Simple and proven 5in suspension layout and some sweet kit create a sound all-round ride, but the Diamonback's overall performance and attention to detail just can’t compete with the other bikes here.
Frame: Straight lines and curves - not all of them where they should be
Look from the top down and the XLS gets a decent start via a hydroformed top tube and shaped headset, but things look decidedly more basic once you meet the slab-sided start of the swingarm. Big square stays are kinked in aggressively for heel/pedal clearance but the back end of our sample bike was visibly misaligned too. That’s not the only XLS we’ve seen like it since we started looking around either, so check carefully before you buy. On the bright side, there’s plenty of mud clearance around the unbridged stays and the simple swingarm design means only two bearings to worry about.
Equipment: great brakes and stong wheels, cheaper LX drivetrain offset by swanky FSA cockpit
While it’s got an inch more travel than most £1,000 suspension options, the actual function of the stroke is stilted by the shock spec. Production models should be coming with RockShox’s new Monarch air can, but our sample was running a less than plush last generation RockShox MC. The Tora U-Turn fork felt sharp and spikey on occasion too, although typically for RockShox it was definitely smoothing out towards the end of testing. The U-Turn travel adjustment lets you tune steering feel too. Shimano LX averages out the higher XT/lower Deore mix used variously on the other bikes here, but unfortunately it was noisier and not as sharp in use. The plasticky looking Quad Pro brakes are outstanding though, with masses of power, modulation and adjustability through the wavey rotors. WTB/Deore wheels are sturdy fare and the MotoRaptor tyres are a good grip rich choice too. While the FSA cockpit is a headturner for £1,000, we’d rather have had a wider bar for muscling the bike around, even if that would have increased weight further.
Ride: safe and predictable and a touch heavy
Despite the ‘wrong’ shock on our sample bike, the classic mid-pivot swingarm still did its usual predictable and communicative job. It stiffens under power to put a bit of pep in your pedal stroke, but tugs at your feet and disturbs pedalling rhythm once you start thumping down bigger stuff. We’d certainly wait for the new Monarch shocks to come through though, as hopefully they’ll be nothing like the constipated and ‘compromised however much we adjusted it’ feel of the MC here.
While you generally won’t get a better fork than a Tora on a £1,000 suspension bike, there were definitely times on faster, harder descents when the differences between it and the Fox on the Marin Rocky Ridge, or even the Reba of the Specialized Rockhopper Pro Disc were very obvious. Overall it’s controlled and capable most of the time though and the U-Turn’s travel adjustment means you can set up steering how you like. It’s seriously sharp and will stick the wheel to the steepest climbs if you wind it below 100mm (3.9in), but you risk real dives into corners and a nervous feel on more vertical descents so we left it at full 130mm stretch 99 per cent of the time. Combined with a long wheelbase it made the XSL a bit lazy into turns, and it needed a wider approach line into really tight stuff than the other bikes here.
Combined with a medium length stem, the 25in bar left us slightly short of leverage when we really needed to heave the bike onto a new course or snatch back traction in slippery situations. The stable security of the slacker head angle gave welcome assurance at speed, or in the steeps though. There’s fair ground clearance too, and the mid length cockpit makes it easy to shift body weight onto whichever wheel needs it. The impressive control level of the Quad brakes and chunky tyres meant we always felt perfectly safe on the DBR. Despite having the most travel – and on paper at least – what seemed the natural descender never encouraged us to push our limits. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy riding it, it’s just that it somehow never set us on fire, and with a relatively high overall weight and steady feel we always felt like we’d had more of a workout on the DBR than we had on the other bikes.