John Tomac is the stuff of biking legend. Winner of the Cross-Country World Championships in 1991 and no slouch on the downhill and road scenes, his ﬂamboyant riding and willingness to experiment with new technologies made him a household name.
After positive experiences with the longer-travel Snyper 140, we were excited to sling a leg over the latest offering from his eponymous bike brand – but ultimately disappointed. The Automatic 120 has superb handling but the suspension is off the pace for suppleness and control. It's overweight and outperformed for the price.
Ride & handling: Trail-munching steed that won't please everyone
We approached the Automatic 120 with a feeling of anticipation. After all, there’s only one John Tomac and he is, indisputably, one of the world’s greatest all-round riders. And the Automatic is his favourite bike. So it must be good, right?
Well, yes and no. Tomac is a balls-out, hard-riding rider and the Automatic is designed for a similarly aggressive style. On everything from saddle nose, rooty granny-ring grinders to rapid S-bend singletrack barnstorming sessions, the Tomac’s handling is simply sublime.
Its perfect weight distribution, a bottom bracket that’s high enough to keep the power down through the corners and the room you get to move around over the bike conspire to coax more effort from you as its rider.
It won’t give you John Tomac’s legs and lungs, but may help you feel as though you’ve got his handling skills. However, if you’re a relatively sedate rider – or one who relishes long days in the saddle – the Automatic’s rear end is not as instantly plush as other, more affordable options.
Tomac’s Instant Active Suspension (IAS) is designed to add a suppleness to a simple single pivot swingarm by employing a short linkage between the rocker pivot and the seatstay end, in addition to the swing link.
It does give a ﬁrm, connected feel to the trail that some suspension cynics will appreciate – particularly hardtail devotees – but it performs best when run with a third of travel as sag, allowing the shock to enter the mid-stroke sooner than cross-country orientated bikes.
Taking into account some ﬁnishing niggles (see below) and the divisive rear suspension, the Automatic is comfortably outperformed by at least one cheaper 100mm-travel bike that we know of. It does everything it was designed to do, but the bottom line is that you have to decide whether you’re a John Tomac or a John Smith.
The latter will feel that this is a bike that’s off the pace of a mid-travel full-susser like the Trek Fuel EX8 in terms of plushness; the former will think that it’s ﬁne for beating up rough cross-country trails. However, there are lighter and better options for the cash.
Frame & equipment: Disappointing finish and suspension performance
If you see an Automatic 120 with a black frame out on the trails, it could be either the 2 or the 1 – but it will have been bought as a complete bike. A white one, on the other hand, will have been bought as a frameset and kitted out to its owner’s preferences.
Our test bike arrived in 2 form, with a spec based around a SRAM transmission, and topped with Easton’s wheels and ﬁnishing kit. Spending an extra £400 scores you the 120 1 spec, with ﬁnishing kit upgrades and top-drawer SRAM X0 and X9 drivetrain bits.
The Automatic 120 2 is at the cheaper end of boutique, and this shows in the detail. The overall frame ﬁt and ﬁnish is matched by cheaper bikes, while details such as the stick-on seat and chainstay guards were already peeling on our test bike. The solid chainstay yoke is a perfect mud magnet as well.