Commencal totally changed its Meta frame family a couple of years ago to create one of our favourite hardcore bikes. You’ll need to work on the fork to get the full potential from the AM2 though.
Frame and equipment: built like a tank
The Meta AM frame is bang up to date in terms of its fully internal cable routing and super-wide press-fit bottom bracket. This helps maximise stiffness; and it's equipped with ISCG mounts for a chain guide, should you wish to switch to a single chainring at a later date. The oversized top tube is super-sloped for huge standover and the whole back end is shifted to the left for better crank clearance.
The bottom half of the seat ‘tube’ is actually an open hoop that the shock drives backwards and downwards through, thanks to a solidly built rocker link. The massive rear stays are joined together with similarly earthmover-sized double-sided pivots and the solid barrel dropouts are pinned through with a 142x12mm Maxle screw-through axle.
The end result is massively stiff and strong, with most of the weight as low and centred as possible. The high chassis mass is obvious when accelerating or climbing though.
Commencal’s Meta frame design puts all the suspension weight as low and central as possible for maximum stability
The SRAM transmission is fractionally below the level of that found on some of the Meta's peers. The Formula C1 brakes are OK as long as you bed them in properly and the 180mm rotors are heavier and more robust than those that come with aftermarket brakes. With their Joytech hubs, Jalco rims and straight gauge spokes, the wheels aren’t big on pose value, but they’re a decent width and average weight. The Maxxis High Roller and Ardent tyre combo is spot on for maximum control and easy speed on all but the rockiest alpine trails too.
Commencal’s own-brand Alpha cockpit kit is well shaped and sized for the job in hand, and the KS Lev Integra post gives clean, internally routed saddle dropping simplicity that’s as reliable as any other dropper we’ve used. The other good news is that many places selling Commencals are already offering significant discounts on 2014 models so ‘real world’ value is better than the official pricing. Like many manufacturers at this price, the Andorran brand has opted for an entry-level Evolution series Fox 34 fork and Float rear shock though, and that’s a choice that dominates the ride.
Ride and handling: sure-footed groove
After criticism for having too linear a fork feel in 2013, Fox has flipped the situation around. The 34 now has a much more progressive feel that’s softer off the top and then slows down dramatically in the mid-stroke. With the angles of the bike naturally pushing weight back rather than on to the fork, that meant we spent most of our first rides repeatedly lowering fork pressure to get into the deeper part of the stroke.
Unfortunately that leaves the fork diving through the top and it can still spike dramatically if it slaps into something big at speed. That means rapid arm fatigue is an issue on longer, rockier descents and we’d recommend getting it professionally re-tuned as soon as possible.
Fox’s Evolution series 34 forks lack sophistication and smoothness this year: a pro retune is recommended
The good news is that the spiking and choking we often experience with Fox’s Evolution series rear shocks is much less obvious on the Commencal than on other bikes we’ve ridden. It still needs smart tuning to balance the linear stroke against the chattery compression, but get it right and the back end still feels good whether you’re blatting through rocks or driving the Meta hard through berms.
Tons of low-slung weight and the massively stiff frame are also a big bonus when it comes to blasting high-speed turns. Whether you’re riding roost-spraying natural berms on a big mountain moor, alpine fireroad gravel or sculpted trail centre rollercoasters, the Meta loves to get its super sure-footed groove on. The slightly shortened 150mm (5.9in) stroke of the Fox fork tangibly improves its stiffness on smoother trails, where its suspension shortcomings are less obvious. The Maxxis tyre combo also naturally keeps the front hooked up and the back end flaring wide if you push things a bit too hard.
The faster rolling semi-slick rear tyre helps offset some of the bulk of the bike under power as well, but you’ll definitely want to flick the shock into ‘Trail’ mode to get a positive pedalling experience. The Meta’s near 15kg mass still makes any climb a real chore as soon as momentum dies too.