Dirt Rag Magazine

First Impression: Salsa Pony Rustler



Salsa Cycles’ Pony Rustler is the rotund sibling of the brand’s well-admired Horsethief. Both bikes feature the same basic platform and very similar components, with the obvious difference being the wider wheelset of the Pony Rustler. I’ve been riding the Carbon X01 build for a few weeks and have been impressed on how well it tackles the ever-changing winter weather we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast this year. There has been everything from summer-like 70 degree days to Arctic cold temperatures mixed with slush, ice and deep powder. Throw in a couple of blistering windstorms and you get the idea.


I really have come to appreciate Salsa’s decision to use 45 mm WTB Scraper rims matched up 3-inch WTB Bridger tires. While not the best in the deep snow, the Bridgers have been a great all-around choice. The wide rims also do a great job of creating a nice full tire profile, allowing for more of the knobs to maintain contact with the trail surface.


Two of the three Pony Rustler build kits come with a 1x drivetrain; the lower-priced model ships with a 2x option. So far I’ve had no issues with the SRAM X01 that shipped with ours. Yea, it’s sometimes a pain to try and dump a bunch of gears when faced with an uphill you weren’t expecting, but I’m willing to deal with the inconvenience for a cleaner handlebar setup.


The Carbon X01 build features a nice upgrade to the 130 mm Pike RCT3 which uses the awesome Charger Damper that RockShox fans have grown to love. You’ll find a Fox Float 34 with the two other kits.

And, of course, what would a high-end trail bike be without a dropper post? Here Salsa opted for the internal cable routed Reverb Stealth.


I’ve had the Pony Rustler out on a few regular singletrack outings and a snowy/rainy/slushy overnight bikepacking excursion. It’s been a ton of fun on all of it. I’m really looking forward to putting some more miles on it and seeing if it could be the one bike my stable has been itching for. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Price: $5,499
Check out salsacycles.com for more information on the Pony Rustler and all their other bikes.

We’ll be running a long term review of the Pony Rustler in a future issue of Dirt Rag so stay tuned and make sure you have an active subscription so you don’t miss it, and all the great stuff we’ve got planned for the year.



First Impression: Charge Bikes Cooker 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: $2,400


Charge Bikes’ Cooker 4 is a 27.5plus entry in our sub-$3,000 bike group test. The Cooker features an all-aluminum frame, a RockShox Reba RL Boost fork, 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain, a 725 mm RaceFace Evolve handlebar, Shimano SLX brakes and WTB 2.8″ Trailblazer tires riding on 40 mm wide rims.


The chainstays provide just enough clearance for the 2.8-inch WTB Trailblazers, and I’m wondering how much more rubber can fit in there. 40 mm rims provide a nice wide platform so that the tires don’t look out of place or too round, and I haven’t had any problems since I set them up tubeless.


Because it was designed in Great Britain, I felt is was appropriate to take the bike out and give it a good mud bath. Like peanut butter and jelly, some things are just meant to go together.


So far the Cooker has been a worthy companion. The combination of the Reba and large tires make line choices through roots and rocks a bit less important, and the bike seems to roll nicely through most conditions and trail surfaces. I haven’t perceived much of a weight penalty from the extra rubber, and the geometry feels spot on. I’m looking forward to getting a good bit more time with my new buddy so I can bring you a complete review, out in January.



First Impression: Kona Hei Hei Trail

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: $2,500

The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s premier cross country platform, and while past models have been no-compromise race bikes, the latest generation reflects the changing nature of cross-country riding and mountain biking in general.


While the aluminum frame moves a racy 100 mm of travel through an all-new suspension design Kona calls Fuse, the 120 mm fork and 68 degree head tube angle are more commonly found on bigger bikes. It’s no wonder that the new bike gets the “trail” designation right in the name. (There is a Hei Hei Race model with a 100 mm fork for the go-fast crowd).


The Fuse system is a classic single-pivot design that does away with the secondary pivot in favor of a flex design. This keeps both the cost and weight down and means one less part to maintain. The result is a classic single-pivot feel with a lively nature. If you run your rebound knob clocked at the “rabbit” end of the dial, you’re going to like this bike. The smaller packaging of the Fuse system also allows for 16.9-inch chainstays, which just barely qualify as worthy of the “short rear end” moniker.


It’s clear the parts spec has been chosen with a great balance of functionality and affordability. The RockShox Recon Gold TK Solo Air isn’t flashy but is a solid workhorse. The 2×10 Shimano Deore/XT running gear is tried and true including the Deore hubs (with Centerlock rotors, woot!) laced to WTB i25 tubeless rims. Even the Kona house-brand cockpit components fit great, with wide handlebars and a 35 mm stem clamp. Ok, I might change out the grips, but I can’t knock Kona for those. The Hei Hei Trail doesn’t ship with a dropper post, but one can be easily installed with either internal or external cable routing.

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No, mountain bikes aren’t cheap, but it’s amazing how capable a bike in this price range can be. I predict some fun times ahead on the Hei Hei Trail.


Subscribe today so you don’t miss the full review in our next issue, plus long-term ride tests of all eight bikes in our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test.


First Impressions: Kona’s new Honzo AL/DL, Hei Hei Trail and Precept 150

Kona’s tagline for its 2016 lineup is “Going Deeper” and it’s an apt description for its largest-ever product range. While some models carry over largely unchanged, nearly every mountain bike gets an update of some kind, and several get ground-up redesigns. We sampled some of the latest on the trails outside Bellingham, Washington.

Honzo AL/DL

When I rode the original Honzo for a long-term review last year I couldn’t help but feel that it was really only going to make a particular type of rider happy. In classic Kona style it was built tough, and didn’t worry much about the gram scale. It was a ripper, for sure, but wasn’t the bike I would choose for all-purpose mountain biking.


The new aluminum Honzo changes that entirely. It sheds nearly three pounds of the frame weight of the steel version (which is still available as a frame-only) and transforms the bike into a much more pedal-friendly all-arounder. You might be saying “Ok, so it’s a Taro,” an aluminum model that had a similar geometry to the steel Honzo, but it’s not. The aluminum Honzo is entirely new, with an all-new tubeset, different hub spacing (Boost 148) and a PF92 bottom bracket shell. The short 415 mm chainstays and 68 degree head tube angle stay put while the front center stretches out even more, now matching the front end geometry of the Process 111.

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The AL/DL model comes with the new Foax 34 fork (with the much improved FIT4 damper) set at 120 mm and a 1×10 Shimano drivetrain at $2,199. The AL model swaps in a RockShox Recon fork at $1,599 and the frame itself can be had for $500. The steel frame remains largely the same but gets the same geometry as the aluminum model and retails for $525. Finally, there is now a titanium frame for the true connoisseur at $2,199.


Hei Hei Trail

The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s full-suspension cross-country platform, and the latest version adapts in accordance with the changes in cross-country riding. Races are getting more technical, riders are looking for more travel, and versatility is being favored over gram counting. The new Hei Hei Trail addresses these demands with new geometry and an all-new suspension platform.


The new Hei Hei Trail moves 100 mm of travel through a new flex pivot design Kona calls Fuse. By eliminating the pivot near the dropout and instead allowing the chainstay to flex 1.5 degrees, the rear triangle is lighter and simpler. The linkage is also much smaller and the shock is mounted lower, resulting in better standover and a lower center of gravity.


Up front the bike’s attitude is transformed with a 68 degree head tube angle and a longer reach (though not as long as the Honzo or Process bikes). Paired with a 120 mm Fox 34 fork it is more than capable of hanging with its Process cousins, especially when equipped with a dropper post through the available stealth routing. The Fuse suspension is poised and responsive, and while it doesn’t have a lot of travel it is more than capable. Of the three bikes I sampled, the Hei Hei Trail was the one that surprised and impressed me the most.


The Hei Hei Trail DL is equipped with a Fox 34 fork and 1×11 Shimano XT drivetrain for $3,299. The Hei Hei Trail rolls with a RockShox Recon Gold TK fork and 2×10 Shimano Deore drivetrain for $2,499. The frame only is $1,699. There is a Hei Hei Race version, with a 100 mm fork and a very race-oriented build kit, but it will only be available international markets.


Precept 150

While the Process line of bikes have been earning a lot of accolades, including in our pages, they are inherently more expensive to manufacture. The Precept line uses a more traditional single pivot suspension layout and more affordable build kits to hit a lower price point without sacrificing the attitude of Kona’s more expensive models.


The Precept 150 is an all-new model with 27.5 wheels and 150 mm of travel front and rear. The aluminum frame features a tried-and-true linkage-driven single pivot design paired with a RockShox Sektor fork and ships with a KS dropper post and 2×10 SRAM drivetrain. The geometry matches the Process 153 with a 66.5 head tube angle and 16.7 inch chainstays, keeping the Precept 150 feeling light on its feet and never cumbersome.

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While it doesn’t have the bling factor of the fancy parts the Precept 150 is perfectly at home on steep, rocky trails and would be just fine doing light bike park duty or enduro racing. The single model will sell for $2,699.



Inside Line: First ride on the 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR

If any one single model epitomizes “mountain bikes” it’s the Specialized Stumpjumper. One of the first mass-produced off road bicycles, it been a mainstay of the lineup since 1981. Its evolution has traced the course of mountain bike design, through various frame materials, suspension setups and user categories. There are no fewer than 19 different Stumpjumper models in the 2015 lineup, spanning both hardtail and FSR full suspension designs, so redesigning a bike as iconic as the Stumpy is no short order.


Riders familiar with Specialized and its products will find many familiar features in the 2016 Stumpjumper FSR, plus a few surprises. While the previous model was available in both standard and EVO models with more travel and a rowdier disposition, the 2016 model adopts the more aggressive geometries across the board. Essentially, all of the 2016 models are the EVO model. There are 10 models in total, both aluminum and carbon fiber, stretch from $2,900 to $8,900, plus four frame-only options.

Another feature many folks were hoping for was the adoption of the chainstay design from the Enduro model that keeps the rear center as short as possible, shrinking from 450 mm to 437 mm in the 29er version and 435 mm to 420 mm in the 27.5 version (which Specialized continues to refer to as 650b, even though most of the mountain bike industry has settled on “27.5”). Head tube angles are 67 degrees for the 27.5 model and 67.5 degrees for the 29er.


While many of the models are built with single-chainring drivetrains, others are offered with doubles and the front derailleur mounted on the “taco blade” adapter that was also first featured on the Enduro model. Travel sits at 140/135 mm on the 29er and 150 mm front and rear on the 27.5 model, which is no longer “adapted” from a different model as the 2015 version was. That travel moves through a custom-tuned Fox Float shock with Specialized’s AutoSag feature that makes setup a breeze.

Also featured on every single model is the new Command Post IRcc that is still controlled with a shift cable (internally routed) but does away with the three fixed positions and instead offers a dozen stops along its 125 mm of travel. While we are fans of the Command Post, we can’t help but wonder why Specialized doesn’t offer one with zero offset for the aftermarket, as all of its bikes are designed around a large 35 mm of rearward offset.


While hub standards seem to be all over the place right now, the 2016 Stumpjumper FSR sticks with the 15 mm front / 142 mm rear hubs, with one small exception: the Roval Traverse Fatty wheels have what Specialized calls 142+. It’s not *quite* a new standard, but close. While the overall hub spacing is the same, the freehub body is pushed outboard 2 mm [PDF]. This means a standard 142 mm hub will fit, but the 142+ hub probably won’t fit another bike because the cassette may interfere with the chainstay. The rims feature Specialized’s hookless tubeless bead and a 29 mm internal width.

The SWAT box

Specialized has been rolling out accessories with the SWAT label for a few years now (Storage, Water, Air, Tools), and they offer smart ways to carry essentials like tubes and tools. For example, there is a multi tool that clips into the frame just above the shock mount, a spare chain link and chain tool hiding under the top cap, and an optional cargo box that mounts to the bottle cage bolts.

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The carbon fiber versions of the new Stumpjumper take SWAT to the next level with the introduction of SWAT box, a large cutout in the down tube of the frame that lets you hide things like tubes and tools inside the frame. The opening is roughly 2.5 x 4 inches and the compartment extends two thirds of the way up the down tube. The included tool rolls keep things from clanking around in there, and because the frame is specifically designed around the opening you armchair composite engineers out there can rest assured it is as structurally sound as any other bike frame. Those properties don’t translate to aluminum however, so it is only available in the carbon frames. And no, a beer can doesn’t fit. We tried.

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On the trail

I had a chance to sample the 29er version of the new Stumpjumper FSR at our own Dirt Rag Dirt Fest this past weekend, and while it was hardly a long-term test, I came away with an impression of how versatile this bike could be. Usually 29ers with this much travel are really only happy with high-speed descending, but the Stumpy could have easily been mistaken for its shorter-travel cousin the Camber.

Sometimes hoping on a bike just feels right, and the XL I demo’d fit perfectly right out of the gate with nice wide bars and a comfortable cockpit. Getting the suspension set up with the AutoSag feature is brainless, but I would like to experiment with a bit more than the automatic 20 percent sag. Unlike many Horst-link designs that require a firm shock platform, the Stumpjumer renders the Fox CTD lever unnecessary with its built-in composure.


Our Tech Editor, Eric McKeegan, rode the 27.5 version. Here is his take:

“With the changes to the Stumpy, I somewhat expected to feel like the 27.5 version to feel like an ‘Enduro-lite’, but even with the slacker angles, things felt more trail than all-mountain. I’m not sure if the suspension kinematics have been changed, or it is the new Rx Tune for the rear shock, but I agree with Adam, I didn’t feel much need to flip the platform lever on the rolling trails of Raystowne Lake. I did lock out both ends for the pavement climb, and thought they could use a little more ‘lock’ to the lockout.

“I also agree on the fit, I’ve always been very happy with the way Specialized fits out of the box, and had no problems pushing the pace from the get go. Well, maybe not the get go, the brakes weren’t bedded in yet so the first corner was interesting, to say the least.

“The main thing I can say about my test ride? It was too short. I wanted more ride time.

“A few years ago we did a comparison test between the Stumpjumper EVO 29 and Stumpjumper EVO 26. Maybe it is time to return to that idea, with all three bikes…”

One more thing

Wait, there’s a third bike? While we didn’t get to sample one in person, there is also a new Stumpjumper 6Fattie coming, built around the same 27.5×3 wheels and tires of the new Fuze and Ruze models. To fit the wide wheels it uses the new 110/148 mm hubs and a few other tweaks. It will be available in both carbon and aluminum models later this summer.



This article originally misstated the head tube angle of the 29er Stumpjumper. It is 67.5 degrees.



First Impression: Pivot Mach 429SL


The new carbon Mach 429SL from Pivot Cycles shaves half a pound off the previous frame to come in at a very respectable 5.3 pounds. Match that to 100 mm of potent dw-link controlled suspension and this venerable favorite becomes even more attractive. New hollow-core carbon technology from Pivot not only reduces weight but also increases overall stiffness.


The Mach 429SL is the second ever production bike released with full Shimano XTR Di2 integration (the Mach 4 Carbon was the first) with an easily accessible internal battery compartment near the bottom bracket as well as internal ports with dedicated caps for wires or traditional cables and housing. The frame is also RockShox Reverb stealth dropper post compatible or in our case, the cable and housing from the Fox DOSS dropper routes internally in the top tube.


Our bike is built up with a complete XTR Di2 group, including Race level brakes and wheels as well as Shimano’s Pro line Tharsis XC Flat Di2 specific stem and carbon handlebar with internal wire routing. By using these the wiring system is almost completely hidden in the frame and totally out of view at the cockpit.

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The frame comes standard with a Fox Float Kashima Factory shock with Pivot’s simple to use sag indicator. It also has a 120 mm travel Fox 32 CTD Factory Kashima coated fork but the geometry is designed to work with a 100 mm travel fork as well. As shown, our bike weighs 25.15 pounds without pedals but depending on some specific parts could be built to less than 24 pounds.


With a head angle measuring in at 69.3 degrees, Pivot is utilizing a fairly common number for its cross-country specific Mach. That’s matched to 17.65-inch chainstays to keep the bike quick and nimble. So far its 100mm of rear travel has been highly impressive, often giving the illusion of having more travel at higher speeds. Climbing, the Mach is consistently active but excellent anti-squat from the dw-link design keeps the bike feeling fresh and spunky when putting power to the pedals on smooth sections without giving up compliancy and traction on technical climbs

The Mach 429 SL Carbon frameset retails for $2,999 and various complete bikes are offered. The Shimano XTR Di2 bike retails for $10,400 with a few slight differences from ours including Reynolds carbon wheels, a Pivot branded Phoenix Carbon seat post and handlebar, and Team stem. For first impressions of XTR Di2 click here and here.



First Impression: Santa Cruz Bantam D

Editor’s note: This is one of six bikes we’ve gathered together that fall between $1,900 and $2,600. Read our introduction to see the other five and watch for our long-term reviews of each in Dirt Rag #182, due on newsstands and in mailboxes in February. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss a bike review.


Santa Cruz markets the Bantam as the 5010’s single pivot brother, but I can’t help but see a lightweight Heckler hiding in there. Because I owned and loved a Heckler back in the day, I’m excited to see how it matches up to its forefather on the trails.

The Bantam D features 125mm of rear travel, 27.5 wheels, thru axles fore and aft, a decent SRAM/Shimano mixed component set, and among other bits a 130mm Rockshox Sektor Gold fork. All for $2,499—stellar.

My first couple rides have shown great promise.


With a nice beefy rear triangle, the Bantam is stiff and responsive. The RockShox Sektor Gold feels way above its pay grade, and even though the brakes are the entry level SRAM DB1s which still use the problematic TaperBore design, they respond well.


I’m really digging the inclusion of a matched set of 2.3″ Maxxis High Roller IIs. These tires are just awesome. Snow, sleet, mud and dirt can’t phase ’em.


So far, so good I’d say. Make sure you keep up on your subscription so you don’t miss the Bantam’s long-term review and all the other great stuff we’ve got lined up this year.



First Impression: Liteville 601


You’ve never heard of Liteville? That’s OK, it’s not like you local bike shop has racks full of these bikes. Liteville is a sister company of Syntace, the German component brand.

Besides being a niche brand, the 601 is a niche bike, with a downhill-worthy 190mm of rear travel, packaged into a frame that is designed to climb as well as descend. Match that up with a single- or dual-crown fork, and we’ve got a monster of a bike that is neither trail nor downhill, but hopefully some the best traits of both. And look!! 26-inch wheels!

Read the full story here.


First Impressions: Jamis Dakar XCT650 Comp and Specialized Camber Comp 29

Editor’s note: Here at Dirt Rag we don’t really do “comparison tests” or “shootouts” or declare “winners”. Every bike we review has a story to tell, and they’re all interesting. That said, we rounded up six full-suspension trail bikes in the $2,500-ish range to see what’s really out there in the heart of the mountain bike market. To get the party started, we spent a week riding in and around the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Watch for full reviews of each bike, as well as more about the trails, in an upcoming issue, but for now, a teaser:


As hard as it is to believe, high-end bikes can get boring. Riding nothing but top-o’-the-line bikes that use proven components and geometry usually results in reviews that are pretty predictable. How many ways can you say “this bike is sweet but a lot of money”?

After floating this $2,500 round-up idea around the office, and getting some push back from our group of spoiled-brat bike testers, I realized we’d become way too coddled by XTR and XX1. Time to recalibrate the snob-o-meter!

I assigned myself a pair of trail bikes, a Specialized Camber Comp 29 and a Jamis Dakar XCT650 Comp. Read the full story

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