Did somebody say downcountry? This is more than just a pumped-up XC bike, and it fully lives up to the trail designation. It’s more than just able to get down steep and techy descents without scaring the living daylights out of you like so many traditional XC race bikes; you can truly rip up the corners as if you were on a longer travel trail bike. For the rider that values speed across all terrain and wants to enjoy the descents, and has some big marathon rides planned, it’s a damn good choice.
The geometry gives you immense confidence. There's no teetering down techy trails looking for the chicken line - instead, you can cash in your climbing tokens for a wild and thrilling ride down the hill. The Synonym feels perfectly balanced and you’re able to put the Fox 34 precisely where you want it, pointing and shooting around or over obstacles with enough nimbleness to ensure it’s a lively ride.
As you might expect, the Synonym’s geometry does entice you into hitting lines harder and faster, and there is a limit to what you can get away with when you’ve only got 120mm suspension travel. But the suspension copes with the hard stuff, absorbing the chunky landings extremely well with no harsh bottom out, and the frame and Fox 34 fork are stiff enough to ensure it delivers a precise feeling ride. I had no ‘oh shit I’m in out of my depth’ moments as I have done on more conservative XC bikes. There’s ample grip from the tires when it’s dry or mildly moist, but you might want to swap in a burlier front tire if you are going to ride in the mud or wring it hard on the technical trails.
Dropper posts are integral to longer travel bikes, but they’re starting to appear on top-level XC racer bikes, and in this trail tune it’s something I appreciated, with a 150mm dropper on the large and XL sizes. I’m indifferent to the remote lockout, I appreciate it’s a requirement on a XC race bike, but I feel this trail focused bike could have done away with the lockout lever and its mess of cables and relied on the excellent suspension in all situations. It would then avoid the annoyance of accidentally tapping the lockout lever when you reach for the dropper lever directly above it just as you’re dropping into a steep chute.
NS Bikes set out to create a XC bike that would bring all their experience with bigger trail and enduro bikes to create a XC and lightweight trail bike that could descend better than anything else out there, and they have succeeded. From groomed trail center fodder where it’s smooth and precise to natural rooty tracks where it can show a clean pair of heels to most other XC bikes, it’s a very accomplished bike. Impressive for the company’s first stab at a XC bike.