Our previous article 'The best mountain bikes in the world' covered some of the ultimate jack of all trades bikes. MTB Britain thinks they are the best bikes to buy, for the largest group of UK riders. But for some mountain bikers who push the envelope, they just don't have sufficient travel. In between downhill bikes and XC full suspension are a breed of bikes designed to optimise suspension travel and performance, without needing the services of a ski lift to get you to the top of the mountain. If you ride mostly lowland forest trails and bridleways, this design of bike would be over-weight and over-sprung. For those who regularly ride the rock strewn mountains of Britain, they offer a whole new speed range and choice of line on the trail.
Unless you're very strong, you'll struggle to beat your mates to the top of the hill on one of these 'Freeride' (whatever') machines. But they can all be ridden long distance cross country without resorting to the big push at the slightest incline. Here's our summary of top pick bikes and frames.
Santa Cruz Bullit Travel 4 to 6 inches, Price £1100 (frame only) Weight 28 to 32 pounds depending on build kit.
This is a do everything machine if ever there was one. With adjustable travel (4 to 6 inches) and bottom bracket height, a fair bit of ride customisation is possible. Fears over the non-replaceable derailleur hanger are probably unfounded. Replaceable hangers are often too soft and can be hard to get hold of when you need one (in the middle of a thirty mile ride). The Bullit hanger is very strong and a breakaway bolt is a better option for those who need one. The frame is a simple high-forward single pivot affair. The high pivot position does it's best to help climbing but seated spinning is the ticket, take it easy. So what you have is a bomb proof frame that rides brilliantly up and down-hill (emphasis on the latter). In summary this is a big hit Freeride bike that pedals up hills too.
Note: a new Heckler is due for 2002 with travel extended to 5
Giant XTC AC1 Travel 4.5 to 6 inches, Price TBA (around £1950) Weight 31 Pounds.
Catchy little name isn't it? This take on the Giant rocker suspension allows travel to be easily adjusted to 4.5, 5.15 and 6 inches. A six mm Allen key and a few seconds are all you need to slide the upper shock mount along it's rails and go from XC climber to big drop floater. The bikes 31 pound weight will take a bit of work up the hills but if you're not in a race who cares? Like all these bikes the AC1 is for those who want optimised descending and do-able climbs. The Psylo-race is one of the best Freeride forks out there, make sure you get the 2002 model with the longer bushings to avoid that loose and wobbly feeling (Marzocchi rule on longevity N.B. AC1 may come with Marzocchi Z.1 Dropoff from some suppliers!). The jury has come back in on the Koski saddle IT HURTS! The multi-pivot rocker arm has bearings at all pivots but as with all complex designs wear will result in a loose rear end.
Marin Attack Trail Weight 29 pounds, Price £1700 plus £225 for Hope C2 upgrade.
This is a bike that's very difficult to pigeon-hole. You could call it a long travel XC or a Freeride or Enduro. Perhaps Freeride is out of it's league, this bike wasn't made to launch off small cliffs on to flat landings. Call it Enduro if you like, but we'll stick with long travel XC. With four bikes in the group the frame has adjustable travel of 4, 5 and 6 inches. This can be selected on the trail with the aid of a quick release lever and a bit of pushing and pulling. It remains to be seen whether the shock is capable of handling life in the six inch position. Some blown seals have been reported but these may yet be down to (slightly) misguided big drop/jump fanatics. The RockShox Psylo that comes on the front end is a great light-weight Freeride performer,
see reservations under Giant XTC.>
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