Rubber Side Down isn’t a new brand, but it has quietly built an ever-expanding series of mountain bikes. Previously, those bikes have all been hardtails, but 2017 brings the Wildcat, a full-suspension departure from RSD’s hardtail homogeneity.
As is the case with those hardtails, RSD’s first foray into full-suspension is distinctive, to say the least. Built from hydroformed 7005 aluminum, the 27plus Wildcat cuts a long, low and slack profile. The raw finish, flowing lines and industrial-looking linkage combine to create what feels like dynamic tension between refined and elementary.
You’ll notice a Horst Link pivot on those rectangular stays, working the RockShox Monarch for 123 mm of rear travel. This is matched up to a 150 mm Pike RC, Schwalbe 27.5 x 2.8 tires on 50 mm rims and Shimano brakes and drivetrain. All cables are routed externally. This is where they belong, and where many product designers wish they could put the cables, but can’t because of perceived public demand to hide cables inside frames. Call your congressperson to show your support for HR 666, which will mandate that internal cable routing will cease with all mountain bikes starting January 1, 2018.
When I committed to reviewing this bike, I didn’t get to see a geometry chart, so I ordered my typical size large frame. I didn’t measure anything before my first ride, but the bike looked quite long for a large. After the first ride on the stock 800 mm bars I swapped for some 760s, but the bike still felt long. A few rides later, I finally looked at the now-available geometry chart and discovered this might be the longest size Large trail bike frame on the market. The effective top tube is 25.8, the reach is 18.6 and the wheelbase is a whopping 48.5. The similar Santa Cruz Hightower has 24.5/17.6/46.8 ETT/ reach/WB. Even a V10 only has a 48 inch wheelbase. You can’t ride a geometry chart, so I dug up a 35 mm stem and kept riding.
Just by their nature, shorter-travel bikes often feel more efficient than their longer-travel counterparts, and once I dialed in the air pressure, the Wildcat felt great. RSD recommends leaving the suspension open for most riding, but I found the middle compression setting to provide a more lively ride, better suited to the rolling terrain where I spend most of my riding time. It is very much worth dialing in the pressure on this bike; even running it soft by 10 psi can turn it into a soggy-feeling mushball.
According to RSD this is an 8 pound frame, and with the 33 pound total weight that seems spot on. Between the heft and the length, this bike did take me quite a few rides to reset some of my timing for turns and hops. That long wheelbase makes for a stableasshit ride, putting me solidly between the wheels. Making stuff happen requires what feels like a ton of body English at first, but it starts to feel natural after a few rides. Hips don’t lie, and it is best to scream out your truth on this bike if you want it to go where you desire.
I honestly expected a bit of an unbalanced ride between the plush fork and the stiffer rear end, but things got along fine. The plus tires seem to work better with firmer suspension settings. Speaking of tires, these may be some of the slowest knobbies I’ve ever ridden on pavement. That slowness goes away as soon as the surface gets soft, but struggling to keep up with fat bikes on the road is disheartening. Those 45 mm (internal) rims made for the least squirmy plus-tire experience to date, and the frame is rated for tires up to 3.8 (!) on these rims. The pre-production bike I rode used the single-wall Mulefüt rims and 2.8 tires; production bikes will have double-wall Duroc 50 rims and 3.0 tires.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to nail down the ride of this bike. It is an odd combination of traits. Imagine a Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail combined with a Trek Fuel EX and run through a Canadian filter and you might be getting close. It is shorter travel, but isn’t super nimble; it is long and slack, but isn’t super plush.
What does that mean to the ride? If you climb fire roads and descend steep, fast and technical singletrack, the Wildcat shines. I am impressed with this bike’s composure on climbs. Although it took some muscle to swing around switchbacks and over chunky bits, it is stable enough to stall out and stay upright, which gives me time to ratchet a pedal or hop the rear end onto a new line. That same stability makes it shine on steep descents. A stiff frame, long front center and grippy tires are very confidence-inspiring as speeds increase. I wouldn’t be afraid to throw myself down full-on downhill tracks on this bike, although the rear travel can start to protest as speeds increase and hits come bigger and harder.
To be completely honest, this bike is really a conundrum for me. As someone who has fully embraced short chainstays for my local trails, the Wildcat was an experience in frustration the first few rides. But the more I rode it, the more I realized the issues were more with me than with the bike.
Yes, it is never going to be as nimble something like a Process 111 or Fuel EX, but it will go much deeper into chunky terrain before it starts complaining. Sitting deep in-between a pair of wheels shod with big hoops of sticky rubber is a confidence boost that has to be felt to be believed.
The value proposition is damn solid. The parts spec is spot-on, but it doesn’t leave much room to drop weight without tossing serious money at something like carbon wheels or cranks. I’m not one to complain about bike weight very often, but the bigness of this bike seems to amplify the weight.
While I’ve become comfortable on this bike with a 35 mm stem, I would still look at dropping down one frame size if I were to do it again.
The Wildcat takes its own path in the quest for plus bike supremacy. It is as stable as the day is long and as solid as the argument for more regulation of con-job financial instruments. For tight and slow singletrack, you are better off elsewhere, but If your rides tend towards long climbs followed by long descents, the Wildcat will serve you well.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 165 lbs
Price: $3,400, $1,700 frame only
Sizes: S,M,L (tested), XL