There's a good chance you won't have heard of Calibre. That's because it's an all-new brand belonging to – and available exclusively from – outdoors mega-retailers GO Outdoors.
We've already given the range-topping Point.50 a decent thrashing and came away impressed. The question is, can the distinctly more budget-minded Two.Two square up to more expensive rivals from established brands?
Frame and equipment: great spec at a price that makes it the bargain of the year
It may not break the bank, but the Two.Two's frame is a good looking, well thought-out chassis that may even warrant some careful longer-term component upgrades. For a sub-£400 bike, that's unusual.
The rear end is a showcase for hydroforming technology. It is common for manufacturers to use this technique to hone tube shapes in precisely the right way to achieve the right balance of strength, weight and stiffness, but we don't often see it used to this extent at this price. The Calibre's multi-faceted, complex-profile stays shape-shift on their journey from the sculpted, cut-away dropouts to the seat tube, giving plenty of tyre clearance for muddy rides. The wishbone seatstays look great too.
There's similar tube morphing up front, though the Two.Two doesn't have the current must-have – a tapered head tube. Increasing the diameter of the head tube at the bottom end helps stiffen the chassis and prevent it twisting, but at this level the lack of it isn't going to lose us any sleep.
Under-the-down-tube cable routing keeps everything tidy, but you won't want to be shouldering this bike to carry it, and our 18in test machine only had one set of bottle bosses. Oh, and there are just two frame sizes available – 18in and 20in – so if you're shorter of stature, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Plugged into the front is something we rarely see at this price these days – a pukka RockShox XC 28 coil-sprung fork. It's basic, but has adjustable rebound damping and a lockout dial.
Calibre's design team put great emphasis on sourcing name-brand products – and it shows. A nine-speed Shimano transmission with Deore shifters and derailleurs looks like a misprint at this price. The same goes for Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, though it would be nice to see the 160mm front rotor swapped to 180mm to cope with more enthusiastic riding. Schwalbe tyres, a Truvativ handlebar and WTB saddle round out the name-check component list. For the money, there really isn't anything to complain about.
Ride and handling: outperforms plenty of more expensive competition
The Two.Two sports 26in wheels. This is the size fitted to the vast majority of mountain bikes in use worldwide, but these days it's about as fashionable as turning up to the office wearing a turtleneck and a pair of purple flares. The bike industry is currently stampeding towards the bigger alternatives of 650b and 29in, safe in the knowledge that the 'new' tag will stop people noticing that they're still fundamentally round. Don't let the fashionistas put you off – 26in wheels worked great for more than 20 years, and they still do.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the Calibre feels out on the trail. Although it's no featherweight, tipping the scales well beyond the psychological 30lb (13.6kg) barrier, it has a turn of speed that belies both its price and its heft.
Show it a steep, technical climb and it'll skip its way to the top. Admittedly, it needs a little more help to keep the rear wheel planted and turning than is required by the languid, easy-rolling nature of a 29er. But it's a small difference that's more than made up for by the willingness of the Two.Two's relatively light, fast-accelerating wheelset to surge forward with every power stroke.
It's a similar story on the way back down the hill. Smaller wheels are easier to pick up and throw around, and though that may sound like something that you don't do a great deal of, it all feeds into how the bike responds to your input. The Calibre turns, accelerates and stops noticeably more readily than most of the big-wheeled competition.
The price you pay is a slightly more fidgety feel on some trail surfaces, but it's a timely reminder that 26in wheels served mountain biking very well for decades.
More than that, the Calibre is seriously impressive in its own right. The spec, ride quality and finish rival bikes costing at least £100 more. If we were to split hairs, the rear mech's tendency to rattle on the underside of the chainstay is a bit irritating. But that's our only niggle, and it's a trivial one. In the real world, the Calibre Two.Two is almost certainly the best sub-£400 bike we've ever ridden.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.