PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Words by Henry Quinney, photography by Tom Richards
Transition Bikes are a company with their finger on the pulse. Their vogue-worthy bikes seem to often just be riding the right wave at the right time. Whether it’s the down-country Spur, the evergreen Patrol or their new offering, the Spire, they seem to offer what is deemed “cutting edge” just two seconds after we’ve all decided what cutting edge even is.
So is it a crystal ball or sacrificial goats under a full moon? Well, probably not. What it does seem to be is pragmatic yet ambitious design that isn’t afraid to go to 11 only to take it back half a turn to the sweet spot.
• Travel: 170mm rear / 170mm front
• Wheel size: 29”
• Head angle: 62.5 / 63°
• Seat tube angle: 77.5 / 78°
• Reach: 480mm / 485mm (lrg)
• Chainstay length: 446 / 448 (S, M & L) 452 / 454 (XL & XXL)
• Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XXL
• Weight: 33.20lb / 15.05kg
• Price: $6,000 USD
Take the Spire, for example. This new 170mm 29er is one of the few bikes that doesn’t have me lamenting the flip chip. Why? Because it’s a bike that is amply progressive in the steeper setting, with a 63 degree head angle combined with a 77.5 degree seat tube angle. If you’re crying out for something half a degree slacker then the Spire can accommodate, but it’s great to see a flip chip being used to take a bike between a good place and an extreme one rather than from one slightly conservative place to another. Flip chips can be good, but they should be there as a way to let a designer try something radical, not as a sticking plaster on something that’s 50 shades of beige.
So, this carbon vessel is certainly slack enough for 2022, what else? Well, it sports 170mm of travel front and back, a 480 or 485mm of reach depending on the setting for a large and a rear-centre of 446 / 448mm. Although the geometry is one of the more radical areas of the bike, the Horst Link suspension layout is one of the more traditional of the test bikes on this year's field test.
It’s got some great frame details too. That includes ample frame protection, SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger, size specific chainstays, Enduromax bearings throughout, and a gear accessory mount on the underside of the top tube. Not only that but it’s rated for a dual crown fork and can handle a reach adjust headset.
The bike has internally guided cabling, except the rear brake which is housed externally. Some people will love this, but I’m not particularly a fan. It’s just frustrating that my brake routing will never be that neat. First world problems, I know. It also doesn't lend itself to moto-style brake setups.
Prices range from $5,899 - $6,599 for the carbon version and $3,699 - $5,399 for the alloy. The version tested here is the GX build, which features the top tier RockShox Zeb and Super Deluxe, GX drivetrain and SRAM Code RSC brakes with a large 220mm front rotor. It also has a full Stans wheelset and even a One-Up 210mm dropper.
So, can the Transition keep pace with the idler-equipped sleds? How does it stack up against the more conservative numbers of the YT or the excellent suspension system on the WAO Arrival? Let’s find out.Climbing
There is a word that is going to come up a lot both in this written article as well as the video, and that word is “versatile”. How can a bike with 170mm of travel and 29” wheels ever be anything other than a school yard bully? Well, it’s a combination of several key factors, but let’s start with how it climbs.
Firstly, it’s got the things that are important, even if they are ever more common. It's got the steep seat tube angle to give you a great climbing position, and longer chainstays that again contribute to front wheel traction. So what else does this Spire offer that separates it from the herd?
On the trail, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s a lightweight bike that offers tons of traction. That traction does come with a fair bit of suspension bob, and the Spire isn’t something that offers you a stiff pedalling platform that will hold sway even under high-torque outbursts. Instead, it's a bike that likes to spin up climbs and offers huge quantities of grip. The wheel does very well just getting up and out the way, and what stands out with the Spire is not how fast you can climb but rather how slowly you can go while the rear end maintains grip. I would often use the climb switch on the shock on fire road climbs but all in all I was very happy to leave it open on singletrack.
The high stack and relatively short 605mm top tube create a very upright position, which this put my contact points within a very useable range that worked well for me.
Some bikes ride as if they’re heavier than they are, and some bikes lighter. The Spire is definitely the latter. It's a mere 40g heavier than the Specialized Enduro and both of these outstrip something like the similarly weighted YT Capra because of the light footed characteristic that they offer. If you had told anyone five years ago that a 29er with this amount of travel would be so enjoyable to climb they would probably have you sectioned on grounds of insanity - but here we are.
So does this well-climbing bike mean that it’s limited on what it can offer on the descents? Absolutely not. I think the Spire manages to balance these priorities very well and it impressed me just as much on the downs as it did the ups.
Two things really stand out when riding the Spire downhill - first, the geometry is so willfully and deliberately aggressive it just feels like a breath of fresh air. This isn’t overproduced and needlessly ambiguous. No, this is a Ford Mustang or Guns of Brixton. It’s raw, it’s exciting and very very good.
The Spire manages to do one of the most basic and fundamental things a good mountain bike should do - it should make you smile, and it delivers in droves. The way the bike tracks and hunkers down when riding rough terrain is very confidence inspiring. It just makes you feel like you can bulldoze anything. For a bike that makes you think you can climb any hill of your choosing, this is doubly impressive.
In regards to the shock tune, this is the only area on the field test that Matt Beer and I didn’t agree. I found it to be very easy to set up and find the performance I wanted. Matt however had a different experience. He never really got the Super Deluxe Ultimate to perform as he'd like. He eventually arranged to try the bike with a Fox X2, which is included in other build options, and found the characteristics much more to his liking.
Who’s the ideal candidate for the Spire? This is a great bike for somebody that likes to ride shuttles or chair lifts but primarily wants a bike to pedal. It combines high-grip climbing characteristics, a lightweight package and very progressive geometry. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed riding the Spire and if I were to have just one bike, even at 170mm of travel, I think it could quite possibly be the one I’d go for.