- Kinesis Maxlight Pha5e
- £399 (frame only)
- Long-forked “radical XC” hardtail
- Flared this, hydroformed that, double-pass welded others
Kinesis is a big contract frame manufacturer – plenty of prominent brands use Kinesis’s expertise to get their designs into reality. But UK distributor Upgrade also markets a range of frames under Kinesis’s own name, including the ever-popular Maxlight MTB frames. The UK bikes are designed by Upgrade, so should be a good fit for UK riding.
The Maxlight XC and XCPro gained critical acclaim amongst racers, but the new Pha5e is a more recreational item. It’s designed to take a lot of abuse, but still be ridden all day long. Sitting at the upper end of the hardtail price bracket, it’s something of a showcase for Kinesis’s framebuilding technology, featuring Easton RAD tubing and hydroforming aplenty.
The design of the Pha5e makes its intentions abundantly clear. It’s over-built in all the vital places to ensure it’ll never fail you, yet if you’re not busy dropping of cliffs it’s fine for all-day riding. The top tube length on our 16in test bike measured 22.4in (21.6 on the 14in and 23.2in on the 18in), which kept the handling tight and responsive, and with the 50mm stem and wide bars it was easy to flick around.
It certainly stands out from many other frames on the market, with the hyrdofromed rear stays making a striking impression and the smooth double-pass welds (which look like being 2006’s essential alu frame feature) making it impossible not to stroke them. The rear stays have received the most attention, being heavily manipulated and curving around the wheel. Flowing lines embossed into the sides of the seat stays are a nice visual touch. There’s stacks of mud clearance and you won’t be clipping your heels, but you can still fit your wide rubber – it’ll take up to 2.5in tyres.
The Pha5e is a bit more conventional up front, with both the top and down tubes from Easton’s RAD tubeset. RAD was the first widely-used heavy-duty square-to-round tubing, but you don’t see the genuine article ever so much these days – most manufacturers tend to use less sophisticated but cheaper lookalike pipes. Both the tubes create a large contact area with the headtube, which is ring reinforced. The frame is designed to take a fork with between 135 and 150mm of travel. Despite the high front end that that inevitably gives you, there’s plenty of nad clearance as the top tube drops several inches below the top of the seat post. There’s an extra strut to help to support it.
The whole frame provides a level of solidity that is welcome for the style of riding that it’s intended for. The frame is stiff, especially the rear end. In theory the hydroformed ridges in the tubes increase stiffness, although whether that’s detectable to the rider is debatable. It’s not especially uncomfortable thanks to the low-slung frame requiring plenty of seatpost sticking out, but on longer jaunts you’ll know you’re on an exceptionally stiff chassis.
Two colours are available, Battleship grey as tested and Matt Anti-Radar Green.
Kinesis only sell frames, so you’ll have to build it up yourself. Our test frame came already built up with the kind of spec that many frames will find themselves with – a 20mm through-axle Manitou Nixon Elite fork, DMR Revolver hubs laced to Mavic XM819 UST rims, curiously-named Geax BarrowMarathon TNT 2.10 tyres. Discs were from Hope and transmission was Shimano’s dependable XT.
It all came to 28lb, which is entirely reasonable. Obviously the bike could be built lighter, or there’s room for some burlier components, depending on what you want the frame to do.
The frame is meant to be on the stiff side of stiff, and we certainly noticed this on the trail. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You get a very direct feel and the power is laid down with an instantaneous reaction. And you always know what the bike’s going to do next. The handling is precise and assertive, thanks to the short top tube and short stem/wide handlebar combination. And with the bolt through axle up front, it’s a reassuring bike to chuck off things.
If you’re anything over about 5ft 10 you’ll probably benefit from the longer top tube on the Large frame. Get the size right and you’ll find that you can stick the saddle up for all day XC riding, or drop the seat for some high speed antics with plenty of air time – the Pha5e readily leaves the ground over any lump in the trail.
Positives: Distinctive looks, dependable ride, good value
Negatives: Looks not to everyone’s taste
This frame is tough enough to handle hard hitting jump action, but is adaptable enough for longer rides with some sessioning thrown into the mix. Or to put it another way, it’s a mountain bike like mountain bikes used to be – fun all-rounders. If you’re looking for a race bike look elsewhere, but if you’re riding for the hell of it the Pha5e is well worth a look.
It’s debatable whether all the hydroforming makes a difference to the ride of the frame, but we loved the striking look. And with a recent price drop the £399 price tag is fairly reasonable given the line-up of frames Kinesis have squared it up against. We like the Pha5e. It’s different and attempts, and manages, to stand out in a growing market.