There are plenty of options for a slack and low 27.5in wheeled mid-travel trail bike, but Banshee was already well ahead of the curve with its Spitfire a few years back. The latest updates mean it’s still surfing the slack and low wave in fine style.
Banshee has always been on the rowdy side of the line in any category and with your hands wide apart on the 760mm Gusset bars at the top of a 150mm RockShox Yari RC fork at a 65-degree head angle, a 455mm reach giving shorter stem options than the 55mm supplied, the Spitfire is obviously ready to rip.
As well as nothing to want for in terms of initial fit and geometry, the twin ‘KS Link’ suspension is a really user-friendly set-up too. With the upper linkage rotating up and forwards, and the lower linkage rotating downwards and forwards, torque through the chain works to stabilise the suspension rather than pulling it in any specific direction.
That means little bob or bounce if you’re pedalling steady tempo around the sag point and it only noticeably firms up when you’re properly trying to clean and jerk the pedals round at max stalling speed torque.
Otherwise, the naturally linear feel of the RockShox Monarch rear damper — complete with extra volume DebonAir air sleeve — gives a consistently connected rear wheel feel. This flatters the hard ‘Performance’ compound Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres, but they’re one of the only obvious compromises that I’d advise upgrading as soon as possible.
The vertically adjustable bolted dropouts mean that even if you go for the max 2.6in tyre size, bottom bracket height is still not low-slung at 340mm. Going big up front also helps smooth out the moments when the Motion Control damping in the Yari fork starts to spike and choke with a smaller volume tyre.
Unlike most off-the-peg bikes, Ison has already fitted 35mm wide Halo wheels for proper support of big rubber. Once you start getting into your stride with bigger tyres you’ll likely want to add some more volume spacers into the fork and shock for a more progressive response to really big hits.
Volume tuning will also give you the chance to run lower starting pressures for max traction without losing mid stroke support. In other words, whatever your feel preferences, the Spitfire is both a great blank canvas to work from and refreshingly forgiving of inexperienced set-up attempts.
It’s not just the suspension that’s designed to make Banshee ownership easy either. If you’re building a bike via the frame-only route (£1,650, three different colours and four size options) you can use the shorter dropout options to make it work with 26in wheels without disturbing geometry.
That’s brilliant if you’ve got an older bike to break down to start your build but are likely to move onto 27.5in (or even 26+) wheels later and it’s one of the only bikes I can think of offering that.
It also lets you swap between 142 and 148mm ‘Boost’ width dropouts. The cables and controls are all routed externally for easy swapping and servicing, there’s a removable ISCG mount on the BB and it’s covered by a lifetime crash replacement warranty.
If you’re planning on taking it to the big hills there’s room for a piggyback shock too. At that point I’d add a 180mm front rotor because while the SRAM Level TL brakes are predictable and well modulated, power levels are adequate rather than generous.
Though, if that’s on the cards, you’re probably best off looking at the Rune, which gets a Monarch Plus piggyback damper as standard, controlling 160mm of travel and a half a degree slacker head tube.
Alternatively, if you’re after something naturally swifter and smoother along the trail then take a look at the 135mm travel 27.5+ or 29in Prime frame, which is on my want to try list.
That’s not to say I didn’t really, really enjoy my time on the Spitfire. There were times when I was pushing it super hard either on the brakes into turns, blundering into big holes on blown out descents or just into a big boulder fest too fast when we could feel some twist and traces of panic in the front end. That’s likely because the triple butted main tubes include a relatively slim down tube.
The single piece symmetrical back end with its internally ribbed chainstays is bomber solid though. The KS Link rarely hangs up even on savage square edges, so while it threatened to tuck under occasionally, as long as I kept my head up, brakes open and heels down it always came out the far side fine.
I even notched up a couple of personal bests on properly challenging descents in far from optimal conditions once I’d fitted fatter, stickier tyres. And even with big rubber it was never a real chore to spin or clamber back up to the top for another charge down or join dots for a full day's ride of the best back country descents.
This cements the Spitfire’s position as one of my favourite versatile hardcore bikes of the year so far — just ditch the tyres!
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.