2013 Interbike Dirt Demo

This is part 1 of Krob's bike tests from Interbike's Outdoor Demo. Be sure to read Krob's All Mountain Bike Tests at Interbike - Part 2.

I always like to preface my Interbike reviews/impressions with a disclaimer.

These are not scientific and comprehensive reviews. They're just first impressions from brief rides on some really cool bikes, on some really fun, tough trails. Take them for what they're worth. Setup, bars, tires, adjustments, not to mention my state of dehydration at any given time during the ride can and does affect my impression of a bike. If you're dumb enough to base a $5000+ bike purchase solely on my semi-coherent ramblings then you deserve what you get. Having said that, I've ridden a ton of bikes in a lot of locations over many years and I think I'm a pretty good seat-of-pants judge of whether a bike is good or not. So listen up….. or not.

Who am I

Just a guy who likes to ride bikes. I'm 52 years old. I've been riding mountain bikes for 16 years. I love all kinds of trails from fast and flowy to steep and chunky to jumpy and droppy. I've ridden mostly in the Western USA but have covered a lot of territory and trails in that region from Moab to Tahoe to St. George to Park City to Oregon to Fruita/Grand Junction to Sedona to Tucson to Phoenix to Flagstaff to Sun Valley but I call Ely, NV home. I'm 5' 11.5" and weigh 160 lbs. I ride 5-6 days a week year round. I value the ride more than the bike and in the end I'm not that clued in to details but I think I know what makes for a good ride…and a good bike.

General Observations

27.5 is the new 26er: Everyone (except Specialized) has one and going back and forth between these and the 29er offerings it was easy to feel the differences between these two sizes… but I soon forgot how a 26er would feel any different. It was just the bigger wheels and the smaller wheels.

Fat bikes: They were everywhere. It was like an invasion I didn't see coming.

1 x 11 drivetrains: They are the real deal. Most bikes were sporting this set up and we dug it. Shifts were snickety-snick accurate and the overall range of gear ratios was sufficient. Do we still need front derailleurs?

Fox forks are much improved this year. That is good.

Some companies came back (Niner), some had a bigger presence than ever (Devinci), some didn't show at all (Trek, Cannondale).

Bikes I wanted to ride but either they weren't present or I just ran out of time and didn't get to:
Devinci Troy, Niner WFO, Ibis Ripley, Ibis Mojo HDR, Cannondale Trigger, Transition Covert 29, Knolly Warden, Giant Trance 27.5, Trek Remedy 29, Pivot Mach 429, Banshee Spitfire 650b, Turner Flux 650b…

It was hot (again), it was crowded (again), but it's still just like a free day in Disneyland for this bike geek (even had strollers, freaks and geeks of all sorts to weave through to get to the good rides just like Disneyland).

I teamed up with Craigstr for the first day of demos so I want to thank him for his help in securing some bikes and for his valuable input. I hope he opts to chime in on add his comments to these first impressions.

Santa Cruz Solo (5010) C

I've been looking for a nice short travel 27.5 or 29er as a complement for my Knolly Chilcotin so the 125mm Solo was high on my Interbike demo list. First thing Monday morning I headed straight for the Santa Cruz tent and stood there patiently waiting for them to open. The guys from Santa Cruz were friendly and helpful and got me set up and out the door in short order. First thought? Wow this bike is gorgeous! Love the Mountain Rescue Orange and beautiful, well proportioned, carbon swoopy lines. Second thought? Wow this thing is light. Next thought? This thing pedals incredibly well.

As I climbed the road to the start of the trails I assessed the fit and determined that a large is just about right for me. At 5'11" I'm a bit of a tweener and some large frames feel a bit big but I knew from experience that SC tends to run a bit shorter so there was no question which bike to choose.

As we got on to the trail and started climbing over some of the rocky outcroppings I was trying to sense any of the dreaded pedal kick back that the v.1 VPP was famous for but was unsuccessful in detecting any. The wheel would hang up just a tad on some of the slower, squarer edges but not worse than most other bikes. Generally the rear suspension worked really well on this climb, staying bob-free and efficient when the trail was smooth and smoothly absorbing most rocks and ledges on the way. I was a bit disappointed to see the Fox 32 fork up front because I've had less than stellar experiences with it in the past but this 2014 version is a sweetheart. It responded well to small and medium sized edges, rocks, and ledges on the way up and tracked very well.

This was also my first experience with a 1x11 drivetrain setup and was immediately won over. Very slick shifting even up onto the gigantic 42 tooth cog and plenty of range for most any riding you'd do on this kind of bike. Having ridden double shifting bikes for the better part of 40 years (yes I'm that old) I never gave much thought to the what it takes to coordinate shifts and gear combos between the front and rear derailleurs, but having only one lever to deal with all of that was noticeably easier on the brain. I'll be even more interested when the 1 x 11 set ups start becoming available in the lower and mid-range groups.

When we arrived at the top of our climb and started down the back side into the caldera I was kind of expecting the thin-legged Fox and short travel rear (remember when 125mm was considered long travel?) to show their stripes but not so: This thing just flew and the fork did not hold it back. It displayed very little flex and the action was controlled and well damped only falling behind a tiny bit on some of the rougher sections. Steering was sharp, and tight switch backs took some getting used to after stepping off my 65.5 deg head angled 170mm forked Chili, but once reacquainted with what accurate, playful steering can do to a tight trail it was great . With a relatively slack 68 deg head angle, low bottom bracket, and biggish wheels, the straight line stability was still very good as well. Despite that low bottom bracket number and rocky terrain, I did not get any unusual or excessive pedal strikes.

The Solo … err 5010 (awkward name) was very easy to get comfortable on and gain confidence in quickly---Way more than I would've previously expected of a bike with these "travel" numbers. Yes there may have been some visions of Peaty bombing the Scottish Highlands running through my head as I swerved, popped, flowed, and threaded my way down the trail…. But delusions of grandeur aside, the 5010 felt really good. And I gotta say, I didn't notice the wheel size one way or the other. The bike as a whole just felt incredibly well-balanced, fast, and fun.

Trademark issues may have forced a name change but I'm still going to call it the Solo.

1x11, It's the real deal

Beefy tires….

And wide bars go a long way in making a shorter travel bike feel All-Mountain capable, but there's more to this bike than that. It's the whole package.

Next Bike » Giant Anthem 27.5

Giant Anthem 27.5

Two years ago we rode the Giant Anthem 29 and liked it a lot. This year Giant is going all in with 27.5 for their short and mid-travel full suspension bikes and has gone to great marketing and "scientific" lengths to justify the change. Is it all that? We wanted to find out so checked out this light weight four inch Anthem.

I thought the Solo (there I go again) climbed really well but the Anthem practically levitated up the climbs. It was extremely light and the Maestro tuned mini ink suspension provided acceptable bump absorption while staying steady and bob-free. The only problem was it felt too XC to me…. Even old school XC, meaning long-ish stem, narrow bars, short front center, and steep head angle. You know, like a short travel 29er should feel, but the 29er had more wheel sticking out in front to help roll over the rough stuff and keep you feeling more centered "in" the bike. I just could never shake the feeling that the Anthem felt better as a 29er. I mean it did fine on the less techy climbs and descents but when things morphed into chunky mode it felt sketchy. I was begging for the Solo back at this point. And to make matters worse, it didn't display enough of the big wheel magic that makes a 29er great on the smoother stuff either.

Otherwise, overall fit and finish were acceptable, lateral stiffness was good enough, and its pedaling efficiency was good. I suppose with a 120mm fork, wider bars, and bigger tires it might gain some "trail" credibility but as it was it just didn't do it for us. A 27.5 Trance and Reign make sense…. This didn't.

Maestro works.

These Avid brakes had more engagement and hissed and squeaked when applied. The XT's on the 5010 were much better.

This 1x11 drivetrain had some adjustment/set up issues and didn't shift as cleanly as the 5010 either.

Next Bike » Niner RIP 9

Niner RIP 9

It was good to see Niner back at the Dirt Demo after a two or three year absence. I was really interested in trying the Jet 9 RDO and the Rip 9 has always been one of my favorites so we grabbed both of them. I hadn't ridden the Rip 9 since v. 2 first came out so was interested to see how this newest iteration compared.

We checked out a size large which felt big and tall but not overly long in the top tube so not sure how the medium would've compared. The tall stack height, wide bars, and big rolling rubber gave me a "monster truck" sensation while sitting on top of the Rip 9 and I expected it to totally flatten the trail, but for all its girth I didn't find it overly plush or smoothing. Something about the all Rock Shox suspension just felt stiff. I didn't play with the tech adjusted settings on this bike but if I had thought about it I would've tried less air front and back. It did climb fairly efficiently but wasn't nimble in tighter spots or working its way through boulder fields.

I did like the upright seating position, the fit and finish was good, and the Licorice and white paint scheme was sharp. Overall this is a very good bike. Perhaps with more suspension set up time (or perhaps with the excellent new TALAS 34 140/110 fork or Pike ) I could've gotten the Rip 9 feeling more like the playful trail/am monster I was expecting, but as it was it fell a bit short for me.

Wide bars and dropper posts are becoming requirements for me. Points were deducted from any bike lacking either. The big Rip scores points here.

This Revelation fork was a bit of a weak link in this set up which is surprising because I've had good experiences with Revs in the past.

WTB AM 29er rims and Nobby Nics are a good solid wheel/tire combo. More 1x11 = more points won.

Beautifully crafted pivots, rockers, and curvaceous stays. This demo bike's name was Jordan. The ghost of JMH still at Niner?

Next Bike » Niner JET 9

Niner JET 9 RDO

The Jet 9 was another bike that was high on my list as a possible Chilcotin complement so I was keen to give it a whirl. The RDO is the all carbon version of the XC/race Jet 9 recently updated to incorporate all the latest design features including 100mm of travel, 142mm rear spacing, and carbon upper rocker arm. Niner really prides itself in designing beautiful bikes whose form follows function derived from combining data for strength, weight, stiffness, and damping characteristics into an aesthetically appealing final shape. I liked the looks of the Jet 9 alright but wasn't totally won over by the curvy lines. The front triangle and rear seem a little disjointed to my eye.

Despite what it looks like, it works. They definitely got the function part right. It is amazing how light they are building bikes these days and the Jet is no exception. This one felt a bit heavier than the Anthem but I'll bet it was still under 25 lbs. The sizing felt good and component selection was top shelf. I think they went a bit too XC (for me) on the bars, tires, and post so it lost a couple points for narrow barrows and no dropper. Other than that, the spec was good.

Once on the swoopy, sometimes rocky Lakes loops it seemed to fly. It railed berms well, flew down through the steep g-outs and up the other side effortlessly, and floated over rocky sections and the occasional booter with pizazz and little drama. It felt like it could pop and play well. Seated climbing and standing sprints yielded the same efficient power transfer I've come to expect from the excellent CVA rear suspension linkage while soaking up edges and bumps with a firm yet controlled short travel plushness. For a short travel race bike, this bike seemed to exceed its expected trail cred as opposed to the Rip 9 which fell a bit short of what I expected. With "proper" 120mm fork, wider bars, and fatter rubber I think it could give the Czar and Solo a run for their money in what I want for a bike of this sort.

Points off for sporting a front derailleur. That is so last year. Arched stays and top tube.... ummm, the jury is still out for me on the aesthetics.

"Pedal Dammit"..... then go "Drink Beer"? I know it's very unhip of me to say, but I can't get behind either one of those directives.

Next Bike » Yeti SB 75

Yeti SB 75

Yeti recently unveiled their all new 27.5" bikes, the SB 75 and the 575. I got a chance to ride the switch link SB at the Dirt Demo which is designed to fill the 27.5 marketing niche that every bike manufacturer (except Specialized) has rushed to fill. With five inches of rear travel, low bottom bracket, and slack-ish head angle and long-ish top tube, I expected this to be a trail ripper. I promptly took it up the shuttle, strapped on a number plate and timing chip from Precision Timing tore off down a very techy Skyline trail. It wasn't long before the bike was feeling out gunned. The tires were a bit skinny for this application, the suspension was a bit stiff and the HA a bit steep. It just felt out of sorts. As I pounded down through the rough sharp edges strung up high on a very steep, cliffy side hill, I kept thinking to myself that I should slow down before I went off the edge or pinch flatted.

Thankfully the latter happened before the former and after one more pinch flat and three total tube changes I had to give up and roll down the road on a flat (hanging head in shame as I always mentally berated the morons who came to interbike unprepared enough that they had to walk or limp back to the paddock on their rims).

Still wanting to give the SB 75 a fair shake I went to my car and found another new tube, replaced it and pumped it up to 35 lbs. (that's a lot for me) and grabbed the next shuttle back up to the top. This time I took the more tame but still frolicking fun Boy Scout trail down which I assumed would be a better match for the bike's capabilities and intended purpose. It did better on this one but there was still something that just didn't feel right for me. The rear suspension was a bit dead feeling and the fork got overwhelmed easily in the chunk. Climbing up smoother sections while seated it pedaled without bobbing but almost felt like there was too much anti-squat and the bike was plowing or stink-bugging into the hill. The frame is over 7.5 lbs which is porky compared to its carbon competition so this may have added to this not so lively feeling.

On my first ride up the hill the bar and stack height felt too low and head angle seemed steep. Maybe it was because I'd just stepped off the two Niners which had quite tall stack heights but it just felt odd. The second time up I switched some spacers from above the stem to below, raising the bars another half inch or so and that improved some of the stink bug feeling and gave me a better, more balanced attitude. On the plus side, lateral stiffness was very good and overall, on more flowy, rocky terrain the suspension was reasonably plush though I'd still call it a firm plush and not as well controlled as some. I suspect that additional suspension set up and bigger tires would've helped this feeling although overall I liked the grip of this HR II front/Ardent rear combo. I just liked them better in the bigger size. Overall impression was a disappointing for me. I know it's outgunned in travel by a couple of the contenders, but given the numbers, I expected it to be right up there with the Bronson, Solo, and Mach Six for best 5-6" 27.5 do everything, fun, fast, enduro, trail slayer title but it landed at the bottom of that very impressive heap.

The seat tube was quite long on this size large and it made me wonder if I should've been on a medium. Even with the excellent Thomson adjustable seat post all the way down in the seat tube, the seat was too high with the post fully extended. I had to adjust it down with the remote to get the right pedaling height.

Beefy boxed rear triangle and short stout links added to lateral stiffness.

And a word about CTD. There's been much talk about this and some people like it and some hate it, but I'm sort of ambivalent. To be honest I only rode the bikes in the Descend mode. None of them bobbed unacceptably while pedaling in that setting and none were too plush while descending (if there is such a thing) so I never bothered changing them. I like active suspension.

This Fox shock felt less good then some of the others I tested but it may just have needed some further tuning.

The heart of the Switch. Fully sealed eccentric "link" system with oversized pivot pins and Enduro Max bearings. A splined BB shell accepts a removable ISCG tabs.

This is part 1 of Krob's bike tests from Interbike's Outdoor Demo. Be sure to read Krob's All Mountain Bike Tests at Interbike - Part 2.