There aren’t many bikes out there that have broken the mould of frame design over the past few years. But if you’re a regular BikeRadar reader you’ll probably have clocked that Mondraker has been one of the most progressive names in mountain biking with its Forward Geometry rides.
If imitation is the greatest form of flattery then take note – more and more bikes are following Mondraker’s creed of longer front centres and shorter stems. The Vantage is the Spanish firm’s first Forward Geometry hardtail – and it’s a refreshing take on the hardcore hardtail genre.
Frame and equipment: awesome chassis dressed in average kit – a familiar Mondraker tale
Let’s start with the all important numbers. Most trail bikes seem to be sitting around a 620mm effective top tube length for a large-sized frame – Mondraker has stretched this out to a whopping 660mm.
This length, when combined with the 67-degree head angle, gives a suitably long 1196mm wheelbase. The effect is that your weight is planted nicely between both wheels, enabling you to weight the front one, giving plenty of traction without tipping yourself over the bars.
Mondraker’s forward geometry is much admired: Russell Burton
Mondraker’s Forward Geometry is much admired
As with other Mondrakers we’ve ridden, the superbly executed frame comes with a few spec compromises. With a rigid back end, the fork has to work doubly hard to control things, and unfortunately Fox’s 32mm stanchioned 32 fork with basic Evolution damper seems a slightly lightweight option for the job at hand.
Moving to the drivetrain, two-by groupsets may no longer be the most fashionable. But the 11-36 cassette paired with the 36/22 crankset at least gives masses of range.
A double chainset isn’t very fashionable, but works well: Russell Burton
A double chainset isn’t very fashionable, but works well
Gearing is controlled by a range of SRAM X5, X7 and X9 components. Out of the box the system works perfectly well, although in our experience the non-11 speed SRAM drivetrains wear out faster than others.
Ride and handling: corner carving confidence and unexpected climbing prowess
We’ll admit to struggling on the first couple of rides on the Vantage. To get the most out of it you need to ride the fork – getting your weight further forward than you might be used to is necessary to get the most out of the geometry. It’s similar to skiing – you need your weight forward, even if it feels counter-intuitive. Get it right and you’ll be carving corners all day long.
While the head angle isn’t super slack, combined with the frame length it gives masses of stability across rough, loose and steep ground at warp speed. Plant the Vantage into a bend and, with your body weight in the right place, even the sometimes unconvincing Maxxis Ardent rubber on the front seems to find more grip than it should, firing you round the corner.
The vantage rr’s surefootedness came as no surprise – but its uphill capabilities were unexpected: Russell Burton
The Vantage RR’s surefootedness came as no surprise – but its uphill capabilities were unexpected
If the rear does let go, there’s enough room over the bike to wrestle it back under control, should you wish – otherwise it’s perfectly happy in a controlled drift. When things get steeper, the length and head angle make the bike less prone to tucking or flipping, thanks to a better weight distribution over the bike.
The back end is nice and tight at 425mm, giving a touch of flickability and fun, but the box-section aluminium stays and the bolt-thru rear end aren’t very forgiving, so long days in the saddle can leave you walking like John Wayne. A 142x12mm back end is always good to see, but the DT RWS axle secures to a non-captive bolt that can sometimes spin irritatingly, needing an Allen key to hold it in place.
What surprised us most was the Vantage’s goat-like climbing ability. It’s not a super fast, XC race bike like climber, but the steep effective seat angle and long wheel base means that you can point it at virtually anything and it’ll find a way up. The voluminous, wire beaded, 2.4in Ardent on the back and a double FSA chain set really help things when it’s both steep and loose.
We weren’t impressed with the unreliable x-fusion dropper post: Russell Burton
We weren’t impressed with the unreliable X-Fusion dropper post
Less positively, and as alluded to above, the Fox 32 fork’s spindly legs don’t have the stiffness to match just how hard this bike can be ridden. With the Forward Geometry encouraging you to ride the fork, the 32’s spiky damping also gets easily overwhelmed.
The front Ardent also has a tendency to let go occasionally even if you’re on it with body positioning, so a front tyre with a more aggressive shoulder tread would be a welcome addition. Our only other niggle was with the X-Fusion HiLo Strate dropper post, which seized up within just a couple of rides.
All in all then, the Vantage RR doesn’t offer brilliant value for money – but it’s an absolute hoot to ride. If it were our cash, we’d buy the frame for £399 and build our own spec around that.