Dirt Rag Magazine

First Impression: BMC Four-Stroke FS01 29


By Karen Brooks

Once again, I raced the Trans-Sylvania Epic seven-day mountain bike stage race in central Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. This “summer camp for mountain bikers” is one of the only races I put on my calendar in (digital) ink. It’s a ton of fun. It’s also a great opportunity to put a bike through its paces in rather extreme conditions— tons of rocks, distances of 25-45 miles a day, and a seriously fast pace (if one is trying to be serious, that is).

This year my test sled arrived just two days before we were to leave. I had time for one shakedown cruise on the rockiest trails I could conveniently get to, at Roaring Run in Apollo, Pa. Then it was off to the races.

Fortunately I happened to have chosen a good bike for the job, and one that proved to be popular among my fellow racers as well. Its XC-ish 100mm of travel front and rear is made more playful by a 70-degree head tube angle and a long top tube/short stem combo, and total weight for this carbon-framed beauty is well under 24lbs. BMC was also a sponsor of the TSE this year, and thus would be on hand to offer help, or even a replacement bike if things went totally sideways.

BMC’s APS virtual pivot point system delivered an excellent ride. I felt that it offered a distinct, and much appreciated, difference between the Fox CTD BV Factory shock’s three settings: Climb was fast and responsive for climbing, Descend was plush and controlled for the crazy, radical descents, and Trail was trail-gripping for the many rocky sections. Perfect. The bike even has a handy graphic on the top pivot for setting suspension sag.

The Fox 32 Float CTD FIT Performance fork, on the other hand, gave me some trouble. I aimed for about 20% sag initially, but at the low pressure necessary to get there, the fork was sluggish to rebound, even with rebound damping set full open. After a couple evenings of tinkering I remembered Fox’s handy smartphone app and gave that a shot. The result—more air and more rebound—did feel better, but I still didn’t get the butter-smooth plushness over the rocks that I got last year with the Lefty on the Cannondale Scalpel I tested then. I ended up leaving the CTD knob in Descend most of the time. Maybe I’m missing the Kashima coating that the shock has? More research and tinkering are needed.

As far as other parts go, the SRAM X0 drivetrain performed solidly. I can’t imagine dealing with a triple crankset in a race situation anymore. I swapped the stock Fizik Tundra saddle for my preferred Fizik Vesta, and installed Ergon grips, both choices to minimize pain over a week of jarring.

So how did the race go? Amazingly, for the second year in a row, I had no mechanicals and only a couple small crashes, nothing major. I’m still pissed at myself for missing the starting card-swipe for the enduro section on the Tussey Mountain trail on Stage 6, as that was probably my one and only shot at standing on the podium. An uphill enduro! With rocks! That’s my jam! AAARGH! But that’s racing. All in all, though, this year was extra fun and exciting since the Women’s Open field grew by leaps and bounds, and I had to keep my racing wits, and legs, about me through the final day. I earned my now-traditional 8th place, but it felt like a real victory. Shout-outs to my fellow female competitors for keeping the pressure on day after day.

Watch for my long-term review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.

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First Impression: Kona Raijin Ti hardtail


By Eric McKeegan

Years ago, I lusted after a Kona Hei Hei titanium hardtail. This was towards the end of the long reign of the hardtail as king of the NORBA series. I never got that Hei Hei, and years later, even after almost six years of reviewing bikes for Dirt Rag, I haven’t spent any real time on a Ti bike.

That was recently remedied at the 2013 Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race. After some bad luck befell the custom builder I was working with to create a race bike, I scrambled at the last minute to find a single speed frame that suited my riding style and the rocky terrain of the central Pennsylvania.

Now that fatbikes seem to be the next “second bike” singlespeeds are sliding back into being a niche again. Some quick internet searches revealed a lot of very cross-country-oriented singlespeeds. I’ve spent too much time on slack bikes of the trail or downhill variety lately to really get down with head angles north of 70 degrees.

I also admit to still wanting a “race” bike, not a heavy-duty hardtail. That cut out bikes like the Canfield Brothers Nimble 9 or a Transition TransAm 29. Great bikes, but a six-pound hartail frame wasn’t what I was after.

A bit more poking around got me to the Raijin, Kona’s first titanium 29er hardtail. The geometry looked promising, with a 69.5-degree head tube angle and chainstays between 16.7-17.3 inches. I had a 120mm Magura fork waiting for a bike, and a quick call to Kona confirmed the frame could handle it. Since those geometry numbers are based on a 100mm fork, the extra length of the 120mm fork gets the head angle into trail bike territory at sub 69-degrees. Built up with a mix of fancy and sturdy, the Raijin is less than 24 pounds.

Since surviving the race I’ve been stoked on the ride. The oversize Ti isn’t noticeably flexy, but there is give to the rear end to take the edge of the never-ending rocks. The big Michelin Wild Race’r 2.25s are a big help too. I’ve thrown the Raijin pretty recklessly down some rocky descents and it comes back wanting more.

Even racing towards the back of our seven-man singlespeed pack, I’m stoked to be back on a singlespeed. There is something pretty basic and cleansing about singlespeeds in general, and stage racing on one in particular.

Now that TSE is over, I’m excited to get this out on some local trails. I’m even tempted to slap some gears on it for the Hilly Billy Roubaix, a 75-mile dirt road race in West Virginia later in June.

The full review will run in a future issue of Dirt Rag. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it. A $20 subscription may be the best money you spend all year!

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First Impression: Santa Cruz Bronson


By Justin Steiner. Photo by Matt Kaspryzyk.

Man, it sure is a good time to be a mountain biker. With all of the recent innovations—from dropper posts to 27.5-inch wheels—development sure is cooking along. Seems like this year, more so even than recent years, there’s simply a flood of incredible bikes and products coming to market.

Though far from a well kept secret, Santa Cruz’s new Bronson certainly falls into the “badass-new-product” category. Thus far, we’ve touched on the specs and details here, and posted another update as soon as we got our grubby little hands on our blingy Tennis Yellow test bike.

So, first impression? Damn, with the full-bore, every-option-selected build kit this bike is a status symbol, particularly considering the $10,420 price tag. As you might expect for a $10k+ bike, it also works incredibly well. Everything about this build kit is incredibly dialed for the intended use.

The SRAM XX1 drivetrain is flawless. After spending a bunch of time on it, it’s easy to see this 1×11 setup capturing significant market share when and if the technology is trickled down to lower price points. If I never had to switch back to a 2x or 3x setup, I wouldn’t complain a bit.

Of course, the Shimano XTR brakes work incredibly well. Good overall power, good modulation.

XX1 aside, the star of this show might just be the ENVE carbon All Mountain rims laced to DT Swiss 240s hubs. Sure these things are damn expensive, but they feel incredible on the trail. Given their reasonable weight, these rims are very laterally stiff on the trail, yet seems to damp a bit of high frequency chatter and noise that provides a calm and serene ride. Sure, the price will push these wheels out of reach for a lot of riders, but if you have the money, they sure are nice.

Initially our bike shipped with Maxxis’ High Roller II tires in the 2.4 inch size. These tires are huge, and arguably on the large and heavy end of the scale for the Bronson. They fit with room to spare, despite the 2.4-inch tire’s tall and aggressive knobs. These tires hooked up incredibly well braking and cornering, but roll accordingly slow.

Shortly thereafter, Maxxis hooked us up with the stock spec’d High Roller II in a 2.3-inch width with a tubeless ready bead and EXO reinforced casing. The knobs on these tires were only slightly smaller than the height of the 2.4-inch tires. As you might expect, they rolled better, but offered a bit less grip, too. Overall, the 2.3-inch tires are a much more appropriate tire for the Bronson.

I’m incredibly stoked about the internally routed Reverb Stealth. Regardless of your preference for infinitely adjustable vs. a three position post, This internal routing is the ticket, and, if I was a betting man, will become the standard moving forward.

Granted this particular build is incredibly expensive. Just for comparison, let’s see what we could score on our local Craigslist for $10k:

  • 2008 Ducati 1098 with 10,000 miles.
  • 2006 Honda Civic with 85,000 miles.
  • 2003 Toyota 4Runner with 129,000 miles.
  • 1994 36-foot houseboat.

Though none of those vehicles are brand new, they all have the added complexity of internal combustion engines.

It’s clear this bike is well out of the price range of most folks, myself included. If you have the money, it’s not hard to justify as it works impeccably well. On the othger hand, if $10k for a bike is a little rich for your blood, there are Bronson models starting at $3,400.

Look for the full review of the Bronson in issue #171, which will go on sale in mid-June. Also, we’re hoping to keep the Bronson around for a full season’s worth of testing, so look for future updates.

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First Impression: Niner S.I.R. 9


By Eric McKeegan

The S.I.R. 9 was one of Niner’s first models, helping to propel the 29-only company from tiny start up to a dozen models including three full-suspension platforms. Not one to forget its roots, the S.I.R. recently got a full redesign, and Niner sent us out a test bike, set up in single speed configuration.

After a late winter of sorry trail conditions, the S.I.R. arrived just in time for a trip down to Pisgah for some dry trails and big hills. Niner was nice enough to include both a RockShox SID XX suspension fork and one of its own carbon forks. Knowing Pisgah’s rep for trails full of the gnar, the suspension fork got the nod.

 

The rest of the build was purely cross-country, with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires set up tubeless, a Niner flat bar, carbon seatpost, and my preferred all around singlespeed gearing of 32-20.

After some initial rude awakenings to both the realities of climbing with one gear and the limitations of XC geometry on fast, rough descents, I was stoked be back on a simple, efficient bike. Not to mention it was good training for my less-than-wise choice to race the singlespeed class at the Transylvania Epic stage race in a few weeks.

The tubes in the S.I.R. remain Reynolds 853, still one of the finest steel alloys on the market. Niner utilizes larger diameter tuning and a proprietary bent down tube and rear stays for a more precise steering and less flex while pedaling, without losing that magic ride that steel is known for.

Chain tension is handled by Niner’s BioCentric II eccentric bottom bracket. The two-bolt design distributes the clamping force over a wider area than the first generation design. At the other end of the chain are 142×12 dropouts of Niner’s own design with a replaceable derailleur hanger that can be removed for a clean look whilst singlespeeding. 

After a few hard days on this bike, I’ve been reminded how nice it is to just ride. No diddling with suspension switches, no hunting around for the just the right gear. That is the key to the single speed, your gear is always the right one, even when it feels very, very wrong.

Pick up the current issue, Dirt Rag #170, for my complete review. 

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First Impression: KHS SixFifty 2500


By Karl Rosengarth

There’s no denying the buzz surrounding 27.5-inch mountain bikes. Color me intrigued, as I begin my first long-term test on a tweener. I’m ready to clear my mind of preconceptions, ride and learn.

KHS offers two 120mm and two 140mm-travel models in their SixFifty lineup. All four models employ a Horst-link rear suspension, which KHS has been licensing for many years. For this initial report, I’ll simply mention that this is a tried and true suspension platform, and leave it at that.

My first foray into the B-side finds me astride the 120mm-travel SixFifty 2500. With its $2,149 price tag, the 2500 is the company’s entry-level SixFifty dually. Our size medium test bike weighed in at 33.2 lbs with my Time X-ROC S platform pedals.

Before I hit the trails, I wondered how the geometry would translate to on-trail handling:

  • effective top tube length = 23.2-inches
  • chainstay length = 17.5-inches
  • head tube angle = 69.5 degrees
  • seat tube angle = 73 degrees
  • BB height = 13.3-inches.

After shredding some sweet singletrack, I breathed a sigh of relief. The 2500 handled intuitively, and immediately put me at ease. The 2500 felt responsive, and more playful than monster truck-like. It’s solid XC-oriented handling.

 

Up front the bike sports an RST 650B Air fork, with adjustable rebound damping and a lockout knob atop the right leg. The fork has 30mm diameter uppers and a conventional Q/R skewer, which may account for the flex and imprecision that I detected under strain. The fork didn’t feel as plush as I’d have liked either. The RockShox Bar R air shock in the rear has been hunky-dory.

The 3×9 drivetrain on the SixFifty 2500 features Shimano SLX/Deore derailleurs F/R, mated to Alivio shifters, with an Alivio 44/32/22T crankset and 11-34 cassette (and, interestingly, a SRAM PC-951 chain). So far so good on the drivetrain.

 

Rubber is courtesy of Maxxis, with an Ardent 2.25 up front and a Crossmark 2.1 on the drive wheel. Both tread designs work well under a wide range of conditions.

The Bengal Helix 7.0 hydro disc brakes (with 160mm rotors) were new to me. My initial impression is that they lack stopping power, compared to hydros from the major name brands.

Look for the long-term review of this bike in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss it.

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First impression: Rocky Mountain Altitude 770 MSL


By Mike Cushionbury. Photos by Justin Steiner

Rocky Mountain started with a clean slate for its new 150mm travel Altitude 770 MSL. The Canadian company weighed the pros and cons of wheel sizes and decided that for a long travel, do-it-all trail/all-mountain bike with a genetic gift for descending, 27.5 was the ideal hoop size. Like geometry and suspension travel, Rocky now uses wheel size to enhance its bike’s ride characteristics.

Another key component to the Altitude is the Ride-9 adjustment system. By rotating two interlocking chips on the upper shock mount the position of the rear shock changes to steepen or slacken head angle, seat angle, and raise or lower bottom bracket position. It also alters suspension rate at the top and bottom of the stroke. The result is nine possible geometry and suspension rate configurations. The chip additionally provides a “custom tune” for lighter or heavier riders to create a suspension system that performs very consistently in feel and performance for a 135lb rider or a 250lb rider.

The 770 MSL comes with a great parts group including a very reliable Shimano XT drivetrain as well as an internally cable routed RockShox Reverb dropper post—its handlebar mounted remote was poked nearly as much as the rear derailleur shifter on every ride. The Fox Float rear shock CTD shock has a handy but oversized handlebar mounted remote adjuster to toggle between Climb, Trail and Descend damping platforms, which was also thumbed and prodded consistently throughout every ride.

With three solid days of shredding in Pisgah, North Carolina, some things became readily apparent: when pedaling got technical the FOX Float CTD shock’s Trail setting was a mixed bag of efficiency and traction. Climb mode tended to skip off edges too much and lose grip and had a noticeable degree of bob on smooth, fire road climbs (a lover this bike isn’t designed to marry.) Rocky’s SmoothLink suspension doesn’t have much anti-squat in its design so it relies mostly on shock platform to control bob.

When it was time to really push the limits the Rocky Mountain showed its true heritage of aggressive savvy. As its travel suggests, the 770 was a capable climber right at home scaling the slow-speed, technical rock climbs and slickrock of DuPont, N.C., rather than the smooth, fire road grinders right out of our Davidson campsite. For this Trail was the perfect shock setting.

When it was time to rally the big stuff, open the shock to descend and let loose. It’s quick and nimble like its 26-inch wheeled little brother (I often forgot I was on slightly bigger wheels) yet still possessed an uncanny ability to float above rocks and roots like its bigger, 29er uncle. Ultimately the 770 MSL is a great mix of form and function wrapped into a do-it-all package. It’s aggressively tuned to handle big hit descents yet agile enough to be a daily trail bike in most any locale.

Want to read more? Look for a full-length review in the new issue of Dirt Rag.

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We take a spin through the Fox iRD suspension setup app


By Justin Steiner

Here at Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times Headquarters it seems nary a day passes without a delivery person rolling a new bike through the door. Awesome as it is, there are challenges to constantly swapping from bike to bike. In terms of suspension bikes, quickly setting up a new bike at its manufacturer’s recommended baseline is key to kicking off a proper test.

So, it was with much interest yesterday that I watched Matt set up his new Ventana Zeus test bike using Fox’s Intelligent Ride Dynamics (iRD) App.

Fox uses ID Tags on all of their 2013 and newer shocks and forks. These ID tags communicate the necessary info to the app. All you have to do is locate the ID tag and enter the code.

 

Next, you follow the instructions to select “descend’ mode on the shock, and dial rebound damping to the minimum setting.

Next, you enter your weight, including all riding gear, into the App. Using all the information provided by the ID Tag, the App will recommend a baseline air pressure.

You then mark the sag position by assuming a normal riding position, per the instructions.

With the travel o-ring marking the sag position, you then use the iPhone’s camera to check the sag.

We double checked the iRD app’s recommendation and found it to be right at 22 percent sag. Since Matt wasn’t wearing his hydration pack for this sag measurement, he’ll be at closer to 25 percent sag with a pack, which is a good starting point for this test. With sag set, the iRD app then recommends a rebound setting.

With the rear suspension set up, we moved on to the fork. Again, based on the information from the ID Tag along with the rider weight Matt entered, the iRD app provides a recommended air pressure.

Then you’re back through the process of marking and checking sag.

In this case, the app was spot on first time through. From here, all Matt had to do was adjust rebound damping to the recommended settings and go ride.

I was highly impressed with the app’s ability to simplify what can be a very complex process. The iRD app takes the mystery out of suspension setup, and provides a solid baseline that will should work well for most riders in most situations. I’d wager a vast majority of app users will arrive at better baseline settings than those using the traditional measuring tape approach.

As of now, Fox’s iRD app is available for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and iPad mini running iOS 4.3 or later. Android and Windows phone people will have to borrow an i-device.

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First Impression: Trek Lush 29 SL


By Emily Walley. Photos by Emily Walley and Justin Steiner.

The new-for-2013 Trek Lush 29 SL is the fast, stable, big-wheeled sister in the Lush family, which began in 2012 with her 26-inch wheeled siblings. Flaunting her 29-inch wheels along with frame sizes as small as 14-inches, this full suspension trail woman is proof that a small frame size doesn’t have to mean small wheels.

As with all of Trek’s women’s bikes, the Lush 29 SL utilizes Women’s Specific Design, which features components and suspension tuning for our unique build. The frame nestles itself between those big wheels improving control and stability, and the swooping top tube allows for plenty of standover clearance to accommodate smaller riders. This model also boasts Trek’s signature G2 Geometry, which utilizes a fork with more offset and a slacker headtube angle to balance high and low speed handling. Check out this great video to learn more about Gary Fisher’s secret behind G2 technology.

Lush 29 SL is a bit of a techy in her youthful age. She sports the same Active Braking Pivot as her sisters, so her rear wheel stays in contact with the terrain while you’re on the brakes, but it’s no surprise that she’s updated her suspension and components from her 26 and 29-inch kin.

The Lush 29 SL operates on a two-chamber Dual Rate Control Valve suspension system in both the front and rear, with a valve that manages when the second chamber engages. The Fox Evolution Series DRCV, 15QR fork and DRCV shock also have the Climb, Trail, Descend suspension settings for their respective terrains.

 

Her front derailleur, shifters, and brakes are part of the Shimano SLX group and rear derailleur a Shimano Deore XT. Lush 29 SL also enables you to add an internally routed dropper post. Finally, Lush rolls down the mountain on Bontrager Duster Tubeless Ready rims.

Out of the box, the 14-inch Lush proved to be a perfect fit with no component swaps. As I settled onto the saddle I was pleased to find that the women’s specific seat is comfortable and gentle on my delicate feminine parts.

I’m steadily dialing in my ideal suspension settings, but I am finding that running more than recommended sag has been advantageous, as it provides the plush ride I’d been expecting.

 

So far, I’ve found the Lush 29 SL to be stable and responsive in technical terrain and a champion at rolling over obstacles.

Two 29-inch Lush models are available. The Trek Lush 29 SL retails for $3,050 and the Lush 29 for $2,420.

I’m looking forward to riding the Lush 29 SL on the trails at Raystown Lake for Dirt Rag’s annual Dirt Fest. Look for my full review of the Trek Lush 29 SL in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.

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First Impression: Intense Spider 29 Comp


By Shannon Mominee. Photos by Shannon Mominee, Jon Pratt and Justin Steiner

The Intense Spider 29 Comp is the bigger and bolder brother of the Spider 29. Intense should have picked a different name for the Spider 29 Comp, because unlike the Spider, this machine has a carbon fiber frame with more rear travel, shorter chainstays and a slacker head angle than its aluminum counterpart. It’s pretty much an entirely different beast except for the suspension design.

With 4.5 or 5 inches of adjustable travel and VPP suspension licensed from Santa Cruz, the Spider 29 Comp is ready to face the most aggressive trails or be dialed back for more groomed dirt. My inaugural rides took place over a weekend of riding in and around the Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, North Carolina. What better way to become acquainted than with a 7-mile climb and a 4-mile descent through a rock garden.

For each of those trail situations I used the CTD setting on both the Fox Kashima coated Float CTD shock w/boost valve and the 130mm, 32 Float 29 FIT CTD fork to ascend and descend as efficiently as possible. I liked the “Climb” setting on the fork when, well…climbing, but that same setting on the shock was at the cost of rear tire traction, so I mostly used the “Trail” setting for the rear instead. For my downhill enjoyment, both shocks were set to “Descend” which provided a high degree of absorption on small and large hits alike.

The Spider 29 Comp has a long 46.5-inch wheelbase and rides exceptionally smooth and stable, but lets the length be known in tight switchbacks where it doesn’t maneuver so nimbly. The 67.5-degree head tube makes steering feel natural and is quick enough to pick a line, instead of running over everything, which this bike is also capable of doing. At 28.4lbs. the bike climbs lighter than the scale foretells. The carbon chassis is stiff and provides a comfortable ride, climbs well, and mutes trail vibration, without be so stiff as to be jarring or feel flexy.

Some cool features of the Spider 29 Comp is the internal cable routing with cable guide tubes, internal cable routing for a Rock Shox Reverb Stealth dropper post, which my tester has, ISCG mounts for using a single chainring in the front, a tapered head tube, rubbery protector on the chainstay and downtube, and G1 dropouts that can be swapped to accommodate 135mm QR wheels or 142x12mm thru-axles. A size medium frame weighs a claimed 5.5lbs.

The Spider 29 Comp retails for $5,928 as built without the dropper post, or $2,900 for a frame and shock. Unlike all of Intense’s U.S. made aluminum frames, the carbon ones are manufactured in Taiwan and assembled in the U.S. Look for a full review of the Spider 29 Comp coming soon to a Dirt Rag Magazine near you.


 

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First Impression: Pivot LES


By Jon Pratt. Photos by Justin Steiner.

The LES is Pivot Cycles’ first entry into the hardtail 29er market. With a carbon frame, a slack 69.5-degree headtube angle, low 12.1” bottom bracket, short 17.1” chainstays, and weighing in at a scant 22.5 pounds, the LES is meant to be a high performance race bike that affords a smoother ride than its XC brethren. For our upcoming review we got our hands on a fully blinged-out carbon XTR build which came complete with a 100mm travel Kashima coated Fox Float 29 100mm CTD fork, XTR drivetrain and Trail brakes, 700mm carbon handlebar, and DT 240 wheels. Sexy.

On my initial outings this bike feels light, and fast. The wide 92mm press fit bottom bracket makes for a substantial bottom bracket junction which looks and feels like it will retain stiffness while putting the hammer down, and help transfer some of that energy from my legs to the gears. Matched with the Fox Float, and a stiff rear, climbing some of my favorite trails has been noticeably easier. The frame also feels pretty smooth when hitting some of the more chattery sections. All good signs for things to come.

 

One of the cool features on the LES is its ability to be run geared or singlespeed. While all the frames come with carbon dropouts, featuring a 142x12mm thru axel, post disc mounts, and a replaceable derailleur hanger, we also got our hands on Pivot’s Swinger Kit. The kit includes cold-forged aluminum dropouts, a front derailleur plate, and caps to cover all the geared cable locations. I’m interested just how easy it is to swap between the two. And because of its slackened head tube angle and short chainstays, I’m anxious to see how well the LES performs on some of the more technical lines.

Look for a full review in Issue #170 of Dirt Rag. Click here to subscribe.

Vital stats

  • Country of Origin: Taiwan
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Size: S, M (tested), L, XL
  • Price: $6,700
  • Website: www.pivotcycles.com

 

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