New from Transition Bike Co this year is the TransAm hardtail
. Transition has become a big name in the industry in the past couple of years, with several full suspension models to choose from. Their bikes are designed around the way they want to ride, so the TransAm was their answer to a light, quick all-mountain hardtail with simplicity being the foundation for a bike reliable enough for multiple rainy days in the saddle with no maintenance. TransAm is short for "Transition All Mountain", and to be labeled "all mountain" a bike should be extremely versatile, light enough to handle several thousand feet of climbing in a day, with a comfortable geometry for climbing yet relaxed enough for technical descents, able to handle some drops and jumps, and it's got to be reliable for when the ride turns epic. If "all mountain" means riding everything the trail has to offer, the TransAm lives up to it's name.
First night ride on the TransAm
Cam Burnes ripping some dark pacific northwest singletrack on his TransAm
A decade as a mechanic taught me there is A
)durable, and C
)inexpensive, and you can only have two out of three. Well for me I only settle for one and I prefer a durable, reliable bike over anything else. I hate wasting my biking time fixing mechanicals, so my goal with the TransAm was to build a burly winter assault vehicle that never lets me down. That means it's a bit heavy and I'm fine with that. I weigh 200 lbs and ride pretty hard, so at 30 lbs this TransAm is the lightest bike I've had in 10 years, yet I still feel comfortable hitting some of the bigger stuff on it. It rains a lot here in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, enough to where some days I end up with a case of swamp donkey bad enough to justify diapers. That means my bikes get hammered, with bearings taking the most abuse in these conditions. The main idea behind a singlespeed hardtail is to eliminate many of the moving parts such as rear suspension and gearing mechanisms to make the bike less susceptible to mechanical wear, and this theory works well on the TransAm.
Obviously stoked, these are the trail conditions this bike excels in
TransAm can handle some of the bigger moves too
You may have heard the saying "steel is real" and the TransAm's 4130 cro-moly is no exception. Although I primarily ride big bikes, I usually keep a hardtail kicking around for a backup bike. That changed last year when I decided aluminum hardtails that are built tough enough to handle the rigors of riding everything are so stiff that they're just not that fun on long rides. Don't get me wrong, the TransAm is not the bike of choice for riding some of the bigger trails on the North Shore and isn't sized to be a great dirt jumper, but on fast flowy trails with the occasional drop or jump it's a heck of a lot smoother than a multi-gusseted aluminum jackhammer. If there's one trait that I like best about the TransAm it's that it's silent. I've never really felt like any of my other bikes were loud; they all sound the same. A singlespeed hardtail has no chain slap or cable slap or suspension-induced derailleur noises, and the steel frame is so smooth on the trails that it dampens sound vibration. Don't believe me? Try one.
TransAm is smooth through rougher sections
The TransAm feels lively, responsive, and precise, and on rugged fast trails it offers a lot of forgiveness in the back end compared to all the aluminum hardtails I've ridden. There is no question that a hardtail makes you a smoother rider, and a singlespeed setup takes that one step further and encourages finding rhythm in the various peaks and dips of a trail. No more monster-trucking the gnar, you have to be more conscious of line selection and to be smooth you have to pump the bike into the terrain to carry momentum. It's been good for me to change it up with the TransAm on some days and a big bike on other days. However, this being the lightest bike I've had in years I do notice that now my DH bike feels heavier and slower, on the same trails that is.
Slicing singletrack is the bike's forte
Pedaling a singlespeed takes some getting used to. I never tried singlespeeding before because I figured I would have to use clipless pedals to do it. I gave that up 10 years ago and wasn't about to go back. I guess Transition is taking this into account with the all-mountain genre and assuming that this style of rider will have their own choice of pedal, so there were no pedals included. Good thing, since I wouldn't trade my Axiom Road Gap flats for a gold brick, except that for a brick of gold I could probably buy several thousand pedals, so I guess I would. Anyways, sometimes you just have to man-up and deal with it. As with anything, you get used to it over time and now I don't think twice about singlespeeding with flat pedals. There are a few places where it gets tough to pedal, but it's nearly as difficult being clipped in, so just deal with it or switch to the low gear. What, you thought this thing only had one gear? Well there are actually two: riding, and walking. I still reach for a shifter every now and then, and usually when that happens I feel like I'm going to break a chain when my back is in knots and smoke is coming out of my ears trying to summit a steep climb. Sound like fun? Yeah, uphill is the new downhill. Seriously though, you wanna get smoother and stronger for downhilling, try a singlespeed.
Hardtails excel in the tight stuff
With my TransAm setup as a singlespeed, I don't spend much time in the saddle. This has it's own set of trade-offs such as I don't need to adjust my seatpost height very often but I also don't get much of a rest. Luckily the large TransAm feels a bit long in the cockpit so I don't feel cramped when standing for long periods. It's not long as in reachy and difficult to handle, but it's long as in comfy and makes me want to spend all day riding. The Transition spec'ed stem is a 70mm, but I opted for a 60mm, and eventually ended up on a 50mm. Now with a 50mm stem and a 6" fork, the long-ish top tube length coupled with a generally short wheelbase gives me room to move around on the bike and keeps my weight over the front end for climbs, while maintaining the nimble handling characteristics of the bikes I'm used to on technical terrain. A gusset at the top tube/seat tube junction allows for a more sloped top tube and lower standover height. 16.6" chainstays and a low bottom bracket keep the bike feeling quick in the corners and the front end easily manageable.
Short chainstays can handle tech moves with ease
A lot goes into selecting parts for your singlespeed, with gearing being an obvious priority. I received a 32t front ring and a 18t rear. Having never ridden a singlespeed before, it feels good to me. Yes, it's hard at times, and yes, it's easy at times, but overall this gearing works well. But gearing isn't the only choice that determines ride-ability of the bike. The 175mm cranks are helpful. Especially with 2.5 DH tires. I don't like getting flat tires, so the DH casing is key, even at the weight penalty. Revolution 32 wheels are a good compromise between ultimate strength and weight. The T-bar 30 handlebar is wide; we're approaching a meter here. I cut mine down a bit to 28.5" just like all my other bars and it's just enough length to really get leverage and dig deep when grunting over the top of some steep pitch of gravel road.
Fear not thy snowy XC trails
About the only part I worry about wearing out on the TransAm is the fork seals, but the 2009 Fox 36 Float R has proven to be one awesome fork thus far. I was very hesitant with an air fork since I am a bit on the heavy side and I'm building the bike for ultimate reliability, but Kevin at Transition spec'ed it and it definitely does not disappoint. I took the fork out of the box, bolted it on, and went riding. At a non-adjustable 160mm (6") travel, the bike feels all-around very balanced and isn't too tall at the front end. I've put in about 80 hours on it and haven't touched it other than dialing in two clicks of rebound adjustment. No air pressure adjust, no sag adjustment, no maintenance. Obviously this isn't going to be the case for everyone as we all weigh in differently, but man that's impressive in this particular coincidence. This Fox fork is one of those really good bike parts that you just don't even think about, with one exception. On big drops, the fork sounds like a line drive to a kickball. I'm not worried about it, just notice it. This may be where the upgrade Float RC2 model shines with it's adjustable high and low-speed compression, but I like the simplicity of adjustment on this Float R model. Other than the sound from heavy hits, the fork works great in all situations and I never have to mess with it at all. In high-speed sections of trail, it's completely smooth and supple; very surprising for an air fork. Big 36mm stanchions track straight as an arrow. The bike goes where you point it with no exception.
2009 Fox 36 Float R
The fork sports an 1-1/8" steer tube that is mated to the TransAm through an integrated Campy-style headset. The head tube of the frame is flared on both ends to accommodate the headset bearings. This setup works great and looks really clean.
The TransAm's Campy-style internal headset
Avid's new Elixir CR brakes are the best Avids to date. 8" front and 6" rear disc rotors are a good match to the weight and purpose of the TransAm, although for most riders a 6" front would probably suffice. The Elixir's are powerful and have modulation similar to Avid's downhill model Code brakes. Tool-free adjustment of lever reach and pad contact are incorporated into the lever body in a unique fashion where the entire barrel of the lever body leading into the brake line rotates to adjust pad contact. Lever reach is recessed into the lever body and can be spun via a knurled nut even with gloves on. If you're a rider that likes to have both levers with identical pull and tool-free adjustment, this is your brake. The rear brake has some squeal that feels like vibration from somewhere but I haven't narrowed it down yet. The brakes are staying in adjustment and haven't required any maintenance. The pads still have about 85% of their life left after a few months of rain soaked abuse.
Transition Revolution hub and Fox tool-less 20mm axle
Transition's wheelsets are a real bargain. I opted for the Revolution 32 wheels which are a bit heavier than the stock AM32 wheels, but as mentioned I'm kinda heavy and plan to rally the bike pretty hard. The wheels look great and I haven't had to turn a spoke wrench yet on these. Rear hub engagement is fast. When I first got the bike, it made a loud pop noise from somewhere in the rear hub about 5 times. It has since gone away, but it was weird because it was always on a stiff climb yet I couldn't feel it. When hammering a singlespeed, chains stretch faster than normal and require adjustment occasionally. It doesn't require precise adjustment, but it would be easier if the TransAm had some sort of chain tensioners for it's horizontal dropouts, and may not require so much torque on the rear axle. A 15mm closed-end wrench is key for getting this setup tight enough to where the rear wheel doesn't move. When you think the axle is going to break, it's almost tight enough. Rear wheel removal is no problem with Transition's rear hub, as the axle slides right out of the hub whether using the bolt on 10mm axle or 10mm quick release axle.
15mm wrench is key to getting this axle tight
Pricing for this TransAm as tested is about $2,500 USD/ $3,000 CAD, but the bike is available in several configurations and component specs
, with the bare frame costing less than most current suspension forks. Some extras on the bike included a quick-release seat post collar, bar end caps, and a derailleur hanger dropout set for running a 10mm quick release axle and standard 9-speed mountain bike rear gearing.
The Transition TransAm, coming to a mountaintop near you
|Frame and Size||Transition TransAm (Orange)|
•Large (19.5") Frame
•double-butted 4130 cro-moly steel
|Fork||2009 Fox 36 Float R|
•20mm Tool less axle removal
•Air Positive pressure, Rebound adjustment
|Headset||Transition Campy-style integrated 1-1/8" headset|
|Crankarms||TruVativ Stylo, 175 mm|
|Bottom Bracket||TruVativ BB, 68/73mm|
|Chainring||FSA 32t alloy|
|Rear Cog||Shimano 18t steel|
|Handlebar||Transition T-bar 30,7075 Butted(31.8mm) •762mm width|
|Stem||TruVativ Holzfeller (31.8mm) •60mm reach|
|Grips||Cross Trainer lock-on, Transition bar-end caps|
|Brakes||Avid Elixir CR, 8" Front Rotor, 6" Rear|
|Wheelset||Transition Revolution 32, 32 spoke/32mm width, 20mm front axle, bolt-on 135x10mm rear axle|
|Tires||Maxxis Minion F&R 2.5 double wall|
|Saddle||Transition Park'n'ride AM, cromo rails|
|Seatpost||TruVativ Team double clamp, 30.0mm|
In summary, this bike rips. Steel, no shifters or derailleurs, and a true all-mountain geometry make this rigid frame a go-to rig amongst my quiver of dualies. It's secretly the bike I've always wanted, although far from the configuration I expected. So after a few months of testing in the exact environment this bike is designed to excel at, I don't think I could ever go back to not having it.
Eric Brown aboard his TransAm proves the smooth line is in the air
Transition owner Kevin Menard's TransAm on a convincing all-weather, all mountain ride
Links of interest
So much precipitation this winter that the roads are washing out, no shuttles means you gotta ride up!