Berthold then took a more direct route to bring his Missing Link suspension to the marketplace. He put on his Mechanical Engineering hat, switched on Solidworks, and designed two welded-aluminum trail bikes: The Meltdown - a 162-millimeter-travel all-mountain/enduro bike based upon 27.5-inch wheels, and the Outburst - a more trail-oriented 125-millimeter-travel 29er. Using his own money and contacts he had previously worked with in Taiwan, Berthold founded Tantrum Cycles,
which will be selling direct to customers as soon as July.
The idea is to sell some Missing Link bikes, get his new suspension system under some riders, solicit some good press and hopefully, make a little money in the process. Berthold says that Tantrum initially will only sell frames, which makes sense, considering the massive investment required to produce complete bikes. If all went well, Missing Link could gather enough momentum to nail down a licensing agreement from a reputable brand.
First Ride on the Missing Link
When the first production frames arrived, Berthold gathered up enough components to assemble a Meltdown and an Outburst, flew to California, and invited me out for an opportunity to ride the bikes. I chose a zone north of Los Angeles that would exaggerate the strengths or weaknesses of a good cross-country bike as well as a pedigree enduro machine. Lots of rocks and dust, technical ups and downs, extended climbs, and speeds that varied from suffering upwards at a walking pace to mach chicken descents.
I rode the Meltdown, partially because, with a bit more than 160 millimeters of suspension travel and 27.5-inch wheels, it was more representative of the present market, but mostly because I was curious to see if a trail bike with that much squish could actually sprint and climb like a hardtail. Heard those words before?
Brian suggested that I set the suspension without factoring in pedaling firmness. That may seem like stating the obvious, but it reminded me that most of us fudge our spring and damping settings a little to ensure that the bike will pedal well enough in the open settings to cover the many moments when we can't reach the lever on the shock. I chose somewhere between 25 and 30-percent sag for the shock and 20-percent for the fork, and I adjusted the rebound a little fast in anticipation of the quick, chunky descents ahead. Both bikes were outfitted with X-Fusion forks and shocks, which tend to deliver a firm ride in any setting, so I didn't know what to expect when we rolled up to the trailhead.Climbing and pedaling:
Turns out that the Meltdown actually did feel like it had a rigid rear end under power. Beyond the fork compressing, there is no suspension penalty for jumping out of the saddle and pounding on the pedals with abandon, and seated pedaling feels equally efficient. Sweet, but after being briefed on the Missing Link, I expected that. What I didn't expect, was how seamless the suspension kicked in when I was fighting my way up the trail's technical rock problems. I was sure that the linkage would feel notchy as it unhinged back and forth from completely rigid, to a decidedly plush 160-millimeter rear suspension. Berthold explains that the scissor-action of the two links initially creates a falling leverage rate, which maintains some pedaling support as the suspension transfers from rigid to plush mode. Descending:
Both bump forces and rear braking uncouple the Missing Link, so the Tantrum's rear suspension is never locked on the downs. In fact, the suspension sags farther into its stroke at speed, which lowers the bike's ride-height slightly, slackens the head angle and adds a measure of stability. Whether the Missing Link returns to full rigid when pedaling out of corners is not apparent, because the chassis feels consistent. Theoretically, the rear end must rise slightly under power because the shock is pushed towards full extension, and I could feel that happen while I was climbing, but I did not sense that occurring at any point while I was descending. Observations:
I noticed that the fork was overdriving the rear suspension while I was at speed and working the bike hard over the zone's chunky sandstone. Much of that could be attributed to the X-Fusion fork, which performed poorly over sharp-edged impacts. The harsh feeling fork probably exaggerated the tendency of the rear suspension to settle into its stroke, so potential customers should choose a fork that is suppler in the pointy bits.First Impressions:
|Brian Berthold's Missing Link delivers the goods - direct drive pedaling with supple suspension action - and it does so without electronics, remote levers or voodoo shock damping. Compared to the current crop of carbon superbikes, the Tantrum Meltdown looks rough around the edges, but it performs well on the downs - essential for any 160-millimeter trail bike - and its pedaling action is better than all of them. |
Bold statement? I've ridden many trail bikes that were supposed to, '...pedal like a cross-country bike and descend like a DH bike.' (I've written that phrase more times than I should have) Only two have actually performed that ballet: the Meltdown with its Missing Link, and a Kona Process outfitted with Fox's prototype Live Valve electronic suspension. Neither are perfect, but both set the bar well above today's crowded pack of carbon uberbikes.
Send the Meltdown to finishing school, add a better component selection and a more sophisticated fork and shock, and I think it has the potential to take on the big guys. Brian Berthold's Missing Link is proof that there actually is significant room for improvement among the present crop of all-mountain trail bikes. Cheers to thinking outside the box. - RC