The Stromlo is named after Stromlo Forest in Canberra, which is home to the trails that hosted the 2009 Mountain Bike World Championships. Which seems appropriate, since the Stromlo looks set to bring a wealth of off-road ability to an affordable price point.
The Stromlo 2.0 retails for $749. It shares the same frame as the $549 Stromlo 1.0, but features higher level componentry and suspension, creating a bike that’s properly off-road worthy. Cell Bikes is able to achieve these price points by offering a factory direct selling channel.
Ride and handling: price-defying ride quality
Jumping aboard the Stromlo, it's immediately noticeable that it accelerates better than most similarly priced 29ers. Much of this is due to the fast rolling tyres, but it's also the positioning of the bike - the racier geometry is a big help in getting the bike up to speed.
The neutral handling places you precisely between the two wheels and, with little persuasion, you can easily control what the bike is doing front to back. Add in the stability of the bigger wheels, and newer riders will feel confident tackling off-road terrain on the Stromlo.
The stock stem height is likely to be too tall for many riders, but it's a nice inclusion at this level and does offer good adjustability. We settled by making ours 4cm lower than the stock height, in turn opening up the bikes off-road potential. Prior to this adjustment, the bike would wander on climbs and over-steer in corners with not enough weight over the front wheel.
29ers are often criticised for sluggish handling from a cumbersome bike length - the Stromlo didn’t escape these traits, but did hide them well. Short chainstays has the rear wheel tucked closely under and aided the bike's maneuverability.
With racier positioning (once the bar height was adjusted), the bike would climb where it was pointed without fuss. The large 29in tyres have a way of finding traction and rolling over objects that nearly feels like cheating.
The only negative when accelerating and on the climbs is the bike’s 14.09kg weight, and it's something that's noticeable on all 29ers of this price-point. The steeper and slower the climbs are, the more obvious the additional weight is. The Stromlo has the lowest gear range of all bikes at this price point and that helps overcome some of the weight difficulties.
The SR Suntour XCM suspension fork is a basic unit, but it’s the best you could hope for at this price. Featuring an adjustable lock-out and basic spring preload adjustment, it lacks the finer adjustment control of higher-end items.
On the trail, it has a controlled ride that does a good job of keeping the front wheel adhered to the terrain. On faster, harder hits the suspension dampening is overwhelmed and spikes harshly, but for general riding it’s a perfectly acceptable ride.
Frame and equipment: respectable frame with class-leading components
The frame features fluid-formed aluminium; a manufacturing process that uses extremely high pressure fluid to manipulate tube shapes to increase stiffness and strength without an increase in weight. What’s created is a rock solid frame with high-end aesthetics. However, Cell admits that the frame isn’t super light.
The small frame details haven’t been forgotten, and pannier rack mounts and dual bottle mounts (on our size medium) add versatility to the Stromlo.
Full-length cable housing is used to keep dirt and muck out of the gear cables, further extending time between servicing intervals.
The SRAM X5 10-speed shifting is spot on and a real high point. X5 borrows features from SRAM’s top-end componentry, and its positive shifts meet a huge range of gears that we hadn't experienced at this price before.
The SRAM X5 crankset furthers the overall quality and its durable out-board bearing bottom bracket is yet another feature that you normally experience on bikes in the next price bracket.
Where the SRAM X5 groupset is something special, the wheels and tyres are only average. The wheels are heavy, although they stayed straight and offered decent stiffness to send the bike where it was pointed. The tyres are unbranded, but surprised us with their confident traction and fast rolling speed on a variety of dry surfaces. They weren't so hot on mud though.
The hydraulic Tektro Draco disc brakes offer a firm lever feel and easily controlled power. A larger 180mm front disc rotor is fitted on the front to provide greater stopping power for the bigger wheel.
This finishing kit is own-branded but good quality. There's a twin bolt post, wide flat bar with generous sweep back, comfortably padded saddle and a perfectly chosen stem length.
When you have a great product at a reasonable price, something has to give. For us it’s still the question of buying online vs local bike store and Cell is in a unique place – it has its own stores in two major metropolitan areas.
For the people out of reach of these areas, the bike comes in a box – with the gears, brakes and everything else already dialled. However, we did experience a squeaky fork on our sample, not an issue specific to Cell and one it quickly fixed, but it’s something that would have been noticed - and fixed - before leaving a shop if you were buying in person.
A mountain bike is a technical product and a degree of knowledge is required when making the purchase, as with servicing it once you've bought and ridden it. Either way, the Stromlo is an exceptional bike for its price and one we confidently recommend.