shimano

Shimano celebrates 25th anniversary of SPD with new shoe model

OSAKA, Japan (BRAIN) — It was 20 years ago that Shimano first introduced its clipless mountain bike pedal, which used what it called Shimano Pedaling Dynamics — later called SPD or “spuds.” The 1990 M737 pedal and M100 shoe may have been designed first for mountain bike use, but the SPD technology was later applied to road racing and casual riding shoes and pedals. To celebrate the anniversary, Shimano is launching a new shoe and pedal design for mountain biking. The PD- M530C pedal comes in a limited edition black finish

Token 11-speed CNC Cromo cassette review

This 11-speed cassette from Token is designed to fit eight-, nine-, 10- or 11-speed wheels, and offers the facility to use older race wheels (or perhaps newer mountain bike wheels on a cross bike) with a new drivetrain. Token is perhaps best known for its CNC and colourful anodised components, with this cassette being a good example of the Taiwanese brand’s machining knowhow.

Few expenses have been spared here, with 10 of the cogs CNC machined from a single piece of steel and then press-fitted to a carbon carrier. The steel construction means durability is high, as is cog strength – especially when compared with aftermarket aluminium cassette options.

Our 11-28t sample weighs a respectable 185g with the included alloy lock ring. Given the expense, the weight of this cassette is best compared to the likes Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000 and SRAM’s XG-1190, at 193g and 151g respectively for the equivalent sizes.

The largest cog is offset from the freehub spline, therefore making room for an 11th cog : the largest cog is offset from the freehub spline, therefore making room for an 11th cog

The eleventh cog is offset so it can fit onto a narrower freehub body

Fitting 11 cogs In a space designed for 10 is done by offsetting the biggest cog inward of the freehub body. This is exactly how Shimano’s latest 11-speed XTR achieves the extra gear, but Token’s cassette pre-dates this being Shimano’s idea.

Despite our reservations over the press-fitted carbon spider’s strength and durability, and its potential for creaking, we received zero issues. The cassette shifts well and stomping on the pedals while forcing it through gears gave no delay in comparison with an equivalent Shimano cassette.

So it’s durable, lightweight and smooth shifting, but it’s not quite perfect. Similarly to SRAM’s older Red ‘PowerDome’ cassette with its hollow construction, the Token’s structure resonates noise from the chain and under shifting. It’s not as bad as the sound produced by the older SRAM cassettes, but it’s noticeably different to new Shimano or SRAM componentry – and is likely to bother riders who value virtual silence.

Another potential concern is that it’s possible for this cassette to make contact with the spokes on some wheels. While we didn’t experience this on the DT Swiss, Ritchey and Reynolds models we tested, some wheels with poor cassette clearance could prove problematic.?

With 10 cogs in one piece, installation couldn’t be easier. The carbon spider offers a wide base that won’t dig into soft aluminium freehub bodies, while the 11t cog locks in with the cassette to create a solid unit once tightened. Even the lightweight lock ring has a longer thread on it, perfect for a secure fit with some ‘delicately’ (AKA poorly) threaded freehub threads.

Designed to fit a narrower 8/9/10-speed freehub, a spacer is needed (and supplied) for use on newer 11-speed wheels: designed to fit a narrower 8/9/10-speed freehub, a spacer is needed (and supplied) for use on newer 11-speed wheels

The cassette fits onto a narrower space than normal 11-speed road cassettes; this spacer is needed if using on new 11-speed wheels

The cassette is also supplied with a spacer for use with 11-speed freehubs. In this configuration, the cassette sits slightly more outboard than a stock Shimano 11-speed cassette, so you’ll need to adjust the derailleur limits and cable tension slightly.

Fitting to a 10-speed DT-Swiss freehub, the alignment was comparable to an 11-speed equivalent hub, but not identical – requiring the very slightest of limit screw adjustment again. Keep this in mind – swapping in your race wheels with this cassette may not be quite as simple as using a quick release.

Now that there’s cross-brand 11-speed spacing, this cassette should suit SRAM and?Campagnolo?drivetrain users too. Given the Cromo’s price, you might argue that it’s cheaper to upgrade the freehub (if possible) or even the wheels – and in most cases, you’d probably be right. However, the Token Cromo cassette remains a genuinely interesting option for riders who are stuck with 10-speed wheels and want 11-speed shifting.

Note: This cassette is available in a choice of either 11-25t or 11-28t.








Token 11-speed CNC Cromo cassette review

This 11-speed cassette from Token is designed to fit eight-, nine-, 10- or 11-speed wheels, and offers the facility to use older race wheels (or perhaps newer mountain bike wheels on a cross bike) with a new drivetrain. Token is perhaps best known for its CNC and colourful anodised components, with this cassette being a good example of the Taiwanese brand’s machining knowhow.

Few expenses have been spared here, with 10 of the cogs CNC machined from a single piece of steel and then press-fitted to a carbon carrier. The steel construction means durability is high, as is cog strength – especially when compared with aftermarket aluminium cassette options.

Our 11-28t sample weighs a respectable 185g with the included alloy lock ring. Given the expense, the weight of this cassette is best compared to the likes Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000 and SRAM’s XG-1190, at 193g and 151g respectively for the equivalent sizes.

The largest cog is offset from the freehub spline, therefore making room for an 11th cog : the largest cog is offset from the freehub spline, therefore making room for an 11th cog

The eleventh cog is offset so it can fit onto a narrower freehub body

Fitting 11 cogs In a space designed for 10 is done by offsetting the biggest cog inward of the freehub body. This is exactly how Shimano’s latest 11-speed XTR achieves the extra gear, but Token’s cassette pre-dates this being Shimano’s idea.

Despite our reservations over the press-fitted carbon spider’s strength and durability, and its potential for creaking, we received zero issues. The cassette shifts well and stomping on the pedals while forcing it through gears gave no delay in comparison with an equivalent Shimano cassette.

So it’s durable, lightweight and smooth shifting, but it’s not quite perfect. Similarly to SRAM’s older Red ‘PowerDome’ cassette with its hollow construction, the Token’s structure resonates noise from the chain and under shifting. It’s not as bad as the sound produced by the older SRAM cassettes, but it’s noticeably different to new Shimano or SRAM componentry – and is likely to bother riders who value virtual silence.

Another potential concern is that it’s possible for this cassette to make contact with the spokes on some wheels. While we didn’t experience this on the DT Swiss, Ritchey and Reynolds models we tested, some wheels with poor cassette clearance could prove problematic.?

With 10 cogs in one piece, installation couldn’t be easier. The carbon spider offers a wide base that won’t dig into soft aluminium freehub bodies, while the 11t cog locks in with the cassette to create a solid unit once tightened. Even the lightweight lock ring has a longer thread on it, perfect for a secure fit with some ‘delicately’ (AKA poorly) threaded freehub threads.

Designed to fit a narrower 8/9/10-speed freehub, a spacer is needed (and supplied) for use on newer 11-speed wheels: designed to fit a narrower 8/9/10-speed freehub, a spacer is needed (and supplied) for use on newer 11-speed wheels

The cassette fits onto a narrower space than normal 11-speed road cassettes; this spacer is needed if using on new 11-speed wheels

The cassette is also supplied with a spacer for use with 11-speed freehubs. In this configuration, the cassette sits slightly more outboard than a stock Shimano 11-speed cassette, so you’ll need to adjust the derailleur limits and cable tension slightly.

Fitting to a 10-speed DT-Swiss freehub, the alignment was comparable to an 11-speed equivalent hub, but not identical – requiring the very slightest of limit screw adjustment again. Keep this in mind – swapping in your race wheels with this cassette may not be quite as simple as using a quick release.

Now that there’s cross-brand 11-speed spacing, this cassette should suit SRAM and?Campagnolo?drivetrain users too. Given the Cromo’s price, you might argue that it’s cheaper to upgrade the freehub (if possible) or even the wheels – and in most cases, you’d probably be right. However, the Token Cromo cassette remains a genuinely interesting option for riders who are stuck with 10-speed wheels and want 11-speed shifting.

Note: This cassette is available in a choice of either 11-25t or 11-28t.








Vitus Sentier 290 review

When you think of a 29er hardtail, you generally think racy cross-country – but the ?900 Vitus Sentier 290 doesn’t care about that.

It’s a tough, enthusiastic, 29in-wheeled, 140mm-forked trail bike that’s been thoroughly overhauled for 2015.

Frame and equipment: aluminium frame with a tall front end and a solid spec

The aluminium frame combines 439mm chainstays (which are now rounded for extra ‘give’) with a decent effective top tube – 603mm on this medium sized test bike – and a low-slung bottom bracket to create a stable, reassuring ride.

The front end is tall, however. Even without spacers and the stem flipped for a seven-degree drop, the 720mm bars are a bit high, and head tubes get 10mm taller per size. Flatter and/or wider bars will fix this – Vitus calls these 720mm bars flat, but they rise around 20mm.

xxxxx:

The front end feels quite tall, but that’s easily remedied with flatter or wider bars

The Sentier has chainguide mounts for chain devices, and though the SLX clutch mech keeps the chain on well without one, it’s a benefit if you choose to go single front ring. The lack of guides for a dropper post is a disappointment though. The Sentier 290 is far too capable as a fast trail bike for a dropper not to be the most obvious, useful upgrade possible.

The rest of the spec is solid if not always outstanding. The WTB Vigilante/Trail Boss tyres are a fantastic pair, combining great, predictable grip with tall, supple sidewalls, which – along with their huge diameter – mute considerable levels of chatter. They’re not especially fast rolling on smooth surfaces, but they’re not draggy either.

The Shimano M396 brakes offer only medium levels of power, and feel is similarly muted in comparison to its basic Deores. That’s despite the use of resin pads – they’re softer and bite more immediately than sintered, though Shimano doesn’t do sintered pads for these.

In all, the 2015 Sentier comes totally ready to ride, which adds to the already strong value of the direct-sale method. The finish is strong, with deep paint and attractive decals, but the overall look is… polite. We think some lairy, modern colours would catch the eyes of more potential buyers.

Ride and handling: fun, inspiring and stable – a bike for trails rather than cross-country

Drop the saddle, stand up and pile into some singletrack and the Sentier 290 feels just right. It’s confidently stable, thanks both to the inertia of those big wheels and the 1,138mm wheelbase – this Medium is longer than last year’s size Large, thanks in part to a head angle that’s two degrees slacker (68 degrees). It’s still very flickable and eager.

The? WTB-rimmed wheels are stiff enough for accurate tracking through rough ground and hard corners, while the 12.7kg weight and excellent rubber play their own part in the planted-yet-lively feel. It’s a fun and inspiring ride that feels far better than its price suggests.

The shimano deore chainset lets you put the power down:

The Shimano Deore chainset lets you put the power down

Climbing is proficient rather than sparkling – it’s definitely a trail bike rather than XC, despite those rather Germanic looks – but traction is great and there’s plenty of room in the cockpit for weightshifts, even with a 6ft rider. Riders who are that tall may be ultimately better off with a Large coupled with a wide flat bar and dinky stem, however.

Manitou’s Minute Comp fork is smooth and supportive once blown up quite hard with fairly minimal sag, and? the rebound and compression damping adjustments are effective. The axle’s a 15mm screw-through, which is just as well as the narrow legs are rather flexy.

This year the Sentier comes in an extra size, so there are now four options. The 635mm effective top tube of the new XL properly accommodates rider over 6ft – or anyone who wants to fit a shorter stem than the standard 60mm from the off.?

The 2015 Sentier strikes a great balance: it’s built for fun descents and spirited riding, but it’s not so heavy or stiff it can’t be enjoyed everywhere else. The big wheels really score in both all-day comfort and tricky-moment traction over a traditional, 26in-wheeled hardcore hardtail too.?

The sentier climbs well, but is oriented towards attacking the fun stuff:

The Sentier climbs well, but is oriented towards attacking the fun stuff

Better still, it arrives ready to rock. Yes, a dropper post and a wider/flatter/shorter bar and stem would improve it, but there’s nothing that absolutely needs changing. There are few bikes you can say that about – and even fewer at such an impressive price.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.








New BRAIN issue looks at Shimano distribution, cycling media

January 1 issue also contains the 2015 Industry Directory, the Sales Training Guide and a look at the Quebec cycling industry. LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. (BRAIN) — It’s been 12 months since Shimano American overhauled its U.S.

Horse for the Course: Cape to Cape MTB race

At the end of October I was invited as a guest of Shimano to a very remote area of the world – Margaret River – 277km south of Perth. The invite was to attend the Cape to Cape mountain bike race and put the new 11-speed Shimano XTR to the test.

The brief from Shimano was a simple one: “Provide your choice of frame, fork and tyres, and we’ll provide the rest.” Deal.

  • The course:?57km of Margaret River’s finest singletrack (and much pedalling to follow after)
  • The equipment goal:?A marathon superbike to play host to long-term testing of Shimano 11-speed M9000 groupset
  • The horse:?A Niner Jet 9 RDO with a Fox Float Factory fork, Specialized Fast Trak Command rubber and Shimano/PRO everything else

Given the cross-country marathon nature of the event, I wanted a frame that was going to be efficient, but still with enough trail attitude to put the Shimano components to the test. There were many suitable options on the market, but it was the recently updated Niner Jet 9 RDO that caught my eye.

I was in no doubt that this top-tier full carbon frame was deserving of Shimano’s best gear and while a 2380g frame weight (medium frame) wasn’t winning any awards, the solid reputation, versatility and distinctive aesthetic decided it.

In Australia, Niner is distributed by Rowney Sports, the owner being former pro-mountain biker Paul Rowney. If this name rings a bell, it’s because Rowney is a former Olympian and rode for the Cannondale/Sobe team among others. Rowney recommended putting a 120mm fork on the front, something that slackens the head angle and gives a little more trail confidence. Despite it not being an exact match for the 100mm rear, I took the advice.

xx: xx

A 120mm fork on a 29er marathon bike makes for a comparatively tall front end

With the frame sorted, I went about finding a suitable cross-country orientated fork with 120mm of travel. Given the Fox shock on the back, a 2015 Float 29 120mm Factory with Kashima coat was the natural match.

For 2015, the fork received updates in the form of refined Kashima coating, different oil and improvements to the seal head and damper cartridge tune – all changes to seek reduced friction and improve small bump compliance and plushness. As with the frame, the 1.8kg weight (including thru-axle) isn’t amazingly light, but I was optimistic about its ability to deliver the goods reliably.?

xx: xx

Lastly, rubber was needed. Of course when it comes to a cross-country tread there are a plethora of options from nearly every brand. Specifying tubeless, 29in, lightweight and fast rolling didn’t reduce these options either. In the end, I went with a pair of 2015 Specialized Fast Trak Controls. It had been a few years since I last used these, and I wanted to see how far they had come.

Having handed over our part-kitted steed to Shimano’s people, they finished off the build with a complete XTR M9000 XC race group (including wheels) and new Tharsis XC components from in-house component brand PRO. The result – a respectable, but not superlight 10.83kg total build before pedals.

The race

Although the Cape to Cape race is a four stage event that covers some 220km, our invite was for the 57km third stage, one that includes much of the event’s singletrack and has the reputation as being the day with the most fun. In addition to this, the invitational ‘elite only’ RedBull Showdown would take place the evening before, offering time bonuses for those competing – as well as great potential for embarrassment among the rarely participating media types.

There were certainly a few nerves leading into the weekend and, mainly because a hip injury had kept me from doing any form of distance training for a frustrating length of time, to say I was prepared for this event would be an outright lie.

That wasn’t the only factor preying on the mind either. Speak to any experienced rider about doing an event, and the advice will always be the same – ride what you know. Wear your favourite shorts, be confident in your equipment, and never use anything brand new. Well, I had none of those luxuries.?

Having received the bike just hours before the RedBull showdown, there was plenty to go through in terms of setup. Unfortunately the brand new, unseen nature of everything meant that things were far from ideal – and I quickly became a painful sight to the Shimano employees.

xx: xx

With a false start, further testing is still to come with the new PRO Tharsis XC stem

One of the main setup quirks was with the PRO Tharsis XC stem that, by not using a traditional star-nut and topcap to preload the headset, leaves the steerer tube open for a Di2 battery. Instead, it uses a threaded collar on the outside that’s adjusted with an old headset spanner to preload the bearings.

In theory the design is clean, but it was quickly obvious that the system doesn’t allow for removing spacers from beneath the headset, as that would lead to a raw steerer tube unsafely poking out the top. Another major issue was that without the topcap present, the stem constantly would rock itself just enough off the steerer that the headset would become completely loose. With little more than a hammer and a screwdriver, a star-nut was installed and a much-needed lower handlebar height was achieved and the weird self-loosening headset disappeared. More testing on this will follow.

With just over an hour to get used to the jumps and berms that made up the Showdown course, every short lap resulted in a different mechanical. Whether it was the rear tyre leaking pressure so it burped from the rim, the dropped chain from a poorly set limit screw or the headset that worked itself loose on three separate occasions, my issues seemed endless. Thankfully, with time up, the final test lap resulted in a problem free ride and I was ready to race.

While my fitness was clearly lacking, the bike was not. Jumping on the pedals at the start was met with respectable acceleration, with the relatively lightweight wheels and tyres being a key advantage here.

Being covered in Western Australia’s infamous pea gravel, the surface wasn’t ideally suited to the Fast Trak’s low-profile tread – but few other tyre choices would have been much of an improvement. The corners caused an immediate drift beneath, but berms eagerly awaited every tyre slide, which took some getting used to.

One hour of practise on the new horse and then it's time to race... perfect: one hour of practise on the new horse and then it's time to race... perfect

Short and sweet – that’s exactly what the RedBull Showdown course was

The consecutive jumps, braking bumps and gravel covered terrain immediately put the suspension to the test. It proved confident on landing while still offering a respectable level of small bump compliance to keep the front from washing out – the subtle improvements to the fork’s initial stiction were noticeable.

Not a bad place to stay, huh? we hope to return for 2015: not a bad place to stay, huh? we hope to return for 2015

The view from our accomodation, a 30 minute drive from the race start

The following morning was the main event, 57km accompanied by some 1,800 other riders on a course that makes its way from a winery to a brewery through twisting pine forests. Tough gig, hey?

Having dialled the bike in the night before, I was disheartened to see the ‘tubeless-ready’ rear tyre had lost substantial pressure overnight. After a quick top-up and a serious shake to move the tubeless sealant in the tyre, I was hopeful it would just seal on the move. Thankfully it did the trick, but after the race I got these tyres properly sorted – replacing the leaking valve stem and resting the wheel flat on a bucket fixed the pressure loss.

Efforts to ignore the early groans from my hip occupied the opening kilometres of the day’s riding, a combination of road and firetrails geared to enable gaps form before we hit the custom-built singletrack trails – and offering a chance to fully test this horse.

The first corners were met with reasonable confidence, learning the bike’s capability the night before. The 120mm front fork shrugged off any embedded rock or root, with the 100mm out back following suit.

I certainly seemed to have an equipment advantage among the group I was riding with, with changes in pace from the terrain not proving too energy intensive. Where competitors spun out on loose climbs, the Niner just effortlessly kept traction – technique was a factor for sure, but the bike still climbed with impressive poise.

xx: xx

Helping to provide confident steering precision were the M9000 wheels. While they don’t scream ‘race’ on the scales, they spun so freely that I needed the brakes more than expected. I’d never before seen a well serviced mountain bike wheel spin so smoothly.

At the 24km mark, not too long after reaching the beautifully manicured and flowing pine forest trails, I hit trouble. I shifted for the big ring and waited once again for the XTR’s swiftness… instead I was rudely interrupted by a sudden noisy jamming of the crank.

Shifting was working perfectly until the e-type mounting bolts let the derailleur slip from its position:

Shfiting was working perfectly until the derailleur slipped from its position

Had I just dropped a chain on the new XTR (after setting it up properly the day before)? No, unfortunately that would be too simple.

Instead, the E-type front derailleur hadn’t been tightened fully and the shifting had pulled the entire derailleur downward and into the crank. Without being able to remove the crank to access these bolts, there was nothing more I could do than pull the derailleur up by hand and try to remember not to use the left shifter again. Bugger.

The next 30km or so were done in the 26t chainring – a potential race killer for many, but perhaps a blessing in disguise for me given my injury and general lack of preparation.

Up until this point, the new XTR had been working near-flawlessly and with perfect precision. The rear gears at least continued to work in this manner, requiring the lightest twist of the shifter-mounted barrel adjuster to keep the shifting crisp following a little settling of the new cables.

Something that I and a few other media counterparts experienced was creaking in the 11-40t cassette. While many noted that this all but disappeared as the riding went on, mine got noisier. It’s because of these kinds of niggles that we keep our hands on groupsets – and bikes – for longer term testing, and we’ll be actively looking into a fix for the noise issue.

Light rain, a little mud and some grass riding quickly built into a mess by the end: light rain, a little mud and some grass riding quickly built into a mess by the end

The Niner’s suspension design provides an unwanted shelf for muck from the rear wheel

The rain had begun to fall by the end of the stage, creating a gloopy peanut butter-like surface that plugged the tread in the tyres, although there was still plenty of space in the frame and fork to handle it. The conditions highlighted a negative to the Niner’s suspension linkage layout, with grass and muck collecting in the bottom linkage.

After I finished the race in a time definitely not worth gloating about, the guys from Shimano jokingly asked if I had any more troubles following the mishaps from the evening before. They were clearly sad to have asked.

xx: xx

The new nickname for BikeRadar’s Australian editor

Following those past two days of mechanical issues with the new ride, they presented me with my bike case… decorated with a fresh nickname – ‘Dave the wrecker’.

While I was apparently the only rider to have issues, given that I hadn’t assembled my ride this didn’t seem entirely fair. But I later found that I’d also managed to hole a brand new pair of socks in just 57km – so perhaps the nickname was appropriate after all.








Trek X-Caliber 8 review

In 2014, Trek’s X-Caliber (Skye for women) was re-born as a range of entry-level 29er hardtails. Just a year on, it’s undergoing further changes, thanks to what Trek calls ‘Smart Wheel Sizes’ – that means smaller 650b hoops for the two smallest frame sizes, and 29in ones for every other size.

Given our near perfect experience with last year’s X-Caliber 7, the sight of a RockShox branded fork on the new immediately had us smiling – although a corresponding price rise also has to be factored in. So is the new model worth the extra outlay?

Ride and handling: pro-level trail character with superb balance

The handling qualities of the last year’s X-Caliber 7 were a major factor in the praise we showered on it. Borrowing the geometry from Trek’s popular and World Cup-proven Superfly range, the 29in wheeled 7 rides like a performance bike, rather than the entry-level model that it is.

While smaller frame sizes will undoubtedly experience some difference in handling owing to their 650b wheels, our 17.5in-framed test bike immediately – and reassuringly – felt similar to the X-Caliber 7.

Out on the trail, the ride from the x-caliber's geometry shines well above its price :

Out on the trail, the ride from the X-caliber’s geometry shines

The spacious top tube, short stem combination means your weight sits evenly between the wheels, making for balanced handling. Factor in the relatively short rear end and you’ve got a comfortable riding position with easy manoeuvrability when the terrain requires. Meanwhile the wide, well-swept Bontrager handlebar offers plenty of leverage for confident control of the bike.

The front derailleur cable is routed internally through the top tube for a clean look:

The front derailleur cable is routed internally through the top tube for a clean look

Plenty of handlebar height adjustment is available

It’s worth noting that the X-Caliber’s responsive handling and undeviating climbing ability is only fully unlocked once the stem is lowered from its stock position. The bike’s short head tube and a large stack of headset spacers allow for plenty of handlebar height adjustment options.

Rolling freely and with authority, the 29er wheels and large volume rubber take charge on rock and root infested trails. Smaller rocks and ripples in the ground go past unnoticed, with the RockShox XC32 fork doing a decent job at absorbing bigger hits – though sharp square-edged bumps can overwhelm it.

Along with a crown-mounted lockout and coil spring preload, the XC32 fork offers rebound control – something that is missing from cheaper models.

A rock shox xc32 fork sits out front. while there is some flex when pushed hard, the fork works well in most conditons:

The RockShox XC32 fork works well in most conditions, though some flex becomes evident when it’s really pushed

Unlike pricier steeds, the X-Caliber sticks with a standard 1 1/8in steerer and quick release axle. But it’s only when you really push it that flex is felt in the fork – for most trail conditions, and most riders, it’s a non-issue. (It’s certainly stiffer than the 2015 X-Caliber 7’s XC30 fork)

Trek has also done a respectable job in smoothing the X-Caliber’s ride quality. While little compliance is offered by the alloy frame or firm handlebar grips, large 2.2in tyres go a long way towards filtering trail buzz. Combine this with a generously padded saddle that sits atop a skinny 27.2mm seat post, and the ride is by no means harsh.

It’s worth bearing in mind though that while the X-Caliber is capable and eager to go just about anywhere, it does so more slowly than a fancier machine will. Whether you’re hauling in speed for a fast approaching corner, conquering the steepest hill in the area or pumping the bike into the air, you’re regularly reminded of the weight compromises – especially where it’s carried by the wheels – that must inevitably be made with entry-level bikes.

Frame and equipment: well rounded build that’s capable of real riding

As mentioned above, depending on your size the 2015 X-Caliber frame goes through significant changes, or none at all. In the case of our 29in sample it’s the latter, with one exception in the form of brighter paint.

The frame is a fairly no-nonsense build featuring wide tyre clearance, internal front derailleur cable routing, easily serviced threaded bottom bracket and cleanly guided full-length sealed cable housing. Showcasing the potential versatility of the X-Caliber for commuting or light touring, the frame features both fender and pannier rack mounts out the back.

The x-caliber's frame construction is excellent, but not perfect as proven by a little weld slag at the brake mount :

Tiny bit of weld splutter at the rear brake mount. No biggie…

Our sample did have a weld splatter out at the rear brake mount. It’s nothing that affects function, but does show that perfection isn’t to be had at this price.

While we’re on the subject of small quality complaints, our brake hoses arrived a little long and messy. Good bike mechanics will clean this up before it reaches your hands, but if not, don’t accept giant unnecessary loops in the hoses.

The 2x10 setup is rare at this price. the 36/22t ring combination is ideal for general off-road riding, but those that spend more time on the bitumen may be left wanting more :

A 2×10 gearing system isn’t commonly seen at the X-Caliber 8’s price. But is it a good thing?

Given that this is the model above the previously tested X-Caliber 7, it’s no surprise the components are better. Beyond the front fork, the drivetrain is the next most obvious point of upgrade, with this model featuring a SRAM 2X10 system, more commonly seen on higher-end bikes. With 10-speed at the back and just two chainrings on the front, the X-Caliber’s gearing has been optimised for off-road use.

As discussed in our mountain bike groupset buyer’s guide, SRAM is Shimano’s key competitor and a popular choice in mountain biking. The X5/X7 components are an approximate equivalent to Shimano Deore and once set up correctly offer crisp and reliable shifting. It’s still not as fast as more expensive options, but it didn’t miss a beat while being tested.

Gearing wise, the small chain ring and largest cog on the cassette enable you to crawl up even the steepest of climbs without too much stress. On the reverse, the 36T big chaninring is well suited to fast off-road use, though it may prove under-gunned for those looking to put a skinnier tyre on and commute. For such usage, other brands that stick with a triple chainring setup may suit you best.

Not a common sight on a bike at this price. the rims are tubeless-ready, but you still need some bontrager rim strips, tubeless-ready tyres and sealant before you can ditch the tubes:

Quality components where it matters

Something we don’t often sing about on bikes at this price is tubeless tyres. A tubeless setup allows for lower tyre pressures without the risk of flatting, so providing a smoother ride quality and greater traction on the trail. Additional benefits include lower weight and reduced rolling resistance. While the X-Caliber isn’t set up tubeless, it does feature tubeless ready rims that proved nicely off-road worthy.

In order to ditch the tubes, you’ll still need to buy the appropriate rim strips, tubeless-ready tyres and sealant, but it’s the single biggest upgrade you can do to the bike (after decent pedals) and it’s not a huge expense either.

Although the supplied Bontrager tyres are durable and confident treads for many trail conditions, they carry plenty of weight. Upgrading to tubeless with a compatible tyre would see the bike drop half a kilogram (and probably more) in weight.

Shimano's m395 may be basic, yet are perfectly reliable when needed:

We’re big fans of Shimano brakes – even the cheapest models

While SRAM takes care of the drivetrain, Shimano handles the braking duties. This is a common and popular choice, because Shimano’s entry-level brakes set the benchmark with reliable function and solid performance. The basic model on the X-Caliber lacks the precise feel and bite of more expensive models, but newer riders will quickly gain complete confidence in the system.

So we’ve covered what you’re gaining over the cheaper X-Caliber 7, but it’s also worth considering what you get at the next pricepoint up.

In some countries (including the US and UK), the X-Caliber 9 is also available and provides an example of what to expect. It offers an air-sprung fork for greater suspension tuneability and substantial weight savings. Additionally, the drivetrain components see a further upgrade that should aid in long-term durability. Finally, the hubs move to a sealed bearing unit – effectively creating a lighter system that use replaceable cartridge bearings instead of the cup and cone loose ball-bearing system found on the X-Caliber 8 and below.

Common advice when buying a starter mountain bike is to spend as much as your budget allows. As we’ve seen in our testing of the X-Caliber 8, that advice rings true in the form of lower weight along with suspension, gearing and wheels that are better suited to the punishment meted out by off-road use. Whatever your budget, be sure to factor in the cost of pedals, as those included won’t let you see what this bike is capable of. ?








Trek Remedy 8 review

Trek’s Remedy is big brother to its popular 120mm Fuel EX trail bike, and Trek is one of the biggest traditional brands around. The latest Remedy 8 rolls on 650b wheels and 140mm of travel, having begun life with 26in and 160mm.

  • Highs: The Trek blasts rough lines and the Shimano kit is strong
  • Lows: Its weight and uninspiring dampers slow it both up and down
  • Buy If: You ride tight, rough stuff and want a bike that will last

Frame and equipment: crunching the numbers

The Remedy’s numbers are totally current, if you take geometry upstarts like Bird and Mondraker out of the equation. Our Large (19.5in) offers a 618mm effective top tube, which in combination with the 70mm Bontrager stem, gives plenty of room for a six-foot rider to breathe. At 435mm the chainstays are identical to Bird’s Aeris, but the Trek’s 1166mm wheelbase reveals a front-centre a whopping 41mm shorter –?meaning you’ll get faster steering and lesser stability when it’s steep.

That head angle is a conservative 67.5 degrees, and while the Mino Link geometry adjustment chip can alter that, it’s only by 0.5 degrees and in the wrong direction – steeper, to 68 degrees. It’s not a bike that feels particularly slack, though a 50mm stem helps you master the 750mm bars.

We found the steering more controlled with a 50mm stem in place of the 70mm standard one:

We found the steering more controlled with a 50mm stem in place of the 70mm standard one

You could get a longer front triangle by sizing up, but as with many frames the seat tubes get unnecessarily tall, especially if you’re fitting a dropper – this has Stealth routing but a standard post, but as it’s already 13.9kg (30.7lb) that may be a blessing. Swap the twin steel rings and solid Shimano crank for a single ring and hollow arms and you could drop nearly 700g easily.

Ride and handling: good in a tight spot

Despite Trek’s DRCV Fox shock having only the basic Evolution damping, its Full Floater suspension chews smoothly through horrible terrain. We sent it through big, fast rock gardens with low tyre pressures expecting hideous pinch punctures, but came through unscathed and impressed.

A downside is the lack of pop if you want to pump through berms, dips and jumps rather than blast over rubble. It’s pretty linear, with little platform to push against.

DRCV has been dropped from the fork, which is now a standard fox 34 float ctd set to 140mm. disappointingly, it only has the basic evolution damping:

DRCV has been dropped from the fork, which is now a standard Fox 34 Float CTD set to 140mm. Disappointingly, it only has the basic Evolution damping

Trek’s ditched the DRCV up front, as it says Fox’s standard forks now have the spring curve it wants. It’s a plush performer and good on smoother ground, but the spiky Evolution damper is unsubtle – use the extra compression damping of Trail on rough, fast ground and it can actually blur your vision.

It’s great in very tight corners, where it snaps through with alacrity, and Bontrager’s aggressive XR4 front/faster XR3 rear tyre combo is confident in anything bar deep mud. The saddle and lock-on grips are good too, so contact points are sorted.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.








Marin Indian Fire Trail review

Marin describes this as its ‘workhorse privateer XC race bike’ – and if you look between those lines to read ‘traditional, conservative hardtail,’ you won’t be far wrong.

  • Highs: Long, light and lively, with a great drivetrain and fork
  • Lows: Flexy wheels and steep steering make it nervous on tricky trails
  • Buy if: You love steep, hard climbs and smooth descents

Frame and equipment:

Despite the big wheels it’s a handy 11.6kg (25.6lb) and acceleration over smooth ground is rapid and direct through its stiff, if slightly unforgiving seatstays.

It’s 6061 alloy throughout, with triple-butted top and downtubes and a double-butted rear triangle. Varying the tube wall-thicknesses like this is a good way to lose mass, but the Indian Fire Trail still feels plenty tough enough for daily use. It’s only subtly hydroformed and is otherwise a hard, serious, ‘give me triangles or give me death’ sort of old-school frame.

There’s a lot of flex in Mavic’s Crossrides, however, despite the extra strengthening in the 19mm rims of these 29in versions. And while that can help with traction and comfort on rougher ground, it doesn’t help with steering accuracy.

The 100mm Fox Float 32 up front is capable of more, thanks to a tapered steerer and 15mm axle, than the bendy, 2000g-plus Mavics can ask of it. A wheel upgrade could do wonders here. Fox’s Performance damping assembly is a useful upgrade over the basic Evolution design, too, but Schwalbe’s hard compound 2.25in Rocket Rons undermine cornering further, as they can break away very suddenly.

Ride and handling: quick reactions mandatory

When the front goes, the 71.5-degree head angle, 90mm stem and flexy front wheel mean you need lightning reactions to stop it tucking under. The 710mm bars don’t give much leverage for your efforts either.

The upside of the Marin is steering that remains effortlessly light and accurate no matter how steep the climb, and it’s a lively, ride wherever grip is consistent. Minimal standover from that lofty, straight top tube is no help for anything but preventing you reproducing, and it’s a tall, steep bike that can be nerve-wracking on sketchier trails.

If the fork is a highlight, the Shimano SLX drivetrain – with XT rear derailleur – is a less visible bonus, with its performance and weight being very close to an all-XT setup. It’s not much of a downgrade in the real world, and reliability is also excellent.

Ultimately though, this is a machine that’s all about the geometry. Push on and the Marin’s steep, narrow nature is something you’ve got to ride around: you help it, rather than it helping you.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.








2015 World Cup Downhill tech predictions

Much like Formula One, the pinnacle of motorsport, World Cup downhill racing is the ultimate testing ground for new technology in mountain biking. Based on trends from the 2014 season just past, there are a few things that we suspect will become commonplace in next year’s racing season, a few that likely won’t, and all-new tech that we believe might just appear.?

With the top 10 elite men (and more) finishing the season at the World Championships all on 27.5in wheels, it seems safe to say that the 26in wheel is just about done in all forms of mountain biking – except when tricks are involved. With the wheel size debate seemingly put to rest in downhill for the foreseeable future, let’s look at some other tech predictions.?

Tyres

Schwalbe’s ProCore tyre system appeared during the season under the likes of Sam Hill. This dual-chamber system uses a special, smaller tube to hold a tubeless tyre bead firmly in place, removing the risk of a pinch flat against the rim.

Schwalbe procore is a new tyre technology that allows for significantly lower pressures, it's something that was well-hidden on sponsored rider bikes in 2014:

We suspect many riders will be using Schwalbe’s new ProCore technology for 2015, although most likely won’t admit it

The benefits of this system go far further than preventing flats – with the ability to run a far lower pressures in the main tyre, it’s possible to achieve greater small-bump compliance, something that frame and suspension manufactures have previously struggled to balance with maintaining pedal-induced movement.?

It’s claimed the system allows for far lighter tyres too, and while this may be true, it does add roughly 200g per wheel, negating much of the savings to be had.

With this technology, it’s possible we’ll see the use of lighter air rear shocks on certain, shorter courses (air shocks suffer heat build-up on longer courses). This suspension technology has been used in the past, but tyre systems such as this could mean the slight difference in small bump compliance could move the responsibility away from the rear shock.?

Adjustable geometry

While not entirely new, adjustable geometry is now being used to tailor the bike to individual courses – for the same reasons that suspension is adjusted to specific conditions.

Adjustable geometry allows riders to tailor the bike's fit to specific courses. pictured is the offset headset used by greg minaar and josh bryceland :

Greg Minnaar’s bike often shows plenty of custom geometry adjustments

The season just past saw bikes belonging to the likes of Josh Bryceland and Greg Minnaar featuring custom offset headsets. Another modification we’ve seen is custom fork crowns that change the trail (fork offset) and/or height of the front end.

Some bikes, such as Brendan Fairclough’s new Scott Gambler, allow for chainstay length adjustment, while other teams use aftermarket options such angle adjust headset cups and eccentric pivot hardware?to experiment with geometry changes.

Aerodynamics

Where races are being won or lost by tenths of a second, there’s arguably no other discipline in cycling that’s more ready for aerodynamic developments.

It’s not a huge secret that Trek World Racing and Specialized have experimented with aerodynamics, but we’ve not yet seen the benefits of this research beyond basic tuck positioning.?

We suspect we’ll start to see product design taking on aerodynamic considerations and moto-inspired baggy clothing would be an obvious start. Considering Specialized now has its own wind tunnel, we think the Big-S will be the first brand to make serious headway in this area.

Frame material

Norco is one example of a brand testing carbon prototypes through the downhill season:

Norco was one brand testing a carbon prototype in 2014. Who will it be for 2015?

Carbon frames in downhill racing are nothing new, but with the rushed-introduction and testing of many 27.5in wheeledbikes during the season, it’s very likely we’ll see some of those models make the shift to a prototype carbon version. The GT Fury 27.5 – the bike of Gee and Rachel Atherton – is a perfect example. We suspect we’ll see it tested in carbon next season.?

While many of the big brands offer carbon fibre, there are some notable exceptions that’ll stick with modern and progressing technology in aluminium production – Giant being a notable example. Giant claims that its Glory frame is already lighter than many of its carbon competitors. Other brands can’t justify the mould and production cost of carbon when the aluminium version is competitive.

Data acquisition

Throughout the season, we saw teams such as Lapierre using data telemetry systems at each race, to customise the suspension to the track and retrieve detailed data.

While there’s no doubt the biggest of teams are using similar technology in the bike design process, it’s likely we’ll see more of this technology being used at races to help the team mechanics and suspension sponsors learn more about each track and consequently help their riders before race day.?

Power meters are likely going to become more popular within the downhill scene. pictured is gee atherton's srm from the 2014 season:

Gee Atherton’s SRM

On top of the suspension-specific data, many riders, including Danny Hart and Gee Atherton, are starting to use power meters during race situations. This power output data is invaluable for analysis to find places on track where riders could be pedalling harder, or where gear choice could be improved. Power meters also have potential to help in suspension tuning, especially on flatter courses where pedalling is crucial.

Linking this information together with high-definition video (from a GoPro or Shimano camera, for example will allow riders, team managers and coaches to carefully analyse practice runs and improve areas of weakness.

Suspension

Air suspension is already common on front forks, with the RockShox Boxxer and Fox 40 Float filling the ranks.

We've seen air-sprung rear shocks used in downhill before, but riders always choose coil springs for 'serious' courses:

Air shocks occasionally appear in downhill but only for shorter, less-severe courses

However, it’s a different story at the rear of the bike. It’s been noted for a few years now that pedal-filled, open courses allow riders to experiment with a lighter-weight air rear shock, and the likes of Schwalbe new ProCore technology may make this even more possible, but it is still far from a normal occurrence.

The likes of Fox’s not-yet-ready RAD shock on many of its sponsored riders’ bikes prove there’s still plenty of development being put toward coil rear shocks and there’s little doubt they’ll continue to be the standard for real downhill courses.

Dropper seatposts?

It’s been seen before, but we don’t expect to see it gain popularity in 2015. Past courses such as Pietermarzberg, South Africa have seen riders experiment with adjustable posts, but few riders have taken them into race day. We suspect this technology will keep its place in enduro, but until GPS-based electronic adjustment exists, we can’t see it taking off in downhill.?

Electronic shifting

Shimano airlines used compressed air to move the derailleur, perhaps electronic shifting will offer the 'high-powered' shifting the shimano engineers dreamed of: shimano airlines used compressed air to move the derailleur, perhaps electronic shifting will offer the 'high-powered' shifting the shimano engineers dreamed of

Remember Shimano’s short-lived AirLine shifting system? Electronic shifting certainly offers great potential advantages, especially compared to air-powered shifting…

In many cases, downhill racing is used as a testing bed for mountain bike technology, but electronic shifting was introduced this last season in cross-country (and won on) in the form of XTR Di2.

With no front shifting and the minimal gear range needed in downhill, the benefits for electronic in downhill is to simplify the cable routing and reduce shift effort or hand movement, but it’s something we can’t imagine happening for 2015 (although feel free to prove us wrong, Shimano!). Perhaps we’ll see SRAM’s new X01 DH group turn to an electronic wireless version for 2016??

Do you think we have it wrong? What do you think will be the ‘next big thing’ in downhill racing tech?