Our very own Bruce Willis lookalike, Andi Sykes, tested out three titanium hardtails from Kingdom, Nordest and Sonder for Issue 122 of Singletrack Magazine. Here is his review of the Sonder Signal Ti.
As I’m sure you all know, but Sonder is the bike branch of outdoor brand Alpkit. Sonder’s range of bikes includes alloy hardtails, full-suspension bikes and titanium gravel bikes, and now it also includes a titanium hardtail mountain bike.
The Sonder Signal Ti is the latest bike to arrive in the Sonder range. It’s a new from the ground up 29er designed to be an all-round true mountain bike that it will handle the ups and well as the downs, the jumps and well as the drops, and everything in-between. Want to tackle an all-day cross-country ride, and take on an enduro track on the same bike? How about a day at the pump track, BMX track or the local trail centre? The Signal Ti is designed to do it all.
To offer such a versatile ride, Sonder realised from the start that it wanted a low-slung, lightweight and modern frame, and it also wanted the bike to run on 29er wheels with big chunky rubber to absorb the worst the trail has to throw at you.
The light and low-slung aspects of the brief are handled by a custom-made titanium frame, hand welded from aerospace grade 3Al/2.5V tubing for that Ti hardtail zip, zing and ping we all hear so much about. At this point, it would have been pretty simple for Sonder to also adapt the geometry to switch between 29in and 27.5in plus wheels but it resisted that temptation to concentrate on 29er wheels.
Focusing on just one wheel size has allowed Sonder to be quite clever with the rear end of the Signal Ti, or more specifically the chainstay length. For the past few years we’ve watched the long, low, slack trend take off, and while Sonder has given the Signal Ti a generous reach, it’s interesting to see that it has also given a different chainstay length to different sized frames.
Our test bike, a large, comes with a 430mm chainstay length; if you opted for a small or medium frame the rear end would measure in at 425mm, while giants and their XL frames get to enjoy 435mm chainstays. The idea behind this is that different sized riders shouldn’t just be offered longer reach, but also longer back ends. For example, a shorter rider on a shorter bike but with chainstays the same length as an XL frame is going to have a hard time lifting the front wheel. On the other hand, a tall rider with a longer reach but the same length rear is going to find the front wheel too easy to lift. Sonder isn’t the only brand doing this, but it is one of the few and we expect more brands to follow suit.
Moving on to reach, the industry and many riders would have us believe that longer is better but this isn’t always the case. Bikes can sometimes be too long, and then again not all riders want that super-stretched out position a super-modern bike offers. The Signal Ti’s geometry does a good job of balancing these concerns, with our large frame offering a reach of 457.5mm. Not next generation long and not too short – dare I say the Goldilocks figure? Well for me at 178cm, yes, but not necessarily for you. Try before you buy kids!
Generous reach is good news, but before you head off, trumpets held high declaring a winner, we should also look at the seat tube length, and more importantly the slight kink in said tube. At 465mm the seat tube length is a tad longer than I would have liked to see, but my issue here is that fact that the short back end means that the tube is kinked slightly for wheel clearance and this limits dropper post adjustment. With the 150mm travel RockShox Reverb at its lowest position in the frame and raised I find the saddle height slightly too high. This isn’t a major issue, of course, it’s a dropper after all and I can move the saddle height anywhere I like, but it might limit the ability to size up for riders who want to go longer in the reach department. Perhaps a size M/L is the answer? The reach of the large, but the seatpost height of the medium bike? Perhaps I’m being too greedy?
While a tiny bit tall at the back, the Signal Ti has been designed to offer a pretty low overall height. All models have a 66° head angle and our large frame has a headtube length of 115mm and uses a mix of IS42 and IS52 internal cups to ensure a low stack of 615mm – but keep in mind this is with a 130mm travel fork, the shortest travel of our trio.
And with that segue, let’s talk about the Cane Creek Helm fork plugged into the front end. At the time of writing, this is a brand new option for Sonder, so new that its website doesn’t have a photo showing it because we have the only one. In this case, the Cane Creek Helm is a 130mm travel model using air as the spring medium. Like the other bikes on test, the Signal Ti’s Helm boasts an assortment of adjustments from air pressure to compression and rebound, and there are air spring volume adjusters to play with.
As with the Kingdom, the air fork on the Sonder was extremely easy to set up, and we found it to be less fussy than other air forks on the market, in that a slightly imperfect set-up won’t necessarily spoil a ride. This is one very versatile fork and one which even suspension newbs can feel confident adjusting and tuning.
The Cane Creek fork is matched to a Cane Creek headset while steering, gripping, seating and wheeling all come courtesy of Sonder’s own-brand Love Mud in-house component range. If you don’t fancy the Helm, the Signal Ti can be built up using a RockShox Pike instead. Other options include either an SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain or XX1 – our bike has the former which saves a few pennies and still offers that same massive, hill-cresting gear range.
The final piece of the puzzle is the WTB 29 x 2.6 tyres. Now, I see a lot of love for WTB tyres, and I’ll go on record to say that I don’t agree with a lot of it; however, the 2.6 Vigilantes on the Signal Ti are quite good in loose dirt and dry conditions.
So now the fun part, the ride, but before I get on to the dirt-taming, rock-skipping qualities of this titanium hardtail, let’s talk about its car park prowess.
Holy cow can this thing wheelie! Big deal, you might retort, but even though I’m generally not a good wheelier, I’m not half bad on the Sonder Signal Ti. Oh, so you don’t care about wheelies? How about your bunnyhop game? The Signal Ti is one lively little bugger and that car park playfulness translates exquisitely well once wheels hit the dirt.
If you’re someone who traditionally rides a full-suspension bike and is wondering about picking up a hardtail, then the Sonder is certainly one to look at. It’s not as comfortable in the rough, but it inspires confidence to take full-sus lines and comes back panting for more.
You know that rock garden that you’ll happily hop into on your full bounce bike? Well, the Sonder will do it too, only you’ll probably lift the front end higher, get airborne further and completely clear the whole lot – thank goodness it comes with SRAM Guide R four-pots to slow you down.
OK, so perhaps you’re not the type to clear rock gardens in a single bound – not to worry. Remember to keep loose, keep your speed and simply skip over the top of each nasty spiky trail obstacle. Those big 29er wheels just keep rolling while the large volume WTBs do a pretty good job of keeping things quite comfortable.
Don’t worry about how you might get to all that descent fun, the Sonder Signal Ti despatches rolling trails and steep climbs pretty well too. Obviously it’s not going to tackle rough climbs as well as a full suspension bike and you’ll have to get out of the saddle more often than you might be used to, but you’ll get up and you’ll have a right good old time on the way down.
Sonder Signal Ti Specification
Price // £2699.00 (as tested)
Frame // Sonder Signal Ti
Fork // Cane Creek Helm Air, 130mm travel
Hubs // Alpkit Love Mud
Rims // Alpkit Love Mud
Tyres // WTB Vigilantes 29 x 2.6 front and rear
Chainset // SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
Rear Mech // SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
Shifters // SRAM GX Eagle 1×12
Brakes // SRAM Guide R
Stem // Love Mud Piskie Stem 35mm
Bars // Love Mud Aspect Riser, 780 mm
Grips // Love Mud Grabby
Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth, 150mm, 31.6mm
Saddle // Love Mud Abode
Size Tested // L
Sizes Available // S, M, L, XL
Weight // 29.15lbs/13.58kg
|Price:||£2699.00 (as tested)|
|Tested:||by Andi for|
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“our large frame offering a reach of 457.5mm. Not next generation long and not too short – dare I say the Goldilocks figure? Well for me at 178cm, yes”
Is this not just an elaborate way of saying it’s too short, since you had to size up to a large to get the size you wanted? Which also would contribute to the seatpost issue… At our height, we’re basically industry standard mediums, in this day and age we shouldn’t still be having to go up a size.
With Andy on this one. Buy what you think works for you. Have the medium and it’s refreshing change from my longer reach Starling. They both awesome rides with different feels. I actually chose it because of the shorter reach.
The Signal is a banger of a bike. Perfect for all day riding and messing about. The ride feel is sublime and you can really chuck it about.
The Starling gets wheeled out for max speed Gnar and lazy line choice days!
Just in case the third pic showing a mud shelf on the bottom bracket worries you. Don’t worry, I got a frame a few months back and they have tidied this up on the production run. Small smooth extra bit of titanium there, but no shelf.
Well I’ve got the size large and I’m 5’10 with 33 inch legs. The seat tube length is perfect for me. The reach is also spot on! I didn’t want a Super long bike which is like a barge on all but the fastest downhills. I’m not a fan of long travel hardtail a either as I prefer the poppy feel of a short travel bike. I can tell you this is an amazing bike.
One negative is the cable routing under the BB. I’ve managed to damage a cable from a rock strike. I’m looking for a way to protect this area somehow. Any ideas? Cheers
Check out one of the later videos from GMBN Tech. I think he uses some flexible tubing with an inner diameter the same as the outer diamiter of the cable for that. Sorry, I’m too lazy to look for a link right now.
jonundercover, i’m about your size maybe a 34 on legs, what length stem are you using? I’m riding a Kona Big Honzo size large w/ a 40 mm stem and the signal is slightly shorter on the reach so i am a bit concerned. also in in the usa so i have no way of demoing one:(
I bought the NX build Jan 2020 and the Sonder guys put an X Fusion dropper in for me. I collected it from the Keswick Alpkit store and it’s maiden voyage was the Borrowdale Bash. Really impressed with this bike, I like the simplicity of a hard tail and and the ride quality was / is superb. Its well suited to my local trails in Nidderdale, Swaledale & N Y Moors, Its pretty versatile too, i’ll take it bikepacking this summer.