By Adam Newman
Forget what you think you know about Airborne bikes. The brand you used to know is dead and buried, with a new cast of characters resurrecting the name and starting anew. Under the Huffy corporate umbrella, Airborne is able to take advantage of the shipping, warehousing and manufacturing might of the big brother, while operating independently. There is no dealer network, either. Bikes can be ordered directly from the company’s website, where the Goblin retails for $1,300 plus $50 shipping to the lower 48 states.
Preparing for takeoff
The hydroformed 6061 aluminum frame features the type of massive downtube and bottom bracket junction you can expect from most modern manufacturers, and frame stiffness isn’t likely to be an issue unless you’re routinely winning UCI World Cup races. The 20” frame I rode had a 622mm effective top tube—fairly standard for a size “large.” The 74° seat tube and 71.5° head tube angles and 110mm head tubes are identical throughout the four sizes available. The fittings are traditional, with a straight 1 1/8” head tube and threaded bottom bracket.
Powering you along is SRAM’s X7 drivetrain, featuring the new 2×10 system. The 39/26 chainrings and a 12-36 cassette gave me plenty of range for tackling the trails, and to be honest, if I couldn’t climb it with those gears, I was going to be walking anyway.
Soaking up the bumps is a RockShox Reba RL Dual-Air fork with lock-out and Motion-Control set to 80mm, an impressive piece of hardware that won’t let you make excuses for not keeping up. Nor will the Avid Elixr R hydraulic brakes, which seem to have a divisive reputation around the Dirt Rag office, but I was very happy with their performance. The lever feel isn’t perfect, with a soft spot on initial travel, but the stopping power with the stock 160mm rotors was impressive.
The handlebars, stem and seatpost are Airborne-branded aluminum bits. The white finish is extra bling-for-your-buck. Props for that.
The wheels consist of sealed-bearing hubs laced to WTB LaserDisc Trail 29 rims. At 27mm wide, the “trail” rims seemed like overkill on a racy bike, but they should take several seasons of abuse without worry. They aren’t the lightest hoops around, but wheels are often the first upgrade.
In all, the parts package is impressive and equal to or better than bikes costing hundreds of dollars more. I’m not really sure how Airborne can offer it all together at this price and still make a profit. I guess eliminating the assembly labor costs and dealer network really saves them dough.
Ah yes, assembly. Before you get a chance to ride an Airborne, you’ll have to assemble it. The bike arrives about 80% intact and can be quickly assembled. If you’re not a mechanic, or don’t trust your safety to your own wrenching, better let your local bike shop handle it. Expect to pay up to $100 for the labor.
Once you do have everything together, this monster just wants to go fast. The narrow-ish 640mm bars and aggressive head tube angle keep the big front wheel feeling light and nimble, so much so that it took a few hours of ride time to get comfortable keeping the front wheel pointed straight ahead on steep climbs. Despite the quick steering, I also found it had a tendency to understeer on high-speed turns. Weird.
In an effort to calm things down a bit I removed a spacer from the fork and stretched its travel to 100mm, then flipped the stem to move the handlebars back down where they were. This brought things back under control for me, as the bike felt much more stable and neutral overall. It also had the added benefit of raising the bottom bracket, helping me clear obstacles without smacking pedals quite as often. I’d recommend this change for most riders.
Speaking of, the aluminum frames of today have little in common with the kidney-busting brutes of years past, and it’s about time we forget that “harsh-riding” reputation. I had no discomfort after three or four-hour rides. With a fighting weight of just under 28lbs., it’s not something you can brag about, but it’s an impressive figure for a size large 29er in this price range.
This was my first experience on SRAM’s 2×10 drivetrain, and though the rear shifts under load were often met with a PING! or CLANG!, they always found their target. The advanced shaping of the front rings moves the chain back and forth as well as almost any group I’ve ridden, road or mountain. In fact, the simplified double-chainring setup works so well that I imagine that for most racers or cross country riders, the triple crankset is headed to the Great Mountain Bike Partsbin in the Sky to rendezvous with the hydraulic rim brakes and purple-anodized bits of years past.
So what’s the one thing that I would upgrade? Oh right, the wheels. I went ahead and installed a Stan’s NoTubes Crest 29er wheelset I’ve also been testing. The Crest wheels were a perfect match for the Goblin’s racy attitude and brought the weight down to just over 25lbs. With the wheel swap, the bike really came alive, scampering up the hills like a doe in deer season—as long as my lungs could keep up, that is. Read a full review of the wheelset here. In fact, this pairing is such a deal that it comes in a full pound lighter and two-thirds the price of the carbon-fiber Breezer Clound 9 hardtail 29er we reviewed in Issue #157!
In all, the Airborne Goblin is an impressive package. When taking shipping and assembly costs into account, the price starts to creep a little closer to similar bikes from the big names, but the Airborne still wins on value. The lack of a dealer network prohibits test rides though, and newer riders might have a more difficult time choosing the right size. But if you’re looking for a second, third or “N+1” bike, or if you’re a budget racer, or you just want something different from your riding buddies, it’s hard to argue with the Goblin’s capabilities.
Country of origin: Taiwan
Sizes available: 16", 18", 20" (tested), 22"