Ventana El Ciclon frame - First ride£3,990.00

Future-proof all-rounder

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Sherwood Gibson has been hand-building bikes in Ventana, California since 1988. He’s not the most pushy and pro-active character in terms of hype – the news section of his website hasn’t been updated since 2006 – but his bikes have always been quietly cutting-edge.

There are loads of good 6in-travel all-rounder bikes out there and the El Ciclon ticks all the must-have boxes for easy, accurate control and big hit capability in a crisp, pedal friendly character. What really sets it apart is the rare US heritage and handmade build quality at a price that beats a lot of Taiwanese-made machines.

Ride & handling: Now faster and tighter, both up and down technical trails

The El Ciclon has a new look and revised suspension architecture for 2012. The tapered head tube is half a degree slacker, giving a head angle of 67.8 or 67.4 degrees with a 150mm fork, depending on what rear travel you run. Rather than pushing the seat angle forward to compensate for the front wheel moving forward, Sherwood has pushed it back by over a degree. The bottom bracket also drops 10mm, although with the new suspension sitting higher in the stroke most of the time the on-trail difference is negligible.

The old El Ciclon was a real stealth bike. It didn’t feel anything special at first, but would calmly make a mockery of other bikes trying to follow it when the going got techy. The new bike is in a very similar vein. The new suspension layout sits higher in its travel, with a firmer, more pedal-related character. This makes it a bit chattery over small stuff even with the Adaptive Logic lever on the super-plush Kashima-coated Fox shock set to minimum compression.

Press the pedals though and it’s got a really clean and responsive feel, with much faster acceleration and speed sustain than you’d expect from a 13.5kg (just under 30lb) bike. Start hitting bigger stuff and the shock gets into its stride, smoothing edges, driving the bike forward and sucking up random rocks and awkward landings. The accuracy of the shock damping let us run a fair amount of sag to soften initial feel without blowing the travel ring off the gold shaft too often. 

The El Ciclon came with a standard seatpost but we soon stuck a dropper post in to make the most of its potential on techy local trails and Stainburn’s black run. If that’s your regular sort of riding we’d be tempted to build it up with a 150 (or even 160mm) fork and the screw-through rear wheel option as the frame can easily take it. Even with a quick-release rear end fitted and considerable frame stiffness, any loss of traction was communicated early enough to save or let it slide.

The curved top tube is an obvious change from previous ventana frames: the curved top tube is an obvious change from previous ventana frames

Despite the slacker seat angle, with the 140mm fork and an inline post plugged in we had no trouble with understeer or front-end vagueness, always losing the rear tyre before the front even under heavy braking. Because it rides high at the rear dropping the adjustable-travel Fox TALAS fork for steep climbs didn’t cause too many grounding issues and clear rear tyre feedback made it a tenacious climber.

Long wheelbase and slack head make it confident and composed at speed. It’s a bike you sit on rather than ‘in’ so prepare to mobilise your weight and maybe reduce tyre pressures if you want to get it down and dirty rather than keep its clean and concise feel. The kit on our sample doesn’t matter when you’re building your own, but we’d stay away from high-rise bars.

Frame: New curved top tube, tapered head tube and revised back end

Sherwood has been building bikes since 1985 and his development path runs right through the early ’90s E-stay and Marble Peak FS days, but he’s one of the few US builders not to try and expand the brand and cut costs by getting his bikes built overseas. All his frames are still hand-built in California using his trademark ‘Electric Sex’ welds and CNC’d sections.

Having loved the previous El Ciclon all-rounder – and knowing Sherwood takes his time producing new designs – we jumped at the chance to spend time on the new bike as soon as Alan at Riverside Cycles in Kent told us he had one ready. The most obvious difference compared to straight-tubed Ventanas of old is the new curved and tapered hydroformed top tube. There’s a neat curved clamshell seat tube buttress instead of the open bottom curved plate on the previous model.

There’s a tapered head tube up front too, hugged into place with Ventana’s signature wraparound extended throat gusset. Gear cables and rear brake hose disappear into teardrop ports on the down tube too, while three cable clips under the top tube can carry a dropper post cable. 30.9mm seat post compatibility syncs with all the major brands and a press-fit bottom bracket bottom brackeet shell gives you a menu of all axle types from conventional to oversize.

The back end may look familiar, but it’s totally new, with shorter chainstays and increased tyre clearance created by new CNC-machined terminals and an asymmetric chainstay design. While the big cartridge bearings above the dropouts stay the same, new rocker linkages change the suspension architecture. Replaceable plates on the chunky CNC-machined dropouts let you switch between quick-release and 142x12mm screw-through axle standards. The ability to switch between 140 and 150mm travel and slacken geometry at the same time remains too.

While the ‘Electric Sex’ welding name harks back to Dayglo ‘Local Motion’ (look it up kids) days there’s no doubting it’s all beautifully made. What’s more of a surprise is that despite its hand-built US credentials this frame costs a reasonable £1,599 including Kashima shock for the standard Cosmic Orange or Super Dust colours. There’s a palette of 200 custom colours if you want to pay a bit extra.

Cables disappear into the down tube for a neat finish: cables disappear into the down tube for a neat finish

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster tfhan the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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