A classic has been reborn. The original DMR Trailstar became an iconic frame among British hardtail fans when it was launched back in 1996, a time when most hardtails were made for cross-country racing. Here was a properly capable hardtail that could be used as an all-mountain trail bike, or just for blasting around the local woods, sessioning jumps and downhill tracks. For 2016, the Trailstar has been relaunched with a completely new frame, rolling on 27.5” wheels with plus-size capacity, and with geometry updated to reflect that of modern mountain bikes. Frame Design
Despite the prevalence of advanced of full-suspension bikes, hardtails have never gone out of fashion in the UK. Their affordability, sheer simplicity, and dependability means they are still an appealing choice for many mountain bikers. There's a lot to like about the simple riding pleasure of a well-sorted hardtail.
The new Trailstar is available as a frameset, but DMR supplied a bike built up with some quality kit, including a DMR Defy 50mm stem and 780mm Wingbar handlebar, DMR Axe crankset, Shimano ZEE rear derailleur, Praxis 10-speed wide-range cassette, X-Fusion Sweep 150mm fork, X-Fusion HiLo dropper post, TRP Slate disc brakes and a choice of wheels, including some 2.8" WTB tires on 40mm WTB rims.
DMR Trailstar Details:
• Intended use: trail / all-mountain
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Head angle: 65.5° (actual)
• Heat treated 4130 chromoly steel frame with tapered head tube
• Shimano ZEE / DMR / Praxis drivetrain.
• TRP Slate brakes
• Fork: X-Fusion Sweep 150mm
• Weight: 2.8kg frame, 13.95kg complete
• MSRP: $750 / £499 frame only
• Contact: DMR Bikes
Like the original, this new Trailstar is made from steel, a 4130 chromoly tubeset. Without a doubt, the defining feature of the Trailstar’s aesthetics is the radically sloped and curved top tube. It provides loads of standover clearance for roosting the bike through corners, and it’s something of a talking point in the car park before a ride. You’ll either love or hate it, but it’s a grower. Well, it did grow on me. Aside from the frame material similarities (and the retro blue paint job) the differences start to emerge. The frame is compatible with a 140/150mm fork, and the geometry is longer, lower and slacker than the previous version. I measured a 65.5° head angle and 67.2° seat angle with a 150mm fork, along with 425mm chainstays, a 1172mm wheelbase and a 741.5mm front center on the size large, one of three frame sizes available. The lack of a wider size range will mean riders at either extreme of the height scale might struggle to fit the Trailstar.
The other big news is that the Trailstar now runs on 27.5" wheels. More shocking than that, it’s also compatible with plus-size wheels and tires. The frame and this X-Fusion fork comfortably take 2.8" tires, and with an 8mm longer dropout, you could fit a 3" tire. Can you fit a 29in wheelset? Yes, just. The Trailstar, unlike many of the new breed of 27.5+ bikes, hasn't been designed as a 29er frame that can also accommodate fatter tires, but I was able to fit a pair of 29er wheels (Stan's Crest rims with Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.1in tires). While they did fit, clearance was severely limited, particularly with the fork crown. You could use the longer dropouts to increase the rear clearance, but you'd really need to swap the fork as well.
The frame is bristling with details, including the "Swopout" dropouts that allow the frame to be converted between singlespeed and geared configurations, with a 142x12mm thru-axle or conventional quick release options. There are ISCG05 tabs for fitting a chain guide and the frame, as is increasingly common, is only compatible with 1x drivetrains. There’s a threaded bottom bracket shell, and while the gear and brake cables are externally routed, there’s internal stealth dropper routing.
Not surprisingly for a frame designed to be treated like a hooligan on the trails, there are reinforcements in key places to strengthen the frame. It's basically built to be tough and take some punishment. The top tube and seat tube are braced, as is the non-driveside rear dropout; there’s a gusset at the top of the down tube, and a plated chainstay bridge at the bottom bracket. At a claimed 2.8kg the frame isn’t what you’d describe as light, it’s clearly built to be rugged, but a sub-30-pound weight would be possible if you wanted to build it light. The pictured bike weighed in at 30.75 pounds.
After first riding the Trailstar with the regular 27.5” wheels, in which it immediately impressed with its handling and stability, I then conducted the majority of the testing on the plus-size wheels. Why? Simply because I enjoyed the performance with the bigger tires more. The impact this wheel change has on the geometry is minor, the most notable difference is a slight increase in the bottom bracket height. You can swap between the two wheelsets without a major readjustment of riding style. The WTB tires aren't without their faults; they're not fantastic in gloopy mud, but on the right trails, harder rockier terrain, the bike felt faster and smoother over rough trails. Running the tires at lower pressures (13-15 psi) also gave the Trailstar more stability and composure on really rough trails, particularly trails latticed with roots or festooned with rocks. A hardtail can be a pretty unforgiving experience on those trails where a full-susser really shines, but the bigger tires just gave the Trailstar more capacity to not be outdone by such conditions. Why 27.5 Plus?
Proponents of plus-size state the main benefits as being improved grip with greater rolling speed, due to the larger outside diameter of the bigger tire. I'm not here to convince you 27.5+ is better, you really need to ride it and make up your own mind. Could I tell the difference? Yes, there’s a clear, albeit subtle benefit of the bigger tire, at least on my local trails with my riding style. The larger outside diameter allowed the bike to maintain speed slightly more easily on up and down trails. Despite the drawbacks of the tires in mud, there’s no doubting the speed and stability benefits of the bigger tire. Put simply, I had more fun on the Trailstar with the plus-size wheels.
The nice thing about the Trailstar is that it’s easily interchangeable with the two different wheelsets, so you’re not tied to one standard. You could run this frame with regular wheels to start with, and maybe invest in a second set of 27.5+ wheels and tires down the line. It’s still early days for plus-size with loads up for grab (the optimum rim and tire width, axle standards) but the Trailstar provides a bit of future proofing. Climbing
The Trailstar isn't really designed to be a fast climber, and if that's your thing, you'll be better served by a cross-country hardtail. That being said, the bigger tires enhanced its climbing abilities, providing extra traction to help the Trailstar scramble up steep inclines (as long as it wasn't too muddy), and I cleaned a couple of climbs I had struggled with previously on other hardtails. I did find that on really steep climbs it could be tricky to keep enough weight over the front-end; I'd imagine a travel adjustable fork would be the easiest solution to this. On steady gradient climbs, like fireroads, the Trailstar is just fine and the weight is manageable.
When you get into fast flowing singletrack, the Trailstar, in plus-size guise, feels rapid and it maintains momentum surprisingly well. The bigger tires, combined with the springiness of the steel frame, makes it a surprisingly comfortable bike to ride - certainly enough that an entire day in the saddle didn’t leave my lower back in a million tiny pieces. And hats off to the DMR saddle, that's a comfortable thing to sit on.Handling
While the Trailstar isn’t exactly a lightweight or highly responsive bike in the way a lightweight aluminum or carbon race hardtail is, it will do something those hardtails can't - steamroll right across roots and rocks. It isn't easily bounced off-line, and the back wheel stays underneath you and follows the front wheel faithfully, as much as can be expected of a hardtail. Despite its hardcore credentials, the Trailstar is more than capable of being ridden all day as a trail bike, but one that maximizes any descent or swoopy trail you stumble across. This is a bike designed for having fun on, going out for the weekly night right with the lads and sessioning a downhill or jump spot on the weekend. Hardcore hardtails are often second bikes to more expensive trail bikes, but the Trailstar is good enough to be a primary choice.
|While full-suspension bikes might be faster and easier to ride, the updated Trailstar is a reminder of how much fun a simple unsprung rear end can be.|
Okay, so the Trailstar isn't designed for climbing, but where the Trailstar really shines is on the fun stuff. This is a bike that will put a smile on your face every time you ride it. You don't ride it as much as you whip it around corners and boost it over jumps. Point down the trail, stamp on the pedals, and it wriggles and darts off down the track, with only the merest hint of unwanted flex if you really push it hard. The long wheelbase and slack head angle provide stacks of stability and composure, and the Trailstar comes into its own on steep and technical descents. The 150mm fork lets you charge on challenging trails, and the rear wheel will follow where the front leads, and isn't easily bounced off its line.
The low top tube might not be the most aesthetically appealing to all eyes, but it provides generous standover clearance. With the saddle dropped, you can push the Trailstar over into corners, leaning it low enough to get the handlebars scrubbing through the dirt (or so it seems). The Trailstar does lack a bit of agility in very tight singletrack, and you do need a bit more body energy to get the bike to change direction at lower speeds. It’s something you quickly adapt to and work to its strengths. And those strengths are blasting through high-speed sections, railing berms and sliding through the dirt.
The frame is well up to the job of being roughly manhandled over rough and challenging terrain, but there were occasions when the frame felt a little overwhelmed by the long-travel fork and big tires. It never gets loose or noodly, but the bit of flex does serve as a reminder that you’re pushing a steel frame with pretty skinny tubes probably further than it can handle. It would be interesting to try the Trailstar with a 140mm fork and see how that compares, although that would obviously steepen the head angle and take away some of its poise in the steep stuff.
Fun remains a central design philosophy of the redesigned Trailstar then, and I’m glad none of the charm of the original has been lost in the makeover. I have fond memories of blasting around my local woods on an old Trailstar adorned with Marzoccchi Bombers, and riding the new bike, reborn for 2016, reminded me of those halcyon days. While full-suspension bikes might be faster and easier to ride, the updated Trailstar is a reminder of how much fun a simple unsprung rear end can be.Component Check • X-Fusion Sweep RC HLR fork:
The fork is stiff and well damped, thanks to the company’s own HLR Cartridge Damper. The stanchions are 34mm and this is the top-end model with enough tuning adjustment to get the fork dialed in just the way you like it, including high and low-speed compression damping and rebound adjustment. • X-Fusion HiLo SLS dropper post:
RockShox’s Reverb might be the go-to dropper post, but I don't have any complaints about the HiLo's performance, along with it's impressively smooth action, good durability to cope with the winter mud and ran, and internal cable routing. I really liked the remote lever for operating the post, a round knurled lever that can be pushed in any direction. It’s easy to hit with a thumb with good reach from the grips. • WTB Scraper rims on DMR Zone hubs:
A solid wheelset - though I did oddly pop a spoke in the back wheel towards the end of testing, with the 40mm wide profile rim really the key to the new plus-size development. The 2.8" WTB Trailblazers provided good grip in most conditions, but extreme mud is too much for them - hardpacked, rocky trails seemed to be their favorite territory. • TRP Slate disc brakes:
This was my first experience with the TRP Slate disc brakes and I was impressed. They have a four pot design and power is plentiful at the lever, with easy and solid one-finger application and good modulation of the available stopping power. • DMR Defy stem and Wingbar handlebar:
Loved the handlebar and stem setup. Not only does it look cool, but the stem is the right length at 50mm and the 780mm handlebar has a good shape and it’s plenty stiff enough for aggro riding. Pinkbike's Take:
|The revamped geometry, modern details and plus-size capability brings the Trailstar right up-to-date, and it's a hard charging, thoroughly fun bike to ride. It's also excellent value for the money. Updating a classic was always going to be a tall order, but DMR has managed it, and in the process made the Trailstar relevant once again. - David Arthur|
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About the Reviewer David Arthur is a freelance mountain biker writer based in the UK. Stats: Age: 34 • Height: 5'11:” • Weight: 154lb • Industry affiliations / sponsors: None