Cannondale Habit LT1

Words Lester Perry
Images Henry Jaine
RRP $8699
Distributor Worralls

A summertime fling.

I was sitting at the top of St Arnaud’s ‘What’s Up Doc’ climb; my watch showed 7:30am. It took me an hour and a bit to get here from where I’d camped, and the sun had just peeped over the ranges beside me. Alone aside from the bike, I pondered how many days we still had together, knowing our time together was soon to end.

It wasn’t love at first sight, and although she had some flaws, I’d learned to live with them. Eventually, when the curtains closed on our time together it was tough; this diamond in the rough had left a mark and I didn’t want to part with it.

I was stoked when Cannondale hired a host of creative and stylish riders to form the Waves team, including the unmistakable ’Rat Boy’ Josh Bryceland, to rep their Habit platform. At the time, a short travel trail bike leaning towards a playful style of trail riding. I wasn’t sold on its relatively short travel though; its 130mm in the rear and 140mm front travel left me wanting more. It was just too limiting for my preferred riding spots.

Step forward a few years and in comes the Cannondale Habit LT 1, a longer-legged version of the Habit. The new LT (Long Travel) platform followed on from the Habit, taking its rugged good looks, balanced geometry and all-around fun factor, but in a slightly more forgiving 140mm/150mm package – right up my alley. The LT’s longer travel broadened the type of riding it’s suited to, pushing it toward the rowdier end of the spectrum but without the excess weight and sloth of a full gas enduro bike.

Having spent the bulk of my recent summer months aboard the Habit LT 1, both on my local trails and across a full buffet of South Island holiday road trip adventures, I’ve put this rig well and truly to the test, discovered what I liked and disliked, and ultimately got a good appreciation for what it’s all about.

Before I even set eyes on the bike, I needed to let Cannondale NZ know what size I’d need. According to the Cannondale size chart, at 176cm tall I sit right at the top of the Medium, or bottom of the Large size. What to do? Comparing the geometry of the Medium to that of my own ride I decided it was too short, and the Large was probably larger than ideal, sort of a Goldilocks’ porridge situation. I came to the decision that I’d likely feel cramped on the Medium but could get accustomed to the Large and its 475mm reach. A few weeks later the rig arrived fully built and ready to roll. The Large did feel ‘large’, but not too big; game on!

Clean lines and oversized junctions set the scene for the Habit LT1’s frame. Visually, there’s nothing too out of the box or polarising, although the headtube junction and bottom bracket cluster are pretty substantial. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re overbuilt, but those junctions are a noticeable feature of the front end. A full carbon construction, everything other than the suspension linkage is sweet, sweet, carbon fibre, including the chain and seat stays. With no seat stay bridge to be seen, the seat stays are separate, tied together only by the yolk that drives the shock, and the rear wheel axle.

With its comfortable geometry, it’s a bike that you can easily manoeuvre around, or jump over whatever’s in front of you - think a paring knife as opposed to a meat cleaver; they both get a similar result but get there in distinctly different ways.

Cannondale has a somewhat chequered past in some respects, due to regularly adding proprietary technology or features on their bikes, which has ultimately put some riders off making the step onto the brand. It’s great to see nothing too out of the ordinary on the Habit LT line, just industry-standard sort of stuff. A threaded bottom bracket, 148 boost spaced rear end, and regular tub-in-tube internal routing for cables, no niggly headset routing or strange rear wheel offsets on this bike!

Five frame sizes are available, all with 29” wheels, aside from the XS with 27.5” wheels. It’s great to see some size-specific chain stay lengths across the sizes. Small and Medium share the same chain stay length, all other sizes are unique in length. Different length rear ends also mean size-specific rear shock and suspension kinematic tunes, keeping the bike optimised for the rider, however tall they maybe.

The head-angle sits at a conservative but precise 64.7° and the seat tube is an acceptably steep 77.1°(effective). Geometry that’s neither here nor there, but current, and nails the use case for the bike. The main frame has a single bottle cage mount on the downtube, and an accessory mount under the top tube. In the large frame I tested there was heaps of room for a full-size bottle in the front triangle – that’s a win in my book.

Cannondale designers have done a nice job of helping to keep the frame looking fresh long-term, and quiet to ride with well-thought-out rubber protection on the downtube, chain stay and seat stay. Strategically placed top tape keeps other key areas on the frame scuff-free. The addition of a rubber mudguard behind the bottom bracket, over the main pivot, keeps the area contaminant-free and helps with bearing longevity.

Spec-wise, we’re looking at some familiar, tried-and-true hardware on the Habit. A complete SRAM GX Groupset, there’s only one cable and it’s not an electronic one, a complete manual setup here. If you want to upgrade to the latest T-type transmission, there’s a UDH hanger on the frame to allow for that. The GX groupset in this most recent iteration has been around a few years now and it’s a workhorse on a lot of bikes of this level. No complaints here, it just needs the occasional tweak of cable tension, and a clean chain to maintain hassle-free performance.

SRAM’s Code R brakes, with a 203mm rotor up front and a 180mm out back, offer just enough power for this rig. I don’t think I’d manage with anything less on this bike. There’s plenty of adjustment on offer, so even the pickiest of fingers can find the perfect lever position. They’ve got a decent, solid feel at the lever and only on the longest descents I found a little fade in the rear, no doubt exacerbated by my rear-biased braking and that 180mm rotor, a 203 rotor on the back would be ideal.

The bike has a stable, planted feel on the trail, but still feels that there’s enough support to keep it playful and responsive rather than subdued and dull, allowing you to boost from trail features and not feel like you’re blowing through all the travel on landing.

The cockpit and dropper post are taken care of by Cannondale in-house labels, while the grips and saddle are Fabric branded items. The dropper is 170mm and is nice and smooth – not a shotgun fast return but not so slow as to be an issue. The post doesn’t have the lowest stack height, but the length worked ok for me, although with a lower stack post, I’d comfortably go up to around a 190mm drop. Considering I’m right at the bottom of the height recommendation for the Large, I’d imagine the 170mm post won’t be ideal for those more towards the centre or top of the height chart. The seat tube on the Habit LT isn’t the shortest at 445mm, limiting the maximum drop possible on the bike. The dropper lever does its thing with no qualms, and is nice and smooth with a light action.

The HollowGram carbon bar is huge for a trail bike with a 30mm rise, and a full 780mm width – that’s a lot of height for a trail bike, especially one with such a large stack. Riders on the taller end of the spectrum will appreciate this much height, but as you’ll see further on, it was a slight niggle for me. The stem is also a Cannondale in-house number and comes in a nice new-school 40mm length.

The WTB KOM i30 TCS 32-hole wheels on proven DT Swiss 350 hubs have been trouble-free as expected. Not once have I had to pull out the spoke key to remedy a wobble after a cased gap or smashed root. There’s no need to discuss the hubs as it’s fair to say these beauties would see a tonne more riding before I’d even need to look at any bearings. A clean and lube of the freehub may have been necessary, had I been riding in the wet regularly – but over the review period, I touched the mud just a few times.

Shod with a pair of Maxxis tyres, there are no surprises here, or sidesteps needed from the stock spec: a Minion DHF 29×2.5” takes care of tracking up front, while highspeed rolling, but is sketchy in some conditions, with Dissector 29×2.5” features on the rear. It’s good to see Cannondale have the foresight to spec the EXO+ casing version of the tyres, no need for immediate off-the-floor upgrades if you’re an aggressive rider or live in a rocky area where you’ll appreciate the sturdier EXO+ casing over the often specced EXO. The Dissector is an acceptable summer option as a rear tyre, and great in conditions where it can cut in for some traction, but in loose or muddy surfaces it struggles for braking traction (the central knobs are quite low). The side knobs appear to lack support and fold over on the hardpack; great for squaring off berms or flicking a Scandi’ into a turn, but not so much for overall control – wear it out and replace it with a Minion DHR2, problem solved… although a little slower rolling.

Hanging off the front of the chassis is the supple and controlled (thanks to the new Charger 3 TC damper) ROCK SHOX Lyric Select + fork. I’ve been impressed by how good the fork is in all circumstances; high-speed chatter, no matter; big- hitting bangers, no biggie. A bit of experimenting with the high and low-speed compressions left me with the high-speed wide open and two clicks from fully open on the low speed; this seemed a decent setup for most conditions of trails I ride.

The rear end is damped with a ROCK SHOX Super Deluxe Select +. A visit to the ROCKSHOX TrailHead website for some baseline setup advice left me at a few hairs under 30% sag. I subtracted a couple of clicks from recommended on the rebound, speeding the back end up to just how I like it.

For sure I prefer the Habit LT’s active, supple suspension over a higher-anti squat and consequently more ‘locked out’ pedalling experience, particularly at this mid-travel level.

Once the suspension was dialled in, I took the bike for a quick ride and my first impression was that this bike is built for fun: poppy and playful. My second impression is how high the front end is. The large 644mm stack combined with the 30mm rise of the 800mm wide HollowGram SAVE handlebar made it super easy to chuck a sweet wheelie, or manual through a section, but on everything other than steep descents left me feeling disconnected from the front tyre. After some time with my trusty tape-measure, I landed on a 760mm wide, 15mm rise bar and a single 10mm spacer under the stem. Lowering the front made me feel more centred on the bike, with more weight over the front but still keeping the front end high enough for some aggressive riding. Once I got the front end to an acceptable level (for me), it unlocked the cornering of the bike and I felt comfy and at home. Swapping handlebars from new may be needed by some riders, but as bar height and width are certainly a personal preference it likely won’t be necessary for everyone, particularly if you’re on the taller side.

The rear suspension kinematic is linear through most of the travel, feeling consistent through most of the shock stroke and finishing with a steep ramp-up at the end of the travel, preventing harsh bottom-outs. The bike has a stable, planted feel on the trail, but still feels that there’s enough support to keep it playful and responsive rather than subdued and dull, allowing you to boost from trail features and not feel like you’re blowing through all the travel on landing.

Descending on the Habit LT is just plain fun. This isn’t a huge travel rig you can plough un- controlled into chunky rough sections, relying on huge travel and slack geometry to keep you out of trouble. With its comfortable geometry, it’s a bike that you can easily manoeuvre around, or jump over whatever’s in front of you though – think a paring knife as opposed to a meat cleaver; they both get a similar result but get there in distinctly different ways. Central rider weight keeps the bike planted, aiding traction and helping keep you very much under control. Multiple times I exited a trail surprised at how the bike handled some of the rowdier sections, particularly as it hasn’t got the longest travel, or most progressive geometry. On steep trails, with lots of large successive hits, the suspension stiffens up somewhat under the braking forces, causing the back end to feel quite harsh. Not a deal breaker, but more noticeable than some other bikes in this travel range and we’re not really riding that type of terrain often.

Low anti-squat means the rear suspension is still plenty active under pedalling, ideal for a bike aimed at descending fun, rather than pedalling prowess. Of course, this means it’s obviously very active on steep climbs, sagging into its travel and creating bob. I found this quite noticeable and was surprised by just how much it could sink into its travel on really steep uphill pitches. Fear not though; the lockout lever is within easy reach and very effective. I found most of the time I’d throw the lockout on for any extended, consistent climb but leave it open for anything resembling a technical climb as the extra traction it allowed was welcome. For sure I prefer the Habit LT’s active, supple suspension over a higher-anti squat and consequently more ‘locked out’ pedalling experience, particularly at this mid-travel level.

The bike tracks well across off-camber and through flat turns, partly due to the geometry putting rider weight centrally between the wheels, partly due to the supple suspension kinematic, but also because of the back end having a healthy amount of torsional compliance, aka flex. In recent years, designers have been moving away from the aim of having the stiffest bike, aiming for a perfectly tuned flex through the frame. If done effectively, a back end with more flex can also mean better tracking, assisting with overall rider confidence, and feel; I reckon the Habit LT nails this, whether that was the design team’s intention or not. This compliance means the Habit LT isn’t the spriteliest bike while sprinting, but it isn’t a cross-country bike either, so pedalling is secondary to overall roost-ability and fun.

Mellow trails (i.e. most of what we ride) are a blast on this bike; it picks up speed quickly, and jumping into sniper landings or pumping through sections gives a noticeable speed increase.

Cannondale reckons the ‘LT’ moniker stands for Long Travel, but I wonder if it really stands for, as the youth of today say: “Lit Time” (i.e. a “great time” to those of us who are slightly less youthful). Out of the box, as you’ve seen, there were a few things I wasn’t a fan of and, although they’re all personal preferences, they meant I needed to spend precious time getting to my optimal setup, this isn’t exactly a ‘get on and go’ bike. That said, once I got my setup dialled, this bike was awesome. It’s really changed my perspective on what bike I need as my ‘everyday ride’ and, with modern suspension, geometry and frame design, a shorter-travel bike like this can now be on par (or better) than a longer- legged bike from only a few years ago and make for an overall better experience, regardless of the few scenarios it’s not in its element.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #113

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #113

KTM Macina Prowler Prestige & Exonic eMT

Words Lester Perry
Images Bevan Cowan
RRP $23,499 – KTM Macina Prowler Exonic | $17,499 – KTM Macina Prowler Prestige
Distributor Electric Bikes NZ

Although the familiar orange logo is shared between the moto and bicycle brands, since 1991 they’ve been two completely separate entities after the company was split into four individual companies: motorcycles; engines; bicycles; and radiators, leaving the bicycle company standing on its own two feet under new ownership. Nowadays, the brand has a comprehensive range, from high-end eBikes to Tour de France road racing bikes and even kid’s offerings. Unfortunately, only selected models are available here in NZ.

Having seen KTM eBikes on international websites and under a few E-Enduro World Cup riders over recent years, when the opportunity came up to throw a leg over one I jumped at the chance. Then the opportunity to ride one bike turned into the opportunity to ride two levels of the same platform, a real back-to-back comparison to see the difference between two similar bikes with a $6000 price differential.

We put two bikes to the test, the Macina Prowler Prestige ($17,499RRP) and the Macina Prowler Exonic ($23,499RRP). The bikes share a premium price tag (granted, there’s a chasm between the two values), and both share the same frame, handlebars, stem and tyres, but everything else is distinctly different.

First off, both bikes are stunning to look at. There’s a nod to their moto roots with long travel suspension (170mm rear; 180mm front) chunky tyres, mullet wheel setup (29” front; 27.5” rear), and, of course, their Bosch drive units. Paint schemes are distinct: the Prestige in its platinum bronze matte, and the Exonic in a translucent orange and black. Both bikes look slick, but the Exonic takes the cake in the right light, layers of carbon are visible through the paint and the sunshine really makes it pop!

Frame

Featuring a carbon front end, the lines are clean and lead the eyes back to the aluminium 650b/27.5” specific back end. There are bosses and space for a bottle in the front triangle – great! The frame features headset-routed cables and, being an eBike, there are a few tucked in there.

It’s a nice change to have the cables tucked out of sight instead of the commonly seen bird’s nest of cables some eBikes have. Headset routing of cables is a pretty polarising topic, although with so much going on with the bike in terms of cables, controllers, drive units, battery etc, this is not a cause for concern in my book as there’s lots going on elsewhere on the bikes, too.

The battery can be removed through the hatch along the top side of the downtube. It’s a slick operation, but if there’s a bottle cage mounted it could be fiddly as space will be limited to manoeuvre the hatch lid off.

Both bikes look slick, but the Exonic takes the cake in the right light, layers of carbon are visible through the paint and the sunshine really makes it pop!

Drive Units

Bosch has cemented itself as one of the top-performing drive units for the eMTB segment, and both our test bikes feature top-level units from the German powerhouse. The Prestige features the tried-and-true Performance CX Gen 4 motor, delivering 85nM of torque through its assistance levels; Eco, Tour+, eMTB and Turbo modes. Maximum assistance is 340% in Turbo mode.

Exonic-level bikes get the CX’s newer, more brutish sibling – the Performance CX Race – it’s about 150 grams lighter than its little brother and can deliver its power faster for less effort, getting you up to speed just a fraction quicker. It can crank out 600 Watts peak power – the same as CX but with up to 400% maximum assistance – in its Race mode. The Race motor shares the same lower three assistance modes as the CX, but trades Turbo for the full gas Race mode. The CX-level motor is great for a bike like this, but the Race motor is both figuratively and literally next level. I found I had to be on my toes when riding in Race mode; if I wasn’t taking notice or weighting the bike quite right, particularly while tackling a steep pinch, the power could easily spit me off the bike. The Bosch Flow app allows some customisation for how the power is delivered across assistance levels, and given some more time I might have tweaked the setup to not be quite so peppy.

It’s great to see the drive units specced with 160mm length cranks, anything longer on an eMtb is too long in my book! Prestige bikes get solid-looking alloy KTM E-TRAIL cranks, and Exonic bikes step up a notch to a swanky FSA CK-702/IS Carbon crankset – very nice indeed. Out on the trail, there’s no discernible difference, but I’d imagine the carbon cranks of the Exonic would be marginally lighter.

An often-overlooked feature both motors share is the Extended Boost. When in eMTB or Race mode (where applicable), the motor continues to run on slightly after coming off the pedal power, continuing to deliver drive for a split second longer. This helps keep a consistent delivery of power, regardless of how bad your pedal stroke is, or having to stop pedalling to get through a technical section – think, a quick pause or half pedal kick while climbing a technical section to avoid clipping a pedal. The CX motor has the same feature, but the Race motor takes it up a notch giving a bit more of a kick. A subtle feature that I really dig.

Both systems share a 750w/h battery, offering riders great range. Of course, this also comes with a bit of a weight penalty over smaller batteries, but is well worth it in my book.

The back end of both bikes perform equally well, with a good amount of support on offer and, even on the heaviest of flat landings, there’s no feeling of a harsh bottom out.

Suspension

The Prestige features a 180mm FOX 38 Float 29” Performance eBike edition fork – simple and effective; while the Exonic runs a 180mm FOX 38 Factory Float FIT4 Kashima eBike edition. The Exonic gets the premium gold Kashima coating on its Factory stanchions, as well as dials for a 3-level compression adjustment: Open mode compression adjustment and obligatory Rebound Damping dial.

Although the Prestige’s Performance Elite fork simply has a compression lever with three positions, and a rebound dial, it’s still a top performer and is honestly so simple you can just jump on it and go – sometimes the extra adjustability of a fork like the Factory Fit4 can take a bit more effort to set up properly. Both forks are fitted with the sweet Fox-specific bolt on the mud-guard. Between the two bikes, I really like the simplicity of the Performance Elite fork – just dial in the air pressure, hop on and ride! Out the back, we find the FOX DHX2 Factory 2Position coil-sprung damper on the Exonic, and a FOX DHX2 Performance Elite 2-Position on the Prestige. Both shocks are a great option for a bike like this.Providing an exceptionally plush 170mm of rear wheel travel, the Factory level shock has just a little more of a buttery feel thanks to its Kashima coating. With high- and low-speed adjustments on compression, and rebound on both shocks, there’s plenty to twiddle with. Both shocks also have a lever to firm up the compression which, once flicked, calms the shock down while climbing. It’s not a lockout as such, but does heavily damp the compression of the shocks. I’m not entirely sure the nuances of the tuning will be that noticeable when you take into account the large tyres and the weight of the bike; some adjustment is good, but more doesn’t mean ‘better’ in all cases. Although, if you’re keen on a bit of tuning – and happy to spend the time – the results should be stellar.

The back end of both bikes perform equally well, with a good amount of support on offer and, even on the heaviest of flat landings, there’s no feeling of a harsh bottom out. Being coil-sprung, the back end is far more supple than a more commonly found air shock and thus tracks super well, keeping the wheel glued to the ground and holding its line across rough terrain. Between the two shocks, the difference when out riding is negligible and, if blindfolded, I doubt anyone could feel the difference between the two models. Depending on rider weight and preferred rear suspension feel, it’s likely a different spring may need to be fitted to achieve optimal performance – not quite as easy as just whipping out a shock pump.

Drivetrain

KTM knocked it out of the park when selecting drivetrains for these bikes. The Exonic gets a top shelf SRAM AXS XX T-type derailleur, chain and cassette. On the Prestige, we get the SRAM GX AXS T-type derailleur, chain and cassette. Both these drivetrains are ideal for an eBike; with their pin-point precision and ability to shift under power, nothing comes close to how positive they feel out on the trail and I’ve been happily snapping through gears whenever I felt the need. Handily, both bike’s derailleurs are powered by the bike’s battery, rather than the normal AXS batteries. The downside is, if the bike isn’t turned on the gears won’t shift, so should something go drastically wrong, you’ll be single-speeding home. The gear range is ample; there’s no need for any lower gears, and there are more high ratios than anyone would ever need, particularly as pedalling any faster than the 32km assistance limit is a total chore and this limit is met with two to three gears remaining, depending on your cadence.

Dropper Posts

A 150mm dropper post on a Large bike? You read that correctly. Both bikes have a 150mm dropper fitted. The Exonic gets the slick RockShox Reverb AXS, and the Prestige – a FOX Transfer Performance level post. Both are great units, the Reverb AXS gets my vote between the two, with its AXS button actuator mirroring the AXS XX shifter pod. A click of a button makes it all very easy to use. A tall rider will likely want to put a longer drop post on the bikes, but for shorter-legged riders like myself, options will be limited by the frame’s 450mm seat tube length. I found this a bit of a pain, as I’d really like a 170mm drop at least and may struggle to find one to nail my optimal saddle height without interference from the frame’s seat tube.

Overall, the bikes excel on flatter terrain; shining on slower, technical trails more than wide open, fast and chunky steeps.

Wheels

Wheels on eMTB are generally not something to sing about but, in this case, we see a couple of solid and distinctly different options. The Prestige has a pair of KTM E-Team Trail rims (made by DT-Swiss – and they appear to be the same as one of their downhill models) on DT 350 Hybrid hubs. The Exonic gets a pair of very swanky, carbon DT Swiss HXC 1501 SPLINE rims on DT 240 Hybrid hubs. Both wheelsets are very stout and, as you’d expect, the Aluminium rim of the Prestige gives a bit more forgiveness. But, with its faster-engaging rear hub, stiffness, weight, and overall swag-factor, the Exonic’s carbon wheelset gets my tick. The only question mark is, being carbon, does the longevity of the rims come into question – particularly if you love bashing rocks? Fortunately, DT Swiss has a good warranty policy!

Brakes

The combined weight of an eMTB and its pilot travelling at speed is a lot to slow down. KTM have specced great brakes on both bikes, but a bit of an oversight sees them both let down in the braking department. Prestige has the tried-and-true Shimano Saint 4-piston downhill brakes; they bed in quickly and offer consistent power and performance. The Exonic level gets a set of Magura MT7 HC3 4-piston brakes; they have great adjustment and, once set up, they feel nice, solid and consistent; the levers feel comfortable and ergonomic once the multiple adjustments are dialled in. Both bikes get a 203mm rotor up front which is great and offers enough bite and overall power for any scenario. Unfortunately, both bikes have just a 180mm rear rotor, simply not enough to effectively slow the momentum of bike and rider. During long steep descents the rotor overheated and the brake just lost power.

Geometry and Handling

The head angle sits at 64.1 degrees, pretty normal for a bike with 150mm of travel. The upside of this is it keeps the bike nimble in most scenarios, even on mellow or flat trails. The bikes climb well, their shorter reach and comparatively long stem (50mm) help keep weight on the front and keep the wheel on the ground.

Thanks to a high anti-squat, the bike sits up in its travel while climbing steep sections. In scenarios like this, when there’s high torque through the drivetrain, a lower anti-squat would see the suspension being sucked into its travel – not something to worry about on these bikes though. Once accustomed to the weight, jumping the bikes was fun and you’re able to use a bit of body language to float sizable jumps and make sure of smooth landings. Nothing strange stood out while hitting take-offs, but it does take a little to adapt to the weight.

Overall, the bikes excel on flatter terrain; shining on slower, technical trails more than wide open, fast and chunky steeps. I found the bike easy to corner and quick to change direction, thanks to its short wheelbase and mullet wheels; but on steep, rugged trails, I couldn’t get confident – likely a combination of the underpowered rear brake, short reach and longer stem than I’m used to.

Overall Thoughts

“A mixed bag” is how I’d sum up the Macina Prowler Prestige and Macina Prowler Exonic bikes. Outside of a couple of minor things, the component package on both bikes is solid. It does feel a little like KTM has taken the geometry of a shorter travel eBike, aimed at trail riding, and stretched the travel out to that of a heavy-hitting all-mountain bike. A bike with 170/180mm of travel would normally have longer, slacker and lower geometry than we see here. The downside is that a bike with that geometry wouldn’t be as good as the Prowlers are on mellower trails, or for ‘touring’ style riding where there’s as much climbing and flat as descending. So, where does that leave us? These bikes are perfect on what I’d call the ’middle ground’ of trails: not the flat, smooth trails of one end of the bell curve, or the steep, rough technical trails at the other end of the scale, but right in the middle; the riding a majority of us spend most of our time doing, pure trail riding. Rolling trails, some technical, some rough – but not extreme.

If money was no object and I wanted a top specced, high end eMTB with the best drive nit money can buy, then I’d jump on the Exonic. If my budget couldn’t quite stretch that far then the Prestige bike is an exceptional alternative.

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #113

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #113

Trek Fuel EXe 8 GX AXS T-Type

Words Georgia Petrie
Images Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $12,499
Distributor Trek NZ

The past two years have been abuzz with exciting product launches for the superlight (SL) eBike nerds among us. Between the likes of Transition, Orbea, Specialized and more recently, Santacruz, the lightweight eMTB market is now a smorgasbord of “too light to be true” offerings. And, with each new bike launch, the discreetness of the “e” factor across the market blurs the line between acoustic and electric even more. Motors and batteries are becoming more compact whilst, simultaneously, the power, torque and range abilities are increasing exponentially, to the point the reliability of my once sharp “eMTB radar” is becoming a little questionable.

Trek’s Fuel EXe takes ’stealth’ to a new level and their alloy offerings combine budget and performance to create an economical yet hard- hitting package that will tempt the appetites of even the purest acoustic bike riders out there – you might want to unblock your ears for this one!

With a chassis deriving from the popular and
proven Fuel EX, the Fuel EXe electrifies it’s do-it- all acoustic counterpart, giving riders the ability to do more: turn your post-work lap into two, remove the “dread” from climbs, and descend without the clumsiness of traditional full power offerings. Sporting 150mm front and 140mm rear travel, the bike is a capable descender that’s isn’t afraid of tackling jumps, drops and steep grade five descents far above its paygrade, whilst maintaining nimble-ness at its core. It’s a comfortable, versatile all-rounder that’ll leave you wanting more – and with a punchy 360Wh battery and 50Nm torque motor to boot, why not?!

Power is delivered smoothly and naturally – there’s no sudden jerk forward when the assistance kicks in, and it really does feel like you’re just riding a non-powered bike with a little pat on the back for some extra help.

eBike Features

The Fuel EXe is powered by the TQ-HPR50 motor, which has made quite the name for itself within the lightweight eMTB segment, sported by the likes of Mondraker, BMC, Cube and Unno to name a few. Producing 50Nm of torque and 300-watt peak power combined with a 360Wh battery, the TQ-HPR50 is a punchy package – enough grunt to get you up nasty climbs, and enough battery for a decent after-work pedal and then some. Comparatively speaking, these numbers reflect a blend of those seen on competing lightweight offerings. The torque output mirrors the Specialized Levo SL Gen 2 but the Fuel EXE has a slightly higher battery capacity, while the Shimano EP8-RS seen on the Orbea Rise matches the Fuel EXe in battery capacity, but sports slightly higher torque at 60nm.

It’s little wonder the Fuel EXe masks its eBike nature so well, the battery and motor weigh in at just 1.85kg and 1.83kg respectively – our EXe 8 GX AXS T-Type review model weighs in at 20.25kg/44.65lbs, which is very respectable given the bike’s alloy frame, budget friendly componentry and removable battery. Riders can also purchase a 160wh range extender that sits discreetly in the bottle cage, providing an extra one to two hours of juice for only 950 extra grams of weight.

Adding to the sleekness is the TQ display that’s cleanly integrated into the top tube, which can be adjusted to display your preferred units. This is paired with a simple three button handlebar mounted remote, used to toggle between the bike’s three primary modes – Eco, Mid, High and Walk. The max power, assist level and pedal response for each mode (except for Walk) can be tuned using Trek’s Central app, where you can also track ride statistics, activity and even get recommendations on tyre and suspension pressure.

Out of the box, I felt the stock motor tune provided not only efficient, but natural assistance. Having ridden a range of different lightweight and full power eBikes, a key learning I’ve encountered is that whilst two motors might have largely similar numbers on paper, when it comes to power, it’s how that power is delivered that truly differentiates the experiences across the SL offerings. The TQ-HPR50 delivers power instantly but smoothly – instead of the bike jerking forwards with each pedal stroke, it provides a gradual increase in power that’s akin to someone giving you a light push on the back.

It’s also by far the quietest motor I’ve ridden to date, delivering power almost silently and descending with equal quietness – whilst it doesn’t bother me, I’m certainly aware that the decibel level of a motor is quite contentious a topic for some SL shoppers, so this is great news for those not so keen on listening to their bike whirr away whilst pedaling.

I was highly impressed with the bike’s performance tackling chundery roots and rock gardens, drops and jumps – you’d be forgiven for thinking the bike has 10mm more travel than it really does.

Geometry

The Fuel EXe sports do-it-all geometry that’s “just right” – an aggressive enough 65.3° head angle meaning it doesn’t shy away from steep, technical trails, paired with a 1216mm wheelbase that plants the bike nicely on rough, open terrain, particularly in combination with the damped feeling of the alloy frame. At 77.3°, the seat angle is a welcome addition on a bike that sits in the SL market – this is a touch steeper than competitors such as the Levo SL (75.8°) and Orbea Rise (76.5°), making it a comfortable all-day climber and enabling the front end to remain planted on steeper ascents.

With a wheelbase of 1216mm, the Fuel EXe evokes a sense of stability on wide-open descents – you’ll struggle to feel unstable on this bike or hit the point of ’wobbliness’ that can occasionally be felt on mid-travel range bikes. Paired with a reach of 459mm, the overall size of the bike does feel slightly on the big side relative to other SL offerings, and if you’re in-between sizes, I’d highly recommend swinging a leg over one first. I felt that these characteristics didn’t penalize the bike’s performance, in fact I quite enjoyed the stability and planted feeling that came with the slightly longer bike – overall it felt really balanced and was a confident descender.

Climbing

Now for the nitty gritty stuff – ride performance. Having ridden a range of SL and full powered eMTBs, I was beyond excited to swing a leg over the Fuel EXe – living in Christchurch, we’re fortunate enough to have access to the steeps of Victoria Park, the wide-open flow trails of the Christchurch Adventure Park and the backs and beyond of Craigieburn – an eMTBer’s paradise!

When it comes to overall riding position, Trek have created an excellent balance between a tackle- anything descender, and a comfortable all-day peddler. The steep 77.3° seat angle seats you comfortably, upright and over the bike’s front – you aren’t fighting to keep the front wheel down on steep pitches and it’s extremely comfortable spinning up gradual climbs. The long wheelbase made it a little cumbersome on tight corners – I needed to be quite careful when entering corners and target my lines carefully on technical ascents to ensure I didn’t get too hung up in tight spots. There were a couple of instances where I couldn’t quite make it up the technical switchbacks of my local climb trail – a combination of wheelbase and motor power. I also struggled to get the 150mm Bontranger Line dropper post high enough – if you’re a longer limbed person like me, you may find this a little short, particularly when paired with the bike’s short 73.3mm standover height.

The TQ motor had a unique power delivery relative to other SL motors, such as Shimano’s EP8 or Specialized’s 1.2. Power is delivered smoothly and naturally – there’s no sudden jerk forward when the assistance kicks in, and it really does feel like you’re just riding a non-powered bike with a little pat on the back for some extra help. An interesting observation was that this bike requires quite a high and specific cadence point to generate optimal assistance from the motor – there were a few occasions on steeper climbs where I felt myself having to spin pretty hard to maintain optimal power delivery.

Additionally, whilst the Fuel EXe sports comparatively higher battery numbers than its competitors, the way that power is delivered seems to draw from the battery slightly more than other SL motors I’ve sampled – I ended up with 10% less range on one of my favorite one hour eBike loops than the likes of the Orbea Rise and Levo SL Gen 2. This wasn’t an issue for those quick 1.5 – 2 hour loops from home, but it does mean you’ll need to plan your route carefully should you wish to tackle any slightly longer days in the saddle. As I would with any SL eMTB (depending upon manufacturer), I’d highly recommend purchasing TQ’s range extender which sits perfectly and subtly in the bottle cage, giving you an extra 160wH of battery and alleviating those “range anxiety” moments.

The 12-Speed SRAM GX AXS transmission was an absolute delight, and an excellent drivetrain choice from Trek. I’m a firm believer that wireless drivetrains shine on eMTB’s, particularly those in the SL class, as you’ll often be alternating between motor modes and gears to optimize forward propulsion and power delivery – efficient shifting with immediate actuation makes gear selection a breeze. The bike shifted exceptionally well under heavy load, and I never once had an issue with gears slipping or my chain threatening to drop.

Paired with SRAM’s robustly machined GX cranks, the drivetrain performance makes you forget you’re on the “entry level” alloy model and, at 165mm in length, you’ve got enough clearance to avoid pesky peal strikes, which are much more common on e-mtb’s due to their lower bottom bracket heights. Plus, the Fuel EXe is cleverly designed so that the main battery serves as the derailleur’s power source, meaning you don’t need to worry about remembering to check battery levels. On the flip side, however, it does mean that should your battery run out during a ride, you won’t be able to change gears, which could mean a long ride home or back to the car for some – these bikes are light, but trust me, you’ll still know about it when the battery dies!

If you’re like me and a busy schedule means limited riding, this bike enables you to cover ground much more efficiently whilst still getting a great workout in, meaning you get to ride more, especially the best parts – the descents!

Descending

Descending, the Fuel EXe comes alive. It excels on wide-open descents, maintaining a planted, compliant feel and isn’t intimidated by big rocks, or venturing into Grade 6 trails. I was highly impressed with the bike’s performance tackling chundery roots and rock gardens, drops and jumps – you’d be forgiven for thinking the bike has 10mm more travel than it really does. The alloy frame strikes a nice balance of being stiff without losing feel of the terrain beneath you, and the wheelbase creates stability that evokes a certain level of confidence over and above other bikes of this travel range.

The Fox 36 Rhythm was a breeze to set up, and the added GRIP dampener helped with small-bump sensitivity – hitting drops and jumps was akin to lounging on a Lay-Z-Boy. It’s plush and the bike really sits into the travel on big hits – one may think, “bold bruiser” as opposed to “nimble dancer” when characterizing the ride feel, which isn’t a bad thing at all on the right trail – this bike has got your back! Whilst more of a “point and shoot” descender that’s perhaps not as responsive as other SL options, such as the Levo SL or Orbea Rise, the Trek tackled my local Christchurch steeps and rock gardens with ease, making light work of trails that, in theory, should be well beyond its paygrade.

The Fox Float X Performance series shock is the perfect complement to the 36 fork – these shocks pack some serious punch and tackle small bump sensitivity with ease, and the dampening is just superb. In my experience, with its stoic build and piggyback reservoir, The Float X considerably elevates the descending performance of any do-it-all mid-travel trailbike, and its extensive adjustability means that it can be tuned out-of-the-box to a wide variety of rider types and terrain.

The SRAM DB 8 4-piston brakes were new territory for me but fitting for the Fuel EXe, self-described by SRAM as being “simple” and “robust” – a perfect complement to the bike’s tough, sturdy characteristics. Whilst initially hopeful as I set off on the first descent, a mellow tech-blue trail at Christchurch Adventure Park, the powerful bite that I experienced at the start of the trail quickly faded and unfortunately left my hands pretty cramped at the trail’s end as I was pulling hard to try and control my speed. Although the Fuel EXe’s beefy 200mm rotors and large levers were an uncommon, but welcome choice for an SL eMTB, these features weren’t quite enough to offset the limited braking power that the DB8’s offered on longer, or steeper descents, and I would’ve preferred something with a little more bite. Undergunned brakes are not unique to the Fuel EXe – brakes are a component that often leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to many of the out-of-the-box eMTB’s; SL or full power, that I’ve ridden thus far. Due to the extra weight of the eMTB, decent stopping power plays a crucial role in how the bike feels, and underpowered brakes can make a bike feel cumbersome and arduous, which is particularly noticeable on an SL eMTB like the Fuel EXe, where you want to bridge the gap between acoustic and electric, not extend it.

Being a longer limbed person, my only gripe when descending was the 150mm Bontrager Line Dropper, which I found to be a little in the way – a slightly longer 170mm drop option would’ve been a welcome addition. We also found the cable actuated dropper post lever to be a little fragile, with the cable detaching from the mechanism on a couple of occasions, rendering the post unusable trailside. On both occasions, remediating the issue unfortunately required no option other than to drop the motor out (a finnicky job, to say the least!) to reconnect this. Routing non-electronic dropper posts is a cumbersome exercise across the eBike board, so this isn’t unique to the Fuel EXe, however, it does mean that ideally the spec’d dropper post should be as reliable and trouble-free as possible to avoid any technical headaches!

Overall thoughts

The Fuel EXe is an excellent out-of-the-box package that represents great value for money and delivers a ride experience that packs a punch, especially on the descents. With its quiet motor, subtle assistance and stealthy appearance, the bike is a great stepping stone into the wonderful world of eMTB for those wanting to get the most of their ride, whilst maintaining the maneuverability, handling and responsiveness of an acoustic bike.

So, who is this bike for? If you’re on a tight schedule and you’re wanting to squeeze as much riding as possible into a short space of time, this bike is for you. Or perhaps, if you’re looking for a ride experience that mirrors that of your acoustic bike as closely as possible, this bike is for you. If you’re a weekend warrior who often ventures out to the mountains for multi-hour or multi-day backcountry adventures, then this bike perhaps isn’t for you, although the Fuel EXe’s range extender does provide a considerable amount of range anxiety alleviation, depending upon the duration and terrain of your routes.

Whether or not the Fuel EXe is for you depends on the type of riding you’re doing, the type of rider you are and, realistically, how long you often ride for. For me, I loved that the Fuel EXe meant the difference between fitting in a decent ride and not riding at all. If you’re like me and a busy schedule means limited riding, this bike enables you to cover ground much more efficiently whilst still getting a great workout in, meaning you get to ride more, especially the best parts – the descents! Because who doesn’t want to ride their bike as much as possible, right?

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #113

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #113

Aeroe Spider Handlebar Cradle

Words Lester Perry
Images Henry Jaine
RRP $129
Distributor Southern Approach

With our Mt Starveall mission penned in the calendar, I began pulling gear together for the trip. Sorting through my stuff, it was obvious none of my existing bikepacking gear was quite ideal for a trip like this – my regular strap-on bags just wouldn’t cut the mustard on technical and rough trails; I needed something stable and secure.

Aeroe came to the party and sent me out a Spider Handlebar Cradle and dry bag, and an equivalent setup for Kieran, my mission companion for the trip.

Aeroe set out to create a simple-to-use system for carting gear on your bike, initially developing ‘The Freeload Rack’, which they ultimately sold to Thule in 2011. Not long after the sale, they began quietly working on a new gear-carrying system, presumably waiting until after restraint of trade agreements lapsed to launch under the Aeroe brand. Designed for every mission, from a two-block commute to work to a two-month, multi-country epic, it’s a pretty versatile system – so can be used any time you need to carry gear on your bike, bringing down the cost per use. The entire system consists of the handlebar-mounted Spider Cradle we used during our trip, the Spider Rear Rack, and the more recently introduced Spider Pannier Rack, with the associated dry bags. The entire system is modular, meaning parts of each rack can be swapped over, allowing multiple mounting configurations and helping you to balance the load, or separate gear however you like. The cradle can also be attached to a fork, throwing open the possibilities for how much cargo you can carry.

Compatible with almost any bike, the Spider Cradle was simple to fit to the handlebars. The cradle arrived ready to strap the dry bag on at right angles to the bars (ideal configuration for a fork). I wanted the bag parallel to them so, after a quick disassembly to get the configuration right, I attached the two straps, one on either side of the stem, and tightened up the two 5mm bolts – a quick and stress-free process. There are loads of adjustments on offer, so regardless of the diameter or shape of your handlebars, the cradle should be compatible, even if the handlebar or fork is not completely round. The ease of installation and removal makes switching between bikes or putting away after a mission a cinch.

Access to the bolt heads is limited, so I’d recommend a standard L shaped Allen-key to speed up the process (although a multi-tool does the trick, but isn’t ideal). If you run a stem with a particularly wide face plate, it’s worth a quick measure-up to check the cradle will sit comfortably over it. The cradle feet barely had room to fit over Kieran’s stem – let’s just say it was an ’interference’ fit and required a bit more persuasion to fit correctly than on my marginally narrower, more regular stem.

Constructed from glass-reinforced nylon, the Spider Cradle system weighs in at 464g and can carry up to 5kg of additional load. There are two standard dry bags offered by Aeroe; the 8-litre I used, and the 12-litre used by Kieran. The sturdy bags are made with small sleeves to allow the cradle straps to be fed through them, keeping the whole load stable and secure. Any old bag could be used, but I doubt it would be as secure – or offer the same peace of mind – as the Aeroe bags. The beauty of using a roll-top dry bag is the ease of access – depending on how tightly packed it is, there’s no need to remove the bag from the cradle – just unroll the end for easy access.

After being rattled and bumped around during a solid couple of days out on the trail, the bags show very little sign of use and I can’t see them having any issues, provided they’re strapped securely; it’s doubtful the bag would ever wear out.

My Aeroe bag was crammed full with a bivvy bag, sleeping bag and Jetboil style cooker… no room for snacks in there! Kieran’s Aeroe bag had a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and large jacket – with room for more. To keep our bikes as light as possible – and knowing we were in for a lot of hike-a-bike – we put the remainder of our gear into CamelBak packs. Our setup worked well, and I think we could have scraped through two nights away with no resupply of food given how light we were travelling. Any more nights and we would have needed additional space for food, maybe using the Rear Spider Rack and an additional bag just for food and snacks.

Some gear just works like it should and it’s obvious the designers have thought through multiple different scenarios, solved problems and answered questions.

I was pleasantly surprised at how solid the cradle was, even under some heavy impacts, stutter bumps and cased jumps – it stayed put, right where I’d attached it, with no noticeable movement or slippage.

The extra weight on the front wheel was noticeable to begin with, when cornering, but after just minutes in we’d adapted and it didn’t detract from the ride – until we tried to lift our bikes onto our backs for a hike-a-bike for the 20th time! So much additional weight on the front wheel made jumps feel a bit weird and nose heavy. Again, we adapted to the feeling, but it was still noticeable. What was amazing was how much extra front wheel traction the weight gave us – so confidence-inspiring and not something we expected at all!

I haven’t tried the Spider Cradle on a drop bar bike yet, but would assume it will work fine, although depending on how cables are routed; they may foul with the cradle mounting straps, but only time will tell.

Some gear just works like it should and it’s obvious the designers have thought through multiple different scenarios, solved problems and answered questions. The Aeroe Spider Cradle is one such item; I can’t fault it, it does what it says on the tin and stands up to some abuse. I’d recommend this setup for anyone looking to cart gear on their bike, particularly if you’re riding technical MTB trails – I’d be surprised if other systems would be quite as solid. I can’t wait to take the setup out on some more missions!

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #113

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #113

Pivot Shuttle LT

Words Georgia Petrie
Images Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $25,995
Distributor Allsports

It’s been several years since we saw Pivot’s first iteration of an eBike. Back then, it was a 27’5” wheel-equipped, 66-degree head-tubed, monstrosity with less power than your toothbrush. Fast forward five years and, thankfully, Pivot’s designs have moved on, along with a lot of the tech hanging between the wheels.

For the eagle-eyed bike nerds amongst us, it was clear to see Pivot’s new design direction from a mile away. It was only a matter of time before we saw them electrify their proven Firebird platform, among others. Those dreams have been realised with the release of the Shuttle LT. Positioned firmly at the top end of their line-up, both in geometry and price, the Shuttle LT isn’t for café enthusiasts.

Frame & Features
Boasting 170mm front and 160mm rear travel, Pivot’s Shuttle LT doesn’t muck around. Paired with aggressive geometry, the bike is a capable all-rounder designed to tackle any trail –the chunkier the better –without compromising on uphill performance. The Shuttle LT comes equipped with Pivot’s long-time, proven, DW-Link suspension platform and atypically short signature Pivot chainstays. That is to say, it’s a nimble climber that, despite its meaty travel, isn’t intimidated by awkward roots and rocks amidst steep ascending pitches. Likewise, on the descents, The DW-Link platform provides superb bump sensitivity, and aids in feeling as if the bike desperately wants you to go faster. This is evident with the Shuttle LT’s non-powered brother, the Firebird, however the added weight of the motor and battery exacerbate its ability to suck up small bumps and heavy hits even further. Like what we’re accustomed to seeing on many other Pivot models, no small details have been missed. It’s clear that a lot of thought has been given to the integration of the eBike specific details on the shuttle, like the power button, charge ports, and custom motor cover/bash plate.

eBike features
The Shuttle LT sports Shimano’s top-tier EP8 system, which boasts 85 NM of torque and a peak power output of 500wh. On trail, the EP8 system performs flawlessly –providing responsive and assertive assistance, whilst not avoiding the high-pitched whirring of generations gone-by. You’d be very hard pressed to find a technical climb that this bike can’t handle – in fact, you’ll find yourself wanting to turn the assistance down, as opposed to up. A key feature of the EP8 system is the connectivity with Shimano’s E-Tube app, which was faultless to connect with and intuitive to use. After a few rides, I found myself wanting to adjust the motor’s tune so that there was more discernible difference between the three modes –Eco, Trail and Boost. I personally found the factory tune to be a little too powerful for my liking, and the difference between Trail and Boost a little too marginal, so I opted instead for a tune with equal difference across the three modes. Out of the box, the Eco tune was akin to riding a magic carpet on climbs – almost a little unnatural, and removing too much of the likeness to a non- powered bike. The difference between Trail and Boost was so marginal that it didn’t really matter which mode you chose, each would fly. Using the app to adjust the assistance offered in each mode improved the riding experience juristically, and helped remove that all-or-nothing feeling -though I’m not sure how many of the prospective buyers for this bike would be aware of that functionality. While the EP8 motor integrates into the frame well, the rest of the system leaves little to be desired. A lot of other manufacturers, such as Brose or Bosch, offer much cleaner and sleeker integration of their displays and controls nowadays, with some handlebar controllers even being wireless, and displays fitted into or onto the top tubes of bikes. In the case of Shimano’s EP8 System, the controls are connected via a network of small cables, linked to a basic display fitted to the handlebar. The system isn’t bad overall, and Shimano’s controller is sleek, but the little cables added have a big impact on the tidiness of the front end.

Geometry
The Shuttle LT sports progressive and aggressive geometry, comparable to many non-powered EDR World Cup winning Enduro bikes. The 64.5-degree headtube angle means the bike isn’t intimidated by steep, technical tails and maintains a “point and shoot” feeling –no matter how tricky the trail, you can be rest assured this bike has got your back. Paired with a long 1245mm wheelbase, the bike excels on fast, wide-open trails where it is stable and planted; however, its heavy weight can sometimes feel a little cumbersome on more awkward, tighter sections of trail, both climbing and descending. The Shuttle LT’s aggressive design continues through into the front triangle, with the bike boasting a longer-than-usual reach – 471mm on the size medium. It’s not uncommon to find many other long-travel eBikes offering smaller reach numbers, as a way to overcome the weight and manoeuvrability penalties of full-powered bikes. In the case of the Shuttle, this long front-centre doesn’t penalize the performance off the bike – rather adding to its point-and-shoot portfolio – but is a critical pinch point for the bike, and prospective buyers whom may be wanting the bike to fit or feel a certain way on the trail. The long reach and wheelbase are complemented by a steep seat tube angle of 77-degrees that balances out the cockpit, creating a forward-riding position that reduces the feeling of reaching far, making the bike delightfully comfortable on lengthy climbs. While the short seat tube ensures the bike is well and truly out of the way when attacking technical descents, those with longer limbs (myself included) may find the stock 175mm Fox Factory Transfer dropper post a little short, leaving more seat post exposed than desired, and therefore find themselves wishing for a 200mm drop post instead.

Ride performance
Climbing
Pivot have managed to strike a fine balance between a wheelbase that creates a stable, planted feel on the descents whilst maintaining a cockpit that doesn’t feel cramped when climbing. Without contradicting myself, the only downside to the Shuttle’s long-limbs is that the bike can be a little cumbersome on tight uphill corners, especially when combined with the added weight of the powertrain. I found myself needing to be a bit careful where you point your front wheel to ensure that the power and torque are tracking exactly where you want to be, because if you end up a little off-line, it can be a bit awkward to correct your trajectory. However, all in all it is delightfully comfortable on the ascents; the upright, forward-climbing position makes it feel almost eager to propel you forward with each pedal stroke, even on the steepest of climbs. This will come as no surprise for those familiar with Pivot’s adaptation of the long-proven DW Link suspension platform – having ridden many of their non-electric offerings in the past, the sensation of efficient propulsion is certainly as present on the Shuttle LT. The shifting quality is impeccable thanks to the top-of-the-line Shimano XTR groupset, meaning you need not worry about the bike hesitating or searching for gears upon downshifting, a particularly beneficial quality given the ample
torque produced by the EP8 motor when climbing.

Descending
Let’s not beat around the bush – with 170mm of travel and aggressive geometry, the Shuttle LT is a bruiser that excels on chunky, high-speed and technical terrain. The bike tackles chundery terrain with ease, and small bump sensitivity is superb with the Fox Factory E-MTB 38 and Float X being the perfect pairing to its aggressive geometry. Compared to the non-electric offerings in Pivot’s range that I’ve ridden previously, such as the Firebird and Switchblade, the Shuttle LT frame feels a little less stiff on high-speed descents which was actually a welcome surprise, as it off-set the added weight of the motor and gave the bike a more natural feel. In classic Pivot fashion, the Shuttle LT sports short chainstays and a low standover, making it easily manoeuvrable in awkward, tight spots and making the rider feel “in control”, which is particularly important to note on an eBike, as the added weight of the motor can often bring about a “lead weight” sensation akin to the bike doing all the work for you. Add to this the Shuttle LT’s slack head angle, which creates a confidence-inducing “point and shoot” feel on particularly steep descents, elevated further when combined with the bike’s ample braking traction. After riding a range of both lightweight and full-powered eBikes, I have often found that brakes are one of, if not THE, most under-gunned components spec’d on these bikes relative to their weight and required stopping power. So, it’s fair to say the Shuttle LT’s XTR brakes, paired with meaty 203mm rotors, were a welcome addition particularly given the steep, technical terrain the bike excels on. However, I would’ve preferred a hardier tyre than the stock EXO+ Maxxis Assegai on the rear, as this had a tendency to lose grip in loose conditions and roll around unnecessarily, so I ended up swapping this out for a Maxxis Minion DHRII with a Double Down Casing to achieve a little more support under braking. Pivot’s contact points also leave a lot to be desired –from the thin, slippy grips to the low-rise bars topped off with the harsh, uncomfortable saddle. Arguably, contact points and tyre choice are subjective, but when paying $25k you’d hope that some of these finer details would be a little more considered. Whilst the Shuttle LT’s big 756Wh battery does provide ample fuel for all-day adventures, because this sits within a relatively chunky downtube coupled with the angled vertical shock mounting position, It does mean you are left with limited additional frame space for other adventure essentials. On the size medium frame I was reviewing, it was a push to fit my smallest 600ml bottle, and trying to strap anything extra to the frame – such as a small jacket or even an enduro banana – is out of the question. Whilst not a dealbreaker, it does mean you need to be extra conscious before heading out the door that you’ve got enough alternative means of carrying your knick-knacks, and more than an hour’s worth of water. These may sound like minor points, but the irony of all this is that with the beefy battery the Shuttle LT boasts, you’re able to extend your rides, albeit without the ability to carry to essentials one may need to support such missions.

Summary
Whilst the Shuttle LT belongs in the upper-ranks of eBike offerings for its well-rounded capabilities and genre-bending descending characteristics, the little details do impact the bike’s scorecard. If you can look past the angled shock position – yes, I said it – then the Shuttle LT is a strong offering in an increasingly completive segment of the e-market. Whilst there are a lot of small details that have been overlooked – from poor spec choices in the tyres and contact points, to the messy cockpit thanks to Shimano’s reliance on cables – the bones of the bike are solid. A good mechanic – or a 6-pack of beers and a few metres of heat-shrink can overcome the clutter, and things like tyres and grips can be swapped. I’ll let you decide if, for $25,995, you should be having to but, firstly, try one on for size as you may find you’ll want to size down.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #112

SRAM GX Transmission

Words Lester Perry
Images Cameron Mackenzie

I’ve been aboard the SRAM GX Transmission for a few months now. During that time, I’ve been lucky enough to put this groupset to the test across a wide variety of conditions, on two very different bikes, and on everything from party laps with mates to full gas cross country racing.

My first experiences of the transmission were aboard my Trek Slash. A thoroughbred enduro rig, I’ve held this bike back from its true potential for a solid couple of years and it just keeps on giving. After a summer of just riding short-travel trail and XC bikes, I decided to solely ride the Slash over winter, no other bikes, so it got a good amount of use. I’d changed up a few things in my setup, including running vastly beefier tyres than usual, shorter cranks, and different suspension settings, and loved the changes. At the start of winter, the GX T-type groupset arrived and took the bike to a whole new level of awesome. In our previous issue, I discussed my initial thoughts after a couple of rides, mentioned a couple of minor issues, and was left with some questions about longevity and whether I’d still be so enthusiastic about the groupset after a few months.

A fair amount of literal and figurative water has passed under the bridge since I began riding the Transmission, and I’m confident to say that, for me, it’s a complete winner. But – it does take some getting used to. I sat back on one of my cable actuated geared bikes for a few laps of the street yesterday, just to be sure. Yep, I’m still confident it’s better in most cases.

The Triple Crown is the Rotorua MTB Club’s annual winter enduro; three stages on Rotorua’s finest grade 4+ trails. Rain had dampened the trails, but not to the point of total saturation; Rotorua’s volcanic soil effectively absorbing up most of the rain, leaving just enough puddles in the native bush to get a drive train nice and gritty. Aboard the GX mounted Slash, a quick few laps on the eve of the race to warm up, and over the three race stages during the following day – again highlighting the things I rate about the Transmission.

It’s quiet, the new clutch layout means less chain movement and a much quieter system – particularly when bombing fast, rough sections or hucks-to-flat; way less chain slapping the rear stays.

When racing Enduro, particularly on chunky rough or off-camber sections, you simply can’t get the pedals around everywhere you’d like to – so every pedal stroke counts. Short high-powered efforts, and lots of them; there’s no time for a wasted crank rotation to engage a partially derailed chain and, if you’re exiting a corner and need to be in a different gear, good luck with shifting a traditional setup under full power. The positive, solid feeling Transmission offers just can’t be beaten in this department. Go on, pedal full gas every time, all the time! I’ve been shifting more and throwing meaningful pedal strokes in where previously I simply wouldn’t have bothered or trusted my drive train under that level of aggression.

After my initial rides, I was concerned about smashing the low-hanging ‘Pod’ shifter off its perch – and I sure came close. At the Triple Crown, I managed to wash the front wheel on a root, sending me into a tree and a huge over-the-bars. Handlebars twisted and somewhat confused as to what had happened, I finished the run with a twisted cockpit, and when I went to shift gear into the finish of the trail there was no shifter to be seen. “That’s it, I knew this would happen at some point” was my first thought. Off the bike and about to walk up the track to hopefully retrieve the missing shifter, I realised it had just rotated around the bar and was now sticking out the front. Relief. With a quick twist of the mount, the shifter was back in its rightful place. I generally keep my cockpit controls loose enough on the bars to allow for impacts to rotate them, rather than break them off – and times like this highlight exactly why.

After the Triple Crown was done and dusted, I took delivery of another bike for review, again fitted with GX Transmission. This time, it was fitted to an XC rocket ship – the brand new Trek Supercaliber. With the Whangamata Black Rock XC race looming, I put some solid hours in aboard the bike and again gave the GX a good run.

Late winter conditions on my local Pirongia trails mean wet, muddy conditions and plenty of slop to keep things spicey. More than a few rides left the bike and drivetrain completely covered in mud. I’ve always been sceptical of electronics on bikes when it comes to using them in the wet and, although I haven’t completely immersed the system in water, it hasn’t skipped a beat when tackling numerous hours in very wet conditions -and the subsequent hose-assisted clean-ups. Even with a pretty decent amount of muck on the chain and derailleur, the transmission has performed equivalent to its performance in the dry, at times with a little more “crunch” in the chain than in the dry, but this is no surprise when dealing with a filthy chain.

The positive shifting is welcome in the slop, and I found when either blowing a turn or sliding out, killing speed, the ability to just get on the gas and shift to the correct gear is so awesome. A simple push of the button and it’s there, no need for the ‘throw’ of a traditional lever.

Loading the car to head to Whangamata, I realised I’d never checked the charge level on the GX battery – cripes. Pushing the AXS button I got the dreaded red flash of sub 10% charge. Minor panic set in but I quickly clicked on that I had a USB port in the car, and simply charged the battery on my trip to Whangamata. Too easy.

Racing XC on the Transmission setup over the Black Rock 60-kilometre course was the perfect opportunity to throw a whole bunch of variables at the system. I again found myself shifting more often than on a regular cable- actuated system, and on reflection this let me spin at an optimal cadence more often.

There were a few sections on the course where snapping through gears while standing out of the saddle up steep pinches came in handy. Not needing to ease off the power helped get up the sections quicker and more controlled, without the need to ease off the power to shift and then go again. Consequently, rear wheel traction was more consistent and less likely to break loose; I simply wouldn’t change gears on some of these sections on a “normal” drive train and would have added unwanted fatigue to the legs needing to ‘grunt’ up them.

It wasn’t cold in Whangamata, but had it been a mid-winter epic in brutally cold conditions, I would have been stoked on the Pod shifter buttons over a mechanical style. My hands don’t deal well with the cold and I’ve had issues even changing gear on a cable system in the cold previously.

My time with the GX Transmission has by-and- large been pretty peachy but I’ve had one anomaly. While traversing a section of the Black Rock trace loop, just spinning along I pushed the button to shift up, and nothing happened; pushed up and down a few more times and still nothing. A flat Pod battery perhaps? Nope, those last for ages. Race brain took over and without any other smart ideas I gave the derailleur a firm bump with my heel as I rolled along, it made a couple of “zit zit” noises and everything went back to normal. I’m still unsure what happened, it hadn’t done this before, or since – so I’ll chalk this up to a total random event. It does remind me to read the manual for how to pair the system and reset it after an issue though.

My time on the Transmission is coming to a close for now, but hopefully not for too long. When SRAM’s marketing machine clogged every possible pixel of my online existence as they unleashed the T-type groupsets on the world, I really didn’t want to like it. But, truth be told, no longer do I view electronic shifting and SRAM’s GX T-type groupset as a luxury -more of a workhorse that’s enhanced my ride on multiple subtle levels. I’d gladly part with my own hard-earned cash to purchase a set to have for seasons to come.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #112

Absolute Black Oval Chainring

Words Lester Perry
Image Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $199
Distributor FE Sports

There’s no denying it, an oval chainring is certainly a unique thing to see on a bike. But, why’s it an oval shape; surely the theories supporting their use died out with the old Shimano BioPace chainrings of the late 80’s? The fact is, Biopace rings weren’t true ovals, more squished rectangles with rounded corners.

Shimano’s Biopace and Absolute Black’s oval rings are both trying to achieve the same thing: to eliminate the dead spot in a pedal stroke, maximising the part of the pedal stroke where power is highest, and minimising resistance during the ‘dead’ part of the stroke.

Thanks to modern research techniques and measurement devices which weren’t around when Shimano’s Biopace was being developed, the final outcome in Absolute Black’s case is a chainring that is supposed to deliver smoother power and help a rider spin more effectively while climbing, all without Biopace’s associated knee pain.

Absolute Black claims a 9% increase in pedalling effectiveness, up to 7% less oxygen consumption, up to 15% decreased rate of breathing and up to 10% heart rate drop when using oval chainrings versus round. Some heady stats for sure.

First off, the quality of manufacture is as good as it gets, and there’s a fair bit of CNC wizardry that’s gone into bringing the chainring in at a minimal weight without appearing to have lost any strength (not something I was able to specifically test). The tooth profile meshes perfectly with the SRAM Flat Top chain and, so far, I haven’t had a dropped chain, or issues with the chain-to-chainring interface. There were no fitment issues when mounting the ring to the SRAM GX crank – everything was spot-on and precise. As far as longevity goes, after a number of rides across all trail conditions, I’ve got no reason to think the ring will wear any differently from any other chainring. I guess time will tell.

I tested the ‘do it all’ black version, although, if you’re after something to match the tone of your partner’s eyes (or your bike’s decals) you can also choose from titanium, gold or red.

So, how does an oval ring ride? The first few minutes on an oval ring are a bit weird, and probably enough to put some people off. There’s some sort of a feeling… like your cranks aren’t parallel, or they’re off-centre; it’s a strange feeling for sure. After around five to ten minutes, I find my pedal stroke adjusts to the new feeling and in effect cancels out the weirdness, leaving me with a smooth cadence that feels like I’m actually applying the same power throughout the whole pedal stroke rather than primarily on the down strokes. I haven’t done any hard timing but, anecdotally, I certainly feel like I climb more comfortably for the same power, and with less fatigue; it’s almost like I’m using all my leg muscles instead of just a few, effectively sharing the load (although that’s total bro science, not peer reviewed research by any means!).

It’s difficult to put a pin on exactly what the advantages are in the real world, although one noticeable trait is that it smooths the power delivery, meaning more consistent power at the wheel and fewer traction issues whilst climbing on the loose. In turn, this appears to keep your heart rate lower, or at least more stable, than if you were having to adjust your input to the pedals to stop from breaking traction.

The chainring I’ve been reviewing has been strictly on an XC bike while under review, but, I’ve used an oval ring on my “big bike” – a 160mm travel Enduro sled – too. Initially, I thought an oval ring may not suit a bike which is often being sprinted out of the saddle. My theory was that the oval would feel bizarre or lumpy in this situation – I was wrong. The oval didn’t seem to feel any different while standing and attacking out of the saddle, however, it did make climbing to the top of the hills just a touch more comfortable.

It’s not all beer and Skittles though; depending on what size oval ring you run, and where the top of the ring sits relative to your main suspension pivot, an oval ring can actually accentuate pedal-induced suspension bob, interfering with the bikes anti- squat between the ‘high point’ and the ‘low point’ of the chainring as it rotates. I’ve only found this noticeable on one bike, but it certainly confirms that this is a real thing. It wasn’t a major issue, but if every watt counts (i.e. on an XC bike) it’s worth considering what impact this may have on your specific bike. It’s XC riders who stand to gain the most from using an oval ring, so it’s worth weighing up the possible pros and cons. If I was riding a hard-tail it would be a no-brainer to run an oval.

What it all boils down to: if you want to climb more comfortably with better efficiency, and maintain traction more easily while climbing, all of which may ultimately make you faster and save some energy, then certainly consider an Absolute Black oval ring.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #112

Camelbak Podium 4 Hydration Belt

Words Lester Perry
Image Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $109
Distributor Southern Approach

Imagine, if you will, purchasing a nice new bum bag, fresh off the bike shop wall. You pay the assistant, fit the waist strap in place and waltz out the door with that ‘new bum-bag’ spring in your step. Strangers look sideways at you, the child walking toward you is ushered across the road by its mother. It’s then you realise you’re in a mountain biker version of the old “togs, togs, togs; undies” Tip Top advert, except the undies are, in this case, a bum bag.

Generally not so accepted in normal life, but very common when on a MTB or while sifting around a trailhead. As budgie smugglers would be frowned upon while strutting down the street, equally a bum bag may raise eyebrows.

Not since the mid-1980’s have we seen the prevalence of bum bags that we’re seeing in MTB parks currently. The bum bag moniker is gone, replaced by a more ‘PC’ name: the ‘hip-pack’. They come in all shapes and sizes; some include hydration bladders, others don’t; some have heaps of storage, and others are simpler, slim line and more minimal.

With the prevalence of eMTBs and long travel trail bikes, and their many frame configurations, we’re finding bikes have lost much of their ability to haul enough liquid for a big day in the saddle. Gone are the days of the classic front triangle able to fit two 900ml bottles. Many bikes now will only fit a single 500-600ml bottle or, in some cases, none at all. A full hydration pack is a solid solution, but these come with their drawbacks, and will likely be overkill for most rides. If you’re restricted to either a single bottle or, heaven forbid, none at all, then the hip pack hits that sweet spot between a single bottle hour-long ride, and a half-day epic with the need for a larger, full-blown hydration pack.

The CamelBak Podium Flow 4 Hydration Belt is in the middle of the range when it comes to storage capacity, with four litres on offer. The supplied 600ml Podium bottle fits comfortably in the centre of the pack. To either side, two zippered pockets with internal dividers keep the contents separate and secure. The fabric of each outer pocket is elasticated to effectively compress the load closer to the body and help stop the cargo from bouncing around too much. Throughout its four pockets, there’s enough storage for all your ride essentials, plus a phone and snacks – but not a great deal more; just the necessities. Along the base of the pack, are some loops intended to hold a pump – I’m not sure what sort of pump they used to model these off as I couldn’t get it to work adequately with my pretty standard mini pump.

Loaded up for a ride, the Podium Flow 4 Hydration Belt fits snugly around my waist. I fit it as low across my hips as is practical, to avoid it interfering with my breathing. The buckle closure is low profile and easily adjustable to fit a wide range of waists. Excess straps are kept from flapping around by elastic loops on the waistband, although these could easily be trimmed to suit the wearer. With room for everything in one place, I don’t need to trim the number of any of my tools or spares to be ready for every eventuality -just grab the pack and go.

One thing I rate about running a hip-pack, is how free and airy you feel compared to when wearing a full hydration pack. On a roasting hot day, a full pack limits your body’s cooling ability, a situation where a hip-pack wins out for sure. To maximise breathability next to the body, CamelBak has incorporated their ‘Air Support’ back panel -essentially a panel of open foam that spaces the pack off your back somewhat to help with airflow between the two. I’m a big fan of CamelBak’s Podium bottles, they’ve refined the design over the years and now that the nozzle is easily disassembled for cleaning, they last for years. The ‘dirt’ series bottle included, has the added touch of a rubber cap covering the nozzle – no more trying to blow dirt from the mouth before taking a swig. I like it! With the bottle sitting centrally on the Hydration Belt, it’s simple to reach from either side, although it’s not the easiest to do while riding. Maybe I’m a bit cack-handed, but I find I need to stop moving to reach it comfortably. Fortunately, my bike fits a bottle so, on occasion, I’m not carting a bottle in the hip-pack, instead stuffing a jacket in the bottle holster.

Even while loaded up, I find the Hydration Belt sits nicely on my hips, although, over a long ride there’s a slight creep in the belt and it needs to be retightened to stop it from moving around too much. Riding in a normal, semi-upright position, on a trail or enduro bike, the fact I’m wearing the Hydration Belt barely registers but, in a more cross-country style position – long and low in the front -if I’m breathing heavily, I do find it cuts into my midriff a bit; hampering breathing somewhat, even when worn low on the hips.

If you want to keep all your riding necessities safely in one spot and not be limited to what you can stuff in your pockets, or maybe just need to add to your hydration capacity, then CamelBak’s Podium Flow 4 Hydration Belt is a great addition to your riding kit.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #112

Bell Sanction 2 DLX

Words Lester Perry
Images Savanna Guet
RRP $329
Distributor Worralls

Thumb your way back through the pages of a mid-1950s Hot Rod or car racing magazine and you’ll see Bell’s distinct graphics adorning helmets worn by some of the scene’s most influential drivers.

Years later, during my formative years – back when 4-cross and Downhill were making waves in the early-mid ‘90s – posters plastering my bedroom walls featured riders wearing Bell: Brian Lopes, Cedric Gracia, and even some vintage John Tomac. To this day, their helmets protect some of MTB’s heaviest hitters (heaviest in style and speed, not weight!).

Born out of the desire to create a safer helmet for race car drivers, founder Roy Richter worked with naval pilot, Frank Heacox, taking learnings and technology from other industries and reverse-engineering existing helmets. In 1954, the Bell 500 launched, featuring a Polyurethane Foam liner with a hand-laid fibreglass shell. Bell still draws on this motorsport heritage, incorporating many ties back to the 50’s Hot Rod culture across its modern range.

The original Sanction full-face piqued my interest for all the wrong reasons. I won’t mince words – in my opinion, it was pretty ugly. It’s a real bummer when consumers are put off buying protective equipment because of looks, particularly when it’s a price-point-oriented piece; why can’t cheap stuff also look good?

Fortunately, the newly released Sanction 2 DLX MIPS is a complete redo. Taking design cues from the Full-10, Bell’s heavier-hitting top-of-the-line model, as well as others in the Bell line-up, the refreshed model bears no resemblance to the original. This new lid is aimed squarely at the more value-conscious consumer and, although it hasn’t got all the fancy bells and whistles of its pricier and more tech-heavy cousin, it packs plenty of comparable features into its smaller price tag.

Sliding into the helmet for the first time, I was instantly transported back to being a kid and putting on my dad’s motorbike helmet (he had a helmet, but I don’t recall a motorbike?), the plush padding damped the surrounding sounds and I was transformed from a Regular Old Joe to a Power Ranger of sorts, ready to take on whatever challenges -or trail -lay ahead. I have no complaints about the feel on my head; it fits like a glove. The padding incorporates embedded silver metalised yarn for odour control and antimicrobial properties, helping to keep it stink-free. Cheek pads are easily removed for washing, again helping to ward off the mid-summer stank. Generous padding throughout the helmet makes for superior comfort but likely hampers airflow. On a hot summer’s day, it could get pretty warm, although, with 14 airy vents, it’s likely to only be an issue while at slow speed or standing around waiting for the next uplift. I’m a big fan of the Fidlock magnetic closure. I’ve got no idea how it actually works, but it seems to be a blend of magnets and voodoo magic, with no need for “eye of newt” or a Magic Wand. If you’re dialled, you’ll be able to snap the buckle closed single-handedly, and even the most cack-handed users can pop it open with a flick of thumb and forefinger.

Rotational forces are taken care of by the OG MIPS Essential liner. For the uninitiated, this is a proven technology that uses a ‘slip plane’ to help reduce head and neck trauma during an impact. The DLX model weighs a claimed 1080 grams in the medium size, lighter than some higher-end and more spendy offerings in the market. Riding the helmet is everything it should be; it’s comfortable and doesn’t feel unwieldy. When riding at speed over chunky terrain there’s a small amount of movement in the MIPS system so the helmet can at times move around a small amount. This is a common thing with the MIPS Essential system, but not something that detracts from its use, however, it’s not so evident in the more premium MIPS offerings featured in higher-end helmets.

Googles sit well on the helmet and there’s no interference between the helmet and the goggles themselves. The goggle strap sits tidily in a shaped channel around the back of the helmet. If you want to slide goggles up to your forehead while not in use, the visor moves up, out of the way just enough. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to test Bell’s safety claims but with all the necessary safety standards met, I’ve got complete faith that, should I take a spill, the helmet will do what it should and protect my swede.

A solid mix of styling, protection, and price makes this a worthwhile purchase for anyone in search of a decent full-face helmet, particularly if you see a full-face helmet as a nice-to-have, not a must-have, or maybe you only need one every now and then. Steer clear of the spendier options and save your money for some extra uplifts! A wide range of sizes are available, so if you’re in search of a full-face for a BMX or gravity mad grommet, then this would be a great option.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #112

Abus Cliffhanger MIPS Helmet

Words Lester Perry
Image Cameron Mackenzie
RRP $350
Distributor Southern Approach

Creating a helmet sure is a break from tradition for a company that has always designed and manufactured security solutions. Beginning with padlocks in 1924, and moving on to high-tech security and smart home solutions, these days Abus bike locks are some of the finest around – you’ll even find their locks securing many eBike batteries into their frames.

Beginning their helmet design journey with road helmets, protecting some of the pro peloton’s fastest racers, we’ve recently seen their range expand to offer a wide variety of MTB models. The range has been designed in conjunction with feedback from freeride legend, Richie Schley, and downhill fast-and-funny guy turned commentator, Cedric Gracia. Abus’s Cliffhanger MIPS takes no shortcuts. It leads their trail helmet range with its tech, and style that leans more towards Enduro or gravity riding than light trail or XC. The Cliffhanger incorporates familiar tech you’ll find across many other high-end helmets.

The Cliffhanger’s in-mould shell brings together the outer shell and the inner shock-absorbing foam (EPS) and bonds them as a single piece. The shell has eight air inlets and six exhaust ports which, when coupled with the effective internal channelling, gives the wearer a substantial amount of venting even on the hottest days. Cool air in, warm air out – simple.

Take a saw to the shell and you’ll find the ‘ActiCage’. This is an internal structural reinforcement which not only helps distribute impact force and hold the whole helmet together during successive impacts, but offers additional reinforcement allowing for the use of ample-sized front vents. All edges on the shell are encapsulated by the in-moulded outer shell, adding to the durability of the whole package.

Out front, as with any helmet designed to be worn with baggy shorts, you’ll find the peak (not that there are rules, but IYKYK). In the lowest of the three vertically ‘notched’ adjustments, the peak’s lines flow almost seamlessly onto the main helmet but, once you raise it through the other settings, the lines aren’t quite as smooth. However, it still does its job just fine. In the highest position, there’s plenty of room to house your goggles during a climb if you’re so inclined. I’ve found the middle position suits me best as, when it’s in the lower setting, there’s just a touch too much of the peak visible at the top of my view – maybe that’s just me, though. If it were a couple of degrees higher, without having to go the next click up, it would be spot on, and that second click up just disrupts those smooth lines I mentioned. I’ve seen peaks that snap onto a shell in a similar way to this, which have seemed quite flimsy and wear out after being taken on and off a few times; the Cliffhanger’s snap-on system is well designed and of a quality that appears it will easily last as long as the rest of the helmet, so no need for concern there.

The meat in the three-layer sandwich between helmet padding and EPS foam, is a pared-back MIPS liner. It appears the designers have trimmed the liner, removing any excess or areas which may disrupt airflow. The padding is minimal but comfortable. It feels soft to the skin and wicks sweat well; there’s not much padding at all but, overall, the helmet feels perfectly comfortable. I put a lot of this down to a well-designed helmet shape. The minimalist padding may potentially mean the lid doesn’t fit some as well as others, although with tight 4cm size ranges this may be alleviated. Our test helmet is a Medium at 54-58cm; Small measures 51-55cm; and Large comes in at 57- 61cm – so a decent sizing spread is available.

I’m impressed by the weight of this helmet. It felt light on the head, and I confirmed this by weighing it on a digital scale. It measured in at just 352 grams – at the lighter end of the scale when compared with similar helmets of comparable coverage and equivalent features.

A Fidlock closure takes care of the chin strap and holds the whole helmet comfortably in place. Abus’s TriVider strap system gives a level of lateral adjustability and sits nice and flat next to the skin – a lot lower profile than some of the competition. Out the back, there’s a Boa-esque dial to easily adjust and get the fit just right. The cradle has ample vertical adjustment to help avoid any lumps and bumps, and there’s a nice gap through the centre to let a ponytail flow free, unhampered. The overall silhouette provides ample coverage all around; the deep drop in the back of the helmet hooks forward, hugging comparatively close to the ears and offering loads of protection.

There’s a lot of subtle tech packed into this lid and its looks appear to draw inspiration from several other high-end helmets. It could be said that Abus have taken the best of a whole bunch of helmets and carefully combined elements of each to come up with a really solid competitor in the trail helmet category.

I’ve been loving the Cliffhanger. It’s comfortable, airy, hyper-adjustable, feels secure and solid on the head, and has unique yet strangely familiar looks. I’ve had a hard time trying to pinpoint something I don’t like with this helmet and, while it’s drawing a long bow, all I can find is that, for me, the three adjustments in the peak height just aren’t quite right. I’ve gotten used to it now, but if I had my way they’d all sit a few degrees higher than stock, meaning the peak is never in view… but maybe I’m just picky.


This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #112

Considering SubscribingPurchase Issue #112