A grand, one G, a thousand bucks. A gorilla. Whatever you call it, the $1000 price point is something of a barrier. For the first time mountain bike buyer busting over that figure can be a bit of a gut punch. Good thing then that you can get rolling on the Cell Stromlo 2.1 for less than 1000 clams.
Super bargain: For a limited time, Cell have the Stromlo 2.1 available for just $789.
[divider]What is it, and who is it for?[/divider]
Cell Bikes are an Australian company offering direct-to-the-consumer sales – they make the bikes OS and then ship directly to the buyer (or you can purchase at one of their two stores). Shortening the supply lines means potentially lower prices, and the Cell Stromlo 2.1 aims directly at the budget conscious, first-time mountain bike buyer. Stromlo Forest Park in the ACT was the inspiration for the bike apparently. Seeing the numbers of new mountain bikers on the trails there was the motivator to make a bike that would be a reliable, stepping stone into the sport.
It’s worth noting here that the direct sales model does mean some assembly is required before you hit the trails, but it’s pretty minimal (fitting of the front wheel, pedals and bar/stem). The other option is to pick it up in-store if you happen to live in Sydney or Melbourne.
The build on this aluminium hardtail is strictly practical, not flashy, but it is a genuinely capable off-road ready machine: 29″ wheels for confidence and good roll-over characteristics, hydraulic brakes for less maintenance, gears up the wahzoo, a properly damped fork with a lock-out for the inevitable commute. It’s all packaged up into a riding position that will suit the beginner. That said, Cell have stealthily integrated a number of features that may not be noticed immediately by a new rider, but which borrow from the experience they’ve garnered with their more expensive mountain bikes like the Awaba 2.0 (which we tested here).
The hydro-formed alloy frame isn’t particularly light, but it has some very neat, appropriate features. The sizing feels good, not too cramped like some at this price point. The head tube is a highlight – the hourglass shape looks great, and isn’t overly tall like you’ll find on some entry-level mountain bikes, which is good for shorter riders (like our test rider).
The use of full-length cables will reduce the need for maintenance, and is a thoughtful addition usually only found on more expensive mountain bikes. We lost the cable clips securing the rear gear housing, replacing them with a couple of zip-ties instead – problem solved, but keep an eye out for this. We liked the clean cable routing around the head tube area, there’s no issue with cable rub at all.
Rack mounts are a sensible nod to the likelihood that many purchasers of this bike will do fair bit of commuting too. The quick-release seatpost clamp needs to be done up pretty firmly to prevent post slippage we discovered.
Surprisingly smooth fork: A 100mm-travel Suntour XCR-LO fork adorns the Stromlo and it’s surprisingly good too, with decent rebound damping and quite a smooth action. It’s coil-sprung, but the spring firmness is changed to suit the different frame sizes (small=soft, medium and large=medium, x-large=firm), and you can adjust the spring preload externally. Cell also stock the springs separately should you need to go harder or softer. There’s a lock-out, but it’s really there for tarmac use only, as it’s super firm. Rebound adjustability is a nice bonus too. The fork seals are pretty basic, so we’d advise keeping the seal area clean and free of grit with a quick wipe after each ride to preserve this fork’s longevity.
Well-proportioned cockpit and good seat post: The Cell branded bar and stem are great. There’s plenty of width on the bar, and the 70mm stem is much more appropriate than the massive fishing poles sometimes found on cheaper bikes. Speaking of the cockpit area, it’s great to see lock-on grips too! Another nice touch is the twin-bolt seat post, which shouldn’t suffer any accidental seat movement from heavy-butted riding, like some single-bolt posts can.
Decent rubber: No-name rubber is normally pretty average, but the Stromlo’s tyres aren’t too bad! The tread pattern is reminiscent of a Maxxix Ikon, and they’re fast rolling and reasonably grippy on hardpack soils. They’re not great for looser, rougher surfaces, but neither is that this bike’s intended terrain.
Gears aplenty: A huge spread of gears will give beginner mountain bikers a smile. With a 22-tooth small chain ring up front, and a 36-tooth out back, you can climb where others would abseil. A 44-tooth big ring will appeal to those who want to keep up with the traffic on the ride to work too.
Shimano brakes: Even these cheaper Shimano hydro discs are superb. The light lever action and lack of maintenance required with these brakes is great, and a 180mm rotor up front boosts power too.
29″ wheels really are a good option for the first-time mountain biker. Casting our mind way (way) back to the early days of our mountain biking, we can’t help but wish we’d been on 29ers then! When it comes to climbing up choppy, lumpy terrain or rolling down rock ledges, the Cell’s big wheels just make it all a little easier. We’d certainly have spent less time heading over the bars if our first mountain bikes had the Cell’s big wheels and short stem/wide bar setup.
Having a tonne of gears is a blessing too, as we re-discovered during a particularly hot, tiring afternoon on the trails – as much as we love a single-ring drivetrain, sometimes when you’re just completely stuffed it’s great to be able to just drop into the granny gear and spin.
The SRAM X5 drivetrain worked well for us. We didn’t drop the chain once, which was a pleasant surprise, and the rear shifting is clean and smooth. Without a chain-slap protector fitted, you do get a bit of chain noise – we’d be adding a protector to the chain stay pronto, just to quieten things down a bit.
While the Suntour fork works effectively in gobbling up moderately rough stuff, don’t expect an awful lot of forgiveness from the Cell’s rear end. With plenty of pressure in the rear tyre to ward off pinch flats, it’s a pretty bumpy ride, so getting out of the saddle and staying loose is key.
As mountain biking becomes more and more mainstream, the entry-level market will become increasingly competitive, which is a great thing. If you’re after your first mountain bike, or you have a friend getting into it for the first time, the Stromlo 2.1 is a top option. With good frame geometry, a decent fork, excellent brakes and drivetrain, and a confidence-inspiring cockpit, it nails all the fundamentals for an enjoyable, reliable entry into the sport. If you can pick one up at the current sale pricing too, it’s a legitimate bargain.