Andy Gowan, one of the co-designers at Zealous, was working for Trek/Gary Fisher when they introduced the first mass production 29ers over a dozen years ago, but a decade later he still hadn’t seen one from anywhere that combined the steamroller smoothness with the chop and change agility he still loved his 26er for. So he started designing his own...
Frame and equipment: divide and conquer
The keystone of the Division is the ‘Eclipse’ seat tube, which uses a stirrup-shaped twin lower section. This lets the rear wheel slot right in above the bottom bracket for super-short chainstays without creating a wonky seat angle. While a 2.3in knobbly or 2.4in semi-slick is the most practical fit limit, the open hoop means that it’s almost impossible to clog with mud.
The rear wheel tucks right up inside the stirrup-shaped base of the Eclipse seat tube to create a super-short, yet mud friendly rear end
Licensed versions of DMR’s universal axle ‘Swopout’ dropouts sit at the far end for maximum stiffness and upgrade potential. A 44mm head tube way out front of the sloping top tube and lazily curved main tube give 110-130mm stroke tapered fork capability too.
Ride and handling: hammer time
The Division rides as distinctively as it looks, with no trace of twist or vagueness in feedback from the front end. A relatively low bottom bracket means the bike hunkers down onto the trail with brooding authority too. There’s absolutely zero flex in that short tail and power barks and crackles from pedal to rear wheel like a rally car exhaust.
The Division's super short rear gives great agility and power delivery
Jab the go pedal or drop it through the gate at the top of a descent and all hell breaks loose. Forget subtle nuance, smoothed impacts or squirming compliance – the Division is almost demented in its determination to get to the bottom by the fastest, straightest route possible. If you ride like a passenger then it will kick the crap out of your knees, punish your palms through the skinny grips and shake your brain in your skull like a maraca.
You need to get used to the rearward weight distribution trying to pivot the whole bike round on the back wheel under power. It’s that whip round turn potential and belligerently accurate attitude to attacking the trail that gives the Division its premier league technical trail performance though. It genuinely pumps jumps and rollers, slingshots berms and pops off drops like a smaller wheeled bike but with all the speed sustain, grip and surefooted traction of a 29er.
The result is a ferociously fast, infectiously involving and fantastically rewarding ride for those riders who have the skills to really make the most of it. Despite the hefty frame weight, undiluted power transfer means it will hustle up climbs or cut between black runs with impressive efficiency.
Specifications As Tested:
- Size: M (also available in S, L and XL)
- Weight: 12.46kg / 27.46lb
- Frame: Custom alloy
- Fork: MRP Stage, 130mm
- Shock: N/A
- Max tyre Size: 2.4in
- Chainset: Shimano SLX/Black Spire, 32T
- Shifters: Shimano SLX
- Derailleurs: Shimano Zee (R)
- Chain: Shimano SLX
- Bottom Bracket: Shimano PF BB91
- Cassette: Shimano SLX, 11-36T
- Front: WTB Frequency i23 TCS rim, Hope Pro 2 Evo hub
- Rear: WTB Frequency i23 TCS rim, Hope Pro 2 Evo hub
- Tyres: WTB Vigilante TCS, 29x2.3in (F), WTB Wolverine TCS, 29x2.3in (R)
- Brakes: Shimano SLX, 180/160mm rotors
- Bars: Renthal flat bars, 740mm
- Stem: Renthal Duo, 50mm
- Grips: WTB, lock-on
- Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
- Saddle: WTB Silverline
- Headset: Cane Creek
- Pedals: N/A
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.