Transition Bike Co. was conceived of in the heart of hardcore mountain bike territory, a place its owners Kevin and Kyle lovingly refer to as Cascadia. It all came about from a combination of being in the right place at the right time and a deep seated passion for riding, and they’ve reached some pretty astonishing peaks. Similar to any mountain bike ride though, they’ve been in some valleys too. The 26” Carbon Covert, a bike that was released just as the 27.5” craze hit, and the Covert 29’er, which had all the right ideas and all the wrong implementation are just two, and they came at time when mountain biking was a rat race. Transition Bike Company’s stars re-aligned in late 2014 with a completely new line-up. Each and every model seemed to lead its own charge into a new era of mountain bikes.
The Smuggler, an aggro, short travel trail 29’er, was one of the first bikes in its class, and one of the most popular. It was soon followed by the release of Evil’s “The Following,” which finished the job that the Smuggler started by cementing that style of bike into the market’s lexicon.
The Scout seemed a bit of an oddball at first glance, with a 125mm rear end and a 140mm Pike, but proved to be the perfect mixture of bike to be extremely fun to all people on almost all types of terrain. It has endured, in my mind, as the quintessential trail bike.
But the crown glory of Transition’s 2015 year model line up, a bike that won accolade after accolade - it was called the Bike of the Year by Decline Magazine in 2015 and by Pinkbike in 2016 - was the original Patrol. I owned this 27.5”, 160/155mm, slack head angled, steep seat angled all-mountain bike, and it remains one of my all time favorites. It opened the doors of my mind to a ride that was light and comfortable enough to pedal all day, but could be piloted down absolutely anything that I could dream of riding.
Three years later, when the entirety of the bike industry had caught up with Transition’s steep seat tube angles and long reach numbers/wheel bases, they released their “Version 2” of all these bikes, dubbed SBG - Speed Balanced Geometry. This is an approach to bike design that combines a number of different elements and components and results in noticeably different ride characteristics. Transition describes it as a holistically derived platform based off of extensive real world testing, as opposed to excessive office chair engineering. As a result, when these bikes were first released, some of the geometry numbers seemed to be verging on the absurd.
Transition dropped the head tube angle of the new Patrol a full degree, from an already slack 65° degrees to 64° degrees, a number that is very similar to a lot of downhill bikes. The seat-tube got even steeper, now at 77.1° for a medium. This allowed them to maintain the same effective top tube numbers, giving the bike a pedal position that still feels upright and comfy. It also moved the rider’s seated center of mass forward, which means that despite an extremely long reach (ie, front-center), there is still substantial weight over the front tire, which keeps the bike from wandering too much while climbing.
At 5’10”, with a 5’10” wingspan and 31” in-seam, I’ve tended to prefer medium frames. My original Patrol had a reach of 432mm, but the new, longer Patrol has a reach almost 20mm longer: 450mm. Because the rear end stayed the same length, that addition is all from the longer front-center; the chainstays measure 430mm on both the new and the old. It stands to reason that the new bike’s wheelbase has grown as well. Aside from the longer front-center, the slacker head tube angle added another centimeter from axle to axle, so my size medium’s wheelbase now measure’s in almost three cm longer than the first Patrol - 1209mm vs 1181mm.
To take things even more out of the ordinary, Transition took the unprecedented step of stocking all their bikes with reduced offset forks. This was something they had to convince Fox and Rockshox would be viable, but it has resonated throughout the industry. Along with the extremely slack head-tube angle, this makes the Patrol’s trail numbers extremely long. We’ve got a blog post specifically on what trail is and how it affects a bike’s handling, but the cliff notes version is this:
Trail increases when you:
- Increase wheel size
- Decrease head-tube angle
- Decrease fork offset
Bikes with more trail tend to have a calmer, more self-corrective steering feel at speed. The Patrol (and the Sentinel) both have enormous trail numbers. This is only one variable of many that Transition have changed with the Patrol, so I urge you not to fixate on it, but you can be assured of this: the Patrol feels like a juggernaut; it is unflappable in the face of steep, chunky terrain especially at speed.
You probably gathered that much, since this is a bike with 160mm of rear travel and a 170mm fork. But what of it? Where does the bike excel? How does it do the rest of time, on your more typical trail? At this point I’ve owned the alloy patrol out here in the PNW for a year, and I’ve spent a week on the carbon version in Fort Collins, CO’s rocky hiking trails, and think I’m in a good position to lay it on ya.
This is the Patrol’s primary purpose, so we’ll start with it. It has the bottomless feel you’d expect out of a bike with its travel numbers, and the suspension is well thought out. It initiates its travel more readily than the original Patrol, especially from full extension. That bike had a (barely) noticeable resistance to entering into wheel movement when the wheel was fully extended (ie. when you’re airborne). Due to some slight adjustments in pivot position with the new Patrol, that is no longer the case, so the bike gobbles up trail chatter from roots, rocks, and hucks with equal voracity.
There’s no funny business with the leverage ratio, and in fact it is almost identical to the previous Patrol, so if you liked the feel of that bike’s suspension, you’re going to like this one at least as much. It ramps up smoothly and consistently, and is not overly progressive. Very aggressive riders may still find that at the recommended 30% sag they reach bottom more often than they’d like, but that can easily be remedied by adding a larger volume spacer to the rear shock.
What of the whole SBG thing? How does that change the ride characteristics? I immediately noticed that the bike corners in a very calm, composed way. Once you’ve initiated your turn, it locks in and stays there until you pull the bike back. This took some getting used to, and initially I found myself blowing tight corners. In what almost seems like a contradiction, the Patrol feels so secure in a turn that when the turn gets weird, it wasn’t intuitive to change where the bike was going. It took me a small handful of rides to figure out how to deal with this. In sharper corners, I began to initiate my turn sooner, and further to the outside, to effectively straighten the corner. That is actually a good practice anyway, and given how confident this trait makes the bike feel, I’d call it a win-win.
You’ve heard of Coast Gravity Park on the Sunshine Coast? I was able to visit that wonderland, and got it on good authority that the Patrol was the bike to take, despite owning a full downhill bike. Turns out this is a bike that is not only capable of hitting 50 foot jumps, but actually does so with more ease than my big, squishy DH rig would have.
The bike is slack and long, and definitely feels most at home on trails with 30 degree slopes, 30 foot jumps, or 30mph speeds. That’s not most trails though. On rolling, low angle trails, the kind we all ride most of the time, I didn’t find my alloy Patrol to be that much fun. It will get the job done - the steep seat angle and ample seatpost allotment (I run a 175mm Reverb and have a 31” inseam) makes it easy to pop the saddle up and get up any unexpected uphills. At the end of the day though, the alloy version of the bike is a bit of a hog at slow speeds. I would find myself sprinting as much as I could in order to maximise my fun, but at 33 lbs with a lot of squish, that gets tiring.
Because of Transition’s application of a ~77 degree effective seat angle, the Patrol does not feel as long as it is. You maintain a comfortable, upright pedalling position, and your weight is positioned fairly centrally in between the wheels. This keeps the front wheel grounded, even on steep climbs. The only times I experience excessive front wheel wandering is when I’m exceptionally tired, and can’t maintain the wherewithal to keep the bike moving in a straight line. That all being said, we are talking about a bike with very long trail (remember, slack HA and decreased offset both increase trail, so the Patrol has a lot), which makes for wheel flop. As long as you stay vigilant and keep your weight laterally centered, this is basically a non-issue, but the first few times pedaling the bike, it will feel different than your current ride.
At my weight (165 lbs) pedal bob is essentially a non-issue on this bike, and I always leave the rear shock open unless I know I’m going to be on a road for a long while.
The biggest drawback to climbing this bike is its weight.. My medium alloy Patrol, with lots of carbon bits and an X01 drivetrain, weighs 33 lbs. Marathon days on this bike are not for the faint of heart.
The Carbon Patrol
The Carbon Patrol is a slightly different beast. It still doesn’t love going slow, but at two pounds less it’s a heck of a lot easier to stay on the gas, keeping that fun factor high. It’s also easier to toss around. During my time on the carbon Patrol out on the awesome Fort Collins, CO singletrack, I found myself far less tired than at home on my alloy Patrol. It still loves to smash through the chunky, baby head filled trails that I used to make my home, but it takes a lot less oomph to pick the bike up and put exactly where you want it.
Compared to the alloy version, it felt more nimble, a more suitable option for singletrack than one encounters out in the Rockies. With the plentiful elevation accessible in those amazing mountains I rarely felt overgunned, and when I did, I didn’t care because the bike is so comfy to pedal.
Is the Patrol for me?
Good question. You’ve decided that you’re SBG-curious, and that Transition floats your boat. The Patrol is their biggest, baddest trail bike, and you want one. I know the feeling. But biggest and baddest doesn’t always mean best, or at least best for you. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
Do I want to pony up for the carbon model?
- This is important because although the two bikes are identical in everything but weight, that does make a difference in how they ride. The carbon Patrol is livelier on its toes, and will be far easier to take on all day epics.
- If you can swing that bat, the Carbon Patrol can truly be your all around ride. Want to take it up to the Winter Park bike park? Rad! Want to do the Trans BC Enduro? Sure! Looking to get out for a little lap with the kid? Why not.
- If you’re thinking the alloy version is more in line with your pocketbook, make sure you have the types of trail and the hutzpah to make pedaling a ~33lb bruiser around all day worth the while.
Do I seek out harder trails?
- If the answer is “no, and I don’t care to,” than I don’t think the Patrol is for you. I’ve heard plenty of people say that they need the added travel to account for mistakes, but in that case I’d suggest the Scout. It still has over five inches of rear travel, more than enough to give you plenty of leeway, but it will also be much easier to pop and play around on. The steeper head angle will also make it climb better, and generally be more fun on mellow trails. If you don’t believe that bike is enough to ride anything you want, check this video out.
- If the answer is “yes, and I want to be able to ride the bike park, and race enduro, and anything else I could imagine,” than yes, this is the bike for you. Carbon or aluminum? You decide. If your budget would allow for carbon but you’d have to compromise elsewhere, get the alloy one.. It’s rad.
All in all, Transition hit a home run with this bike. They took the “enduro” mold and made it their own, creating a bike that has a vastly different feel than anything else out there that I have ridden. SBG is not just “Some BS Gimmick;” these bikes do perform differently, and I’d be hard pressed to say that it’s not an improvement, especially if your aim is feeling confident while you’re going absurdly, blindingly, astonishingly fast. If that is you, get this bike and hold on.
Cheers - Dan at Fanatik
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