Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Kinesis Maxlight XCPro3, Custom build

Having just handed in a piece of work that I am not very proud of I decided to 'waste' more time by writing a review of the bike I have been riding for the past year.  The 'wasted' time that could (maybe should) have been spent on this report was instead spent enjoying the sunshine and the first opportunities to ride in two weeks.  I have managed to get out every day for the last 4 days and intend to get out on the mtb again today.  I have to say I don't regret it at the moment, although I do wish I had managed my evenings better and spent a little time on the report rather than leaving it to the last minute.  I came out of the weekend refreshed, clearer of thought and rejuvenated.  It's amazing what some nice days in the sun with mates will do for you.

So, this review, the sole purpose of which is to provide me with some kind of therapy and release.  I have many fond memories of my time with this bike and will be sore to see it go (and I will be very reluctant to let it go if I have to), not only has it carried me round some great races, seen some amazing places and done some things that it may not have been meant to do, but it has also seen new friends arise from rides.

The bike itself has been a dream.  I chose to buy this bike (as my first fully personally funded mountain bike I might add, having been somewhat spoiled by parents and sponsors) largely on a price point basis, but also because I knew that I got on really well with how the Kinesis frames handle having ridden an older maxlight (full alloy) as my first XC bike.  Coming from the Yeti AS-R sl it took a while to get used to the harshness of a hardtail again, and thee first few rides on it were more of a chore than I would have liked, with me longing for the end (although it came too soon thanks to a puncture) of the first race on it.  However on coming out here it really came into it's own.  I will maintain that flatter trails really favour a fully, whilst steep stuff is still an area hardtails can hold an advantage.

The build of the bike is a little odd and has changed a little throughout the year.  The current build is pretty much where I want it to be for a training/fun bike, not that it doesn't race well, but it could be lighter and some things need replacing.  I went a little over budget in a couple of areas, notably the fork (DT Swiss XCR100) and shifting (XTR shifter and rear mech, 1x9).  I made these choices as these are two of the most important areas for me and having riden XTR I find it very hard to return to anything less.  The smoothness of shift is unparalleled, with the shifter feel being pretty close to perfect, even with a ruined rear mech.  My rear mech, it should be added, is a 2-3year old one that has been between bikes or acting as a spare and should now be retired as there is a ridiculous amount of play in the join between cage and body; having stripped it down a number of times the only solution is a new cage or mech (carbon cages are prohibitively expensive). 

The DT Swiss fork was chosen without any real testing, but I was sold on the stiffness of the carbon lowers and 'carpark testing' a set the Madison (UK Shimano, DT Swiss and others distributer) rep had brought in.  He also have them to me on a bit of a steal.  Thankfully they have performed well, but with one really major fault which caused me quite a headache over the NZ Summer.  They are one of the smoothest forks I have ridden, and thanks to the carbon lowers seem to reduce buzz at the bars (certainly compared to other bikes with fox or rockshox forks) whilst maintaining pretty good stiffness.  The lookout is very good too, very stiff feeling and with a very useful remote lever (which I have mounted under the bar where a front shifter would be), I have to admit to not being a fan of lockouts, but having it so accessible has meant that I have used it a lot and these forks deserve it.  The damping is very plush and the way I have them set up they sag pretty easily to give them that extra small bump compliance (at the expense of bottoming out over large hits, but they cope, as do I), as such I find myself locking out on most climbs and firetrack sections. 

The one flaw I have really found is their lack of servicablility, with DT being adamant that they are not to be pulled apart by anyone other than the distributors own mechanics.  This wouldn't have been a problem if there had been no problems, but when I noticed play in the fork I decided to get them serviced; better to pay for a set of bushes soon rather than ruin a set of uppers later.  On return from the suppliers they were not achieving full travel (wrong oil height I suspect) so back they went and once again returned, full travel, but still getting play.  This repeated a few times until I went off travelling, still with play.  Since I have given up and accepted the play (which is ~1-2mm at the axle) but I will look into it further when I get back to the UK.

The rest of the build is fairly unexciting, Hope Tech X2 brakes, SLX crankset, E-13 chain device (best single-ring XC chain device in my opinion), Thomson Elite seatpost, Easton bar, Specialized bar and saddle, Hope hubs laced to ZTR Arch rims and a range of tyres.  So all in a fairly inexpensive and dull build.  But one that has worked pretty well.

I have broken a few things in my time here, including ruining a front rim after nosediving to flat from a 2m drop.  Lukily I was fine, but I suspect this may have been what caused the fork to be less than perfect.  I have also replaced a bent set of Raceface Deus cranks, a squashed carbon bar and an uncomfortable Fizik Gobi saddle.

As I said, she rides like a dream; she climbs admirably, sprints without noticeable flex and descends with the pluck of a terrier.  I have to say it's the descending that really has me sold.  The bike just feels so playful.  I went for the medium size, which is slightly shorter than may be ideal for me, but I like a bike with a large standover and shorter top tube.  I'm not sure why she feels so playful, it could be the head angle, the fairly short chain stays, BB just below the axles, stubby top tube or something completely different, but everyone who has spent a while on her has said the same.  She handles trails that big bikes are uncomfortable on, takes the abuse that I throw out (sideways landings after over-enthusiastic moto-whips and innumerable crashes) and carries on without a care. 

There have been some great moments with this bike, and every time she drifts round a corner or floats into a transition she has me grinning from ear to ear.  She will be in the country for only a few more weeks, so if you want a go you had better get onto me quick!

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