The Diamondback brand has been around for almost as long as MTBs have. It's been in the doldrums from time to time but, a little like the rattlesnake from which it took its name, it simply sheds an old skin and starts again. The 07 range is looking great, particularly in terms of value for money. Our Apex sample came with the Manitou Splice Super adjustable travel fork instead of the Slate Super that it was meant to have. On paper, it looks like a tempting offering.
There's a lot of interesting construction flare in the frame structure of the Apex. The badge says 'Vectra 6061 Heat Treated' aluminium, which is pretty standard fare, but its 'designed for the UK market' roots show in the Crud Catcher bosses under the down tube and plenty of mud clearance around the big rear tyre. A forward-facing seat clamp would have been a nice extra touch to keep rear wheel spray away from the slot.
The down tube and top tube are hydroformed to put strength where it's needed, behind the head tube and in front of the seat tube. The down tube is also biaxially ovalised to create big weld areas for strength and stiffness at the head tube and the bottom bracket. The flared and butted head tube has an integrated headset, and the three cable/hose guides run under the top tube. The rear stays are shaped for maximum mud room but are otherwise relatively fuss-free, and the seat clamp is quick release.
In terms of static geometry, everything is dead neutral to ensure totally predictable handling. The head angle is 70 degrees with the fork wound out to 130mm (5in) travel, and about a degree steeper at 100mm (4in). We can't, however, comment on the performance of the Manitou Slate Super fork that the bike should have come with because we haven't tested one. What we do know is that it's adjustable between 100mm and 130mm and has a lockout.
While many companies play the classic XT rear mech trick, with lower budget parts elsewhere, Diamondback have impressed by speccing a Deore LX front mech, shifters and brakes - we've seen other bikes drop further downmarket at this price. We couldn't fault the performance of the drivetrain or brakes, and the hubs are Shimano offerings, too. Again, a lot of bikes have unbranded hubs at this price.
The wheels are well built, with black stainless spokes and Alex DP20 disc rims, and shod with WTB's grippy Motoraptor DNA Compound 2.24in treads. All the finishing kit is pretty good stuff as well, with FSA providing a classy stem, 25in oversized riser bar and a seatpost that's topped with WTB's comfortable but light Speed V saddle.
Everyone who rode the Apex came back saying very much the same thing: that it offers a neutral, predictable, comfortable and confident ride, but it's not all that exciting. People often ask us if it's worth spending more than £1,000 on a simple hardtail when a well specced bike such as this only costs £800. It's a tough one to answer with basic logic, because the Apex is a good example of how a bike with nothing wrong with it doesn't always inspire.
While it's nice to have 130mm of fork travel when you're hitting a load of big rocks and roots at speed, there are times when you'll be glad you can dial it down to 100mm. As well as introducing a bit more life to the steering along twisty trails, the shorter travel setting also cuts out most of the wallow on standing climbs. The lockout option on the Slate Super fork will do that more effectively without having to constantly change the travel settings.
The most pleasing thing about the Apex is that Diamondback have fully understood the dynamics of long-forked hardtails - a steepish seat angle and longish top tube enable you to relax and let the fork do most of the bump taming. You're well centred on the bike, so you'll hardly feel the stiff back end. Big tyres and a comfy saddle obviously help, too.
Unfortunately, we were all still left with the feeling that the ride was just a bit dull. A better fork would help (perhaps the Slate Super will improve things), as would a little less weight. We're not really moaning as such, just pointing out that there are sometimes inexplicable reasons why you should spend more.