- Vario Oxyd SL
- £1,750 (£1,650 with Hayes HFX9 brakes, £750 frame only)
- 0845 6020565
Vario stuck a toe in the UK waters for the first time in some years towards the end of 2004. 2005 is its first “proper” year, with dealers across the country and a new range of bikes. The Oxyd replaces the Ikso, which we tested a few months back and found to be promising but flawed in places. The new bike has more travel and a revised spec, although if you’re comparing from year to year bear in mind that we tested the base RC version of the Ikso and we’re looking at the pricier Oxyd SL here.
The resemblance between the Oxyd and Ikso frames is clear, but the Oxyd is actually completely new and a considerably cleaner design. The welded-on head tube gusset has gone, replaced by flavour-of-the-year hydroformed cleverness at the front of the down tube. There’s more neat shaping at the other end, with the tube turning into a sort-of box section at the bottom bracket complete with faintly Corvette-esque scalloped sides.
The main swingarm pivot is in about the same place, but the swingarm itself is all-new. It’s entertainingly asymmetrical, with the left-hand chainstay following a direct line between pivot and dropout and the right-hand one adopting a slightly more circuitous, mech-clearing route.
We’re pleased to see that the Oxyd has a full-length seat tube with the front mech on it, rather than the Ikso’s troublesome swingarm-mounted mech. There’s plenty of mud room at the back (even allowing for the skinny tyres fitted), but the top of the swingarm is very wide. Our skinny-legged testers were OK with it, but riders with larger calves and/or a heels-in pedalling stance will probably find that they brush their legs on it and we expect that some people just wouldn’t be able to ride it. Try before you buy…
We didn’t much like the cable routing on the Ikso either, but that’s been changed too with everything running under the top tube. It’s not quite spot-on though. One of the advantages of the suspension design is an open, uncluttered front triangle which is good for shouldering the bike (and being a fairly XCish bike this one might well get shouldered from time to time) but the rearmost cable stops are perfectly placed to dig into your shoulder. The cable stop for the front mech was clearly designed with a Shimano derailleur in mind, too – with the SRAM X-Gen unit fitted the cable comes out of the stop at a considerable angle and actually rubs on the inside of the suspension linkage.
Speaking of the suspension linkage, it’s essentially the same Dynamic Link System as the Ikso. You can read that review for a brief explanation, but the upshot of it is that if you move your weight forward your leg movements tend not to activate the suspension. It all seems terribly counterintuitive and we were very sceptical, but it does actually appear to work. But more of that later.
The shock is RockShox’s new Ario unit, which features a larger air can than the BAR on the Ikso. There’s no lockout on this version, but we can’t say we missed it. Two shock positions give 80 or 100mm of travel.
There are some excellently-specced bikes around for this kind of money, so the Vario’s up against some stiff competition. It puts up a good component fight, though. The fork is a RockShox Reba SL – you don’t get the PopLoc remote lever but you do get 100mm of lightweight travel in a stout package and super-tunable Motion Control damping. Transmission is also from the SRAM empire – X-9 triggers and rear mech, X-Gen front mech and an 11-32 cassette. The chain is a KMC – wouldn’t be our first choice but it seems to work. Cranks are Truvativ’s Giga-X-Pipe Stylos with outboard bearings and all that malarkey.
Mavic supply the CrossLand wheels. They’ve got the look and feel of Mavic’s high-end wheelsets (straight-pull spokes, funky hubs, low spoke counts) but at a lower cost. A lot of the saving is in the rims. The CrossLands are UST tubeless compatible but use a sealing rim strip rather than the cleverly-drilled rims of the posher stuff. They look good although they’re not actually all that light. The wheels are shod with Schwalbe Jimmy UST tyres. They claim to be 2.1s but even measuring generously they only come up as 1.9s. They grip well, though, and they don’t mind mud.
Hayes HFX9 discs are standard issue, but the test bike had Hope Mono Minis. The Hopes are a £100 option that, given the choice, we’d probably opt out of. They’re good brakes but then so are the Hayes, and we’d be happy with the Hayes and a hundred quid in our pockets. It’s good to have the choice, though.
FSA provide the bar and stem, while the seat and seatpost are Vario own-brand items. We don’t know if the seatpost had been abused before we got hold of it but we couldn’t get the seat to stay put – the head of the post kept slipping, even with gorilla tactics on the bolt.
Happily the Oxyd seems to have dealt with most of the things we didn’t quite take to on the Ikso. There’s a bit of extra length in the frame and a layback post. The front and rear suspension actions are much better balanced – the back end still ramps up a lot but the extra 20mm of travel and new shock means that you do actually get all the travel. Usually when we get a bike with a choice of travel options we tend to like it most in the longest, but the Oxyd’s 80mm setting is actually pretty nice. It’s more linear and the fairly short-stroke shock has an easier time of it. It’s worth experimenting to see which setting you like best.
The DLS suspension gives the bike a sprightly feel on the climbs without resorting to a clever shock and the tenacity that we appreciated on the Ikso is present and correct. Going back down, the rather old-school stem and overall length of the bike means you need to set it up for corners and hang on – the Oxyd won’t particularly appreciate you changing your mind half way round. On the other hand, it holds a line well either up or down.
When things get super-rocky the tidgy tyres start to get a bit limiting, and in fact the bike as a whole isn’t really all that at home in biggish stuff. We were slightly disappointed to find that it weighs just under 29lb, but then it didn’t feel heavy or draggy to ride so does it matter?
Positives: Builds on Ikso’s potential, fast, efficient, respectable spec
Negatives: Big-legged riders may have trouble, tiny tyres, front mech cable niggleVerdict
We had quite a few niggles with last year’s Ikso, but happily the Oxyd has addressed pretty much all of them. You can have either the same amount of travel with a much more linear feel or slightly more travel that you can still get all of. It’s better balanced, the riding position is more sorted, the cable routing is (mostly) there, the front mech works properly. It’s maybe a bit heavy for the keen XC racer and not plush enough for the rock-muncher, but it’d be right at home for enduro-style stuff. Worth a look.