By Tom Hill
Back before Christmas, I happened to be visiting Singletrack Towers on the same day as Bruce Dalton – Kinesis/Upgrade rep, and veryveryveryfast CX racer. He was even more giddy than usual as he had the first PHASE frame in the country tucked in the back of his van. When he revealed it…I was, to be frank, everso slightly underwhelmed. There’s no getting around it, the PHASE as a frame only is a little gawky looking, with that dropped top tube. Looks aside, it promised much though. Going back to their roots (the PHASE was in the Kinesis line-up many years back as one of the original hardcore hardtails), the south-coast team had designed a bike that made no concessions in the pursuit of fun.
Roll on a couple of months and once again I met up with Bruce and fellow rep, Olly Wilkins (veryveryverystylish and good jumpy rider). Giddiness remained a consistent theme, as they’d just finished a quick ride on one of the test bikes they were about to drop off. It’s obviously a rep’s job to talk up their products, but there was a glimmer in their eyes which suggested that there was a little more than good salesmanship at play.
Time, technology, trends have moved on since the original hardcore hardtail boom. Kinesis know their aluminium, and it’s no surprise that the PHASE uses their own Kinesium tubing, and hydroforming cleverness. The PHASE is about as zeitgeist chasing as it is possible to get. This gives us long, low and slack geometry (yay!); room for 27.5+ tyres (hmmm – wait and see); a BOOST rear end (yay for stiffness, boo if you want to use your old wheels) and a BB92 pressfit bottom bracket (of all the pressfit BBs I’ve ridden, BB92 has been the most trouble-free of all); internal routing, including for a dropper (neat and tidy, but a bit of a pain if you regularly swap components); 1x drivetrain specific (yay if you love 1x, a potential deal-breaker if you don’t).
The frame is designed around a 140mm fork if you choose to run regular 27.5in wheels, or a 120mm fork if you go for a plus-sized option. The inch-or so difference in fork length helps keep the bottom bracket height at roughly the same height. For those who like numbers, the large test model provided had a 625mm virtual top tube, 35mm BB drop and a 67º headtube angle.
The PHASE is currently available as a frame only option, but the build that Kinesis chose for us is close to how I’d envisage most people will deck out their own builds. It’s also pretty close to one which they will hopefully be able to offer shortly. A short stem, wide bars and X-Fusion dropper keep the compass very definitely pointed at fun. The 120mm Rock Shox Yari forks offer close to Pike/Lyrik stiffness and close to Pike/Lyric performance at a lower price, and the SRAM GX drivetrain was faultless.
The 50mm wide WTB Scraper rims originally came shod with WTB chubby tyres, but got swapped to a Vee Tires Crown Gem/Bulldozer combo midway through the test period.
It would be easy to write this review as a pros and cons of plus-size wheels, and I will come on to that. First of all though, a good bike is a good bike, regardless of wheel size. And the PHASE is a good bike. The geometry allows for a confidence-inspiring, responsive ride. While it is a bike that is weighted towards fun on the descents, it climbs competently, with that long front end giving room to breathe. On the way back down, as with all bikes I’ve ridden with ‘modern’ geometry, it comes into its own when it is pushed around a little. Exaggerated weight shifts are rewarded with a lively, engaging and fast-feeling ride. The rear triangle is extremely stiff, which translates to a tight, precise feel.
Moving on to the wheels; I have mixed feelings. I didn’t test this bike with ‘normal’ wheels, so this was my first extended experience on chubbies. On the plus side (no pun intended), they offer incredible traction in most conditions. I’ve been able to clean rocky climbs that have spat me off on almost every other bike. In conjunction with the frame, they are confidence inspiring when descending, encouraging late braking and leaning the bike over. Set up tubeless, I ran 16psi or so – any lower and the sidewalls would begin to fold in aggressive cornering and I’d pick up rear wheel dings through rough ground. There’s also no getting around it – wide tyres drag more. They are heavier, and have a larger contact patch with the ground. Getting the bike up to speed and maintaining that speed on pedally trails was harder work than with with a ‘normal’ wheelset. Hitting sloppy muddy sections (and given the time of year, there were a lot of these), the tyres had a tendency to float, rather than slice through, and traction could disappear altogether at the blink of an eye, although the ensuing ‘drift’ is entertainingly easy to bring back into line. The aggressively cleated Vee Tires helped with this significantly, but at the price of greater rolling resistance elsewhere.
Ultimately, in this 27.5+ guise at least, the PHASE probably isn’t as quick over a lot of terrain as a regular 27.5in or 29in wheeled bike could be. So if you are someone who measures their rides purely in miles per hour, then it isn’t the bike for you, but you probably knew that already. If you’d rather measure your rides in grin-factor, then you won’t go far wrong here. This is an excellent trail bike, that just happens to have chubby wheels.
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|Tested:||by Tom Hill for 3 months|