BMC Trailfox TF02 Review
American Poet Walt Whitman may have summed it up the best, “be curious, not judgmental.” When I first saw the BMC Trailfox, and pored over the angles and spec, I was conflicted. The head angle at 67 degrees looks promisingly slack and the long reach is enticing, but the wheelbase is downhill bike-long, leaving questions about maneuverability.
I made the jump to 29” wheels a few years ago, before the middle-sized option was widely available. I traded a 6” travel bike for 5 with the promise that big wheels would compensate for less endowment. To some extent that promise is kept, but those fast-rolling wagon wheels can get you into trouble. They sometimes lure you into terrain nastier than the travel will support. Is the Trailfox misleading, like a 70-year old in a Ferrari? Or does it rise to the occasion and perform as advertised?
The Trailfox comes in a total of 6 builds and a frame-only option. I have been riding the Trailfox TF02 XO1 which has a carbon front triangle, aluminum rear triangle and the SRAM XO1 group set. The TF02 frame can be purchased with a Shimano XT build or an SLX combination. If you plump for the TF01 you get carbon for the front and rear triangle and the TF03 is a all aluminum. There is a Trailfox to suit most budgets. The build on our XO1 bike was pretty choice. Almost everyone loves the Rock Shox Pike RC and the rear is sprung strongly by the Cane Creek DB Air. The smart-looking DT Swiss E1700 wheels are shod with Onza Ibex tires, which along with the bar, may be considered gaps in a generally solid spec.
The tires were pretty good when the going was dry and tacky, but when things got muddier and looser the low profile tread did not dig in enough, especially when braking. Living in the PNW, I switched the tires out for the winter – but the Onzas are acceptable for drier months. They roll quickly and have a trustworthy shoulder for aggressive cornering.
The cockpit teases with a 50mm Haven stem, but it’s paired with a 750mm BMC flat bar. A narrow bar and a short stocky stem gives conflicting messages about the bike’s intent. A flat bar, which I haven’t ridden since 2001, can make sense on a 29er but it doesn’t here. BMC has done well to incorporate a very short 100mm headtube on the large frame, 20mm more compact than the Specialized Enduro 29, making the flat bar unnecessary. And please, can we stop spec’ing (relatively) narrow bars on bikes for aggressive riding? This is no XC machine.
As I mentioned earlier, you can buy the Trailfox as a frame-only option and this is a sexy frame, worthy of painstaking custom build. The tube profiles on the front triangle give a sense of strength to the frame, with the downtube being particularly impressive in its girth. The shaping is extremely angular, communicating Swiss utility and efficiency.
The Trailfox is surprisingly pleasurable to climb, almost something to be relished. The big wheels help and the bike is a reasonable weight, coming in around 31lbs (with pedals and tubes). Most noticeable when putting the power down is the frame’s stiffness. Word from BMC engineers is that they prioritize stiffness because it’s one of the top requests of their racers and riders, who want the Trailfox to respond predictably. Even without throwing the rear shock into climb mode you can feel the response to the smallest increase in pressure from the ball of your foot.
The suspension has impeccable manners, tracking the ground with Swiss accuracy. Blessed with such traction, the Trailfox is a surprisingly capable climber on technical trails considering its 150mm of travel. The climb switch is handy for those climbs where more body language is needed or for out of the saddle efforts.
Pointed down and the Trailfox is in its element. The complexity of a Cane Creek shock makes botching the set up a real possibility. I found the base tune a touch too linear. A quick email to BMC backed this up and the suggestion was to add another spacer to the air can. This will give the rear suspension a more progressive nature. Not having a spacer on hand I took to using the plethora of adjustments on the DB Air. I ended up at a good point where I had nice suppleness at the start of stroke, good support mid stroke and didn’t feel like I was blowing through the travel on the bigger hits.
The Trailfox is a beast on rough trails. That nice suppleness off the top of the stroke gives good traction and backs it up on bigger hits by allowing the rear wheel to get up and out of the way. The Trailfox can generate a lot of speed from pumping the trail and then allowing the suspension to float you over the rough stuff. It’s not averse to being picked up to gap sections of trails either, so you can be a passenger or a pilot.
I’m sure a some of this can be attributed to the DB Air, and if I were building up this bike from scratch it would be my first choice. This is a lot of bike to control and I’d want as much help as possible from the rear suspension. The Pike is a great fork as we all know, and a good match for the DB Air on the rear. Two air tokens are needed for me to prevent the fork from diving too much on the steeps and a click or two on the compression just to tame any bob or wallow.
In the turns the Trailfox shows more of its cards. The long reach, slack head angle and low stack height means you have a lot of room on the bike to weight the wheels as needed. You need to get your weight forward over the front wheel to initiate high speed turns, but once fully involved you can allow your weight to re-centre allowing subtle and precise pressure control. The head tube on this bike is a good 20 to 30mm shorter than the competition and if you want to, you can really slam the stem. It takes some getting used to having the stem that low but it inspires you to get into an aggressive mode with the bike. Omar Bhimji spent some time on the bike and he found the front end too low (We are both 6’2″ ) so he fitted a riser bar while he rode it.
One of the criticisms of the Trailfox has been that it’s long wheelbase doesn’t play well when the corners get tighter and that matches my experience. The bike feels more reluctant to initiate into something tight like a switchback, especially compared to the Specialized Enduro 29er. But (did you feel there was one of those coming?) I think some of this can be mitigated with careful tire selection. The standard out of the box Onza Ibex tires are actually quite faithful companions when it comes time to turn, with really good support from the side knobs when leaned over. I tend to like a different tread front to rear, based on my preference for a more drifty rear wheel.
To test my theory I switched over a set of my own wheels onto the Trailfox with my one of my favoured tire combinations; the Schwalbe Magic Mary on the front and a Nobby Nic on the back. The combination of an aggressive front tire with a rear tire that lets go earlier makes the TF02 more maneuverable. Coming into a tight turn you can get the bike a touch loose, swinging the back wheel to the outside of the turn. Then tucking the front wheel onto your line of choice you can keep that rear wheel drifting through the turn. It is an aggressive way to ride and requires much more body language but it’s a fun and fast way to ride.
With the added grip that comes from the bigger wheel, fast turns can be hit with authority and the Trailfox enjoys being spat from one turn to the next. The Trailfox is incredibly stable and holds a line solidly when you start lowering your Strava times.
It is hard to avoid comparing this bike to the Specialized Enduro 29, which I have also been riding lately, suspended with a Pike and a DB Air just like the TF. The Specialized’s stays and wheelbase are 5mm and 17mm shorter respectively, making it more willing when things are tight and twisty. That doesn’t mean the Enduro is the better bike. The Traifox for me wins when things get fast. The lower bottom bracket, longer reach and half degree slacker head angle means that the Trailfox has really good steering feel combined with great stability.
I admit that I thought I might not like the Trailfox at all, especially after recently having some great rides on the Enduro 29, but for all the praise that bike has received, the Trailfox isn’t too far off. It climbs as well as the Enduro, and both bikes hide their travel well in that regard. The Enduro edges the Trailfox on steep technical trails, but the Trailfox is more inspired when things get faster and rougher.
Admittedly for a lot of riders this bike may not click, especially if this is your first experience with 29″ wheels. It’s a lot of bike to ride and requires a more physical style to get the most out of it. If you ride trails like those on Vancouver’s North Shore, trails that are tight, steep and technical, this bike isn’t for you. In fact 29″ wheels may not be your thing if you don’t have the patience to adapt your riding style. However if you have already tasted the 29″ kool-aid and you generally ride trails that are rough and fast, this bike should be on the list.
For more details on the spec, different models and pricing check out our first look here.
A long travel 29er for shredders? Tell me it isn’t so.