There's a million and one smaller manufacturers out there banging out trail and enduro bikes of varying qualities and prices, so it takes something a bit different to pique our interest. RAAW has done just that with the Madonna.
So how has this small, new German brand managed to do this?
It's not the 160mm 29er chassis that's clearly designed to minimise the time taken to get from the top of the hill to the bottom, via whatever obstacles you encounter on the way. They aren't exactly ten-a-penny, and we are big fans of long travel, big wheelers — but it's not standout in that regard.
Nor is it the impressive attention to detail: 2.6" tyre clearance, a clean brake mount that means no ugly adapters regardless of rotor size and hollow forged parts so that weight is saved internally rather than externally — so as to reduce areas where mud can collect. External cable routing and a threaded bottom bracket shell never draw complaints from us either.
We're not going to lie, were we to design our own frame we'd like to think we'd come up with these ideas too.
But they aren't the killer detail that we're so excited about
We do rather like that RAAW has gone with size-specific chainstay lengths. Larger frames get longer rear centres, which is good because this improves the balance of the bike without compromising feeling in either the larger or smaller frame size options.
We're also impressed with the reported suspension kinematics: a higher starting leverage ratio for super suppleness, before moving increasingly progressive through its stroke, and a beginning stroke that's active under braking but calmed down through increasing influence the deeper you get in to the travel.
On paper, the Madonna sounds like it should ride pretty sweet.
We're getting closer to its USP — this one almost made the grade
There's a depression along the top of the down tube, just below the bottle cage bosses, which is designed for easy strapping of tubes and CO2 to the bike, and a tapering pocket along the top tube in which a small gear bag is held by magnets — so that you don't risk forgetting those important bits and pieces when you go on your ride. More neat, simple design features that RAAW has worked on.
After all, what self-respecting #enduroist rides with a pack these days?
So what does set the Madonna out from the (very crowded) crowd?
RAAW's geometry chart shows an insane effective seat angle of 78.2 degrees. We can't think of a bike out there with such a steep seat angle. Neither the Geometron nor the Pole Evolink bikes hit such heady heights, maxing out at 77.8 degrees (77 degrees in size Medium)
The seat angle is joined by a longish 475m reach (large), 65-degree head angle, 1,256mm wheelbase and 35mm bottom bracket drop — all great, but not groundbreaking numbers (except that seat angle)
"Wait, I've just read this whole feature just because its got a steep seat angle?"
Yep. So why does this matter?
A couple of reasons. The seat angle dictates roughly where your hips will sit over the bottom bracket. A steeper angle puts your hips further over the BB, which is a more effective pedalling position. This is why all those funny triathlon / TT bikes have steeper seat tubes and short-nose saddles, so you can get your hips over the BB better.
If your seat angle is too slack it puts your weight further back towards the rear axle. On a mountain bike this makes steep climbs more difficult as is reduces the weight on the front wheel. This makes it more likely to wander around and lift.
RAAW's geometry therefore makes a lot of sense. Combining a long, slack front end with a long-ish back and a steep seat angle is where most of the more progressive geometry bikes are going.
The longer front end helps you confidently weight the front wheel and gives a lot of stability in steep, loose and technical trails. This is accentuated by a back end which balances this front end length.
Finally, sticking the seat angle nice and steep means that the rider is better centred in the bike, improving the riders weight distribution between the wheels and putting them in a better position to get up steep, technical climbs.
The seat angle is only really important when you're sat on the saddle, so there's very little wrong with having such a steep angle when you're descending stood up.
Any caveats in there?
The seat angle quoted is an 'Effective Seat Angle' — traditionally the seat angle was measured along the seat tube from the BB to the collar. With many modern suspension designs meaning an interrupted seat tube, the Effective Seat Angle is now measured from the centre of the BB to the seat post's head at full extension.
On the Madonna, the seat tube itself is actually a more 'normal' 74 degrees. We use the effective angle because this is what relates to your hip's position over the bottom bracket.
As the physical seat tube angle is slacker than the effective seat angle, the higher the post is (so if you run your dropper with a lot of exposed lower shaft) the lower the effective seat angle.
Let's give you the details then
The Madonna will be sold frame-only for €2,690, with the frames landing early next year. It'll come with a Fox DPX2 Factory shock, Acros headset, DT Swiss rear axle, the top tube tool bag and a tube strap for the down tube.
More details can be found on www.rawwmtb.com