Commencal Meta HT AM Essential review£920.00

Long-forked hardtail trail bomber

BikeRadar score3/5

Commencal’s best-of-both-worlds sales approach lets you buy in your local bike shop or direct from its website, offering a choice of ‘try before you buy’ security or better value for money. The latter price depends on the exchange rate but saves you money on the RRP (though you need to add €75 shipping).

Sporting a 160mm (6.3in) travel fork and a dropper post, the Meta HT AM is billed as a ‘semi-rigid enduro bike’. Conventional wisdom suggests this is too long a fork for a hardtail, so is Commencal overreaching here or has it really created a cheap and simple gravity racer?

Sleek frame but some dated kit

The Meta HT’s gently curved top tube flows straight into its stout seatstays for a stiff rather than compliant feel. Cables are externally routed, but hidden in the top tube’s concave underside. The sleek look of the frame disguises internal engineering with triple-butted tubes to maximise its strength-to-weight ratio. Its inherent stiffness is let down somewhat by a 135mm quick-release rear end though. There’s no internal dropper post cable routing and no ISCG tabs for a chain guide, but there is a direct front derailleur mount for more precise shifting.

The qr back end may be dated but the stiff frame still feels snappy and responsive:
The qr back end may be dated but the stiff frame still feels snappy and responsive:

The QR back end may be dated but the stiff frame still feels snappy and responsive

It’s impossible to ignore the Marzocchi 350 R fork up front, which delivers plush bump-eating performance and a huge (for a hardtail) 160mm of travel. Despite its reasonable price tag, the Commencal also boasts a dropper post – a 100mm drop KS eTen. Own-brand Ride Alpha finishing kit does the job nicely, but the SRAM X5/X7 2x9 gearing feels dated. That QR rear hub and square-taper cranks are also old-school cost savers.

A cockpit that'll leave you feeling caught short

The Meta may look decently long, but when you swing a leg over it, it feels instantly anything but, whether seated or standing, because of its short reach (the horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube). The XL size is claimed to fit riders up to 6ft 11in / 21cm but I felt cramped on the Commencal despite being 'just' 6ft 3in / 190cm.

The limited reach mars the Meta’s climbing performance, and the fact that it’s hefty at 14.43kg (31.8lb) doesn’t help here either.

Taller riders are likely to feel short-changed by the meta's cramped cockpit, which also hampers climbing performance:
Taller riders are likely to feel short-changed by the meta's cramped cockpit, which also hampers climbing performance:

Taller riders are likely to feel short-changed by the Meta's cramped cockpit

On the plus side, the Maxxis Minion DHR II rear tyre gathers enough grip to get you to the top and the 2x9 gearing gives a wide enough range for even the steepest climbs. The 11-34t cassette demands more frequent front shifts than a 10-speed block though, and regularly shifting between the two widely-spaced chainrings really interrupts the rhythm of the ride.

The dropper post is a huge bonus, allowing steep climbs and tricky descents to flow together seamlessly, but ours didn’t cope well with mud. Dirt in the cable slot caused friction that prevented the cable from returning, so the post would gradually descend while pedalling. The 100mm of drop isn’t enough to get the seat fully out of the way for steep sections either, especially for taller riders.

Cornering concerns

The Commencal wasn’t really designed for climbing or traversing though – it’s when pointed down that the big fork and stiff frame should come into their own. The Marzocchi 350’s light (non-adjustable) compression tune and linear spring rate make it really supple and sensitive, so it hoovers up the hits, maximising traction.

The SRAM DB1 brakes aren’t flashy but deliver consistently crisp power, helped by the massive rotors. Combined with the fairly grippy rubber, this makes the Meta AM HT surprisingly surefooted on gnarly, root strewn descents. The stiff frame isn’t the most forgiving, but this helps the bike feel poppy and responsive, despite the QR rear wheel.

The meta is a surefooted steed on sketchy downhills:
The meta is a surefooted steed on sketchy downhills:

The Meta is a surefooted steed on sketchy downhills

Things are less impressive in the corners though. Push hard into a berm and the linear fork dives through its travel, rapidly steepening the 66.5-degree head angle (which is already less slack than some of the Meta's peer group). Combined with the fairly short front end, this makes for a twitchy ride, and we regularly found the front wheel threatening to tuck under in tight corners.

It’s not that 160mm of travel is be default too much for a hardtail. It’s just that this particular fork lacks midstroke support, resulting in a trapdoor feeling when cornering hard or braking that’s more than a little unnerving. Shorter and lighter riders may experience a less twitchy ride, but we’d strongly recommend trying before buying.

If you're reading in Australia, this bike can be purchased from the Commencal European site with a shipping charge of €300 and a delivery time of 10 days.

Also consider:

Ragley Mmmbop 27.5

Fancy grabbing hold of a hard-edged, corner-carving beast of a hardtail and mostly pointing it down hills?Read our full Ragley Mmmbop 27.5 review.

Bird Zero AM2

With a long, low and slack geometry, supple, supportive and adjustable fork and great stock spec, this Bird is definitely a hardcore hardtail that'll take on full-suss machines when the going gets gnarly. Read our full Bird Zero AM2 review.

Vitus Sentier VRS

Get rowdy without the rear shock on Vitus's remarkably sorted and well-equipped, ready-to-riot hardtail. It's for those who like to really connect with the trail. Read our full Vitus Sentier VRS review.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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