Winter time always seems to send my level of bike tinkering through the roof, and I've already had to force myself to step away from the bench grinder and get some sleep on more than one occasion this month. The longer nights also means there's more time to get lost in the depths of the internet in search of bikes that stand out from the crowd, bikes that don't look carbon copies (literally) of what's already out there.
What follows are six bikes that caused me to pause and take a second look, bikes that made me genuinely curious as to how they perform out on the trail. There are a few more on my list, but I'm not allowed to talk about those quite yet...
Starling Cycles Sturn
Starling Cycles made the Eyecatchers
list last year with the Beady Little Eye, a short travel, single pivot singlespeed, and once again Joe McEwan has managed to create another head turner, the Sturn. It's a steel singlespeed, but this one is a 29” wheeled monster, with 180mm of travel and a design that was inspired by Brooklyn Machine Works' apocalypse-proof creations. The geometry is custom, so you can have one built up pretty much as long and slack as you'd like. I'm sure it's not light, but it also looks as if it could survive some serious bike park abuse, and there's no need to worry about smashing a fragile derailleur to bits. Forbidden Bikes' High Pivot Trail Bike
Forbidden Bikes' high pivot trail bike still doesn't have an official name, but whatever it's called, I'm eager to give it a try. Owen Pemberton knows a thing or two about designing bikes, and this 130mm machine sure looks like it has the potential to deliver a really good time out on the trail. I'm a fan of the way that high pivot downhill bikes smooth out the rough stuff and make it possible to feel comfortable going really, really fast – it'll be interesting to see how that concept translates to a shorter travel design when this bike is launched in the spring.Terrain Control Industries Prototype
Images of the steel prototype that preceded this carbon creation are what initially grabbed my attention, and a little internet sleuthing revealed the bike was the brainchild of Don Thuren, a truck suspension fabricator based in Bend, Oregon. The overall look is sure to be polarizing, but the design allows the 29” wheeled bike to have 140mm of rear travel and 413mm chainstays. That's a number more often seen on 26” wheeled dirt jumpers, not long and slack trail bikes. I tend to prefer longer chainstays over shorter ones, but I'm still interested what the combination of a longer front center and a super stubby back end translates to out on the trail. In any case, the more home builders out there the better; kudos to Don for getting this project up and running. Specialized Prototype DH 29er
This one's not a one-off creation built by a mad scientist with a welding torch in a dimly lit garage. Nope, it's the prototype of what's likely the next version of the Specialized Demo. We saw several members of Specialized's DH race team taking laps aboard the yet-to-be-announced bike, which usually means that an official unveiling will happen before race season picks up again.
The frame isn't one-sided, and the suspension design is a departure from what the current Demo uses – the shock is now driven by a vertical link that's attached to the seat stays and a horizontal link that's attached to the main pivot. The Whistler Bike Park is currently covered in a deep blanket of snow, but seeing photos of this bike gets me itching for some sunny summer laps. Sunn Kern LT Prototype
Sunn don't quite have the global recognition they did back in the late '90s, when Nico Voulloiz and Anne-Caroline Chausson were setting the downhill world on fire aboard their bikes, but they're working on making a comeback. Based on looks alone, the upcoming Kern LT 29 could be a good start. There's no shortage of bikes that use a Horst Link suspension design out there, but the Kern's shape is super clean and stealthy, with the shock almost fully hidden by the interrupted seat tube. Exact geometry numbers have yet to be released, but the bike's said to have 150mm of rear travel. It's unlikely that the production version will be spec'd with the Fast Suspension Holy Grail shock that EWS racer Theo Galy was running, but that's another suspension component I'd love to try. Ancilloti Scarab EVO
Okay, the Scarab EVO 29 isn't exactly brand new – prototypes were being made in 2017
– but it's still on my wishlist of bikes. Every bike is custom made for its rider, including the shock, so the geometry will always be as trendy as you like. The small Italian company only makes 50 or so frames a year, which means you probably won't see one being ridden on your local trails.
The frame delivers 160mm of travel via Ancilloti's unique 'Pull Shock' design. The name's a little misleading, since the layout doesn't actually pull on the shock itself; instead, the swingarm pulls on a link that compresses the shock. In any case, the shock sits nice and low in the frame, and the geometry can be fine-tuned via a threaded rod that sits underneath the bottom bracket. The fact that the Scarab doesn't really look like anything else out there is part of its appeal – it's purpose built for a select few, and that's unlikely to change any time soon.