Muddy Fox were one of the first big mountain bike brands in Britain over 20 years ago, but now they concentrate on the value end of the market. The Reflex is a good-looking bike with more control than most of its peers and some decent gear for its current reduced selling price too.
Ride & handling: Suspension is limited and adds little control but is generally clank-free
The Reflex’s low weight, relative to other budget options, is obvious in the way it picks up speed as well as when you get to any stiles or gates on the trail. It’s simply a lot less effort to propel forward than other similarly priced bikes which leaves a smile on your face for longer. Add something close to tangible traction from the Maiden tyres and it actually lets you go on the offensive on short climbs rather than just stalling straight away.
The relatively stiff rear spring means it’s not a pogo stick either. There’s a definite loping gait if your pedalling rhythm syncs with the spring motion, but there’s not enough movement to really upset things. Critically the rear shock bounces off the stops at either end without sounding and feeling like someone’s just hit the bike with a sledgehammer. Whether it ever adds any control or comfort is a moot point, but at least it doesn’t make it worse than a hardtail, which is a rare credit in budget bouncer tests.
The same is true of the front end too. Again the 50mm travel from the front fork feels more like squashing cheap bread than recognisable damping but the grease smears show you’re getting 50mm of movement to show your mates. Bottom out isn’t too brutal and it only tops out with a clang if you pop a wheelie or launch it off a (small) drop. There is a massive amount of twist in the fork thanks to the skinny legs and simple hoop brace. That means you’d probably be very wise to follow the ‘No stunting or jumping’ advice printed on the yellow warning sticker on the frame.
Keep it on the ground though, and it will go vaguely where you point it most of the time. There’s not exactly much leverage coming from the narrow (600mm) bars anyway, so steering is best treated as a suggestion rather than a detailed demand.
Frame: Small frame sizing needs careful checking
The alloy frame certainly looks the real deal, with shaping of both ends of the top tube giving a contemporary hydroformed look. The down tube is curved at the top and changes shape to a flat rectangle at the bottom bracket for decent stiffness at the pedalling centre. The main pivot is built into the rear of the bottom bracket block too, with a wide stance giving a reasonably stiff back end once we’d done the slightly loose rear pivot bolts up.
The fact it has rear pivots – and a swing link at the back of the shock – is a big step up for the £200 price category though, as most bikes under £500 are just simple swingarm designs of one sort or the other. It doesn’t make a massive difference in actual suspension terms, because the rear pivots are on the seat stays not the chainstays so they don’t alter the axle path, but it certainly makes the Reflex look pukka. The lazy wound coil of the rear shock also works in a constipated but clunk-free manner.
The frame has the mounts and cable guides ready to take a rear disc brake and there’s adequate mud room if you fit bigger tyres too. Make sure you check sizing before you buy though – our 18in frame was tiny, with a short seatpost, which meant that we couldn’t get near proper pedalling height.
Equipment: Shimano gears are reasonably smooth
Muddy Fox have managed to put some decent gears on the Reflex. Acera and Tourney might be right at the bottom of the Shimano range, but at least they’re Shimano, and rear shifts from the Revo shift twist shifters are surprisingly light and crisp. The front chainset isn’t so slick though and you’ll really have to back off the pressure to swap rings so plan ahead on climbs.
The V-brakes are metal at the lever and the wheel end which means a positive bite and adequate control as long as the rims are dry. While Maiden isn’t a tyre brand we’ve used before, the tread pattern on them popped its cherry about 20 years ago as the Tioga Pyscho. Even in a cheap plasticky compound, it still grips better than the tyres typically fitted on similar bikes, although we still needed to take care when riding them over wet roots or rocks.
The alloy bar, stem and seatpost with a proper clamp, holding a proper shaped saddle rather than a sofa on a stick are a big bonus too. Not just from a cosmetic and reduced-rattle comfort aspect, but also because they help to keep the Reflex’s weight down.