The Up Side

Cadence is key here. Pushing a tough gear will lead to some noticeable, even audible drag in the Pinion gearbox. Spin to win. Otherwise, the geo is comfy and climb-friendly, albeit a bit cramped in the cockpit, so size up to rise up.

Down Time

With its minimal unsprung weight and chunky sprung weight, the Pinion gearbox-equipped Taniwha Trail was the ground-huggiest 140-millimeter 27.5-inch bike we've tested. And in contrast with the longer-travel Taniwha, this model wasn't a marshmallow when we tried to put input in it, though some of us wanted a longer-travel fork.

Dollar for Dollar

If you consider the wear and tear or the potential for catastrophic failure we've come to accept on our traditional drivetrains, the ultra-durable Pinion gearbox might eventually save you money. But it'll take a while. Those who buy this bike are doing so for the unique experience, not the value.

Let's try not to get distracted here. Yes, there's a 12-speed Pinion gearbox on this bike. But it's still only a bike. You still ride it, you don't just shift it. And we have at least as much to say about how it rides as how it shifts.

The Taniwha Trail is the scaled-down version of the Taniwha, with each bike sharing the same front triangle. We've seen frames get retrofitted like this before, but normally in order to scale up. The 140-millimeter Taniwha Trail offers 20 millimeters fewer than its predecessor, and we sensed no compromise in the geometry. The 66-degree headtube angle and 75.5-degree seat tube angle are spot-on for a bike with the word 'trail' in its name. The only anomaly is the sizing. The testers who are at the peak of the bell curve for most large frames would have all preferred to be on a on an XL with the Taniwha Trail. Otherwise, its touchpoints are plenty familiar. It's almost like it's a normal bike … almost.

Pinion means more sprung mass, but less un-sprung mass, which in turns means less energy is needed to activate the rear travel on hits.

A hallmark of all full-suspension gearbox bikes is the extra sprung mass. And there is extra. Thirty-two-and-a-half pounds is pretty weighty for a nearly $10,000 carbon trail bike (as tested), but it's not unreasonable. And that heavier mainframe has the Newtonian tendency to stay straight and calm while the wheels frantically track the ground. It truly makes these bikes feel like they have more travel than they do. That phenomenon made the leggier original Taniwha a bit sluggish on all but the rowdiest of trails, but the Taniwha Trail is manageable and comfortable. The full-travel Taniwha tended to sink into its travel when pumping or preloading, but this version was more supportive while still shrugging off big hits better than any 140-millimeter 27.5-inch-wheel bike should.

Geometry: Zerode Taniwha Trail

On the other side of that extra sprung mass is the less un-sprung mass. With no cassette or derailleur, it takes less energy to activate the rear suspension. We even noticed it on the climbs which, if we ignore the gearbox for a moment, the Taniwha Trail handles beautifully given its near-perfect anti-squat characteristics.

It's almost like it's a normal bike … almost.

Some of us felt a 150-millimeter fork would help the front end keep up with the ultra-capable rear. And you can get one if you want. Zerode's consumer-direct U.S. distributor offers some customization of the Taniwha's unique spec. Cane Creek suspension and Magura brakes aren't exactly Top 40 Radio, but neither is the Taniwha Trail itself.

Riders who choose this bike are choosing to be different. And shifting it is definitely different. The more you ride it, the more you get used to it, starting with its twist shifter. Eventually there will be an electronic alternative, but as of testing there was no word on when that would happen. For now, shifting takes too much force to use a traditional click shifter. And it does take a lot of force. At those sometimes-crucial moments that demand a quick shift, you'll need to death-grip the shifter and grind it into place. And you need to be sure not to have any load on your pedals, which actually offers an odd benefit. There's room to concentrate on your shifting because you don't need to concentrate on your pedaling. And it's a treat to be able to grab as many gears as you want all at once. It takes some getting used to, but we all were able to power through it.

What's a little harder to get used to is the gearbox's potential to feel a bit draggy. Pushing a heavy gear or spinning an uneven cadence can lead to spikes in the friction between power input and output. But there's an optimal pace between too fast and too slow that's just right. It happens to be the pace you'd want for the big-scale backcountry rides that suit this bike. Its do-it-all suspension and damn-it-all durability make it an ideal tool on all-day or all-week adventures, but it's more capable and more fun than any pure trekking bike could ever be.  

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Check out the rest of the Short-Travel 27.5 class


Q&A with Jackson Porreca, marketing manager for Cycle Monkey, U.S. distributor, Zerode and Pinion

We often see brands follow a mid-travel frame with a long-travel one, but rarely the other way around. Was the introduction of the shorter-travel Taniwha Trail part of the plan from the beginning? Was it a reaction to feedback from folks wanting something a little more toned-down than the original Taniwha?

Starting with the progression from the G2 downhill bike to the initial longer-travel Taniwha, Zerode has always had an eye towards expanding their range to appeal to new riders, without compromising on the capability and aggressive riding style that made the brand's name in New Zealand.

Zerode has strong roots in the DH world, and the original Taniwha was designed around the riding that founder Rob Metz and his crew do in Rotorua, which is a combination of self-shuttling and long backcountry days where more travel is particularly beneficial.

During our initial promotion of the Taniwha in the US, we heard from lots of riders who felt that 160 millimeters of travel was simply too much for their riding style or local terrain. The Taniwha Trail was in part a response to these folks, who loved the suspension performance and ride feel of the original Taniwha, but didn’t require so much bike for their local trails. It’s designed with an eye towards aggressive riding, with a bit more playfulness and versatility to crush a wider range of trails.

Some of the spec offered on Zerode bikes is as unique as the Taniwha itself. Why is there so much Cane Creek and Magura in the lineup?

Cycle Monkey specs components specifically for the U.S. market which we feel best complement the ride qualities and intended usage of the frame. Cane Creek offers extraordinarily tunable suspension platforms that further highlight the small-bump sensitivity Zerode is known for, and work well with the reduced unsprung mass of the gearbox without requiring a custom-tuned shock. As a smaller brand, they’ve gone to great lengths to work with us on packages that are perfectly calibrated for the aggressive riding Zerode is committed to, and they offer riders a level of personalized support that larger brands often lack. In terms of brakes, we had to consider the bike's supernatural descending capabilities. Taniwha Trail required powerful brakes with lots of modulation. We’ve experimented with a wide range of brakes on our personal bikes and demo fleet, and found Magura provided ultimate confidence when things got hairy and durability we could count on when things did go sideways.

The current four-piston brakes offer some of the best stopping power on the market, and their four-piston front/two-piston rear trail setup offers great front/rear-specific power in a lightweight package. The mineral oil is easy to work with, the brakes are easy to bleed, and through over two decades of working together, we've found that the Magura USA crew provides the best customer support in the business.

Can you confirm or deny that there will eventually be an electronic shifting option for the Pinion gearbox? And if so, would it retrofit to work with current gearboxes? Cryptic, non-committal and rumor-fueled answers are acceptable.

Never say never, right? While we can't confirm any active development of such a concept, we can tell you that Pinion is committed to developing new technologies that will make it even more enjoyable to ride a gearbox mountain bike. In the meantime, Cinq5  has a trigger shifter system that is expected to start shipping in the early part of next year and will be available through Cycle Monkey.