The BMC Agonist is more evidence that the world of XC is changing. Bikes are becoming more capable and more realistic. But not too much more. Especially in Europe, where efficiency and speed still drive XC bike design and sales, meaning the podium-dwelling Fourstroke will stay in BMC's lineup as their traditional race-winning machine. The Agonist offers a little more travel and a little more attitude.
And I really do mean "a little." The Agonist adds just 10 millimeters of travel to the Fourstroke's XC-standard 100. And its 69.5-degree head angle is just a half-degree slacker. The standover is significantly more generous, and the stack will make you 10 millimeters more comfortable, but aside from adding an XL to the lineup, the rest of the sizing numbers remain almost identical to the Fourstroke. Even the stem lengths and bar widths are in parity with BMC's race thoroughbreds.
The Agonist features some subtle but welcomed design updates. The cables follow internally tubed paths through the front triangle, then across the linkage, into the rear triangle, and will pop out right where you need them every time. The cable to the remote-controlled rear suspension stays invisible until it reaches the upside-down-mounted rear shock.
There's even a flush-mounted mudflap protecting the lower link from trail debris, and equally stealthy hideaway front derailleur mount, if you're into that sort of thing. In fact, two of the three BMC Agonist builds come with front derailleurs, including a carbon front, aluminum rear XT/SLX build for $4,900, or an XT/Deore option for a pretty reasonable $3,900. We rode the full carbon X01 Eagle build, which goes for $7,500.
The Agonist, of course, features BMC's APS linkage. It's tuned for a low leverage ratio and a progressive shock feel. As I set up my Agonist for our day on the trail, I was surprised how little pressure I needed to get my proper sag. And it definitely was progressive. I spent half the day trying to bottom it out.
Riding the BMC Agonist
That day was spent traversing through the Kander Valley in rural Switzerland, BMC's home country. After the traditional product-launch PowerPoint during a very non-traditional private train ride, we set out on a fence-hopping, cow-dodging trek that suited the Agonist's thirst for adventure.
I'll try to bring up the differences between U.S. and European riding styles as little as possible here, but they were especially prevalent on our ride on the Agonist, and on the Agonist itself. Stateside, we trend toward loops and out-and-backs that avoid doubletrack as much as possible. But Swiss fire roads are just too efficient and numerous not to take advantage of. This is why brands like BMC are so fond of remote dual lockout levers. I've never had one on a personal bike, but as they say, when in Rome … .
The Agonist sat high enough in its travel that I only opted to use the remote on pavement. Even the middle setting, which leaves the fork unchanged and firms up the rear end, seemed only useful when I really wanted to hammer. I opted for comfort the rest of the time, especially when our ride occasionally ducked into the woods to climb some rooty singletrack. Rating it purely on its climbing versatility, the Agonist nails it as an endurance-racing machine.
On the descents, the progressivity in the rear end was a little much. The Agonist doesn't lend itself to being bashed around enough to need all that ramp-up, but if ridden with a light touch, 110 millimeters of travel can get plenty done. Anyone willing to sacrifice a little pedaling platform could remove a volume spacer or two, and change the Agonist into something more capable than just an XC bike.
It's just missing one thing: None of the complete Agonists come stock with a dropper post. And if you want to install one with an internal cable, you'll have to cut a small hole in the frame under the hatch that covers the front derailleur mount. It's Ok. They told me I could tell you to do it. Our love affair with dropper posts is another thing that separates U.S. riders with continental Europeans. Of course they use them on their longer-travel bikes, but the overwhelming majority of XC and endurance riders are too weight-conscious and too traditional to embrace droppers.
But the Agonist still does challenge tradition, and it's not alone. This year saw bikes like the Cannondale Scalpel and Rocky Mountain Element show up to challenge XC norms. I felt the same approach to speed when I pushed the Agonist to its limits. However subtle, the extra stability helps keep you in control when amid chaos, and keeps you comfortable when you're pedaling up to find that chaos.
The Agonist isn't a kill-em-all XC bike, and it's not a do-it-all trail bike. It's tailor made to sit in the seldom-served category between them. It’s got a natural talent for stacking endless miles on the odometer. Of course, I was stacking kilometers, so it was, like, 1.6 times more epic.