Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Commencal Surpreme and Surpreme DH

By Justin Steiner

Commencal may be a new name to some readers, but company founder and namesake Max Commencal has been around the bike business for quite some time. He combined an architectural background, a passion for motorcycles and a love of BMX to form Sunn Bicycles in 1982. Sunn later branched out into mountain bikes with great success in the World Cup circuit under Nicolas Vouilloz.

Considering this Andorra-based company has only been building bikes under the Commencal name for 10 years, they sure have a lot of momentum right now. Their Supreme DH, one of the subjects of this review, is frequently on the podium at the World Cup DH circuit and carried the brother-sister duo of Rachel and Gee Atherton to the UCI World Cup championships in 2008.

As a company, Commencal places a high priority on building bikes to facilitate people having fun, and this generally translates to designing bikes that excel at descending, but also perform well as all-around bikes—much like the Meta 6.2 we tested back in issue #141.

The Supreme and Supreme DH both use 6061 aluminum for frame construction and feature replaceable head tube sleeves that allow for 3° of head tube angle adjustment in 1° increments, depending on course needs, riding style and personal preference. The Supreme’s head tube angle can be set to 66°, 67° or 68°, while the Supreme DH can be set to 63°, 64° or 65°. The DH bike also offers 16mm of chainstay length adjustment via a sliding 150x12mm axle system with threaded adjusters.

Both bikes use Commencal’s Contact System suspension design, which is a single-pivot arrangement with a linkage-driven rear shock. This setup offers a simple, durable and stiff connection between the front triangle and the rear swingarm, while providing plenty of spring-curve tuneability via the shock linkage. Said spring curve on both these bikes is highly progressive, allowing for great small bump sensitivity while also providing top-notch bottom-out resistance.

Both bikes also feature a high main pivot location, but with slight placement variation. The DH bike’s pivot placement is above and slightly behind the bottom bracket, in-line with a 42t chainring to provide neutral pedaling with that size chainring and a slight bit of anti-squat with smaller rings. The Supreme places a slightly higher priority on pedaling efficiency by using a high, forward pivot, providing a bit of anti-squat in any chainring.

Commencal Supreme

The Supreme is Commencal’s 160mm-travel, do-everything park bike. My test bike was delivered with Fox coil suspension, a Fox 36 Van R up front and a Van R out back; both of these suspenders offer preload and rebound adjustments.

There’s really only one way to describe this bike and it’s just plain FUN, that’s right, all caps. The fun of the Supreme comes with a split personality: you can truly use this bike for everything from burly trail rides to lift-assist park sessions. My tester was equipped with a 36t single ring and chainguide, but the Supreme is both front derailleur and Hammerschmidt compatible.

Throw on some XC/trail wheels and tires, spin the head tube sleeve to the 68° position, install a slightly longer stem, speed up your rebound damping a touch and head out for an all-day backcountry ride where you’re pedaling up and bombing down. While this isn’t a light bike (think 34-36lbs. in this mode) it’s more than capable of tackling pedally trail rides—just don’t expect to be climbing fast. I simply loved getting back on the trails with a supple, flickable and fun coil-sprung bike underneath me.

On the other end of the spectrum, reinstall that shorty stem, slow your rebound damping back down, throw on your park wheelset with DH tubes and tires, spin the headtube sleeve to 66° and spend the day romping around your local lift-assist riding destination with a huge smile on your face.

In park mode, the Supreme just begs you to have fun with a light and playful nature—this bike encourages you to air it out. At our local bike park, Seven Springs Mountain Resort, the Supreme was agile and responsive on the flowy jump trails, and quick yet composed on the rocky technical trails. It was more than up to the task of hitting drops and doesn’t think twice about airing out 25ft. tabletops—I was extremely impressed with how well the base-level R-model fork and shock absorbed these bigger hits.

Supreme DH

The Supreme DH is best thought of as the bigger, faster brother of the Supreme. This longer travel, longer wheelbase, slacker bike is all business when it comes to DH racing, and the Supreme DH’s success on the UCI World Cup circuit speaks for itself.

This bike, again, is all about versatility. Set the head tube angle to 65°, shorten the chainstays all the way and you’ll find yourself on a burly 200mm-travel bike that handles plenty quick enough to have fun sessioning the park with your friends. On the other hand, slacken the bike to 64° or 63°, lengthen the chainstays and you have a race-ready DH rig. I love versatility.

To ease into the test, I started out with the bike at the 65° head tube angle and with the chainstays toward the short end of things. As my speed increased, I went to 64° with the stays all the way short, then tried them all the way long and greatly enjoyed the increase in stability. After riding the bike at the 63° head tube setting with the chainstays slammed long, I’ve decided this is likely where I’d want to be for most race courses. This bike is simply unflappable in "long" mode, but does like to be leaned aggressively into tight corners, which is a trade-off I’ll gladly make. In retrospect, I’m not surprised I like the bike with these settings, as I’ve heard this is how Gee sets up his Supreme DH.

My test bike was delivered with a Fox 40 fork and DHX RC-4 rear shock, both of which are highly tunable. This extremely broad range of adjustability allows for proper set-up for just about any course or riding style. The fork is adjustable for preload, high-speed compression, low-speed compression, and rebound, while the rear shock is adjustable for preload, high-speed compression, low-speed compression, Boost Valve pressure, and bottom-out resistance. All of these adjustments take some time to dial in and a dedicated, scientific approach to really sort things out. Once nicely dialed, you’ll have a bike that floats through chunky rock gardens, sticks like a champ in the turns, and takes big hits with nary a whimper.

I was fortunate enough to campaign the Supreme DH in the first two races of the Gravity East Series, which certainly pushed me as a rider.

The first race, the Massanuten Yee-Ha! (GES #1), was a rocking, pedally hammerfest. I had received the Supreme only two days prior to the race and was impressed by how intuitive the DH was and how quickly I was able to get up to speed. The bike’s pedaling performance was excellent and I was able to simply point, shoot, and float through the rock garden.

My second race aboard the DH, GES #2 at Seven Springs, offered up a variety of terrain from large (for me) table tops to fast, smooth berms and, of course, the obligatory rock garden—a popular spot with spectators, for good reason. I felt confident and quick railing said berms, and the DH certainly handled hitting the big jumps without breaking a sweat. It was very apparent the only thing holding this World Cup-winning bike back was the rider—falling down and flatting is not conducive to going fast.

I’m sure you’re thinking it’s strange for us to review two bikes from the same company in one issue, but we thought it was important to illustrate the similarities and differences. They both share the middle ground of being effective park bikes, but with different attitudes—the Supreme is playful, quick, agile and fun, while the DH is burlier, faster and all about the business of going down hill, whether it be going big, or going fast. The Supreme can be pedaled as a burly trail bike, while the DH is the clear choice if you’ll be pursuing DH racing in any sort of competitive way.

Captain Dondo alluded to it: six inches may be enough for some, but will come up short for others. Ideally, you’d have a bike like each of these in your stable, but that’s not an option for most of us—personally I’d have a damn hard time choosing between the two. Which of these bikes, or types of bike, is best for you? Depends on whether you want a pedalable park bike that could be used as an entry-level DH bike, or if you want DH race bike that you can also use as a park bike. The choice is yours. A word of caution, gravity riding is addictive—if you don’t want to get hooked, you best not try it.

Tester: Justin Steiner
Age: 27
Height: 5′ 7"
Weight: 165lbs.
Inseam: 31"

Vital Stats – Surpreme
Country of Origin: Taiwan (both)
Price: $2,450 for frame, Fox DHX RC2 shock, Thompson post, e.thirteen LG1+ chainguide
Weight: 39.8lbs. w/pedals, DH tubes and tires
Sizes available: S/M (tested), L/XL

Vital Stats – Surpreme DH
Price: $2,900 or frame, Fox DHX RC4 shock, Thompson post, e.thirteen LG1+ chainguide
Weight: 39.85lbs. w/pedals, DH tubes and tires
Sizes available: S/M (tested), L/XL
Contact: www.commencal-usa.com

Relevant websites
Seven Springs Resort: www.7springs.com
Gravity East Series: www.gravityeastseries.com

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