650b (or 27.5in if you prefer) wheels aren’t just the domain of so-called ‘enduro’ bikes, most manufacturers are now offering the wheelsize across their bike ranges, even racey carbon fibre hardtails like this Superior Bikes Team 27 Elite. Superior are a Czech company being brought into the UK by Chicken CycleKit.
Ride: Fast on the smooth, a handful in the rough
By and large most cross-country racers - and this is who the Superior is clearly aimed at - have switched to 29er wheels. I could have tested the 29er version of this hardtail but I wanted to see how the in-between wheels fared on a out-and-out race bike.
From the fist ride it’s noticeable that the smaller wheels offer some advantages: they accelerate much more quickly and there's more immediacy detectable when you get on the power. They respond more quickly to accelerations too, particular from slower speeds, and this makes negotiating very twisty, almost stop-and-start, tree-lined singletrack quicker.
Handling is fast and sharp. It’s a delight to thread the Superior through the tight singletrack where a bigger wheeled bike requires some input compensation. Unsurprisingly it’s a familiar ride to a 26in bike. That makes it an ideal upgrade for somebody who has resisted jumping ship to a 29er from a 26in bike, as the handling offers few surprises if you’re ‘upgrading’ from the traditional wheelsize.
I was able to comparison test the Superior against a 29er carbon hardtail of almost identical weight, which raised some interesting observations. Generally, the rougher the trail and higher the speed, the more the stability of the bigger wheels proved a benefit. At the other end of the scale, all slow speed trail manoeuvres and twisty sudden change of direction stuff served to highlight the advantages of the smaller wheels.
The overly stiff frame and 100mm Reba don’t offer much compliance when the ground gets rough. Line it up into a steep rocky descent and you tend to find yourself picking a line around the larger obstacles, rather than barrelling straight over the top. In the right hands it’ll make quick progress over such terrain but it is extremely involving as the ride is lively.
Frame and build kit: Light and ready to race, and excellent fork
For starters, it’s light, just 22.81lb (10.35kg) without pedals. That’s for a medium, there’s a large to choose from too. I can’t help feel two sizes is a bit restrictive. This is a medium and there’s few surprises in the geometry details, it’s aggressive with a stumpy 110mm head tube, 1,081mm wheelbase and 604.77mm top tube. The head angle is steep at 71 degrees, and this ensures lively and direct handling.
Built around the on-trend wheelsize is a full unidirectional high-modulus carbon fibre frame and it’s well appointed with contemporary details. There’s an E2 Type front mech, PressFit 30 bottom bracket, and a 12x142mm bolt through rear axle, and all cables are routed internally. It’s a very nicely finished frame, all clean around the edges, well put together and the graphics are pleasing to the eye.
Bolted to the frame is a Shimano SLX/XT/XTR groupset, comprising an XTR Shadow rear mech, SLX 38/24 double chainset and XT disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors. It’s solid and dependable kit and threw up no surprises in testing. Shifting without the clutch-style rear mech is light and crisp, and fortunately there were no dropped chains during testing. The double chainset gives a decent range of gears on the climbs.
In-house branded ONE wheels, combining Race Ultralight hubs and ZTR Rapid 28h rims and Sapim Laser/Race spokes, proved perfectly stiff and reliable. The obvious benefit of the smaller wheelsize is the superior stiffness they offer, and that’s noticeable. There’s less flex and twang when you push the wheels hard, and they're more responsive as well.
The rims are tubeless-ready and the Schwalbe Thunder Bolt tyres are tubeless-ready so ditching the inner tubes would be an easy step towards shedding a bit more weight. As for the tyres, they're okay when it’s absolutely bone dry but show them a bit of damp soil and they break traction very easily. A Racing Ralph would be a better all-round tyre.
The RockShox Reba RL offers 100mm of well damped suspension, which is just as well because this is a bike on which you work the suspension hard. The PopLoc remote lockout on the handlebars lets you easily lock it out for smoother climbs. The 680mm handlebar and 90mm suit the bike well though some might find the bars a bit narrow and hold you back on the very technical trails.
A pleasantly comfortable Fizik Tundra 2 MG saddle completes the build, along with a pair of foam grips.
Light and fast 650B carbon fibre hardtail is an enticing package for a racer or cross-country trail rider
Weight: 22.81lb (10.35kg)
FRAME Carbon UD Hi-Modulus
FORK Rock Shox Reba RL Tapered, 15mm+PushLoc remote Lock Out. System spring/damping: Solo Air/Motion Control. Travel: 100mm
BB Set PF BB30 Adapter
STEM ONE Pro 31.8mm, 90mm
HANDLEBAR ONE Race 31.8mm flat 680mm; back swept 10°
SEAT POST ONE Pro 31.6mm/400mm
GRIPS ONE MTB Lock-On Ultralight Foamgrip
SADDLE Fi’zi:k Tundra 2 MG
BRAKE LEVERS Shimano XT
BRAKES (front/rear) Shimano XT hydraulic disc brake, rotor 180/160mm
SHIFT LEVERS Shimano Deore I-Spec Rapid Fire Plus 2×10
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Deore E2
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano XTR Shadow GS
CRANKS w/CHAINWHEELS Shimano SLX Hollowtech ll 38/24 15.5"/170mm 17.5",19"/175mm
FREEWHEEL/CASSETTE Shimano HG62 11-36
CHAIN FSA CN-910 DriveLink
FRONT HUB ONE Race Ultralight 15mm
REAR HUB ONE Race Ultralight, 6-Pawl 12x142mm
RIMS ZTR Rapid 28H
SPOKES Sapim Laser/Race stainless
TYRES (front/rear) Schwalbe Thunder Burt Evo 2.1"