I decided to post this here since there seemed to be some interest on it in the comments in Andrew Major's article no the Marin bike with more funky suspension. Hope you enjoy. This could also be categorized under "How to make a short story long".
Words: Alex Gibbs
Pictures: Alex Gibbs and Maddy Armstrong
So I was one of the weirdos that decided to buy a bike on Kickstarter. This may seem like something reserved for kooks, which considering that I like single speeds and I telemark is probably pretty bang on. Whatever, all you normal people can keep your normal-ness with your normal bikes and normal linkage with a big helping of vanilla.
Anyway... when I read about Brian's "missing link" I was intrigued enough to put down $1300 USD for the frame + $175 for a DVO Topaz +$150 for shipping about a year ago. I decided on the Metldown, the 160mm, 27.5" wheeled option. I also decided to go frame only. It minimized my risk to Kickstarter failure and exchange rate surprises. Note that this was a Kickstarter price and regular frame price is $2400 USD.
In January when everything went through, I was billed $2250 CAD with the exchange rate at that time (1.4 = sad face). Then, the wait began. Brian had initially said a May delivery. But I was more expecting June or July, knowing that Kickstarters had a reputation for being slow. Every month or so Brian would send an update and he was pretty good at keeping everyone informed. I was pretty happy with the amount of info he was giving us. Over the summer I bought parts, trying to avoid anything that might not be compatible, like BBs or Seat posts, or headsets. I knew it was going to be boost, so after humming and hawing more months, I also decided to splurge on a set of emerald King hubs on the last day you could order them.
It's fitting that my wallet is in this photo. It got lighter after this purchase. Banana bread not included.
Wheelz - fun fact, this piece of cedar was a scrap while cutting slats for the bridge on GSM, so it was brought down for cedar plank salmon cooking (yum).
I also got some custom decals made from Slik Graphics and put those on the Fox 36 I had bought for the bike.
Anyway, May turned into September and the bike arrived on my birthday. Literally. The bike was pretty well packaged and the paint was nice and shiny. Brian also included the box for the DVO shock, which came with a DVO shock pump. Although the bike did NOT come with a thru axle. For those wondering, get the Shimano SM-A76-B
The internal cable routing was pretty easy to run with nothing on the frame. The trick for the derailleur cable was to run it from the back and then up the frame. The derailleur cable comes out the bottom of the bottom bracket, which at first seemed nice and clean. However when I tried to install the BB cups on the first attempt I fully destroyed the sleeve that goes between the two cups. I went and got another one and tried again, more carefully this time, and for the life of me I couldn't get the sleeve to line up with both cups because the derailleur housing was getting in the way. I ended up cross threading one side and forcing it farther than I should have. Woops. There was a bit of damage to the threads, but once I removed the sleeve and just threaded it in there it all went in okay. I decided to ride without a BB sleeve for the time being.
30mm spindles do not play nice with the internal routing
I was convinced by my LBS to go with Eagle "because it works better", which I was hesitant on since I already run a 34 tooth on my 11 speed. This was quickly becoming a full dentist build. Anyway, I had dreams of running a 36 or a 38 tooth, but I was quickly brought back down to reality, which is good since the 34 tooth was tight on clearance.
The SixC runs a 51mm chainline, which is actually 1mm inboard of what a Boost chainline should be, so maybe a 34 tooth would actually work with a 52mm chainline. Spoiler alert - the 34 tooth did not fit
Tire clearance with 2.5 WTs was more than adequate at the chain stay and pretty good at the seat stay junction. However I think you'd max out at 2.6" tires on the seat stay bridge. The height would do you in. For reference the rims on 30mm internal width Race Face ARCs.
Have I told you yet that I love my hubs.
Most other things for my build came together quite nicely. I was hoping to pull of a Cascadia theme, but I'm not sure I successfully pulled it off. Needs more green... and maybe some white... maybe. Chromag cockpit, except with my Joystick 50mm stem. I've left the bars at the stock 780 mm wide and I'm not sure I want to cut them down yet. Initially I was thinking 760 mm, but I've been happy with the extra width so far.
Even by my standards, that head tube badge is weird AF
Anyway, the biggest fail of my build was my 9point8 dropper post. I ordered a 150 mm dropper through my LBS in August and one month later it had not arrived. I bugged the shop and they followed up, but 2 weeks later, still no word. I finally decided to send an angry e-mail directly to 9point8. They said, 'oh, we haven't heard anything'. Essentially, my shop ordered by phone and my fellow millennials (I can only assume) don't know how to use phones other than for Instagram and Tinder and so never got the order. When it was sent via e-mail it only took just over a week to get the post, albeit 2 months after I had initially ordered it. FFS.
Anyway, this comes to one of the issues with this frame. The maximum seat post insertion is only 160 mm on a Medium. This is miniscule. The minimum insertion for a post is usually 100mm, so this means that without a dropper, you can't really drop your saddle. So until my post arrived I was riding with a pack and with 2 different saddles. This ALSO means that you have to carefully select your dropper post. You only have 60 mm of adjustment. I settled on the 440 x 150 and thought I'd have 10mm of space (spoiler alert: it's slammed and it feels a mm or two too tall). Here's my diagram to figure it all out.
Where it says 190 it should say 160, and where it says 150 it should also say 160... yup
My first ride was in Squamish. When I first got on the bike it seemed like the linkage was sort of frozen. So I only pumped up the shock to my weight in psi, 160 psi. I started pedaling and there was a loud PING and the linkage moved and I was WAY too low. I added another 20 psi and started riding. Now at this point I still didn't have a proper seat post and I was using a free one from my LBS while I waited for my dropper. It was set back and not really ideal, so maybe my weight was too far back. Anyway, I kept adding pressure and eventually settled on 210 psi (my weight plus 50 psi). The linkage still didn't seem to be working very well, but I've now attributed this to it just being overly stiff when I first got it. We rode up the climb trail then switched to the road to go ride Cake Walk and then 19th Hole. The climb up was fine, but the climbing performance didn't really wow me. Because I didn't have a dropper and the maximum insertion on this bike is tiny, I rode without a seat post on the descents.
The bike descended really nicely. The rear suspension was supple and actually feels quite linear (regressive rate to offset the air shock?). The bike would absorb the trail chatter, but when you want to launch off of something it would be more than happy to get off the ground. I was having fun.
No seat post while descending for the first ride...
The first ride descent WAS memorable, when we were on the lower trails I went to grab the brakes and all of a sudden my rear brake lever went straight to the bars and did nothing. I stopped and started to look for the cause. Was it my crappy job of shortening the brake hose? No... Oh crap! After shortening the brake hose I put the pads back in with the bolt, but I never put the clip on the end. I thought I might have had to bleed it again, so I left is like that, but then I didn't need to and forgot about it. So the pads fell out and the piston pushed all the way out. DOT fluid got everywhere, but I managed to push the pistons back in and quickly made it back to the truck where I rinsed everything off. Then I went to Crappy Tire and got alcohol and a spray bottle and proceeded to clean everything pretty thoroughly. Luckily, after a quick bleed, everything was working again.. Phew! Disaster averted.
After the bleed, I went for a nice long local ride on some good roots
More parts BS
After a week and a half I noticed a bit of rubbing on the chain stay. Despite appearing to have clearance for the 34 tooth, when the bike 'stands up' while pedalling the chain ring would rub. Again, this was with a 51mm chainline. So maybe if I got the OneUp Switch with a proper 52mm chainline, it would work, but I can't confirm that. With a 51mm chain line your max chain ring size is 32.
Rub down on the up
When I was switching the chain ring I also decided to try to put the BB sleeve in again. When I took the crank out I noticed some debris had made it's way into the BB shell.
Brown Pow catchment device
There was even a stick and a rock in there
I took BB cups off and cleaned out the dirt. Then I shoved some pipe insulation under the shock mount to prevent this from getting in there and filling up my downtube. For those that were curious, this is what the shock mount on the downtube looks like.
Anyway, I got the sleeve in this time, but getting the spindle back through the sleeve was very difficult. I tried spinning the pedals and had to crank pretty hard just to spin them with my hands. The derailleur housing was pushing up on the sleeve and putting a lot of pressure on the spindle. I decided to see how it went while riding it. In short, that sucked. Probably the worst ride I've had in a long time. It was probably sucking up 100 Watts. I couldn't clean anything and it also felt just as weird descending. Screw this. The next day I went and bought a RF Aeffect crank to just solve this issue once and for all. The 24mm spindle sleeve was easy to install and the crank spun freely. Problem solved.
24mm sleeve vs. 30mm sleeve - tons of space now
Ride Impressions - Climbing
Anyway, after a month and a half of riding I feel like I can give a general impression of how this thing rides. First a bit about me, so you can interpret my ramblings with less confusion. I'm 5'10" 160 lbs, and I have fairly long legs. I originally started riding in the "freeride" days and although I was never a very competent rider, I did some moderately stupid things. Eventually an injury forced me to stop riding stupidly and while recovering from said injury I started road biking. On a road bike, I would say I have become a fast 'non racer'. Meaning I can keep up to most racers while I sneakily hold onto their seat post. Then I moved to North Van and remembered how much fun mountain biking was. My experience on various modern mountain bikes is minimal. My previous bike was a Knolly Endorphin 26" and I also have a Chromag Samurai 65 (before the slack version). I enjoy going up and down trails. And I've only done one Fiver, but came mid-pack on my hard tail in the open category. I like long walks in the middle of no where and I hate e-mountain bikes, although I sort of want an e-cargo bike for hauling large quantities of beer. Speaking of beer, if you cannot guess my favorite style of beer from my name, shame on you.
This bike climbs well. The climbing action of the linkage is not as obvious as I thought it would be. If you're casually spinning without putting in much torque, you're not going to be using it as much. But when you want to lay down some power or stand up and mash the bike responds well. That being said, it never felt harsh or bouncy on any of the climbs. If you hit a rock the suspension would do it's thing and allow you to keep climbing. The one time I do notice the linkage is when I go into a tight switchback and I don't have the right line. When I let off the power to correct for my crappy line choice, I notice the rear suspension sink into it's travel. I've had a few occasions where when I reapply power to the pedals the bike has sunk too far into it's travel and the front wheel gets light before the linkage can do it's thing. It's not awful. But the problem is this bike makes you lazy and all of a sudden you need to do some body english to save yourself from flipping over backwards. Either way, 90% of the time I've found it easier to clean the tight switchbacks on R&R (Seymour), while the other 10% of the time it was just as hard as before.
I can feel the heft of the bike. My Endorphin was 27 ish pounds and this bike is a bit over 30 pounds. While that might not seem like much, it is noticeable. This linkage in a 140mm platform that you could build up lighter would be really fun and would likely climb like a dream.
I also went and road Howler in Whistler and on the climb up I managed to clean the super freaking steep part after the bridge. Holy mofo that is steep. It's not even my first time there and I still went, 'oh yeah, this is effing steep'. Anyway, that is one of the 2 times I've ever had to shift into the 50 tooth behemoth. Because I could maintain power the bike never felt like it was going to tip over backwards and I could just chug my way up the climb only having to worry about which direction my breakfast was currently heading in my gastro-intestinal tract.
At the end of the Rainbow is a bunch of really fun mountain bike trails
The first thing I have to admit here is that I haven't ridden any other 160 mm bikes. But by my impression this bike just sort of annihilates everything it it's path. Rock you didn't see? Who cares. Blind drop that you don't know where it lands? Huck it! E-bike going up the downhill trail? No problem. This thing just rolls over everything in it's path while children throw confetti in the air and startled unicorns scurry out of the way. This bike gives me the confidence to do a pro-call out next time I see an EWS rider. Now this could be every single 160 mm bike, I don't know. But either way it exceeded my expectations after coming from a 140 mm 26" wheeled bike.
On the very first ride I was giggling at how confidently this bike descends. Now it's getting a little dangerous. I've found myself taking new lines bikes what before seemed slower because of the chop now just seems faster because it's straighter and I can just point it and worry about the consequences later.
I do find that I regularly go through all of the travel, however I've never bottomed out harshly, but I also haven't done anything bigger than a 5 foot drop. I have over shot many things that before I struggled to get enough speed into and now I have to slow down so I don't die. I haven't fiddled with the pressure or the shock settings since my first ride, but I intend to soon. I will report back more on that later.
When I want to pull up the front wheel, the bike seems to respond quickly and without hesitation. Pre-loading the shock with your legs and pulling back the linkage seems happy to just sit in the position you put it in and it doesn't try to bounce you out of your position. It seems to have a large happy point of rear wheel balance.
The other thing I was worried about was the linkage causing the bike to 'stand up' while pedaling on a descent. This has never happened. I can hammer as hard as I want to get speed for a jump or a feature and the bike still feels stable.
This bike likes to jump. It feels playful and the wheels are happy to leave the ground. I don't know if this has to do with the pressure that I keep the shock at, but the re-bound is also fairly open. I haven't had it kicking me around, so I see no need to slow it down. I might end up experimenting for fun, but for now, open is fun.
Who is this bike for?
Do you like to party? Great! So does this bike.
Don't like to party? Great! Neither does this bike.
Okay, in all seriousness this bike will probably attract people who also enjoy going up and down. Will it make slogging easier? Maybe? but no magic unicorn is going to whisk you to the top of a climb. If you primarily ride for the down, but then also want a relatively efficient means of getting to the top, then I think you should consider this bike. It goes uphill really well and then when you turn it around the fun really starts. If you want more fun on the ups, there is also the Outburst, which is a 125mm 29r.
But, the one big downside now is that this is essentially an American only brand. Brian doesn't have a Canadian strategy and he does not publish Canadian pricing. so at $2400 USD for a frame set, your credit card company would charge you around $3200 CAD before shipping or a shock upgrade. Which means that for only $400 more you could get a carbon Rocky Altitude frame. Or you could splurge and for $700 more you can get a carbon Slayer. It's hard to fight the draw of plastic fantastic. So unless Brian comes up with a Canadian pricing schedule I think it could be a hard sell north of the border.
More Info: https://www.tantrumcycles.com/bikes