The latest contender from US-based KHS is the muscular XCT 555. Its burly-looking battleship grey 6061 alloy front end looks like it’s designed to take a beating and ensures the KHS can do anything asked of it without complaint. The downside is the weight, which at 31lb is a couple of pounds north of where we think it should be for a general purpose trail bike.
Ride & handling: Dependable, thrashable mount for more aggressive riders
We rode the XCT on our regular cross-country/all-mountain trails and it was obvious fairly quickly that it's a very capable bike: stiff enough to mash the pedals – once it’s rolling it’s got plenty of inertia – and sorted (if slow) on climbs.
We’d have liked the lockout version of the RockShox rear shock (Monarch 4.2, rather than the 3.1 specced here) to help the XCT up long drag climbs. As it is you have to just dial in more platform damping, increasing the bump force required to initiate shock travel.
Going downhill, the XCT finds its sweet spot. The FSR rear end (see below) works perfectly and, with 140mm of travel, will take plenty of punishment.
Hard downhill cornering was lots of fun, as the combination of supple suspension and frame stiffness allowed some cheeky late braking moves into steep downhill turns: brake early, let the brakes go, stay centred and let the bike fire out of the corner. You’ll be laughing out loud at how much fun it is.
We really like the XCT 555, but it could do with being two or three pounds lighter. For example, change speed on the bike – accelerate to catch someone, or simply lay down some power to attack a short hill – and you can feel that this big trail battle cruiser is just a bit too heavy for its own good. We’d like to see a redesign on the chunky rear shock mount and dropouts for starters.
For many riders that extra weight may be an issue; it’ll take time and money to knock off a couple of pounds through upgrading alone and you’ll still end up with a frame that weighs more than it should. Should the extra weight put you off considering buying the XCT 555 as your only bike? The answer to that question depends a lot on what sort of rider you are.
Finesse riders who like to pick up the bike mid-trail and place it on new lines won’t get along with it, because the XCT 555 doesn’t respond well to the gentle approach. The 555 likes to be told what to do, and reacts best to strong arms – and strong legs.
The ideal rider for this bike, then, is a big strong man who dishes out serious pain to lighter weight trail bikes and is looking for a dependable, thrashable ride to trundle up the hills on – without wanting to win a sprint – before belting back down again.
Many of the KHS-sponsored downhillers in the US keep a 555 on standby for mountain-cross races and even the occasional smooth downhill race. Proof then that this trail bike is more than happy facing off against the steepest, gnarliest descents.
Frame & equipment: Strong and sturdy, if somewhat heavy, chassis and decent spec for the price
The mid-range kit is all very functional and relatively lightweight, with only the seatpost, stem and bar carrying a bit of extra weight.
The four main tubes are traditional round profiles with only minor shaping tweaks to optimise stiffness at the head tube and bottom bracket.
The square section 7075 alloy rear end is an FSR Horst Link design – where the chainstays pivot forward of the rear axle – widely accepted as one of the best designs around for mid- to long-travel bikes.
The rear shock is attached to the forward end of the down tube via a very overbuilt shock mount – a key contributor to the extra weight this bike is carrying – with the rear of the shock attached to a small rocker link to control the shock angle and isolate it from lateral loading.
The rear end pivot is positioned at the middle chainring position, the standard position for any FSR design, giving optimum pedalling performance with minimum pedal feedback.
The 69° head angle is the current standard for 5in bikes, and it allows you to sit behind the 140mm-travel Marzocchi Bomber 44 TST2 fork and let it eat through a main course of trouble and strife.
At last Marzocchi have got their supple, floaty feel back again and, with 55-60psi in the fork, it’s good to rock and roll: simply dial in the rebound at the bottom of the left leg and go.
The fork does tend to offer up much of its travel with minimal asking, and we found we had to add air to keep it up in the travel and keep the geometry of the bike relatively level, which impacted on its otherwise plush feel.
That aside, it sports 15mm through-axle dropouts which help make it a fork that loves to be tested in the rough rocky bits. Head into the scary stuff, hold on and it’ll go straight through like a laser beam.
"The 555 is an honest trail bike at an amazing price, and a great entry into the long-travel cross-country scene that’ll give you whatever it can whenever you ask. The FSR rear end reminded us just how good this old design is, and even the Marzocchi Bomber played ball. Just don’t ask the XCT to drag race up climbs, unless you’re packing some serious leg power."