It looks like it rides – big, fast and generally bad-ass. An anodised matt black alloy frame with the decals in satin black – if you have to ask, you’ll never know. “Born on the Shore” in full colour. Tidy welds, hydroformed tube shaping, some neat gussets, sensible external cable routing, easily adjustable geometry and a zero stack head tube and low top tube for getting rad in the corners. Takes a front mech, 140-160mm forks and 26 or 27.5 wheels with a choice of dropouts. Build it your way. My way is 27.5 Flow EX rims, 142×12 dropouts, 160mm Pike and CCDBair – downhill weapon! We’ve done getting on for 1000 miles together in our first year, with very little easy mileage, lots of climbing (and some uplift) in the pursuit of good descents.
Don’t buy this bike if you like staying glued to the ground, avoid going fast or shy away from steeps. Point it downhill and it shouts “STRAAAAAVA!!!” Tip in over the edge of a seemingly vertical plummet and it’s totally like yeah, whatev’s. Hit a jump and it’s an exhibitionist – higher and further than you’ve ever gone before. It took me a while to get my head around its abilities after years on a 140mm hardtail.
It climbs weirdly well – the steep seat tube puts you in a good position and it doesn’t go all squishy when you stand up and stomp, tyre just digs in and bike springs forwards. Loves pedally trails as long as you don’t try to get the first stroke in too soon out of a corner because the bottom bracket is pedal bashingly low. Definitely better with 170mm or shorter cranks unless you’re very tall.
There is such a thing as too slack – on my local trails it’s happiest in the neutral setting with a head angle of just over 66 deg. For uplift days with faster rougher trails and less pedalling it’s awesome slackened and lowered to about 65.5 deg HA and it’s literally a 10 minute job to switch the drop out chips. How can a 140mm bike be so good in the rough, so plush yet never bottoming out harshly? The KS-link suspension must be magic (looking at some linkage analysis I believe it’s actually a combination of lots of anti-squat, progressive leverage rate, rearward axle path, minimal shock bushing rotation, stiff frame with short forged links and good bearings and a really great shock).
Running 1×10 with an 11-36 cassette there’s too much chain growth (~40mm at bottom out) for a super short Zee mech to be happy so I swapped that for a medium cage SLX (with clutch obviously). No guide (though there are ISCG-05 mounts) but a 32t narrow-wide and bash. Acres of mud clearance with the 27.5 dropouts so if you prefer very short chainstays you could run the 26 dropouts with a 27.5 wheel. Don’t underestimate the bigger wheels – despite all the marketeers’ hyperbole they do roll a bit quicker and grip a bit harder. The more obvious difference is the extra stability – like slackening the bike by about a degree or running bigger heavier tyres but with no detriment to climbing.
Go too burly with the tyres and/or run too much damping and it becomes a straight-lining monster truck – unstoppable but hard to move around. With quicker rebound and less huge tyres (Trail King 2.2 Protection in my case), it’s a much lighter livelier ride, easy to adjust your line mid corner, find that pop to clear roots or rocks or double up rollers and make gaps – and it still has that high speed stability that dares you to ignore the brakes.
Ironically the famously complicated Cane Creek has required almost zero tuning effort – one benefit of being average height, weight, quickness and jumpiness is that their recommended base tune with 28% sag is bang on for me. I slowed it down early on because I was finding the bike a handful on bigger jumps but as my confidence grew I reverted to the faster base tune and it feels amazing. The Pike has taken much more tweaking to balance with the rear – varying sag, bottomless tokens (aka volume spacers to add spring progression), low speed compression and rebound. The end result of 25% sag, two tokens, quite a bit of compression damping and fairly fast rebound gives it the grip in the turns and the pop on the jumps.
This build is all about reliability, strength and stiffness (and is zero carbon) so it isn’t the lightest bike in the world – about 31lbs. The frame and shock is 7.7lbs of that. Only feels heavy when doing the one-armed bike-in-the-air gate/stile shuffle, so that’s good. With the bigger wheels and slack head angle it needs wide bars and a short stem – 750 and 50mm. And with the speed it carries into corners, good brakes – Hope Tech 3 E4 with 183mm discs. Started out with a 160mm disc on the back and it wanted more – brake later, brake harder, use all the grip that great suspension offers. Dropper post because it would be madness not to – Gravity Dropper Turbo LP (reliability trumps aesthetics!) Lizard Skins Logo grips (if you’re looking for a grip that isn’t super skinny nor mega fat, not super tacky nor really hard, try these). Charge Scoop saddle – like a Spoon but nicer. DMR Vaults (thin, concave, nice pins, really big platform). Hope headset, hubs and bottom bracket (been flawless on the other bike for years).
What would I change? I’d quite like it in an obnoxiously bright enduro-compliant colour but can’t deny the uber stealth look is cool (especially since de-stickering the rims). One of those integrated moulded rubber chainstay protectors would be nice – I have a neoprene one plus a few thick zip-ties where the chain is closest.
The geometry is just so right – long, low and slack but not too extreme so it still rides well on flatter trails. Sizing is good – I’m 5’10.5″ on a spacious but low slung medium (16.9″ seat tube). The short seat and head tubes mean you can size up and run a super-short stem for a longer wheelbase ‘forward geometry’ feel. The KS-link suspension and CCDBair are sublimely good. If you have the skills there’s no doubt this could win enduro races. If, like me, you don’t then you can have awesome fun fighting for mid-pack places. For my riding it’s better at everything than my Cotic Soul – thankfully the hardtail is still fun, switching between the two makes me a better rider and I feel happier neglecting my unwashed Soul through the winter mud and wet on my local rides.
Should you buy one? If you’re after a 6″ish enduro bike that can descend like a bigger bike but is still fun on flatter singletrack then I can’t think why not. If you’re in Brighton have a word with Freedom Bikes – you’re welcome to try this one (which they built up) as long as you promise to give it back…
I could have just said “I really really like it!” 😉