Review: Zerode Taniwha

by
October 25, 2017

zerode taniwha pinion gearbox

Andi's been riding the snot out of the carbon fibre Zerode Taniwha to find out if gearboxes are indeed the future.

Brand: Zerode
Product: Taniwha
From: Stif.co.uk
Price: £5,799
Tested: by Andi Sykes for 5 months

Zerode is a small bike company based out of New Zealand that likes to do things a little differently from the rest of the industry. Founded and operated by Rob Metz, Zerode started out life as a downhill-only orientated brand and created a downhill bike without a rear derailleur before Pinion gearboxes became all the rage.

At the time of prototyping the first Zerode G-1 downhill bike in the mid-00s, a few brands were trying to build a gearbox standard named G-Boxx (Nicolai, Suntour, and others were originally behind the project) but it was all a bit too early in the day to get behind. Instead, Metz decided to build the G-1 around a Shimano Alfine hub, giving the bike a simple 7-speed gearbox, while eliminating that pesky rear mech.

The G-1 quickly gained fans around the world with Zerode bikes popping up in Australia, the UK, the U.S and even further afield. In 2013, Zerode refined the concept further and introduced the G-2, which cemented the brand’s credentials and gave the world a small taste of things to come.

The Next Step

With fans well in love with what Zerode was doing, and gearboxes becoming more mainstream thanks to brands like Pinion, Zerode turned its attention to something new. The Kiwi brand decided to move away from alloy downhill bikes and move into the realms of Enduro and carbon fibre. And while making those huge leaps, Metz also decided to get involved with Pinion to use its gearboxes too.

Not only was this the next step for Zerode, but it was a majorly huge one for the brand too. So, how did Metz pull it off?

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Zerode has built the Taniwha around a Pinion gearbox and a full carbon fibre frameset.

The Bike

From the get-go, there is no mistaking the Zerode Taniwha as an enduro bike. It has a burly carbon frame, gets 160mm travel front and rear and it’s built to take the type of abuse your average EWS stage is capable of dishing out.

Carbon fibre is the material choice for the Taniwha and it’s allowed Zerode to create an attractive bike with a Pinion gearbox expertly crafted in. There are no awkward lines or funny design aesthetics, it’s simply a good looking frame with clean lines that may or may not look similar to another enduro bike from another brand, *cough* Santa Cruz *cough*.

As the Taniwha was designed as a carbon bike first rather than being adapted from alloy, there are no compromises in this area. We get plenty of material around the head tube and gearbox junction to ensure a stiff frame for forcing through the rough stuff, which compared to some other carbon bikes, makes the Taniwha look burly and overbuilt. That’s probably not a bad move for the first attempt at a carbon bike, and certainly instills confidence in the bike’s durability.

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Chunky tapered head tube.
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160mm rear travel.
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The frame’s bottom bracket is build around the Pinion gearbox.

The gearbox cuts out the need to accommodate front or rear derailleurs, and that has afforded Metz a significant amount of freedom to design the dropouts and BB area as he sees fit. As such, the main pivot is built nice and wide for added stiffness. Also improving stiffness, Zerode is using a single pivot suspension design on the Taniwha with the shock driven by a tough alloy link. The shock, a Fox Float X on our test bike, mounts to the downtube via a moulded shock mount and leaves enough room in the front triangle for a water bottle to sit inside. With that said, a side exit bottle mount would be the preferred type.

The carbon front triangle is joined by a carbon rear end, another ballsy move for a brand first dipping its toes into the world of carbon, but like the mainframe, the chain and seat stays do look overbuilt and chunky.

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A single pivot suspension design combined with a singlespeed external drivetrain.
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Clean 142x12mm dropouts with no dangly mech in sight.

With all the gear shifting gubbins inside the alloy gearbox, there’s nothing hanging off the rear of the Taniwha to knock against tree stumps or smash against rocks. The lack of rear mech effectively makes the back end of the Taniwha narrower than a traditional mountain bike, and because Zerode didn’t jump on the Boost bandwagon, the Taniwha is narrower still.

While there’s no mech abseiling off the dropouts, you will notice that there is, what looks like part of a derailleur, hanging just behind the gearbox. This is a simple chain tensioner that keeps the chain taut on the single rear sprocket to ensure power gets to the rear wheel without any slips or jumps. The chain tensioner has come under a lot of scrutiny from online commenters, with many pointing out that it seems like a backward step to remove the rear mech only to add something else to the bike that could be knocked while riding on the trail. That’s a reasonable point to establish in an online forum, but during my time riding the bike in the real world, I never hit the tensioner once.

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The back end is nice and narrow.
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Removing a 350-500g cassette from the equation leaves less unsprung mass on the back of the Zerode Taniwha.

While we’re speaking about the drive system you might be questioning; why has Zerode used a chain for this bike anyway? Why not go for a belt drive and help cut down on maintenance? It’s a good point, but as the Taniwha’s suspension design creates chain growth and requires that tensioner, it would mean a belt wouldn’t work. At least, not easily anyway. There are also advantages of going with a chain-drive for a bike like this, the most significant being that a metal chain is significantly easier and cheaper to replace if you do break it.

UK importer for Zerode, Stif, has built the Taniwha up with a Hope single speed specific rear hub. What makes this a single speed hub is a slightly wider hub body and smaller freehub. The wider body allows the rear wheel to be built with less dish, which should mean a stronger and stiffer rear wheel. The smaller cassette body is still necessary to ensure a correct chain line is running to the tensioner and gearbox.

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Burgtec cockpit features 800mm wide carbon bars.
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Tidy KS Southpaw dropper post remote.
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The Pinion rotary shifter requires two cables to operate the gearbox.

The Hope rear hub is laced to WTB rims as is the front Hope hub, and the UK component theme continues with Burgtec carbon bars, a Burgtec stem, and a WTB saddle. It’s solid and dependable kit all round, which I would personally be happy to spec when building my own bikes.

Fox supplies the front and rear suspension. Forks are the excellent Fox 36 RC2 with a slippery gold Kashima coating, while the rear shock is an equally slipprty Fox Float X hopped up with an EVOL air can. Brakes are SRAM Guide RSC and the dropper post is a KS Lev, while gear shifting is operated by Pinion’s own grip shift style shifter.

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Fox 36 forks team up with powerful SRAM Guide RSC brakes.
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With less weight on the rear wheel, the Taniwha promises a more responsive feel to the suspension.

Now a grip shift type isn’t quite as common as it once was, and I think I speak for the majority of mountain bikers out there when I say that a trigger shifter would be the preferable option. But as of right now, the rotary grip shifter is the only option that Pinion offers. On a traditional derailleur system, the cable only needs to pull in one direction and a spring pulls the mech back in the opposite direction. With current gearbox designs, one separate cable is needed to pull the actuation mechanism in each direction, and that means a grip shift is the best way to do this.

So, now that we know a little about the Taniwha, and the spec, let’s take a look at how it rides.

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With the weight low down and centralised, the Taniwha is a playmobile.

The Ride

With a gearbox boasting a 600% gear ratio I instantly decided to take the Taniwha for a ride around my local trails around Ladybower Reservoir and Castleton to see just how good that gearing would help me up some of the longer and steeper climbs. But I kinda wish I hadn’t. At least, not for my first time out on the bike.

After hearing all the rave reviews from Pinion owners about how good the gearbox shifts, its benefits and just how good the grip shift style shifter really is, I headed out on my first ride with rose tinted glasses and totally underestimated how much of a learning curve the gearbox was going to create. Due to the rewiring that’s required between your brain, right hand and feet in order to shift the Pinion gearbox correctly, riding the Taniwha on trails that you’re not familiar with can be a real challenge, and if you don’t shift into the correct gear at the right moment, climbs can become highly frustrating.

The problem lies with our familiarity with conventional external drivetrain systems, which we’ve all become accustomed to being able to shift under load. Getting to that point in a climb when you just can’t push any longer and you need to slip the derailleur into a larger sprocket to make it to the top. Your derailleur might not like it, and you may get a clunk and a bang, but you do have that option to shift gear when putting down the pressure. As modern 11-speed and 12-speed drivetrains are getting very proficient at doing it, they certainly don’t discourage you from making these kinds of hasty, high-torque shifts. Then there are those times when you misjudge a trail. You looked ahead and planned, but just got your gear choice slightly wrong. No matter, your derailleur will let you shift when powering along and you won’t lose momentum or flow.

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The Taniwha is a steady climber due to its weight and finicky gearbox shifting.

The Pinion gearbox doesn’t work like this though. If you attack the bottom section of a climb out of the saddle then need to switch to something a little easier further up you’ll have to ease off the pedal pressure before the gearbox will let you switch gear. This takes a lot of getting used to, and in all honesty, I’ve still not quite got my head around it (which is certainly not helped by regularly swapping between different test bikes).

I found an ideal way to get around this issue was to try to ensure you have enough momentum while climbing so that you can coast a little, giving you time to back of the pressure a fraction, engage the shift, then quickly get back on the power. In theory, this is great, but I soon realised I’m not quite the climbing powerhouse I thought I was, and I rarely had enough moving speed in the first place to coast a little while shifting. The high weight of the bike (15kg / 33.1lb) means it decelerates quickly on a climb as soon as you ease off the pedals. This is especially out of the question when you’re climbing super steep rock climbs out of the saddle, as there is just no way to climb and shift like that.

Eventually though, for longer days in the saddle, if I knew I had a monster climb ahead of me on the Taniwha I would whack it in to the easiest gear and winch to the top, Not the fast way of climbing but it worked, was quite relaxing and that 600% gear ratio means it’s enjoyable enough to take in the views around you.

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On proper bike park terrain, the Taniwha shines.

What I should have done for my first ride was to take the Taniwha on more enduro-style terrain at a trail centre. You know, the type where you have a long steady climb to the top, followed by a rollercoaster descent down that’s filled with flowing trails with jumps, rocks and berms. Something like that would have been an ideal introduction, because this is exactly the type of terrain this bike wants to be ridden on. Sating the Taniwha’s appetite, I did end up taking it up to Tweedlove, where I used the massive range of the Pinion gearbox to winch my way to the top of Glentress, before I got to experience the bike on the downs. And wow did it lap up those descents!

With all the gear shifting handled by the gearbox, all the weight is located centrally and low down in the frame. This not only means the Taniwha is exceptionally well poised and balanced, but it also means the rear end of the bike has a lot less sprung mass than a conventional bike, and that makes for incredible rear suspension action.

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High-speed cornering and pummelling berms is the bike’s speciality.

One of my personal bikes is a steel full suspension bike and it rides exceptionally well, and the rear suspension is very good. But in taking my bike out with the Taniwha for a side-by-side comparison on the same trails, I quickly appreciated how much more lively the suspension of the Taniwha is. It is downright incredible. The lightweight back end, coupled with the quality rear shock makes for a rear wheel that glides over obstacles rather than bumps off and over them. It feels like the rear wheel feeling is actually getting out of the way of rocks and bumps, skipping over terrain and doing so in a way that helps to keep forward momentum going.

The low centre of gravity also has advantages when cornering and while the bike is in the air. In fact, the Taniwha is quite a playful machine when airborne. The modern geometry of the bike helps too, and while the Taniwha is long and slack, it isn’t overly so and has a nice “Goldilocks” feel to it.

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The Taniwha isn’t particularly long or slack compared to its contemporaries, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

At 178cm I felt most comfortable riding the Taniwha with the dropper posted slammed to its lowest positing in the frame, this way I still got the benefit of a good pedalling position when the seat was extended but still had plenty of room to throw minimal shapes when hitting the jumps at our local bike park. There’s obviously a trend for longer and slacker bikes right now, but so what, the Taniwha handles everything in its path, as long as you can get on with climbing it.

Before I move on to the final notes of this review I do need to go back to that gearbox. This time it’s the grip shift style shifter. Again, this might be because I keep having to swap from bike to bike, but even today I tend to shift the Taniwha in the wrong direction. This usually means that I’ll ride into a downhill and shift into an easier gear rather than a tougher one. Other riders at the office experienced it too. As I’ve said, this is most likely me just not getting used to it, and being used to other shifting systems. The good news is that if you do find yourself shifting in the opposite direction you can cable up the shifter the opposite way around to work around it. That still doesn’t make up for the fact that you can’t shift while covering the brake though, which is something else that you’ll need to adapt to.

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The grip shifting takes some time to get used to.

Durability Notes

The only issue we had with our Taniwha during the review was a frayed gear cable that was spotted by the chaps at Stif during Tweedlove and quickly swapped out. Since then the bike has handled our local trails, Peaks rides, trail centres and even downhill tracks in Innsbruck without fault.

Three Things That Could Be Improved

  1. A shorter seat tube and lower standover height, so riders have the option to size up if they prefer something longer. While I was happy on the large I know riders the same height who would want longer, but the XL would be too tall for them
  2. The rotary shifter works fine, a trigger shifter option would open this bike up to a whole load of potential customers
  3. It may be impossible from an engineering standpoint, but some sort of clutch mechanism to allow shifts under load would shoot the Pinion gearbox to an unrivalled level
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The rear suspension action is some of the best we’ve experienced on any test bike this year.

Three Things That We Loved

  1. Downright incredible rear suspension. Supple, buttery, silky – whatever word you want to use, the Taniwha’s rear suspension is it
  2. Enormous 600% gear range means you can climb up anything, without sacrificing downhill gearing
  3. Tough and stiff carbon frame that is happy to be manhandled
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With the gearbox housing all the shifting gubbins, there’s no rear mech to worry about.

Overall

For many riders, the gearbox on the Taniwha will be the major draw to the bike, and it does bring some major benefits. The fact that you are dealing with an enclosed gear system that requires such little servicing (a quick oil change once a year is about it) will be a huge plus to riders who are sick of shredding through expensive cassettes, chains and chainrings. The stronger rear wheel is a nice bonus, as is the slimmer rear profile. Not having to worry about smashing off rear derailleurs is another big plus, especially if you ride tight, twist trails littered with granite rocks. Add in that incredibly active rear suspension package, and the Taniwha presents a compelling case for ditching your all mountain bike with its external drivetrain.

For me personally, the Taniwha wasn’t a bike I really enjoyed riding around the natural, rugged and undulating terrain you’ll find in the Lakes, Ladybower or Castleton for example. But then I’m not the strongest of climbers and the gearbox requires a significantly different shifting technique. Take the Taniwha to a bike park though, and it all starts to make sense. For those after an enduro race bike, or for those who spend most of their ride time winching up, long steady climbs to access gnarly, technical, feature-laden trails on the way back down, the Taniwha is a unique option.

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The Taniwha is one seriously good looking bike no?

Zerode Taniwha Specifications

  • Frame // Carbon Fibre, 160mm Travel
  • Fork // Fox 36 Float Factory Series RC2, 160mm Travel
  • Shock // Fox Float X Factory Series
  • Hubs // Hope Pro 4, 110x20mm Front & 142x12mm Singlespeed Rear
  • Rims // WTB Frequency Team i25, 32h, Tubeless Compatible
  • Tyres // Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 3C 2.35in & Minion DHF EXO 2C 2.35in Rear
  • Drivetrain // Pinion P1.12 Gearbox
  • Shifter // Pinion Rotary 12-Speed
  • Cog // Zerode Custom 30T
  • Brakes // SRAM Guide RSC, 180mm Front & Rear
  • Stem // Burgtec Enduro 35, 50mm Long
  • Bars // Burgtec Carbon Enduro 35, 800mm Wide
  • Grips // ODI Longneck
  • Seatpost // KS LEV Integra, 150mm Travel
  • Saddle // WTB Volt Race
  • Size Tested // Large
  • Sizes available // Medium & Large
  • Claimed weight // 15 kg (33.1 lbs)

Review Info

Brand: Zerode
Product: Taniwha
From: Stif.co.uk
Price: £5,799
Tested: by Andi Sykes for 5 months

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Bikes review