What better way to welcome Bulgaria into the EU than by getting one of their full sus bikes into this test, courtesy of Ram Bikes?
It's certainly a neat and purposeful looking bike with no fancy hydroforming, just understated round tubes. The head tube with an integrated headset is bolstered by a big throat gusset under the down tube. The rocker link pivot and lower shock mount sit on the same twin gusset plates to manage stress efficiently.
The rocker links are short, tidily cast pieces, and cartridge bearings on the chainstays just ahead of the dropouts mean it's a true fourbar/ Horst Link design too.
The chainstay, rocker and main pivot all run on smooth cartridge bearings, although it's not all good news, as our Workshop Wisdom reveals. The rectangular section seatstays still carry V brake mounts, which looks ugly on a disc-specific bike. This is a build on a frame that's available separately though, which makes this faux pas more forgivable.
This is the most expensive bike here so it should be the best equipped, but then the frame alone costs £499. Distributors Bad Ass Bikes don't disappoint with this internet-only budget build.
The 85-130mm RockShox Tora fork is heavy and takes a while to smooth out, but long-term samples prove that this simple but effective fork just keeps getting better. U-Turn travel adjustment lets you control steering geometry and impact appetite with a turn of the top cap, plus the rebound and compression are adjustable.
The wheelset boosts the ride performance thanks to low weight but the Mavic rims and Formula hubs are durable too. The all-round ability and agility of the Maxxis Advantage tyres didn't cramp the Ram's style - whatever the weather - either.
Avid's Juicy Three hydraulic disc brakes are excellent, with a huge amount of control and power in all conditions, even with 160mm rotors. SRAM's X-7 rear mech and Shimano's Deore front mech don't skip a beat either, and you wouldn't guess the bike had down-specced SX-5 shifters from their feel.
The Truvativ Firex chainset and GXP external bottom bracket are a bonus at this price too. This setup is light as well as impressively stiff and the chainrings are all easily replaceable. Truvativ also supply the sturdy XR cockpit kit and rock solid twin-bolt seatpost, while the Velo saddle with centre hole is impressively comfortable.
We always hope for a surprise 'cheapest bike turns out best' twist in these tests, but as soon as you get on the Ram it's clear it's a proper suspension scoot, not a cheap pretender. The whole bike feels much tighter and together than the others, and it accelerates and charges along the trails with real speed and spirit. A short wheelbase keeps it agile and eager to change direction, and the impressive frame stiffness from front to back gives a clear and communicative edge.
Decent top tube length allows ample breathing space and the Truvativ cockpit kit is well sized and stiff for extra confidence. The slack angles - particularly the seat tube - put rider weight a long way back though. This makes it super easy to pop the front wheel up - a good or bad thing depending on the situation - and adds relaxed confidence on steep descents. But it does mean the steering feels sluggish and the front wheel slippery with the fork wound out to much more than 100mm (4in) of travel.
Luckily, the Tora is still smooth and controlled at 100mm, unlike some travel-adjust forks. The rebound and compression damping are more consistent than on the other forks here too, which means no nasty surprises halfway down a set of steps.
We've got no complaints about the 100mm travel back end. While it's not outstandingly smooth and it takes the edges off bigger stuff rather than swallowing them, it does what it does consistently. It pedals and grips well too, with only a bit of visible bob and no obvious kickback or softness through the pedals. Upgrading to a lighter 100mm fork certainly makes sense though, because a bike feels much more balanced if both ends match.
MBUK'S MECHANIC SAYS...
Wearing bearings Like most suspension manufacturers, Ram use free-rolling, replaceable cartridge bearings in most of their pivot points. However, in this case, they all have uncovered faces exposed to the elements, which makes them vulnerable to rapid deterioration and wear. The two rear rocker pivots - in the most exposed, dirty position of all, just above the rear wheel - use synthetic bearings too, not ideal in terms of longevity.