Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Banshee Wildcard- Long term review

Banshee Wildcard Review- Part I of II

This summer has been my favourite summer of riding period. With frequent trips to the Whistler Bike Park, a few excursions to the north shore, dirt jumps, and street rides, I can honestly say that I’ve have had more fun riding ma bicyclette than ever before.

I began this summer on a 2007 Santa Cruz Bullit, and as a true gearwhore addict, couldn’t resist the search for that ultimate and last fix. Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to have a Banshee between my legs (yikes!). Here are my thoughts on the new Banshee Wildcard.

What’s in a name?

Over the last few years, bike companies have made a concerted effort to use a new software program called the Labeltron 2000 to name and categorize every single type of bicycle found in their product line. Fresh and sticky labels that read “Downhill”, “Freeride”, “Cross-Country”, “All-Mountain”, “All-Mountain light”, “Enduro”, “4X” and “Slopestyle” grace the pages of glossy catalogues and flash websites found on the interweb.

But seriously, what’s in a name? Aside from helping marketing guys earn their big bucks, a name or label helps potential customers convey the type of bicycle they want to their friends, bike shops, and fellow bulletin board members.

When I heard that Banshee was going to produce a “Slopestyle” bike, I was immediately curious to see what Banshee had to offer. I mean Banshee had a reputation for building indestructible tank bikes that were frequently equipped with 3.0 meats, chromo cranks, and Monster T’s; not exactly something I was interested in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Banshee had something new up their sleeve. One might say, a wild card of some sort.

Specs and Geometry

The label Slopestyle conjures up different images for different people. Some mountain bikers see Slopestyle as a passing fad where mountain bikers do dated BMX tricks on really big jumps, while others see Slopestyle as the progression and future of mountain biking to the mainstream. For me, I see Slopestyle as a venue to create a lightweight and versatile ripper of a bicycle suitable for an assortment of different terrain. Slopestyle bikes often make great versatile rigs, especially for smaller riders. And for me, most of the features I look for in a bicycle are found in Slopestyle labelled bikes.

Desired item/ Found on the Banshee Wildcard

Full seat tube (14.5”)/ Yes

Low stand over (27.4”)/ Yes

ISCG chainguide mounts/ Yes

Slack(ish) head angle (67 degrees)/ Yes

Light weight (8.92 with a DHX air 5.0)/ Yes(ish)

Decent top tube length (21.9” for a small)/ Yes

Short chainstays (16.8”)/ Yes

Low bb height (13.9”)/ Yes

1.5 Head tube/ Yes

When all was said and done, and the Microsoft Yes chart was completed, I knew I had to contact Banshee and order myself a new frame.

My Banshee Wildcard looks like this:

 and weighs

Spec wise 

I have my Wildcard built up to be a versatile little rig that can climb up Fromme comfortably, and with the drop of a seat post, bomb down Whistler’s finest trails. Suspension wise, it’s equipped with a Fox Float 36 and DHX air 5.0. A Chris King 1.5 Devolution headset, Thomson X4 stem, and Easton Havoc bar keep the cockpit tight. Juicy 7’s with Goodridge housing slow me down in style, and Sram X.9 and X.0 keep my shifting needs happy. Hadley hubs, Mavic EN 321 rims and Bontrager Big Earls keep the wheels spinning. Truvativ Stylo cranks, E-13 LG1 guide and Atomlab pedals keep the cranks turning. A non-bling notable includes an OEM speced seat post (gasp!)

Geometry wise 

The sum of the parts above result in a tight little package with a 67 degree head angle, 27.4” stand over height, 13.9” bb height and a 34.63lbs digital scale weight. Overall, I’m happy with these numbers, but woud be happier to get my Wildcard down to sub 34lbs. 

But how does it ride?

How a bicycle rides can be very subjective. One rider’s claim is another rider’s joke. Don’t laugh; remember how well 24” rims and dual 3.0 tires rode? That’s why I find it is essential to give set up numbers.

I run a fairly firm set up for my 160lbs weight. I run 6.3” of travel in the front via a Fox Float 36 and 5” of travel in the rear via a DHX air 5.0. I set up my DHX air 5.0 with 175psi in the main chamber, 150psi in the boost valve, the bottom-out resistance fully cranked, and my rebound set at 8 clicks from the fastest position. Ordinarily, I run my rebound fairly slowly, but on the Wildcard, it begs to have the rear end lively to pop off jumps. 

Climbing

The Wildcard has the benefit of a near full seat tube length. At 5’7, I have enough seat post on the small frame to get full leg extension for extended climbs. With a fairly steep seat tube angle of 73 degrees, the Wildcard allows me to get centred and also over the front of the bike if need be for steep climbs. This puts me in a comfortable position for cleaning Fromme’s switchbacks as well as tackling more difficult uphill trail conditions.

The DHX air is a great match for the Wildcard. I made a deliberate effort to climb while sitting and standing, combined with and without the propedal lever engaged. To my surprise, the Wildcard climbed amazingly well and exhibited minimal to no suspension bob (with the propedal lever engaged). Given the right gearing, the Wildcard is capable of taking on extended climbs, and with the right build kit, would even make a decent All Mountain style bike.

Descending

The Wildcard loves to be ridden hard. With a 67 degree head angle, short chainstays, and a relatively low bottom bracket height, it absolutely rails. One of the first things I noticed while riding my bike on A-line was how comfortable I was getting my weight over the front wheel and really digging into the turns. I felt like I was riding in the bike, rather than on top of it. Cornering in the Wildcard feels like being in a powerful, quick steering, low slung sports car with deep bucket seats and a full tank of gas.

As a smaller rider, I really appreciate the stand over on the Wildcard. It gives me ample inseam clearance to comfortably manoeuvre and finesse the bike over slow technical trail obstacles like rocks, roots, and skinnies.

Braking on the Wildcard is relatively smooth. It exhibits much less brake squat than a true single pivot bike like the Santa Cruz Bullit. Banshee has done an excellent job with its faux-bar design, creating a laterally stiff rear end, with mild mannered braking properties.

Jumping

The Wildcard is very stable in the air. It has plenty of pop off the lips and is easy to toss around for whips and transfers. The travel ramps up nicely and provides a firm platform to boost jumps with.

One feature on the DHX air I found very useful was the bottom out adjustment. Prior to its adjustment, the Wildcard felt very lackadaisical in the air, and sucked up jumps like a downhill bike. It felt sluggish in the bottom stroke of its travel and seemed to wallow in its travel. However, after fully cranking the bottom out adjuster, the Wildcard came alive and it’s been good times ever since.

The Midas Touch

Banshee is a great company to deal with. Their customer service is absolutely amazing. Any questions I had regarding the Wildcard were quickly answered with a prompt, polite and enthusiastic response. It’s great to see rider operated bike companies like Banshee out there in full force, and the passion and enthusiasm they bring to the sport. This is something big bike companies should take note of.

Banshee also includes nice touches like an extra derailleur hanger, touch up paint, and bushings to keep your ride looking and feeling fresh. My Wildcard is anodized black. In addition to being lighter than the painted frame, it resists scratches better, and is easy to wipe off after a long muddy ride on the shore.

The Fine Print

Price. At a MRSP of $2056 Canadian dollars, the Wildcard isn’t exactly a bargain. At this price point, there are plenty of other options worth looking at. Expensive tooling, high-end quality and production, extensive research and development, and limited runs all come at a cost to the consumer. But the old adage “You get what you pay for” can definitely be heard whispered throughout the trails. Whether you choose to hear the whispers or not is up to you.

Final Thoughts

The Banshee Wildcard is the real deal. It corners, descends, jumps and even climbs well. Whether these features equate to the ultimate Slopestyle bike, it’s not for me to say as I don’t think I can back flip X-up over a 30 foot gap well enough to properly put it through its paces. Fortunately riders like Banshee’s Alan Hepburn can put the Wildcard through its paces and seem to be doing a very good job at it too.

What I can say with confidence is that Banshee has produced a real winner in the Wildcard. It excels in a variety of conditions and is an absolute blast to ride. Does this mean that the marketing guys need to create a new label for the Labeltron 2000?

 

Banshee Wildcard Review- Part II of II

Three quarters of a year worth of bum sits later on the Banshee Wildcard and here we are.  A follow up review is on tap.….Inquiring minds want to know.

As indicated in my original review, the Wildcard weighed in at a very functional 34.63 lbs.  While neither heavy nor light, the Wildcard never truly satisfied my deepest functional weight weenie desires.  To clarify, a functional weight weenie is a bike consumer who displays sincere motivation towards reducing the weight of his/her bicycle without sacrificing the ride integrity of said bicycle. 

In the quest for optimal and functional weight weenie savings, new parts had to be ordered.  So, what’s new?

Generic seat post = Thomson Elite 

Truvativ Stylo cranks = Race Face Atlas FR

8” front rotor = 7” front rotor

Atomlab (old school) pedals = Kona Wah Wah pedals (OMG, WTF, BBQ, A Kona branded part on my bike)

Worn 7spd Sram cassette and Sram chain = New 6spd chopshop Ultegra cassette with cross step Sram chain.  Ask master mechanic Axx from Team NSMB for detailed setup instructions.

The last time I weighed the Wildcard was before the new 6spd geared setup and it weighed a claimed 34.1lbs.  After the new 6spd setup, I’d like to think that it weighed sub 34lbs.  However, I do realize that without a scale shot, a claim is just a claim.  But I’m claiming this weight like a gold miner staking land.

My Banshee Wildcard now looks like this:

and now weighs

So, what else is new?

If you look closely at the tires, you’ll notice that I’ve crossed over to the dark side.  No more single ply tires, just serious DH meats.  A Maxxis Ardent 2.4” with triple compound in the front and a 2.35” super tacky Highroller in the rear.  Follow this thread if you’re curious about my decision to switch to DH tires. 

http://bb.nsmb.com/showthread.php?t=119401&highlight=2.35%22+tires

The result is a significant weight gain and a final weigh in at 35.38lbs.

A spec sheet with weights and parts is all fine and dandy, but the best upgrade any mountain biker can get is an optimized bike suspension setup.  For years I’ve setup my own suspension based on general manufacturer guidelines and the F-word…..Feel. 

For years I’ve been content with my own suspension setup.  This is where James at Suspensionwerx comes in.  I’ve heard rumours of this mythical legend working his mysterious voodoo craft on bicycle suspension.  And to be honest, the service he provides is 150% legendary.  He began by reducing the travel of my Fox Float RC2 from 6.3” to 5.5” to better match the rear end travel of my DHX Air set at 5”.  James broke out his trusty calculator/ruler and asked about my weight and riding style. He set the sag, compression, rebound and bottom out adjustments.  After a few more adjustments, a series of test rides occurred and voila, a World Cup tuned suspension setup.

Front Fox Float RC2 = 7 clicks high speed, 9 low speed, compression 75psi.

Rear Fox DHX Air = 125 psi compression, 135 psi Propedal.    

Specs and Geometry

With the new suspension setup, the geometry on my Wildcard has changed.  The bb height is now at 13.75” and the head angle is 67.5 degrees. 

But how does it ride?

The new parts and Suspensionwerx setup has made the Wildcard an even better ride.  The suspension travel is way more active than before.  This is great for descending and has made the Wildcard feel like a mini-DH bike when riding on the shore.  A new air suspension sensation for me is having the little stuff soaked up while not bottoming out roughly on the big stuff.  My previous air suspension setups have been on the firmer side to prevent harsh bottom outs.  The steeper head angle combined with having the suspension sit in its travel, coupled with real DH meats makes the Wildcard carve bermed corners like it’s on rails.  

However, there are some minor tradeoffs with this type of suspension setup.  When climbing out of the saddle, the Wildcard exhibits significantly more suspension bob.  I usually climb while seated, and the new plusher setup has not bothered me enough to use the rear lockout for climbs. 

Since Whistler Bike Park has opened, I have had the opportunity to jump and corner the bike at higher speeds.  With the new Suspensionwerx set up, the bike rides equally well over the small stutter bumps as it does floating in the air and hooking up in the corners.  It is the most well rounded set up I have ever ridden.     

The Fine Print

Well, you might be wondering if I’ve experienced any problems with the Wildcard.  I’ve only had one minor issue so far.  After a couple of really muddy rides last season, the Wildcard developed a loud squeak in the rear triangle.  After a through cleaning and generous gob of Phil Wood grease, I have been squeak free ever since.  This squeak free period has included some of the nastiest mud, and snow rides mother nature has graced us with.

The anodized black finish on my Wildcard has been very durable, but I have seen a few Wildcards with the wet paint finish that don’t seem to be fairing as well.         

Final Thoughts

The Wildcard has been a fun, solid, and reliable ride.  It’s been relatively trouble free and with the right suspension tweaks, has the ability to be an absolutely amazing ride.  The Wildcard has made me happy enough to keep it for another season.  And for those who know and ride with me, that’s saying a lot.   

Although there is a new generation of young rippers repping Banshee frames, most of the people I ride with continue to be underwhelmed by the Banshee name.  Perhaps a ghost of Christmas past, riders sometimes still mistake the Banshee of new with the Banshee of 3.0 Gazzi past.  

C.C.  

 

5 comments:

Jay MacNeil said...

That was a very very good review.
Somebody sign this man up for writing magazine reviews.
Its not so much that you liked the bike but that you talked about stuff you knew about, and went into details on things you actually measured yourself. To many reviewers just take what the manufacturer says and regurgitates it.

Maybe you can comment on anything you would possibly change. I've always talked with Keith that if we get a bad review from a good reviewer then thats worth its weight in gold because now we can improve the bike.
You'd be amazed how brutally nasty we are on our own stuff. We regularily tear our bikes apart and try to find stuff to complain about. I won't go into details but as for the Wildcard platform I don't think we'll see it change for awhile... I'm super happy with how it turned out.

Anonymous said...

Good review! I have read it already on nsmb.com.

What would I change on my Wildcard, if possible?
Maybe a slightly slacker Headangle (0,5° max) for those who are running Lyriks or Domains or 55 and who don´t want to follow the Trend of Zerostack and superlow Frontend. A more sloped Toptube, maybe with a little Curve, so that the lowest Standoverheight is not only where the Toptube meets the Seattube. Possibility of slightly shorter Chainstays, maybe down to 420 mm. And yes, Frameweight ;-)

Greetings from Cologne, Germany
NoStyle

rob c said...

if you want a slacker head angle on the Wildcard try running the K9 angled 1.5" reducer cups, with adequate stem stackers (or a higher riser stem or handlebar) so it doesn't drop your handlebar height

the K9 cups give +/-2 degrees depending on rotation, which would give 65 degrees on the Wildcard with a 160mm fork like the Lyric and 5" rear travel setting

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