Sub-£1,000 full-suspension bikes – or at least ones that are worth taking off-road – have become a rare breed. Many manufacturers choose to stay away, but B'Twin, French sports megastore Decathlon's house brand, has bucked the trend with its new-for-2014 Rockrider 700 S.
With 120mm (4.7in) of air sprung travel at each end, a Shimano Deore transmission and a price that looks like a misprint, is this B’Twin a genuine bargain or just too good to be true?
Frame and equipment: careful cost-cutting
The 700 S’s kinked top tube and single-pivot swingarm probably look vaguely familiar. There’s a good reason for that – this is a design that’s been around, in one form or another, for a long time. The Rockrider’s descendants go back at least 20 years, but there’s a lot to be said for sticking with a tried-and-tested setup, particularly at this price.
Previous Rockrider full-sussers – like the identically priced 9.1, which at the time of writing was still available – made use of B’Twin’s proprietary NEUF virtual pivot system. But the complexities of this setup, with its huge annular bearing housing the swingarm pivot and separate linkage anchoring the shock, have been ditched on the 700 S in favour of a simpler single-pivot operation. It may seem like a step backwards, but simpler is often better (though if you have big feet and/or a heels-inward pedalling style, you might clip your shoes on the wide swingarm).
Also gone are the complex tube shapes of the 9.1, replaced on the 700 S with main tubes that are – wait for it – round. Yep, round tubes are back – and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no tapered head tube, though external butting combined with the curved down tube and gusseted top tube should make up for the lack of bulge.
Given the price it’s refreshing to see air springs at both ends of the Rockrider. A RockShox XC 32 with bar-mounted lockout holds up the front, while X-Fusion’s basic-but-functional 02RL shock keeps the rear end tracking over the bumps.
With air springs at this price you might expect some cost-cutting in the detail, but there’s little evidence of it. The 26in Mavic wheels may not be cutting edge in terms of diameter, but the smaller size helps keep overall weight down – and the 3x10 Shimano Deore transmission is more than we could ask for for the money. Lock-on grips are a nice touch too. We did have some trouble setting up the Tektro brakes though, and their bite never felt a match for Shimano’s budget stoppers.
Ride and handling: back to basics
Jumping aboard the Rockrider 700 S is rather like stepping back in time. It’s not just the honest simplicity of the round tubes or the single-pivot swingarm. It’s also a rider cockpit that’s all about getting stretched out. There’s plenty of room to breathe on the B’Twin, and shift your weight about too.
Stubby stems have got us accustomed to geometries that prioritise nimble handling, but the Rockrider’s lanky set-up still handles surprisingly well. If you prefer a shorter stem you could liven up the front end a bit without sacrificing pedalling efficiency too. Win, win.
On the trail the B’Twin confounds low-budget full-sus expectations. Although relatively weighty in the grand scheme of things, it’s svelte when compared with other cheap full-bouncers. Partly that’s down to its wheels – a particularly big win.
This Rockrider is head and shoulders above most budget full-sussers
Throw in a rear end that willingly sucks up low-speed lumps and bumps, and you’ve got a bike that’ll out-climb pricier peers – just sit down and pedal. Things aren’t quite so impressive at speed, however. The simple back end struggles to make sense of bigger, faster-paced hits despite making full use of the 120mm of available travel, and the clutchless rear derailleur fails to tame the chain, adding to the general clatter and bounce.
Despite these niggles, it’s impossible not to come away seriously impressed. Some of the hardtail competition is more up to date in design and spec, but the Rockrider 700 S is likely to put a bigger grin on most rider’s faces without sacrificing much on the spec front. Unless you need a hardtail with rack mounts to do double duty on weekdays, it’s hard to think of a reason not to buy what has to be one of the best budget full-suspension bikes we’ve ever ridden.