If you’re familiar with Transition’s history you may recall that the first Smuggler came about in 2014, when Transition made the move from their long-standing modified single pivot bikes to their current GiddyUp four-bar suspension design. It was one of the first 29’ers that was actually fun on gravity oriented trails, but at 115mm of rear travel, came at a time when longer travel bikes, like the first Patrol, were all 27.5”.
In 2018 it got a 5mm travel upgrade and a makeover with Transition’s launch of Speed Balanced Geometry, or SBG, but then mysteriously disappeared from the line-up as the brand transitioned to their most current design aesthetic starting with the Scout in 2020.
Since then, 27.5 has all but died, so the question remains, where has Transition’s shortish-but-not-too-short travel 29’er gone?
Their Coolest Bike Yet
Since the start of the decade, Transition has had the 150mm do-everything Sentinel, which everyone at their headquarters lovingly refers to as the Send-It-All. There’s the astonishingly capable, incredibly light-weight 120mm travel Spur, a downcountry bike built for the world-cup downhill racer moonlighting in spandex. And most recently, we’ve seen the enduro-ready, eat-every-bump for dessert Spire, a 170mm beast that might as well be a pedalable downhill bike.
To me, that means Transition has everything except the middle of the bell curve covered. They have literally everything but the one bike that is gonna be the most fun for most people on most trails. Most of us don’t wear spandex, or want to send everything, or care to munch on rock gardens for dessert . . . so what does Transition have for us?
Well, now they’ve got the Smuggler, and it’s their coolest bike yet!
Settling nicely in between the 150mm rear travel/160mm front travel Sentinel and the 120mm front/rear travel Spur, the latest Smuggler sports 130mm of rear wheel, piggy-back equipped travel, along with a 140mm fork.
That rear wheel travel is delivered via Transition’s “GiddyUp” four-bar suspension linkage, a similar arrangement to what you see on Specialized, GT, and a number of other smaller bike brands. Transition has configured this particular bike to deliver around a 27% leverage rate change (progressivity) from the frame, a healthy amount that allows the bike to work with coil shocks or the more tunable air options. The stock Fox Float X shock comes with one volume reducer installed, and in our experience never suffered from any sort of harsh bottom outs, despite what we expected after certain ill-advised hucks.
For the Smuggler, the minds at Transition did not use the lighter flex stays found on the rear triangle of the Spur. This was in part because that design choice is not an option on an aluminum frame (in which this bike is available) and because at 130mm, would result in too much flex for a durable flex stay.
With the stock shock, it is a simple matter to pop the air can off and remove a 5mm spacer to bring the rear travel up to 140mm, a warranty-backed option that is in keeping with the aggressive riding that many of Transition’s customers gravitate towards.
Most riders will do well to build this bike up with one of the lighter, “trail” oriented 140mm forks out there, like the RockShox Pike or the Fox 34. Fork flex at that amount of travel is not significant enough to offset the additional third to half pound of build-weight that bumping up to the Lyrik or Fox 36 confers; those forks were designed to operate at around 160mm of travel, where additional chassis stiffness makes more of a difference. That weight savings is part of what makes this bike so fun to ride. A beefier fork is an option though, and if you are heavier and ride very aggressively, may be something you’ll benefit from.
Redesigned and Totally Refined
It has been two years since Transition launched their current sharp, aggressive aesthetic with the 140mm, 27.5” Scout, and with the Smuggler they show that they are completely fluent in this eye-catching design language.
Despite two gorgeous new colorways—Orchid, a gorgeous burgundy red inspired by Willy Wonka’s snozzberries, and Espresso, a brown that perfectly matches the mole dish it was inspired by as well as this area’s wonderful loam—this bike looks exactly like what it is. With the chainstay pivots of the Sentinel and a smaller rocker link like the Spur’s, it is the visual middle ground of those two models. But look closer, and you’ll start to pick up on some new design cues that demonstrate a more refined palette.
The rear brake hose now disappears into the front of the headtube instead of the sides, along with the rest of the cables. Although I’ll miss the externally routed brake for the convenience of easily swapping my brakes without cutting any lines, I’m in the minority. These changes result in a very tidy cockpit setup and frame, especially if you’re running wireless electronic parts. That tidiness holds true internally, where molded tubes guide everything down to the bottom bracket area.
There, instead of popping out of the front triangle before re-entering, your rear derailleur housing and brake hose pass through a small port in the back of the lower seat-tube and into the rear chainstays, staying completely hidden from view. This results in a clean, sleek design that may not actually be faster, but definitely looks it.
What will make you faster is being balanced within the bike, which Transition has ensured by spec’ing longer chainstays on frame sizes large through XXL. Those get 440mm rear-centers, whereas sizes small and medium get 335mm chainstays. That corresponds with appropriately spaced out reach measurements between sizes (see the geo chart here).
Back at the headtube, the Smuggler is the first of Transition’s models to use in-molded headset cups, a lighter option than traditional press-in aluminum cups. Although you can’t change the headtube angle using angled cups with this design, Transition nailed that geometry number at 65 degrees, which I consider to be the perfect amount for a trail bike designed to do it all. In my experience, the only time angled headset cups are appropriate is when the manufacturer flubs that decision—not the case here.
Other premo features we’ve come to expect from Transition in the last few years remain or are improved upon. High coverage rubber protection along the drive-side chainstay and seatstay keep the frame exceptionally quiet and protected from lost chains. Space abounds inside the rear triangle for big, grippy 2.6” tires. There’s ample water bottle space, along with two bolts for a gear mount sitting underneath the front of the top-tube. SRAM’s universal derailleur hanger is installed, ensuring drivetrains of the future will be compatible. A lifetime warranty is included.
The best bike, for the most people, on most trails. I made that claim earlier about the Smuggler, and although it was partially in reference to bikes in this travel/weight category (see the Specialized Stumpjumper, Revel Rascal, Santa Cruz Tallboy, etc), I think the Smuggler is one of—if not the—best of the bunch. That holds especially true if you fall towards the gravity end of things.
I set the rear travel up at 30% rear shock sag and the recommended psi in the fork, and immediately encountered a bike that made me want to push the speed. So much so that on that very first, very wet ride I ended up launching myself directly into a 10” diameter tree. I didn’t break my femur, but I don’t think I was far off.
Fast forward a few weeks. This bike is seriously fun. Although I was clearly overdoing it on the very chunky, very high speed bit of trail that did me in, the crash was a fluke, and it was only as bad as it was because the Smuggler just begs you to push, pump, and pop every bump and nub you come across.
That makes sense; most sub-five-inch-travel bikes these days will do that. But this one rewards those pumps and pops with just a little more airtime than seems to make sense. That holds true on jumps too, where this bike seems to fly where others merely float. It requires less rider input to boost off lips, and the feedback it provides is extremely controlled and predictable, magnifying the little style that I have in the air. It feels extremely comfortable, so you feel more at ease playing around with it.
Plenty of people have no interest in leaving the ground though, and the 130mm of GiddyUp travel does its job well on that front too. More reminiscent of the Sentinel than the Spur (despite being closer in travel to the latter), the rear wheel moves out of the way of roots and rocks at the drop of a pin. I love how the Scout and the Sentinel sound on trail—quiet, except for a dulled “pfff” of the tires hitting bumps and the shock compressing and extending. This bike sounds the same, and the sound mirrors the feeling, a reassuring pressure on the bottom of your feet that tells you where your wheels are and how much grip you have.
Turned up hill, the Smuggler’s very vertical seat-tube pushes your saddle closer to the handlebars than much of the competition, resulting in shorter-than-average effective top-tubes and the very upright, comfortable seated position that Transition’s bikes are known for. That same forward positioning also helps keep the front wheel weighted when you’re pushing over a technical section of trail, or a particularly steep pitch. On the flip side, it leaves the seat in what I find to be an uncomfortable position when you’re pedaling out of the saddle, so much so that I tend to drop it in those cases.
Big wheels and a 30lb build weight on our medium bike make it roll over bumps as a 29’er should, and feel light enough to move around as necessary to get over steps and tall features. The bike is so spry that it had me trying all sorts of uphill escapades that normally I’d write off and walk up because they don’t seem feasible on a longer bike (and certainly not any fun).
Who is it for?
When I owned my Sentinel, it felt like a reasonable “one bike to do it all.” I could ride the steepest trails comfortably, hit big jumps, and have fun on more meandering, mellow trails. But then I bought an Evil Following and set it up with a 120mm Fox 34 Step-Cast, and realized how much fun a lighter, peppier bike was. I ended up riding the Following 90% of the time.
The Smuggler splits that difference, and the result is a bike that can still ride those steep/techy trails and hit big jumps, but is also a blast on flowier trails and those were descending isn’t the only thing happening. As such, it’s the perfect bike for folks who don’t have the luxury of owning two bikes or don’t want to deal with twice the upkeep.
Although the Specialized Stumpjumper is lighter, it doesn’t feel like it can hang when you really push it. The flex stay is flexy-er (who’da thunk) and when you’re really railing a corner can bend so much that the rear tire rubs on the inner chainstay. And unlike the Santa Cruz Tallboy, this bike feels very predictable off the lip of a jump. No weird movement into the travel, just a nice easy push.
It is slightly heavier than those two bikes, but it also comes stock with a piggy back shock. You could easily build the Smuggler up under 30lbs in our Bike Builder if you want to, and it’ll still be more downhill-capable build than those two with the same components. It’s a Transition, and it’s in its DNA.
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