Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Kona Process 153


Kona Process 153-1

Tester: Justin Steiner
Age: 33, Height: 5’7″, Weight: 165 lbs., Inseam: 31”
Bike price: $5,000
Sizes: M, (tested) L, XL

Kona first launched the Process lineup in 2013 for the 2014 model year. Since then, we’ve reviewed and revered both the 29 inch Process 111 (issue #178) and the 27.5 inch Process 134 (issue #184). Based on those positive experiences, I was stoked to see what the Process 153 has to offer.

Where the Process 111 and 134 target the trail category, the 153 presents a burlier option for riders on the enduro and all-mountain end of the spectrum. Suspension travel is 153 mm at the rear wheel, damped by a Monarch Plus RC3. A 160 mm RockShox Pike holds down the fort up front.

Kona Process 153-4

When the Process bikes were announced, they were on the bleeding edge of the longer, lower and slacker new-school geometry movement we’ve seen gain traction in the years since. As geometry trends progress, the once-extreme geometry of the Process bikes now largely represents the new normal. In no way is that a bad thing though, the market has largely just caught up to the Process bikes in the three years since their introduction. That said, Kona will be subtly revising the Process’ geometry for the 2017 model year.

In this day and age of making everything out of carbon fiber, the Process bikes represent a bit of an outlier in terms of their aluminum construction. Though this move doesn’t necessarily make for a terribly light bike, I’m always impressed by how well aluminum bikes, particularly those with aluminum rims, communicate what’s happening at the tires’ contact patches. I’m not 100 percent certain why that is, but here’s my theory: Without the inherent vibration damping qualities of carbon, the sensory connection simply feels more direct.

Kona Process 153-7

As you might expect, this DL model checks the proper boxes with solid parts spec all around. The SRAM X1/X01 drivetrain provides reliable locomotion and ample gearing range for most situations. In mountain country, I’d likely drop down from the 32-tooth chainring to a 30-tooth ‘ring to provide a slightly easier gearing range.

For years, Shimano brakes represented the gold standard in terms of reliable braking, but the latest generation XT and XTR brakes have been a little bit of a hiccup for the company. We have word that Shimano has recently fixed the issues once and for all, but the brakes on this bike exhibit the migrating engagement point that we’ve noted on a handful of brake sets. This, however, should not be an issue on future Process models.

The KS Lev Integra dropper post operated flawlessly through the test period, and I really dig the ergonomics of the company’s Southpaw remote. The other notable parts spec is WTB’s new Asym i35 rims front and rear. These wide (35 mm internal width) rims provided an awesomely stable platform for the 2.3 inch Minion DHF tires. The rim’s asymmetrical design also goes a long way toward equalizing spoke tension.

Kona Process 153-3

Speaking of wheels, it’s worth noting that the Process line was launched before 148 mm hub spacing was anything more than a twinkle in an engineer’s eye. So no 148 mm spacing or plus tire compatibility here.

The 153’s head tube angle clocks in at 66.5 degrees, the bottom bracket sits 13.4 inches off the deck and the wheelbase measures a rangy 45.7 inches, despite short 16.7 inch chainstays. The resulting 29 inch front center measurement provides a lot of stability at speed and in steep terrain. The steep-ish 74 degree seat tube angle and long top tube yield a 17.1 inch reach on my medium test bike, which provides a weight forward climbing position that helps to keep the front wheel down and tracking up hill.

Even though my maiden voyage aboard the Process occurred on unfamiliar trails, I was immediately comfortable on the bike, and it quickly encouraged exploring the limits. Like most bikes in this category, the Process is a very capable machine. The long front center provides stability that belies the 66.5 degree headtube angle, making it feel as though it were slacker, but without the slow-speed wheel fl op that comes along with slacker angles. The front end stability is nicely balanced by the responsiveness of the short chainstays, which whip nicely around corners and greatly ease lofting the front wheel.

Kona Process 153-5

The Process’ suspension performance was impressive. The rear suspension is stable and well-damped under pedaling forces, but remains responsive to small bumps while pedaling. Pointed down hill that same sense of chassis stability remains, but small and large bumps are dispatched with equal aptitude.

As you’d expect from the folks at Kona, the Process also handles big hits without breaking a sweat. The spring rate ramps up nicely to fend off bottom out without the rider even noticing. The travel o-ring indicated that I had used full travel, but I never felt a noticeable bottom out.

Kona Process 153-2

Regardless of the type of trails I was riding, the Process felt balanced and composed in all situations, from fast and rowdy descents in Pisgah National Forest to smooth and flowing trails in central Michigan. It never felt like overkill on the trail or left me wanting more capability. Sure, it may be overkill for tame trails, but even in those settings, the Process encourages you to hit the optional lines. When the going gets rowdy, the Process 153 really shines.

All in all, the Process 153 offers an impressive balance of capability and versatility. Whether it is your only bike, or the enduro bike of your quiver, it makes a compelling case for itself.

Kona Process 153 Details

  • Reach: 17.1”
  • Stack: 23.5”
  • Top Tube: 23.7”
  • Head Tube: 66.5°
  • Seat Tube: 74°
  • BB Height: 13.4”
  • Chainstays: 16.7”
  • Wheelbase: 45.7”
  • Weight: 30.0 lbs. (with 29” wheels) w/o pedals
  • Specs based on size tested
  • More info: Kona Process lineup

 

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Review: Santa Cruz Hightower CC


Hightower-1

Tester: Eric McKeegan
Age: 42 Height: 5’11”, Weight: 160 lbs., Inseam: 32”
Price: $2,899 frame; complete bikes from $4,599; $6,499 (tested)
Sizes: M, L (tested), XL 
More info: Santa Cruz Bicycles

Photos: Gary Perkin

Santa Cruz was very late to the 29er ballgame, but came out swinging with the Tallboy. That was soon followed by the Tallboy LT, a longer travel 29er aimed at the growing big wheel trail bike market. The LT was well-liked but quickly became dated as 29er trail bike geometry evolved and was quietly discontinued by Santa Cruz.

The Hightower is the entirely new replacement for the retired LT, and as such, deserved a new name. Hightower refers not to the guy from the “Police Academy” movies, but to the Santa Cruz demo guy Eric Highlander. Honestly, either one would have worked for me.

Hightower-4

The Bike

Other than sharing the same rear travel, 135 mm, the Hightower is entirely new. Taking a page from the Nomad, Bronson and 5010, the Hightower is a thoroughly modern trail bike. There are huge changes from the LT with geometry, starting with a head angle almost 3 degrees slacker, a seat tube angle 1.5 degrees steeper, reach growing 1.5 inches, and chainstays three-quarters of an inch shorter. Even the bottom bracket drops a quarter inch.

Hightower-5

What makes it even more modern is a frame design that allows enough clearance for 29 or 27plus wheels. To keep geometry mostly consistent (two-tenths of a degree) between the wheel sizes, Santa Cruz provides a small flip-chip and a 10 mm longer travel fork to change the geometry when swapping in the slightly shorter 27plus wheels.

Hightower-3

Unfortunately, one of the stock Rock-Shox Pike’s few shortcomings is the need to swap air spring shafts to adjust travel, so the only easy way to make the swap are a pair of forks in 140 mm for 29 and 150 mm for 27plus. Easy for a spoiled magazine guy, but a serious expense when added to the cost of a second set of wheels/tires/rotors/cassette.

Much like the Nomad, there are no plans for a aluminum frame, but there are two levels of carbon frame, the CC which is about 230 grams lighter than the cheaper C version. Stiffness is equal between the two, but only the CC is available as a frame only.

Hightower-6

Also like the Nomad, you can forget the front derailleur. With the recent release of even wider range single-ring drivetrains this is less of a problem. I spent my time on a 1×11 with a 30 tooth ring and 10-42 cassette and just once in a while dreamed of those new 50 tooth cogs.

The Ride

My first rides on this bike were in Chile for a dry run of the Rally of Aysen Patagonia. Santa Cruz invited a group of international bike media-types to see what was up with the Rally and to launch the Hightower.

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

We covered a lot of varied riding, in fact, probably the most diverse terrain and conditions I’ve ever experienced during a media event. From steep and loose natural trails to long grinds on the dirt roads so prevalent in southern Chile, the Hightower showed itself to be immensely capable. The third generation VPP mini-link suspension is nothing short of refined. Seated pedalling is without a hint of bob, and it was only on the smoothest of trails or under the most spazmatic of pedaling efforts that I wanted to dial in any platform on the rear shock.

On the other end of things, the 135 mm of travel has the magical combination of bottomless travel and wallow-free feel. Compared to some of its direct competitors like the Trek Remedy 29 or Specialized Stumpy 29, the Hightower isn’t quite as plush feeling, but that is a trade-off I’m more than willing to make for suspension that rarely needs a platform and communicates the trail so well to the rider without feeling harsh.

Aysen, Patagonia, Hightower, 29er, SCB,

The up-to-date geometry only felt out of place in the slowest and tightest of terrain, where the front wheel could take some effort to keep it pointed where I wanted. Anything above walking speed isn’t an issue.

I experimented with the 29er wheels with the bike in the 27plus setting, and found the higher BB and slightly steeper angles to be very usable on local trails, and maybe even more fun. It also reduced pedal strikes, which happen with some regularity with the bottom bracket at standard height. In fact, in every single other situation, the Hightower felt very much in control and on top of things. Think James Bond with wheels and a carbon frame, and you might be getting close the personality of this bike.

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 22 January during the fourth day of the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

While I think wheel size choice is going to come down to a combination of rider skill/style and local terrain, I preferred this bike as a 29er. It was awesome as a plus bike, but I was very much into the way this bike ate up miles as a 29er, rolling along like a cross-country race bike (with 850 gram aggressive tires), but attacking descents like a Nomad’s older and more mature brother. Interestingly enough, the 27plus configuration is slightly lighter than the 29er with similar parts, and there is no price difference between the 29er and 27plus options.

This bike is going to make a lot of riders happy. As is often the case with high performance bikes, that performance doesn’t come cheap. I have to give a lot of credit to Santa Cruz for parts spec; even on the “entry-level” bike, all the parts are shreddable right out of the box. Really, the build kits on all the Hightowers are stellar, from the 150 mm Reverb to the single chainring SRAM drivetrains and tubeless tires, this stuff just works with little fanfare and no complaint. There is an ENVE wheel upgrade for $2,000. Personally, I’d save that cash, buy the 27plus bike with the 150 mm fork and a set of 29er wheels.

Hightower-2

The Lowdown

I wouldn’t be afraid of taking this bike anywhere. B.C. Bike Race with some extra days afterwards to ride more trails in Squamish and Whistler? Yes! Fart around on the local trails with your crew? YES!

A day at the bike park? YES!

Pisgah? All day, every day, YES!

To put it simply, this is one of the best mountain bikes I’ve ever ridden. It just does it all, does it well, and keeps doing it with a minimum of fuss. Santa Cruz has a whole stable of very good trail bikes, but the Hightower might be the one horse for almost any course.

Details

27plus/29 wheels

  • Reach: 17.6/17.7”
  • Stack: 24.2/24.1”
  • Top Tube: 24.2/24.1”
  • Head Tube: 66.8/67°
  • Seat Tube: 74.1/74.3°
  • BB Height: 13.2/13.3”
  • Chainstays: 17.1/17.1”
  • Weight: 27.3 lbs. (with 29” wheels) w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Advocate Cycles Hayduke


Hayduke-1

Tester: Adam Newman
Age: 35, Height: 6’2”, Weight: 180 lbs., Inseam: 34”
Price: $750 (frame). Complete bikes from $2,699
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
More info: Advocate Cycles

The Hayduke is named for the infamous anti-hero of “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” Edward Abbey’s 1975 cult classic novel of radical environmentalism (and sabotage) in the wild American West. George Hayduke was a master of crippling the heavy equipment that built roads and dams on land he considered sacred, but he had no qualms about tossing an endless stream of empty beer cans out the window of his dusty Jeep.

Like George, the bike from the new brand Advocate Cycles has something of a split personality itself, in that customers can configure it with 29 inch wheels or 27plus. Thanks to its replaceable dropout design, it can also fit standard 142 mm thru-axle hubs or 148 mm Boost hubs. There’s even a singlespeed option with either hub spacing. Each is an entirely separate design, however, so the geared dropouts can’t be called into singlespeed mode the way some rocker or sliding dropouts can.

The steel frame is fairly straightforward in its construction, with Reynolds 725 tubing joining a 44 mm headtube, a BB92 bottom bracket shell and internal dropper post routing. One downside to the Hayduke is its weight— a full 7 pounds for the size large frame we tested. As pictured it spun the scale past the 32 pound mark.

Hayduke-5

The Hayduke has no trouble holding its own against other trail hardtails on the market these days. While I would normally go straight for an XL, I was actually glad I ended up on a large. The reach is still plenty long enough to keep the front wheel far out front, where I like it, while the slightly smaller stature helped it feel more responsive than it might have with a longer wheelbase. Because my saddle was also extended higher, and thus farther back, it also moved my weight slightly rearward, and helped make lifting the front end effortless. The 16.9 inch chainstays didn’t hurt either.

Just like Hayduke’s Jeep, this bike can tackle a little bit of everything— trail or no trail—and help you escape over the next mountain pass. It works well for a mix of uses beyond traditional mountain biking, veering into bikepacking and light-duty fat biking on sand or snow.

Hayduke-6

The extra weight will always be a drawback for 27plus compared to a standard 29-inch platform, and almost all of that weight is rotating mass in the wheels and tires. I think it does hold the Hayduke back if your goal is to go top speed all the time, but the versatility earned by those big tires more than makes up for it. The fore-aft traction is downright remarkable, and despite the weight I found it to be very capable on low-speed, techy climbs. The plus platform floats over holes that would typically catch your tire and kill your momentum or buck your behind off the saddle. The added surface area on the ground improves braking, but it’s not true that the big tires act as a suspension— this is still a hardtail through and through.

The truly unique thing about the brand, and thus its name, is that Advocate Cycles has pledged to donate 100 percent of its profits back to bicycle advocacy. Incorporated in Minnesota as a Specific Benefit Corporation, it has a legally binding social purpose in addition to its business ventures, and customers can give input on which of the organizations they would like to support. So far Advocate Cycles has partnered with IMBA, PeopleForBikes, the Adventure Cycling Association, Bicycles for Humanity and NICA.

Advocate Cycles are available through your local bike shop, but if you can’t find one in your area, give them a call and they will get you set up.

The build you see here isn’t a stock setup, but rather a mix of new and existing components as part of our Project 27plus test. Read our introduction to the bike here.

Hayduke-2

Wheels

Thanks to its own in-house design and manufacturing in North Carolina, Industry Nine was one of the first brands out of the gate with Boost compatible hubs. Its Torch Classic hubs use traditional J-bend spokes and spin on a six-pawl driver with 120 points of engagement. Do a little math and you’ll see that’s a nearly instantaneous three degrees of engagement.

The hubs are laced to WTB’s Scraper rims, the first “plus” rim designed for a 2.8 to 3 inch tire, with all the advantages of the TCS tubeless system. It’s a double-wall rim with a massive 45 mm internal width to help spread the plus tires out wide. For this project I’ve been running the WTB Bridgers.

Hayduke-4

Brakes

Hayes started with a clean-slate design for the Radar brakes, moving away from DOT fluid to a more user-friendly mineral oil fluid it calls Venom. They have a long lever arm that has plenty of room for two-finger braking, but can also be adjusted fore and aft for perfect single-finger fit.

If you’re a Brit or just prefer moto style, you can easily flip them upside-down and run them backwards. At the other end of the line, the calipers use Hayes’ Crosshair design that lets you micro-adjust their placement on the post mounts for drag-free operation.

Built for an entry-to-mid-level market, they have linear braking power but lack the sheer stopping force of some of the competition. Aside from a little squeal in the wet they performed great throughout the test, and sometimes reliability is more important than outright performance.

Hayduke-3

Cockpit

With such a big front wheel to wrangle I grabbed a pair of Easton’s Haven carbon handlebars with a 35 mm clamp and a manageable 750 mm width. Combined with the big tires the carbon bars absorbed any sort of hard knock or buzz traveling to my hands. With nine degrees of sweep and a modest 20 mm rise they felt great right away.

At the ends are the Primergo Jet ergonomic cork grips from Herrman’s. Though they are designed for city bike users, I found their modest size to be comfortable without being hard to handle when I’m constantly adjusting my position. They have a single locking bolt and offer plenty of grip in the wet.

Suspension

Up front is the new Manitou Magnum, designed specifically for “plus” bikes; it’s available in both 27plus and 29plus versions, and this is the Pro version with adjustable high and low speed compression as well as rebound and bottom-out. Watch for an in-depth review in an upcoming issue.

Details

  • Reach: 18.0”
  • Stack: 24.7”
  • Top Tube: 24.8”
  • Head Tube: 68.5º
  • Seat Tube: 73º
  • BB height: 12.4”
  • Chainstays: 16.9”
  • Wheelbase: 44.9”
  • Weight: 32.2 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Surly Wednesday


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This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.


Surley Wednesday

Tester: Katherine Fuller
Age: 29, Height: 5’4”, Weight: 120 lbs., Inseam: 30”
Price: $1,500
Sizes: XS, S (tested), M, L, XL

P.J. O’Rourke opined in a 2010 issue of Car and Driver about why he chose a Jeep Wrangler as his daily vehicle. He described the utilitarian machine as “three things not easily found these days: straight, square and forthright.”

O’Rourke wrote of irrational love, acknowledging he would rarely use the Wrangler off road and explained that cars are largely outward manifestations of our inner selves. All of that essentially sums up how I feel about the Surly Wednesday: It’s a bicycle that is “straight, square and forthright” and deserving of your irrational love no matter how you intend to use it.

Surley Wednesday

Building on a decade of fat bike design experience, the affectionately cantankerous Minnesota company cross-pollinated its lineup to create a bike equally capable of crushing your local trails as it is wandering off for loaded touring. Not as shreddy as the aggressive Ice Cream Truck but more singletrack-curious than the old-school Pugsley, the Wednesday carries on the “Addams Family” nomenclature and offers four-season ride capabilities.

The use of 4130 chromoly steel and voluminous rubber mean you can have a lot of fun plowing over rough stuff. That is really the only way to ride the Wednesday since its 100 mm wide bottom bracket means you’re not daintily threading rock gardens. You might be pedal striking more than usual on your favorite 12 inch singletrack until you get used to the Q-factor girth.

Surley Wednesday

The Wednesday won’t respond to dainty, last-minute wrist flicks like a svelte carbon bike, but that’s actually part of the fun. Handle it aggressively and see how big of a smile it puts on your face. Whenever the trail turned playful, its front end was more than willing to rear up and launch over rollers on fast descents. Yep, this is a pudgy rigid hardtail that wants to go airborne.

The seat tube and head tube angles are each one degree in the slacker direction than the venerable Surly Pugsley, a bike I have owned for a few years. The Wednesday’s top tube is also a full inch longer. The difference is noticeable on long, steady climbs and hour-long grinds over flat ground where I found the more laid-back, stretched-out ride of the Wednesday to be slightly less comfortable for the job. A simple parts swap to a more upright cockpit, and ditching the stock seatpost for one with no setback, should help make it more suitable for non-rowdy cruising and touring.

Front hub spacing is 150 mm and rear is 177 mm (symmetric) and—hooray— the bottom bracket is threaded. Thanks to track dropouts with 20 mm of fore-aft adjustment, you can move the rear wheel (relative to the wheel/tire combo you are running) to achieve a rear chainstay length of 17 to 18 inches. With the rear wheel fully aft in the dropouts, it fits up to a 4.6 inch tire on an 80 mm rim. With the wheel slammed full-forward, you’re looking at 3.8 inch tires on the same rims.

Surley Wednesday

Take advantage of that adjustability based on how you want this bike to ride. I can imagine that a shorter stem and a 100 mm suspension fork (which slackens the bike and raises its bottom bracket) would make it even more of a blast on singletrack. You can endlessly mold the loveable Wednesday to your whims thanks to its versatile frame design that accepts an internally-routed dropper, has room for 29plus tires and features numerous braze-ons.

The SRAM X5 build kit, tubeless-ready rims, 3.8-inch Surly Nate tires and Hayes MX Comp mechanical disc brakes all make sense for keeping the price down and offered a reliable ride experience. With the right pressure, the Nates’ aggressive traction is phenomenal on wet trails and climbing on snow, but they are painfully sluggish rolling on smooth, dry ground.

Surley Wednesday

“So, what can a person of modest means do to get a life?” O’Rourke asked at the end of his Jeep Wrangler story. He was writing about cars but, if you feel that way about your bikes, try a Surly Wednesday; you just might like how “straight, square and forthright” it is. It’s one of the most fun, versatile fat bikes out there.

Pluses

  • Ultra-low maintenance without suspension or hydraulics
  • Grows with you better than the clothing your mom said you’d “grow into”
  • Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy

Minuses

  • Wide load can be cumbersome on skinny trails
  • Balloon tires don’t negate that it’s still a rigid hardtail that can beat you up
  • It’s heavy and, oh, who the hell cares

Details

  • Wheelbase: 43.3”
  • Top Tube: 22.7”
  • Head Angle: 69°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73.5°
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.5”
  • Rear Center: 17 to 18”
  • Weight: 35.6 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Kona Hei Hei Trail


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This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.


Kona HH Trail-1

Tester: Adam Newman
Age: 35, Height: 6’2”, Weight: 175 lbs., Inseam: 34”
Price: $2,499
Sizes: S, M, L, XL (tested)

They say you buy the bike for the kind of riding you wish you did, rather than for the kind of riding you actually do. While many of the other bikes in this year’s sub-$3,000 group test have more travel, fatter tires or fancier parts, I’d trade many of those superlatives for performance any day.

The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s premier, 29 inch, full-suspension cross-country platform, and for 2016 it has seen a complete redesign and a splintering of the family tree. There is a Race version that you can buy in some markets outside the U.S., but here in ‘Merica we get the more all-purpose Kona Hei Hei Trail.

Kona HH Trail-4

The aluminum frame moves 100 mm of travel through Kona’s new Fuse Independent Suspension design. While it retains a classic single-pivot layout, it drops the pivot normally found right above the rear axle in favor of allowing a small amount of seatstay flex to accommodate its movement. The idea is simple: less weight and fewer moving parts to wear out or require attention. Because of these savings Kona says the complete frame is 240 grams lighter than its predecessor.

The simplified packaging, including a rather tiny rocker link, allows the rear wheel to tuck in with a thoroughly modern 16.9 inch chainstay length. The move is reflected out front with a longer front center than many cross country bikes, though not quite as long as Kona’s popular, gravity-favoring Process models. Still, a 68 degree head tube angle matches that of the Honzo and Process 111, and the internal dropper post routing means the Hei Hei Trail can be called upon to handle much more difficult terrain than more thoroughbred cross-country bikes.

Kona HH Trail-2

The bike ships with a Shimano Deore 2×10 drivetrain, 120 mm RockShox Recon Gold Solo Air fork and a RockShox Monarch RL shock. The Shimano brakes are non-series but share the same basic layout and design as their more expensive counterparts. The Maxxis Ardent front and Icon rear tire combination is well-suited to the all-purpose nature of the platform too. If you want to really push it hard you’re going to want more aggressive tires, and the bike is certainly capable of using them, but this is a good starting point.

Kona HH Trail-3

While none of the stock parts have a huge bling factor that is going to impress in the parking lot, all the components are more than capable of putting a huge smile on your face once you’re on the trail. Case in point: The shorter stem and wide handlebars are conjoined with a 35 mm clamp. The extra beefiness may not be 100 percent necessary, but it goes to show you the attitude Kona has put into this bike—that is, it’s willing to trade some grams for some gravitas.

If you have ridden previous Hei Hei models, the lively and snappy feel of the Fuse suspension will feel right at home. It may not have the ground-hugging performance of more complex linkage designs, but it has a linear and responsive attitude. It doesn’t mute the trail, it cranks it up and sings along. If you like to run the rebound damping on your rear shock closer to the “jackalope” end of the dial, you will love how the Fuse design encourages you to keep things moving.

While the Process line is designed for the trail or all-mountain market, the Hei Hei Trail is really indicative of where modern cross-country riding is headed: more technical trails, longer days in the saddle and a more gravity-embracing posture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While many mountain bikers dream of slaying trails high on Whistler Mountain, the vast majority of our miles are spent on local trails here in the real world. If you’re thinking of buying a mountain bike for the mountain biking you actually do, the Hei Hei Trail should be near the top of your list.

Pluses

  • Trail bike attitude in cross-country packaging
  • 2×10 drivetrain gets you a slightly wider gear range
  • WTB tubeless compatible rims make tubeless setup easy

Minuses

  • Chain broke on first ride and had to be replaced
  • Non-series Shimano brakes made a ton of noise
  • Stock tires could be more aggressive

Details

  • Wheelbase: 46.9”
  • Top Tube: 25.8”
  • Head Angle: 68º
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.1”
  • Rear Center: 16.9”
  • Weight: 29.2 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Transition Patrol 4


Choice-Cuts-620x

This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.


Transition Patrol-3

Tester: William Kirk
Age: 32, Height: 5’ 9”, Weight: 185 lbs., Inseam: 31”
Price: $2,999
Sizes: S, M (tested), L

Last year Transition Bikes went through a major facelift, redesigning many models to use a Horst Link suspension design, dubbed the Giddy Up Link. The 155 mm travel Patrol is Transition’s longest-travel trail bike, aimed at riders who put an emphasis on going downhill quickly and funly.

Transition Patrol-6

The spec on the Patrol 4 consists of a very solid array of components. Rear suspension is handled by the RockShox Monarch RT DebonAir while a Marzocchi 350 R handles things up front. A tight-and-wide Race Face cockpit paired with the Shimano Deore brakes keeps the steering fast and the stopping quick. Traction is excellent, thanks to 2.3 inch Maxxis Minon DHF/DHR tires mounted to WTB i25 rims. The Patrol is equipped with a 1×10 SRAM/RaceFace drivetrain with a 42 tooth Hive cog and also includes the KS eTen Integra (100 mm) dropper post.

Transition Patrol-4

My first ride on the Patrol was spent on our local freeride trails. The variety of drops allowed me to quickly set up the Patrol’s suspension to my liking.
Setup was mostly problem free until I began to tinker with the Marzocchi 350 R fork. Out of the box it lacks sufficient rebound damping; it’s not un-ride- able, but heavier riders will have to deal with fast rebound speeds.

Transition Patrol-1

In the woods, it was immediately apparent the Patrol likes to get moving fast, where its relaxed geometry excels at remaining stable. Larger drops are easily managed by the Patrol’s plush suspension, and the cockpit puts me in a great position for railing berms and popping off of lips. The trail manners of the Patrol rewards a rider who is actively looking to get the bike into the air whenever possible.

Transition Patrol-9

On rough terrain where repeated hits were commonplace, the Patrol shined. This isn’t at all surprising given that it was developed with some of the most difficult enduro courses in mind. The long top tube and wheelbase keep the bike feeling very well-planted when hitting rock gardens at speed.

Transition Patrol-7

When the trail gets steep and rough, the 65 degree head angle provides excellent stability resulting in more speed and confidence on the trail. On multiple occasions I mistimed a line and smacked the rear end of the Transition harshly. The Horst Link suspension system does an excellent job of soaking up those misjudgments and remains active when required.

Transition Patrol-8

Going up, the Transition pedals fairly well in the fully open shock position, but I found it was best to flip the RockShox lever to “trail” in order to get a good balance of traction and maximum pedaling efficiency. The Maxxis tires found best traction in a comfortable gear, seated and at a steady cadence. At 32.6 pounds the weight of the Patrol was mildly noticeable but became less of an issue as I spent more time in the saddle.

Transition Patrol-5

The Transition Patrol 4 is an excellent bike for its intended purpose: aggressive enduro courses and maximizing rider enjoyment. Yes, this particular model isn’t a featherweight, but Transition offers multiple trim levels above the Patrol 4. The spec at this level is very dependable and will provide a potential buyer with a rock-solid platform allowing for future upgrades to lighter and more-exotic components.

Transition Patrol-2

Pluses

  • At times I thought I was on a DH rig
  • With the exclusion of the fork, the parts spec is rock solid
  • Pedals very well for a long- travel bike

Minuses

  • The weight is noticeable at points
  • The Marzocchi 350 R fork lacks sufficient rebound adjustment
  • Highlighter yellow isn’t for everyone

Details

  • Wheelbase: 46.5”
  • Top Tube: 23”
  • Head Angle: 65°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 75.4°
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.3”
  • Rear Center: 17”
  • Weight: 32.6 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Norco Torrent 7.1


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This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.


Norco Torrent-3

Tester: Eric McKeegan
Age: 41, Height: 5’11″, Weight: 155 lbs., Inseam: 31”
Price: $2,425
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL

As a society, we seem fond of declaring things dead. I’m guilty of it myself recently in regards to singlespeeds (they make better zombies anyway). But it was years ago that certain media types declared the hardtail dead. Fortunately no one listened, otherwise the Norco Torrent 7.1 wouldn’t exist, and that would be a damn shame.

Norco Torrent-1

Let’s start with looks. Something about this bike just looks so proportional to me, from the size of the wheels, to the curve of the seat tube, to the angle of the fork; everything lines up to make a right smart looking ride.

Norco Torrent-6

But you can’t ride appearances, and fortunately there is plenty of serious performance to back up the minty paint job. Geometry plays the main role here, with a yoke allowing for 16.7-inch chainstays on my size large. Smaller frames get shorter stays, larger get longer stays, a feature rarely seen outside of custom builders. Head angle sits at a slack 67 degrees, 25.1-inch top tube, and a 12.8-inch bottom bracket.

Norco Torrent-4

Nothing is a let down on the parts selection either: SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain, Avid DB5 brakes, wide bar, short stem, KS dropper and the real stars—Nobby Nic 2.8s on WTB Scraper i45 rims. Solid all around. I didn’t get to sample the stock RockShox Yari fork; it wasn’t ready in time for the review.

Norco Torrent-7

The Torrent looks good on paper, but it absolutely shreds on the trail. I’ve never ridden a bike that handles damp trails and wet leaves so well. The widely spaced knobs on the Nobby Nics dig in, but also let go and slide around with a predictability that made me feel like a much better rider. Smart geometry and a dropper certainly help with this, but the tires are truly a stand-out for wet weather.

Norco Torrent-5

That short rear end invites all manner of rear wheel shenanigans, someone with more skill than me could really make this bike dance, but even I am always looking for things to jump up, over or around. The long front center keeps things feeling stable when pointed downhill, but steep greasy climbs can be a handful. Keeping enough weight on the front to keep the wheel down while not losing traction in the rear is frustrating at times. I’m more than willing to trade off a bit of walking on climbs for the fun going down.

Norco Torrent-8

Those biggish tires really shine on this bike. The aluminum frame is obviously a stiff platform, but even on rough terrain, the tires do a great job keeping things in control. I still get a few rude reminders from time to time that this is a hardtail, but that is part of the fun of riding a hardtail on rough trails.

After spending many miles on the Torrent, I can confidently say this bike is exactly what a modern trail hardtail should be. What complaints I can muster are few. The dropper is only 100 mm, a tooth on the GX cassette bent and needed to be cavemanned back into place trailside, and the grips are rubbish.

Norco Torrent-2

Norco has been making some of the best-handling trail bikes on the market for years, and the Torrent doesn’t interrupt this streak. Bikes like this will make the widespread acceptance of 27plus tires inevitable for everyday mountain bikers, and I can get behind that 100 percent.

Pluses

  • Solid part spec
  • Almost-perfect trail bike geometry
  • Boost spacing and a threaded bottom bracket

Minuses

  • Paint job not for everyone
  • Lock-on grips still twist on bars
  • Dropper post could use more drop

Details

  • Wheelbase: 45.9”
  • Top Tube: 25.1”
  • Head Angle: 67˚
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 72.7˚
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.8”
  • Rear Center: 16.7”
  • Weight: 31.7lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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New Santa Cruz Tallboy 29 and 27plus


The original Santa Cruz Tallboy is arguably the bike that signalled 29ers acceptance into the mainstream/cool kids’ cycling club. That’s not to say there wasn’t good 29er before the Tallboy or that it had the most revolutionary geometry. What is had was a certain something that was well loved and well used.

SantaCruz_Tallboy3_yellow_rollup

Fast forward a few years, and the Tallboy is looking dated. There was some internal debate about what to do with the Tallboy. With the new Hightower pedalling so well for a “big” bike, it might have made sense for Santa Cruz to push the Tallboy into cross-country territory. Maybe if there was a Santa Cruz Syndicate for XC racers, and maybe if the staff at Santa Cruz wasn’t always tinkering with longer forks and custom linkage for more travel on their personal Tallboys, maybe this new Tallboy would be much steeper and racier.

HyperFocal: 0 HyperFocal: 0

But that isn’t what Santa Cruz is about, so the new Tallboy is a modern trail bike that gets the trickle-down geometry changes that started on the Nomad. Think of it as a 5010 for 29 inch wheels (or 27plus). Geometry changes tremendously starting with the reach/top tubes which get much longer. Also, the head angle drops 2.2 degrees (which is huge!). Chainstays get shorter, seat angle steepens a little over half a degree, and the bottom bracket drops by 1 mm. Travel also bumps up to 110 mm in the rear, from the previous 100 mm. Suspension is updated to the latest VPP design, which has proven to be an excellent performer on the other bikes in the lineup.

Just like the Hightower, the Tallboy is compatible with 27plus and 29 inch wheels. Boost spacing  front and rear combined with a flip-chip and a 10 mm longer fork keeps geometry almost identical when switching between wheel sizes.

 4.26.16 SCB Tallboy Launch Deck

Parts spec leans towards traction and stiffness, not light weight. A FOX 34 is up front, replacing the 32. Aggressive tires, wide bars, short stems and dropper post on all builds point to a bike that loves being pushed harder than its travel numbers would suggest. Unlike the Hightower, the Tallboy can run a front derailleur on a removeable direct mount tab.

Tall boy specs 1 Tallboy spec2

Unfortunately, due to component supply issues, we didn’t get a first ride on this bike when it was revealed to the press before Sea Otter. BUT! We’ve been promised one soon and will hit you up with first impressions as soon as we get it out of the box and on the trails.

In the meantime, get down to your dealer because you might be able to ride one before I do. Santa Cruz timed this release with availability, so you should be able to plunk down the cash and walk out with a bike right about now, assuming you have the scratch. Santa Cruz neither confirmed nor denied aluminum frames, but I bet this bike will get a metal frame version at some point in the future.  Prices are in the pics above. Expect frame-only options soon, as well as less expensive Tallboy C-framed builds.

More info, as expected, at santacruzbicycles.com.

 

CERES - March 23 2016 - during the TB3 photoshoot with Greg Minnaar in Ceres, Koue Bokkeveld in South Africa.

CERES – March 23 2016 – during the TB3 photoshoot with Greg Minnaar in Ceres, Koue Bokkeveld in South Africa.

 

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Review: Marin Attack Trail 7


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This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.


Marin Attack Trail-3

Tester: Justin Steiner
Age: 33, Height: 5′ 7”, Weight: 165 lbs., Inseam: 31″
Price: $2,749
Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL

Right off the showroom floor the Marin Attack Trail 7 checks all of the boxes riders are looking for in the 150-160 mm category: wide bars paired with a short stem; a 36 mm chassis fork; single-ring drivetrain; big brakes; good tires on wide, tubeless-ready rims; a dropper post and geometry that’s ready to rally.

When the Attack Trail platform was released in 2014, its geometry felt a bit more progressive than it does now. Reach is the one area where this is most apparent. The 23.3 inch top tube on my medium test bike makes for a somewhat cramped cockpit when paired with a 50 mm stem. In contrast, the 2014 Attack Trail, which utilized the same geometry, offered a roomier cockpit thanks to a longer stem—shorter stems require longer top tubes.

Marin Attack Trail-4

The 66.5 degree head tube angle, while not boundary-pushing, offers a good balance of stability and maneuverability paired to the short-ish top tube. The low bottom bracket also adds stability, yet the suspension rides high enough in the travel to minimize pedal strikes. The short chainstays ease lofting the front wheel and help keep the ride on the lively side.

Up front, the Durolux RC fork offers great performance, holding its own against far more expensive forks. Small bump performance is stellar; it rides high in its travel, offers good mid-stroke control and great bottom out resistance.

Marin Attack Trail-5

Marin’s third-generation Quad-Link suspension design offers a very stable pedaling platform at the slight sacrifice of outright suppleness. Mid- and end-stroke are well controlled, providing great pop off of obstacles and out of corners as well as excellent bottom-out resistance. It’s a design that begs to be ridden aggressively. The harder you push, the better it feels.

Marin Attack Trail-1

The SR Suntour DUAir LO-R rear shock does a great job damping the Attack Trail’s suspension. LO stands for lockout, R for rebound adjustment. Marin spec’d a medium compression tune, which offers a supportive platform in the open setting. The lockout setting, however, feels like a pogo stick. With the lockout engaged, the suspension is hardtail firm, but will blow off a tiny bit on a large impact. Problem is, the rebound circuit is not engaged due to the low volume of oil displaced. So, the shock returns undamped to the top of the stoke and sits there.

When you disengage the lockout, you quickly compress the suspension back down to the sag point. In short, the damping in the open setting is great, but the lockout is virtually unusable. On top of that, the lockout stopped working during my first ride aboard this shock. SR Suntour quickly warrantied the shock, but quality control concerns remain.

Marin Attack Trail-6

The Shimano and Sunrace mixed 1×10 drivetrain performed decently, but suffers the same issues that plague wide-range conversions. Running the SLX derailleur well beyond its specified range with a 42 tooth cog requires cranking up the b-tension in order to clear the big cog. As a result, there’s too much free chain in the small cogs, making for slow, vague shifts.

Magura’s MT4 brakes offer good initial bite and great modulation but offer a touch less outright stopping power than some of the competition. The stock TranzX dropper post is certainly better than no dropper, but its limited travel feels awfully short compared to today’s 125-150 mm options.

Marin Attack Trail-7

Contrast the Attack Trail’s geometry with Transition’s much more progressive Patrol (also in this issue), which offers a slacker headtube, longer wheelbase, is almost as low, yet offers significantly shorter chainstays. On the downhills, the Patrol is a beast. As an all-around bike, the Attack Trail will feel more versatile. Riders looking for a capable and versatile enduro-style bike that ascends nearly as well as it descends should give the Attack Trail lineup consideration. Overall, the Attack Trail 7 offers very compelling performance for the asking price.

Marin Attack Trail-2

Pluses

  • Good balance of stability and agility for trail riding
  • Ready-to-rally suspension performance encourages aggressive riding
  • Great components for the price point, includes dropper post

Minuses

  • Vague shifting from mixedbrand, wide-range 1×10 drivetrain
  • Short-travel dropper is better than no dropper, but more travel would be better
  • 35 mm handlebar clamp diameter limits stem choice

Details

  • Wheelbase: 45.3”
  • Top Tube: 23.3”
  • Head Angle: 66.5º
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73.5º
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.2”
  • Rear Center: 17.1”
  • Weight: 33.1lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Devinci Hendrix RS


Choice-Cuts-620x

This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.


Devinci Hendrix RS-2

Tester: Stephen Haynes
Age: 38, Height: 5’11”, Weight: 200 lbs., Inseam: 30”
Price: $2,999
Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL

From our neighbors to the north comes the Devinci Hendrix, an aluminum trail bike that’s been specifically designed around the 27plus platform. The good folks at Devinci wanted to make an all-around trail bike for the budding enthusiast that would offer a good amount of travel, well-appointed components and lots of traction in a reasonably priced package. Did they succeed? Let’s find out.

The long and low geometry of the Hendrix makes for fun descending, and the Split Pivot suspension system is what makes it pedal and brake so consistently. Honestly. I don’t really understand much of the suspension linkage stuff and am happy to continue thinking it’s endowed with some sort of magic.

Devinci Hendrix RS-5

There is also an Axis & FRG (I’m pretty sure that stands for Fucking Really Great) adjustable linkage, which allows for both HI and LO settings so you can rake out the front end even more. Canadians are brilliant. Probably because they don’t spend all their time obsessing about guns.

The plus-sized tires allow for a more forgiving ride and give the rider more confidence when moving through dicey terrain. The Maxxis Chronicles mated to V2 Comp’s Wide DB rims (both of which are tubeless ready) make for a seriously generous footprint, and while I’d like to say this combination performed flawlessly across the board, I can’t.

Devinci Hendrix RS-1

Moving through serious rocks and roots at speed is where the 27plus x 3 inch Chronicles are most at home. Hell, pedaling up, over and through anything in dry to semi-moist conditions is pretty well received. The one problem is in mud and wet in general. I went down a few times after packing the treads up with mud. It seems counterintuitive to have a largish tire go out from underneath you on something relatively benign, but I think the large surface area starts to fl oat, rather than bite, in those instances, causing the slip ’n slide to happen with greater effect. Swapping for a more aggressively treaded tire will manage the problem and not diminish the returns from the rest of the bike.

The Hendrix employs a 1×11 drivetrain comprised of a 30 tooth ring on a Race Face Aeffect SL crankset and a 10-42 SRAM cassette, making most everything manageable, even for me. Oh, and the 780 mm V2 Pro Riserbar lends a hand in the leverage department, just make sure you’re on the clock when negotiating chutes or forests with tightly packed trees. Or wear gauntlets.

Devinci Hendrix RS-4

Once you crest the hill, or mountain, or street or whatever and decide you are, in fact, NOT going to vomit, you can bask in the gloriously unchained glow that is pointing the Hendrix downhill. Like other plus-size rides I’ve had the pleasure of throwing a leg over, the Hendrix loves this part. Like a brisket hound at a BBQ, the bike shrugs off roots, rocks and other trail detritus like so much cornbread and coleslaw, intent only on the shortest line between two points.

The bike’s long and low stance, wide bars, 110 mm Rock Shox Monarch R rear shock and 120 mm RockShox Reba, in collaboration with the aforementioned fast rolling wheels, feel like an unfair advantage in the “eating up terrain” department. The Devinci Hendrix is a great bike and a worthy investment, hands down. It’s fun as hell and would be a terrific first “real” bike for the novice looking to take the next step toward full-on aficionado.

Devinci Hendrix RS-3

Pluses

  • Frame and fork are compatible with 29 inch wheels
  • Well-appointed components
  • Wide rims support the wide tires

Minuses

  • No dropper post (Would kick it up over $3k, and is an easy addition)
  • Only one color choice (I’m an art dork)
  • Maxxis Chronicles aren’t a great all-around tire

Details

  • Wheelbase: 46.2/46.1”
  • Top Tube: 23.7/23.6”
  • Head Angle: 67.3/67.7°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74.8/75.2°
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.8/13.1”
  • Rear Center: 17.1/17”
  • Weight: 32.0lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail


GG Megtrail-2

Tester: Justin Steiner | Height: 5’7” | Weight: 165 pounds | Inseam: 31”

The Megatrail is the second bike released by Colorado-based manufacturer Guerrilla Gravity. The company’s first bike was a full-bore downhill bike dubbed the GG/DH. Where the GG/DH was designed to punish downhill courses, the Megatrail strives to blend downhill prowess and pedaling performance in a versatile package targeting the all-mountain market.

This formula begins with an aluminum frame that’s constructed in Guerrilla Gravity’s Denver shop. Providing local jobs through domestic manufacturing is one of the key tenets of Guerrilla Gravity’s mission. All of the company’s other tenets revolve around making versatile and badass bikes.

GG Megtrail-3

Frame

In today’s age of swoopy carbon and hydroformed aluminum construction, the Megatrail’s minimally manipulated, custom-butted round and square tubes may look a bit industrial. Don’t let that fool you. Guerrilla Gravity engineer Matt Giaraffa utilized his experience designing race car suspension to balance anti-squat, mid-stroke support and bottom-out resistance in a linkage-driven, single-pivot package.

As the company’s name suggests, geometry trends toward the gravity end of the spectrum in all of the Megatrail’s settings. Two main modes are offered: Trail and Gravity. The Trail setting offers a 66.5 degree head tube angle, 74 degree seat tube angle and 13.2 inch bottom bracket height, while Gravity mode slackens things out to a 65.5 degree head tube angle, 73 degree seat tube angle and 12.7 inch bottom bracket height. Both modes share 17.3 inch chainstays.

GG Megtrail-7

The Trail mode’s 150 mm of suspension travel is tuned with more midstroke support to provide increased pedaling performance and a livelier ride feel with more pop. Gravity mode’s 160 mm of travel is tuned to be slightly softer to provide more compliance. No air pressure adjustment is required when switching between modes, which is performed by moving the rearward shock mount from one position to the other.

Within Gravity mode lies a third option: Super Gravity. Super Gravity combines the geometry of Gravity mode with the suspension kinematics of Trail mode. Read: low and slack, but with more mid-stroke support and pop, resulting in a livelier ride feel.

One idiosyncrasy revolves around sizing. The Megatrail’s designated sizes run roughly one size larger than we’re used to, so be sure to buy based on top tube length and reach measurement. I normally ride medium frames, which translates to Guerrilla Gravity’s small with a 24 inch top tube. That said, Guerrilla Gravity offers a generous size range said to fit riders from 4 feet 10 inches to 6 feet 8 inches.

GG Megtrail-5

Parts

The standard Trail build is a curated blend of parts that balance performance and affordability, largely in line with parts I’d choose: SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain and Guide brakes, RockShox Reverb post and Race Face Aeffect handlebar and stem. Upgrades on our test bike included DT Swiss 370 hubs hand laced in Colorado to EX 471 rims and the MRP Stage fork. Maxxis provided ample traction with DHF (front) and High Roller II (rear) tires.

I hadn’t previously sampled the MRP Stage fork, which impressed me with its adjustability and compliance. Not only does this fork offer external compression and rebound adjustment, it also offers Ramp Control. Ramp Control adjusts the spring preload on a valve in the air spring chamber. During compression, air flows through this valve. As Ramp Control is increased, the flow of air through this valve is restricted, providing an increasingly progressive spring rate as shaft speed increases, thus improving bottom out resistance within the air spring itself.

GG Megtrail-4

Thanks to Ramp Control, the Stage pairs very well with the Megatrail. In Trail mode I increased Ramp Control and added a couple clicks of compression to provide a bit more support to match the firmer rear suspension. In Gravity mode, I decreased ramp support slightly and backed off compression damping to better match the suppleness of the rear suspension.

On the Trail

Bikes like the Megatrail make a reviewer’s job both easy and difficult. Easy in that a bike this well executed is easy to warm up to. Difficult in that it works so seamlessly it’s sometimes hard to describe exactly what’s happening. Regardless, I was immediately smitten by the Megatrail because it offers a potent combination of attributes that speak to gravity-oriented riders.

First, you have two settings of long, low and slack to choose from. Second, it offers extremely well sorted suspension kinematics, in terms of pedaling efficiency, mid-stroke support and botttom-out resistance. Third, the Megatrail’s aluminum frame clearly communicates what’s happening at the contact patches—better than any carbon bike I’ve ridden—which instills a great deal of confidence. And, finally, it offers a nice up-and-over-the-pedals riding position.

GG Megtrail-6

The sum total of those attributes made this bike an absolute ripper for me. Light and efficient enough to use for all-around trail rides, even if it might not be the optimal choice for a 50 mile backcountry mission.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised to find I did not once wish for compression damping adjustment on the RockShox Monarch rear shock. Climbing traction was excellent and pedal-induced suspension movement was kept to a minimum. On the other hand, switch the shock into Gravity mode and you have a mini-shredder on your hands.

It’s no downhill race bike, but it’ll bash park laps all day long. As you might expect from the geometry chart, the Megatrail’s cornering habits are more akin to a downhill bike than a cross-country racer. Definitely need to crank this one over in the turns. The lively suspension tuning provides great support under cornering loads and ample pop out of turns.

The Megatrail’s 17.3 inch chainstays aren’t terribly short by today’s standards but they do offer a lot of stability when paired with the long front center, resulting a 46.3 inch wheelbase. As a result, the Megatrail isn’t as snappy as some other bikes in this category, but it sure does carry momentum.

The Santa Cruz Nomad has become my benchmark for bikes of this ilk. How does the Megatrail compare? Very favorably, in many ways. The Nomad with a similar build kit rings in at $5,199 and is only marginally lighter. As much as I love the Nomad, I’d be very tempted to save the $800. The Megatrail makes for a damn fine all-around trail bike for gravity-oriented riders or a great long-travel option for those working their way up the travel scale.

GG Megtrail-1

In fact, I liked the Megatrail so much I couldn’t help but select if for my 2015 Editor’s Choice award—it’s the best bike I rode in 2015. Beyond this being one fine steed, you can also feel good about helping three young entrepreneurs provide jobs within their community. That might just be the best of both worlds.

  • Price: $1,925 (frame), $4,375 (as tested)
  • Sizes: XS, S (tested), M, L, XL
  • Wheelbase: 46.3″
  • Top Tube: 24″
  • Head Angle: 65.5º/ 66.5º
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73º/ 74º
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.7”/ 13.2”
  • Rear Center: 17.3″
  • Weight: 31.0 lbs. w/o pedals
  • More info: Guerrilla Gravity

 

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Review: Juliana Furtado and Norco Fluid 7 Forma


Tester: Emily Walley | Height: 5’4” | Weight: 110 pounds | Insteam: 29.5”

Originally published in Issue #189

Furtado Forma faceoff-1

As women’s mountain bike options continue to evolve, it can be difficult to find the ideal bike for your skill level as well as your wallet. If you are a new rider, with undetermined commitment, the options seem expensive and few. Options for an intermediate to advanced rider are plentiful, but with so many variables—weight, versatility, travel, wheel size, cost and appearance—how do you choose?

Furtado Forma faceoff-2

These bikes from Juliana and Norco are similar at first glance, but almost $3,000 separates them.

The 130 mm Furtado and the 120 mm Fluid 7 Forma share their frames with the respective companies’ men’s (or, maybe more correctly, “gender neutral”) models, but are women’s bikes due to “female-friendly” components, such as thinner grips, women’s saddles and different color palettes. I’m often drawn to the gender-neutral frame aesthetics, but I appreciate that Juliana and Norco have opted for solid brights and minimal graphics. The Fluid Forma and Furtado, each provide a clean aesthetic and a feminine feel, without going overboard.

Furtado Forma faceoff-3

“Forma” is Norco’s designation for women’s-specific. The Fluid 7 Forma shares the frame and suspension design with Norco’s Fluid 7. The company’s Fluid line is available for the whole family, offering frames with 20, 24, 26 and 27.5 inch wheels. According to Norco’s marketing and communications supervisor, Sarah Moore, “The Fluid is intended for a rider who wants a capable trail bike, but has a limited budget. This could be the multi-sport athlete, or someone just getting into riding who isn’t ready to commit to a carbon bike.”

Furtado Forma faceoff-7

The Furtado shares the frame design with the Santa Cruz 5010 and is available in six builds. Juliana uses two different levels of carbon in its frames, a heavier C and a top-tier CC carbon. This allows the company to offer a less-expensive frame while adding a little over a half-pound of frame weight. (Read the full details of the Furtado’s 2016 redesign here.)

There’s nearly a 2.5 pound difference between the C-level Furtado and the Fluid Forma, weighing in at 27.7 and 30.1 pounds, respectively. While the weight difference is significant, the Furtado and the Forma both have short, 16.7 inch chainstays giving them a lightness beyond hard numbers. It’s great to see an industry-wide push toward shorter chainstays as it makes lofting the front wheel much easier, particularly for shorter riders.

Furtado Forma faceoff-4

The Fluid Forma is equipped with a RockShox Recon Silver fork and RockShox Monarch RL shock, which both have two positions: open and lockout. Due to a very supportive platform I don’t feel the need to lock out the suspension while off-road. The Furtado has a RockShox Pike RC and a Fox Float shock. While I tend to keep the fork’s compression in the open position, I find myself switching the rear shock from descend to trail on lengthy flat sections and climbs.

Furtado Forma faceoff-8

The Furtado’s suspension has been tuned to provide a higher initial leverage ratio and a flatter curve overall. The plush initial stroke feels supple on smaller rocks and roots. Both the Fluid Forma and the Furtado have an up-over-the-pedals riding position and a firm pedaling platform that excels for climbing and powering through flat terrain.

The Fluid Forma’s low 22/36 gear ratio offers ample range for climbing steep ascents, but its climbing prowess in technical terrain is hindered by a lack of traction, mostly the fault of the tires. The small, closely spaced tread of the Forma’s WTB Bee Line tires makes them ideal for dry and hard-packed conditions. While they have a good rolling speed, they weren’t suited to the rooty, damp trail conditions I ride.

Furtado Forma faceoff-9

While the Furtado’s SRAM 10-42 tooth cassette doesn’t offer the range of the Fluid Forma, the 1×11 SRAM setup hits the sweet spot and simplifies shifting. If needed, the Race Face 32 tooth chainring can be swapped to meet the needs of your terrain. Gearing was rarely the limiting factor in my ability to clean climbs. Short of long, steep ascents gearing will likely not be an issue.

The Furtado’s Maxxis Minion DHR II front tire grabs anything in its path, be it wet, loose or otherwise, and the Maxxis Ardent rear has significantly more traction than the Bee Line tires for climbing. I love the downhills, and while I didn’t feel uncomfortable descending on the Fluid Forma, its lack of traction, steeper headtube angle and lack of a dropper post had me holding back.

Furtado Forma faceoff-6

On the flip side, the Furtado comes across as such a capable descender that it made me feel like a slouch. It wasn’t just traction that had me cheering when the Furtado pointed downhill. Slightly wider bars, 760 versus 740 mm, a slacker head tube angle, 67 versus 68.5 degrees, and 125 mm dropper post provided an increased sense of stability, capability and maneuverability.

Outright braking power comes into play here as well, as the Furtado’s Shimano SLX brakes with 180 mm rotors offer noticeably stronger stopping power than the Fluid Forma’s Shimano M-396 brakes with 160 mm rotors. I’ve grown to really appreciate the bike/body separation of riding with a dropper post. While there are no expectations of a dropper on a bike at the Fluid Forma’s price point, it’s great to see that Norco has added external routing to accommodate one.

The short chainstays on both bikes facilitate riding switchbacks. The short rear-center provides agility, while the long front-center provides stability. In turns, the Fluid Forma’s steeper headtube angle requires more of a steering motion versus the leaning motion required for the Furtado’s slacker front end.

Furtado front

Juliana designs bikes for female shredders and this shows through the company’s commitment to creating comparably spec’d bikes across the Santa Cruz and Juliana line. As a result, the Furtado is an unbelievably capable bike that inspired confidence. When you discover a bike with geometry to fit your riding style, everything falls into place. The Furtado made me want to ride harder and faster on every ride.

Forma rear

While I can’t resist being drawn to what Juliana offers the women’s market, I appreciate Norco’s approach. Opting to make an affordable and capable full-suspension bike is essential amongst the premium options. The Fluid Forma is a great stepping stone for the new rider looking for her first full-suspension bike. At a low price point of $1,775 you get an all-around trail bike and solid platform to build on. A few changes on this bike would provide significant improvement in capability and riding confidence. With tires appropriate for your riding style and trail conditions— the Fluid Forma’s rims are tubeless ready—and a dropper post, you’d still be under $2,500. The new rider would likely be happy riding this bike for years to come.

Both the Furtado and the Fluid 7 Forma facilitate growth with their respective riders. The Fluid Forma will help the beginner transition to harder trails, and the Furtado helps the intermediate and advanced rider discover her full potential.

Norco Fluid 7.2 Forma

  • Price: $1,775
  • Sizes: XS, S (tested), M
  • Wheelbase: 43.3”
  • Top Tube: 22.5”
  • Head Angle: 68.5°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74.5°
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.1”
  • Rear Center: 16.7”
  • Weight: 30.1 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

Juliana Furtado C

  • Price: $4,699
  • Sizes: S (tested), M, L
  • Wheelbase: 44”
  • Top Tube: 22.7″
  • Head Angle: 67°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74°
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.1”
  • Rear Center: 16.7”
  • Weight: 27.7 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Cannondale Habit Carbon 1


Cannondale-Habit-ride-duo

Tester: Mike Cushionbury | Height: 5’10” | Weight: 155 lbs. | Inseam: 32”

Bike sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL | Price: $7,460

Before Cannondale’s new 27.5 Habit had even been released, it gained considerable momentum and interest when WTB/Cannondale rider Jason Moeschler won the coveted “All-Mountain World Championships” in Downieville, California, thanks to a third place in the cross-country and winning the downhill—with a faster time than last year, when he was riding his longer-travel Jekyll.

In Cannondale’s line hierarchy, the 120 mm travel Habit sits between the cross-county-specific Scalpel and the “OverMountain” Trigger, putting it neatly inside the growing trail-bike market, which is often best described as long-travel cross-country. With its linkage suspension and flex seatstays, the Habit looks more Scalpel than Trigger.

Our tester, the Carbon 1, is second highest in the line, below the $12,250 Habit Black Inc. Unless you really want a Shimano Di2 drivetrain and special all-black frame and parts, it represents a much better value and is by all means a top-of-the-food-chain machine.

The 1’s carbon frame comes decked out with a SRAM XX1 rear derailleur mated to an X01 shifter, SRAM Guide RSC brakes and a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper seatpost. Cannondale, following a growing trend, has gone to in-house branded components and includes some nicely crafted carbon handlebars and a carbon wheelset. The high-end Cannondale HollowGram Si crank even has a Cannondale-branded narrow/wide chainring bolted on. All these bits did their designated jobs just fine. The wheels aren’t super light, coming in at a more trail-bike construction and weight with a 23 mm inner diameter, which is good for the bike’s intended usage.

The entire frame is built from Cannondale’s own BallisTec carbon with an injection-molded carbon shock link. The zero-pivot flex seatstays reduce weight compared to pivots and are claimed to provide greater lateral stiffness. Additionally, the swingarm rotates on oversized thru-axles. This combination results in a rear triangle that doesn’t twist or flex under the most extreme lateral loads.

True to its Downieville debut, the Habit is a speedy trail bike when it’s time to put the power to the pedals, helped of course by its low weight, RockShox XLoc Full Sprint lever—which simultaneously opens or locks out the Lefty 2.0 Carbon fork and RockShox Monarch DebonAir XX shock. While there is the suspension-lockout option, the tuning of the fork and the rear suspension’s leverage curve are designed to work well under pedaling power while in open mode.

Cannondale-Habit-collage

The Lefty 2.0 has a new 50 mm offset, wider rebound-damping range from the XLR Isolated Damper, and a Trail+ tune, which has increased compression damping at the top of the stroke. Where previous Leftys sunk into their travel and felt immediately squishy, the 2.0 sits higher, resists brake dive and offers a small degree of firmness off the top while pedaling. It also has a sensitive blow-off valve that opens initial compression when a bump is hit.

It took me a little more time to find an air pressure I was happy with compared to previous generations, but once I did, the new tune felt noticeably better than its most recent predecessor, a fork that was already one of my favorites.

And forget any preconceived notions about flex—Lefty is about the stiffest fork on the market, with its dual clamps, massive stanchion overlap and a 15 mm to 25 mm tapered axle. It’s also one of the lightest forks made.

The rear-suspension leverage ratio is designed to be comfy off the top for small impact sensitivity, especially while climbing, to keep the rear wheel glued to the ground. It then becomes more progressive at the sag point to reduce pedal bobbing. All this is important for a trail bike, whose rider is likely to want to ride it mostly in the unlocked position for the best possible traction in all conditions. But, if need be, with the push of a hydraulic button, both can be locked out for maximum efficiency on smoother surfaces.

Shoot the Habit downhill and it immediately feels quick and springy. The low bottom bracket, short chainstays, 68-degree head angle and stiff frame and fork allow you to push the Habit harder than you’d expect from a bike with just 120 mm of travel. A long top tube matched to a 60 mm stem feels just right for long saddle days that require some pedal finesse as well as competent gravity chops.

While it’s not necessarily a dedicated enduro bike or all-mountain crusher, it can be ridden very aggressively, especially at high speeds where your wheels are a little closer to the ground rather than when monster hucking. The Habit isn’t full cross-country race like the Scalpel but it can do the job with comparably plusher suspension, nor is it a full Enduro World Series race machine like the Trigger but on smoother, more pedaling courses it can deliver a win.

This profile plants it firmly between the two—capable and broad in scope for riders who identify with both disciplines. When it comes to the new breed of highly efficient trail bikes that can climb as well as descend without trading ability at one for the other, the Habit’s geometry, aided by incredible stiffness and solid suspension performance, puts it on the shortlist of bikes you should check out.

  • Wheelbase: 47.7″
  • Top Tube: 23.4″
  • Head Angle: 68°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.1″
  • Rear Center: 17″
  • Weight: 24.5 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)

 

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Review: Polygon Collosus N8


Polygon-1

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.

Dirt_Rag_Review_Polygon_Collosus_N8_WEB (10 of 11)

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).

Dirt_Rag_Review_Polygon_Collosus_N8_WEB (4 of 11)

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.

Polygon-3

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)

 

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First Impression: Marin Pine Mountain 1


Marin Pine Mountain DR-4

Finally, I get my grubby mitts on a bike with them thar plus-sized tires. My portulent partner for the next few weeks is Marin’s Pine Mountain 1, sporting a pair of 27.5 x 3.0 inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires rolling on wide-bodied Maddux DD40 rims. Those tires and I are bound to become best buds, as they’re the only part of this fully rigid rig that remotely resembles suspension. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more …

Marin Pine Mountain DR-5

Ringing the register at $989 and tipping the scale at 30.6 pounds (size large, without pedals), the Pine Mountain’s frame and suspension-corrected fork are both built from no-nonsense chromoly. That’s tried and true durability right there, my friend. Look closely and you’ll notice gussets on both the top tube and down tube. Ol’ Piney is ready for action. Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood …

Marin Pine Mountain DR-2

The 1×10 drivetrain mates a Sunrace 11-42 cassette with a narrow-wide 32-tooth chainring and changes gears via a SRAM X7 derailleur and X5 shifter. So far, so good. Crisp shifting. Nary a dropped chain. With a 380 percent range, I’ve yet to run out of gears on either end of the shifter. When I let ‘er rip, the Shimano BR-M445 hydros have ample power to keep the party in bounds, even if their feel is somewhat “wooden” compared to Shimano’s higher-end offerings. Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide …

Marin Pine Mountain DR-1

Look even closer and you’ll spy full rack and bag mounts—just the ticket if you’re looking to take a crack at bikepacking or backroad touring. The Marin house-branded bar, stem, saddle and seatpost work for me. The stock bike comes with aluminum platform pedals, though my demo arrived without them. At less than a grand, the Pine Mountain 1 strikes me as a solid value, considering the frame, fork and parts package. The mettle of your pasture; let us swear / That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not …

Marin Pine Mountain DR-3

My first impression of the handling: well-mannered, with a dash of carvy. Piney likes to be leaned-over in turns, rather than steered with the bars. Don’t be afraid to dip the hip and get your lean on. Those wide tires will oblige and hook up—despite some pretty radical lean angles—even in soft, sandy soil. It takes extra effort to keep those big, traction-y tires turning, but that’s the nature of the breed, I suppose.

That’s all I have to say for now, but keep your eyes peeled on the print version of Dirt Rag for my full review, and be sure to subscribe if you’re not already in the fold. The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge / Cry “God for Harry, England and Saint George!”

Marin Pine Mountain DR-6

[Ed note: Apologies to William Shakespeare for “re-purposing” a few choice lines spoken by King Henry in The Bard’s play “Henry V.”]

 

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Review: Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SL


Tester: Mike Cushionbury | Age: 45 | Height: 5’10″ | Weight: 155 lbs. | Inseam: 32”

Trek discontinued its 26-inch-wheeled Top Fuel cross-country line a few years back in favor of the successful Gary Fisher 29er Superfly FS. Now, as the Superfly grows long in the tooth, the Top Fuel is reborn for 2016. And it’s as modern and high-tech as a cross-country bike can be.

Trek Top Fuel -1

The frame is entirely carbon and, like the longer-travel Fuel EX, the 100 mm travel Top Fuel uses an EVO rocker link and Full Floater suspension design, which attaches the shock to two moving points. It also has Active Braking Pivot and the geometry-adjusting Mino Link. This changes head-tube angle by half a degree and raises or lowers the bottom bracket by 8 mm, going from a 70-degree head angle and 12.9- inch bottom bracket in low to 70.9 degrees and 13.4 inches in high. This brings the short-stravel bike in line with the technology Trek has been using for its long-travel bikes, raising the expectations of what a cross country bike is capable of.

The Top Fuel has Boost 148/110 hub spacing, Smart Wheel Size and Control Freak cable management. Boost, which was developed in part by Trek last year for its trail and all-mountain bikes, creates a stronger 29er wheel and frame. Boost also provides more tire clearance and gives Trek the opportunity to shorten the chainstays by 17 mm compared to the Superfly. With 148—which is as wide as you can go without affecting Q factor—width and bottom-bracket junction stiffness is maximized without making the bike wider at the cranks. By going 110 on the fork, the front end is equal to the rear in terms of strength, stability and the ability to run a bigger tire.

Trek Top Fuel -3

Trek believes that for cross-country applications a 29er wheel is absolutely the fastest, so you won’t be seeing multiple options; it’s 29 only, save for the 15.5-inch frame. Smart Wheel Sizing dictates that for this small of a frame, 27.5 is the answer to keep the bike fitting correctly, lower the front end and achieve no wheel/toe overlap. Frame sizes 17.5 inches and larger utilize 29-inch wheels.

Believe it or not, with all the various drivetrain, suspension and dropper-post options, there are 54 different ways to route cables, according to Trek. To make sure any and all work, Trek developed a very flexible system called Control Freak cable management that works with any combination of cables and electronic wires, including internally routed dropper posts. There are also small guides along the down tube and top tube to cleanly run your rear brake or dropper post externally if you choose.

Trek Top Fuel -2

Interestingly, Trek didn’t include a specific bottom-bracket or seat-tube internal option for a Shimano Di2 electronic battery; it’s meant to run sidesaddle to the water-bottle cage or for you to use a cable cinch in the down tube, meaning you’d have to take the fork out of the head tube and then lower the battery into the down tube from there. Also, the bottom bracket access port for internal cable installation is on the small side compared to other brands, making access a bit more challenging.

At a price of nine grand, the line-leading Top Fuel 9.9 SL has a complete package of top-shelf parts, albeit some surprising yet sound choices that stray from what you might expect. Shifting is handled by
the flawless Shimano XTR cable system, yet rather than a traditional Shimano double ring, the 9.9 SL goes 1×11 with Race Face’s ultralight Next carbon crank and direct-mount 32T chainring. And while accessories like the handlebar, seatpost, stem and saddle are all feathery Bontrager XXX carbon fiber, Trek felt that stiff, yet light, DT Swiss XMC 1200 carbon wheels were the best choice to match up with its Boost spacing. Suspension is controlled by a RockShox RS-1 Solo Air fork and Monarch XX shock with an XLoc Full Sprint hydraulic remote lockout that controls both the shock and fork.

All this adds up to a 29er full-suspension race bike that weighs less than 22 pounds. Trek claims a 17.5 inch frame with shock and all hardware weighs only 4.3 pounds.

Trek Top Fuel -4

I kept the bike at the lower geometry setting to get the slackest head angle possible, in line with what most modern-day cross-country bikes are using. This, along with the added efficiency and stability
from the wider Boost spacing, makes the Top Fuel an extremely capable cross-country racer as well as an exceptional do-it-all endurance machine within the realm of 100 mm travel. It’s fast, it’s light and it handles like a dream.

Besides handling and climbing prowess, the wider stance, along with the EVO rocker link and Full Floater suspension, makes you forget, more often than not, that it has only 100 mm of travel. Oddly, within the first week of riding, the RockShox Full Sprint hydraulic remote button fell off, nullifying the ability to lock out the rear shock (the fork lockout remained operational), and I never missed it. Trek’s suspension design produced efficient pedaling even on the smoothest of climbs. If given an option, I’d easily choose a manual lockout for the shock rather than the hydraulic combination controlling both the shock and fork, since I didn’t necessarily need one for the shock.

Another surprise? While the stock Bontrager XR1 Team Issue tires looked questionable for rough, rocky conditions, set up tubeless they performed exceptionally well, providing great traction in all conditions (I could successfully run less than 20 psi when it was wet and slick). They have also proven to be very durable.

With Boost spacing, a PF92 bottom bracket and hydraulic linked suspension, there’s very little part swapping to be had with the Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SL. When you consider the quality of all those parts, there’s nothing I’d change besides having the option for a manual-lockout shock.

The Top Fuel is one of the most high-tech, potent and fun short travel 29ers I’ve ever ridden; it’s also one of the lightest. It’s a full-on racer as well as a full-on fun-to-ride bike. There is one other thing I’d change, though: adding my own dropper seatpost. This little addition would help make the Top Fuel an even more aggressively awesome bike on the descents.

  • Wheelbase: 43.7″, 53.6
  • Top Tube: 23.8″
  • Head Angle: 70°, 70.9°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74º, 74.9
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.9″, 13.4″
  • Rear Center: 17″
  • Weight: 21.3 lbs. w/o pedals
  • Price: $9,000
  • Sizes: 15.5″, 17.5″ (tested), 18.5″, 19.5″, 21.5″ (specs based on size tested)
  • Online: trekbikes.com

 

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Editor’s Choice 2015: Our favorite bikes


Dirt_Rag_Editors_Choice_2015_WEBThis 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.


Scott Genius 900 Tuned

MIKE CUSHIONBURY
Editor-in-Chief

ED Choice 15-2

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.

Price: $8,700
More info: scott-sports.com


Trek Stache 9 29plus

ERIC MCKEEGAN
Tech Editor

ED Choice 15-3

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.

Price: $3,700
More info: trekbikes.com


Evil The Following

MATT KASPRZYK
Former Art Director

ED Choice 15-1

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


Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail

JUSTIN STEINER
General Manager and Photographer

ED Choice 15-4

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


Trek 920

ADAM NEWMAN
Contributing Editor

ED Choice 15-5

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.

Price: $1,990
More info: trekbikes.com


Continue reading with our Editor’s Choice component picks. And make sure to subscribe to the print edition so you don’t miss all of our reviews and gear picks throughout the year.

 

 

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First Impression: Transition Patrol 4


Ed’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!


Price: $2,999

Last year, Transition Bikes went through a major facelift as it restructured the model range to employ its take on the Horst Link rear suspension design, dubbed the Giddy Up Link. The 155 mm travel Patrol is Transition’s longest-travel trail bike.

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When I receive a test bike, I use a standard trail loop to initially take the bike for a ride on in order to gain a reference point for a model’s strengths and weaknesses. Right off the bat, it is apparent the Patrol is a solid platform that wants to be ridden hard through technical terrain.

On fast rocky sections, the Patrol has me looking for trail features to pop off of with little regard to where I land, and the Giddy Up suspension has so far eaten up as much as I can throw at it. Last weekend I spent some time on the Patrol doing laps on our local freeride terrain. I admire the bike’s ability to feel stable at speed and stick larger drops with little struggle.

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Given the price point of this bike, component choices need to remain utilitarian and (more) affordable. At 32.58 pounds without pedals, the Patrol isn’t exactly a lightweight but isn’t a complete tank, either. The component spec has been rock-solid thus far, offering great value and performance.

I have, so far, found the higher weight to be mildly noticeable on the climbs but it hasn’t impacted me all that much if I settle into a gear and spin. Looking at the geometry sheet for the Patrol, you would think the 65-degree head angle would be cause for concern when the trail turns upward, but I have yet to experience any issues worth commenting on.

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Stay tuned for more from the highlighter yellow Transition; I plan to continue to put more time on this bike in even nastier terrain. Check out Transition’s website for more info.

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First Impression: Devinci Hendrix RS


Ed’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!


Price: $2,999

The Devinci Hendrix RS is a bit of an anomaly, not unlike its namesake, Jimi Hendrix. Mashing together 27plus wheels built on Boost spacing, slack geometry and capable 120 mm front /110 mm rear travel, the aluminum wonder is poised to turn heads—but can it play the Star Spangled Banner behind its head?

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The guitar genius, Jimi Hendrix once sang, “Well I stand up next to a mountain, and I chop it down with the edge of my hand” in his 1968 song, Voodoo Child. I feel like this is an apt metaphor for the way the Devinci Hendrix approaches climbing. Either grinding away one pedal stroke at a time, or aggressively hammering to get to the top, reducing the mountain to naught but something beneath you…

Or perhaps I’m grasping at metaphorical straws to make a point… Either way, this bike loves to climb, even if I don’t. The 67.3 or 67.7 degree head tube angle (depending on whether you have the frame set to low or hi) is slack but doesn’t wander going uphill or feel like your pushing too much upfront. The 780 mm bars help in the leverage department too, but watch out in tight spaces.

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The Hendrix RS really shines going downhill. The combination of big wheels, big tires and enough suspension to soak up an endless stream of rocks, roots and other distortion is out-shined only by the bike’s ability to build up speed.

Not unlike other weirdos like the Surly Instigator, the Surly Krampus or the Trek Stache 29plus, the Hendrix will quietly lure you into a speed trap, causing you to check your vitals before blowing whatever hairpin turn waits at the bottom of an awesome descent. Fortunately, the Hendrix is equipped with SRAM’s Guide series brakes, making stopping a breeze.

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If taking flight is your thing you have something in common with Mr. Hendrix, who was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army.  I tend to keep my feet, and wheels, on the ground, but  the Devinci Hendrix certainly isn’t opposed to taking flight, assuming you have the skills to hit your drop zone.

At 32 pounds the Canadian-made, aluminum Hendrix RS is way lighter than it’s human namesake, who probably weighed at least 120 pounds, right? Speaking of our friends to the north, Hendrix the performer, not the bike, was once detained upon entering Canada after traces of heroin and hashish were found on his person. Mr. Hendrix was set free on $10,000 bail and was later acquitted of the charges. You can get your mitts on the Devinci Hendrix for less than $3,000 in sizes S, M, L or XL, no court dates necessary. Where you get your hash is your own problem.

 

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The One-Bike Challenge


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.

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Tester: Eric McKeegan, age: 41, height: 5’11,” weight: 160 lbs, inseam: 32″

The Events

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

RM One Bike-4

 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.

Bikepacking

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.

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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.

Endurance

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.

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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.

Gravity

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.
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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.

RM One Bike-1

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
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