Monday, February 23, 2009

Pandora's Banshee RUNE Review

First off, let me tell you where I come from in terms of riding bikes. I’ve been riding mountain bikes since 1994 and have always been a keen XC only rider. That all changed when I decided that racing is not what pushed my buttons anymore and all I wanted out of my rides were weekend casual trail rides. As I stepped into the world of casual trail riding I found myself pushing more toward aggressive trail riding....drops, jumps, and basically just going faster where ever you can.

Well, aggressive is all relative; my aggressive mode could be somebody else’s peanut easy ride . I also do enjoy climbing which makes the downhill all so more rewarding. And so the search for a rig that could do it all within my riding capacity, that is. What do we call that....All Mountain?

Let me confess, when I first laid my eyes on a Rune, I found the frame design aesthetically not ‘Hot’ and never in my wildest dream considered that I would even think of buying one at that time. I better cover my ass here and say that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. After much time spent on researching my needs on a frame that would suit me best and also putting looks aside , I decided to pull the trigger on a Rune. My purchase was based on good value for money, suspension design – Virtual Floating 4 Bar (VF4B) and finally a very intangible aspect of bike purchases; the Banshee guys seem like an easy going bunch of mountain bikers.

I will try to be as neutral as possible with my review of the Rune. I understand that it’s only human nature to be positively biased toward the bike you own as saying anything negative about your own purchase makes you look and feel bad and probably stabs at one’s own ego. By the way, this review is my own opinion and may not be agreeable by all.

My new frame:

I saw a Rune about several months back and the weld beads were not as consistent and smooth as the current Rune frame that I own now. Mind you, it’s not as good as a Yeti that I had but it was still way better than some bigger brands that are sold here. It is a black anodized medium sized frame. The slightly matt anodized finishing was spot on with its contrasting white logos. I was thinking of going with a DHX coil shock but after coming upon an article that stated the frame designer (Keith Scott) developed the Rune to work better with high volume air shocks, I decided to go with the DHX air.

I was quite astonished at the stiffness of the rear triangle. When I tried to flex the rear triangle laterally with the shock (DHX5 Air) off the frame I could not feel any flex in it. It felt like it was one tough dog of a frame. I was feeling good about that as I wanted a sturdy frame. With the shock off, the rear triangle took some muscle to move. I guess it was because of the use of Igus Bushing instead of ball bearings in the pivots.

The finishing of the rear bottom suspension link (gold anodized) was slightly scratched up at the edges. I would assume that it was probably a handling or storage issue at the factory. Yeah! Yeah! It’s a mountain bike and it will eventually get scratched up but we all like it new when you pull it out of a box, don’t we?

The weight of the frame I thought was 7.4lbs for the medium (I may be wrong) but when I weighed it on a scale at the shop it showed at 7.7lbs. This didn’t bother me as weight was not really an issue for me. But let’s just put the blame on the scale for the inaccuracy.

The following is what I built her up with:

Fork: Fox Van36 ‘09
Wheelset: DT5.1 rims laced to MacMahone hubs
Drivetrain: X9
Crank: XT
Brakes: XT
Profile low rise handlebar – 26”
Stem: GAP 60mm
Pedals: Z Time
Headset: CK Devo 1.5
Saddle: WTB
Seatpost: Banshee (provided with frame purchase)
Tyres: Nevegal 2.35(F) / Conti Vertical 2.3(R)
Total weight: 32lbs

My first ride on the dirt @ Bukit Kiara Trails:
I wasn’t planning on pushing hard on the first ride as I wanted to work on the shock and fork setup. Ended up adding 10psi on my DHX Air to a total of 150psi. Other than this, I did not do anything else to the setup for the day. In the first few minutes on the bike, everything felt right, not perfect but right. I had ridden bikes that just didn’t feel good and a lot of changes had to be made to fit me.
Climbing up the asphalt toward the crossroad, I felt that pedalling the bike was very efficient. I say efficient is because there was no need to use the propedal lever on the DHX 5 Air shock. What a revelation! The suspension design alone made all the difference in the climbing ability of the Rune. With every crank cycle made I did not feel the bike bouncing about. Please remember that this is a 6 inch frame and it didn’t feel like I was on one climbing the tarmac.

The previous 6 inch trail bike that I had, the propedal lever on the shock had to be used to stop the rear from moving with every pedal stroke on the asphalt climb. It made for a tiring hike up the asphalt hill if the propedal was not activated. Suspension bobbing does make you feel like there is a loss of energy going into the shock instead of going into the wheel and effective forward motion. As a result, I can conclude that certain suspension designs do make a difference in pedalling efficiency. And a suspension design that needs some sort of ‘on the fly’ shock management may not be the perfect solution for my ‘All Mountain’ rig.

One of the first things I realized was that the suspension felt rather harsh on small bumps. It wasn’t as plush as what one would believe a 6 inch travel bike would have you experience. My previous sub 6 inch bike (Yeti 575) was very compliant on small bumps and made for a very comfortable trail bike. It could also be that the bushings need some break in period. So if you were looking for a bike that feels plush/good on small bumps, this might not be the right bike. What I think I understand is this is also due to the Rune’s VF4B suspension design as it compromises on small bump compliance for an efficient ride. I can’t tell you how it feels on the big hits yet as I haven’t gone there....yet.

I felt that the frame’s stiffness did make me feel more confident on the technical downhill sections as I was pushing harder than I did on my previous bike and this is on my maiden ride. The rutted fire road at ‘Upper Shot’ and the DH trail from ‘Shriners’ connecting to ‘Bunion’ used to be quite sketchy if you pushed it a little too hard but I was feeling good on the Rune as I didn’t feel like I was pushing the limit of the bike yet. I’m sure the Fox Van36 contributed to the solidness of the ride. For your info, I was on a Rock Shox Pike on my previous bike.

Even with the penalty of a heavier bike, all the technical climbs on the Rune were amazing. The traction I got from the rear wheel biting into the ground was apparent as I found that I didn’t have to work as hard with body english to get the traction needed in the rear tyre. I had a smile ear to ear. Even when I stood up to power through some short steep climbs, it felt solid in the rear (Propedal off) without the feel of the rear bobbing. My experience with standing and the rear bobbing on my other bikes is that it can cause sudden loss in rear wheel traction as well as reduced efficiency to burst up to the top. The multiple switchbacks at “Wasteland” were cleaned without a hitch even though I had a Fox Van36 fork up front. I really don’t see a need for a travel adjust fork on this frame as it does well on most climbs with the 160mm fork.

I’m pretty happy with the bike at this point and it has done what I had expected of it. I can’t ask for more as it didn’t disappoint me in most of the bike handling elements on my first ride.

Psssst! Remember what I said about the Rune not being a pretty bike. Well, she’s growing on me! She really is

Have a great day...cheers!


- Andy "Pandora" Dass