Identiti Bikes recently unveiled its first ever long travel all mountain bike called the Mettle. You can check out our detailed first look article on the Mettle here, as well as a video feature with Identiti’s Pat Campbell-Jenner. After we filmed that video, we put the Mettle test bike into the hands of our most eloquent reviewer and former Tech Editor; Mr Barney Marsh.
Ison Distribution’s Identiti brand has a long lineage in the bikes-and-bits-for-bikes stakes, but heretofore it has mostly stuck to dirt jump and slopestyle gear. Officially released earlier this year, the Mettle is the brand’s first foray into what many would describe as more ‘regular’ fare, and it’s an attempt with some considerable style.
The bike was conceived and developed by Pat Campbell-Jenner and industry legend (I don’t think that’s over-egging the pudding) Michael Bonney. And what a rowdy beast it aims to be.
Our test machine comes in a rather nondescript battleship grey colour, but don’t let that fool you – there’s plenty to pique the interest within. The frame is made of hydroformed aluminium tubing – none of your carbon-fibre here, thankyouverymuch. The Boosted back end yields 160mm of your finest travel thanks to a true four-bar suspension platform (what used to be called a Horst Link, back in the day), which is attached to the front triangle via a plethora of bearings which can all be tightened with a 5mm allen key, to keep things simple. The shock is a metric RockShox Deluxe RT3 – 230mm long with a 60mm stroke – which purports to be longer-lived thanks to increased bearing overlap, and apparently offers better performance when ridden hard. According to the website the design has 15% progression at the end of the stroke for “extra support to complement the metric shock characteristics”, and Identiti has such faith in its suspension that it claims its riders don’t bother flicking the lockout on climbs at all, and instead leave it open. We’ll see.
Well, this all looks promising; what of the geometry?
First up, this bike is long, In A Modern Style™. We’re testing a Large model, but the numbers are Bang On Trend (as the vernacular goes). Reach on our test bike is 485mm, which puts it firmly in the miniscule pantheon of bikes which are longer than Kona’s Process, but shorter than Mondraker’s Foxy. There are three sizes on offer – Small, Medium and Large; Identiti claims that if you normally ride a Large, you’d need to ride one of their Mediums – they’re that long. In terms of conventional geometry choices, this is borne out. Our Large’s reach, coupled with its 647mm top tube, puts it neatly in the old ‘XL’ bracket. Or it would, if it weren’t for the seat-tube, which is dropped to 470mm, so you can run a nice long dropper and, in case of accidents, you can keep the top tube away from whatever private unmentionables you may be sporting.
The head angle is also on target – 65° should serve to lend a degree of assurance to the steep and pointy down bits, and a 75° seat angle will keep your weight further over the front end when you have to winch back up again. Chainstay length is a relatively short 435mm to keep the back end tucked in nicely, and the frame design even finds room for a couple of water bottle bosses. These aren’t ideally placed, being as they are on the outside of the downtube, in the firing line from any clart from the front wheel, but at least they’re there.
Other nice touches include the barrel nuts on the rear brake tabs – which increase strength, and prevent you from accidentally ripping the threads out of the frame with a bit of over-caffeinated wrenching. There’s a Syntace x12 rear axle which is removed with an allen key rather than a QR, and the sacrificial mech hanger is supposedly designed so that it breaks away at the fixing bolt before the mech or the frame does (thankfully I didn’t get a chance to test this out). Apart from the seatpost dropper routing, all cables are external, which is actually a good thing, especially for a bike like this. Sure, it maybe doesn’t look as svelte, but have you ever tried re-routing a brand new rear brake cable on race day? Exactly. External for the win.
The kit on our machine is the lowest of the three tiers on offer, but it’s still very much built to burl. Halo Vapour 35 wheels (35mm external, 30mm internal) are the same across the spec range, as are the folding Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.3in tyre (rear) and Magic Mary (front). Good choices – the Magic Mary in particular is a favourite of mine for its grip and cornering, although the tradeoff can be knobble wear. It’s a trade-off worth making, in my opinion.
At the front, the wheel is bolted onto Rochshox’s Yari, which is essentially a budget Lyrik, using the older Motion Control damper instead of the newer Charger. It’s a good system, though – perhaps not quite as supple when you get deep into the stroke, but stiffness and overall performance are right up there. The fork is attached, via a Gusset S2 headset, to a very burly looking 50mm Gusset Magnum stem and Gusset Slade bars in a 760mm width. Further back, a KS Lev 150mm seatpost (with a southpaw lever) holds a fabric Gusset R-series BlackJack saddle aloft.
From a drivetrain point of view, we’re treated to SRAM’s GX Eagle drivetrain, with a whopping 10-50 tooth range, the spinny nature of this last offset somewhat by the large 34 tooth chainring mounted to the SRAM Descendant chainset. Stopping is also handled by SRAM – in this case Level TL brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear.
The whole shebang weighs in at a smidge over 32lbs, which is pretty much bang on the money these days. You’d be able to save a couple of pounds and get it below 30lbs with some intelligent upgrading if you were desperate, but bikes like this aren’t really supposed to be about weight-weenieism.
But such considerations as weight are happily pushed to the back of the mind once you actually start riding. Our test bike initially came with both rear shock spacers removed, which lent a nicely old-school bottomless feel to the suspension, but it also felt pretty (apologies for the cliché here) wallowy, even with appropriate sag dialled in. It felt very capable, and was a scream on the descents (just lean back and let the suspension crush everything in its path) but it didn’t have quite the feel of the do-everything machine I was after. Once I put the (supplied) couple of spacers back in though, everything worked much better. The bike sat up a little more into its travel, although this still didn’t feel overly twitchy – 65° head angles will do that– but it did feel much more capable when it came to pedalling uphill.
That’s not to say that the Mettle is lightning fast when it comes to climbing, but the suspension did manage to take more of an unobtrusive back seat. And yes, on occasion I did deliberately keep the shock fully open (OK, OK, sometimes I forgot, too) and was pleasantly surprised. For long draggy climbs the only time I noticed was when I shifted my weight. Riding technical stuff uphill, I was rewarded with plenty of traction, and there’s a commendably large sweet spot when it comes to weight distribution, thanks to that long front end. The Eagle GX gearing was awesome – even with a relatively large 34T chainring I rarely felt over-geared, and if twiddling is your thing there’s scads of it on offer – twiddle away. I can’t say I was a big fan of the saddle when climbing though – the all fabric seat cling to my shorts somewhat, especially when wet, and for longer grinds in the saddle it was hard to get comfy.
I think it’s fair to say that the Mettle requires a fair amount of body English to get the most out of tamer trails – those geometry figures mean that a decisive and direct riding style works best to elicit the most out of the bike, helped by pretty good pedalling characteristics under power. But just sitting back and enjoying the ride is not really in the Mettle’s purview; it likes to hurtle. The lengthy wheelbase can mean that hustling it around tighter trails requires a different approach to shorter bikes, but once you’ve got the knack it’s a cinch.
There are some who would perhaps like to run a shorter stem and wider bars (I’d certainly echo the wider bars sentiment) but for a tall person I felt the stem was OK. If you’re shorter though, there’d be much to recommend getting the stem length down further – and the reach and toptube numbers positively encourage such experimentation. Descending too, a shorter stem would place your weight a tad further back, but as ever with such things it’s a matter of opinion and rider style.
As you’ve probably guessed, though, it’s in the steeper trails that the Mettle really shines. Drop the saddle, (nice trigger, well-behaved post) hit some bigger stuff and you’ll soon find that there’s bags of travel, it never feels too harsh or toppy – presumably thanks to that 15% ramp, even with the cheapest shock in the spec. list, and the back end never feels anything other than nice and stiff. It’s all complemented by the long reach and that slack head angle which serve to make the bike feel more assured at greater speeds than perhaps are sensible. The Yari, as mentioned, is a good, stout fork, perhaps without quite the finesse of the Pike or the Lyrik when driven hard, but for the most part you’d struggle to tell the difference.
The tyres worked well, as expected, in the Yorkshire glop we seem to be blessed with an over-abundance of at the moment, and it’s to Identiti’s credit that it has kept the wheels and tyres the same across the range. No, they’re not the lightest, but they’re plenty strong, and that’s the point. Stopping was managed perfectly well by the SRAM brakes, although (and if you’ve read my reviews before this is a common bugbear) I’d like to see 200mm rotors up front – they come in handy if you’re larger, or you like to go fast, or even both. But, as with the wider bars preference I mentioned above, it’s a minor niggle.
Three Things That Could Be Improved
- It’s probably an impossibility from a demand point of view, but an XL bike would be great. The three sizes available (S,M,L) as they stand are long enough that you can get them to fit if you’re somewhat taller than average, but these bikes are designed to be ridden long. If you’re sufficiently tall, then the fit is just ‘fine’. It’d be great to have one that was as properly long for the lankies as the existing ones are for average height riders.
- Wider bars please, and possibly a shorter stem. I notice that the more expensive spec- ranges already come with a 40mm stem; it’d be nice to have this on the lower spec model too. I wasn’t keen on the saddle either.
- The grey colour is a bit nondescript. Although if you really want to break out the razzle-dazzle there’s a very snazzy purple one too.
Three Things We loved
- That’s a great suspension design, right there. Good at the pedally things, not terrible at the going up things and awesome at the going down things. Boffo. Good one.
- Nice little touches – I especially liked the barrel nuts to hold the rear brake on. (You mean the trunnion mounts then – Ed)
- Identiti has taken a long hard look at where money can be saved for the GX Eagle model, and has produced a bike that doesn’t scrimp. It’s burly as hell.
Identiti has produced a bike that does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a strong, properly designed, take-no-prisoners enduro bike, with a well thought out geometry and an excellent suspension system. It’s fine on the ups, ace on the alongs and a total hoot on the downs. Our test bike might boast a subtle and understated colour scheme, but the Mettle shouts loudest when it’s ridden hard.
Identiti Mettle GX Eagle Specifications
- Frame // 6000-Series Hydroformed Alloy Tubing 160mm Travel
- Fork // Rockshox Yari RC 160mm Travel
- Shock // RockShox Deluxe RT3
- Hubs // Halo Vapor 35, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Halo Vapor 35, 32h, Tubeless Compatible
- Tyres // Schwalbe Magic Mary Snakeskin 2.35in Front & Nobby Nic Snakeskin 2.3in Rear
- Chainguide // MRP 1x V3
- Chainset // SRAM Descendent Alloy 34t X-Sync
- Rear Mech // SRAM GX Eagle 12-Speed
- Shifters // SRAM GX Eagle 12-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM GX Eagle 12-Speed, 10-50t
- Brakes // SRAM Level TL 180mm Front & Rear
- Stem // Gusset Magnum 31.8mm, 50mm Long
- Bars // Gusset Slade Alloy 760mm Wide, 19mm Rise
- Grips // Gusset File Lock-On
- Seatpost // KS LEV Integra, 150mm Travel
- Saddle // Gusset R-Series
- Size Tested // Large
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large
- Actual weight // 14.59 kg (32.1 lbs)
|Product:||Mettle GX Eagle|
|From:||Ison Distribution, www.identitibikes.com|
|Price:||£3599 as tested|
|Tested:||by Barney Marsh for 3 months|