Mountain Cycle Battery
$1,700 ($600 frame and rear shock)
By: Vernon Felton
One of the first big names in full suspension was Mountain Cycle. It's hard to convey just how radical this company was back in 1991, when their San Andreas model debuted. At the time, most riders were still arguing that suspension forks were about as useful as tits on a bull when the San Andreas rolled up looking like some kind of prop from RoboCop. It was the first monocoque mountain bike frame available to the general public and it sported squish front and rear (with an inverted fork, to boot). Oh, and at a time when V-Brakes were still in their infancy, the Mountain Cycle came equipped with hydraulic disc brakes,
Time, however, never stands still. Bigger, better-funded and flat-out, more successful, companies soon capitalized on the innovations of smaller builders and, generally, took the game to the next level. For a lot of us, Mountain Cycle slipped off the radar, a veritable Where Are They Now? of the bike industry. Mountain Cycle, however, is still kicking around and is poised to launch a new line of bikes at the 2011 Sea Otter Expo. In the meantime, they still have a few 2010 models lying about and ready to be ordered from their website. When we saw the outrageously low price on the Battery—their Slopestyle model—we rang `em up and gave one a spin.
THE BASIC SPIEL
Every few years the mountain bike family tree grows some new, twisted branch (XC, Trail, Enduro, all mountain, Freeride, blahdiblahblah…). Sometimes this is purely marketing-motivated and sometimes the new categorization actually serves a different style of riding that is emerging. A few years ago (sometime after Fixie Mania and before 29er Hoopla) Slopestyle became all the rage. In a nutshell, riders (particularly the huck-and-trick types) were discovering that adding inches of travel to a bike doesn't necessarily make it better at said hucking. Thus, we witnessed (and are still witnessing) a crop of tank-tough, short-travel bikes that can pull double-duty on a dual slalom course and at the dirt jumps. Mountain Cycle's Battery fits the bill nicely.
The Battery frame comes in one size—Short—which makes sense given the genre (wrestling an XL frame through a maneuver when you're 10 feet off the ground is a crap idea). "Short" is, in fact, also an apt description of the geometry. The Battery's top tube measures in at a stubby 20.2 inches and the wheelbase is a crazy-tight 41.7 inches (a good three inches shorter than a lot of all mountain bikes on the market today).
The Battery frame is a study in simplicity: massive pipes are oriented around one giant high-forward pivot. No fancy axle paths, hydroformed tubes or, well, anything smacking of whiz-bang-technology.
Simple, however, isn't necessarily a bad thing.
There's very little to go wrong here—a big plus for mountain bikers living in wet, muddy climes or for folks who simply aren't keen on replacing pivot hardware every few seasons. Every tube on the Battery appears ridiculously over-built; from the jumbo seat and chainstays to the 1.5-inch headtube. There is also some truly inspired machine work on display here: particularly the hunk of aluminum that's been whittled away on a CNC machine to house the bottom bracket. Finally, the frame sports replaceable rear dropouts, so you can run just about any 135-millimeter set-up under the sun. Plus, should you roach the dropouts in a wreck, new bolt on are always a phone call away. Our bike rocked a rear thru axle.
You can buy the Battery frame (with a Marzocchi Roco rear shock) for just $600. Which is mind-bogglingly inexpensive considering the nice workmanship here. We opted for the full build kit, which is an even better value: Avid Elixir R brakes front and rear, a Marzocchi 55 TST 2 Air fork, SRAM X9 rear shifter and rear derailleur, an MRP Camber crank and G2 Mini G chain guide, TruVativ cockpit and post and Azonic Outlaw wheelset. It's all burly, quality stuff that holds up to serious abuse.
OUT ON THE TRAIL
While I did spend a bit of time on this bike at the jumps, I'm a trail rider at heart and that's what I focused with the Battery. Let's dispense with the obvious: a bike that tips the scales at 35.43 pounds and is built to withstand stupid landings at the bike park should be stiff as hell and the Battery doesn't disappoint on that count. There's no hint of deflection or squirrel behavior of any sort, even when dropping into a corner or railing a rocky turn.
The bike feels stable and confident in the air, but is also wickedly deft on ultra-tight singletrack. The short wheelbase gives the bike an exceptionally quick-footed feel (despite its heft). The Battery sports a 68.5-degree headtube, which might be considered slack in some parts of the country, but is basically an "XC" set up here in the Northwest. Accordingly, the bike's steering is razor sharp.
The Marzocchi 55 proved more than up to the job: nice, smooth compression, easy adjustability, bomber chassis. The Roco worked fine, but wasn't as easy to tune on the fly as, say, an RP23. Shifting and braking were spot on and the MRP crankset/chainguide combo were a nice touch.
What's not to like? If you're going to spend most of your time at the jumps, there's not much to complain about here. The geometry is spot on, the uninterrupted seat tube lets you slam the seat and get it the hell out of your way, and the build kit actually makes sense for that style of riding—nothing stupid light or anything but stout.
If, on the other hand, you are still reading this review because you're on a Top Ramen budget and are looking for The One Bike that will do it all, the Battery's simple design has a few shortcomings. My biggest gripe is the amount of pedal-induced bobbing. Single pivot bikes often aren't designed with tons of pedal platform in mind and, true to form, the Battery bobbed like a mofo on every out-of-the-saddle climb. The pivot point being far forward of the single chainring wasn't helping matters here.
Likewise, I experienced a distracting amount of pedal kickback on rocky climbs. Sections that I consistently clean suddenly proved devilishly tricky aboard the Battery. There's definitely a very noticeable backward tug on the pedals as the rear suspension compresses.
While single pivots are known to be prone to brake jack, I didn't notice any stiffening of the rear suspension on the Battery. Personally, I think brake jack is more noticeable on longer-travel bikes and the Battery sports just four inches of rear squish that seemed unaffected by braking.
Is the Battery worthy of your consideration? At this price point, it's hard to say no. The workmanship is solid and the parts spec is stellar. This bike would still be a solid buy with a price tag that read several hundred dollars more. If you're a jumper looking for something that won't break the bank or break on the trail, the Battery should be on your list. If you have another grand to fritter away, on the other hand, and you're going to spend the majority of your time riding aggressive trails with big climbs, look elsewhere.—Vernon Felton