Henry Quinney's Transition Spire
Last year, at the 2021 summer field test we had some haywired and noisy e-bikes that I complained about, a very well-meaning GT, a Norco downhill bike with its enduro skates on, and a YT and We Are One that checked the boxes of direct-to-consumer and boutique respectively. However, it was a Transition Spire that, for me, won the day. It was the most well-rounded and high-performing enduro bike I'd ever ridden up until that point and it has become my go-to for just about everything.
Since then, I've ridden it on three continents and eight countries. After such high praise initially, I thought it was high time we checked back in and see if I'm still waxing lyrical about the wonders of an enduro bike with a head angle as low as 62.5-degrees, or if my enthusiasm had to start to relent and the love had turned sour.
• Intended use: mountain biking
• Travel: 170mm rear / 170mm fork
• Wheel size: 29"
• Frame construction: carbon fiber
• 63° head angle
• 480 mm reach and 446 mm stays in low
Of the current bike setup, perhaps the only thing to stay the same is the frame and saddle. The paintwork of the bike is holding up reasonably well. It's not perfect but it is a very
well-used bike at this point. Sadly, the culprit for most of the damage has been riding through gravel-strewn snow, but it's a mountain bike and these things happen.
So, is this still the BeSt bIkE EvEr?! Well, it's certainly my favourite. I think it's the most versatile enduro bike I've ridden, and that stretches across everything from seated climbs, scrambling for traction up wet tech, as well as being a very considered, confidence-inspiring and well-mannered descender. Everything about the geometry of this bike just makes you feel at home, and often takes the edge off intimidating features. And, let's be frank, that is what the monster 170 mm 29" wheeled enduro bike is for. I balk somewhat at bikes with that much travel that aren't confidence-inspiring in the extreme. In the trade-off on trail bikes, I understand that sometimes things might get a little skitter, but that shouldn't be a consideration when bikes in this category have this much travel, this much grip, and potentially weigh more than a downhill bike.
The geometry is comfortable for me, although I would be tempted at times to try it perhaps even a little bit shorter. At 183 cm I'm not wholly on the bandwagon for making bikes as long as possible. I'm starting to think that 480 or 485 mm is good for a large, but only if the weight distribution has been reigned in with long stays, such as the 446 mm rear end on the Spire.
Although that rear-centre might seem extreme to some, I love the Spire's geometry because it's actually just so easy, and all the checks and balances are there. A high front lets your body move freely on steep terrain without being pulled forward. A steep seat tube and relatively short effective top tube means wrestling that long front centre through tight switchbacks becomes less about putting the front end in a choke hold, and more about lightly gesturing your intention through your shoulders. I actually run this bike in the high setting of the flip-chip. I felt that in low, which is a head angle of 62.5 degrees it didn't feel as if there was enough weight on the front through turns, and you could feel threaten to wash under braking load. I don't think 62.5 degrees is too slack, but rather in the larger picture of balance it was too slack for me and the way I ride.
Stability and balance are different things. Balance is a point where things are finely strung - stability is the ability to resist forces that might want to disrupt the balance. The Spire has both in buckets.
I love the Spire because it's a very well-made and well-thought-out extreme
bike. If you listen to System of a Down, it might not be for you, but you can't deny how well-made it is. The Spire is Chop Suey
, so well made, with so much care and thought that even its arresting aesthetic shouldn't put you off the functioning music and strong melodies. Even though the geometry sheet might raise eyebrows, it all adds up.
But, what's it been like to live with? Well, I changed the bearings after a year of riding as they began to develop play. The double-stacked bearings in the stay were the main culprit before they passed on the shimmy-and-rattle to the main pivot bearing. The bearings in the linkage were still running smooth, although I swapped them all the same.
A criticism of mine would be that the 5 mm interface on some of the alloy bolts is just a bit too soft. Another would be that water can pool around the lower shock bolt. But that's it. If I waved my magic wand I'd like to include some kind of storage compartment in the downtube. I would also like internal brake routing, however, I have managed to wrangle my rear brake inside the frame, although it ain't pretty.
So that's it then? The best bike ever
? Well, for me, yeah - kinda. This is the best enduro bike I've ever ridden and it's my favourite bike I've ever had. That's not to say there aren't contenders in other categories, but for an enduro bike, and the things I ride and the way I like to ride them (read: badly) then yes - I love it still. Consider this bike check something like a retaking of vows after the review from last year.
Working with Pinkbike Racing this year, it quickly became apparent that the Ohlins suspension the team were using was very good, but also required a slightly different setup ethos than the Fox or RockShox setups the riders were coming off. To help my understanding I spent a few weeks in Morzine between races and just rode lap upon lap, got sunburnt, ate 7 soleros a day and slept in a luton van on a mattress with a peculiar large brown stain (apparently it was coffee but I don't know who drinks coffee in bed). I had two sponges - one labelled "ass" and the other "face" and a bucket. And that was that really.
During that time, I felt that I began to understand the quirks and personality of Ohlin's three-chamber system better. Essentially, in the fork there is a positive main chamber, a negative chamber and a ramp-up chamber. Now, the negative equalises from the main chamber pressure. You then pressurise the ramp-up chamber to fine-tune end stroke support. This system offers tunability, but also offers something of a paradox. To compress the chamber towards the end of the stroke, the main chamber has to reach a certain threshold of pressure equal to the ramp-up. That means that the harder you have the ramp-up chamber in comparison to the main, the later in the stroke it will come into play. So, to get appropriate midstroke support there is some finessing to do.
Ride height is so important, especially on tracks like Fort William or Snowshoe where smoking a crankset is very easily done. That means that although bottom-out resistance is important, midstroke support is often the trump card. Ohlins recommend a ratio of 1:2 for the main chamber and ramp-up chamber pressures. However, I found that having the ramp-up at around 150 - 180% of the main chamber (depending on the track) with the main chamber pressure slightly higher to compensate, gave not only a superbly tracking fork but also huge benefits in support, ride height and confidence. Of course, my needs are very different to those of World Cup athletes, but this idea was something that we explored with Ben Cathro and Aimi Kenyon too and I think it had a positive effect.
For the RFX 38, I've never had a fork that is so happy to ride so deep into the stroke so often and offers so much composure on big hits. I remember watching Bruni's bike and always being surprised at how visually different his fork worked compared to his rivals. Well, maybe there is a different ethos here at play after all, and I've happened on a setup that trades off conserving head angle for more chassis stability. This isn't normally the way that I'd set up a fork, but then again, the Ohlins is a fork that I feel gives enough support to give me confidence when set up in this way.
I've personally never really been one that is convinced on the constant pursuit of small bump compliance as some kind of holy grail of setup of forks. In fact, for me, it's not really that
important. I tend to run my forks harder than I perhaps should because of that and would rather put the emphasis on support and consistency than having something arbitrarily tracks over the odd pebble 3% better. However, the small bump on the Ohlins is very good, and a real positive trait that I've come to love.
So, the RFX does feel different to most other forks on most of the other bikes - and it feels fantastic, I have to say. It's something similar to the shock. That said, the setup was far easier and less finicky than the fork. Contrary to my forks, I think that small bump tracking is a priority for me on the rear if only for the security and confidence it offers when trying to slow the bike down. For a large-shaft air shock, it's impressive to see it sagging under its own weight and, compared to the Super Deluxe on the bike previously, I would say it does offer a better all round level of traction, sensitivity and support on the Spire. The Super Deluxe was great, but I felt that to get the shaft speed where I wanted it I had to throttle out tracking over bumps slightly. It was still very good but perhaps didn't cover off all the bases quite as well. The final note would be that it's also relevant to the Spire - I can't say that the comparison would be replicated in the same way on a different bike. Horses for courses.
Tires / Wheels
I reviewed the Hunt Trail Wheels last winter and enjoyed the level of compliance they offered. Particularly how that felt through the hands. That said, I remarked at the time that I would like something a little laterally stiffer through the rear of the bike. Well, hey presto - we solved it. I began to run a heavier-duty, burlier and bigger axled Hunt Enduro Wide on the rear. The rim shares a similar profile but is a little wider, heavier and there are more spokes.
Largely though, they've been great. Both wheels worked out of dish over time, with the front migrating away from, and the rear towards, the drive side of the bike. Of course, that was easily remedied. After a year and-a-bit of abuse and washing, there is a steady rumble in the hubs, but consider that a fair timeline for a bearing swap.
Running the mixed wheels also has the added bonus of saving some weight, with the front wheel coming in a few hundred grams lighter than the Enduro Wide front.
I run the Continental Krypotal pairing on the bike, with a front and rear setup. I like them and feel at around 1200 g that they're about right for an enduro tire. That said, I would love to see a 1400ish-gram version available for downhill. I'm not saying it'd be for everyone but I think it would give another option.
The tires are both 2.4" and yes, they're very good. I think Conti has played a masterstroke by releasing a range covering all the bases in one fell swoop. Overnight they've gone from "Do you have a Sharpie I can borrow?" to non-Continental supported teams getting the itch of curiosity and asking how well the logos stay hidden behind paint-pen.
The SRAM Codes can sometimes come in for some slack for being underpowered - however, that isn't a complaint I'd level at then. Yes, of course they could be more powerful - what brake couldn't? - but I think any lack of power is easily remedied with a larger front rotor, and their HS2 rotors offer a more consistent feeling than ever. I did try going to TRP 2.3 mm thickness rotors and, although they cleared the caliper, I don't think the brakes liked them. I can't quite explain it, but I felt that it actually compromised the feel at the lever and inconsistency crept in. It felt like the lever throw wasn't enough to draw oil back into the master cylinder and give a positive and consistent feeling - it's something I haven't explored or understand fully, but I know that it was scary. It turns out SRAM engineers know far better than that smug man that makes oblique culture references on YouTube - who knew? That said, it doesn't necessarily make sense in regards to the quad seal in the caliper. Internet engineers, please tell me where I've gone wrong. Obi Wan, you're my only hope.
I like the Codes for their feel and adjustment. I like a brake that can be run close to the bar while also feeling positive. Plus, I want a brake and not a light switch. I particularly appreciate this modulation in the wet, or when the dirt is merely dust-on-crust and you're really pushing on the front as you mentally denture shop and prepare to have your teeth punched out by the ground. Having the most powerful breaks is good, but having useable power is the most important thing to me.
How do you know somebody is a cycling journalist? Well, presumably they'll tell you without you even asking. Failing that, they'll almost always have Cane Creek eeWings cranks.
The cranks are, of course, beautiful. I do run the BB with only the lightest smearing of grease though as I felt they did accumulate grit and grime easily. I also run the silver 25-year anniversary Crankbrothers Mallet Es. It's funny, I'm lucky enough to see a lot of new tech and often don't get overexcited - however, there was just something about the silver Mallets that captured my imagination. I thought they looked just fantastic.
After arguing with the Mikes
about AXS at every turn, what is it doing on my bike? Well, I have a theory. I think that the robotic mech is simply too powerful for some bikes, and it twists the hanger slightly. I think that this is one of the reasons for the new interface that we're seeing on pros bikes. On some bikes, AXS works flawlessly, and I mean flawlessly, but on flimsy down country bikes held together by the odd 2mm diameter bolt, some bailing twine and a fair amount of hope, a lot of the time the shifting just isn't up to par. On enduro bikes such as this though, the shift is fantastic. Plus, the wireless functionality lets me run my brake line through its internal slot and compliments the clean look even more.
The last piece is the KMC 12-speed bike chain, the Burgtec 32t chainring and the OneUp chain device. In 2022, you kind of just assume that everything works with everything, and it's a good reminder of how lucky we are that it almost always does. The chain sounds like an M2 Browning as it rattles over the chainring at even the slightest hint of moisture. If you use wet lube to try and negate this then the dirt also clings to the chain and, again, makes it sound like a spoon down a washboard. Another fun quirk is the long teeth of the chainring slightly protruding past the bash guard. Needless to say, they didn't last long. I don't like the word ecosystem
when it comes to bikes. However, I do think there is something to be said for just running a complete setup. The SRAM chainring that came on the bike had slightly shorter teeth and stayed safely nestled under the protection of the bash. Plus, it was also silent.
On the front of the bike, I run some mid-skinny Race Face grips. I like the shape and channelled texture. I don't always go for skinny grips, but these are absolutely on the money. I think there is a sweet spot for grip strength and grip diameter. Sometimes grip can feel very comfortable but it only takes a little bit of extra cushion to reduce how much force your fingers can pull with. The texture rides well in the wet and after being on multiple bikes for over a year I think they're holding up very well.
The bars are OneUp's carbon bar. I just like the shape. The bar is paired to OneUp's 50mm stem length. I felt it just calmed down the front a little to have a longer stem, which is 10 mm longer than the stock one. Plus, I liked the slightly longer distance from the saddle when seated.
I also changed the 180mm OneUp post to the 210mm one, before shimming it down to 200mm. The saddle is the same stock one that came on the bike. I run a Garmin because I'm a nerd desperately seeking to find meaning in the world and staring at how many meters I've climbed, before having to explain what this even means as I talk about it to friends and family, is one way to do that.
For accessories, I sometimes cable tie a small pump to the Nukeproof Carbon bottle cage. The cage itself is a lesson in humility itself. When my last cage started dropping bottles while riding in Morzine, my friend and I went to a bike shop. The only options on the wall were versions of the same cage that was proving itself incapable of holding a bottle, $5 metal ones and this $40ish dollar carbon wonder. I deliberated, tempted by the sheer indulgence of that raw carbon, and I was eventually goaded by my friend to spend a not-inconsiderable amount on a cage as a treat. Needless to say, the tab at the top snapped off immediately on the first day. Funnily though, it still works and makes entry even easier and available from both sides.
How's It Ride?