VALUE BIKE FIELD TEST
Words by Mike Levy, photography by Tom Richards
We don't often see a Diamondback on Pinkbike - we last reviewed one in 2018 - but the $1,500 USD Sync'r slots into our Value Bike Field Test fleet perfectly. Available to purchase either directly online or from a shop that stocks them, Diamondback says that the Sync'r, ''holds its own with no-nonsense hardtail precision and all-mountain capabilities, making it a great choice for any mountain biker.
While there is a fancy carbon fiber version
if you have more fun tokens to spend, the dark blue hardtail reviewed here sells for less than half of that bike and is actually Diamondback's highest-end aluminum hardtail.
The frame is... a frame. Okay, it's pretty barebones, to be honest, but it does offer a whole bunch of standover clearance, ISCG tabs, a 12 x 148mm thru-axle, and even a place to put a seat post. What else do you need in order to have fun? Not much, but I still have to point out a few things. The cables are routed externally, which is just fine, but you'll want to be careful of the ones on the underside of the downtube as they could be damaged if you hang your Sync'r over a tailgate.
Speaking of cables, they're held onto the frame with silly plastic clips that rattled off before I even got to the end of the driveway; you'll need to replace them with zip-ties stat. There's also no chainstay protection, so definitely wrap it with an old tube or something to keep the clatter to a minimum, and while there's certainly room for a second water bottle on the seat tube, Diamondback didn't add any bosses to that part of the frame.
Diamondback Sync’r Details
• Travel: 140mm
• 27.5" wheels
• 66° head-tube angle
• 74° seat-tube angle
• Reach: 440mm (medium)
• Weight: 32.75 lb / 14.85 kg
• $1,500 USD
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While I kinda feel like I'm being a bit picky when it comes to the Sync'r at this price point, Commencal's Meta HT Origin hardtail that we also have at the Value Bike Field Test costs the exact same but sports a frame that's much, much nicer than what Diamondback is using. In fact, while the Meta frame could easily be home to some high-end components when you upgrade down the road, I don't get the same feeling from the Sync'r.
As for the geometry, our medium-sized test bike sports a 440mm reach that Diamondback says will work for my 5'10" height (the out-of-stock large is 453mm), there's a 606mm long toptube, and all sizes have a 66° head-tube angle, 74° seat-tube angle, and 435mm long chainstays.
The build includes a 140mm-travel fork Recon RL fork, and the drivetrain is SRAM’s entry-level 12-speed SX group while a set of Shimano’s MT-500 hydraulic brakes slow the bike down. It also comes with a 125mm-travel dropper post, which is great to see at this price point and not found on the Meta that I was praising above.Climbing
What sort of climbing expectations should we have of a $1,500 USD hardtail that weighs nearly 33 lbs and rolls on 27.5" plus-sized rubber? In that light, all the Sync'r really needs to do is feel comfortable enough to pedal up most of the things for a few hours and offer a wide enough gear range to get me to the top. And it does exactly that; the geometry will work just fine for you, and the wide-range SX drivetrain, combined with the low-pressure 2.8" wide tires, means that while it's probably not ever going to feel that quick, it has loads of grip and a relatively smooth ride. For hardtail, anyway.
Those wide tires suited Tuscon's rocky, loose trails, adding both comfort and traction on climbs where exactly that can help your cause, but the Sync'r is never going to be a bike that encourages you to pedal harder or do your best to not dab. There were times when the bike felt a bit slow and tippy, especially on awkward sections of trail where a little more uphill momentum might have seen me breeze through rather than be on the side of the trail, upside down and with a leg through the front triangle. Again.
As a casual climber, which is no doubt Diamondback's intention with the Sync'r, the bike gets a passing grade and best suits those who are more interested in being outside than being in a hurry.
With a 140mm-travel fork and plus-sized tires, it's clear that the Sync'r is meant to be more of an all-arounder than the more descent-focused Commencal Meta, and that's exactly how the Diamondback performs on the trail.
On mountain bike trails™ of the fun and flowy variety - picture UK trail centers and fully sanctioned singletrack - the Sync'r will be able to hold its own, especially if the name of your game is just to have fun rather than keep up with faster riders on more capable full-suspension bikes. If the trail isn't too rough or steep, the Sync'r can truck along just fine, even feeling playful compared to the more cross-country-focused Marin and longer Salsa Timberjack, and especially so if the terrain is full of things to pump and jump.
And while this isn't a bike to constantly test your limits aboard, the forgiving plus-sized tires and dropper post mean that you'll have no problems rallying it on the kind of trails it was intended to see and not get rattled to death. With the fork over-inflated as per usual, the seat dropped, and the right tire pressure (invest in a gauge for your plus tires), the Sync'r can be moved along decently well. A big part of that is the aforementioned components, including the surprisingly powerful brakes, but the bike's shortcomings are more apparent when things get steeper and faster.
It's those moments when the Salsa and Commencal both delivered much more composure and willingness to go along for the ride, whereas the Diamondback loses traction earlier and could feel twitchy and on-edge. The Sync'r will still go down all the things if you're game, but the Meta's longer fork and more progressive geometry make it much easier to live with if you're riding a little over your head like I sometimes do.
It's gotta be difficult to spec a bike at this price point, especially as most of us count food, water, shelter, and a dropper post on every mountain bike as our basic needs. And while it might only have 125mm of travel, it was still nice to see Diamondback get one onto the Sync'r, something that Commencal couldn't manage with their equally-priced Meta hardtail. Another nice touch: the Shimano two-piston MT500 brakes offer tons of power and a consistent bite point that made them a highlight of this Value Bike Field Test. As for the front end, RockShox's Recon RL did fork things decently well, but it did need to be set up quite firm to keep it from diving into its travel.
Two less impressive components were the SRAM SX drivetrain which shifts okay but slow and has ergonomics that don't really suit hands, and also Diamondback's so-called "tubeless-ready" wheels that only made me ready to jump off a cliff. To be fair, the Vee Rubber tires fit so loose that I needed 3/4 of a roll of Gorilla Tape on each rim to make an air-tight fit (they didn't come taped, either), only to find that both were somehow still losing pressure at their pinned joints. A tubeless set-up is near-mandatory in my mind, especially in the desert and regardless of how much the bike costs, so this was a bit of a bummer.
But it seems like Diamondback has continued to try and ride that 'value' reputation while not changing frame geo (which is now pretty hopelessly outdated on their full suspension bikes), progressively downgrading components, and continuously raising prices. I really wonder how they manage to stay in business with those trends.
And even then they’re a bad value but the Gumbys buying them don’t know that.
Price was like "pay for parts, get a frame for free".
All frames had to be warrantied within months for cracks, breaking in two pieces upon landing a jump, etc and DB wasn't willing/able to do so.
I wouldn't trust their chinese supplier nor their warranty department at all.
They should have looked at YT, who did the same thing but successful. 4-5 years ago YT was also one of the best values in the MTB world. The value's slightly diminished now from what it once was, but they've also updated the bikes and released new models. That's the direction Diamondback should have gone.
Even then, DB made some weird decisions like 2x10, an external dropper on a frame with internal routing, and i50 rims (they never had a problem being run tubeless), but the frame itself though rode well.
I’ve ridden it on older bikes that had older style geometry. It’s waaaaaay better on a newer bike.
The big advantage of a Surly is that if you’re touring in a remote part of the world, any half decent welder can fix it.
If your cycling journeys aren’t that remote, Surly bikes have no other redeeming traits.
If you've ever done an A/B comparison, the difference in ride quality between budget steel and aluminum frames in general is just ridiculous. There's no subtle about it.
That said, the Krampus is steel, the RSD is aluminum. I think I'm heavy enough to get some of the better ride charactaristics out of the otherwise overbuilt steel. Around 220 lbs with water and gear. I dont know...
Yes, this is a seriously stupid place to run a brake cable
(Older Scott Genius…)
But external cables UNDER the downtube and bottom bracket are a deal breaker on any bike.
"That's what I said: 'Sinker'"
"No, 'Sycr'r' with no vowels and and an apostrophe"
"Your bike is called 'Sinker'?"
"That's what I said: 'Sinker'"
"No, 'Sycr'r' with no vowels and and an apostrophe"
"It’s named after a trail in White Salmon, WA which apparently doesn't exist anymore so I'll continue to explain this obscure reference to the 99.9% of the MTB world that doesn't get it"
Nothing slows progression like a hospital visit.
A that point you either:
A) Just ride harder/faster terrain anyway but with increased safety risk and less personal enjoyment.
B) ride the same stuff and get bored
C) get a new bike.
This geo is versatile, particularly good for someone who wants a hardtail to compliment their big heavy enduro bike. Basically an xc bike with geo designed to be comfortable and confidence inspiring going down than to win races going up. This is the geo of all the field test bikes that resonates with me, but I guess maybe all those years of being a hardtail specialist maybe I just don’t know how to progress my riding.
*I add this asterisk because this constraint applies to commercially available bikes where you can't expect the end user to be able to or even know that they would have to know the exact depth limit of the threaded feature and figure out exactly what length of fastener a certain bottle cage or tool mount etc will need for proper thread engagement. Imagine you are a custom frame builder and a rider who doesn't have super long legs comes to you saying they want to run a 210mm dropper, but they also need adequate standover height as well as need to put a bottle cage on the seattube. You could potentially install M5 bosses at a point higher than the lowest point of the seatpost, but in order to not have anything protruding into the internal diameter of the tube, the boss would need to be approximately 5mm thick (could probably get away with 3mm or 4mm thick with m5x1 threads in this application) to have enough thread engagement but not have any of the feature protruding into the tube. Additionally, anything that is attached to this feature will now require fasteners of very specific length, being slightly less than the depth of the treaded hole plus the thickness of whatever is being attached to the bosses. This would also mean that anything you attach to these "external" bosses is now offset from the tube by the thickness of the boss, which probably would look kinda weird.
So in short, the reason that there aren't bosses on the seattube is not because it's an aluminum frame, but because any threaded feature installed in a tube must allow for the female threads and the screw to protrude into the tube.
The simple solution for the bike in this review (or the theoretical custom bike I mentioned) would be to use band clamp style mounting posts (e.g. the King Cage Universal Support Bolts)
I do agree that Santa Cruz might be on the top end of things (I just chose the Bronson because I ride an old one so it popped to mind), but overall bike prices have gone up hugely so there isn't much reason to expect more at a lower nominal price.
I - for one - don't expect prices to go down when shipping becomes cheaper again (though we might see some actual sales if stock gets high).
Also, I can't recall seeing a positive review of a Diamondback bike in quite some time. Seems like they essentially paused development a few years back.
I spend almost all my non-snow riding season on a 2016 Specialized Fuse 6Fattie hardtail which I think is a 67 degree head angle with a 120mm fork (static...every hardtail steepens when you take sag into consideration once you get on the bike) and the two times I used my much lighter carbon full suspension XC bike (which has much steeper geometry) this year I was only marginally quicker over an 7 mile loop I like to ride on the hardtail. Now according to my GPS data from the ride I did Nov 26th over than 7 mile route, I had 449 meters of climbing, 445 meters of descending, the lowest point of the route is 89 meters (above mean sea level) and the highest is 158 meters... Ottawa's official elevation is 70 meters above MSL). Its mostly all rocky/rooty single track including a section going thru where a forest fire was a decade ago that is almost completely devoid of topsoil and you're just riding exposed and broken/eroded canadian shield bedrock cutting thru the burn zone with dead trees and regrowing bushes where they dumped so much water from helicopters and the airport rescue firetruck (with its 6,000 gallon tank and water cannon) that they washed all the soil away. Its chatter bump city. I'd likely be quicker, and more comfortable on a full suspension bike with equal geometry to the specialized but that's only about 600 meters of trail to do.
When I fatigue the hardtail frame to the point it cracks (and that is a goal of mine riding such trails at a 240 pound rider weight), I will likely replace it with a more modern full suspension frame that'll take the 27.5x3.0 plus tires I enjoy riding, with a head angle around 65-67 degrees and that fits my 6'6 tall body better than the frame I'm on now (which is a large not an extra large, but I got the whole bike at basically dealer wholesale). I typically will adjust a slightly small frame size to fit me when I can do so and save a thousand or more on it than hold out to find the frame in the right size for myself that costs me more money.
Is this a joke?
And maybe a question for the podcast, 20+ years ago cars would be bragging on "ABS" or "5 speed", what items such as, "has a dropper post" are destined to become prerequisites barely making the spec sheet? Or conversely, big selling points from yesteryear now considered passé? When will Tubeless Ready be more of a standard than the question, 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you, punk?
Less hyperbole please.
It is odd with Shimano how its lower end brakes often score better than the higher end ones, although I can't imagine a brand having much success "downgrading" to a lower tier better quality component as part of a standard build.
I'm gonna go with no, they did not.
If they’re lighter, it’s because of fragile casings. They don’t corner better, climb better, stop better……they don’t do ANYTHING better than a 2.5 or 2.6 wide tire.
And I shudder to think what a plus DD or DH casing tire that wouldn’t die in 3 rides in rocky terrain would weigh.
But you're right that we're (I'm) kind of cagey about giving black and white opinions! For me personally, that's because I know that I don't know everything and I expect my opinions to change over time as I learn new things, try different bikes, etc. I liked the plus tires on the Commencal, just not on the Diamondback, for example.
I also don't think it's realistic to come out and say something like "this bike is just plain bad" because very few (no?) bikes out there are 100% good or 100% bad. This one has a few things going for it: it has a dropper post, it has good brakes, it doesn't cost all that much money... and I think the color scheme is nice? It's a perfectly adequate bike for someone who isn't looking for the latest and greatest. If you aren't trying to be the fastest and your definition of "best" is just riding around and having a good time? Any bike will do, and this is definitely a bike.
You may not have an explicit policy of avoiding criticism, but (for example) several generations of SRAM brakes were lousy, Working at a shop, you could call SRAM and they'd just send replacement brakes-no claim, no pics, no nothing-they knew their stuff was bad. With the final generation of crap brakes, the master cylinders on brakes would fail when they heated up. That wasn't a gray area.
It was outright unsafe. Sometimes a mechanic would build a bike in an air conditioned building and then the levers would lock up on a hot test ride. Riders would go to the desert and the brakes would get hot and fail on a big consequence line. Or they'd be 30 miles from a trailhead and be stuck pushing a bike with locked brakes miles away from any help.
You (as a website reviewing bike stuff) knew that. Did you call out SRAM? Nope. It was the rate of replacement and complaints from shops (and maybe some pros??) who got SRAM to improve the product.
And what would have happened if you'd called out SRAM for their brakes being full-on unsafe and poorly made? Pretty sure you considered whose ads are splashed on banners all over the site.
****also, new Codes are really good****
We did have a couple bikes with Guide lever issues back in 2017 and those were mentioned in the reviews. Keep in mind that temperatures are typically pretty mild in the PNW, which may be why we didn't have more instances of that occurring. SRAM also updated the lever internals fairly quickly if I remember correctly.
Either way, there's no conspiracy - like I said, if a product needs to be improved or isn't worth purchasing, you'll see that in a review.
As for the SRAM brakes, I don't recall ever experiencing any of the serious issues you're talking about. I moan about Shimano brakes' wander bite point every chance I get - where's my kudos for that, eh?
The truth is there aren't many products these days that are outright bad. There are all sorts of issues here and there, sure, but it's rare that we really have to shit on something because not much needs shitting on. Rather, it's more about who/what/where a product might best suit. I know that's not as exciting but it's how it is.
Do we not remember tearing up the trails at high speed with geometry just like this bike? Or have we forgotten?
It's getting ridiculous.
If you keep it mellow and your old 26er works fine for what you do, just enjoy it.
Im all for innovation and improvements but the angles bikes are getting now is ridiculous. There's a limit!
I’ll vouch for that one as well-if I don’t make a tight uphill switchback it’s me, not my geometry.
And I’ll reiterate, the rowdier the terrain the better modern geometry works.
That's the answer. If you are having trouble with the length of your bike and getting around switchbacks, the majority of the time, it's because you are going in too close to the inside. The newer geometry bikes require a bit more precise cornering technique, so if you try to ride them like a bike that's 50mm shorter, then yea, you are going to have a hard time getting around corners. You have to adjust your technique but the end result is more stability and control.
If it's absolutely not working for you, then size down, which is another great benefit of recent changes. The lower standover heights provide the option of choosing a bike as long or as short as you want, based on reach, rather than seat height or standover height. If you prefer a shorter reach, shorter wheelbase bike, then size down to one that matches the reach or WB you are after.
Guess what... NEW GEO IS BETTER, and if it wasn't, we would still be riding 2014 bikes.
I said the geo is becoming ridiculous, which it is.
That isn't the same as saying I want a unified rear triangle, cantilever brakes, thumb shifters, Girvin flex stem and bar ends is it?
Not saying that the Diamondback is as good of a bike as the other hardtails in the field test, but am wondering if a lower tire pressure would have helped the bike to feel a bit better.
For a given size the reach is different by about 10mm and the ETT about 20mm, however the biggest geo change is stack with a difference of about 40mm. It seems as though the extra stack plus a slightly slacker HTA give a 45mmish longer wheelbase.
Interestingly the big Al has a 50mm stem, the diamondback is 40mm.
To the reviewers - obviously you couldn't change the wheelbase of the bike drastically, but do you think it would be more comfortable/stable with a longer stem and bigger riser bars? I know it's not the purpose of the value field test, just an interesting thought experiment. Cheers!
I will say this... diamondbacks have been a solid bang for the buck for a few years now. These are killer bikes for people that are trying to get into mtb's and or just don't have the budget to build $9000 carbon bikes. The full suspension bikes ride a lot better than I'd like to admit.
This is not for the person shopping for Santa Cruz or specialized bikes.
Also, if your “fully sanctioned” local trails aren’t rad, get involved.
That doesn't mean all sanctioned trails around me are tame, but "getting involved" is often an exercise in futility.
100% to helmets, all the time. I take head injuries probably more seriously than most.
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