4-bar is one of the oldest designs in biking (hey, it clearly works), so it was always the geometry that was the USP of the Privateer 161 GX.
- Brand: Privateer
- Product: 161 GX
- Price: £3,689
- From: Privateer Bikes
- Review by: Benji for Singletrack World Magazine Issue 148
I remember when Privateer first appeared on the mountain bike radar with the 161 back in spring 2020. The bike looked like a really, really good idea. It came out at a time when mainstream brands’ geometry hadn’t quite made the change yet. Head angles were still in the mid-to-upper 60s. Reach numbers were much more closer to 450mm than 500mm. As for seat angles, they hadn’t even really been looked at all, so the Privateer 161’s 80° seat angle was a real woah moment. Fast forward three years, and I’ve finally had a proper go on a 161. Here’s what I made of it.
The 4-bar rear suspension design is essentially one of the oldest designs in mountain biking (hey, it clearly works), so it was always the geometry that was the Privateer 161’s USP. At 64° the head angle is now pretty much standard for a trail-duro bike, but the rest of the numbers are still at the upper end of the progressive spectrum. Starting at the back and working forward, the proportional chainstays get longer on the larger size frames (434mm up to 452mm), which is indicative that the whole 161 concept is not budget-minded. It would have been significantly cheaper for Privateer to have the same back ends on all sizes. That 80° seat angle was, I’ll be frank, at first set-up, too steep. But once I slid the saddle backwards on its rails (I’ve not done that on a bike for… er, ever) it was fine and the palms-to-grip pressure was greatly relieved. I actually think with a higher rise bar I may have kept the saddle where it was. It was the pressure through my hands that was uncomfortable. The seat tube length and attendant standover is excellently dinky and long-dropper friendly. The 490mm reach (size P3) just felt very normal. Then again, I’m used to modern mountain bikes.
The spec sheet was mostly good stuff. The RockShox fork and shock are decent performers with a good range of adjustment. The SRAM GX drivetrain, Hunt wheelset and Race Face cockpit are all fine. The Hayes brakes are brilliant. So too is the OneUp dropper. We would totally recommend immediately swapping out the tyres, unless you’re off to an EWS. I’ll explain why shortly. I’d also recommend some better zip ties (or something) that can be done up REALLY tight/gripping to keep the down-tube routed cabling in check, as it bows outwards and spoils the aesthetic of an otherwise visually appealing bike.
Those tyres then. Sure, they’re really grippy and tough as old welly boots. The thing is, they significantly rob the bike of zip. The first couple of rides on the Privateer 161 GX felt like I was hungover or coming down with something. Strangely hard work to make progress on the tarmac opener and then up the first off-road climb. Sure, they are impressive when called upon on fast, steep, rough terrain. But you have to get there first. The DH Casing rear tyre is the culprit. Once that was swapped out for a DHR II EXO+ (which I did on both front and back wheels), it was like a sticky handbrake being released. Freed of its rubbery shackles, the Privateer 161 revealed itself as a surprisingly sinuous beastie. It’s not the low-slung stiff AF gravity sled that you may expect it to be. It has an awesome amount of give-and-go to it. The proviso to this is that it’s better run with a modest amount of sag. Too much more than 25% and it gets wallowy and can pack down and harshen. Running 25%-ish sag keeps the handling high, speedy and keen. The leverage curve is not hugely progressive compared to rival bikes, so you still use all the travel as and when. In terms of the front suspension, AKA the fork, it reminded me of how great RockShox’s 35mm stanchioned forks are. Even though it’s less stiff than a 38mm Zeb, there’s something about Charger 2.1 damped Lyriks that is just really fun and engaging to ride.
While the Privateer 161 GX is a really capable and enjoyable bike, it’s worth pointing out that it needs a particular type of setting-up to get the best out of it. While this is true for any and every suspension bike, it’s the fact that the adjustments that get the best out of the 161 are unexpected or different from the usual assumptions. Essentially, if you ride this bike with the stock tyres and with a ‘trad’ big-bike suspension sag set-up (30%+) it feels slow and rides heavy, especially if you’re too light (far below 80kg) for the rear shock’s tune. Some people would just think ‘oh well, this is how it is’, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Different tyres, cross-country-level of sag, minimal rebound… the 161 just flies. The 2019-conceived geometry works really, really well. Some riders (like me) may suit a taller bar and/or slide their saddles backwards for the first time this century, but that’s about it. It’s slack enough up front not to hold you back; it’s long enough for stability and all-day comfort, and the not-short chainstays make for good uphill progress without limiting any playfulness.
After finally getting to ride one, the Privateer 161 GX was something of a surprise. I had assumed it would be a punishingly stiff, super low slung, unforgiving gravity hog. But it’s so much more than that. The chassis actually has a very pleasant feel to its ride. It’s not a metal hammer. The 161 gets a bit of online flak for being ‘heavy’ and, while it’s not light, with some adroit setting up of the items that have air in (tyres and suspension) it is one of the sprightliest riding 160mm trail-duro bikes that I’ve experienced. In this Lyrik-ed and SuperDeluxe-d guise it makes for a cool trail bike, once you’ve slackened off that palm-punishing effective seat angle. And should you want to enter that EWS, you can dig the original tyres out of the shed, bung a Zeb on a credit card, and hit the start line. You may also wish to slide that saddle forward again to help you winch up the mountain.
Frame // Aluminium 6066, 160mm
Shock // Rockshox SuperDeluxe Ultimate
Fork // Rockshox Lyrik Ultimate 170mm Charger 2.1 RC2. 42mm offset
Wheels // HUNT Enduro Wide V2
Front tyre // Maxxis Assegai 29×2.5 MaxxGrip DoubleDown
Rear tyre // Maxxis Minion DHRII 29×2.4 MaxxGrip DH Casing
Chainset // SRAM GX DUB, 170mm, 32T
Drivetrain // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
Brakes // Hayes Dominion A4, 203/203mm
Stem // Race Face Aeffect R 40mm, 35mm
Bars // Race Face Turbine 800x20mm, 35mm
Grips // Privateer Soft Lock-on
Seatpost // OneUp V2 Dropper 180mm
Saddle // Privateer Cro-Mo 143mm
BB // SRAM DUB
Size tested // P3
Sizes available // P1, P2, P3, P4
Head angle // 64°
Effective seat angle // 80°
Seat tube length // 450mm
Head tube length // 120mm
Effective top tube // 603mm
BB height // 30mm
|Tested:||by Benji for Singletrack World Magazine Issue 148|