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2013 Ghost Cagua 6550: Reviewed

Dave Tolnai Pulls No Punches

Words by Dave Tolnai.
December 10th, 2013

An Introduction

Have you ever gone to the mall with a very specific purchase in mind, and you get there and you’re so overwhelmed by what is presented to you that you leave without making a purchase? I’ve done this a few times while trying to buy pants. Too skinny? Too baggy? Too short? Too blue? May as well just buy a muffin and go home.1

That’s how this bike is making me feel right now. $3750 will be the price of the 2014 Ghost Cagua, which is basically this here bicycle that we’re talking about right now but with slightly flashier colours and an updated fork. Part of me is sitting here thinking that sounds like a great deal – and it is, considering the parts that are mounted to it. Part of me is ashamed that I participate in a pastime where it seems like $3750 for a bicycle is a great deal.

You could probably go to a party full of mountain bikers and ask people whether or not they thought this bicycle was “cheap” or “expensive”, and I’m betting most of these people would lean towards the former as well. But most of these people would also probably spend 30 dollars on gas and wait for an hour in a border line-up so that they could save 20 dollars on a tire in Bellingham.

So I don’t really know what to think any more. This bike isn’t “cheap”. But we’ve also been convinced that it isn’t expensive. And we haven’t even begun talking about how this bike rides yet, which is throwing an extra layer of confusion into my already convoluted life right now. See what I’m saying? If these thoughts were pants, I’d be improperly folding them and heading for the door right now.

Complete Bike

The Ghost in all its pre-Crank Brothers splendor.

The Frame

I’m very happy to tell you that beyond the price for spec one of the highlights on this bicycle is the frame. While the layout looks like several dozen other bikes you’ve probably seen, when you dive down into the details you can really see that Ghost has put a lot of effort into this bicycle. Look at the bottom bracket junction of this bicycle. Check out the seat tube bend. Look at the one piece bb/pivot area. It positively stinks of German engineering, efficiency and effort.

BB Junction

The BB shell and main pivot mount are born from a single piece of aluminum. German engineering has its upsides.

Moving along, let’s talk about suspension design. The Cagua runs a leverage ratio of about 2.39 (5.98” of wheel travel for its 2.5” of shock travel). It has a slight rising rate and consistent chain growth (just over 1” worth) through its travel. The instant center starts way out in front of the bike and ends up just in front of the bottom bracket at the end of travel. So what does that mean?

The leverage ratio is by no means high, but does require a fair amount of air pressure. The rising rate means you can probably run things a bit softer than you’d think and not worry about horrendous bottoming. The chain growth seems to nicely balance out pedaling forces (the thing does not bob at all, even when the shock is left at its most active). Even though 1” of total chain growth is quite a bit, you certainly don’t notice pedal kick or anything of the sort while at the limits of travel. And the Instant Center? Well that means you and Weagle can share a beer some time and talk about how great multi pivot bikes are.

Geometry wise, this bike is straight up 650b “Enduro”.2 Everything from the head angle to the bb height to the top tube length is exactly what you’d expect out of this category of bike. On a less tangible level, on the aesthetics side of things I didn’t fall in love with this bike at first sight. But looking at photos… I’m kind of digging the somewhat angular, millennium-falconish vibe given off in this photo. Bottom line, this bike has some good bones to work with.

DaveTolnai_NSMBlores

The story of my life. Suck wind up the hill and play catch-up on the way down. With a backpack full of camera gear that you aren’t really going to use. Photo courtesy Crank Brothers.

The Good Parts

In my initial struggle to like this bike through the aforementioned aesthetic issue and some parts choices I didn’t like, NSMB gear editor Morgan Taylor kept saying things like “This bike has very good value for the money” and “Find me another bike at this price point with full XT and a Reverb”. Morgan is correct about this.

This bike does have a lot going for it. This bike really just keeps checking off all the boxes. Well designed and built frame. Complete XT gruppo, including cranks, brakes, front derailleur, and so on. RockShox Reverb post. 650b wheels (so hot right now).

The funny thing about XT (and even its less expensive sibling SLX) is it’s so good these days that you can hardly find a reason to complain about it. The brakes work well and have good lever feel, the drivetrain is quiet, and the parts have good longevity.

They’ve crammed a lot of nice parts into the package. As well as cramming a lot of parts onto the handlebars. Brakes, shifters, and dropper posts are all going to continue to exist, and we can likely expect to see handlebars cleaned up with smart integration in the coming years.

Controls

I had to hack away at the shifter a bit to get the controls into a place where they worked for me.

One other note. A few weeks ago I would have railed on the stupidity of the dual ring set-up. But I’ve ridden in Laguna Beach now and I’m a changed man. My new directive? Anybody that preaches a universal drivetrain solution for everybody is an idiot. Thank-you Ghost for spec’ing something that allowed me to retain a modicum of self respect on an otherwise embarrassing day.

The Not-So-Good Parts

I realize that certain 2013 Fox product has been talked about endlessly, and has been updated for 2014 production.5 And I recently wrote a review that included a similar fork and I danced around things pretty well, even if I do say so myself. The basic CTD damper doesn’t provide adequate support in the Descend mode, and is too stiff in Climb for actual trail riding, leaving this bike with one setting that actually works.

On the previous fork I dealt with the issue passively, but with the Cagua’s fork I had to go further. I played around with it as per Fox’s suggestions and added some oil to the spring chamber. This did help a fair bit. I was able to back the pressure off from “rock hard” to “fairly stiff” and the reduced chamber size ramped up enough to prevent bottoming.

Even though a bit of work helped the fork feel a lot better, I still feel like I’m wanting more from it. This bike comes with a 120-160 travel adjust Talas fork, which I believe is unnecessary. I would rather see the money spent on that more complicated spring put into a better damping cartridge.

Head Tube

That little blue knob has not been my best friend this year. We’ll see what 2014 holds for the Fox CTD damper, but initial word is far more mid-stroke support.

For my 2nd or 3rd ride, I decided to roll down Ladies Only. It was damp. It was no big deal. But I thought I might die. I have not walked that much of Ladies since I first rode the trail in 1995. The OEM-spec Nobby Nic’s4 are just absolutely frightening tires in wet weather. They do not grip on wet wood. They do not grip on wet rocks.They probably won’t grip if you sneeze on the trail and then happen to run over your sneeze patch.

Tires are a common issue for those of us reviewing bikes here in BC, where terrain is a notch above the average rider’s technical desires. As Todd Hellinga noted in his review of another 650b bike this year (and I paraphrase slightly), these tires would probably excel in certain terrain but “most of that terrain is not in BC.” Stating the obvious, this bike needs different tires for our riding conditions. I made a swap to Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf up front and was happy with that choice.

Nobby Nic

The Nobby Nic PaceStar compound tires are not confidence inspiring for our local terrain. I swapped the front one out for a 2.35″ Hans Dampf in the stickier TrailStar compound.

I find I need a wider bar than I would normally run with Shimano brakes and thus found the stock bar on the Ghost to be too skinny. You can scream “Personal preference!” and to that I would have to agree. Bar and stem are among the parts that often get swapped out before a bike is even ridden, and I will admit to having done that.

Another personal preference/fit issue is the saddle. I generally run a Brooks saddle and this thing makes that look soft. Morgan was also fair to note that with fit items such as bar and seat that often get swapped out, this could be considered a fair place to cut corners and keep the total price of the bike down.

Finally, I applaud Ghost for including a chainguide, but I had problems with this one. First off, the taco sticks out like Jay Leno’s chin. I snagged this on a few rollovers and it did not lead to good things. The roller is pretty much seized7 and leads to the chain climbing up the big ring when you backpedal in the small ring. Not great.

Riding This Bike

This is a bike review so you probably want to hear a bit about how this thing rides. As it sits right now, I’m a happy camper. Going up, it rides light and is a more than willing climber. The rear end is pretty much bob free (more on that later) and if you’re slow getting to the top, you’re really only left with the holy-shit-I’m-out-of-shape excuse. All that science I mentioned up above does indeed translate to a long travel platform that will get you up the hill expediently among other bikes in the 30 pound category.

This bike does feel longer and roomier than the numbers suggest. It rides large. I feel like this feeling primarily manifests itself in a difficulty to work the bike front to back. The front wheel is a firmly planted and resists being lifted to some extent. Think carefully about sizing as you might be able to go smaller than you’d think. A shorter stem did help.

Coming down, this bike will do just about all the 650b Enduro things you need it to do. It feels at home in a variety of conditions from the steep-and-rooty of the North Shore to the steep-and-rocky of Laguna Beach to the wide open of Kamloops. It’s adaptable to almost any conditions. I can’t help but complain about the fork, but once it was dialed in, I didn’t find it held me back.

The Cagua feels comfortable and it gets out of the way to let you do what you want to do without exerting its personality too forcefully on your riding style.

IMG_6790

The large riding Cagua was quite capable in a variety of conditions, though I did find it felt a bit “long” in technical terrain. Photo Andrea Brown.

Conclusions

There’s a lot that I really didn’t like about this bike. For the first month I had it I wasn’t in love with it. And that’s not a good thing. But there are three gigantic “buts” contained within these statements:

But#1 – I was able to fix all of the things that I didn’t like about the bike.

But#2 – Almost all of the parts and shortcuts I mention on this bike also come on a lot of other production bikes these days.

But#3 – Many people buying bikes expect to change out certain parts – particularly bars, saddle and tires.

With some changes, I really like this bike. Yes, it took a bit of work, but I now have a machine that is confident and fun to ride under many different situations. There’s value here that you won’t find many places. The Cagua will continue to see use as a testing platform for other parts in the near future…

Ghost

The Cagua after its visit to California for some updates from Crank Brothers.

1 How does every mall have a Muffin Break in it still? Who buys all these muffins? And why, whenever the word “muffin” is mentioned is there always somebody there to insist that “muffin” is nothing more than another word for “cake”?
2 Look at the geometry charts here and here…the differences are very subtle.
3 I’d imagine there’s some rich guys in Toronto that buy one of these to hang on their wall.
4 In Nobby Nic’s defense, these do appear to be a really crappy OEM version of the tire, with flaccid sidewalls. They have identical Schwalbisms written on the sidewall, but the Hans Dampf that I purchased has a lot more meat in the sidewalls.
5 Well. People are now finally talking about how bad the 2013 stuff was now that there is (apparently) better 2014 stuff. Sorry to all of you that bought the 2013 stuff when it was still good.
6 I’m not actually sure it ever rolled.


Are you joining the Enduro movement?

  • Brother Lu

    Excellent review.Sneeze patch = awesome!

  • craw

    I bought an early release Enduro 29 Comp and suffered from a similar case of narrow bar, crappy tire/tubes, ineffective chainguide an divey low-riding Fox fork. Now that those things are gone I can say that I really love this bike. But will be incredibly cautious when buying my next complete bike.

  • Jerry-Rig

    Refreshing review…

  • boomforeal

    i enjoyed reading this piece. but ~200 words about riding in a ~3000 word review seems like a pretty superficial treatment. you’ve got a lot of great insights and critiques dave. you may want to consider putting them together in articles that aren’t product reviews

    • Cheez1ts

      Dave I really enjoy your style of writing. I wish I had figured out what color plaid you were wearing sooner the other night so I could have introduced myself.

      This article is no exception to one of your pieces that I thought was well done. Whatever the number of words used, the overall review allowed me to comprehend your experience with the bike, the areas it excels in both climbing and descending, and most of importantly it’s short comings (technical facts were also there and weren’t overly confusing or boring which was a solid plus). The style in which the information was presented was different than many other write ups, but I agree with Jerry that it was a refreshing review.

      My one critique is about the additional comments. It wasn’t ideal on the iPhone to keep scrolling down to see what extra you wanted to say. Obviously this isn’t a huge deal, I just wanted to voice this minor inconvenience to see if there could be some sort of fix for this in the future.

      • Cheez1ts

        I also did not mean to make that comment a reply to Omar’s. I was originally going to comment on Omar’s post, but changed my mind and forgot to move my text.

  • barnz0rz

    edit? looks like a few things were missing from this review from when i skimmed it this morning…. namely a very sponsel-esh chart…. i like that style of writing… but sponsel is still more entertaining. Also, muffins are cakes disguised as breakfast.

  • Dirk

    Thanks for the kind words and suggestions. This was a really tough review to write and I wrote and re-wrote it a number of times. It…ummmm….drifted away from the original intention, in the end, I guess.

    Boomforreal – I didn’t talk a whole lot about how this bike rides, true. I talked about the things that stood out for me in the handling department and I didn’t really have much else to say, so I didn’t. I think that the discussion about the suspension design does relate to this though…so perhaps we’ll call it 250 words on riding?

    Barnz0rz – I would love to know what “sponsel” is. The Internet did not illuminate this for me.

    Cheez1ts – Sorry we didn’t touch base in plaid. Appreciate the comments about the endnotes – was feeling a bit David Foster Wallace, I guess.

  • festerfeet

    I got the Cagua 650b E:i 2013, love the bike but have had similar issues with the fork, I do not need the Tallas especially as the E:i system adjust the shock automatically. The 2013 Tallas is a lot of weight and is almost useless in reduced travel anyway. The only way to find a great ride is to do as the reviewer did, top up the oil, find a compromise in trail setting and leave it there.

    Now that that is sorted this bike is almost perfect but I can’t help feeling it would benefit from either a Rockshox Pike or even an X-Fusion Sweep. Both are better options and less expensive.

    Once set up right this nike will take anything you can through at it and is a really confident machine.
    I have also just ordered a set of Hans Dampf but as we get dry winters here in Sichuan I probably won’t put them on till January.

    I went down a size and this made the bike perfect.

    • Dirk

      Glad to hear your results weren’t all that different than the review.