Unsprung Heroes – 3 Fully Rigid Bikes Tested & Reviewed

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Chipps rides three fully rigid bikes from Kona, Pinnacle and Surly.

Words Chipps
Photography James Vincent

I always like to wear a watch. I’m lost without one and don’t like to rely on my phone for the time as I like that to be out of the way in the back of my pack where it can’t disturb me on a ride. I quite often wear chunky watches that can weigh a bit.

Knowing that I was going to be riding a trio of fully rigid bikes for this issue’s bike test, I didn’t want my watch to be drilling holes in my wrist, so I took it off before I hopped on the first bike.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test
Adventure time.

And the thing is, I didn’t miss it once. I didn’t find myself looking at where it would have been, wondering what the time was and if it was time to be heading back. I just rode. And I rode some more and, after stopping for a few hilltop views and gazing out across the reservoirs, I turned round and headed home again. Still without needing to know what the time was.

My world had expanded (or shrunk, depending on your view), to encompass the world around the bike I was riding and time had become larger in scale – measured by sunsets and mealtimes rather than lunch hours and stolen before or after work hours.

Of course any old school mountain biker can hark back to the days of fully rigid bikes, but that was because that’s all there was then. Then came front and rear suspension to ease the trail and to ride a rigid bike in the last decade has become a deliberate opt-out decision. Whatever reason you do it for, though, whether that be ease of maintenance, mud-proofing, budget or long-distance reliability, it’s a decision that opens up a whole other world. One that you may have forgotten about, or one that’s new to you. It’s a world where time ticks to a different clock.

Kona Unit X

The Kona Unit X is like the Unit we all know and love, just with more gears and loads more versatility.

“The Unit X is a fantastic looking bike with a great pedigree and that iconic Kona look and feel. However, a perfect storm of nearly every component being slightly on the chubby side has robbed the bike of the playful feel that it so obviously has the potential to have. It would be nice to have the bike a couple of kilos lighter, or a couple hundred pounds cheaper, or perhaps it really is the sole domain of the bearded trawlerman-adventurer.”

Read the full review here.

Pinnacle Ramin 3 Plus

It may be the cheapest bike on test, but don’t let the Pinnacle Ramin’s aggressive price fool you.

“The Ramin 3 Plus is a hugely versatile machine. While it’s never going to be a speed racer, it will carry you to work, it’ll keep you spinning through the winter, it’ll be a short, fun summer blast bike, or it’ll be an introduction to bikepacking. Or all of that and more. There’s not been as blank a canvas of a bike here for a long time. It’s the cheapest and lightest on test and if you like the look of it, you probably shouldn’t hang around before buying one.”

Read the full review here.

Surly ECR

More bosses than a game of Super Mario.

“Looking at the ECR from the side, it looks both too big, and yet a little too short. Perhaps my saddle’s not high enough? You wonder. Nope, it’s spot on, it just looks a little odd with the huge wheels and the ‘washing airer’ 735mm Surly Moloko handlebars.

The ECR is the kind of bike that is as likely to find you, as you are to seek it out. We found good riders who immediately hated it, and riders who wanted to hate it who ended up loving it. It really does convey a more globetrotting mindset in the rider, a ‘what’s over that hill’ feeling of wonder. While many don’t have the time or the patience for that kind of riding, for those in less of a hurry, who are in for the long haul – whether that’s a long ride to a distant tea shop, or loaded up and lost on some far moorland – your enthusiasm will be rewarded with a strong, stable, reliable bike that will bring out the adventurer in you.”

Read the full review here.

The Verdict

This is obviously a little different to recent bike tests in content. There are no shock rates to peruse, no swing links or Bottomless Tokens and very little getting airtime over some sweet jumps. Nevertheless, our three bikes all showed a different character, despite being featureless, unsuspended and simple pushbikes.

It’s mountain biking, innit?

Starting with the Kona Unit X, the model, and the brand carries with it a load of heritage and affection and the Unit X is a great bike to have in the range. It seems slightly hampered by a chunky spec, for a price that puts it a little out of Cycle To Work or late-night impulse purchase price. Nevertheless, it’s a bike that has a great heart and is that close to being a great all-round machine. If it were £200 cheaper or perhaps £200 better specced, then it could be a stunning machine instead of merely great.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test kona unit x
The Kona Unit X is a great all-rounder.

The Pinnacle was a surprise for such a modest bike. With its eccentric bottom bracket allowing both single-speeding and a tunable BB height for different wheels or riding styles it opens up a world of possibilities. As it is, with its decent all-round spec, it’d make a no-brainer winter bike for the price of a pair of wheels for your suspension bike, with the potential to upgrade it up the ying-yang once bits eventually wear out and need replacing.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test pinnacle ramin 3
We were pleasantly surprised by the Pinnacle.

The mighty beige Surly ECR is a different bike, in that it’s not the bike that has potential, it’s more what it can do for the rider. With a calm and steady ride, it’s still a capable singletrack performer, whether loaded up or not. If you’re looking at an ECR, you almost need to buy a plane or ferry ticket at the same time as the bike, because you’ll be buying maps before you know it. While it’s a ton of cash for a bike without even a suspension seatpost, it’s a bike that has the potential to bring about a lot of change in the rider. Careful with this one, you don’t know where you might end up with it.

unsprung heroes rigid bike test surly ecr
The Surly ECR is the kind of bike that’ll have you itching to buy a plane or ferry ticket.

This feature was published in Issue #117 of Singletrack Magazine as part of our ‘Unsprung Heroes’ group test. Keen to read more? You can check out all of the stories and features from Issue #117 of Singletrack Magazine right here.


Singletrack Editor

Chipps wasn’t around for the dawn of mountain biking in the UK, but he likes to claim that he arrived in time for second breakfast (about the time he shows up for work, then…) starting in the bike trade in 1990 and becoming a full time mountain bike journalist at the start of 1994. Over the subsequent quarter century, he has seen mountain bike culture flourish and diversify and bike technology go from rigid steel frames to fully suspended carbon fibre (and sometimes back to rigid steel as well.)

His riding style is best described as ‘medium, wheels on the ground, trail riding’ though he’s been spotted doing everything from endurance downhill racing to 24 hour cross country racing. He favours mid-travel trail bikes and claims to be wheel-size, gear, brake and tyre agnostic. In fact, his garage spans most bicycle flavours, taking in steel hardtails, carbon trail bikes, even a mountain bike tandem, along with road, touring and gravel/cyclocross bikes.

While he’s happy to chat about bikes all day, his real interest is in the people and places that bikes can introduce you to and he talks as fondly about the trails he’s ridden and riders he’s met as the bikes that took him there.

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