Viral Skeptic Review + The Pinion P1.12 Gearbox

With a belt drive, Pinion Gearbox, 27.5+ tires, and an oddly colored titanium frame, the Viral Skeptic might come off as something of a concept bike when it’s clean and shiney. But after a couple months getting it dirty, the sum of its parts equals a rather slick future-proof rig. Read our comprehensive review as well as a detailed look at the Pinion P1.12.

Viral Bikes — formerly Domahidy Designs — is a Denver, Colorado-based company started a couple years ago by Niner founder, engineer, and namesake Steve Domahidy. Since Steve went out on his own he’s designed and released several small batches of carbon and ti bikes. In 2016, Steve completely relaunched the company with a much more compelling brand name… and an even more compelling flagship bike.

  • Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+
  • Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+
Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+

Given that the first bike under the Viral brand is built around the unusual Pinion gearbox, its name is fitting. Generally, folks are a bit skeptical of anything that breaks from the pack of big brand mountain bikes. And the Pinion is a far cry from the mainstream derailleur-based drivetrains that are specced on 99% of all mountain bikes. As a warning, this was my first long stint with a gearbox drivertrain, so it will admittedly be challenging not to derail this bike review in favor of the Pinion, so let’s jump right in.

Derailed by the Pinion P1.12

It’s no secret that the mountain bike industry’s trickiest quandary is the drivetrain. It’s on an ever-evolving continuum as the two main titans — Shimano and SRAM — perpetually attempt to shift the derailleur system into perfection. This has been especially true over the last few years as 1x took a firm foothold, which was ironically followed by multiple moves to regain the range of the more traditional — but still not that old — 2×10 drivetrain. However, no matter how much they evolve technically, even the most advanced derailleur drivetrains face the same three shortcomings: 1. excessive cog and cassette wear due to variable chainline and jumps between gears; 2. need for frequent maintenance and tuning; 3. the fact that a rear derailleur will always be one of the most damage-prone and vulnerable parts on a modern mountain bike. Aside from spokes and the chain, it’s the most susceptible to mud, dirt and debris. Let’s face it, it’s a fragile mechanical device that’s essentially hanging off the side of your bike ready to be ripped off at will by the next rock or tree branch on the trail. Even more, with cassette rings becoming larger and pushing over 54 teeth, this puts the derailleur lower and in an even more vulnerable position. As bikepackers, we are particularly attuned to all of these potential points of wear and failure.

Read the full Pinion Gearbox review here (updated in 2023).

  • P1.12 Weight (gearbox): 2,350 grams (83 oz)
  • Price: ~$2000 (through frame manufacturers only)
  • Place of manufacture: Germany
  • Contact:
Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+

Viral Skeptic: The Ride

Of course, Steve saw past the doubters and decided to look ahead with the Pinion, as have several other companies including REEB and Ghost. After spying this bike at Interbike I decided it was time to give it a shot. During the testing window, I loaded it up and took it out for four days on the 350-mile Palmetto Trail. I also rode it quite a bit unloaded on trails around Pisgah and Dupont, my proving grounds of choice and a good mix of steep and technical terrain. While on the Palmetto Trail I had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with the Viral Skeptic. The going was a bit rough. Although there were — quite literally — many moving parts on which to place the blame, I think I owe most my anxiety to the massively heavy DVO Diamond 110/Boost fork. This thing has 140-170 millimeters of travel, and on the not at all ‘all mountain’ Palmetto Trail, it was like bringing a Howitzer to a turkey-shoot. The DVO weighs about 2,100 grams… about a pound over the fork I’d have liked to see on it while bikepacking. And the DVO also doesn’t lock out. That said, when pointed downhill, it was pretty dreamy. It ate up small bumps and cornered as good or better than any fork I’ve ridden to date. But, on flowy trails full of downed logs to hop, with the added weight of a handlebar pack, the DVO fell flat. I will add that had I possessed the patience and knowledge to perfectly tune this complicated beast, things may have gone better.

  • DVO Diamond Fork Review
  • DVO Diamond Fork Review

The Viral Skeptic features a partially polished and partially painted triple-butted titanium frame that’s available in both Brown Sugar and Hot Pink. I really wanted the pink, but Steve sent us the sparkly brown model, and media can’t be choosers. The brown did grow on me though, and would probably be my preference if I was to make a purchase. The large Ti frame weighs about 4.4 lbs (2 kg) and does a really good job of balancing out the added weight of the Pinion. The overall weight of my test bike was 30 lbs (13.6 kg), which is right in line with many trail hardtails with a derailleur based drivetrain. A few other frame highlights include a tapered headtube, a slight curve in the downtube, space for two bottle cages and 12mm sliding rear dropouts. The 148mm BOOST spaced rear-end fits up to 3″ tires. Steve did inform me that the in order to accommodate the new Pinion C1.12, which is cheaper and lighter, but also has a narrower Q-factor and tighter chainline, that they had to lose a tiny bit of clearance in the chainstay. When asked if it could still fit 3″ tires, he assured me that this is no problem and something like a WTB Ranger Plus 27.5X3 on an Industry Nine BC450 would work with room to spare.

  • Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+
  • Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+
  • DVO Diamond Fork Review
  • Ranger 27.5x2.8
  • Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+

The Skeptic features a geometry that’s not unfamiliar from that of other modern plus trail bikes, even though it’s dubbed an ‘all-mountain’ hardtail. Calculated based on a 120mm fork, it features a fairly standard 68° head tube angle, 74° seat tube angle, 435mm chainstays, and 58mm BB drop. Overall these numbers added up to what seemed like a great mix of a highly reliable and pedalable steed, and a nimble trail bike. It was a fun bike to ride, especially downhill, unloaded. And when I was able to get my head past the fork, the Skeptic felt pretty good pedaling over distance. The relatively low BB along with the steepish seat tube kept the bike comfortable and very well balanced over long rides. Truly, I think the geometry and frame specs are almost perfect for what I am looking for in a hardtail, for both trail riding and bikepacking. My only complaint in that regard would be the lack of bottle bosses on the underside of the downtube, which theoretically seem like they could work as there is space.

Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+, Bikepacking, Revelate bags

Viral Skeptic Build Kit

We won’t spend a lot of time here as the Skeptic is sold only as a frame and Pinion combo. But, I will make mention of a few of the included components and how they affected the test of this bike.

The Pinion was configured with a Gates Carbon Belt drive. I personally have mixed feelings about the belt drive. In dry environments, they squeak. According to others, belts break on occasion; although I had no problem with this one. And they can sometimes feel a tad sluggish, or so I thought. I would like to try the Pinion — and the Viral Skeptic — with a chain. That said, the belt drive is light, stays clean, and doesn’t require chain lube. That certainly adds to the ‘ride, rinse, repeat’ simplicity behind the Viral Skeptic.

The Skeptic was also specced with an array of carbon parts. Atomik handlebars, rims and a carbon railed WTB saddle, which I swapped for my Ergon SMC-4 for personal preference. These were all great and likely helped balance the weight of the Pinion gearbox.

Domahidy also had the wheels built with Industry Nine Torch hubs on the demo bike, which was a nice touch. The quick engagement of the driver and that distinct I9 sound was a welcome addition.

Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+
  • I9 Torch Hub, Gates Belt Drive
  • Atomik carbon rims, 27.5+, bikepacking
  • Weight (frame): 4.4 lbs (2 kg) (frame only)
  • Price: $4999 (frame and drivetrain)
  • Place of manufacture: Colorado/Germany/Taiwan
  • Contact:


  • Light titanium frame helps offset the extra pound and a half from the Pinion.
  • Solid geometry serves a good balance for trail riding and as well as long days in the saddle.
  • The rugged and durable Pinion gearbox makes for a great long trip trouble-free drivetrain.
  • Pinion P1.12 offers really snappy and efficient shifting as well.
  • The Skeptic is also a really nice looking bike with clean lines and a sparkly paint job.


  • Sluggish on the flats, but this may be more due to the fork specced on this build.
  • Not as lightweight as other titanium hardtails, due to the Pinion.
  • I wish Viral offered the option of a rigid fork.
  • No bosses on the downtube.
Viral Skeptic Review, 27.5+

Wrap Up

First things first, I think the geometry of the Skeptic is spot on for what I consider the ideal bike — a solid trail bike that’s well suited for bikepacking. That basically means a blend of stability and agility. While the specced components were nice, they didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, considering the bike is sold as a frame/drivetrain combo. That said, the lightweight carbon rims, handlebar, and I9 hubs all played a role in the demo bike’s handling and ultimately in this review. The carbon bits also helped offset the added weight of the Pinion. While I struggled with the DVO Diamond fork that came with it, I was able to get past it, especially while picking apart downhills with tack-sharp accuracy that surpassed any hardtail I’ve ridden to date. There was a sense of sluggishness that I felt with the bike; I think I owe it primarily to the fork — both its heaviness and the possibility that it was set up with a bit more travel than needed — but in all honesty there could be some added effects from an orchestra of other variables: the weight of the Pinion, a slight bit of drag from the gearbox, and the belt drive.

Shortly after sending back the Skeptic, I started scheming how I could use the Viral Skeptic on another big trip in Central Asia. Between its well-designed titanium frame, the drivetrain and ‘ride, rinse, repeat’ reliability and simplicity, it makes for the perfect exploration rig to take just about anywhere. If you are looking for a trail bike that has the potential for a month long trip through technical footpaths in Nepal, or you are setting out on big rides with plenty of singletrack, the Viral Skeptic might just be the perfect bike.

As far as the Pinion is concerned, I can see a bright future for their gearbox. It’s an impressive piece of engineering. Who doesn’t like the idea of a low-maintenance, worry-free drivetrain. And Pinion is certainly on the frontlines. In addition, Pinion offers a 5-year warranty with the P1.12 and it’s reportedly built to last over hundreds of thousands of miles. But we only had a couple months with the P1.12. I’d like to try the new C1.12 over a longer span and see what it’s like to change cables, add lubrication, and find out how it holds up over a long trial period. We hope to do this in the future and answer a lot of outstanding questions…

Last but not least, while most would consider $5K for a frame/drivetrain pretty damn expensive, Viral offers a lifetime warranty on the Skeptic frame. And with the Pinion built to last for well over 100,000 miles, this could just be the last bike you buy.

Logan Watts

Rider Profile

Between big trips, Logan can usually be found riding his favorite trails in Pisgah, NC, or tacking together 4 or 5 day singletrack-heavy bikepacking trips throughout the eastern US and beyond. He and his wife Virginia recently finished a trip across Cuba. The Viral Skeptic was loaned to Logan for this review.

  • Height: 6’0” (183 CM)
  • Weight: 170 lbs (77.1 KG)
  • Inseam: 33” (83.8 CM)
  • Current Location: Pisgah, NC
  • Favorite Beer: Anything by Burial
  • Favorite Route: Gila River Ramble


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