|It's about being able to go wherever you want and not feel like you can't do something because the bike won't let you do it. - Nico Menard, Engineer|
Commencal's Meta range hold a unique place in enduro history. The Meta 6 was, arguably, the first bike designed with the then-emerging race format in mind. Its predecessors, the Pasta Power and Meta 5 were ahead of their time, all-mountain bikes for more aggressive riding, but the 6 was the one to push the travel out to a full six inches and slacken the geometry a step further, a blueprint that is now almost standard-issue on the international enduro circuit. Today that DNA has been passed on to an entire range of Metas and Commencal pride themselves on producing bikes that are designed to be ridden hard.
Based just a few miles from the Vallnord World Cup DH track, it is those steep mountains that have shaped their approach to making bikes. Engineer Nico Menard explains, "The most important thing is to have fun. For sure, people find fun in climbing, but in our case, we find fun in technical terrain. Whether it's downhill or more all-mountain. It's not just pedalling, it's like finding that feeling a bit like you get in downhill where you have to find your line. That is the philosophy behind all the Commencal bikes, but especially the Meta. I could do the [Vallnord] World Cup track on my Meta SX and enjoy it a lot..."
Like all bike makers, Commencal have been drawn into the Great Mountain Bike Wheelsize Debate. It's something no bike maker can avoid right now, although Nico empathises with their customers, "I totally understand that it's something that people get lost with. They maybe don't understand or have a lot of questions. Most people don't get the opportunity to try different wheelsizes." To offer riders choice, for 2014 they will offer the Meta range in all three sizes: 26", 27.5" and 29". Each of the three versions are similar, based around their desire to make bikes for technical terrain, but with unique characteristics to define them.Meta 29
"We believe, we strongly believe, this bike is for riders looking for extra confidence." Says Nico, "Stephane, our product manager, likes the 29 so much because it gives him confidence. Some people say 29ers aren't as fun, but for him it's more fun as he has more confidence he can do things he cannot do usually. Maybe he'll jump something he wouldn't jump on his 26 as he doesn't feel as sketchy. That's the thing... It's more for smooth riders. It's also depends on where you live, if you have tight corners everywhere, then probably the 29 isn't the best choice." The Meta 29 was Commencals first foray into larger wheels and remains unchanged from last year.Meta AM
For the AM this year the wheels have swelled up an extra inch and a half to 27.5" for the all-round option in the middle of the range. The compromise wheel size was the natural choice for them and it is Megavalanche legend and current number five in the Enduro World Series, Remy Absalon's race bike this year. With Nico and his mechanic they went testing with the three wheelsizes. Anybody who has been following the discussion on wheelsize in the mountain bike media will not be surprised to know that he chose this bike because it's a "very good compromise." The problem with the 29 was that the dual ply tyres he needed for racing made the wheels unmanageably heavy and preferred the extra confidence of the bigger wheels, ruling out the 26" bike. In the end, he felt that the 27.5" bike was the best all-round for him and his top five ranking in the Enduro World Series stands testament to how good he feels on the bike.
To adapt the 26" Meta AM to the larger wheels there were a number of changes to the geometry, as Nico explains, "The bottom bracket drop is one of the most important things. People are saying 'I could fit 650B wheels on my bike,' but the handling would be crap, in my opinion. The BB-height would be far too high. This is one of the aspects that changes the behaviour of the bike, having the BB-drop gives you that kind of DH feeling." Meta SX
Rounding out the Meta range is the 26"-wheeled, 65-degree head-angled SX, which in the current market could arguably be labelled as a niche bike. What is interesting is doing a straw poll in the Commencal product office, this is the most popular bike among the staff right now. Nico Quere has also chosen one as his race bike for the Enduro World Series this year. As Nico says, "He is an aggressive rider, he is riding his enduro bike like you would ride a downhill bike and for that the SX is perfect. With this we reached the limited, we won't go further. The speed you need to get the aggressive riding style to be able to ride the bike well, especially when it's not too steep, means you need to work a bit harder on the bike to get the great feeling. I see this bike as being almost as capable as a downhill bike, just not as smooth, and you can climb too. I think 80% of the time I can go as fast as with my downhill bike, you just need to pay extra attention to the lines and everything. You can go really fast."First impressions:
| We had a couple of days with the whole Meta range available to us and a selection of some of the best trails Andorra can offer. On the steep, technical trails that surround Commencals headquarters we found ourselves reaching for the Meta SX time and again. In that environment it put the biggest grin on our face. Running the steep, loose trails off the side of the Vallnord bike park the playful suspension and slack angles added up to a lot of fun. If you don't happen to have big, steep mountains on your doorstep and prefer to ride within the comfort zone of your bike, we don't doubt that the bike would be somewhat limited for you, it's designed at the outer limits for this kind of trail bike, and the 27.5" or 29" would probably be a better bet, but on these trails it made us understand why it's the most popular bike in the Commencal office. And yes, our favourite bike from the range is a 26", aluminium-framed mountain bike... - Matt Wragg|