We had dinner with the great KRob as we've been fascinated with the bike comparison he publishes on mtbr every year. He is a bike geek that lives in the Nevada desert and he knows his stuff. We asked him a bunch of questions about how he sets up the bikes, Dirt Demo loops and we quickly realized that he is the one person that is able to squeeze the most knowledge and experience at the Interbike Dirt Demo.

He shows up early, gets two or three bikes at a time with his buddies and they go on the good loops as they swap and compare bikes. So without further ado, here's the 2012 KRob Dirt Demo impressions.

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I've been going to Interbike a few years now and am still surprised how much I enjoy it. I was only able to make the first day of the Outdoor demo this year due to a planned trip for Whistler in another week, so not quite as many bikes as usual. Yes, it was hot. Yes, the trails were loose and dry. Yes, there were still hoards of seething humanity. Yes, I got up at 3:00 am, traveled 3.5 hours to get there and then after riding bikes for 8 hours traveled back home that night so I could work Tuesday. But there's just something that really makes me happy about being able to ride a bunch of new bikes on fun trails.

Before I get into the reviews I always like to get my disclaimers out there so no one gets too excited about my lack of in-depth details and professional perspective. I'm just a guy who likes to ride mountain bikes...a lot. Over the years I've ridden a bunch of different bikes and spent a lot of time riding a bunch of different trails. I'm not particularly observant to every little nuance and gadget on a new bike.... but I think I know what makes for a good mountain bike and I think I'm reasonably good at getting a sense for how a bike performs as a whole and what its strengths and weaknesses are. But remember, these are just first impressions from limited test rides so take what I say with a grain of salt. I don't work for or get bro deals from any bike company, which is not to say I don't have any biases, just that my biases are hard won through personal experience, friends, and too much time on the boards.

A couple of main themes from this year's demo:
  • 650B! Seems like everyone's got one..... except the big companies. That's 27.5" wheels for those who might not know. Momma Bear half-way between the two current standard wheel sizes..
  • I'm not sure if it's the cost, the timing, or the hassle involved, but I was surprised at how many companies aren't doing the Outdoor Demo. Last year there were 4-5 of my favorites missing. This year there were 8 or 10 that were AWOL including Banshee, Transition, Norco, Trek, Cannondale, Ventana, Canfield Bros., Knolly, Niner, GT, and Ibis.
  • And, as always, thin tubes in Bootleg rocks equals pinch flats. We got two.
  • Wide bars. All the bikes we rode were sportin' the long horns. I didn't notice this immediately until someone mentioned it because both my bikes already have wide bars and I love them.
  • Did I mention it was hot?
I met up with fellow mtbr member and co-reviewer craigstr Monday morning at 8:30 only to find a pretty long line snaking out of the registration tent. They decided not to mail out badges this year but used e-mail confirmations with bar codes to access and print your badge on site (after you signed the waiver). Sounds easy enough but they had a bit of a computer glitch at first which backed things up, but once moving it went smoothly enough.

I think we stood in this line about 30 minutes.



Badges in hand, I made a beeline for the Turner tent way at the back corner of the demo area to check out the new Burner 650B while Craig headed for Giant to pick up the new Trance 29er.


Turner Burner 650B
 


It has 140mm of dw-linked rear wheel travel and well-sorted numbers all around. The frame is true to the Turner design philosophy with mostly straight tubes, smooth welds, and purpose built looks. The component spec on this prototype were all high end, light, carbon and swanky. read more...


Giant TranceX 29er
 


I too was impressed with its climbing ability and it definitely felt smoother and got hung up less in the chunkier stuff than the burner once I got the suspension readjusted for my weight and preferences. The five inches of maestro controlled travel and bigger hoops really seemed to eat up the rough descents. read more...


Devinci Dixon
 


The Dixon is an impressively stout bike for 145mm of travel. In fact I thought it was a 160mm bike and wondered why the Fox 32 was spec'd. Sturdy tubing and stiff looking links, solid axles, and ISCG mountas made it look bomb proof (Devinci's lifetime warranty backs up that look). read more...


Rocky Mountain Element 950 Carbon
 


It has 110 mm of travel and was spec'd with a fox 120 fork I believe. I didn't opt to ride this one so I'll defer to Craig to add his impressions. I know it was stupid, stupid light and super efficient for smoother trails but it was the wrong choice for the gnarly route we took off the top this run. read more...


Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon EVO 29er
 


The Stumpy was fairly light for a 29er but not crazy light. Componetry was top shelf as you'd expect with an msrp of $6200. The 135mm-travel Expert Evo 29 features a Fox Float CTD Factory shock with AUTOSAG and Boost Valve, Fox 34 TALAS CTD Performance fork, and Roval Traverse 29 142+ wheelset. read more...


Specialized Camber 29er Comp with Rotor Q-Rings
 


The Camber Comp 29er we scored was both heavier and had less travel than the SJ 29er but probably cost about a third as much. Pretty nice entry level/intermediate bike that benefits from most of the technology of the higher end Specialized offerings without the stratospheric price. read more...


Pivot Firebird
 


The bike is still beautifully built, laterally stiff, still climbs and pedals with the efficiency that escapes most bikes with this much travel and burliness, and it still has some noisy chain rattle issues going on around the front derailleur in the rough. I love, LOVE, a solid, quiet bike. read more...


Intense Carbine 275
 


Wow. What a transformation! With the bigger 27.5" hoops and longer,slacker geometry this thing really came alive. I don't know what else they changed from last year, but this felt like a totally different bike. Descending through the rudely abrupt g-out/grade reversals of Skyline was a lark. read more...

Follow the 2012 Interbike Outdoor Demo! forum thread!
Read the 2011 All Mountain Bike Tests at Interbike Outdoor Demo article.


Turner Burner 650B



I have been interested in the 650B thing for a while now and know that Dave Turner has been as well. Now with the major fork and tire manufacturers finally getting on board I was excited to see Turner's new creation, the Burner 650 B. I like the name, but by resurrecting the old Burner moniker he may be inviting some confusion as to what this bike is if you knew the old Burner, but it is clearly in the trail/all-mountain category. Think of it as a 650B 5 Spot and you'll have a clear picture. It has 140mm of dw-linked rear wheel travel and well-sorted numbers all around. The frame is true to the Turner design philosophy with mostly straight tubes, smooth welds, and purpose built looks. The component spec on this prototype were all high end, light, carbon, and swanky. It felt pretty light.

After chatting with Dave a bit (do you ever just chat with Dave "a bit"?) about bikes, 650B, and the Downieville DH while he set up the bike (yes, DT, Owner and CEO of Turner bikes personally set up the bike) I was ready for my first demo of the day. Pedaling it away from the Turner tent I was impressed how efficient it felt which shouldn't surprise me because I own a dw link 5 Spot....but it seemed to roll easier than my Spot. Maybe it was the Enve 27.5" carbon hoops.



We decided to climb Girl Scout since it wasn't too hot yet and the trail would be free of downhill traffic. Girl Scout is a fairly smooth, gradual, rolling climb with some rocky chunk mixed in to keep you on your toes and test your tech skills. The Burner rolled nicely and felt efficient while climbing with no noticeable bob. We felt it could have been more active when encountering small to medium sized square edges during the climb though. Instead of easily absorbing these rocks and rolling over smoothly, the rear wheel would stall slightly, then bounce up over them. My 5 Spot displays this tendency some as well but running a bit more sag, bigger, low pressure tubeless tires, and break-in of the bushings has greatly diminished this trait. With the same tweaks and the larger 27.5" hoops I would predict that these kinds of bumps will be mostly erased by the Burner. I'll reserve final judgement for now.

There's a rocky, loose climb with two switchbacks leading into a three-and-a-half foot, near vertical step-up move, followed by more rocky, ledgy climbing on the connector up to the Caldera loop that always challenges me and gives me a good measure of a bike's technical climbing prowess. The Burner proved itself worthy even though I didn't clean the whole climb, one-dabbing the top of the step-up move and flubbing the first rocky, off-camber switchback but I blame my early morning jitters rather than the bike. It found traction on the loose, washed out stuff, felt balanced and and not reluctant while lifting the front wheel, and agile and un-29er like on the tight switch backs.

The next section of Caldera is a fast, rolling, flowy, semi-rough descent down into the bowl that is just flat out fun. The Burner really lit up on this section. The rear seemed to float over over stuff, it stuck in corners and had me hooting and hollering. Made me think the Burner would be a great enduro mount.

The slower, more chunky, unflow of the West Leg descent seemed to expose the hopping/skipping-over feeling in the rear end again but overall I really liked this bike (Craig not as much). It was stiff laterally, steering was accurate and not ponderous and it flicked back and forth 26er-like in the "S" turns. This size large fit my 5' 11.5" inch body pretty well and the whole package felt nicely balanced. The 650B seemed to lean more towards 26" characteristics than 29 but I could feel a little extra momentum carrying into rollers and slightly better rollability over chunk than a 26er but not as much as I thought I would. I'd take the Burner all day long over the Trance X in tighter, steep, slow techy trails.



Here are Craig's thoughts which he posted on the Turner forum

"Got to spend some time on a Burner today at Interbike. Felt really good, it was a good build, with carbon Enve wheels, didn't weigh it but it was in the 27-28 lb range. Only issue I had with it was that I felt it was a bit firm on square edge bumps both climbing and descending, it didn't feel like it clawed its way up and over, more like it bounced up and over. Could have benefited from a dropper post as well."

I really missed my dropper post on the more up and down stuff.

This early production Rock Shox 140 Revelation 27.5 specific fork felt really plush with nice damping characteristics while climbing the rocky squares of Bootleg and descending the tamer Caldera loop but got a little in over its head on some of the more abrupt, steeper chunk elsewhere. I think the production Burners in the demo fleet had a 150mm Rev, but I would kill for a 34-36mm 160 fork on this thing.




Giant TranceX 29er



Craig rode this bike on our bigger first loop and then we switched for another climb up then back down Girl Scout. Here's his impressions which he posted in the Giant Forum.

"Was at the Giant trailer early on Monday and scored a test ride on a large Trance X 29. I was very impressed. I took it up Girlscout, out around the Caldera loop, and down Westleg, it was a good little xc loop. I was really impressed with how the Trance climbed, it just clawed its way up and over all the square edged rock ledges you find in bootleg, it traversed across all the rocky singeltrack with ease, made every switchback like a 26" bike. It was very fun and playful on the downs and was very confidence inspiring. I normally race a Titus Rockstar 29 for xc and a Titus El Guapo for Super D events, I've always been very partial to horst link designs but this really opened my eyes to the Maestro design. I liked the spec, fork felt good and the new giant wheels felt good. It was one of the top bikes I tested."



My impressions on the Trance parallel Craig's fairly closely but it took me a little longer getting used to the more ponderous turning radius of the bigger hoops. It felt nice and roomy and I'd forgotten how the taller stack of the 29ers gives you a more upright comfy riding position. I too was impressed with its climbing ability and it definitely felt smoother and got hung up less in the chunkier stuff than the burner once I got the suspension readjusted for my weight and preferences (Craig doesn't look it but at 185 he outweighs me by 20 lbs and likes really fast rebound). The five inches of maestro controlled travel and bigger hoops really seemed to eat up the rough descents. Nice.



The spec was nice and we both agreed that the XT brakes were the best that we tried. The Giant dropper post worked well and was a welcome addition on Bootleg's varied terrain. Giant is now branding their own wheels which I believe are made by DT-Swiss. These seemed plenty stiff and didn't suffer from any noticeable flex.




Devinci Dixon



Next I went to the Devinci booth to check out either a Dixon or their new Atlas 29er. No Atlas was available so opted for a Dixon. These guys were not interested in getting a lot of bikes out as they were really slow (or thorough depending on how you looked at it) in getting the bike set up (and I even put on my own pedals). Drove me nuts watching the tech check every bolt and micro adjust the position of the brake levers. When I finally got the bike in my hot little hands I met back up with Craig who I was hoping would score a Rocky Mountain Altitude 650B as a nice complement to the Dixon but had to settle for a Element 950 Carbon instead.

The Dixon is an impressively stout bike for 145mm of travel. In fact I thought it was a 160mm bike and wondered why the Fox 32 was spec'd. Sturdy tubing and stiff looking links, solid axles, and ISCG mountas made it look bomb proof (Devinci's lifetime warranty backs up that look). I was excited to try Dave Weagle's split pivot design the Devinci has adopted and it did not disappoint. Pedaling up the smooth dirt to the shuttle pick up it felt very efficient and dw-like. It might have been a bit more active than the dw-link on smooth climbs but felt plusher and more active under power in rougher, rockier conditions. On the the techy Skyline descent it felt unflapable from the head tube back. No flex. Controlled, plusher-than-you-would-expect travel. I was getting bounced around quite a bit by the fork though. This thing screamed for a plush 160mm fork with some beefier stanchions. The 67deg HA (with 150 fork), the burliness, the freight train tracking all add up to a downhiller's trail bike. It needed a fork to match.

When I turned it back in I mentioned this to the tech and he said, "Oh you shouldve tried the (??) build." It had the dropper post and 160 fork. That's the way I would go if I were buying this bike. Not sure why they build it any other way.

Totally forgot to take pictures of this bike and kept meaning to go back over to the booth to shoot a few but never made it.


Rocky Mountain Element 950 Carbon



We were disappointed that they didn't have any of the new Altitude 650B's in when we went by the Rocky Mountain booth but was able to snag this carbon beauty intead. It has 110 mm of travel and was spec'd with a fox 120 fork I believe. I didn't opt to ride this one so I'll defer to Craig to add his impressions. I know it was stupid, stupid light and super efficient for smoother trails but it was the wrong choice for the gnarly route we took off the top this run. Probably would've been well suited for XC racing and Bootleg's Lake Loops. I felt bad for Craig trying to manhandle this thing in the rough.

Again, didn't take any pictures. I think this is the one Craig had (I was thinking it was white though). Post up some pics if you got any of this bike, Craig. Sorry about the stock photo


Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon EVO 29er



I stood in line at the Scott tent for like 15-20 minutes waiting to get a shot at the new Genius 700 (650B) or 900 (29er) only to find out the ones sitting there had been reserved ahead of time. Gonna have to look into that for next year. I saw the option on my Interbike iPhone App but didn't take advantage of it.

Shut out I wandered next door to the Specialized tent which didn't look all that busy for a change. I had the new Enduro Expert on my list but had to settle for this Stumpjumper Expert Carbon 29er. Not a bad "compromise" in the end because it was a pretty cool bike.

The Stumpy was fairly light for a 29er but not crazy light. Componetry was top shelf as you'd expect with an msrp of $6200. The 135mm-travel Expert Evo 29 features a Fox Float CTD Factory shock with AUTOSAG and Boost Valve, Fox 34 TALAS CTD Performance fork, and Roval Traverse 29 142+ wheelset mounted to Specialized Purgatory and Butcher tires.
  • FACT 9M carbon front triangle with M5 rear and 29er EVO geometry, 135mm of travel, tapered head tube, 142mm dropouts, PF30 BB, and sealed cartridge bearing pivots
  • FOX Float CTD Evolution shock with Specialized proprietary AUTOSAG, Boost Valve, and Kashima coating features 3 compression settings: Climb, Trail and Descend, plus ProPedal
  • FOX 34 TALAS CTD Performance 29 fork features 140-110mm of adjustable travel, settings specifically for climbing and descending, and a 15mm thru-axle
  • Roval Traverse 29 142+ all-mountain wheelset, with DT Swiss internals and spokes, 15mm thru-axle, and a 142+ rear hub spacing
  • All-new 2Bliss ready Specialized Butcher Control 29 2.3" dual-compound front tire
  • All-new 2.3" Purgatory Control rear tire.
  • Custom SRAM S2200 carbon double XC Trail crankset with 33/22 gearing
  • Specialized 720mm-wide, alloy XC Mini-Riser handlebar
  • All-new Sip Grip, a lock-on, Aramid infused, half-waffle MTB grip boosts durability, comfort and control
  • Avid X0 Trail World Cup hydraulic disc brakes .
  • SRAM PG-1050, 10-speed 11-36t cassette compliments the 2x10 XC Trail drivetrain
  • Specialized Command Post BlackLite uses a remote lever to adjust the saddle height on-the-fly
With the 95 degree heat we were both starting to feel pretty knackered by this time so opted for the more docile Lakes Loops on this test run. The Stumpy probably deserved a good thrashing down Skyline and and East leg but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did XC too. The Lakes Loops are fun, flowy, mostly smooth up and down trails on the lower benches of Bootleg Canyon with a couple of big G-outs and rocky ridges to traverse, so the test wasn't totally lacking in chunkiness.

The Stumpy flowed like water on the rolling stuff and I could really feel it carrying speed well through the g-outs and various ups and downs on these loops. One particularly rocky ridge descent got inhaled and spit out by the big, stiff, plush rolling stumpy. In fact I'm surprised I didn't pinch flat here as the bike allowed me to attack it with (semi) reckless abandon. My legs were gassed so climbing was gratefully easier than it should have been albeit quite slow.

I'd like to take this bike back out on fresh legs with the Giant Trance X 29er and Intense Carbine 275 and repeat the same route we did earlier for a more direct comparison. I'll bet it would've held its own pretty well in that company.

I'm pretty sure this is an EVO from the paint scheme and spec but not 100% sure.

Partly internal cable routing for the Command post.



Talk about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close! Whatever you do, keep your thumb away from this lever until your privates are well clear and you're ready for a seat to be launched into your crotch. Wow.



Sorry about the out-of-focus image but this little red button on the side of the FOX Float CTD Evolution shock is how you activate AUTOSAG feature. Simply pump up the shock to 250-300 lbs then sit on the seat and press this little red button and the shock blows off air pressure until you're sagged the proper amount. Pretty slick.

New Purgatory Control 2.3 tires connect you to the contact patch in the rear and the new 29er Butcher Control 2.3 hooked you up in the front. Traction was quite good which is one of the supposed advantages to 29er wheels that I've never really thought about until I rode the Stumpy.



Very beefy BB area that must add to the lateral stiffness of the frame.


Specialized Camber 29er Comp with Rotor Q-Rings



This is one of those times when Craig and I should've communicated better. We split to seek the Genius 700 or 900 and the Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc and when we were unable to score the bikes of our dreams ended up opting for essentially the same bike unbeknownst to each other. Oh well, such is life in the hectic free-for-all that is Interbike Outdoor Demo. Sometimes you grab what you can.

The Camber Comp 29er we scored was both heavier and had less travel than the SJ 29er but probably cost about a third as much. Was it only a third as good? Of course not but you can certainly appreciate the extra niceness of all that carbon and XO stuff. The trails we rode with these two bikes probably didn't allow us to appreciate the advantage the SJ would have in the rougher stuff, but the Camber comported itself admirably against the SJ. The law of diminishing returns certainly applies here. Pretty nice entry level/intermediate bike that benefits from most of the technology of the higher end Specialized offerings without the stratospheric price.



The Rotor Q-rings were interesting. They are oval-shaped chain rings that are designed to optimize your pedal stroke. The first thing that you notice about them is that you don't notice anything. There's no funny hitch or uneveness in the stroke as you pedal. In fact it feels very smooth and even all the way around your stroke..... and that is exactly the point. You don't notice anything until you get back on a bike with normal chainrings and you feel the unequal distribution of power that is characteristic of your natural pedal stroke. I thought they had merit and now that you can mount them to any crank/spider they make more sense financially. Not an overwhelming improvement in efficiency but if I were doing long endurance races or just long long bike packing distances where every ounce of conserved energy pays dividends in the end, I'd have to consider them.



With the bash guard on here and chain wrapped around them it's impossible to appreciate the ovalness of the rings but you can see the rings bounce up and down slightly every stroke as you look down while pedaling.


Pivot Firebird



Nothing new about the Firebird. It's been a top contender in the best 6" AM category for a few years now. I reviewed the FB when it debuted at I-bike four years ago. I really wanted to like this bike and if you read my review there was a lot I did like.... it just wasn't very plush.

So four years later and I've never had the chance to ride the Firebird again. So this year, after reading many reports of folks loving their FBs I figured I should give it another chance to redeem itself.

I picked up a medium with an RP23 shock (just as I did in 2008) to try and keep things as equal as possible and headed for the shuttle. We did the technical chunkfest of Skyline to East Leg on this run to get a good feel for descending ability and its ability to take squared off and consecutive hits (same run we took on the original test run 4 years ago). Some things did not change. The bike is still beautifully built, laterally stiff, still climbs and pedals with the efficiency that escapes most bikes with this much travel and burliness, and it still has some noisy chain rattle issues going on around the front derailleur in the rough. I love, LOVE, a solid, quiet bike. I want to hear the thump thump beat of big tires pounding out a raucous drum riff off the rocks when I'm descending through this kind of gnarl. And that's all. It also had a creak in the headset area that was distracting. I know it may not effect the performance of the bike.... but it effects my overall experience while riding. Points deducted for noisiness.

So the big question. Was it plush? The simple answer is yes, it was much more plush than the first FB I rode back in '08. Was it as plush as my coil sprung Delirium T? No, but few things short of a full on downhill bike are. One of the things contributing to the overall improvement this time was the 180 Float fork (I was told later at the booth that it was lowered to 170mm). The Fox handled the oncoming chunder and junk with confidence and authority. While not as plush as a 180 coil fork it did not wag its head, flex, or transmit excessive harshness back into the handle bars. It tracked true and the rear end followed suit only feeling a little overwhelmed on the roughest of hits and fast consecutive shots.



Float 180 lowered to 170mm was a good match for the rear end.

I was reminded why I like 26 inch tires in this kind of riding. The whole package just felt so compact and responsive. In fact I liked the Pivot quite a bit (other than the noise) and really doubted when craigstr kept hollering up at me how much fun the Carbine 275 was and how much I was going to enjoy it. Could a Carbon bike based off the same Carbine 26er we rode last year come anywhere close to exceeding what I was feeling on the Pivot?

Stay tuned.


Intense Carbine 275



As was the theme of the day, this was a bike we settled for when the bike we wanted was out. Craig had gone to the Intense booth hoping to get a Tracer 275 but they were all out. As luck would have it, someone turned in this beautiful Carbine 275 right when he got to the front of the line. Thanks. I'll take that!

Our experience last year with the new Cabine 26 set up in 5.5" trail mode was positive but certainly not for the route we intended. The Carbine we rode last year was a super light XC/Endurance/Smooth Enduro mount....It felt somewhat skittish in the Bootleg chop, both up and down.

Wow. What a transformation! With the bigger 27.5" hoops and longer,slacker geometry this thing really came alive. I don't know what else they changed from last year, but this felt like a totally different bike. Descending through the rudely abrupt g-out/grade reversals of Skyline was a lark. This is the only bike I cleaned all these steep, shattered, on-the-edge-of-a-cliff little climbs all day. It just felt so well-balanced and confidence inspiring, the standing attack position just so natural and one-with-the-body. The light weight did not make the bike feel unsettled and out of place but the Carbine felt laterally stiff, efficient, and plush despite its supermodel looks and lack of heft. It tracked straight, lifted its head effortlessly, displayed no flex........ and was quiet. Score.



Quite a combination of looks, efficiency, light weight, plushness, and flat out solidness all wrapped up into one package. Like I've said before, there's always one bike that really surprises us and this year the Carbine 275 was it.

Here are Craig's impressions of the Carbine that he posted in the Intense forum earlier.

"Got lucky and caught a large at the end of the day today at the outdoor demo. What a bike! Plows over chunder like a 29er but has the maneuverability of a 26. It was comfortable (Im 6' with a 34" inseam), to climb on, just all around fun with ZERO hiccups. KROB enjoyed the hell out of it too! Was by far the best bike I rode today which included a Trance X 29, Stumpjumper EVO 29, Turner Burner, Pivot FB, & RM Element 29 RSL."

Special thanks to craigstr for hooking up with me for this Demo. We were a pretty good match in size and ability and were only slowed down while switching bikes by having different pedal preferences. He's a great rider and has a good feel for what's right and wrong with a bike.

Ready to attack our final descents of the day.



Here he is attacking one of the exposed turns on Skyline.



All in all a good day eventhough I didn't get to most of the bikes on my list. We still rode some great bikes on some great trails and had a good time doing it. Hard to beat that.

I've got a chance to test a few more bikes while I'm in BC in a couple of weeks so look for some more reviews next month. Hopefully I can get to a few of the bikes that escaped us down here in the other BC (Boulder City/Bootleg Canyon).