The Granite Chief 4 from German cycling retail behemoths Rose was one of BikeRadar's long-term test bikes for 2010. During the year it’s been submitted for What Mountain Bike magazine's Bike Of The Year test and thrashed everywhere from the pump track at BikeRadar Live to the rocky slopes of Snowdonia, taking in Cwmcarn, Cannock Chase and a load of other places in between.
Initial problems with the rear shock were soon sorted out by the boys at Rose UK, and the bike has proven itself to be a very capable machine, albeit one that feels more at home bombing downhill than grinding back up – although it does that well enough. It doesn’t use the latest wonder material or cutting-edge suspension platform, but it's well put together, well priced and will take everything from cross-country jaunts to enduro downhills in its stride.
The duration of our test means it’s now getting a bit late in the year to get hold of a 2010 Granite Chief 4. However, the 2011 bike is very similar, just with a 10mm boost in travel and a slight drop in weight. With spec upgrades including a Fox RP23 Boost Valve shock and 10-speed SRAM X9, it looks like even better value, despite a £40 price rise to £2,199.
Ride & handling: Confident and responsive on descents; happier than you might expect on climbs
One thing becomes clear as soon as you set eyes on the Granite Chief: this is no flexy cross-country whippet. As the name suggests, it's solidly built and has been specced to take some abuse. It hits the trail bike sweet spot with 140mm (5.5in) of suspension travel front and rear.
Early rides were stymied by some serious damping issues with the Fox Float R rear shock, which caused it to lose all semblance of useful rebound damping and saw the bike named the 'Rose trebuchet'. However, a short visit to the Rose workshop for a new shock tune soon sorted that out.
We'd have preferred a Fox RP23 rear shock rather than the basic Float R fitted though, because with a preset compression damping tune and just rebound and air pressure to play with, it took us a while to find a good balance between downhill plushness, uphill efficiency and small bump suppleness.
It also seems odd to pair such a simple shock with a bells-and-whistles (adjustable travel, low-speed compression, rebound and lockout force) Fox fork up front. Rose appear to think the same, as an RP23 will come as standard on the 2011 bike.
The Granite Chief is a confident ride which offers plenty of big bike 'just ride at it' skill enhancement thanks to its solid feel and chunky back end, yet retains enough subtlety to keep you involved in what you're riding. The burly frame and all-mountain kit are overkill for a lot of UK riding, but this is one versatile bike.
While riding it on the cross-country trails at the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, set up for the occasion with an 80mm stem and quick-rolling 2.3/2.1in tyres, we bumped into Jonny from Rose UK who was using the same bike – albeit with a stubby stem and bigger rubber – to hit the area's tight, rooty downhill runs flat-out.
You’d expect it to perform well on descents and it does, taking plenty of misbehaviour in its stride and provoking broad grins among all who rode it. The big surprise was just how good a climber it is, considering its solid build: leave the travel-adjust Fox fork at a steady 120mm over rougher ground to keep the bottom bracket height sensible (at 100mm pedal clangs are inevitable), hit step-ups and rubble with moderate speed, and you’ll cruise right on up.
Aside from the low-end (for Fox) shock, our only other complaint regards sizing. We're big fans here at BikeRadar of short stems and wide bars for anything short of pure cross-country racing. But Rose, unusually for a European company – generally known for their love of flat bars and stems that stretch towards the horizon – or at least their UK dealers, may have gone too far here.
The combination of a long fork, relatively short top tube, stubby 75mm stem and downhill-race-wide 740mm bar is great for technical descents and messing about but makes it difficult for taller riders to get an efficient climbing position and to weight the front wheel properly in flat turns. This wasn't helped by the Schwalbe Fat Albert tyres, which had a tendency to suddenly lose grip, further undermining cornering confidence.
We swapped to a longer 85mm stem and our preferred trail centre tyre setup – 2.35in Maxxis High Roller at the front, 2.1 Kenda Small Block Eight at the rear – and, with the fork set at 120mm, found this was the ideal setup for general riding.
These issues aside, the Granite Chief is just the sort of involving, detailed ride we like and that we’d be happy to sit on for big hill days as well as teatime blasts. Our final ride around The Wall at Afan Forest in South Wales left us with a big grin, and reluctant to hand it back.
Frame & Equipment: Chunky chassis stands out from the crowd; spec is excellent for the price
The Granite Chief's hydroformed aluminium frame looks powerfully purposeful, with a chunky tapered (1-1/8 to 1-1/2in) head tube up front, a Coke can sized down tube and a massive BB30 bottom bracket anchoring things down below.
There’s none of the swoopy tube shaping found on most modern frames, which makes a pleasant change. There are discreet strengthening gussets behind the head tube and at the back end of the top tube, though, and a big brace to support the seat tube. Internal cable routing gives the Rose clean lines but makes maintenance slightly more of a headache.
The frame is very compact and offers masses of standover height. However, the cockpit on the size large bike we tested felt a little cramped, and this wasn’t helped by the steep seat tube (73°) and the limited amount of layback on the seatpost . We'd recommend thinking about buying a size larger than usual.
The four bar suspension design is a proven performer, albeit one that’s prone to pedal bob. We ran a little more pressure than normal in the rear shock to counteract this, the downside being a loss of small bump suppleness.
Fox’s 32 TALAS RLC is an excellent fork, with travel adjustable between 100, 120 and 140mm, and a lockout. A 15mm through-axle ensures accurate tracking. The downside of speccing such a good fork is that the more basic R rear shock felt thoroughly outclassed. On the climbs you could lower or lock out the fork but the back end remained fully active.
Drive duties are ably taken care of by a Shimano XT drivechain with FSA Afterburner chainset, while snappy Formula RX brakes with a chunky 200mm rotor up front keep a handle on all that raw speed. The Syncros AM saddle isn't instantly comfortable – in fact on shorter rides it was downright uncomfortable – but seems to mould to the shape of your backside once you begin putting the hours in.
Syncros finishing kit is a classy touch and DT Swiss’s tough M1600 wheelset is bolt-through at both ends, giving confidence and stiffness both a welcome boost. The full package more than justifies its pricetag and in terms of smiles for dollars the Granite Chief is a definite winner.
James Costley-White: "Apart from the initial shock issue, which has now been sorted, we've had no problems with the Rose during six months of testing other than the rear Center Lock disc rotor coming loose, leading to a spot of involuntary tree hugging. The design of the DT Swiss wheels mean you can't use a standard cassette tool to tighten the disc but luckily our LBS had an extra-long one that did the job.
"Overall, we've been impressed by the Granite Chief, and the updates for 2011 mean the new bike should be a real winner. It’s definitely worth taking your time while setting up the suspension though, in order to get the most out of what is a very capable bike."