The Incline, from Halfords house-brand 13, is marginally more expensive than the other budget bikes (the Trek Marlin 6, Specialized Pitch and Saracen Tufftrax) we tested alongside it – which when you’re working with prices this low, gives it an immediate advantage.
Punching above its price point
That said, the Incline’s outstanding performance would put many £700-800 bikes we’ve tested in the shade.
Triple-butted mainframe tubes save weight while maintaining strength
This isn’t just a question of good value componentry on a generic frame either. The Incline frame uses triple butted (three different wall thicknesses in the same tube) main tubes to tune strength and stiffness without excess weight. The main tubes and rear stays are also curved and tapered to remove sting from rough terrain without diluting power delivery.
Smoothed welds and internal gear routing give clean lines and the rear brake uses an easily adjustable post mount. The quick-release collar on the seat clamp also allows generous seat drop for steep descents before the rubber ’13 race number’ badge stops play. The matt grey and blue paint is carried through into colour coded fork, rims, saddle and bar for premium looks too.
The 720mm bars give reasonable leverage
Even if it looked rats, the 13 would shine on the trail though. That’s in no small part down to the fact that the Suntour Raidon fork is in a totally different class to the coil-sprung clangers you’ll find on most bikes this cheap.
Riding on air
The air spring is easily rider weight-adjustable and you get proper damping adjustment so you’re not chasing random rebound all over the trail like a dropped rubber ball. Its 32mm legs mean it steers with impressive accuracy, and the stiffer structure also stops it binding under braking and cornering loads.
The 720mm bars give reasonable leverage for pushing the well-balanced steering hard through aggressive trail sections, and the big-volume 2.25in WTB Trail Boss tyres offer up decent levels of grip when things get damp or dirty. The carefully judged frame compliance, genuinely smooth fork and bigger tyres also give the 13 a really smooth, flowing ride feel.
Out on the trail, the Incline Alpha offers an impressively smooth and flowing ride
Inevitably there are some cost-related compromises getting a frame and fork this good out of the shop door for just shy of £500. While the tyres are a reasonable weight the deep rims are needlessly heavy and it’s a surprise the Incline feels as lively and smooth as it does in the rolling equivalent of steel toe cap boots.
The Clarks EXO brakes need extensive bedding in (repeat braking) to build a reasonable level of power, and the grips are are really hard and unforgiving too.
But if ever a bike proved that digging slightly deeper into your pocket was totally worthwhile it’s the Incline Alpha. 13’s designers have done a brilliant job of prioritising frame, fork and handling quality for a truly outstanding ‘all the bike you really need’ bargain that’s brilliant no-limits fun on the trail.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.