By Justin Steiner
Turner Bicycles lays claim to offering the world’s first production downhill bike, so it’s no surprise David Turner continues to push the limits of production race bikes. After all, the downhill market has evolved substantially since 1996 when Turner’s Afterburner delivered a whopping 3.6” of rear wheel travel.
With the 2011 release of the DHR, short for downhill racer (surprise!), Turner is again on the forefront of DH race bike evolution. This third generation of the DHR is redefining what it means to be slack, low and long with a 63° headtube angle, a 342.9mm (13.5”) unsagged bottom bracket, and 1188.72mm (46.8”) wheelbase on my size medium test bike. There certainly are many bikes on the market offering one or two of these characteristics, but few offer such an aggressive combination. Turner wanted to be on the leading edge of what he sees as the trend toward lower and slacker bikes. “We wanted an aggressive bike, the dw-link allowed [us] to go more aggressive than in the past,” says Turner.
In 2009 Turner partnered with suspension guru Dave Weagle to move all of their bikes over to the dw-link suspension design. Like all dw-link bikes, the 210mm-travel DHR utilizes the dw-link’s position sensitive anti-squat characteristics to resist suspension bob while pedaling. This anti-squat characteristic is critical to running such a low bottom bracket. When hard on the gas, the DHR doesn’t compress through its travel like the previous generation single-pivot DHR. According to Turner, when riding the same course, he has less pedal strikes on the new DHR than he did with the older bike, despite lowering the bottom bracket by approximately 10mm.
This ‘Merican-made beauty is manufactured for Turner by Sapa Extrusions of Portland, Oregon. Turner has a long history with Sapa, who recently announced they will no longer produce bicycle frames. Sapa will fulfill Turner’s orders through 2012. For 2013 production will be moving to a new, yet to be announced, facility.
The DHR’s aluminum frame features all of the standard gravity inter- faces: 83mm BB, ISCG 05 tabs, a straight 1.5” headtube, and a nice house- made 150x12mm rear axle. Keeping your handlebars low is made easy by the short, 100mm headtube (on my size medium test bike).
Frame construction is top-notch, with beautiful welds, pretty gussets, clean cable routing and a very burly, industrial-looking suspension system. The CNC’d latticework shock tower uprights are a thing of beauty. Turner prioritized a low center of gravity and mass centralization in the DHR de- sign, resulting in the low-slung shock, cradled within the one-piece forged upper suspension link. This placement means the shock is subjected to any and all nastiness when trail conditions are less than optimal. This was not an issue during my test, and a simple tube fender quelled my concerns.
Though all other Turner bikes utilize bushings at the pivots, the DHR employs Enduro Max ball bearings, which provide better rigidity and durability within the tight space available. The DHR retains Turner’s signature Zerk grease injection fittings, so it’s easy to keep the pivots bathed in fresh grease. The bearings are protected behind mud/dust covers, which thread out with a cassette lockring tool. Despite some pretty sloppy conditions during the test period—and repeated pressure washing—the grease in the bearings looks as good as new.
Swing a leg over the DHR and the first thing you’ll notice is that the front wheel is way out in front of you—talk about a long front center. Despite, or rather due to, this initial perception, I felt like I was experiencing something pretty special from my first run on the DHR. The confidence gained from that long front center is outstanding.
Once up to speed, the aggressive geometry doesn’t feel nearly as un- orthodox as you might imagine. The DHR certainly likes to be cranked into turns, but not drastically more than a steeper DH bike. Those with a moderate amount of DH bike experience will quickly adjust to the DHR.
Suspension action felt fantastic at the recommended settings on the Fox DHX RC4 shock. It’s very plush and supple in the rough stuff, yet snappy under power, thanks to the dw-link’s anti squat characteristics. The DHR’s progressive spring curve ramps up at the end of the stroke, requiring very little Boost Valve assist to control bottom out. With additional saddle time, I added a few clicks of additional high-speed compression damping, a few more clicks of rebound damping to better deal with big hits, and decreased the volume of the Boost Valve to provide a touch more progression toward the end of stroke.
With those settings in place the DHR’s suspension nicely matched the ride of the Fox 40 fork. Small bump sensitivity was excellent, and I’m guess- ing it would have been even better with a Kashima RC4. Large hits were dissipated with nary a whimper. The progressive spring curve offers ample end of stroke control, always encouraging you to hit things harder. Despite this bike’s suppleness it remained playful and poppy when kicking trail obstacles or hitting jump lips. Braking traction was also superb, even through rough, chattery terrain.
And what of that low BB? I had no issue keeping my pedals up out of harm’s way, despite riding and racing in some very rocky terrain. The dw-link works as advertised, allowing for a lower, more stable, carvier bike with no additional pedal strikes. The aggressive geometry also helped by allowing me to carry more momentum through rough sections, minimizing inopportune pedaling.
Reports of World Cup racers running very slack setups makes total sense after riding the DHR. This bike is just hitting its stride when other bikes feel close to their limits.
The DHR is a race bike first and foremost. There’s no compromise in this bike’s mission to broaden its appeal to the bike park crowd. While it is still fun in a park setting, it’s ultimately all about speed and control, not tailwhips and supermans.
The DHR is best suited to experienced racers looking to step up to an extremely competent bike. The cost will push the DHR out of reach of many weekend warriors, but those who take the plunge on a quality USA-made product won’t be disappointed. Hand’s down, the DHR is my favorite long-term DH test bike to date. I’m faster and more confident on this bike.
- Wheelbase 46.8” / 1188mm
- Head Angle 63°
- Seat Tube Angle 72°
- Bottom Bracket 13.4” / 340mm
- Chainstay Length 17.4" / 441mm
- Weight 38.75lbs / 17.58kg
- Sizes S, M (tested), L, XL
- Price $3,195 (frame), $6,800 (as tested)
- Made in USA