I had mixed feelings coming to this Stanton Switchback Gen 3. Firstly, I’ve often slavered a little at Stanton frames friends have had, as they always look immaculate. When they do come into Singletrack, they also tend to swoosh straight through the office and right by me to someone else’s (also) grabby hands.
Secondly, the geometry on this looked a tiny bit conservative compared to what else I’ve been riding lately, both in terms of bikes and trails which, frankly, had all been a bit cartoony. Would the Switchback Gen 3 stack up, or would I myself just stack it? Let’s find out.
As well as frame only, Stanton offers several build options, this one being the Complete Standard one, not the fanciest but with serviceable kit attached.
This includes an SX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level brakes, a Rockshox Pike Select fork, WTB rubber and rims on Novatec hubs, a Reverb dropper, and Stanton’s own finishing kit. There’s also a Hope headset, something I’ve found to be bulletproof on my own hardtail for the past four years.
The Pike Select fork has the Charger RC damper, which uses an internal floating piston (IFP) instead of a bladder (bladder based designs ship in more expensive versions of the Pike. They tend to be more supple, because unlike IFP based designs they don’t suffer any stiction.
For a bit more than an extra grand, the Complete Elite build upgrades some of these to an Ohlins fork, Hope wheels, 12 speed Shimano XT drivetrain and XT dual pot brakes. If neither of these options is to your taste, it’s also available in rolling chassis, frame and fork, or frame only options.
Oh! Also, just to add one more option: the standard frame is chromoly 4130 steel fabricated in Taiwan, but if you want the fanciest of frames, you can pay an extra £350 for a UK made, Reynolds 631 frame.
This one also has one of Stanton’s Elite paintjobs, which costs an extra hundred pounds. In this colour (Elite Iridescent Lagoon, I believe) it has a loooovely blue/green/purple colour flip; the kind I wanted on a car when I was seventeen, but am now much more delighted to see on a bike instead. It spent quite a lot of this winter hidden under Calderdale mud, but as you can see from the photos, it really comes to life given a bit of sunshine.
The 44mm headtube is extremely standard for a steel hardtail; and the 415mm chainstays are super short. Other things I like about the frame: internal and under top-tube cable and hose routing keep it all well away from rock strikes, which have ended a ride for me before.
I’m right in the middle of their recommended height range for the 16.5″ frame. At first, it felt like I should have sized up, but the slightly traditional dual triangle frame design wouldn’t leave much dropper room over the one Stanton recommend for my height. Nonetheless, the top tube felt a little short.
The WTB tyres were nice and burly, and might be among the first in years to survive me riding without inserts. They seem like a good pick for the UK’s variable conditions as well as harsher natural trails.
I would normally go for fancier brakes, but these Levels had enough stop in them I was never nervous about braking late, and to boot, they were delightfully resistant to squealing when I got them wet.
The SX drivetrain can be a bit noisy, enough that, even slowing right down to pass walkers on descents, I didn’t always have to use my bell. I could definitely go for more refined shifting.
That said, on discovering the rear derailleur limit screws (allen bolts rather than fiddly cross or slot heads, blessed be!) and indexing were out a bit during the shakedown ride, I’ve nothing but admiration for the robustness of the indexing.
Related to gears, I forgot to fit any chainstay protection for the first couple of rides. Expecting to see a half-eaten chainstay, I was surprised to see the chain had dinged the paint but not got through it at all. Paint is definitely one of the places a manufacturer can save some pennies, but Stanton haven’t skimped, it’s an impressively tough paint job.
Dropper posts are a personal thing, and different riders seem to break different ones more easily. For me, it’s Reverbs, but this one did fine even in the cold. I guess most things move on and get optimised with time.
I’m also used to fancier forks than the entry level Pike, but that in itself is an absurdly capable fork compared to anything we were riding that used a shock pump in, ooh, 2013, not to mention that the Pike’s design has also been refined ever since Rockshox relaunched it for 2014.
You can get wrapped up in bleeding edge performance as a reviewer, so much so that we can forget that the bike dripping ultra-sensitive, top end equipment doesn’t give the best bang for buck. Especially for people who don’t have the time or inclination to fix and tune everything themselves. Stanton’s Complete Standard build isn’t the most lustworthy kit, but it does shake out as capable and good fun.
As mentioned, I was wondering at the geometry of this, and for the first sit, it did feel short. As such, I expected it to be twitchy, and it took me a while to ease into riding it compared to the thing I’d been riding with a 50mm longer wheelbase.
A few weeks into the test, a friend said they’d found a new trail, that they’d taken a friend down it the day before, and it was so steep they walked the top bit. After a year of no gnar, I expected to do the same with this bike, and was extremely pleasantly surprised when it just dropped in and felt… stable. Really stable. It may feel like a short top tube, but the 65 degree head angle is very much not XC.
I took it out to as many different trails as I could locally, including steep plummets, loamy cut-in curves, knobbly moors, and a very old but newly reclaimed downhill track that’s been given extra berms and tabletops. The Switchback does it all with stability and aplomb, but the short stays and comparatively short top tube make it much more of a knife than a hammer. Rather than just soaking everything up, the Switchback quite likes to be bossed and wiggled around stuff.
If you’re the kind of rider who regards your front wheel as the primary implement of control, and the back wheel as just along for the ride, the Switchback Gen 3 does that well and will absolutely do as you tell it.
Not only did I not crash this bike once during the test, to my surprise it started urging me to get right off the brakes in ways that only Super Slack Sleds normally do.
Three things I’d change
- The SX drivetrain: it’s dependable, but a little clunky compared to SRAM’s other offerings.
- The geometry. I feel like a bastard for saying this, because it’s every bit a hardcore hardtail and handles things accordingly, but the sizing felt a tiny bit on the short side for me, and I found myself wanting a steeper seat tube on climbs.
- The seat clamp: I want it to match the Hope headset (Can you tell I’m stretching for a third thing that isn’t “A Formula Selva, pastel de natas every time I click my fingers, and a pony”?)
Three things I like
- Solid build kit: won’t cost the earth to maintain or replace.
- Rockshox Pike: Has a wide range of settings to suit most riders, but you don’t need a pit crew or a saint’s patience to access them. You’ll be up and running quickly.
- The frame: Extremely neat routing, beautifully made, with an incredibly high quality, beautiful, hard wearing paint job. And I’m not just saying that because they put a Singletrack decal on the inside of the chainstay.
This might not be the longest, lowest or slackest beast out there but it’s certainly a capable and well balanced one, proving itself repeatedly on diverse trail types including super steep tech. It’s a looker to boot. If, like me, you’ve gawped at the Stanton website every so often and thought about it, you’ll probably be happy with a Switchback Gen 3.
Stanton Switchback Gen3 Specification
- Frame Taiwanese 4130
- Drive Train SRAM SX Eagle
- Brakes Sram Level brakes
- Forks Rockshox Pike Select fork
- Wheels WTB i27.5 rims on Stanton Branded top-end Novatec hubs
- Tyres WTB Trail Boss 2.4 (R) / WTB Vigilante 2.5 (F)
- Seat Post Rockshox reverb 175
- Finishing Kit Stanton Grips, bars, saddle, stem, headset
|Product:||Switchback Gen 3|
|Price:||£2400 + 100 Elite paint|
|Tested:||by David Hayward for 3 months|