Commençal Meta 5.5.2 - first ride £1899

Blinding trail romper from Andorra

BikeRadar score 4/5

The Commencal Meta 5.5.2 is an outstanding trail bike right out of the box. It’s the kind of machine which the pioneers of the sport probably fantasised about while waiting for their runs down Mount Tamalpais on their rigid Klunkers.

The Meta 5.5.2 is designed for the trail hooligan in you. It’s good all over the mountain, but with a distinct emphasis on allowing you to nail each and every root, rock or rise that rears its head on the trail. You’ll end up upside down in a few bushes simply because it will convince you that it (and you) can make it up/over/around some obstacle without slowing down.

It won’t make a good cross-country race bike or even that good a 24-hour or enduro bike; it’s too heavy for one, not really long enough for the other. But for honest arsing about off-road or honing your trail skills, there are few bikes which can compete.

Every time we ride a Meta series bike, we come away with two things: a stupid grin, and a feeling that we ought to nip back and tidy up the trails after shredding them to bits.

Any darts player will tell you that it’s hard to hit the bullseye with one arrow, but that’s what Commençal managed with its Meta range – it nailed great geometry with a suspension feel that’s taut under power, but bottomless when under pressure.

The Meta underwent a radical rear suspension overhaul a year ago on what was already a great working design, but even that failed to blunt the point of the Meta. It’s a bike that makes you feel it can out-handle any other hardcore trail bike on the planet – with one drop-out tied behind its swingarm.

Ride & handling: centred, comfortable and ready for anything

‘Inspiring’ probably sums up the ride of the Meta in one word. We’ve ridden this and other iterations of the Meta many times in many different situations, and always come away impressed with the balls that this bike exhibits in the face of terrain that, on the face of it, seems to be horrifically challenging. Commençal bikes have a balanced feel which immediately makes the rider feel centred, comfortable and ready for any challenge.

One thing that makes us smile on Meta bikes is the feeling that they have an extra inch of travel at the rear than they really do. They ride ‘deep’ at the rear, initially making you think the rear shock is under-pressured, but it isn’t, it’s just the way the bike works.

Accept it and let it make you laugh at drop-offs and rock gardens – which are swallowed by the bike with glee. Once you get the hang of the ride – and it won’t take long – you’ll do what we do and cruise each and every trail looking for any opportunity to push the Maxxis tyres’ traction to their limit, testing your nerve – which will almost always arrive sooner than the limits of the bike. We hesitate to call it a gem, but it is.

Frame: solid and confident

It’s alloy all the way for the frame on the Meta 5.5.2. The engineers have left carbon to Scott and all the others, preferring to work with a material they know and is relatively easy to adapt to their whims and fancies. Talking of whims and fancies, the 2009 5.5.2’s tubes feature multiple manipulations to provide enhanced stiffness and put weld areas in all the right places, but it’s nothing too radical.

Stiffness is good up front and okay for the swingarm. As a complete package, the 140mm rear travel frame behaves as one, and feels solid and confident. The head angle is 68 degrees which suits the bike well.

The perennially great Fox RP2 rear shock retains its Commençal hard anodised alloy signature scissor link from the 2008 model, which drives the rear shock, extending shock life by isolating it from any torsional and lateral loads.

If there is a criticism of the new twin spar swingarm shape, it’s that it doesn’t feel quite as torsionally stiff as the old 2007 triangulated one. However, it’s barely noticeable and if you haven’t experienced the old one you wouldn’t notice the loss.  

Equipment: safe choices

The gear selection is all solid, dependable stuff. It won’t let you down, go wrong or break you. Use it, enjoy it and then replace it with the same or lighter versions if you want to up the cross-country performance.

If there’s an Achilles heel, it could be the SDG I-Beam seat post with integrated SDG Bel Air SL saddle. This system can be a bit tricky to reposition once the saddle has been locked into a particular place because the plastic saddle rail becomes deformed by the seat post clamp. Small point, but worth considering.

Commençals enjoy a fairly uniform build, with all models in the range featuring very similar gear associations. So it’s Fox suspension both ends – that’s an RP2 in the rear and a F32 RL 140mm travel fork out front. Formula brakes (Oro K18) with a 180mm/160mm rotor combo front and rear respectively show that it’s a bike that’ll deliver you screaming into tech sections.

The drivetrain is based on a dependable Truvativ Firex crank, with SRAM X.7 trigger shifters, X.9 rear mech and a Shimano SLX front mech all running like clockwork.

The cockpit has more kit common to Commençals, too: an oversized Race Face Evolve XC stem; Commençal’s own 1.5in rise bar; and the SDG saddle and post already mentioned.

Wheels are Shimano XT hubs laced to Sun Ringle Equalizer rims, shod with Maxxis’s High Roller tyres at the front and Larsen TTs at the rear.

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