Looking for one bike to do-it-all? That’s been the driving force behind the all-mountain genre of bikes for the past few years, but as with most things everyone has a different interpretation of the ideal bike and so much depends on your style of riding and the trails you have on your doorstep.
German company Bionicon has been tackling this same issue and has arrived at possibly the smartest design solution we’ve yet seen, a bike that is as near as possible two bikes in one. The Tesla’s party trick is adjustable travel, from a stout 80mm to a bump-swallowing 160mm with the head angle changing from a steep 71.5° to a slack 66°. But surely there’s got to be a serious compromise somewhere?
To find out we met up with Bionicon UK’s importer Roger Seal and headed to the Mendip Hills on a damp and soggy day to put the Tesla through its paces. Rolling the bike out of the van it’s immediately clear that this is one substantial bit of kit. But lofting it up in the air in the all-important car park tyre kicking test it feels light, belying its rugged and overbuilt appearance.
Hitting the trails
Before we ride, Roger talks me through the main features of the bike and the range of adjustment available from the handlebar mounted button. Simplicity appears a watchword here; press the button to compress the forks into their short travel setting and ramping up the rear shock and steepening the angles, and hopping a leg over it and spinning it around the car park, it feels like any other XC full-susser. Light and easy to pedal with quick steering, it feels good.
Depress the button on the handlebars however and the bike sinks into its slack setting. The forks extend, the shock does its party trick and the head angle is reduced to an all-mountain/freeride friendly 66 degrees. The rear shock has completely changed character, now it feels super plush and ready to soak up the biggest hits.
Helmets and gloves on, we hit the trails. Most good rides start with a lung buster of a climb, and this one was no different. So immediately the bike is pushed into its steepest and shortest travel setting. Wow, this bike really shifts, climbing like short travel XC full-susser, nothing like a 160mm all-mountain rig. I make short work of the first climb, the suspension taut and well controlled, with little unwanted movement.
As the trail levels out and we get to the first downhill of the ride, a swift press of the button pushes the bike to the extreme of its geometry and travel setting. The difference in travel and angle is massive. It feels very strange at first, to have to completely different feeling bikes without having actually switched bikes. It takes a while to get used to.
Soon I’m happily switched between the two modes, and after a while it becomes second nature. In the slack setting, we hurtle down a steep descent way faster than we would have done if we were still on a steep XC bike. The trail is interrupted towards the bottom with some steps, but with a 160mm of travel they’re no problem, and the 66 degree headangle makes the steeper drops weaving through the trees a doddle. It’s truly confidence inspiring stuff, having on one hand a bike that climbs and rides like a XC bike but can descend like a dedicated 160mm (or longer) setup. I’m getting to like it.
It should be noted from the range of geometry adjustment means just that, the rider can choose a position anywhere between the two extremes. So depending on the particularly trail conditions you can find the ideal setup while you’re riding.
The suspension action is impressively smooth. The rear travel controlled by an X-Fusion O2 RC rear shock, and Bionicon’s own triple clamp Double Agent fork at the front, which is solid and tracks well through the rough stuff when the going gets fast. Attention to detail extends to needle bearings throughout the suspension to ensure there’s no friction and its buttery smooth, which it is, and a 12mm axle out back. There’s four sizes to choose from.
The frame is hydroformed aluminium and carries a rugged purposeful aesthetic; it’s not quite as swoopy as the latest generation of bikes from the bigger brands. Some won’t be won over by how it looks, but look past that and there’s a properly capable bike well suited to UK trails and is worth considering if you’re facing the dilemma of where to make your compromise on your next bike. Long and slack or short and steep, with the Tesla you can have both.
We can see the Tesla being a hit anywhere with long climbs like those in the Alps, where you benefit from a steeper and shorter travel setup to get to the top of the hill with a minimum of sweat and fuss, but then be able to hurtle back down the mountain with the same speed as is capable of with a downhill bike. You might think then, that the Tesla wouldn’t be suited to typical UK trails but we found quite the opposite.
We’re often torn between which bike to take on our trails, sometimes it’s nice to have the speed and climbing prowess of a XC bike but other times we want to have the fun that a longer travel slacker bike offers. The Tesla essentially offers one bike that does both with impressive capability, therefore removing the dilemma of which bike to take.
The Tesla is no more, in comes the Alva 160
Since we tested the Tesla, Bionicon have made some changes and as well as giving it some new decals, also renamed it to the Alva 160. Changes include ISCG05 fitting on the bottom bracket and direct Postmount brake fitting for the rear brakes, and the new Double Agent TA fork. It’s still essentially the same bike, with the geometry remaining unchanged.
The Alva 160, then, is available as a complete bike for £2800 and that gets you an X Fusion 02 RLX rear shock, new Double Agent TA fork (with 15mm thru-axle and new “gravi-lube” oil ports that allow for easy bleeding of the fork oil) and a SRAM X9 30-speed groupset.
Or you can buy it as a frame for £1900 (includes shock, fork, headset, bars and stem) and build it up to your tastes.
More at www.bionicon.com