If I were to define fun, rarely would it contain words like singlespeed or hardtail. These may have been fun for me over ten years ago, when hardtails were pretty much your ticket to ride. But now that suspension bikes have come so far and there are so many more trail centres, all that’s changed. Or has it?
The Kinesis Decade Virsa Prestige (a bit of a mouthful) may seem like a step down from some of the sexy review bikes we’ve had access to recently. But for me, the Virsa Prestige has been a bit of a reawakening, with the fun being greater than the sum of its travel.
The Decade brand is made by English company Kinesis. Kinesis has a reputation for building quality frames at not unreasonable prices in both alloy and, to a lesser degree, steel. To celebrate being in business for ten years, three new frames have been created under the Decade banner, of which the Virsa Prestige is the mountain bike offering. It’s made of highly regarded Tange Prestige tubing, a high quality cromoly tubing out of Japan. At first this bike is a little hard to recognise, as the branding on the frame is so understated.
Just like a good meal, the better the ingredients, the better the experience. It’s the same with hardtail frames; stiffer, stronger, and more compliant are all qualities that will define greatness. The Virsa Prestige has them all. Those who have spent time on quality steel frames will nod in acknowledgement when I talk of the virtues of a well built hardtail: the calibre of the ride, the smoothing of trail chatter, the mystical sensation that flows with the curves and pops with the lips.
The Virsa Prestige has more of a trail focus than a race focus, and can therefore take a range of fork options from 80 mm to 130 mm. A longer fork will adjust the head angle outwards and raise the bottom bracket accordingly. There are some nice features like under-top-tube cable routing, wishbone seat stays, front-slotted down tube to keep the mud out, DMR Swopouts (a set of interchangeable horizontal or vertical dropouts for singlespeed or derailleur use) as well as a couple of colours to choose from. Fitted with Marzocchi Corsa 100 mm travel forks, Fulcrum wheels and Elixir brakes, the bike felt light and snappy but still reasonably competent on steep rough stuff. The frame has a ring reinforced head tube with gusset, and can take 2.3 inch tyres, so there’s plenty of opportunity for a burlier build. With larger rubber, a shorter stem and wider bars you’d be ready for some allmountain action. At 2.1 kg the frame is not exactly a lightweight in a modern carbon world; this is a trail bike, not a cross-country race sled, but it can still handle race duties if you’re that way inclined.
I enjoyed every ride on the Virsa Prestige and even had a few nostalgic moments. The light, simple build of the singlespeed made for enthusiastic climbing and plenty of sprinting between corners. The frame never felt harsh or jarring and everything from geometry to top tube length felt spot on. Only on really rough trails did I want for some rear end plushness, but this was quickly forgotten at the next rise in the trail. It’s easy to forget just how low bottom bracket heights are on hardtails. It means a lovely low centre of gravity to really carve the turns, but it comes with the compromise of a pedal strike or two.
As a friend once said, “A good hardtail never goes out of fashion”. Although I now pray at the full suspension altar, I think every mountain biker has need of a nice hardtail. They allow us to see our regular trails from a different perspective, and maybe brush up some skills along the way. The next time you’re out there, take a good look at those rocks and roots—they’re what makes mountain biking just that. And what better way to enjoy them than on a quality hardtail, like a Virsa Prestige, that will politely introduce you to each and every one. MARK DANGERFIELD

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