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Massi Z3 XC Frameset
I believe Massi bikes are either a very well kept secret in the UK or there is another reason there are not too many around and no one has let me in on it yet! Whatever the case, this is a subjective view of the bike based on my limited experiences as a mountain biker (i.e. I am not a journalist and I have not ridden 600 bikes in the last year).
Massi are a well established, Spanish, bike manufacturer producing a wide range of machines from bottom of the market cycles to top end road and mtb racing machines. The Z3 fits in at the top end of the range and builds up into a lightweight, XC racer. As with all of the better bikes, this frameset is available frame only or with a custom build. You can select groupset and fork combinations to suit your budget and or style of riding. The advantage of this option is that the bike is not constructed en masse to a specific price point so you know exactly what you are getting.
I have used the machine for XC racing and training and once or twice on longer haul rides. The bike is predominantly used for normal BW hacking and the many race courses around Thetford forest. References to climbing ability and downhill capabilities should be considered in this light.
The Z3 is constructed from custom drawn 6013 aluminium tubes and is available in three sizes, 17″, 19″ and 21″. The manufacturer claims a feathery, frame only, weight of 1.445kg. I have a 21″ bike, which is probably heavier, but not much.
The frame welds are tidy and the down tube sports an external gusset for added strength. Cables are routed along the top of the top tube. All of the main tubes have that ‘coke can’ type sound when you tap them which is commensurate with the claimed weight. I must admit to being somewhat sceptical about their strength but I have not managed to bend or dent anything after 6 months of use.
The seat stays are in a wishbone format with a built in disc mounting along with a hydraulic / cable stop. Studs for v brakes are also included. There is a replaceable gear hanger and the chain stays are formed to aid mud clearance. Despite being of Spanish origin, Massi seem to have the mud issue fairly well dialled. I am currently using a set of 1.9 Velociraptors and have had no trouble even in the gloopiest of conditions indeed there is more mud room than on an M Trax frame I had a while ago.
The frame takes a 27.2 seat post but requires a 31.8 band for the front mech and there is a standard 1 1/8″ headset. The frame has drillings for two bottle cages and the final feature is an integral seat post collar. Rather like old fashioned Fords there is one colour option (black/white and red) which you either love or hate.
My bike is built up with an XT groupset, Mavic X517s and Marzocchi Z2 X Flys and weighs in at around 23lbs. Obviously, the weight is determined by the bits you decide to hang on it but overall I have a very respectable race machine. As I had all the same equipment on a steel framed bike beforehand, I can compare characteristics of the new frame reasonably well.
Acceleration is rapid due to a very stiff rear triangle and feels like a good road bike when sprinting. Despite the stiff rear end the ride is not particularly harsh but on longer haul rides I would definitely prefer to ride a steel frame. Handling characteristics are generally neutral but from time to time one or two quirks do show through. As mentioned previously, this is a race frame and handling is pretty twitchy so you can lose your line if you are not careful. Whereas a heavier steel frame might cruise through/round obstacles on autopilot, you need to keep a firm hand on the Z3. Cornering is good, it feels like you are going round on rails but this is also a function of tyre selection. Climbing is easy given the low overall weight but with a set of light forks up front it is sometimes too easy to unweight the front wheel.
To summarise then, this is a well-mannered, lightweight XC race frame (which comes with a 2 year guarantee). There are many such frames on the market at present so why consider a relatively unknown Spanish make? At the end of the day it comes down to value for money. The recommended retail price of this frameset is £271.00 which makes it look like a bargain next to its more expensive, bigger name competitors. If you buy a complete bike off the shelf, unless you specify otherwise, you will always get a full groupset. I am sure there are other non mainstream brands of bike and frame out there all crying for attention but, if you are in the market for a race frameset or bike, you should at least give this one a look.
Where can you buy Massi bikes? The only outlet I know of is JT Cycles (01353 667627). The owner (Jerry) rides and races mountain bikes all year round and runs a small (shop) team so he gets to know what does and does not work.