Ever since the iconic Turner Burner became the most copied bike design of the mid 1990s, company founder Dave Turner has had an influence far beyond the scale of his small manufacturing output. After he established a loyal fan base with his simple but sweetly executed and detailed designs, his range has gradually expanded to its current breadth, with a bike for everyone. There have been some big upheavals along the way, such as pivot placement changes enforced by more legally active brands, but the core values and ride qualities of Turner bikes have stayed intact. That’s why we were super keen to sling our legs over the Sultan – Turner’s full suspension take on the latest trend of 29in wheeled rigs.
With the 29er wheel size offering increased momentum, greater stability at speed and smoother rolling on rough ground, it’s becoming increasingly popular with fast cross-country riders. No surprise then that the Sultan is loosely based on Turner’s fast but not fragile Flux XC frameset. However, although it shares the same layout as the Flux, the rest of the frame is totally tuned to big wheels.
The 29in wheels add a remarkable amount of smoothness over the rough
The tubeset is Turner’s usual custom blend of alloy, but to keep the frame as low slung as possible – for crotch clearance and general handling dynamics – the detailing is different. The short head tube is supported by conjoined main tubes and a small throat gusset, and the super sloped top tube has a flat plate – rather than the 3D gusset of the Flux – in front of the extended seat tube to leave enough room for a forward-facing seat slot. Turner have also made changes to fit the suspension around the 29in rear wheel. The rocker linkages and short-stroke Fox RP3 shock are the same as on the Flux, but they’re tucked right up in the top corner of the frame. This means a longer mounting plate and seatstays and chainstays that are over an inch longer than normal, but you still get 100mm (4in) of rear wheel travel.
The trademark Turner Zerx grease injection ports on the bushings mean smooth long-term running with the occasional lubing needed just taking a few seconds. Tyre room is decent by American standards too and there was plenty of clearance with a 2.1in Maxxis Ignitor fitted. Most fixtures and fittings are crisply CNC machined, including the 3D hollow web in the bottom bracket block. However, finish fanatics will be disappointed that the top seatstay bridge is left rough forged and not machined into the ridged pattern that’s become a Turner signature. Big lads will be pleased that the Sultan is available in super large XXL Sasquatch size, and the sloped top tube means it’s available down to a medium/17in size so riders from 5ft 7in up can benefit from bigger wheels too.
You buy the Sultan as frame and shock only, so you can build the bike up yourself or talk to your dealer about speccing a custom build.
Where the Sultan really rules is in the ride. Turner has deliberately kept the handling conservative and neutral, and it handles very nicely. With a short stem it turns in and out fine on swoopy singletrack and feels surefooted on steeper or tighter stuff with a bit of warning. It still feels lanky and a bit cumbersome on tight switchbacks and bermed black runs, but then it’s not designed for that sort of malarkey.
Despite moving from the original four-bar Horst Link layout, which Dave Turner helped develop as a pro racer, to a seatstay pivot faux bar, the suspension is fine too. The new position is slightly more prone to bob, but nothing the RP3 shock can’t cancel out, and the bike pedals firmly and without rhythm interruption, in or out of the saddle.
The 29in wheels also add a remarkable amount of smoothness over rough sections, rolling over rocks more easily and holding momentum and speed better too. Their effect is particularly obvious under acceleration or on climbs. They’re slower to accelerate initially, but once you’ve got them going you feel like you’re flying.
The sustained speed – rather than deceleration – when you back off power to change gear gives gorgeously smooth upshifts, enhancing the Rolls Royce feel even more. In fact, even though the 29lb (13.2kg) weight is a couple of pounds heavier than a similarly specced Flux (half a pound in the frame, the rest in the wheels and tyres), we never felt at a disadvantage on long climbs. We certainly had a big advantage over anything else on the flat too. When you experience the way the Sultan smoothly rolls away from 26in competition on open terrain, you’ll see why we reckon this is a true superbike rather than just a supersize superfreak.
29in wheels (rather than normal 26in hoops) are the underlying reason for the imperial progress of the Sultan. They roll smoother over the rough, grip better and maintain more momentum than standard wheels for a real Rolls Royce ride. Ferris wheel frames can be a nightmare on tight trails, but Dave Turner has managed to keep all the bonuses and remove most of the bugs with the smooth riding Sultan.
Loads of bikes use them now, but as usual Dave Turner was one of the first to use a saddle brace to reinforce the top tube/extended seat tube junction. It’s simple, neat and stops reduced standover height creating a potential weak spot.
The shorty Fox shock gets three different levels of ProPedal compression damping. It’s perfect for beating bounce from pedalling on climbs, but you still get full float with just a flick of the big blue lever.
By using a very short (70mm) stem, the Sultan retains a light and responsive steering feel and overall handling balance despite the extra gyroscopic stability of big wheels. It’s certainly a lot handier than most 29ers we’ve ridden when it comes to singletrack.
By keeping the head tube short and using a flat seat tube gusset, the top tube can be kept as low slung as possible. This makes the bike easier to move around underneath you as well as giving enough clearance for your conkers, even on a medium frame.
The rear pivot might have moved but Turners are still a top quality ride. Tuned frame tubes, beautifully balanced geometry and proven innovation executed in sweetly simple style combine to make the Sultan a true superbike.