On paper, pitting Transition's latest Smuggler against the updated Evil Following MB seems like a perfect match. Both bikes have 29-inch wheels. Both have 120 millimeters of rear travel. They both hail from a geographically close breeding ground in the Pacific Northwest, both are proponents of contemporary longer and slacker geometry, are each available in purposeful dirge-worthy flat colors, and praise be, both feature threaded bottom brackets. One bike has a carbon-fiber frame and a higher spec, the other an aluminum frame with a more wallet-friendly parts selection. As such, the Following MB rolls out the door weighing 29 pounds with a set of XTR pedals, at a price tag of $6,900. The Transition Smuggler is 2 pounds heavier with the same pedals, but it costs $3,000 less. And, in spite of their many similarities, these two bikes could not be more different in how they ride. So, when it comes time to slap down a whole pile of money for a new-school, wagon-wheel trail bruiser, what's a lover of muted paint schemes to do?
Evil Following MB X01
According to Evil's own marketing, "We picked up right where the original Following left off and decided to make the party between your legs a little longer and stiffer, but not slacker or lower." Ohhhkaayyyy, possibly triggering language for some of us, but an accurate description of what changes were wrought in turning the Following into the Following MB. Reach and wheelbase were both stretched by a half inch, with our size-large test bike sporting a still relatively moderate 1,177-millimeter wheelbase in the shorter of its two configurations. Other changes include Boost spacing, a new trunnion-mount, metric-shock being squeezed by the now familiar Dave Weagle-designed DELTA suspension and a nifty integrated upper chain guide. Comparatively speaking, the Following is almost a degree-and-a-half steeper in the head angle (67.4) and a degree-and-a-half slacker in the seat angle (74.3) than the Smuggler, and an inch-and-a-half shorter between the axles. Opting to run the two-position suspension in the lower position would slacken head and seat angle by a half-degree, and would add 1 whole millimeter to the wheelbase.
The great comparative difference here between the Following and the Smuggler is most noticed in that distance between the wheels. Evil opted to aim for a bike that enhances the playful reputation of the existing Following, and in so doing ended up creating a bike that climbs very well, is an absolute hoot to ride in techy, slow terrain, yet still has remarkable composure when smashing rocks and jumps at speed. A general comment on the suspension performance was that oft-abused observation that "it feels like it has more suspension that it does." The suspension, aside from some concerns that it could do with a lighter damping tune, happily devoured everything from roots and small rocks to heavy g-outs. 120 millimeters of travel is usually thought of as light-to-mid duty trail bike territory. The Following MB tweaks that formula and offers what is basically a short travel all-mountain bike.
The XO build was on par for the price, with few areas worthy of criticism. The rear hub could do to be a bit quieter, the e*thirteen tires were rated by some testers as tractable and abuse-ready, but judged a little stiff by some others. If the price tag sticks in the throat, a GX build is available for $5,300, which would put it substantially closer to, but still well above, the price tag of the Smuggler. With the Following MB, Evil has managed to strike a very good balance between playful behavior, broadly capable suspension performance, and ballsy high-speed confidence. That performance comes at a price, but it is a quality of performance that is hard to beat, with a level of fit and attention to detail that helps justify the expense.
Transition Smuggler GX
While similar in many ways to the Following MB, Transition's aluminum Smuggler is a beast of an entirely different stripe. The numbers defy tradition: 120 millmeters of rear travel, bolt-upright 75.8-degree seat angle, 66-degree head angle, and a 1,213-millimeter wheelbase on our size-large test bike. Let that sink in. This is a 120-millimeter-travel bike with 29-inch wheels, basically the default travel and wheel size for that grey area between XC and trail bikes these days. And it has a wheelbase longer than almost all of the long-travel all-mountain bikes we tested in the past few years. Just so we are clear, understand that this is not the bike for an XC racer looking to edge into a slightly more comfortable race rig.
If not a crossover trail bike, nor some threshold introduction to gravity friendly riding, then what, exactly, is the Smuggler? In a word, it's a sledgehammer. Disguised as a trail bike, admittedly, but really, it's a sledgehammer. It is designed to smash steep trails into oblivion, the faster and steeper the better, finesse can be employed but is entirely unnecessary. This bike exists for when the world tilts downward and gets sketchy. The Horst-link rear suspension may only deliver 120 millimeters of travel, but even at a recommended 35-percent or more of sag, it ramps up so heavily toward the end of travel that massive bottom-out abuse is shrugged off. Damping is relatively heavy, and sacrifices buttery small bump compliance as a result, but when the foliage starts to blur the Smuggler truly comes into its own. It feels like the kind of bike that could be thrown down just about any trail with the rider blindfolded, and everything would be just fine at the bottom.
Such gravity prowess comes at a cost, however. And in this case, the Smuggler is not the happiest camper when cranking uphill. Rider input causes some suspension movement, easily countered by flicking the lever on the Fox DPS Performance Elite shock to cancel out the bob, and the steep seat angle derived pedaling position is tailored for grinding away against gravity's hand, but the fact remains that this is a loooong, not entirely lightweight bike. You will earn your turns. Speaking of length, while the Smuggler is absolutely unflappable at speed, it is also a less than enthusiastic dance partner when trying to muscle around tight switchbacks or pop the bike from one line to another at anything less than warp speed. In short, Transition has evolved a difficult to categorize beast with the Smuggler; it offers otherworldly stability and high-speed manners that many bikes--regardless of travel-- would do well to emulate, but it requires a firm hand and some big quads to keep things rolling smoothly elsewhere. It offers this bruiserweight performance in a cleanly thought out, decently priced package. But prospective riders would do well to ask themselves if they are strong enough to measure up to the Smuggler.