Trail Test: Avanti Ridgeline 2

  • Posted: 29th July 2013

Avanti have been in and out of the dual suspension bike game a few times over the years. After a noteworthy absence the New Zealand based brand stepped back into the bouncy game in 2011 with the 135mm travel trail-oriented Torrent and 100mm travel Vapour cross-country bike. Both were designed from the ground up by Avanti and garnered rave reviews.Just as Avanti’s new bikes arrived, the 26-inch wheeled cross-country MTB was simultaneously limbering up for a sprint towards the door. Despite its excellent ride qualities and execution, the shorter travel Vapour was just about born out-of-date (or possibly out of fashion). A year later Avanti debuted a big-wheeled dually – the Vapour 29 – but it was no longer an XC race bike like the original; it had bulked up and sprouted 120mm of travel, morphing into a trail bike not unlike the Torrent.

No complaints with the Deore-level Shimano brakes.No complaints with the Deore-level Shimano brakes.

Now for 2013 the longer travel Vapour has been replaced by the Coppermine (a dedicated 120mm travel 29er trail bike) and Avanti once again has a cross-country dually in their line-up; the 100mm travel Ridgeline 29er.

At the moment there are two models in the Ridgeline range. They start with the Ridgeline 1 at $2,299. It comes with a mix of Shimano Deore nine-speed and SLX parts with Tektro hydraulic disc brakes and a RockShox Recon Silver fork.

While there’s plenty of vacant space on the sides, there’s not a lot of vertical clearance—it could get tight if you want to mount big-bag tyres.While there’s plenty of vacant space on the sides, there’s not a lot of vertical clearance—it could get tight if you want to mount big-bag tyres.

Our test bike was the Ridgeline 2. Still quite an affordable option at $2,799, it comes with Shimano SLX 2x10 gearing, an XT rear derailleur and Deore brakes. Suspension wise it is fitted out with a RockShox Reba RL fork and a matching Monarch on the rear.

It may be pegged as part of Avanti’s ‘XC Race’ line but it only takes one heft on the hand-scale to know that the Ridgeline is not a race bike in the competitive sense of the word. Avanti makes some nice carbon hardtails (called ‘Competitor’ no less) and this is where the racer-boy will find satisfaction. That’s not to criticise the Ridgeline; it’s just better to make it known from the outset that this bike is designed for cross-country riding, but it’s not an XCO race bike. This however is set to change for 2014 when the range expands to include a more up-market carbon model, but for the moment the Ridgeline is more of a bang for your buck XC trail bike.

There’s no thru-axle but the chunky dropouts and oversized pivots more than compensate—it’s a very stiff rear end.There’s no thru-axle but the chunky dropouts and oversized pivots more than compensate—it’s a very stiff rear end.

The Ridgeline shares many features with their existing suspension bikes, and that’s a very good thing. Made from custom drawn 6061 alloy, the frame uses high quality Enduro Max bearings with oversized alloy axles throughout. The one-piece seat tube mounted rocker is gigantic and the seat stay pivots are spaced generously apart. They’ve also used every last millimetre between the cranks to make chainstay pivot as wide as possible. The cumulative result is a very stiff frame that is finished beautifully with clean and consistent welds.

In use the wide stance of the seat stays rubbed the inside of my calves when pedalling. I often found myself staring at chickens and experiencing debilitating episodes of leg-jealously and it’s likely that keg-calved riders will spend their time polishing the seat stays whilst aboard the Ridgeline.

It’s nice to see a thru-axle fork up front.It’s nice to see a thru-axle fork up front.

The straight top tube is out of kilter with the rest of Avanti’s dually range—it may look sharp but the extra standover clearance of a dipped top tube (as found on the Coppermine and Vapour) would be appreciated. One clear benefit of the straight top tube is that it creates a very open front triangle. Dropped top tubes can make it a real hassle to get a bottle in and out, especially with a larger bottle. With the Ridgeline, it was so easy that I’m sure that I drank more frequently whilst riding this bike.

Burly Build

Despite the lack of a thru-axle the Ridgeline is more than adequate in terms of stiffness—it feels very stout for a 100mm-travel cross-country bike. The fat diameter stays, oversized pivots and one-piece rocker all add up to make a really tight rear triangle. This ensures the suspension spends its time moving up and down as intended rather than twisting from side-to-side and binding.

Avanti spec’s a custom tune on the Monarch shock and we were impressed with the performance.Avanti spec’s a custom tune on the Monarch shock and we were impressed with the performance.

Front-end stiffness is provided via a big downtube, extra gusseting around the tapered headtube and a 15mm thru-axle fork. It may only have 100mm of travel on tap but the Ridgeline rides like a confident and self-assured trail bike, not an XC whippet. If the longer travel Coppermine rides in a similar manner it will be quite a trail weapon!

The flipside to the robust build is some added heft. Sub-$3,000 dual suspension 29ers tend to be on the weighty side, but the total build weight of 14.1kg made the Ridgeline around half a kilo heavier than comparably priced bikes that we’ve reviewed. Much of this comes from the frame; at 3,218g it is 200-300g heavier than other alloy 100mm travel alloy cross-country frames—this figure is more inline with a trail or all-mountain offering.

Avanti have played it pretty safe with their frame geometry. Measuring 446mm the chainstays are moderately short for a 100mm travel 29er but they haven’t done anything radical or crazy to get them into the sub-440mm zone. At 70-degrees the head tube is in keeping with the bike’s cross-country intentions. Likewise, the top tube is long enough to offer plenty of breathing space when the trail points uphill.

Sometimes it’s the small details that make a difference. The house-brand Zero lock-on grips were great.Sometimes it’s the small details that make a difference. The house-brand Zero lock-on grips were great.

Cunning Kinematics

Once out on the trail, the Ridgeline’s strongest suit was climbing. The XC-oriented geometry makes it easy to manoeuvre and keeps everything tracking straight at lower speeds while the suspension does the rest. Excellent small bump sensitivity keeps the rear wheel solidly planted when climbing yet the suspension didn’t feel mushy or inefficient under power—not once did we feel the need for a lock-out or platform damping.

The stock Kenda Slant Six tyres are covered in very short, flat-topped knobs and their profile is very round. They resemble an Echidna that’s just had a stoush with a pair of clippers. Even with these tyres fitted, it scampered up loose slopes and grabbed onto rocky steps like velcro. The Ridgeline strikes a rare balance; it pedals very well but still soaks up the tiniest imperfections on the trail. There are plenty of more credentialed and expensive bikes that would love to climb both rough and smooth trails as effectively as the Ridgeline.