There are Autobots, there are Decepticons, and then there is bike maker Bionicon. While the company's Golden Willow may lack heavy artillery or the ability to morph into a giant talking robot, several months of riding this bike proved that it's no less of a transformer.
The basic Bionicon concept aims to emulate the natural abilities of a mountain goat. While climbing, the front end can be lowered while the rear is raised, much like a mountain goat compensates with its legs while clambering up steep slopes. The opposite holds true for descending.
This transformation happens with the push of a handlebar-mounted button. When confronted with a climb, pressing the button and leaning forward transfers air through robotics-grade hoses from the fork into an extension piston attached to the shaft of the rear shock, tilting the bike—and the rider—forward.
Approaching a descent, hit the same button and lean back; the extension piston retracts and pushes that air back into the fork—which adjusts incrementally from 70 to a full 150 millimeters of travel, with little change to bottom-bracket height and no change to the rear-wheel travel of 120 millimeters.
Riding the Golden Willow took some getting used to, and when I first started out in the climbing mode I had to fight the urge to sink into my dropped-elbow, chin-to-stem climbing stance. Instead, I learned to let the bike do the adjusting for me, and to keep my body in a more upright, relaxed position.
Between the bike's two alter egos, its headtube angle swings from 73 to 68 degrees. In the slacker downhill position, the double-crown front end felt stable at speed and tracked true, with little noticeable flex. Climbing out of the saddle caused the four-bar linkage to bob, which was mitigated by keeping the platform switch of the X-Fusion O2 RL shock in its middle setting.
Short, tight transitions from descending to climbing proved tricky to master, because altering the bike's geometry means throwing weight over the front end. On the trail, that is easier said than done.
The adjustable bar/stem system let me radically alter cockpit position, and I settled on a shorter, lower setting to keep the high front end down and the steering tight. The downside to the stem is that, due to its widely spaced double clamps, handlebar choice is limited.
Aside from that, the mostly SRAM X9 components on this bike deliver a solid value.
Scandium frame tubes help keep weight down, and the Golden Willow SC I weighs 28.6 pounds. More importantly, the bike offers some hefty versatility. For open-minded riders looking for a do-it-all bike, the Golden Willow SC I is definitely worth a test ride.