French-based sports superstore Decathlon always deliver very impressive value-for-money bikes. While it looks great in kit and frame terms, the fork and tyres still limit the otherwise impressive Rockrider on properly rough terrain.
Ride & handling: Neutral and balanced handling
Although 35lb (15.8kg) is still a serious slug of bike to get moving or propel up anything more than a slight slope, the semi-slick tyres make the Decathlon less demanding to drive than some of its peers. The comfy saddle, proper cockpit, decent gears and brakes and contemporary trail geometry all bolster confidence in the B’Twin.
The rear coil shock is reasonably smooth, and while rebound is very slow, there’s no vicious top-out trauma to worry about. The classic swingarm design means it stiffens slightly when pedalling to reduce suspension ‘bob’ and maintain momentum when you put the power down. While it doesn’t encourage you to go crazy, the handling is neutral and well balanced enough to ride without compromise on dry singletrack. Although it’s always tempting to use as much travel as possible, we’d definitely recommend keeping the back end in 100mm mode. The spring feels slightly stiffer, but the seat angle isn’t as steep as the 120mm setting. This puts less pressure on the fork and means a much more confident, smoother ride overall.
The fork has no vicious top-out or bottom-out and it’s reasonably smooth if pushed down slowly when trundling along rolling paths. The lockout is a bonus for grunting up smoother climbs too making the Decathlon a decent bike for less dynamic riders. Sharp edged rocks and roots or significant sized drops and blocks provoke a very sharp spike in the fork stroke though, seizing it solid just when you want it to be smooth. Wet weather doesn’t help either – it rapidly adds a gritty grind sensation to the stroke.
The big fat low-tread tyres totally rewrite the rulebook on wet weather treachery too. They roll well and smooth out smaller bumps, but the mere sniff of a wet root or rock is enough to snap the bike completely out from underneath you. After a rapid succession of bruising break-dancing sessions as the bike spun and spat out from underneath us we resorted to dismounting well before anything damp. Even with grippier tyres fitted, flex in the super thin mainframe meant a very vague relationship between each wheel and a matching lack of fine control and accurate feedback.
Frame: Well made but flexy
The Portuguese-made frame certainly looks the part, with a reinforced inset headset fronting up a curved rectangular top tube and fully hydroformed – but very narrow – down tube. The bottom bracket shell and main swingarm pivot sections and tall ‘H’ front of the swingarm are one-piece forgings. Stout rear stays are curved for clearance and geometrically shaped with chunky cantilevered dropout pieces for stiffness.
The relatively long 190mm coil shock can also move to give either 100mm (3.9in) or 120mm (4.7in) of travel. The cable and brake routing is neat, with a wealth of rubber paint-protectors pre fitted and there’s a bottle cage mount on the down tube. You even get a sag adjustment decal on the swingarm, although the coil shock means there’s not much you can do beyond changing travel – and therefore leverage too – slightly if it doesn’t match up.
Equipment: Relatively smooth shock and reliable components
The kit is as good as anything you’ll find on most mainstream hardtails at this price. The Shimano shifters with their big indicator domes look retro sci-fi but trigger positioning is intuitive and gear changes are impressively quick and accurate through the Suntour/Shimano mech mix. The Suntour chainset is smooth enough too, although the steel chainrings aren’t replaceable when they wear out. The Shimano levers give positive – if not immediate – braking response from the Tektro cable disc brakes.
The wheels are sturdy too, with big, quick-rolling, semi-slick tyres giving extra cushioning on smooth surfaces. The size-specific stem is relatively short for quick-witted handling, but the bars are just wide enough to give you some authority when you find yourself in sketchy conditions. A proper saddle and clamp mean there’ll be no worries about losing your seat or suffering on longer rides.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine.