Founded and still run by Dave Turner, and now in its 21st year, Turner Bikes has always enjoyed something of an elevated status within the mountain bike world.
It’s earned an enviable reputation for designing and building well-sorted, great handling and reliable bikes, coupled with an excellent approach to customer service.
The brand experienced a real purple patch when it launched what was arguably the first five-inch travel trail bike, the Five Spot. I rode a coil shock-equipped one for several years and still regard it as one of the finest bikes I have had the pleasure of riding.
Turner still builds its frames by hand in the United States (Portland, Oregon by Zen Bicycle Fabrication to be precise), which is worthy of note; but with the likes of Santa Cruz successfully embracing carbon fibre as the go-to frame material of choice, there is a perception that perhaps Turner may have been left behind as it sticks primarily to aluminium.
So the question is, does Turner still make frames worthy of the price tag? To find out, I built up one of the latest offerings, a Turner Sultan, and put it firmly to the test over a year of uncompromising riding both on the trails and in the mountains.
Coming in a range of three anodised colours or a raw finish, it is clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into designing and building the frame. Suspension duties are taken care of by a Dave Weagle-designed elevated chainstay rear end, matched to a Fox CTD shock. The rear axle is a 142mm bolt-thru arrangement, with a DT Swiss axle supplied as standard.
Up front, the radically dropped head tube (which is a real boon on technical trails where you appreciate having maximised your, ahem, gentleman’s clearance) joins the seat tube via a robust-looking burrito gusset, while the headtube is an oversized 44mm number.
Brake and gear cables are taken care of by hex-bolt cable guides (no more zip ties! Whoop!), that can (just) be tweaked with regular hex keys, while there is also space for a 750ml water bottle in the frame. Finally, running on bushings with grease ports, the frame offers potentially longer time between maintenance periods than a similar bearing based frame would.
Building the frame into a complete bike was a rewarding experience. With the headset and bottom bracket properly faced in the factory and the frame being in as near to perfect alignment as any I have built and ridden before, all the parts fitted together without fuss. It may be a small detail but in my experience, bikes that are easy to build up tend to last just that bit longer and tend to give me more confidence in them from the start. Having returned a top-end frame from another well-known manufacturer where the rear end was 9mm too wide and out of alignment, cost isn’t always a guarantee of quality. Hats off to Turner for getting this right.
As this review is focused on the frame, I will briefly deal with the parts kit and then move on. The build was an eclectic mix of Fox 34mm forks, Middleburn and Shimano 10-speed drivetrain mated with Chris King/Mavic wheels. Contact points were taken care of by Answer Pro Taper 780mm DH bars and a WTB Rocket V saddle. This is all kit that I have run for some time without any major issues.
Turner bills the Sultan as offering a combination of bump eating, pedalling efficiency, plushness and the ability to inspire talent when the going gets rough. No small claim then!
Not being one to do things by halves, my first ride out was a mini epic in the Lakes covering everything from smooth singletrack and twisty, turny woodland trails, all the way through to wet and loose, slate-strewn rocky descents. At just over 6ft 1in tall, I was caught between the large and extra-large frame sizes, opting for the former.
With an almost unfashionably short effective top tube of 23.6 inches on my chosen size large, I was hesitant about whether I had gone for too small a frame but in practice, I shouldn’t have worried. Coupled with a 90mm stem and 780mm wide bars, my riding position felt like a perfect compromise between maximising traction on steep, seated climbs and adopting the attack position for riding chunk and gnar.
Riding up Walna Scar from the Duddon Valley and having the slightly surreal experience of getting words of encouragement from Steve Coogan who was walking down the hill (“It’s not far now!” he helpfully offered… “You and I both know that you are lying!” came my response), the front end didn’t display any signs of lightness or wanting to wander off course. The larger rear wheel of the 29in design made short work of dealing with rocks slipping out from under tyre and did a fine job of finding traction in the most unlikely of circumstances.
When it came to cashing in my gravity points, the more upright than normal riding position (given my propensity not to slam down my stem) meant that when the going called for slow speed, thrutchy moves, the bike felt perfectly at home and I could try some deliberately harder lines with real confidence. The 140mm-travel fork soaked up the bumps with the rear end proving to be as plush as the publicity blurb would suggest. As a first ride, the frame passed with flying colours.
Since then, I have put the bike through its paces and am struggling to find fault.
On a particularly long and challenging descent in the Cairngorms which I had ridden before, the larger wheels felt like they were giving me an unfair advantage in terms of both stability and smoothness of the ride.
The bike responds well to being thrown about and sudden changes of pace. A trail which before had felt like a bit of a handful to ride felt considerably easier than I remembered it. I didn’t feel anywhere near as battered and bruised as I had the last time. Was it the bike? Most definitely.
Niggles? Only when I got into Euro-hop territory did the longer wheelbase of the wagon wheels become noticeable but not enough to stop me from still having fun. Ideally, I would prefer just a little more mud clearance on the back too. There is still plenty of space with a 2.35in Hans Dampf out back but with the move to wider rims, I would like to see a slightly wider back end.
Finally, the DT Swiss rear axle is beautifully machined but the threading on it resulted in the lever unscrewing from the axle first time out. Nothing that thread lock didn’t fix but it meant that I had to use mole grips to unscrew the axle from the frame.
Bike tests are often subjective things; one man’s wünderbike is another man’s freakshow. However, with the Sultan, I believe that Turner has a real winner on its hands. The build and ride quality are both excellent, with the frame geometry being proof that long and low is not the only show in town for putting a big grin on your face. The cable routing could be a little neater, particularly for the rear mech and the price tag of £1,895 is unquestionably high given that you can get very capable complete bikes for that kind of money. At that price, you expect perfection. Fortunately the Turner comes pretty damn close.
|Price:||£1,895 (frame and Fox CTD shock)|
|Tested:||by CJ for 12 months|