2016 Devinci Spartan Long Term Review
So I’ve had this bike for a while. Almost a year, apparently. This beast has spawned a few pieces already. A Deore XT review. And a preview. The fork and a few other bits to come. So it’s kind of exciting that it is finally time to put it to bed.
The carpet matches the drapes.
I like this bike. I like it quite a lot. It’s not perfect, but no bike is, really. If I had to summarize this bike…
Actually let’s get to that later.
Suspension Design and Set-up
Patent law in bicycles is a strange thing. There’s only so many ways you can design a full suspension bicycle and it seems like there’s a patent for pretty much every different combination of pivots that is possible. Companies have us convinced that every millimeter change leads to a dramatically different bike, hence the need to rigorously beat the shit out of anybody (in the legal sense) who thinks about approaching your design.
That being said, the split pivot system is noticeably similar to another famous system out there and accomplishes all of the same things. Basically, by pivoting around the rear axle you get…well…this was explained elsewhere…
Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot design features a pivot that is concentric with the rear axle. Photo – Kaz Yamamura
What *split pivot* actually does is decouple pedaling characteristics from braking characteristics. Decouples, not isolates. Essentially, what you have is a bike that pedals like a single pivot/simple linkage (due to the rear axle being mounted directly to the chainstay) and that brakes like a horst link (due to the rear brake being attached to the seat stay). That is what is meant by “decoupling”. *Devinci* is able to separate the two actions (somewhat) and tune them specifically. The forces haven’t gone anywhere, they just work a bit differently.
Of course, as you tune for braking performance (anti-rise) you’re going to have impacts on things like leverage ratio, but this is the general idea of the system.
Uncle Dave at speed.
What we end up with is a suspension design with a sharply rising rate leverage ratio that gently tapers off at the end. It has a healthy amount of anti-squat and lord help you if you can make sense of anti-rise calculations. If you really want to see more, please, check out our crazy friend (I like to think that he’s my friend) over at the Spanish Linkage Blog. Google translate will help you out and keep you entertained. I also welcome you to read up on the Vorsprung blog about a progressive-to-linear-to-regressive curve (#3). Good information here as well.
What this means is that the Spartan pretty much has the leverage ratio that everybody is looking for (with an air spring). In theory, it starts out soft for supple small bump performance, ramps up through the middle to make sure the bike doesn’t wallow in the mid-stroke, and tapers off at the end to counter a bit of the ‘rampiness’ of an air shock.
Surrounded by salal.
And this plays out in practice. The rear suspension system works very, very nicely. I may have said that about the Trek Slash as well…but this one is even better. The steeper leverage ratio and the longer stroke shock are both welcome. The nicest thing is that it seems to function over a large range of pressures. I started off at 220 psi and it felt pretty great. After talking a bit with NSMB lifer Trevor Hansen who has one as his personal bike, I backed my pressure off a bit to the 210 psi range, and things felt pretty good there too. I was worried that the bike would bog a bit into the mid stroke, but the suspension ramps up quickly enough that you can get away with a slightly lower pressure, and the healthy rising rate ensures you won’t bottom. And shortly after that discussion I received an e-mail from Trevor saying “after I talked to you I bumped my pressure up and it feels great!”
This system is incredibly user-friendly. You can play around a bit without fearing that your ride will suck. It works under a large range of pressures, lets you feel a difference when you make a change, and encourages you to tweak and tune based on how you feel or what the trails look like and responds without having to hit some magical psi. I played around with sag anywhere from 30-40% and an argument could be made for each point in that range. I’ve gone back up in pressure a bit, ending up at around 230 psi, which seems to work well in most situations for my 190ish pounds.
If, like me, your idea of a nice climb is slowly chugging up a dirt road to get to a trailhead, this bike will suit you fine. Switch the little lever on the shock to “climb” mode (or whatever Rock Shox is calling it these days), and spin to your heart’s content. You’ll be happy enough.
You do need to push that lever though. Without it, there’s a healthy amount of inch-worming. To me, this is a bit of a surprise. Re-visiting the Spanish Linkage Blog, we can see that the bike comes equipped with a theoretically “perfect” amount of anti-squat, yet it bobs without a flip of the lever. Could it be that there is more to a bike than optimizing an anti-squat number that had to be stretched and mutilated to apply to bicycles? Whatever. Just flip the switch.
In case you were wondering.
If you do happen to be the kind of sadist that thinks a piece of technical climbing singletrack is a “good time”, you may have some additional problems. It’s a bit floppy on stuff like this. Just another reason to avoid it, if you ask me.
We alluded to the “old glove” descent performance above. The bike just feels balanced and natural and I feel like you may be a bit disappointed in what I have to say from this point on.
Dave has been testing a DVO Diamond on the Spartan. Photo – Kaz Yamamura
The geometry is slightly adjustable. With a flip of the chip, you can go from 66.2 to 65.8 degrees. This puts it in the same ballpark as most other bikes of this style, but on the steeper end of things. I spent time in both settings and the difference is about what you would think. It’s pretty easy to get used to a half degree head angle change though. But I think the extra degree(ish) of head tube angle is one of the things that I really like about this bike. Sure, if I was bombing bike park laps or racing Enduros, I’d want something that was a little bit slacker, or at least make sure to move towards a larger size or perhaps a burlier set of wheels.
Details. Photo – Kaz Yamamura
But I’m not. And I think that tiny little bit of added steepness really makes this bike a whole lot more forgiving but doesn’t detract too much once you are pushing the envelope a bit.
I’ll take this moment to talk about fit. At 6’3″, I’m definitely usually a candidate for an XL frame, but constantly find myself riding larges. I generally don’t mind riding a bike that is on the small side, but this frame feels a bit cramped. While the top tube comes in at a healthy sounding 24.6″, the reach number plays out at a shortish 17.3″. Compare this to the comparable Larges of a Nomad (24″/17.2″), Slash (24.2″/17.7″), Reign (25.2″/18.0″), or Process 153 (24.8″/18.1″) and you can see that something isn’t quite measuring up here. If you’re on the fence about size, take some time to give the larger option some good consideration.
Aglow in the forest.
My build felt very at home on the tight and technical of the Shore. It’s precise enough to hit lines, but kept me in the hunt while chasing guys that are faster than me down trails where I was forced into riding the lines that appeared rather than the ones that I chose. Some other reviews describe this bike as a mini DH bike that is perhaps a bit too portly to climb to the top. This didn’t really jive with my experience but suggests that this is a supremely versatile frame. Size it properly and build it for your preferred style of riding and it will handily do most of the things that you demand of it.
Oh right – That one issue
Shortly after the preview was published, I went for a ride. This was right around my time of experimenting with pressures and I got a minute or so down the trail and I noticed that there was a lot of sag. I checked my pressure. It read 110 psi. Shit. I meant to set 210 psi! I’m an idiot. I pumped it up and went on my way.
After another couple of minutes…huh…still lots of sag. Check the pressure again. 110 psi. Weird. Definitely something up with the shock.
These tires didn’t last long. The 2016 Devinci Spartan test did. Photo – Kaz Yamamura
The interesting part here is that I was able to finish the ride without any difficulty. I continued to ride the shit out of the bike. I had my headphones in, so I didn’t have to listen to any of the racket. But the progressive rear end caused things to work okay even with about half of the necessary pressure, which is pretty interesting.
It seems like this is a relatively known issue with the Monarch Plus shock. A bad O-ring seems to be causing failures. Andrew lubed the sucker up and wrote an article about it. Things were fine after that. Supposedly Rock Shox has fixed the issue moving forward.
Testing ‘Rampiness’ on Mount Seymour.
If I had to summarize this bike it would be like this. Comfortable. Predictable. It ekes performance out of you, but it doesn’t feel like you need to be riding at 100% to enjoy yourself. You ride it down the trail and you find yourself hitting that line that you haven’t done in a while. You don’t have to do it, but why not? To me, this is exactly what I look for in a bike. I want something that encourages me to ride fast but that doesn’t punish me when I’m at 90%. Or 80%. Coming off an illness and an injury and realizing my age. And maybe even a bit hungover
I can sum up the personality of this bike by relaying my experience with it the other night while trying to shoot photos. Having not ridden in a week or so, I felt like crap. The bike was happy to let me putter about as we searched for some photo spots. Once we found something, the bike allowed me to not suck too much as I tried to look un-terrible for the camera. And then when Dave Smith stepped on a giant wasp nest and ran into the woods screaming like a small child, it let me ride down the mountain at incredible speeds, putting some distance between myself and the commotion.
The Spartan; it will save you from wasps.