We always tell riders looking for maximum long-term/upgrade value to get the best frame they can for the money, and fast XC racers and riders will struggle to find a bigger chassis bargain than the carbon KTM Aera Comp. Does the rest of the bike match up?
Frame and equipment: impressively thought-through spec
At a price where most bikes still have alloy frames, the Aera is full-carbon, right through to the rear dropouts. It’s built around the latest 650b wheels, with tons of mud space and swooping lines that lead past the top tube-penetrating seat tube to skinny curved stays. A tapered head tube, internal cable routing, press-fit BB and neat post-mount rear brake bosses feature too.
The skinny seatpost offers a little comfort enhancing ‘give’ on rough ground
The open dropouts don’t give the stiffness of a thru-axle rear end but do make for marginally faster wheel changes, so many racers still prefer them. KTM serves up four frame sizes that should suit most riders, but check the fit before you buy because the sizing is on the small side if you like to run a short stem.
KTM scores again with the 15mm axle RockShox Recon fork, which tracks far more accurately than the quick-release axle forks you typically get at this price. Mavic rims on ultra durable Shimano Deore hubs create a workhorse wheelset, shod in Schwalbe PaceStar Evo compound rubber. Apart from the XT rear derailleur, Deore dominates the triple chainset-based spec, with equally impressive performance and durability. The saddle is comfy and the single-bolt seatpost is secure, with a skinny shaft for increased comfort. The bar and stem are very racy though.
Ride and handling: race-minded by default
With a skinny bar, longish stem and steep 70-degree head angle and 75-degree seat angle, the handling of the Aera is definitely tipped towards the XC racing end of the riding spectrum. That means more technically minded riders may want a cockpit change – we found the KTM worked better in the woods with a 70mm stem and 720mm bar. Whatever your handling tastes, competitive riders will love the impressively low weight, fast rolling rubber and a frame that punches hard from the pedals.
Riders spending a lot of time weaving through the woods may want to consider a cockpit change
This immediately responsive character gets the most out of the mid-size wheels. The 650b Aera loves tighter and more twisty sections where it can soon open a gap on bigger wheeled rivals. For traction, rollover smoothness and straight-line speed it can’t quite match a typical 29er (if that’s the ride character you’re after, KTM’s Aera 29 Comp has an identical spec and price), but the bigger wheels and leaf spring frame architecture mean it’s noticeably better in the rough than a 26in wheeled bike. It doesn’t fumble lines and feel morale-sappingly sluggish out of corners when you’re last-lap tired like a 29er can either, and for this sort of money it’s a racing or rapid riding bargain.