Iron Horse Bootleg 3.0 - first ride £1899

Simple, effective cross-country bike from the masters of downhill

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

The masters of downhill have made a bike that’s good going up ’em — and this cross-country contender is a true original. This a successful stab at an all-round mountain bike in the traditional sense of the phrase: a bike that will deliver you at the end of the trail in a timely fashion while plugging you into some fun along the way.

It’s also bike that can – and will – be raced, maybe on traditional cross-country courses, but more likely by the army of riders challenging themselves at 12hr/24hr-type enduro events.

The Bootleg will do well where out-and-out light weight and, consequently, flat-out speed is less important than comfort and a sense that the bike will reward long hours behind its low rise riser bar.

We didn’t go a bundle on the previous short-travel cross-country-oriented Iron Horse bike, the Azure. It was hamstrung by less than stellar performance and limited rear tyre clearance. Iron Horse – no stranger to building championship-winning bikes – took it hard and vowed to do better next time. This Bootleg is that next time.

Ride & handling: competent fun

Get the 3.0 off road and you’ll be sporting an instant smile. Perhaps you won’t be giddy with joy, but you’ll be very happy. Look up ‘competent handling’ in the mountain bike dictionary and you’ll see someone navigating a tight uphill switchback or nailing a fast lap on a Bootleg.

Where the old Azure was a bit reticent to work hard for you, the Bootleg will take you into action at the merest hint that you fancy hitting some technical trails. It’s a feeling of ‘can do, will do, want to do’ that pervades every ride on the Bootleg.

It’s not radical changes in geometry or componentry that have re-energised Iron Horse’s cross-country bike, but something rather more intangible – although it’s a big step for Iron Horse and one you’ll be pleased to experience.

Climbing on the Bootleg is effective and fun. It may not be quite full-on cross-country-race in its athleticism, but it certainly seems to hanker after a rider who owns a pair of Lycra shorts.

Downhill, the Bootleg is surefooted and stable, letting the stiff 2009 RockShox Reba Race guide you through trouble spots without fuss.

Frame: keep it simple

Titanium? No. Scandium? Nope. Carbon? Certainly not. Iron Horse believes aluminium is the best material to build full-suspension mountain bike frames from, because it’s relatively cheap, easy to work and doesn’t require a certificate in black magic.

So the Bootleg 3.0 sports 6061 alloy tubes that make up the sleek front diamond. In a departure from Iron Horse tradition, the DW Link has gone, replaced by a single pivot triangulated swingarm which uses a seat tube-mounted rocker link to drive the rear shock.

The shock itself mounts to the middle of the down tube. Iron Horse fans may shudder at the lack of DW Link, but we never found it to be that effective on the shorter-travel bikes, leaving them feeling a bit ‘constipated’. Iron Horse’s engineers were looking for a more supple, lively feel from their short-travel offering, and pinned their hopes on what is quite a conservative design.

The other big complaint about the Azure, the predecessor to the Bootleg, was rear tyre clearance. The Bootleg certainly has more of this than the Azure ever did, and our 2.1in WTB Raijins went in comfortably with room for gloop, twigs and leaves (the Azure maxed out at 1.9in tyres).

Our 19in frame is a slight anomaly as it was first off the line, which left it with a small weld position issue that encroached a little on the rear tyre clearance – but that will be corrected on all other Bootlegs. So, it’s good news for UK riders who have to live with mud, but don’t want to deal with unnecessary tyre width restrictions.

For the rear shock, Iron Horse has opted for the RockShox Monarch 4.2: a unit which, after some teething troubles earlier in the year, seems to be sorted. The one fitted to our test Bootleg was perfect, with spot-on damping. The rebound adjuster is easy to reach, as is the handy flood gate dial and the oh-so-useful flip-out air valve. Everything is black with subtle red and grey highlights – very neat and sexy.

Equipment: solid but a shade unexciting spec

The 3.0 costs £1899, although it looks like more than that thanks to some clever colour coordination across the components. SRAM satisfy demands in nearly every area with the often underrated X.9 kit (X.0 performance without the carbon) for the shifters and rear mech. 

Up front, an X.7 front mech performs the trademark SRAM ‘clunk’ gear change with flawless precision. SRAM-owned Truvativ supplies the Stylo alloy cranks with 22/32/44 rings; another performer that deserves more credit.

We’ve already praised the RockShox Monarch shock, but the 2009 RockShox Reba Race fork is just as important. Most impressive is the added stiffness over the 2008 model, coming directly from the Power Bulge slider castings. Stiffness adds steering precision and, when mated to a fork with some of the most sorted guts made, there are few better front ends available.

FSA provides the finishing kit, with a 120mm OS99 stem (a bit long; swap it for a 100mm max) and an alloy SL250 seat post – good, if not exciting, stuff.

Brakes are another story, as they’re the carbon lever version of the Hayes Stroker. We’ve had some good times with the Stroker, so apart from the standard Hayes ‘woody’ feel, they’re light with plenty of bite. 

Wheels are smooth-running DT Swiss X1800s shod with spiky WTB Raijin 2.1in tyres. Add a chain from KMC and a SRAM PG 980 11-32 cassettes and WTB grips and you’ve got the package.

On paper the 3.0 is well specced and it’s true that there’s little to complain about, but carbon brake levers aside, there’s not an area on the bike where Iron Horse has given Bootleg 3.0 owners a reason to get giddy.

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