Heavy rains kept us staring at this bike for over a week, as it sat inside our office just begging to be ridden hard. The BH Ultimate RC carbon hardtail is a cheaper version of the World Cup-proven Ultimate, a steed ridden by the likes of Olympic and World Champion Julie Bresset, Maxime Marotte and Stephane Tempier of the BH SR Suntour KMC mountain bike team.
As the Ultimate RC sat quietly, we looked to the sky impatiently. The bike's sharp frame lines, enormous tube junctions – and proven performance – had us dreaming of fast, flowing cross country trails, ridden to the limit of our fitness.
The BH Ultimate RC 27.5 XT (Australian spec)
Yet as we gazed at the Ultimate RC 27.5, we began to wonder whether a few mediocre-lookig component choices on our Australian sample would be enough to compromise a setup otherwise based around what some of the world’s best use. We hoped these concerns would be unfounded…
Ride and handling: Stiff with no comfort trade-off – worthy of a world champion
The Ultimate is offered with either 27.5in or 29in wheels. Like Julie Bresset, we chose the smaller, lighter and faster accelerating 27.5in option. Once on the trail, we were greeted with a ride that’s confident tackling the steepest of climbs, yet holds its own through technical singletrack and fast descents.
In keeping with the chosen wheel size, our Ultimate RC was effortlessly flickable through corners and had plenty of personality when airborne or taken over technical obstacles. Sure, compared with a 29er it lacked the absolute ability to roll over everything while carrying its speed. But on stop-start terrain the 650b machine proved superb – despite its rather heavy Shimano XT hoops.
Using the full width of the bottom bracket, those large chain stays and wide bottom bracket remain free of flex
Under power, we found no hint of movement from the large, angular frame. From the massive head tube, continuing well into the down tube and top tube, to those deep chain stays that follow from the wide BB92 bottom bracket and square down tube, the Ultimate RC happily accelerated with every inch of power we put in.
The fit on the medium isn’t super aggressive: with a 585mm effective top tube and sensible 100mm stem length, it places you in a reasonably upright position that allows for easy directional changes. With a 70-degree head angle, the handling stays fast and reactive without coming over panicky. That said, our sample came with a 620mm wide handlebar, creating a twitchy character before we swapped to a more controlled 660mm bar.
Thin swooping seat stays flow into the top tube, aiding ride comfort
As with the BH Ultralight road bike we reviewed recently, the frame’s high torsional stiffness doesn’t result in a comfort trade-off. And despite a large 31.6mm alloy seatpost, the Ultimate’s thinly curved seatstays and large volume Schwalbe boots do a respectable job of numbing the fatiguing bumps, while allowing you to keep the power through the pedals over rougher terrain.
It’s on rough descents and rutted corners where our Australian sample started to show some weakness. Despite the frame's tapered head tube, our model came equipped with a basic Fox Evolution 32mm series fork using a standard quick release and straight steerer tube. This marginal cost saving sacrifices front-end steering precision, something the frame doesn’t suffer from.
Frame and equipment: brilliant frame that deserves better components for the money
Given its Shimano XT componentry and basic Fox fork, it’s abundantly clear that plenty of the Ultimate RC's considerable cost goes toward that stellar frame.
Constructed with a blend of high modulus T24 and T30 carbon layups, the Ultimate RC’s combination of sharp lines, curves and flawless finishing means it’s certainly worthy of future component upgrades.
BH's EVO brake mount is designed to improve braking performance without affecting ride quality
Little frame touches include BH's EVO direct-mount rear brake, situated on the chainstay, and the front derailleur's direct-mount platform for crisper shifting.
The Ultimate RC also features externally guided full-length housing running beneath the frame, well away from pedalling interference. We quite like this from a servicing standpoint, especially the fact that each cable receives its own individual guide. Our only minor gripe relates to the front derailleur – its cable neatly appears through the chunky bottom bracket, but is exposed at an area that fills with crud.
A rear thru-axle – another thing the pros' Ultimate offers – would also have been nice. Arguably its omission isn't crucial on a frame as stiff as this, but it still lags behind what many competitors are doing, and the wider 142x12mm axle allows for stiffer wheel construction.
Quick release, straight steerer and narrow handlebars is so 2012
Indeed, aside from the the awesome frame, the Ultimate RC doesn't always cover itself in glory. The component choices on our Australian sample seemed dated for 2014 and in some cases go against what we’d expect as standard on a ride anywhere near this price.
The Fox Float Evolution fork on our sample is a solid performer, but it lacks the sealed FIT cartridge damper unit, 15mm thru-axle and tapered steerer tube we’d expect at this level. One saving grace is the remote lockout switch, something that’s easy to use and quite useful in a race situation.
We were none too keen on the rear derailleur tapping away on the chainstay
The Shimano XT drivetrain isn’t normally something to complain about, but the noise we experienced from the rear derailleur banging on the hollow chainstay was unnerving, at least BH could soften the racket and include a chainstay protector.
The choice of chainring sizes was also something we thought as odd for a race bike – 38/24T gearing more commonly appears on 29ers. It does enable you to stay in the taller gear more often, but fast fireroads and roads had us wanting a little more at times.
The solid performing XT wheels aren’t doing anything for the bike’s overall weight, but one major benefit is perfect tubeless compatibility with the supplied Schwalbes – though strangely our sample arrived with tubes installed.
Standard mountain bike handlebar width is from 660 to 710+mm, so why does our sample have a 620mm width bar?
The alloy cockpit components all work, but – as mentioned above – the standard 620mm bars are far too narrow and will likely need replacing immediately. We also feel a carbon seatpost isn’t too much to ask given the price.
In the end, the BH Ultimate RC 27.5 left us torn. The ride quality, handling and frame construction are superb – and equate to something we’d very happily pick come race day. But some of the Australian spec components are simply inadequate given the price.
If you’re happy to accept that further upgrades may be required for race day, then the Ultimate RC is one bike that won’t hold you back.
Please note that the exact spec does vary between different countries – the frame is the same, however.