Saturday, September 15, 2012

Liteville 301 MK 10 - First Impressions

I have been riding the Liteville 301 for a couple of weeks, and it's a pretty interesting beast. It's exceptionally well-made, and is tough and stiff, and it has a slew of well engineered and highly functional features, and everywhere you look; little details keep popping up that all make sense. This bike likes to hammer, and feels best at speed, and it's especially entertaining in fast and swooping terrain, where it feels the most at home.

Liteville 301 MK 10The frame has impeccable welds and is made with custom drawn marine grade 6000 series aluminum alloy (resistant to corrosion) and has special heat treating, and it uses butted tubes throughout. It has a tapered head tube with pressed in stainless steel bearings, an oversized upper top tube for additional stiffness, and the chain and seat stays are butted differently to deal with the forces from the chain pull and brake loads, respectively. It has a couple of interesting features, such as the DynaLevel sag indicator which gives on the bike visual cue for sag measurement, Neutral Center Path (NCP) which provides non-length changing and uninterrupted gear cable routing, the Syntace Chainguide System (SCS), and a derailer hanger that utilizes a shear bolt. There is an optional Syntace RockGuard, which protects the rear derailer from impacts and general abuse. The frame retails for $2,595, and comes in black.

The suspension is a four-bar link design, with a unique reverse shock linkage, in which the rear shock  is connected to the connection of top tube and seat tube of the main triangle. This design puts all the forces into a very solid area within the frame, and it partially neutralizes the forces introduced by the rider via the seat post and seat tube. The bike has an adjustable rear travel of 140mm or 160mm, via the shocks swappable linkage side plates, and this design allows the same shock to be used for both travel lengths. The bike comes in XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL sizes, with a Syntace X-12 rear thru-axle, and a Fox RP23 rear shock that is specifically tuned for the frame. In another innovative design, they utilize TCL (Tuned Chainstay Length), in which each frames size has a different chainstay length, which makes the geometry more appropriate for each bike size.

Liteville now gives 10 years (5+5) warranty on all material and manufacturing defects, with no DH or race usage exclusions.

The test 301 was set up with a Shimano XT 2x10 drivetrain system, Magura 150mm Thor (15mm TA), the amazing Magura MT8 brakes, Syntace stem and handlebars and seatpost, and DT Swiss EXC1550 wheels and Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires. Part way through the test, I got a set of the super sweet Syntace W35 wheels, so I installed them with some fat Continental Trail King 2.4's. My usual loyal steed, is the impeccable Ibis Mojo HD, which utilizes the DW-Link suspension system, and that is my main brain comparison for other bikes. The local Colorado terrain that I ride is predominantly rocky conditions, with many sections of long steep downhills, rock gardens and slabs, and ugly loose gravel and rocks. I weigh in at 155 lbs, ride with a light touch, and love to use the brakes. I habitually prefer All Mountain riding, and frequent extremely technical terrain, which requires precise maneuvering, split-second timing, and nerves of steel and a big dash of lunacy.

The 301 has an active suspension, and has little pedal induced bob and sag wallow (I like that term). It sits up high, and will pop down deep into the travel when it's requested to do so. It has excellent small bump compliance, and just seems to fly along the terrain, and glide over the little stuff like it's not even there. You can really crank and mash the pedals, and you get great power transition to the ground on mild terrain, whether it's up, down or flat. Even when standing up and hammering, it displays little bob, and sits up firm in its resolve. When climbing terrain that has medium-sized roughness, it does just fine, and it absorbs the undulations well, keeping the tires firmly attached, and offers good compliance and control and traction. On ugly and gnarly rock gardens climbs, I found that it lost a bit of its composure and felt harsh, and you really had to hammer it hard to keep it on line and moving over obstacles. In direct comparison, my Mojo with the DW-Link regaled in that same terrain, and offered greater plushness, absorption and control. I must admit that I preferred a bit less active suspension, so it took me a week or two to get used to the system, especially after many years on the DW-link. I like to plod along sometimes through rocky terrain, and it seemed like I had to fight against the 301 in those conditions, and had to crank things up a notch to keep it rolling along. One benefit of the 301's suspension design, was that I rarely got any pedal strikes on normal terrain, which is a pretty common complaint on my Mojo.

This bike likes to haul ass, and prefers to be hammered, hammered and hammered. It is an amazing bike in fast and swoopy terrain, and feels like it is on rails, and it felt almost like it had 29er wheels. I recently rode it on a long ride, Copper Mountain to Searle Pass that goes up to 12,000 feet, and it was super sweet on the swoopy and flowy stuff, and it was a joy to climb.

The geometry is sort of interesting, as the top tube is a bit short, but it has a very long wheelbase, and the latter is an aspect of their Tuned Chainstay Length, since each frame size gets their own chainstay length. The long wheel base made the bike climb better and offered more stability at speed, but it made it a tad tougher in super tight technical stuff, though the uber stiff chassis made it easy to force it around. I swapped out to a longer stem (90mm) to compensate things for me, and it felt much better for my tastes and body geometry, and increased the control and handling characteristics. And man oh man, this is one stiff frame. The frames butted tubes, reverse linkage suspension, tight bearings and linkages, make for an unbelievable stout, stiff and strong system. I never felt one bit of flex or slop out of the design, and it made for a bike that was incredibility easy to control.  It did feel like a 140mm bike when hauling down the steep and deep, and it felt on the harsh side of things, but it was out of its realm in that territory, and the active suspension certainly doesn't help. I think bumping it up to 160mm might help it in those types of environments, and I'll be testing that setup next. I personally found the Magura Thor 150 to be overwhelmed when it was hammer time on the 301, so the 160 swap out sounds like a good plan?

I liked a lot the little features and hidden details on the 301, as they all add up to a pretty impressive package.  The cable routing is really nice, with the cables flowing down the down tube, and the rear derailer entering into the bottom bracket's juncture, and exiting out just before the rear linkage (Neutral Center Path). The front derailer cable tucks up under the top tube, which has a bottom indention along its length. And I really liked the small exit hole for an adjustable seatpost cable, and I just used it when I swapped in the ultra sweet KS LEV.

The DynaLever sag indicator is a pretty innovate feature, and you can either match the linkage's red dot with the frame's pin for exact sag for your weight, or leave it high or low depending on personal taste. Any other time you get back on, just check if it's in your fave spot and adjust the shock pressure as needed, so there isn't any guessing or moving the slider up and down on the shock tube and measuring the sag.  Another nice little extra (which is optional) is the Syntace RockGuard, which protects the rear derailer from impacts and general abuse and additional strengthens it, which is a great item if you tend to bash into rocks like I do. If you ever do jam up the rear derailer hard, it has a shear bolt, which rips off to save the part from severe damage, and underneath the bottom bracket is a spare bolt if that unforeseen incident happens.

As a side note, the Syntace W35 wheels pretty darn impressive, and the monstrous width (internal 28.5mm) really helped with contact and grip and traction of the tires. The W35 pair  I was testing, had a front 15mm TA that weighed 800 grams, and a rear with a 142x12 axle that came in at 875 grams. The 32 hole wheels use Sapim CX-Ray spokes and cost around $1,200 a pair. I'll be doing a separate test on the W35's shortly.


Final Thoughts
These are my first impressions with the 301, and I'll have a more in-depth review in a number of weeks after I have spent some more quality time with it. In a nutshell, it's stiff, stout and tough, and the very active suspension presented no wallowing and little pedal bob. This bike likes to be ridden fast and hammered hard, and it's a joy to ride it in flowy and swoopy terrain. The well-made frame has a plethora of features, and it's their attention to detail that set's this bike apart from the competition. The highly engineered bike is an excellent package of technical designs and functionality, which works great in the real world.

MSRP: $2,595

Update: they released the following info at Eurobike about wheel sizing on the 301.

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