Panorama Taiga Review: A Case for the Semi-Rad Steel Hardtail
Canada’s Panorama Cycles released their first hardtail mountain bike, the Taïga, last summer. With a Reynolds 725 steel frame, clearance for 29 x 2.8” tires, sliding dropouts, and lots of mounting options, we were interested to see how it stood up against other similar steel hardtails. After riding the Taïga for several months with both a 120mm travel fork and with Panorama’s own rigid carbon fork, Miles shares his full review here…
There’s no shortage of mountain bike options these days. Over the last few years, we’ve been inundated with various takes on the venerable steel hardtail, and we’re now at a point where the number of options is almost overwhelming. Brands like Surly, Marin, Jamis, and Niner have been at the forefront of this movement from the beginning, but we’re now seeing newer bike manufacturers and those who don’t normally work with steel get into the mix. There are hardtails designed for touring on rough roads and ultra-slack hardtails for pointing down near-vertical trails. Bikes in this latest breed fall somewhere in between and are what I like to call (with respect to Brendan Leonard) semi-rad hardtails. They’re something average folks like me can get behind. As geometry, standards, and frame design evolve, these options tick a lot of boxes from a bikepacking perspective. The hunt for the perfect hardtail just got more complicated.
Panorama Cycles, while not a huge name outside of Canada, has been busy the last few years rebranding themselves as more than just a fat bike company. The Quebec-based bike brand diversified its offerings with several gravel bikes in 2019, and again more recently with their first hardtail mountain bike and a new all-road touring bike. While there are a couple of carbon frames in their lineup, Panorama has a thing for affordable steel bikes—the majority of them being specced and equipped for bikepacking and other adventures.
One of their newest offerings, the Panorama Taïga, is no different. Announced last summer, the Taïga is the brand’s first hardtail mountain bike. It falls into the growing category of semi-rad 29” steel hardtail mountain bikes that exist somewhere between a dedicated trail bike and backcountry bikepacking rig. The name Taïga comes from a biome more commonly referred to as boreal forest in North America, characterized by coniferous forests—said to be the largest land biome in the world. It’s fitting name for a company based out of a province covered extensively by boreal forest.
- Highlights (Large)
- Angles: 67° Headtube, 75° Seattube
- Chainstay: 420-440mm
- Bottom Bracket: 73mm Threaded
- Hub specs: 15 X 110mm (front); 12 X 148mm (rear)
- Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
- Max Tire Size: 29 x 2.8″ / 27.5 x 3.0″
- Price: $3,099 CAD (~$2,450 USD)
A few months after its release, Panorama launched the Taïga EXP—a drop-bar-specific version of the flat bar Taïga with an equally impressive suite of features. The EXP version comes with a carbon fork with plenty of mounts, 29 x 2.25” tires (with clearance for 29 x 2.6”), loads of room for a big frame bag, and a split seat stay for varied drivetrain setups. It has internal dropper post routing, dynamo routing in the fork, sliding dropouts, and all of the different mounting options we like to see. On paper, both the Taïga and Taïga EXP look quite appealing for bikepacking, so I was eager to see how the flat-bar version performs as a versatile trail bike.
Panorama describes the Taïga as having “multifunctional trail geometry,” blending the playfulness and performance of a trail bike with added capabilities for long-distance off-road adventures. It’s centred around an ED-treated Reynolds 725 steel frame, sliding rear dropouts, externally routed cables, dropper post routing, and the choice between a rigid carbon or 120mm suspension fork. Like their other bikes, the Taïga is offered in a single well-rounded build kit featuring a 12-speed drivetrain, dropper post, hydraulic brakes, and tubeless-ready wheels. While it comes specced with chunky 29 x 2.6” tires, the frame will clear 29 x 2.8” or 27.5 x 3.0” tires. Once again, Panorama teamed up with Vancouver, BC-based artists and cyclists Pellvetica on custom downtube graphics depicting a cross-section of Earth’s layers—a small nod to their commitment to the environment as a 1% For The Planet member and a Carbon Neutral Certified business.
For the last few months, I’ve been testing out the Taïga with both the rigid carbon and suspension fork. I’ve tackled everything from fully loaded exploration rides to fast laps on the local trails. The Taïga has seen its fair share of roots, rocks, loose climbs, and long days, set up in a variety of configurations.
Taiga with the Fox 34 Fork
For the first half of my testing period, I had the Taïga set up with a 120mm travel Fox 34 fork. Paired with meaty 29 x 2.6” WTB Trail Boss tires, this setup reminded me a lot of the Esker Japhy I reviewed last year. Together, the fork and tires smashed through pretty much everything I encountered. For the rooty and wet trails here in the Pacific Northwest, I actually preferred the chunky 2.6” tires specced on the Taïga compared to the faster rolling 2.8” tires on the Japhy. On pavement and smooth gravel roads, the Taïga isn’t the fastest or most efficient rig, and it actually felt sluggish on long, steep climbs, but you can bet that you’ll feel stable and confident on any type of terrain.
Panorama let me know that early testers preferred to run the Fox fork with more pressure than usual, closer to 15% sag instead of the standard 25%. I naturally found myself doing the same. I’m guessing it has something to do with the weight of the bike and its desire to fly through rough trails that call for a slightly firmer feeling fork. On more technical trails, including small drops and jumps, I found myself craving a longer-travel fork.
Navigating low-speed technical trails, especially those with tight corners and awkward moves, isn’t where the Taïga shines. I found it did better plowing straight through rough terrain, whether that be rock gardens, root-infested trails, or rutted-out doubletrack. Where the Taïga points, it goes. These same characteristics rang true on the climbs. The long-ish wheelbase and grippy rubber made for easy ascents, crawling up anything in its way.
Taiga with the Rigid Carbon Fork
For the second half of my review, I swapped the Fox fork out for Panorama’s own rigid carbon fork. The fork comes equipped with offset triple pack mounts, the same boost hub spacing found on the Fox fork, and has clearance for 29 x 2.8” or 27.5+ tires. The fork is 500mm long, which is equivalent to a 120mm travel fork at 25% sag. Currently, Panorama’s geo chart is based on a 120mm fork at 15% sag, which is a little less sag than the traditional 25% most brands use, but closer to how I had it set up. This meant the rigid fork resulted in a shorter front end compared to the Fox fork.
I’ll admit I was hesitant to give up the comfort afforded by front suspension, especially considering the number of roots and rocks on the trails here in Powell River. To my surprise, the swap challenged my initial impressions of the Taïga. What once felt sluggish and less responsive at low speeds took on a completely different demeanor. The rigid fork allowed for snappier handling and more precise maneuvers on tight trails. Paired with the Fast Flexx handlebar I’m currently testing, the Taïga was transformed from trail shredder to backcountry bikepacking machine. It didn’t take long before I was mounting racks, cages, and bags everywhere I could and scheming longer, more remote rides.
According to Panorama, there has been more interest in the rigid setup, and I’m not surprised. There has been so much interest, in fact, that they have plans to offer a rigid frameset version in the next production run. The Taïga’s modern geometry and 29 x 2.6” tire clearance play nicely with the lightweight carbon fork, creating a unique platform that would be suitable for a wide range of riding styles and terrain.
Panorama Taïga Build Kit
Panorama Cycles prides itself on offering a single build-kit option for complete bikes. They describe their component selection as offering “the best balance between reliability and weight,” which is hard to argue with. It’s based around a complete SRAM NX-Eagle 12-Speed drivetrain, SRAM Level hydraulic brakes with 180mm rotors, a KS dropper post, and chunky 29 x 2.6” WTB Trail Boss tires. Panorama has been collaborating with UK-based Hunt Wheels, so the Taïga comes kitted out with some alloy Hunt Trail Wide wheels complete with their updated 3° engagement rear hub. As mentioned earlier, you also have your choice of a 120mm travel Fox 34 fork or Panorama’s rigid carbon fork with triple pack mounts.
Overall, I had no issues with the build kit during my testing period. It’s well-rounded and performs as expected. While WTB Trail Boss tires aren’t the fastest-rolling tread, they do provide plenty of bite, which was necessary during a wet winter on the coast. I’m a big fan of extra grippy tires on heavy steel bikes, as they allow me to push the boundaries on rowdier terrain. The updated Hunt wheels also proved to be reliable, shaking off several rim strikes and pushing through a wet coastal winter full of muck and grime. The 3° engagement is quite fast, which helped avoid pedal strikes when navigating technical trails and has proven to be as reliable as the rest of the bike.
- Frame Reynolds 725 Steel, ED Coated
- Fork FOX 34 Float, 120MM or Panorama Carbon Rigid
- Crankset SRAM NX Eagle DUB, 32T
- Shifter SRAM NX Eagle
- Derailleur SRAM NX Eagle 12-Speed
- Chain SRAM NX Eagle 12-Speed
- Bottom Bracket SRAM DUB BSA, 73mm Threaded
- Rims Hunt Trail Wide MTB
- Front Hub Novatec 110x15mm
- Rear Hub Novatec 3° RapidEngage, 148x12mm
- Tires WTB Trail Boss 29 x 2.6″ TCS Slash Guard
- Brakes SRAM Level, Hydraulic
- Brake Rotors SRAM Centerline 180mm
- Handlebar Ritchey MTN Comp 10D Riser
- Stem Ritchey MTB Trail
- Seatpost KS E20I Dropper Post, 125MM
- Saddle WTB Pure
- Headset FSA NO.57E
The only real aspect of the build that I didn’t agree with, or rather my body didn’t agree with, was the Ritchey Mtn Comp handlebar. It has a strange shape and mix of angles (20mm rise, 10° backsweep, 4° upsweep) that handled about as strangely as it looked. I would have liked to see a more traditional riser bar specced, and I was quick to swap the stock bar out for something that worked for me.
Taiga vs the Rest
Even with the number of steel mountain bikes at an all-time high, the Taïga manages to wedge itself into the growing category of semi-rad hardtails. Tire clearance aside, it’s more progressive and trail-capable than more reserved options including the Surly Karate Monkey, Surly Krampus, and Niner SIR 9—all of which are generally shorter in the front-end and have steeper headtube angles. On the other end of the spectrum are the next-gen super-rad hardtails designed to challenge what a hardtail is capable of, which are generally more suited to steep, enduro-style descents. Some bikes that fall into this category include the Norco Torrent, Kona Honzo ESD, Chromag Surface Voyager, and Nordest Bardino. They are all longer, slacker, and in most situations, less ideal for general bikepacking duties.
Semi-rad hardtails aren’t hardcore shredders or more relaxed touring rigs. They’ve fallen in line with current geometry trends, featuring a longer reach and wheelbase and a more slack front end, but they do so without sacrificing climbing prowess or overall utility. In short, bikes in this category love to be pointed downhill but have a balanced ride quality that’s equally suited for big backcountry terrain and loaded riding.
Below, you’ll find a comparison chart highlighting some key specs on some comparable semi-rad steel hardtails. I’ve included head tube angle, wheelbase, reach/stack, and max tire size, which will hopefully provide a glimpse into just how similar some of these bikes are. Note that size large is used for this example.
Semi-Rad Steel Hardtails Compared
The Esker Japhy and Panorama Taïga are the most comparable and exciting of the bunch. They’re the only two with adjustable dropouts to tweak chainstay length and accommodate different types of drivetrains and clearance for 29 x 2.8” tires. The Taïga has some features that set it apart from the Japhy, including rear rack mounts, non-crimped chainstays, the option to purchase with a carbon fork, a tapered head tube, and top-tube mounts for those who appreciate them. Both bikes have low top tubes to leave room for longer dropper posts, which leaves little room for a frame bag, but only the Japhy has bottle mounts on the seat tube. Overall, they have a similar feel on the trails. The Taïga’s head tube is a full degree steeper than the Japhy’s, which feels more responsive and snappier on tight trails, while the Japhy is more surefooted on steeper and gnarly terrain. I’d go as far as saying the Taïga’s Reynolds 725 Chromoly Steel frame felt a touch smoother than the Japhy’s 4130 Chromoly Steel tubing, while still feeling sturdy, with limited flex.
Although they are made of different materials, I’d be remiss not to mention the Salsa Timberjack in this review. The ride quality and durability afforded by steel tubing are made up for with dialled geometry and impressive value. For about the same price as the Taïga, you could pick yourself up a GX Eagle equipped Timberjack in one of five sizes, and your choice of 27.5+ or 29 x 2.6” tires. Unlike the Taïga, the Timberjack also comes equipped with four-piston hydraulic brakes, which provide improved stopping power and modulation over two-piston brakes. On the other hand, the smooth ride quality of the Taïga’s steel frame doesn’t go unnoticed and the traditionalists among us will appreciate externally routed cables, horizontal sliding dropouts, and the timeless aesthetic of steel tubing.
Fit, Function, and Observations
While bikes in this new breed of hardtail check a lot of boxes for a do-everything bike for bikepacking and trail riding, they aren’t perfect. The Taïga, like others in this category, has a low standover and short seat tube that leaves little room for a frame bag, or in some cases, even two water bottles. This is my biggest complaint with modern hardtails, as it seems the majority are heading in this direction to allow room for longer dropper posts. But, at the same time, most aren’t speccing larger frame sizes with appropriately sized posts. It’s not uncommon to see multiple frame sizes specced with the same post length, which just doesn’t cut it. The Esker Japhy I reviewed last year uses a 150mm travel post on the medium, large, and extra-large builds, while the Taïga specs a 125mm dropper post on both the medium and large. Posts with adjustable travel can help, but only if the post is long enough to begin with. A longer post would have made riding certain steep trails and rock rolls less terrifying.
In the same vein, only offering three frame sizes doesn’t necessarily help the fit issues I experienced. Even with a long reach, the stock handlebar and stubby 45mm stem made for a cramped setup out of the box, and I’m sure I would have jumped up to an XL if it was available.
Referring to the comparison chart further up, you’ll also notice that the Taïga and Japhy have smaller stack numbers compared to the others in the list. For a slightly more upright riding position, especially for those who are six-foot or taller, the Taïga is a solid candidate for a riser bar. Some popular options can be found in our Comfort MTB Handlebar Index. As is, the Taïga is still comfortable to ride all day long but sporty enough to have fun on.
- Packed with all the right features including sliding dropouts, loads of mounts, and external cables
- Choice of rigid or suspension fork is a nice touch
- Balanced geometry that handles trails and the extra weight of gear naturally
- Tiny main triangle with little room for a frame bag
- Stock dropper post is too short on larger sizes
- Limited to three sizes
- A little heavy and sluggish at times
- Size Tested: Large
- Actual Weight: 32.2 pounds (Fox 34 with pedals)
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $3,009 CAD (~$2,360 USD)
- Manufacturer’s Details: PanoramaCycles.com
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of this completely made-up sub-genre of semi-rad hardtail mountain bikes. They are practical and fun to ride, usually offer good bang for your buck, and above all else, make solid bikepacking rigs. I’m of the mind that modern geometry trends and specs have brought out the best in steel hardtails, so it’s great to see smaller brands like Panorama getting in on the fun.
The Taïga is an exceptional bike that lines up closely with a few other steel hardtails available, and at a time when bike inventory is low, it’s good to have options. It’s balanced and comfortable to ride on a variety of surfaces, including technical trails, and is specced accordingly. While it would have been nice to see at least one additional size option, a larger main triangle, and a size-specific dropper post, the Taïga otherwise checks nearly every box I can think of.
If the Taïga is any indication of what the drop-bar Taïga EXP can handle, and you’re looking for more of an all-road touring rig for rough doubletrack and light trails, it might be worth taking a closer look at. It’s an equally attractive bikepacking bike and falls right in line with popular drop-bar mountain bikes like the Salsa Fargo, Mason InSearchOf, and Salsa Cutthroat.
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