- KHS XC604
- £879 (but currently £699)
- Gimmick-free budget FS
- Ridiculously good value
All dimensions based on Large (19in) frame
|Effective top length tube (TT)||610mm (24in)|
|Chainstay (CS)||430mm (16.9in)|
|BB height (BB)||345mm (13.6in)|
KHS has been around since 1975, and had something of a cult following in the early 90s largely thanks to the antics of “Insane” Wayne Croasdale and an array of rather splendid and unpretentious bikes like the Montana Pro. Since then the brand has been an intermittent presence in the UK, but has recently returned under the wing of KHS Bikes UK. KHS UK is selling direct, an approach that has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are that you can’t just pop into a shop and see or try one, although KHS UK attends lots of events and demo days. And if you order one and find it doesn’t fit, they’ll just come and pick it up and change it for a different size.
The advantage is clear – lower prices. Usually it’s the huge brands that offer the best value, what with their massive buying power. But, at least on paper, KHS appears to have trumped the lot. We tried out the company’s entry-level short-travel (100mm/4.2in) FS bike, the XC604.
In these days of hydroformed that, swoopy this and complex-curved the other, a full-suspension bike made out of straight tubes has become something of a rarity. The only bit of overt tube manipulation on the KHS, though, is the headtube, which is bigger at the ends to accommodate an internal headset. Everything else is straight, and most of it is round – the chain and seatstays are rectangular section.
The top tube slopes heavily for standover clearance, and a strut allows the seat tube to be longer so that there isn’t twelfty feet of seatpost sticking out. With the straight, uninterrupted seat tube and the rocker link pivoting off a bracket in front of it, there’s no impediment to dropping the seat right down. A small gusset under the down tube reinforces the front end.
At the back is the classic four-bar suspension design, with chainstay pivots (and Specialized license sticker). All of the pivots run on substantial bearings, which are mostly not particularly shielded from the elements but aren’t unusual, hard to replace, sizes either. There’s adequate mud clearance at the back, it’s all neatly made in a chunky kind of way and you get a choice of colours as long as it’s black.
One point to note is that the XC604 is only available in M (17in) or L (19in) sizes. Nearly everyone will be fine with one or the other of those, but if you’re particularly short or tall you’ll need to look elsewhere.
KHS has played pretty safe with the design and spec of the XC604, and that’s a sound strategy at the cheaper end of the market – innovation costs money, and trying to do something radically new without much money is likely to result in it both not working properly and leaving you with no budget to spend on the components. By going with a straightforward, proven frame and suspension design, KHS has been able to lever in parts that bikes a couple of price points up wouldn’t be ashamed to wear.
Transmission is largely Shimano, with the exception of the Truvativ outboard-bearing chainset. Shifters and front derailleur are Deore, with an SLX Shadow rear mech putting in a welcome appearance at the back. Brakes are also from Shimano, with non-flashy but reliable M486 units at both ends.
The wheel package is particularly impressive for the price. The hubs are unbranded, but you get Mavic XM317 Disc rims and Kevlar-beaded Kenda Nevegal 2.1 tyres. Finishing kit is a mix of fairly generic (seatpost and stem, both of which work fine) and branded (WTB saddle and grips, FSA bars).
Suspension components are always a challenge when speccing budget bikes. KHS has fitted an X-Fusion O2 rear shock, which has an array of features that you really wouldn’t expect. Rebound damping adjustment we pretty much take for granted, but the O2 also has adjustable compression damping and a lockout lever.
Having said that rebound damping adjustment could be taken for granted, it’s worth noting that the 100mm travel Marzocchi 22LO fork doesn’t have it. It has damping, but it’s not adjustable. You get a preload dial for the steel coil spring, and the left leg has a lockout lever on top, but that’s it. If that seems like an odd order of priority to you then, well, we’d have to agree – if you don’t like the speed of the fork out of the box then you’re pretty much stuck with it. Fortunately we found it fairly agreeable most of the time, but bear in mind that the BM damping preferences tend towards the fast.
Missing fork adjusters notwithstanding, this is an impressive array of kit for the asking price – you’d expect to be into four figures for this kind of spec.
You’d expect a straightforward frame design and decent parts to give a decent ride, and you’d be right. KHS has gone with entirely conventional XCish geometry and the result is a ride that doesn’t spring any unpleasant surprises. “Neutral” is a somewhat overused word, but it’s perfectly applicable here. This isn’t a bike with idiosyncracies, quirks or a learning curve – just get on and go.
On long climbs you’ll start to feel the over-30lb weight and the Kenda Nevegal tyres can drag a bit, but it all adds to the bike’s confidence on the descents. It may have relatively steep angles and short travel, but it feels solid and poised – even when the suspension gets out of its depth you know that you just have to hang on and everything’ll be OK.
Despite the lack of adjustability on the fork, the XC604′s suspension performance is perfectly decent and well-balanced. You’ll probably find the limits of the fork before the back end runs out of steam, but until that point both ends feel well-matched. If you fancy it, we reckon that the XC604 would be pretty happy with a 120mm fork on it – certainly it’s something we’d be tempted to try come fork upgrade time.
All in all, the XC604 offers an excellent ride. It certainly exceeds the expectations of its price point, although if you’re likely to be unhappy with the out-of-the-box fork settings then that could be an issue – as with everything, it’s best to try before you buy.
Ups and downs
Positives: Solid performance, clean looks, gimmick-free, staggering value
Negatives: Lack of fork tuning options, a little heavy, only two sizes
There’s a lot to be said for mature technology. There’s nothing cutting edge here – the XC604 is, by today’s standards, a simple bike. And it’s rather refreshing. Straight, round tubes, a suspension layout that’s been around, largely unchanged, for knocking on 20 years and a selection of decent, solid components is a recipe for success. Even at the normal price of £879, the KHS embarrasses the competition. For £699 it’s preposterously good value, to the extent that if you’ve got £699 to spend you should probably just buy one of these whether you’re in the market for a new bike or not…