Iron Horse's Sunday downhill bikes are on the wishlist of most gravity riders we speak to, but they're £3,000 plus. The Yakuza Kumicho, though, lets you saddle up a simple but totally involving swingarm 'Horse for the lowest price here.
The simple swingarm suspension system rather than a linkage set-up is the obvious economy over similar bikes. But putting the pivot back behind the seat tube and in line with the chain creates a super active ride that avoids most normal swingarm vices. The front end is dropped crazily low, with the braced seat tube leaning back over the rear wheel to keep it roomy up front despite a short wheelbase. Big reinforcing plates in the belly of the bike and the low slung shock also keep the centre of gravity low, so the bike's a total blast to throw and slide around.
The Kumicho's the only bike here to use a big 1.5in-compatible head tube, which means you can fit Manitou's monster single-crown Travis fork if you remove the reduced Aheadset. You even get a bottle cage under the down tube for drink or light battery duty.
The only disappointments are the thin, unclamped, 12mm drilled dropouts that spread and bind when you try to drift the 150mm rear axle out of them. It's certainly not a bike you'll get the wheel out of in a hurry.
With £300 less to spend on kit there are some obvious compromises, but we were impressed by how well the Marzocchi Super T fork rode compared to the 888s elsewhere. Once we'd fettled the rebound it was actually very plush and keen to level out long step or boulder runs or serious drops without panicking. It's noticeably more flexible under braking and cornering loads though, and you can feel the springs grating in the legs.
The Manitou Swinger 4-Way coil shock out back was a bit too soft for even our skinny test team too. We'd rather have it plush for traction than too stiff though, and you can tune squat and bob out with the SPV damping.
The almost ubiquitous Truvativ Hussefelt crankset is joined by a full Truvativ cockpit and SRAM X.7 gears. A clamp-on e.13 chainguide (the frame doesn't have mounting tabs) keeps things running smoothly in the rough too. Hayes HFX-9 brakes with 203mm (8in) rotors do the stopping effectively, and the WTB wheelset takes the hits without worry. The big, blocky WTB treads are impressively sure-footed too, although the 2.7in front tyre only just squeezes through the fork brace.
The SDG saddle is tough and easily adjustable, although you'll probably need to glue or wire the grips on because ours worked loose quickly, even in generally dry test conditions.
The best thing about the Kumicho is that we didn't even think about the price of the component spec once when we were riding it. As soon as you sling your leg over, feel it sag back into its travel and hit the hill, it comes alive with an amazingly playful feel.
The soft shock sucks the bike on to the ground to provide superb traction and makes it easy to fold up and flick from line to line without even thinking about it. In fact, the predictable swingarm feel makes the bike almost like a natural extension of yourself rather than a separate machine, and from the fi rst run all of our testers were just thinking about the trails and the lines, not the bike.
Watch the Yakuza Kumicho in action and you can see the back end working overtime, chattering under braking and squatting under power, but when you're actually riding it just feels great. It mimics every move you make, flaring out around corners, floating drops with perfect poise and landing them with equal control. The comparatively low overall weight also makes the bike very easy to accelerate and change direction on. In fact, every tight, techy ride on the Kumicho was a real ego massage, and it was the undoubted fun-packed surprise of the test.
That said, once we'd dialled in the lines on our short and rocky test courses and speeds and impacts started to increase, we were pushing the bike pretty close to its limits. The faster and more open it got, the more the short wheelbase, flexy swingarm and twisty fork started to feel nervous and needed more rider input for stability. As a result, it certainly wouldn't be our first choice of these four bikes for big Alpine trips or big-hit straight-line work.
For more agile short-course downhill, freeride or even street action though, it's an amazingly fun and involving bike that you just can't help but love. We barely thought about the bike throughout the test, which is about as big a compliment as we can give.