There was a time when no self-respecting cross-country racer would contemplate riding a full suspension bike. But times change, and Mongoose's Canaan Elite is aimed at wannabe racers who like their trails both fast and smooth.
By current standards, the Canaan's frame has an almost anorexic appearance, with subtly oversized tubes and a skinny looking rear swingarm. Sensible weight shaving touches - like the cut-away rear dropouts and airy shock mount - combine with common sense reinforcements - such as the 3D strengthening gusset at the head tube junction - to produce a frame that's lighter than many full sussers and strong enough for its intended purpose.
It's probably no coincidence that the Canaan Elite bears a passing resemblance, if you squint hard enough and don't look too closely, to a hardtail. Racers are a conservative breed, after all.
Mongoose's proprietary suspension design goes by the name of Freedrive. If that sounds a bit like GT's i-Drive, that's because it is. Mongoose and GT are owned by the same parent company, and the Canaan's set-up is essentially a reworking of the patented i-Drive system.
The swingarm pivots off a pair of cartridge bearings housed underneath the shock mount. It's connected via a short linkage to the bottom bracket shell, which sits at the bottom of a mast pivoting off a separate pair of bearings at the end of the truncated down tube. This mast provides a home for both the bottom bracket and front mech, and drives the Fox RP2 shock at the top end. Sounds complicated but, in effect, the bottom bracket moves up and back as the rear wheel moves through its travel, counteracting the tendency for the suspension to kick back through the pedals - a variation on the floating drivetrain theme.
With just under 100mm (4in) of Fox-damped travel at the rear, Mongoose's choice of a Fox F100 RL fork also offering 100mm of travel makes perfect sense, and race heads will be pleased at the provision of a lockout function.
A bike that purports to offer race-winning performance had better have the spec to back it up, and the Canaan Elite delivers. The Shimano XT-based transmission works flawlessly, while Avid Juicy Five hydraulic disc brakes deliver all the stopping power you'll ever need. WTB treads provide a blend of fast rolling and good grip, and the finishing kit is all sensibly light but strong.
With its long top tube and stem - plus loads of fore and aft adjustment on the Kore I-Beam saddle and seatpost - the Mongoose stretches the rider long and low between the wheels. It's an unfashionably flat-backed ride position, and it's surprisingly effective, if a little odd feeling at first for riders more used to a shorter set-up.
This is a bike that wants to be ridden flat out, everywhere. The arse-up, head-down stance encourages hard pedalling and the fast rolling wheelset and low overall weight reward all that effort with instant wind-up-and-go results. Point the bike up a climb or sprint from a standing start and its racer credentials shine through. Backing up all this straight-line speed is a rear suspension set-up that's as plush - or as controlled - as you want it to be. Set the Fox shock's adjustable ProPedal damping to minimum and you've got yourself a bike with superb small bump response at the expense of some noticeable rider-induced bob. Stick it on maximum and you lose some of that small bump plush, but gain a subtler, tauter feel. It's entirely your call. Either way, the faster you go, the better the suspension seems to work.
Niggles? The floating bottom bracket moves enough that it's noticeable - just - on some technical, granny ring climbs. Our test bike had a couple of rounded-off pivot bolts straight out of the box, as well as a suspension related creak that we couldn't track down, although riding in the wet seemed to cure it. Despite these minor quibbles, we found the Canaan Elite easy to like. Fast, flowing, technical trails strewn with rocks, roots and washed-out braking bumps are where this bike feels most at home. It doesn't have the bombproof rigidity of some of its longer travel counterparts, but if speed's your thing and you appreciate a bike that rewards hard work and finesse, it's worth a look.