PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Words by Mike Levy, photography by Tom Richards
If you're in the market for something a lot less common and much more interesting for your next trail bike, you might want to consider a small brand from Germany called Actofive. By "small," I really mean just one guy named Simon Metzner, and by "trail bike," I really mean a wild-looking high-pivot machine with an idler pulley and 135mm of rear-wheel travel. The P-Train will be a rare sight - Metzner plans on only making twenty frames this fall - and it sells for 3,440 EUR (around $4,000 USD before taxes) without a shock, or 4,000 EUR ($4,666 USD) with a fancy EXT Storia.
Being a tiny, boutique manufacturer, Actofive only offers frames, not complete bikes. Most riders considering a P-Train probably have a pile of fancy parts they already prefer anyway, and I built mine up with a handful of products on hand to be reviewed.
• Travel: 135mm rear / 160mm front
• Reynolds 853 steel front triangle
• CNC aluminum swingarm
• Wheel size: 29"
• Head angle: 64.5-degrees
• Seat tube angle: 76.5-degrees
• Reach: 475mm (med)
• Chainstay length: 425mm
• Sizes: Sm, med (tested), lrg
• Weight: 34.2 lb / 15.5 kg (as pictured)
• Price: 3,440 EUR (w/o shock)
That includes the new Hayes brakes, e*thirteen's Helix R 12-speed cassette
, and Crankbrothers' Synthesis XCT 29 wheels. All that and the rest adds up to 34lb 3oz as you see it, making it the heaviest trail bike by a wide margin. Then again, if you're okay with a 4,000-gram frame (without shock), you're likely just fine with a 34lb trail bike.
But when it looks this beautiful, maybe who gives a shit that it weighs roughly twice
as much as a high-end carbon frame that probably costs less? The front triangle is made from Reynolds 853 steel tubing, the very kind that causes hipster mustaches to curl at the end as they prefer. But it also gives the bike a classic, simple look... Until your eyes make their way to the idler puller and machined aluminum swingarm. And did you spot the swingarm's internal webbing? How about the bolt-on brake mount or nearly hidden linkage? Sometimes, when I can't sleep, I just go out to the garage and look at it until I realize that it's noon the next day.
Frame features? It has some of those, but Simon isn't trying to compete with the big boys when it comes to the trail bike checklist. You'll find a threaded bottom bracket and ISCG tabs, along with external routing except for where the dropper post line disappears into the bottom of the seat tube. Speaking of routing, cables and hoses are held in check along the downtube with aluminum clamps and steel bolts that don't match the rest of the frame's attention to detail, but there were zero issues when it comes to function. There's also a pad bolted onto the top of the rear triangle to keep the noise to a minimum; it feels rockhard and like it wouldn't do much, but the bike is impressively silent regardless.
The P-Train's high-single-pivot layout is popular with riders looking for a fast feeling bike that can maybe handle more than its travel would suggest, largely due to the rearward axle path that lets a bike carry good speed over rough ground. But with such a high pivot, an idler pulley is required to keep drivetrain forces from interfering with suspension action. Without it, the P-Train's suspension would firm up substantially whenever its rider pedaled hard, and it would have nasty amounts of chain growth. History shows that idler pulleys can add complication and drivetrain issues, but the P-Train's is sturdy and well throughout. One more thing: it uses a normal length chain.
The aluminum swingarm pulls on a linkage that's hidden inside the steel front triangle, driving my test bike's Cane Creek shock that's attached to a bolt-on mount that can be swapped out to alter the bike's geometry. Things being bolted on is a theme of the P-Train, but one thing I couldn't attach was a normal-sized water bottle - there isn't enough room inside the front triangle for anything besides the smallest of bottles.
On the geometry front, my medium-sized test bike gets a 475mm reach and stubby 450mm seat tube. Actofive says you can run either a 150mm or 160mm front end, with the latter giving it a 64.5-degree head angle and 76.5-degree seat angle. Swapping out the forward shock mount takes only a few minutes and raises the bottom bracket from 341mm to 344mm, as well as adding 0.25-degrees to the head and seat angles. One last number: The rear-end is a super short 425mm, but Actofive says that this grows by 9mm when the bike is at its sag point. That's the high-single-pivot at work. Climbing
All trail bikes need to be somewhat decent climbers, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that the P-Train is one of the less decent of the bunch. After all, there appears to be about nine hundred steel bolts threaded into its tubby steel and aluminum frame, and you've been sniffing way too much chain lube if you think an idler pulley isn't stealing some of your meager power. Big Blue is also on the relaxed side of the handling spectrum, not to mention its coil-sprung Cane Creek shock telling me to relax about those climbing KOMs that I accidentally keep caring too much about.
So yeah, my uphill expectations were quite low and, maybe because of that, the P-Train surprised me. Yes, there are far more efficient climbers and bikes far better in the tech, but the Actofive was never the uphill burden that I thought it would be.
The German bike will move along nicely if you stay seated and spin circles rather than stomp out fires, with it having enough pep to it that you never feel like you're being punished for something during every long climb. Reaching down to flip the shock's Climb Switch adds to this, but is it ever as sporty as the Live Valve-equipped Trance X or new Ibis Mojo? No, of course not; those are bikes for riders who may or may not keep track of their uphill times, probably the opposite of potential P-Trainers.
When left fully open, the coil-sprung shock is never going to make for a bike that leaps forward when you get on the gas, but it does make for a ground-hugging rear-end that'll help you up anything you have the gas to attempt. One note on the shock's Climb Switch; rather than just locking the shock out, it piles on both the low-speed compression and
rebound, the idea being to increase efficiency without sapping traction. It works, too. That, along with the relatively short rear-end, seems to make it a decent machine when the switchbacks are tight and the speeds are you tipping over. No, it can't match the more well-rounded Stumpy, but it's also not terrible. Descending
Actofive says that the P-Train has 135mm of rear-wheel-travel, but I'm not convinced. I'd have guessed it to be closer to 150mm, especially after riding the other trail bikes back-to-back down the same rough, slippery singletrack, and it makes the others feel over-sprung and under-controlled in comparison. The other four are all running air-sprung shocks, of course, whereas the 'train gets a coil-sprung Cane Creek Double Barrel that I've always felt to offer a heavier damped sort of ride. Its four dials are there to let you make it feel however you want, but I kept ending back at the same settings.
The deep-feeling rear-end, along with the 160mm-travel Fox 36 (also four-way adjustable), make for a "trail bike" that can literally be tossed into the worst stuff like no other. While the others fishtailed and bounced their way down chunky chutes, maybe having no real issues but also clearly being on the edge when I was pushing hard, it was the P-Train that had all the composure in the world. In my experience, one telltale sign of an overly capable bike is that it'll tend to make you feel like you're going slower than you are, or maybe like you seem to have a few extra split-seconds to consider your next line choice. And that's how it is on the P-Train.
With all the trail bikes on matching Maxxis tires set to matching pressures, it was the P-Train that easily offered the most traction when it mattered most. That's not surprising, but the difference between it and the others on-trail was easily noticeable; I consistently had far fewer unforced errors while riding the P-Train in the wet, and I had the most confidence while on it as a result.
All that traction means that the P-Train is an absolute monster in the corners, and especially when it's rough and fast. That's when bikes like the Mojo and Trance X start to get bucked around, and the Stumpy isn't far behind those as well. It's also when the P-Train feels like an actual train, almost refusing to be unsettled by braking bumps and rough ground that you might even try to avoid when on the others. On Big Blue, you might sense some distant, muted 'thuds' but you're already looking way down the trail anyway so who cares? Not the P-Train.
For a bike that deals with all the sharp, fast stuff so well, it also manages to not feel like a wallow-y, lifeless station wagon on flow trails. It's never going to have the pop and pump of the Mojo, but its ability to carry speed means that it's plenty of fun through berms and fast rollers. Obviously, things get less rosy as the terrain gets more horizontal, and the Actofive is never going to be a star if you spend your rides braking into and then accelerating out of endless flat corners for hours on end. But that doesn't sound like fun anyway.
While the big brands need to offer well-rounded bikes that can be used for do-it-all riding, all while competing when it comes to weight, spec, price, and capability on all sorts of levels, Actofive's mission is a bit simpler. The P-Train can't be compared to those bikes on paper because it's more of a 'heart' bike than a 'brain bike,' if you know what I mean? Ride it down a challenging descent and you certainly will.
Yeah, you can pedal it all day and up any mountain, although you won’t be doing it all that quickly and hopefully there’s a rowdy descent waiting for you at the top. This is a bike made for the trail rider who ends up doing their best enduro racer impression every chance they get.