Pinkbike has never reviewed trials bikes for the same reason there aren't many dirt jump bike reviews on the site. To find someone who is a good enough rider in that discipline to push the bike far enough to really understand it, and who can then relate that into brisk, amusing and enlightening copy is a Venn diagram with a very, very small overlap. Add on top of that how niche it is in the sport overall and I think anyone reading this hoping we're going to burst into all-out trials coverage should probably take a deep breath. Several years of riding street trials back in the late 90s/early 00s doesn't qualify me for much, it would qualify me for even less if my competition results were available for ridicule...
Jitsie Varial 24" Hybrid Details
• Wheel size: 24"
• Frame Material: Aluminium
• Wheelbase: 1045mm
• Reach: 470mm
• Chainstays: 370mmm
• Head-Tube Angle: 71.5°
• Weight: 9.53kg (w/o pedals, claimed)
• Sizes: one size
• Price: €1,150
• More Info: jitsie.com
I started thinking about trials bikes last autumn when France locked down for the second time. We had one of the strictest lockdowns in the Western world - in full lockdown we are allowed one hour of exercise per day, within a 1km radius of our houses. In the first lockdown last spring I tried cutting trails into the olive groves around our house, but even with far more space than most people have access to, it still kinda sucked. So come lockdown vol. 2 I started thinking about what would be the best bike for the moment. I had just three criteria: it had to be affordable; you had to be able to ride it wherever you are (hence BMXs and dirt jump bikes not making the cut) and it had to be simple to run and maintain. That left me reminiscing about my formative riding years when my friends and I could be amused for an entire day by a stack of abandoned palettes. Maybe a trials bike could be the ideal lockdown bike?
Certainly it ticked all the boxes. Priced at €1,150 on Jitsie's website, the Varial 24" Hybrid I have here with me isn't even the cheapest bike they make, if you want a pure trials bike, rather than this street/trials hybrid (hence the name) you can drop that down to €1,000 for complete bikes with the same frame their team riders use at WC-level. As for where you can ride it? Well, anywhere with more than a few meters of open space - I'm currently stacking old firewood palettes outside my house to make some basic obstacles. Finally there is simplicity, and a fully rigid, singlespeed bike built to take a beating ticks that box for sure. After all, you don't want to be nipping out for spares all the time during a pandemic. What's more, it all weighs less than 10kg.
|Maybe a trials bike could be the ideal lockdown bike?— Matt Wragg|
Construction and Features
Long-established in the motorcycle trials world, Jitsie initially entered the bicycle trials world as a parts and clothing manufacturer. They filled out their range of products to the point where they realised that it only made sense to add a frame to hang them all from. The Varial is a bespoke affair, with the entire build apart from brakes, tires and chain made in-house. It is a point of pride for Jitsie that their World Cup riders use the same frames they sell on their entry-level bikes, just tarted up with as much carbon and drilling as they can add.
That means that the frame does not feel like an entry-level bike, something immediately apparent from the wild-looking exposed section in the headtube. As you head back through the frame it strikes you as very simple, but well-thought out. Cable routing is clean and external, the bottom bracket is a 68mm ISIS unit and the headset is a simple 1 1/8" semi-integrated affair. The integration between the crank and the bashguard is worth noting - a far cry from the cheap, mix and match FSA cranks/DMR Ring Thing combo we used to run back in the day.
Where the bike diverges from what we use daily in general mountain biking is at the wheels, drivetrain and cockpit. Trials bikes always have a fixed rear wheel with a freewheel at the crank for instant pickup to give maximum control, plus it means a larger, more robust freehub body as failed freehubs can by catastrophic in trials. Just be careful with your fingers as you roll along, because rather than just the rear wheel rolling, the chain is always in motion if the bike is moving and will gladly take a finger off (my brother had a friend who did this when we were younger - Hi Wayne, if you're reading this).
Clockwise from top left: That cutaway headtube; The crank and bashguard and simple and clean, hiding behind them is the freewheel; For my money, that's a pretty wild-looking cockpit, fortunately it feels much more normal when you're riding; The cutaways in the rims to save weight - that is a rim strip underneath keeping the tube inside the tire.
The front hub has a bolted 100mm axle - although not a thru-axle, which is my one gripe with this bike. Over the last 15 years or so I have come to love and appreciate the reliablity of thru-axles and going back to an open dropout is worrying and I have to remind myself that my old Kona P2 fork had an open dropout, plus a QR, and that never let me down. At the rear is an own-brand 116mm fixed hub with the same bolted axle system. Trials puts a different set of stresses on the wheels of a bike and drilled out rims are the norm. Once again they are an own-brand affair with a 32mm width at the front and 48mm at the rear - back in the day this was a trick reserved for high end bikes and adventurous home-tinkerers, so it is nice to see at this price point.
Then there is the cockpit. A 730mm bar sounds fairly standard, however a choice of 90 or 100mm rise is more than twice what you're likely to find at a DH race. Then the stem is a massive 120mm long with a 35 degree rise. Couple with the 470mm reach it all sounds wild, but in practice the bike feels fairly normal if you focus on the contacts points rather than the shape.
One of the things that appealed to me with the hybrid bike as opposed to a competition bike were the brakes. I assumed that in 20 years the world of trials would have moved on from Magura HS-series hydraulic rim brakes. They have not. In many ways it makes sense - if what you want is the most precise control of the bike possible with few other considerations, then a rim brake will always be the better solution. But, I have bad memories of sliding down Hopton Castle DH track in the rain on a set of HS33s that could not find any purchase on the rims... So I prefer discs and this bike comes with a set of workhorse Shimano MT400s with 180mm Jitsie lightweight discs. On my regular mountain bikes I would probably complain about the lever shape (Levy and Kaz have in recent reviews), but when I can run them as far inboard as I need as there is nothing else on the handlebar, they seem to be pretty good so far and hard to fault at this price point. Finally there are the tires, it comes specced with Kenda K-Rad 24x2.3s, a common street/pumptrack/dirt tire. On a more compeititon-focused bike it would likely have heavier, stickier meat for maximum rock-crawling grip, but these are a better all-round option, especially if you want to cover any kind of ground on the bike.
If I am being completely honest, I never used to enjoy riding trials that much. Growing up in the flat, central part of the UK we fell into riding trials as there wasn't much else we could do nearby. Throw on top of that an incredible generation of UK trials riders around the time, like Martyn Ashton, Martin Hawes, Chris Akrigg and the Tongue brothers, and it seemed like the thing to do. At that age, not being very good at trials took away a lot of the fun for me, though. Watching my younger brother and friends progress faster than me was just soul-crushing and left me staring at the magazines each month dreaming of riding downhill. This year I turn 39 and at this age there is no hope or expectation that I could actually be any good at trials, and that is very liberating. If this bike means I have something to do on a bike for a few hours each week, regardless of the level of lockdown, time I can spend working on my strength and riding technique, then it is worth every single penny to me.
As I said at the start, I don't know enough about trials bikes to offer any in-depth perspective (plus I don't review for PB any more because of commercial conflicts with my work as a photographer), but the Varial was easy enough for me to jump on after 20 years away. Straight out of the box I just needed to pop in the front wheel, bolt on the pedals, inflate the tires and tighten the stem. I need to remember to buy some inner tubes at some point, which is a bit of a culture shock. I may pop on a set of Formula Cura brakes I have lying around so my wife can use the bike too (Formula levers are ambidextrous, while Shimano require a hose change to switch sides) and some lock-on grips when the time comes as I hate gluing grips, but overall it feels like a well-sorted package to me. I do need to point out that Jitsie are not alone here, when I was looking into trials bikes, the most interesting thing about this €1,000 price point is the choice - brands like Clean, Inspired and Crewkerz all offer bikes around it.
On my first ride I was hopping around on the backwheel and saw my shadow on the ground. It was surprising how big a movement it was - I'd say it is similar to pulling hard out on the trail. When I stop and think about how often I am pulling like that on an average trail ride, I think the answer is 'not often.' So you are doing that movement far more frequently and intensively than you would be otherwise, ideal preparation for trail riding. Certainly that first, brief ride left me with pretty intense muscle soreness across my shoulders the next day. Then there is the balance, the finer points of riding on flats, the technique of moving the bike around as precisely as you can. It is all good stuff, mix in a bit of running and I am pretty confident I have a good lockdown routine ready to keep me in shape that does not require a Zwift membership, no matter how bad things get. For me at least, that is moving an important part of my life under my own control once more.
There is a hidden joy to trials too - you start to see the world differently. A few days after receiving this bike I was chatting to a friend in town while we stood next to a rock. I realised that the rock was about the right height to hop onto for me (hopefully), I then started working out how I'd get off again. And that is a gift. As you move through the world logs, rocks, steps, walls, curbs and anything else you can think of start to morph from vague shapes to challenges, obstacles and playgrounds - much in the same way that a trail rider will try and spot a route down every hill.
Even if we don't lock down again here in France, those things are still a good addition for any rider, I started thinking about trials bikes for lockdown after seeing an Instagram post from French marathon animal, Micka Brunello, playing on one and figured if it's good for a marathon racer, maybe I was missing out. After all, here is an entire bike that is completely ready to ride for less than the price of a high-end fork or shock. I truly believe that as good as that upgrade may be, that most riders would be better for putting that money into a trials bikes and waiting until next year for new suspension... Plus, trials does not seem to have been caught up in the current cycling boom and while most of the industry is pulling their hair out at the supply chain problems covid has caused - these bikes are sitting in warehouses. Besides, N+1, right?
So our bike is a hybrid.
Hybrid means that the geometry is set for full street but also not for full competition.
The bike can be ridden in both. Compared to a full street trials bike the wheel base is a little longer. This means you can go for a ride in the street but if you want to go and ride a competition you can change out the stem and bar and it will be as competitive as they come.
The Inspired has a shorter wheelbase, lower bb and a steeper head angle.
This means the inspired places you more central "in" the bike and doesn't have much bias towards either wheel making it easy to spin and stable at speed or in manuals and the steeper head angle allows a shorter stem making barspin and tailwhip tricks easier. It'll feel slightly cramped for competitions though and the central feel will make it less stable on either wheel individually.
The Jitsie has a much higher bb, longer wheelbase and a slightly slacker head angle which a much longer stem. You'll feel much more "on top" of the Jitsie and it'll feel more more unstable and nervous...this isn't as good for spins (meaning bunnyhop style ones), anything at speed or barspin and tailwhip tricks but it'll feel much more stable on either wheel and the extra ground clearance and stretched feel will make it much better at static power moves and riding natural/competitions.
Basically the more streety bikes from Inspired etc will feel much closer to a dirt jump bike and the Jitsie will feel much more like a competition style trials bike.
Components-wise. The Inspired will be more aimed towards reliability and being smooth (rear free hub rather than a front freewheel, less extreme bar sweep, double wall rims etc) at the expense of some extra weight and the Jitsie is more kitted out with comp style parts which are lighter but less reliable (front freewheel, isis bb, single wall rims etc).
The choice kinda comes down to what you see yourself riding...if you don't want to take trials competitions too seriously and you imagine you'll want to have a decent trials bike but still be able to kill it in a skatepark or pump track then something streetier is best.
If you see yourself riding street but also want to ride more natual trials and competitions and don't care about skateparks or pumptracks then the Jitsie would be great for that choice.
-I don't ride trials myself, but I do find it fascinating and read/watch it. I bet there's more of my kind out there.
Keep up your excellent work Ali. I regularly tune into your channel to watch your trials videos. Amazing content.
I recommend to anyone who loves mountain biking to check out Ali’s channel even if you aren’t into the discipline of trials riding, but especially if you enjoy the art or trials riding. Ali’s got a real down to earth approach to his riding skill and video style. My two young boys (9 and 5 years old) enjoy watching Ali’s bike videos with me too, it gets them stoked to ride their bikes!
Keep up the good work man!
Thanks so much guys!
That is why I support him through patreon and he makes good use of the donation!
We have a three models in 26".
Head over to our website and you can see what's on offer.
Here is the link for the bikes. We are just doing a re jig at moment sometime next week we should have all listed.
We have bicycle trials dealers in the USA who should have bikes in stock.
Webcyclery and Trials superstore. Should have some in stock. You can also check the dealer list link to contact your local dealer.
Thanks Pinkbike for then article! Cant wait for spring to get back out on the trails and also on the trials bike!
He has also done some Bike Checks about his set up.
But be prepared, his riding is insane!
The main reason why people use a front freewheel is for weight placement, it lightens up the hub and brings the weight more central which makes picking up and placing the rear wheel slightly easier.
It's also a relic from trials back in the 80s and 90s when reliable hubs were non existent and it was easier to carry a spare crank with a new freewheel fitted rather than carrying a whole spare rear wheel when competing.
Lastly staying with the 80s and 90s, using a freewheel on the cranks meant you could run a much smaller 18t up front rather than a 22t which was usually the smallest commonly available with normal cranks...obviously the smaller sprocket was better for ground clearance.
I personally don't like running a front freewheel for street. Firstly they have a lot more drag (well, trials specific ones do) which isn't great when you want to carry speed. Secondly the chain constantly moving can eat trousers easily. Lastly running a smaller 18t up front puts a lot more strain on the chain and you're much more likely to snap a chain with an 18t up front over a 22t.
For a a full-on comp bike the central weight is great but for street there's more disadvantages than advantages for my liking.
Also, I *think* there is less torque for the freewheel to manage on the front vs back which should increase durability with the basic freewheels of the day.
Yes - I got my finger caught in one and have the scar to prove it, I prefer rear free-hubs...
We're talking tiny differences here though but with a front freewheel, the engagement points are exactly what the freewheel gives (could be older 36 ep or newer 108 ep) but whatever the freewheel ep is, that's what you get.
With a rear freehub, the ep is changed by the time it gets to you feet as its transferred through a gear ratio. I'm no mathematician so I'll never be able to work out what the difference is but it'll be tiny...like maybe a 72 ep hub might translate to a 78 ep by the time it reaches your pedals. This is exaggerated more if you use a bigger front sprocket (with the same size rear) as it increases the gear ratio.
I hope all this makes sense! Either way with an almost 1-1 ratio you're never going to notice the difference between a front freewheel and rear freehub if they had the same ep.
I get what you're saying about the back pedalling while the chain is moving forwards, perhaps that counteracts the gear ratio effect but I would still be shocked if any rider could actually tell the difference in ep between the two systems with the same engagement points
Easy solution - we need a YouTube video of you exploring this
Personally I would suggest you an inspired Fourplay, it's an awesome allrounder!
The geometry of this one is close to the bike I'm riding and I can promise that you can go fast on the pumptrack and also do a lot of trial orientated stuff.
Several of the other instructors are pretty handy trials riders too and you can post videos of yourself practicing either on the lesson or in the Facebook group and get feedback etc.
I've found that site invaluable for starting to improve my bunnyhopping and manuals. I haven't started on the trials stuff yet, but this article might have just convinced me to buy a trials bike!
I used also the bike on pumptrack many times and it rides really well there (after having pump the tyres).
When I first got on the DJ, having never ridding one before, my impression was that its much closer to a bmx than a mtb hardtail (though I was coming from a chromag stylus...)
My winter workouts are in my garage hopping around and learning basic trials moves followed by a strength/mobility workout. Its fun, improves my overall riding and yes, its a bloody hard workout - especially at the when you're learning even the most basic coordination and timing elements. My first winter at this I would be literally sweating and huffing and puffing literally 5 min into the workout.
So maybe less ideal for trials (but pretty good IMO) and I've got a proper DJ for the summer
trashzen.com is a useful free website and Ryan Leech has some old trials tutorials in his library (available by subscription) that are absolutely awesome
Trashzen is a great source of how to with video clips and descriptions.
A regular mountain bike doesn't really work for training because they are long, low, and the suspension takes up your energy.
I used to ride mountain unicycles, there's quite a following here in the states, sadly trials biking is not as popular in the USA.
Trials is hard, but anything you learn on a trials bike goes toward improving mountain bike skills.
Maybe PB can do a pump track primer next, followed by a DJ bike comparison ...
I sold it 6 months later for double the price, now I see bikes being sold for even more
it's crazy, new bikes costs CHF 1100 (good ones) and 5yr old bikes are being sold for CHF 750
Our shoes are available worldwide through our dealer network also at www.jitsie.com
Hit this link to see all our dealers in the USA
Cheers pinkbike for bringing different aspects of sport
If someone is used to riding a MTB a 20" trials bike won't feel remotely like a MTB and it can be hard to transfer skills, I think it's best to ride something that feels more natural even if it's not quite as stable on the rear wheel...it's much more realistic that they'll enjoy it and be able to swap between bikes and transfer the skills over if the bike doesn't feel like some weird alien hopping contraption
(I use real butter as chamois butter)
We are currently waiting on arrival of some parts for production then bikes will be available soon please give 2-3 weeks.