Back in 2013, it was Kona's Process 111 that really opened my eyes to the fact that a bike's geometry can be more important than the amount of rear travel. Unfortunately, that bike is nowhere to be found in Kona's lineup, but the good news is that Transition have taken that ball and run with it – the Smuggler fits perfectly into the slot vacated by the 111.
The Smuggler is all about fun, first and foremost. It's a bike that encourages its rider to goof off, whether that's by seeing how many mid-trail manuals you can pull, or trying to find out just how hard you can smash into a bermed corner. Sure, you can't go rocketing full blast into a minefield of rocks and expect to come out the other side as easily as you would on an enduro race machine, but that's not what this bike is all about. Instead, it's about finding the bonus lines, the hidden lips and landings that make a familiar trail even more entertaining.
There's a nice blend of stability and snappiness to the Smuggler's handling – on fast, wide open sections of trail it felt extremely stable, without any speed wobbles or twitchiness. Slow things down a bit and it's still nice and maneuverable – its manners are relaxed but not sluggish, which is handy when you're trying to pick your way through an ice and snow covered jumble of off-camber roots. The chainstay length is relatively short, which makes it easy to get that rear wheel around on tighter turn, and contributes to the bikes' peppy nature. Granted, short chainstays aren't always the answer, and in an ideal world their length would vary by frame size, but in this case, that short back end fits well with the Smuggler's intentions.
Of course, there are still limits to what you can get away with when there's only 120mm of rear travel available. Having that 140mm Fox 34 up front does help take the sting out of the bigger impacts, but only to a certain point. In most instances there was plenty of ramp up in the Fox Float shock to avoid any harsh bottom outs, but every once in a while a muted 'thwang' would make it clear that there weren't any more millimeters of squish left, typically after I went a little farther, or landed a little flatter than I probably should have.