Forme’s Lathkill came out of nowhere in its 2016 debut year to ride into our Trail Bike of the Year top ten with a totally trustworthy all-round trail ride at a decent price. A lighter, wider-wheel refresh significantly amps up its performance in all directions to keep it in the top rank for a second consecutive season.
Raised relief decals aside, the Lathkill is unremarkable – but its conventional charm is precisely why we like it.
Time and time again on rides, this simply sorted chassis with matching RockShox suspension quietly outperformed bikes that were trying to be a lot cleverer in some shape or form.
The frame is double-butted 6066 alloy without any carbon elements or particularly exotic structural segments. The Horst Linkage four-bar suspension is also a totally classic layout, albeit with particularly neat seat-tube wrap on the hanging shock-driver linkage.
It doesn’t even have internal cable routing or a press fit BB. And while the 67-degree head angle is reasonably slack, reach is adequate rather than radically stretched.
The Monarch RL shock gets a lockout lever, but the suspension pedals efficiently enough that we never needed it. And thanks to the simpler internals, oil flow rates at high shaft speeds are better than on more complex Monarch shocks, so it deals with bigger hits better.
That means the 140mm of rear travel is more than enough to take serious trail issues in its stride, and the Pike RC fork up front is similarly well sorted.
While the wheel isn’t pushed out way in front, the 780mm-wide Crank Brothers bar and 50mm stem give plenty of power assistance to put the Hans Dampf tyres where you want them. They’re proper triple-compound Evo spec as well, with smoothness and grip added by the wide-profile American Classic tubeless rims.
Despite their girth the wheels are seriously light, making it one of the lightest bikes on test and incredibly responsive under power. That’s a good job, too, as the 34t chainset and 11-40t rear cassette mean a stiff bottom gear to work with.
The external cable routing keeps the Shimano XT gearing smooth and that external Shimano BB is as reliable as it gets. The Deore brakes also avoid the potential issues we’ve had with more expensive Shimano stoppers, which leaves the fact it only comes in medium and large frame sizes as its one downside.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.