Tester: Helena Kotala
Weight: 127 lbs.
I’ve never ridden a bike that has elicited more stares, compliments and questions than the Proudfoot Primed, a steel full-suspension trail rig from a small made-to-order bike building operation in Golden, Colorado. Aside from the eye-catching purple powdercoat (the official color is penstemon, named after a flower) with a pink logo reading a name that no one recognizes, there are a lot of interesting things about this bike, starting with the fact that I just used the words steel and full-suspension in the same sentence.
While they seem to be gaining in popularity this year, steel bikes with all the squishy bits are anything but common. I used to think there was a good reason for that – heavy and too flexy were words that came to mind in my initial assumptions about the Primed. These assumptions were quickly proven wrong.
At nearly 30 pounds, it’s no cross-country racer, but it’s also not as heavy as I expected for a steel full-suspension bike with big ol’ meaty plus tires, and out on the trail, the weight is not something I thought of much, if at all.
The bike’s front triangle is constructed from double-butted, air-hardened steel tubing that varies in thickness over the length of the tubes to maximize strength and minimize weight. The rear triangle is all 4130 straight gauge round tubing, which keeps the structure stiff while remaining forgiving.
A Cane Creek headset is used as the rear suspension pivot, an ingenious way of keeping it as simple as possible while using readily available parts. The large diameter of the bearings and pivot axle also add to the lateral stiffness of the bike.
Proudfoot offers stock sizing and component packages, but also does custom frames and builds. Until I came along, no one had ever requested a small Primed, so company founder and fabricator, Jon Acuff, designed the size small stock geometry around my measurements. As a bike that’s made just for you should, it fit like a glove.
Before building my bike, Acuff also asked me about my riding style and the trails that I frequent and spec’d the bike accordingly, which resulted in a mix of all three standard build kits – Adventure, Performance and Race.
The Primed frame is built around 120 mm rear travel and is meant to run either 120 or 130 mm of travel up front. My build features a 130 mm Fox 34 Factory fork with a RockShox Monarch RL rear shock and Fox Transfer 125 mm dropper post. The drivetrain is Shimano XT 1×11 with SLX cranks. Stopping power is provided by Shimano SLX hydraulic brakes.
The Primed uses Boost spacing and is designed to fit 27plus or 29 inch wheels, though the size small is optimized for 27plus. Size medium and larger frames will easily fit a 29 x 2.4 tire or 27.5 x 3.0. The bike came to me with 27.5 x 2.8 Maxxis Icons mounted on Reynolds 27.5 Plus 40 mm hookless carbon rims with Industry Nine hubs, but throughout my test period, I ended up adding a Rekon+ and High Roller II to the mix for different conditions.
The geometry is an interesting combination of a 67 degree head tube with a 75.5 degree seat tube, resulting in a super capable climber that isn’t afraid to get rowdy on the descents. The steep seat tube angle and resulting saddle position combined with a longer top tube left me feeling very centered on the bike, with just the right amount of weight over the front to feel in control without being too stretched out or front-end heavy. I also found that my position on the bike in relation to the pedals meant that I was pedaling more down instead of forward (as seems to be the case with some bikes as angles slacken), a motion that felt more natural to me.
I like to go up as much as down, and the Primed definitely didn’t disappoint in the climbing game. On steep pitches, it was easy to get the appropriate amount of weight over the front end to avoid wander, and with the right tire pressure, the rear stays planted nicely as well. Long grinds could be tackled with surprising efficiency despite 30 pounds of bike and wide tires, which I attribute partially to the geometry itself and partially to how well it fit – I was comfortable to sit and spin all day if I needed to.
When it was time to drop some elevation, all it took was a quick push of the dropper lever and a shift of weight rearward for the nature of the Primed to change from mountain goat to stable yet maneuverable descender. While I’ve ridden bikes that bombed straight downhill better, I have never felt so confident cornering, picking my way through rocks and navigating tight, twisty descents as I did on the Primed. It strikes a nice balance between soaking up the chunder and remaining sensitive to rider input. It’s not going to make all the bumps in the trail disappear, but it’ll soften the edge and let you be in control while doing so.
Even on flat sections, the difference that a slight weight shift makes was extra apparent on this bike. The downside of the steeper seat tube angle is that the saddle is more in the way when standing up on a climb or in a technical section, but that’s what a dropper post is for. I used it liberally in rock gardens to allow for greater control and to help me get my weight back and loft the front end over obstacles.
While the single pivot system may be old-school, I think improved shock technology allows it to compete with multi-pivot designs in terms of performance, and I didn’t notice any disadvantages in comparison to some of the “fancier” full suspension bikes I’ve ridden lately. On the trail, the rear shock has excellent small-bump sensitivity without feeling saggy or over responsive, and there was hardly any suspension bob when pedaling on smooth surfaces. Proudfoot’s single pivot design also has simplicity and durability in its favor, which goes along with the brand’s commitment to those values when building bikes.
After riding the Primed in just about every scenario I could in a two month time span, I made the decision to buy it. I’ve been in the market for a full-suspension bike for a while, and from the get-go, this one checked a number of my boxes – 27plus, 120-130 mm of travel, trail geometry, threaded bottom bracket, external cable routing and ability to perform well in a variety of different riding conditions. But plenty of bikes check most or all of those boxes.
So what won me over against other strong recent contenders?
Simplicity and durability are values that I share with Proudfoot Cycles, which is part of the reason that the Primed found a special place in my heart. More practically speaking, I know that my bike maintenance regimen leaves much to be desired. I also tend to ride a lot of very rocky, primitive, backcountry trails (sometimes “trail” is an exaggeration) and the thought of scraping carbon through some of them on a regular basis is cringe-inducing. A bombproof and easily-serviced full-suspension bike makes a lot of sense for me.
Additionally, the fit is perfect, I ride it well, it makes me smile and there’s an intangible feeling of “rightness” that washes over me every time I clip in.
Top tube: 22.6”
Head tube: 67°
Seat tube: 75.5°
BB height: 12.9”
Weight: 29.7 lbs (without pedals)
Price: $6,250 as tested
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, custom