I’ve missed a couple demos over the past year and there’s been several new, really interesting bikes come out so my bike test list was starting to get quite long. But with three or four extra testers to help grab bikes we made a serious attempt to knock off as many of my must-rides this year as we could. The list was packed with several new aggressive geometry 29ers in both shorter and mid- travel configurations, short travel 27.5″ Endorphin competitors, and several full on longer travel enduro rigs.
I arrived three days early to get some extra Moab riding in before the demo began, starting off with what has become maybe my favorite Moab ride: Mag 7 to Portal. I got in town around noon and parked my truck up at the top of Gemini Bridges road. I was pleased to see the new Getaway single track starting right from the top now thus avoiding the first mile or two of dirt road. Its flowy, creative and fun. I liked it. Having ridden Bull Run pretty much every time I’ve done Mag 7 and being on a bit of time clock, I chose to stay on Getaway clear down to Arth’s, then on to Little Canyon. While the new top section of Getaway was stellar, the lower portion was just OK though more direct, but overall I still prefer Bull Run.
I always love the climb up to Gold Bar rim. It is so creatively routed and has such spectacular views that you hardly notice you’re climbing. The stuff up along the rim is both challenging and rewarding.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Endorphin handled all this ride, including the “A” option drops and final gnarly DH type descent down the Portal. The geometry and stability allowed it to handle all of the steep chutes, steps, and tricky switch backs without any sketchiness and only a bit slower than with a bigger bike like the Chilcotin. And the Endo was much more fun on the more pedally Mag 7 stuff.
Next day I caught an early shuttle for what was supposed to be Geyser Pass, but overnight rain kept us lower for our starting point for the Whole Enchilada. We were dropped off at a back door entrance into the lower section of Jimmy Kean which is an up and down alpine singletrack loop that takes in much of the terrain of Hazard and Kokopelli but in a more circuitous fashion. I’m glad I got to do it without having to commit to the full seven mile loop in the middle of a Whole Enchilada ride. The rain was light but steady and the trail surface started to get a bit slick and muddy in a few places but for the most part was in really good shape. The sandy parts on UPS and LPS and clear down Porcupine Rim were perfect. The Endorphin was again a nearly perfect companion. Fast and responsive and a good pedaler on the flatter and climbier sections, yet still solid, smooth, and responsive on the fast shark fin chop that is ever present on Porc Rim. Major props to the X-Fusion Sweep fork that was stellar on reacting to repeated sharp-edged hits with the rebound adjustment full open.
Friday morning I was up bright and early to get in line for the 9:00 am opening. I did make the rookie mistake of not picking up my packet the night before so had to stand in the packet pick up line before I could get to the gate. This was not my first rodeo so should’ve known better, but was enjoying my Thursday ride so well I totally spaced it.
The same qualifiers apply to these reviews as always. They should be considered as first ride, first impressions only. We try to get the set up and suspension dialed as well as we can for a short ride that usually lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. So if you’re expecting full-on extended reviews you may be disappointed. We do stand by our opinions though, and feel like we are pretty good at feeling out the true identity, strengths, weaknesses, and soul of any given bike.
We rated all the bikes on a scale of 1-5 for visual impression/looks, climbing ability, descending, cornering, general agility, fit, and an intangible factor. Lowest score is a 7, highest is a 35.
The original Titus Switchblade was tops on my list when I was ready to invest in my first real, high-end full suspension bike some 15 years ago because it ticked all the boxes of what I was looking for in an aggressive trail bike. The new Pivot Switchblade was tops on my list for this demo for the same reasons. It definitely ticked all the boxes. The Pivot Switchblade is an aggressive trail bike with 135mm of rear travel and 150mm up front. It ships with either a 29” or 27.5+ wheels. It also sports pretty slack head angles at 67.25-degrees in 29er configuration and 66.5 in 27.5+ form. Chainstays are nice and short at 16.85”, yet it can still accommodate a front derailleur and 3.25” tires. With a stiff carbon frame that’s fairly light, it can be built up in the sub 30 lb range without totally breaking the bank. It sounded like the perfect All-Trail bike (Yes, I’m coining a new bike category. You’re welcome.)
I scrambled to the Pivot tent first thing and was able to secure this black, size large SB, set up with 27.5+ wheels. As with all Pivot’s recently, the Switchblade has nice compact, visually balanced look. The bottom bracket, seat tube down tube junction is thick and oozes stiffness. The links are short and well executed keeping things tight and aesthetically pleasing. The fit was perfect for my 71″, average body type.
Moving up the trail was easy and the SB responded well to pedal input. Lateral stiffness kept things in line and for a 135mm travel 27.5+ it bumped off small kickers and drops with relative ease, but felt slightly sluggish doing it. Cornering also felt a bit vague with the bigger tires. They didn’t really lack for grip, I just didn’t ever really feel a nice edge to set with confidence. I took it on some rocky, more technical climbs on the Deadman’s Loop and was impressed at its efficiency and climbing grip though less so with its ability to roll up and over square edges. The rear end seemed to stiffen too much and caused a noticeable hop in its progress though no discernable pedal kickback. Getting around tight switchbacks was natural and didn’t require any major adjustments in technique. I’d give it a 4/5 on smooth and technical climbing. This is a good characteristic for an all day trail bike and an enduro race rig.
For a longer travel 27.5 plus what wasn’t expected is that it didn’t feel super plush on rougher descents and didn’t seem super smooth on smaller trail irregularities, an area where the Ibis Mojo 3+ really shined. Maybe I didn’t ever get the tire pressure dialed which I know is critical or maybe I didn’t ever get the Fox Float DPS EVOL adjusted correctly, but quite a bit of fiddling didn’t substantially improve this lack of plushness. I’d like to try it again with a Float X2 or or CCDB Air. Perhaps a nice custom coil like the Push Eleven Six would be the ticket, but the Float EVOL wasn’t doing it. I know Pivot knows how to give a bike that deep and plush rear suspension feel because I’ve ridden the Mach 6 on several occasions, but I couldn’t help but think how the SB felt more akin to the 429 Trail than the Mach 6. Maybe that was by design, but I expected more of a Mach 6 29er/27.5+.
When I took the SB back to the Pivot tent I asked the technician to “switch” on the 29″ wheels. I immediately felt more comfortable. It felt more responsive to pedal input, cut into corners better, and rolled up and over square edges with less kick. The bigger wheel transformed the bike for me. It still wasn’t perfect, but I liked it a lot better in 29er form.
Score: 30/35 in 27.5+ form; 32/35 in 29er form.
Rocky Mountain Slayer
The Slayer is back with a full carbon frame, 27.5 wheels, and with 165mm of enduro crushing travel. The Slayer was the first of three full on, long travel enduro/am bikes we rode. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take it on the kind of steep, fast, gnarly trails that would really make it shine, but it had all the right numbers to make it work in the roughest terrain. We were, however able to get a reasonably good impression of its strengths on our ride. The very tame trails that access the Deadman’s loop which is the most technical trail at the Brand Tails showed that the Slayer was a pretty good pedaler. For a big bike it cruised along the buff xc Lazy trail with relative efficiency and was able to keep up speed without feeling too sluggish on the flats . As I turned up the rocky Deadman’s loop I discovered it also climbed pretty well. The horst type Smoothlink rear suspension eased over square edges without sagging too much into its travel but there was enough squat that combined with a relatively low bottom bracket, pedal strikes were common.
Despite its slack head angle the climbing position felt natural and it was easy to get forward to weight the front end due to the steep 75 degree seat angle. I liked how it gathered traction on loose scrambles and worked its way around switchbacks with little floppiness or drama. There was no hiding the fact that it was a big bike though.
Once pointed downhill, descending was smooth and fairly well cntrolled but noisy. I checked the lock on the clutch derailleur and it was only partially on causing the chain to slap quite a bit. Once locked on it quieted down but then got noisy again a mile or two down the trail. Not sure if the problem was with the derailleur or the bike but it was annoying. I’d forgotten how I hate noisy bikes since most are pretty quiet lately. The Fox X2 shock worked well on this platform and absorbed everything in its path with a nice controlled plushness. I couldn’t help but keep feeling like the Slayer was just beginning to really unwind when I’d get to the bottom of the short descents in the Bar M area. I’d love to take it on some longer, steeper runs. I think this is great addition to the full on enduro category and is built to take on everything up to and including lift served runs and all day big mountain climbs.
Transition Patrol Carbon
I’ve been wanting to ride the Patrol since it came out in aluminum two or three years ago. They did’t have the carbon Scout at the Transition booth when I stopped by so I took this opportunity to swing a leg over its big brother. The Patrol was like the Slayer’s Canadian twin. They both felt very similar and rode quite a bit alike, so I’ll focus on their differences. The Patrol sits squarely in the big bike category despite just 155mm of travel due to its plush ride, long front center and slack head angle. It did feel a little sluggish on more xc trails (like all the bigger enduro/AM bikes we rode, but we felt that it climbed and pedaled a bit more briskly than the Rocky Mountain.
The carbon frame was fairly light and laterally stiff and there was little noise or commotion while plowing over rocks and chop. The size large frame fit me very well at 5’11.5″ and it did not complain at the more pedaly ride I took it on. In fact, the seated pedaling position felt pretty upright and comfortable though maybe not quite centered as the Slayer.
Overall, I liked this bike quite a bit though it didn’t do anything outstanding to really set it apart from the crowd. I could certainly live very happily with the Patrol as a bigger, do-all enduro crushing steed, but would I spend my hard earned money on it? That’s the question we all have to answer. Go ride it if you have a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Both the Patrol and the Slayer ran on these new Flow mk3 alloy rims from Stan’s. They are wide at 28.5mm internal width and felt stiff. They gave the tires a nice wide print and a little more rounded profile without taking away from the intended shape and cornering edge of he tires. The low profile helps avoid rim strikes.
Guide brakes are an acquired taste…. and after riding nothing but Shimano XT on my personal bikes it takes awhile to get used to the more gradual engagement of the Guides. The Pike and Fox 36 forks felt relatively equivalent this year. Both very good. I good easily live with either. Loved the all black with flo blue highlights.
Stay tuned. There’s more to come. I rode 14 bikes in all. Ben rode another 6-8 that I didn’t.
The Rallon, Orbea’s 160mm travel 27.5 AM/Enduro bike, was actually on my list but after riding three big bikes in a row I decided that a short-travel trail bike would be much more fun on the more xc-oriented Bar M Trails so the tech at the Orbea tent recommended the 120mm travel Ocam. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the Ocam and I wasn’t expecting much from this Spanish 29er but it did meet the criteria and looked sweet all dressed up in orange and dangled with some fairly spicy components. Venerable XT brakes and drive train did the heavy lifting duties of going and stopping while DT Swiss X1700 Spline alloy wheels spun free and displayed little flex. Full carbon construction with sharp lines, 148mm Boost rear spacing, internal cable routing, and press fit bottom bracket round out the frame details.
I was immediately and pleasantly surprised by the Occam. The size large’s fit was spot on and pedal input was crisp yet still felt active enough to keep the rear wheel tracking the ground on bumpier ground. The linkage activated single pivot with Fox Float Evol were well mated for travel type and leverage ratio. The rear shock mounts high up parallel to the top tube leaving plenty of room for a water bottle (or two). The bar and stem combo was a year or two too narrow and long but it didn’t adversely affect handling once I readapted. Turn in was not sluggish at all and it loved to carve the faster twistier North Forty trail. The 17.1″ chain stays kept things tight and responsive without giving up much in the way of straight line stability. The big wheels made it easy to keep momentum up. The Ardent front tire rolled well but isn’t my favorite for cornering grip. The new Forecaster rear tire by Maxxis did not distinguish itself in any bad ways. In fact I didn’t notice anything about it all, which is usually a good thing. Also of note for being much better than most folks give it credit for was the Fox 32 Factory fork. If you start pushing into the routier side of trail riding you may want to upgrade to the Fox 34, Rock Shox Pike, or MRP Stage, but it felt controlled, accurate, and plush on the small stuff during my ride.
Overall the Occam was high on my list of favorite bikes I rode this year. It was a bar, stem, and front tire away from being in my top two or three. So just because you may not be as familiar with this small Spanish manufacturer, you should still give Orbea a look. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as I was.
Dave Turner from Turner bikes has been working on this carbon Flux for awhile and it shows…. in good ways and bad. The short travel 27.5 Flux was one of our favorites when we rode it a couple years ago but the alloy frame looked dated and was falling behind the times. We clamored for a carbon version with Czar-like styling and that is exactly what Turner delivered. The quickly changing geometry and wheel spacing “standards” however has left small frame companies like Turner struggling to keep up. When this Flux went to carbon molds, 142mm rear wheel spacing was the standard and reach numbers for a large frame were only just starting to approach the 17″ range for most manufacturers. Rather than scrap the process and start over Turner forged ahead with the older standards but they’ve got those numbers dialed whether by inability to keep up with the new standards or by design, I don’t know. But knowing Dave, changes would’ve had to make a discernable difference for him to start over just to keep up with the Joneses. Turner makes bikes with a no-nonsense, no marketing BS approach and according to how he feels a bike should ride. Many riders, may in fact appreciate a new carbon frame with more traditional geometry and with the same 142mm wheel spacing as their $1500 carbon wheels that still have plenty of life left in them.
After riding several bikes with longer reach I did notice the Flux felt comparatively short and compact. Not necessarily a bad thing, but different from the direction most are going these days. Again, many may really like that fact. It felt nimble in the tight stuff and easily exploded off every small bump and booter in the trail. Standing and pumping and popping was definitely a hoot and where the Flux felt most in its happy place. It didn’t have the momentum-carrying gyroscopic effect of the larger 29er wheeled bikes I’d just stepped off of but it wasn’t hard to keep it up to pace either. The beautiful carbon frame was laterally stiff and showed an obvious attention to detail. The dw-link 120mm rear snapped to attention when the power was applied yet still felt relatively active as it encountered trail obstacles. The seated position was centered and comfortable though a bit cramped with a short stem. Even so, one could easily climb all day on this bike then still enjoy a fun, fast, semi-rowdy descent without missing their big bike too much on the way down.
If you like a non-wagon wheeled, fun, fast, stiff, responsive carbon bike with more traditional (or more moderately updated) geometry the Flux should be high on your list.
Guerilla Gravity Trail Pistol
It’s no secret that I’ve been smitten with the new short to mid-travel aggressive geometry 29ers. Two of them topped my list of favorites from last year’s Interbike test (The Evil Following and Canfield Riot). It’s also no secret that I fell in love with the Megatrail, Guerilla Gravity’s 150mm travel AM ripper, I rode at Outerbike in 2014. So naturally when the Denver company announced their own 120mm travel 29er my ears perked up. When I learned it came with 148mm rear wheel spacing and could accommodate 29er (Crush Mode) and 27.5+ (Plush Mode) wheels my interest really piqued. Crush Mode and Plush Mode are accessed via the shock mount flip chips which optimizes the geometry and suspension for 29” wheel-ed crushing or 27.5 Plus wheel-ed plushness.
A perusal of the numbers tells me the Trail Pistol is ready for most anything. Head angle is a rowdy 66.6 degrees in Crush Mode and 67.3mm in Plush Mode for those fast and furious descents. A steep seat tube angle puts the rider in an ideal pedaling position at 75.8 degrees in the 29er setting and 76.6 with 27.5+ setting. The effective top tube and reach numbers are super rangy allowing for nice short stems and most will find that sizing down will fit like the bigger size on their current bike. We rode the medium, which is right in the suggested sizing range for a 5’11” rider, even though I normally ride size large. When I hopped on the bike it felt good, maybe even a touch on the long side. I certainly can’t imagine riding a large. In fact, even with short 16.9″ chain stays the wheel base is plenty long at 47.5″ even in the medium frame.
But we don’t buy bikes based solely on the numbers so we took the Trail Pistol for a ride. Out on the trail the TP does feel bigger/longer than some, alright most, of the size large 29ers we rode. The frame is built burly and the build we rode felt a bit heavy especially compared to the carbon 29ers we rode. In pedaling this seemed to translate into less responsiveness than the lighter, spritelier 29ers, but some of this perceived sluggishness could also be blamed on our end of the day tired legs or, who knows, maybe the tank-like flat army green color. However, a bike that still seems to carry you along at an easy, levitating clip even while tired really earns high marks. This one didn’t. To its credit the Trail Pistol did bend itself around the flowy trails we rode without feeling like a battleship and it was fairly easy to get the front end up thanks to the short chain stays. The standing and hammering position felt comfortable and commanding. As speeds picked up the TP really started to come alive and it felt solid and controlled on rough descents and did not get knocked off its line at all. In fact, the faster you went, the better it felt. The rear end didn’t feel that plush but I think with some additional tuning or a different shock that could be substantially improved. I also learned that you can order the TP with a longer shock to up the rear travel to 130mm which would provide a little more cushion when the geo and take-no-prisoners character of the frame got you in over your head.
So who is the Trail Pistol for? I think anyone who wants a well-built, solid, aluminum, aggressive 29er with great versatility and that one-off made in the USA semi-custom exclusiveness at a reasonable price should definitely give the guys at Guerrilla Gravity a call and set up a demo. They are terrific to work with and will bend over backwards to get you set up with a bike that fits you and be there to service your needs after the sale. With some smart choices on wheels and components, I have no doubt you could build up the TP in the 27-28 lb range and make it feel nearly as responsive as those carbon wonder bikes we rode yet still maintain that burly, built to thrash quality GG is becoming famous for.
One of the cool things about Guerrilla Gravity is you can choose any one of a dozen or more colors to suit your own preferences. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Guerilla Green, but like I said, there are several others to choose from. The built in NUTS (Necessary Under the Saddle) Bracket for holding a tube and tire changing essentials is a nice touch, as is the curved “hunch back” shape of the top tube that allows room for a water bottle for those who choose to skip the traditional way for carrying what you need.
Ibis Ripley LS
I’ve been trying to get a ride on the LS since it was announced last year. We loved the original Ripley we rode two years ago. It was nimble, responsive, and just loved to stand and hammer. Here’s a link to our review of that bike. It was a tad short in the cockpit and a little steep in the head angle but was so fun to ride we were willing to overlook any slight faults it had. It was the first 29er we’d ridden that made us want to, uh, ride a 29er. Well, at least, until we heard about the geometry updates on the longer, slacker LS. With a degree and a half slacker head angle and 1.5″ longer front center and slightly lower bottom bracket it sounded perfect for some aggressive all-trail shenanigans. Other frame updates include: New, better thought out internal cable routing, increased tire clearance, a return to threaded bottom bracket, seat mast lowered by 1/2” to accommodate today’s longer droppers, Boost 148mm x 12mm Shimano through axle, and stiffer eccentric cores.
The first thing that was apparent is that the Ripley LS had not lost the fun, playful, quick-handling nature of the original. It still bobbed and weaved through tight, curvy single track with a nimbleness usually only associated with smaller wheeled bikes. The longer wheelbase did not seem to slow it down in the curves. The size large frame, flat wide bar and short stem created a perfect seated and standing environment from which to do business. It felt comfortable, yet still allowed for an aggressive, head-over-bars position for weighting the front wheel when leaning into corners. The few short climbs we did on our test loop were dispatched with ease, usually standing and just staying in a taller gear and hammering up. Once pointed downward, the LS was confident and tracked through rocks and chunder with confidence and stability. For just 120mm of travel the rear end felt surprisingly controlled and plush.
Frame construction appeared top notch and looked gorgeous. The rear end was stiffer than I remembered from the original thanks to the new beefed up boost rear triangle. The Ripley, like most Ibis bikes, is a clean, uncluttered design. The new cable routing looks intuitive and was free of rattles. The threaded bottom bracket was free of squeaks and creaks.
We were really impressed with the Ripley LS. It is a well-sorted bike that did everything well and looked good doing it. The ideal buyer would be someone looking for a light, responsive all-trail 29er that feels more like a 27.5 while popping and playing yet still displays those desirable 29er traits on rolling, up and down trails and in choppy, rocky momentum sapping terrain.