Univega Alpina SL-5 £1040

Wannabe cross-country whippet

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

With 100mm of air-sprung travel front and rear, unfashionably steep geometry and a ride position that hints at cross-country race aspirations, Univega’s Alpina bucks the trend towards more travel and slacker angles, but falls between two stools.

Neither plush enough to cut it as a day-long trail companion nor svelte enough to make a viable race-day contender, the Univega ultimately can’t make up its mind what it’s trying to be.

Ride & handling: Race-ready feel, but let down by weight and rear shock

Those steep angles lend the Univega the purposeful air and slightly nervy feel of a real cross-country race thoroughbred. Precise front wheel placement is straightforward with subtle body movement, and the handlebar fork lockout and the equivalent lever on the rear shock mean you can make all that bouncy suspension nonsense go away, if or when that floats your boat.

But that’s about as far as the race-bred analogy goes, because the Alpina is too portly to cut it as an out-and-out speed machine. We could forgive its metaphorical bulging waistline if the payback was plenty of comfort, but it falls short on that count, too. Although the RockShox Recon fork is a great trail performer, the rear end is stubbornly unreactive on slow-speed stutter bumps and easily out-faced on high speed, bigger hits.

Frame: Surprisingly muscular build will withstand cack-handed treatment

Despite its race-inspired aspirations, the frame's front triangle boasts a muscular build that seems oddly out of place on a speed-orientated machine. Huge hydroformed gussets at the front of the top and down tubes flow together and, together with the externally butted head tube, provide a front end that should withstand even the most cack-handed treatment.

Suspending the rear is a tried-and-tested four-bar setup, complete with linkage-activated shock and Horst-esque chainstay pivots. The Horst pivot is intended to make the rear axle path less susceptible to pedal and brake-induced reactions. 

Equipment: Adjustable fork and shock, solid transmission and reliable brakes

The air-sprung Recon Race fork and Monarch 3.3 rear shock both feature a full complement of adjustments, and a remote lockout on the handlebar makes converting the fork into a pogo-free companion on climbs simplicity itself.

A SRAM-based transmission gives typically solid, direct-feeling shifts, while Hayes’ ubiquitous Stroker brakes haul the Univega reliably to a halt. Finishing kit is mostly from the Concept stable – all good, if unremarkable, components.

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