Stevens Applebee £799

29er hardtail with air sprung fork

BikeRadar score 2.5/5

Stevens isn’t a name that’s made much impact on British riders quite yet. But the brand are popular over in Germany, where their big range and competitive pricing have won them plenty of fans. The Applebee sits towards the bottom of Stevens’ 29er hardtail line-up, but still manages to cram in a full 10-speed Shimano transmission and an air-sprung fork. With a better fork the Applebee could be a bike to give the big names nightmares, but it's not quite there just yet.

Ride & handling: Doesn't live up to its promise, failing to deliver on the trail

The Applebee is, on the whole, an easy-going trail companion. The big wheels roll as languidly as you’d expect, the compact front triangle and low standover are confidence-inspiring when things get tricky, and a frame structure that isn’t over-built combines with a slender seatpost to keep the ride surprisingly comfortable. This is a hardtail that wafts down the trail in a way that makes riding even filling-jarring trails a pleasure rather than a chore. 

This comfort comes as a pleasant surprise, given that the Applebee is part of Stevens’ ‘Race’ branded hardtail line-up. That categorisation might go some way to explaining the ride position though, which is efficiently stretched out to get the power down to the rear wheel. This does have its downsides; the stretched out cockpit contributes to a twitchy feel at low speed, making slow technical climbs a delicate tightrope walk between rear wheel traction and front wheel direction. 

Stability improves as the speed picks up but, ironically, this makes it harder to flick the front from line to line. High-speed singletrack needs a fair bit of deliberate shoulder-barging to negotiate successfully. It’s a rather back-to-front handling situation which might be improved with a switch to a slightly shorter stem – a fairly easy fix.

The same can’t be said of the fork, which left us feeling rather underwhelmed. An air spring is good news for adjustability, but the lack of rebound damping control and basic internals had us yearning for one of RockShox’s basic coil forks instead – and that’s something that you won’t hear us say very often. Plenty of stiction robs small-bump sensitivity and any attempt to reduce air pressure to compensate simply results in a packed-down fork and correspondingly steep head angle. 

Frame: Comfortable and well designed, with decent standover for a 29er

The Applebee’s short head tube is one of its best features. How so? Because big wheels inevitably raise the front of the bike, including the handlebars – and that affects weight distribution and therefore handling. It’s good to see that the Stevens design team has sweated the detail, shaping the curved top and down tubes, and joining them together behind the head tube in order to keep the overall height down. 

The rest of the chassis is unexceptional but well designed and neatly finished. The down tube curves away from the head tube join in order to distribute stress away from this vulnerable area, shifting shape subtly on its journey to the bottom bracket. Seat and chainstays buck the trend for large diameters or massive ovalisation – they’re relatively slender, which should bode well for ride comfort.

The narrow seat tube – with accompanying slender seatpost – and steeply sloping top tube also help keep things nice and comfy for the rider, though there’s no chance of accommodating the larger diameter of a dropper post. Neat dropouts tuck the rear brake calliper out of the way and include both rack and mudguard mounting eyelets. Fancy a big-wheeled tourer? The Applebee just might fit the bill. 

Equipment: Great spec on paper, but fork disappoints in practice

Holding up the front and keeping the front tyre planted is an air-sprung Suntour fork with remote lockout. The lockout’s nice to have, and the air spring allows far more adjustment for rider weight and riding style than the coil alternative of most of the Applebee’s competition. But (and there’s always one of those, isn’t there?) the lack of any rebound adjustment proves there’s no such thing as a free lunch. We’d happily ditch the lockout if it meant we could tweak the rebound.

It’s not unusual to see a nine-speed transmission on a hardtail at this price, particularly when the budget’s been massaged to make room for an air fork. But the Applebee boasts a Shimano Deore and SLX-based 10-speed set-up, giving a fantastic gear range and clean, reliable shifts. Shimano brakes and Continental tyres round out the package, while the own-brand contact points are all good-looking and well made. No complaints there.

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

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