Dirt Rag Magazine

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.


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


First impression: Lynskey Pro29 FS-120

By Jon Pratt. Photos by Adam Newman.

Mark Lynskey from Lynskey Performance stopped by the Dirt Rag office a few weeks ago to hang out, shoot the shit and sample some of the local trails. After a fun-filled day he needed to get on the road, but we wanted some extra time on his personal rig… the 120mm full suspension, titanium Pro29 FS-120 he had with him. So, while he was packing up to leave we used some tried and true misdirection techniques to distract him, and bam… he left the bike in the basement. Score.

What is that you say? A full suspension 29-inch Lynskey? Yep. The Pro29 FS-120 has been available to the public for about four months. Mark has been riding prototypes of the current model for the last few years. Lynskey, well known for its hardtail titanium bikes, has been interested in developing a full suspension model for a long time, but there were a few hurdles to getting started in the full suspension game.

Building a system from the ground up is expensive and time consuming. Time wasn’t something Lynskey Performance had any extra of. The hardtail design and production was absorbing most of it. In addition, before work can even be started there needs to be an in-depth discovery phase to make sure you aren’t using any patented technologies in your suspension design. Fortunately there are people like David Earle from the Sotto Group.

To put it simply, David Earle knows his stuff. David has worked for many years as an engineer in companies such as Bontrager Cycles, Santa Cruz Bicycles and Specialized, as well as with Lockheed Missiles and Space. He’s been heavily involved in developing suspension technologies like VPP and Switch, and along the way has designed some pretty killer bikes like the Nomad, VP-Free, and P3 to name a few.

Lynskey wanted the bike to be bulletproof and the suspension to work from the very first build. To borrow an old adage, "First Impressions are Lasting Impressions". So they brought in Earle who designed the suspension around Lynskey’s desire for a cross country bike meant not for the XC racer, but more for the aggressive trail rider. Earle provided the pivot point locations and the size and valving for the shock. Lynskey designed the bike around those specifications.

The culmination of this partnership is the Pro29 FS-120, a bike at home on singletrack with moderately difficult technical features. It is designed to be stable while climbing and quick but not twitchy. Limiting pedal bob while climbing is achieved through the high main pivot that sits forward of the bottom bracket. Also 50 percent of the rear travel sees the axle moving backwards, pulling the tire into the dirt.

In addition to the suspension design, Lynskey wanted a bike that was stiff but not uncomfortably so. To achieve this Lynskey pioneered Helix tubing technology. Without going into too much detail, the helix shaped down tube balances the benefits of a round tube and a beam. Beams are good at resisting bending, while round tubes are good at resisting twisting forces. Instead of choosing one over the other, the helix shape provides both, evenly distributed along the length of the tube. In addition, the large swingarm pivot, attached to the helix down tube, uses a Shimano press-fit bottom bracket bearing. Beefy.

So how did it feel on the trail? Pretty awesome. The suspension works as designed and I didn’t notice any significant pedal bob while climbing. Leaving the Fox Float CTD in trail mode seemed to tackle most of the technical lines I chose. Mark had his bike set up with a remote lock out on the Fox Float 32, which I used on several longish climbs in concert with the climb setting on the CTD shock. I did venture into some more sketchy sections and the descend mode provided just enough plushness to get me through. Pretty much anywhere I took the Pro29 the suspension systems reacted well, and there were no unwelcomed surprises.

I’m guilty of always thinking titanium and suspension won’t get along, and I took the Pro29 out expecting to feel a lot of sway in the rear end, especially in some of the more bermy sections of my favorite trails. Well… not so much. The bike reacted well to quick lateral directional changes and the rear didn’t take long to snap back to middle when exiting the berms. It was predictable. And that’s good. I also didn’t notice any significant flex while under load from hard uphill pedaling. Maybe it’s the helix down tube, maybe the huge swingarm pivot… whatever it is, it works.

After about 15 minutes of adjusting to a new bike it really started feeling at home on my favorite trails. I was comfortable pushing it through some pretty aggressive sections and it handled the smooth flowy bits with ease. Good stuff Lynskey… good stuff. I was riding the 2nd generation of the Pro29 FS-120 which has the swingarm pivot built into the down tube. Gen 1 had it installed in a Ti plate above the bottom bracket. While the current Pro29 FS-120 utilizes sliding dropouts to allow for a thru axle or 9mm QR in the rear, the next generation, slated for 2014, will be fixed and accept Shimano or DT Swiss thru axles. No other changes are planned. MSRP is $5,900 with XT components (and right now it’s on sale). Choosing the XTR kit adds another $1,600 to the build. 


First Impression: Ritchey P-650b

By Mike Cushionbury

Tom Ritchey built his first 27.5-inch wheeled off-road frameset in 1977 (which he called a 650b) as a personal bike. It never caught on at that time but now, 36 years later, the industry and many riders have begun to create demand for the in-between wheel size. Though most brands are looking towards longer travel, a few companies with roots in cross-country racing are utilizing the wheel size for that application as well.

Built from Ritchey’s classic heat-treated, triple-butted Logic 2 steel, the P-650b has new forged, socket-style dropouts and lightweight, chainstay-mounted disc brake tabs. The rest of the bike, including its iconic red, white and blue color scheme is a throwback to the past. The 68mm bottom bracket accepts English threaded cups (no BB30 here), seatpost size is standard 27.2, and the head tube is non-tapered at 1 1/8”. Our test bike came with a rigid, Ritchey-branded full carbon fork, though the geometry is adjusted to accept a 100mm travel suspension fork.

The parts build is just as cross-country specific, with a SRAM X0 2×10 drivetrain, alloy Ritchey Vantage 2 tubeless ready rims, WCS Shield tires and a carbon seatpost and handlebar. I was impressed with the ease in which the wheels were converted to tubeless and the quality of the wheelset in general on the trail.

I’ll admit, the P-650b was a bit of shock to my overly suspended system on our rougher east coast trails. Ritchey’s steel tubing remains one of the most refined and compelling materials for cross-country riding and racing, albeit with a weight penalty compared to carbon fiber, but this is still a fully rigid race bike no matter how nice the frame feels through the rough. I would have liked the addition of a suspension fork for some added comfort but for long, west coast fire roads and smooth singletrack this build will flat out fly.

After a few weeks with the P-650b I’ve developed a bit of an attachment to its old school charm. I’ve also realized just what type of rider will more fully appreciate everything the Ritchey has to offer.

Want to read the full, long-term review? Grab a copy of Issue #171 and check it out.



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.


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!


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.


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. 


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.


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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