Commencal’s Meta AM won last year’s Trail Bike of the year showdown, as organised by our sister title What Mountain Bike. It’s improved the spec on the 2016 Race to make it our top 160mm-travel bike this year too – though it was pipped to the overall top spot by Whyte's amazing T-130 RS.
Immediately we jumped back on the Commencal we remembered why it had won last year. This is a big-hitting, stiff and ultra surefooted, ground-hugging frameset that still pedals efficiently – and while it's very far from being a cross-country greyhound, it'll happily claw its way up pretty much anything with a doggedness that puts some shorter-travel machines to shame.
Commencal's Meta AM V4 Race 650b RockShox Red has had a rerub for 2016 – including making its name ridiculously long
Most of the bikes we were testing at the same time took at least a couple of laps of the bike park to settle their shock setups and then a couple of flat-out descents to tune the fork and shock to a consistent control pitch.
The Meta doesn’t just sync the colours of the dampers – the whole bike feels totally sorted and superbly connected to the trail right through the bump range. A slight shock re-tune means it doesn’t dive into its rear travel as quickly this year either, which gives it a slightly sharper cornering feel and better poise under power.
Once you've clawed your way up, just keep going because the Meta AM is an absolute beast on the downhills
While the bar is higher rise than most, you can get the big open-box stem low enough that it’s not noticeable in terms of ride, apart from the fact it’s pretty stiff. That means you can totally lock into the maximum control RCT3 Pike fork and top-quality Maxxis High Roller II 3C Max Terra Exo tyre combo.
Add a slack 66-degree head angle and even when we really overstepped the limit, the Meta never gave up gripping and saving us from our own stupidity. The neat interacting linkage plates, yoked shock and double-sided rear pivot just above the rear axle glue the back end onto the ground with similarly utterly consistent control.
Top-quality Maxxis treads ensure you'll never run out of traction
Whether it was powering up a technical climb or hammering through the lumpiest bits of trail the Meta just loved pushing the limits as much as we did, with the Pike and Monarch Plus damper working together even better than usual. The 2016 Race also gets a wide-rimmed E13 wheelset, seriously stiff E13 cranks, SRAM Guide RS brakes, a RockShox Reverb seatpost and a SRAM 1x11 gearset.
In short, everything you need to max out the potential of this superb great-value bike every time you’re lucky enough to launch it down the trails.
The Monarch RC3 Plus Debonair shock is twinned with an RCT3 Pike up front
Transition Patrol 2
A DH-slack front end adds supreme confidence, plus loads of grip, corner-hooking traction, and quality rear suspension makes for a surefooted bike that nullifies chatter and swallows big hits. See our full Transition Patrol 2 review.
Santa Cruz Bronson C S AM
If you like trail bikes tough, tight, punchy and infectiously playful, then the updated Bronson is a standout machine. Read our full Santa Cruz Bronson C S AM review.
Felt Decree 2.0
Impressive rear suspension equates to plenty of speed and all-day comfort making it a joy to ride over long distances. See our full Felt Decree 2.0 review.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.