The usual script for an XC race bike when talking about descending performance is to say something along the lines of, "While it may climb like a stabbed rat, it's crap on the descents." Only that’s not the case with the F-Podium: it’s probably the best XC race bike I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride down technical and fast descents.
Where traditional XC race bikes can scare the bejesus out of you on properly techy and rough descents, and make you wonder how the world’s best racers don’t kill themselves more often, the F-Podium is a revealing glimpse at an alternative future where XC race bikes can descend. And not just get down, but I mean absolutely hoon down with all the whoops and hollers normally reserved for bigger bikes.
The geometry and suspension both come together to provide excellent descending capabilities. It lets you enjoy the descents, and have as much fun as you might on a trail bike. It’s infinitely more capable than any traditional steep’n’short XC race bike I've ever ridden; stable, planted, composed, sure-footed, all those reassuring words spring to mind when describing the F-Podium. That’s in the hands of a mere mortal, but I have no doubt it’ll be an advantage in the hands of a world-class racer. Granted, XC races aren’t usually won on the descents, but they can be lost on the descents. The F-Podium is your ace card.
Is there a downside? Yeah, that 100mm travel is still 100mm regardless of how progressive the geometry is. But here's the thing - the F-Podium suspension is very good and makes the most of what’s on tap. It’s got a light and active action throughout its stroke, with buttery smooth small to medium bump compliance, and sufficient ramp up for big impacts. With some bikes, I run less sag to stop the bike from bottoming out too easily, but I was able to run generous sag with the suspension being well behaved and usable. It looks after you and lets you get away with mistakes, and it doesn’t punish you if you take an iffy line down the side of a hill or through a cluster of ugly roots.
The Fox 32 SC is an excellent fork, one of the best in this class, but I couldn’t help wonder how it would ride with the newer and stiffer Fox 32 SC fork I recently tested, or with another 20mm of travel. The latter query could be answered by riding the “downcountry” version of the F-Podium which does get a longer travel fork and a dropper post. That would be the bike to choose if you want all the benefits of a XC race bike but for light and fast trail bike riding.
Ah, dropper posts. Ubiquitous on trail and enduro bikes but still a rare sight on XC race bikes. That’s changing: testing the BMC Fourstroke with its neatly integrated dropper post showed me the future. The F-Podium needs one, for regular trail riders and amateur XC racers who have to pay for their bikes, if not for professionals who weigh their pasta for dinner.
Lack of dropper post aside, the F-Podium truly gifts the rider that magical ingredient that all bike riders look for: confidence. It lets you hit descents full throttle, to pummel through the rock garden, take the high line through a mangle rooty corner, safe in the knowledge the geometry and suspension will help you to clean the line each and every time.
It’s fun too. Poppy and lively at speed, blipping from apex to apex leaving clouds of loam in its wake. You can easily manual the front wheel to combat obstacles. It’s great in the air too, the suspension copes with big landings nicely, but again, remember we're talking about a 100mm XC bike here, not a big and squishy Rampage machine. The frame stiffness is apparent when you stomp on the pedals, but on a longer 100km all-day ride I didn’t find it overly stiff and harsh.
It’s just really good fun in an "Oh my god I'm going so fast" sort of way. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun on an XC race bike.