Small Polish brand, NS, may once have been better known for its role in the world of dirt jumping, sponsoring the riding legend Martin Soderstrom way back in 2008, but since then its bikes have developed and diversified massively. The brand has grown from strength to strength.
As well as a downhill bike raced on the World Cup circuit and cross-country race machines, it has this progressive enduro bike, the NS Define, that’s seen its fair share of race action at the Enduro World Series.
Bike of the Year 2020
The NS Define 150 AL is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.
Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.
NS Define 150 AL frame and suspension details
The Define 150 AL frame is constructed from custom AL6061-T6 and AL6066-T6 hydroformed tubing, with double pass welds. This subtle shaping and the angular tubing help to give the Define a distinctive look, once you get up close to it.
An ovalised lower shock mount can be flipped 180 degrees to allow for 5mm of bottom bracket height adjustment. And, if you’re looking to make an even bigger change, NS includes a replaceable lower shock mount that bolts onto the down tube.
The Define 150 AL is distinctive looking with its shaping and angular tubing.
NS offers a different shock mount (sold separately) that can be paired with a shorter shock (also sold separately) to convert the Define from a 150mm slugger into a sprightlier 130mm trail machine.
While the Define’s cabling may look like it’s routed internally, it’s actually neatly routed down a channel that runs along the underside of the down tube.
It’s a neat and tidy solution that not only looks good but should help reduce maintenance woes when it does come to replacing something.
The cabling is neat and a chainstay protector should prevent scuffs and damage.
In a similar vein, NS has opted to use a threaded bottom bracket unit, which should make removal/installation that bit easier and only requiring a single tool, compared to press fit bottom brackets which are harder to replace and require potentially more expensive tooling to work on them.
At the rear, the Define 150 AL sports, that’s right, 150mm of travel, which is delivered using a four-bar linkage design and controlled via a Fox Performance DPX2 rear shock. NS has designed the Define to work with a 160mm travel fork with a short 44mm offset.
NS Define 150 AL geometry
A brief glance at the Define’s numbers will show that NS certainly isn’t afraid to push things in terms of geometry. In fact, the Define 150 AL offers up some of the most progressive figures out there.
It’s available in three sizes ranging from small to large, all built around 29in wheels, which means there’s a chance the shortest and tallest riders out there might not find a frame size to fit them, though.
I opted for a medium frame, which sports a healthy reach of 460mm. That lengthy reach is paired nicely with the 440mm chainstays to give a balanced, well-centred ride position.
The Define 150 AL is packed full of promise and has great geometry.
The 1,235mm wheelbase and slack 63.9-degree head angle should add that all-important high-speed stability when the pace picks up, and the corner-carving 330mm bottom bracket height will no doubt help with confidence through the turns.
A 76-degree seat angle should help keep things feeling efficient when seated and climbing, while the stretched out 619mm effective top tube makes for a roomy climbing position.
The Define has quite a tall stack height at 639mm, but fortunately there’s enough uncut fork steerer tube and accompanying spacers to let you adjust this to your preferences.
Sizes (* tested): S, M*, L
Seat angle: 76 degrees
Head angle: 63.9 degrees
Chainstay: 44cm / 17.32in
Seat tube length: 43.2cm / 17.01in
Top tube (effective): 61.9cm / 24.37in
Bottom bracket height: 33cm / 12.99in
Wheelbase: 1,235mm / 48.62in
Standover: 74.2cm / 29.21in
Stack: 63.9cm / 25.16in
Reach: 46cm / 18.11in
NS Define 150 AL specifications
The Define 150 AL’s spec list is functional rather than flashy, but that’s no bad thing in my book and, for the most part at least, NS has spent its money wisely in key areas.
It’s not a perfect list though, especially when you compare its components to bikes that are closely matched in price.
The Fox 36 Performance fork comes with a GRIP damper.
Fox takes care of both the fork and shock. Up front sits a Fox 36 Performance fork complete with a GRIP damper, which offers a three-position compression lever, giving you the option to firm the fork up for mellower trails or climbs.
The DPX2 shock is also a Performance unit and features a three-position low-speed compression lever.
Unlike the pricier Performance Elite and Factory DPX2 equivalents, this particular shock doesn’t feature a tuneable ‘open’ mode.
Fox’s DPX2 Performance shock takes care of things out back.
I’m a big fan of Maxxis tyres on the whole, so it was reassuring to see some of its rubber on the Define 150 AL.
Up front sits a 2.5in Minion DHF Wide Trail and at the rear there’s a 2.5in Aggressor Wide Trail. Both tyres use the EXO casing, which is decent but not the toughest, especially on a bike this capable.
These tyres are also dual compound rather than the pricier ‘3C’ triple compound equivalents, so might not be quite as surefooted in really adverse conditions, but should hold up better over time.
SRAM takes care of all stopping and going duties with its Guide RE brakes, which are powerful and easy to control. They don’t quite offer the same level of punch as pricier Code brakes, but are a safe bet nonetheless.
The transmission is a mix of SRAM GX, NX and SX Eagle 1×12 drivetrains.
While you get the fancier GX Eagle rear mech, the NX Eagle shifter doesn’t come with a MatchMaker mount (the shifter and brake lever are on separate mounts), so syncing your controls on the bar isn’t easy – I had to sit the shifter inboard of the brake lever to prevent the knuckle of my thumb hitting the shifter paddle, making the shifter harder to reach.
The SX cassette has the marginally narrower 11-50t (compared to the GX equivalent which has the full 10-50t spread) gear range and isn’t the lightest either.
NS provides its own hubs and sister brand Octane One supplies the Solar 29 rims and saddle.
Much of the rest of finishing kit carries the NS branding, which is no bad thing – the Quantum stem is a beautifully finished bit of kit that works well.
I didn’t get on well with the bar though, mainly due to what felt like an odd sweep. I found I needed to roll it forwards to make my position on the bike feel a little more aggressive.
NS Define 150 AL ride impressions
Testing any enduro bike requires it to be ridden on a multitude of terrain and a wide variety of trail types. I rode a real mix of everything from steeper, natural trails littered with slippery roots and jagged rocks to high-speed bikepark style tracks.
Also, as part of our Enduro Bike of the Year test, the Define 150 AL was tested back to back against nine other similarly priced and intended bikes.
The NS Define 150 AL was tested against nine other bikes as part of our 2020 Enduro Bike of the Year test. Andy Lloyd
NS Define 150 AL climbing performance
When pointed uphill, the Define’s suspension is incredibly neutral under power when seated and using the easier gears.
In fact, there was so little in the way of energy sapping suspension bob that, when you factor in that relatively steep seat-tube, I never once felt the need to flick the shock’s low-speed compression lever to firm it up while climbing.
The stretched out 619mm effective top-tube helps to provide a roomy cockpit too, and I had no issues with front wheel lift when the trail steepened.
I experienced very little suspension bob when climbing. Andy Lloyd
Rear wheel traction wasn’t an issue for the most part, but, just like on the Whyte G-170C RS 29er, the Aggressor isn’t the best in thicker mud, so it’s important to keep the wheel turning in a bid to clear out that relatively tightly-packed tread as much as possible.
On hard pack trails though, the tyres rolled pretty well, so progress uphill felt easy going and relatively rapid.
NS Define 150 AL descending performance
The Define’s well-centred ride position is easy to adapt to and I felt comfortable trying to ride fast almost instantly.
NS has done a good job creating balanced ride characteristics that will let you push the bike on faster sections of trail with enough stability to ensure things remain confident, but without making a bike that feels lethargic or awkward on tighter, slower sections of trail.
This is a bike that’s fun to ride and eager to go fast. Andy Lloyd
The feel through the back end of the bike helps here too. While initially it’s reasonably supple, there’s more than enough support through the travel to make for a dynamic, energetic feel when you want to pump the bike or load it heavily through turns.
Later in the travel there’s a healthy dose of progression, which means it’ll handle a real thumping too.
It’s not without feedback though. While it does feel a little more forgiving than the latest Giant Reign in really rough stuff, it’s still not the comfiest bike on really beaten up, prolonged downhill sections, especially compared to the likes of the Whyte G-170C RS 29er or Specialized Enduro Comp.
There’s a 150mm X-Fusion Manic dropper seatpost fitted.
And it’s when you’re clattering through these chopped up, chunky sections of trail that it feels like the back end of the bike can outclass the fork from time to time.
That’s not to say the GRIP damper-equipped Fox 36 isn’t good as it is. It’s smooth and well-controlled for the most part, but isn’t quite as comfy or composed as the GRIP2 damper found inside the fork on the Giant Reign 29 1 and Cube Stereo 170 SL 29.
If you do decide to get on the gas between the turns, the Define 150 AL feels responsive and urgent. It’s not without fault though, but this is down to the spec.
As I mentioned before, I struggled to get the gear shifter sitting where I wanted it in relation to the brake lever and grip. In the end, sticking it inboard of the brake lever meant I had no problems with the shifter hitting my hand, but it made reaching the shorter shifter paddle a real pain when trying to select harder gears while sprinting. Adding a MatchMaker would be a quick and relatively cheap fix for this.
Adding a MatchMaker would improve positioning the NX shifter.
The Define does feel incredibly confident in the corners. That low bottom bracket might sit the pedals uncomfortably close to the ground for some, but I had no issues with pedal strikes while testing and really appreciated the confidence and predictability that the low-slung feel and well-proportioned geometry produced when tackling awkward turns.
There’s always the option of upping the bottom bracket by 5mm if you do keep clouting your pedals, though.
The Maxxis rubber is a plus here too, but a tackier front tyre would add a little extra confidence on wet roots and rocks.
While the EXO casing isn’t the toughest, I had no problems with puncturing during testing. That said, the Define is eager to be ridden fast, so adding a rear tyre with a slightly heavier/tougher carcass wouldn’t be a bad thing.
NS Define 150 AL bottom line
Overall, the Define 150 AL has proved itself to be an incredibly capable bike. It doesn’t quite offer the same levels of comfort as the best in its category when pummeling down really roughed up sections of trail, but it certainly won’t back down from the challenge, handling everything with a solidity and confidence many bikes would envy.
It’s progressive geometry and suspension help to create a bike that’s fun to ride and eager to go fast.
Yes, there are some niggles with the spec, but it’s great to see just how much potential is on offer here.