The second day of the Interbike Outdoor Demo is always busier than the first – a lot of people seem to travel on Monday and don’t arrive in time to get out to Bootleg Canyon. We missed out on a couple of bikes we wanted to get a go on because everyone else wanted to get a go on them too, but here’s another selection. And we’ll kick off with something of a scoop…
Scott was planning to have 15 demo Ransoms available, but a last-minute hiccup meant that there was only one ridable bike at Bootleg Canyon. And apparently we were the very first journos to ride a Ransom anywhere in the world. Which is nice.
It wasn’t a full-production bike, although it was very, very close. The frame you see here is production spec, but the shock internals were pre-production one-offs – the lockout didn’t work properly and apparently it ramped up too quickly at the end of the stroke, although it felt pretty good to us.
Rear travel is 165mm (6.5-ish inches), and the full carbon frame comes in at around 3kg (just under 7lb) including Scott’s own Equalizer shock. There’s nothing particularly unique about the suspension design itself, being a single-pivot swingarm with a linkage-driven shock, but the way it’s laid out is rather neat. The fixed end of the shock is towards the back of the bike, and the end that’s driven by the shock is towards the front – the rocker arm hides inside the frame. The seatstay link is cleverly designed to allow the seatpost to pass through it, getting around a common issue with interrupted seat tube bikes.
The shock itself is packed with cleverness. Like the shocks on Scott’s Genius bikes, it comes with a handlebar lever to switch between full travel, “Traction Control” reduced and stiffer travel and locked out. It’s also got independently-adjustable positive and negative air chambers and a big rebound knob that doubles as a platform-damping on/off switch. We know that a lot of people have been wary of the Genius bikes because the shock doesn’t carry the name of one of the major shock manufacturers, but Scott say they’ve had no higher a proportion of failures than anyone else.
Geometry is very much “all-mountain” rather than freeride – despite the travel this isn’t a hucking bike. We’ve always found Scott bikes to be a bit short in the top tube and specced with slightly over-long stems, but the Ransom’s got a lengthier top tube and a handily short stem. We lobbed it at some fast, rocky stuff and it proved to be very smooth and composed indeed. The carbon frame feels solid, and unlike most carbon frames it’s not all that loud when things bounce off it. Part of the reason for that is that the actual carbon is thicker and the space inside smaller. An obvious concern about a carbon frame on a bike like this is impact damage from flying rocks, dropping it on pointy bits of trail and so on. We’re going to play the “too early to tell” card on that one, but Scott say that it’s twice as strong as the carbon Genius MC frames (which seem to be holding up just fine) and that any impact that would seriously damage the Ransom frame would write off an aluminium frame too.
One thing’s for sure, though – it looks fantastic…
At first sight this Dahon MTB looks like it exists at approximately the opposite end of the bike technology spectrum from the Ransom. It’s a classic steel hardtail, with a Reynolds 853 frame, short-travel fork (a Reba on the demo bike, but production spec includes a Manitou R7) and cable-operated Avid brakes. But the Dahon has hidden depths – the company is best known for folding bikes and, well, you can probably guess the rest…
Strictly speaking, this bike doesn’t fold. But what it does do is come apart into two halves. Dahon has used Ritchey’s Break-Away system, which involves a wrap-around clamp holding the flanged ends of the downtube and a stub tube from the BB together, and effectively two seat clamps – the seatpost is actually structural. There are cable joiners on the gear and brake cables, so you can pop the wheels out, detach the cables, take the bars off, break the frame into two halves and stick the whole lot in a suitcase-sized, um, suitcase. And then you can fly somewhere without the inconvenience of a large box, possible excess baggage charges and so on.
You’d never know it came apart to ride it, either – it rides just as you’d expect a conventionally-angled 853 bike to ride.
Specialized Epic Marathon
We wanted to have a go on Specialized’s S-Works full-carbon Epic, but it was persistently out and about (as was something else we had our eye on, the awesome-looking S-Works carbon cyclo-cross bike…) so we took an Epic Marathon for a spin. It’s got a bit of carbon fibre on it – the upper shock link is a moulded carbon piece.
We haven’t ridden an Epic since they first came out. We weren’t all that enamoured of the Brain inertia-valve auto-lockout back then, finding it somewhat unpredictable and a bit abrupt in its transition from locked to open. But a couple of years of development down the line and it’s actually rather good. The Marathon has the Brain Fade adjustable valve, letting you set the threshold. On full-soft it’s nigh-on open all the time – on anything bumpier than Tarmac it’ll be active. And even on full-firm there’s a pleasingly soft transition as the valve opens up. It proved to be a pretty effective tool on the test trails, which have rough, rocky stretches punctuated by smooth, packed-down bits.
The spec on the Marathon is quite interesting, marrying Shimano XT crank/BB and disc brakes with SRAM rear mech and trigger shifters. We haven’t exactly been picking out bikes to ride based on shifters, so the fact that so many of them have had SRAM gear on must mean something about the company’s inroads into the OEM market…
Swiss brand BMC launched into the UK market last year, and this is the new Fourstroke. It uses BMC’s variant of the currently-in-vogue short-link suspension design to very agreeable effect, achieving a fine balance between plushness and pedalling stability. There’s plenty of neat detailing on the frame, like the forged seat cluster with twin-bolt seatclamp, and twin “twisted” struts stiffening up the back end. As the name suggests, you’re getting 4in (or thereabouts) of travel at each end.
Also in the 4ish inch travel bracket is Cannondale’s Rush. It’s designed as a marathon/enduro/gnarly-course XC bike, filling the gap between the super-short-travel Scalpel and actually-quite-substantial-travel Prophet.
The design clearly has a lot in common with the Prophet, with the two bikes looking almost exactly the same in profile. It’s a simple single-pivot swingarm, a design that, while it has its idiosyncracies, can still turn in an entirely capable performance and has the not-inconsiderable virtue of simplicity.
This particular Rush has a carbon-fibre Lefty fork with Fox Terralogic inertia-valve internals, a fact that we only noticed when trying to figure out why the front end wasn’t moving. Once we’d backed the threshold adjuster off things got a lot more active…
The Rush is one of those bikes that’s so neutral that it’s difficult to think of things to say about it, but for the sort of applications that it’s designed for, not having to think is a definite benefit.
We’re not sure if it’s possible to establish a tradition in two days, but having concluded with the Surly Pugsley yesterday we felt that we should finish off today with something a little quirky too. And so we present the latest version of the venerable Slingshot. You may not be familiar with the Slingshot, but the idea is simple. Rather than a downtube it’s got a cable with a spring at one end. And at the back end of the top tube there’s a composite hinge. The effect of these two unique ingredients is a bike that flexes up and down in the middle, providing something that isn’t suspension in the conventional sense of the word but is intended to add some comfort.
Historically the downside has always been stiffness, it being fairly challenging to design a frame that hinges in one axis without also flexing in at least one other. The latest iteration of the Slingshot aims to get around this problem by simply using enormous tubes. The top tube resembles a bazooka while the seat tube is extruded into a kind of T-shaped section. The hinge itself is also new, being shaped to key into the frame and now secured by bolts – it used to be glued in, with obvious disadvantages if it ever needed replacing.
Despite all this, we were expecting it to be considerably flexier than it turned out to be. Both wheels generally felt like they were operating in the same plane, which wasn’t something that could always be guaranteed previously. In fact, we really couldn’t detect anything moving at all, but somehow the edges of all the rocks got a lot more rounded. Riders with a knees-in style will rub them on the huge top tube, and quite possibly take chunks out of them on the rear cable stops, but for the most part it’s a surprisingly conventional yet unusually comfortable ride.
Having said that, we’re glad we rode it before we saw one being ridden – over bumps you can see the cable going slack which is, franky, terrifying, but thankfully hidden from view when aboard.
That’s it for Outdoor Demo – as of tomorrow we’re inside the vast, echoing chamber of the Sands Expo Centre for Interbike proper. We’ll bring you the fruits of our aisle-tramping tomorrow…