It would be easy to criticise the Stevens design team for taking no chances with their 120mm Fluent ES trail bike: it’s a classic four-bar linkage setup, crafted from triple-butted 7005 series alloy tubes in the familiar traditions of Turner and Trek. But you could congratulate them for taking the obvious route to making a quality trail bike that has few vices worth mentioning. We choose the latter.
Ride & handling: Sensible geometry and suspension for technical trails
The Fluent is just that – ﬂuent in the language of most trails, ﬂowing and conﬁdent. It’s especially good at those UK trails that are tighter, twistier and rootier than most. Its key to success is well-balanced geometry, allied to a similarly suited suspension layout. There are faster, ﬂightier feeling bikes and deeper, plusher ones too – all with 120mm travel – but the former need more care and thought in the tech and the latter can lose precision and pop.
Once rolling the bike is happy to stay up in its travel, even running a decent level of sag. The suspension copes with whatever comes in its way but never eats at pedalling, which is impressive.
With all the hoo-ha about wheel sizes, it’s refreshing to remember that 26in wheels still deliver a sparky, dependable and durable ride. Sure, you’re not the talk of the town, but who cares when you’re on a rig that can dispatch miles as happily as this?
For those on a tighter budget the £1,900 SLX version is, blindfolded, hard to discern from this. That’s partly because you almost instantly fall off, but you know what we mean… Okay, once the transmission suffers some miles the XT will shine through, but SLX won’t fall apart. For those wanting to drop a kilo more, there’s the carbon ES.
Frame & equipment: Back to basics for instant riding
Stevens describe the Fluent’s use as ‘marathon’, which, if you love marketing-speak, means it’s half rapid cross-country bike and half trail hacker. The ES model is the one we think represents the best all-round package. Peppered with quality kit such as full Shimano Deore XT transmission and Fox suspension, it’s a bike that needs barely a single penny of upgrading. With the exception of swapping the bargepole stem (a German spec oddity) for something shorter, you can ride it out of the shop and straight up the mountain.
The Fluent’s 69-degree head/73-degree seat angle chassis is built to last, and while not especially light (our 18in frame is 11.9kg) that sorted suspension layout means the bike rides with a lighter, nimbler feel than the numbers imply. Jabbing hard on the pedals from a standing start generates a small amount of squat, common to all four-bar designs, but it’s reduced via a Stevens’ tune on the Fox Float RP23 Boost Valve.
We think the Fluent is pitched just right for the middle ground of riders looking to get out there fast and in comfort, but with a ride that’s engaging and responsive.