Tester: Eric McKeegan
Age: 42, Height: 5’11, Weight: 155, Inseam: 32 inches
Sizes: 15.5, 17.5, 18.5, 19.5 (tested), 21.5
More info: Trek Fuel EX
The previous generation Fuel EX was Trek’s best selling full-suspension bike. With Trek’s move to a more race-focused Top Fuel last year, it came as a surprise to see the new Fuel EX move into the territory staked out for the longer-travel Remedy. This new Fuel EX gets more travel and the long, low, slack treatment. It also dumps the 27.5 option in favor of a chassis that supports 29 or 27plus wheels. How do these massive changes perform when the rubber hits the trail? Let’s find out.
Trek started over, clean state style, with an entirely new carbon frame with 130 mm of travel. The full list of Trek’s suspension technology is utilized: ABP rear pivot, Full Floater floating shock mount, Mino Link for geometry adjustment, and the poorly named but excellent-performing Re:Aktiv valve equipped rear shock.
The frame does without the typical bend in the downtube to allow clearance for the fork controls. Instead Trek uses a new headset that pairs with a replaceable tab built into the frame to prevent the fork from rotating far enough for the top caps to contact the frame. The straighter downtube is stiffer and lighter, and overall frame stiffness is greater than the previous Remedy 29.
The parts kit is an interesting blend of Deore XT brakes and 2×11 drivetrain, Reverb dropper, Sun Duroc 40 rims and DT hubs. Bontrager handles the rest of the bits, including Chupacabra 2.8 tires. Fox provides suspension via a 140 mm 34 GRIP damper fork and Float EVOL rear shock.
The Mino chip can be flipped for high or low settings. I spent the vast majority of my ride time on this bike with the chip in the high setting (on the 27plus tires). The low setting was super stable and shreddy, but pedal strikes were all too common. With 29 inch wheels, both settings are more usable. To be clear, even on the high setting the head angle is 67.2 degrees and the bottom bracket is 13.3 inches, numbers that are pretty low and slack for a 130 mm bike.
The previous EX was obviously closely related to Trek’s cross-country race tool, the Top Fuel. The new EX falls more solidly into the trail category. Trek goes as far as to say the Fuel EX effectively replaces the Remedy 29, as that bike is discontinued for 2017. The 27.5 Remedy gets updated to a more shreddy 150 mm chassis; expect a review of that bike soon.
I was a big fan of the old EX bikes, partially for the efficient yet plush suspension, and partially because it was a very easy bike to get along with on tight and twisty trails. I had some trepidation at first that the geometry changes would take away from my love of this bike. Fortunately, while things have changed, this is still a very lovable bike.
Trek continues to impress me with the Re:Aktiv valve shocks. They deliver incredibly plush, controlled suspension. I have to resist the urge to add more air to the suspension, as it often feels too soft on the road while riding to the trailhead or pushing on the seat, but on the trail, it feels seamless and it’s always doing the right things and never bottoming harshly.
For trails that required a lot of body English and standing climbing, I kept the rear end in trail mode, but even in the firmest platform setting, the Re:Aktiv valve would blow-off and absorb a lot more trail chatter than expected.
It is hard to put into words about how well this suspension system works. Once in the woods, the suspension just does its thing with a minimum of fuss. The increased frame stiffness was noticeable, paying dividends when working the bike over rocks or powering up hills. Descents are handled with much more composure; the increased reach, decreased head angle and resulting longer front center put me farther behind the front wheel, making it easier to roll down steep sections with much less chance of going over the bars.
Because the front wheel is farther out in front, like most modern trail bikes, care needs to be taken to load the front end in flat or off-camber turns. Technical climbs need a firmer hand on the front end as well. But that is about the only place I ever thought the slacker geometry was a detriment, and I suspect most riders will adjust pretty quickly.
While this review is technically of the 27plus version of this bike, I also rode the 29er version in Squamish, and swapped out the wheels on this bike to see what the 29er felt like at home. In similar fashion to the Santa Cruz Hightower I reviewed last issue, the 29 inch wheels feel faster almost everywhere, and felt more secure when cornering hard. The 27plus tires erase trail chatter and provide more confidence over slippery roots and rocks.
A few random things that warrant mention. The Reverb remote still doesn’t play well with Shimano brakes. The Shimano brakes are still exhibiting inconstant engagement points, which has plagued all the redesigned brakes we’ve ridden this year. How about some metal pads for those brakes, Mr. Product Manager?
The GRIP damper in the Fox 34 is excellent for a “second-tier” offering, but the air spring could use some spacers, something that I’d like to see included with the bike. The 2×11 drivetrain is starting to feel like a throwback on bikes like this, but it is easier to swap to a single-ring drivetrain than go the other way.
The internal routing is quiet, but trying to swap dropper posts made me want to punch a box of puppies. Someday everyone will listen to me and we’ll see external routing come back, as nature intended.
Like many other bikes getting updates and redesigns this year, the new Fuel EX bears little resemblance to the previous model (see our review in issue #191). Part of me wants to mourn the loss of one of the few trail bikes left that relied on the “just enough” school of thought, but most of me was having too much fun riding the new bike to worry about it too much. And really, isn’t the idea of buying a new bike to have a new riding experience?
Yes, if you are buying a first new bike in years, the EX will feel foreign at first, but ride it enough to become familiar with the nuances and you’ll find yourself feeling more in control at higher speeds on just about any trail. For those of us with more time on modern bikes, the Fuel EX feels familiar already, a still almost-minimalist trail bike that is more than capable on almost any trail out there without overwhelming the rider with extremely slack geometry or excessive travel.
In other words, the new Fuel EX is a darn good trail bike, in the most modern way possible. If you still really, really want something steeper and snappier, Trek’s Top Fuel might make a better option but really, if you are going to haul around suspension and you aren’t racing, a proper trail bike is a better choice.
While this EX 9 is almost cheap for a carbon bike with full XT, Trek offers a huge range of aluminum- or carbon-framed Fuel EX models starting at $2,200 all the way up to $8,300.
- Reach: 18.3”
- Stack: 24.6”
- Top Tube: 25.8”
- Head Tube: 67.2°
- Seat Tube: 74.2°
- BB Height: 13.3”
- Chainstays: 17”
- Weight: 28.3 lbs. w/o pedals
- Specs based on size tested
Pivot’s full-suspension “race” bike, the Mach 429SL carbon, has been updated for 2017. It’s not plus (but it does have a Boost rear); it’s not even 27.5. This carbon bike has 100 mm of suspension front and rear and—gasp—29-inch wheels.
The Mach 429SL is spec’d with the Fox Float Dual Piston System (DPS) shock custom tuned specifically for cross-country and endurance racing. The Float DPS shock features settings and a design that allows for a plush feel with a wide range of damping control while also offering an extremely positive “firm” position for fast climbs.
The new Mach 429SL carbon is available in more than 12 different complete bike configurations, starting at $4,200.
- Frame weight from 5.2 pounds (2.4Kg) and sub-23 pounds (10.4kg) complete
- 100 mm of dw-link suspension tuned for race and trail handling
- Full-carbon frame featuring Pivot’s proprietary hollow core internal molding technology
- Full length internal cable routing and Shimano Di2 integration via Pivot’s exclusive, Cable Port System
- Internal dropper post compatible
- Cold forged alloy linkages with Enduro Max Cartridge Bearings
- Fox Float Kashima Factory shock
- Highly durable rubberized leather downtube and swingarm protection
- Updated to Boost 12x148mm rear spacing
- Designed to work with forks from 100-120 mm in travel
- Every frame size has room for two water bottles
- Available in sizes S, M, L, XL for riders between 5’3″ and 6’4″
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The new Pivot Firebird features some of the longest reach measurements on a bike in this category, combined with super-short 16.95-inch chainstays, 65-degree head angle, 170 mm of suspension, Boost spacing, and clearance for 27.5 wheels with tires up to 2.5 inches wide.
The carbon frame can reportedly be built up with a weight of less than 28 pounds. Also new is the availability of a size XL in this model. There is no extra small, and the shortest suggested rider height for a small Firebird is 5’4″.
For comparisons on how the geometry changed, the old Firebird 27.5 had a 66-degree headtube angle, 160 mm of suspension and a chainstay length of 17.25 inches. Top tube length on a size large went from 24 inches to 25.12 inches.
The Firebird is being billed, without apologies, as a no-compromise enduro race machine. To aid that, Pivot utilizes DW-Link suspension. Dave Weagle, the brains behind DW‐Link and Chris Cocalis, Pivot’s president and founder, collaborate on every Pivot suspension design. Pivot used DW-Link to offer square-edged bump absorption that is claimed to rival the company’s DH bike while also pedaling more efficiently than the bike’s travel and geometry would suggest.
With the new Firebird, you also get internal cable routing, front-derailleur capability, 180 mm disc brake rotors and electronic shifting integration. There are eight available build kits on Pivot’s site, ranging from a Shimano XT 1×11 build ($5,000) up to a Shimano XTR Di2 build with carbon wheels, if money is no object ($9,900). The Firebird should be available now at your local bike shop.
The market expansion of plus-size trail hardtails with don’t-need-to-mortgage-the-house prices continues with the new Rocky Mountain Growler, a 120 mm, 27 plus hardtail. All models feature an aluminum frame, 1×11 gearing and 3-inch WTB Ranger tires. None of the models get a dropper post, womp womp, even though the top-end price point of this bike is comparable to plus-tire hardtails with droppers.
Notably, the Growler is available in six sizes, including XXS(!!). That and the XS will run 26plus wheels/tires, which makes a whole hell of a lotta sense.
Geometry highlights include a 67-degree headtube angle. On the XXS and XS, the bottom bracket drop goes from 58 mm to 40 mm, and the rear chainstay shrinks a bit from 440 mm to 430 mm. Rocky Mountain resisted the short-as-possible trend on many mini-fat hardtails, helping it stand out a bit against brethren such as the similarly spec’d Salsa Timberjack.
- Growler 750 — $1,700
- Growler 740 — $1,250 (pictured above in red)
- Growler 730 — $900
Tester: Zach White
Sizes Small, Medium, Large, XL(tested)
MSRP: $9499 Factory build, $6999 Pro build, $5899 Expert build
Weight 25.9lbs, as tested
Intense’s all new Primer will be quite familiar to Spider 29 fans, as it’s essentially a nicely updated version of the already well-sorted Intense Spider of last year. Sticking with a VPP chassis featuring travel adjustable between 115 mm and 130 mm (without geometry variation), the Primer’s biggest difference from last year’s Spider is a refinement in the linkage. The recent expiration of VPP’s patent has allowed Intense, along with other manufacturers, to put their own spin on the design. This first restriction-free version, however, looks quite similar to the improvements made by Santa Cruz’s models where the lower linkage has been tucked up and out of harm’s way, while decreasing chain stay length at the same time.
The Primer comes in both standard and SL carbon options, both of which have a higher modulus from last year’s frames, allowing for larger mandrels inside the tubes for improved consistency in the carbon walls, ultimately equating to stronger and lighter frames. Also improving upon the strength and stiffness are larger-diameter bearings on both versions of the Primer, and the SL loses a few grams by way of a carbon upper link and titanium hardware.
Other improvements to the new Primer include Boost spacing front and rear, a 1-degree slacker 67.5-degree head tube angle, a quarter-inch shorter 17.25-inch chain stays, and a noticeably steeper 75-degree(effective) seat tube angle. Standover height drops about an inch on average throughout the sizes to allow more room for 125 mm drop dropper posts(all models will come stock with Reverb Stealth 125’s), and reach is stretched to varying lengths throughout the sizes to allow for shorter stems.
Over a few week test period, our size XL Primer loaner was ridden and raced in a handful of different regions and disciplines including the 6-day Singletrack 6 and Sun Valley Enduro Cup, and overall it was a pleasure to throw a leg over during its short stay. Just like the Spider 29 of last year, it’s initial impression is that of an XC oriented suspension tune and build, but with a few pieces added to the spec to keep it from getting pigeonholed with some of the less playful options out there. However, it didn’t take long to realize that its 130 mm of travel couldn’t be used as an excuse to not occasionally drop into steep, techy and chunky chutes, or huck off a BC feature or three. Granted, it’d be the wrong tool of choice for an audience focused on said trails and features, but it showed a surprisingly versatile personality while traveling through new-to-me trail systems and wanting to get a taste of every flavor offered.
Both front and rear triangles felt stiff and efficient enough for a bike of this genre, but did show a bit of flex under harsher riding with a 200-lbs. pilot. Smaller riders on frames smaller than XL, as well as less aggressive trail riders on any size Primer will probably be perfectly happy on it, but don’t expect it to ride like an Intense M16, either.
Though Primer’s JS Tune(named after Jeff Steber, founder of Intense) suspension is unabashedly XC, it was a bit of a surprise to keep wanting to switch the rear shock up to the middle damping setting for conditions that warranted regular pedaling or were smooth enough to want to pump everything. It wasn’t a pig by any means in the open damping position, but did seem to squat down a little bit, and squished more than what’s expected of a VPP design when pedaling was more than a spin or from off the saddle. Once in that middle damping setting, the bike pedaled quite nicely and efficiently, and still absorbed rough trail pretty well, too. And only on long road approaches and ascents did the damping get flipped up to position 3, along with adjusting the 3-position fork damper accordingly as well.
On the rougher trail end of the spectrum, it wouldn’t have been my first guess that the Primer was set to its full 130 mm of travel, as the somewhat progressive stroke felt a bit shy of that. The bike did very well in small to medium hits, and never seemed to harshly bottom out on bigger hits, but would get a little overwhelmed in places like long rock garden sections taken at higher speed, even with the rebound damping wide open. Swapping the shock bolt’s position to the 115 mm travel mode added to this feeling of being both more progressive and more suggestive of a chassis with a hair less suspension than claimed, so the review bike was quickly reset to 130 mm mode. This isn’t to say the Primer is under-gunned in its class by any means, as it continued to surprise and impress in how well it handled itself in conditions outside of expectations for a 5-inch travel 29er, but it was by no means gobbling up anything and everything thrown at it like a bike with more travel would, either.
It was a pleasure to go from another brand’s 130mm travel 29er that had a relatively low bottom bracket to the Primer with its 13.25-inch height. Not only did it lighten up the front end a little bit and allow the front end to get up and over trail features more easily, but striking pedals on rocks and roots wasn’t nearly as big of an issue, either.
That same slightly higher bottom bracket also may have made the 67.5-degree head tube feel slightly less slack than it sounded like it’d handle on paper. It wasn’t a bad thing, but again, without looking at geometry numbers until first impressions were made, the guess on Primer’s front angle would’ve been about a degree steeper. Regardless, the Primer handled itself very nicely in tight switchback climbs and through technical sections that were biased to shorter wheelbases, even though this XL Primer was as big of a wheelbase as it’s available in. The only time the geometry felt a little less than ideal was through steep and deep sections of trail, and in looser, faster turns where the safety net of a slacker head tube angle wasn’t available to rely on. Overall, though, it was a nice compromise of handling better in the lump sum of what this bike is designed to shine at, and still managed reasonably well just outside its comfort zone.
Our particular review bike was a mix of the most expensive Factory build kit and slightly lower Pro build – mostly by way of not having SRAM Eagle available, and being the blue and grey color way specific to the Pro build. A couple of minor gripes were that the new Race Face Next cranks didn’t offer much shoe/ankle clearance, and that Intense spec’d an XC style bike with a rear axle that requires two steps and two different sized allen keys to remove the rear wheel.
A collet-style rear axle is designed to keep things clean, light and stiff, but also made me miss a QR style version when working on the bike – especially out on the trail. A 5 mm allen key is used to remove a tapered bolt that screws into the axle, and then a 6 mm allen key is needed to remove the axle. It’s not brain surgery, but just seems like an overly complicated and awkward system.
A couple of personal adjustments to the Primer’s spec were swapping out the stock 30-tooth front ring with a 28-tooth ring for a 6-day XC stage race, and switching to a saddle more specific to my, um, curves. Otherwise, everything else was ridden stock and seemed a good fit for Intense’s intentions of the Primer.
Time on the Primer left a great impression, and it’ll be hard to box it up and send it home to Intense. Coming from a rider with more of an enduro/gravity bias, it’d be a great bike to have in the quiver for less technical rides, and for those random assignments where I find myself pretending to be an XC racer. The Primer is efficient and light, but there’s no denying that it’s an Intense, either, which makes it a pleasantly playful trail bike option, too. As a one-bike quiver, it’d be an excellent choice that handles an impressive scale of terrain, though its spec and general svelte carbon frame would probably suggest a stouter option if trail appetite leaned more towards relentless pounding.
Tester: Jon Pratt
Age: 45; Height: 5’10”; Weight: 190 pounds; Inseam: 31”
Salsa Cycles is not one to shy away from big tires, so it is only natural to see another one of its bikes with a bit of extra rubber show up at our door for review. This time around it’s the Pony Rustler, Salsa’s 27plus rig sired from the esteemed line of the Horsethief. In fact the two bikes are so similar, they might be better classified as twins. I think the Pony Rustler just decided to wear different shoes and jacket to make sure we didn’t mistake one for the other.
And where did that name come from? Jokingly, Pete Koski, the product design engineer for the Pony Rustler, told me “It rhymes with Horsethief.” I’m kind of glad Pete designs bikes and doesn’t write poetry (that I know of).
As for that design, Joe Meiser, product manager at Salsa, explains that the Pony Rustler was crafted to add to the growing trend of short travel bikes that can climb and descend, while providing increased traction through the use of plus-sized tires. Joe sees it as not just a good bike for trail riding, but one well-suited to bikepacking as well.
The Pony Rustler uses the wide 45 mm WTB Scraper tubeless rim and 3 inch WTB Bridger tire to create a large contact patch between the tire and trail surface, increasing the amount of grip you will experience. This was quite apparent to me in several different scenarios: craggily climbs, rocks and roots, and fast downhill berms.
I commonly ride up hills strewn with rough rocks and slippery roots where getting up and over something not only depends on strength and timing but on the amount of rubber you can keep on the ground. With the Pony Rustler, I always felt the gains in traction overcame the weight penalty. Unlike narrow, higher-pressure tires that rely more on suspension to smooth out the ride, the Pony Rustler’s lower pressure tires more easily deform around objects and limit the amount of shock transmitted to the rider.
When you are motoring through a rock garden the bike’s suspension doesn’t get distracted by the smaller noise, leaving more in reserve to handle bigger hits. This makes the Pony Rustler feel more in control than a narrow-tired bike with similar travel. It feels more in control and leads to more confidence and faster sprints through the trail chatter. Finally, the Pony Rustler is really fun on those fast, flowy trails we all know and love. The increased grip of the larger tire allowed me to take my favorite berms just that much faster. It’s a noticeable difference.
All that grip comes at a price though. Not only does the wheel weigh more, the larger contact patch creates more resistance with the ground. You have to work harder to get going, and keep going. That’s where the trade-off between the 29 inch Horsethief and the 27.5+ Pony Rustler really lies.
But don’t fret too much about the wheel size choice, because the Horsethief and Pony Rustler share a frame and fork. You can purchase either bike and build up the alternate-sized wheelset and swap to your heart’s content. To make this swap as seamless as possible, Salsa used 3 inch WTB tires to maintain very similar geometry between the two bikes. This tire size choice is important to maintain the overall wheel diameter and keep bottom bracket height within 5 mm of each other without making changes to the frames.
According to Salsa engineer Pete Koski, standard 29 inch tires average 735-745 mm in diameter while 27.5×3 inch tires average a very close 730-740 mm. The smaller 2.8 inch tires average 715-725 mm. Those smaller tires would result in the bottom bracket up to 20 mm lower on the Ponty Rustler. So in this case, 3 inch tires are a no-brainer.
Since the 2014 model year, Salsa Cycles has used Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension on their bikes, and that’s a really good thing. At its heart Split Pivot rear suspension is designed to separate braking, pedalling and bump absorption from each other. The Pony Rustler’s mechanical linkage is used to provide pedaling efficiency instead of relying on the low-speed compression damping of the suspension.
Where on some bikes I’m forced to switch between the various modes of the shock, the Pony Rustler allowed me to leave the shock wide open for most of my testing. It’s great knowing that if an unexpected hill appears I just have to mash up it, or slam the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper and take off for a fun ride down. There’s virtually no need to worry about flipping the shock from trail to descend and back again.
Split Pivot design isolates the shock from braking forces. Because the Pony Rustler’s seat stays rotate around the rear axle, when you engage the SRAM Guide RS brakes the braking forces are not transmitted to the RockShox Monarch RT3 and therefore don’t affect its ability to absorb bumps.
Weagle’s design is an incredibly simple, but effective, single pivot suspension. It allows the Pony Rustler to be predictable during braking and adds to the already good small bump compliance afforded by the large, low-pressure tires.
Besides just taking the Pony Rustler out for a few laps around the local park, Salsa designed it to be a great bikepacking tool. Since the bike does not have very much space for a frame pack in the front triangle and no easy way to attach gear to the fork, most of your load is going to either be near the top of the bike or on your back, which raises your center of gravity. The wider tires do a good job offsetting this issue and keep the bike stable under large loads. Increased grip from the tires will also limit the bumblings that can topple a top-heavy biker at the most inopportune times.
I took the Pony Rustler out for a few loaded excursions on both singletrack and slush covered gravel trails, and it performed as expected. I didn’t notice any errant movements from the bike as my bags naturally shifted due to pedaling or experience any puckering situations when traversing some more challenging trails. Overall the bike felt well-planted, stable and comfortable on long treks.
As with most full-suspension bikes, if you feel the need to take everything and the kitchen sink with you, the lack of on-bike storage options might be of concern. I’m OK with paring down and using a backpack when needed.
With the Pony Rustler, Salsa has done a great job building off the Horsethief’s successes and creating an incredibly good bike with arguably more going for it. It’s becoming apparent that plus bikes have a real purpose in the marketplace and that the Pony Rustler is a good example of a well-executed bike that can handle various trail-related tasks with poise.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you head over to your local bike shop and try one on if you are in the market for a bike that could breathe some excitement back into your local trails, or give you the confidence to venture out and explore a bit more.
Stats (with a 130 mm fork)
- Reach: 17.4”
- Stack: 24.4”
- Top Tube: 24.9”
- Head Tube: 67.5°
- Seat Tube: 73°
- BB Height: 12.6”
- Chainstays: 17.2”
- Weight: 30.1 lbs. w/o pedals
- Specs based on size tested
Price: $2,500 frame. Complete starting at $3,500. Tested: $5,500.
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
More info: Salsa Pony Rustler
For the Canfield Brothers cultists, there’s a new steel hardtail on the block. Canfield updated one of its staples: the steel, get-rowdy 29er Nimble 9 to be Boost compatible, slacker and more sparkly.
The Nimble 9 combines the revered ride quality of a steel frame with a slack 66.5-degree head angle and stubby chainstays adjustable down to 16.25 inches via sliding dropouts, making it a candidate for singlespeeding and providing clearance for 2.5-inch tires.
Available in S, M, L and XL, the Nimble 9 frame retails for $749 and sells directly from Canfield Brothers.
Nimble 9 Boost Features and Updates
- 29er all-mountain bike
- 4130 chromoly steel
- Increased reach and shorter seat tube
- 66.5° head angle (w/ 140mm fork)
- Custom sliding Boost 148mm x 12mm rear dropouts, axle included
- Adjustable 16.25“ – 16.9” chainstays
- Stealth cable routing
- Sparkle metallic painted finish
- ED Black treated for superior anti-corrosion resistance
- Removable direct mount front derailleur block
- Two water bottle bosses
Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews as we publish them.
The Timberjack arrives on the heels of the demise of the steel El Mariachi, a longtime singletrack-and-bikepack staple of the Salsa lineup. This new bike follows most current hardtail trends of more than 100 mm of travel, short chainstays and plus-size tires. By building the bike out of aluminum, Salsa created a machine friendlier on the wallet, lighter weight and perhaps less intimidating for a newer mountain biker/bikepacker to approach in their local bike shop (Salsa will also be sold by REI very soon).
Personally, I don’t fancy the way most aluminum bikes ride or look, especially hardtail mountain bikes. Despite being the youngest person on Dirt Rag’s staff, I am the resident steel-loving retrogrouch.
That said, it is hard to argue with what you can get for $1,400 (the test bike I rode): 120 mm of RockShox Recon SL suspension, 27.5×3.0 Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, tubeless-ready Whisky (in-house QBP brand) rims, trail bike mannerisms, internal cable routing and a 30.9 seatpost size for greater compatibility with droppers (which also can be internally routed).
At that price point, and after a couple of hours romping in the woods together, I can’t think of a single bad thing to realistically say about the Timberjack.
My Saddle Drive test route on the slopes of Northstar at Tahoe went like this: climb up a long, dirt service road; rip around on some rolling, rooty cross-country singletrack; descend on rocky, dusty, intermediate DH trails.
My bike was set up with a wildly short stem (40 mm, I think) and tubeless tires (necessary). Despite the short, 420 mm-long chainstays on my size small, the Timberjack motored up that service road without complaint. It’s a little sluggish when you stand to hammer out of the saddle but if you are, like me, a sit-and-grind climber, the tire grip should please you.
The top tube is on the long side, helping to facilitate that short cockpit, so riders with short torsos might have a little trouble getting situated. It also meant I had a bit of a harder time getting my butt back behind the saddle on some of the gnarlier descents. I would absolutely add a dropper to this bike if it were to be ridden on steeps.
On the singletrack, the Timberjack was playful, confident, held its momentum decently well and generally rode a lot like its carbon sibling, the Salsa Woodsmoke (yes, really). Its stability and speed fell right in between the Woodsmoke and the new Surly Karate Monkey, the latter of which is more stable and assuring, the former snappier and easier to get silly on.
I did almost face plant off a wooden feature when I took it too fast to simply roll but wasn’t positioned correctly to get air. The big tires, brapping cockpit and whippy rear end means you can easily get out of hand on the Timberjack because you’re having too much fun and forget you lack a rear shock…
The bike held its own at speed, railed berms and stayed patient with me when I needed to slow way down to pick my way through bigger rock gardens that I didn’t feel I had the bike to just blast through.
These plus bikes are your bad-idea cousins. Take one down chunky trails without rear suspension? Sure, why not? Just stay light, stay back and bounce your way over those rocks with your fingers mentally crossed. The chain slap and general rattle of an aluminum bike does get a bit noisy through rock gardens and you can bottom out those low-pressure tires if you take it off too big of a drop, but, whatever. It’s also a sweet trail bike for your hometown singletrack.
It’s worth noting that plus bikes do ride differently than your standard 2.2-2.4 tire—you can’t straight compare all hardtails. You will feel a bit of sag if you run low pressures on long climbs (kind of like a rear shock in trail mode rather than climb or lockout). The noise those big meats make can sound like you actually have a flat because so much more rubber is contacting the dirt and gravel than you’re used to. You have to learn to block that out of you mind.
But all that contact equals grip equals fun times. That’s the deal with these 3-inch tires: confidence. They float over more chunk than you imagine is possible and they will claw you up and over all kinds of trail crud.
The Timberjack is a bargain at $1,400 and it’s one of the only bikes in this category available in extra small. Get yourself a used dropper post off Craigslist for $100 and you have yourself a really nice trail bike at a really nice price.
The aluminum 27plus bike category
The Specialized Fuse was a big player in kicking off this category a year ago and the entry-level aluminum model comes close to the Salsa at $1,600—that $200 difference gets you a dropper post. As much as I love droppers, I think the new SRAM GX/NX spec on the Timberjack works better than the SRAM X7/X5 build the Fuse gets.
Also in the aluminum 27plus bike family (around the Timberjack’s price point) are the following:
- Kona Big Kahuna at $1,400 (100 mm fork, Shimano Deore, 440 mm chainstays, 69-degree headtube angle)
- Cannondale Beast of the East 3 at $1,600 (120 mm fork, Shimano SLX, 435 mm chainstays, 68.4-degree headtube angle)
- Scott Scale 720 Plus at $1,700 (120 mm fork, Shimano Deore, 439 mm chainstays, 67.7-degree headtube angle)
- Norco Torrent 7.2 at $1,450 (12o mm fork, Shimano Deore/SLX, 422.5 mm chainstays, 67-degree headtube angle).
All stats are from each bike’s size medium.
The Fuse is the only one with a dropper; all of the bikes wear decent tires and hydraulic disc brakes. We really liked the slack Torrent 7.2’s nicer and more expensive brother, the Torrent 7.1 (read our review of that bike).
I’m personally stoked to see this category growing. For someone who wants just one bike to do many things but doesn’t have a wallet fat with Benjamins, this is one type of mountain bike they should closely consider, and the Salsa is a strong contender.
We’re at Saddle Drive near Lake Tahoe this week checking out new bikes from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the parent company of Surly, All-City, Foundry, Heller and Salsa. Salsa went all in, releasing all of the brand’s new-for-2017 bikes and updating most models across the range. Here’s a look at the two new 29plus bikes, both of which we’ll be riding later this week for initial reviews.
Entering the fairly small ring of carbon-framed 29plus hardtails is the new Salsa Woodsmoke. The goal was simply to create a highly versatile hardtail and, from the looks of it, that’s what we have here. The frame even has four—count ’em—bottle mounts for all of your whatever, wherever adventures.
The frame was designed to be friendly with 29plus, 27plus and traditional 29er setups. The looks-like-a-Trek-Stache chainstays (we had to say it before you did) got an elevated design to facilitate a short-as-possible-for-a-plus-bike length: 400 to 417 mm depending on the frame size. Those funky chainstays also allow for a front derailleur, multiple drivetrain possibilities and the elimination of chain slap.
This bike utilizes Salsa’s Alternator Dropouts Version 2.0, which allow the geometry to be properly adjusted for your chosen wheelsize. It also means singlespeed!
Those short chainstays mated to a relatively long top tube, 50 mm stem and the ability to take rigid or 100-140 mm forks, you have a weirdly and wildly versatile trail bike that has multiple geometry and ride quality possibilities. For example, headtube angles are as follows: 68.4 degrees (traditional 29er, 2.4-inch tires, 120 mm fork); 67.9 degrees (27plus, 130 mm fork); 67.8 degrees (29plus, 120 mm fork).
The 2017 Woodsmoke is available in five complete builds and five colors (red, white, matte black, khaki and green) and should land in your local bike shop this December:
- Woodsmoke 29plus XO1 – $4,000
- Woodsmoke 29plus GX1 – $3,000
- Woodsmoke 27plus XO1 – $4,000
- Woodsmoke 27plus GX1 – $3,000
- Woodsmoke 29 GX1 – $3,000
The stock bikes are spec’d with either 120 or 130 mm RockShox forks. See Salsa’s website for complete build kit information and the geometry breakdown of each bike.
We know that the high cost of carbon hardtails can really rub some riders the wrong way, which is why we’re always happy to see models like the Timberjack appear in bike company lineups. The trail-oriented Timberjack is a new aluminum hardtail that can either be a 27plus or traditional 29er with forks ranging from 120-140 mm and a price starting at $1,000.
The Timberjack also gets Salsa’s Alternator Dropouts, meaning you can fiddle with the rear-end length to adjust the way this bike rides. Those dropouts also allow flexibility on which rear end you’d like, from 135 mm quick release to 148 mm Boost hubs. Additional trickle down technology includes internal cable and dropper post routing and 1×11 gearing, plus three bottle cage mounts.
The Timberjack is available in both 27.5plus and 29 versions, each in two of these colors: dark red, matte khaki, dark blue, matte gray. Look for it in your local bike shop around October. See full build kit and geometry details on Salsa’s website.
- Timberjack 27plus GX1 – $1,400
- Timberjack 29 NX1 – $1,000
- Frame only in matte gray – $400
Rumors of the demise of the #steelisreal El Mariachi
have not yet been confirmed, but the bike was nowhere to be seen at this event are true; that model is done and Salsa no longer has a steel mountain bike (other than the Fargo touring rig, which now accepts 27plus but is stocked with a rigid fork and drop bars). There’s always the newly updated Surly Karate Monkey.
The 29/27plus platform has another option, this time in the form of a aluminum frame made in Colorado. Guerrilla Gravity looks to take a slice of the shorter-travel market with this 120 mm travel frame, the Trail Pistol.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice the change to a Horst link/chainstay pivot. Why? Guerilla Gravity says: “Marketing, mostly. Before we committed to switching to the more popular platform, we made sure the same go-fast qualities as our single pivot Megatrail layout were maintained: excellent pedaling characteristics and mid-stroke support. As an added bonus, we were able to reduce braking influence by eight percent.”
The flip chip in the suspension linkage adjusts both the suspension leverage. The Plush mode works well with the more plush 27plus tires, and the Crush mode goes well with the 29er wheels. As a final note, pay attention to sizing on these bikes; most riders will size down. This is the only brand I would go for a medium frame at 6 feet tall.
Frame Highlights (via Guerrilla Gravity):
- GG-style geometry: 120 mm travel, 16.9” chainstays, roomy cockpit. 66.6º head tube angle with a 130 mm travel fork (+/- .4º per 10 mm of travel)
- Crush Mode: made for goin’ fast on 29-inch wheels
- Plush Mode: maintains a consistent BB height between wheel sizes, steepens the head angle a degree, and reduces the progression in the suspension. Ideal for 27Plus wheels, but can be used as a less-aggressive mode with 29-inch wheels
- No fork swap necessary to use either wheel size
- Tire clearance: 29×2.6; 27.5×3.0 (both are actual measurements, not claimed since all tire manufacturers seem to use a different ruler)
- Low standover for improved agility, especially on smaller frame sizes
- The steeper angle is intended to maintain consistent geo as the saddle is raised and lowered
- “Follow the Leader” standards: Boost 148 rear end and 210×50 metric shock sizing
- Universal Syntace derailleur hanger and axle system and easily-accessed Enduro Maxx bearings
- Frame storage: NUTS (Necessities Under the Saddle) Bracket and water bottle mounts
What’s it going to cost? Prices will range from $2,200 for a frame with a Deluxe RT3 shock or SRAM GX build for $3,000, up to a SRAM XO1 build for $5,500. See all the builds at Guerrilla Gravity.
You can get 27plus wheel sets and tires, build kit customization options and nine powder coat colors plus five decal colors on all models.
It has happened and we’re not particularly surprised: Niner Bikes is now offering 27plus models in addition to its steadfast dedication to 29ers. The new JET 9 RDO and RIP 9 RDO were also treated to suspension bump-ups. The JET frame is now 120 mm and will be paired with a 130 mm fork if set up as a 29er, and a 140 mm fork if set up 27plus. The RIP frame steps up to territory formerly occupied by the Niner WFO: 150 mm on the frame paired to a 160 mm fork (29er) or a whopping 170 mm fork on the 27plus.
Frame suspension on both bikes is provided by Niner’s Constantly Varying Arc (CVA) system. It’s a dual-link setup with linkages that rotate in opposite directions, allowing the rear suspension to react to pedaling and terrain independently. Niner claims CVA is fully active at all times by also harnessing chain tension to counteract squat and bob.
JET 9 RDO
The JET frame was completely re-designed with rear Boost spacing and using a carbon production process that “squeezes out excess resin during the molding process,” which supposedly allows for closer tolerances on tube thickness and a lighter frame weight as a result.
The bike had its chainstays stiffened and shortened to 434 mm. The seat tube angle is steeper (67.5 degrees). The frame will take a double chainring up front, or you can go all in and run the bike with electronic shifting. The bottom bracket is a good, old-fashioned 73 mm threaded job, and there’s a little window under the bottom bracket for servicing and installing cables (which, evidenced by the photo, are not all run completely internally—a good thing, in our opinion).
A total of eight builds are available in either black or yellow: four builds for each of the wheel sizes so you can take your pick and not sacrifice anything else. MSRP ranges from $4,500 (Shimano SLX, RockShox Pike RC Solo) to $9,500 (SRAM Eagle, FOX 34 Float Factory Fit4, ENVE M60 wheels). All builds come with a dropper post and Maxxis Rekon (front) and Ikon tires (rear). The bike starts shipping in August.
RIP 9 RDO
The new RIP’s rear Boost spacing helps keep its chainstays short (439 mm) while providing for plenty of mud clearance around your 29×2.5 DH tires, should you want them. The frame also sports a 67-degree head tube angle and a 75.5 degree seat tube angle.
The RIP frame is compatible with 1x drivetrains, only, but shares its sibling’s 73 mm threaded bottom bracket shell, underbelly window for cable servicing and remove-the-excess carbon layup process. As with most new bikes in this category, Niner opted for a long top tube mated to a short stem. The 29er versions get a Boost fork.
A total of eight builds are available in either black or orange: four builds for each of the wheel sizes just like the JET. MSRP ranges from $4,700 (Shimano SLX, RockShox Lyric RC Solo Air) to $9,800 (SRAM Eagle XO1, FOX 36 Float Factory Fit, ENVE M70 wheels). All builds come with a dropper post and Maxxis tires (2.8 on the plus bikes, but they will take up to 3-inch meats). The bike starts shipping in August.
Blue Bicycles was once based in Georgia but is now in California. It was once struggling to survive but now has new life breathed into it. It was once only (or best) known for triathlon and cyclocross bikes but now has three different mountain bikes in its line. We took a peak at what’s coming in 2017 for Blue while at Press Camp in Park City, Utah.
Crew EX and Crew AL
The Crew is Blue’s new 11-speed, 27plus hardtail (pudgy tires not pictured because these bikes are pre-production). The EX is carbon and the AL is—you guessed it—aluminum. Blue first tried its hand at mountain bikes in 2009 but by the time it got its first 26er together, 29ers had come on the scene full-force and the company didn’t think it would be able to properly sell its small-wheeled bike. Now that new wheel sizes have (somewhat) settled (for now, at least), it was ready to jump in, again.
The carbon EX retails for $3,000 and comes with a FOX 32 SC fork, Shimano XT build, Hayes Prime Sport disc brakes and DT Swiss M wheels. The production carbon bike features internal cable routing, special seat stays designed for vibration reduction and is predicted to tip the scale at around 22 pounds.
The Crew AL still runs Shimano XT and the same Hayes brakes but steps down to a FOX 32 Performance fork and loses the special, flat seat stays to retail for $2000. An SLX build for $1,500 is also expected. Four sizes (small through extra-large) will be offered.
Crew AL M-140
The Crew AL M-140 is a full-on trail bike with 140 mm of suspension front and rear and 27.5 wheels. Suspension is handled by a FOX 34 Performance up front and a Float X Performance in the rear. Build kit is Shimano XT 1×11, Hayes Prime Sport brakes, a few in-house bits and a FOX dropper post. The bike will retail for $3100 and be available in only three sizes: small, medium and large. Expect to see a carbon model at Interbike in September.
Blue said it chose a 140 mm full-suspension trail bike to target the widest possible audience and complete its bike lineup.
Philly Fat Bike
Finally, the Blue Philly is an all-aluminum fat bike with a SRAM X5 (1×10) build kit, mechanical Tektro disc brakes, PF30 bottom bracket and four-inch tires. The bike is available in four sizes for $1,259.
Blue Bicycles also earned the Dirt Rag prize for “best USB drive of bike Press Camp.”
At this year’s bike Press Camp in Park City, Utah, Cannondale released several new models, as well as existing model updates and an expanded women’s line for 2017. Keep reading for details on the new plus bike and refreshed carbon rigs.
Cujo 1 27plus
The Cujo is a new 27plus bike based on Cannondale’s other trail bikes (namely, the Beast of the East) that is designed to come in at a lower price point. This top-of-the line model will retail around $1400, with the rest of the range going down to $800.
The Cujo 1 will come with WTB Ranger 3-inch tires, Shimano Deore brakes, SRAM NX 1×11 cassette, SRAM GX derailleur and a tapered headtube. All models will get a 120 mm fork. Cujos 2 and 3 will come with 2x drivetrains. This bike will be available in July in sizes extra small through extra extra large.
Bad Habit 1 Carbon
The Bad Habit will now come in carbon with a new build spec all around that includes house-made 40 mm internal-width carbon Hollowgram rims wearing 3-inch tires, plus flat-mount brakes, Shimano XTR build, a LEV dropper post and 120 mm of travel front and rear.
This model will retail for around $5000. Sizes small through extra large.
Women’s Carbon Habit 1
The women’s Habit has been updated with new colors, an updated drivetrain, dropper post and a new high-end build kit at the top of the line (pictured) that features carbon cranks, a FOX dropper post, the Lefty fork, a Shimano XTR build and XT brakes. The bike will become available in the next couple of months.
Scalpel Si Carbon Women’s 2
Also showcased was the new Scalpel-Si for women, a carbon cross-country race bike that was designed around newer, more technical courses. We did a big story about the launch of this bike where you can check out all of the details and read our interview with Cannondale’s MTB product manager.
Featuring 100 mm of travel front and rear, the bike is slightly slacker than traditional XC race rigs. This one is outfitted with a Shimano XT 1×11 build, 160 mm brake rotors, simplified Di2 routing for upgrade-itis, Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims, remote shock lockouts, carbon crank and a Fi’zi:k Arione Donna saddle. The bike will retail for $4,260 as shown.
During some discussions at Sea Otter this spring, Trek dropped hints it was working to simplify its trail bike line up. This was right before it dropped a new full-suspension fat trail bike, so I wasn’t sure how to take that statement.
These simplification ideas became more clear few weeks ago when Trek invited us to Squamish to ride new trail bikes. As of now, Trek has only three full-suspension mountain bike platforms (not counting that fat bike)
Top Fuel – 100 mm 29er
Fuel EX – 130 mm 29/27plus
Remedy – 150 mm 27.5
Yes, in a surprising move, the Fuel EX 27.5 and the EWS winning Remedy 29 are no longer. Well, you can still get a new Fuel EX in 27.5 wheels, but only in smaller sizes of the women’s bikes.
Fuel EX 29
This is the same frame as the Fuel EX 27plus we’ve been riding, but all 29ers have a 130 mm fork, vs the 140 mm on the 27plus bike. The 29er version comes in a lot more models compared to the EX 27plus’s three.
|Fuel EX 5 WSD||$2,199.99|
|Fuel EX 8 WSD||$3,199.99|
|Fuel EX 9.8 WSD||$4,999.99|
|Fuel EX 5 29||$2,199.99|
|Fuel EX 7 29||$2,599.99|
|Fuel EX 8 29||$3,199.99|
|Fuel EX 9 29||$3,999.99|
|Fuel EX 29 AL frame||$1,889.99|
|Fuel EX 9.7 29||$3,999.99|
|Fuel EX 9.8 29||$4,999.99|
|Fuel EX 9.9 29||$8,399.99|
|Fuel EX 29 Carbon frame||$3,299.99|
We rode top of the line 9.9 (natch). Since I had plenty of time on the 27plus EX, I was happy to stick to the 29er wheels in Squamish. In fact, the few pairs of 27plus wheels Trek brought with them never made it on a bike while the media was there. It seems no one was that interested.
Right off the bat, the 29er felt more like the EX of the previous generation, light and snappy. Some of this might be attributed to the carbon rims and light tires, but after riding quite a few of these 29/27plus bikes in both configurations, the 29 inch wheels always feel faster to me.
The geometry of the new EX 29 is almost identical to the old Remedy 29, and the frame is actually stiffer. Which somewhat explains why the Remedy 29 went away. Put something like a Pike up front and some beefier tires and I would expect this thing to be a pretty serious ripper.
A quick rundown of the changes from last year’s EX:
-120mm->130mm rear / 130mm front
-68˚ headtube->67.7˚ (high) / 67˚ (low) headtube
-448mm->453mm (low position)
Lighter & Stiffer frame
– Straight Shot downtube for strength & stiffness
Knock Block Frame Defense
– Prevents frame damage from fork controls or brake levers
We rode some steep stuff in Squamish, and the EX felt at home here. The longer front end and slacker head angle (I spent half of the day in each geo setting) are a huge plus on steeper terrain. We did a fair amount of climbing as well as descending , and the EX now feels like a bike that balances the two more evenly, where the previous EX still had a lot of XC-racing genes.
And that is where I came away surprised. This is a much more aggressive bike than the previous Fuel EX, and I wonder if that will leave a hole in Trek’s line up? The Top Fuel is more capable these days, and maybe we’ll see a version of the Top Fuel with a longer fork, beefier tires and a dropper to compete with the likes of the new Kona Hei Hei Trail and other lightweight, short-travel, trail bikes. This isn’t to say the Fuel EX feels slow, but not everyone needs or wants 130 mm of travel and a 67˚ head angle.
Most of this is speculation, as the trails of Squamish don’t lend themselves to a lot of navel gazing about the fractured state of trail bike genres in the summer of 2016.
No more 29er Remedy? Yes, and this is somewhat shocking. Tracy Moseley has been dominating the EWS circuit on a Remedy 29 for years, but with the Fuel EX taking on the geometry of last year’s Remedy 29, Trek expects most riders looking for an aggressive 29er will be happy with the EX29. Time will tell. In the meantime, those looking for a 150 mm travel 27.5 bike should get themselves a test ride on the new Remedy. We’ve got a contender here.
-140mm -> 150mm rear
-68 / 67.5˚ headtube -> 66.5˚ / 66˚ headtube
-447mm ->458mm (19.5” size)
Lower bottom bracket
-341mm -> 336mm
This is returning the Remedy to its roots as a longer travel trail bike, with a few models coming stock with 160 forks. This puts it squarely in Slash territory. Which leads one to wonder about the future of the Slash….
Anyway, the new Remedy uses the same technology as the Fuel EX, including the Knock Block headset and Straighshot downtube to make a lighter and stiffer frame. Lots of pricepoints with this one, too.
|Remedy 7 27.5||$2,999.99|
|Remedy 8 27.5||$3,299.99|
|Remedy 8 WSD 27.5||$3,299.99|
|Remedy 9 27.5 RSL||$4,499.99|
|Remedy 27.5 AL frame||$1,889.99|
|Remedy 9.8 27.5||$5,299.99|
|Remedy 9.8 27.5 WSD||$5,299.99|
|Remedy 9.9 27.5 RSL||$7,999.99|
|Remedy 27.5 Carbon frame||$3,299.99|
If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see a new RockShox Deluxe rear shock with the red stick denoting it is equipped the Trek’s proprietary Re:Aktiv valve. This is a good thing. So is the Lyrik up front. SRAM handles most of the parts on this bike, including Guide brakes and 1×12 Eagle drivetrain. Hidden behind my leg is Bontrager’s new Line dropper post, which has an excellent remote, although it could use more than the stock 125 mm of travel, which is feeling short next to 150 mm (and even longer) posts.
I’m going to have to look into the “hows and whys” more later, but the RockShox rear shock seemed to be better at controlling bob than the Fox on the Fuel EX, while still sucking up the bigger hits like a champ. This bike just felt controlled, everywhere. I keep things below my limits (and way below the bike’s limits) as I am not a fan of pinning it at media events, but I was shocked at how well this bike scooted uphill and bombed down unfamiliar trails. I expected to miss the 29er wheels on some of the steeper and chunkier bits, but it wasn’t an issue. In fact, if I lived in Squamish, this bike would be my choice over the Fuel EX, even though the trails never open up enough to really take advantage of the travel and stability of a bike like this, at least with my skillset.
My long term Remedy tester just showed up at the office, so expect a full review soon. We’ve got the RSL (Race Shop Limited) model, which has SE4 reinforced tires and a 160 mm Lyrik travel adjust fork. In other words, the enduro model. That extra travel kicks the head angle back to 66˚/65.5˚and a slightly higher bottom bracket at 346/339 mm. Maybe I just don’t have enough steep climbs, but this is another in a long series of bikes that I’ve adjusted the travel on the first long climb, forgot to return it to full travel on the first descent, and proceeded to leave it in the long setting and never think about it again.
Wrap it up, I’ll take it.
Trek is also offering a huge range of prices and aluminum frames that offer all the features of the carbon models at about half the price. There are even a solid selection of women’s bikes, for those that are into that type of thing. Some of the cheaper models don’t get a Re:Aktiv shock, but to Trek’s credit Re:Aktiv is found at even lower price points this year.
It is pretty easy to get wrapped up in all the tech-y buzz-words the Trek uses to market its bikes. ABP, Mino link, Re:Aktiv, Full Floater, Evo Link, Control Freak internal routing, etc. It is harder to talk about how well all of this works as whole. Trek has been slowly and quietly creating some very fine trail bikes, and this pair of bikes has no trouble holding it down against some of the best trail bikes I’ve ridden.These bikes are available NOW. Check out Trek’s website for more info.
At this year’s bike Press Camp in Park City, Utah, GT released several new models and significant updates for 2017, including a plus bike, more women’s models, a sub-$2,000 full-suspension bike and a throwback bike you’re probably going to want. Read on for details.
The Pantera is a GT model not seen since the 1990s, but now it’s back as a 27plus bike to be offered in three builds. The Expert model seen here is the top build with tubeless 2.8 Schwalbe Rocket Rons on rims with a 40 mm inner width, a Shimano 1×11 setup with hydraulic disc brakes, 120 mm RockShox Revelation fork with Boost spacing, thru axles and a 69-degree head tube.
The Pantera Expert will retail for $1,620, meaning the two other models will ring up for less than that. Note that it has rear rack mounts for your pending off-road bikepacking adventures.
One trend for 2017 seems to be a move toward offering sub-$2,000 full-suspension bikes. (We might have to lower the price point on our annual test!) The Expert model pictured here sits at the top of the range and will retail for $1,620, with sibling prices dipping all the way to below $1,000.
The Verb features the same rear suspension design as GTs higher-end bikes (just with an entry-level rear shock) and is designed to sit between those bikes and GT’s hardtails. The Expert will come with a 2x Shimano Deore drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, an integrated headset, 120 mm air-sprung fork with full lockout, and an all-aluminum cockpit. GT calls this bike “upgrade-worthy” for the weekend warrior.
GT is working to expand its line of women’s-specific mountain bikes and has hired a former female pro racer to its design team. One step toward that goal is the new Helion for women. It’s the same frame and rear suspension design as the men’s/unisex Helion but features a lighter shock tune and different saddle, bars and stem.
The Helion Expert pictured here has 27.5 wheels, 110 mm of rear travel paired to 120 mm in the front (Fox Rhythm 34), hydraulic disc brakes and a 2×11 Shimano drivetrain. It also has a pretty sweet paint job. This Helion women’s Elite will retail for $2,130.
The GT Performer is a complete replica of a 1986 BMX bike, but with a long-enough seatpost and 26-inch wheels to facilitate cruising about town. It’s the bike you rode as a kid (or lusted after) now in an adult-friendly size. For $560, GT might just have your new bar bike.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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)
The Fuel EX wasn’t exactly an “old” bike, even by bike industry standards. It wouldn’t have taken much for Trek to redesign the rear end of the Fuel EX 29 to accept a 27plus tire, slap a new Fox 34 Plus fork on the front and ship it out. It would have been an above average bike.
But that is not what Trek did. At all. This Fuel EX 27.5 Plus is just the start of Trek’s entirely revamped trail bike offerings. We’ll be in Squamish next week to ride the other new bikes, but in the meantime, we’ve been lucky to be one of small number of media outlets riding the new Fuel EX.
Trek released the Chupacabra 27.5 plus tires this spring, the first clue that we’d be seeing a bike like this from Trek. In fact, we had a bet going that about whether it would be this or a full-suspension 29plus Stash that we’d see released at Sea Otter (it was a full-sus fatbike, so we all lost).
Fully blacked-out, this is perhaps the meanest looking bike Trek has ever released. It doesn’t just look mean, it has the performance to back up the sneer. Long and low geometry, a new frame that is stiffer than the current Remedy and a travel increase push this new bike out of the long-legged XC realm into do-it all trail bike territory. Think less Midwest and more Pacific Northwest.
Unlike the 120/120 mm travel on the 29 and 27.5 bikes, the new bike is 140/130 mm front/rear. The travel is noticeably more plush, but loses some of the snappy pedalling feel of the shorter-travel bike. It hasn’t lost the oddly magic feel of controlled plushness that the Re:Aktiv shock provides, but feels better sitting and spinning rather than standing and mashing.
The carbon frame has a huge, almost-straight downtube, and lots of stand-over, Trek’s totally quiet Control Freak internal routing and a new bump-stop headset. Developed in conjunction with FSA the Knock Block headset uses keyed spacers and stem to prevent the fork from swinging 180 degrees in a crash. This protects the top tube from the brake levers and the down tube from the fork’s top caps. This allows Trek to increase tube separation at the head tube, and get rid of the upper bend in the down tube. Straighter, shorter tubes are lighter and stiffer, the attributes everyone is chasing in the full-suspension marketplace.
The downside to this new headset? Proprietary stems and spacers. I have a feeling this idea has enough merit to expand to more of the industry, but proprietary parts are not well received right now. The stock Bontrager Line 35 mm bar and stem is more than serviceable, and any 35 mm bar will work, so it isn’t that huge of a deal unless you really can’t ride without you chi-chi Chromag bar and stem.
The biggest news with the EX is the geometry. The head angle is the most obvious change, rivalling the new Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 for biggest difference from previous generation frames. Trek continues to use the geo-adjusting Mino link, resulting in a rider’s choice of 67.2 or 66.6 degrees. Seat tube angles are steeper, chain stays are at 433 mm (17”) and a 13″ bottom bracket should keep thing on the shreddy side on the trail.
I’ve been on the EX 9.8, which is an interesting mix of parts for a modern mountain bike. Brakes and drivetrain are all XT, including a 2×11 with side-swing front derailleur. The specs say the fork should be a FOX 34 Performance FIT, but my bike has a GRIP damper. Rear shock is a FOX EVOL with three-position Re:Activ valve. Wheels are DT hubs laced to Sun Duroc 40 rims. Everything else besides the 125 mm Reverb are Bontrager bits.
The other two bikes are aluminum frames. The EX 8 is 1×11 via SRAM GX, brakes are Shimano Deore, Fox 34 Rhythm GRIP fork, same FOX EVOL/Re:Aktiv shock and Bontrager hubs in place of the DTs. A KS EThirty dropper and Bontrager parts finish it off. The EX5 gets 2×10 Deore, Shimano M315 brakes, no dropper post, and less expensive Bontrager finishing bits. Suspension is handled by RockShox, a Sektor Silver RL up front, and Deluxe RL rear.
All three models use the new “metric” shock sizing and trunnion mounts. Also, all three bikes will work with 29″ wheels, although the bottom bracket will end up about 5mm higher depending on tire selection.
The current Fuel EX with 29 or 27.5 “standard” tires will remain in the line-up, which should be a relief for those riders that don’t need a bike as aggressive as the EX 27plus, but not as race-focused at the Top Fuel.
This bike is fun. It retains enough of the efficiency of the shorter travel EXs to want to take on long days on the trail, but the added travel and traction are welcome additions when things get rough. Chainstays at 17″ seem to be a magic number for this bike (or maybe just for me), keeping the front end down on climbs, but able to pop and hop without excessive body english.
I’m still messing with air pressure in the rear shock. The Re:Aktiv shock takes a little longer to dial in, and has a pretty broad range of usable pressures. Even when set up on the soft side, the regressive valve manages to make the bike pedal well, and all three positions of platform are all very usable on the trail,. Even on the firmest setting once past the threshold the shock opens up and gobbles up the bumps better than would be expected for something that feels so firm off the top.
The long and low geometry invites aggressive riding, in fact, it rewards it. Unlike the standard Fuel EXs, the plus bike feels best being tossed around versus a lighter touch. When given a choice, the EX plus bike is more fun to ride on the aggressive lines. If you like to stay seated and steer around things, this might not be your bike. With this much quality travel and traction, dropping the seat and attacking the trail is your best bet.
The Chupacabras are impressive performers for a tire with such small knobs, but they can start to feel overwhelmed with things get really hairy. I’m guessing Bontrager will have a more aggressive tread up its sleeve if we see a 27plus Remedy released. A more aggressive front tire paired with the Chupacabra in the rear would be a sweet setup.
Personally, I think Trek should have given this bike its own name, it is that different from the shorter travel EXs. How about Rumblefish or Roscoe, some of my favorites from the now-defunct Fisher brand? Regardless, even though Trek has been talking about simplifying its trail bike line-up, the addition of this bike and the full-suspension Farley EX seems like the opposite of that.
Navel-gazing about names and sales-floor confusion aside, the Fuel EX 27plus seems like a very worthy contender in the hotly-contested trail bike marketplace. We’ll have a full review in the next issue of Dirt Rag.
Pricing and Availability:
|Fuel EX 5 27.5 Plus||$2,399.99||June|
|Fuel EX 8 27.5 Plus||$3,299.99||NOW|
|Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 Plus||$5,299.99||NOW|
Full specs and geometry are up on Trek’s website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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)
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.
Tester: Adam Newman
Age: 35, Height: 6’2”, Weight: 175 lbs., Inseam: 34”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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)