Gossip, speculation and a few illicit pictures of the new Klein Palamino suspension bike have been around for a while now, but this is the first full multiple ride and race test of it anywhere.Test Logbook
A soggy first morning of bouncing through boulders and snaking Alpine singletrack with Greg Herbold and Thomas Frishneckt (ooh get us and our fancy new pals). Second day, the Piccolo version of the Marathon. A 1.5 hour 1500m mixed on / off-road climb followed by a mad, 40 minute maximum speed dive through mud slides, gravel switchbacks and serious rock heaps hidden under Alpine slurry, while trying to skittle as few Germans as possible.
Third ride, bit more road work and a last technical squirt up to a quick picture stop in the first sun we had all week. Slurry surfed back down through some evil hairpins, slithery rock slabs and log drops until we hit solid ground and got into the shower fully clothed for the third time in as many days.
PS. If you’re wondering why we only did the 40km Marathon route, not the 109km one, the constant torrential rain and grit had burnt our brake pads to the metal and frankly we’re amazed we got as far as we did without serious injury.
PPS. In the unlikely event he’s reading this, thanks to the bloke in the Steppenwolf team kit who we had to use as an emergency berm when we ran out of rear brake for the second time – get well soon.What
After a couple of years of sticking their typically sumptuous fuselages on Gary Fisher’s Sugary rear end it was about time that Klein got a suspension set up more fitting of their high society status. The fact they were already building the Easton RAD frames for Paul Turner’s Maverick brand which has been receiving rave reviews for it’s “Monolink” suspension design must have made the decision fairly easy. Klein therefore join titanium specialists Seven and steel frame micro builder Sycip as licencees of the system.
Note that the bike we rode was the latest of the prototype line with the finalised geometry and a semi-Klein rear end, but it had a tweaked Maverick rear shock rather than the final production Fox unit as well as some provisional frame detailing.
While the Maverick uses square ended Easton Rad tubing (though curiously with the square section at the opposite end to normal) the Klein uses their in-house Gradient ZR9000 tubing. As you’d expect this means lots of flowing tube junctions, internal cable guides and barrel headtube. In contrast to the curved seat tube of the ML-4, the Palamino uses a straight seat tube braced by a split cane gusset. This means they can use thinner wall tubes in the seat tube and also sets them apart visually from the Maverick original. Expect a smaller gusset and a cut out Klein logo by production. Sloped seat tube means the seat post goes up and back rather than mostly just up, thereby increasing length too.
Weight of the protoype was par for the componentry and travel, but wouldn’t be surprised if the finished Palamino matched or undercut the weights of the proposed lightweight Maverick Resposado either.
Production bikes will also have typically gorgeous Klein paint jobs (including custom options). They’d even written “prototype” on ours in big black scrolled lettering against an almost black purple main colour to create the finest finished test mule we’ve ever seen.
Paintwork doesn’t equal performance and the heart of this bike is the single hollow magnesium linkage block that bridges the bottom corner of the frame and also contains the bottom bracket. The example on our bike still had the cast Maverick logo, but expect that to be a ‘K’ by the time they hit the shops. As we said earlier the heavily machined shock is also a Maverick item, although Klein had specified a wider range of damping adjustment for their version. Speaking to Klein and Maverick we got different answers on whether the shock would be all air (like the new Maverick Reposado) or air and coil like the current ML-4, we’ll just have to see what arrives in the shops this summer.
Joining the link to the back wheel are typically smooth Klein square to round chainstays, which even left plenty of room around the 2.35″ balloon tyres we were running. Dropouts have also moved away from Klein’s old rear facing micro units, so hopefully wheels will be less likely to spontaneously abandon the bike.
Complete bike specs will be based around an entry level LX/XT, an XT level and XT Disc bike, as well as a full money no object XTR option. Forks will vary depending on model with Duke’s giving way to Fox Floats at the top end.Does it work?
There’s a lot to be said for the opinion that if you don’t notice suspension then it’s doing it’s job exactly right. In that case the Palamino is a triumph.
The up and back axle path produces that even rub soft and bouncy there’s just enough pedal feedback to make the bike totally solid when cranking up 2-hour climbs or chainganging down the final road section back to town. Stand up to sprint and the fact the bottom bracket is on the linkage stiffens the suspension slightly more, with no need to fumble for a lockout lever or try and pedal ‘smooth circles’. The surprising thing is that it still delivers bags of traction as soon as you hit the loose stuff. Not as ground gobbling as a low pivot bike like a Rotwild or Cannondale, but certainly not as jacked up and potentially rock spitting as a high swingarm bike, and a lot more direct feeling than most linkage set ups.
Coming back down the first time we thumped a couple of landings harder than expected, but once we dialled away the damping it behaved a lot better, staying poised through big clattering rock sections. On the Marathon we hit some very big, dodgy objects at high speed in visibility so bad we had no idea what they were (unless they squeaked at us in German) and thanks to the Fox Fork and rear end we stayed on. It never felt outrageously plush, but then it never felt too firm either. In fact even though we were stood on the link, we were hard pressed to notice what the suspension was doing at all unless we looked down and saw it hammering away between our knees.
Handling is based around typical Klein family values, making it more stretched and aggressive than the Maverick. The less upright pose certainly helped on faster climbs and weight balance let us push the speed far enough to make controlled front then rear wheel slides through loose corners the norm rather than the exception. The more we rode the more we learned to hold off the brakes for one more second and trust the bike and we were surprised how many sections we whipped through without ever having to touch them at all.
The Fox fork is a perfect companion for the bike, plush, smooth and so accurately damped it never gets caught by big hits or multiple braking bumps. Our only niggle is the fact that the other damping adjusters can sometimes move when you turn the lockout knob, but then we rarely use the lock out anyway.
Should I buy it?
Well for a start you can’t yet. It won’t be around till late summer, so perhaps we’ll change it to “should I wait for it?”
This is the first time we’ve ever had a Klein as the bargain option, but while we haven’t been given final prices to compare to Maverick and Seven, the Palamino will be a significantly cheaper. Not cheap, but definitely cheaper, and that includes the beautiful finishing (same builders as the Maverick anyway) and glorious paintjobs typical of Kleins.
We’ve already waxed lyrical about the ‘monolink’ system and its impressive all rounder XC performance, and if you like your suspension to be as unobtrusive as possible we can’t think of a system we’d recommend higher. We also prefer the handling and dimensions of the Klein in many situations too, which makes the whole deal sound very appealing.
The only thing we can’t comment on is durability and longevity of the design. There’s no doubt that with the bottom bracket on the monolink, there’s a load of stress going through the pivots at the corners. The seals in the rear shock unit are also at the worst position possible to collect crap from the rear wheel so they’ll also need watching carefully. Paul Turner (Maverick and ex-Rock Shox headman) had rigged up a very neat mudguard from a water bottle slice, and we recommend you do the same. Still, we rode in some of the worst conditions we’ve met for a long time, with no extra protection and we had absolutely no problems. Only time will tell but then that’s true of any new bike.
In short we’re really impressed – impressed enough to choose to ride this proto in a (potentially) 100km marathon the day after we’d first met it, even though we could have chosen from pretty much any bike around. Such decisions aren’t taken lightly but it certainly didn’t disappoint.Next from Garda:
Rock Shox, Santa Cruz, Giro, SRAM, Gary Fisher and the latest from the original Maverick makers.