PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Commencal Meta HT AM Ride
Words by Ryan Palmer; photography by Tom Richards
Of the nine bikes we tested for the value bike Field Test, two had something we’d basically forgotten about: plus-size tires. The Commencal Meta HT and Diamondback Sync’r both sport 27.5x2.8-inch tires, but there’s only one that testers would want to bring home with them. The Commencal had us rethinking the death of plus-size.
We still all agreed that 2.8” tires don’t need to be on full-suspension bikes, but trail hardtails are the perfect application for plus, where the extra meat improves climbing traction, descending stability, and technical prowess. But big tires can’t make a bad bike good, and luckily the Meta HT has solid bones.
The frame is a real standout when compared to some of the hardtails in the mix. It’s actually really nice, and we don’t even have to add the caveat, “for a 1,700 dollar bike.” The Meta HT frame will compete with any trail hardtail regardless of price. Most importantly, the geometry is appropriate for what the bike is trying to be, which of course is in the name: All-Mountain.
Commencal Meta HT Details
• Travel: 160mm fork
• Aluminum frame
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Head angle: 65°
• Seat tube angle: 74°
• Reach: 445mm
• Chainstay length: 432mm
• Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
• Weight: 29.8 lb / 13.5 kg
• Price: $1,700 USD
It sports a 65-degree head angle, runs a 160mm fork, has short 432mm chainstays, and a roomy-enough cockpit. The 445mm reach number on the size large seems short, but with the slack 74-degree seat angle, the toptube is actually longer than the Stumpjumper. Testers reported that the bike fit comfortably despite seeing numbers we’re not used to. Hardtails don’t require the same reach or seat tube angle numbers as full-suspension bikes do. It’s nice to see Commencal recognize that and make a bike that simply rides well rather than following trends that might compromise the bike’s intent just to make it look interesting on paper.
Featurewise, the Meta HT AM frame has a nice, low-slung standover, internal cable routing with the ability to run the rear brake on either side of the headtube, tons of tire clearance, a nice integrated chainstay protector, and all the rest of the things you’d look for in a modern frame, like tapered ZS44/ZS56 headset fitment, Boost axle spacing, and of course a no-nonsense threaded bottom bracket shell. There’s just one thing missing: a second bottle mount. There’s one on the downtube, but most hardtails have a second one on the seat tube. The Meta HT doesn’t. The reason for this is to maximize dropper seatpost insertion. Bottle mounts protrude inside the tube and limit dropper insertion, which would be a bad thing.
Speaking of dropper posts, this bike doesn’t come with one. But Commencal does offer this exact build with the addition of a dropper post for 200 bucks more. Get that one, or BYOD (bring your own dropper), because dropper posts are absolutely required. Don’t listen to your Primal Wear-jersey-riding uncle when he tells you dropper posts are for people who don’t know how to ride. Trust us, it’s one of the most important inventions to mountain biking, period. With that public service announcement out of the way, we can carry on with the rest of the Meta HT’ AM Origin’s spec.
Which isn’t too bad for a $1,700 bike (this time we do need the caveat). The RockShox 35 fork can get a bit overwhelmed at speed, the SRAM Level brakes aren’t crazy strong, and the SRAM SX drivetrain isn’t the most responsive, but it all works just fine. However, Commencal does spec the bike with a 200mm rotor up front, and we didn’t experience any lack of power in Tucson.
The Maxxis Rekon and High Roller tires on the other hand are top notch. They’re probably the same tires we’d choose, too, though it’d be a good idea to put something with bigger lugs on the back if you ride in wet conditions often. The Rekon rolls really efficiently though, which helps a ton with such a beefy tire.Climbing
The plus-size tires dominated much of the discussions around this bike’s riding characteristics, and climbing was no exception. We noticed exactly what you’d think we’d notice about the big meats—they’re a bit slower to accelerate, but offer a ton more traction than standard tires. And since hardtails can use all the traction advantages they can get, especially on the loose, chucky trails we were testing on, we all agreed that a little plus in our lives isn’t such a bad thing.
We were definitely able to clean more technical climbs with less effort on the Meta HT than on other hardtails in the test. When you’re constantly fighting for grip, the larger contact patch of the plus tires helps a ton, and in these conditions could even save energy over a lighter standard tire. There was a lot less weight shifting and monkey humping needed on this bike than other hardtails in the test, simply because the rear was hooking up better.
Up front, the 160mm fork and 65-degree head angle didn’t seem to hinder things in the slightest, nor did the more traditional seat tube angle. The reasonable reach helped on the climbs as well, and made the bike feel quite well-rounded. Mike Kazimer and I agreed that the bike’s not-too-out-there geometry makes the bike well suited for all types of climbing. It might not be the quickest-feeling climber when it comes to acceleration, but it’ll tractor up some impressively steep and technical features if you’ve got the legs, lungs, and skills to make it.Descending
There’s no getting around the fact that this is a hardtail. It’s a point we couldn’t stop ourselves from making despite very much not needing to. But Mike Levy asked straight-up if it’s as capable as an all-mountain full-suspension bike. The answer is of course a resounding no. But, in an apples-to-apples comparison, it’s remarkable how much more smash and plow the Meta HT has than the Salsa or Marin hardtails in the test.
Between the longer 160mm fork, slacker head angle, and big 2.8-inch tires, the Meta can definitely haul some ass. We found it to be right at home on the loose, techy, often kitty litter-covered trails in Tucson. There was never an opportunity to get it on any real extended steep terrain, but for the slow-speed tech, tight puckery moves, and mid-speed pinball-type descents, it proved to be a blast.
It won’t beat a full-suspension bike, but that’s not really the point, is it? At least for me, I wound up hooting and hollering more on the Meta HT than I did on any of the other bikes I rode in Tucson. That was after manually dropping the post, of course. Definitely splurge for the $1,700 one with the dropper—it’s worth much more than the 200 bucks it’ll cost.
It’s the new grammar nazi.
Now in France, both available, the Commençal is 1650€. A Radon Cragger is 1300€ with dropper and Marz Z2... Let's say both differences make up around 250€ better value, that's a win by 600€ for Radon.
Or to put it the other way : you need to fork out 2400€ to get a Commençal with dropper, and it still has NX...
I guess it depends on where you're buying!
Anecdotally, I've ridden Deore on my Marin for almost two years and it's been rock solid. I've got friends with NX and one guy has been through countless NX derailluers, cassettes, and multiple shifters in the same period as I've had zero issues with my Deore setup.
Everybody keeps on this assumption. Even when test after test, timed testing shows 27.5+ equal to, or faster than 29 on the trail.
I think that the PB crew was pretty fair here. There are situations that 27.5+ tires excel and it sounds like climbing on a good hardtail in loose conditions is one. I'm a desert rider too and I'd have loved to have had + tires on my 27.5 bike as I panted and pushed my bike up a sandy access a week or so ago. Every tenth would have helped.
We’re on the same page. This test doesn’t show 27.5+ faster…but it certainly doesn’t show it as slower. And PB staff was pretty fair. Other test have shown it faster. It’s just such a common assumption that they are slow/sluggish, which simply has never been shown to be true. I ride both sizes, but I bet some people are missing out who aren’t going to try it.
I’m also bummed by disappearing tire options in 27.5+.
I have 3.0 x 27.5 Terrene Chunks and 2.5 x 29 Maxxis DHF and I prefer the 29er wheel size simply because it rolls over rocks/roots better. I find my 27plus wheelset hangs me up a lot more than I expected and I'm also bashing my crank arms... maybe I should go with a less aggressive tread on the 27.5+ set, but so far my full suspension rig and my hardtail are competing for the same wheel set.
It's like having 10-15mm of suspension going from like, a minion 2.4 to a 2.8. When you go crashing down rocks, it's still hard AF. I just thing a knobbier thinner tire with a legit sidewall rides nicer than either a lighter plusser and climbs with more ease than a 2.8 with a legit set of knobs and casing. I wouldn't mind trying a plus mullet, but in the end I just default to my squishy bike on more aggro trails. Does everything but out of the saddle climbing better. I like the HT for variety, and cause they are pretty
It could be a standardized kit test with sub-$1k, 29er framesets, or a straightforward field test of HCHTs sold for under $2k... Just look at how many views Tom Bradshaw got with his videos about his hardtail adventures
I will also add for context that I'm a young-ish guy who grew up learning to ride on a hardtail, so for me the negative experience didn't come from bad joints or inexperience on hardtails.
It just doesn't hook up and pedal when the going gets rough. I've been biking since the 80's so very used to rigid bikes.
I just feel like my 120mm bike does every single thing better than the HT. More fun too.
You *could* ride those trails on a steeper bike or hardtail, but your margin of error on high consequence moves would be small, and you’d feel wrecked even if you didn’t wreck.
But then I hop on my Ripmo and realize that I can just jump over all the gnarly stuff and get away with it, and that puts a big smile on my face.
I want to build a full sus again but with a 2 year old at home most of my riding is shorter rides and local so an aggressive hardtail is the bike for me.
The occasions where 160mm front is needed with 0mm sagging in the rear, are rare. In the end 130-140mm is the max I've felt useful on a hardtail.
Mentioning ankle pain, I can't relate to this but every problem I can have in my hands comes up fast when riding chunky stuff on the HT instead of FS. The rear wheel is still connected pretty rigidly to the handlebar even though it seems far...
In the end, I'd recommend a HCHT only when budget is limiting during purchase and use (especially easy and cheaper to maintain in regular muddy conditions)
I'm a middle-aged guy who has ridden MTB since 89 and sometimes my ankles and knees hurt. Admittedly the ankles take more of a beating on the Chameleon.
I’m not going to win any races or KOM any segments but who give a rats. I’m having a blast.
I don’t see the point of a hardtail without sliding dropouts.
Commencal making some great bikes at the moment, hopefully Tom will hurry up with a confirmation bias report on hi TR antics.
The only downside is to be extra careful if your frame is steel (which many aggressive hardtails seem to be)! All of that road salt can cause problems if you don't have your frame coated internally properly (speaking from experience with my nearly fused seat post, oops!)
It was my second bike but I really regret selling it.
I firmly believe that HT bikes make you a better rider.
I still think plus tires are awesome, except that they were not technologicaly explored, just made from what they had at the time.
2.6 on full suspension are rock garden bliss, when it doesn't puncture or gash.
It feels safe to guess a lot of people who don't like 2.8" might not have put them on wide enough rims.
2.6 is a little more friendly to imperfect setup so I'm not too surprised it's taken over the "plus" market
Right... its not even 4/20 anymore, so back to the bikes...
Dropper, geo, fork and drivetrain tick all boxes in the price range.
I don't know about acceleration times vs rolling resistance. Lots of very unscientific roll down tests and just basic trail riding have proven that plus tires aren't slower than 29er, and sometimes can be faster.
For the record:
Maxxis Recon 27.5x2.8: 120tpi, 3CT/EXO/TR - 861g
Maxxis Recon 29x2.4WT: 60tpi, 3CT/EXO/TR - 840g
Still not convinced about the first half of this sentence "We noticed exactly what you’d think we’d notice about the big meats—they’re a bit slower to accelerate, but offer a ton more traction than standard tires.", considering a 29er version would have the same tread pattern but also be slightly taller.
I don't think plus is a great choice for FS bikes because you'll end up fighting the rubber trying to tune in rebound on big hits.
1: Without Alicia it's not a Field Test
2: MacBook Pro used for all previous videos was Alicia's
But hey, point 1 might have made my day.
I have done double blacks and a World Cup dh track on it and it slays.
For me I wanted something that was a daily driver that I could commute to work but still maybe hit a trail that has tech on the way to and from work and saves money from a service perspective.
Long term I am song no further upgraded to the bike outside of Chang cassette/derailleur as they wear out.
Solid bikes, def worth to spend a little bit more on a better model if you can but frames are great and upgrade paths for components make sense over time.
It's been a few years since I paid attention and things changes. YMMV.
Granted, the arms of my calipers aren't quite as long as I would like them in the case, so there might 0.05" on either side that I'm missing.
I bought the 2020 version of this bike which, at the time, had a lower quality fork and group. It was all I could afford and was fine for getting me out on the bike. I've upgraded it over the past 18 months with some second hand parts, and it's an awesome bike now.
I think a lot of people forget that this is a value field test, and that for some people $1500 may be a firm ceiling for them. Yes, there are better parts out there, but if it bumps the price higher then you're just pricing people out of riding.
@mikelevy this is a good example of why these reviews that are not legit, brass-tax are missing the mark. People think that for the money this is fine and up to par "not that bad" and it hits the baseline spec for a good bike that'll last. However its not. The el-cheapo coil fork here (not the good kind) doesn't even have a compression damper lol. We all know SX is junk. There's opportunity here for calling a spade-a-spade. Its also important that people buy good, cheap bikes not junky ones (that cost the same) because they then become good used bikes for those who can't afford to drop 1500-2500$ on a bike. These disposable junky parts aren't it, and it should be pointed out much clearer imo.
I’m planning on sticking a rigid fork on it and a slightly longer stem for some gravel rides. Think it’ll be a blast.
Every other competitor seat tube=420
BUT, too bad they don't spec the bike 27.5x2.8 back and 29x2.6 front. Great tires for desert hardtail, not bad for desert short travel FS either.
I'm just not understanding what fork is set up to take a 27.5x2.8 that isn't just a 29er fork? Like did RS make a dedicated 27.5x2.8 casting for the 35 fork? And if so WHY, when every other plus tired bike I've ever ridden on just used a 29er fork.
From a fork manufacturer's perspective, tire diameter clearance is more important than width clearance, because too wide a tire simply wouldn't turn in the fork at all, whereas too tall a tire might only become a noticeable danger if you bottomed the fork. Also not every tire maker actually labels their tire sizes honestly. WTB's original 27.5 x 2.8 tire was only 2.8 inch in CASING width (on an i45 rim). Its tread width was only 2.4 inches and its diameter was smaller than a 29 x 2.1. So it would fit perfectly well in a regular 29er fork, and most 29er frames. But you take a Schwalbe Nobby Nic 27.5 x 2.8 on the other hand, which is measure BOTH casing and tread in that width, and overall its a larger diameter as well (but still less than 29 inches).
My Suntoujr Raidon 27.5+ fork has 15mm of clearance all around the tire tread, both under the brace and on its sides with a 27.5 x 3.0 tire, but a a regular Fox Float 29er fork, while having the same amount of clearance UNDER the brace to the top of the tire tread, has barely 2mm of clearance on the sides. What happens if you dent your rim or break a spoke while in motion and suddenlly your front wheel is out of true laterally by 5mm ? Your tire will jam into the inside of the fork leg / brace and you'll go supermaning over the bars.
So back to I don't understand why they didn't just spec the 29er fork... seems dumb? But maybe they were easier to get a hold of?
I'm a mechanical design engineer in the industry and I've ridden plenty of AL, steel and Ti bikes over the years to come to an informed opinion, my dude. I actually bought the Paradox for the geometry and it's combination of thoughtful attention to detail and versatility. I was looking for a hardtail to compliment my Ripmo for more mellow/peadaly trails.
Not everyone wants a bloody Mullet!
When I received the bike and noted the 'wrong' wheel size, I called customer service that there had to have been a mistake. They asserted that the website said it was the 27'er model, and even aknowledged that the website was confusing and "roughly translated from French". They did offer me options to return the bike and upgrade to the Race build (the only one that comes standard with 29's) - so I can't really fault them for trying to make it ok.
I ended up deciding to keep the bike since the race build wouldnt be available for months and I had a new bike on hand. It ended up being amazing and I'm glad I kept it.
The point is, when I spoke with customer service I was trying to get them to swap out the wheels. They told me I would need a new fork to accommodate 29's.
I've since moved away from the plus sized tires to two 2.6 Dissectors and find the cornering way more fun, the bike more poppy and agile - all with a similar amount of traction and smoothing that I experienced with the 2.8's the bike came with. Hope all these words help!
Using watter bottle during bike ride is the same crapp as using radio in a car which hasn't got control buttons on the steering wheel - it's just unnececary dangerous and very inconvenient.
Seriously I just can't understand why people in North America are so obsessed with water bottles instead of hydration systems.
I think you’ll find that the large majority of riders want their bike to be able to carry at least one water bottle. I wore backpacks for decades and now would never ever wear one.
Mike why you refuse to use them? I can live without most of the modern car convinience (auto dimmer, abs etc.) but not without radio buttons on the steering whell. They're one of the most convinient things in car.
When you're eating you look straight at the road or you're staring at the radio panel? Another thing, driving on a highway is simple and boring so I would like to propose an experiment. Let's go off the highway to some twisty B roads and to find out if eating in that conditions, while driving, presents more chalenges then on the highway. For me it's more relevant to MTB.
I don't know about NE but in Europe water bottles mount are not big of a deal especially bearing in mind A LOT of aftermarket options for mounting a water bottle so for me it's not a real fault with any frame.
Present bikebacks are SO GOOD in every possible way, that I don't see any single reason to change my hydration system for two water bottle.