There can be few better-named bikes than the Zealous Division. On looks alone, it’s likely to either intrigue or terrify most of the buying population, but there’s a good reason for the rather striking design relative to most 29er hardtails.
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When they were first introduced, big wheeled hardtails had a rough time, with many criticising the somewhat solid handling relative to the perkier and more playful feel of the then-standard issue 26” wheeled competition, despite feeling the ride smoothing benefits of the big hoops.
The guys at Zealous decided that the root cause of the big wheeler’s dull ride feel was heavily down to the fact that they used much longer chainstays. The solution arrived at was to combining the ride smoothing feel of the big hoops with some super tight 415mm long stays.
That’s been achieved using a plated design at the seat tube and bottom bracket junction that allows the rear wheel to sit in much tighter without ruining mud clearance. This does mean it’s single-ring specific, but you can run high volume 29ertyres or a 27 Plus set up should you so desire.
This is the second version of the frame and there have been numerous other tweaks. First up has been a move to a slightly longer fork — 130mm instead of 120mm — which relaxes the head angle slightly but also raises the bottom bracket a smidge. More significantly, the aluminium frame now gets thinner walled chain and seat stay tubing, more machining work on the head tube and bottom bracket, while the chainstay yoke was completely redesigned to help drop even more weight.
In common with the old bike, it uses the neat DMR Swopout dropout system, which allows you to pick from a 142x12mm thru-axle set up, a 135mm quick release item or horizontal dropouts that’ll let you run a singlespeed set up. There’s no Boost option at the moment however. Our test bike came with the 142x12mm set up, which had the rather annoying issue of the nut section of the thru-axle not being captive, making it rather easy to lose when you’re taking out the wheel.
Our test frame was festooned with a decent, workmanlike selection of kit that did the job well without breaking the bank, making it a perfect pairing for the very reasonable asking price of a frame. That meant WTB wheels, which did mean that despite the frame being lighter, it’s still not lightweight with the complete bike tipping the scales at 13.25kg.
Turn tyre to dirt and that titchy rear end immediately makes itself known, with the front end eager to spring skywards as soon as you put through a good hard pedal stroke, like a particularly excitable dog. The incredibly direct back end takes any input from the cranks and uses it to leap forwards with real verve. There’s just no hint of flex or hesitation from the back end, or indeed anywhere else on the frame. That means that it goes exactly where you point it with single-minded determination.
The geometry isn’t radical by any means, but it’s still confidence inspiring, with little nervousness and the 431mm of reach for the Large frame gives a good amount of space to move about. The 67.6-degree head angle is a pretty good balance between feeling reactive on tight, twisty trails and all-out descending confidence too, so whether you want to play in the woods or hammer downhill you’re covered. That said, up tight and twisty uphill switchbacks, the fairly slack seat angle means you really need to focus on keeping the front wheel weighted or it’ll lift when you’re sat down, but a more aggressive out-of-saddle approach cures that.
Another minor grumble would be that the top tube isn’t kinked, so if you like to size up, you need to keep on your toes or you could well have a fairly painful dismount. While we’re whinging, the bottom of the internally routed Reverb post contacted the small Z-shaped brace between the two plates when we tried to put it all the way down, kinking the hose. Whether this is an issue will obviously depend on the model and length of the dropper as well as rider height, but again, if you want to size up it’s worth bearing in mind.
While the frame’s stiffness is a boon when pedalling, it makes itself known in a less positive way when descending. This thing is brutal. After one long and rocky descent where ankles where aching and arms were fatigued to the point that they almost blew off the bars, I wasn’t feeling much love for the Division. That continued all the way up until the ride was uploaded to Strava and it became apparent that numerous personal records had been given a thrashing, even against fully suspended machines.
All in all, it’s definitely not a bike for shrinking violets but it is bloody fast pointed downwards. Bigger volume tyres would definitely help, but it’s always going to be punishingly rapid thanks to the burly frame.
If you can take the beating the bike hands out, there are plenty of rewards to be had, with a reassuringly stable and agile ride that’s none to common when paired with big wheel grip. If you want a versatile and tough machine for a huge variety of riding, the Division is an excellently priced option, as long as you budget for the gym membership you’ll need to hang on.