When we receive complete bikes for test that are usually only available as frames, we can tell a lot about how the designer/builder envisages that frame being ridden.
The components and build kit give it away; the usual telling signs are the front tyre, the length of the stem and sometimes the rear mech that has been chosen. The Division has truly divided opinions among some of the staff in the Singletrack office – there are those who aren’t sure on the looks, those who see hardtails as lightweight mile-munching race bikes, and those who usually steer clear of 29in hardtails. I usually fit in that last camp!
So, what pulled me away from that group and made me change my mind? Well, the Eclipse seat tube, and the bike’s build kit. It came with a 130mm MRP Stage (frame designed for 110-130mm fork), 2.3in WTB Vigilante rubber (a favourite of the office), Shimano 1×10 drivetrain with a Zee mech and Blackspire narrow/wide 32T ring, polished off with Shimano SLX brakes with 180mm front and 160mm rear discs. This basic list of components usually means ‘I’m built to be ridden with anger’ mixed in with a little bit of ‘I’m going to be a right laugh’, and the Division didn’t disappoint.
At the heart of the Division is the Eclipse seat tube. It’s this design feature that gives the Division the snappy, playful feel I usually miss with 29in wheels. The seat tube splits in the middle to make room for rear tyre clearance, which is essential due to its 415mm chain stays – pretty short for a big-wheeler. Having such a short back end is what gives the Division its playful feel. It can also result in the rear tyre breaking away, but once you get used to this you can have a right riot, and the Division feels more lively than any other 29in hardtail I have ridden.
Zealous has chosen to use DMR’s Swopout dropout: this is interchangeable so you can fit any type of wheel
There are some limitations caused by the Eclipse seat tube. Zealous recommends not running a rim with an internal width larger than 23mm, and it also recommends running a 2.3in tyre, although some 2.4in tyres will fit. Mud clearance is not an issue, and I do like the ‘Z’ brace between the Eclipse tubes – it reminded me of the iconic Batman symbol. If I shine my light through it I want to see the Z shining in the dark of the night.
Another nice feature is the downtube external cable routing that can house three cables or hoses. You can also insert guides under the downtube – great for externally-routed dropper posts. ISCG 05 chain mounts are neatly tucked away. Up at the front is a 44mm head tube, so you can fit any fork standard or angle-set. To increase the bike’s potential audience, Zealous has chosen to use DMR’s Swopout dropout: this is interchangeable so you can fit any type of wheel, whether that’s 135mm quick release, 142mm bolt-thru or horizontals for singlespeed use.
Out on the trail the Division feels as stiff as an iron bar. You need to ride it with some conviction to get the most out of it. Having such a short rear end and stiff frame does transfer quite a lot of trail buzz. On traversing trails, contouring the hillside and weaving through tight trees, the Division shines. The short back end keeps everything in check and makes the tight snappy turns a hoot, while the large wheels roll over root sections easily, maintaining your momentum.
The precise handling of the Division made navigating or roosting the rock gardens easy
Shorter travel hardtails are sometimes outfaced by the steep rough trails of the Calder Valley; at best they can make a ride difficult, so I headed off to some of our favourites for some testing on rock gardens and steep switchbacks. The precise handling of the Division made navigating or roosting the rock gardens easy, and the longish 111.1cm wheelbase on our medium-sized test bike gave me the confidence to pop off features with speed. In the steeps, I could let the back end go; it does its own thing (which I like), and the front wheel tracks nicely. Personally I would have preferred a slightly more aggressive rear tyre that performed better under braking – the WTB Wolverine had a tendency to lock up quickly due to its small-knobbed, fast-rolling centre line.
The Division loves to pump compressions for more speed and is nice and balanced in the air. As well as being a great all-round trail ripper, I think it would be an ideal trail centre bike and would be encouraging through the groomed berms and jumps.
A 29in hardtail that feels like it has smaller wheels. It can take the rough and tumble of pretty much anything and is playful and fun.
|Price:||£499.00 frame only|
|Tested:||by Richard for three months|