VooDoo Aizan£449.99

Nine-speed transmission and a long-travel fork in an understated big-wheeled package

BikeRadar score3/5

Available exclusively from Halfords, the Aizan has – like all VooDoos – been designed by Mountain Bike Hall of Fame racer Joe Murray. If the sloping top tube design looks familiar, that's because Murray was one of its earliest proponents, back in the late 1980s. Brought bang up to date with 29er wheels, a nine-speed transmission and a 120mm (4.7in) travel fork, the Aizan looks like a great deal on paper. But is it in practice?

Frame and equipment: spot-on geometry and some pleasing spec choices

We're so used to seeing aluminium tubes manipulated into a shape-shifting smorgasbord of profiles that the Aizan's mostly round, mostly straight plumbing is a breath of fresh air. Don't make the mistake of assuming that it's a throwback though – there's plenty of clever detailing.

The chunkier-than-it-looks down tube is subtly ovalised at the bottom bracket, to help prevent the frame twisting under heavy pedal pressure, and curves gently into the join with the head tube, to help disperse stress from hard impacts away from this vulnerable area.

The top tube doesn't have any fancy profiling, but the seat tube has a subtle backwards kink just above the front derailleur mount. This helps reduce the length of the chainstays as well as the bike's overall wheelbase – a clever move that's aimed at keeping the handling tight and snappy.

Despite that short rear end, mud clearance is decent even with the 2.2in rear tyre, thanks to dimpled chainstays and snaky seatstays. There's even a set of rack mounts, should you have the urge to saddle up for a longer tour or tackle the daily commute.

Surprisingly, VooDoo has opted for a 120mm travel Suntour fork up front. It's relatively rare to see a fork this long on a 29er hardtail, the theory being that the bigger wheels roll more easily anyway, so what's the point in adding more travel?

However, the spot-on geometry and neat frame design touches aimed at keeping the wheelbase in check show that VooDoo hasn't simply pulled a long fork from the parts catalogue – they've thought about it and designed the Aizan's frame accordingly. Our test fork should have had adjustable rebound damping, but was missing the adjuster knob. Halfords assures us that production bikes do have the adjuster.

Given the Aizan's competitive pricing, it's good that VooDoo found room in the budget for a nine-speed transmission. That means closely spaced gears and a useful 34-tooth big sprocket for climbing – both essentials on a 29er.

A flat handlebar reins in the inevitably high front end and chunky Continental tyres give lots of cushioning, but wheel weight is a concern. Tipping the scales at over 5.5kg for the pair (complete with tyres), the Aizan's wheels are on the lardy side.

Ride and handling: playful, but over-ridden by the heavy wheels

We thought those heavy wheels would dominate the Aizan's ride. Turns out we were half right. The VooDoo has a split personality. On the one hand, it's hard to escape the fact that this is a heavy bike. It's heavy to lift out of the car and it's reluctant to translate effort at the pedals into forward progress in the wheels.

On the other hand, it wants to play. The sorted geometry makes it one of the best-handling 29er hardtails we've ridden, at any price. Which just serves to make that wheelset all the more frustrating. The Aizan responds best to smooth, steady, seated pedalling – mashing away at the pedals doesn't get you very far, very fast.

A good rider can use the VooDoo's momentum and easy-rolling big wheels to his or her advantage. Read the trail right, choose the right gear ahead of time and keep the pace steady and the Aizan simply bulldozes anything in its path, uphill or down. But it takes skill and experience to pull this off, which is why it's a good thing that VooDoo got the handling so right on this bike.

With the rear wheel tucked in under the rider there's bucketloads of traction for tackling steep climbs, while the short wheelbase gives the front end a surprisingly placeable, lively feel.

This bike wants to be pushed hard on descents, but the fork – like all budget 120mm travel units we've ridden – ultimately holds it back. The Aizan falls between two stools. The geometry is fantastic, but needlessly weighty wheels prevent it from showing its true potential.

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

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