BY Alasdair MacLennan
Alasdair MacLennan in action on one of the many lesser known trails in the massively varied and inspiring terrain of the Scottish Borders. Ian MacLennan photo
Firstly, the brand KTM may not be a name on the tip of the tongue for a lot of riders outside of central Europe, less so within the more intense gravity and all mountain side of the riding world. However, with a huge range of bikes on offer, there are several which should catch the eye of your average Pinkbike reader. The Bark is their 150mm Enduro/All-Mountain/do-it-all bike which covers off a wide variety of abilities in an unassuming package that is filled with numerous details that deserve more attention than their subtlety perhaps provides.
Loaded with technology and the resultant acronyms there is no shortage of detail in the bike. PDS (Pro Damping System) is their description of the floating shock which sits between the chainstay and upper link and is used to tailor the damping and spring curves to suit their performance desires. The PDS has been adapted from their shorter travel bikes with adjusted geometry, resulting in the ‘HD’ version seen here on the bark. It’s all relatively simple but it works, and it’s worth noting that this was introduced the model year prior to Trek’s adaptation of a similar system before anyone starts shouting ‘copycat.’ Although this review is based on the 2012 specification, the 2013 is essentially unchanged albeit with a slightly condensed range and improved spec at each price point. KTM Bark 20 Highlights:
-Frame: 6061 triple butted tubing, custom aluminium pivot hardware, tapered head tube, 150mm travel
-Fork: Fox 32 RL 150mm, QR15 axle
- Shock: Fox RP23 with high-volume air can
- Shimano XT 3x10 drivetrain with Shadow+ XTR rear derailleur
-3D forged dropouts, floating shock, 142mm dropouts
- Sizes: 15"-17"-19"-21"
-Actual weight: 13.62kg (30.02lbs)
-MSRP: €3,399Ian MacLennan Photo
At the sharp end of things the Bark’s triple butted 6061 aluminium frame could almost be carbon from some angles such is the sculpting of both tubing and welds. The tapered head tube is fairly expected in the market now but the internal cable routing is less so and a neat system which helps prevent damage to hydraulic hoses and cables.
Out back the suspension is 4 bar although not in the true sense as that is normally reserved for Specialized’s patented FSR system which utilises the Horst Link, a pivot which isolates the rear axle from the mainframe. Here instead the description applies to a single pivot with a linkage driven shock, a system which has been time proven on numerous bikes from just as many manufacturers. The top linkage is a two piece affair but stiffness is maintained by joining it with the bolts facing front to back and utilising an interlocking groove. Custom aluminium hardware ties all the pieces together in a reliable manner while the rear 142mm axle uses the X12 Syntace system allayed to a DT quick release for a simple, light and noticeably stiff setup in the 3D forged dropouts. Included in that forging is a very neat post-mount for the rear caliper which sits in the gap between the stays and runs a 180mm disc without the need for any adaptors.
The derailleur hanger is easily replaceable thanks to its lock-ring arrangement (rather than any fiddly 2.5mm hex bolts) and it has so far also proven tough. Thanks to its design, it can also be replaced with a Shimano Direct Mount link should you so wish. In the case of the 2013 models this will come standard although there’s nothing to stop you using the original style should you elect to run SRAM or a standard Shimano offering. The medium (17”) frame comes in at 2850g including the RP23 shock from Fox.PDS Suspension
PDS HD is the buzzline on KTM’s Bark and this centres on a floating shock which is suspended between the chainstay and the upper rocker link. Now some may shout ‘copycat’ to this in reference of its use by another large scale manufacturer, Trek, but in reality KTM actually beat them to using it on mountain bikes. The key benefit to this is that thanks to having control of both ends of the shock rather than relying on the control of just one, both the leverage ratio and progression can be finely tuned. It also reduces suspension loads and shocks transferred to the main frame which can help designers to minimise weight and increase longevity of the frame. In KTM’s case the choice has been to design in a degree of linearity to the suspension to keep it active throughout the stroke and enable it to maximise use of the travel. Although we were initially sceptical of this it proved in use to be remarkably capable and competent over a wide variety of terrain.
*Geeknote* The idea of floating a shock in this manner is nothing new, with production use by both Honda and Suzuki dating back to the early eightees on motocross bikes, and indeed Honda still use an iteration of it to this day, including the 2002 Moto GP bike used by Rossi. Mert Lawill’s original plan for the famous Lawill suspension system also called for it to utilise a floating shock but for manufacturing reasons this was never implemented by Schwinn or Yeti and instead fell to Rotec to design into their RL9 in 2005. Component Check
KTM have been clever with the spec chosen for the Bark, picking the very capable Fox RP23 to sit out back and mating it with a Fox 32RL to sit on the front, complete with FiT cartridge. Drivetrain is Shimano through and through (and will continue to be in 2013). Full XT augmented with a Shadow+ XTR derailleur to keep chain slap under control on rough descents, it’s an upgrade well worth the extra cost. 3x10 with a 11-34 cassette gives a huge spread of gears which some riders may not need but the advantage is that should a rider wish to run a single as so many do, especially in the UK, it’s easy to switch as the chainring PCD is standard. Brakes were also Shimano XT and currently, perhaps with the exception of XTR, nothing can touch them for fuss and fade free trail performance, and it’s arguable that nothing can live with them on bang for buck either. Often manufacturers will drop spec levels on hidden or low-bling components such as shifter and front derailleur but with full XT there are no shortcomings and performance is more than competent.
Wheels are from DT Swiss in the form of E2000’s. Featuring good bearings and light weight rims they prove to be fast rolling, especially when mated to the UST compatible 2.35” Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres. In the cockpit the 685mm wide Syncros bars and 80mm Syncros stem, whilst of good quality, were a bit on the narrow and long side for personal tastes having long been pro-wide bars. At the other end of the cockpit the Rock Shox Reverb is a fantastic unit and really adds a lot to a bike in the all-mountain environment, even more so in the world of Gravity Enduro racing. Even the Fizik Gobi saddle was one which lasted the distance, being both comfortable and discrete when letting the bike flow underneath you on steep sections.Set-up notes:
KTM Bark 20 Trail Test
Within 24hrs of collecting the Bark it was put to the test at the first round of the UK Gravity Enduro series where it finished 15th in Elite. This was testament to how confidence inspiring it proved to be on a broad spectrum of trails, from greasy and rooty to hard packed and rocky. Handling was between sharp and neutral thanks to the 67.5° head angle which sits pretty much on the money for trail bikes. At 22.8” the top tube is a little shorter than some mediums and as a result, at 5’10”, there’d be serious consideration given to ordering a large. With numerous bikes out there and a considerable jump in both geometry, bulk and intended use around the 140-160mm segment of the market the Bark sits somewhere towards the lighter end. Think a 140mm bike on steroids rather than a diet 160mm rig and you’ll get the idea.
Riding style is pretty aggressive, 75kg and 5’10”. For greasy and lower speed Scottish terrain rear air pressure was 140psi in the shock with 95psi in the fork. When we moved to the bigger, faster and drier alpine terrain the shock was upped to 155psi with 115psi in the fork which helped compensate for the lack of compression adjustment on offer (a lock-out is all the 32RL offers).Pedaling, Acceleration & Climbing
When it comes to rolling speed a bike is the sum of its parts, and frequently this is down to light weight wheels and tyres. Now this bike may be no exception with a set of light DT items wrapped in high volume Schwalbe 2.4” Nobby Nic Evo tyres but that does not provide the only reason for its fast rolling performance. The Nobby Nics are some of the fastest large volume tyres in a straight line, and they cope with dry rocks well but on wetter stuff, namely that found in the UK, they begin to struggle and prove to be twitchy on the edge. Even with a heavier set of hoops fitted though for the recent Megavalanche the bike still rolls quickly and accelerates sharply out of uphill corners, avoiding sluggishness despite the increased mass and 6” travel.
Although slightly on the smaller end of the ideal size the bike still climbs well, in part thanks to the 72deg seat angle which makes it easy to keep weight over the front wheel, and partly because the weight is balanced throughout the bike. The suspension, while active, resists any undue movement through all but the mashiest of pedalling techniques. It did feel noticeably improved with the pro-pedal on when climbing, although this wasn’t so much to minimise bob but to help hold the suspension up in the travel when rider weight shifts rearwards and help prevent the feeling that the front end was trying to lift off the ground at every opportunity.Technical handling:
With so much of our favoured riding in Scotland of a technical nature there’s no doubting that any bike we ride has to be able to perform on a wide variety of terrain, from challenging rooty and rocky climbs to descents on which many riders would opt for a downhill bike. Technically, taking the gradient out of it for a moment, the bike feels confident and willing to take a risk. Throw it into a corner and it’ll hook up solidly until you decide it’s time to allow as little or as much slip angle as is appropriate, balancing front and rear to keep you on trajectory. Even mid corner roots and ruts pose no real problems thanks to the ease with which the front wheel can be lifted and controlled with the central position in the cockpit. Under braking it’s stable and although there’s an element of skip felt on the roughest of braking bumps it’s never intrusive after the first ride and you naturally adjust to the particular traits of the bike, as you would with any.Downhill:
Descending credentials in an all-mountain package are important, there’s no doubt about it. After all, why put all the effort in to get to the top only for the ride back down to be a disappointment? With the majority of our riding essentially happening on tight and super technical downhill trails there’s the argument that the gravity element is more important than anything else, and that’d probably be true if it wasn’t for the technicality of the climbs too. But throw the Bark down into the steep stuff and it performs well although on the very roughest and steepest (ie virtual downhill race courses) there was the occasional moment where a little extra length would come in useful. However, as mentioned earlier this was more down to us being between sizes than anything more sinister, and the rest of the time the bike was well behaved. When we took the bike to the Alps for some racing in both the Mountain of Hell and the Megavalanche we also took the downhill bike but it says a lot for the Bark when the big bike didn’t even get a look in. Initially there was apprehension that it would be out of its depth, especially with the Fox 32 up front but even then it put in a more than stellar performance. Riding partners were both Fox 36 equipped, and with a Blur LTC and a Butcher in the mix the Bark was up against stiff competition and yet it was able to carry speed and confidence on all terrain without at any point feeling that it was letting either of the better known competition gain an advantage. In fact the only real benefit the other bikes had was down to the bigger and stiffer fork which you could see was much improved under braking on rough chatter, particularly noticeable on the steeper and braking bump strewn trails of Les Deux Alpes. The solution was simply to alter braking points and lines to suit the bike. As an alpine terrain fork the 36 was a clear winner but to the average rider the positives would be outweighed by the disadvantages of increased weight and a taller front end, neither of which would do anything to improve climbing ability of the KTM. Suspension action:
Inextricably linked to the downhill performance, the suspension worked pretty flawlessly. On true all mountain terrain the shock and fork felt perfectly matched, working in unison with the Talas fork enabling the front end to be dropped on the steepest climbs. The only time this changed was when it came to longer runs in the alps, and by longer we mean during the qualification and finals for both races where you were hitting rough terrain hard for anything between twenty and fifty minutes, terrain that made the shock too hot to the touch and turned brake pads to a crumbling and melted mess. Out here, as the shock heated up, the linearity of the rear suspension was noticed a little more when a few G-outs caught both rider and bike out, to the sound of a metallic thunk as the shock hit the stop. With Fox now offering air volume reducers we feel that if you’re riding the bike in this challenging environment there’d be a benefit to fitting one of these to increase progression slightly. Without one of these kits to hand we added some extra Float Fluid to the air chamber instead and noticed a definite improvement at the tail end of the shock stroke. Overall, as a balanced package it’s up there and provides good performance across a wide varieties of terrain that owners are likely to find themselves throwing at it.Component report:
Overall the spec was homogenous and well suited to the average rider likely to be interested in the Bark; solidly reliable, no-nonsense and at the lighter end of an all-mountain build. All we changed were the bars, 685mm being a bit too narrow for personal tastes, especially after jumping to it from a downhill bike with 780mm units fitted. Mentioning this to the KTM guys at a recent press launch [SEE HERE] they were in agreement, pointing to the new for 2013 models which all had 700mm+ bars fitted, and advising that the Bark was also to get this treatment for next year. The Reverb is currently one of the best and most reliable dropper posts out there and its addition to the bike makes it a real winner in our eyes.
Aside from the minor grumble with the bars and stem everything felt solid, although for the Alpine trip we also swapped the 3x10 gearing for a 1x10 setup which utilised a 36T ring and guide up front (vital for alpine racing) matched with a 12-36T cassette out back. Some riders prefer 3x10 and others 2x10, it seems very much to depend on local terrain but with us never using the 24T inner and rarely the outer 42T there would appear to be a strong argument for a 2x10 arrangement which would give improved ground clearance on rockier trails. And it’s on these rougher and rockier trails that the Shadow+ technology applied by Shimano to the rear derailleur becomes particularly noticeable, reducing chainslap to the point that it’s virtually non-existent and not an intrusive feature of the riding.
The Shimano XT brakes continue to impress every time we ride them, offering strong and easily controllable power even when the pad back plate is warping with the heat while the wheels remained surprisingly straight and true despite our best efforts to turn them into taco’s. Pinkbike's Take:
|Every rider who's ridden our Bark has been impressed. As a complete package it is very effective and manages to be effective across the full spectrum of what could be called all-mountain riding, whether you're in the UK, the mountains of mainland Europe, or elsewhere. Coming in at just a few ounces over thirty pounds with 2.4" tyres and a dropper post it certainly isn't a beefy bike, climbing effectively thanks to efficient suspension and a light wheelset, descending with sure footedness and fun thanks to good angles. We of course swapped out the bars and stem pretty quickly for our personal favourites, but the 2013 bikes will be shipping with 700mm+ bars to remove this requirement from here on in. KTM have produced not only a well made, nicely finished bike, but they've also produced one that balances the books well for all comers, with keen pricing and specifications. Fun and superbly competent on all we've thrown at it sums the Bark up perfectly. - AM|