Pace RC-506 FR-AM review£1,395.00

Climb-friendly long travel rig

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Designing a ‘do it all’ six-inch travel trail bike is the hardest challenge in mountain biking. Adrian Carter (Mr Pace himself) reckons the new 506 frame is the best he’s ever built, and if you’ve ever tried to shake him off your wheel on a technical climb you won’t be surprised that it's definitely more of a cross-country rider’s long-travel bike than the 'FR' (freeride) in the name might suggest.

A slack head angle, stout front end and extra inch of suspension over most trail bikes does help on descents, but the 506 is definitely more suited to clawing its way up crags than clattering down them with abandon.

Ride & handling: Confidence-inspiring long travel rig for cross-country riders

The lightweight kit fitted to our test bike definitely brings out the best of the ride. At well under 30lb in this guise, the Pace is an impressive climber for a 6in travel bike. The ‘Freefloater’ suspension system and tightly controlled DT Swiss EX200 rear shock allow you to pedal without a trace of bob unless you’re really stomping. Short chainstays reduce unsprung leverage to keep the rear end fast and responsive, so the rear wheel stays communicative over the most random boulder sections. All this means you can push hard when you need to rather than juggling acceleration against geology.

A tall ride height gives loads of ground clearance on rocky terrain, while the short top tube lets you bend your elbows and get far enough over the front wheel for less wander and lift than we expected, although it will start to feel cramped if the climb drags on.

The downhill-inspired 66.5-degree head angle would suggest an Alp-annihilator and supersized frame tubes form an impressively stiff and solid-feeling front end. There’s no danger of being thrown over the front on steep, slow descents, and it makes the Pace a natural nose-high launch and drop machine, which is useful for cross-country riders who tend to hide behind the bike in the air rather than get over the front and style it.

While the extra travel undoubtedly lets it hit bigger drops and rocks than you would normally do on a cross-country bike, it never seems as gravity focused as other 6in options. But for cross-country riders, it’s a great and confident-inspiring match.

The long 723mm front-centre (the distance between front axle and bottom bracket) and super-short back end mean you’re sitting a long way back in the wheelbase, which can be unnerving on loose, rocky terrain. The tall bottom bracket and high riding suspension (even with a lot of sag) leave you feeling perched on top when you’d rather feel sucked down and sitting in the bike.

Pace rc-506 fr-am: pace rc-506 fr-am
Pace rc-506 fr-am: pace rc-506 fr-am

Frame: Beefier version of Pace's proven all-rounder

The chassis layout follows that of Pace's excellent RC405 5in travel all-rounder, and Pace have even curved the top tube to keep standover clearance the same. There are significant differences in the detail though. A longer upper linkage squeezes an extra inch of travel out of the damper stroke. The mainframe is also reinforced. with thicker tube walls throughout, twin gussets behind the head and a reinforced seat tube gusset.

With 2.4in rubber, tyre clearance is quite close, and the chain runs close enough to the swingarm uprights to cause chip and chatter issues at speed. The RC-506 has got a rear-facing seatpost slot too, so check for water infiltration from the back wheel.

More practical pluses include Crud Catcher mudguard bolts under the down tube and a cable guide for light leads. The option of a tougher, lighter satin anodised ‘au naturale’ alloy (£1,495) finish alongside the gloss metallic ‘slick grey’ (£1,395) painted finish is a nice touch too.

You can build the pace tough or light: you can build the pace tough or light
You can build the pace tough or light: you can build the pace tough or light

Equipment: Lightweight kit brings out best of ride

Our pre-production test bike was equipped with a lightweight kit selection based around DT Swiss's ‘XC/ AM’ parts, which Pace distribute. You can buy the frames with various build kits with either DT Swiss or RockShox forks and with a choice of DT Swiss wheelsets - a ‘rolling chassis’ deal can save you a couple of hundred pounds over the separate costs.

Pieces such as the Easton EC70 seat post and fat but feathery Continental Mountain King 2.4in tyres also minimise mass to create an impressively light bike.

Tester’s thoughts

“I didn’t get on with Pace’s 506 the first time I rode it, with big RockShox Lyrik forks and Avid Code brakes stifling its style. With a lighter, more trail-orientated spec it feels a lot more balanced. But even though it’s relatively light and pedals impressively, you still pay in weight and agility terms for that extra inch of travel.”

Designer says

Adrian Carter founded Pace 20 years ago and also designed the RC506. We quizzed him on its birth...

What influenced you during the design of the RC506?

It was influenced in part by Pace and part by Honda! The 506 retains the climbing efficiency and speed of our five-inch bike, the RC405. By transferring the ‘Freefloater’ system and redesigning it to work in conjunction with a longer stroke shock it came as a revelation how the 506 would climb. 

The Honda influence comes from my CRF450. It got me thinking why it was that dirt bikes had evolved to the point where the suspension travel/geometry/chassis package was pretty much definitive. If you wanted a dirt bike to travel at speed in mixed off-road terrain there was no hardtail/short travel/single speed option — just the best design for the job. And that’s what I wanted to achieve with the 506 — just the best overall package design for riding in the mountains. Because in my mind if you can’t ride a mountain bike both up and down a gnarly mountain, is it really a mountain bike?

Who did you design it for?

Mountain bikers who like to ride just one bike which can climb a mountain, like to ride technical terrain once they’re up there, then like to pull the pin for a high-speed descent.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster tfhan the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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