By Adam Lipinski
Diamondback has been cranking out bikes for a long time. They really got moving in the early BMX days and kept going into the world of mountain bikes. This company has always produced quality products. They may piddle around in the entry-level realm of department store bikes, but what’s wrong with that? Not everyone needs a high-end mountain bike and a larger company would be silly to not produce entry levels. It could even lead to some new mountain bike recruits. That said—and I hope I’m clear on all of this—Diamondback has an extensive R&D department dedicated to its upper-end Knuckle Box bikes.
The target of the Sortie line of bikes is trail/XC riding. The bike is designed to take all the abuse an adventurous trail rider can dish out, without being a grossly overweight pig. A rider that likes to pedal at near-race speeds, while pushing the technical envelope, will be very happy with this bike. The Sortie 3 is outdone by only one bike in the series, the Sortie Black. There are two bikes below it in the series. In ascending order from 1, 2, 3 and Black they price out at $1,650, $2,300, $2,750 and $6,000 respectively.
The biggest standout for me was the Knuckle Box linkage. At first glance, this rear suspension throws off a well-made vibe. Almost all the moving parts are very close to the bottom bracket, creating a super-low center of gravity. A low center of gravity creates a more stable ride.
The rear suspension duties are handled by the trusty Fox RP23 XV (extra volume) shock. The XV is a great match for the Sortie; with me weighing in around 200 pounds, I usually need to max out an air shock’s pressure to keep it from bottoming out. I ran the rear shock at about 205 psi, slightly higher than the suggested starting point of 15 pounds less than body weight. While I never felt any harsh bottoming at the lower pressure, the o-ring compression indicator was always pushed all the way down the shock shaft. The higher pressure worked well for more aggressive riding and sag was right at one third of the travel.
The Sortie 3 has some sweet parts adorning its 6061 aluminum frame, the most important component being the Fox 32 Float RL air fork. It’s attached via a traditional 1 1/8” headset. Fox has their products dialed in; it’s hard to find any flaws. The standard QR is the only issue I had with the fork and it is no deal-breaker for this bike. I feel the 15QR front axle would make this bike shine in the rough stuff. The fork performed great, but the extra stiffness would be appreciated.
The Shimano 10-speed drivetrain worked almost flawlessly. The initial set-up gave me some grief, but once it was dialed in it popped off perfect shifts most of the time. Only the nastiest winter conditions made it skip, and just a few times. The large 36-tooth gear on the rear cassette kept me out of the small front ring on all but the steepest climbs.
The rest of the parts group is almost all tried and true, name brand components. The braking duties are handled by a pair of dependable Shimano Deore hydraulics—with calipers measuring 180mm front and 160mm rear. A host of Easton parts make up the rider’s cockpit, along with a WTB saddle. All good stuff.
There are, however, a few parts that don’t get my full thumbs up. The Mavic XM317 rims are fine, but they are laced up to no-name alloy hubs. The rear hub loosened up once and had to be snugged up, but stayed tight for the remainder of the test. There were no engagement problems throughout the test. The WTB Wolverine 2.1” tires just don’t do well in wet climates. A drier climate would suit these tires just fine, but not winter slop and mud. The knobs packed full of slime every chance they got.
This is one of those bikes that feels instantly familiar; you are able to throw a leg over it and ride it like an old favorite. I think that Diamondback’s years of bike building, attention to detail and thorough testing are all extremely evident on the Knuckle Box line of bikes. The five inches of super-plush Knuckle Box travel consumed all trail obstacles, remained very responsive and was light and efficient enough to pedal all day.
Great care was given to the design and pivot placements to produce the optimal balance between plushness and pedaling efficiency. The initial stroke is very linear and continues smoothly through the mid range of the suspension. The second half of the travel gets progressively stiffer to avoid any harsh bottoming effects. There is very little in the way of unwanted compression, or suspension bob. The design is efficient enough that I kept the ProPedal feature turned off for almost all of the test period. The rear suspension also puts a ton of traction to the rear wheel. On some group rides I was able to get further up some muddy inclines than my riding buddies, even with the mud packed tires mentioned earlier.
The Sortie line nails its geometry for trail riding. It has a 70 degree head angle, 73 degree seat angle, 435mm chainstays, 1,133mm wheelbase and 335mm bottom bracket. The combination of these measurements makes it stable at speed, while still retaining the ability to pick through the tight woods with ease. The 70 degree head angle works better than one would think. Only once—in the most brutal of situations—did I wish for a slacker head angle.
Cornering is best approached aggressively; leaning in and digging the knobbies into the dirt is your best choice. The 335mm bottom bracket is the only downfall to the turning abilities. I love it for log crossings, but miss the feeling of being on rails that a lower BB can create.
The gripes I have with the Sortie 3 are few. The rear triangle has a bit of lateral flex to it. Not enough that it would deter me from purchasing one, but it is still there. I could only notice it when obsessively focusing on the rear triangle. The rear tire clearance in the swingarm is minimal. Anything bigger than a 2.1” tire will collect debris between the chainstay and seatstay bridges. On one day of aggressive riding, the main pivot behind the crankset loosened up. I was lucky to be at an indoor park, where I was able to remove the cranks and snug up the bolts. It has remained tight, so we will chalk that one up to break-in.
Overall, the bike performs extremely well in all conditions, as long as you don’t want to run larger tires.
The Knuckle Box technology is available on the Sortie, as well as the Mission and Scapegoat models. Both of the other models are 6-inch versions of this platform. The Sortie line is geared towards XC/trail riding, while the Mission and Scapegoat will take you into a more aggressive all-mountain and slope-style areas of biking The Sortie 3 is a serious contender for anyone looking for a fast and sturdy bike. You could enter into a XC race or bomb gnarly trails with your buds. The Sortie 3 will happily take you up and down all your favorite trails.
Country of origin: Taiwan
Sizes available: S, M, L, XL (tested)
This review originally appeared in Issue #155. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store, or to make sure you never miss a review, order a subscription today and help us keep this great content rolling.