John Tomac exploded onto the race scene with a super-aggressive style that took him straight to the top in both XC and DH disciplines. You can sense that killer instinct in this muscular Carbide XC rig from his reborn bike line-up.
There's certainly nothing wimpy in the chassis. Squared main tubes join in a big block behind the head tube. A big top tube kink gives standover and drops it low enough to mount the head of the shock in two deep underslung fins.
The seat tube also curves forward to mount the rocker link in a bulge, before joining and reinforcing the down tube across the lower pivot point. Swingarm terminals curve round the short front mech stub mount before extending into chunky squared alloy chainstays. Despite its obviously stiffness-oriented design, frame weight is still a racey 5.4lb.
We didn't ride any old Tomac bike at the Dirt Demo, as we managed to turn up when the only bike available was Johnny T's own personal ride. Having spent our formative MTB years aping the tail up, head down 'Attack' pose Tomac was legendary for, the tall saddle, low bar setup of the XC was no surprise. It totally suits this predatory podium-hunting machine, although it's worth noting that top tubes run relatively short so you might want to size up.
The head angle depends on what fork length you run (an 80mm fork gives a steeper 71° head), but either way this is a bike that wants to be ridden hard and fast. Response when you press the pedals is immediate, with the custom medium compression damping minimising shock bounce even when you're standing up and sprinting on fireroads.
The really outstanding attribute is its stiffness. Whether we were over the front pushing it hard through corners, carving across alternating slick or savage sections of rocky trails, or squeezing maximum acceleration into the few pedal strokes before the next technical section, feedback and response were remarkable. Low bike weight, overall tautness and aggressive poise make it an absolute cannibal on climbs too, although riders who want stretch should size up.
The Carbide comes in either frameonly for £1549 or two complete bike levels. Apart from tyres, the top-line XC1 tested here is a reflection of what Tomac runs on his bike, with a premium mix of SRAM and Shimano kit, rounded out with Ringle wheels. Like the chassis, it's designed to be light without compromising attitude and ability, and apart from the desert-specific tyres on our test model, there's nothing we'd change. Real Tomac fans will try to find a Tioga Disc Drive rear wheel and drop bars to use, though (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).
There are lots of light, agile and aggressive chassis and complete bike options around, but the Tomac still manages to be genuinely distinctive. Its taut, punchy drive and surgical on-trail precision creates exactly the ride character Johnny T made famous. It's reasonably priced, too, although we'd check sizing by length not height to get a good fit.
© BikeRadar 2008