This hardtail all-rounder from (relatively) small Taiwanese maker Tank has a light and animated ride feel, classy ﬁnishing componentry and an appealing price.
The downside, for UK buyers at least, is that the lack of a UK dealer network means you’ll only get direct after-sales back-up from one place. But it’s still worth considering if you want a light, racy hardtail at a great price and don’t mind an unfamiliar brand name.
Ride & handling: great fork & tight back end but still a relaxed handler
With so many bikes these days being designed around the assumption of 100mm-plus of fork travel, it’s easy to forget that a top-quality fork with less travel can still be an admirably functional thing. We were testing a load of £500 bikes just before this. Their forks were good for the budget, but when you start to attack bumpy technical terrain, a fork like the Magura Menja 85XC really is a breath of fresh – and very nicely damped – air.
It makes you realise that it’s not only the amount of travel that enables you to ride a bike on its fork and let the back end simply follow through. It’s also the quality of the fork internals, the direct tracking steering responses and the lack of ﬂutter when the trail puts you under pressure. It has a lock-out, too.
So what about the frame? Again we found ourselves comparing it with the £500 bikes we’d just tested, as some brands use the same frames on £900 bikes as on £500 bikes. The more pertinent point here is that the Tank was the lightest ride in this particular group, despite being the cheapest. The back end feels tight and well planted in acceleration and climbing, but surprisingly comfortable over rough terrain; the big-proﬁle tyres obviously help here.
The other thing we really liked about the Tank was that, despite its name, low weight and its short-travel fork, it’s not a pure race bike. A quick look at the geometry told us that before we even rode it. Handling is fairly relaxed, but never slow and, even with a 23in ﬂat bar ﬁtted, it felt totally at ease being thrown through twisty singletrack.
Frame: light Easton tubes mean upgrade possibilities
The Tank uses an Easton Elite aluminium frame, and we don’t see many of those around these days. It’s a great tubeset that, used well, can trim nearly a pound off the weight of an aluminium frame made from non-branded tubes. The overall heft of the Race Elite is exactly 25lb, the lightest on test. At just £300 for a frame on its own, it would be a good starting point for a superlight race bike build with some lighter and more costly parts choices than here.
The main triangle tubes are round in proﬁle, using butted ends to keep the strength up and weight down. There’s a big butterﬂy gusset from the head tube to the underside of the down tube to help protect the mainframe from frontal impacts, and the head tube is ring-reinforced. The radical proﬁling of the chainstays and the machined yoke into the bottom bracket keep the back end laterally stiff, but generous standover height and a long seat post keep things comfy on bumps.
Equipment: great shifting & stopping, good stuff elsewhere
The drivetrain here is probably the best of the three test bikes. Truvativ’s Firex crankset is the external bearing GXP model, and the shifters and gear mechs are all Shimano Deore XT. Hayes Strokers perform nicely modulated and powerfully efﬁcient braking duties. Quality Mavic X317 rims are laced to Tank’s own hubs – unknown to us in terms of durability, but we have no reason to doubt them.
The tyres are fairly big proﬁle Kenda Nevegal Tomacs, which are grippy and add considerably to comfort compared with the skinny treads often ﬁtted to race-bred bikes like this. The saddle, post, bar and stem are all Matrix badged. Again, they’re unknown to us but are perfectly adequate.
Summary: more than just a racer
The Race Elite is well equipped, it rides well and it’s way more than just a race bike.
If the Tank Race Elite was distributed through a UK network of dealers, it would doubtless cost a fair bit more, but you’re still buying more than a shop brand here. Tank is an independent Taiwanese manufacturer with a fair amount of kudos in other parts of the world.
A birth name of Strong Guo is almost bound to give you a head start in some aspects of life. Strong used to be a mechanic on various types of US-made assault tanks. In 1997 he founded Tank Bikes, and the factory now makes 20,000 frames a year. The UK distributor, Rolling Resistance, is starting small by offering this Race Elite only, but a look at the company’s website www.tankcycle.com.tw suggests there’s a lot more on the horizon if the bikes fly.
Rolling Resistance will only sell direct to buyers at present – and there are pros and cons to this approach. It cuts out dealer network margins, so you get a cheaper bike, but if you have problems you’ll have to send it back to them or pay full labour rates for local dealer back-up. Obviously, though, it’s the same with any direct sales/mail order set-up.