Evolution not Revolution – Identiti Mettle Mk 2 Review

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James Vincent spends a winter in the Lake District on the new Identiti Mettle Mk2.

Introduction

For someone who spends a lot of their time riding bikes in the Lake District, I’ve tended to steer clear of your typical “Lakes Bike”, in favour of something a bit more nimble. Sure, I’ve had a few Orange Fives, a Yeti SB66 (that I really didn’t bond with) and a Kona Process 153, but all that changed a few years back when I went on a press trip and was handed a 140mm Canyon Spectral to ride. I loved that it was playful, agile and that I could flick it about with more accuracy than a bigger bike. Friends commented that I was riding better. I felt I was riding better. That it weighed significantly less than 30lb was a bonus when climbing too, and I was hooked. Life was good. Ok, so it might have a tendency to get overwhelmed on longer, rougher descents, but that didn’t bother me as the rest of the time it was perfect. 

At the other end of the spectrum I’ve also tested a few longer travel enduro bikes, and while they were amazing flat out speed machines on the descents, most of them left me cold and uninspired when I didn’t want to travel at warp speed for fear of wrapping myself around a tree or burying my face into a rock garden.

All of which has led me to wonder – what if there was some way to make a longer travel bike that could cope with super rough descents, yet remain playful enough to flick around and have fun on, pedalled well and didn’t wallow or cause me to suffer too much when climbing.

Enter stage left, the latest incarnation of the Mettle, a 160mm travel monster (with 170mm forks), from those purveyors of all things playful, Identiti.

Marginal Gains

The first iteration of the Identiti Mettle was released back in 2017, developed with input from the late, great Michael Bonney. The venerable Barney Marsh of this parish swung his not inconsiderable legs over it, and you can read what he thought of it here.

In this second iteration, the frame is still crafted from hydroformed aluminium, with Identiti seeing no need to offer an increasingly common carbon fibre option. A quick glance over Barney’s comments on the original Mettle, and it’s obvious that Identiti has been listening. Rotors are up to 200mm front and rear, the stem is shorter, the bars are wider, and the geometry has had a subtle update, while the nondescript grey and lairy purple colour options are gone, replaced with a fetching navy blue and a polarising rust colour.

In this world of bikes getting ever longer, lower, and slacker, where does one go when one was already pretty damn long, low and slack? Marginally longer, and a little bit slacker is the answer. The head angle drops half a degree bringing it to 64.5°, while the seat tube comes in a full degree steeper at 76° in order to maintain seated pedalling efficiency while increasing the standing stability. It works too – I never felt overly stretched out while climbing in spite of the humongous 500mm reach and ridiculous 1287mm wheelbase on the size large I was testing. If those numbers are a bit too, erm… large, then fear not – the Identiti Mettle is also available in Small and Medium sizes that run consistently long in comparison to other brands’ sizing, so size down if you prefer something a little more conventional. 

Other details on the frame stay largely unchanged in this revised version – there’s the same bolt through rear end, the same token water bottle bosses on the underside of the downtube and the same external cable routing making for easy maintenance. Identiti really did get a heck of a lot of things right the first time on this frame and this new version is definitely more a subtle refining of a tried and tested recipe than a completely new flavour.

Components

The tried and tested theme is carried over into the components. As expected, there are plenty of parts from Ison distributed brands – Gusset provide the contact points (bars, stem, grips and saddle) while a unique Halo x Identiti colab on the wheels neatly circumvents Shimano’s restrictions on aftermarket Micro Spline freehub providers and allows for a full XT drivetrain. As most brands are now able to offer a Micro Spline freehub (after Shimano lifted the restrictions), the cachet of the colab has dissipated somewhat, but it highlights the flexibility of Identiti and their ability to work closely with suppliers.

Identiti Mettle MK2
Halo x Identiti colab on the wheels = Shimano Micro Spline freehub.

This RC build gets a full Shimano 12 speed XT groupset, and included in the party are the new XT four pot brakes (with aforementioned 200mm rotors front & rear). On the whole the package is a great reminder of how good the original Big S can be – shifting has been precise and snappy, and has stood up to the Lake District much better than anything I’ve ridden from Sram.

Identiti Mettle MK2
The XT rear mech kept shifting perfectly throughout the test, but the clutch needs looking after

It’s not all been plain sailing with the new groupset though. Firstly, the clutch on the rear mech seized up in the depths of winter and stopped clutching. Annoying yes, but a quick strip down and clean up fixed the problem. The second issue is that during lengthy runs on steeper off-piste tracks, the front brake has started squealing like a banshee and losing power. The noise, while embarrassing, is not especially dangerous. On the other hand, losing power is not good and I’m sourcing some new pads to see if it’s a simple fix. I’ve spoken to other testers who’ve been running the same brakes though, and no one else has had this issue so fingers crossed it’s just contaminated pads.

4 pot XT brakes attempt to slow the bike down

Onto the suspension, and a RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate supports the back end, and after setting sag just got on with the job in hand, no questions asked. Setting up the MRP Raven 170mm fork was a little bit more involved, thanks to the individually adjustable positive and negative air springs, but that’s offset by the additional tuning on tap. If you usually ride bike parks with smooth trails and big jumps? Just decrease the negative pressure and set the fork up for big hits. Conversely, if your riding takes place on rough trails where you need to smooth out the small bump chatter, just increase the negative pressure to taste. A handy tuning card is included so just take your time and all will be well. 

While the Schwalbe Magic Mary fitted up front is a phenomenally good tyre in everything but the deepest slop, I’ve never got on very well with the Schwalbe Hans Dampf at the rear, either fitted to this bike or others. It’s a vast improvement on the Nobby Nic of the original Mettle, but its profile is too rounded and the side knobs don’t dig in enough for my liking, making off camber trails an all too sketchy lottery. Away from mud and roots, the Snake Skin casing just isn’t up to the job of dealing with Lake District rocks, and I managed to put a couple of holes in the tyre before I popped a couple of Cush Core inserts in. If (like me) your line choice leaves a lot to be desired and you’d benefit from a heavier duty casing, just ask for it when you order the bike. The other problem afflicting the Hans Dampf, is the usual Schwalbe issue of the shoulder knobs not liking being attached to the rest of the tyre and tearing off, leaving the weave of the carcass exposed. Humpf. 

My other main niggle with the components is the KS Rage-i dropper post. Firstly, the plastic lever is quite flexible, and not in a good way. Aside from feeling a bit cheap, it means that a lot of the initial energy to activate the post gets sucked up by the lever. Onto the post itself, and at only 150mm long I found myself having to manually lower it in the frame to really get it out of the way for super steep descents. I mentioned this to Identiti though, and they’ve since confirmed that they’ll be offering a longer dropper as an option going forward. Huzzah!

Flexible plastic dropper post lever lets down the cockpit

The ride

Contrary to the commonly held misconception that us bike testers have the luxury of a vast fleet of bikes to choose from at any one moment, for various reasons, the Identiti Mettle has been the only bike available to me for the past few months. If I’ve wanted to ride a bike off road, this has been it, whether that’s a local XC loop, a photoshoot laden with heavy camera pack, a big mountain epic or a filthy razz in the woods. Through all of this, the Identiti Mettle has been simply brilliant and I’ve not once wanted for anything more or less. Sure, it’s never going to win a XC race, but then again neither are my legs. It’s not the lightest of bikes – with the extra protection of CushCore in each wheel, it hits the scales somewhere north of 32lb, but like the very best bikes, it rides a lot lighter than it actually is.

Identiti Mettle MK2
The Mettle is equally at home on steep off piste loamy trails…
Identiti Mettle MK2
as it is on natural rocky tech…

It refuses to get bogged down in its travel either up or down, and remains playful and agile at all times. It’s equally happy picking its way down slow speed tech, as it is slapping muddy rutted turns at speed. If you’re feeling good and want to throw some shapes on the bike? Go for it. Feeling a bit lazy and just want to point and shoot through the rough stuff while hanging on for grim death? Why not! 

Identiti Mettle MK2
…or even railing smooth trail centre berms

Regardless of your chosen approach, the Identiti Mettle handles it all with aplomb, and thanks to its 160mm travel will get you out of all sorts of trouble you might get yourself into. And unlike other long travel bikes that only seem to come alive when travelling at warp speed, the Mettle is still just as enjoyable at slower speeds. Don’t get me wrong, it loves to go fast, but it’s far from a one trick pony. 

Three things that could be improved

  1. The dropper post. The plastic lever is vague and flexes in use, and only having a 150mm drop on the size large is a pain. Fortunately, this is no longer an issue and a longer post is now an option.
  2. The Schwalbe Hans Dampf out back. A jack of all trades, master of none as far as I’m concerned – there’s limited off-camber grip, not much climbing traction and a thin casing for the intended purpose of the bike. Plus, after four months hard use, the knobs are starting to tear off and so it’s time for a new one. 
  3. The paintwork is a bit fragile, and on the exposed chain stays and downtube it’s looking more than a bit tatty. If you buy one, Invisiframe it before doing anything else and fit a chainstay protector, which will also help quieten things down a bit.

Three things we loved 

  1. The geometry. Long, slack and confidence inspiring when standing, perfectly neutral and great for pedalling when seated.
  2. The suspension. A fantastic ability to absorb all the rough stuff one moment, then pop off jumps and features the next. I’m having my cake AND eating it.
  3. The little touches that make this a great bike for year round use in the UK. External cable routing, the trunion rear brake mounts, that the bearings are all the same size and can be changed with the same size Allen key – the list goes on.

Overall

Identiti Mettle MK2
What a view to wake up to!

At first glance, you might be fooled into thinking this review is a bit odd. In spite of quite a few significant componentry niggles (brakes, rear mech, dropper post, rear tyre), and the paintwork being a bit flakey, I can’t get enough of the bike. I’ve ridden bikes that have had a perfect mix of components that have never gone wrong, but I’ve enjoyed my time on the Identiti Mettle more. The geometry and suspension are so supremely well sorted, and that’s something you can’t easily fix. In the time I’ve been testing this bike, it’s handled everything I can throw at it. It ripped up BikePark Wales one day and smashed out trail centre laps the next. It’s the bike I turn to to keep me company on Lake District hike-a-bike epics, and the bike I choose to manhandle down steep and muddy off-piste tracks (and consequently save my ass when I run out of talent). I’ve even spent a frozen night under the stars with it bike packing. At its heart it’s a mountain bike, and it makes me want to get out and ride.

Review Info

Brand: Identiti
Product: Mettle
From: Ison
Price: £3999
Tested: by James Vincent for 5 months

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Having ridden bikes for as long as he can remember, James takes a certain twisted pleasure in carrying his bike to the most inaccessible locations he can find, before attempting to ride back down again, preferably with both feet on the pedals. After seeing the light on a recent road trip to Austria, James walked away from the stresses of running a design agency, picked up a camera and is several years deep into a mid life crisis that shows no sign of abating. As a photographer, he enjoys nothing more than climbing trees and asking others to follow his sketchy lines while expecting them to make it look as natural and stylish as possible. He has come to realise this is infinitely more fun than being tied to a desk, and is in no hurry to go back.

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