Bike Test: RAGE DH
Jones might be completely wrong about the look of this bike. You may think it has a raw industrial appeal that far surpasses the fickle decorations of other manufacturers spray jobs.
Swank is something many European manufacturers are not shy of. Amazing how a splash of paint and neon wheels can distract the buyer from howling geometry or overpricing. ‘Image’ was the all–important word in downhill during the close of ’08, as the ranks closed to steer downhill in a certain visually attractive direction. That was the idea at least. There was a perception, rightly or wrongly, that cracks in the downhill make up were beginning to show. The UCI swiftly moved to get the decorators in. Not exactly new, people taking on the establishment but…hey there were some great new bikes in ‘08. It was a huge year with more gravity bikes than ever emerging on the market. Trek brought out the Session 88, pretty in places, but a simple bike that got the basics right. With nothing to hide they got the price, suspension, geometry, finish…riders were now beginning to look for more than dashing looks for their dollar.
A pattern had emerged in this particular section of the market, as engineers looked to mix up the frame designs but still bolting on a stock damper. As bikes headed upwards of four and a half grand, with pretty ordinary suspension, Intense launched the M6 at £2700. But it was special in that it included the unquestioned number one in rear dampers, the Cane Creek. A smaller British company, Empire, offered a similar deal but lower price and a unique cast frame.
Ancilotti continued to produce class (more of that in a future issue) and Morewood showed up with full BOS, but still a lot of money. Challengers to the common ground were emerging. Enter then Rage bikes of Carcassonne (France). A small rider owned business deep in the south west of France, their downhill bike is a project that has been shaping up over the past few years. Pierre, a British lad who moved to France when he was 14, has teamed up with a couple of locals, Christophe Poupon and Bastien Fernandez, specialist engineers working part time to create this bike. And it’s possible they’ve found a hole in the production downhill bike market. At two grand this is a lot of bike.
Image is pretty low down the list for these three – design first, bows and ribbons later. To be fair the Dirt office sees a fair bit of banter and bullshit coming through the doors. Talking the talk is one thing. These guys seemed different. It had all fallen into place so easily. One phone call, a couple of sentences were spoken, a date made. The day arrived. Having taken the big drive north, Pierre showed up with his mum and dad and uncle someone or other, who to say knows a fair deal about marketing would be a monster understatement. He will soon be the importer of Rage in the UK. The dog had stayed down south house sitting. Pitching a good bike should be a relatively simple job, but even the big names make flawed or quirky bikes now and again, so maybe it’s not quite so straightforward. To make a notable bike however, in such a congested market, takes a bit of thinking. They are thin on the ground. The guys at Rage recognised the unquestioned performance gains to be had from going Cane Creek, turned to their aircraft engineer to design a link to give progression to their simple single pivot and researched some well–founded figures for geometry. Not ones to worry about cosmetics just yet, the design and finish is still up there with everyone else.
The Manitou Travis, as fitted to our test bike, is an American made unit featuring TPC damping, offering excellent grip characteristics and a good pairing to the rear, but unfortunately is high maintenance. From the back the simple one–piece swingarm features inboard derailleur hanger, bolt through axle and good tyre clearance. Connection to the tight front triangle is made by way of a pretty low single pivot and a two–piece linkage via the Double Barrel. It is simple, nicely designed, and one hundred percent functional and easy to maintain. OK it ain’t got the hidden cables like its compatriot from out east (the Lapierre), but it has a much stronger heart in that damper. We were eager to get it rolling.
Rage has struck a mighty left hook to the establishment with this bike. Lets make that clear. It is very, very good. Comparisons I’m afraid will have to be avoided. Such is the performance of this bike that every single cord of concentration is aimed at working the best out of bike and track. It grips, and it grips some more. As a bike to inspire and coerce riders across angled root, soapy rock, you will struggle to find a better bike than this. It could really be left at that. Listen, they have built a very well balanced bike here, one that doesn’t force the rider into any extreme forward or rearward movements.
It’s a bike that brings the rider back to the basics of steering, reading the terrain, flowing and braking in the right places. It’s definitely not a ‘skip across the top’ style bike, and it’s possibly not a ‘pick up and pump’ bike, although we would like to spend time changing fork and firming the rear end, particularly the low speed compression to give it a firmer ride. But even though it was slightly too soft and plush (partly the low pivot), it’s not a ‘duck and dive’ bike whatsoever.
Whilst many bikes would be unable to attain the levels of grip offered by this bike, there will be places where you’d be looking to stiffen the compression. All achievable. Ideally we’d like to try the bike with a 34 chainring, bringing it closer to the pivot point. In theory that might change the damping characteristics and pedalling slightly because it’s arguable that the suspension is almost too good at the moment. Yes we were lucky to have an exceptional Manitou fork that, even though doesn’t have the finest mid stroke, it does provide good traction up front.
Vibration and grip all starts at the front to a certain extent, and so from the first point of contact it does well. You can certainly feel your way across the ground. Any track with a good drop to it or one with really testing root and rock, will be taken apart by the Rage, but I wasn’t so sure about its work–rate along the flat. Not that it matters in the slightest, but it brings into question its race pedigree when dumb race location decisions are made. Starting with a quick trip to the skip with the super tacky 3C tyres and heavy wheelset was a good staring point to get the bike rolling faster. Deemax’s made the difference. The Rage certainly benefits from a light wheel build.
Size wise, the 46.5” wheelbase and 17.25” chainstay are a good mix, although it’s probably right on the edge of size for the six–foot rider. And whilst the cockpit feels tight when you’re sat on it, that can be largely ignored. Luckily it’s a size that will suit a good range of riders, but at some point the company will need to increase the range.
Words and photos Steve Jones