are notoriously tough on frames and components, and wasted wheels, toasted tires, along with all manner of creaks and squeaks can develop after only a few days of lift served riding. Banshee constructed their new Darkside with exactly that type of riding in mind, keeping an eye towards durability in order to create a frame that's meant to be able to handle multiple seasons of park usage without being reduced to a worthless pile of rubber and metal. The 180mm bike can accept either 26” or 27.5” wheels by swapping out the dropouts, and can also run a shorter stroke shock to reduce the travel down to 164mm. Our bright orange test frame has seen all manner of downhill usage, from long days in the Whistler Bike Park to shuttle laps in Squamish and at a few under-the-radar shuttle spots in the Pacific Northwest, giving us plenty of time to get acquainted with the bike's handling. The Darkside can be purchased as tested for $4499 USD in North America, or worldwide as a frame only with a Cane Creek DBAir CS for $2550. Available in sizes S, M, and L, our size medium test bike weighed 38.7 lb without pedals.
• Intended use: DH / park
• Wheel size: 26" or 27.5"
• Rear wheel travel: 180mm
• Aluminum frame
• Sizes: S, M, L
• Weight: 38.7 lb (w/out pedals)
• MSRP: $4499 (complete)
The fluorescent orange paint job on our test bike made it difficult to keep a low profile in the Whistler Bike Park, attracting the attention of other curious riders eager to get a closer look at the stout looking frame. Constructed from hydroformed 7005 aluminum, the Darkside features a tapered head tube, a threaded 83mm bottom bracket, and integrated bump stops made by ODI help prevent dual crown fork stanchions from bashing into the down tube. Interchangeable dropouts allow the bike's geometry to be changed, and can also be used to run 27.5” wheels. We set the Darkside up in the low and slack position with 26” wheels, giving it a 63.5 degree head angle and a 425mm chain stay length. Suspension Design
The Darkside uses Banshee's KS-Link suspension design, where two short links attach the rear swingarm to the front triangle, with the rear shock mounted directly to the rear swingarm. The main pivot rotates on two large cartridge bearings housed on each side of the frame, and the lower link is sandwiched in the box-like opening just above the bottom bracket. This suspension layout is intended to have a neutral feel, with a very slightly rearward axle path and a progressive suspension curve to prevent harsh bottoming out. Banshee focused on creating a stiff frame in order to reduce the amount of side loading on the shock bushing, keeping everything tracking as straight and true as possible, and to reduce the likelihood of premature bushing wear that can occur from repeated side loading.
| The Darkside has a bombproof feeling that makes it possible to dive into the nastiest trails without a second thought about the possible repercussions of your decision.|
The Darkside lives up to its billing as a do-it-all bike park dominator – this is a bike that you can slam into berms as hard as you'd like, charge through rock gardens, and launch off whatever drop or jump gets in the way without worry. It has a bombproof feeling that makes it possible to dive into the nastiest trails without a second thought about the possible repercussions of your decision. Want to attempt that extra-steep rock move with the less-than-perfect runout? The one that you've been having dreams/nightmares about for the past few weeks? Go right ahead – and if for some reason you end up cartwheeling through the bushes, more than likely the Darkside will end up unscathed, ready for another go, even if you aren't. This is one of those bikes where you don't feel guilty teeing up big moves that would strike fear in the heart of paper thin, plastic all-mountain bikes, and it conveys the sensation that it would take something along the lines of a nuclear blast to rattle it. The frame's stiffness deserves a good chunk of the credit for this feeling - borrowing a page from the Legend
, Banshee's DH race bike, the Darkside's frame is as flex-free as they come.
Compared to a full-blown DH race bike, the Darkside doesn't quite have the bottomless, bump gobbling feel that makes monster trucking through rocks and roots the best course of action in many situations, but at the same time, its stiffness and short rear end allows it to easily wriggle it through those same sections of trail. That's not to say it can't plow through the rough stuff, but just that it has a touch less room for error. Still, with 180mm of travel there's not much that will slow the Darkside down, and even on portions of trail where I certainly used up every millimeter of travel there were no harsh bottom outs. The term mini-DH bike sometimes seems a little cliché, and Banshee themselves prefer to categorize the Darkside as a 'park bike', but it's an accurate description of the Darkside's manners. It has a solid feel that keeps it composed at high speeds, along with a long enough front center to keep it from getting twitchy, but also possesses the ability to get airborne with greater ease than a longer travel, more race specific steed would. It didn't feel quite as fast as those dedicated DH sleds, but it's still acceptably quick, and its airtime prowess helps make up for the slight speed decrease in the really rough stuff. The build our Darkside came equipped with had it hovering a touch under 40 pounds (including pedals
), which isn't unreasonable, especially considering the fairly standard parts package, but it does make it a little slower to accelerate from a standstill or after stalling out, and it means that a more heavy handed approach is needed to get it sideways in the air.
After a hard couple of weeks in the bike park our test rig began emanating a few creaks and groans, but greasing the pivots fixed that without too much trouble. The dropout bolts also backed off slightly during that time, just enough to serve as a reminder that they should be checked occasionally to make sure they're secure. If you don't plan on swapping them out very often (and realistically, most riders won't be changing their dropouts very often
), applying a few drops of Loctite would be a recommended course of action to prevent them from coming loose.
We did run into a few issues with the suspension setup the bike came with. The first arose from the 888 CR, when the rebound damping decided to stop working after only a few days of riding. We didn't run into any further issues once we swapped it out with a replacement 888 RC3 EVO V.2 that arrived from Marzocchi, but it was frustrating to run into issues so quickly. The Moto C2R rear shock was a little better behaved, but it did have an odd top out at the very end of its stroke, rebounding smoothly from an impact until the very last bit of travel, where it had an undamped feeling that was most noticeable on jump filled trails, where the 'clunk' of the shock extending to full travel could occasionally be felt when in the air. I was able to spend time on the Darkside with both an air shock (a Cane Creek DBAir) and a coil shock, and if forced to choose I'd go with the air shock. The DBAir gave the bike a more lively, peppier feel that felt well matched to the jumps and drops in found in the bike park, with a good ramp up in the end that worked well to keep the bike from going through its travel too quickly.Component Check• Kore Torsion SL wheelset:
The Torsion SL wheelset might not be the lightest or quickest engaging option out there, but they held up to weeks of bike park thrashing with only a small dent in the rear rim to show for it. Plus, they stayed true, and there were no freehub or bearing problems, all traits that make them a option for DH riders looking for a durable wheelset at a fair price.• Code Brakes:
Avid brakes have taken a fair bit of flak over the last few seasons due to their needing frequent bleeding, but I've had good luck with the several sets of Code brakes I've been on during that time. The Code R brakes on the Darkside didn't ever fade or need maintenance, even after going through a set of brake pads during the course of the test period. Pinkbike's take:
|Riders whose focus is more on fun than on counting grams will find there's a lot to like about the Darkside. With a stiff frame that's capable of tackling anything that's thrown at it, from steep lines to big jumps, it won't be the bike that's holding you back from getting as rowdy as you'd like. Savvy shoppers shouldn't find it difficult to put together a well rounded park bike for somewhere around the $4500 range, either by purchasing the complete bike offered by Banshee, or by building one up from a frame. That's not chump change, but it's still quite reasonable when you factor in how many hours of enjoyment the Darkside can provide - Mike Kazimer|