Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Van Nicholas Zion 29

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By John Herron

I’ve ridden my share of XC wünderbikes over the last 20 years, but I wasn’t familiar with Van Nicholas, or its line of titanium bikes. Without much of an American dealer presence, the Dutch company relies on its website for selling to most of the United States, which left me to ponder: Can you reach Ti Nirvana from a dropdown menu?

From first sight, there was no denying the Zion’s sexy brushed Ti finish and high-end appearance. Clean welds, subtle tube bending and ovalization, all within a reported frame weight of 3.25 lbs. The Zion passes the wünderbike sniff test. The Van Nicholas website offers a very nice interface, allowing users to pick parts while watching weight and price change on the fly. There are many build options, including a carbon fork, which was also provided for review.

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Our Shimano XT build test bike clocked in at a respectable 24.2 pounds while those with deep pockets could opt for a sub-20 pound dual-rigid XTR bike. The frame alone retails for $1,950, if you want to build one up yourself. Frame geometry sports a 71.5 degree head angle and 73 degree seat tube angle, which bucks the growing trend toward slacker head tubes, but is in line with its XC intentions. The design employs a typical bending downtube and seat tube for extra clearance, and a compact wheelbase with 17.3-inch chainstays.

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed nearly a full season on the Zion. With wide bars and a sloping top tube, I was in a comfortable, but attack-ready position. I appreciated the tallish 12.8-inch bottom bracket, which helped keep pedal strikes to a minimum and allowed me to keep most of the teeth on the big ring over the very rocky trails I ride. It’s a light and very responsive 29er, ready to race with either the 80mm RockShox SID, or rigid carbon fork.

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For tight and twisty trails the handling matched the terrain well, but the bike was twitchy when descending quickly. I did miss rear suspension on extended rough straightaways, where rear wheel chatter made it difficult to stay on the gas. However, I did not miss the extra weight of full suspension and I loved the efficiency of the frame.

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I thought I’d never go back to a hardtail, much less fully rigid, but I found myself reaching for the Zion over my full squishy XC bike well after the review period. Even as the ground started to firm with cold weather, the titanium frame took the edge off smaller stutter bumps. I was pleasantly surprised that switching to the rigid carbon fork didn’t result in the jolting ride I remembered from my aluminum frame and fork, circa 1993.

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This is an XC bike so I kept bigger jumps and high-speed descents off the menu, especially when I swapped to the 650g carbon fork. This 29er is perfect for clearing low-speed rock farms, cutting through rolling pines and climbing steep ups with traction to spare. My only issue with the Zion 29er is a lack of rear tire clearance keeps tire options under 2.3. Low psi tubeless tires can make up for some of the lacking traction and air volume.

The Van Nicholas is a high-spirited speedster. At $4,600, this isn’t a budget hardtail, but it’s considerably less than a truly custom American- made status symbol. If you lean toward off-the-rack bike sizes and are looking for a great looking racer, then Ti Nirvana could be a few simple clicks away.

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Vital stats

  • Wheelbase 43.3 inches / 1,101mm
  • Top Tube 24.2 inches / 615mm
  • Head Angle 71.5 degrees
  • Seat Tube Angle 73 degrees
  • Bottom Bracket 12.8 inches / 325mm
  • Chainstay Length 17.3 inches / 440mm 
  • Weight 24.2 pounds / 10.98kg
  • Sizes 15.5”, 17.5”, 19” (tested), 21”
  • Price  $4,600
  • Made in China

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Note: This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag #168. To see the latest content, order a subscription and never miss an issue.

 

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