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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.