Commencal Meta Hip Hop
WORDS: Matt Wragg
ACTION PHOTOS: Mary Moncorge
the way the Commencal do things. We like the fact they make their bikes a bit heavier so they can take a beating, that they focus on fun before speed and that they are willing to push things beyond the conventional boundaries that many bike makers limit themselves with. We also like short travel bikes, especially ones designed to let you let loose on the trail. So when Commencal told us they had a 26-inch-wheel, 120mm-travel bike that was designed to be thrashed in their 2014 range, you can understand why we were excited to ride it.
While mainstream bikes have almost unanimously headed for bigger wheels, Commencal bucks that trend with the Hip Hop. Having never concerned themselves too much with what sells on the mass markets, they believe that the rider who is looking for this kind of bike will also be the rider who subscribes to the school of thought that feels 26" wheels will be more playful out on the trail. Travel-wise, it sports 120mm travel at the back and a 140mm Fox 34 fork at the front. With a low bottom bracket, long top tube and a slack, 66-degree head angle, it looks like a lot of fun on paper. The fact that it is finished off with a 780mm handlebar, a 50mm stem, sturdy tires, a chain guide, and a dropper post, make its hard-riding intentions clear. The Hip Hop is Commencal's recipe for a fun - a tough, agile bike that doesn't cost the world, with a spec designed to help you rip straight out of the box. Construction
If you are familiar with Commencal's Meta range, you will feel instantly familiar with the Hip Hop. It lifts it chassis straight from its 160mm bigger brother, the Meta SX. Made from 6066 aluminium, "burly" is the most apt word to describe the Hip Hop's frame - with wide tubes, oversize bearings throughout the linkage, and a big tapered head tube. Commencal are so sure of the strength of the frame, that they support it with a five year warranty. A 92-millimeter-wide, press-fit-type bottom bracket sits at the heart of the frame, which includes ICSG 05 tabs to mount a chainguide. To everything looking clean and tidy, all the cables and hoses are internally routed through the main frame, and the dropper post routing is completely internal, from the head tube to the base of the post. Keeping with the burly theme, there is a 142x12mm through axle to help stiffen up the rear end.
With its striking, neon-green paint job, you're not going to fade into the background with this bike, although after finding out last year that it adds half a pound to an already substantial bike, we couldn't help wishing for a raw finish option for the bike. (it would look awesome, we reckon).
The Hip Hop's MSRP is 3,300 Euros - not cheap - but a bike that comes with decent tires, a dropper post, a big bar, and a short stem, means there should be little you'll need to change to start pushing this bike as hard as you dare. That seems like decent value to us.Suspension Design
Commencal designed their current suspension layout back in 2008 with the help of the Athertons and Cedric Gracia, and modified versions of the system are used on every suspension bike they make. The shock runs through a tunnel formed by the twin-strut seat tube and is compressed between the upper rocker link and a pivot on the swingarm - a configuration said to reduce stress on the main frame tubes. At the rear, the swingarm pivot is above the rear axle. The rear axle and brake caliper are on the swingarm, so the braking forces are not separated, and the design is a simple, linkage-driven single-pivot suspension.
|With a bike like the Hip Hop, the logic goes that the climbing performance shouldn't matter too much because it is so good going downhill and, true to form, it is very much is on the downs where this bike comes alive.|
Weighing a good five pounds more than most other 120mm-travel bikes, nobody should expect the Hip Hop to be a mountain goat. On the long paved and fire road stints that characterize riding in the South of France, the Hip Hop made the distances feel like hard work in comparison to its lighter brethren in the 120mm bracket. There's a lot of bike to haul uphill with you, and the Commencal doesn't feel like an especially quick-rolling bike. When faced with technical climbing, those same characteristics continued to count against it. The Hip Hop doesn't like you stamping on the pedals to force it up technical sections and in tight corners, it felt rather awkward to navigate. Switching the stock wheels out for something lighter and using a tubeless setup helped, but it didn't produce the dramatic improvement we had hoped for. In truth, we couldn't help thinking that maybe it might have been a better all-round bike with larger wheels - as they would help it roll more easily. When it came time to head out for long rides and big climbs, the Hip Hop was left in the rack, as nobody felt like taking it on.Descending
With a bike like the Hip Hop, the logic goes that the climbing performance shouldn't matter too much because it is so good going downhill, and, true to form, it is very much is on the downs where this bike comes alive. What felt sluggish on the way up becomes a lightning missile propelling you beyond the bounds of where you'd normally take a bike with this much travel. Where the active nature of the suspension hamstrings it on the technical climbing, descending it gives the bike a wonderful sense of pop, encouraging you to hunt for hits to use to get the wheels off the ground and gain speed. It is here that the short travel starts to make sense as it gives you a directness of reaction that you inevitably lose some of with longer travel bikes - because there isn't much to compress you can load and unload the suspension easily.
While it may be short on the travel department, the tubing is shared with its bigger brother, the Meta SX, so it should be no surprise how solid and stiff it feels. Coupled with the fat tyres, big bar and short stem, this can lead you to forget that you're on a 120mm bike and go charging into burly sections of trail, only remembering what bike you're on when the rear starts to slip as there isn't enough travel to both deal with the impacts and keep you planted to the ground. No matter what we pointed the Hip Hop down it remained composed and fun, even if at times it felt like you were riding on the fine edge between disaster and success because the short travel means there is no flattery on tap from the suspension when you run out of talent.
Where the bike is slightly let down is in the bar height. Commencal bikes tend to come with the steerer cut short and only one spacer underneath the stem. At first we tried it set with a 20mm rise bar, but this left the front end feeling far too low, which then stretched the riding position down and forwards, compromising it for both climbing and descending. Switching to a 30mm-rise bar helped - those extra 10mm of rise did just enough to make pedaling more comfortable and offer enough leverage to start to use the bike like it was intended to be. As for the playfulness of 26" wheels? Yeah, the bike was fun to chuck around, but was it noticeably more fun than any of the current crop of larger-wheeled bikes? We'd struggle to say we could find a difference. This probably won't be a popular opinion in certain corners, but with well-adjusted geometry and larger wheels, we couldn't help thinking that the Hip Hop would have been just as much fun. With the extra rolling speed, it would be a more well-rounded bike, raising it out of the niche it currently finds itself locked into. Maybe we're missing the point of this bike by thinking like this. Component CheckFox 34
- 140mm seems to be something of a sweet spot for the 34. Dropped like this, the fork is noticeably stiffer than it is at 160mm, and the damping seems to control the travel better. Fox have improved their damping for 2014. You can still get it to dive if you push the bike hard enough, but this seems to happen less as the travel decreases.KS Lev seatpost
- We have used plenty of KS LEV posts without an issue, but from the box, this particular post was troubled. It wouldn't reach full extension without actually grabbing the saddle and manually raising it to full height.780mm bar and 50mm stem
- We approve wholeheartedly with fitting this kind of cockpit on a short travel bike like this. Integrated brake/shifter mounts
- The Hip Hop came out of the box with integrated brake/shifter bar mounts, so you could keep your handlebar nice and tidy. However, the shape of the Formula levers meant that the brake needed to be run so far inboard that we couldn't comfortably reach the shifter blades to change gears.Pinkbike's take:
|Normally we try to finish these reviews with a statement about what sort of rider a bike would suit, but it's hard to do that for the Hip Hop. If we were pushed, we would say that it would suit a skilled rider who is looking for a 120mm bike to thrash the hell out of and who doesn't care too much what it feels like getting to the trail head - if such a person exists. It's not a logical bike that fits any pigeonhole you care to name - and that's why we can't help but like both this bike and Commencal. They have always had the confidence to make bikes because they think they will be fun, and what personifies fun more than an impractical bike that puts a grin on your face every time you point it down a hill? - Matt Wragg|