Sonder Frontier Deore Rigid review

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Sonder Bikes is Alpkit’s bike department. Unlike a lot of chain store bike brands (Carrera, Pinnacle, Rockrider and so on), the use of a different brand name doesn’t feel here like it’s intended to deceive or distract people from the fact that Sonder bikes are own-brand Alpkit bikes. It’s more to do with starting afresh with a dedicated design team.

  • Brand: Sonder
  • Product: Frontier Deore Rigid
  • Price: £999.00
  • From: Alpkit
  • Review by: Benji for Issue 146

These aren’t bikes cluelessly designed by people whose main job is designing sleeping bags. Sonder bikes are designed and specced by real riders who know what they’re doing. We’ve met them. And ridden with them. The Frontier is intended to be Sonder’s 29er trail hardtail.

The Bike

Although Sonder bikes are designed by real riders and ridden on real trails, there is the inescapable fact that Sonder bikes are heavily value conscious. In practice this means that Sonder models often resemble bikes from a few seasons ago. You’ll not find much in the way of proprietary tubesets, progressive geometry or innovative frame features. This doesn’t mean that Sonder bikes are out of date, but it does mean that you should look very carefully at the geometry of their bikes and choose accordingly.

Take this Sonder Frontier for example. I personally wouldn’t really recommend it in any of its suspension forked guises. The geometry is just a bit too outdated for front-sprung trail shredding duties. Head angle too steep. Seat angle too slack. Reach too short. But taken as a fully-rigid, purist pushbike for fell hacking, it is par excellence. This is exactly the sort of bike that some (most?) gravel bike owners should be chopping around aboard. As a taut exploration machine the Frontier is totally bang on.

Let’s get back to the nuts and bolts. Or rather, the lack of them! There’s not much tech on this bike. But there are plenty of nice touches. Loads of bottle bosses – and a capacious front triangle for luggage and hydration – making it ideal for bikepacking when winter goes away. The internal routing makes the bike easier to clean and mount luggage and racks. The chainstay-mounted disc similarly plays nicely with rear luggage systems.

Although there’s no dropper specced, there is routing for one and the seat tube is 31.6mm so there’s loads of choice.

The Ride

There is nothing on this Sonder Frontier Deore Rigid. Actually, that’s not true. Clearly there’s stuff on it. But the lack of any (any!) suspension is this bike’s secret weapon, not its Achilles heel.

In an immediate, practical, winter-survival sense, the lack of suspension means there’s more mud clearance. There’s also less to service and maintain. And if your winter terrain is ultimately going to either be smooth and hard or totally squidgy and sodden, what is the point of suspension?

Although my preferred weekend riding is of the enduro winch-and-plummet style on long and slack suspension rigs with sticky tyres and coil springs and so on, I have a real soft spot for bikes like the Sonder Frontier Deore Rigid. It looks ace, for a start. It looks like a kids’ bike for grown-ups.

I spent quite a bit of time on a Frontier a couple of years ago, as well as being the long-time owner of a similarly purposed bike from Islabikes (a Beinn 29 from around 2011 that is probably my favourite bike of all time).

It is actually quite hard, however, to explain why I like this bike. It is not because I like to birch myself. Nor is it because I believe in some such twaddle along the lines of ‘keeping you honest‘ or ‘skills sharpener’. Bikes are a medium for fun, not a morality test. I don’t even necessarily believe that bikes like this offer less maintenance than modern full suspension bikes (I rarely, if ever, maintain my full-susser and it gets on just fine with such neglect).

I think the key thing is where you ride this bike. As mentioned already, it makes most sense – and generates the most joy – when the terrain is either smooth or sodden. Riding this bike on ‘normal’ mountain bike trails is not really very fun. It’s painful and disjointed. It’s annoying.

But on fire roads, farm access tracks, towpaths and used-to-be-railways cycle routes this bike makes that sort of stuff fun. Rapid and carvy. It’s not a great bike for anything steep or sketchy and tight.

It’s a good bike for boggy bits though. When the ground is offering up no support whatsoever it feels great to be fully rigid. Funnily enough it’s a great bike on the sort of riding that we all used to do back in the last century. Wide stuff. With no corners. Your typical bridleway networker. However, this time we have brakes that work, tyres that aren’t rubbish and gears that don’t fly off the ’ring teeth every five minutes.

We also have much quieter bikes. Not that the Frontier is wholly silent. The lack of chainstay protection and the rather rudimentary, noisy, gaping-hole internal cable routing will be the first things any purchaser addresses. Both of these noisy aspects are easily solvable with judicious use of mastic tape though.

Sonder Frontier Deore Rigid Overall

The actual ride of the Frontier is extremely balanced. I never felt unduly over either of the tyres’ contact patches. Although it’s not a bike for steep singletrack, it still handles pleasingly at speed on swooping terrain. Having said that, I did still find myself auto-reaching for a dropper post lever that wasn’t there on numerous occasions, in an attempt to hunker down when cornering (hanging off the back is disastrous for bike control). An early upgrade methinks.

Once you’re in the mindset of what this bike is best at, which is arguably not what we think of as modern-day mountain biking, it can be a liberating experience. It’s kinda like a sightseeing bike. Or a bike for taking some time for some self-introspection and perspective finding. It’s almost like a therapy bike.

It’s for Dune biking in the Frank Herbert sense. Fear is the mind killer; the Frontier is the stress beater.

Sonder Frontier Deore Rigid specification

Frame: 6061 Aluminium
Fork: Frontier Rigid Aluminium
Wheels: Sonder Alpha 29
Front tyre: Goodyear Peak Ultimate 29 x 2.4in
Rear tyre: Goodyear Peak Ultimate 29 x 2.4in
Chainset: Shimano Deore 170mm 32T
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore/SLX/XT 12-speed 10-51T
Brakes: Shimano Deore 4-pot 160/160mm rotors
Stem: Sonder PIskie 55mm
Bars: Sonder Aspect Riser 780mm
Grips: Sonde Clutch
Seatpost: Sonder 31.6mm
Saddle: Sonder Abode
Bottom Bracket: Shimano external cup
Size tested: XL
Sizes available: S, M, L, XL
Weight: 11.9kg (26.2lb)
Head angle: 68°
Effective seat angle: 73°
Seat tube length: 520mm
Head tube length: 150mm
Chainstay: 445mm
Wheelbase: 1,174mm
Effective top tube: 647mm
BB height: 50mm BB drop
Reach: 460mm

While you’re here…

Review Info

Brand: Sonder
Product: Frontier Deore Rigid
From: Alpkit
Price: £999.00
Tested: by Benji for Issue 146

Orange Switch 6er. Stif Squatcher. Schwalbe Magic Mary Purple Addix front. Maxxis DHR II 3C MaxxTerra rear. Coil fan. Ebikes are not evil. I have been a writer for nigh on 20 years, a photographer for 25 years and a mountain biker for 30 years. I have written countless magazine and website features and route guides for the UK mountain bike press, most notably for the esteemed and highly regarded Singletrackworld. Although I am a Lancastrian, I freely admit that West Yorkshire is my favourite place to ride. Rarely a week goes by without me riding and exploring the South Pennines.

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