First Ride: Diamondback Release Carbon 5c

Forget what you think you know about Diamondback... again

Over the years, Diamondback has taken many forms. When I was growing up, that form was BMX. Then, like every BMX company in the 90s, they jumped on the mountain bike bandwagon, rebranding their high-end offerings as DBR. They then began transitioning into a value-oriented line. Now, they’ve adopted a refined consumer-direct model and offer an even higher bang-to-buck ratio. Diamondback has settled into that role gracefully. We've spent time on both the aluminum Release and its women's-specific counterpart, the Clutch, and they're more on-par with their high-end peers than any bike Diamondback has produced in the previous half decade. Except for one obvious handicap; The Release is only available in aluminum.

The Release Carbon combines Diamondback’s focus on unique design and exceptional value..

That changes for 2018. The Release Carbon is still a 130-millimeter rear, 150-front travel, 27.5-inch trail bike. But now it's got a carbon frame. Duh. And not just the front triangle. The fact that Diamondback went full carbon, front and rear, shows their commitment to being a player in the high-end. And the spec follows suit. Their top-end Release Carbon 5c specs an Eagle X01 drivetrain with Descendant carbon cranks. And it floats on Fox's Performance Elite-level 36 fork and DPX2 shock, each featuring everything but the Kashima. The Release Carbons also spec something we haven't seen for years on any high-end bike, no matter how pricy; Pedals. Nice, big, flat pedals. The only thing missing on the new Diamondback Release was a bottle cage mount, which there’s just barely not enough room for.

The Release Carbon still uses Diamondback’s Level Link, a variation on VPP.

It all makes for a pretty exciting package. But, I assumed, it would mark the end of Diamondback's value-oriented market strategy. A full carbon bike, suspended with a unique version of the VPP linkage with this spec really has no reason to undersell its competition. But I assumed wrong. The Release Carbon 5c goes for $4400. Look across comparably-priced bikes from other brands, and none check all the boxes the Release does. Even more impressive is the Release Carbon 4c, which ditches the DPX for a more traditional DPS, and a feature-packed 36 for a slightly simpler 34, as well as an SLX drivetrain and some paired-down parts throughout. That option comes in at a pretty remarkable $3000. And if neither of these builds strike your fancy, you can build your own through Diamondback's Custom Studio. Want Enve wheels and cockpit? Have it your way. DHX2.0 Coil rear shock? Go nuts. Pick your parts and have your dream bike shipped to your door.

Or, depending on your location, any model Release can be hand-delivered after being hand-assembled by a Bee Line mobile bike repair rep. If their coverage is too limited, it can also be shipped to and assembled by a participating bike shop. That word "participating" worried me, so I plugged in a few different addresses at the checkout screen, and always found a participating shop within ten miles. Both options come at no charge, as does the shipping. If you choose to do all the assembly yourself, your Release will come with a tool set, including a torque wrench and shock pump. Diamondback claims it will come out of the box with no need for skilled adjustment. Just a few minutes of bolting parts on, and it will be ready to ride, though our Release was delivered pre-assembled so we'll have to take their word on that.

We’ll come in low out of the rising sun, and then about a mile out we’ll put on the music.

My first ride on the Release was slightly outside its comfort zone. On a heli-drop. The raw routes down Mount Barbour above Pemberton, British Columbia are suited for bigger travel and bigger wheels. But to be fair, I had spent the week leading up to that ride on enduro slashers and big-hit 29ers. Even given its 150-millimeter fork, I expected to face an adjustment period on the precision-oriented Release.

Mt. Barbour trail down to Tenquille Lake will keep you on your toes. Luckily, the Diamondback Release is light on its feet.

On rocky traverses steep enough to offer limitless speed, I tested the Release's limits. I found myself relying on the extra front travel to hold my line and maintain traction and speed. Thankfully, the 66-degree head angle lent itself to being leaned on. But when I tried to stretch back and brace for impact, the rear end would remind me that despite the bike's enduro stance, it doesn't have enduro travel. That said, hard impacts were met with soft bottom-outs. The ramp-up late in the Release's stroke seems to have been designed to anticipate you putting this bike in over its head. While I won't say it rides like it has more than 130 millimeters of travel, it's ready if you ride it like it does. And that relatively short rear travel is adjacent to an incredibly short rear center. The 425-millimeter chainstay sends a message; This bike is about precision, not plowing.

The Release’s agility was an asset in the alpine rock gardens I encountered on my first ride.

After my first descent on the Release, I took the bike home to put it through its paces in scenarios where I figured it would thrive, not just survive. But I didn't have a helicopter to take me there, so I had to pedal it.

The Level Link is essentially a VPP, but with the lower link in line with the chain rather than below it. This combines the potential anti-squat values that come with parallel-link designs with the active performance of a traditional single pivot. On both rough and smooth climbs, it behaved predictably. To over-simplify it, it's active yet firm. But when a particular gear combo and sag position would throw off the balance between active and firm, it would tend to err slightly on the firm side. For being a relatively new linkage concept, it feels remarkably refined. If I had any complaint about the climbing performance, it's the 73-degree seat angle, which is a tad slack by today's standards. Modern steep seat angles are more important on long travel bikes, but it wouldn't hurt to be a little more on top of the Release’s pedals on steep climbs.

The Release Carbon likes to go big. It’s a pedaler that’s ready for whatever you throw at it.

On steep descents, I got along with the Release a little better than I had in the high-speed, high-intensity chunder we met on our first ride. I like to aim for ledges and large rocks that require precise low-speed manuals to properly drop off of. Thanks to its short rear end and long front travel, the Release handles those drops as well as any bike I've ridden. It's also predictable to re-position and slide the rear end in crucial-last minute decisions. The Release's bottom bracket height would be best described as moderate. Pedal strikes have become a fact of life these days, and while they did happen on the Release, it was not as frequently as I'm used to. You might take that to mean Diamondback found a perfect bb height for the Release's travel.

If you like carving, you’ve got something in common with the Release.

When steep and techy turned to fast and flowy, this new carbon Release, came into its own. The agile geometry, moderate rear travel, and its supportive mid-stroke made the Release feel like a big BMX bike, but with some generous travel up front in case you got yourself into trouble. The aluminum release had these same traits, but add the benefits of carbon, and you accentuate those traits. The Release Carbon is more agile, more responsive, and more flickable than its already playful aluminum sibling. I'd liken it to the Evil Calling, but with a more simple leverage curve in the rear, a little extra travel up front, and a significantly lower price point.

Your inner child will come out swinging the second you get the Release in its element. It always wants to play.

So not only does the Release Carbon enter Diamondback into the running among other top-end bikes, it does it in a way that isn’t simply trying to take a piece of an already crowded pie. This bike brings something bravely unique to an often homogenous lineup of trail bikes.


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