Transition Smuggler NX review$2,999.00

Fearless frame let down by lackluster components

BikeRadar score3.5/5

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.

Engineered to party and GiddyUp suspension, Transition knows bikes are about fun
Engineered to party and GiddyUp suspension, Transition knows bikes are about fun

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 29x2.3in tires
  • Weight:15.45kg / 34lb, size Large

It's nice to see frame protection even on alloy bikes
It's nice to see frame protection even on alloy bikes

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
The fork's 42mm offset number creates an interesting ride that I appreciated

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

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

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
Out back, the Minion DHRII is overkill for my trails and my style of riding

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
The 140mm travel RockShox Revelation RC fork has gotten bigger with 35mm stanchions

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
Race Face's Aeffect dropper post had a few annoying quirks at the lever and on full extension

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
Transition's aluminum Smuggler NX has 29in wheels and 140/120mm of front and rear travel

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. 

Russell Eich

Tech Writer, US
Russell fell head over heels in love with bikes in the '90s, and has been involved in the bike industry ever since. Between wrenching in bike shops, guiding professionally, and writing about bikes, Russell has honed an appreciation for what works, gained knowledge of what doesn't, and can barely contain his enthusiasm for what comes next. His two-wheeled passion continues in the Rocky Mountains high above Boulder, Colorado.
  • Age: 39
  • Height: 6'3"/190cm
  • Weight: 175lb/79kg
  • Waist: 34in/86cm
  • Chest: 42in / 107cm
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: High altitudes, forgotten singletracks, bike parks, roads without cars
  • Current Bikes: Custom Meriwether steel hardtail, Specialized S-Works Enduro 29, Kona Jake the Snake, Trek 69er, and a bunch more
  • Dream Bike: Yeti SB5c, Intense Tracer 275C, Black Cat custom road
  • Beer of Choice: Gin + Tonic
  • Location: Rollinsville, CO, USA

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