Earlier in the year, Andi took delivery of a Pole Taival frameset, a bike that has helped rekindle his love of steel hardtails once again.
I’ve had a lot of history when it comes to hardtails, and it’s only been the past 5 or so years that I’ve really bonded with full-suspension bikes. Friends who have ridden with me over the years will remember how I would often purchase a full-suspension bike only to swap the frame out to a hardtail after a few months because I “couldn’t feel what the bike was doing”. My issue was that the type of riding I enjoyed either meant a hardcore hardtail or, at the time, a long travel full-suspension bike because short-travel bikes back in those days were meant for XC. Swapping from a steel Production Privée to a 160mm travel alloy suspension bike with coil springs was just too much of a jump so I constantly flip-flopped back and forth. It was only when I moved back to the UK and purchased a Whyte T-130 when full-bounce bikes started to work for me.
The Whyte was a real eye-opener, a bike with progressive geometry, and just enough travel to save my legs when riding longer distances or the inevitable hook to flat. After the T-130 came a succession of test bikes and Commencal long-termers, but in recent years I’ve realised I’ve come full circle once again.
As many readers will know, I now own a YT Decoy, funnily enough, a 130mm travel bike with aggressive geometry, YT’s own take on my Whyte T-130 if you like. But my regression hasn’t stopped there, I’ve got myself a hardtail!
Disclaimer: This is actually my bike
I bought the Pole Taival with my own money simply because I really fancied giving one a try. Like many of you, I had spent a few summers upgrading full-suspension bikes and was left with a bunch of kit in the shed. When winter rolled around it seemed rude not to purchase a hardtail to hang all my bits and bobs off. This was also my second attempt at purchasing the Taival. I originally tried to buy one back in the winter of 2019 but test bikes and other kit put a stop to it so for the winter of 2020 I promised myself a long purple Pole. The following review is a review of the frameset rather than my build as, as you can see, it’s a very unique complete bike.
Design: Pole Taival Frameset
The Pole Taival, meaning ‘Journey’ in Finnish, is how a steel hardtail should look with the current trends and progression in geometry. Like all good steel frames, the design is clean and uncluttered using svelt 4130 tubing to provide that characteristic steel frame ‘ping’ us hardtail riders enjoy.
Out of the box, the Taival frameset comes with a Cane Creek headset already pressed into its ample headtube, great as I can’t find my press. Another great feature is the threaded BB, not that I personally have much of an issue with a press fit, but those threads do tend to please a lot of people.
Due to the impressive length of the tubing, Pole has managed to squeeze not 1 not 2 but 3 bottle mounts onto the Taival, so if you were planning an epic ‘journey’ this aggressive hardtail could be the ticket.
The seat tube on the Taival is a 30.9mm diameter designed for stealth routing. This caused me an issue as the only dropper I had that fits is my least favourite of all the droppers in the world, and the current component shortage meant that I had no other option. Although the dropper routing is internal the brake hoses and gear cable is external, which I don’t mind at all.
Most Taivals you will see run on 29in wheels, though there is room in there for 27.5+ but please do yourself a favour and just run 29in wheels. The last details are the bolt through rear axle and ISCG05 tabs for a chain guide.
Geometry: Don’t be scared of the numbers
As a frameset on a computer display the Pole Taival doesn’t look much different to steel frames I had ridden over the years. It has the classic slim tubing, low standover and even a brace for the seat tube for strength, but once you see it as a complete bike you’ll realise that the Taival isn’t the same as any other hardtail on the market.
Pole has made a name for itself as being a brand that takes the idea of progressive geometry and decided that it’s not enough. I know while writing this review that there will be riders who will see the following reach figure for my ‘medium’ frame and jump right to the comments, but I want to restate what I have said about modern geometry in past reviews once again. Modern geometry is much more than the reach of a bike, and perhaps the best measurement to take into account for sizing is the Top Tube Length.
With that out of the way, my medium frame has a reach of 480mm, and in fact, the shortest reach you can hope for is 420mm while on the longest bikes you’re looking at 530mm. This sounds huge, but thanks to a steep seat tube angle and slack head angle the top tube of my bike is only 650mm.
Since I bought my Taival, Pole has changed the way it promotes the sizing of the bikes and although you can still find mention of small, medium, large etc, the geometry charts are now marked from K0 to K4 providing a total of 5 frame sizes. My medium bike is a K2 for reference.
Pole’s geometry chart lists the head angle and seat angle at a static height with a 140mm fork, in this case, the head angle is 64.5 degrees while the seat-tube is 75.5 degrees. The seat angle doesn’t sound all that steep, but remember a hardtail will sag only at the front and this means both angles steepen once a rider is on the bike. For my build I only had a 170mm travel fork knocking about (not true but that’s what I wanted to try) which gives me a sagged seat angle of around 77 degrees, a very modern number.
The Taival doesn’t only have a long reach but also a long head tube. K0 to K2 frames have a 135mm head tube while K4-K5 a 145mm. This is important as it affects the stack of the bike, but it also means you’ll have to double-check you have enough steerer on your forks to install them. I tend to cut my forks a little longer for just these occasions, but it still meant I had to replace the taller, provided, headset cover with a flat one to get my forks on.
Pole realise there isn’t much point in having a lengthy front centre if the rear end measures the same across all sizes. In recent years we’ve seen many brands adjust chainstay lengths across sizes, but Pole offers different lengths across 4 of the Tavial frames with only K0 and K1 bikes sharing the same numbers.
With all that info taken into consideration, my K2 frame should have a wheelbase of 1258mm, but because I have a longer fork it’s likely closer to this figure at sag rather than static.
Fit: Not as long as you would expect
At 178cm I am the exact right size for a K2 frame, and it’s not often that I can say that. Usually, I sit at the high end of medium and low end of large and tend to size up, but the K2 (medium) Taival is spot on. I would not want to go any longer.
Interestingly Pole offers 2 sizing guides, 1 for ‘style’ and the other for ‘speed’, so if you were 175cm for example but wanted flat out speed Pole would recommend a K2, whereas if you wanted something a little more lively and agile they recommend the K1.
Climbing: Efficient, and technically competent
Although a longtime hardtail fan I never really understood comments from reviewers when they said a full-suspension bike climbs like a hardtail. I understand that the power transfer to the rear wheel is more efficient on a hardtail, but that’s outweighed by the lack of traction a solid back end gives over loose rock terrain.
So expecting the Taival to climb like hardtails of old, I have been extremely surprised by how well this collection of very long steel tubes makes progress uphill. Like any hardtail, it can struggle when the trails are loose, and there are large rocks, but because the rider is sat more centrally and the seat angle is steeper, the negatives are significantly reduced.
Riding up and over technical sections, perhaps over a rock or up a ledge, the additional length of the Pole Taival allows you to focus on one wheel at a time. There is one slightly tricky section on a local climb that features two ledges, one after the other and the second is covered in slick roots. Of all the bikes in my test fleet, the Taival still remains the easiest of the lot to get through this section, and this includes a couple of e-bikes.
For riders worrying about the numbers in terms of climbing, I would say stop and just try one. The Pole Taival is one of the best climbing hardtails I’ve ever ridden.
Downhill: Long but not unwieldy
With a generous reach, longish chainstays, slack head angle and a good size wheelbase combined with 29in wheels, it’s hardly surprising the Pole Taival is stable at speed, what’s more, it accelerates quickly and due to the distance between the 2 wheels shocks aren’t a constant and repeated assault on the rider. Descending speeds aren’t full-suspension fast, but they’re plenty fast enough for a hardtail and how well the Taival handles chunkier terrain has meant even my Izzo has taken a few weeks rest.
It’s the Taival’s composure in really rough terrain that has had me fall back in love with hardtails again. It’s the rocky chunky stuff that had me question hardtails and spend more time on full-sus bikes, but the Taival has proven that a simple hardtail can perform really well on more than just groomed trails or loam covered chutes.
Ah but how about cornering? Surely all that length makes the Taival a chore on the corners? I’ll admit to struggling for the first ride, but once I adjusted my position and learned that I could trust my front end more than before, whipping through corners, leaning on berms and the overall agility of the Taival is extremely impressive. There is not one moment that I’ve felt the bike to be cumbersome or long, all I’ve felt are performance benefits even on tight twisty trails.
Overall: You owe yourself a ride on my Pole
If you’re after a hardtail that can give a short travel full-suspension bike a run for its money then the Taival is the one to go for. You’ll love its agility and its stability at any speed makes it a great climber and descender.
What Could Be Better
- A chainstay protector would be nice.
- 31.6mm seat tube, as they seem a little more common (or perhaps that’s just me).
What I Love
- The finish of the build of the bike. Even with no chainstay protector (I keep forgetting) the paint only has very few chips in it.
- The geometry is amazing and the sizing is spot on for me.
|Price:||From €725.81 frame only|
|Tested:||by Andi Sykes for 2 months|