This entry-level contender has spirited performance and good handling on the trail, combined with neat spec touches like the Crudcatcher mounts. We’d prefer a longer top tube, and the Suntour fork’s top-out spoils an otherwise decent trail performance.
The brand that inspired millions of 70s schoolboys with its range of 10-speed ‘racers’ has long since carved out a niche for itself among value-conscious riders. The Stone River is the latest in a series of keenly priced, well-specced hardtails from this iconic British company.
Ride & handling: Surprisingly spirited, but suffers Budget Fork Syndrome
The Stone River’s eclectic geometry is proof that there’s more than one way to put a decent bike together. Although the numbers had us scratching our heads, the reality works well. We’d prefer to see a slightly longer top tube, but ironically the combination of forward-swept bars and long saddle rails generates enough rider cockpit room for more experienced riders to get comfy. And with the saddle pushed forward, even newbies will find their feet quickly.
Step on the gas, and the Claud Butler responds pretty well for a 32lb machine, with a frame that blends tautness and comfort surprisingly effectively for the money. Good weight distribution and reasonably grippy tyres give it the kind of trail manners that reward spirited riding, making it an eager companion through sections of twisty singletrack.
Indifferent brake performance had us bailing out of a few steep, slippery technical sections earlier than we’d normally like, but in fairness, most Stone River riders are unlikely to push their bikes that far.
Our primary grumble is the same as ever with budget machines – the distractingly clunky fork top out.
The Suntour XCM sample on our test bike was actually reasonably fluid in the rough, dishing out all 100mm of its travel without much complaint at all.
But the lack of rebound damping and harsh clunk as it tops out is distracting at best and, at worst, is capable of pulling the front wheel off the rider’s line – not ideal.
Chassis: unconventional numbers but works well
Funky tube profiling and some neat frame detailing disguises geometry that’s a surprising mix of the conventional and the, er, surprising.
The Stone River’s high bottom bracket increases pedal clearance in rough terrain at the expense of a little standover room and a raised centre of gravity – great for experienced riders, but perhaps not so useful for the beginners this bike is aimed at.
On the other hand, long chainstays hint at staid handling, though the frame’s angles are right on the money for lively responses. And the short top tube compromises rider cockpit space but is at least partially rescued by the odd handlebar sweep.
Neat touches include rack mounts, a pair of bottle bosses and built-in Crud Catcher mounts below the down tube – a tidy feature that betrays the bike’s British roots, and one that regular mud-pluggers will appreciate.
All the shapeshifting, hydroformed boxes are ticked here, too. Complex profile chainstays? Check. External hydraformed gussetry? Check – although, bizarrely, the down tube also features a good ol’ fashioned welded gusset. Airy, cutaway dropouts? Check.
Suntour’s XCM HLO fork is the same unit as the one on the Giant Yukon, but with a hydraulic – rather than mechanical – lockout. Splitting hairs? Well, yes – and you won’t notice any difference.
It’s still a fairly crude bump eater with no damping to speak of and a tendency to harsh topout. Most riders would probably argue – with some justification – that it’s better than nothing.
Equipment: average for the money; grippier tyres are a bonus
Finishing kit is about average for the price. Chunky tyres are more grippy in the rough than many bikes in this category thanks to a slightly more open tread pattern.
Gear shifts are slick and accurate. The saddle’s a comfy perch for even fairly long stints of trail-bashing.
However, riveted chainrings mean that the whole lot’ll need replacing when one wears out.
The cable discs take a little time to bed in, but work about as well as we’d expect when they’ve done so.