Avanti haven't strayed from a tried and tested formula with the Hammer S2, their robust 29er trail bike. Like a bowl of Weet Bix, you know exactly what you're going to get, and the value is exceptional. But we were hoping for something a little more flavoursome.
The not-so-minor details
The perfect style of bike for Australian conditions.
If you’re looking for one bike that’ll happily tackle the vast majority of Australian riding, then you’d be foolish to go past a mid-travel 29er. Big hoops, with suspension in the 130-150mm range, will see you through just about any trail around. And on paper, the Avanti Hammer S2 fills this brief perfectly – a simple aluminium frame, 130mm travel, plus sensible components free from proprietary faff.
With a user-friendly suspension system that is easy to understand, a mix of decent big-brand components, and a paint job that oozes inoffensiveness, the shop floor appeal of this bike is going to be solid. The price tag, at $3499, is right in that sweet spot for riders looking for a fuss-free workhorse and it’ll certainly present as a competitive choice amongst those folk who tend to shop based on component spec.
Nicely featured, if not ground breaking.
The frame at the heart of the Hammer is robust and nicely finished, though far from boundary pushing. The straight lines of the front triangle leave plenty of room for a water bottle, and the internal cabling is neat and rattle free, so pluses all round. Out back, the tucked away rear brake mount is a touch of class, while the suspension configuration is a run-of-the-mill ‘faux bar’. We like the use of large Allen key bolt heads throughout the whole linkage, and the stout rocker link does a good job of bringing it the back end together in a stiff manner even thought the stays themselves aren’t that chunky.
There’s ample tyre clearance for up to 29×2.6″ rubber, or you can run 27.5+ wheels. The bike comes supplied with a taller lower headset cup to correct the geometry if you go down the Plus-tyre route. There’s also a flip-chip lower shock mount too, if you want to steepen up the geometry a little. In our opinion, just like going to Plus-sized wheels on this bike, we don’t see the point; the geometry is pretty conservative even in the slacker setting.
We’re confused by the presence of a front derailleur mount and cable port – all of the Hammer series (even the base model) come with SRAM single-ring drivetrains, and we can’t imagine anyone retrofitting a front mech – it dates the frame badly, in our mind.
What about the accoutrements?
Avanti have made sure the component spec on this bike represents good value, and it’s hard to find issue with any item. No doubt the quality of the components it delivers for $3499 is a big part of why this particular model is almost sold out across Australia. There are two models in the Hammer range beneath the S2, and they’re all similarly competitive, starting at $2499 (with a free dropper post upgrade at the time of publishing this review).
Lots of people looking for a bike in this price range are going to be after good value, first and foremost – what components do I get for the cash? In this regard, the Avanti does very well indeed, serving up a level of components that are well above most of the competition.
Items like SRAM GX drivetrain and Revelation RC fork are standouts and to find both these items on a bike that’s sold through traditional bricks and mortar retail at just $3499 is a surprise! The Syncros dropper post is smooth and doesn’t have any wobble at full extension like many posts, it’s a quality item. Four piston brakes are great to see, and the SRAM Guide T brakes have good power for trail riding, even if the lever feel is a bit wooden.
The lack of tubeless valves with the bike is a bummer, but at least the Syncros rims are taped and ready for tubeless conversion. For our trails the Maxxis Forekaster tyres were a bit nervous- in their bigger 2.6″ format they’re a good all-rounder but these narrower 2.35″ versions are less confident on the rocks. For looser soils or in the sand they work really well, and we know lots of people do like them.
Soooo…. you like it then?
Yes, mostly. The value is great, we just weren’t that excited by it.
Some bikes are more than a sum of their parts; average on paper, but they sing on the trail (the Norco Fluid FS1 we tested recently is a perfect example). The Avanti, however, kind of feels… well, functional. Like it’s all been put together to do exactly what it says on the box. Don’t get us wrong , we drive a Toyota Corolla for exactly those reasons! It’s a reliable car, but we don’t feel a buzz when we drive it. Likewise the Avanti. All the parts are excellent, reliable, it’s a solid, decent bike, but it’s not doing anything unique.
We expected a smoother ride.
The real drawback for us with this bike was the suspension performance. The rear end felt choppy for a 130mm bike, with poor small bump sensitivity. Reducing the shock pressure to run more sag (we ended up running 35% or more) helped smooth things out somewhat, but it also meant the rear suspension became less supportive once you were out of the saddle pumping the bike through the terrain.
What was the cause?
We pulled the shock out of the bike to see if there was any binding or friction in the linkage, but all was fine in that area. However, when we went to reinstall the shock, we found that the upper and lower mounts were slightly out of alignment. It was only 3mm or so, but perhaps this misalignment was causing friction? Otherwise, we’re blaming a mismatch in shock tune and suspension kinematics.
Either way, when the trails were smooth and flowing, the Avanti felt efficient and fast. Once it got rough, we found it a bit laborious to keep speed. If your trails are smooth, and you’re more interested in pedalling efficiency than supple suspension, then this bike will suit you.
Does it spark joy?
Leaving the suspension aside, the geometry strikes a good balance that will suit most, it feels most at home weaving through the smooth singletrack, and the robust build and quality parts should tolerate years of weekend warrior neglect.
As we’ve stated before, the spec of this bike is hard to beat, and you’ve got to praise Avanti for delivering a bike that competes with all the direct-to-consumer brands in that regard. But the best bikes are more than just a bunch of good parts, it’s the frame that makes the difference. And is this case, there’s room for improvement in our opinion.