Liteville’s 601 was well ahead of its time when it was released nearly five years ago. Its robust aluminum chassis was as light as some trail bikes, yet its long-legged suspension and slack geometry were closer to the gravity machines of the period. Today, most riders would classify the 190-millimeter-travel Liteville as an enduro racer, but the 601 was born for a higher purpose: the European definition of big mountain freeriding.
The Alps slice the European subcontinent in half. Centuries of warfare and undocumented trade between the countries that border the range and later, the onslaught of mountain climbers and adventurers, have created a rugged trail network that is unmatched elsewhere in the world. Imposing as the Alpine massif may be, trails lead to most every peak and pass. They certainly were not made with cyclists in mind, and while many routes have proven to be navigable by good bike-handlers, the prize summits in the Alps are not to be trifled with – not by mortal men.
This is the domain of Liteville’s 601. It was designed to push the envelope of where a mountain bike can go and what it can be trusted to do in an environment where there are huge consequences for small errors. The 601 has earned a number of first descents, and it has also earned the respect of select all-mountain riders, who discovered that the same attributes that make the Liteville a big mountain freerider also make it one of the rare birds that can hit anything at a bike park, and still make the cut, should its owner decide to climb a thousand meters of singletrack that afternoon.
Liteville sells the 601 as a frame kit in six sizes, ranging from X-small to XX-large, and each has dedicated geometry and wheel diameters. Few bicycles are as rigorously engineered and tested, and Liteville backs up its claims to that end with a ten year transferable warranty. The frame and its RockSHox Vivid Air DH shock retail for $3150 USD. To put it bluntly, the 601 MK 3 is not for everyone. You either get it or you don’t, and that’s OK for the one percent who ride them, because where they are going, there probably won’t be anyone hanging around asking questions.601 MK 3 Details:
• Purpose: Freeride, technical trail, enduro racing
• Chassis: welded custom 6000-series butted aluminum frame. 4-bar Horst-Link type suspension, 190mm travel.
• Fork/ travel: Designed for 180mm forks (Fox 36 Factory Van R used in test)
• Syntace X-12 thru-axle system and integrated SCS II lower chainguide.
• Shock: RockShox Vivid Air DH, custom tune.
• Adjustable shock mount to allow fine tuning of frame geometry
• Tapered head tube with integrated bearings and 1.5-degree angular adjustment option
• Patented Neutral Center Path cable routing
• Liteville Scaled Sizing: frame geometry changes between sizes.
• Wheel sizes change with frame sizing
• Ten year transferable warranty, including race usage
• Sizes: X-small, small, medium, large, X-large and XX-large
• Available colors: anodized black, raw aluminum
• Weight: (stated, frame and shock)
3320grams. (complete, as tested: 13.76kg / 30.27 pounds)
• MSRP: $3150 USD (sold as frame and shock only)
• Contact: Liteville USA
, Liteville DE
|It was designed to push the envelope of where a mountain bike can go and what it can be trusted to do in an environment where there are huge consequences for small errors.|
Meet the Liteville 601
Liteville is the brainchild of Syntace’s Jo Klieber and freerider Michi Gratz who founded the brand to build no-compromise mountain bikes with performance qualities that they could not find in 2004. The 601 is on its third iteration. The Mark 3 shares the same four-bar Horst-Link rear suspension of the original and its large, centrally-located rocker-driven shock. All its suspension pivots feature stainless steel bearings and titanium hardware. Its adjustable geometry is slack up front and tight in the back to give it an advantage in both technical ups and downs. Necessary accessories, like its chain guides, front changer mount, rear mech’ guard, and its Syntace X12 rear axle and break-away hanger system are integrated into the frame. The threadbare cliché, “a well-thought-out design” is refreshingly accurate as it applies to the 601.
Construction: The chassis is welded in a two-pass process which produces smoother transitions and is said to greatly improve the fatigue resistance of the frame junctions. The 6000-series alloy that Liteville uses is specific to their frames and each of the massively oversized tubes is butted up to five times in their lengths. That, and creative profiling of each member, ensures that every gram of the 601’s aluminum is doing a specific job. The rocker link, swingarm junction and bottom bracket shell are machined in halves and welded into lightweight, rigid structures. As a result, the 601 frame is remarkably trim for a 190-millimeter-travel mini beast. Liteville says that the medium-sized frame with its RockShox Vivid Air DH damper weighs 3320 grams (7.34 pounds in ‘Merica)
Liteville runs the rear derailleur housing through a tunnel in the seat tube (top left and top right) to minimize flexing caused by suspension action. The sturdy Syntace X12 derailleur hanger (lower left) uses a breakaway bolt to protect the changer in a crash. A spare hanger bolt is screwed into the bottom bracket shell (lower right).
Appointments: Simple as it may be in profile, the 601 Mark 3 bristles with juicy details that would be the highlight of a nerd worshipper’s convention. The tapered head tube uses Syntace’s VarioSpin direct-mount headset which can be used to adjust the head angle up to 1.5 degrees with optional VarioSpin cups. (zero-degree cups are standard) The frame’s head tube area is reinforced with internal and external gussets and a concave profile beneath the top tube allows 601 owners to hide an external dropper housing, or if that isn’t good enough, route it internally through ports in the top tube. In addition, the 601 may be configured for stealth routing, inside the seat tube.
For simplicity’s sake, the full-length shifter housings and brake hoses are routed externally on the downtube. To ensure that suspension action does not interfere with the operation of the rear derailleur, however, Liteville runs the rear derailleur’s housing through a tube in the base of the seat tube and then inside the swingarm’s right seat stay. Because the housing passes through the hinge line of the rear suspension, it flexes very little, and it is also protected from any foreseeable impacts.
Interlocking teeth in the upper shock mount index adjustments to the 601's frame geometry and bottom bracket height. The RockShox Vivid Air is very lightweight for a DH damper.
Adjustable suspension: The upper shock mount meshes with interlocking teeth on a boss that is welded to the down tube. The full range is ten millimeters of linear adjustment at the shock – which raises or lowers the suspension 25 millimeters (one inch) at the rear axle. A rider can use the adjustment to raise or lower the bottom bracket, adjust for a different rear-wheel diameter, and to change the head angle roughly up to one degree. Riders can make trail-side geometry changes using a single, six-millimeter hex key.
Dedicated chainguide: One would expect to find ISCG 05 mounts at the 601’s threaded bottom bracket shell, but there are none. Liteville candidly states that any mountain bike in the 180/190-millimeter-travel class should be fitted with a reputable chain guide, but they opt for an upper guide that bolts to the direct-mount front derailleur bosses (Syntace makes one, although our test bike used an e*thirteen item) and the chainstay is machined to accept a Syntace SCS II lower guide. We have had positive experiences with the SCS II guide system, which allows for the use of one-by, two-by, even triple cranksets with no averse shifting issues, and with minimal chain rattle.
X12 system: Syntace’s X12 rear through-axle system has gained notoriety among a number of OEM bike makers for good reason. The non-drive-side end has a tapered collet that locks into the dropout, and it contains its own hex tool, stashed inside the hollow aluminum axle. Instead of a wimpy piece of threaded aluminum dangling below the right-side dropout, the X12 derailleur hanger is a stiff block of CNC-machined aluminum indexes into the frame and is held in place by a pinch bolt. The X12 hanger boosts shifting performance and is almost immune to bending upon impacts. When the rear mech hits something that could damage the derailleur of the dropout, the X12 pinch bolt is designed to break in half. A small Allen key is used to unthread the broken shaft inside the dropout - and should you need a trail-side replacement, a spare breakaway hanger bolt is conveniently screwed into the bottom bracket of the 601 frame.
Liteville's graphic depicts the different forces acting upon a front-wheel impact
(left) and a rear-wheel impact
(right). The rider's inertia tends to drive the front wheel downwards and into the bump, while the same forces tend to lift the rear wheel up and over the obstacle.
Liteville’s sizing system is one of the most comprehensive in the business. It is the creation of Syntace designer and founder Jo Klieber, who came to the conclusion, after a couple of years experimenting with frame geometry and wheel diameters, that changes in the center of mass of a tall, versus a short rider affect the bicycle’s roll-over performance over rough ground as much or more than is attributed to the various wheel diameters. From this, Klieber instituted gradual changes in the lengths of the top tubes and chainstays of each size frame, as well as alterations in the frame angles to reproduce a similar ride quality for riders of all statures.
Further research led Klieber to re-assess the roles that the front and rear wheels play as the bike and rider negotiate various obstacles. In the end, Klieber was convinced that the roll-over advantage of a larger front wheel was substantial, because the rider’s weight transfers forward and down upon impact, which magnifies the detrimental effects of a small wheel getting hung up in uneven terrain.
Conversely, the rider’s mass far exceeds that of the bicycle, and thus creates a lifting force and forward acceleration to the bicycle when the rear tire contacts a bump. The bicycle slows while the rider’s mass continues forward – a dance which tends to lift the rear wheel up and over the obstacle and eclipses the minor part that a larger-diameter rear wheel plays in the roll-over equation. Klieber theorizes that choosing a smaller rear wheel which accelerates better, and is lighter weight with similar width tires and rims, is the more intelligent compromise. Liteville then specs one diameter larger front wheel through most of the 601’s size range to capture the measurable improvements in roll-over and cornering traction which were proven in their test trials.
Scaled sizing incorporates Liteville’s graduated frame sizing with Klieber’s wheel diameter theory to produce one of the more complicated frame sizing charts that we have seen. The extra small 601 gets a 24-inch rear and a 26-inch front. Small-sized frames are 26 by 26 inch, mediums and larges are 26 rear and 27.5-inch front, and both the X-large and XX-large sizes are 27.5 by 27.5 inch. So, where do 29-inch wheels come into play in the Scaled Sizing graph? Liteville’s chart omits them from the 190-millimeter-travel 601, but they still encourage the use of 29-inch wheels in their literature. A quick look at the specs for their lighter weight, 160-millimeter-travel model 301 shows that the XL size is intended for a 27.5 rear and 29-inch front wheel, while the XXL model has 29-inch wheels on both ends. It is doubtful that the 601's swingarm could fit a 29er wheel with full-width DH rubber, but that won't stop you from using a big wheel up front.
An overlay of all six frames from XS to XXL illustrates that Liteville lengthens the top tube and chainstays of each successive size.
Liteville's sizing also makes wheel-diameter judgments based upon proposed usage and the amount of suspension travel.
How the height of a rider fits into Liteville's Scaled Sizing map for both frame size and wheel diameters.
About the Build
Syntace owns Liteville, so it should come as no surprise that our 601 Mark 3 was decked out with Syntace’s W35 MX wheels, and a 740-millimeter Vector carbon handlebar clamped to a Megaforce 2 50-millimeter stem. Brakes were Shimano XT with ICE Tech pads and rotors (180mm R, 200mm F). The drivetrain was powered by an e*thirteen TRSr crankset fitted with a 30-tooth narrow-wide chainring, and backed up by an e*thirteen upper guide. The SRAM one by eleven transmission had an X0 rear mech and an X1 shifter. Up top, a RockShox Reverb Stealth 120mm-stroke dropper post grasped an SQlab carbon rail saddle. Tires were tubeless, with a Schwalbe Rock Razor 2.35-inch on the rear and a Magic Mary 2.35-inch up front. Suspension was powered by a Fox Factory series 180mm stroke Van R coil-sprung fork and the aforementioned RockShox Vivid Air DH air-sprung shock. Total weight without pedals was 13.76kg (30.27 pounds), which is quite respectable for such a no-nonsense build.
|I must admit that my expectation was that the 601 would handle much better with equal sized wheels, but I was in for a surprise.|
The elephant in the room when we rolled out the Liteville 601 was the bike's 26-inch rear wheel. We all cut our teeth on 26-inch wheels, but after the industry shook hands and admitted that larger wheels rolled and generally performed better, why would accomplished designers like the men at Liteville bother to dig up the corpse and bolt a little wheel on the rear end of its most prestigious all-mountain shredder? Emotionally, it doesn't jibe, but the nature of our job when we face the improbable is to ignore speculation and look for the science.
Mountain bikes with differing wheel diameters have been introduced with marginal success on a number of occasions, with the most memorable period being the 26 by 29-inch "69er," which was a response by designers to blend their way into the 29er movement without actually committing to it. The most popular reason for mismatched mountain bike wheels is a nod to motocross racing motorcycles, which run a front rim that is typically three inches larger in diameter than the one used for the rear wheel. Moto logic fails to hold up, however, when one considers that the rear tire must be larger and wider to provide driving traction, while the front tire needs only to deliver enough grip for cornering and braking, and thus is considerably smaller. The end result is that the actual diameters of motocross wheels end up the same, or close enough to make the case.
That is important to note, because when wheels are the same diameter, they scribe the same arc when leaned into a corner. Smaller diameter wheels make a tighter arc than larger ones do when leaned at the same angle, so a bicycle outfitted with different diameter wheels has little in common with a motocross bike and can be expected to handle quite differently with regards to its steering and cornering.
Jo Klieber's description of how the rider's inertia lifts the rear wheel up and over an obstacle is irrefutable, and it does make a good case for using a smaller diameter rear wheel. The main advantages of choosing a larger diameter wheel seems to be that it rolls more efficiently over little bumps - the incessant chatter that is the very nature of off road cycling, and in that respect, the smaller 26-inch wheel should always be at a disadvantage.
To settle those questions, after testing the 601 for three months in its intended 26 by 27.5-inch configuration, using the adjustable shock mount function to produce similar frame geometry, I switched out the rear wheel to a 27.5-inch size to provide a direct comparison. I must admit that my expectation was that the 601 would handle much better with equal sized wheels, but I was in for a surprise. The short version is that changing wheel diameters enhanced the Liteville's performance in noticeably different ways, and neither setup proved detrimental to any key ride qualities.
Suspension setup: Both the Fox 36 Van R fork and the RockShox Vivid Air shock have separate high and low-speed damping circuits, so it takes a few rides to achieve a balanced feel. Liteville must have got the rear suspension kinematics just right, because the shock always felt as if it was operating in its sweet spot. RockShox told us to set the air-sprung Vivid to feel softer in its initial stroke than intuition would suggest. The advice was heeded and, remarkably, we were able to use full travel with nary a hint of bottoming. I would love to provide some magic settings, but as it turns out, all the dials were about two thirds out from full slow. The performance of the coil-sprung Fox 36 with the FIT fluid separation system is legendary and at 180-millimeters of travel, it feels like there is a dual-crown DH fork up front, but it's a heck of a lot easier to lift the front end off the ground with the 36 out there.
Nothing seems to upset the 601 in a straight line. Its stiff chassis snaps out of off-angle landings and its suspension feels next-level in the big stuff.
Improvised pedal platform: Liteville's rear suspension is purposefully designed to be neutral during braking and pedaling. So, without built-in chain growth or special BFD-link geometry to counter suspension bobbing with each power stroke, the 601 could use some help from its shock to firm up its pedaling feel. There is no lever on the Vivid Air shock for a pedaling platform, and if there were, I am sure that many enduro racers and all-mountain shredders would be running one. As luck would have it, the Vivid shock's compression dial is within easy reach while riding, so all we had to do was count clicks - all the way in produced an adequate measure of pedaling firmness for climbing and rolling trail work. Four clicks out and the 601 was instantly transformed for downhill duty.
Pedaling and acceleration: With a 30-tooth chainring and SRAM's 11 by 42 XX1 cassette driving a 26-inch rear wheel, the 601 feels like it has a rock crawler low gear. Add the traction boosting authority of its uncoupled four-bar rear suspension and the Liteville can make its way up some improbable climbs. At 30 pounds, it climbs and accelerates better than any 180-millimeter-travel all-mountain bike I have ridden as of late, with the exception of the Cannondale Jekyll, but that is not a tough audience to impress. Expectedly, the 601's super slack, 64-degree head angle and trombone fork do little to enhance the bike's ergonomics and steering when the grades get steep, but it isn't all that bad either. Both test riders responsible for this review used the 601 as a daily driver. It gets up to speed quickly enough to keep you in the game on a group ride, and when faced with an extended climb, turn the blue compression dial in, get into a rhythm and the Liteville will march smoothly uphill without nagging you about its weight or about how softly sprung its rear suspension may be.
Turning and steering: Doubts about the advantages that a smaller rear wheel may bring to the game are erased the first time the 601 rounds a corner at speed. Typically, bikes with long forks and with head angles in the neighborhood of 64 degrees lead into a turn with the front wheel until it finds grip, after-which, the suspension loads up and, if there is enough speed present, the rear tire will drift slightly, which helps tighten the arc around the turn. Because slack head angles force the rear wheel to stay in plane with the front wheel, steering into the turn will set the rear wheel in a correspondingly larger drift angle. The 601 doesn't do that.
|The 601 works, and it will make anyone who likes smashing corners a fan.|
The 601's smaller rear wheel tracks the front, gripping tenaciously as the rear suspension compresses, and upon exit, the suspension unloads and the bike seems to leap out of the turns. Even on slick surfaces, when we pressed hard to drift the rear tire, the 601's tail would do its best to stay tucked in. The Liteville invariably held a tighter line than anticipated and initially, my fingers were often left bleeding from unintentionally grazing the shrubbery on the inside of corners. We soon learned to ride the 601 from the front of the bike, steering or placing the front wheel in the direction we wanted to go and ignoring what the rear wheel was doing.
The 601 works, and it will make anyone who likes smashing corners a fan. But, was it the smaller wheel or other factors? The front end was shod with a Schwalbe Magic Mary, which is presently the grippiest front tire sold to the public. That may have explained the 601's good behavior in the turns. We switched to the new Nobby Nic up front and netted similar results, but when we tested the 601 with 27.5-inch wheel on both ends, the tail of the bike performed in textbook fashion for a slack all-mountain design - with the rear tire settling into a slight drift each time we pushed the Liteville to the limits of its cornering speed. So far, all indicators point to differential wheels as the key to the 601's remarkable show in the turns.Technical riding and descending:
With a 180-millimeter Fox 36 Van R showing the way down the mountain, the 601 proved to be a fearless descender. Its slack head angle encourages riders to keep their weight low and centered over the chassis, and it makes the Liteville feel much like a mini downhill bike in the sense that we could straight-line almost any descent if we ran out of line choices. Aided by a level of sensitivity made possible by the Liteville's uncoupled rear suspension and the one-finger modulation of its Deore XT brakes, the 601's braking feels precise and powerful. We could burn off a lot of speed over a short patch of ground, or ease the bike down a tricky section of boulders with surgical precision.
The 601's long-ish front center and 440-millimeter chainstays spread the rider across the bike - an arrangement that makes it easy to shift weight fore and aft without exaggerated body movements and that makes it possible to move the front or rear wheel around in a pinch. As a result, the Liteville jumps well and recovers like a cat from off-angle landings or after being bounced off line by roots or boulders. Seamless weight transfer also makes it much less of a beast to maneuver at slower speeds than its gravity-derived geometry suggests it should be. All that adds up to an easier bike to ride on unfamiliar trails, where one is constantly making last-minute line choices and decisions like, "should I roll it or huck it?" After putting in some time aboard the 601, it is easy to understand why it has become a favorite among Alpine descenders.
|When pressed over successive hits, the chassis stabilizes at a near-perfect ride height - just tall enough to keep the cranks from bashing outcrops in the trail.|
As tested, the Liteville makes good cases for both air-sprung and coil-sprung suspension. Granted, the 601's suspension was set up more like a DH bike, so it makes sense to put coil-sprung suspension on the end that is meeting and greeting the lion's share of the bumps. Fox's coil-sprung 36, as anticipated, had the small-bump suppleness to keep the tires hooked up, and few single-crown forks can match its big hit performance. The air-sprung Vivid shock was the surprise, however. The Liteville's leverage rates were a good match for the shock's spring and damping curves. Damping felt consistent, from smoothing out noisy chatter, to aggressive, full-travel events. We have learned to expect long-stroke air-sprung shocks to excel at one end of their travel, while their performance falls off on the opposite end.
Happy accident? Perhaps, but it works for the 601. When pressed over successive hits, the chassis stabilizes at a near-perfect ride height - just tall enough to keep the cranks from bashing outcrops in the trail. Braking dive was never an issue, and though we expected the smaller rear wheel to hang up on square-edged bumps, if it was, the rear suspension did a good job of hiding it. Overall, the 601 stays planted, but it doesn't match the magic carpet ride of a properly tuned DH bike. You can feel the bumps, but Liteville has engineered the suspension so that they don't affect your decision making process while you are in shred mode.
Wheel Diameter Report
We compared the Liteville 601 on the same trails with the original 26 by 27.5-inch W35 MX wheels, with a matched set of 27.5 by 27.5-inch Reynolds AM wheels to assess the differences (if any)
in the bike's turning, rolling resistance and suspension performance. All 27.5-inch tires were Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35-inch. The 26-inch wheel used a 2.35-inch Rock Razor. The shock position was altered to provide similar geometry. The following are subjective, but realistic assessments:
• Cornering: 26 by 27.5 was superior in almost every type of turn because it carried more exit speed and carved a tighter line, with less drifting. The 27.5 by 27.5 shrugs off speed with a smoother, more assuring rear-wheel drift, but it scribes a wider apex.
• Rolling: Here, the 27.5 by 27.5-inch version was the clear winner. The smoother roll-over and marginally faster pace was mainly apparent on flatter sections of the course and when climbing steadily.
• Suspension: Jo Klieber may be right about the rider's mass assisting the rear suspension, because the two diameters deliver about the same ride over mid to maximum-size bumps. The 27.5-inch rear wheel is noticeably smoother, however, over small bumps and chattery terrain.
Liteville does not sell complete bicycles, but it offers builder assistance kits with key suspension items and accessories, many of which are made by its parent company, Syntace. For the uninitiated, Syntace makes a number of lightweight components which are designed and tested specifically for rigorous all-mountain applications. Through five months of riding, the 601 MK3 proved to be quiet running and fantastically reliable. With the exception of two flat tires, all we needed to do was hose it off and lubricate the chain. As far as I remember, it didn't even need a derailleur adjustment. Chain guides:
Happy to report that Syntace's SCS II integrated lower chain guide, paired with the e-Thirteen upper guide gave us no trouble, in spite of the fact that we were shuttling DH runs with some heady company. Some potential customers are going to complain that the 601 lacks standardized ISCG 05 tabs, but it ain't broke, so we don't think it needs fixing. Vivid Air DH Shock:
Syntace beats to the rhythm of its own drum and, in this case, their choice to go with a dedicated DH shock like the Vivid Air instead of following the crowd to Cane Creek was arguably the better option. Who would have known? If RockShox would add a pedal platform lever to it, the Vivid shock would leave nothing to want for the Liteville's rear suspension. The Vivid Enduro Air? Wheel options:
Liteville's Scaled Sizing is a valid system, especially for riders who make up the taller and shorter ends of the six available sizes, but there should be options for riders in the center of the range to opt for matched wheel diameters, or to upsize from 26 by 27, to 27 by 29 where those combinations make sense.Adjustable shock mount:
The concept is great, but the range needs to be doubled so that owners can also match the bottom bracket height between different wheel sizes. Ten millimeters of additional adjustment, paired with Syntace's angular adjustable headset to fine tune the geometry, would allow the bottom bracket height to hover around 355 millimeters (14 inches),
where the 601 seems to handle best.Pinkbike's Take:
| Highly refined and purposefully designed, the 601 MK 3 is a bicycle that is by nature, mutually exclusive. The perfect customer would be athletic enough to grind up steep climbs for an hour or more on a 30-pound bike shod with aggressive rubber, and talented enough to put on an A-game and ride the big-boy lines on the way down. The 601 is expensive. You can buy a lot of carbon for the same money, but professional tools don't come cheap. If you view riding as your vocation, and if your definition of all-mountain is more like big mountain, its MSRP won't be your first concern. The 601 customer may appreciate that it is made from aluminum after parting company with a carbon bike in the recent past and down-climbing a rock face to retrieve its remains. The 601 can also be defined by what it isn't. It is not showy and it is not speedy enough to bag Strava victories unless the trail points towards the center of the earth. There are more competitive options available for those who want to make a name for themselves racing enduros. Liteville's 601 MK 3 is remarkably simple looking for how well it performs because all of the faddy and useless stuff has been carved away. Over time, the same thing happens to talented riders. If that sounds like you, I'd suggest that you try one on and see if it is a good fit. - RC|
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