With the bike industry's rush to reinvent the wheel – or at least the size that works best for mountain biking – bikes like Rose's Count Solo Entry are an increasingly rare sight.
With a 10-speed transmission, remote lock-out fork and wearing the same 26in wheels that have powered mountain bikes for over two decades, the question is this: is there still a place for a hardtail with 'old' sized wheels?
Ride and handling: lively character
Because of its uncompromising tube structures, we were expecting a rough ride from the Count Solo. Turns out that it's not as simple as that. Some of the Rose's reasonable all-up weight is down to wheels that are around 400g (nearly a pound) lighter than 29er-equipped competition. Doesn't sound much, but it's a difference you can instantly feel, particularly because most of that weight loss is out near the rim.
Rotating mass has to be accelerated both along and around. That means every gram counts double, very roughly speaking. The Rose has a turn of speed that puts it on a par with 29ers costing a fair bit more, simply because it's expensive to build 29er wheels this light.
What you lose in the smaller wheels' tendency to get slightly more bogged by small rocks and roots compared to 29ers, you gain back in better pick-up and improved acceleration.
The net result is a bike that fidgets around a bit more than the wagon-wheeled competition, but also one that's more responsive to the rider's inputs. On a technical climb, for example, the Rose's rear end skips a little more compared with a 29er hardtail's tendency to roll over everything in its path, but it's easily corrected.
And when you do put the power down, the Count Solo Entry responds. There's no sense of winding it up – it just goes. Compared with just about any price-equivalent 29er, the Rose feels indefinably quicker - though we doubt that it actually is.
Surprisingly, all this efficiency isn't accompanied by the harsh ride we were expecting. Those light wheels help, but thin tube walls probably help take the edge off the bigger hits, too. While the Count Solo Entry undeniably lacks the languid easy-rolling feel of a big-wheeler, there's a lot to be said for its lively character.
It's a timely reminder that, for all the rush to big wheels, 26in can be at least as fast - and arguably even more fun.
Frame and equipment: good value
Germans like efficiency, apparently, so it's no surprise that the Rose boasts the kind of frame build that'll channel every ounce of your energy to the rear wheel. A down tube with a diameter that risks overwhelming the bottom bracket provides the backbone, flaring at the head tube junction for even more strength and wearing a large chunk of clear, self-adhesive plastic underneath to fend off damage.
The top tube's 90-degree opposed flares perform the same stiffening function, although – in a sign that this is a frame design that may date in a couple of years – there's no head tube flare.
Chunky stays continue the stiffness-uber-alles theme out back. There's plenty of clearance for chunky rubber, but no rack or mudguard eyelets. Unusually for an entry-level frame, all the cable routing – yes, all of it – is internal. This is good news for clean lines and avoiding that irritating problem of cables rubbing away paint, but is likely to mean slightly more fiddly maintenance when replacement time comes around.
RockShox' basic coil-sprung XC28 fork holds up the front end and points everything in the right direction. We like the fact that it has adjustable rebound damping, though we'd happily ditch the remote lockout. We just don't think it's needed on a bike like this.
Kudos to Rose for kitting out the Count Solo with a wide-ranging 10-speed transmission. Although the test team's experience with entry-level SRAM kit is that it's not quite as durable or slick as Shimano equivalents, the Rose's X5 mechs shift cleanly and should continue to do so for a long time, given a little care.
The basic Elixir brakes are better than you'd expect too, giving great gobs of controllable power at both ends. Mavic rims and Schwalbe tyres give the Count Solo an undeniable advantage over its big-wheeled competition - noticeably lower rotating mass. The own-brand finishing kit is all fine, and it's good to see the details, such as lock-on grips, haven't been overlooked.