Turner Czar - The Carbon Bling Machine


David Turner does it again. Time and time and time his genius results in rideable bike art.. The difference this time of course is that the Turner Czar is carbon; and what a start!

The Czar is a 100mm travel 29er full-suspension bike. Frame construction is Toray carbon and made in Taiwan. It's billed as a XC bike (in the pure racing sense of the word) but also with some Marathon chops; which presumably means that it's somewhat optimized for comfort in longer distance/time rides. While its light weight (5.3lbs measured with fasteners and stock Fox CTD shock) and xc geometry numbers might lead one to pigeonhole the Czar into categories my experience showed that numbers and e-speculation, once again, could not tell the true story. Indeed the Czar displayed an insane amount of range such that I ran out of superlatives very early in my Czar ride experience. Onward to the review...

Video: The carbon bling machine - North Vancouver June 13, 2013

Lee Lau's Biases

I'm 160 lbs, 5'11" and have had over 15 years experience riding bikes in North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, the Chilcotins and many other areas in B.C. and Alberta. I've also made many bike trips to Switzerland, South Tyrol, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and the Yukon (for example) so I've had some experience biking in a variety of terrain. My bias is towards pedalling up and unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, I actually enjoy riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.

My personal bikes are a Santa Cruz Tallboy, Pivot Mach 5, and a Specialized Demo 7. I am not sponsored by Turner and have no commercial association with Turner.

Video: BC XC - Pemberton June 2013


Highlights of the Czar's frame include a DW-link suspension of compact design custom-engineered to suit the Czar's short travel and racing-oriented aspirations. Journal bearings/bushings are used in all pivots along with kevlar composite bearings for longevity and tight tolerances. Zerk grease fittings are standard fare on the Czar as a nod to hassle-free maintenance. Other nice touches one would expect of a small company boutique bike abound eg. elegant cable routing and replaceable post mount rear brake fittings.

Turner Czar at Alpine Lake.

The main thing most prospective customers will notice is that the Czar's entire frame is sculpted out of carbon. Undeniably beautiful the square-tubing aesthetics remind you of Turner's functional design philosophy and Dave Turner's focus on dependability, durability and quality. While perhaps better addressed in the portions of this review devoted to ride quality I found the Czar to also be a remarkably stiff frame. According to DT the Czar was 2.5 years from drawing board/CAD to production. This was 2.5 years of shape after shape and layup schedules working closely with factory and industrial designers. Turner/factory collaboration was very close; Turner provided the factory with benchmarks to which the factory designed and created samples. A test lab was created in Turner's SoCal facilities to test samples. Testing was carried out dynamically (eg via front and rear end twisting and weight loading). Lots of hair was no doubt pulled out but the results speak for themselves in the finished product.

Continue reading for components, riding impressions and full photo gallery.


I tested the Czar in the Pro build kit with Enve carbon wheels laced to I9 hubs. As tested the MSRP of this bike would be an eye popping $9800 ($7050 if kitted out with Stans Crest rims). Specs are outlined below. Components are high-end and light. My (incredibly opinionated) comments follow:

Rock Shox SID RCT provides front suspension. This is a surprisingly stiff chassis. A far cry from the blue noodle (the first ever RS SID which was my previous long-ago SID experience).

1. Rock Shox SID front, Fox CTD rear. Along with the drivetrain, suspension is the guts of a bike. It's an impressive performance from these two pairings. This is a nice change from previous experiences with the Fox CTD which, on previous bikes has proven to be underwhelming. Both the RS and Fox products worked well even during longer steeper descents when the Czar was pushed beyond its rigid XC/Marathon compartments. Befitting the Czar's pedigree and DW-link characteristics I expected the suspension to be on the firm side (which it was) but did not get the standard Fox shock lets-pack-up-and-make-the-full-sus-feel-like-a-hardtail on rapid hit downhills. Instead (much to my pleasant surprise) I found both front and rear suspension to work in reliable predictable fashion at the start and the finish of extended elevation drops.

2. SRAM XX1 drivetrain. This is my first go-around with SRAM's 1x11 group. The bike had approx 10 rides on it before I used it and I've put 44 days on it since then (as of July 31st). The chain displays less than 0.5" of wear on the Park chain gauge tool. Given the astronomical cost of cassette replacement I'll stick to replacing chains every year to be on the safe side, but so far, have found longevity to be as expected. I haven't dropped a chain yet but any hyperbole about riding the Czar aggressively is tempered by the fact that is a short travel carbon 29er so all that means is that under normal trail riding conditions the drivetrain works as advertised.

The drivetrain was initially eerily quiet but in the dusty conditions we've had in Summer of 2013 in British Columbia the XX1 derailleur has developed a knock I've traced this to the derailleur's clutch being overtightened. The derailluer fix is a bit of a pain in the ass but can be accomplished by anyone with a reasonable amount of tools. Hopefully SRAM will produce a fix that will keep a drivetrain that is priced for perfection, perfect.

SRAM XX1 drivetrain and brakes.

3. Enve XC carbon wheels. These look cool. You will fit right into the mid-pack of local Pro-Elite/Cat 1. The I9 hubs are unbelievably loud and annoying. They are light but so are my CK/Crest hub wheels. I can't tell that they're any stiffer than my alloy wheels.

I will catch flak for this from the carbon wheels have changed my life crowd. All I can offer in defense is that carbon's bling is appreciated but I sure don't get $2000 of good vibes out of knowing I am on an Enve carbon wheelset. Keep in mind that I am the kind of rider who basically likes riding bikes and don't get a quantum jump in joy out of shaving bike weight, or getting the right shade of anodized red to match. Keep in mind I am also relatively light. If you are obsessive about making your bike look trick and you think you can feel wheel flex no matter how heavy or light you are then these carbon wheels are the ticket for you. Otherwise put the cash towards a nice bike vacation.

4. SRAM brakes. I've not been a fan on SRAM's lower -end Elixir brakes. They are simply terrible; an exercise in lamentably predictable unpredictability. The SRAM XX brakes are better. Although they did require a bleed, only one bleed has been necessary and they have performed reasonably well since. Unfortunately these brakes still provide substandard modulation but at least the lever throw does not change over time and distance. Their redeeming feature is that they colour - match the XX1 drivetrain.


In the early days of 29ers the wagon wheelers were unwieldy beasts in the tight singletrack that characterizes British Columbia trails. Long and low; they basically monster-trucked in a straight line but steered like bloated pigs otherwise. Numbers cannot tell the true tale; only riding the bikes can. However, I've presented some geo numbers from some short travel 29ers, a medium travel 29er that turned like an ocean-liner and a quick/nimber 26" wheeled bike so you, the reader can get hopelessly confused. If this provokes discussion or questions, please follow up in the comments.


Turner Czar (and other bikes) - by the numbers.



Continue reading for riding impressions and full photo gallery.

Uphill Performance

At 24.2 lbs in the size Large tested, this bike is light. Not ridiculously light in the Weight Weenies oh look at how my bike pedals fire roads so well sense but oh-so-light for a bike that is kitted out for some hard riding duty. The Czar is also exceedingly stiff. This combination of stiffness, lightness, suspension design and geometry biased for climbing results in just about the intensely joyous bike to point up hills I've ever had the pleasure of riding.


It's hard not to gush; the Czar is an unbelievably good climber. This should come as no surprise given Turner's roots and the design intent of the bike. While lots has been written about 29er wheels and how they aid in climbing (almost cheating is how I think of the way one can scramble up technical climbs) the Czar handles beautifully when climbing technical singletrack. Its stiffness results in instantaneous power transfer, the tight geo translates into quick handling for ratchet or trialsy moves and an ability to easily pull the front end up and weight-transfer to the rear end when up-and-overing trail obstacles.

A word too on the DW-link suspension and how it works when implemented on the Czar. The suspension's anti-squat seems to let the bike recover between multiple hits (eg roots) so you don't even have to alter pedal stroke but can keep applying power. This can be contrasted with a 4-bar bike where you use the actuation of a rear shock to time pedal strokes to then get maximum grip between pedal strokes or the VPP suspension which seems to firm up under pedaling. I'm of the view that different suspension characteristics aren't better or worse. They're just different. It's up to the rider to find their preference and either adapt their riding style and if they don't want to/ or can't adapt riding style --- then to find another suspension that works for them. In short, I like the way the Czar's DW-link suspension implementation works, your mileage may vary.

Downhill Performance

As mentioned above, the Turner Czar is an astoundingly good climber but anything otherwise would have been a huge disappointment. What came more as a surprise was how good the Czar was on downhills. The Czar was what I always wanted from the holy grail of 29ers; it has the big wheel rolling advantage on the flats and the downhill, yet minimal handling compromises on the descents. It is the best handling 29er I've ever ridden. I let some other riders sip the Czar koolaid and try out the bike. The most common refrain "this sure doesn't feel like a 29er".

The Czar was nimble; quick direction turns were easy to effect. The Czar tracked well in loose and steep slopes. As mentioned previously the suspension performed well; not packing up and making the bike feel more hardtail-ish, as the ride wore on (unlike some other short travel bikes I've ridden).


The Czar also had an alarmingly large range of useability. Despite being billed as a XC/Marathon bike I couldn't resist the temptation to push the envelope and take it out on long rides into the tech. One such ride was a 525m descent from Mt Tzouhalem to Genoa Bay on Vancouver Island. That's 1722 feet in freedom units of descending with long sustained downhills; lots of sharp corners; and no shortage of steep rock faces where you're always on the brakes (but admittedly not stupid steep) -- All galleried by huge stands of Garry Oak and Arbutus trees with an ocean view. The Rockshox SID absorbed hits throughout. The rear end of the Czar tracked true while the rear Fox shock did not spike and seize. Overall the Czar handled that descent with aplomb. The only thing that was lacking were the SRAM brakes which would fade towards the end of long sections (they would come back if you feathered the brakes on flattish rest spots).

Video: This 525m descent follows Tzou's moss-laden ridgeline via some exceptionally distracting viewpoints and singletrack. Things get a little bit more into BC XC as the trail drops 525m to sea level rather quickly. Granted this ride was a bit out of scope for the Turner Czar but it sure was a blast. Some huge stands of arbutus and Garry Oak. Some pretty tight technical terrain and rock features on which to play

Overall Impressions

Turner plans to offer the Czar frame for $2995 USD. Sizes M and L are available right now in black or orange. Sizes XL and XXL are being prototyped and will be available in fall of 2013. As previously mentioned, as tested the MSRP of this size Large Czar would be an eye popping $9800 ($7050 if kitted out with Stans Crest rims).

A tightwad like me has a hard time putting up that kind of justification for that price so let's just say that if one were to spend $7,000 or so on a bike one would expect that bike to be just about perfect. And the Turner Czar is just about as close to a perfect bike as one can envision. It's beautiful. Its performance uphill and downhill is superlative. Its range of useability is insanely large. If you are in the market for a high-end carbon 29er full-suspension bike, the Turner Czar must be on the list for consideration.