The Up Side: If you can get over the fact that we're actually going to call 74 degrees relatively slack for a seat angle, then thank you, we're in good company and no, it doesn't climb great, but it doesn't climb terribly either. The firm setting is incredibly firm on the Fox DPX2, the pedal setting a bit noncommittal.
Down Time: Nothing matched the Meta AM's ability to skim across things, unaffected, at high speeds. It was incredibly intuitive and encouraging. Lower-speed-tech maneuvering and descending was good as well, largely due to a not-stratospherically-long reach allowing for easy command of body over bike.
Dollar For Dollar: At $4,500 for a consumer-direct alloy option with top-tier componentry, the Meta AM 4.2 World Cup is in a league of its own; there is nothing else to stack it against. Compared to a $5,000 full-carbon, consumer-direct offering with nicer parts, it's so-so in value. Compared to a traditional brick-and-mortar sales floor offering, it's great.
It came out almost two years ago, was the least expensive in our test, is a single pivot and, wait for it … it's aluminum.
So, we thought we knew what we were in for—at least what to be snobbish and snooty about. But we were wrong.
The Meta AM 4.2 World Cup is a looker. It's black, somehow combines oversized alloy tubes with a sleek aesthetic, and if you took a sidelong glance from a ways away—well, maybe not too far even, it'd be easy to mistake it for some dark, carbon mean machine. It looks classy, and it flaunts enough high-end parts bolted to its curvaceous frame to walk the walk … er … ride the ride.
That single-pivot assumption? We need to get over that. No other bike in our test floated like the Meta over high-speed, landmine terrain—it truly floated. It didn't get stuck in holes, wasn't perturbed by roots, shrugged off Killington's blurringly indecisive lines and wait-for-explosion slippery roots and hidden rocks. It encouraged speed, and did so in an easy-to-wind-up, happy-to-keep-it manner that was predictable and reassuring.
There are bikes that have more travel and enjoy more volume in their downhill-sized rear shocks, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're faster. If the track isn't steep enough, they're left tripping over their trudge-through-it, almost-goopy suspension. The Meta skimmed the surface, feeling as though it were proving that if the rider could hang on, a faster finish was attainable, it wouldn't be the bike's fault.
Where it would be the bike's fault was cresting the hill in the first place. The Meta's Fox DPX2 Factory has a firm mode for a reason: Use it. While it wasn't the worst climber in the test, it certainly was a far cry from the best. Seventy-four degrees isn't a slack seat tube angle but with a rising crop of bikes touting 75- and 76-degree seat tube angles, it felt comparatively slack. One tester commented that the open setting was too open, the pedal mode still too open and the firm setting too firm. So, Goldilocks couldn't find her bed. It could have used a more-aggressive pedal mode, switching to firm forgoes any extra grip you might have thought you had due to its on/off nature. Other than the seat tube angle and shock tune, the Meta's ascents were manageable. Its reasonable 458-millimeter reach on the size Large kept things from wandering or vague when tucking into tighter corners climbing steeper sections and maneuvering the bike in general doesn't require over planning—it responds, without complaining.
Which might just be a nice way to sum up the Meta: It responds, without complaining. It does so as an alloy bike that might as well be carbon—it rides light, it doesn't flex and it'll intuitively skim lightly across treacherous chatter better than any other.
Q&A with Max Commencal, Founder and CEO—Commencal Bikes
1. In a world infatuated with carbon this, carbon that—one brand, Commencal, stands alone from the rest of the herd: Alloy bikes. But it’s not as though Commencal and carbon are strangers—I remember the Meta 55 Carbon and, based on its website, it looks like the Meta 55 Carbon lived from 2008 through 2011. So, it’s written in the history section of Commencal’s website, but it looks like it was a very conscious decision not to continue pursuing carbon. Why was this, it’s now 2018, how do you still stand behind this decision today and was it a wise one?
Well yes, our decision not to make carbon products is still valid. Thanks to this decision, we have been able to work with aluminum more and more throughout the range, providing quality often superior to carbon. Also thanks to aluminum we've been able to change our frames every year, even several times a year for our riders, whether it's the geometry, kinematics, stiffness, adaptations to new standards etc…. In fact, in the middle of the cycle, many people think that the most important thing is to lose grams but we're convinced that this is not the number one element! I sincerely believe that the progress we have made with our range of frames is much more important than staying locked into a geometry that cannot change without changing the carbon molds, which cost a fortune.
2. At time of press, Commencal listed air-sprung Meta AM 4.2 World Cups with mid volume Fox DPX2 shocks, as we tested, known for having a naturally progressive feel due to their air-sprung nature. Also listed is the Meta AM 4.2 New Zealand, sporting Fox's DHX2 coil shock. Often, brands claim that if a frame's kinematics are designed around a coil shock, it can't go air and vice versa. How is one frame able to accommodate naturally progressive air suspension and more linear coil shocks?
When designing a suspension kinematic, our target is to make sure that the bike will work with as many setups as possible, but also to give different personalities to a bike thanks to different suspension specs. We consider our frames to be highly intuitive to ride, whatever the suspension used. This is because of the leverage ratio of the META (for example) which has a really good balance between the linearity of a coil spring and the non-linear feel of an air spring. In a nutshell, we want to give our customers the choice between coil or air because some people prefer the excellent small bump sensitivity and mid-stroke support of a coil shock, while some others favor the lively feeling, comfort in the mid-stroke and end-stroke progressivity of an air shock. Not to mention the rather big differences between shocks. Different people, different needs.
3. Commencal offers the Meta AM 4.2 in several models—World Cup, New Zealand, British Columbia, among others. Reviewers commented that the Meta AM 4.2 World Cup was very comfortable at high speeds—it had a remarkable ability to flutter over successive hits, seemingly less affected while predictably in control. It also had a light touch at speed without being skittish—favorable traits for high-level racing. Are the New Zealand and British Columbia models designed to mirror the same handling characteristics, or should potential buyers expect a different ride feel from those versions?
The New Zealand and British Columbia editions are quite different bikes. Obviously, the NZ edition uses Fox suspension with a coil shock while the BC edition uses fully air-sprung RockShox suspension. As a result, the BC edition will show a very similar behavior to the World Cup version, like the one you described. On the other hand, the NZ will bring a more 'DH feel' to the bike with outstanding small bump sensitivity and excellent mid-stroke support. A setup we would recommend for long alpine trails.
4. Commencal is available in the U.S. as a consumer-direct option. But not too long ago, Commencal was available to U.S. bike shops via a BTI-distributor-based model. And I bet early European Commencal days relied on a traditional bike-shop sales channel. Commencal is a globally recognized brand, so you've had to figure out global distribution as well. From the outside looking in, it appears Commencal has quite a lot of experience with distribution and sales channels. So, considering Commencal's varied experience with distribution and sales channels, why is the consumer-direct model the best option for Commencal bicycle sales in America?
Several years ago we sold everything via the 'conventional' method of stores but for five or six years now we have almost exclusively sold online and therefore direct to the consumer. We cannot do both at once, it doesn’t work. It must be said that we enjoy this direct contact with the end customer. Intermediaries generally often know far less than us especially in terms of product specifics and availability dates. Every time there’s a new filter or stage in the process, there is loss of information. Not to mention the price that is always more interesting for the customer when you sell direct. That’s why we created our own subsidiaries in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and very soon in Chile. I know that we don’t reach everyone because many people who want a bike go to the store, and I completely respect this means of purchase, but now we have our specific place in this huge cycling market.