Dirt Rag Magazine

First Impression: Norco Fluid 9.1 and Diamondback Sortie 29-1


Editor’s note: Here at Dirt Rag we don’t really do “comparison tests” or “shootouts” or declare “winners”. Every bike we review has a story to tell, and they’re all interesting. That said, we rounded up six full-suspension trail bikes in the $2,500-ish range to see what’s really out there in the heart of the mountian bike market. To get the party started, we spent a week riding in and around the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Watch for full reviews of each bike, as well as more about the trails, in an upcoming issue, but for now, a teaser…

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What we have here are two contenders for a middle-weight crown. Weighing in at about 4.5 inches of rear travel, the Norco Fluid 9.1 and Diamondback Sortie 1 29ers are exactly the kind of bikes that fills that Goldilocks category—not too big, not too small. These are the perfect kind of tools for people who ride trails for fun, maybe try a local race once or twice a year, and maybe even visit a bike park now and then. You know, “mountain biking”. Read the full story

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First Impressions: Mongoose Teocali Expert and Santa Cruz Heckler


Editor’s note: Here at Dirt Rag we don’t really do “comparison tests” or “shootouts” or declare “winners”. Every bike we review has a story to tell, and they’re all interesting. That said, we rounded up six full-suspension trail bikes in the $2,500-ish range to see what’s really out there in the heart of the mountain bike market. To get the party started, we spent a week riding in and around the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Watch for full reviews of each bike, as well as more about the trails, in an upcoming issue, but for now, a teaser:

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I admit to being more than a little bit skeptical at the outset of our trip down to Harrisonburg, Va. The idea of thrashing $2,500-ish bikes on some of the most raw and rowdy trails I’ve ever ridden gave me nightmares of bad brakes boiling over on long descents and under-damped suspension systems bucking me over the handlebars in protest of being pushed hard.

However, not long into our first ride, I realized just how spoiled my perspective had become. Both bikes I rode performed flawlessly over five days of punishing trails. Read the full story

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First Look: Six $2,500 trail bikes spend a week in the Shenandoah Valley


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Jeremiah Bishop showing us the locals know how to have fun.

The leaves have changed and are falling fast, the mornings are met with frost, and the sunscreen is packed away. The days are growing shorter and the riding season is becoming shorter still. But before winter begins to blow its icy breath upon the landscape, we have a lot more riding to do.

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Chris Scott is the driving force behind Shenandoah Mountain Touring and the Stokesville Lodge.

With a lot of product testing still to be done, we packed up the ol’ Dirt Rag van and headed south to Stokesville, Va., to meet up with Chris Scott and the gang from Shenandoah Mountain Touring. Bunked up at the Stokesville Lodge, we brought a gaggle of trail bikes to ride this week that will likely be bike shops’ bread and butter come spring, all ringing up the register at about $2,500.

See the bikes and more after the jump. Read the full story

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By Karl Rosengarth

To celebrate his 10th year in business, Steve Garro of Coconino Cycles popped the Champagne cork and sent Dirt Rag his Signature Model frame to test.

OK, so that’s not exactly how this 650b hardtail ended up at DRHQ, but the part about Garro fabricating mountain bikes for 10 years is true. Not to mention the fact that he has been building 650b mountain bikes since Kirk Pacenti got tweeners rolling in the dirt back in 2007 (with the introduction of the Pacenti 650b Neo-Moto tire). All that experience made Coconino an easy choice when Dirt Rag was looking for a handmade 650b frame to review.

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By Karl Rosengarth

To celebrate his 10th year in business, Steve Garro of Coconino Cycles popped the Champagne cork and sent Dirt Rag his Signature Model frame to test.

OK, so that’s not exactly how this 650b hardtail ended up at DRHQ, but the part about Garro fabricating mountain bikes for 10 years is true. Not to mention the fact that he has been building 650b mountain bikes since Kirk Pacenti got tweeners rolling in the dirt back in 2007 (with the introduction of the Pacenti 650b Neo-Moto tire). All that experience made Coconino an easy choice when Dirt Rag was looking for a handmade 650b frame to review. Read the full story

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Review: Yeti SB-66


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By Justin Steiner

There’s been much hubbub in recent months about Yeti’s newest flag- ship trail bike, the SB-66. At first glance, it seemed strange that Yeti might keep their venerable 575 alongside this new 152mm-travel machine, given their similar geometries and travel figures. Yeti’s Chris Conroy described the differences and the reasons for having both bikes in the Yeti lineup: “The 575 is plusher, the SB-66 will feel more ‘performance.’ Those are subjective descriptions, but the SB-66 will pedal better than the 575. Riders interested in comfort and being able to blast through rock gardens with a more muted feel would prefer the 575. On the SB-66 you will feel the nuances of the trail more.”

Having reviewed, and thoroughly enjoyed, the 575 in issue #154, I was eager to experience the differences for myself. Read the full story

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First Impression: Specialized CruX Elite EVO Rival Disc


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By Mike Cushionbury

For a great many of us, road riding isn’t a dedicated endeavor of criterium racing and hill repeats. It’s a combination of long days on the pavement, as many dirt roads as we can find, a training race here and there and maybe even a cyclocross race. This of course begs the question, is there just one do-it-all bike for all of the above?

The answer according to Specialized is, in fact, yes. Taking what it learned from the successful CruX cross line, Specialized has been dabbling in creating the ultimate gravel road bike, a concept that seems to be working as team riders Rebecca Rusch and Dan Hughes both won the Dirty Kanza 200 this year on specially outfitted editions of the “gravel” Crux. The production model, dubbed the CruX EVO, is a $3,200 road/gravel/cross machine that could be the only drop bar bike you’ll ever need. Or want. Read the full story

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First Impression: Raleigh Eva 29 Comp


By Trina Haynes

The $1,100 Eva Comp is one of three women specific 29ers from Raleigh for 2013. While it’s true that women don’t necessarily need a “women specific” bike, they do have a few known benefits: shorter top tubes, to accommodate a shorter torso and longer legs as well as a lower stand-over height than any of the men’s frames I’ve ridden. As someone who has knocked her pelvic bone off the top tube once… ok, maybe twice. I am pretty jazzed about the vag-drop.

With only a handful of rides on this lovely lady (zing!) I can already feel the difference and benefits in the geometry. First and foremost, a more comfortable, upright riding position takes pressure off my sometimes, delicate back while boosting confidence and control over the front of the bike. The wheelbase makes for decent rear response and frame feels pretty smooth when the ride gets a little craggy.

Having only ever ridden on mechanical brakes before I’m stoked to have the opportunity to play with the Tektro Draco Hydraulic Disc brakes. The brakes are one of the highlights over its two siblings, as well as the Rock Shox XC32 fork and SRAM X5 drivetrain.

Keep an eye out for my full review in Issue #172, due on newsstands and mailboxes in a few weeks.  

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First Impression: Lynskey MT 650


By Karl Rosengarth

Don’t call it a comeback. Titanium bikes never went away. However, that whooshing sound that titanium heard in the 1990s was carbon fiber ascending to the top of the frame material food chain.

Back in the day, titanium mountain bikes graced the catalogs of a number of big brands. Who can forget the Tomac signature Raleighs of the early ’90s?

But times have changed. and stock Ti bikes have become scarcer than 150mm stems. For the most part, the magic metal has settled into a niche—namely, custom and high-end framesets from boutique brands (with high-end price tags).

 

Fast forward to 2013. Lynskey is out to change titanium economics with its recently launched Silver Series—the company’s most affordable line of bikes. By minimizing the manipulation of the straight-gage titanium tubing, and offering only stock sizing (with a single build kit) Lynskey is able to offer Silver Series bikes for significantly less than upscale models. Made-in-the-USA Silver Series framesets go for $1,299 (both road and mountain). The complete MT 650 that I’m testing goes for $2,840 (with Shimano XT kit, sans pedals).

Lynskey fabricates Silver Series frames in the same factory and using the same equipment as their upscale and custom frames. Silver Series frames have smaller diameter tubing, with no butting, which helps save cost. Stock frame sizing allows Lynskey to buy raw tubing in larger quantities and to build bikes in bigger "production runs" which is more economical.

My bike came from the initial production run, and was built with a conventional 1 1/8" head tube and headset. However based on feedback, including input from Dirt Rag, Lynskey has since made a running production change to a tapered head tube. We’ll soon be getting the updated MT 650 frameset to test as part of this review.

With the direction that the suspension fork market is trending, it could eventually become difficult to find top fork models in straight 1 1/8" steerers. Switching to the tapered head tube should make the MT 650 much more appealing to any shopper considering a lifetime investment in titanium.

Lynskey’s MT 650 is a hardtail with 120mm of travel up front. My size large (19") tester weighed in at 25.2 lbs. with the XT kit (w/o pedals). In addition to the XT drivetrain, the bike sports an X-Fusion Velvet RL2 650 120mm fork, an FSA control center, and Vuelta MTB Pro DX 650 wheels.

With its 69 degree head angle, 23.7-inch effective top tube and 16.9-inch rear center, the bike’s handling felt predictable and well-mannered from my first ride. The MT 650 is neither a slack play bike, nor a twitchy race steed. It slots somewhere in between, with non-quirky, neutral handling (I mean that as a compliment). The peaceful, easy feeling was enhanced by the fact that my 5′ 10" frame was in a comfortable trail riding position, not too stretched out, which is the way I like it (with 100mm stem).

In addition to shredding the local singletrack, I’ve completed two races atop the MT 650, one with the X-Fusion Velvet fork converted to 100mm travel (internal adjustment required). As expected, the steering response with the reduced travel felt snappier. It allowed me to flick my way around last-minute course corrections at race speed. While the handling didn’t feel overly nervous in 100mm mode, I simply preferred the more relaxed, but not slack, vibe of the 120mm mode (which also worked just fine for racing). The MT 650 comes with the fork set at 120mm, and my recommendation is to not mess with a good thing.

The MT 650 frame took the edge off the harsh stuff, and provided a hint of resilience, without feeling like a wet noodle in hard corners. I haven’t detected any significant flex at the BB when stomping up punchy climbs or while sprinting. I’ve certainly ridden chromoly hardtails that felt flexier than the MT 650. Quite frankly, I’m digging the frame’s balance point of stiffness and compliance. This is a smooth-riding bike that holds its line through the corners and has some giddy up.

Look for my full, long-term review of the MT 650 in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag. Subscribe today and you’ll never miss an issue.

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First Impression: Ventana Zeus


By Adam Newman.

Ventana has been building mountain bikes in California since 1988, one year longer than we’ve been publishing Dirt Rag. It’s no surprise that the two would go well together, and we’ve written about several models over the years, and even took a tour of the factory in Issue #161.

The Zeus is one of two new 27.5 models, the other being the 120mm Alpino. The Zeus is quickly and easily adjustable from 140mm to 160mm by unbolting the top shock mount and flipping a chip insert. That travel is handled by Ventana’s tried and true linkage driven single pivot design, which has graced not only its own bikes but those of quite a few smaller brands and custom builders over the years. The asymmetric chainstays expand tire clearance and increase stiffness, and the main pivot has needle bearings and a grease injection port for longevity.

While the suspension design has remained true over the years, the details at either end of Ventana’s bikes have changed quite a bit. Like most current models, the Zeus sports all the modern touches, including a tapered head tube, dropper post routing, a PF30 bottom bracket shell, internal cable routing, ISCG-05 tabs and replaceable dropouts to accommodate most axle types. Ours is outfitted with the Shimano 142×12 thru axle, a $150 upcharge. It also sports a color-matched black swingarm, a $75 upcharge. One thing you can’t put a price on is quality, and the Zeus wears it like a badge. Electric Sex welds and the Made in America decal—can’t import those.

 

Ventana has always adapted quickly to new industry trends—especially wheel sizes—and first built the 27.5 El Bastardo with input from 27.5 evangelist Kirk Pacenti. After a few years of slow sales, Ventana’s owner Sherwood Gibson said he was close to giving up on the wheels, citing a lack of quality forks available. Fast forward to last year when suddenly all the major wheel and fork manufacturers rolled out new products and Ventana quickly responded.

While we don’t normally go about changing all sorts of things on our test bikes, but right now it’s sporting wider bars, a shorter stem, different tires, a dropper post, and the carbon Syncros wheels we reviewed in Issue #171. I didn’t quite so guilty about it since Ventana has traditionally only offered frames, but Gibson said they are close to rolling out complete bike packages with stock build kits. While this particular build kit won’t be available, a SRAM XO kit with the same Fox TALAS 34 Kashima fork and Stan’s wheels will retail for $6,223. The frame and shock are $2,295.

With the go-fast SRAM XX kit contributing to it’s go-fast nature, I’ve mostly been riding it in the shorter 140mm “trail” setting. I’ve been blown away by how well the suspension handles pedaling and even standing climbs. In my mind it’s on par with some of the more advanced dual-linkage setups on the market. The 13.4-inch high bottom bracket and 17.0-inch chainstays are also at the lower/shorter end of the 27.5 trail bike market and really makes it respond well to playful, aggressive riding. Yes, a bike is more than just numbers, but compare that with the 13.6-inch high bottom bracket and 17.3-inch chainstays on the Santa Cruz Bronson, while both bikes share 67-degree head tube angles.

Anyway, the Zeus has been a lot of fun, but I’m looking forward to setting the suspension chip to the 160mm setting and letting it rip in “all-mountain” mode. You’ll have to watch for the long-term review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag to read about it though. Subscribe today!

Prior Ventana reviews

El Ciclon – Issue #164

El Saltamones – Issue #157

El Capitan – Issue #133

X5 – Issue #112

El Conquistador de Montanas – Issue #70

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