Our first meeting with Maxlight's Phase hardtail wasn't that positive. To cut a long story short, this revamped version is a far more sorted XC machine if you like your technical trails served hard and fast.
With the new matt 'anti radar green' paint job, the Pha5e looks a dangerously potent trail weapon and the ride does nothing to dispel this image. The top tube is cut low for maximum crotch clearance and it's cut fairly compact in terms of length compared to a standard XC bike. It's a bike that tells you what's going on under your wheels and how much traction is left in the tyres.
The back end can jar on drops if you're not ready for it, but it's not as bad as the Mythic or Nicolai, so it's still a viable all-dayer. Also, while the slack seat angle pushes weight back and means the front end tends to wander if you run the saddle back on its rails, shoving it forwards puts some welcome bite back into the cornering grip.
One thing that was universally liked was the look of the frame.Easton's RAD XC tubeset gives classic square headed looks, while the back end is an indulgent showcase of hydroforming art, with multiple curved external butts and tapers. Maxlight also uses smoothed weld beads on the main joints, which it says increases strength by reducing potential weak spots.
There's plenty of room for big 2.5in tyres to take some sting out of the back end, and the big dropouts mean no worries about torque stress from heavy braking. But some testers found they were catching their ankles and heels on the lower gear cable mount on the seatstay.
Like most of the frames here, the Maxlight is a frame-only deal, so you can build it up how you like. However, on our bike, the bolt-thru axled Marzocchi fork felt super accurate and supple, but it does add weight to what's one of the lightest frames here. The skinny Oval Concepts bar and stem were also noticeably fl exy, and robbed the front end of firm feedback. The twin bolt Oval Concepts seat post couldn't hold the saddle level unless we ran it forward on its rails, though. Thankfully, the excellent DMR Long Haul saddle still gave us plenty of scope for movement.
The revised Pha5e is a much less extreme and more rounded ride than the original. It still has a more stable feel than the most aggressive bikes here, but shove the saddle forward and you can add some attitude to the handling. Also, while the hydroformed rear end is still pretty brutal in terms of kickback, the rewards in terms of power delivery are obvious when you press the pedals. Overall this was the bike that most riders put second on their preference list - and several put first - which, when you take the build quality into account, makes the price perfectly reasonable for such a tough, trail happy all-rounder.
The reworked Pha5e deftly mixes XC speed with freeride toughness and confident stability. The Easton frame and hydroformed rear end create looks as striking as the performance.