Transition Smuggler NX review

Fearless frame let down by lackluster components

Our rating 
3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5
GBP £3,349.00 RRP | USD $2,999.00

Our review

The Smuggler NX chassis has loads of potential but is ultimately let down by its components
Buy if, You’re a bigger, heavier rider who doesn’t want or need a ton of travel but still needs a durable, fun-to-ride bike
Pros: Fun to ride, more capable than travel suggests, stiff and durable
Cons: Heavy, poor performing components, slow to accelerate
Skip to view product specifications

Transition’s Smuggler NX is the brand’s entry level 29er trail bike. It has an aluminum frame with 140/120mm front and rear travel, and a very unique ride, but is compromised by a cost-cutting build.

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Engineered to party and GiddyUp suspension, Transition knows bikes are about fun
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Transition Smuggler NX spec overview

  • Frame: Aluminum, 120mm travel
  • Fork: RockShox Revelation RC Solo Air, 140mm
  • Shock: RockShox Deluxe RT
  • Drivetrain: SRAM NX 11-speed, Race Face Aeffect cranks
  • Wheels/tires: Novatec hubs, WTB STP i29 rims, Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II 29×2.3in tires
  • Weight:15.45kg / 34lb, size Large
It’s nice to see frame protection even on alloy bikes
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Way faster than it seems

Cruising solo, the Smuggler doesn’t feel quick. Ride with a group or against a clock though and that opinion changes really fast; this bike is deceptively rapid. 29in wheels and a 66 degree head angle will make almost any bike a stable, confident ride. Transition takes it another notch though with reduced fork offset.  

Typically, 29ers have 51mm fork offsets. This Smuggler has a 42mm fork offset. What that achieves is two fold. In simple terms, the bike wants to go straight until it doesn’t, then it really wants to turn.

The fork’s 42mm offset number creates an interesting ride that I appreciated
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

On the trail, it takes a bit more input to initiate the turn in, but once past that slight pressure the front end turns harder. It’s a bit like a steering damper effect at first. It makes the Smuggler want to stay straight, but once past that gyro effect, the bike corners fast and aggressively. 

Is it a good thing? It depends on what type of rider you are. At low speeds, it kept the slack head angle flop from being noticeable and at faster speeds it made the bike supremely confident yet super fun when slaloming through trees and rocks.

Riders who don’t subscribe to the slash and punch style of trail riding will likely prefer a standard 51mm fork offset. It’s more neutral and consistent throughout cornering but the tradeoff is less straight-line stability.

Regarding the other end, the Deluxe shock was a bit tricky to set up. Letting out some air made a huge difference. With too much air, the rear end felt like it was skipping over hits, not absorbing them. It made the bike feel skittish and top heavy.

Despite yielding only 120mm rear travel from a RockShox Deluxe RT damper, the bike rode with the confidence of a longer travel machine
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

Transition recommends 16-17mm of sag, and finding that sweet spot made a huge improvement. That number puts it in the 33% sag range and drastically improved both climbing and descending. Rear wheel traction was boosted, bumps were absorbed better, and cornering felt more locked in with improved tracking. 

Even with that very generous amount of sag, the bottom out control proved to be excellent. In fact, I can only recall smacking bottom once during the test period. And pedaling response felt nearly the same with less air pressure.

Interestingly, this bike was so stable, so settled, I kept backing off the rebound until it was one click away from wide open. Mostly to see if it would increase its playfulness, which it did, but not to the point where the bike was bouncing down the trail in an uncontrolled mess. 

Hard to get going

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Trails with lots of speed changes proved difficult for the budget-build Smuggler. The acceleration from slow to fast was challenging. On certain days, it felt like my legs were cooked (even though they weren’t), like the snap and power wasn’t there. 

Blame falls mostly on the spec. The Minion DHRII rear tire had loads of traction, but the tradeoff was slow rolling. Add in the portly wheels and the overall heft of the bike, and it all made the Smuggler hard to bring up to speed. I’d like to see this build offered with an upgraded wheelset. Transition marketing man Lars Sternberg noted they’re trying to do just that in the next year or so.

Out back, the Minion DHRII is overkill for my trails and my style of riding
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

But, and it’s a big one, once up to speed, it’s super fun. It’s an entertaining ride especially in sections that usually require a delicate hand. Aboard the Smuggler, staying off the brakes and holding on was rewarded with good exit speed out the other side. It took a big hit or seriously loose conditions to make the Smuggler nervous or get knocked out of shape. 

This Smuggler seemed perfectly content to smash and straight-line through ugly, hacked up terrain. When blasting through rocks and choppy bits of trail you’d swear there’s an additional 20-30mm of travel out back not because the wheel travel felt so bottomless, but because the frame was so burly and unflinching. 

But it should be noted that that big bike feeling carried over when trying to get zesty with the bike. It was hard to jump and flow on trail. Poppy and playful aren’t adjectives to be used with this entry-point Smuggler.

Brought down by base-level spec

Up front, there’s no way around it, the 140mm travel Revelation RC fork is showing its age. Its Motion Control damping isn’t as plush or controlled as more modern fork internals. 

The fork on my test bike didn’t have a smooth stroke as well. Dropping the fork’s lowers and cleaning and lubing the insides with fresh grease and oil improved its performance, but not to the point of matching a Fox Float unit.

The 140mm travel RockShox Revelation RC fork has gotten bigger with 35mm stanchions
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

As for the rolling bits, the WTB i29 rims are okay, as are the Novatec hubs. They’re heavy and somewhat dull looking, but I didn’t have to true them or ever really think about them. I’d pick those traits over grams and flash any day.

SRAM’s NX 11-speed gearing nailed every shift up and down even though the shift levers did feel a bit plasticky. Its 11-42t range isn’t quite as wide as the 10-42 found with regular 11-speed GX, though the 28t ring on the RaceFace Aeffect cranks lent some help on the steep stuff.

Race Face’s Aeffect dropper post had its woes, too, as it struggled to pop back up to full height without a helping hand. The remote, too, had some slop at the paddle.  

Race Face’s Aeffect dropper post had a few annoying quirks at the lever and on full extension
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

Onto the brakes, the Level T discs looked budget, and they felt budget. The modulation was okay, but the power simply wasn’t there even with the supplied 180mm rotors.

Finally, I dug the short 40mm stem and wide bars, although if it were my bike, I’d toss on a less harsh, higher rise bar with a 31.8mm clamp and some softer grips.

Transition Smuggler NX bottom line

Transition’s aluminum Smuggler NX has 29in wheels and 140/120mm of front and rear travel
Russell Eich / Immediate Media

Transition has crafted a ride of contrasts with the short-travel Smuggler NX. It smashes through trails with a can’t-phase-me attitude. It instils confidence even on sections that typically warrant longer travel. 

Despite the unique ride, the parts on this NX build are a big let down. They feel low budget and make the bike hard to accelerate and whip around. A few choice upgrades, primarily the big ticket items of fork and wheelset, could transform the bike and make it true all arounder. 

Transition does offer two nicer spec alloy Smugglers, as well as two even nicer carbon options. The upgraded models should certainly be considered as the base-level NX build chokes what is an otherwise amazing, versatile chassis. 

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Product Specifications

Product

Name Smuggler NX
Brand Transition

Bottom Bracket 73mm threaded
Rear Hub Novatec
Brake Levers SRAM Level T
Chainring Size (No of Teeth) 30
Year 2018
Stem Race Face Aeffect R, 40mm length
Shifters SRAM NX
Seatpost Race Face Aeffect dropper
Saddle WTB Volt Comp
Rims WTB STP i29
Rear Tyre Maxxis Minion DHRII EXO, 29 x 2.3
Rear Shock RockShox Deluxe RT
Rear Derailleur SRAM NX
Brakes SRAM Level T discs
Handlebar Race Face Chester, 780mm width, 35mm clamp
Grips/Tape Velo single clamp
Front Tyre Maxxis Minion DHF EXO, 29 x 2.3
Front Hub Novatec
Frame Material Aluminum
Fork Offset 42
Fork RockShox Revelation RC, Solo Air, 140mm
Cranks Race Face Aeffect, 170mm
Chain SRAM PC 1110
Cassette SRAM PG 1130, 11-speed: 11-42
Frame size tested L