Commencal Meta HT AM Race review£1,630.00

Big on tyres and travel, short on reach and subtlety

BikeRadar score3/5

Commencal’s Meta HT AM Race is a proper hard-kicking hardtail for riders who are more about stiffness than subtlety. Buying direct from the company's Andorran mountain base gets you great value kit, too, but the frame comes up short on reach compared to longer sleds.

Complete bikes using this frame start at €974 (approx £827, including shipping) but you’re still getting a quality chassis with triple-butted tubes. There’s a brace between the flat, rectangular top tube and the seat tube, and the triangular seatstays are welded onto the side and back for maximum stiffness. Brace-free chainstays leave mud space around 2.4in tyres and there’s semi-internal dropper post routing. There’s no ISCG mount, though, and the back end is QR rather than bolt-through.

Commencal has a big advantage over its competitors in terms of value because it's now selling direct, offering a 10% discount to customers who collect from its Andorra showroom. The wallet win here is a RockShox Lyrik fork with Charger damper, rather than a Yari (same chassis, simpler damper). We’re always glad to see full SRAM NX gearing, and the basic Avid DB3 brakes get a power boost from bigger rotors. 

The own-brand Ride Alpha cockpit is well sized and shaped, the WTB rims are sound and easy to set up tubeless, and the Maxxis High Roller II EXO tyres are traction-rich impact shruggers. That leaves only a dropper post to add to complete a kickass package.

Commencal Meta HT AM Race highlights

  • RockShox’s Lyrik is an outstanding big-hit fork with thick-walled 35mm stanchions and an easy to set up, maximum-control Charger damper
  • The super-stiff back end upsets the ride balance and the QR-axle rear wheel isn’t as failsafe as a through-axle set-up
  • SRAM’s NX isn’t the lightest option but its affordable real-world toughness makes it the unfailing AK-47 of 11-speed transmissions

If you like your hardtails as stiff as possible and don’t subscribe to the ‘longer is better’ handling vibe, you’re getting a ton of top-quality kit
If you like your hardtails as stiff as possible and don’t subscribe to the ‘longer is better’ handling vibe, you’re getting a ton of top-quality kit

Commencal Meta HT AM Race ride impression

Looking over the front of the big 780mm bar, down to the Lyrik logo on the fork brace and the chunky 2.4in Maxxis tread, the Meta gives an instant sense of ‘take all comers’ confidence. The 65-degree head angle puts the stout, thick-walled fork stanchions at the right angle for stable, self-correcting steering that treats the most technical wheel-bullying terrain with lazy contempt.

That front end is a lot closer to you than on many other large bikes, though, and the wheelbase and reach are even shorter than on the medium Cotic BFe275 Silver Thru. This inevitably forces you further forward over the fork and undermines the confidence of the Commencal Meta, particularly in faster, wide open turns or corner-smashing situations.

There’s an even more obvious issue when letting the bike run over rougher terrain, too. While the front end is set up right for letting the impeccably-controlled 160mm stroke of the Lyrik take care of big-hit business, the back end is harsh to the point of hostility. It’s not just a comfort issue, in case you get caught by a bone-crushing jolt in the saddle (though that’s definitely not pleasant). Even with the 2.4in tyre dropped down to 20psi (as low as you’ll want to go before it starts feeling squirmy and pinchable on the 25mm rim), the chunky-tubed QR rear end gives a brutally bruising ride.

Great value, but the frame comes up short on reach
Great value, but the frame comes up short on reach

Constant chatter and kickaround makes it hard to work out what the rear tyre is doing during the occasional moments when it’s on the ground. The battering through your feet makes it really hard to keep your heels down and weight planted, too, with all testers complaining that the Commencal Meta hammered their toes forward into the front of their shoes.

With weight thrown forward, the shortness of reach becomes compounded and the whole balance of the bike gets knocked out of kilter on all but the smoothest bike park or softest loam trails. The fact that it’s downright painful through every contact point (because your arms and hands are constantly trying to force your bodyweight back and the rear wheel back onto the trail) adds to the accelerated shock fatigue in your legs, and however hard we tried to ride through it, it was never long before the Commencal was back in the van.

That said, if you like your hardtails to be as hard and stiff as possible, and don’t subscribe to the latest ‘longer is better’ handling vibe, then, as usual for Commencal, you’re getting a ton of top-quality kit for the low price.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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