This German-bred Limited Edition Killer Bee from Wiggle is light, well-equipped and way fast on pedally, swoopy cross country trails and climbs.
Leading German brand Focus was established by champion cross country racer Mike Kluge - who's still involved in the company - and the bikes are sold in the UK by big mail order retailer Wiggle. You may be wary of the fact that you can't drop back in to the place where you bought it if things go wrong, but you can't deny the fact that the 'delivered in a box' approach does get you a superbly equipped bike for the money.
Few bikes at this price come with a fork as good as the RockShox Reba SL. In addition, the Killer Bee Ltd gets Avid Juicy brakes, a mainly XT drive train and an excellent speed-biased finishing component mix that combines with low weight to make this a race-ready rig with more than enough comfort enhancements to capture all-rounder appeal.
At 25.7lb, this limited edition off-white and silver coated Killer Bee is quite light. While it looks and feels traditionally XC race-bred, it's anything but traditional in terms of frame tube profiles - check out the unusual round to box section tapered top tube, the fat biaxially ovalised down tube, bridge-gusseted across to the ring-reinforced head tube and the curvy rear stays for heel and mud clearance.
The redundant cantilever brake bosses on the seat stays - a hint at the frame's no frills XC race heritage - interfere with the frame's clean lines, but that's a tiny gripe when you're getting such a good fork at the other end. The dual air 'Motion Control' Reba SL has 100mm of superbly well-controlled travel, excellent rebound damping control and a lock out lever on the bars that's intuitively easy to use. It's a popular racer's choice, for good reason.
With its flat handlebar, steepish geometry, longish reach and skinny-rib saddle, the Killer Bee looks like a classic race-ready cross country bike. But don't hold that against it. A high washer stack on the head tube, the 23in bar width and fat comfy tyres ensure that the ride feels relatively casual compared to bikes set up by hardcore racers.
The wide-spaced knobs on the tyres initially appear to emphasise speed more than grip, but the fact that they never block with mud keeps them surprisingly grippy in the worst that our local trails threw at us during the test period. With such a good fork and drive train included for your £850, it's easy to justify the upgrade cost of a riser bar and more comfortable saddle if you're not convinced by the bike's racy feel, but we liked it exactly as it was.
A fork as good as the Reba SL allows you to deal with demanding technical terrain with a bit less caution than you otherwise might. The steep seat angle automatically encourages you to work the fork to get the very best out of it, while the lockout option really helps emphasise the bike's tight and light climbing abilities - the lockout cable can be adjusted to leave as little or as much 'reserve travel' as you like. The light lively handling of the Killer Bee is at its very best on swoopy singletrack and demanding uphills and it's only really on steep or rocky drops where the bike's limitations are felt, not least because the tyre's tread shortcomings show themselves up.
It's good to see Shimano XT cranks on a bike at this price instead of the usual low budget Truvativ steel ringed offerings, and we really like the 'both direction' thumb/forefinger option on the new LX gear shifters. The Alex DP17 rimmed, Shimano-hubbed wheels are both tough and light and the Continental Speed King 2.3in treads are a fast and grippy on all but the most technical rocky climbs and drops. Avid's Juicy Five brakes are superb stoppers and the Concept branded bar, stem and seat post are all good quality items with the emphasis on slim-line race credentials. The skinny Selle San Marco saddle is an acquired taste, as experienced riders seem to love it, while beginners see it as an instrument of torture.
There's no two ways about it, the Killer Bee Ltd is a very rapid bike indeed. It might not lend itself so readily as, say, the Saracen Zen 1 or the Iron Horse Sachem 3 to hammering down descents and taming rock gardens, but you'll be leaving your mates behind on the climbs and be generally amazed at how much punishment that 100mm travel RockShox Reba fork can handle. It's incredible value too, with none of the component compromises that usually affect bikes at this price with such a good fork.