- Gary Fisher HiFi Carbon Pro
- Unique G2 geometry
- Flyweight 120mm chassis
All dimensions based on Large/19in frame
|Effective top tube length (TT)||615mm (24.2in)|
|Seat tube, centre to top (ST)||482mm (19in)|
|Chainstay (CS)||420mm (16.5in)|
|BB height (BB)||325mm (12.8in)|
Who’d be a huge bike-making megacorporation with multiple brands under its wing? Somehow you’ve got to have them all making good, competitive bikes but at the same time they’ve all got to be distinctive in some way otherwise the buying public just slap you with the “badge engineering”, er, badge and shop elsewhere. Gary Fisher is owned by Trek, and while there’s certainly been some, let’s say, less than imaginative Fisher stuff over the years, the more recent crops of bikes have been rather more interesting. How much of that is down to charismatic figurehead Gary Fisher himself and how much is down to smart portfolio management in the upper echelons of the corporation is debatable – with Trek itself covering the mainstream, Fisher is almost inevitably the home of the slightly quirky, leftfield stuff.
Of late that’s been manifesting itself in an extensive range of 29ers, but Fisher does traditional wheel sizes too. The HiFi Pro Carbon is the most expensive bike in the range, has 26in wheels and manages to deliver 120mm of travel despite being the lightest FS frame that Fisher makes. The whole bike weighs under 24lb, an undeniably impressive achievement. But how does it ride?
One of the huge advantages of being part of the mighty Trek empire is access to a whole bunch of design, engineering and manufacturing muscle that a standalone brand the size of Gary Fisher couldn’t ordinarily take advantage of. As a result, the HiFi Pro Carbon can make use of Trek’s OCLV carbon fibre technology. The shock mount, swing link, and swingarm pivots are all co-moulded – the aluminium pivot points are put in during the frame moulding process so that they’re completely encapsulated by carbon and resin.
The rear end features hydroformed 6066 aluminium chainstays, with a seatstay pivot driving carbon fibre seatstays that activate a Fox RP23 shock via an upright swing link that keeps everything in line. The link doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary to the shock leverage, with the shock effectively being driven straight from the end of the seatstay to deliver 120mm of rear wheel travel.
Having the shock under the top tube makes room for a bottle cage inside the main triangle, although there’s not a huge amount of space even on the Large bike tested. The whole frame is actually the lightest full suspension platform in the Fisher range – even the short-travel XC race frames are slightly heavier.
By the time you get up to these exalted price points, there’s plenty of room in the budget for top-end kit. Fisher has eschewed the path-of-least-resistance full-XTR spec in favour of a pick-and-mix. Cranks, front derailleur and cassette are all drawn from Shimano’s flagship group, while shifters and rear derailleur are SRAM X.0 (presumably in order to up the carbon fibre content a bit). Brakes are Avid’s Juicy Ultimates with, yes, carbon fibre levers.
While the Fox F120RLC fork may look entirely conventional, standing it next to one on any other bike reveals a small but significant difference. Fisher’s forks have increased-offset crowns, which puts the axle further ahead of the steering axis and reduces trail. Trail is one of those mysterious dimensions that tells you a lot about how a bike will steer. Imagine a line through the head tube extending all the way to the ground. Then imagine another one dropping straight down from the front axle. Trail is defined as the horizontal distance between those two lines at ground level. The fact that there is a distance between them gives the front wheel a self-centring effect, which is why you can ride a bike no-handed or push it along forwards just by the saddle. Try pulling it backwards, though, and the front wheel flips round as it tries to point the other way.
So less trail gives a less-pronounced centring effect, which essentially means quicker steering. Fisher claims that it does this “without changing the rest of its handling characteristics” but a moment’s thought tells you that that can’t be the case – quicker steering means less stability, although that can be mitigated by weight distribution.
The increased offset is at the heart of G2 geometry, the latest evolution of Fisher’s Genesis geometry. The first incarnation essentially involved extending the top tube and shortening the stem to maintain the same cockpit length. Early versions of this took the idea somewhat to extremes, while subsequent toned-down interpretations met most of the rest of the industry coming the other way which rather detracted from the uniqueness of the idea.
G2 adds fork offset to the mix, something that until recently hadn’t really been a consideration for many years. Until the current spate of “non-standard” offsets (and there are several manufacturers doing it, although mostly in the 29in arena), the last designer to seriously fiddle around with them was Keith Bontrager. Bontrager, of course, is now a sister brand to Gary Fisher, and indeed the Pro Carbon’s fork leg proudly bears a “Geometry by Bontrager” sticker. What’s interesting about that is that Bontrager’s custom RockShox forks had a crown with a reduced offset, while Fisher’s Foxes have increased offset. The whole idea has crossed over from 29in bikes, where pushing the fork offset out gets you the double win of sharper steering and increased toe clearance.
On the subject of Bontrager, most of the rest of the kit on the Pro Carbon is from said brand. As you’d expect, it’s all top-flight Race X Lite stuff – although the oversized carbon bar is, magnificently, labelled Race XXX Lite. The wheels use Bontrager’s “tubeless ready” rims, but the bike comes with inner tubes as standard – you’ll need to buy the appropriate rim strips, valves and sealant to ditch the tubes.
If all of this looks a bit spendy, there’s also a mostly Deore XT-equipped HiFi Carbon with the same frame and only midly downgraded components (RL rather than RLC fork, Race Lite rather than Race X Lite wheels and so on) for a substantial £800 less.
It’s a funny one, this. The first couple of times out, on long rides on not particularly technical terrain, we really liked the Pro Carbon. It weighs next to nowt, it’s very comfy and it feels like it rides itself up hills. Then we showed it some corners, rocks and fast descents and rather went off it. The downside of the low weight is a considerable degree of flex, which manifests itself as a marked tendency for each end of the bike to pay little attention to the direction in which the other is going. Forget point-and-shoot – while some bikes just require you to aim the front in roughly the right direction and pedal, the Fisher demands that you get the front in exactly the right place and also pay attention to where the back ends up.
The Genesis geometry also makes for a very light steering feel, a little like getting in a car with too much power assistance and with the similar result that you can’t always tell exactly which way the front’s pointing. Inevitably this can make the bike start to feel like a bit of a handful at speed, especially when combined with the aforementioned flexibility which causes the frame to “wind up” in corners and then spring back on the exit. A few miles of twisty, rocky trails has you sweating just with the mental effort of it.
But then comes the funny bit. We rode some more, and gradually it all started to make sense. While it’s flexible, it’s not ridiculously springy in the manner of an early-90s whippy steel frame. It flexes, it recoils but it does so in a damped, almost slow-motion way that you find yourself starting to take advantage of to get an extra boost out of corners. The steering may be unnaturally unweighted but it’s pin-point accurate and we can’t recall a bike that makes low-speed singletrack switchbacks as much of a doddle as this one. And you notice that while it might feel unnerving at speed, it’s not half as unstable as it feels. Also falling into the perception-reality gap is the realisation that while you might sometimes feel as if it’s taking 115% of your brain to stay on the trail, you’re actually going really rather fast.
So the Pro Carbon went from being a bike that felt, well, a bit shambolic to one that pays back a bit of finesse and can thus be hugely rewarding and quick into the bargain. There’s nothing particularly radical going on with the suspension, but it works well enough in an unobtrusive sort of way. One thing’s for sure, the Fisher’s an acquired taste. We’d expect few riders to leap on to a Pro Carbon and feel immediately at home, for it’s that rarest of beasts, a bike that’s actually distinctly different from the norm.
Ups and downs
Positives: Way light, unique ride, comfy, fast, clean looks
Negatives: Something of an acquired taste
It’s impossible not to admire the engineering achievement of a 120mm travel full suspension bike at under 24lb. You’d expect something to have to give to manage that, and certainly the springy Pro Carbon may come as something of a shock if you’re used to the current crop of super-stout trail bikes. We anticipate that it’ll appeal to two broad categories of rider – those looking for something very light and very comfy to tackle technically straightforward but long rides, and those willing to put some work in to extract the best from a bike. It’s not for everybody, but the most interesting bikes never are – kudos to Gary Fisher for not following the herd…