Apollo is currently trialling both 29in and 650b / 27.5in wheel sizes. From its Australian market research, it found that the majority of riders who purchase a budget 29er mountain bike use it as a ride-everywhere, hybrid-type bike.
Apollo believe those looking for a focused mountain bike will likely pick the 650b / 27.5in wheel size, while the advantages of the larger 29in wheels lend themselves to duties split between trail and road.
BikeRadar tested Apollo's budget-priced 2014 Xpert 29S, a fast-handling mountain bike with a few component quirks that make it a jack of all trades, but master of none. That said, it is a mountain bike and so we tested it as such.
Ride and handling: race-inspired handling with a nervous twitch off-road
The Xpert features modern 29er geometry with a short 430mm chainstay length, 51mm fork offset and stubby head tube length. This results in a responsive ride that's easily manoeuvrable.
Short headtube and a straight 1 1/8in steerer tube
Many budget bikes offer a large range of handlebar height adjustment, but not the Apollo – it has just 10mm worth of headset spacers provided. The Apollo is low slung, thanks to the combination of a 80mm travel fork, short head tube and limited handlebar adjustment. It places you in a position that promotes confident cornering and stable climbing without the front wheel wandering on steep ascents.
Even with the low handlebar height, the combination of a straight seatpost and medium length stem results in short reach and therefore creates an upright riding position. It’s more suited to recreational riders and is long way from the stretched-out position of a race bike.
The 51mm fork offset is similar to Trek’s G2 geometry – the front wheel dropout is moved forward to neutralise the handling effects caused by the larger wheel diameter. It’s a small detail that makes a world of difference when on the trail. It gives greater control and a more central weighting between the wheels.
Apollo claim these treads are 2in wide – we measured them, and they're 1.9in
When off-road, the weakest link is the non-branded tyres, which are just 1.9in wide. This relatively narrow width results in a harsher ride quality and skittish feeling when the terrain roughens. This means the bike feels more at home on dirt roads than it does on rough trails – which is at least in line with Apollo’s desired multi-use purpose.
The Apollo rolls with plenty of weight at the wheels, and its total weight of 14.56kg makes it a difficult bike to throw around, something we noticed any time we were try to accelerate or decelerate.
The SR-Suntour XCM fork is a solid performer for the price point, but this 80mm travel version can be a bit harsh
The 80mm travel XCM fork doesn't have the same plush feel that we loved on the Trek X-Calibre’s 100mm version. It suffers from a harsh spike on square-edged bumps and, while the lower position is appreciated, the loss of bump control is a big drawback on rough terrain. The fork is an otherwise respectable choice considering the price point though.
Frame and equipment: solid performance with little brand consistency
The Xpert’s frame is simple but perfectly functional. The build quality ticks all the right boxes with clean welds, sturdy tube shapes and a fuss-free paintjob. Our only gripe is the rear gear cable routing – the full length housing is interrupted at the seatstay, which leaves it open to muck from the rear wheel.
Our medium sample has just a single bottle mount, but with mounts for panniers, this bike is ready to serve utilitarian purposes.
Nine gears out back and three in the front
The drivetrain is a smorgasbord of brands – Shimano cassette, Suntour cranks, SRAM derailleurs and shifters and a KMC chain. These parts provide 27 speeds, which shift great and faster than the commonly seen Shimano Acera and Alivio components of this price point.
Hayes Dyno brakes lack the all-out power and lever feedback of more expensive options. The lack of lever reach adjustment proved to be a non-issue, as the levers ideally placed for our medium sized mitts.
The dual-density seat will please most newer riders
We had mixed feelings about the contact points. The gel-padded seat shares a shape with a popular Italian model and is well suited to newer riders. Normally lock-on grips are a sign of quality, but these were overly hard and rough to use without gloves – they'd be cheap to replace though, and given the choice, we’d pick these over the loose-twisting grips of similar bikes.
The unbranded stem, seatpost and handlebar are all up to the task and what you'd expect for the price point. We really liked the inclusion of a twin-bolt seatpost, providing greater strength and far more adjustability compared to common single-bolt micro-adjust posts.
The Xpert 29S represents high value and an admirable blend of on-road speed with off-road capability. We believe this bike holds great potential as a starter mountain bike – all that’s holding it back is a simple tyre and grip swap.