For me, Ventana is encapsulated in the ﬁrst shot of one I saw. A bright green full suss tandem with Halson Inversion forks (remember them?) being jumped out of a compression in a way I didn’t know you could on a tandem. That must have been 1993/94 and shortly afterwards my local shop owner got one of the ﬁrst Marble Peak full suspension bikes into the country. Suddenly my steel, fully rigid Dave Yates seemed very dated…
By this point, Sherwood Gibson had already been building mountain bikes since 1985. Helped by bike sniffers and ardent fans, Ventana has continued to quietly build themselves an impeccable pedigree over the last 22 years. They’ve somehow never had the headline grabbing presence of other
‘celebrity’ brands, such as Foes, Ellsworth, Yeti, Turner, Santa Cruz etc., mainly because they haven’t sought it. Unlike several of those brands, they’re still building all their frames by hand in California and ‘keeping it real’ by keeping it small rather than pushing production overseas.
But Ventana certainly aren’t locked in some hillbilly backwater. While they still stick to their own well-founded philosophies on bike design and priorities (www. ventanausa.com/main_philosophy. html) the phenomenal ride of their latest El Ciclon 5 inch all-rounder is true testament to their skill.
Ventana have always prided itself on striving for the perfect weld, and there’s plenty of evidence of those ‘Electric SEX’ beads here. The internally butted head tube gets two neat ‘cupped hand’ gussets cradling the bottom end against fork stress, while another saddle gusset helps to support the extended seat tube.
While it might not be ostentatiously blown and bulged, the tubing is all custom drawn to Ventana’s exact spec by US suppliers, Worth. Heavily (but not anorexically) machined keystone sections create the bottom bracket area, stay yokes, broad short arm rocker linkages and chunky cut dropouts and pivot knuckles. All bores, faces and threads are fully machined for perfect, silky smooth suspension alignment and glitch-free bike build up.
If the four stock sizes or steady but well-balanced geometry don’t suit you, Ventana will happily create a custom El Ciclon for you, too. This includes DHX Air or Coil shocks, 6in travel rockers full- or semi-custom geometry and well over 200 colour options available to special order – all sprayed, heat treated and perfected in-house for total quality control.
There's certainly a lot to place the El Ciclon in the ultimate bike basket, but they've saved the real show time to where it matters most - on the trail.
Again there's no showy 'look at me' idiosyncrasies, just a gradual realisation that you're riding way ahead of your normal level...
You hit that diagonal drop away earlier to add a couple more feet of freefall; you retrace your steps to find your buddy wedged under a fence in a cloud of dust and broken knees, because he tried to follow you through that last corner sequence that somehow you flowed faster than you ever though possible...
Prepare to be earholed when they do catch up about "When the F**K did you start flying the last big staircase and flat landing the bottom rather than hopping halfway and rolling out,eh?"
If you're desperate to put it into angles and air sprung architecture then there are hints as to why you're suddenly riding with divine inspiration.
Chunky tubes and short, stout linkages certainly help to make a muscular frame. It's not brutally stiff, its 'just right' for keying into the trail as though you're feeling it through your fingertips.
The enhanced 3D mobility of the fluid, easily compressed rear end and low slung chuckabout frame is a really big part of the ride character, too. Sure it 'squelches' a bit under power without the Pro Pedal shock lever 'on' but the payback you get is, in a word, peachy.
The shockingly fast way that it rips through the dusty, dirty corners will have following riders on their backs as surely as a Judo sweep they never saw coming.
The instant, poised pop up of the front wheel is a clean, full travel head kick to any deep drops or step ups that are out for your blood.
Like we say, it's no single aspect, it's just an impreccably balanced, infectiously playful feel that just makes everything stupidly easy. Its light enough to sustain the sensation several hours into a technical trail fest, and the way it scalps other riders through the singletrack means we'd be perfectly happy racing it just for the fun of it.
You'll be building your Ventana up from a frame but there are some points worth noting here, as there's some fairly light, expensive kit here to keep things under 30lb. We'd stay with heavy tyres though, as that really underpins its insolence in technical situations. Plus they help lift the slightly low belly for pedal clearance - there's ample mud room anyway.
Finally, a 140mm fork seemed to suit it perfectly. This old Manitou Nixon was the nicest we'd ever ridden, but we'd probably go Rockshox Pike for consistency.
We were expecting a good ride from the Ventana, but we weren't expecting the kind of performance that stops your mates from coming out to play until you've sent it back. It's undoubtedly a beautifully built, truly homegrown, potentially custom 'hang on the wall' masterpiece for a remarkably low price. You'll only realise the real value of the Ventana when you're suddenly flowing through stuff that you've always stumbled over before, with your mates a distant memory in the dust cloud.