PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Downcountry Round Table
There were a lot of people that laughed at "downcountry". Well, they're not laughing now, are they? But I think they perhaps should. The name, or category, is just as ridiculous a word as ever. Is a downcountry
bike a real thing? Is it here to destroy mountain biking? Will there one day be downcountry specific trails that you're not allowed to ride unless you've got between 119 and 121mm of travel? Well, I think we know the answer. It's an unequivocal yes, obviously.
But, apart from an existential threat, what does a downcountry bike pose? Well, let's be honest, in most cases it's just a very light 120mm bike. Except some brands didn't get the memo on the lightweight part. To say these bikes are no different from 120mm bikes of the past, though, would be wrong. They are, and they ride very differently. However, there are some bikes that feel more like traditional trail bikes.
For instance, the Giant Trance Advanced Pro 29 and the Jet 9 RDO are bikes that seem to be just about capable enough to ride just about anything. They borrow a lot of the characteristics you've probably come to love in your enduro bike. They're higher at the front and the rider's weight tends to sit slightly more rearward. This means that while they're very confidence inspiring on the steeper trails, they don't feel so alive or quick to respond on flatter terrain.
Similarly, the Trek and the Rocky seem to embody the downcountry revolution with untempered commitment. They're long, they're slack, and they're probably longer than most EWS race bikes. Is that a good thing though? And is this what we want? In some aspects these bikes shine, but what are the shortcomings of having a 480mm reach on a shorter travel bike? Or is it a win-win situation?
Then, of course there are the XC race bikes who have undergone some serious revision to now be worthy of the "trail" name. How much difference can just adding one word make? And can they move away from their XC roots to open up new stratas of capabilities? They were certainly lively, but what does that mean for you and I riding on our local trails?
Some riders will want the extra security of being over biked. However, others enjoy pushing a short travel bike to its limit. The geometry of long-travel bikes has threatened to work its way into short travel applications for a very long time. Now that it's here, is it worth it? Or do we prefer something a little more classically inspired?