Ventana El Ciclon £3324

Old-school simplicity, hand-built artistry and a big ol’ dollop of fun

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

Ventana owner, designer and head honcho Sherwood Gibson describes himself as “a fabricator, a machinist, a welder, an engineer,an avid cyclist, and above all an artist”.

He helped to found Ventana in the heady mid-1980s, and since then the company’s been one of the few small-scale builders to survive the explosion in popularity of mountain biking and its subsequent commercialisation. Every frame is still hand-built in North California, including the El Ciclón – the company’s aggressive trail riding machine. It features 140mm of rear wheel travel, gussetry aplenty and simple, old-school looks. But can it match the best of the competition?

At a time when every bike seems to be made of pipes that have been squeezed, hammered or hydraulically shape-shifted, the El Ciclón’s round profile tubes are a breath of fresh air. A large, open-ended gusset wraps around the head tube and protects the down tube from frontal impact damage, while the extended seat mast benefits from gusseted support.

The suspension set-up eschews complex axle paths for the simplicity, rigidity and durability of a tried-and-tested rocker-activated single pivot set-up (also known as a faux bar due to its superficially similar appearance to a true Horst Link four bar suspension system, as used by Specialized).

Our test bike came supplied with an SLX-based two-ring transmission, a Magura thru-axle fork and hydraulic discs, and Nuke Proof finishing kit. Yet even with the emphasis on big-hit ability rather than low weight, it doesn’t make as big an impression on the scales as you might expect – although if it were our bike, we’d ditch the bash guard and fit a big ring in its place.

Rocker-activated single pivot bikes tend to be prone to rider weight-induced choppiness under pedalling. Ventana has fixed this by speccing a Fox Float RP23 shock with the highest available rate of ProPedal compression damping, although this does have the side effect of taking the edge off small bump sensitivity.

Not that it’s likely to bother you on the El Ciclón, because this bike defies expectations and climbs better than its weight or design would suggest. And once you’ve winched up a climb, the descent will erase any lingering doubts about whether a bike this simple can really deliver. It can, and in spades. The rigid frame structure, 140mm of plush rear-wheel travel and accurate-steering forks and big tyres on our El Ciclón lent it an invulnerable feeling that was huge fun to exploit.

This is not a bike for weight-weenies or tech-heads. But it is a hugely capable descender, a competent climber and a good base for building a thoroughly practical, hard-wearing trail all-rounder.

Big, chunky aluminium frame tubes need big, chunky seat posts, right? Not according to Ventana. Despite the noticeably hefty diameters of both top and down tubes, the El Ciclón’s seat tube only needs a 27.2mm diameter seat post to fill it. That’s one of the most commonly available sizes, opening up a wealth of options.

Mountain biking inevitably exerts a toll on paint jobs, but Ventana has cunningly given the El Ciclón an extra layer of protection by fitting transparent plastic film over vulnerable areas, including the top of the top tube, the chainstay and at wear points.

CNC machining, done well, is just as effective as hydroforming and arguably more distinctive. The El Ciclón’s rocker linkages, shock mount and seat and chainstay yokes are all mini CNC masterpieces, right down to the machined Ventana logo.

Ventana's El Ciclón offers unflappably brilliantly descending from a simple, well executed design. Its faux bar-taming rear shock hampers small bump response, and there are lighter alternatives. But it's hand-built simplicity, big rock taming and all-rounder ability are all you could want in a bike.

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