It has happened and we’re not particularly surprised: Niner Bikes is now offering 27plus models in addition to its steadfast dedication to 29ers. The new JET 9 RDO and RIP 9 RDO were also treated to suspension bump-ups. The JET frame is now 120 mm and will be paired with a 130 mm fork if set up as a 29er, and a 140 mm fork if set up 27plus. The RIP frame steps up to territory formerly occupied by the Niner WFO: 150 mm on the frame paired to a 160 mm fork (29er) or a whopping 170 mm fork on the 27plus.
Frame suspension on both bikes is provided by Niner’s Constantly Varying Arc (CVA) system. It’s a dual-link setup with linkages that rotate in opposite directions, allowing the rear suspension to react to pedaling and terrain independently. Niner claims CVA is fully active at all times by also harnessing chain tension to counteract squat and bob.
JET 9 RDO
The JET frame was completely re-designed with rear Boost spacing and using a carbon production process that “squeezes out excess resin during the molding process,” which supposedly allows for closer tolerances on tube thickness and a lighter frame weight as a result.
The bike had its chainstays stiffened and shortened to 434 mm. The seat tube angle is steeper (67.5 degrees). The frame will take a double chainring up front, or you can go all in and run the bike with electronic shifting. The bottom bracket is a good, old-fashioned 73 mm threaded job, and there’s a little window under the bottom bracket for servicing and installing cables (which, evidenced by the photo, are not all run completely internally—a good thing, in our opinion).
A total of eight builds are available in either black or yellow: four builds for each of the wheel sizes so you can take your pick and not sacrifice anything else. MSRP ranges from $4,500 (Shimano SLX, RockShox Pike RC Solo) to $9,500 (SRAM Eagle, FOX 34 Float Factory Fit4, ENVE M60 wheels). All builds come with a dropper post and Maxxis Rekon (front) and Ikon tires (rear). The bike starts shipping in August.
RIP 9 RDO
The new RIP’s rear Boost spacing helps keep its chainstays short (439 mm) while providing for plenty of mud clearance around your 29×2.5 DH tires, should you want them. The frame also sports a 67-degree head tube angle and a 75.5 degree seat tube angle.
The RIP frame is compatible with 1x drivetrains, only, but shares its sibling’s 73 mm threaded bottom bracket shell, underbelly window for cable servicing and remove-the-excess carbon layup process. As with most new bikes in this category, Niner opted for a long top tube mated to a short stem. The 29er versions get a Boost fork.
A total of eight builds are available in either black or orange: four builds for each of the wheel sizes just like the JET. MSRP ranges from $4,700 (Shimano SLX, RockShox Lyric RC Solo Air) to $9,800 (SRAM Eagle XO1, FOX 36 Float Factory Fit, ENVE M70 wheels). All builds come with a dropper post and Maxxis tires (2.8 on the plus bikes, but they will take up to 3-inch meats). The bike starts shipping in August.
Tester: Justin Steiner | Height: 5’7” | Weight: 165 lbs. | Insteam: 31”
Bike sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL | Price: $4,899
Polygon is a name much more well known outside the United States. Unless you follow World Cup DH racing, where you’ve surely seen Tracey and Mick Hannah rocking Polygon’s Collosus DHX race bike, you might not be terribly familiar with the brand. Polygon is working to increase awareness now that they’re distributing bikes consumer direct within the United States.
The Collosus N-series bikes target all-mountain and enduro riders with a carbon frame and swingarm providing 160 mm of rear travel paired with a 160 mm-travel fork. Polygon’s FS3 suspension system is a dual-link design that mounts the Fox Float X shock in a floating fashion between the upper and lower linkages.
The 2015 model year N8 being reviewed here retails for $4,899 plus shipping while the 2016 model will retail for $4,699. At this asking price you get a nice parts package that includes a Shimano XT 2×10 drivetrain and brakes (XT 1×11 drivetrain for 2016), Spank Oozy 27.5-inch wheels and a Fox 34 TALAS with CTD remote (Fox 36 TALAS for 2016).
It took me a little while to warm up to the Collosus. Mostly due to the laid-back 72-degree seat tube angle that yields a more rearward weight bias and behind-the-pedals riding position compared to new-school offerings like Kona’s Process line and Santa Cruz’s recent releases. Once acclimated, things began to fall into place.
While certainly not steep, the Collosus’ 66.3-degree headtube angle is on the steeper end for a bike in this category. Those angles combined with a 23.2-inch top tube on a medium result in a front center over an inch shorter than a Nomad. Another big influence on feel and handling is the bike’s tall 14.2-inch bottom bracket, which is approaching a full inch taller than the Nomad and a whopping 1.5 inches taller than the Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail I was also riding at the time (in gravity mode).
Combined with the short-ish 17-inch chainstays, the Polygon is quicker and more neutral in its handling than many of the other bikes in this category. On non-aggressive trail rides, this neutral handling was a boon. In the bike park, it felt lively and snappy, but the tall bottom bracket hindered cornering. At race-pace during a particularly gnarly enduro, I could envision yearning for more stability.
With the rear suspension set to 30 percent sag, the Collosus offered supple small-bump compliance. On trail rides, I often ran the bike in the shock’s Trail mode to provide additional mid-stroke support. In Descend mode it often ventured further into the mid-stroke a bit more than I prefer. In stock form the rear suspension felt a little too linear in some big-hit situations. Hard-charging and heavier riders may want to experiment with adding an air volume spacer to the Float X.
One letdown to an otherwise solid package is the previous generation Fox 34 fork. Its damping and stiffness were simply not able to keep pace. For me, the bike really came alive after swapping in SR Suntour’s redesigned Durolux fork. The Fox 36 fork spec’d on the 2016 model will be a big improvement.
A second issue involves the rear swingarm, which doesn’t offer a ton of tire clearance and isn’t the stiffest I’ve ridden. Where does the Collosus fit in the market? There’s a lot of competition at this price point. If you’re a fan of bikes with long front centers and up-over-the-pedals-riding positions, the Collosus is not for you.
Ultimately, I feel this bike is best suited for folks looking for a long-travel bike that offers quicker handling and more rearward weight bias. If you’re the type of rider that likes big travel, but not necessarily longand- low shred sleds, the Collosus is right up your alley.
- Wheelbase: 44.9″
- Top Tube: 23.2″
- Head Angle: 66.3°
- Seat-Tube Angle: 72º
- Bottom Bracket: 14.2″
- Rear Center: 17″
- Weight: 30.2 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)
Tester: Eric McKeegan | Age: 41 | Height: 5’11” | Weight: 155 lbs. | Inseam: 32”
KTM isn’t the first name to come to mind when thinking of pedal bikes in the United States. We are more familiar with its motorized two-wheelers, and I’ll admit to looking lustfully at the KTM website, and wishing for an Adventure 690 to make it to market. But, until I got this Lycan LT to review, I didn’t realize KTM’s bicycle arm is over 50 years old and predates the motorcycle division. With a two-pronged dealer and consumer direct approach, KTM hopes to increase the visibility of the brand on this side of the pond.
The Lycan LT is a 160 mm trail/enduro bike with a hydroformed aluminum frame and linkage-driven, single-pivot rear suspension. Cable routing is internal in the main triangle, and external on the swing arm. The dropper routing is a little odd; internal through the top tube, and external to the post. Clean, but not compatible with stealth routing.
Bottom bracket is a Shimano-style pressfit, which seems to be a good middle ground between threaded and the much-maligned PF30 style. There is a second bottle mount under the downtube, and room for a big bottle inside the frame, a welcome touch. Geometry numbers are pretty standard, with a steeper-than-average, 66.5-degree head angle.
The parts kit is solid, with a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, Shimano XT brakes with finned pads and 180 mm rotors, and KTM-branded DT Swiss tubeless wheels. A 125 mm KS LEV DX dropper and Ritchey 760 bar and 50 mm stem are fine choices for the intended use. Fox’s 36 TALAS is a great choice for this bike, and really, any bike of this ilk.
Rear suspension is bob-free while seated, but needs a lot of platform when standing, often more than the shock could provide, even in Climb mode. It really feels like two different bikes when sitting and standing. The trade-off is excellent traction when climbing seated, and I had no issue keeping the Lycan on target and headed up. In a similar Jekyll and Hyde fashion, the Lycan LT can feel slow and cumbersome when poking around in the woods, but get some speed going and the bike really comes alive, revealing an unexpectedly lively nature.
The suspension was easy to predict when loading it up to pop off trail features, and loved being tossed around. Frame stiffness is on point, but rear tire clearance could use some help; the stock Schwalbe Rock Razor 2.35 had been swapped out for a Michelin Wild Race’R 2.25 before I got the bike due to a tight fit.
The 23.9-inch toptube (17.3-inch reach) is on the short side of things for a large frame these days, but overall it fit in fine with the rest of the geometry.
For the price, the Lycan is fine deal for an aluminum frame with mostly high end parts, and KTM has a couple of cheaper models for those looking to spend less: the 272 at $4,200 and the 273 at $3,990.
This KTM is worth checking out if you’re shopping for a bike that offers a modern climbing position combined with geometry that’s more nimble than many of the popular 160 mm bikes. Or, for riders who don’t want to show up at the trailhead on the same bike as everyone else. Or, maybe you just want the same nameplate on your dirt bike and pedal bike. The Lycan LT is a good fit for any or all of those things.
- Wheelbase: 44.9″
- Top Tube: 23.9″
- Head Angle: 66.5°
- Seat-Tube Angle: 74.5°
- Bottom Bracket: 13.5″
- Rear Center: 17.2″
- Weight: 28.2 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)
- Sizes: 17”, 19” (tested), 21”
- Price (as tested): $6,490
- More info: ktmbikeindustries.com
For a while there, the patient was touch-and-go. Assets were on the operating table. Little passion was moving through its blood. After its sale to BST Nano Carbon in late 2014, Ellsworth looked like it might not pull through. The 2015 lineup wasn’t released at all.
“We weren’t dead,” joked company founder Tony Ellsworth. “We were fermenting.”
Then, as it has done many times before, Ellsworth came roaring back to life—just in time for its 25th anniversary—with a new owner supplying much-needed capital and Tony Ellsworth still at the helm. Despite not having bikes in dealer showrooms, the team never stopped engineering, and for 2016 it has an all-new lineup with clean-slate designs built around its classic Instant Center Tracking linkage system.
A four-bar design, ICT is similar to the Horst-link design used by many brands, but it keeps the virtual pivot point in line with the chain forces, thus preventing drivetrain input to affect the suspension. Because of this, Ellsworth says, it runs a much softer tune on its Fox shocks, allowing the suspension to remain much more active during pedaling or braking.
The centerpiece of the new lineup is the Epiphany. Combining the traits of several previous models, the 2016 version is available in two frame materials and three wheel sizes. The 27.5 versions have 140 mm travel and are built for 150 mm forks, while the 27plus (pictured) and 29er versions have 120 mm of travel and 130 mm forks. To further differentiate the attitude, the aluminum bikes have a much slacker head tube angle for a more gravity-oriented ride.
All the bikes use identical ICT systems with smaller rockers that Ellsworth admits were slimmed down based on customer feedback that the massive rocker links of the past looked outdated. All the models also use a 148×12 Boost rear axle with hex-shaped ends that lock into the frame to prevent twisting. Making everything as stiff as possible can only improve the performance of the suspension, Ellsworth says.
Each of the Epiphany models will be available in a frame-only or in six spec levels, starting at $3,895 for the aluminum 27.5 and 29-inch models and $3,995 for the 27plus.
The new lineup also includes the Moment and Dare, which share a frame but are built into either 160 mm all-mountain bikes in the case of the former, or 200 mm downhill bikes for the latter. That same frame can also be set to 180 mm for freeride or bike park use. Switching travel isn’t as simple as flipping a shock mount chip though, so don’t plan to do it trail-side.
Other new models include a carbon hardtail Enlightenment in both 27.5 and 29er flavors, and the Buddha fat bike.
While the bikes aren’t entirely made in America, Ellsworth says it still prides itself on having one of the highest percentage of American-made content in its bikes in the industry. The carbon frames are made overseas but the aluminum frames as well as the rocker links and chainstays are made in the U.S.
This is Dirt Rag’s second year doing an official “Editor’s Choice.” With editorial staff of all shapes and sizes, spread out all over the country, we can’t just pick one product per category and call it the best.
Also notice our timing. While we could do this in the early spring, how much ride time do you think those early season awards are based on, if any at all? Waiting until the end of the year allows us to consider all the products we’ve used.
And finally, notice not all these products have been reviewed (some we’ve shelled out our own money for), nor are they all from our advertisers. We’re doing our best to be honest with our selections here, and each one is deserving of its award on its own merits. While you can buy us a beer, you can’t buy our editors.
Keep reading for the mountain bikes we chose from Scott, Trek, Evil and Guerrilla Gravity, plus a bonus choice from Trek that’s not exactly a mountain bike but is still worth your time. Stay tuned for a revealing of the components and soft goods we liked best.
As trail bikes mature they’ve become my go-to bikes away from the racecourse, a place I’m “away from” a lot these days. In this category Scott’s Genius with 29-inch wheels and 130 mm of travel is a standout in form and function: quick enough for hard cross-country riding, with geometry, rider position and suspension travel designed for extremely capable descending prowess as well.
Features include a TwinLoc handlebar remote that toggles the Fox fork and shock through Climb, Trail and Descend modes and also decreases travel down to 90 mm in Climb. I’ve never been a huge fan of one remote to control both, but the TwinLoc works incredibly well—mostly because Fox’s bits and the rear suspension design are so effective.
I became a convert, poking at the lever almost as much as the rear shifter. A small shock-mount chip can be flipped to change head angle and bottom-bracket height so you can do a bit of customizing depending on trail conditions.
As an overall package the Genius is easily one of the most fun bikes I’ve ridden this year no matter the terrain, be it quickly climbing mountain singletrack or ripping my way back down. When it comes to just being a mountain bike for all occasions, this is what I’d choose as my go-anywhere, do-it-all trail companion.
Genius model prices range from $8,700 for the carbon wonder bike shown here down to $3,000 for an aluminum-framed version including TwinLoc Fox Nude shock and chip-adjustable geometry.
More info: scott-sports.com
The previous generation Stache was Trek’s attempt at a rowdy hardtail, but it was lukewarm at best. This one is quite the opposite: a bold move with wheel size and geometry I haven’t seen in years from a large bike manufacturer.
Elevated chainstays aren’t something you see on a hardtail these days; this one was originally just an engineering exercise to play with geometry. But that short-chainstay prototype rode so well that even in the face of a 27plus onslaught, the Stache made it to production.
Its 29plus wheels offer a distinct ride experience, and the geometry of the Stache keeps the ride closer to trophy truck than monster truck. A Stache might not win any races—it’s too heavy for cross-country, not fat enough for fat bike races and doesn’t have enough travel for enduro—but that doesn’t matter one bit. This is the most fun bike I rode this year, and fun is where it’s at.
More info: trekbikes.com
Former Art Director
Evil has been riding a wave of kick-ass this year. The revitalization of the brand has been fueled mostly by the success and universal love for The Following. This 29er is a prime example of what progressive-geometry, big-wheel bikes with trail characteristics should be about. I was so convinced that I bought one sight unseen and couldn’t be happier with my purchase.
Dave Weagle’s patented DELTA (Dave’s Extra Legitimate Travel Apparatus) suspension gives its 120 mm rear end a bottomless feel while providing efficient power transfer on climbs. The large, one-piece swingarm creates a very stiff frame that is nimble and confident. This bike continues to win over 29er naysayers, but Kevin Walsh, the CEO of Evil, says they’re just getting started. “The brand hasn’t even been officially launched,” he says. Expect more from Evil soon.
Price: Complete builds $4,999 or $6,599
More info: evil-bikes.com
General Manager and Photographer
Riding test bikes can be a fickle endeavor. Sometimes I connect instantly with one, other times the relationship doesn’t have the same spark. From my first few pedal strokes aboard Guerrilla Gravity’s Megatrail, I was smitten.
Excellent suspension kinematics, aggressive geometry and an up-over-the-pedals riding position put a huge smile on my face. Add in easy-to-swap suspension travel and geometry adjustment and this bike goes from aggressive trail slayer to bike-park shredder. It’s stiff, responsive and very well engineered.
The icing on the cake is Guerrilla Gravity’s commitment to creating jobs through domestic manufacturing in Denver. Sure, in this world of sexy carbon wonder bikes, the Megatrail’s aluminum construction may seem a little pedestrian, but don’t let that fool you. This is one fine steed. Stay tuned for a long-term review in our next issue.
Price: $1,925 frame only (no shock), $3,995 and up for complete bikes, $4,475 as shown
More info: ridegg.com
Here at Dirt Rag we take product evaluations seriously, and when we put our name behind an editor’s choice it has to mean something. The bikes that earn this distinction require more saddle time than just an afternoon of riding. For this reason I almost didn’t name a bike as my Editor’s Choice this year. The bikes that I rode for long-term evaluations were all fun and reliable, but none bonded with me in a way that made me want to elope with them to Whistler and never return.
I’m also the editor of our sister magazine, Bicycle Times, where we cover touring, commuting, gravel, that sort of thing. I put a ton of miles on the Trek 920, and I came away really impressed with its versatility and fun factor. Sure, it has drop bars, but underneath its touring-bike appearance is a host of mountain-bike technology.
Is it a mountain bike? Not really. But I’m guessing your riding often took you beyond singletrack trails this year, and when mine did I hopped aboard the Trek 920.
More info: trekbikes.com
Bellingham, Washington-based Canfield Brothers has launched its redesigned 2016 Balance, a 165-millimeter all-mountain bike drawing heavily from the company’s downhill heritage. Now in its third generation, the Balance combines gravity oriented geometry with the patented Canfield Balance Formula™ suspension.
“Long before the enduro craze, we had our own idea of what an all-mountain bike should be—just as capable of flagrant disregard for line choice and taking big hits in stride as it is of getting you to the top under your own power,” said Lance Canfield, co-owner and designer.
The Balance is built around the Canfield Balance Formula™ suspension, a design intended to balance the suspension’s center of curvature and chainline forces within a precise radius, reportedly resulting in virtually 100-percent anti-squat that is not sag dependent.
“What that means for the rider is you’ll have the most efficient pedaling possible, regardless of where your sag is set,” explained Chris Canfield, co-owner and designer. “So if you like to run more sag for better downhill performance, you’re not going to be sacrificing anything on the ups. If anything, you’ll have even better traction and bump compliance without unwanted pedal bob.”
When it debuted a decade ago, the original Balance was one of the first freeride rigs capable of earning its turns. The Balance was resurrected in 2014 as an efficient all-rounder but, for 2016, the all-new Balance is re-engineered with longer travel and a lower leverage ratio for more consistent, smooth travel under hard riding, and a more progressive end stroke to swallow big hits. An all-new CNCed upper link increases stiffness, while a redesigned rear triangle improves tire clearance.
The frame is built around 27.5-inch (650b) wheels with a 65-degree head angle and 16.5-inch (419-millimeter) chainstays.
The 2016 Balance is available in S, M, L and XL now at CanfieldBrothers.com in polished raw and black anodizing. It ships with a Cane Creek Double Barrel Air CS for $2,099 USD. Frame, fork and component packages also available.
Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition
How far can a short-travel trail bike take you? From Issue #187
We are at an interesting point in the technological advances in mountain bikes. For years the idea was always more. More travel, more gears, more bigger wheels. But now we’ve started to dial things back: Single ring drivetrains, 27.5 wheels, shorter travel trail bikes, gravity riders dumping full blown downhill racers for 160 mm trail bikes that can climb.
With scenes of “Top Gear”, “Road Kill” and “Junkyard Wars” challenges floating in my head, the One Bike Challenge was conceived. Could a spoiled bike media guy be happy on one bike for three very different big events? Would I have fun? Would I spend the whole time thinking about bikes I’d rather be riding? Would I decide to give up riding for water polo? Let’s see what happens.
Bikepacking: A self-contained bikepacking trip in Pennsylvania on a mix of pavement, dirt roads and technical singletrack
Endurance: The Wilderness 101, a brutal 100-mile race with 10,000 feet of climbing and rocks everywhere in central Pennsylvania
Gravity: Chomolungma Challenge, a 20-lap downhill race at Snowshoe bike park in West Virginia, totaling 30,000 feet of descending
The Bike: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition
Almost all the bikes on the shortlist were in the 120 to 130 mm travel range, and all were 29ers. My logic? Since the bikepacking and endurance segments of this challenge would be where the majority of my saddle time would take place, the larger wheels have been my go to for that type of stuff for over a decade now. Also, bigger wheels can help make up for shorter travel when things get fast and chunky.
Slowly, each of my initial selections were crossed of the list for various reasons. Some brands were about introduce an improved model that wouldn’t be ready in time. Some were so popular companies prioritized dealers and consumers over media when bikes were scarce. Some never bothered to return my calls or emails.
So I cast a wider net and started to consider the wide range of 27.5 wheeled bikes. It didn’t take long to hone in on the Thunderbolt in B.C. Edition trim. Strong wheels, Pike fork, adjustable geometry. Rocky Mountian was agreeable to the challenge, and I was in business.
Rocky’s BC Edition moniker refers to hot-rodded versions of existing bikes based on employees’ customization of stock bikes to make them more capable on the famous trails in British Columbia. The stock Thunderbolt is a capable 120 mm trail bike, and the BC Edition drops in a 130 mm RockShox Pike fork, NoTubes Flow wheelset, 2.4-inch Maxxis Ardent EXO-casing tires, a wider bar/shorter stem and single-ring drivetrain.
Full disclosure: I did swap the wheels out for a set of the new Easton Heist 27.5 wheels, and the RockShox Reverb dropper post for a 9Point8 Fall Line dropper. Since both the stock wheelset and dropper are so well proven, I took the opportunity to test some new products.
Rocky utilizes its Smoothlink suspension design for the Thunderbolt (and all other full-suspension bikes in its lineup). Smoothlink is a four-bar system with the pivot above the rear axle, rather than below in Horst-link style. The Thunderbolt uses a full complement of bushings (not ball-bearings) at all pivots. A new collet system keeps the main pivot tight, and grease ports all-around keep maintenance time at a minimum.
Its Ride-9 System adjusts both geometry and suspension progression. With nine different settings, this is a tinker’s dream or a Luddite’s nightmare. I think most riders will either leave it where the shop sets it or experiment until a favorite setting is found and not touch it again.
The frame is fully carbon, with internal routing for the dropper and derailleur cables, and the rear brake hose is external.
Since I have hand-pain issues on long days, I swapped out the stock 760 mm bars for some 28-degree Fouriers Trailhead alt-bars and a longer stem. I installed lighter tires and a thicker WTB Vigo saddle, along with bags from Carousel Design Works, Blackburn and Porcelain Rocket to carry my gear. I really wanted to retain the use of my dropper post, so I strapped a Thule Pack ’n Pedal rack to the seatstays, leaving plenty of room for the seat to drop. I set the suspension in the middle setting, figuring the most neutral handling would be the best for bikepacking.
My trip was a loosely planned route that covered a lot of rarely used logging/fracking roads, rocky hiking trails and plenty of paved back roads. The trip started with a steady four-mile paved climb where I appreciated the firmest Lock setting on the RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair shock.
The voyage was surprisingly without much fanfare, and this trail bike handled it all with surprising grace. Pedal mode on both the shock and fork helped to control the additional sprung weight added by the camping gear.
I really wasn’t expecting the ride-all-day comfort provided by the Thunderbolt, but it delivered with a combination of efficient pedaling, comfortable geometry and a playful attitude. The ride ended with a descent down that same four-mile climb, and even with bags I was able to relax on the bike; there was no weird shimmy, headshake or wobble from the front end. In fact, I was able to ride no-handed at speeds well over 20 mph, something rare even on dedicated touring rigs.
The Wilderness 101 is a very hard race. And I didn’t find the time to do much training. By the time I hit mile 40, I was spent. But even after I was offered a friendly ride back to camp from aid station 3, I decided to continue. I had an article to write, and dropping out was less interesting that sticking to it. I downed handfuls of whatever looked tasty at the aid station and walked up the next hill (and many more after that), but I finished.
I lowered the stem by 10 mm and swapped to a WTB Volt saddle, other than that, my endurance setup was the same as bikepacking, minus the bags. I had cross-country tires to install, but after much frustration, I realized they weren’t tubeless and gave up and reinstalled the sturdy, but slow-rolling combo I used for bikepacking.
On the many miles of dirt roads, the Thunderbolt was very efficient, although I missed the way 29er wheels roll on the road, particularly when trying to hang on to the back of a paceline. In the rocks the nimble geometry was a blast; the steeper the decent, the happier I was.
This event was where the Thunderbolt felt most at home to me, which isn’t surprising, as the 101 is very much like a typical mountain-bike ride, just longer.
I took on the Chomolungma Challenge a few years ago, but that was on a real downhill bike. This was the event I was most worried about. A few bad choices here can mean a few months off the bike.
Due to deadline timing, I wasn’t able to take part in the actual race, but I did my best to reenact the conditions. After a warm up lap on each of the two tracks used for the event on a 160 mm bike, I then dropped in on the Thunderbolt. After a few laps of the Pro downhill track, I think I realized what makes the Thunderbolt such a great bike: It’s up for almost anything, including laps of a real downhill track. Good tires helped with this, and the Schwalbe Muddy Mary and Rock Razor with Super Gravity casings allowed me to attack the rocks with more confidence than I expected for a short travel bike.
After a few laps of the pro downhill track, I realized what makes the Thunderbolt such a great bike: It’s up for almost anything, including laps of a real downhill track. Good tires helped with this, and the Schwalbe Magic Mary and Rock Razor with Super Gravity casings allowed me to attack the rocks with more confidence than I expected for a short-travel bike.
I ran the Ride-9 chip in the slackest setting, never futzed with the suspension setting all day, and was highly impressed with the bottom-out resistance of the rear suspension.
But, unlike riding a true downhill bike, instead of dialing in the lines as the day progressed on the Pro course, I started to get sloppier and sloppier, so I swapped to the other track, which was more jumpy, but still had plenty to keep me on my toes, including a long section of baby heads that I remember as torture by the end of the race. I felt much more in control here, but after stopping for lunch, I realized I wasn’t that interested in just banging out laps to just bang out laps. Instead I hit up some of the trails on the Basin side of the mountain, and finished the day with a handful of trips down the Skyline jump trail. I came up short of a full 20 laps by about five, but I’ll was still having fun when I quit for the day, so I put this down as a success.
Changes and Adjustments
Bikepacking: I’d get a custom frame pack to get some water weight off my back. Even with a good backpack, I was uncomfortable pretty quickly with most of my food and water on my back.
Endurance: I’d be sure I was prepared with better cross-country tires. Something that rolled more quickly would have been a huge boost, even if it was mostly just mental.
Downhill: I’d find more time beforehand to tune the suspension. The Pike, which felt great on the trail, bottomed out regularly in the bike park, which coud be remedied with another Bottomless Token in the air chamber.
One-Bike Challenge Conclusion
Was it a success? Absolutely. I had a lot of fun at these events, although my idea of fun might be on the masochistic side of things for some riders. But all that aside, I was highly impressed with what this bike could do, and expect with more time and more tuning it could be even better. While having a quiver of bikes is always going to be more fun for most people, a single mountain bike these days is a hell of a tool for a variety of riding.
Thunderbolt Final Thoughts
At its core, this is a simple bike. Short travel, subdued graphics and a parts spec that is more about getting the job done than impressing your buddies at the trailhead. But dig deeper and this is one of the most versatile bikes on the market today. While setting up adjustable geometry and suspension settings can be tedious, a rider looking for specific handling characteristics, or one that falls outside the standard weight range can find a happy place here.
To me, this is almost perfect trail-bike geometry: A short rear end, longer front-center and a low-ish bottom bracket combined with a slack head angle are the key ingredients to a bike that can carve and pop and rumble. This is one of my favorite-handling bikes, ever. I love long rides on unfamiliar terrain, and that might be where this one is most at home: efficient enough to ride all day, but with enough handling in reserve to save a few bad line choices on some unexpected chutes.
What complaints I can muster are few. The rear suspension wasn’t the most plush on square-edged hits, but this is only a 120 mm rear end. The air valve is difficult reach with most shock pumps when in the slackest setting, making suspension tuning tedious. No ISCG tabs means no chainguide. On the positive front, this frame fully supports a front derailleur, the internal routing is dialed, and those grease ports on the pivots are awesome.
This review is the hardest test we’ve ever put a bike through, testing its abilities at the edges and even past its intended purposes. The Thunderbolt was part steady friend, part happy puppy and part secret lover. Whether you are after your own “one bike” or just one of the most fun and versatile trail bikes on the market, the Thunderbolt BC Edition is often just the right amount of bike for the job.
- Price: $6,400
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L (tested), XL
- More info: bikes.com