Given a budget of £200 to buy a mountain bike, we'd always opt for a second-hand hardtail. But we can understand the allure of a sparkling new full-suspension machine at the same price. The question is, can budget full-bouncers be ridden safely and enjoyably off-road?
With suppliers reluctant to supply really cheap bikes for expert scrutiny, we actually bought the Boss from Argos ourselves just to see how much hammer the Hammerhead could take. The answer? Not much.
Ride & handling: Suspension is minimal, pogo prone and rapidly drowned
Let’s be honest here. This bike just isn’t suitable for serious off-roading and whatever the styling, we doubt Boss would claim it was either. The lack of power from the frighteningly fragile brake levers is less of an issue than we expected, simply because achieving any sort of speed on the Hammerhead involved back-breaking effort. Especially after we accidentally, fatally wrung the neck of the front shifter or if we didn’t keep a death grip on the rear one.
For the same reason, the fact that the suspension seized almost solid (except for the occasional big step down) after its first wet ride was less traumatic. In fact when it did work the suspension was smoother and less brutal in its top- and bottom-out than some more expensive bikes. But if you didn’t realise what was happening, the constantly loosening saddle and bar are at worst a danger and at best a literal pain in the arse.
Frame: Vastly heavy welded chassis with worryingly flexy fork
You’re certainly getting a lot of frame for your money. In scrap metal terms. At nearly 45lb (20.4kg) complete, this bike is heavy enough to make you carefully consider how many locked gates or cheeky trail stiles you’re going to have to heave it over. The tubular steel frame with flat plate swingarm terminals and dropouts is likely to be indestructible though.
The large amount of back and forth movement between the upper and lower fork sections and the welded-on (rather than usual press-fitted) fork steerer tube made us nervous of any sort of drop or stepped descent.
Equipment: Limp brakes and fragile, ineffectual gear shift issues
At this price level, don’t expect any kit you’d recognise from higher-end bikes – or a similar performance. The front disc brake does work, but the plastic coated levers are so flexy it’s more like squeezing dough than braking, and the rear V-brake is even softer.
The rear mech shifts okay as long as you back off pedalling pressure, but the twist shifter needs holding in position to keep it in the selected gear. The front changer exploded and broke off its bar clamp within an hour too, but it still allowed access to the three chainrings if you didn’t mind getting off and helping it by hand.
The seatclamp relinquished any hope of holding the saddle straight very early on, so most test rides were done entirely stood up. Too much spirited climbing and rockery riding after the suspension seized meant we needed to retighten the steel bar in the steel stem regularly too. The mudguards were a real bonus in torrential summer storms though, and despite – or perhaps because of – their narrow width the tyres were surprisingly grippy.