Durango Moonshine | 2015 Bible of Bike Tests

A sustainable step in the right direction for the bike industry


Most early leaps in frame design were driven by U.S. and Canadian manufacturers that were small by today's standards. These function-first, industrial-looking bikes spawned an aesthetic that dominated until the proliferation of carbon fiber over the last decade, followed by the similar flowing lines of tapered and hydroformed aluminum.

The Durango Moonshine looks like something out of those early days, but its retro style wasn't what got it picked. First, the frame is built to last. The pivot bolts can be found at a hardware store, and using aluminum increases its life span so your frame might spend more time in your garage than in a landfill. Durango Bikes operates with a focus on altruism. Its factory runs on solar power and, wherever possible, it offers U.S.-made components in its kits. But you can't shred on good intentions alone. We held the Moonshine to the same standards as any Asian-made bike in its price range.

Despite being made of aluminum, its weight was near that of its carbon peers. On our loose, chunky descents, we forgot about the brand's interest in sustainability and started shredding. The bike's remarkable confidence came at a minor expense to its playfulness, but a few clicks of the knobs on the Cane Creek Inline shock aptly tuned it for lift-accessed flow trails or natural rock-stunts.

As is often the case, the climbs were not as much fun. We felt ourselves sink deep into the travel and the front end became unwieldy. We lowered the stem, which helped, but we agreed that the main climbing weakness was the slack effective seat angle. Sliding the saddle forward also helped, but sitting so far back multiplied the force on the shock, and the extra sag compounded the disadvantage of pedaling from so far behind the bottom bracket. But this is a 160-millimeter bike and some squish is to be expected. Here again, the Inline rear shock is ideal. When in 'Climb' mode, both compression and rebound damping are increased, calming down the rear- end motion but still keeping it active. Some testers prefer not to rely on a switch to climb, but it rounds out this already well-rounded machine quite nicely.
– Travis Engel

Durango Moonshine review

Q & A with Jeff Estes – President, Durango Bike Company

We had questions about the new bikes before we even got our test rigs, so we sent out a few queries—the kind of things we thought you might be asking yourself when you're looking at this bike. Then we sent out another round of asks if any major questions or issues came up during testing. Here's the feedback we received from Durango Bike Company president, Jeff Estes.

Consider this a bonus feature—just a little something extra to chew on if you're still hungry for information after you've watched our video reviews and flipped through the Bible of Bike Tests.
—Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator

VERNON FELTON: I remember talking to you when this bike was in development and you were considering going the FSR/Horst Link route. Why did you go that way? The obvious answer, of course, is that the patent expired, but that misses the point—you still had other options. What was it about this four-bar design that you liked?

JEFF ESTES: I have 20+ years of experience testing, racing, riding, and climbing with the 4 bar linkage…I have owned the other suspension designs over the years when the FSR patent was initiated and I refused to buy Specialized. I ride better, descend better and technically climb better on the 4-bar linkage designs. I understood what it was capable of in it’s early development stages working directly with Horst. One of the main reasons this suspension is so capable is because of it’s “squat”…other designs promote “anti squat”…however, by intentionally designing an “anti squat” suspension that load HAS TO go somewhere. So that load that is no longer in the rear goes elsewhere on the bike and that load will change even when you are in different gears. A bike with “redirected load” can feel sketchy on the technical stuff.

So expanding on that a bit more….the 4-bar linkage allows your pivot in the rear to be almost perfectly centered between the chain, meaning when you are in your bigger rear chain rings, the less active your suspension becomes (i.e anti-squat). It doesn’t mean it is absent but just less active…a suspension that is strictly designed with anti-squat equates to more efficiency but also equates to less traction and unforgiving in the technical rooty, rock sections. The other NON-4 BAR linkage suspension designs do not allow for that rear pivot to be centered…they have taken a kind of all or nothing approach.

The Moonshine is only sold in 1X11, the largest cog in the rear is 42 tooth-the squat is at is most minimal in the biggest ring when climbing and is considered at it’s maximum in the smallest rear ring when descending with speed. The biggest thing our riders report is that “Moonshine” is incredibly forgiving and almost “self corrects when I make bad decisions”. It is the 4 bar linkage that is self-correcting and listen, no one likes to make bad decisions on the trail more than me. I love seeing the bike accept a challenge and act like it was no big “whoop” climbing or descending. When people refer to the bike as confidence inspiring this is what they are talking about.

VF: There are plenty of 650b Enduro-style bikes out there. What makes the Moonshine different?

JE: Well it is NOT carbon and contrary to the Bike Mag video, the aluminum IS hydroformed. The tubing is thin walled where it can be but is thicker walled at welding points. The downtube is thicker walled and taller near the head tube but is horizontally wider and thicker at BB for added strength and rigidity. Bike Mag referred to this look as “retro” or “straight out of the 90’s” …this so called retro look allows for the bike to be lighter than carbon fiber, stronger than carbon fiber, and last a helluva lot longer than carbon fiber. Many of the curves you see on oversea production bikes are because they can’t fit their suspension or wheels in the existing geometry, so things get pushed out of the way…albeit it may look sexy but would add unnecessary weight to the Moonshine.

At the end of the day, you feel bad ass when you ride like a bad ass…looking like a bad ass only goes so far…and it doesn’t get you repeat customers. I spoke a little bit above about our suspension design and 1X11 rear cogs and how they affect the suspension engagement, but the 1X11 is standard on this bike, the PIKE 160mm is standard, Chris King headset is standard, Thomson carbon bars and stem are standard, and the Guide RSC brakes are standard to name just a few. We only offer (3) options on this bike, dropper seatpost, Industry Nine wheels and Cane Creek Inline or DBAir CS…this bike’s price price point with this standard build kit is far more competitive than the over sea mass production comparables.

VF: Let's cut to the chase—there are carbon bikes (not a lot, but some) that retail in the same price range as your aluminum bike. I'm guessing this is because you choose to go with American-built frames. Why did you choose to go the Made in America route when it has to, at some level, put you at a seller's disadvantage in a market dominated by foreign-built bikes?

JE: Vernon, you opened a soap box here so hang in there with me on this… first and foremost, carbon is a composite material…carbon fiber sounds fancy but at the end of the day it is fabric and epoxy…I don’t care how you skin it…it is a composite. Buying a bike is an INVESTMENT, composite investments don’t last, period, and not one carbon manufacturer is disputing that.

The Moonshine comes in around 28 pounds (less for smaller frames) which is less than or equal to the carbon bikes….yet the Moonshine is going to stand the test of time…I want my owners to know that if they invest in the Moonshine it will be timeless, there will be no price-erosion games, no schtick that next year’s model is better than whatever I created the year before…they are timeless, high quality, high-performing bikes.

I believe the market is dominated by foreign-built bikes because it is easier and what is perceived as “cheaper” to do business overseas, not because they have mastered the bike manufacturing process. Durango Bike Company has American manufacturers mastering the process and making it cost competitive…does it take a little more time, a little more effort…sure, but it is keeping jobs and manufacturing processes here where we live.

Most people don’t realize that every one American manufacturing job creates four new jobs in other sectors, the most powerful multiplier of any sector. Every $1 spent on American made goods adds ANOTHER $1.40 of economic activity to the American economy, a total of $2.40 of economic activity. Yet every $1 spent on foreign made goods creates a mere $0.60 of economic activity….I digress from mountain biking here, but I do believe this community of riders is a lot more capital conscious than what the industry leads on to…awareness is the key.

Finally, Durango Bike Company is operating off 100 percent solar. We have modified all our equipment and machinery to accept the alternative energy whereas overseas manufacturing often times lacks environmental regulation. We feel U.S. bike manufacturing is an opportunity to stand out and show how the biking industry can contribute and lead the way in the US economy.

VF: Okay, I hear you on about 90 percent of what you just said, but I do have to disagree with the contention that carbon is inherently less durable than aluminum. There are plenty of ancient Cannondale Ravens, for instance, still out there on the trails. Carbon shouldn't be considered some kind of all-magical material, I agree, but a well-made carbon frame can last for ages. Just have to insert that here.

JE: I am glad you “inserted” this…as I am not one that typically likes things “inserted”…So the European Raven was recalled due to poor bonding of “dislike materials” in the frame…carbon to the magnesium and there are plenty of pictures of the Raven’s BB breaking so I am not sure how well founded a carbon frame “can last for ages” is…the way to beef up carbon fiber is to simply add more fiber and a shit load of epoxy which then makes the bike weigh more. The Raven, case in point, was damn near a 7-pound frame of epoxy and fiber back in the day. So if you look at the longevity of epoxy there are a lot of things that can challenge its longevity of which includes exposure to temperature (hot or cold), sun (UV), vibrational stress, and other physical forces can break down the chemical bonds of the epoxy and thereby weaken the frame. I assume there is a reason why Specialized S Works Enduro priced at $9,300 uses Aluminum rear ends and not carbon, if it was “just as strong”? How come there are all sorts of protective shields required for carbon frames? Why does the Trek Remedy 9.9 use an aluminum chainstay on their carbon bike? Why do manufacturer’s have to put stricter caveats on their carbon warranties and crash replacements? Specialized even has a weight limit on their composite stuff…rock crushers are not welcome to their brand. Listen, if you are in the market for a new bike every two years and want to buy a frame that rapidly depreciates then CF is a great material for you. That is not the market DBC is after…we want to offer the highest quality, highest value, and best performing bike and we didn’t feel we could offer that with carbon fiber.

VF: Who does build the frames for you?

JE: Durango Bike Company does all the designing, mitering and fixturing in Durango, the frames are then transported to Phoenix (physically the closest heat treater) where they are welded by Aerospace certified welders and then immediately transported to the one of the oldest and most established heat treaters west of the Mississippi. Once heat treat is complete we transport back to Durango for post machining, reaming, frame assembly, complete component build, test and distribution.

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