Thanks to the Canadians, including companies like Norco, burly freeride hardtails are everywhere now. The latest wave of such bikes can take long travel forks, stand up to serious abuse and hack it down the jumps. A good example is the 2007 Norco Manik.
The Manik is made from heavyduty aluminium and it has a solid build. The huge ring-reinforced and gusseted head tube laughs at fl at landings, and the heavily oversized down tube morphs from tubular up front to a rounder profile towards the rear for a strong joint at the bottom bracket. The chainstays have a machined yoke that helps brace the stupidly stiff rear end. There's also huge tyre clearance - our frame housed a 2.7in rear tyre with ease.
The Manik is the next model down from the top-of-the-range Rampage in Norco's North Shore hardtail range and it comes with a great spec. A Marzocchi Z1 Sport fork offering 150mm (5.9in) travel graces the front and spins in an FSA Mallet headset. Our test bike was controlled by a Syncros bar and stem combo, although we're told that production models will feature a Truvativ cockpit. Stopping is handled by Avid Juicy 5 disc brakes with 178mm (7in) rotors front and rear.
SRAM SX 5 gearing handles shifting and a Truvativ Hussefelt crankset with bashguard ensures smooth yet sturdy pedalling. The bike rolls on wheels made from Syncros hubs laced to Sun Singletrack rims and the tyres are Kenda Nevegal models. Finishing kit includes a Truvativ seatpost and a Norco jump seat.
The front end is higher than on most hardtails so the Manik feels very comfy once you sling a leg over it. The position is more like that of a full-on freeride bike, so it encourages you to ride harder.
Despite the burly aluminium hardtail frame, you don't get beaten up too badly by bumps - this is because there's such a plush suspension fork up front, and also because the bike is fitted with big tyres. The tyre clearance is also ample for the British climate - there's no real reason to ever go above 2.7in treads.
The rear end isn't quite as short as on a dedicated jump bike, which is a good thing because it provides plenty of stability when the going gets fast and rough. Likewise, with the long travel fork up front and the slack head angle, the steering is slower and more controlled than on a conventional hardtail, making handling a cinch at speed and when the going gets steep.
With a decent chainguide, the Manik would be great for riding downhill on if you can't afford a dual-suspension bike. It's also very suitable for all the hardcore hardtail fans out there.