- Transition Preston FR
- £649 frame only (+£75 for Swinger 4-Way shock)
- Transition Bikes
Transition Bikes hails from Washington state in the US. That’s up in the Pacific North-West, not a million miles from Vancouver. It’s an area with a not dissimilar bike culture to its near neighbour, and no shortage of densely wooded (and wet) hillsides and large rocks to ride down and off. So it’ll come as no surprise that Transition makes freeride bikes. Its USP, though, is a kind of anti-hype hype – no “colorful splashy graphics, patent pending suspension technology stickers or fancy linkage system names,” it says. Transition is all about value for money, and with the short-travel (and this being 2005, “short” means 4-5in) Preston FR starting from just £649 frame-only in the UK, they may well be on to something…
The Preston is pitched as a short-travel freeride bike. The theory is that plenty of riders want a sturdy, stable-handling bike but they don’t want or need yards of travel. The Preston is intended to be a sprightlier, tauter ride than a big-travel bike without compromising on strength or confidence.
It certainly looks the part, with a thick head tube sitting on the front of a squared’n’flared down tube. As if there wasn’t enough meat at the front, there’s a gusset as well. The front end is so fat that it manages to make the down tube look a bit undernourished at the BB end, but it isn’t really.
The top tube’s got a cranked bit for extra standover height and a pair of thick mounting plates for the shock. Out back, the suspension rotates on cartridge bearings everywhere. It’s a “faux-bar” swingarm/linkage-driven shock setup, using CNC linkage plates from Dangerboy CNC. A pair of shock mount holes give you your 4 or 5in travel options.
Machined yokes at the top of the seatstays and the front of the chainstays join everything together. The dropouts are also suitably chunky items. Cable routing is along the top tube, with open cable runs on top and a continuous outer for the back half of the rear derailleur cable. The test bike was fitted with a SRAM X-Gen front mech, the cable clamp position of which meant that the front gear cable made a slightly awkward turn out of the stop and also rubbed slightly on the right-hand linkage plate. That’s more of a slight component mismatch than a frame problem, though.
The arrangement of the linkage and shock is quite interesting. The Preston’s intended to have “suspension when you need it”, and it’s got a leverage rate curve almost like an over-centre cam – push it a bit and not much happens, push it a bit more and off it goes. We suspect that it relies somewhat on the shock to provide suitable bottom-out progression, but that won’t be a problem for the standard-issue Romic coil shock or Manitou Swinger 4-Way option.
All in all it’s a tidily put-together frame. Aesthetically it doesn’t appeal to everyone – it’s got some awkward lines and looks, well, a bit gawky. But it’s function first, and it’s certainly well-made especially considering the price.
While Transition does full bikes (in single and double-chainring flavours, both £1,700) and various frame/fork deals, the test bike was assembled as a one-off in a slightly more “all-mountain” style. Given the very reasonable price of the frame itself, we were slightly surprised at the high-zoot spec of the test bike – Thomson, Chris King, Hope etc – but you won’t find us complaining. Especially not about the King hubs – never mind what they look like or how well they last, we just love the angry-bee freehub noise that makes you want to leave the ground at any opportunity just to hear it go “zZzZzZzZzZzZ”. It’s the bicycle equivalent of shifting down and revving in tunnels, probably.
The Preston’s designed to run with a 6in travel fork, and in keeping with the flavour of the build this one came with a Marzocchi All-Mountain SL fork. It’s an air-sprung unit, featuring a remarkable four different air valves – a positive spring in each leg, plus a negative spring in the left leg and the PAR chamber, which adjusts the progressiveness of the fork at the end of the stroke. Add that to the two valves on the Manitou shock and you’ve got a whole lot of pump action before you go anywhere. We eventually got it all sorted out, though.
Claimed weight for the frame is 4kg (8.75lb) with the Romic shock, and the test bike came in at 13.6kg (29.9lb).
There are three size options – 15.5, 17 and 19in. The 19in test bike had a generous 24.25in top tube, so even with the stumpy stem fitted there was plenty of room to maneouvre. If your riding leans more towards jumps, drops and super-technical descents you might want to consider running a size down, but that’s up to you. It feels like a biggish bike generally, and the other numbers bear that out – the back end comes in at 17.5in and the BB is a lofty 13.5in on the 4in setting. It’s suitably relaxed, though, while the short stem stops it feeling tottery.
It’s not really designed for climbing, except in as much as getting to the top is a prerequisite for coming back down again. But the Preston does a fairly respectable job in its own way. The relaxed angles and short stem means it tends to wander a bit unless you really get over the front, but the upside is that you can muscle it up some fairly unlikely-looking sections. It proved itself remarkably adept at short rocky pitches, the sort of thing you look at and think, “nah”. Sling the Preston at them and pick the front end up, and as soon as the back wheel hits it just sort of gets out of the way without any impediment to forward motion. And suddenly you’re at the top.
The Preston can feel a bit odd pedalling on uneven ground. It seems thoroughly perverse to compare it to a Specialized Epic, but it’s got a faintly similar on-off feel to the suspension action. Sometimes you’ll ride over something and nothing’ll happen, sometimes you’ll ride over something similar and get half the travel. It takes a little getting used to, but get used to it you do.
There’s an obvious upside to this behaviour, and that’s a pleasingly wallow-free stance in corners and a general love of pinging off any little launches or lips that may present themselves, while also managing to deliver a cushy landing. The geometry that concentrates the mind uphill almost saves you from having to think at all going down, except to seek out the most interesting-looking route. It’s got a solid, unstoppable feel that puts you in mind of big-travel bikes, only without the travel. Or a freeride hardtail with built-in arse-saving features. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a lot of fun.
Positives: Tidily put together, solid feel, loves to go fast, unobtrusive suspension performance, cheap
Negatives: Looks a bit odd, can be a bit wayward on climbs, occasionally idiosyncratic boinginessVerdict
The Preston occupies quite a small niche, shared only with, um. Well, nothing much, except perhaps things like Specialized’s Enduro SX (the short-travel one that you can’t get in the UK). And it’d be cheaper than that even if it was available. If we’re honest with ourselves, there aren’t that many situations that absolutely demand 6+in of travel out back, and plenty that benefit from a handier tool. It’s clearly not for everyone, but we suspect that there’ll be a lot of people for whom the Preston is exactly what they’ve been waiting for.