Four 27.5+ Hardtails (and more) From Sedona MTB Fest

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We had a chance to demo several new hardtails at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival this past weekend. Here are thoughts on each, photos, a numbers comparison, and a few other miscellaneous photos from around the festival…

The Sedona Mountain Bike Festival is an annual gathering of brands, riders, pros, and good timers coming together to celebrate all things MTB. Held at Sedona’s Posse Grounds Park, it features dozens of bike brands slinging demos via a constant procession of Hermosa Tours shuttle vans that whisk folks off to some of the best singletrack in the world. At this year’s event, most festivizers were hellbent on trying the latest full-squish rigs from Pivot, Santa Cruz, Yeti, Ibis, and so forth. But after riding Salsa’s three new full-suspension rigs prior to the fest, I decided to spend some time sampling a few hardtails.

Hardtails on Sedona

The hardtail is arguably the most relevant type of bike in the bikepacking world. Simplicity, ample frame pack space, pedaling efficiency, and wherewithal are the leading justifications. And 27.5+ tires and more progressive geometry—short chainstays, long top tubes/short stems, and slack head tubes—only add to these bikes’ capability. The trails of Sedona are prime for trail riding with a modern hardtail. Twisty corners, relatively smooth singletrack, and a lot of technical lines which offer a different way of riding for a hardtail. There’s not much a well designed hardtail can’t do, with the right mindset. If I could only have one bike, it would no doubt be something akin to one of these. Here are the four I tried, followed by a by-the-numbers comparison and a few more shots from Sedona.

  • Quick Highlights
  • Angles (LG): 67.5° Head tube, 73° Seat tube
  • Chainstay: 425-440mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 73mm threaded
  • Rear dropout spacing: 148mm
  • Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
  • Max tire size: 27.5 x 3.0″ / 29 x 2.3″

Why Cycles S7

We reviewed the first version of the S7 back in 2017, but Why Cycles has since made a few tweaks to the platform. With shorter standover (for a bigger dropper) and some graphics changes, I must say that it’s damned near perfect. There’s a reason it’s listed first among the four here. I absolutely loved riding this bike. However, to my surprise, had I judged this bike by its numbers (see below), I wouldn’t have thought it would be the favorite. The size large has a relatively modest reach compared with the others, and it has a perplexingly lower bottom bracket than all three others listed here (by 15mm). It also has a full degree slacker seat tube angle than most of the others. On paper, all of these numbers wouldn’t have added up for me. But that wasn’t the case once I was actually pedaling…

Why Cycles S7 Hardtail
  • Why Cycles S7 Hardtail
  • Why Cycles S7 Hardtail

I typically prefer a longer reach, steeper seat tube, and modestly high bottom bracket. However, the S7 fit perfectly, climbed incredibly well, and handled like a dream. I also had no issue with pedal strikes, even with flats on more technical singletrack. Whatever mystical sauce all these numbers conjure up works extremely well. The S7 is quick in and out of the corners, confident on descents, and pedals impressively. This goes to show that it always helps to try before you buy.

  • Why Cycles S7 Hardtail
  • Why Cycles S7 Hardtail
  • Why Cycles S7 Hardtail
  • Sizes available S, M, L, XL
  • Place of Manufacture China
  • Price (as tested) $7,799 (completes start at $4,799)
  • Price (frame only) $2,449
  • Manufacturer’s Details Link
  • Quick Highlights
  • Angles (LG): 67.5° Head tube, 75° Seat tube
  • Chainstay: 430mm
  • Bottom Bracket: PF92 (pressfit)
  • Rear dropout spacing: 148mm
  • Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
  • Max tire size: 27.5 x 3.0″ / 29 x 2.6″

Kona Big Honzo CR

All that said about the S7, I was admittedly a little torn when picking a favorite in this lineup. The Big Honzo CR came really close. And had I been able to try it in my size (large), it may have taken the lead. Over the weekend I returned to the Kona demo tent several times, but on each occasion the large was already checked out. So, I finally bit the bullet and tried an XL. At an even 6′ tall, the XL was definitely too big, but it still worked well enough to put this bike in the top two.

Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
  • Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
  • Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail

What makes the Big Honzo special? Fist off, as with the alloy version we reviewed, Kona pushed the geometry to a more progressive level than some mainstream bike companies might. Even when comparing a large (see details in the comparison below), the Big Honzo CR has the longest reach and wheelbase, highest stack, and steepest seat tube angle of all the bikes listed here. At 67.5°, its head tube is on par with the others, but all the other numbers are quite different. As most Honzo owners will attest, Kona dialed the geometry on this bike to make it unbelievably fun. It’s nimble in the corners and its long wheelbase and high stack height make it an incredibly stable and comfortable bike to pedal, too.

  • Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
  • Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
  • Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
  • Sizes available S, M, L, XL
  • Place of Manufacture Taiwan
  • Price (as tested) $2,999
  • Manufacturer’s Details Link
Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
  • Quick Highlights
  • Angles (LG): 67.6° Head tube, 74° Seat tube
  • Chainstay: 425-437mm
  • Bottom Bracket: Threaded 73mm English
  • Rear dropout spacing: 142mm or 148mm
  • Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
  • Max tire size: 27.5 x 3.0″ / 29 x 2.3″

Esker Hayduke

Since the first generation Hayduke (formerly under the Advocate brand), Tim Krueger and company updated the geometry in search of a more playful and responsive trail feel. However, the Hayduke still keeps to its bikepacking roots with all the right mounts to attach three bottle cages or two Anything-style cages and a single bottle cage.

Esker Hayduke Hardtail
  • Esker Hayduke Hardtail
  • Esker Hayduke Hardtail

The Esker Hayduke’s steel frame uses a custom drawn externally tapered, seamless, quadruple butted, heat treated 4130 cromoly tubeset that is specific to each frame size—aiming to make a better quality frame while reducing weight and cost for the rider. The Hayduke also uses Esker’s Portage dropout, a swing-arm, swappable dropout system that allows riders to easily switch drivetrain types, hub widths, wheel sizes, chainstay lengths, and accept racks.

On my first ride, I was quite impressed with the Hayduke from a semi-technical trail riding perspective. Unfortunately, our ride got cut short due to a rainstorm, but we hope to demo this bike for a long-term test. It’s fairly priced, well thought out, and has all the makings for an excellent bikepacking/trail rig. Stay tuned.

  • Esker Hayduke Hardtail
  • Esker Hayduke Hardtail
  • Esker Hayduke Hardtail
  • Sizes available XS, S, M, L, XL
  • Place of Manufacture Taiwan
  • Price (as tested) $2,000*
  • Price (frame/fork) $675
  • Manufacturer’s Details Link

*Completes start at $2k, however, the one I tested had a few higher end parts, like I9 Hydra wheels.

  • Quick Highlights
  • Angles (LG): 66° Head tube, 74° Seat tube
  • Chainstay: 430mm
  • Bottom Bracket: Threaded 73mm English
  • Rear dropout spacing: 148mm
  • Seatpost Diameter: TBD
  • Max tire size: 27.5 x 2.8″ / 29 x 2.4″

Diamondback Sync’R Carbon

The Sync’r Carbon was just released as Diamondback’s progressive hardtail mountain bike. Featuring a monocoque carbon construction with a tapered headtube and BOOST rear spacing, the frame is designed around 27.5 x 2.8″ tires. The Sync’r is only sold as a complete build, which features a fairly impressive kit including a 140mm travel Fox 34 Float Performance fork, Shimano MT501 hydraulic brakes with 180mm/160mm rotors front and rear, a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, Race Face Æffect 35 handlebars, and a Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR combo, which are great tires if you prefer terrain of the rugged variety. It even includes a pair of Diamondback’s own DB4L Alloy Platform pedals, which aren’t too bad.

Diamondback SYNC'R Carbon Hardtail
  • Diamondback SYNC'R Carbon Hardtail
  • Diamondback SYNC'R Carbon Hardtail

On the trail, the Diamondback Sync’r handed pretty well. While it didn’t have the climbing prowess of the the other three bikes, its slacker headtube is nice on fast and steep descents. The 66° headtube seemed to make the Sync’r a little wobbly on steep climbs, or perhaps it was a slightly out of tune fork. But either way, it’s a fun bike with a nice build out of the box.

  • Diamondback SYNC'R Carbon Hardtail
  • Diamondback SYNC'R Carbon Hardtail
  • Diamondback SYNC'R Carbon Hardtail
  • Sizes available S, M, L, XL
  • Place of Manufacture Taiwan
  • Price (as tested) $2,999
  • Manufacturer’s Details Link

Bike vs Bike

While each of these bikes is touted as having a progressive trail geometry, in reality they’re all quite different. The most progressive of the four is clearly the Kona, although it has a steeper headtube angle than the Diamondback. That said, I found the 66° HTA on the Sync’r to be a little squirrelly when climbing. As mentioned, the sleeper was the Why S7, which by the numbers may not have been the bike I would have predicted as a favorite. Here are tables comparing the geometry of the four bike (all in size large and represented in millimeters).

Bike
Reach (mm)
Stack (mm)
Chain stay length
Wheel base

Why Cycles S7
440
615
425-440
1160

Kona Big Honzo CR
475
639
430
1201

Esker Hayduke
467
600
425-437
1176

Diamondback SYNC’R Carbon
455
620
435
1185

Bike
Headtube Angle
Seattube Angle
BB Drop

Why Cycles S7
67.5°
73°
65mm

Kona Big Honzo CR
67.5°
75°
50mm

Esker Hayduke
67.6°
74°
50mm

Diamondback SYNC’R Carbon
66°
74°
50mm

Noteworthy

Here are a few more finds and photos from the festival…

Rogue Panda

For their fifth year at Sedona MTB Fest, Rogue Panda had a booth. This year, Nick and company were showing off their new printed fabrics: psychedelic panda, Hawaiian, and dinosaur, among others…

Rogue Panda Pattern
  • Rogue Panda Hawaiian print
  • Rogue Panda Frame Bag

Salsa Launch

To kick off their new bikes launch, Salsa had the largest and perhaps most interesting booth at the festival. While Mike “Kid” Riemer (below right) was hocking their ice cream with “a red dirt-like substance,” festival attendees seemed to be jumping on the new Rustler.

  • Salsa Sedona Mountain Bike Fest
  • Mike "Kid" Riemer

Odds and Ends

Here are a few other miscellaneous things we saw around the festival…

mone Bikes
MONe bikes got a lace up frame bag on the La Roca, a bike recently featured in our Rigid Steel Index
Floyd's of Leadville Protein Recovery
Floyd’s of Leadville rolled out their new Protein Recovery with CBD
Kona Big Honzo CR Hardtail
Gin shredding the Big Honzo CR on Javelina

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