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Field Test: 6 Downcountry Bikes Go Up Against The Impossible Climb

Nov 7, 2022 at 17:11
by Matt Beer  


6 Downcountry Bikes Battle the Hardest Impossible Climb Yet

Like hot gravy on cheese curds, Quebec's mud and roots can be incredibly slippery.

I thought the trail builders were pulling my leg when they led us to the bottom of a singletrack descent at the Empire 47 trail center, which was the location of our Impossible Climb for the Quebec Downcountry Field Test. They had to be joking. What did they think I was made of? There was absolutely no way to go up this wall of roots and rock.

The wall in front of me was actually a descending trail that the crew had closed for the morning and hinted that it had been climbed by savvy locals before. After scoping some possible lines and checking to see if it was even close to possible, we set up a few course markers and lined up the bikes. As usual, all of the tires were set to the same pressures and the bikes were tuned to my liking. Soft dirt from the previous night’s thunderstorm meant we had a serious challenge in front of us.

First to call was the Lapierre XRM 8.9. We discussed how low and short the bike was in the review, but this is where the stiff pedalling platform and geometry that catered to uphill climbing would shine the brightest. That combo would certainly help, but couldn’t deliver enough traction or balance on the ultra slick and steep wall of wet roots.

Starting out with a handicap due to the broken integrated seatpost, the BMC Fourstroke 01 LT ONE didn’t stand a chance on this day. A lower-than-optimal seat height meant that the same power was getting to the rear wheel and my weight was hanging too far off the back. However, the firm pedalling platform did give a helping hand. With a functional seatpost, the Fourstroke proved to be a proficient climber in our testing, before the mishap, and was otherwise a solid contender on the Impossible Climb.


So far, we were 0 for two. The little Ibis Exie, with just 100mm of travel, had a big task ahead of itself. But, there’s more to a bike than just the pure amount of travel. Those two little links form the DW-link suspension that tapped into an efficient, yet superior movement to put down power and provide traction. The riding position was on the forward side, but nothing crazy like the Lapierre. I can’t say it was a huge surprise, but the Exie managed to claim the highest mark.

What about the rest of the fleet? The RSD, Evil, and Allied were all victims of the elements. As the challenge went on, the main line deteriorated. We made some modifications to the track and allowed for a couple of attempts. That RSD was noticeably calmer with its long wheelbase and extra travel, however the weight was noticeable, even on a short climb like this. The Following’s short chainstays meant that we loved popping around on the trail while descending, however, when you add in a slack seat tube angle, it was clear that climbing was not its forte.

Our favorite downcountry bike in the test, the Allied BC40 sure was light, had all the right geometry and pedalled very well, but it couldn’t produce quite the same level of grip in those deteriorating conditions and beat the Exie’s climbing capabilities. That’s just how the Impossible Climb goes sometimes!


The 2022 Downcountry Field Test is presented by Quebec City Mountain Bike, Sweet Protection and Specialized Ground Control Tires

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Member since Mar 16, 2001
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  • 139 4
 Well that was pointless....
  • 16 4
 Clicky clicky.
  • 1 1
 @bikewriter:... Every bike would win!
  • 16 0
 @betobi: Focus groups showed "The Pointless Climb" didn't do so well.
  • 9 3
 This is becoming my least favorite part of every field test
  • 15 1
 The point was to show Matt Beer's superior calf genetics.
  • 1 0
 I’m concerned about him “humping” his bike unless I heard it wrong in the video.
  • 10 11
 Why do you think that,
I think it goes a long way in revealing that even though they were all very different bikes, that testers felt very strongly about, they are all fairly evenly matched. The outlier being the Exie, even though Matt states he was off line.
Also illustrates that the $10k bikes aren’t anymore capable against difficult situations as the mid priced, heavy alu bike.

Maybe just not the outcome you hoped for, or expected
  • 23 0
 @onawalk: a $10k bike not making it past a wet root with mud caked in its tires tells me sweet fk all about the bike
  • 13 5
 @DizzyNinja: it does for sure,
Tells you that for the $6k price difference it more than anything comes down to traction.
Just read between the lines, sometimes the most important information is what hasn’t been said. And watched in conjunction with all the other videos (which I’m sure you’ve watched) all the info has been pretty well spoon feed to you.

Were you expecting to see the Allied miraculously walk up the climb without breaking traction, or the Lapierre slow moving buck Matt off the bike illustrating it’s totally unrideable, or the Evil, open up its gaping headtube and consume the RSD while?

If anything, it was not quite as entertaining as previous impossible climb videos, but that’s all.

Maybe Braydon Bringhurst should show up on his enduro rig and happily clip clop up the climb and ride off without a word said, blue jacket flapping in the breeze…
  • 16 2
 They need to make the climbs actually makeable otherwise it is pretty boring. Also stop throwing crap like banana peels, etc on the trails. Find an actually difficult technical climb and film that, not BS beer can slaloms, etc.
  • 5 2
 these guys have been riding e bikes ....you can tell
  • 4 0
 Just like the use/abuse one specialist for the huck to flat test, they should hire a specialist for the climb too. If the current combination of rider and trail doesn't help to differentiate, they could either get an easier trail or an (even) better rider. After all, the goal is to test the bikes, not the trail, nor the rider, nor his luck. If this kind of trail is what is supposed to be climbed, get a rider who could do it. As mentioned, apparently some locals have been climbing the trail. Why not hand the bikes to them and have them give it a shot? Otherwise, play it safe and ask Akrigg.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: Akrigg is going to get up that climb in a completely different way to any of us though. IMO Matt climbing gassed is the perfect level for many of us to aspire to on our hero days.

This would have been a perfect impossible climb but for the greasy conditions, which were out of PB's control.
  • 2 0
 "Here we are at a muddy hill. All the bikes have the same shitty, low tread tires for dry conditions."

Whoever set this up is a f*cking idiot. I love it.
  • 1 0
 This is garbage
  • 1 0
 @sspiff: I disagree on the aspiration here. Climbing through pedaling hard and hoping for the best is what we already have road cycling for. This is mountainbiking. If there is one discipline where technical climbing has its place, this is it. Bike reviewers often seem to be doing bigger jumps and steeper steeps than the potential buyer would hit. Or even attempt to hit with their current skill and fitness level. There is little risk in aspiring to put a little more tech in your climbing and anyone with a beginner XC bike can already work on this (which doesn't always apply to the jumps and the rough and slippery steeps). Subscribe to a Ryan Leech program, maybe do a clinic if it's coached by someone who's a good climber. Sure hardly anyone would get even close to his level, but we can learn a lot from just watching him ride, just like we can learn from watching the worlds best DH racers.

However as said, locals have been climbing that climb that very same morning so it may have been equally greasy. Maybe less worn but more damp. If they could do that on their own bikes, they may be able to do fairly well on the worlds latest "downcountry" bikes.
  • 114 1
 The real story here is that not a single bike with internal headset cable routing made it to the top of the climb. Therefore this video proves once and for all that internal headset cable routing sucks.
  • 58 1
 The impossible climb seems a bit too impossible here. Almost no useful information gleamed when they all only made it up 10 meters
  • 36 0
 I learned that if you add slippery rocks to a slippery climb it's still slippery. Who'd have thunk it.
  • 6 2
 I'm sure they weren't excited about the lack of differentiation either. Hard to know how impossible it is before you start trying it, with a film crew. I would guarantee you they did not have time in their production schedule for planning a new course, cleaning the bikes/tires, giving Matt time to recover lol, and refilming.
  • 1 0
 @bigtim: Maybe if he brought a rock from BC it would have a difference. (Having Levy point out that rocks here are more slippery makes me feel better about riding like a granny in the wet)
  • 56 1
 Did anyone else feel like they wanted the Allied to win that....
  • 46 1
 and everything else lol. throughout this test they've seemed afraid to admit how good the Ibis was
  • 4 0
  • 2 2
 100% and it was about the poorest bike on show, could see that up the hop from the start.
They should have tested the IBIS again to demonstrate that it wasn't a fluke ..

I have learned.
Efficiency test... Useless
Impossible climb.... Skewed towards a bike that struggles off the line!

Perception v reality can suck.
  • 2 0

Sara Moore has been singing the praises of the ibis throughout the test. The other two riders are trying to make it into something it’s not: downcountry…

ibis makes a Ripley/ Mojo for downcountry…
  • 1 6
flag bikewriter (Nov 8, 2022 at 20:27) (Below Threshold)
 @Saidrick: The Ripley and Mojo are not downcountry. I hope your ellipses indicates sarcasm or waiting for those who didn't feel the "whoosh" over their heads.
  • 4 0
 Yes. Thy must have been very disappointed when it went no further up than the evil that doesn’t climb well. They were so disappointed they changed the course and gave the Allied another go and it still did no better
  • 1 1
 @bikewriter: no need to be rude. And having owned both a following and Ripley (prior gens), the ibis is more downcountry-er.
  • 1 1
 @sspiff: Not being rude. Don't read with tone or intent. I've owned the Ripley V4 and a Mojo, and demoed a Following V3 last month. The Ripley and Mojo are not downcountry, and to say they are more "downcountry" is a relative comparison. They are straight-up trail bikes.
  • 1 0
 @bikewriter: what are your thoughts on Ripley vs. Mojo? I have a Mojo and love it, but have never even ridden a Ripley
  • 1 0

For the record, I consider “downcountry” to be a trail bike, with a little less travel and a little less weight. I think the Ripley at 120mm of travel and an under 30lbs weight meets that. The Mojo at 27lbs, and a long 130mm can be built a multitude of ways, including a downcountry style.

I have ridden many an ibis, they are all great bikes, that’s why I have owned two HD’s…

Also: the Exie is next on my list as a companion bike.
  • 1 1
 @Saidrick: That's not what the infamous industry-wide "downcountry" definition is. It's a xc bike with bigger tires, shorter stem, wider bar. And recently it's 120mm max. My Ripley V4 was 25 pounds. It was not downcountry.
  • 46 1
 Maybe hire Mr. Bringhurst do do all the impossible climbing?
  • 10 3
 Canyon would win.
  • 23 0
 Seems like unsuccessful climbs come down to one small mistake - regardless of bike. I'd like to petition that the climb is done 10 times on every bike then averaged.
  • 10 0
 And the first bike always does the worst cause whoever is riding can figure out how to improve their riding on the next runs
  • 2 1
 @DizzyNinja: No.
In this case,the more runs the worst, because those wet rocks will be covered in mud.
  • 5 0
 They should have tried the ibis again at the end too see if would have made it to the same spot.
  • 1 0
 @nozes: the mud is caked in the tires...... go session something like this and tell me how you get progressively worse at it each run
  • 1 1
 Three reps per bike is all you need to see if there are statistically significant differences.
  • 3 0
 @aarong133: It depends on how big the differences are and how consistent Matt is on each bike. But 3 likely is not enough.
  • 20 0
 I like the technical climbing test and impossible is great but I would love to see a test on a "hard" climb as opposed to an impossible one. Some long technical single track climb that a good intermediate or advanced rider, that each bike could make it to the top of. Generally most of us don't seek out impossible stuff.
  • 2 0
 I think the value with the impossible climb is less about the objective data that's captured, but more the subjective outputs. It's clear to me that despite the lack of successfully clearing of the climb on any bike, there were varying confidence levels associated with each when it came to technical climbing.
  • 1 1
 I'm surprised to see he didn't utilize all the skills you can use on a technical climb. There were some weight shifts and minor hops, but no ratcheting, no rollbacks or hops to reorient the bike through that section where he stalled. I think it was a fun climb and as described in the article, some locals were already riding it up. If a climb is proper (technically) "hard" you shouldn't expect to nail it the first time you rock up with a bunch of bikes you also just became familiar with. Either practice, session that section until your learning curve starts to level and you're ready to make a fair comparison between these different bikes. That, or hand the bike to those locals who can already ride that climb.

Not to say Matt Beer doesn't have the skills and strength, but when you're judging someone's hard work (which you're doing as a product reviewer/tester) you should make sure that your judgement is fair.
  • 16 0
 ...But, it's a little bit slow out there. It rained last night.
[Kramer]: Oh, this baby loves the slop. Loves it, eats it up. Eats the slop. Born in the slop. His father was a mudder.
...His father was a mudder?
[Kramer]: His mother was a mudder.
...His mother was a mudder?
[Kramer]: What did I just say?
  • 18 0
 seems like 2 runs per bike would be a more entertaining and actually meaningful approach?
  • 8 0
 Tire performance masked the rest of the bikes' performance. Probably need to keep mud out of the equation here.
  • 6 0
 For sure. Not really testing the bike capability. Chunky, steep, and a decidedly DRY climb would be more appropriate. See how the suspension and pedaling platform deal with the gnar.
  • 1 0
 They could have used different tires that would be more suited to riding in the mud, at least. A pair of Mud Kings like night and day difference compared to DHF/DFR2 combo, let alone these more xc tires.
  • 6 1
 Bring back the doughnuts and beer sponsor trail markers. As I suggest every years you need to violently chuck the bike off the trail where it fails to leave a visual aid and punishement for early failure! I blame autoplay for the impossible climb video fail this year!
  • 6 1
 Trail deterioration, different lines , what is the point of testing when you ride on your edge of skills and physical capabilities that lead to zero consistency . Running test at boundary conditions for the rider and the bike does not prove anything than sometime you are more lucky and sometime you are more fit. Though I am sure you guys had fun, which at the end of the day is what counts ...
  • 5 1
 The impossible climb has always been, and will always be a video strictly for entertainment purposes. I thought most knew this already, but...
  • 4 0
 @islandforlife: but this wasn't even entertaining. Not Mr Beer's fault at all; there was just nothing to see here
  • 1 0
 @Tambo: I wasn't commenting on the quality of entertainment, just it's purpose. Whether it was successful or not is another story.
  • 4 0
 I'd prefer a techy climb that you are actually able to get up but it's timed. Seems like that would be more informative to prospective buyers than having all 6 bikes fail at almost the same spot.
  • 11 0
 I keep telling them to ride to the top regardless of mistakes and then show us a tally of dabs or something instead
  • 4 0
 Despite changing the course and giving their favourite bike twice as many runs as any other bike it still didnt perform any better. All te excuses about it being the tyres fault could have been applied to all the other bikes
  • 2 0
 We have some local trails that have a lot of set-in-place rocks that form steps (sorta) or chunky sections. On a given day with no rain, riding different bikes up ‘em quickly reveals differences between the various bikes … pedaling position, sagged BB height, rear wheel traction, overall watt efficiency, etc. Seems PB ends up using trails with dirt, mud, loose rocks, and zero repeatability.
  • 7 1
 The subtext here is that skill matters more than bike.
  • 2 0
 Ya’ll need to get a engineer or something to determine the parameters of the test to make it work to completion and with some measured variables..

This video/test is a prime example and future test credibility will be under the microscope for at least me.
  • 3 0
 Whenever I watch the impossible climb videos, I always ponder how would an XC pro racer do. Would he/she be more, the same or less successful? Also, what if he/she use his/her own XC race bike?
  • 5 0
 Too impossible. Maybe try something that is actually doable.......
  • 5 0
 Some typical east coast trail conditions.
  • 4 0
 Can't believe the fix with the 2 stones didn't work - who would have thought?
  • 2 0
 So no else had the chance to try that ?No time for it ?this thing is getting worst ,more cover and less content,why?in this age of people watching this like a movie ,and that was it ?we deserve better:-)))))
  • 3 0
 Worst line choice ever going up that. Why over the rock immediately when you can go to the right and keep your momentum up? Dumb.
  • 1 0
 Ha - my first thought as well
  • 1 0
 Why didn't they use some different tires on all the bikes? I ride uphill with Continental Mud Kings in winter and it is crazy the amount of traction you get from them. They are also, but it would have let this test be something besides just watching the wheels spin out (no criticism to Matt, because the conditions were crap).
  • 1 0
 Got to keep the sponsors happy
  • 8 8
 If your races are comprised of long smooth service roads or buffed singletrack climbs with steep fast descents, get the Allied (or Element).

If your races have bumps, square edge, ruts, roots and require explosive bursts out of corners or out of saddle max power efforts when climbing then get the Ibis. You won't care what it looks like when everyone is trying to catch up.
  • 4 28
flag DetroitCity (Nov 8, 2022 at 6:37) (Below Threshold)
 In the over 40 dad bods race you mean?
  • 21 0
 @DetroitCity: In the "over your mom's bod" race, yes. On a serious note, welcome back. We missed your vitriol since you were banned at mtbr. The world needs more midpack Cat 1 racer opinions. It's gonna be a good day.
  • 13 1
 Who knows. The singletrack climb times were left out of all content in this field test. Overall and descent times omitted as well. I have to be honest, I kinda feel like they've done the Ibis dirty in this test. Whenever it excels, they've quickly changed focus back to the Allied. It happened in the efficiency test video too.
  • 2 1
 To be clear, I'm not saying the Allied isn't worthy of all the praise and proclaimed best in test. But the relative strengths of the other bikes seem really downplayed.
  • 2 1
 @DetroitCity: As an over 40 dad bod, I feel personally attacked. Wink When do we get to race again?
  • 1 0
 @UtahBrent: Allied is a handsome bike from a great small company behind it, and in my opinion deserves the kudos. It's this year's US version of the test-winning downcountry Element with paint options. But it's not a xc race bike.
  • 1 0
 Double post, my bad.
  • 8 0
 @UtahBrent: I mean, tAllied fits to a "T" what they want the category to be, ideally. As someone wrote above, it would be a good race bike for XC races on trails like the Pinkbike staff ride regularly... but 99% of the XC racing population don't race on those types of trails, or even have regular access to them.

I got my Exie 4 weeks ago, rode it 3 times, then won the final local race of the year. For Lane's benefit, I am 48 but it was Cat 1 open, and 2nd and 3rd place were 16 and 24 years old, respectively. It's a very, very good race bike. It has remote lockouts but I never used them that day, no need.
  • 7 0
 @DetroitCity: I dunno about your local races but the over 40s are faster than our 30s sometimes 20s.

3 reasons:
- Grown children that can take care of themselves
- Disposable income to invest in fitness and high end equipment.
- more established career with better work life balance (allows for more time to train consistently).
  • 4 0
 @hardtailhowie: are you telling me there's still hope?
  • 2 0
 @hardtailhowie: I'd like to add a 4th reason: because they see the light at the end of the "go fast" tunnel, a sense of their mortality makes them train unbelievably harder and smarter, and when combined with years of racing experience it can produce a 40 and 50 age group firestorm of kickassery.
  • 1 0
 How about , in the future, all the presenters try the impossible climb and efficiency tests for more context. Maybe some trends will develop, or maybe Levi will be humiliated
  • 1 0
 Bigger sample size will mean more accurate results. How many of us have a tech feature on a climb that is 50/50 if we make it, depending on how we’re feeling and having just the right pedal stroke.
  • 2 0
 Does anybody else think that the vents on Matt's helmet make it look like he's wearing a Minecraft helmet? When he's looking straight at you it looks like blocky pixels.
  • 1 0
 Next time they need to pick a climb that is actually rideable so we can get a fair comparison of each bikes actual climbing abilities. Most of the past impossible climb videos were decent, but this one was lacking.
  • 1 0
 This was a waste of time.

This test did nothing but show us that the climb is too difficult and too wet. Perhaps pick a day when it's f*cking dry out?
  • 4 5
 Interestingly, the camera ran out of battery when they switched to Maxxis tires and Matt cleaned the climb. . . riding backwards . . . with one foot clipped in. Specialized's new compound is really good though.
  • 1 0
 Minions for the win. Its a descending track even though its being ridden uphill, a DHR front and back would feel right at home.
  • 1 0
 @maxetak: Well, you said it, "La descente du coude" is a downhill track. It's not said if the guys at Pinkbike knew that little information.
  • 2 0
 Next Video: how to climb slippery uphills.
  • 5 3
 Seems like should have used an easier gear once it got really steep?
  • 3 3
 lower gear woudl overpower the rear tire and slip. Technical climbs require, high gear (2-4) , keep the momentum, maintain speed, stay in you seat, and avoid mashing . lower pressure tires woudl have helped too . The trouble is the mud and the trail deterioration . There are no two climbs that have the same conditions, line and body position in that attempt
  • 6 0
 @Bobanek: Well some techniques is required. He clearly torques out on the exie then applies too much force, causing the tire to slip while standing. Would have been interesting to see a different technique.
  • 2 0
 I think they need Braydon Bringhurst for this test.
  • 1 0
 Am I the only guy that looked at the chain placement on the rear cogs? Any climb is impossible in the wrong gear…..
  • 1 0
 I second the idea of having all bikes make it to the top and counting dabs and other “cheats,”along with time.
  • 2 0
 What PSI was used?
  • 1 2
 Maybe the tires just suck for these conditions, why not run XC focused tires? I bet Aspens would make it up that climb, need smaller nobs for those roots.
  • 2 0
 I run Rekon Race on all my XC bikes....smaller knobs would not have helped. Tire pressure would likely be the only thing that could help.
  • 3 0
 Those Ground Controls don't have huge knobs - they're in Specialized's XC range I think. They're right up there with the best in the category. Hugely popular here as a rear. Lots of similar stuff to that climb, and I think they perform great. And much better than the previous gen for roots.
  • 1 0
 @SATN-XC: I find the recon race does pack with mud, the aspens not so much, though you pay for it in the corner. You are correct, PSI is the biggest factor in this case, wonder if a higher PSI was used akin to trail descents rather than XC
  • 3 2
 The ride or diet shirt is awesome
  • 2 2
 SST would of made it. Get Reeb on da Beer for this, or Beer on da Reeb, or whatever?
  • 1 0
 wrong..... try with high cadence.
  • 1 0
 Shouldn’t these by “upcountry bikes”?
  • 1 0
 Downcountry Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin
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