The first time we rode Cove's latest Hummer, we proclaimed it to be the "hottest bike of the year" and "the best aggressive hardtail we've ever ridden".
This certainly creates a lot of pressure to perform second time around, but then 'under pressure' is precisely where the Hummer really comes alive.
Ride: muscular and mighty
The Hummer’s super-slack 68°/73° angles sound crazy at first, but settle behind the broad Atlas bars, and you'll swear the bike has just given you 'the nod'. The nod that says, "buckle in, drop your previous limits and expectations in the bin, and get ready to grin".
While the Hummer is mid-weight for titanium, it's still light by most other standards, so it surges forward with startling pace when you press the pedals. Its muscular stiffness means it delivers everything you've got without distortion, too, while retaining just enough compliance to keep the wheel connected when stiffer alloy, carbon or even some other titanium bikes would scatter precious traction across the rocks.
While winding down the fork and sticking on skinnier tyres would undoubtedly make a superb race bike out of the Hummer, the Cove's technical ability really takes the biscuit and slam-dunks it.
Compared with bikes with classic 71°/73° cross-country angles, it definitely takes overshooting the first few corners and then adopting a more dynamic 'throw your weight around' style to start realising the potential of the Hummer.
Once you're synced into its accurate, 3D-agile but spellbindingly surefooted singletrack character, though, it starts to become embarrassing. Embarrassing in the sense that people who are normally right on your tail are suddenly left standing. We don't just mean trailing either, we mean proper, 'you're standing there for long enough to wonder if you should turn back and look for them' standing.
The Cove is light and lithe enough to totally launch or skim over the really big stuff, but accurate enough to make every touchdown count as immediate control and traction for nailing the next crux move.
Thanks to that slack head angle and titanium tubing, the Cove is one of the few hardtails we've ridden that can hold its own against long-travel double springers at speed. The titanium starts to show its naturally supple, shock-absorbing character - with a calm, composed control and fluidity - at exactly the point when alloy bikes would be rattling your eyeballs out of their sockets. Luckily Cove has been smart enough to leave plenty of space for seriously chunky tyres that'll take the hammering this bike lives to laugh off.
Any bike that's outstanding in one direction will be compromised in another, and for some the Cove may not be 'titanium' enough. The stouter tubeset certainly feels tauter and less compliant than the other bikes here at slower speeds, and occasionally feels almost alloy in its reactions to walking-speed wallops. It's significantly heavier than the Cotic and Seven and less eager to wrap round the back of trees or switchbacks, too, which might upset real race whippets or classic cross-country handling fans.
Frame: highly evolved
Cove's Hummer has been through several evolutions to get to where it is now, but it has retained its tough, tackle-anything edge.
Hummers are now built by premier titanium specialist Litespeed, which applies its impeccable welding skills to a relatively plain set of classic round 3Al/2.5V pipes. (With 3 percent aluminium and 2.5 percent vanadium, this is the classic titanium alloy for bikes: strong, but not so strong it can’t be made into tubes fairly easily).
Everything about the Hummer is understated. The head tube is a straight pipe and the back end uses slightly kinked tubes in a conventional A-frame layout. The disc brake is mounted on the extended offside dropout to remove the need for a bracing pipe. Even the 4lb frame weight is on the solid and robust side by titanium standards.
The only bit of visual showmanship is the pair of gorgeous windowed brace plates reinforcing the throat of the frame up front.
Components: tough and confident
UK Cove distributor Silverfish also looks after Race Face, whose Deus and Atlas kit here is a superbly tough and confidence-inspiring complement to the Hummer. Ditto Hope's super-tight straight-pull Pro III wheelset, Intense tyres and SDG saddle.
The travel adjust RockShox Revelation forks are a good versatile choice, too, although we can't deny we were itching to plug in a set of Fox F120s or DT Swiss 130s for lighter weight and better damping.
Cove's Hummer came into the test with a lot to live up to, but the love we felt for it first time round was rekindled as soon as we hit the singletrack again.
If you're an aggressive hardtail rider who lives to tackle the most technical, treacherous singletrack on a wet weekday night or a truly epic weekender, then we simply can't think of a better bike. Telepathically accurate, tenaciously surefooted, and super tough but sweetly spirited, the Hummer is speed-supple and race-light as only titanium can be.