can drop the front end for climbing.

A black anodised finish is hard to beat, and with internally routed cables it all looks very sleek indeed. We’re overwhelmed by how smooth the fork feels straight out of the box – fingers cross the Monarch rear shock can match the performance of the front end. We’ve converted the wheels to tubeless and we can’t think of another change we could possibly wish to make before hitting the trails.

Carbon hoops, smothered with Schwalbe's finest all-mountain rubber,
Carbon hoops, smothered with Schwalbe’s finest all-mountain rubber,

We’ll be taking the SAM to Thredbo this week and giving it a few laps down the new Flow track to see how it all fares, before bringing it to our home trails for some ill-treatment over the Christmas period.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: SRAM ROAM 60 Carbon Wheels

Carbon is definitely the new black. One quick look around your local trail head and you will see carbon bikes galore. But it’s not just frames; carbon wheels are becoming increasingly popular and SRAM have been aggressively developing their wheels for that market.

Last year SRAM introduced their first carbon wheel, the RISE, which received rave reviews and constructive feedback. SRAM seemed to have listened and have not only improved their design, they also added the new carbon model, the ROAM 60.

SRAM_ROAM_C1

We’ve just thrown our test set of ROAM 60s onto our all-mountain Giant Trance SX. Inside the box was a whole host of spares that give you the ability to run them on pretty much any bike. They even come with a 20mm front hub conversion, and they are completely tubeless ready (no need for rim strips).

SRAM_ROAM_C2

We shaved about 200-300g off our ride (Stans sealant isn’t an exact science), and while that’s not a saving you’re going to gloat about across your favourite social media platform, it’s pretty significant.

The advantage of carbon wheels isn’t just in the weight savings though (as you can get plenty of light aluminium wheels), it’s in their strength and ride quality and we expect the same with the ROAM.

SRAM_ROAM_C3

We’ll be giving these a good test over the coming month and let you know how they respond to a rock garden or two.

Tested: Whyte T129 S

So why are you reading this review? You’re either bored, or you are actually thinking, “is this bike for me?” If you’re of the latter then that’s always a tough question to answer.  Whether a bike is for you is determined by many factors including riding style, riding preferences, and the terrain in which you will most commonly ride. If you are more playful, like aggressive angles, and ride a more mixed trail type then the Whyte T129 S may be for you.

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As English as a warm pint of beer, the Whyte is proud of its roots.

As a snapshot we think the Whyte T129 S is a silent achiever that really makes a bold statement in 29er design.  It’s not beating its marketing chest to yell that fact at you, but  after a month or riding this rig we’ve found it to be one of the most playful and fun trail bikes we’ve ridden. It’s not a XC racing machine, and it can’t take the huge hits, but if you like to ride somewhere in the middle of those extremes then this bike is a winner.

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Build

The T129 S is a recent move into the 29er market for Whyte and as a company with a history of some very aggressive and worthy 26” bikes the move to big wheels called for some wholesale changes.  In order for Whyte to produce a 29” bike with their trademark aggressive style a new suspension platform was needed. Enter the Quad 4; similar to the 4 Bar Specialized FSR design, Whyte have produced a package that meets their design specifications of being compact, stiff and weather proof (something of a trademark feature for Whyte).

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The top link of the Quad 4.
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Those aren’t actually the pivot bolts, they are just the dust caps. There’s no way you’re going to get dust or mud in there. The pivots also have a lifetime warranty so you’re even more assured of continued performance.
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The Quad 4 has a long stroke shock and we found we had to run it a little softer than normal to get full travel.

The entire frame is made from 6061 T6 aluminium with a tapered head tube and 142mm dropouts. The top tube looks a little thinner than most big-tubed modern bikes but the big welds and solid feel of the frame certainty discounted any concern about frame strength we had. If anything, the frame may be a little over engineered but gram counting wasn’t a goal of the T129 S.

The whole bike weighs 13.4 kg (sans pedals) and whilst that’s not a featherweight, for a 120mm bike it’s still very respectable. As always you have to consider price and purpose when thinking of the grams and the T129 S satisfies the balance of those two elements well.

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This could be your view.

The geometry is a real showpiece of the bike. At only 120mm of travel you would think it’s more designed for and XC/Endurance type rider but with a slack head angle (68 degrees), short chainstays and mid range bottom bracket height (343mm) it’s more suited as a more aggressive trail riding machine.  The only angle on the spec sheet that was against this is the seat tube, which at 73 degress pitches you more forward for increased pedalling efficiency so you don’t feel like you’re ploughing a field when riding.

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It’s all in the angles and Whyte seem to have it right on the 129S.

We recall fondly how the interwebs went crazy when the Specialized Enduro 29er hit the market, with class changing geometry and a chest beating chainstay length of 430mm. The T129 S too should be shouting loud and hard as it comes in just 1mm longer at 431mm.  This short chainstay was immediately noticeable as manualing and tight cornering were very much not 29er-like. The downside to a short chainstay can be less stability at high speeds and matched with the slightly floppy wheels we did notice a little of this.

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The frame has two internal ports for cables. The first (on the top tube) is for the front derailleur.
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The second port for internal cable routing is for the dropper post. The cable routes mostly externally (under the downtube) and only enters the frame for a short journey up to the dropper post.
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The house branded stem was a perfect length for the bike (70mm) and we flipped it to help keep the front end down. Whyte actually offer different size stems depending on the frame size and we think that’s a nice touch to help deliver a similar ride for all people.
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Routing the cables down the donwtube is a nice way to hide the mess and Whyte have done it well. The cable clamps are easy to work with and held everything well.
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The tubing on the 129S is interesting – it’s rare to see traditional round tube shapes these days.
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Bottle mounts. A must for some and increasingly disappearing from many modern frames.
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Sometimes it’s the little things that matter. How’s this for a nice patriotic touch?

Overall the frame build and design is top quality and much thought has been placed into making the bike durable.  The colours on also stood out from the crowd and the turquoise splashes are a nice touch to give it that bling look.

Spec

Choosing spec on a bike has to be one of the harder jobs in the cycling industry. Not only do you have to think about form and function but you also have to think about price point.  No bike in this price range is going to be perfect, and nor should it, and the Whyte team has done a pretty good job on spec to meet their design brief.

The T129 S is mid-level in the range and the spec highlighted the design intentions of the bike. Wide bars, dropper post, clutch deraillier, all matched with the geo that shouts “trail”. For the price we think the Whyte is a good purchase. Standard is a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper, X9 clutch derailleur, 120mm RockShox Reba fork (with 15mm axle), 750mm wide bars, and a great mix of strong parts.

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The drivetrain is all SRAM. An X9 clutch derailleur kept the chain on all test, and the 2x set-up up front with X7 front mech gave a huge spread to cover all type of mountains. This bike would be perfect for a 1x set-up too.
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A 12mm x 142mm rear and 15mm front clearly shows where the bike is targeted. Matched with some colour coded house brand hubs the whole setup looked nice and stiff.
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The Whyte seat was comfortable, the wide bars were perfect, and overall the cockpit had a great feel.
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The Reba took a little while to loosen up in terms of small bump compliance but once over that initial period it held up superbly to everything put in its path.

The wheels were probably the only let down exhibiting too much flex. The axle and hubs were nice and big, and well matched with the WTB rims and double-butted spokes, so we expected them to be a little better. It’s not that they aren’t a decent set of hoops, but when considering the type of aggressive riding the bike is designed for, they didn’t match the strength and abilities of the rest of the bike. That being said, they’d probably last a good year of flogging and then you will have saved enough for a wheel upgrade.

The tyres were also not that well matched to the bike.  At 2.2″ (front and rear) we thought they were a little too narrow. We swapped the front for something a little wider and also converted to the rims to tubeless. The WTB Nano 2.2 that we left on the rear held up well despite out reservations. Still, maybe a 2.3″ would be a little better.

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We can’t ride a bike without it being tubeless so you can imagine the joy at reading the sticker on the rims that read, “tubeless compatible”. We later learnt that just because the rim states it’s tubeless compatible it doesn’t quite mean it’s actually tubeless ready. Unlike a true tubeless rim, that has the spoke holes covered in the manufacturing process, these needed a rim strip.
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Avid Elixir 5 stoppers were more than adequate for the job. 180mm front, and 160mm rear. They worked straight out of the box, had generous reach adjustment, and never gave us an issue.

The Ride

To use one word – great.  As expected the bike was playful and easy as (cold pork) pie to manual and pump through the terrain.  It climbed well, but on the steepest of steeps it was a little hard to keep the front end down and some extreme body language was needed.  That’s common trait of a 29er but the shorter chainstays does add to it.

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This section of trail is super, super steep and like most 29ers you have to really get over the front to stop the front from popping.

It did take a little while to get the suspension right and we ended up running a little less pressure than normal.  The forks were initially a little firm but did soften up after a while and quite possibly a quick disassemble and lube would have made them more buttery. The rear end took us by surprise and we ended up running about 35% sag to get better small bump compliance. Initially we thought that would be too soft and make the bike bobble and bottom out but none of that was noticeable.

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Playful is such an overused word in mountain biking so we’re going to invent a new word. Funful – the T129 S was funful to ride.

The downhill and jumping performance was excellent, when the super short chainstays and slack head angle come into play. On the rhythm sections and berms of Stromlo Forest Park the bike was quick to respond to body language changes and the dropper post added to the ability to keep low on the frame.

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The geometry was great. You could point the bike down and over anything and it could handle it with glee.

The only real let down was the wheels (yes, we know we have mentioned it before). The frame and pivots are all super stiff and feel strong, however that strength then exaggerated the lack of stiffness in the wheel set.  When we pushed it hard through a corner or picked a rough line through a rock garden we did notice some wobble in the wheels.

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The 129S did like to be pushed hard in corners but maybe that invitation was just a little too much for the wheels to handle; the old spoke key got a bit of work.

Overall

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A Whyte with a view.

Overall this bike was great to ride, strong, and of course, funful.

What makes it better than others or makes it the bike for you? (That’s probably the question that got you all the way to the bottom of the page.)  It has to be the geometry.  The Whyte delivers the confidence of a longer travel bike with the agility of a 120mm frame; it’s the kind of bike that backs up the notion that good angles are better than longer travel. If you’re a rider who likes to jump around a little, corner hard and be more playful then this bike is for you.

Also, if you’re still on the fence as a 26″ rider this is probably one of the better bikes to make the leap over to the dark side.

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Another look at the bike as the golden sun sets.

 

The Test

Rider Weight: 72 Kgs
Proving Grounds: Stromlo Forest Park, Bruce Ridge
Adjustments: Tubeless, new front tyre, stem flipped.