The hardtail is dead. Long live the hardtail. It’s a line that’s been spouted more and more in the mountain bike world over the last few years, but does it hold true? Well, the short answer is no. The 26-inch-wheel hardtail still dominates the mountain bike market, as it’s the most common and least expensive way for new riders to get into the sport, and will be for a few more years yet. But with the growing popularity of full suspension, and 29-inch-wheel bikes becoming a favourite choice for hardtail racing devotees, the 26- inch hardtail could be living on borrowed time.
So where do bikes like Avanti’s Competitor 2.0 sit in the scheme of things? Well, I’m glad you asked. A $5500 carbon hardtail is quite a niche market these days, as it’s possible to pick up a dually with good specs for a fair bit less. Five and a half grand will certainly buy you a lot of bike, and there are more pros than cons for racers wanting a light, smooth, suspended race bike these days.
Carbon fibre is an increasingly common frame material for the modern hardtail, as it’s a lot more forgiving than aluminium. It can be manipulated to give desirable ride characteristics, and its light weight is another bonus. Our large framed test bike tipped the scales at 10 kg on the nose, without pedals. The Competitor series uses the same ADT XCR1 frame from the 1.0 model through to the uber-light, SRAM XX equipped Team model. It’s well made, high-tech and looks the part. The head and seat angles are fairly typical for a hardtail, at 70.5º and 73º respectively, giving the bike a decidedly racey feel and razor-sharp steering. The wishbone rear seatstay configuration is very stiff, and there is no noticeable flex under acceleration, something that cross-country racers will appreciate.
Our 2.0 model came dressed in full Shimano XT regalia, and while it’s a little more ‘trail’ than ‘race’, there’ll never be any complaints from us with that kit. The brakes are impressively powerful, the shifts are quick and accurate, and the wheels are sturdy, if not the lightest choice for a race bike. Although the rims are tubeless ready, the Kenda Karma tyres supplied are non-UST models, and there was no way they were
going to hold air, even with generous quantities of sealant applied. A set of tubeless compatible tyres would have been a nice touch. The 550 mm wide alloy handlebars were much too narrow for our liking, and on a bike of this price you’d expect something a bit wider, and preferably carbon, which can be cut down to whichever width you fancy. Once we made this change, the handling of the bike came alive.
The first ride on the Competitor reminded us of the subtleties required to ride fast on a hardtail, and line choice and finesse became even more important. The Fox F32RL fork did its usual good job of keeping the front end tracking where it was pointed, and every millimetre of its 100 mm travel was welcomed. The rear end, however, needed a bit more finesse, and we knew about every bump in the trail.
Climbing is an area where hardtails are still reputed to excel, and the Competitor certainly goes uphill with aplomb. Out of the saddle efforts are rewarded when the trail is fairly benign, with all the rider’s input being transferred to the rear wheel through the stiff chainstays. Rougher climbs require a seated spin to keep the wheel planted and propelling you forward. Descending was quite an eye-opener too, but at the same time a lot of fun, and it was possible to keep the bike at full velocity by choosing smooth lines, keeping momentum up and moving about on the bike––things that we tend to get lazy about on a full suspension bike.
If you’re a hardtail devotee who is cashed up and wants a more forgiving ride, a racer with a dual suspension phobia looking for a light and reliable bike, or you want to add to your bike stable and don’t mind a little bit of a beating while going fast, then this could be the bike for you. For the average Joe who wants one bike to do it all (i.e. trail riding with a race thrown in here and there) it’s probably wiser to opt for something a bit easier on the wallet, and the body.
The 26-inch high-end hardtail may not be quite dead yet, and bikes like the Competitor 2.0 are doing a good job of keeping the pulse beating.