Squint a bit and the Decathlon Rockrider 6.3 could almost pass as an old Santa Cruz Heckler. It's amazing what's been made possible by cheap Far Eastern frame production and advances in fork and shock technology. It was only a few years back that forks as good as those on the Decathlon would have cost more than the complete bike, so surely there's a downside to this much technology hanging off a £300 bike?
The Rockrider 6.3's mainframe is constructed from tough but light 6061 aluminium. The dropped top tube offers lots of standover clearance and the down tube is gusset reinforced behind the ring-reinforced head tube. The simple preload-adjustable coil/oil shock unit has surprisingly well controlled rebound damping and the frame's simple single pivot is level with the middle chainring, for minimum-feedback pedalling. It has two standard sized cartridge bearings, which are simple to replace if they wear out.
The practical fine detailing is all good, too. The top tube and down tube are both shaped to achieve big weld contact areas, and the back end is laterally stiff and offers plenty of heel and ankle room. There's a set of bottle cage bosses, loads of mud room around the tyres, a full outer cable to the cable-pull disc brake brakes, hose routing ready for an upgrade to hydraulic discs, a neoprene chainstay protector and protective sheaths on the gear cables to stop paint rubbing off the head tube.
The fork is a 100mm travel SR Suntour model, with effective factory set rebound damping, an easy-to-reach on/off lockout dial on top of the right-hand leg and a less effective preload dial on top of the left leg.
Even the drivetrain on the Rockrider is great for the price - SRAM's price approach seems to allow manufacturers to upgrade from 24 to 27 gears at a lower price point than on Shimano-equipped bikes. The X-7 rear mech and shifters work crisply, and a steel-ringed SR Suntour crankset shifts nicely with a budget Shimano mech up front.
The unusually light wheelset uses good quality eyeleted rims and the no-name hubs, while an unknown quantity in durability terms, were fine during the test period. The tyres, despite the Michelin Country Mud stamp on them, appear to be made of a hard nylon compound that's not good in the wet, but they were reasonably grippy in the dry.
The Tektro brakes are some of the best low budget cable-pull disc offerings around, giving more reliable stopping power than V-brakes in poor conditions.
The rest of the finishing kit is basic but functional stuff. The 23.5in oversized riser bar is ideal for a bike like this and a medium length four-bolt stem even has opposing bolts to fix it to the steerer. The seatpost, with a quick release clamp, is long enough for riders up to 6ft to fit the medium bike and the saddle is a simple but soft love or hate affair.
We've never ridden a sub-£500 full suspension bike that feels as good as this. The fact that it's a full £200 below £500 makes it outstanding. We know superstores have a lot of buying power, but we still can't help but think that this must be a loss leader to get people into the Decathlon brand.
Still, that's all beside the point, as what matters to you is that you get a decent bike, and we can't fault the 6.3. Even disregarding the top value components, the biggest difference between this and other £300 full sussers we've tested is the fork and shock performance. Well-controlled rebound damping isn't something we take for granted at this price, as it's rare in forks and even rarer in shocks.
The 6.3 is as well controlled as much more costly bikes, which is a significant plus to the ride feel. There was never a situation on cross-country trails where we felt the bike was out of its depth. It feels taut over the bumps rather than exhibiting the oversprung wallowy feel that so many other cheap full sussers suffer from.
It's also lighter than most other low budget full sussers, and the most significant weight saving is in the wheels. This results in a lively ride feel, fast acceleration, reasonable climbing prowess and, combined with fairly sporty geometry, the handling of a bike that should cost twice as much.
Two people who saw it on the trail initially thought it was a Santa Cruz, which just confirmed to us that Decathlon have a real bargain on their hands here.
© BikeRadar 2007