Commencal’s latest creation, the Meta Hip Hop 2, flies in the face of current trail bike rhetoric.
It has the rear travel of a cross-country bike, the front travel of a trail bike and the geometry of an enduro/park bike. And it completely shuns the trend for bigger wheels in favour of 26in.
Frame and equipment: long, slack and low
At the heart of the Meta Hip Hop 2 is the familiar-looking 6066 alloy Commencal ‘shape’. If one rolls past you on your local trails, you’ll be hard pressed to tell it apart from the outgoing Meta AM.
And looks aren’t the only thing the two bikes share; they both have a tapered head tube, 142x12mm rear axle and internal cable routing from the front of the head tube as well.
The shock sits very low in the frame
The bottom bracket shell is slightly wider here and, coupled with the Fox Float CTD Evolution rear shock’s placing low down in the frame, there’s a solid ‘between your ankles’ feel at the heart of the bike. We’d recommend using Commencal’s Neoprene shock guard, as the Fox unit is in a prime position for a shot blasting.
The big difference is in the numbers. There’s the 66-degree head angle and 1,176mm (46.3in) wheelbase of this size large model; long, slack and low is the best description of the Hip Hop’s natural stance.
That head is obscurely slack for such a machine, in fact – sit in the saddle and three quarters of the fork’s top caps are visible in front of the bars.
The Fox fork is a 32mm Evolution Series Float, which is adjustable and easy to set up, but we were disappointed to see that despite a tapered head tube, the fork inside has a straight steerer.
A stiffer fork (such as Fox’s own 34 or RockShox’ Revelation) with a tapered steerer would suit the Hip Hop’s intentions better. The fork’s CTD adjust is mirrored on the rear shock, though, and they combine to make long spins to the trails or fire road climbing a breeze.
That tapered head tube is very stiff. The straight fork steerer inside it isn’t
Formula C1 brakes offer meaty 180mm rotors but come with a couple of the brand’s less desirable attributes. Pad clearance is slim, so it’s fiddly to centre callipers without rub and you dare not ding the rotors. Lever feel is a touch bendy too, and on prolonged steep descents they pump up noticeably, and take a decent time to cool.
The MRP 2X steel-backed chain device works admirably, and the basic twin-ring SRAM S1000 setup it protects works well too. X5 shifting from the same marque won’t set your trousers alight, but it’s accurate and dependable. An upgrade to a clutch mech would be a tidy, ear-saving touch – as the bike’s knocking on for £3,000, we would like to see this as standard.
Internal cabling is aesthetically pleasing, but it had the home mechanic in us grimacing… it’s not a problem if you’re a ‘stick it in the shop’ rider though. At least, not your problem…
Internal cabling is aesthetically pleasing, but it had the home mechanic in us grimacing
The Far Eastern wheels have a bit of lateral give but more than adequate performance, and frankly even a modest upgrade after a year or so would see an impressive boost – but there’s no real hurry or alarm bells ringing.
A Maxxis High Roller II front tyre impresses, and the rear Ardent backs up its counterpart’s voluminous persona. Even when things get boggy the old Maxxis trait of simply digging the sidewalls in inspires confidence.
So you get chunky wheels, chunky tyres, a chunky drivetrain and chunky(ish) suspension, yet the Hip Hop 2 manages to pull off one of its greatest tricks once on the scales. Without pedals, our size large weighed 14.43kg (31.81lb). You could bin off the Schrader-valved tubes and ditch a pound too.
Perhaps the Meta’s greatest weakness is when you start comparing its stats to the online, direct-buy crowd. Kit-wise it’s fairly low value; there’s nothing startlingly poor, but as a regular riding prospect you’ll be resigning yourself to steady upgrading as opposed to years of fault-free trail crushing.
Ride and handling: Commencal have thought outside the box to create a ride that's infectiously good off-road fun
The front end is startlingly low. The bar for our test bike was an acrophobic 1,150mm (45.3in). The Fox 32 came with just one 5mm spacer under the stem with the steerer cut to fit, leaving little room for adjustment.
The Alpha stem is well-sized and stiff enough to leave – that’s surprisingly rare
On wide open trail centre descents and when smashing berms, we loved it, but on steeper, technical tracks there wasn’t enough support. We put on 30mm rise Renthal bars and things were a lot better. It’s a shame, as these Alpha bars are a comfy shape and have handy marks for setting up controls.
The light, CTD-equipped shocks make the Commencal a happy-to-pedal beast and with the fallback of the granny gear climbing isn’t a chore. The front end, with its raked-out head angle, does wander about, but it’s not a ride ruining experience.
Once into the descents, the Meta makes use of all its maniacal numbers to plaster a smile on your face. With the wheels so far apart, a low bottom bracket and centre of gravity allied to the square-elbowed stance promoted by the front end, speed comes naturally.
The bike feels almost frighteningly low; it hugs the trail and pulls you right down over the top tube. The Maxxis rubber is predictable, but we ran a few clicks less rebound and some more sag than recommended on the rear shock to get it into the game a bit more.
Commencal advises running 25 percent sag but nudging more towards 30 percent promoted a more active feel and helped iron out chatter on faster, repetitive hits. You’ll bottom the shorter travel rear end out on bigger impacts like this, but it’s more a result of the pace you’re travelling, spurred on by those angles.
You quickly learn where the not completely ankle-jarring bump stop is and ride accordingly, edging ever closer to it. The mid to end stroke suppleness that makes longer-travel bikes such a joy is in a smaller envelope here, but then it’s always been more fun to drive slow cars fast than fast cars slow.
In our super slick, technical local woods, the Commencal is a hooligan. Even when both wheels break grip in tandem, that lengthy wheelbase and aggressive cockpit allows time and confidence to control things and ease them back into line. Some more height up front would be nice to help support our weight and aid in precision targeting on trickier, on-the-brakes steep sections.
It’s definitely a machine that’s happiest with both wheels connected to terra firma; it can be tricky to manual through obstacles thanks to that lengthy wheelbase. The Meta is happier clouting things head on, but that’s not always Plan A in regards to its shorter travel credentials. Within a week or so, we’d grown used to telling it as opposed to suggesting what it should be doing.
On wrecking ball runs at BikePark Wales, the Commencal came alive, combining that pedalling performance out of corners with enough travel to soak up launches, hang-ups and hits.
One of the Meta’s strongest suits can be traced back a couple of generations in its lineage to the short-lived but equally odd/brilliant Commencal Mini-DH. If you’re the kind of rider who likes nothing more than riding to a set of trails and sessioning them to death, it’s a fantastic accomplice.
Is riding work for you, or play? If you like everything popping in different directions, the Hip Hop is for you
What Commencal has achieved by playing outside the perceived ballparks of geometry, suspension travel and wheel size is a bike that gloriously doesn’t conform. It’s a mountain bike in the purest of senses, in that it’s a bicycle that is infectiously good fun to ride off-road.
Think of a genre or benchmark defined by the bike industry and there’s a reason why the Hip Hop doesn’t fall into it – it’s a duck-billed platypus of a bike, cheerfully pulling a V-sign at the perceived order of things. If you ride steep, technical trails or ballroom-smooth fast trail centres this is a bike you need to consider. Those angles make it a rewarding beast, and it’s capable of comfortably embarrassing a lot of ‘regular’ 150mm bikes.