The Bigg'ns hardtail range fits into Gary Fisher's freeride range, aimed squarely at riders who like to ride their bikes up, off and over obstacles of all varieties - whether concrete, dirt or rock. The Bitter slots in at just over the midway point in the Bigg'ns family, offering a sensible looking spec at a tempting looking price.
Any bike that's marketed as a freeride machine is going to have to be strong, so it's no surprise that the deliberately understated Bitter chassis is very obviously built for strength. The boxy down tube provides a rigid backbone by stiffening up the head tube and bottom bracket areas with its rectangular section, the long axis of which rotates through 90 degrees on its journey from end to end. There's an open-ended reinforcing gusset up front to add further impact resistance, while the head tube is strengthened with substantial - and rather elegant - external butting.
A huge welded box section provides a massive brace for the extended seat tube, while a particularly neat wraparound seat clamp makes dropping the saddle quick and easy. Burly-looking stays anchor to suitably chunky coldforged dropouts. There's no chainstay bridge because the radically short rear end (16in) simply doesn't allow room for one. Even so, there's enough mud room even with the 2.4in tyres fitted.
The Manitou Splice fork up front gives 100-130mm (4-5in) of smooth travel with a wind-down adjuster and tweakable rebound damping. It's not a true big-hitter in the same vein as the Orange's big Marzocchi and, although it's a pretty good performer for the money, it'd be unreasonable to expect it to stand up to the same kind of abuse as a freeride-specific fork. Our only niggle was that the rebound damping on our sample was on the slow side even when fully backed off.
Bontrager Earl components provide the burly look and implied extra strength expected of freeride-friendly parts. Wide Sun rims work well with chunky Bonty tyres, and we like the simple, widespaced block pattern that gives great grip in most conditions. Big air volume also compensates for the frame's inherent rigidity, although it's at the expense of some mud room.
Hayes Sole brakes are this year's mid-range hydraulic disc stopper of choice - independent pad adjustment makes set-up and on-trail tweaks relatively straightforward and power isn't far off Hayes' more expensive models.
In keeping with its freeride-lite image, the Bonty Earl chainset is set up in two-ring mode with a bashguard. Unfortunately the combination of fat tyre and short chainstays means the front mech fouls the side knobs and, on our test bike anyway, we couldn't set it up to make smooth shifts to the small ring.
Riders expecting a super-compact, dirt jump friendly format from the Bitter are likely to be disappointed. In common with most hardcore hardtails of this ilk - and in keeping with Gary Fisher's penchant for compact rear ends and stretched top tubes - the Bitter aims at a geometry that allows for riding along as well as down and off. A roomy 23in top tube in conjunction with a short stem, plenty of seatpost layback and the commodious Bontrager saddle make for a surprisingly roomy cockpit.
It's not a bike you'd necessarily choose to take on an epic all-day ride, but if you did, you'd probably be OK and wouldn't need to see a chiropractor the next day. That's good news for anyone who likes to ride, rather than drive or walk, to their favourite drop/jump/play spots, because it means the Bitter is more versatile than its freeride tag might suggest.
The chunky frame makes the Bitter arguably a marginally better bet for heavier, clumsier or more air-happy riders. It doesn't seem to mind whether it's being thrown down fast, tight and twisty singletrack or launched over a ladder gap on a North Shore-style trail - although if it could talk, the Bitter might express a preference for the latter. It doesn't have a feeling of absolute invulnerability, but it has a nimble feel through the trees. That means in turn that it's easier to chuck about, change line for the hell of it and generally put a big grin on the rider's face, even if the rider in question doesn't have the biceps of an elite downhill racer.