Last time we rode a Dr. Z – back in 2010 – we ended up wondering if it should have been called Dr Jekyll, or, perhaps, Mr Hyde. Blending XC-ish short travel with a 2x9 drivetrain, an aggressive riser bar, a big-axled fork and a burly frame build was, we decided, either an act of inspired genius or lunacy.
Too heavy to really cut it as a racer, yet lacking the travel, gears, tyres and brakes to let rip on the descents, the 2010 Dr. Z’s schizophrenic character had us scratching our heads in bemusement.
That was then. A lot can change in three years… 2013’s Dr. Z 8 has spent time in Rose’s psych ward and is clearly a lot more comfortable with its role in life. Gone are the nods to aggressive trail riding – the bits that had us exploring the limits of travel and grip all too frequently. In their place is a pair of 29in wheels, a svelte frame build, 2x10 transmission, flat bars and Fox suspension front and rear – with fully remote CTD pimpiness.
You can get the same frame in various pared-down spec variations from a wallet-friendly £1,600 for the Dr. Z 1, but the 8 shaves a couple of pounds off its cheaper stablemate’s weight. On paper, then, it’s all the racer you’ll ever need.
Ride & handling: Super speedy and easy to handle
A race bike needs to be fast, naturally. But there’s little point being fast in a straight line if the first corner throws a spanner in the works, handling-wise. This is where 29ers have historically struggled to compete with their nimbler, lighter, smaller-wheeled cousins. It’s harder to make those big wheels want to turn corners. You can blame Sir Isaac Newton for that.
Someone obviously forgot to tell Rose’s designers, because the Dr. Z chews up fast, tight and twisty singletrack as though it was a grape and not an apple that fell on Newton’s head.
Light rims and tyres claw back most of the weight disadvantage of bigger diameter wheels, giving the Rose the kind of get-up-and-go that has you scrabbling for a smaller sprocket sooner than you imagined. Throw in a low bottom bracket and sorted angles and the corners simply become straight lines that need a dropped shoulder or slight weight shift to negotiate. The tyres run out of grip long before the bike feels as though it doesn’t want to make the turn.
The overall effect is of a bike that wants you to ride hard. Although we’re wary of the crash-proofness (or not) of that CTD lever, there’s no doubt that it makes perfect sense on a bike like this. You can tune the front and rear suspension to the prevailing conditions with a simple thumb push, while the 2x10 transmission allows rolling trails to be tackled in the big ring, with the small ring left in reserve.
The carbon handlebar and seatpost filter out any of the high frequency buzz that the big wheels and Fox shocks haven’t quite dealt with, making this a far more comfortable trail machine than you’d expect from just 100mm of travel.
Downsides? Well, that low bottom bracket can cause occasional pedal-gouging moments, and the shock linkage can give a slightly disconcerting on/off feel to the suspension – described by one of the test team as trapdoor-like. But these are minor niggles. For the money the Dr. Z 8 is a stonkingly fast, surprisingly fun singletrack-slaying machine. The treatment has clearly worked.
Frame & equipment: Light and well-specced for the price
Rose don’t provide much information on the Dr. Z’s frame beyond some generic marketing spiel that informs us, as our mouths hang agape in wonder, that the frame is the most important part of a bike. This is a shame, because close inspection suggests it’s a good one.
Weighing around the 12kg (26lb) mark with pedals, the bike won’t break any records, but that’s a pretty respectable heft for an off-the-peg 29er at this price. While some good componentry helps keep the gram count in check, a decent chunk of the weight is in the frame.
Built around a conservatively sized – by current standards – down tube with a subtle, gusset-dodging curve up front, the Dr’s main triangle is refreshingly free of hydroforming gimmickry.
Even the head tube is a straight up and down standard diameter job, which is more of a disappointment – while a tapered head tube and fork would add a small amount of extra weight, we feel it would pay off in increased stiffness and control, even on a less aggressive bike like this.
And while we’re on the idea of less not always being more, the single screw that holds the gear hanger at the back doesn’t convince us. There’s a hole for a second screw, but nothing to screw it into…
Bringing up the rear is a standard Euro Horst-esque four-bar setup with linkage-activated shock. Dropped chainstay pivots hark back to an era when chain tension was a weapon in the battle against wallow; these days they look slightly anachronistic, particularly in the context of the matched CTD-equipped shocks.
Fox’s Climb Trail Descend presets haven’t won over fettling fans, but give less obsessed riders easy access to three settings that cover the bulk of most riding. The 8 gets all the Fox toys, including slippery Kashima coatings and an all-in-one bar remote. We love the remote’s mechanical simplicity, but we’re less enamoured of its bulk – it looks vulnerable in a crash.
The rest of the kit matches the high standard set by the frame, shock and fork. DT Swiss provide the noticeably light, big diameter hoops, shod with Schwalbe’s fast-rolling Racing Ralphs.
Formula’s R1 Racing brakes – complete with anodised rotor carriers and carbon fibre lever blades – haul everything to a halt in style. Stomp-and-go duties are performed by SRAM’s slick-shifting and svelte X0 group.
An Easton carbon bar and seatpost with alu stem round out a spec list that, for many riders, reads more like a wishlist than a real world set of components. There’s nothing the budding racer would want to change.
While we couldn’t help but admire Rose’s quirky approach to the ‘old’ Dr. Z, the new one is a whole different kettle of coconuts. With a focus on speed and handling that would shame plenty of smaller-wheeled bikes, the great spec and thoroughly reasonable price simply seal the deal. If you’re looking for a light, blisteringly quick trail companion, the Dr. Z 8 should be near the top of your list.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.