The Singletrack team tests out three hardtails that sit somewhere in the midst of the ride style continuum.
Words Amanda, Darren Hall and Hannah
It’s easy to write a headline or some marketing waffle for things at extremes. Stick ‘-est’ on the end of some words to make new ones and sell new things. Fastest, gnarliest, toughest, lightest. And what about the trails we ride? When was the last time you heard someone say ‘that was a sick undulating trail!’, or ‘who’s up for just riding along?’. The reality though is that this amorphous mid-spectrum zone between the extremes of fast carbon fibre cross-country knives and enduro-shredding gnar-core beasts is where many of us spend most of our riding days. What then for us to whom the marketing of extremes does not speak?
We’ve gathered here three different takes on the cross-country-to-trail-zone bike. Each of the bikes on test here is available as a frame-only option, meaning there’s the potential for each bike to have its own range within our ride style spectrum. Setting its sights on the more cross-country end of things, the Sonder Dial offers the shortest recommended fork travel of the group, and the lowest frame-only price by some margin. Somewhere in the middle with 120mm of travel is the steel Pipedream Sirius S5, just fractionally beating the frame-only price of the longer travel Trek Roscoe, which you probably wouldn’t want to take to a cross-country race, but you might just dip its toe into an enduro.
Whether you’re looking for a bike that suits what you ride most of the time, or a bike to progress on towards one end or the other of the ride style spectrum, we’ve got three bikes here that can be built up to meet the needs of many.
Pipedream Sirius S5
- Price: £699 frame only, £3,000ish as built
- From: pipedreamcycles.com
- Tested by: Hannah
Pipedream was established in 2005 and specialises in making bikes with very clean lines from 4130 steel tubing, with a touch of titanium hitting the range now and then. By building its bikes from specially selected butted tubing to have thicker profiles where needed for strength, but thinner where weight savings can be made, Pipedream is able to build bikes that are tough without being shored up by additional braces or crosspieces, giving that clean look.
You won’t find standard sizing on the Pipedream website – instead you’ll see ‘Longish’, ‘Long’ and ‘Longer’ catering for riders between 4ft 11in and 6ft 2in. I’m 5ft 9.5in/175cm and had a ‘Long’ bike to test, another half an inch of eating my greens and the ‘Longer’ Sirius S5 would have been an option. Whatever your height, you can expect to be adding a dropper post of maximum size to your build, as Pipedream touts a trademarked ‘Drop Optimized Geometry’ (DOG) philosophy. Short seat tubes give plenty of standover, so you can choose your bike based on reach, then add a dropper post as appropriate. Steep seat angles keep you pedalling efficiently, and slack head angles keep you stable on the steeps. This applies to both hardtails in the Pipedream line-up: the burlier Moxie designed for all mountain riding with 140–170mm fork, and the short travel Sirius S5.
Sonder Dial GX Eagle
- Price: £1,899.99, £399 frame only
- From: alpkit.com
- Tested by: Amanda
Sister company of the outdoor enthusiasts Alpkit, Sonder Bikes joined the market back in 2015, working then with frame designer Brant Richards. Initially launching the Transmitter, Camino and Broken Road, the Sonder range continues to grow and fuel bikepacking adventures, commutes, trail days and so much more.
Sonder and Alpkit offer pretty much everything you could need for almost any bike ride. Alpkit carries frame bags, saddle bags, compact camping equipment, riding packs, clothing for all seasons… and it all tends to be well designed, suitable for the UK, and durable. It even offers a repair service for any brand of soft goods to promote reuse. Priding itself on being an ethical company, it won the regional Sustainability Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021.
The Sonder and Alpkit mission statement is Go Nice Places Do Good Things, and the product range all encourages that.
Trek Roscoe 9
- Price: £700 frame only, £2,300 as tested
- From: trekbikes.com
- Tested by: Darren Hall
In these days of increasingly specific bike designs and categories, and the urge to pigeonhole yourself as a certain type of rider, it’s easy to forget the days when you were just a mountain biker, riding a plain old mountain bike. Even though modern bikes are now much more capable across a range of potential uses, terrain and riding abilities, buying a bike today feels like it’s much more effort than it used to be, and the pressure to get it right is amplified by ever increasing price tags. The Trek Roscoe offers a potential route around this problem in the form of a trail all-rounder at a sensible price point that should cover most bases.
The Roscoe takes its place in the Trek range at the trail end of the modern-day bike type spectrum. Billed as a fun-filled trail hardtail capable of nailing jumps and gnarly rock gardens, this 29er aluminium hardtail leaves little doubt as to its intended natural environment, and with 140mm forks, 65° head angle and 2.6in tyres is the most aggressive of the bikes in this test. Even without riding it’s immediately apparent that this is no shrinking violet, and this raises some questions about its all-round riding capabilities. It’s all very well being able to nail jumps, but the reality is that many of us prefer to keep our wheels on the ground.
When bike shopping, it’s often tempting to buy what you might need – that extra 10mm of travel, those few grams of weight saving – rather than what you definitely need most of the time. Such tendencies can lead us to the extremes of the bike spectrum, whether that’s because you might want to go faster or lighter, or harder and steeper. While you’ll not transform a 120mm travel hardtail with a 70° head angle into a park bike, if you buy a bike that works well for you most of the time, you’ll likely be able tune it up or down a notch on the riding spectrum as you progress in either direction towards its more specialist ends.
If you’ve half an eye on cross-country racing, the Sonder Dial will let you train at the weekend and give you the option to shave weight here and there to give it more of a fast and light race tune – and with the frame-only price you’ll likely have money left over for some of those spendier components. If fast and light holds no appeal, but maybe you’d like to push the technicality now and then, the Trek Roscoe has a bruiser side to it that will forgive your bigger hits, whether they’re of the slams or steeze variety. As a tough bike to survive winter, or the one you buy to push your skills onwards in the woods, the Roscoe might be the bike for you. Somewhere in the middle of both possibilities sits the Pipedream Sirius – a playful bike that riders who want to work with the trail rather than sterilise it will enjoy. Build it up and change it up according to your riding proclivities, there’s a sound foundation here for all wheels on the ground riding.
Choose based not on the extremes to which you aspire, but for what you actually ride. You can’t please all people all of the time, but you can please yourself most of the time.
|Pipedream, Sonder, Trek
|Sirius S5, Dial GX Eagle, Roscoe 9
|by See reviews for 2 months