NS Clash 3 review£700.00

A potentially great bike, held back by scary brakes

BikeRadar score2.5/5

Last year’s Clash was a super-tough bargain that only had its style cramped by its small sizing. Not only has NS listened to their customers and made this year’s frames longer but they’ve added this more affordable complete bike option too. Despite the low price, it uses the same chassis as its more expensive stablemates, which happens to be one of the toughest freeride hardtail frames around.

Frame and equipment: no shrinking violet

The Clash’s frame is pretty in-your-face, and we’re not just talking about the neon paintwork. The thickly ring-reinforced convex head tube can take seriously nose-dived landings in its stride, while the curved, square-to-round section down tube, massive top tube and semi-rectangular A-frame stays create a super-strong chassis.

The rear brake uses an old-school IS mount rather than the easier to adjust post mount system, but the frame does come complete with ISCG mounts on the bottom bracket shell for easy chain guide fitting, weight-saving cutouts in the thick-plate ‘Stay True’ dropouts and a decent quick-release seatpost clamp too. The post is pretty short though, so don’t expect to be able to perch up high for pedalling in proper XC style.

In case you’re under any illusions, the equipment fitted to the Clash makes it clear that this is no tame trail machine. Instead, it’s a properly tough, tackle-anything tank of a bike.

The own-brand Terra bar is all about strength and stiffness, not subtlety, and the neat cold-forged stem gets hidden bolts to protect your knees. It’s good to see a decent quality FSA headset too, because the steering bearings probably take more of a battering than any others on a hardcore hardtail like this.

The Lasco cranks spin on a skinny square-taper axle, but they’re much stiffer than the ones on the Commencal and come with a proper spider and single chainring. The e*thirteen LS1 chain guide (which would cost £60 separately) has a top slider and bottom roller for total chain control, with an extended backing plate for a bashguard if needed.

The wheels use extra-wide 33mm rims to stretch the evergreen super-fast but surprisingly grippy Kenda Small Block 8 tyres into an ultra stable stance, and you even get two colour-matched neon green spokes to show you where the valve is.

The SRAM X4 gears are cheap but work OK across the eight-speed cassette, and the reinforced jump seat is tough enough to withstand being cartwheeled down the trail a few times. Unfortunately, there are two really obvious weak links in the spec – the simple, skinny-legged Suntour fork and the Tektro cable disc brakes.

Ride and handling: for the brave

Those mechanical disc brakes are a real problem too, with a noticeable lag between pulling the lever and the bike actually beginning to slow down, which led to repeated unplanned exits from the trail and a lot of rider frustration. It only takes a couple of rides for the cables to start feeling notchy too. Things improve slightly if you adjust the single moving pad as close to the rotor as possible and put up with a bit of rub. Even the P.Street’s hydraulics are a big improvement though, and upgrading to something similar (or ideally, better) is essential.

NS clash 3:
NS clash 3:

The Suntour fork is typically basic for this price point, with no adjustment beyond a slight amount of spring tensioning, 30mm legs that flex noticeably in rough terrain and a savage clanking top-out to the rebound. But the 100mm (3.9in) of travel that we managed to get out of it sucked up single-hit drops and logs perfectly well.

That top-out clatter does combine with the really strong return spring on the brakes and the super-stiff cockpit to beat the crap out of your arms as soon as the ground starts to gang up on you though, making our local rocky black run feel like the Megavalanche. It’s a real shame too, because the rest of the bike – rock solid wheels with decent tyres, sorted slack head angle/broad bar/short stem handling, secure transmission – encourages really fast, aggressive, fun riding. The Clash picks up speed easily whether pedalling or pumping, and it’s not too brutal through your feet either.

NS has done some good work getting this bike down to a more affordable price level. You get the proven performance, strength and versatile handling of the Clash frame complemented by an excellent hardcore cockpit, wheels and chain tamed transmission. The Suntour fork performs smoothly until things get properly hectic. Unfortunately though, there’s no escaping the fact that the brakes simply aren’t up to the job of hardcore control on fast technical tracks.

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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