3-BIKES CASUAL SHOOTOUT: CANFIELD BALANCE, EMINENT CYCLES HASTE MT, DARTMOOR THUNDERBIRD CF
Some folks only need one bike for every kind of ride. Some folks prefer an arsenal of weapons to match the occasion. If we are to ask you what is the ONE BIKE that represents the real rider in you? What would that bike be? Bikezilla presents 3 distinctly different bikes for this casual shoot-out in the hope of getting our riders to discover their true riding personality. This is not one of those usual “serious, technical and number-crunching” bike test. Rather, it is a fun, get-together ride with lots of qualitative understanding into each rider’s aspired dream bike and a conclusion for each of them to build towards their ONE BIKE that suits them best.
THE SHOOTOUT RIDERS
While the “riders” are not total rookies to mountain biking, they all have different cycling backgrounds and fitness levels. They have different styles when it comes to tackling any said trail features. And also different preference to trail conditions and technicality during their rides. In short, they all have a set of expectations for their rides and would prefer a bike that helps them brings the best out of each ride.
Simon: Middle age rider with medium level technical skills and average physical fitness level. He has many years of experience riding both trails and street but prefers to plough flowy and smooth trails. Simon loves to hate the climbing part of the ride but understands that they would eventually reward him with some sweet well-earned descents. Considering himself a weekend warrior when it comes to trail riding, he would prefer not to risk the gnarly bits where he could help it, or at least be equipped with a machine that would make his work off these gnarly bits a little easier..
Monkey (yes, that’s his nickname): Near middle age rider with strong Street BMX riding background and good physical fitness. The years spent riding street and BMX had made Monkey a very tough and brave rider. He is also very adept with hardtail bicycles. In addition to being a tough as nail rider, he is also an impatient rider who expects his bike to respond as quick as his thoughts. He had spent years riding downhill with an “aggressive hardtail” and is now preparing himself for longer downhill and enduro rides where he can get more out from his rides.
Bobby: Young and fit rider with a chilled-out disposition and some good years riding Street BMX. With his foundation skills and his preference for popping anything that vaguely resembles a kicker along the trail, he looks like a bean on a hot pan during rides. He told Bikezilla that he wants a bike that could respond as quickly as his BMX in the trail. For Bobby, he doesn’t care about the distance of the trail, it’s more important to enjoy the ride more than covering lots of distance.
CK: A true blue mountain biker with good physical fitness and adequate technical skills to pull him through most of the stuff the trails would throw at him. He steadfastly stuck to mountain bikes for all his riding needs (street or trail), preferring plushness and smoothness over hard-edged full-alert riding. Being physically fit also meant he could ride long distances and is used to long hours on the bike. That said, he is also a careful rider who prefers to ride-safe-so-that-he-can-ride-further.
Kelvin: Young, physically fit, skillful rider with a keen learner’s attitude on wheels. With his main riding discipline in Street BMX, he applies his foundation skills to good use at the trail too. For Kelvin, besides enjoying every ride to the fullest, he is also a keen learner on how he can get the best out of his ride with the help of a well set-up mountain bike. As such, he would tune his shocks meticulously to get the best out of his bike.
SHOOTOUT CONDITIONS AND LIMITATIONS
Before the shootout video and photography day, we had many regular rides with each of these bikes. The Haste MT arrived not too long before this shootout, so our saddle time with it was the shortest. Nevertheless, we have had a good feel of each bike before the shootout day and the discussion that follows after this ride crystalised our findings.
In Singapore, Bikezilla loves organizing demo rides and bike shootouts at Chestnut Mountain Bike Trails. Chestnut South is a short closed loop trail that has a good mix of the different types of trail features which would help us review our bikes. Being a short trail, it also means we could get the riders to compare how each bike behaved at certain sections accurately. Of course, to understand each bike further, we would have to ride the longer trails over an extended period of time. As such, Chestnut South Mountain Bike Trail serves as a good summary ride where we can have our discussion centering on specific trail features we just rode.
The 3 bikes for this shootout are: Canfield Balance, Eminent Haste MT and Dartmoor Thunderbird CF. These are not our typical apple-versus-apple shootout where we would compare bikes of a same wheel size with similar travel. Amongst the bikes spotlighted, the Canfield Balance is a 27.5 inch wheel bike while the other 2 are 29-inch wheels. So, what is the reason for this assembly? These bikes are all potential long-travel do-it-all bikes in their own rights. (Ed: We said they are “potential” do-it-all bikes because some readers’ idea of do-it-alls are mid travel bikes that are in the region of 135mm to 150mm. We wanted to add in an occasional neighborly country bike park trip for these bikes. Thus their longer travel. Another point to note is these bikes spot different linkage designs, so their behaviour could be quite different when they hit certain sections in the trail.
In terms of looks, the Eminent Haste MT is the most eye-catching. The frame is made up of neat straight strokes that gives the bike a modern yet timeless look. Definitely a head turner. The Eminent Haste is a clear example of modern long-low-slack design concept and has the lowest standover (717 mm) amongst the test bikes.
The Dartmoor Thunderbird CF has a conservative frame shape. The standover of the bike is also the tallest (760mm) amongst the test bikes. The resulting build silhouette of this bike is a proportional muscular bike that looks understated.
The Canfield Bike’s branding and styling DNA flow strong in the Balance with its industrial tubing and old school gussets. Its non-outrageous geometry hints at years of riding and fine-tuning to arrive at what works best for the bike’s intended personality. A prominent example is it’s short chainstay (420mm) hinting at a brand that celebrates big hits and playful rides.
DARTMOOR THUNDERBIRD CF
The Dartmoor Thunderbird CF was designed from ground up and currently the official weapon for their Enduro team. According to the manufacturer, this 29″ wheeled bike was designed to be light, stiff and durable. We can agree with that. There is a certain breezy feel to this bike when we hit the trails with it. It is responsive to our every whims and fancy. That said, it is not nervous nor twitchy. On the contrary, it shows good riding manners and confidence throughout the ride. With a 170mm front and 160mm rear travel running on Horst-Link design, this bike exhibited a responsive, light and agile feel to it at the trails.
One thing that we came to notice on first contact with the Thunderbird CF is its high 760 mm standover (by today’s mountain bike standards). This may be a deal breaker for short riders. The rest of the geometry for this bike are quite “enduro” though. And as far as the good riding manners goes, it shows why this is the official frame chosen by their factory team.
The Canfield Balance is a 27.5″ wheeled All-Mountain Enduro bike. This model had stayed in the Canfield Bikes stable for some time now and it’s the only surviving full 27.5″ / Mullet mountain bike they are offering at the moment. All Canfield Bikes frames are made from aluminium alloy and every single bike from this brand overflows with Red Bull Rampage vibes. The Balance is no different. In fact we would say it is one of the more prominent bikes in the Canfield stable that exudes this rad and tough vibe – for very good reasons.
The Canfield Balance frame exudes an indestructible industrial aura. Our test bike comes with a 170mm of Fox 36 Float front fork and 169 mm of Cane Creek Kitsuma Air assisted rear travel driving the very competent CBF Linkage design. Another thing that we would like to highlight is that this bike has a comfortably slack head angle measuring in at 64 deg. At the trails, it didn’t feel sluggish nor is it hard to climb with. We love the way the slack stance is just about optimal for us, a type of relaxed-confidence feel to the ride. Any slacker to the head angle and we might feel this bike would turn full downhill mode.
EMINENT HASTE MT
The Eminent Haste MT is a bespoked “Do-It-All” Enduro bike as labeled by the brand’s designer. This rig was designed to passionately ride anywhere in the world reliably with maximum rider satisfaction in mind. A 170mm front and 160mm of rear travel are matched onto the uniquely design frame housing the High Pivot AFS linkage design. This one-of-its-kind frame design matched to the high pivot horst linkage system comes together to give the bike a very special “positive” behavior.
The Haste MT frame is built with the best carbon material and process in the market currently – similar to top grade models from some other renowned brands. Aesthetically, this bike is definitely a head turner. Our first impression is a very planted ride with progressive leverage that provides very good support for the rider. It does seem to this editor that the mating of Horst Link and High Pivot added with some clever placed links results in a stable, bottomless and ready-for-action frame. Great design.
PREPARING THE BIKES FOR THE RIDE
The Thunderbird and the Balance are very “user-friendly” bikes. It was easy to get the front and rear shock tuned to the riders’ preference without much fuss. Simple tuning procedures will suffice. The Haste MT is slightly more tricky and needed another step. Being a High Pivot Horst Link setup, the frame was designed to be very stable ground hugging. As such, we have to match the fork’s and rear shock’s rebound to give this bike a balanced feel.
On the roll off, the Thunderbird felt the most breezy and light-footed. The Balance gave the impression of a sold all-terrain buggy sprinting off the start line. The Haste’s High Pivot AFS linkage design is the most interesting. It’s high leverage design makes it an eager bike, but the presence of the high pivot also makes it a ground hugger. So what we get is a very stable, confident bike that pedals responsively and has lots of rear end traction. The Haste MT showed no sign of sluggishness as it cruises along the trail.
The Thunderbird is one bike that very evidently gives back what you put in. It is responsive as it cruises and when it hits elevation, it simply tackles it without any drama.
The Balance is touted as the 27.5 enduro bike that you could bring anywhere in the world and it didn’t disappoint. Being the only aluminium frame in the shootout, it did have a weight penalty compared with the other 2 bikes. But its climbing manners and rolling efficiency made it an adequate climber no less. And this statement is not restricted to strong riders only. Somehow, the CBF Linkage kept the suspension system in its optimal performance zone constantly. And that makes everything enjoyable.
The Haste MT felt very composed throughout the ride. Somehow, we had the impression that we may have chosen a wrong trail to test this bike. As mentioned, it is constantly stable throughout the ride and this confident personality made the bike feels like an off-road truck enjoying its round along the forest trail. Climbing chores on this rig is not exactly effortless but the Haste MT is a long travel bike afterall. It works its way to the top and rewards the rider with some much-deserved descents.
The fun part of every ride! And this is the section we assess how well the bikes hold the terrain and carry speed.
Even at 160mm rear travel, the Thunderbird CF felt like we are riding a trail bike during the ride. On descents, while the bike feels fast and efficient, the rear end does show its light-footedness which might translate to more effort to stay alert and keep the bike in the chosen line. This seems like a characteristic of typical four bar Horst Link bikes.
We already knew that the Balance is a solidly built all-rounder, but when it comes to descents, this bike shines! The CBF linkage works magically when it encounter square edged bumps – the bike didn’t reduce it’s riding speed no matter what the trail throws at it. It just kept on going. This is one impressive point about this bike to note. Lots of confidence and carried speed very well throughout all descents and transitions.
While we would like to admit that typical four bar linkages tend to give a loose rear end feel while duo linkage bikes gives a more predictable and confident feedback when tackling fast turns and overall descents, the High Pivot AFS links which is predominantly a four-bar Horst link mated to a High Pivot setup on a peculiarly designed long rocker is simply more superb than any Horst Linked bikes we have tried. To reuse an old phrase – it’s practically a roller coaster that is hooked onto rails. The traction and control is predictable and confident inspiring. The descent enjoyment was magnified.
All 3 bikes are very easy to “get used to”. As such, it was all fun and laughters when we hit the rock gardens, root sections and off cambers.
The Thunderbird goes along all these without much complains nor boosting. In other words, it would just go ahead and get the job done. Being a breezy pedaler, it means clearing technical sections requires less pedaling strengths or slightly less entry momentum. The rider can stay focused on watching out for the best line or simply maintaining balance.
At many technical sections, the Balance took the challenge out of such features. Tech sections just seem easier to overcome when we are on the Balance. While we wouldn’t say that it is an invincible machine, it does carry its momentum a tad easier than the other bikes. This made the trail features felt like they were smaller than they actually were.
Imagine you are on a pick-up truck at the trail and you are bull dozing your way around – that’s how the Haste MT felt like. As we rode on, we realised that we could become lazy with this bike. The rear end is so sure-footed that all we needed to do was pedal and choose our line. We wouldn’t call the Haste MT a mountain goat, it doesn’t exude that feel. It’s more like a truck.
Before we started the shootout, the riders were asked this question: “If you were to build a ONE bike for every riding purpose, including that occasional oversea riding trip, would you consider one of these 3 bikes? If yes ,which of these 3 bikes would you choose? You can also choose none of the 3 bikes.”
Including our editor there’s a total of 6 riders present during this casual shootout session, we had 2 votes for the Thunderbird, 2 votes for the Balance and 2 votes for the Haste MT!
Dartmoor Thunderbird CF: It is a very simple and direct. It gives back exactly what you put in, it response well to the rider’s intention and control very well. It is efficient on climbs and equally competent and confident on descents. It give us the impression of a “no-nonsense, get the job done and move on to the next obstacle please” kind of bike. (Voted by Monkey and Bobby)
Canfield Balance: Added fun ingredients to the ride. While it has a small weight penalty due to its aluminum frame, it also felt the most “rad” and bomb-proof amongst the 3 bikes. To start off, it’s tried-and-tested geometry makes it a bike that worked very well for its intended purpose – to enjoy the trails, shred the big hitters and stay reliable for long rides. That’s exactly how this bike made us feel; we could ride with it anywhere in the world and back. It is a decent climber and an awesome descender. It held its lines well around corners and maintained its speed (actually it is capable of accelerating) even over bumpy chattery sessions. (Voted by Kelvin and Ed)
Eminent Haste MT: What we would consider a comfortable cushy ride. Not just because it’s a long travel 160mm rear travel bike or we set the rear shocks too soft. Rather, it’s the way the frame’s linkage design that made the bike felt this way throughout the ride. It soaks up everything the trail throws at it. For simple trails like Chestnut South Mountain Bike Trail (Singapore), this bike felt like its a simple joyride. Chestnut South didn’t really worked out this bike’s muscle enough for us to show off its full potential. But what was obvious was the rear suspension felt like a off-road truck eating up the trail’s features. The climbs at Chestnut South was not overly challenging, but we would expect the Haste MT to climb with the most effort amongst the 3 test bikes. Control and traction for this bike is superb. If you are faithful to the good old four-bar Horst link design, you might need to spend some time to adapt to this High Pivot AFS, which is predominantly Four-Bar Horst Link with an added jockey wheel, making it into a high pivot design. The result is a more predictable ride and elimination of a long-time horst Link weakness – the tendency of edging on/or losing tractions during high speed cornerings. (Voted by Simon and CK)
THE ONE BIKE FOR EVERY RIDE
What would be your ONE bike for every ride? Would you stick with a mid travel rig or go with a longer travel one which could sap your energy a little more during pedaling and climbs but give you a bigger satisfaction during descents and more confidence when clearing technical bits? We don’t think we can tell you what is your ONE Bike. Only you can decide for yourself. For the 6 of us who tried these 3 rigs, if we can only own ONE Bike, we have made our choices. We would go for long travel mountain bikes. Cos, we feel that we could trust that ONE Bike (we have chosen) anywhere around the world.
(Ed: Thanks for reading this casual shootout. It was done with a qualitative mindset and the findings could be subjective due to each riders’ personal preferences and expectations. We respect that our readers have their own set of preferences and expectations when choosing their bike/s. Ride.
Photos and review discussion by Bikezilla