First Impressions

2018 Zerode Taniwha

Words Perry Schebel
Photos Dave Smith
Date Mar 19, 2018

Kiwis are an enterprising lot, with a strong history of doing things their own way. There's no shortage of two wheeled examples of said ingenuity. In the motorized world, there's Burt Munro's Indian Scout salt flat racer and John Britten's radical V1000 road racer. In the realm of pedal power, we have Aaron Franklin's Lahar M9 carbon DH gearbox bike, and from the Zerode co-founders, James Dodds's (R.I.P.) inboard brake/gearbox high pivot DH rig, and Rob Metz's high pivot carbon Pinion gearbox powered trail bike. These two were also responsible for one of the most successful production gearbox DH bikes, the Zerode G1 & G2. What I have in my hands currently is Zerode's latest output – the carbon framed, Pinion gearbox packing Taniwha trail/enduro bike.

The Taniwha (pronounced "Tanivah" – supernatural guardians of the indigenous Polynesian Māori) has been out in the wild for a while now, but due to small early manufacturing volumes, review examples have been scarce. Production has been ramping up and we were able to secure a sample through the US distributor, Cyclemonkey.  


Shooting among the tanks at North Vancouver's Bridge Brewing. The industrial setting fits the Zerode aesthetic well. 

In addition to distributing to shops, Cyclemonkey offers direct sales options. On the menu are three complete build kits ranging from $6,600 to the $9,500 USD build we have here, as well as a frame/drivetrain kit for $5,000 USD. 

Frame specs: 

  • Travel: 160mm
  • Frame material: Carbon Fibre, internal cable routing 
  • Wheel size: 27.5”
  • Seatpost: 31.6mm
  • Rear shock: 216mm eye to eye x 63mm stroke
  • Headset: tapered (44mm top/56mm bottom)
  • Brake mount: 160mm IS
  • Drivetrain: Pinion C.Line gearbox, 12-speed
  • Rear hub: 142mm x 12mm [singlespeed] with 30t cog

Talking shop with Xan Marshland from Cyclemonkey, the US Zerode distributor. It's thirsty business. 


Bridge Brewing speaks truth.  


Taniwha Geometry

Frame Size M L XL
Seat tube length 420mm 460mm 500mm
Seat tube angle 74.5° 74.5° 74.5°
Head tube length 110mm 120mm 130mm
Headtube angle 65° 65° 65°
Chainstay length 431mm 431mm 431mm
Wheel base 1170mm 1202mm 1236mm
Stack 588mm 596mm 605mm
Reach 420mm 445mm 475mm
Top tube length 575mm 604mm 637mm
BB Drop 1mm 1mm 1mm
BB Height 352mm 352mm 352mm

The numbers are somewhat conventional in the realm of modern enduro bikes. As built, the BB height is a bit lower than indicated at around 346mm. The reach is on the shorter side – at least compared to the newschool superstretch designs – so while I typically run a size large frame, I opted to bump up to an XL. 


No derailleurs here. The Pinion drivetrain is a tidy looking design for sure. If it's not immediately apparent, this bike has seen a good bit of use prior to arriving in my hands. Not a bad testament to a company's confidence in the durability of a product to hand a well used example to a reviewer. 

Drivetrain: The current Taniwha sports the new Pinion C1.12 12-speed gearbox. This crafty little box of widgets features a cast magnesium case, which saves around half a pound over the original aluminum housed unit. Gear range is an impressive 600% (SRAM Eagle is 500% in comparison). Behind the chainring nests a tidy little chain tensioner, and a singlespeed Project 321 rear hub carrying a 30T cog resides out back. The gearbox freewheels internally (so the chain doesn't move when backpedalling), with a very low point of engagement count ranging between 14–22 points per crank revolution (lower count corresponding to lower gears). On the other hand, said 321 hub is packed with bees, with a P.O.E. of 216. There are no chain retention devices built in – the assumption being that a heavily tensioned singlespeed drivetrain should be somewhat immune to chain derailment. There is a beefy little aluminum chainring bash guard bolted under the gearbox case, however.

Shifting duties are handled via a grip shifter – a fairly robust looking thing, hewn from aluminum, and decently grippy and ergonomic. Shift detents are fairly firm; not much risk of accidental shifting or loss of grip. Of course, grip shifters are polarizing things. I think a good portion of the negative bias is based on experiences with shitty grip shifters of yore. Having lived with a Rohloff equipped bike for several years, I've come to accept the positive potential of these twisty devices, but I still appreciate they're not for everyone.  


The business district. The nicely tucked chain tensioner seems fairly impervious to impact damage.  


The singlespeed rear hub (with 30T cog) – sans dangly derailleur – strikes a clean profile. Shouldn't all bikes be like this? 


The underbelly of the beast sports a robust bolt on chainring bash guard (that's seen some action). 


The Pinion grip shifter. It requires selecting a grip capable of being cut down.  

Frame build: This is one of the stoutest feeling carbon frames I've laid hands on. Based on my highly scientific tappy-tap-tap testing, there's some substantial thickness to the carbon layups. Unlike many lightweight carbon bikes (even some enduro builds), this is one that I wouldn't fear tossing into the weeds. Of course, I have no real data to substantiate this opinion, but this test bike has seen heavy use prior to myself, and sports its fair share of war wounds, with no (apparent) structural issues. The pivots are all tight and the rear end is quite stiff laterally.   

The cable routing is clean with Pinion and dropper cables routed internally while the rear brake line is zip tied externally – my preferred arrangement. Hardware is nice quality and the chain contact areas on the swingarm are protected with soft rubber protectors – this is a quiet bike. Also of note (praise baby Cthulhu) this frame sports a water bottle mount within the front triangle (though only fits a small bottle). In all, it's a solid looking frame that smacks of bombproofness throughout. 


Cable ports are tidy affairs. Shifter cables go in here. 


And come out here. 

Suspension: Cane Creek is responsible for damping duties on both ends, with a 160mm travel air sprung Helm fork out front, and DB Air shock in the rear. 

The Helm sports adjustments for low-speed rebound and high and low-speed compression adjustments, as well as internal air volume adjustment (that requires no additional parts), and independently variable positive and negative springs. Said air tweaking is a unique process – air is added to the positive (top) side and the pressure between that and the negative chamber is equalized via a valve located on the bottom of the fork leg. You can then add/subtract air from the top to massage the air spring characteristics. Lots of tuneability on offer.

Similarly, the DB Air shock bristles with a veritable plethora of damping adjustments. High and low-speed compression, as well as high and low-speed rebound adjustments, will satisfy the most neurotic of suspension tweakers. The shock also includes a climb switch which adds low-speed compression damping (but does not lock out the shock). If the prospect of twiddling so many knobs seems daunting, Cane Creek has a comprehensive app (appropriately called "Dialed") to help you dial in settings. It's fun. 


The 160mm travel, air sprung Cane Creek Helm provides forking duties.  


Air goes in here. Underneath the air cap lies a neat air volume adjustment widget that doesn't require the addition of spacers. 


High and low-speed compression damping adjustment happens here.


A tweaker's delight: The Cane Creek DB Air. The swingarm and swing link are laterally quite stiff, and should be kind to shock longevity.   

Components: A quick rundown of the bits that adorn this top-tier build from Cyclemonkey:

Cockpit: Syntace Vector Carbon 780mm bar, Syntace Mega Force 60mm stem, Syntace Moto Gripz

Seating:  A SQLab 611 Ergowave Active saddle & Rockshox reverb post (9point8 Fall Line 150mm post is standard).  

Brakes: Magura MT Trail Carbon. 4 pot caliper/203mm rotor front, 2 pot caliper/180mm rotor rear.  

Wheels: 35mm Derby carbon rims on Project 321 hubs. 

Tires: WTB Convict 2.5 front/WTB Trail Boss 2.4 rear


A plump 35mm internal width carbon Derby rim is laced to a pretty golden Project 321 hub. The 2.5 WTB Convict is a properly chunky tire (at 1,240g) that sets up well on the girthy rim.   


 A SQLab 611 Ergowave Active saddle is perched upon a Rockshox reverb post – the typical Cyclemonkey top tier "Signature" build comes with a 9point8 Fall Line 150mm post.  


Steering bits are comprised of a Syntace Vector Carbon 780mm bar and Syntace Mega Force 60mm stem. Said stem was soon swapped with something shorter out of my tickle trunk. 


Magura MT Trail Carbon brakes perform stopping duties. Up front resides a 4 pot caliper with a 203mm rotor. 


The rear 2 pot caliper sports a 180mm rotor. 


The Magura levers are on the minimalist side, are super light, but are limited to lever reach adjustment (requiring a tool). 


Due to fresh snow on trails, no riding was accomplished today, but the bike was handed off, and Dave snapped a photo set. Cheers to accomplishing something


Thanks to Bridge Brewing in North Vancouver for accommodating a last minute shoot request. Good people, great beer. Support your local independent brewery!  

First Ride

The snow has finally started to retreat, and I've had opportunity to get a few laps in. This is an interesting beast at first blush, perhaps a little polarizing. As tested, this bike sits at 35.5lbs (with pedals), and the Pinion is reluctant to shift with any sort of load on the pedals. Coming off a couple light & sprightly Eagle equipped carbon wonderbikes, the weight and shifting idiosyncrasy were initially a bit disappointing. That said, within a couple rides, my perspective began to shift – I retrained my lizard brain to ease off on the pedals prior to shifting, reducing said annoyance, and quickly became accustomed to the additional mass – the bike carries it's weight well. That is, the additional gearbox weight is low and centralized, making this bike relatively nimble and easy to toss about while remaining planted and stable. 


Subsequent to receiving the Taniwha, we were hit by yet more snow, and the bike languished in my basement for a couple weeks gathering dust. After a few days of rain and warmer temps, it was time to go for a slog to scout out some patches of brown. 


Getting wonky in sub par conditions. Aiming for patches of dirt and hoping for the best.


The Taniwha took to the tighter jank of the Shore quite readily.  


Behold the beauty of the fibonacci spiral.


This bike was built for brapping. 

It was quite happy smashing the downs right out of the box, with no handling idiosyncrasies. Solid and confidence inspiring. I'm dialing in the suspension settings and starting to turn up the wick a bit (aka, blowing off the winter cobwebs), and look forward to pounding out a bunch more laps as more trails emerge from their snowy cocoons. Stay tuned for a detailed ride report. 

Trending on NSMB


+1 fartymarty
ZigaK  - March 18, 2018, 10:56 p.m.

Transmission losses?


0 fartymarty Absolut-M
Velocipedestrian  - March 19, 2018, 12:08 a.m.

Vs unsprung weight losses?


Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 7:42 a.m.

Fairly insignificant. I was actually expecting to feel a bit more drivetrain loss. I've seen an independent testing analysis of the p18 gearbox that showed around 5% loss over a conventional drivetrain; feels that that might be in the ballpark. NBD in practice. This bike has some miles on it, so the gearbox should be properly broken in. Apparently they're a bit tighter when new.


ZigaK  - March 19, 2018, 8:37 a.m.


All I have found was an article in fahrradzukunft magazine a few years back. (Ausgabe 20)

But it is equally interesting to hear real life impressions, thx for that.


Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 10:23 a.m.

yep, same article. it's the closest thing i've yet to find to impartial, sciency numbers.


fartymarty  - March 19, 2018, 5:11 a.m.

Does the Pinion "loosen" up with time and become easier to shift under small amounts of load.


Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 7:55 a.m.

Apparently drivetrain losses diminish with break in, but I've not heard of any impact on shifting. Interestingly (noted when I was riding the bike yesterday), the more time you spend using the thing, the less obtrusive the required torque reduction when shifting becomes. First time out, it felt as if I had to momentarily stop pedaling to shift; now it's just a brief reduction in torque while maintaining cadence. Bottom line? A parking lot test may not be giving this bike a fair shake. And: this bike is growing on me.


fartymarty  - March 19, 2018, 8:49 a.m.

Thanks.  I wonder if it is the case of getting your brain and wrist in sync with the slightly different way of shifting over conventional shifting that we all have spent many years on and adjusted to.  

Gearboxes make absolute sense to me but it is just having the cash to get one that stops me.


+1 ZigaK
Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 4:56 p.m.

yep. not so sure if it makes fiscal sense if you're the type that flips bikes on a regular basis. the longer you hold onto a bike like this the more you can amortize the initial entry fee. gearboxes should (ideologically, anyways) last for the lifetime of the frame, and if you're in it for the long game, these things make good sense.


+2 Cr4w Luix
Shoreboy  - March 19, 2018, 8:30 a.m.

Thanks for the review!  Pinion setups have always intrigued me.  Good to see they are getting closer to become mainstream.

Just a note on the CCBA CS.  You claim the switch adds low speed compression damping which is correct.  It also adds low speed rebound damping which is notable as not all 'climb/pedal' switches offer both.


Andy Eunson  - March 19, 2018, 9:27 a.m.

It sounds a bit like shifting is similar to the old friction set ups where you had to let up a touch to shift, but without fiddling to ensure the derailleur was lined up in gear. Is the transmission drag only when coasting or is there drag when pedaling?


Morgan Heater  - March 19, 2018, 11:53 a.m.

My experience was Zero drag when coasting. Unnoticeable drag in the climbing gears, especially compared to a dirty 1x system. Noticeable drag when in the hard gears descending.


Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 11:56 a.m.

The gearbox freewheels when coasting - more or less friction free. Said drag when pedaling is fairly minimal; a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. I'm not a watt charting xc racer however.


Morgan Heater  - March 19, 2018, 9:42 a.m.

I spent a day on one at Galbraith, and was super impressed. It was the first rain of the fall, and everything was pretty slick, but the traction was amazing. I really want one. In 10 years, when my kona finally dies, I'll probably be able to get a used one cheap.

I also didn't really notice any drag in the drive-train, except when I was pedaling hard descending to add a little speed before a jump. The shifting seemed pretty seamless to me, it only took me about an hour to get used to it, and the added benefit of being able to shift the whole range at once was pretty great. The 35 lb number scared me a bit, but my legs didn't feel any worse after my standard evo-uline-a-dog-mullet-cheech&chong-sst lap than they usually do (read - very very very tired).

In short, I was totally sold, except for the having the funds part.


stinky_dan  - March 19, 2018, 9:49 a.m.

The top photo looks like the bike has an enormous bell/turbo manifold mounted on the handlebar

And thanks for reminding me of how brain blisteringly gorgeous the Britten V1000 was/is....


Velocipedestrian  - March 19, 2018, 1:26 p.m.

I wasn't just being snarky to ZigaK, I'm interested in the change in suspension feel when the rear wheel is ~500g lighter.

I've read good things but only from a reviewer who has a history with the designers and local distributor. 



+1 Morgan Heater
Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 2:33 p.m.

the rear suspension is certainly supple, generating copious grip. i like to think the reduction in unsprung mass plays a part, but it's hard to be certain how much that aspect plays a part in overall performance (in conjunction w/ suspension kinematics & shock tuning). i suppose if one was crafty you could do an a/b comparison with a lb of weight wrapped at the end of the swingarm...


Morgan Heater  - March 19, 2018, 3:12 p.m.

You should totally do that!

You could also put a single speed set-up on a non-zerode bike and do some park laps as another unsprung/sprung comparison.


Velocipedestrian  - March 19, 2018, 5:28 p.m.

Nice one.

I have the same shock, ha° and reach on my bike (not kinematics though) hence the interest... I guess the SS test is really more realistic to eliminate frame differences.


Nouseforaname  - March 20, 2018, 3:18 p.m.

I know Rod from back in the day - and much like I trust NSMB reviews to be honest, I'd trust him to be unvarnished about his experience. 

Just another anonymous internet user.


Jitensha Kun  - March 19, 2018, 1:46 p.m.

"...I wouldn't fear tossing into the weeds. Of course, I have no real data to substantiate this opinion"

I see many weeds in the photos, thus providing ample opportunity to throw said bike into the weeds and to then gauge resulting fear levels.  Not generating this data, in spite of the opportunity given, is an opportunity missed indeed.


+1 Tehllama42
Perry Schebel  - March 19, 2018, 5:03 p.m.

i've had a couple opportunities to throw it into the weeds due to sketchy snow impaired conditions. the fear level is of course somewhat diminished by the fact it's a loner bike. however, a couple data points are probably not sufficient statistical analysis for our discriminating readership, so i refrained from including the associated graphs in this article.


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