Gary Fisher Piranha £700

Starter hardtail with ideal geometry

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

Even when he’s doing 26ers and not 29ers, mountain biking godfather Gary Fisher can’t resist tinkering with the received wisdom.

The Piranha’s hydroformed aluminium frame looks somewhat like that of its Trek sibling, with the reinforcing bend at the head tube and a spacious wishbone at the back. The chainstays are bridgeless too, so the back wheel can sit slightly closer to the seat tube. That’s part of Fisher’s G2 geometry plan.

The aim is to give you a bike with flickable steering that’s stable – but not barge-like – at speed. A sub-70° head angle is combined with a specially designed fork with 8mm more offset. Increasing the fork offset makes the steering sharper, just as a steeper head angle would. But it also lengthens the wheelbase by increasing the distance between the bottom bracket and the front hub. To keep the wheelbase normal, Fisher shortens the chainstays.

Interestingly, we found the head angle steeper than claimed. So with its increased offset, the Fisher ought to be the sharpest steering bike here.

Apart from its offset, the fork is a standard RockShox Tora SL coil unit. It’s a tad lighter than a Dart, and has thicker, and therefore stiffer stanchions. Go and stop are handled by 27-speed SRAM X5 and Shimano M486 hydraulic discs, both par for the course at this price.

The Piranha is great fun in twisty, pedally singletrack, with its quick steering providing easy flickability. The usual side-effect of fast handling – if you achieve it with a steep head angle – is nerve-jangling descending, because you end up perched precariously over the front wheel when the gradient changes.

The G2 geometry moves you back a bit relative to the wheels, and getting your weight back is exactly what you want in order to descend safely. In any event, the Piranha handles just fine going down, along and even up – the front wheel never wandering.

Fork performance is still somewhat muted, but less so than the Dart. The Tora’s stiffer stanchions hold things together better through rough lines, and a series of rocky steps didn’t present problems on the test loop.

We’d have liked a wider handlebar. You don’t need it to wrest control of the steering like you do on a slack-angled thrasher, but it would still help prevent front-wheel rock strikes and suchlike fighting for control of the steering.

The Piranha copes with technical stuff well enough, but its sharper handling is at its most satisfying when you’re giving it some in the middle or big ring – on a ribbony red route, perhaps, or a cross-country course. Less weight and a keener spec would make what is already a good bike top tier.

The seat tube is slotted in three places, presumably to help prevent metal fatigue when the seat binder bolt is tightened and loosened. And as well as usable rear carrier eyelets, there are — marathon riders take note — three sets of bottle bosses.

Fast tyres make sense on the Piranha, as it’s a bike that will use its big chainring. But while these Jones XR tyres roll well enough, poor wet-weather traction means they’re all over the place on soggy British trails.

The CLIX system is an even quicker quick-release skewer. You can do it one-handed. Open the cam lever, hold the cup bit against its spring, and out comes the wheel. To refit, drop in the wheel and tighten the lever. There’s no screwing or unscrewing, saving maybe 20 seconds each time.

G2 frame and fork geometry gives the Piranha a lively, engaging ride, but the 26mm two-bolt stem and narrow bar feel like something of an afterthought.

If you want a machine you can flick between trees like a Star Wars speeder bike, but that won’t kill you on descents, then you might want to consider the Piranha.

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