This month we are testing:
STEPPENWOLF Twixter, £1090 (Frame £258).
CANNONDALE Chase II, £899
PLANET-X ARMADILLO, £999 (Frame £399)
IDENTITI Mr Hyde FRX, £1100ish (Frame £299)
After the first few rides..
STEPPENWOLF, a relatively new brand over here, is well regarded in its German homeland. The Twixter is their only hardtail that doesn't follow classic XC design principles. It's meant for, to use their words, "Tricks, Sprunge und Dual Slalom". Fitted with a full set of gears, we reckon it's good for more than that, although the 'one size only' frame is a limiting factor. The basic bike, with a Deore 27 speed drivetrain, Magura's Julie hydraulic discs and a Manitou Black Comp fork, will cost you £960, but Steppenwolf is proud of its custom choices. There are jump-ready chain guide equipped 'Dirt Kit' build-ups available from £1255, or you can opt for a do-anything build like our test bike, at £1090 because of a yellow and brushed-alu finish and a smattering of top up accessories. We like a few aspects of the frame's design, we like the way it looks and we like the way it handles dips, twists, jumps and blips on downhill and cruise mode, but we wonder if the 12in bottom bracket is too low if you want to pedal through corners when the fork is being worked hard.
CANNONDALE Chase II is the by no means down-nourished bro' of the £1799 Chase I. At a glance, it looks amazing value for money. The parts package is extremely well thought out and we particularly like the fact that it comes in two different frame lengths. The long top tubed version will appeal to a growing breed of riders looking for the sort of machine that can be ridden hard, fast and efficiently over hill 'n dale as well as over jumps 'n lumps, although the smaller bike (as tested) feels more at ease as a thoroughbred hucker. That's obviously what the Chase has been designed for, but it's go-anywhere range of gears and sensible geometry means there's potential for all other types of riding.
PLANET-X don't sell whole bikes, but with sister company On-One they do have a wide range of parts to choose from. The Armadillo is the new freeride hardtail. A frame alone will cost you £399, and it's not pretty. It's not meant to be. It's a tool for the job, like an adjustable spanner or a mallet. If you're the sort of rider its functional looks appeal to, you'll know exactly what that job is. And if you're not? Well, listen up anyway because we reckon the Armadillo is the sort of bike that more and more people will be riding over the next few years. Looking schizophrenic in a pimpy White Devil incarnation, our test bike fostered love/hate vibes right from the off. We're perservering. Some riders are learning to love.
IDENTITI'S Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde and 666 frame clan has already spawned all manner of offspring, mutations and imitators. The new Mr Hyde FRX (Freeride XC we presume) is obviously aimed at the same market as the Planet-X Armadillo. It's a growing market, feeding off the requirements of jumpers who like to sweat and sweaters who like to jump. Of course, a bike like this also panders to the needs of that image-conscious breed of trail worriers who rarely, or perhaps can't, jump, sweat or even ride for toffee but want a bike that looks the part. Nowt wrong with that. A choice of colours is available... black, blue or red anodised. Initial crew feeling are mixed. It can take a hammering, but your body does too.