With a UK design team lurking behind its American name, this practical and good-looking frame with a long travel fork should build into the ideal bike for British trails. While it’s undoubtedly a good machine, it lack s a certain pizzazz that stops it from being a great UK trail bike.
Diamondback have been building bikes since 1978. Surprised? The US-based company – which started with BMX – has had a long but rather sporadic presence in the UK that hasn’t translated into many Diamondbacks out on the trails.
With a UK-based design team concentrating on a range that’s focused on British riders’ needs, that might change. The Apex is one result of the team’s efforts – a versatile-looking trail all-rounder with 130mm (5.1in) of travel up front.
Ride& handling: neutral & stable
With its industry-standard angles, normal height bottom bracket and slightly stretched top tube, the Diamondback could almost be a cross-country race chassis that’s been bulked up. But the relation to race DNA ends there. Certain key components, in particular the fork, are arguably at the lower end of what we’d expect at this price and help push the Apex’s weight over 28lb (12.7kg). That’s not heavy, but it’s a full pound more than the closely specced Merida.
It’s a similar story out on the trail. An efficient riding position for climbing and steady-state pedalling – courtesy of that rangy top tube and a generous stem – makes progress reasonably brisk.
Steering response is a tad more muted than we’d like, the fork isn’t as plush as an air sprung unit and the brakes aren’t quite up there with the best, although the front end is far less wheelie-prone than the Merida’s. It adds up to a package that’s competent in most situations, but lacks the inspirational something-or-other of a really great bike.
The Apex is certainly a good bike. We love details like the Crud Catcher mounts, and the handling could define the words ‘neutral’ and ‘stable’. If you’re looking for a reliable trail bike that won’t frighten the horses, it’s worth considering. But competition is tough in this segment, and there are undoubtedly better-riding and better-specced long travel hardtails at this price.
Chassis: beefed up frame to handle long-travel fork
Longer travel forks put more stress on a frame. It’s a double whammy – those extra few millimetres create added leverage on the vulnerable head tube area and encourage riders to ride faster and hit obstacles harder.
With this in mind, Diamondback have strengthened the Apex’s frame where it’s needed most. Hence the chunky hydroformed top and down tubes, which help to stiffen the front end and protect it from damage caused by hard impacts. There are built-in gussets under the down tube at the head tube junction and above the top tube at the seat tube junction to add extra reinforcement.
The rear end benefits from equal emphasis on rigidity, with complex profile chainstays and neat, cutaway forged dropouts. You can see the UK-biased design in the generous mud clearance at the rear and built-in Crud Catcher bosses below the down tube up front. Twin bottle mounts mean no Apex rider will go thirsty.
Up front is the reason behind all the precautionary overbuilding – a RockShox Tora fork with up to 130mm of coil-sprung travel. With a U-turn adjuster knob capable of reducing the travel to 85mm, adjustable rebound and compression damping, it’s got most of the adjustability keen riders demand.
It’s not as smooth in the rough or as easy to adjust for different rider weights as its air-sprung counterparts, and with a geometry best suited to the full 130mm of travel we suspect the U-turn won’t see much use.
Equipment: Deore LX, WTB & FSA
There are neither glaring glitches nor major highlights in the Apex’s component list.
WTB and FSA kit looks good and works well. The WTB treads provide lots of grip and plenty of cushioning, while the oversized FSA bar contributes to a confidence-inspiringly rigid-feeling front end that goes exactly where it’s pointed.
The Shimano Deore LX-based transmission works fine, but our Apex wasn’t fitted with the newer two-way Rapidfire Plus shifters and the hubs aren’t as well sealed as more expensive bikes.
The Quad brakes, despite offering plenty of power, can’t match the best of the rest for level feel and all-out stopping ability.