Chumba have been hand building serious downhill rigs since 1991 but the new XCL is a departure from the norm. It's a relatively short travel 4.5in bike designed for fast and furious cross-country riding. It's also a good looking beast with a tough, understated single colour overcoat and subtle graphics.
The frame uses a classic four-bar linkage set-up with a plush, progressive back end that's simple to adjust to suit almost any ride requirements, via a Fox air shock with ProPedal settings. By normal cross-country trail standards, the XCL is overbuilt and obviously aimed at those who like riding technical trails harder and faster than average. It's reinforced in all the right places and is probably overkill for riders who'd normally be looking at a 4.5in travel XC bike. But norms are there to be challenged. The XCL frame is best equipped with a fork offering a little more travel than at the back end, although you might prefer to fit a shorter fork to lower the bottom bracket height and quicken the steering on singletrack.
Importers Freeborn have aimed for the best of both worlds with a classy mixture of tough but relatively light kit. The 5.5in (140mm) Fox RLC fork is a little longer than ideal for fast XC riding, but its performance was superb on rocky downs. The Stan's rims with a NoTubes kit in Enduro treads kept the spinning weight light and lively, and the new DMR fast-uptake rear hub felt superb. Goodridge brake hoses are a nice finishing touch.
The complete bike tipped the scales at almost exactly 30lb (13.6kg), but despite a penchant for making light work of rock and root-strewn singletrack and steep, technical downhills, it manages to deal with both steep and steady climbs with far more panache than most hard hitting bikes.
However, the XCL's back end is responsive almost to the point of feeling hyperactive. This means that it wallows around on the climbs unless you dial lots of ProPedal threshold damping into the shock. If you live for the downs, you'll probably be happy putting up with a little wallow on the short ups and rejoicing in the plush 'faster, faster' ride on any downhill trail. We ended up pumping more air into the shock than was ideal for the rocky downs in order to tighten up the back end on the climbs, because we didn't want to keep fiddling with the ProPedal settings.
The only thing that made our test bike feel slightly uneasy a few times, especially on slow, technical singletrack, was that the Fox fork jacked up the bottom bracket height to 13.75in. Static frame angles and ride feel suggest that the XCL might be more suited to a 4.7in (120mm) travel fork if you ride mainly steady cross-country, or more if you favour the rocky drops. We have one other little gripe: riders with big calves or big feet might experience rubbing on the chainstays.
Apparently, there'll also be a Taiwanese-built version of the XCL available for £899, with a choice of anodised or powder-coated finishes.